As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Isaiah 64 Song

The other day, in church, we used verses 1-4 of Isiah 64 as a responsive reading:
O that thou wouldst rend the heavens, and wouldst come down:the mountains would melt away at thy presence.They would melt as at the burning of fire, the waters would burn with fire,that thy name might be made known to thy enemies:that the nations might tremble at thy presence.When thou shalt do wonderful things, we shall not bear them:thou didst come down, and at thy presence the mountains melted away.From the beginning of the world they have not heard, nor perceived with the ears:the eye hath not seen, O God, besides thee, what things thou hast prepared for them that wait for thee.
It really grabbed my attention.  The violence of God's appearing made for some powerful versage.  This is not a friendly "Father Weejus."  No, this is a Chuck Norris, ass-kicking, fire-bomb of a God who breaks things just by appearing.  Think Black Bolt saying, "Hello."  

Immediately, a rhyming couplet appeared in my head:
Rip the air, split the sky
Condescend to us, Most High
I wrote it down on an offering envelope and stuffed it in my pocket.  About two months later, I came across it again and decided to finish it.  Here's what I came up with:
Rip the air, split the sky
Come down close with us, Most High
Break the bricks of this hick-town
Burn us with your coming down. 
Mountains melt before Your face
Boil the oceans in Your grace
Name unspoken now we know
Crush this house to make Your home
(Name unspoken now is known
Crush this house to make Your own)
Pot and cowbell, plow and sword
Sign them "Holy to the Lord"
Blazing in your endless Day
Even virtue burns away 
Sear our souls with holy flame
Brand our stone hearts with Your name
Bruise our bent and twisted soul
Batter, break and make us whole  
Who, from olden-days, has heard
Such a strange and wondrous Word
None have seen a God so great
Come to rescue those who wait 
Father, hear the hymn we raise
Son and Spirit, hear our praise
Three-in-One and One-in-Three
Highest, holy Trinity
Even as I worked on it, I could tell that I wanted to keep the language simple, like a cowboy's hymn, but with substance.  Also, I wanted to include some other elements.  There's a line in Flannery O'Connor's short story "Revelation" where the "good" people are following the freaks up to heaven, but notice that even their own "virtues were burned away."  I also had John Donne's "Holy Sonnet XIV" in mind:
Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. 
And the following verses of Scripture:
In that day that which is upon the bridle of the horse shall be holy to the Lord:and the caldrons in the house of the Lord shall be as the phials before the altar.And every caldron in Jerusalem and Juda shall be sanctified to the Lord of hosts:and all that sacrifice shall come, and take of them, and shall seethe in them:and the merchant shall be no more in the house of the Lord of hosts in that day.
- Zechariah 14:20-21
And he shall judge the Gentiles, and rebuke many people:and they shall turn their swords into ploughshares,and their spears into sickles:nation shall not lift up sword against nation,neither shall they be exercised any more to war.
- Isaiah 2:4 
And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off:and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,and their spears into spades:nation shall not take sword against nation:neither shall they learn war anymore.
- Micah: 4:3
The form of what I was writing seemed familiar.  As I began thinking about a tune to which I could sing it, I realized a tune already existed, the theme to the sadly short-lived Joss Wheedon space-western, "Firefly."  Here is the song and the lyrics:  

Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me 
Take me out to the black
Tell them I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the sea
You can't take the sky from me 
There's no place I can be
Since I found Serenity
But you can't take the sky from me...
I have to admit, it looks like I did that deliberately, but I didn't!  But, is it too similar? Does it negate the act of creation that I had something so similar running in the back of my head while creating it? Or is that the only real creation (because it is sub-creation)? To simple for worship? Should I use "condescend to" instead of "come down low with"? Any thoughts are appreciated.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Hymn of Cleanthes

Cleanthes was a pre-Christian (as in BC) Stoic.  I've taken this hymn and only changed the name of "Zeus" to "Theos" (they're cognate both with each other and "Deus") and "lightning bold" to "sword".  All of it could generally be used as a Christian hymn, and the theology in some of the lines is so completely Christian that I am shocked.  I've bolded some of them.

Most glorious of the immortals, invoked by many names, ever all-powerful,
Theos, the First Cause of Nature, who rules all things with Law,
Hail! It is right for mortals to call upon you,
since from You we have our being, we whose lot it is to be God's image,
we alone of all mortal creatures that live and move upon the earth.
Accordingly, I will praise You with my hymn and ever sing of Your might.

The whole universe, spinning around the earth,
goes wherever you lead it and is willingly guided by you.
So great is the servant which You hold in Your invincible hands,
Your eternal, two-edged, sword.
By its strokes all the works of nature came to be established,
and with it You guide the universal Word of Reason which moves through all creation,
mingling with the great sun and the small stars.

O God, without You nothing comes to be on earth,
neither in the region of the heavenly poles, nor in the sea,
except what evil men do in their folly.
But you know how to make extraordinary things suitable,
and how to bring order forth from chaos; and even that which is unlovely is lovely to You.

For thus you have joined all things, the good with the bad, into one,
so that the eternal Word of all came to be one.
This Word, however, evil mortals flee, poor wretches;
though they are desirous of good things for their possession,
they neither see nor listen to God's universal Law;
and yet, if they obey It intelligently, they would have the good life.

But they are senselessly driven to one evil after another:
some are eager for fame, no matter how godlessly it is acquired;
others are set on making money without any orderly principles in their lives;
and others are bent on ease and on the pleasures and delights of the body.
They do these foolish things, time and again,
and are swept along, eagerly defeating all they really wish for.

O Theos, giver of all, shrouded in dark clouds and holding the vivid bright light,
rescue men from painful ignorance.
Scatter that ignorance far from their hearts.
and deign to rule all things in justice.
so that, honored in this way, we may render honor to You in return,
and sing your deeds unceasingly, as befits mortals;
for there is no greater glory for men
or for gods than to justly praise the universal Word of Reason.

Monday, September 19, 2011


This is a hymn for Pentecost to the tune of The Cave by Mumford and Sons.  It draws heavily on the Orthodox liturgy for the feast.

Our human hearts, by wickedness inspired
At Babel, were united in their pride
You tore our tower down
and caused our one tongue to divide

Holy Spirit come, we pray again
Wash away our idols, make us clean
Burn in us all that is not of You
And dwell within

The Babel curse turn back
The ruin, wreck and wrack 
Unite our broken tongues again

The Babel curse unmake 
Our fallen, flesh tongues take
And give to us the tongues of flame 


And so Your Holy Spirit, You sent down
To the twelve disciples gathered 'round
All who heard the Word in their tongue
marveled at the sound

The orators were once unlettered sons
Theologians formed from fishermen
Proving the philosophers to be
the foolish ones.

The slow-tongues, now enflamed,
The One-Who-Is proclaimed
And sophists silenced with the Word

For tongues of fire baptized
The simple men made wise
Who caught the whole world in their net


So let Your Spirit fall in seas of fire
Our daughters and our sons may You inspire
The young and old, the slave and free
be caught up in the pyre

And make my heart Your home
For You and You alone
Can make my sin-soiled spirit fresh

And take our hearts of stone
For You, and You alone
Can give to us a heart of flesh

The lyrics are pulled from the sources below.  The Orthodox prayers seemed to flow along three themes:
- Fire
- Giving wisdom to the ignorant
- Uniting the tongues that were divided at Babel

Ultimately, the song is meant to tell a story.  
- Our tongues were divided at Babel, when we were united in pride and wickedness
- They were re-united at Pentecost when we were given the flaming Tongues of the Holy Spirit
- A plea for further healing and unity today

The Holy Spirit gives all things, 
makes prophecies flow, 
perfects priests, 
taught the unlettered wisdom, 
revealed fishermen to be theologians …

When you sent down your Holy Spirit to the Apostles as they were sitting,
Then the children of the Hebrews saw it 
and were beside themselves with amazement;
For they were hearing them speaking in other, strange tongues, 
as the Spirit gave them,
For though they were simple men, they have been made wise;
And having caught the nations for the faith, were preaching things divine …

Blessed are you, Christ our God, 
Who revealed the fishermen to be most wise 
by sending down to them the Holy Spirit 
and so, through them, catching the whole world in a net.

The slow of tongue, covered in divine darkness, proclaimed the law written by God.
For shaking the dust from his mind’s eye, he sees the One Who Is,
And is initiated into knowledge of the Spirit as he gives praise with songs inspired.

When the power of the divine Spirit came down, 
it divinely united in one harmony the voice divided of old 
of those who had wickedly agreed together

Inapprehensible is the blaze of the Godhead, 
for it revealed the unlettered to be orators
Bridling the mouths of Sophists in abundance with the Word

Joel 2:28-32
Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; 
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, 
your old men shall dream dreams, 
and your young men shall see visions.  
Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, 
I will pour out my spirit. 
I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, 
blood and fire and columns of smoke. 
The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, 
before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; 
for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, 
as the Lord has said, 
and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

Ezekiel 36:25-28
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, 
and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, 
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; 
and I will remove from your body the heart of stone 
and give you a heart of flesh.  
I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes 
and be careful to observe my ordinances.  
Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; 
and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

God. Was. In. Her. Womb.

I'm currently finding myself in strange, spiritual limbo; considered too Catholic for Protestants and too Protestant for Catholics.  Alas.  Today is the birthday of Mary, the Mother of God, and calls to mind that aspect of Catholicism which most disturbs Protestants.  That is, Marian devotion.

When I first started peeking into Catholicism, that was THE issue that most disturbed me.  I was a relatively quick convert to saintly intercessions and to the Real Presence.  Really, almost every aspect of Catholicism, once understood, was embraced.  But this strange worship of Mary ... I couldn't get on board with that.  This was about 12 years ago.

Recently, I read an essay by Chesterton which included a bit about the centrality of Mary to the Christian faith.  Rather than try to explain it, he would proclaim it!  Those who balk at it balk at Christianity.  And I found, as I read it, I agreed.
‎"I DO not want to be in a religion in which I am 'allowed' to have a crucifix. I feel the same about the much more controversial question of the honour paid to the Blessed Virgin. If people do not like that cult, they are quite right not to be Catholics. But in people who are Catholics, or call themselves Catholics, I want the idea not only liked but loved and loved ardently, and above all proudly proclaimed. I want it to be what the Protestants are perfectly right in calling it; the badge and sign of a Papist. I want to be allowed to be enthusiastic about the existence of the enthusiasm; not to have my chief enthusiasm coldly tolerated as an eccentricity of myself. And that is why, with all the good will in the world, I cannot feel the crucifix at one end of the town as a substitute for the little Roman Catholic Church at the other."
Several years ago, I wrote a satirical Protestant Prayer of Praise to Mary.  In it, buried beneath the snarkiness, is an important idea.  If you, in any way, shape or form, believe in the Incarnation, then veneration of the Virgin it is the most natural, the most Christian thing, to do.  It is true that, in these Gnostic times, the Incarnation has been made a mere footnote to the Crucifixion.  The birth of Christ was so we could have a pure sacrifice, nothing more.

Let's assume, for a moment, that this little tidbit of heresy [penal substution / vicarious atonement] is true, that this was the only purpose of the God becoming man.  So what?  Do you realize what we're saying, here?  Of all the beliefs held by all the religions in all the world, this is the most ludicrous, insane, mind-meltingly incongruous doctrine of them all.  We needed to be saved from our sin, so God took on flesh?  That's like mobilizing the National Guard in hazmat suits to airlift your son to Johns Hopkins because the school nurse calls to say he has a 99.2 degree temperature.

What do we know about this God?
  • Moses could only look at His backside lest he be obliterated.  
  • Even then, when he returned to his people, his face was so bright that he had to wear a veil.
  • Isaiah feared the coal that would burn his unclean lips.
  • The sight of God struck Saul (later St. Paul) blind.
  • This is God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father.
This is who was to be placed in Mary's womb.  So, when I say "Holy Mary," you'd better believe it's true!  It better have been, because if it hadn't, she'd have been consumed!  Burned alive from the inside-out.  None of this b.s. about "a fitting vessel" or any of that crap.  None of this idiocy about not passing along a sin nature.  I KNOW for a FACT she was holy, whatever the reason for it needed to be, because otherwise, she'd have been incinerated.  And if I didn't know it before the Annunciation, I sure as heaven know it afterwards.  How do I know?  Let me break this down for you.

God.  Was.  In.  Her.  Womb.

Do we really understand Who God Is?  I mean REALLY?  Because if we do, I'm not sure how we can escape at least the tiniest bit of wonder and awe at Mary.  Allow me to use Tolkein.  In the Silmarillion, Tolkein tells the tale of Beren and Luthien.  It's a good story.  A really good story.  A love story that has all that "love at first sight", star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the tracks crap, except awesome.  In the story, Beren is given the task of retrieving a Silmaril (a jewel containing some of the lost light from the elder ages) from Morgoth (a baddie who makes Sauron look as menacing as Mole Man).  Beren gets it and is able to hold it because he is pure.  When Morgoth's giant demon-dog bites off Beren's hand and runs away, the Silmaril begins to eat him up from the inside out, because he is corrupt and evil.  When demon-dog is killed, the Silmaril is retrieved, still in Beren's hand (which has been preserved from decay in the belly of the beast because of the Silmaril).

Multiply that times a bajillion and you have the situation for Mary.  Weekly, I am a little concerned about taking Communion because, as I eat and drink God, I'm running the risk of having a violent, matter-antimatter, reaction that will blow me to pieces.  So, let me say again,

God.  Was.  In.  Her.  Womb.

And God did not do this lightly.  He was sending the fullness of Himself.  And He was sending Himself, NOT because we needed a really good sacrifice, but because we needed to kill God.  We needed to kill God, NOT so that He could have someone worthy of His eternal wrath, but so that by His death, Death would die and sin would become a flaccid, impotent, stingless insect (which, nevertheless, seems to be doing extremely good bidness.)  Yet, it's not amazing that His death killed Death.  It's not amazing that He rose again.  He was God.  What else did we expect?  What is amazing was that He had a death to die at all.

And so, Mary is at the center of Christianity because Christ is INSIDE her.  Even after He was born, it was wrapped in a robe formed from her flesh and woven in her womb that the Word walked the world.  It is because of her Son that I worship the mother.

Yes, I said worship.  I worship Mary.  Or adore.  Or venerate.  Whatever.  We could lay all the words out and dissect them to find one that doesn't offend but still speaks truth.  If I see a nuclear (oops ... sorry ... I meant "nuke-you-lar") bomb descending I can argue over whether it's targeting my city or the next one over.  Or, I could run like heck.  Bandying about verbs until we find an appropriate one will not change the essential fact that the Virgin bore The Verb, Verbum Dei.

Let me put it another way.  Many years ago, some of my siblings read a series of books by a Christian romance author.  The book was about a female collaborator during the German occupation of France in WWII, one of those women who were shaved bald after the war.  She loved this Jewish guy, but knew she could never have him because of her past.  Although I did not read it (never been one for romance as a genre), one scene they described stuck in my head.  This woman was taking a cup from which the object of her affections had imbibed.  When she was alone, she put her lips on the spot his lips had touched.

This is about as good an image of what I'm talking about as any I could muster.  This is a love so intense, so all-consuming, that anything that person touches, or that is associated with him, becomes sacred.  A cup, a hair, a picture, a journal ... all of it holy because of the association.  Gimli did not want a strand of Galadriel's hair to "set in imperishable crystal" because he though Galadriel had really nice hair.  He wanted it because it was hers.  Probably, more than that, he saw the same light that was captured in the Silmarils reflected off of her face (for she was one of the few left on Middle Earth who had seen that light before it was extinguished).

So worship?  Yes!  Adore?  Yes!  Venerate?  Yes!  All of them, and more!  There is very little of which Mary is not worthy and which it is not right for us to give her.  More than the grail that bore Christ's blood, more than the cross that crushed His body, more than the sepulcher He used to harrow Hell; she is worthy.  Because, and I can't say this emphatically enough,

God.  Was.  In.  Her.  Womb. 

He glorified her Himself.  I honor her BECAUSE of my understand of Who and What God Is, BECAUSE of my understanding of the absolute lunacy of the Incarnation.  To honor the mother glorifies the Son and inasmuch as she is not held in honor, our faith is lessened.

Mary the dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the gate, Christ the Heavenly Way!
Mary the root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the wheat, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the stem, Christ the Rose blood-red!
Mary the font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the cup, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the temple, Christ the temple's Lord;
Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the beacon, Christ the Haven's Rest;
Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the mother, Christ the mother's Son
By all things blest while endless ages run.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Icons of St. John the Forerunner

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Friday, January 07, 2011

Theophany Hymn

The following hymn is meant to be sung to a slightly modified "God With Us" by Amy Grant / Casting Crowns.  It's based on all the Orthodox, Theophany prayers below it.  Basically, the prayers (thus, the hymn) combine the story of Jesus' Baptism with Joshua and Israel crossing into Canaan.  

The icon of the Theophany is explained in this really cool website.  The only missing part is the little guy you see in the Jordan.  I've alternately heard that explained as an anthropomorphism of the river itself (which speaks in the prayers) or the devil about the be burned out of the water.  

Lord Jesus Christ descended to the Jordan
The way He once descended to the Earth
Creator come down close to His creation
To be baptized by the herald of His birth

Who said, "How will a lamp the Light illuminate,
Or the servant on his Master lay his hand?
Word of God, now wash me and the water!
Take away my sin, O holy Lamb!”

Hear the Father say, "My beloved Son!"
See the Spirit Dove now descend
He's the hidden God who has come to us
Now made manifest to all man.

Still, He comes to those who will call to Him
Into humble hearts He'll descend
He's the hidden God who has come to us
Now made manifest to all man.

The river, filled with fear and weak with wonder
Said, "I feel the Fire that flames within my flood
I do not know how I can cleanse the Clean One
Or wash within my waves the Word of God."

"Be quick, for I have come to end the Enemy,
The dragon hidden deep within your depth,
To deliver all the world from his devices,
And by My death to kill the tyrant Death."

Hear the Father say, "My beloved Son!"
See the Spirit Dove now descend
He's the hidden God who has come to us
Now made manifest to all man.

Still, He comes to those who will call to Him
Into humble hearts He'll descend
He's the hidden God who has come to us
Now made manifest to all man.

With humble heart, I wade into the water.
To heal my broken heart and make me whole!
And as Word once burned the river Jordan,
May He burn the thorns of sin within my soul!

Hear the Father say, "My beloved Son!"
See the Spirit Dove now descend
He's the hidden God who has come to us
Now made manifest to all man.

Still, He comes to those who will call to Him
Into humble hearts He'll descend
He's the hidden God who has come to us
Now made manifest to all man.


The river Jordan was turned back by the mantle of Elisha,
after Elijah had been taken up to heaven.
The waters were parted in two,
and the stream became a dry path.
This was truly a type of baptism,
by which we pass over the stream of life.
Christ has shone forth in the Jordan to sanctify the waters.

Today the Lord enters the Jordan and cries out to John:
“Do not be afraid to baptize me,
for I come to save Adam, the first-formed man!”

Today the nature of the waters is sanctified.
The Jordan is parted in two;
it holds back the flow of its waters
as it beholds the washing of the Master.
You have come to the river as a Man, O Christ the King,
and hasten to be baptized like a servant by the Forerunner,
on account of our sins, O good God Who love mankind.

To the voice of one crying in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way of the Lord,”
You came, O Lord, taking the form of servant.
You asked to be baptized though you have no knowledge of sin.
The waters saw You and were afraid.
The Forerunner trembled and cried aloud:
“How will the Lamp illumine the Light?
How will a servant lay his hand on the Master?
You take away the sin of the world, O Savior.
Sanctify both me and the waters.”

The Prophet above all prophets in honor,
the Forerunner and Baptist, saw You, the Lamb of God,
Who wash away the sins of the world.
His right hand trembled;
seized with anguish he cried aloud:
"I dare not touch Your head, O Word.
Sanctify and enlighten me, O Merciful One;
for You are the life and the light and the peace of the world!"

“O Prophet,” the Lord now says to John,
“come and baptize me, your Creator,
who cleanse and enlighten all with grace!
Touch my divine head and do not hesitate!
O Prophet, let it be so now;
for I have come to fulfill all righteousness!
Make haste; for I hasten to destroy the Enemy,
the prince of darkness, hidden in the waters,
that I might deliver the world from his snares,
and in my love grant eternal life!”

The waters saw you, O God;
the waters saw You and were afraid.
- Psalm 77:16

Why do you stop the flow of your waters, O Jordan?
Why do you make your streams flow back?
Why do you not follow your natural course?
“I cannot bear the fire which consumes me,” it said.
“I am amazed and shudder at the extreme condescension.
I have not learned to wash the pure or cleanse the sinless.
I have learned only to wash the filthy garment.
Now Christ, Who is baptized in me,
teaches me to burn the thorns of sin.
And John, the voice of the Word, bears witness with me.
He cries out: ‘Behold the Lamb of God,
Who takes away the sin of the world.’”
Let us the faithful cry to Him:
“O God, Who shone forth for our salvation, glory to You!”
now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Let us the faithful praise the greatness of God’s plan for us.
For He Who alone is pure and undefiled
becomes a man because of our transgressions.
He is cleansed with our cleansing in the Jordan,
sanctifying both us and the waters,
and crushing the heads of the dragons in the water.
Therefore, let us draw water in gladness,
for upon those who draw in faith
the grace of the Spirit is invisibly bestowed by Christ God,
the Savior of our souls.

When You, O Lord, were baptized in the Jordan,
the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
For the voice of the Father bore witness to You,
calling You His Beloved Son;
and the Spirit in the form of a dove
confirmed the truthfulness of His word.
O Christ our God, You have revealed Yourself
and have enlightened the world, glory to You

The Father bore witness to You,
and the Divine Spirit in the form of a dove descended on You,
as You came in flesh to the Jordan, O Lord.
You desired to be baptized in human form,
that in Your compassion You might enlighten us who have gone astray, and deliver us from all the snares and wiles of the Dragon.
Make your home in our souls, O loving God.
now and ever, and unto ages of ages.


Friday, August 06, 2010

Feast of the Transfiguration

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ on Mt. Tabor, also known as the "little Theophany." For those who wish to read more about it, here are two explanations of the feast from the Orthodox Church in America and the Greek Orthodox Church in America as well as a sermon from St. Gregory of Palamas.

There are surprisingly few hymns on the feast. This one is a translation by my hymnic hero, John Mason Neale, of an ancient, Latin office hymn. However, Sufjan Stevens, one of my current, favorite artists, has a song about the Transfiguration on his album "Seven Swans" (a collection of really good Christian songs). I wish we'd sing it at church. Anyway, here is a video of the song and some lyrics followed by some of my favorite icons and other renderings of the Transfiguration.



When he took the three disciples to the mountainside to pray
His countenance was modified, his clothing was aflame
Two men appeared; Moses and Elijah came
They were at his side
The prophecy, the legislation spoke of whenever he would die

Then there came a word
Of what he should accomplish on the day
Then Peter spoke, to make of them a tabernacle place
A cloud appeared in glory as an accolade
They fell on the ground
A voice arrived, the voice of God
The face of God, covered in a cloud

What he said to them
The voice of God: the most beloved son
Consider what he says to you, consider what's to come
The prophecy was put to death
Was put to death, and so will the Son
And keep your word, disguise the vision till the time has come

Lost in the cloud, a voice: Have no fear! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Turn your ear!
Lost in the cloud, a voice: Lamb of God! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Son of God!

Chords: Em D Dm C / Bm A Am G


Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Lenten Sermon Based on the Pascal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

If anyone be devout and love God,
Let him commence this radiant fast with joy!
If anyone be a wise servant,
Let him, rejoicing, enter into the school of repentance.

We who have wallowed long in sin,
Let us now begin our return.
If anyone has strayed from the first hour,
Let him today repent with zeal.
If anyone has sinned from the third hour,
Let him with gratitude embrace the fast.
If anyone has fled God from the sixth hour,
Let him have no misgivings about his prompt return;
Because he shall in nowise be turned away therefore.
If anyone has indulged the flesh since the ninth hour,
Let him draw near, fearing God alone and trusting in His mercy.
And if anyone has turned away only at the eleventh hour,
Let him also not hesitate to turn back with haste.

For the Lord, who is longsuffering and full of compassion and mercy, will accept the last even as the first.
He restores him who repents at the first hour,
As He does him who turns back at the eleventh.
And He shows mercy upon the last,
And cares for the first;
And to the one He gives,
And upon the other He bestows gifts.
And He both accepts the confession,
And welcomes the intention,
And honors the contrite heart and rejoices in the return.

Wherefore, enter all of you into the holiness of your Lord;
Offer your repentance,
Both the last, and likewise the first.
You rich and poor together, repent, for today we stand outside the closed gates of paradise.
You sober and you heedless, prostrate yourselves before your King!
Return to the Lord today, both you who have sinned with knowledge and those who have done so in ignorance.

Your pantries are full; empty them to the hungry.
The belly enslaves us, let no one be dominated thereby.
Enter all of you into the Great Fast;
Stripped of heavenly wealth by sin, all draw near to God’s rich loving-kindness!
Let no one despair in his sinfulness,
For the Bridegroom comes at midnight.
Weep all of you for your iniquities,
And draw near to the life-giving Cross of our Lord.
Let no one put confidence in the flesh,
For the Devil has deceived us all thereby, and therewith enslaves us to sin.

By turning from God, we are made captives.
We have called good evil and evil good, and put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Woe to those who put darkness for light, and light for darkness!

We are embittered, for we are banned from Eden.
We are embittered, but it is we who have mocked God.
We are embittered, for now we shall surely die.
We are embittered, for we have succumbed to the serpent.
We are embittered, for we are fettered in chains.
We partook of a fruit, and met the deceiver.
We were entrusted with paradise, but we chose Hell.
Our eyes were opened to see the nakedness of sin.

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver us!
O Lord, make haste to help us!

This is the acceptable time, let us repent!
This is the day of salvation, let us crucify the passions!
The end is at hand and destruction hangs over us!
The end draws nigh, let us come again to our senses!
The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, what first-fruit shall we offer?
Let us delay not, lest we remain dead in the grave, sold under sin!
For God desires not the death of the sinner, but that he should turn from his wickedness and live!
So, let us choose life, and live, for the mercy of God endures forever!
To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages. Amen.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Holy Myrrhbearer and Equal of the Apostles Mary Magdalene

Sensing Thy divinity, O Lord,
a woman of many sins,
takes it upon herself
to become a myrrh-bearer
and in deep mourning
brings before Thee fragrant oil
in anticipation of Thy burial; crying:
"Woe to me! For night is to me,
a dark and moonless madness
of wild-desire, an eros of sin.
Receive the springs of my tears
Thou Who gatherest the waters of the oceans into clouds,
bend to me, to the sorrows of my heart,
Thou who bendedst down the heavens
in Thy self-emptyingIncarnation,
I will kiss with my lips Thine immaculate feet
and dry them with the locks of my hair;
those very feet
whose sound Eve heard at the dusk in Paradise
and hid herself in fear.
Who shall count the multitude of my sins
or the depth of Thy judgment,
O Saviour of my soul?
Do not ignore Thy handmaiden,
O Thou whose mercy is endless".

- Hymn of Kassina

O woman of the gleaming hair,
(Wild hair that won men's gaze to thee)
Weary thou turnest from the common stare,
For the shuiler Christ is calling thee.

O woman of the snowy side,
Many a lover hath lain with thee,
Yet left thee sad at the morning tide,
But thy lover Christ shall comfort thee.

O woman with the wild thing's heart,
Old sin hath set a snare for thee:
In the forest ways forspent thou art
But the hunter Christ shall pity thee.

O woman spendthrift of thyself,
Spendthrift of all the love in thee,
Sold unto sin for little pelf,
The captain Christ shall ransom thee.

O woman that no lover's kiss
(Tho' many a kiss was given thee)
Could slake thy love, is it not for this
The hero Christ shall die for thee?

- "Song for Mary Magdalene" by Padraic Pearse

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Icon: Sophia, the Holy Wisdom

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter,
suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, who proceeds from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching out mightily from end to end,
and sweetly arranging all things:
come to teach us the way of prudence.

O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go

This is a Russian icon based on Proverbs 9:1, which is inscribed across the top:
Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars:
In the center is Mary, holding Jesus, enthroned. Above her is God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (uncharacteristically presented as an old man and a dove). The rest of the icon is arranged in sevens:
  • Seven archangels are in the clouds with St. Michael directly to the left and St. Gabriel (holding a lily symbolic of the Annunciation) to the right.
  • Seven steps, each with a different virtue
    1. Glory
    2. Grace
    3. Humility
    4. Purity
    5. Love
    6. Hope
    7. Faith
  • Standing on the seven steps are seven men who are harder to identify. I think the ones to the left are Solomon (the wise king), Aaron (the first High Priest) and Moses (the lawgiver). The ones on the right probably represent the New Covenant, but I can't tell who they are.
  • There are seven pillars, each with a symbol. Of the ones I can identify:
  • What appears to be the Bible
  • The seven branched Menorah or candlestick from Revelation
  • Seven horns, probably from Revelation 8, although possibly from Joshua and the Battle of Jericho
  • Seven stars, probably from Revelation 1, 2 and 3 or from Amos 5:8
  • Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion,
    and turneth the shadow of death into the morning,
    and maketh the day dark with night:
    that calleth for the waters of the sea,
    and poureth them out upon the face of the earth:
    The LORD is his name.
  • Seven cups/bowls/vials of wrath from Revelation 15
  • Seven ears of corn from Genesis 41 (Joseph in Egypt)
It's a very interesting icon. I am told by Orthodox friends that it is rather Western (for instance, the representation of the Trinity) and rather late (19th c.) for an icon. Here is an icon of Christ as Holy Wisdom which is supposed to be based on an 18th c. Russian icon called "Holy Silence" (an odd name for "The Word of God"):

This is a 12th. c. drawing by Hildegard of Bingen of Holy Wisdom:

In this one, Wisdom is surrounded by the seven liberal arts; Grammatica, Rhetorica, Dialectica, Musica, Arithmica, Geometrica and Astronomica.  I would assume that the four figures below are the authors of the Gospels, but I'm not sure because they don't have the traditional animals attending them (man, ox, lion, eagle).  I also don't know who the two figures directly below Wisdom are, or what the three heads in her tiara are. 

 And, finally, a more "official" Russian icon of Holy Wisdom from the 14th c. Novgorod school. Note that, unlike the first one, Jesus and Mary are separate from the person of Wisdom.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Maundy Thursday

If you live alone, whose feet will you wash?
- St. Basil

Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God,
accept me today as a communicant;
for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies,
neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss.
But like the Thief will I confess Thee:
Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.

- Orthodox hymn for Holy Thursday

Earth cannot bar flame from ascending,
Hell cannot bind light from descending,
Death cannot finish life never ending.

- Christina Rossetti

O God of Love, O God of Love
You gave to us a new command
That even as you gave us Love
We give ourselves to all of man.

The Love you gave us was Your Son
The One Begotten of You, He
Our life and our salvation won.
May we give of ourselves as free.

Though sinful servants, we request
Through all the struggles of our days
A mind forgetful of the past
A heart to love all, and your ways.

- Hymn based on an ancient Coptic prayer (below)

O God of love, who gave us a commandment
that we should love one another,

even as you loved us and gave your beloved Son
for our life and salvation;

we pray you to give us, your servants,
in all times of our life on the earth,

a mind forgetful of past ill-will,
and a heart to love our brothers and sisters.

- From the liturgy of St. Gregory

Love is but a song to sing
Fear’s the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Though the bird is on the wing
And you may not know why

Some may come and some may go
We shall surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last
We are but a moment’s sunlight
Fading in the grass

If you hear the song I sing
You will understand
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It’s there at you command

Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
Right now

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

An Altar for St. Joseph's Day

There is a tradition in New Orleans, with roots going back to medieval times, of the St. Joseph's Day Altar. So, for this St. Joseph's Day, I have constructed an online altar for the foster-father of Jesus.

An Orthodox hymn
Joseph, when He beheld the greatness of this wonder,
thought that he beheld a mortal wrapped as a babe in swaddling clothes;
but from all that come to pass he understood that He was the true God
Another Orthodox hymn by St. Ephrem the Syrian, from his Hymns on the Nativity
Joseph caressed the Son as a babe;
he ministered to Him as God.
He rejoiced in Him as the Good One,
yet he was greatly bewildered and awestruck at Him as the Just One

"Who hath given me the Son of the Most High to be a Son to me?
I was jealous of Thy Mother, and I thought to put her away,
and I knew not that in her womb was hidden a mighty treasure,
that should suddenly enrich my poor estate.
David the king sprang from my race, and wore the crown;
and I have come to a very low estate,
who instead of a king am a carpenter.
Yet a crown hath come to me,
for in my bosom is the Lord of crowns!"
A more recent Christmas song by 4 Him which captures the spirit of the previous two:
Why me, I'm just a simple man of trade
Why Him, with all the rulers in the world
Why here inside this stable filled with hay
Why her, she's just an ordinary girl
Now I'm not one to second guess what angels have to say
But this is such a strange way to save the world

The Fathers of the Church spent some time talking about the reasons why Mary and Jesus needed Joseph, what role he played in the Gospel story. This first excerpt is from the Venerable Bede:
Blessed Mary had then a husband
who would be the most reliable witness of her integrity

and most faithful custodian of our Lord and Saviour.
For the Child Jesus, Joseph would bring to the temple
the victims of sacrifice prescribed by the law;
in the hour of persecution he would take Him
and His Mother into Egypt and bring them back;
and finally he would provide many other services
called for by the fragility of the nature assumed.

The guarantee afforded by Joseph's genealogy,
the protection of Mary against stoning as an adulteress,
and the concealment of the virginal birth from the evil one.
Echoing this same idea is St. Jerome:
In His boundless wisdom, God employs the simplest of means.
What was the best way to effect the incarnation of the Son of God?
To reveal openly the all-holy Virgin's virginal state
would have meant to bring attention to the Lord Jesus prematurely,
without proper preparation.
A threefold purpose was accomplished by Joseph's betrothal to the Virgin:
quiet obscurity was assured for Christ until the appointed moment,
an impenetrable defense was provided for both her and the divine infant.
All this was accomplished by the sacred betrothal of St. Joseph to the Virgin-Mother.
One of the most interesting, and unknown, aspects of the life of Jesus is his relationship to his foster-father. We have no record of interaction between the two in Scripture, and Joseph was dead when Jesus was crucified. According to the most ancient tradition, dating from the time of the Apostles, Christ Himself heard his confession, an account of his entire life. Here is the end of an apocryphal account of that confession. Jesus says:
Hail, my father Joseph, thou righteous man.
Joseph answers,
Hail, my well-beloved Son.
Indeed the agaony and fear of death has encompassed me.
But as soon as I heard Thy voice, my soul was at rest.
O Jesus of Nazareth! Jesus, my Saviour!
Jesus, O sweetest name in my mouth, and in the mouth of all that love it!
O Eye that seest and Ear that hearest, hear me!
I am Thy servant; this day I most humbly reverence Thee
and before Thy face I pour out my tears.
Thou art altogether my God.
In this song by Michael Card, the devotion of St. Joseph to Jesus is represented as well:
How could it be this baby in my arms
Sleeping now, so peacefully

The Son of God, the angel said

How could it be
Lord I know He's not my own
Not of my flesh, not of my bone

Still Father let this baby be
The son of my love

Pope John Paul II summarized the silent witness of St. Joseph this way:
Sacred Scripture says little of him.
It does not record even one word spoken by Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth.
And yet, even without words, he shows the depth of his faith, his greatness.
Saint Joseph is a man of great spirit.
He is great in faith, not because he speaks his own words,
but above all because he listens to the words of the Living God.
He listens in silence.
And his heart ceaselessly perseveres in the readiness to accept the Truth
contained in the word of the Living God.
This sonnet praises the "silent saint," who nevertheless has been named patron of the Universal Church (and about a hundred other things):
Saints know thee best, oh, hidden, silent saint!
And would that I could feel a little part
Of that great love Theresa's kindred heart
Felt for thee, Foster-father! But the taint,
The chill, is on my soul; and few and faint
The prayers that from this earthly bosom dart
Up to that heavenly throne whereon thou art
ln glory, not too high to hear my plaint.
Patron of all who work in humble ways!
Pray that from pure and earnest motive I
May fill with patient toil the moments flying;
Patron of happy death-beds! when my days
Have reached their term, be thou, dear Joseph! nigh,
With Mary and with Jesus, while I'm dying.

The Joys and Sorrows
of St. Joseph

Mighty Joseph, son of David!
High and glorious is thy state—
Of our Lord the Foster-father,
Mary's spouse immaculate.

The Almighty's faithful servant,
Of the Holy Family
Head and father. Oh! I pray thee,
Be a father unto me.

Sorely was thy bosom troubled
Till the mystery was revealed
Which the Lord had wrought in Mary
Who in patience all concealed.

But an angel soon from heaven
Bids thy loving doubts to cease;
So may every care and trial
Turn for me to joy and peace.

With the Virgin young and tender,
In the winter-time forlorn,
Thou to Bethlehem didst journey
That our Lord might there be born.

As thy God thou didst adore Him,
While He in the manger lay;
Now is He in heaven exalted—
Turn to Him for us and pray!

Flying at the angel's -warning,
Far from Herod's fury wild,
Long in Egypt didst thou tarry
With the Virgin and the Child.

By thy toil, thy pain, thy sadness,
In that exile dark and drear,
Help me in the cares and sorrows
Which may be my portion here.

Home from Egypt's land returning,
Thou wouldst rest in Galilee,
But to Nazareth art bidden,
That the Child secure may be.

Souls retiring, sweet, and humble,
Thou dost still for Jesus seek:
That my heart may be his garden,
Make it humble, pure, and meek.

Thou didst search, with loving anguish,
For the little Jesus lost;
But, in finding Him, what rapture
Purchased at that sorrow's cost!

Thee, my light, my life, my Jesus,
May I never lose by sin!
May my heart be pure and simple,
So that thou may'st rest therein !

Jesus, Mary, hung above thee
On that sad yet happy day
When, with their fond arms around thee,
Passed thy gentle soul away.

Oh ! when death shall come to take me,
All its terrors I'll defy,
If, with Jesus and with Mary,
Thou, dear Joseph, wilt be nigh.

Thus, O glorious Saint, my homage
I thy grateful client pay.
Hear my prayer and smile upon me,
Guide and guard me on my way.

May I 'neath thy kind protection
Safely reach my journey's close,
And with thee, in heaven's bright palace,
Through eternity repose!

Finally, a Litany to St. Joseph. In these times where we are too loud to hear the Lord, too proud to do the humble (yet infinitely necessary) tasks he asks of us, and too selfish to put others first; may his prayers and his example lead us to be silent, humble and loving.
Litany to St. Joseph:
Renowned offspring of David,
Light of Patriarchs,
Spouse of the Mother of God,
Chaste guardian of the Virgin,
Care father of the Son of God,
Diligent protector of Christ,
Head of the Holy Family,
Joseph most just,
Joseph most chaste,
Joseph most prudent,
Joseph most strong,
Joseph most obedient,
Joseph most faithful,
Mirror of patience,
Lover of poverty,
Model of artisans,
Glory of home life,
Guardian of virgins,
Pillar of families,
Solace of the wretched,
Hope of the sick,
Patron of the dying,
Terror of demons,
Protector of Holy Church,
Holy Joseph, pray for us.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Father Brown on the Reasonableness of Reason

Reason and justice grip the remotest and the loneliest star. Look at those stars. Don't they look as if they were single diamonds and sapphires? Well, you can imagine any mad botany or geology you please. Think of forests of adamant with leaves of brilliants. Think the moon is a blue moon, a single elephantine sapphire.

But don't fancy that all that frantic astronomy would make the smallest difference to the reason and justice of conduct. On plains of opal, under cliffs cut out of pearl, you would still find a notice-board, "Thou shalt not steal."

- From "The Blue Cross" by G.K.Chesterton


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How to be a peacemaker

Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God-the children because they set the Father on the throne of the Family.

The main practical diffculty, with some at least of the peace-makers, is, how to carry themselves toward the undoers of peace, the disuniters of souls. Perhaps the most potent of these are not those powers of the church visible who care for canon and dogma more than for truth, and for the church more than for Christ; who take uniformity for unity; who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel, nor knowing what spirit they are of; such men, I say, are perhaps neither the most active nor the most potent force working for the disintegration of the body of Christ. I imagine also that neither are the party-liars of politics the worst foes to divine unity, ungenerous, and often knowingly false as they are to their opponents, to whom they seem to have no desire to be honest and fair. I think, rather, they must be the babbling liars of the social circle, and the faithless brothers and unloving sisters of disunited human families.

But why inquire? Every self-assertion, every form of self-seeking however small or poor, world-noble or grotesque, is a separating and scattering force. And these forces are multitudinous, these points of radial repulsion are innumerable, because of the prevailing passion of mean souls to seem great, and feel important. If such cannot hope to attract the attention of the great-little world, if they cannot even become 'the cynosure of neighbouring eyes,' they will, in what sphere they may call their own, however small it be, try to make a party for themselves; each, revolving on his or her own axis, will attempt to self-centre a private whirlpool of human monads.

To draw such a surrounding, the partisan of self will sometimes gnaw asunder the most precious of bonds, poison whole broods of infant loves. Such real schismatics go about, where not inventing evil, yet rejoicing in iniquity; mishearing; misrepresenting; paralyzing affection; separating hearts. Their chosen calling is that of the strife-maker, the child of the dividing devil. They belong to the class of the perfidious, whom Dante places in the lowest infernal gulf as their proper home.

Are we to treat persons known for liars and strife-makers as the children of the devil or not? Are we to turn away from them, and refuse to acknowledge them, rousing an ignorant strife of tongues concerning our conduct? Are we guilty of connivance, when silent as to the ambush whence we know the wicked arrow privily shot? Are we to call the traitor to account? or are we to give warning of any sort? I have no answer. Each must carry the question that perplexes to the Light of the World. To what purpose is the spirit of God promised to them that ask it, if not to help them order their way aright?

One thing is plain-that we must love the strife-maker; another is nearly as plain-that, if we do not love him, we must leave him alone; for without love there can be no peace-making, and words will but occasion more strife. To be kind neither hurts nor compromises. Kindness has many phases, and the fitting form of it may avoid offence, and must avoid untruth.

We must not fear what man can do to us, but commit our way to the Father of the Family. We must be nowise anxious to defend ourselves; and if not ourselves because God is our defence, then why our friends? is he not their defence as much as ours? Commit thy friend's cause also to him who judgeth righteously. Be ready to bear testimony for thy friend, as thou wouldst to receive the blow struck at him; but do not plunge into a nest of scorpions to rescue his handkerchief. Be true to him thyself, nor spare to show thou lovest and honourest him; but defence may dishonour: men may say, What! is thy friend's esteem then so small? He is unwise who drags a rich veil from a cactus-bush.

Whatever our relation, then, with any peace-breaker, our mercy must ever be within call; and it may help us against an indignation too strong to be pure, to remember that when any man is reviled for righteousness-sake, then is he blessed.

- "The Hope of the Gospel" by George MacDonald

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Word of God?

Sad, indeed, would the whole matter be, if the Bible had told us everything God meant us to believe. But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," not the Bible, save as leading to him.

And why are we told that these treasures are hid in him who is the Revelation of God? Is it that we should despair of finding them and cease to seek them? Are they not hid in him that they may be revealed to us in due time-that is, when we are in need of them? Is not their hiding in him the mediatorial step towards their unfolding in us? Is he not the Truth?-the Truth to men? Is he not the High Priest of his brethren, to answer all the troubled questionings that arise in their dim humanity?

Unspoken Sermons, Volume 1, The Higher Faith

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Cool Christmas Icon

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"Twixt the Two" by George MacDonald

Star high,
Baby low
'Twixt the two

Wise men go;

Find the baby,

Grasp the star---

Heirs of all things

Near and Far!

This image is of a rocket attack over Bethlehem.

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