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.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Pashca Ponderings

t's early on Caisc, or Easter. The women haven't yet made it to the tomb.

I haven't really been able to post for the Triduum, so I'm going to work my way backwards. I am, as at every Easter, reminded of the verse, "Sin, where are your shackles. Death, where is your sting?" The curse of Adam and Eve is not sin, or Sin, but rather death.

Christ is risen from the dead, Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life. Christ is risen!

At the moment when Jesus died, the "graves were opened" and many that were dead walked on Earth again. I bet that spooked some people! Ha! Anyway, when my wife first started going to pharmacy school, she had to move to Chapel Hill while Josiah and I stayed in Concord (for a year). As I was moving her into her apartment, I encountered a bee. A big bee. A huge bee! It floated right in front of me, as if it were daring me to pass it. I wasn't about to, until the woman on the porch watching me said, "That's a carpenter bee. They don't have stingers."

It had no sting. Of course, even though I now knew it didn't, I still had trouble walking past. I was still scared of it, and it's now defunct sting. I didn't have faith, I guess.

I don't have much to say for Black Saturday, except that I went to a really lovely wedding. A friend from school got married. I picked out all the music for it over several luncheon meetings. She is a big fan of hip hop music, and was quite amused to find a song she really liked was called "Air on a G String."

Friday was a momentous day as well. It was both the Feast of the Annunciation and Good Friday. This doesn't very often happen. In effect, we were both celebrating the day Mary learned she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and the day Jesus actually died. There is a tradition that, on the day of the original crucifixtion, that it was the 34th anniversary of Gabriel's message to the Virgin.

This is quite beautiful for many reasons. First, because it bookends the work of salvation. While Western Christians tend to highlight the death and resurrection of Christ, Eastern Christians place at least equal weight on the Incarnation, which is more properly celebrated on the Annunciation.

Today is the beginning of our salvation,
The revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, O Full of Grace,
The Lord is with You!

Christ, in taking on our human nature, made it possible to reverse death by His death. The Incarnation and Crucifixion of Christ make a full circle of the work of Salvation, inspiring this poem by John Donne.

TAMELY, frail body, abstain to-day ; to-day
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur ; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came, and went away

Of course, I'm sure Mary didn't really care about that on the day Jesus died. I think mothers are generally not that concerned with the grand scheme of things when their children die. Thinking that the message of Gabriel and last words of Jesus came on the same day gives even greater power to both La Pieta and the heart-rending hymn Stabat Mater Dolorosa:

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to Jesus to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

Also, on the day of the suffering of Christ there was another coincidence: at that time the constellation of Southern Cross was entirely visible low in the South from Jerusalem.

Finally, Maundy Thursday opens my mind to the legend of the Holy Grail, most commonly believed to be the cup of Christ. There is a very interesting article which summarizes all the varied beliefs about the grail which, if you're interested, you can read here.

Crist is arisen!
Arisen he sothe!

This is the day of resurrection,
Let us be illumined by the feast,
Let us embrace each other,
Let its call "brothers" even those that hate us,
And forgive all by the resurrection,
And so let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.


The God of the Living

The gravediggers dig graves and are silent.
The Lord opens graves and shouts.
A woman places her daughter in a grave,
the Lord takes her out of the grave.

The Lord is a better mother than the mother.
A man covers his son with soil, the Lord uncovers him.
The Lord is a better father than the father.
A brother buries his brother, the Lord resurrects him.
The Lord is a better brother than the brother.
The Lord has neither tears nor smiles for the dead.
His whole heart belongs to the living ...
If your body is a temple of the Most High God,
Then the One who resurrects is within you,
And your resurrection is already being accomplished.

St Nicholai Velimirovic, Prayers by the Lake


Proctoring and Liturgy

I'm preparing to administer the EOC field test to my class next week. I've administered one other test this year. The students all make fun of teachers when they proctor because they sound so robotic and precise. But, of course, that's exactly what we're supposed to sound like.

As I was administering the last test, I began to think of similar problems that people not used to liturgy have with the ceremonialism and ritual contained therin. All of a sudden, I understood it. The most "dynamic" churches today are dependent on dynamic pastors, speakers, worship leaders, etc. These people construct worship services and sermons with meaning and which involve and challenge the laity. But that's not really the way it's supposed to be. It's not a show and it's not a motivational speech.

The best preists are those that empty themselves of themselves and do the work of the Church. In the same way, when I proctor a test, I'm not there to be fun. I'm there as a representative of the school system, not to project my wittiness and creativity into the test taking process, but to be as formulaic as possible. Granted, worship is not a test. But neither is it a show. It is us, not focusing on ourselves, but on God. To do this, we don't need something directed to us and our particular tastes, but which empties us of ourselves so that God can move.

The priest is not being himself either. He is being Christ, representing us to God and God to us and, therefore, a certain amount of ceremony and ritual is needed.

Western Christianity and Eastern Religions

While proctoring a test today, I pulled out a book on Native American Spirituality. I've read some on the subject and learned nothing new in this book. But while reading, I was reminded of some of those elements that attracted me both to the supposed spirituality of the Celts and that of the Amerindian. Namely, I like that there is no division between their secular and religious life. Their religion is not just what they believe, it is a way to live.

I see much Western embracing of Eastern (and primitive) philosophy/religion, and an accompanying reaction against it by conservative Christians. For instance, Orthodox friends of mine disparage it, not because it is evil, but because it is an unecessary addition to the complete Faith handed down by the apostles. Actually, I am inclined to agree with them. I am more concerned with Protestant churches and their reaction to oriental interest.

So Western Christians, who find that Western Christianity has lost the all-encompassing nature of the faith, try to incorporate that element from the East, although I'm not sure they know they are doing this. The problem is that, instead of just correcting the lack and retaining the Truth (Triune God, Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, etc...), they are adding elements which dilute or even obscure the Gospel. In trying to make Western Christianity whole again, they are making it sick. But I think this is because they have misdiagnosed the weakness of the Western church. It's kind of like the girl who is really looking for the love of a distant father in the arms of another man.

What is most interesting to me is that not all Western Christians have this lack. My parents, for instance, are about as Western as they can be. Yet they chose to incorporate their faith entirely into their lives. Thus, we woke with prayers, we worked with prayers, we constantly sang psalms and hymns, we blessed everything and asked for God's Hand in all our works, we read the Bible and prayed every night, we asked for angels to guard our car when we traveled and prayed spiritual barriers around our property each morning. Though possessing some of what I deem to be theological error (no saints or sacraments, for instance); my parents deliberately created a life which was more God-filled, more Christian than just about any other living person I know. There was no separation between our religious and secular lives. One flowed from the other and mandated our actions.


Monday, September 05, 2005

What Christian Tradition Are You?

1: Lutheran (100%)
2: Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England (97%)
3: Eastern Orthodox (96%)
4: Roman Catholic (84%)
5: Presbyterian/Reformed (63%)
6: Church of Christ/Campbellite (50%)
7: Congregational/United Church of Christ (49%)
8: Baptist (Reformed/Particular/Calvinistic) (48%)
9: Methodist/Wesleyan/Nazarene (44%)
10: Baptist (non-Calvinistic)/Plymouth Brethren/Fundamentalist (40%)
11: Pentecostal/Charismatic/Assemblies of God (28%)
12: Seventh-Day Adventist (21%)
13: Anabaptist (Mennonite/Quaker etc.) (13%)

Wikipedia Articles on Religion

  1. Atheism: God does not exist.
  2. Agnosticism: The existence of God or gods is unknown and/or inherently unknowable; rejects faith.
  3. Deism: God created the world but does not interact with it. Emphasis on deities' transcendence.
  4. Theism (second definition): God(s) is immanent in the world, yet transcends it:
  • Polytheism: Type of theism; belief in several or many gods.
  1. Monolatry: Several gods, but only one of them is worshipped.
  2. Henotheism: Several gods are worshipped, but one is seen as supreme.
  3. Kathenotheism: Worship of one god at a time, seeing each as supreme in turn.
  1. Monistic: Everything is of one essential essence or energy.
  2. Dualism: Everything is of two essential essences or energies.
  3. Pluralism: Everything is of many essential essences or energies.
  1. Panentheism: The world is entirely contained within God, while at the same time God is something greater than just the world.
  2. Pantheism: The world is identical to God; emphasis on the deity's immanence.

Feeding of the 5,000

I attended Calvary ECUSA again today. This parish is Josiah's favorite. After the service, I spoke with the priest and was most pleased with what he had to say. I felt like we had a lot in common. The readings today were Eucharistically themed:
  • You gave your good spirit to instruct them, and did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and gave them water for their thirst.
  • So mortals ate the bread of angels; he provided for them food enough.
  • Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
I love these verses, especially the Psalm. As I listened to the readings, I was reminded of several things. The first was the connection between the Eucharist and lembas, or waybread (which the Tolkein's elves gave to the Fellowship in Lord of the Rings) and Mannah or the Eucharist, the "Bread of Heaven."
Although he said it wasn't an allegory, Tolkien did not deny that the Holy Eucharist appears in The Lord of the Rings as the waybread (lembas), given by the elves to the hobbits to eat on their journey. The lembas reinforces the hobbits' wills and provides them with physical sustenance in the dark and barren lands on the way to Mount Doom. As the Church teaches, while the Eucharist still tastes and looks like bread and wine, our sensations shroud a deeper mystery: The Eucharist is truly Christ's body and blood. So in The Lord of the Rings the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Eucharist appear shrouded in the mysterious elements of Middle-earth. 1
This is just one of many connections to his Catholic faith that can be found in LOTR. For instance, the person of Elbereth/Gilthoniel, on whose name Frodo calls when using the phial of Galadriel, is reminiscent of The Blessed Virgin, an important person in Catholicism. Mary is also called "Queen of Heaven" and "Star of the Sea." Compare these two songs, one from Tolkein and one a Catholic hymn:
Snow-white! Snow-white, O Lady clear!
O Queen beyond the Western Seas!
O Light to us that wander here
Amid the world of woven trees!

Ave Maris Stella
Hail bright star of ocean,
God's own Mother blest,
Ever sinless Virgin,
Gate of heavenly rest.

Anyway, back to today's lessons. Another thing it made me think about was a recent debate I had on a yahoo group about the nature of the Eucharist. In general, Christians agree that Christ is bodily present in the bread and wine of communion. But there are several different ways of thinking about HOW that occurs. Roman Catholics believe in transubstantiation. This essentially says that the bread and wine are completely subsumed by the Body and Blood of Christ, the one totally becomes the other. Lutherans and some other liturgical Protestants believe in Consubstantiation. This belief, as well as Impanation, states that the bread and wine stay, but that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present WITH (under and around) the original elements. Other Protestant churches teach that Christ is only spiritully present, while others teach that it is just a symbol, a remembrance, with no grace or real presence attached. The Orthodox choose not to explan it, but affirm that Christ is truly present.

I like Impanation because it seems to me to be more in keeping with the Incarnational theology of the ancient Church. As I understand it, just as Christ was fully human and fully God, so the Eucharist is fully earthly (bread and wine) and fully Divine (Body and Blood of Christ). I've heard another term used -- transfiguration. I like that one possibly best of all.

As the priest preached on the gospel lesson (the feeding of the 5,000), I was reminded of something that happened to my parents several years ago. My siblings and I were all young and my parents were running a "faith ministry." We lived on donations. One day, a friend of the family brought by her daughter-in-law as they were on their way to the divorce lawyer. (That's a healthy in-law relationship!!) My dad wasn't there, so my mom listened to the wife's story. She had just cause to leave the bastard. Of course, my parents didn't (and don't) believe in divorce. After hearing her story, my mom asked her to wait until she could speak to my dad and her together, and the woman agreed. As she left, my mom was led to show her the interior of our refrigerator.

At this time in our lives, the refrigerator was bare. Donations were down in the wake of the PTL scandal and all we had were catsup and tea. We'd eaten lunch and there was nothing left for dinner. The woman was shocked. My mom said, "No, we have nothing for dinner. But Christ told us that he would take care of us, and I have faith that He will provide. In the same way, I have faith that, if you are obedient and patient, God will provide for you as well." The woman shook her head and left.

Right after she left, the floodgates opened. A veritable cavalcade of cars poured into our driveway, each bearing food. There were leftover veggies from the school, canned goods, snacks and desserts, everything we needed and more. Mind you, we hadn't told anyone of our plight. They just all decided to bring us food .... on the same day. We reveled in the abundance, but didn't realize the significace of the gift.

The next day she returned to speak to my father (an amazing marriage counselor) and mother together. They shared with her Matthew 6:31-34 (especially the last verse):
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day [is] the evil thereof.
She said, "But if you take that literally ...." and then she stopped and said, "but I know you do because I saw your refrigerator yesterday, and I see it again today." So, like tbe boy who gave his food to Jesus and had it used to feed a crowd, my parents gave him their refrigerator, and had it used to talk this woman out of a divorce.

In the end, she stayed with her bastard .... I mean husband. And, eventually, he came around. At last report they were both very happy. This, by the way, is a true story. You can judge the miracle quotient yourself.

Discussion with Sibling on the Last Post

deliCat monster: hey
Herveus: sup?
deliCat monster: im looking at your blog
deliCat monster: i just posted a reply
Herveus: Cool, cool, I'll read it...
Welly welly well. I can't believe I hadn't heard this story. I also can't believe that my dear husband hasn't posted a reply yet. Here's my thoughts:
1) I think you are off about having a choice after we die. That seems about as much as to say that everyone goes to heaven...which you may believe, I'm not sure. But I don't.

2) You missed a golden opportunity to slam Calvin. Not only does he believe that our fates are set before we die, he belives we are predestined for hell before ever being born! (Sorry Aaron, I know you hate it when I oversimplify)

3) Something I have considered is regarding the verse in romans I think which is calligraphied on the living room wall about "having no excuse on judgment day". I personally believe that somehow God gets through to everyone whether or not they have heard the westernized version of Christianity (deepest darkest africa types). How that happens I am not sure. But the main thrust of my belief is this: No one goes to hell without some kind of an opportunity for heaven. Before death. Which would leave Josiah cold unfortunately, or hot, I suppose. BUT! Josiah can't just say "I don't believe in God anymore" if he ever really did. Nothing can take us from God!!
Herveus: I think I proved, with the example of Satan, that just because everyone might have a chance to decide after they die doesn't mean that everyone will choose Jesus. Satan didn't.
Herveus: ANd I thought about using the Romans verse too, but it was getting too long.
deliCat monster: welllll, i tihink satan is a special case
Herveus: Well, what about all the people who die never having heard of Jesus.
deliCat monster: well, like i said, based on the romans verse, i think that people can somehow come to a saving knowledge sans hearing a preacher
deliCat monster: don't know how common that is
Herveus: It better be plenty common, 'cause there are lots and lots of people who have died never having heard the gospel.
deliCat monster: well not my job to figure out who goes to heaven and who goes to hell
deliCat monster: i dont think theres a quota
Herveus: Actually, there is. Revelations says there are people from every tribe and tongue.
deliCat monster: yes and?
Herveus: So, it's a racial quota!
deliCat monster: maybe just one!
deliCat monster: a quota of one is not a very big quota
Herveus: Just trying to be funny!
Herveus: Tell that to God ...
Herveus: 1. People have gone to heaven who never heard of Jesus 2. People are still alive who will die never having heard of Jesus. 3. Many beings have chosen to reject God/Jesus, knowing him fully. 4. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that we will all be given that same option.
Herveus: Oh, and the church is a piss-poor witness of Jesus, so people on Earth can't truly know him.
deliCat monster: 1) what is your definition of "heard"
deliCat monster: 2) you have a lot to contend with saying that people have understood jesus fully and rejected him
Herveus: Well, that's actually a bit complicated. When I say "heard" I mean even hearing his name, or of him. But really I mean knowing it to be true. That's something entirely different.
deliCat monster: well i use the term "heard" to mean "given an opportunity to accept"
Herveus: What do you mean (2)? I know that Satan knew him fully and rejected/rebelled against him. Why couldn't we?
deliCat monster: ive made that same argument
Herveus: So what if you're given an opportunity? Someone may give me an opportunity to believe that aliens seeded the earth, but I have no proof of it. Why should I believe it based on some kook's word?
deliCat monster: just saying that there are a lot of people (aaron) who would mount a fairly convincing argument that people who "reject" don't understand
deliCat monster: well the argument you are making there is for effectual calling
deliCat monster: calling actually by the holy spirit
Herveus: Except Satan did. And if I agree with Aaron as far as people on earth. Which is why I don't think it's true rejection. How can you reject something you don't understand?
Herveus: Now that's a good point. We know that Peter was inspired to his confession of faith by the Holy Spirit. One could also argue that everyone is given that same moment of clarity, when they KNOW it (the gospel) to be true. I could accept that, but regardless of whether it is on earth or in heaven, everyone has to know FOR CERTAIN, or they can't really reject.
deliCat monster: well, i think it's on earth and it can be mediated by God alone in the wilderness...doesnt matter where just as long as everyone gets a break
Herveus: Is this you or Aaron? Effectual calling? Mediated in the wilderness? Have you been reading Aaron's textbooks?

When We All Get To Heaven...

After my nephew went home my niece came for a couple of days. As I was driving my niece to her father (with my son in the car), they began talking about God. Josiah said, "Dad, I don't know if I believe in God. I'm not as sure any more." He thought a little bit longer and added, "Yeah, I think I agree with mom." His mother is, more or less, a deist. (I have since discovered that she does believe in the very basic tenets of Christianity, but doesn't know why.)

I wasn't sure what to say. "YOU MUST BELIEVE!!!" No, not that. "YOU'RE GOING TO HELL!!!" No, not that either. "ONOMATOPOEIA!!!" Huh? I sat silent for some time while my niece explained to my son that's what her dad did. "Oh, Josiah, that's what my daddy does. He talks to people who don't believe in Jesus so they'll believe."

I racked my brain for about ten minutes. The first thing that came to my mind were the philosophical proofs, or lack thereof, for God. Belief in God is actually quite reasonable. The concept of the Prime Mover or First Cause is very reasonable. Of course, the whole concept of cause and effect was later challenged by Hume. Hume and Kant both agreed that the existence of God could not be proved. They also said it couldn't be disproven. But arguments about the existence of God are largely beyond a seven year old.

I also figured that, like his mom, what Josiah really was doubting was Jesus. If belief in God is reasonable, belief in Jesus (as the incarnate Word who died on the cross and rose again) is most definitely NOT! Charity believes in Jesus as a man, just not in the traditional dogma of the Church. This made me think of St. Thomas the Apostle. He, when told of Jesus' resurrection, did not believe at first. It was not until he saw the risen Christ, and put his fingers in the wounds, that he believed.

Finally, I recalled a third grade teacher I once worked with. She was/is a Catholic who had/has serious doubts. Her priest told her that the doubters, the ones who wrestled with God, sometimes ended up having the greatest faith. So, this is what I said:
Josiah, there is no way to prove God exists, although even Mommy believes in Him. And there's especially no way to prove that Jesus lived or was the Son of God. It's OK if you doubt it. God won't be upset. Sometimes, I even wonder. But just because you have doubts doesn't mean you don't have to believe at all. But, even though it doesn't make sense to me sometimes, I still believe.
Then, I told him the story of St. Thomas, how he doubted, and how he later brought the gospel to India. Josiah thought about it for a bit and said, "Well, I guess I believe more than I don't. It just doesn't make sense."

I dropped the discussion at that point. I'd said what I needed to say. I don't feel the need to have him say the words right away. Why? It has to do with my beliefs regarding the afterlife.

See, when I told my family about Josiah's statement, they were horrified. For them, if you don't believe when you die, your screwed. Even if you, faced with the Truth at Judgment, suddenly believe, you're still going to hell. I thought about this for some time after I began re-examining my faith. The belief that, when you die, you're already set for heaven or hell doesn't seem scripturally, reasonable or traditionally sound to me.

The argument of evangelical goes roughly this way. You hear the gospel somehow on earth ... tract ... street preacher ... priest ... whatever. Once you hear it, you "know" the Truth and have to make a decision. If you die with the correct decision unmade, you're bound for hell. After all, who, faced with God, wouldn't decide to go to heaven?

There are several problems with this. First, what about all the people who don't ever hear about Jesus, both today and throughout history? Did they all go to hell? Some would say yes, but I think most would say no. So, lets agree that:
If you haven't heard the Truth, you can't know it, can't make a decision and, thus, you won't be doomed to hell.
So if you haven't heard about Jesus, then you won't be condemned. OK, what about the people that have. If I'm walking the street and I hear some random dude telling me I'll go to hell if I don't get saved, does that count as "knowing the Truth?" Somehow, I doubt it. Or, even worse, what if the one who preaches is evil? What if the priest who told you about Jesus also molested you? What if the conquistador that told you about Jesus also raped your sister and sold you into slavery? Do you know the Truth then? This leads me to my second point:
Humans are such flawed vessels that they can't truly convey the Truth.
If we take that, and premise #1, then there is no way on earth to truly know about Jesus. "But," some respond, "everyone would go to heaven! Who wouldn't accept Jesus faced with the reality at the Judgment seat?" Well, we already know of one who hasn't. Lucifer. Satan. The Devil and all his angels. They knew God in His fullness. They were perfect beings who, knowing the reality of their decision, rebelled against God and were cast out. If Satan made that decision under those circumstances, then why wouldn't some humans? I bet they would.

This reminds me of a bible verse. I can't remember exactly how it goes, but it says something along the lines of "If you know the Truth, and then reject it, you are lost forever." I don't believe this means God wouldn't take you back. I think it means that, if you make a decision, knowing the Truth and the consequences, as Satan did, there is no turning back because you wouldn't do it yourself. Humans can't make that kind of commitment or rejection because they don't KNOW the Truth on earth. They see "in a glass darkly." Thus, my final premise is:
There are those who, faced with the Truth, faced with Jesus and knowing of His love and the reality of heaven and hell, will choose hell.
Based on these three premises (premii?) I contend that everyone will know God as He is and have a chance to choose before they are condemned. My belief is further strengthened by an excellent article titled The River of Fire. I can't summarize it effectively. All I can say is this article, based on the ancient witness and teaching of the Church, paints a picture of God more loving than any I learned about in all the Protestant churches I ever attended.

Regarding Josiah, God is Love. He loves Josiah more than I ever could. I trust Him with Josiah's future. For me, it's not a race against God. "Oh no, I have to get Josiah to say the words and believe before I die or he dies or God's gonna get'im!!!" I will keep teaching him, and praying with him, and loving him and trying to be Christ for him and trust that, when convicted with the Truth, on earth or in heaven, he will believe it.

A Prayer

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged

Abba Paphnutius said: When I was walking along the road, I happened to lose my way and found myself near a village and I saw some people who were talking about evil things.
So I stood still, praying for my sins. Then, behold, an angel came, holding a sword and he said to me, "Paphnutius, all those who judge their brothers perish by this sword, but because you have not judged, but have humbled yourself before God, saying that you have sinned, your name is written in the book of the living!"

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Jesus Christ Was A Dirty Hippie

With the afore-mentioned River of Fire, the following essays (presented as a whole when I first read them) were the most theology shaking documents I had ever read. It is, I believe (with some exceptions), Christianity the way it was meant to be ... the way it should be. I hope you get some use out of it. Here are the links to every section:

The Way of the Dirty Hippie
Live for Today, Be here Now
Dirty, Unclean, Unwashed, Defiled, Offensive
Tolerance and other Liberal Virtues
Peace, Love Justice, Understanding, Man
The "Glutton" and the "Drunkard"
The Hippie is Homeless and Poor
The Hippie Has Tuned In, Turned On and Dropped Out
You Can Draw Your Own Conclusions
The Hippie and the Local Church
Following the Way

Sharing Communion

For those who haven't figured it out yet, I'm kind of the religious black sheep in my family. We moved through most every Protestant denomination save Lutheran and Episcopalian in the years when my father was a choir director. Towards the end, though, we spent most of our time in Baptist churches. Thus, it was quite a shock for them when I started down the Catholic/Orthodox path.

Having struggled with a take on Christianity which was quite foreign from my own, I gained an ability to explain Catholic/Orthodox Christianity to Evangelical Protestants. This has led to endless conversations and debates with my family on various religious (and political) topics. Well, my sisters usually think it terribly boring, but my brother, dad and I enjoy it. You can read some of the discussions between my brother and myself here.

I am now firmly in the Catholic/Orthodox camp (mostly the latter) in matters of faith, worship and theology. The one thing that keeps me from joining up is that, in my estimation, to do so would be to A) say that my family and other non-Orthodox are not in the Body of Christ and B) abandon them. In other words, to join up I'd have to lie, which would kind of defeat the purpose of the thing. So I don't.

Occasionally, I attend worship with one of my siblings or my father. The last time I attended worship at my brother's church, James Island Baptist, I was given an extra-special treat! They follow the Purpose-Driven plan for their church, which spills into worship. One of the things that bothers me about that plan is that it makes the worship directed toward the congregation (especially the "unchurched") rather than towards God. It's a trend which has continued since they turned the altar to face the congregation in Vatican II. The best part of the service, though, was when the worship team led us in a song which had the following lyrics:
We're standing on the rock
and in this house, we will roll.
Yeah. Not quite. Anyway, the thing about this church is that, more than any other individual church I've ever attended, they DO Christianity better, in every respect but worship (and theology). They serve, they evangelize, they reach out ... they are quite amazing, really. So, even though I disagree with them (and them with me) in most everything but the very basic essentials, they are, as a whole, much better Christians than most other Christians I know. Certainly better than myself.

So, what's the problem? Why is ecumenism so difficult? I have been bothered for some time by the Catholic/Orthodox practice which prevents me, for instance, from communing at their churches, not to mention true Evangelical Protestants like my brother and his church. I finally understood it when I assisted my brother at a prayer retreat we put together for his youth group.

The retreat actually went pretty well. The youth were wonderful! I can't remember any of their names, but they were (for the most part) very interested in the weekend and in deepening their prayer lives. I met up with them early Friday morning, and we trudged up a VERY long hill to pray at the top while we watched the sunrise. I had chosen a pretty liturgical prayer office to use and, in various parts, felt like I had gone too far with it. It was just too much. Too unfamiliar.

We split the day up into the traditional breaks of the canonical hours: Prime, Lauds, Sext, Nones, Vespers, Compline, etc. For each section, we learned something different. In one section, I told them about the Jesus prayer (and we made a small prayer rope) and the Rosary (slightly modified). They were very open to it, especially to the Jesus prayer (which made me most happy). We prayed and sang together. I taught one girl how to play Coldplay's "Clocks" on the guitar. All in all, it was an ecumenical dream.

Until that evening. No one but my brother knew this, but I was having a HUGE problem with the communion portion planned for the evening. We started with the Stations of the Cross and ended with each of them making a commitment to pray some every day, followed by Communion. For those who believe it to just be symbolic, this is no big deal. But for me, the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. There's a certain amount of ceremony and liturgy which I believe should accompany celebrating the Mysteries. But I'm not ordained, so I can't do the liturgy ... I can't bless the elements. My brother is ordained, in the Southern Baptist Church, so he can. But, although he is an uncommon Baptist, he doesn't quite believe as I do, or the ancient church did (does), either. So, what was I supposed to do? I couldn't bless the elements. He could, but should I commune? It was a test of what I believed and of my judgment of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

In the end, I did. Yes, it was with pita bread and sparkling grape juice. Yes, it was in the middle of the woods and we all had dirty hands. Yes, the liturgy was stripped down to a bare minimum (pretty much what my brother could remember off the top of his head). Was it the Body and Blood at that moment, or just a commemoration? I don't know. And I don't think it really mattered. What I do know is that, sacrament or no, it meant something to them, and to me. And I also learned why this is such an important issue for Catholics and Orthodox. There is a reason why they're so guarded about it and protective of it, and I was unjust to expect them to let me come waltzing in, as an outsider, and commune.

In the Celtic Catholic Church, we have a canon (a rule) which says that everyone can receive the Eucharist regardless of their state of grace. We believe that, more than a sign of unity, and more than a remembrance of the Last Supper and Sacrifice of Christ, the Eucharist is medicine for our sick souls. To prevent someone from coming to the Table because they are a sinner, or even have unconfessed sin, is like preventing a man with leprosy from taking penicillin. It is the sick who need a doctor, not the healthy. At least, that's what Jesus said. Josiah, when it comes time for communion, says, "Medicine time!" with excitement. He calls it medicine because it reminds him of cough syrup. I don't correct him because he's right. It is medicine.

But I still sometimes wonder if the Catholics and Orthodox aren't right. Jesus is still present in the ECUSA as much as he is in the OCA. Perhaps, in the same way that me becoming Orthodox is a lie, it is also a lie for the Orthodox to concelebrate with Bishops with whom they aren't in communion. How can I expect them to do something I won't? And it is undeniable that, even within their own churches, that Catholics and Orthodox, now and in the past, have denied the Mysteries to certain people doing penance or who have strayed. Who am I to argue with 2,000 years of practice? Of course, they also used to make sinners confess in front of the entire church. I'm glad the Irish cured them of that!

I don't know, I don't know. I do know that, although the Eucharist might be a separate issue, that we can certainly pray and work together for those things on which we can agree. I think that my brother and I were able to achieve that with his youth group, at least. So, in case any of Josh's youth read this blog entry, thanks for teaching me a valuable lesson. And thanks for reminding me that Christians definitely exist outside of the Catholic and Orthodox churches and, in many instances, put the rest of the Church to shame. Even if you are Baptists.

Interesting Artistic Rendition of the Trinity

In perusing the internet, I found an interesting artistic image of the
Trinity. I'm not sure if it conveys the correct theological understanding, though. It seems almost modalist.

The best artistic representation of the Trinity is this one.

The Holy Trinity

Andrei Rublev. Ca.1410-20.

Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow, 142 x 114 cm.

Many scholars consider Rublev's Trinity the most perfect of all Russian icons and perhaps the most perfect of all the icons ever painted. The work was created for the abbot of the Trinity Monastery, Nikon of Radonezh, a disciple of the famous Sergius, one of the leaders of the monastic revival in the 14th-century Russia. Asking Rublev to paint the icon of the Holy Trinity, Nikon wanted to commemorate Sergius as a man whose life and deeds embodied the most progressive processes in the late 14th-century Russia.

From the earliest times, the idea of the Trinity was controversial and difficult to understand, especially for the uneducated masses. Even though Christianity replaced the pagan polytheism, it gave the believers a monotheistic religion with a difficult concept of one God in three hypostases -- God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Not only the uneducated population but many theologians had difficulties with the concept of the triune God; from time to time, a heretical movement, like Arianism, questioned the doctrine, causing long debates, violent persecutions, and even greater general confusion. Trying to portray the Trinity, but always aware of the Biblical prohibition against depicting God, icon painters turned to the story of the hospitality of Abraham who was visited by three wanderers. In their compositions, icon painters included many details -- the figures of Abraham and Sarah, a servant killing a calf in preparation for the feast, the rock, the tree of Mamre, and the house (tent) -- trying to render as faithfully as possible the events described in the text:

"And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said. And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf that he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat" (KJV, Genesis, 18: 1-8 and passim).

Very few artists before Rublev dared to eliminate all the narrative elements from the story, leaving only the three angels; usually those who did so had to deal with limited space. The results of their efforts did not find general acceptance or many copyists. Rublev was the first to make a conscious decision not to include in his composition the figures of Abraham and Sarah because he did not set out to illustrate the story of the hospitality of Abraham, as did many painters before him, but to convey through his image the idea of the unity and indivisibility of the three persons of the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity, difficult to explain logically, found various interpretations. Some thought that the Trinity consisted of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Others believed that it was just God and two angels. In the 14th and 15th-century Russia, in the period of many heretical movements, the idea of the Trinity was often questioned. The heretics in Novgorod claimed that it is not permissible to paint the Trinity on icons because Abraham did not see the Trinity but only God and two angels. Other heretics rejected the idea of the three hypostases of God altogether. The church fought the heresies with all the means it had -- usually with polemical treaties, but also with force, if necessary. Russian icon painters before Rublev subscribed to the same point of view that Abraham was visited by God (in Christ's image) and two angels. Hence, Christ was represented in icons of the Trinity as the middle angel and was symbolically set apart either by a halo with a cross, by a considerable enlargement of his figure, by widely spread wings or by a scroll in His hand.


Trinity Icons. From left to right: Holy Trinity, a part of a quadripartite icon from Novgorod (first half of the 15th c.), Holy Trinity (Hospitality of Abraham), Novgorod School (middle of the 16th c.), Holy Trinity, Pskov School (15th c.).

In Rublev's icon for the first time all the angels are equally important. Only this icon truly conforms to the Orthodox idea of the Trinity. But Rublev's genius allows the painter to go beyond the constraints of theological theme. His icon is a special kind of challenge to the antitrinitarians -- instead of forcing them to accept the dogma, Rublev softly and gently tries to bring them to the dogmatic understanding of the icon's meaning.

All scholars agree that the three hypostases of the Trinity are represented in Rublev's icon. But there are greatly differing views as to which angel represents which hypostasis. Many see Christ in the middle angel and God the Father in the left. Others see God the Father in the middle angel, and Christ in the left one. The middle angel occupies a special place in the icon: it is set apart not only by its central position, but also by a "regal" turn of its head towards the left angel, and by pointing with its hand towards the cup on the table. Both the turn of the head and the gesture are important clues to the hidden meaning of the icon. Equal among equals, the middle angel has such expressive power that one hesitates not to see in it a symbolic representation of God the Father. On the other hand one cannot fail to notice that the left angel is also essential: two other angels lower their heads towards it and seem to address it. Therefore, if we assume that the left angel is God the Father, the middle angel, dressed in the clothes customarily used in compositions depicting the second person of the Trinity (a blue himation and a crimson tunic), should represent Christ. This amazing and perhaps purposeful encoding of these two persons of the Trinity by Rublev does not give us a clear clue for a single interpretation. Whatever the case, the icon shows a dialogue between two angels: The Father turns to His Son and explains the necessity of His sacrifice, and the Son answers by agreeing with His Father's wish.

Neither of these interpretations impacts the interpretation of the Trinity as triune God and as a representation of the sacrament of the Eucharist. The cup on the table is an eucharistic symbol. In the cup we see the head of the calf which Abraham used for the feast. The church interprets this calf as a prototype of the New Testament Lamb, and thus the cup acquires its Eucharistic meaning. The left and the middle angels bless the cup: The Father blesses His Son on his Deed, on His death on the cross for the sake of man's salvation, and the Son, blessing the cup, expresses his readiness to sacrifice Himself. The third angel does not bless the cup and does not participate in the conversation, but is present as a Comforter, the undying, a symbol of eternal youth and the upcoming Resurrection.

As early as in the 14th century, the popularity of the cult of the Trinity was not based only on its theological content but also on its relationship to the concrete situation in Russian political and social history. It was a time of constant feudal wars that undermined the weak economy of Russian principalities. The best minds of the time (for instance, St. Sergius of Radonezh) understood that feudal quarrels are the greatest evil because they weaken Russia and make it an easy prey for its enemies. For that reason they tried to end the wars and free Russia from the Mongol yoke at any cost. In the idea of the Trinity they found the criticism of the feudal divisions and the Mongol yoke as well as an encouragement to "collect" the divided lands and become free.

But perhaps the most important thought Rublev wanted to convey when he painted his great icon was the thought about the necessity and goodness of love, a bond based on the trust between individuals. The old texts about Trinity as three hypostases of the Divinity talk about love which fills the Trinity: "Trinity is love," "The Son loves His Father, the Father loves His Son," "The Love of the Heavenly Father Is Given to the World through His Son ." Since the theological ideas were understandable only to a few, something else must have made the icon attractive for a wider spectrum of viewers and believers. Obviously, the content of the Trinity is not restricted to the theological ideas. Rublev's Trinity is not only a representation of the three hypostases of God and the symbol of the Eucharist, but it is also an all-encompassing symbol of unity and an image of divine love. [After Vzdornov].

This last, important interpretation is beautifully supported by the words of Henri Nouwen:

"Andrew Rublev painted this icon not only to share the fruits of his own meditation on the mystery of the Holy Trinity but also to offer his fellow monks a way to keep their hearts centered in God while living in the midst of political unrest. The more we look at this holy image with the eyes of faith, the more we come to realize that it is painted not as a lovely decoration for a convent church, nor as a helpful explanation of a difficult doctrine, but as a holy place to enter and stay within. As we place ourselves in front of the icon in prayer, we come to experience a gentle invitation to participate in the intimate conversation that is taking place among the three divine angels and to join them around the table. The movement from the Father toward the Son and the movement of both Son and Spirit toward the Father become a movement in which the one who prays is lifted up and held secure. . . .

Through the contemplation of this icon we come to see with our inner eyes that all engagements in this world can bear fruit only when they take place within this divine circle. The words of the psalm, "The sparrow has found its home at last. . . . Happy are those who live in your house" (Ps 84: 3,4) are given new depth and new breadth; they become words revealing the possibility of being in the world without being of it. We can be involved in struggles for justice and in actions for peace. We can be part of the ambiguities of family and community life. We can study, teach, write and hold a regular job. We can do all of this without ever having to leave the house of love. . . . Rublev's icon gives us a glimpse of the house of perfect love" (Nouwen 20-22). [A.B.]

The East and the West

I once hear a tale of a man
who split himself in two.
The one part never changed at all;
the other grew and grew.
The changless part was always true,
The growing part was always new.
And I wondered, when the tale was through,
Which part was me, and which was you.

This poem makes me think of many things. Conservatives who are stale and liberals who have no base. The Eastern Church which is closed and the Western Church which has no identity or continuity. Dead Latin, which is seldom used, and living English, which bears no resemblance to its roots. Which is better?