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.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

O Antiphons

O Antiphons



16 Dec

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.

Proverbs 1:20; 8; 9 and I Corinthians 1:30

Christ, Wisdom and Creator of the world

17 Dec

O Adonai,

et dux domus Israël,

qui Moyse in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,

et ei in Sina legem dedisti:

veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Mighty Lord,

and leader of the house of Israël,

who appeared to Moses in the burning bush,

and on Sinai gave him the law,

come to redeem us with outstretched arm.

Exodus 3; Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6

Christ, Lawgiver and Redeemer of Israel

18 Dec

O Radix Jesse,

qui stas in signum populorum,

super quem continebunt reges os suum,

quem gentes deprecabuntur:

veni ad liberandum nos,

jam noli tardare

O Root of Jesse,

who stand as a sign for the people,

kings stand silent in your presence,

whom the nations will worship:

come to set us free,

put it off no longer.

Isaiah 11:10; Romans 15:12; Revelation 5:5

Christ, descendant of David, king of kings

19 Dec

O Clavis David,

et sceptrum domus Israël,

qui aperis, et nemo claudit,

claudis, et nemo aperuit:

veni, et educ vinctum

de domo carceris,

sedentem in tenebris,

et umbra mortis.

O Key of David,

and scepter of the house of Israel,

you open, and no one shuts,

you shut, and no one opens:

come, and lead the prisoner

from jail,

seated in darkness

and in the shadow of death.

Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7

Christ, harrower of hell

20 Dec

O Oriens,

splendor lucis aeternae,

et sol justitiae:

veni, et illumina

sedentes in tenebris,

et umbra mortis.

O Dawn,

splendor of eternal light,

and sun of justice,

come, and shine

on those seated in darkness,

and in the shadow of death.

Luke 1:78, 79; Malachi 4:2

Christ, the Resurrection and the Life

21 Dec

O Rex Gentium,

et desideratus earum,

lapisque angularis,

qui facis utraque unum:

veni, et salva hominem,

quem de limo formasti.

O King of the Nations,

and the one they desired,


who makes both peoples one,

come and save mankind,

whom you shaped from the mud.

Revelation 15:3; Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11;

Ephesians 2:20; I Peter 2:6

Christ, Cornerstone and union of all people

22 Dec

O Emmanuel,

Rex et legifer noster,

expectatio gentium,

et Salvator earum:

veni ad salvandum nos,

Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel,

our King and Lawgiver,

the one awaited by the gentiles,

and their Savior:

come to save us,

Lord our God.

Isaiah 7:14; 8:8; Matthew 1:23; Haggai 2:7

Christ, the hope of all Nations, who await his appearing

23 Dec

O Virgo virginum,

quomodo fiet istud?

Quia nec primam similem visa es

nec habere sequentem.

Filiae Ierusalem,

quid me admiramini?

Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins,

how shall this be?

For neither before was any like thee,

nor shall there be after.

Daughters of Jerusalem,

why marvel ye at me?

That which ye behold is a divine mystery.

Genesis 3:15; Luke 1:26-56

Mary, birthgiver of God

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Words: Latin: c. 9th Century

Tr. by John M. Neale

Tr. by Henry S. Coffin


Adapted from Plainsong, Mode I

Thomas Helmore

O come, o come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

CHORUS: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, O Wisdom from on high,

who orders all things mightily,

to us the path of knowledge show,

and teach us in her ways to go.

CHORUS: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,

Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height

In ancient times didst give the law

In cloud and majesty, and awe.

CHORUS: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, O Rod of Jesse free,

Thine own from Satan's tyranny;

From depths of hell Thy people save,

And give them victory o'er the grave

CHORUS: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, thou Key of David, come,

And open wide our heavenly home;

Make safe the way that leads on high,

And close the path to misery.

CHORUS: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer,

Our spirits by Thine advent here;

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

And death's dark shadows put to flight.

CHORUS: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, Desire of nations, bind,

In one the hearts of all mankind;

Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,

And be Thyself our King of peace.

CHORUS: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

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Selections from "On the Incarnation" by Athanasius

God secured this grace that He had given by making it conditional from the first upon two things - namely, a law and a place. He set them in His own paradise, and laid upon them a single prohibition. If they guarded the grace and retained the loveliness of their original innocence, then the life of paradise should be theirs, without sorrow, pain or care, and after it the assurance of immortality in heaven. But if they went astray and became vile, throwing away their birthright of beauty, then they would come under the natural law of death and live no longer in paradise, but, dying outside of it, continue in death and in corruption...

God had made man thus - that is, as an embodied spirit - and had willed that he should remain in incorruption. But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.

You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself.

Christ is the great hidden mystery, the blessed goal,
the purpose for which everything was created.
- St Maximus the Confessor

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Sermon on the O Antiphons

Sunday 16 December 2006 - Third Sunday in Advent


Preacher: The Dean

Zephaniah 3.14–end, Philippians 4.4–7, Luke 3.7–18

O Sapientia

I am going to play a few word games. I love words and the way we use words and often reflect that we do not give adequate attention to the way we use words and their origins and significance in the liturgy. We know they all have purpose and significance so we tend to leave it at that.

I start with a simple illustration. On Friday lunchtime we hosted the annual carol service for Price WaterhouseCoopers. As the congregation left I smiled at a young lady coming down the aisle very clearly pregnant, and asked her if she was planning a Christmas baby. She laughed and said, ‘No, it’s not due until the end of January (you could have fooled me) but several people have suggested I might take a live role in a crib service.’ There is quite a lot of research that shows the clear benefits to relationship for mothers who talk to their babies while they are still in the womb, and the extraordinarily strong effect of music played to babies yet unborn, in fact so strong that Classic FM has published a disc of such music for expectant mothers to use. Hold that thought for a few minutes, we will return to it.

One of the best-known Advent hymns is, ‘O Come O come Emmanuel’. If I were to prepare sermons six weeks in advance rather than six minutes we might have had that hymn this morning, instead you will have to remember it. The seven verses begin, 'O come Emmanuel;

O come thou Wisdom from on high; O come Adonai; O come thou Root of Jesse; O come thou Lord of David’s Key; O come thou Dayspring bright; O come Desire of nations’. You probably know it is based upon the ancient Advent Antiphons, sometimes called the Great ‘O’s of Advent. If you come to evensong any day between December 17th and 23rd you will hear one of them each day.

So lets briefly look at some words first.

Advent – from the Latin verb for ‘come’ – the season when we look for the coming of Christ, the season when John the Baptist is the focus for our gospels pointing towards the coming Christ. Just in case you hadn’t noticed, think of lines in almost every Advent hymn; (NEH) ‘Thou camest, Bridegroom of the bride…’ (1);’So, when thou comest at the last…’(2); ‘Come, thou long expected Jesus…’(3); ‘He that comes despised shall reign…(4)’;’So when next he comes in glory…(5)’; ‘Hark the glad sound the saviour comes…He comes the prisoners to release…He comes the broken heart to bind…(6) ‘He comes in righteousness and love…(7) ‘Come then o saviour and abide…(8)’ ‘ Lo, he comes with clouds descending…(9)’ – one gets the feeling the hymn book editor was trying to make a point.

Antiphon – anti = over against; phon = sound. Antiphon is sound from side to side. That is how the choir sings – from side to side, especially in psalms and canticles, that’s where we get the architectural term ‘choir’ from – the place in the church where the seats are set facing one another so the choir can see and hear one another as they respond to each other; from side to side.

The Advent Antiphons are sung at evensong before the canticle Magnificat. Why are they sung before and after the Magnificat? In St Luke’s gospel, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord, my spirit doth rejoice in God my saviour’ is Mary’s song in response to her cousin Elizabeth.

You will remember Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist and he ‘leaps’ in her womb when Mary first speaks to Elizabeth because he recognises Jesus’ presence. Elizabeth exclaims, ‘Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?’ and Mary responds with the song we now call Magnificat. It does not take much thought to recognise why the Advent Antiphons are sung before and after Magnificat – Mary’s song of praise to God for the coming birth of the Messiah. The antiphons are her words, her songs to her child. I asked you to hold the notion of mothers addressing their unborn children, of music for the womb, in your mind. Here in the gospel passage we have John the Baptist leaping (very uncomfortable) at the sound of Mary’s voice and Mary singing. Some time before the eighth century this week of antiphons, music from side to side, some say written by Pope Gregory the Great, began to be sung as Mary’s words to her child before Mary’s words of thanks to God for her child. They are intimate, intrinsically personal, profoundly scriptural and gently prophetic.

Then there is this curious little feature. Listen to the opening words in Latin: - ‘O sapientia; O Adonai; O Radix Jesse; O Clavis David; O Oriens; O Rex gentium; O Emmanuel.’

In reverse order the letters after the first ‘O’ spell 'Ero cras' - 'I will be (with you) tomorrow'. This may be intentional, or it may be a coincidence turned into a linguistic conceit, but it is undeniably extraordinary.

Each antiphon is a selection of scriptural texts, several phrases from the Hebrew Scriptures placed alongside one another. Mary’s words to her unborn child are deeply, deeply founded in the tradition from which he, and she, emerge.

Why do I tell all this to you today? Well, today is ‘O sapientia’ the first of the seven days.

It seemed to me there could be no better day to remind you of the depth and breadth of the liturgy. But I tell you for more reason than that.

There is a local reason. There on the south wall above the Sacristy door is a window commemorating Geoffrey Chaucer and his links with this church, links with the Canterbury Pilgrims who set off from here journeying to the shrine of Thomas Becket who had preached here before he fled from London. In the Canterbury Tales the Second Nun’s tale begins with an invocation, a prayer for help, to the Virgin Mary.

‘And thou that art the flower of virgins all.
Of whom St Bernard had such skill to write
To thee, at my beginning first I call’… and on goes the prayer…
‘Within the blissful cloister of thy womb
There took man’s shape the eternal love and peace,
Lord and guide of the trinal circle, whom
The heavens and earth and sea shall never cease
To glorify, pure virgin, the increase
Of whose fair body, never by man mated,
Was the creator of all things created.’

Of whose fair body was the creator of all things created.

It is a translation of Dante’s Bernard’s use of the paradox – worshipping Mary, worshipping Christ. Mary the mother of Jesus, Jesus the Son of God, Word made flesh, creator of all that has life.

Julian of Norwich’s Westminster Manuscript of her ‘Revelations’ begins with a great illuminated ‘O’. It says,

Ure gracious & goode/ lorde god shewed me in/ party the wisdom & the trewthe/ of the soule of oure blessed lady/ saynt mary. Where in I under/stood the reuerent beholdynge/ that she beheld her god that is/ her maker. maruelyng with/ grete reuerence that he wolde/ be borne of her that was a/ simple creature of his makyng. ‘

…‘marvelling with great reverence that he would be born of her that was a simple creature of his making’…

Julian of Norwich and Chaucer understood the meaning of the paradox and of the marvelling, they knew the Advent Antiphons and they recognised in their devotional depth the tender love of a mother for her unborn child, marvelling. That is where we are in this Advent season, at the point of tender love for the unborn child.

When we grasp that then we grasp also the sensitivity of today's scriptures – calling the Philippians to ‘rejoice’… ‘in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving’ – is that not what these great antiphon’s do? Zephaniah’s prophecy says, ‘Sing aloud, O daughter Zion, …rejoice and exult O daughter Jerusalem’ is that not evocative of the exchange between Mary and Elizabeth? We look forwards as the people whom John the Baptist had called looked forwards, ‘with eager expectation’ and, I hope, with humility and awe; in today’s gospel John says, ‘I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire.’

On page fourteen of your service books you will find the antiphons (see below). Use them in the next few days and this week. We contemplate Mary contemplating her unborn Son who contemplates her he is Creator of all.

Put yourselves into the mind of Mary and sing the antiphons in your heart as a song to Christ as yet unborn, marvelling that he may be born in all our hearts.

Even so, Come Lord Jesus.


16 December
Wisdom, which camest out of the mouth of the most High, and reachest from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

17 December
Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

Adonai and Leader of the house of Israel, who appearedst in the Bush of Moses in a flame of fire, and gavest him the law in Sinai: Come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.

18 December
Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek: Come and deliver us, and tarry not.

19 December
Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel; that openest, and no man shuttests, and shuttest, and no man openeth: come and bring the prisoner out of the prison house, and him that sittest in darkness, and the shadow of death.

20 December
Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel: qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: venit, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris et umbra mortis.

Day-Spring, Brightness of Light, everlasting and sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten him that sitteth in darkness, and the shadow of death.

21 December
aOriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis.

aKing of the Nations, and their Desire; the Cornerstone, who makest both one: Come and save mankind, whom thou formedst of clay.

22 December

aRex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations, and their Salvation: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

23 December

aEmmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.

Virgin of Virgins, how shall this be? for neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after: Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? the thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Ierusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

The Baby Who Rocked the World

This holy-day season read a Christmas sermon from the early church's famous preacher John Chrysostom, fourth-century patriarch of Constantinople.
edited by Edith Barnecut O.S.B.

Today, as a firstborn son, Christ went down into Egypt to end the mourning its ancient bereavement had brought upon that land. Instead of plagues he brought joy, instead of night and darkness he gave the light of salvation.

Of old the river's water had been polluted by the untimely deaths of murdered infants. Therefore he who long ago had stained the waters red went down into Egypt and purified those waters by the power of the Holy Spirit, making them the source of salvation. When the Egyptians were afflicted they raged against God and denied him.
Therefore he went down into Egypt, filled devout souls with the knowledge of God, and made the river more productive of martyrs than it was of ears of grain.

What more shall I say of this mystery? I see a carpenter and a manger, an infant and swaddling clothes, a virgin giving birth without the necessaries of life, nothing but poverty and complete destitution. Have you ever seen wealth in such great penury? How could he who was rich have become, for our sake, so poor that he had neither bed nor bedding but was laid in a manger? O immeasurable wealth concealed in poverty! He lies in a manger, yet he rocks the whole world. He is bound with swaddling bands, yet he breaks the bonds of sin. Before he could speak he taught the wise men and converted them. What else can I say? Here is the newborn babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. With him are Mary, virgin and mother, and Joseph who was called his father.

Joseph was only betrothed to Mary when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her; so he was at a loss as to what he should call the child. While he was in this perplexity a message from heaven came to him by the voice of an angel: Do not be afraid, Joseph. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child. In her virginity the Holy Spirit overshadowed her.

Why was Christ born of a virgin, and her virginity preserved inviolate? Because of old the devil had deceived the virgin Eve, Gabriel brought the Good News to the Virgin Mary. Having fallen into the trap, Eve spoke the word that led to death. Having received the good News, Mary gave birth to the incarnate Word who has brought us eternal life.

(Christmas Homily: 56, 392)
Sermon excerpt from Journey with the Fathers: Year A, edited by Edith Barnecut O.S.B. (New City Press, 1993). Used by permission.

Copyright © 2006 Christian History & Biography, or the author.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Blessing and Adjutorium

The Coolest Blessing I've Ever Heard:
The poor shall eat, and be filled,
and those who seek the Lord shall praise Him.
Their hearts shall live unto ages of ages.
The above reminds me of one from the Wild Goose Community of Iona:
God bless to us our bread
And give bread to all those who are hungry
And hunger for justice to those who are fed.
I think I'm going to start using one or more of them in conjunction with this prayer:
Blessed are you, Lord God, King of Creation,
for the food you bring from the earth:
Praised and blessed be your holy Name!

The blessing of the five loaves and the two fishes
that the Lord shared with the five thousand,
the bounty of the King who made the sharing
come upon our food and all who share it.
This is the adjutorium in Old English
Wes, drihten god, deore fultum;
beheald, drihten, me, and me hraðe syððan
gefultuma æt feorhþearfe.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Advent Prayers regarding Mary

Sweet lady, remember me kindly.
- Medieval Benedictine prayer

The Virgin weighed with the Word of God
Comes down the road if only you’ll shelter her.
- St. John of the Cross, 1585

We fly to thy patronage, oh holy Mother of God.
Do not despise our petitions in our needs;
But deliver us from all dangers
Oh ever-virgin, glorious and blessed.
- Sub tuum, 4th c. prayer to Mary (earliest known)

No tender dw, no breeze or shower
But God in all his loving power
Raised you, a branch of his own nation,
To bear the joy of our salvation.
When he first thought of shining bright
With all the radiance of his light,
You were a gleam of his devising
Whose Word in pure gold uprising
We praise with you in every hour;
O fragrant rose and freshest flower.
- St. Hildegard of Bingen (1160)

Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and frsh,
Though much the ystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvelous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There evening, noon, and morn.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. (1847)