Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Angelic Annunciation and the New Eve

Saint Paul clearly tells us that Christ’s sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection has undone what Adam’s disobedience has caused. The Apostle tells his audience at Rome, “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” (5:12) When he discusses Christ’s saving work, he elaborates and explains:

Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (5:18-19)

To summarize, St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” (I Corinthians 15:22)

There is yet another facet to the parallels between Adam and Jesus, an aspect of the life of Our Savior which St. Paul strangely neglects. There is another aspect of the story which has a striking symmetry to it. One might create this corollary to St. Paul’s statement, “For as through Eve did Adam cause all men to die, even so through Mary does Christ give life to all men.”

Remember, of course, that it was Eve who first ate of the forbidden fruit and then gave it to her husband. Why Eve escapes St. Paul’s scorn is unknown. Skip a few thousand years forward and another woman becomes involved in the salvation story. This time the Angel Gabriel comes to a virgin in the town of Galilee whose name is Mary. The Angel tells her that, though she has never “known a man,” that she will conceive and bear a child and that child will be the long awaited Messiah. (St. Luke 1:26-33) The Virgin Mary is rightfully confused and reasonably asks how this could be. The Angel responds by saying, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (v. 35)

At this point, the Virgin Mary could have done a great many things. She could have disbelieved the angelic annunciation as did the husband of her kinswoman Elizabeth (St. Luke 1:20). She could have run screaming from the angel. She could have—God forbid—tried to abort the baby in order to preserve her reputation (and even her life). But the Virgin Mary did none of these things. After considering this angelic message for only a moment, she answered, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” (v. 38) In effect, she said, “I am at your service. Do to me as you have said.” She consented. There is no evidence in Scripture that says she had to do so. Her reputation was ruined. Her marriage would likely be annulled. They still stoned women for being pregnant outside of marriage. She could have been killed and Mary knew all of that. Nevertheless, she consented.

The Blessed Virgin Mary’s act of obedience made it possible for the birth of Christ. The birth of Christ made it possible, years later, for Jesus to be “obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:8) In effect, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s obedience made Christ’s obedience possible. There are those who detract from the Blessed Virgin Mary and say that God could have used any virgin to carry the pre-born Jesus. That may be true, but He did not. He chose the Blessed Virgin Mary and her obedience opened the door for her Son’s obedience, which would ultimately overthrow sin and death. Is the Blessed Virgin Mary a “co-redemptorix with Christ”? Absolutely not! Is the Blessed Virgin Mary the New Eve who began the reversal of the process which her counterpart began? Yes, she is. The obedience of one young girl started the undoing, the reversal of sin. Perhaps that is why she is the most celebrated woman in all of Christianity.

Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord; that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought unto the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Blessed James DeKoven: an Exemplar for CEC Clergy

Most of my readers and, I daresay, most of the men and women in the Charismatic Episcopal Church will have never heard of James DeKoven before reading this essay.  That is a shame because, though he lived and died almost a century and a half ago, James DeKoven was a man for our time. 

DeKoven was a bit of a local hero in my seminary.  Born in Connecticut and educated at the General Theological Seminary, the newly ordained deacon took a teaching position at the then fledgling Nashotah House Theological Seminary.  Having been ordained priest the Bishop Jackson Kemper, DeKoven also took a position as the rector of St. John Chrysostom’s in the nearby Delafield.  All of this endears him to me personally.  As a Son of the House, we are steeped in the traditions of the school.  There is a bit of a debate among my class-mates as to whether or not DeKoven was one of the figures carved on a statue in the library of the school, but, nevertheless, his name was mentioned often.  I also had the pleasure of worshipping at the beautiful and historic St. John Chrysostom’s and their current rector was one of my professors.  As I said, all of this endears him to me personally, but personal recollections alone rarely fascinate anyone else. 

James DeKoven, along with the achievements I have previously mentioned, was nominated or elected as a bishop in the Episcopal Church four times though he never was consecrated to the episcopacy.  In the polity of the Episcopal Church, a group of delegates from both lay and clerical houses elect a candidate which must then be approved by the Standing Committee of the Diocese and then must receive consent from the House of Bishops.  While elected bishop in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Fond du Lac (Wisconsin), and Illinois, DeKoven was never able to attain the required consents.  This was due almost exclusively to the fact that he was a “high church” ritualist. 

An Anglican Icon created by a religious order who has taken DeKoven as their patron.

At a time when the mainstream of the Episcopal Church was rejecting incense, candles, crucifixes, bows and genuflections, DeKoven upheld the practices.  It was feared that he was a “closet Catholic,” a “crypto-papist,” and that his actions reeked of “popery.”  The majority of the denomination had a wicked case of so-called “Romaphobia.”  DeKoven’s adherence to his convictions cost him advancement in his career.  Nevertheless, he refused to concede his beliefs and rather stood before the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and argued his point of view in both 1871 and 1874. 

On October 24, 1874, DeKoven took the floor of the General Convent and spoke at length on what was known as the Ritual Canon.  Among other practices, the canon forbade the use of incense and the elevation of the bread and wine “in such manner as to expose them to the view of people as objects towards which adoration is to be made.”

In regards to the prohibition of incense, DeKoven declared:

For this House to forbid the use of incense is a very proper thing, perhaps; but for this House to say that the use of incense symbolizes false doctrines, is for this House to put itself in utter and total opposition to the Holy Scriptures; for, remember, what does David say? “Let my prayer be set forth in Thy sight as the incense, and let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.” In other words, David says that the use of incense, to which that holy prophet and king was accustomed—having not lived in our own day—symbolized prayer; and will this church say—is it prepared to say,—that the use of incense, which symbolizes prayer, symbolizes false doctrine?

Then again, I heard it read in St. Thomas’ Church yesterday morning at the beginning of the services, “From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles, and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering; for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of Hosts.” … Or again—and this is something more awful—when Aaron stood between the dead and the living with the censer in his hands, and the smoke of the incense was wafted to heaven; the people were saved. What did he typify but that Eternal Son of God who alone stands between the dead and the living, and whose mediation for the souls of men forever ascends to the right hand of God? and what did the ascending incense symbolize but the atoning Sacrifice and the everlasting Mediation? And is this Church then, prepared to say that the eternal Mediation and the awful atoning Sacrifice are false doctrines? Or, when the priest on the great Day of Atonement went before the mercy-seat, and clouds of incense covered it, typifying the ceaseless intercession of the Son of God, is this Church prepared to say that such a use of incense symbolized false doctrines? But this Canon, if it be passed as it stands, makes it so!

When it came to the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, DeKoven once again raised the ire of the Episcopal Church and, eloquently stood his ground.  In defending the Real Presence, DeKoven proclaimed,

And now, because I said “I believe in the Presence in the elements,” people held that I must believe in a local, physical, carnal Presence in the elements. Let me say that it is impossible for me to say in what sense I hold to a presence in the elements. Where Christ has not defined, I do not define. Where the Church has not defined, I do not define. I merely say negatively, as the Church has said that it is not by transubstantiation; that it is not by impartation; that it is not by identity of substance; and if you ask me how it is, I answer, I know of but one word to express it, and that word expresses it without defining it, and that word is the consecrated word “Sacramental.” I hold that Christ is in sacramental union with the consecrated elements, and that presence is called “real,” to show that it is not a mere figurative or virtual presence, and the presence is called “spiritual,” to show that it is not a physical or carnal or corporal presence. Having made these negative definitions, I declare that I hold that Christ has ascended into the heavens, and is set down on the right hand of the Throne of God. I hold that around Him are the Angels and the Powers and the Principalities, the Cherubim and Seraphim, and that the hymn of praise to the Eternal King ever ascends; and I also hold that He is present in the elements by this way of sacramental union; and how both are true I cannot tell. I believe the one, and I believe the other… I hold that Christ is there [pointing to the sky]; I hold that He is here; I hold that He is there locally; I hold that He is here spiritually.

In wrapping up his arguments, DeKoven quoted Church of England Bishop Thomas Ken when he said, “How Thou art in heaven and art present on the Altar, I can by no means explain; but I firmly believe it all, because Thou hast said it; and I firmly rely on Thy love and Thy omnipotence to make good Thy word: but the manner of doing it I cannot comprehend.”

So, that all being said, what has James DeKoven to do with the Charismatic Episcopal Church?  Truth be told, in our Convergence Worship, we face some of the same challenges DeKoven faced.  Unless our parishioners were reared in the Faith in a Catholic or Liturgical stream, they most like hear ritualism preached against.  They may have even been taught so-called “Whore of Babylon” theology; they may have been told that the Words of Institution were mere “Hocus Pocus,” or that “written prayers” were vain repetition and dead things.  We know that these accusations are untrue.  We know the charges are false.  It is our job to eloquently teach the truth to our people.  It is our task to show them, through sound scripturally-based propositions, that what we do is neither vain nor dead, but worship instituted by the Lord and enlivened by the Holy Spirit.  In this our endeavor, we find an exemplary role model in Blessed James DeKoven.

Two of the original buildings at Nashotah House. Both would have been present during DeKoven's time as faculty.

Almighty and everlasting God, the source and perfection of all virtues, who inspired your servant James DeKoven to do what is right and to preach what is true: Grant that all ministers and stewards of your mysteries may impart to your faithful people, by word and example, the knowledge of your grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Saint Joseph: the Role-Model of All Men

A few years ago a teacher colleague of mine conducted an informal survey in his classes.  He asked his high school students to bring in images of men whom they thought were “beautiful.”  After the boys got over the discomfort and awkwardness of the request, the results were quite interesting.  The young ladies brought in picture of men like Orlando Bloom (in his Lord of the Rings attire) and Justine Timberlake (pre-wardrobe malfunction, mind you).  The young men brought in pictures men like Brett Favre, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and a scruffy, buff version of Brad Pitt from Troy.  My colleague noted that the young men thought of the well-muscled men with good smiles and a five o’clock shadow as attractive while the young ladies brought in images of lithe, lean, “girly-men” who were not clean-shaven, rather they appeared to have no need to shave as of yet. When asked about the difference, one young girl commented about the images the young men had brought in saying, “He looks like he would hurt me.”  The young ladies, as a whole, rejected masculine men out of intimidation and fear.

Why would this be?  Probably it is because they have seen so many examples of men behaving badly.  Our society is full of them.  Television is saturated with them.  Even the Church has more than their fair share of men who do more harm than good.  We have, regrettably, quite a few bad role models.  That is where Saint Joseph comes in.  Saint Joseph is the best role model for men in church since Jesus Himself.

The first time we hear of St. Joseph, we hear that he was “a just man.” (St. Matthew 1:19)  Inasmuch as it was possible to be so under the Law, St. Joseph was a righteous man.  We can see this righteousness in five areas of St. Joseph’s life: his efforts to follow the Law of the LORD, his care for the widows and the orphans, his obedience, his rearing of his sons, and his work ethic.

Simon Vouvet's The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

St. Joseph did as much as he could to pursue the LORD.  Though he figures most prominently in St. Matthew’s Gospel, in St. Luke’s Gospel, we know that Joseph was a law-abiding man who followed the requirements of the census and took his very pregnant wife to Bethlehem so that they might be counted.  We can imagine that, in his hometown of Nazareth, as a successful tradesman, St. Joseph would have had a home and extended family and all manner of resources available to him.  Nevertheless, he submitted to the ruling authorities of his day and made the journey.  That journey cost him dearly in that his young wife and her Son would end up being delivered in a stall full of animals.  In doing so, St. Joseph anticipated St. Paul’s injunction to “let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.” (Romans 13:1).  Having made the journey and paid its costly toll, forty days later, in accordance with the Law, St. Joseph again moves his family from Bethlehem to Jerusalem in order to perform the rituals of their day.  In doing so, he was striving with his whole might to fulfill the Law and be faithful to God.  God honored this sacrifice with a double prophetic outpouring. (St. Luke 2:22-40)  Though they were still under the Law, St. Joseph did everything that was in his ability to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (St. Matthew 6:33)

The righteousness and justice of St. Joseph can also be seen in his care for the Blessed Virgin Mary and her unborn child.  Upon hearing that his young wife was pregnant, he had every right to have her stoned and restore his own honor.  Instead, prior to any angelic message, “not wanting to make her a public example, [he] was minded to put her away secretly.” (St. Matthew 1:19)  This is an almost unthinkable act of mercy considering the scorn and derision that would have come upon him for being cuckolded in such a way.  According to the Law, the Blessed Virgin Mary had negated any obligation St. Joseph might have had to her by her own supposed act of adultery.  Even before his Angelic visitor advised him of the truth of the situation, he was willing to provide for her safety.  After the angelic message, St. Joseph went above and beyond to take care of and provide for his young wife and her Son.  Remember, the angel never compelled St. Joseph or take her Son as his own.  The angel simply said, “Do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife.” (St. Matthew 1:20)  In going above and beyond the angelic message St. Joseph takes on the divine attributes described in Psalm 68 and becomes “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.” (v. 5)  Granted: Jesus did have a Father in heaven, but, without St. Joseph, He would have been fatherless on Earth.  Likewise, Mary was not a widow, per se, but as an adulteress whose husband had put her out, she would have been even worse off than the widows.  More so, when, at Jesus’ circumcision, St. Joseph declares that the child’s name is Jesus (St. Luke 2:21; St. Matthew 1:25), he is also declaring his fatherhood of the child.  Regardless of any questions of paternity, according to Jewish tradition, the man who named the child at his briss declared that he was the father of the child and claimed him as his own.   St. Joseph’s actions now prefigure and go beyond the words of his other son when he said, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble…” (St. James 1:27)

An Icon of the Holy Family's Flight into Egypt

Thoroughly counter-cultural for today’s society, St. Joseph’s character can be seen in his obedience.  Today, we make a virtue of independence, which is often code for rebellion.  It seems as though one of the most humiliating events that a modern man can endure is being publicly made to submit to and obey an instruction of which he clearly disapproves.  That humiliation is made even worse if the bidder chooses not to explain himself and simply says, “Do what I say.”  Yet, biblically speaking obedience is a virtue.  The eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews is full of examples of heroes of the faith who obeyed, beginning with Abraham.  The children of Israel would be exalted because of the obedience to the LORD.  In the Book of Judges, the people brought trouble on themselves because they “did what was right in their own sight” rather than obeying the Word of the LORD.  The Prophet Samuel declared, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of Rams.” (I Samuel 15:22)  St. Joseph was obedient.  When he received angelic messages, he may have questioned and he may have had his doubts, but he did obey.  He did what he was told when he named the child Jesus.  He did what he was told when the angel of the LORD commanded him to “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt.” (St. Matthew 2:13)  He did what he was told when, years later, the angel commanded, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel.” (St. Matthew 2:20)   This is an incredible amount of trouble and hassle for St. Joseph.  He could have thought he knew better.  He could have dismissed the angel as a bad dream or indigestion.  He could have done as he would have liked, not fled Judea, and the results would have been unthinkable.  He could have stayed in Egypt.  Imagine the saint “finally getting the boxes unpacked” before receiving this angelic message.  Consider the incredible burden of migrating across the desert, not once, but twice.  Again, St. Joseph could have stayed in Egypt, and, again, the results would have been unthinkable.

In Jewish culture of the day, it was the fathers who taught their sons of the LORD.  The young boys went to the synagogues with their fathers.  They went into the courts of the Temple with their fathers because the women could not go in past the Court of the Women.  Fathers are often judged based on their children.  It might be tempting to dismiss St. Joseph’s impact on Jesus’ life by saying “Jesus was the Son of God!  How much work could Joseph have had to do?”  But saying that neglects the fact that St. Joseph had another son of Biblical not.  St. James the Just was the son of Joseph as well, this time without the divine nature and will.   Nevertheless, what St. James learned of the LORD would have first come to him through the teaching of his father St. Joseph.  Jesus would have instructed James, as would the Holy Spirit, but there was a foundation that had been laid years earlier to prepare James to receive Jesus as the Messiah.  That foundation must have come from St. Joseph.  The verses of Holy Scripture quoted by Our Lord and St. James, the prophecies about the coming Messiah, their love of the LORD came to them sitting on the knee of their father, worshipping the LORD with him and hearing the stories of the Patriarchs from him at bed-time.  The father’s job of preparing his son can not be overstated and Saint Joseph reared at least two saintly sons.

Finally, Saint Joseph worked to provide for his family.  Jesus was not born to a king or nobleman.  He was not the son of a priest or prophet.  He was not born into a life of leisure.  St. Joseph was a carpenter, a man who worked with his hands his whole life.  When St. Joseph led the Holy Family to Jerusalem to observe the Jewish rituals of purification and present Jesus in the Temple, he offered two turtledoves or two young pigeons. (St. Luke 2:22-24)  What should be recalled is that the birds were the paupers’ offering.  It was an allowance made for those who could not afford to bring a lamb.  St. Joseph worked and was not always wealthy or successful by his world’s standards.  Nevertheless, St. Joseph worked to provide for his family.

Saint Joseph is a model of manhood and a corrective for today’s society.  His steadfast desire to seek the LORD first and his care for those who had none to care for them stand in contrast with the “Me First” attitude of the world.  His obedience in the face of great adversity is a direct rejection of the rebelliousness of this day and age.  His love and care for his sons and his dedication to work and provide for his family is a stark contrast to this day’s “love them and leave them” and let the government take care of them attitude.  In short, St. Joseph is a role model for all men.  That should only make sense to us because, of course, for the first years of His life, St. Joseph was Jesus’ role-model.

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Saint Patrick’s Breast-Plate

Making sure that Saint Patrick receives his full due, the following is a famous prayer attributed to the Bishop.  It is called the Lorica or the Breast-Plate and is a wonderful example of Patrick’s taking a druidic form and “baptizing” it into a Christian hymn.  This translation is taken from this The Prayer Foundation.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet ‘well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

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St. Patrick the Hard-Core Radical

St. Patrick of Ireland

The “Hallmark Effect” is working its viral magic on yet another religious festival these days.  The Hallmark Effect is that process by which the original spiritual and religious value of a festival is gradually pushed out in favor of an over-commercialized, over-sentimentalized observance devoid of any real meaning.  We can see the Hallmark Effect already castings its dire spell on All Saints’ Eve, St. Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and Easter, but with St. Patrick’s Day, the results are, by at least one count, even worse.

The Hallmark Effect strips religious festivals of their original true meaning, but with St. Patrick’s Day, rather than simply removing true significance and replacing it with meaningless images, true significance is replace with drunkenness and green beer.  It is said that Saint Patrick’s Day is to bars, especially “Irish Pubs,” what Black Friday is to retail businesses.  The saying goes, “everyone’s Irish on St. Paddy’s Day,” therefore, everyone has an excuse to go get drunk.  If it did not bring in such money, you would think the real Irish in America would be up in arms over the outrageous racial stereotyping involved in such statements.  Remember, of course, that “Paddy” was a racial slur for the Irish in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The term “Paddy Wagon” came about from driving around and arresting all the drunk Irishmen.

I was blessed to go to Ireland in the summer of 1998.  It was a fantastic trip and maybe even a pilgrimage of sorts.  I was able to go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral along with numerous other churches and monasteries in Dublin, Galway, Belfast, and Kilkenny.  While in Kilkenny, we awoke on Sunday morning and decided to go get breakfast before going to church.  We were shocked to find that nothing was open.  None of the restaurants opened until around eleven o’clock.  When we asked why, we were informed, “Everyone should be at Church until at least eleven o’clock.  Pubs open for lunch.”  What is St. Patrick’s Day like in Ireland?  Indeed, it is a rioting good time with a vast number of people hitting their favorite pubs, but it is also a national day of celebration, a bank holiday, where there are parades and festivals and the like.  It is also a religious festival and a Holy Day of Obligation, a day on which Roman-Catholic Christians (around 98% of the population when I was there) are required to go to Mass under penalty of sin.  Parades, parties, and pub-crawls aside, the day begins in Church with the Irish honoring their heritage and the saint who set them free from paganism and gave them a large part of their cultural identity.  Just imagine if your local pub required a church bulletin for admission on St. Paddy’s Day!

From the images you see around these days, you would think St. Patrick was a short, little red-faced and red-bearded chap with a clover on his lapel, a pint of Guinness in one hand and a bottle of Jameson’s in the other.  This could not be further from the truth.  Using today’s parlance, Saint Patrick was a hard-core radical.  To begin with, Patrick was a Briton, not Irish.  He was captured by slave-traders as a young man a sold to an Irishman.  After developing a powerful prayer life while under such harsh conditions, he arose one day in response to God’s word and simply walked away from a life of slavery.  Years later Patrick had a vision of the Irish pleading for his help.  He was trained as a churchman by Bishop Germanus of Auxerre in France and returned to the Emerald Isle as what might have been the first missionary bishop ever.  He first won the favor of the Irish chieftains and then received their permission to evangelize the various tribes.  His work was overwhelmingly successful in his own lifetime and, within two generations of his death, the entire island had embraced Christianity.  The role of the Irish missionaries and monks during the middle ages is practically legendary and is all due to the original evangelistic work of St. Patrick.

Yet Saint Patrick was not just an evangelist.  This bishop stood up in the face of adversity and danger and called evil what it was.  The Roman warlord Coroticus attacked a village where Patrick had recently ministered and had baptized all of the townsfolk.  The ravaging band slaughtered all of the men and enslaved all of the women that had not been murdered in the attack.  Saint Patrick drafted a letter and commanded that it be read aloud, re-copied, and carried abroad until it eventually came to Coroticus and his band.  In the letter, Patrick declares:

“Where, then, will Coroticus with his criminals, rebels against Christ, where will they see themselves, they who distribute baptized women as prizes — for a miserable temporal kingdom, which will pass away in a moment? As a cloud or smoke that is dispersed by the wind, so shall the deceitful wicked perish at the presence of the Lord; but the just shall feast with great constancy with Christ, they shall judge nations, and rule over wicked kings for ever and ever. Amen.

I testify before God and His angels that it will be so as He indicated to my ignorance. It is not my words that I have set forth in Latin, but those of God and the apostles and prophets, who have never lied. “He that believes shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be condemned,” God hath spoken.

I ask earnestly that whoever is a willing servant of God be a carrier of this letter, so that on no account it be suppressed or hidden by anyone, but rather be read before all the people, and in the presence of Coroticus himself. May God inspire them sometime to recover their senses for God, repenting, however late, their heinous deeds — murderers of the brethren of the Lord! — and to set free the baptized women whom they took captive, in order that they may deserve to live to God, and be made whole, here and in eternity! Be peace to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.   Amen.”  (The text of the entire letter may be found here.)

The saint pulled no punches.  He declared to the whole nation that Coroticus’ deeds were worthy of damnation and that, unless he and his men repented, they would indeed be damned.  He both comforted his own flock with the assurance that those who are baptized with Christ will rise again with Christ and reminded them that there is a just God who is not mocked.

As his ministry took place before the Great Schism, St. Patrick is revered in both the Eastern and Western Churches.  In the Orthodox churches they have these hymns which relate to the sainted bishop:

Holy Bishop Patrick,
Faithful shepherd of Christ’s royal flock,
You filled Ireland with the radiance of the Gospel:
The mighty strength of the Trinity!
Now that you stand before the Savior,
Pray that He may preserve us in faith and love!

And

From slavery you escaped to freedom in Christ’s service:
He sent you to deliver Ireland from the devil’s bondage.
You planted the Word of the Gospel in pagan hearts.
In your journeys and hardships you rivaled the Apostle Paul!
Having received the reward for your labors in heaven,
Never cease to pray for the flock you have gathered on earth,
Holy bishop Patrick!

This year, amidst all of the corned beef and cabbage, bangers and mash, fish and chips, and shepherds’ pie, may we remember that “the reason for the season” is one man who dedicated his life to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an entire nation of people who were entirely lost in their own sinfulness.

Almighty God, who in your providence chose your servant Patrick to be the apostle of the Irish people, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of you: Grant us so to walk in that light, that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever.   AMEN.

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The Patriarch’s Lenten Message

Archbishop Craig Bates, the Patriarch of the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church, released this pastoral letter on CEC Home this week in preparation for Lent, which begins on Wednesday.

In a few days, the Bishops and Priests of the Charismatic Episcopal Church will call us to a Holy Lent. They will exhort us to self-examination, prayer, confession, fasting, and the study of and meditation upon Holy Scripture. This is not only a season in preparation for our celebration of the Great Paschal Mystery but also a time in and of itself where we become more intensely aware of the awesome grace and mercy of God. We enter into the season aware not only of our sin but also the loving kindness of God.

The journey of Lent is a time to further press in to the love of God. This journey always begins with the recognition of our own mortality – from dust we come and to dust we shall return. This recognition draws us to remember that the God of all creation took on this mortal flesh. And, through obedience and suffering conquered sin, the world and the devil – those forces that war against us in our journey towards His love. And, He is restoring in us the human dignity that was always intended by the Creator.

Around us are constant reminders of man’s inhumanity. We enter the season with reports of a possible genocide in Libya. But this is just one example of the reality of hatred and evil. We think of the number of abortions that were committed last year. There are civil wars that are being waged in so many countries with the accompanying murders and rapes. We are aware of the increasing sex trade industry particularly as that industry impacts minors. We are aware of the vast poverty around the world that brings with it hunger, disease, and crime. And, so often poverty is a result not of lack of resources but greed, corruption, and the un-just distribution of resources.

We are called, as the season of Epiphany taught us, to be “salt and light” in this sinful and fractured world. We were also reminded that the call upon our lives is a life of vulnerability through rejecting violence, embracing love even of our enemies, of absolute truthfulness, and by finding our security not in worldly pursuit and pleasures but in the faithfulness of God – the rock on which we can build our foundation.

Lent then calls us to examine our foundation. We can build our foundation on money, prestige, self-indulgence, or even preaching, healing or wonder-working in Christ’s name. These are not a foundation for life let alone the Kingdom of God. Our foundation must be built on the faithfulness of the Father’s love given to us daily.

The disciplines of Lent are not to toughen us up spiritually. Prayer, Mediation on Scripture, and fasting draw us from the “stuff” of mortality and remind us of our immortality in Christ. They call us for a season to re-examine ourselves and determine if our perspective on life is one of eternity. We may fool others, but God cannot be deceived. He sees the heart as it truly is – with its motives, intentions, desires, and choices.

And, so I call each of us in the CEC to a Holy Lent. Because of the leading of the Holy Spirit we will all come to its conclusion ready to live out the Paschal Mystery in a deeper realization of His love.

Under His mercy,

+Craig, Patriarch

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Why Did Jesus Curse the Fig Tree?

In response to the “Stump the Priest” invite, Paul Creighton asks “Why did Jesus curse the fig tree?”  This is a great question and refers to an event depicted in St. Matthew 21:18-19; St. Mark 11:12-24; and may relate to a parable that Our Lord tells in St. Luke 13:6-9.  For our discussion, we will use the account in St. Mark’s Gospel.

Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” And His disciples heard it. …

Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

There are a great many ways this passage can be misinterpreted.  Some people complain that Jesus just threw a temper tantrum and smote the tree because he was hungry and the tree had no fruit even though “it was not the season for figs.”  This is not the case.  Jesus saw that the tree had leaves; he could tell this from afar.  With the particular kind of fig tree, fruit precedes leaves, so, seeing leaves, it was natural to expect fruit even though it was not the season for figs. 

Jesus was clearly teaching a lesson, but it was not to the fig tree.  He was giving His disciples a lesson.  The actual lesson may be a bit hard to pin-point until you notice the way that St. Mark structures the encounter.  While the whole event takes up 12 verses, verses 15-19 seemingly have nothing to do with the fig tree.  When we look at the passage, we see a few verses about the fig tree, a seemingly out of place passage where Jesus cleanses the Temple, and then a conclusion of the fig tree episode.  This is the key to understanding this passage. 

In English literature, we most commonly use rhyme, meter, metaphor and similes as literary devices.  In Greek literature around the first century, one of the most commonly used literary devices was called “chiasm,” or the structuring of a passage to put emphasis on the middle.  An excellent example of this technique is to be in I John 3:9 where the Apostle writes, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.”  This structure may not be clear until the passage is displayed like so:
                        A—Whoever has been born of God
                                    B—does not sin
                                                C—for His seed remains in him;
                                    B’—and he cannot sin,
                        A’—because he has been born of God.
When viewing the passage in this manner, it becomes much easier to see the chiasm that St. John is using.

Saint Mark uses this technique at least nine different times in his Gospel.  He makes such common use of the technique that the chiasm is sometime referred to as the “Markan Sandwich.”  Something else to keep in mind is that, when dealing with a Markan Sandwich, it is always “the meat” that is the heart of the matter.

Moving back to the fig tree, we have an example of a Markan Sandwich.  In this passage we see the events structured like so:
                                    A—Jesus curses the fig tree.
                                                B—The Cleansing of the Temple
                                    A’—The fig tree is barren.
If the meat is what matters, then the Cleansing of the Temple is vital to the understanding of the cursing of the fig tree. 

The fig tree becomes a lesson about the pending doom of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the coming judgment of the Jews.  St. John the Baptist declared,

“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (St. Matthew 3:8-10)

Later, our Lord echoed those words when He said,

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (St. Matthew 7:15-20)

And finally, while preaching in the Temple, Jesus warned the Scribes and Pharisees, “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” (St. Matthew (21:43)

The lesson of the fig tree is this: the Jews of the day were not bearing fruit worthy of the blessings that had been given them so judgment would quickly come upon them.  The fig tree was the object that represented that judgment.  The fig tree did not bear worthy fruit, so it was stricken.  Likewise, the Jews did not bear worthy fruit and so their destiny was sealed.  In less than forty years after the death of Christ, the Roman Empire, growing weary of putting down rebellion after rebellion, finally rolled through Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.  The barren fig tree was a sign of things to come.

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