Monthly Archives: September 2011

St. Michael and Our Spiritual Warfare

The Three Archangel upholding Christ

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels causes a great deal of angst for many Christians new to the sacramental and liturgical traditions of the Church.  Those who grew up Roman-Catholics saw statues of angels and angel-adorned prayer cards all over the parishes, if not their homes.  Those from an orthodox tradition were familiar with the icons of the various archangels and could likely list all three of the Biblical Archangels by name.  Those who grew up in an Evangelical or charismatic background are already reaching for the Mylanta.

To those individuals, venerating the saints is a troublesome thing in and of itself.  “Praying to the saints” is idolatry.  Praying to angels is even worse!  Angels, they retort, cannot be saints because they are not even human.  They were created by God to be His ministers; how can they be “saints”?

First off, “praying to the saints” is misleading.  None but the most misguided and ill-taught actually “pray” to the saints with the expectation that the saint will actually accomplish anything on their own.  Someone who “prays to a saint” is really asking for that particular saint (or a group of them) to pray for the petitioner to the Lord.  In the Hail Mary, the archetypical “prayer to a saint,” the only request a petitioner actually makes is “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”  What some Christians sloppily dub “praying to the saints” is really asking those members of the Church Triumphant who stand before the throne to carry our intercessions to the Lord on our behalf.  Very few have any objection to asking a fellow congregant or parishioner to do the same.  Why not ask a member of that “great cloud of witnesses” to stand before the throne to do likewise.  If we suffer through a grave illness or struggle, we gravitate towards those members of our congregation who have overcome the same illness or struggle.  Why not seek out the intercession of a saint who stands before the Throne who has overcome the same illness or struggle?

Fine, so seeking the intercession of the saints on our behalf is not quite so idolatrous.  Nevertheless, “angels are not saints,” raises the protester.  By definition, a saint is one who leads a life of exemplary holiness.  Holiness is a state of being set apart by God for his purpose.  A man or woman is regarded a particularly holy if they avoid the temptations of the world and pursue vigorously the purposes to which God has called them.  Then, excepting fallen angels, are not all other angels, by definition, “holy”?  What are angels if not ministers whom God has created for a specific purpose who avoid the temptations of the world?  Is it not really being redundant to refer to “St. Michael the Archangel”?  If he is one of the greatest angels, is he not necessarily holy and therefore a saint?

Now, let us examine the specific case of the Archangel Michael.  The Archangel appears three times in the Book of Daniel.  In chapter 10, Daniel has a vision of a “man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz!  His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude.” (vv. 5-6)   A few verses later, this angel explains that he had been sent to Daniel as soon as Daniel had begun to pray, but that the angel was detained by “the Prince of the Kingdom of Persia,” until “behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me…” (v. 13)  In essence, the angel had been wrestling against one of the princes of the air until St. Michael, one of the Archangels, came and defeated the stronghold.  These are the stories that charismatics love!  Someone sets himself to pray and fast so that they might overcome a stronghold.  They pray and fast for days to no avail, but after a full twenty-one days there is a breakthrough and a revelation.  The stronghold is defeated and thrown down and the Christian receives the victory.  As they picture this battle transpiring in the Heavenlies, they likely did not picture St. Michael the Archangel coming to reinforce their own guardian angel.

Also, in chapter 12 of the Book of Daniel, in his vision of the Last Days, the prophet reveals,

“At that time [the End of Days] Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book.” (v. 1)

So, according to Daniel, the Archangel Michael will have a role in defending God’s people during the Great Tribulation.

That leads into an interesting legend regarding the Archangel.  In 1886, Pope Leo XIII had just finished celebrating the Holy Eucharist, when he looked up and stared off into the church as the color drained from his face.  A few moments later, the Pope came back to himself and finished the Mass, refusing to comment on what had happened.  Later, he told his attendants that he had seen a vision of Heaven wherein, in an agreement no unlike that of Job, the Devil arranged with God to have sway over the affairs of the twentieth century.  In response, the Pope commanded that a prayer calling on St. Michael to defend the Church be added to the end of every Mass that was celebrated.  This mandate remained in effect until 1864.

In one of his addresses to the Church in Sursum Corda, our first Patriarch, Archbishop Randolph Adler wrote the following:

“If we take a look at the 20th century, we can see that it has been one of very difficult time for the Church.  More martyrs have been slain in the 20th century than in all other 19 centuries combined!  During the Soviet regime of Easter Europe, 40 million people were killed in the name of Communism, a large percentage of them being Christians.  Under the leadership of Mao Tse-Tung in China, over 80 million people were massacred to promote an ideology that spare in the face of God.  In the Sudan today, two million Christian have already been martyred, many by crucifixion, and the killing continues.  We have also witnessed the acceptance of immorality, such as abortion and homosexuality, by many of our largest and most influential denominations.”

Keep in mind that this was written over a full decade ago.  How much worse have things become in the ethnic cleansings of Africa and the downward spiral of American morality?

The Patriarch continued,

“Standing on the authority given to us from Christ, many of us have commanded demons to be cast out of a person.  We had faith in the authority we were given, and the demons fled.  But most of us have never considered speaking in faith to command angels to do battle on our behalf.  And yet, they were created for our benefit, to minster unto us.  (Hebrews 1:14)… God created these ministering angels to work for Him by ministering to us.  They work under the authority of Christ, and if we are given that authority to build His Kingdom her on earth, then we must consider the power given to us to command His angels to protect us in battle.  Are we not co-heirs with Christ?  Did He not impart His power and authority unto the lives of men who were willing to subject themselves to Him?”

Archbishop Adler then his address to the Church by charging his people to “pick up where the Roman Catholics left off.”  The Patriarch asked that:

“At the end of each Eucharistic service, we should pray the Prayer of St. Michael.  By speaking in faith that Christ’s chief warring angel is protecting us against evil, we will begin to develop the understanding that we are not alone in this battle, that we are not without protection.  St. Michael and his angels are simply waiting for us to invite them into the battle.”

In the Charismatic Episcopal Church we do not believe in Papal Infallibility; we do not believe in Patriarchal Infallibility either.  Nevertheless, when our chief bishop asks us to pray in a manner that accords with Holy Scripture, we ought to do our very best to comply.  Our bishops and pastors are the men whom God has placed in authority over us for our benefit.  Archbishop Adler’s charge was never rescinded.  The appeal still remains.  In holy obedience to our first bishop, I encourage all members of the Charismatic Episcopal Church to revive this prayer and respond to our first patriarch’s request.  As lay men and women, we can add this brief prayer to our personal private prayers in between receiving Holy Communion and the “Post-Communion Prayer.”  It is also a wonderful prayer to teach our young children.  As priests and pastors of congregations, we should prayerfully consider implementing this prayer as part of our regular liturgy.

The world around us seems to be getting darker and darker day by day.  Yet God has not changed.  Neither has His Prince of the Heavenly Host.  Both are still in the business of casting down strongholds.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.  Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the Devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray.  And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into Hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world, seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.


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Saint Matthew and the New Moses

Whenever anyone tells the story of Christ, they impart their own character into the story.  The four Evangelists are no exception.  Though inspired by the Holy Spirit to compose Holy Scripture, Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each told the story of Jesus Christ according to their own character and experiences.  Each man viewed his Lord through the eyes of their own personal history.   Although each of the Evangelists was a Jew, St. Matthew presents the Life of Jesus Christ as a particularly Jewish fashion.

For St. Matthew, Jesus Christ is the new Moses.  Consider the birth of each of the men.  A tyrannical king ordered the death of both Moses and Jesus.  In Exodus, Pharaoh ordered the death of all of the Jewish boys, while, in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Herod the Great ordered all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and under to be slain.  Both Moses and Jesus escape this death sentence while countless young boys around them are slaughtered.  After the tyrant dies, both Moses and Jesus return to the land of their birth.  Yet the similarities continue.

One of the ways that St. Matthew chooses to structure his version of the life of Christ is based around five lengthy sermons, or what some biblical scholar call “The Discourses.”  These discourses are: the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), the Instructions to the Twelve Apostles (10), a collection of parables (13), instructions to the Disciples (18), and the teaching about the end times on the Mount of Olives (23-25).  One might not feel compelled to believe these were intended to be distinct discourses were in not for the fact that each of these ends with a phrase closely resembling “When Jesus had finished all these sayings…” (See 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, and 26:1)  This conclusion is practically saying “Let us go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit!”

So what?  What significance does that have?  What has it to do with Moses?  The first five books of the Bible are known as the Pentateuch, the Torah, or The Books of Moses.  Moses gave the five books of the Law to the Children of Israel.  According to St. Matthew, Our Lord taught His followers through five discourses.  Keeping in mind that the Sermon on the Mount is only on “the Mount” in St. Matthew’s version (compare Saint Mathew 5:1 with Saint Luke 6:17ff), we can see another correlation in that Moses went up onto the mountain and brought back the Law for people and Jesus goes up onto the mountain and gives the people the completed Law.  It is, of course, in St. Matthew’s Gospel, during the Sermon on the Mount, where Our Lord proclaims, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (5:17)  This tie between Moses and Jesus even more profoundly illustrated when one recalls that Moses prophesied the coming of a prophet, one who would be like Moses himself, in Deuteronomy 5:17.

Thus, St. Matthew, in clearly drawing the parallels between Moses and Jesus, shows how Our Lord fulfills the promises of the Prophet Jeremiah when he said,

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers [i.e. Moses] in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (31:31-33)

To St. Matthew, Jesus is the New Moses.  Their births run parallel, their teachings run, parallel, but whereas Moses came to give the Law, Jesus came to fulfill it, and whereas Moses wrote the Law on tablets of stone, Jesus has written the New Law on our hearts.

Aside from being interesting trivia, what difference does any of this make?  Christianity did not develop in a vacuum.  While a particular parish or denomination may only have a few decades of history, our shared cultural heritage extends back, literally, millennia.  We not only count Jesus as Our Lord and God as Our Father, but we also count Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel, David, the Kings and the Prophets as our fathers in the faith.  We have their rich cultural inheritance from which to draw upon.  We actually do worship the same God, even though they do not understand Him in exactly the same way we do, we acknowledge all of the mighty acts that he did for the Jews and that they have always been a people close to His heart.

In a day in which Israel is besieged on every side, let us remember how our shared Scriptures call us to pray, and say with King David, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you prosper.” (Psalm 122:6)

We thank thee, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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The Patriarch: Immersion Only?

Following his previous article on Infant Baptism, Archbishop Craig Bates, Patriarch of the International Communion of the Charismatic Church, issued this response to questions regarding immersion versus effusion (sprinkling) in Baptism.  The article was originally posted on the web-site of the Church of the Intercessor, Malverne, NY, and has been blatantly stolen and republished here.

After posting an article on Baptism several have asked me to address the question of immersion.  The real question, for some, is whether or not baptism by “infusion” (pouring) is a valid baptism.  This has lead some well meaning Christians to consider a “second baptism” since they believe that their first baptism, usually as an infant (a concern I addressed in the previous article), is invalid.  They would argue that one must be fully “immersed” or “dunked”, i.e., their entire body including their head must go under the water.

The New Testament gives no specific directions on how to administer the sacrament of baptism, with the exception of using water.  However, those who support the concept of fully “immersing” or “dunking” argue that the Greek word “baptizo” means just that.  They argue that baptism reflects the symbolic significance of being “buried” and “raised” with Christ.  (Romans 6.3-4)

As a Pastor, I have had the joy of baptizing several adults (all never having been previously baptized) in either the ocean, a river, or a swimming pool.  It was a wonderful occasion and the symbolism was indeed powerful.  I have also had the joy of being present at an Eastern Orthodox Rite of baptism where the child was fully “immersed” into the water (with the exception of the head upon which water was poured).  Again there was a powerful symbol of the naked child being immersed and then dressed in the white gown of baptism symbolizing the new righteousness.  But though these events were joyful and moving they are not arguments for eliminating the well-established practice of “pouring” or “sprinkling” as practiced by the vast majority of Christians.

It is true that the Greek word “baptizo” is often translated “immersion.”  In the story of Naaman, at the direction of the prophet, Naaman went to the Jordon and “dipped” himself seven times in the Jordon.  The Greek word here, as translated in the Septuagint 2 Kings 5.14, is “baptizo”.

“Baptizo” is not always translated as “immersed” or “immersion.”  In other contexts the word is used to mean “to wash” or “to clean up before dinner.”  In Luke 11.38, Jesus has been invited to dine at the home of a Pharisee.  The Pharisee was surprised that Jesus did not first wash (“baptizo”) before dinner.  Certainly this does not suggest that Jesus failed to totally or fully place himself under water (take a full bath) prior to dinner.

Mark 7.3-4 states, the Pharisees “do not eat unless they wash (Greek word ‘nipto’) their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, to do not eat unless they wash (Greek word ‘baptiso’).”  So, we see in these two places that the word ‘baptiso” can be translated not only as immersion but also as cleansing.  In other places it is used for “ritual washing”.

The word “baptize” or “baptisma” is often used in a metaphorical or figurative manner.  In other words, there can be an event in a person’s life that is figurative immersion as in the case where Jesus is speaking in Luke 12.50, “I have a baptism “baptisma” to be baptized “baptize” with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished.”   In Mark 10.38, he asks his disciples “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized (“baptisma”) in with the baptism (“baptizo”) that I am baptized (“baptisma”).”  And, the in Mark 10.39, he tells them that discipleship will result in such a baptism (“baptisma”).  This of course does not refer to a second “water baptism” but rather that Jesus will be “immersed” into the suffer of the cross for our redemption and that as followers of Christ we to will be required to “pick up our cross” (Luke 9.23)

Jesus tells his disciples that they shall be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1.5).  In fact we read it Luke 24.49 and again in Acts 1.4, Jesus is insistent that they not leave Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father – the baptism with the Holy Spirit.  This of course fulfills what we read in Mark 1.8, John says, “I indeed baptized (“baptizo”) with water, but He will baptize (“baptizo”) with the Holy Spirit.”

Does this mean they were “dunked” with the Holy Spirit?  No, in Acts 2.17-18, 33) we see that the Holy Spirit was “poured” out on them.  Later Peter tells us that the Spirit “fell” upon them.  And, we read of other events where persons are “baptized with the Holy Spirit”.  Clearly the word “baptizo” is not limited to the concept of “dunking” but can also include a metaphorical “immersion” or in the case of the Holy Spirit a “pouring” or “falling upon.”

I would conclude, as have the vast majority of Christians throughout the centuries, that to limit the use of the word “baptizo” to always meaning “immersion”, “full immersion under water”, or “dunking” is at best an over simplification and more so limits the concept of new life or new birth that our God wants, by grace, to convey to us.  The Christian community adopted the secular Greek word “baptizo” and gave it a far deeper theological meaning.

In fact, far before the Christian community adopted the word the Jews used it, particularly the Essene community, to signify a “ritual washing”.  We know that the Gentile converts to Judaism under went a “baptism” before being circumcised.  John the Baptist practiced a “baptism of repentance” suggesting that the Jews were in much a need of “conversion” or “purification” as the Gentiles.  The word Baptism or “baptizo” had a far deeper meaning than merely being “immersed” or “dunked.”  It carried with it the notions of conversion, repentance, as well as, initiation into the community of faith.

Jesus and the early Christian community took the word and drew even further theological implications – as we have seen a sharing in his life and sufferings as well as an empowerment to proclaim the Good News.  To use the word only in it “secular” usage causes us to divert from the entire Christian usage of it.  We must examine the use of the word “baptizo” as it is used in the Scriptures and in the life of the Church.

In this brief article, I do not want to address once again the issue of “faith” and “grace” in Baptism, but would refer you to the brief article I wrote on the practice of baptizing infants.  Nor, do time or space permit me to address a complete theology of Baptism.  I am merely trying to guide us through the mode of baptism, i.e. is “pouring” or “sprinkling” sufficient for a valid baptism.

Scriptures are clear that the outward act of baptism and an inward transformation go together. (John 3.5, Acts 2.38, Acts 19.2-3, Acts 22.16, Romans 6.3-4, Colossians 2.11-12; Titus 3.5; and 1 Peter 3.21).

The Scriptures also show us a connection between baptism and the work of the Holy Spirit.  Peter, on the day of Pentecost states, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  (Acts 2.38)  In Acts 10.44-47, we read of Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit prior to baptism and Peter interprets this event in such a way as to advocate for their baptism – “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  If the Holy Spirit is “poured out”, as Scripture shows, is this connection between “water baptism” and the receiving of the Holy Spirit an indication that “pouring” can also be related to the practice of baptism?

It is true that the practice of “full immersion” or “dunking” is a powerful symbolic act stressing the idea of death, burial, and resurrection.  It is a strong argument for its practice in the Eastern Rite Churches both in Orthodoxy and Catholicism.  But it is not a argument to suggest that baptism by pouring is invalid for does it not relate to the “pouring” of the Holy Spirit into our lives.  It seems to me that “full immersion” or “pouring” both, convey the grace of new life, cleansing, empowering, and initiation that are given to us in baptism.

It is also necessary to look at the practice of the early Church in order to see how these first century believers applied the texts.  The Didache, written around 70 A.D. – one of the earliest Christian writings outside of the New Testament – is a good glimpse into the life of the first generation Church.  The Didache certainly does not hold the same authority of Scripture it does give us an understanding of the practices of the earliest Christians who were not only born again and filled with the Holy Spirit but faced the day to day challenges of persecution and possible martyrdom.

The Didache reads, “Concerning Baptism, baptize in this manner:  Having said all these things beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water (that is, in running water, as in a river).  If there is no living water; and if you are not able to use cold water, use warm.  If you have neither, pour water three times upon the head in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

There are many other early writings that suggest that “full immersion” or “dunking” is not the only means of baptism.

Hippolytus of Rome wrote in the Apostolic Tradition, 21, around 215 A.D., “If water is scarce, whether as a constant condition or on occasion, then use whatever water is available”
Cornelius, Bishop of Rome, wrote in 251 A.D. in a Letter to Fabius of Antioch, regarding Novatian, who was about to die, “he received baptism in bed where he lay, by pouring.”
Cyprian in a Letter to a Certain Magnus 69:12, written around 255 A.D, wrote, no one should be “disturbed because the sick are poured upon or sprinkled when they receive the Lord’s grace.”
Tertullian writing in 203 A.D in a document titled On Baptism states that baptism is done “with so great simplicity, without pomp, without any considerable novelty of preparation, and finally without cost, a man is baptized in water, and amid the utterance of some words, is sprinkled, and then rises again, not much (or not at all) the cleaner.”  Obviously Tertullian did not consider baptism by immersion as the only valid form of baptism.

Christian art also show us that baptism by full immersion was not the only valid form of baptism.  We have many pieces of artwork for very early in the life of the Church and not one of them shows baptism by immersion rather they show baptism by pouring using water poured from a cup or a shell.  Even if the candidate for baptism is depicted standing in a river they are shown having a cup or a shell of water being poured over their head.  We have lots of tiles or mosaics found in ancient churches, cemeteries, or catacombs that depict baptism being administered by pouring.  The archeological evidence is overwhelming that baptism was not restricted to “full immersion” or “dunking” as the only means of baptism.

We, of course know, that eventually “pouring” became the more normative way to administer baptism.  The practice of “pouring” continues to be the acceptable practice of not only Roman Catholic, but the majority of the churches that came from the Reformation – Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Reformed.  Even the Puritans and their Congregationalist counterparts in America continued to practice baptism by “pouring”.

Once again a small group of believers coming from the influence of Zwingli and the Anabaptists of the 16th and 17th century that conclude that baptism by “pouring” or “sprinkling” was invalid and they hence required their followers to be “re-baptized” and to do so by “full immersion” or “dunking”.  The practice became common among the Revivalist of the 19th century in America and under those churches that grew out of the Revivalist movement has impacted other continents besides America.
Are we to conclude that all the saints and believers who received baptism by “pouring” or “sprinkling” from the first century up till the time of Zwingli are not invalidly baptized?  Can we conclude that so many of the saints and believers from the time of Zwingli until the present who were martyred or gave their lives to evangelize the world were not validly baptized?

Though we can applaud the desire of the Anabaptist and the Revivalist for calling people to a living faith we must also point out they err when it comes to baptism.  The Scriptures are clear (Ephesians 4.5) and the creeds of the Ancient and Historic Church confirm that there is “one baptism” not to be repeated.

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The Brotherly Rivalry of East and West

This week’s article is not so much a teaching as it is a reflection and a call to a point of consideration.  It springs from Bible study which I presented this Sunday on the Apostles.  Before I get to the heart of the matter, I need to present some background material.

Prior to roughly 1055AD, there was really one Church.  Church historians sometimes refer to this as the era of the “Great Church.”  The Protestant Reformation would not occur for another five centuries or so, thus there were no “Protestants” per se.  Since “Roman-Catholic” is a designation that is typically presented in contrast to Protestant, it is inappropriate to talk about Roman-Catholicism at that time as well.  There were neither Protestants nor Catholics; there were just Christians.  Now, admittedly, there had been some heretical groups that, though rejecting the decisions of the rest of Christianity, still continued to call themselves Christians.  There were also so regional differences which were growing more profound.

Those regional differences became quite marked between the eastern and western parts of the Roman Empire which came to be known as Eastern and Western Christianity.   In the East, all of the liturgies were celebrated in Greek; in the West, all of their liturgies were celebrated in Latin. In the East, clergy were allowed to marry, while the West had begun to enforce clerical celibacy.  The West had added a word (yes, one word) to the ancient Nicene Creed.  This outraged the East, which rightfully claimed that a statement made with the authority of an Ecumenical Council of the Church could not be amended by the decision of anything less than another Ecumenical Council.  The unfortunate heart of their ultimate division had to do, I am afraid, with each side trying to claim jurisdiction over disputed “border” churches in areas that could have been considered either Eastern or Western.  Each side tried to tell the other what they could and could not do. Neither reacted well to this infringement upon their rightful sovereignty.  In the end, the East excommunicated the West and the West excommunicated the East.  Essentially, each side officially declared that anyone who followed the other side was damned to Hell.  The mutual excommunications have since been lifted, but only recently, and some old prejudices still remain.  It was only after the Great East-West Schism that it became appropriate to talk of Eastern and Western Christianity, which have since become known as the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman-Catholics.

Going further back into history for a different element of the needed background, after the martyrdom of St. James, the brother of John, Christianity began to spread outside of Jerusalem.  Eventually the remaining Apostles left Jerusalem and began evangelizing the rest of the Roman Empire and beyond.  In many cases, the Apostles established churches in the towns to which they travelled and many became known as the first bishop of the city.  For example, St. Mark is credited with having established the church in Alexandria, Egypt, and is considered their first bishop.  St. Titus is considered the first bishop of the island of Crete and St. Silas is considered to be the first bishop in the church of Corinth.  This is not to say that they were the first Christians in these cities, but they are regarded as having formalized or established the first congregations.  Think of it along the lines as having been a home group fellowship as opposed to a group of people who have called their first pastor.

The head of Western Christianity, prior to the Protestant Reformation, was unquestionably Rome.  The head of Eastern Christianity was the major metropolis of Byzantium, which the Emperor Constantine renamed Constantinople.  The Pope, who counts among his titles “the Patriarch of the West” resides in Rome.   The Ecumenical Patriarch, the leader of the Eastern Orthodox churches, resides in what was once Constantinople and is now called Istanbul.

Saints Peter and Andrew in a brotherly embrace

Now, to the heart of the matter, Rome has always claimed, and none have ever substantially refuted the idea, that St. Peter was the first bishop of Rome.  The Eastern Orthodox churches have always claimed, and, likewise, none have really refuted, that the first bishop of Constantinople was none of that St. Andrew, the brother of St. Peter.  Thus, for hundreds of years, the greatest antagonistic force within Christianity has come from the spiritual descendants of two brothers.

Could the rivalry and disputes between Eastern and Western Christianity have a spiritual seed in the animosity of brotherly rivalry?   To be sure, there are significant and substantial differences between East and West in both theology and in practice, but could they not have been handled with less stubbornness and pride (on both sides), as they have been in more recent years?  If one looks at the behavior of the Papacy and the Patriarchate over the last near millennia, does their behavior not mirror that of brotherly rivalry?  The refusal to communicate, the digging in of heals, the ignoring of the other, the name-calling, it all smacks of sibling rivalry!

I have no earth-shattering conclusions in regards to this observation.  I have no recommendation for how to remedy this ancient rivalry and animosity.  As an only child, I have only my observations about my own sons to clue me in on how brothers behave, and they, are only one and three years old.  I see with them that, when one has a contrite heart, a few minutes will usually bring the other around.  It is much more fun to play together than apart.  Perhaps a thousand years is enough time to stay mad.  Perhaps the Patriarch of the West and the Ecumenical Patriarch will soon come to realize how much more thrilling all of life can be when brothers work together in concord.


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