Monthly Archives: November 2011

St. Andrew and the Cafeteria Mission

The Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle is the first major feast in the liturgical new year.  St. Andrew is referred to by the Greeks as the Protokletos, or “the first called.”  The first chapter of St. John’s account of the Gospel records that two of St. John the Baptist’s disciples had been with the Forerunner when he declared of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God!”  Two of the Baptist’s followers left and followed Jesus before one of them, Saint Andrew, went and found his brother, Simon.  Scripture records:

“[Andrew] first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated, the Christ).  And he brought him to Jesus.  Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, ‘You are Simon the son of Jonah.  You shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated, A Stone).” (St. John 1:41-42)

Thus, it was Andrew who brought the Prince of the Apostles to Jesus in the first place.  Some who like to assert the authority of Constantinople (whose patron is St. Andrew) over Rome, like to refer to St. Andrew as “Peter before there was Peter.”
When Jesus began preparing to feed the 5,000, He asked Phillip where they might get the food to feed all those people.  St. Andrew chimed in with “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?”  How could St. Andrew have known that?  He must have been, as they say these days, “working the crowd.”  Rather than hanging around with Jesus as “the armor bearer” of so many modern pastors, St. Andrew was out with the people, engaging not only the men of the multitude, but also the children.  He had such fellowship with the people that he knew what some small child had brought for lunch.  The child was clearly a boy scout, by the way, since he alone among the whole multitude was prepared enough to bring something to eat!

In Chapter 12 of St. John’s version of the Gospel, some Greek men wish to speak to Jesus.  They approach Philip and say, “Sir, we would see Jesus.”  Philip, the Scriptures tell us, went and told St. Andrew, and St. Andrew, in turn, went and brought the men to Jesus.  One can almost see an awkward Philip approaching his friend and saying, “These guys want to see Jesus.  What should we do?” and one might likewise imagine St. Andrew looking at his fellow apostle with confusion.  St. Andrew would have walked up to the Greeks, shook their hands and said, “Hi, guys.  I’m Andrew.  Come with me and I’ll take you to Jesus.”  He would have gotten all their names too and probably even remembered them later!  Saint Andrew was one of those people of whom it is said, “He never met a stranger.”  Everywhere he went he fellowshipped with those around him.  He made friends and he shared with them the greatest treasure he had, that was Jesus the Christ.

In America today, not many of us go off into a foreign mission field.  Fewer still go into an area that could really be called an “unreached area,” a remote location where the Gospel still has never been preached.  All of us, however, go into a mission field of sorts whenever we leave our homes. Though we rarely think of it as such, our workplace is a mission field.  Whether we spend our days in an office, taking classes, driving a bus, paving sidewalks or any other occupation, everyday we encounter someone who needs to see Jesus.  They might not even know that they need to see Jesus, but they do need Him nonetheless.  Before they can accept Him as their Lord and Savior, they first have to start a conversation with Him.  Nine times out of ten, that conversation begins not with a man wearing a sandwich board sign ringing a bell on the street corner but rather that conversation begins with one of us.   It begins with with one Christian taking interest in the life of someone who is lost and reaching out to offer our greatest treasure.  Maybe, like St. Andrew, all we have to do is ask a co-worker “what do you have for lunch?” and then wait for the miracle to begin.   May we all, like St. Andrew, have the grace to bring our loved ones, our friends, and even strangers to our Lord and Savior.  They, too, would see Jesus.

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give unto us, who are called by your Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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A Brief Sabbatical

I want to thank everyone who has read these posts over the past eleven months.  As of November 2, I reached the momentous milestone of 10,000 hits.  That has blessed me beyond belief.   This milestone affords me an excellent opportunity to take a break.  I can sit back and catch my breath (and catch up on a variety of projects that I’ve got at work).  I will be taking an ever so brief sabbatical of about three weeks and expect to be posting again by Saint Andrew’s Day on November 30.  Thanks again for reading these posts.  I have had such a wonderful time composing them.  Taking three weeks off will actually be a challenge for me.  I will monitor comments between now and then, so feel free to comment away.

May God richly bless each and every one of you.

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All Souls’ Day and the Prayers for the Faithful Departed

The English poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, devastated by the sudden death of his dear friend Arthur Hallam, composed much of his poetry in an attempt to deal with his own grief at the loss of his beloved friend.  In the final pages of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, the dying King Arthur looks at Sir Bedivere, the last surviving Knight of the Round Table, and pleads,

If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?

Most Protestants immediately reject the idea of praying for someone who has already died.  Their rationale, seemingly quite reasonable, is that, once a person has died, their fate in the after-life has already been determined.  There is no point in praying for them now; what is done, is done.  This is not the case for Catholic Christians.  In saying that, I do mean just Roman-Catholic Christians, but all Catholic Christians.  It is true that, in the Roman-Catholic Church, All Souls’ Day, November 2nd, is a day set aside to pray for all those close to us to have died because prayers for the departed, especially requiem masses, help speed a departed soul’s exit from purgatory and eventual entrance into Heaven.  Roman-Catholics, however, are not the only Christians who pray for their deceased loved one and, in fact, the idea of praying for the departed pre-dates the concept of Purgatory by hundreds of years and exists in places and traditions of the Church that have never ever embraced any concept of Purgatory.  Beyond that, the evidence of Christians interceding on behalf of the deceased is seen in many of the greatest Church Fathers and even in Holy Scripture itself.

In his second epistle to Timothy, St. Paul mentions his fellow laborer Onesiphorus, about whom the Apostle states,

“The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me.  The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day—and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus.”  (1:16-18)

Similarly, near the end of that same epistle, St. Paul writes that Timothy should “Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.” (4:19)   These are the only times Onesiphorus is mentioned in the Bible and he is exclusively referred to in the past tense.  Likewise, there is no suggestion that Timothy should greet Onesiphorus himself, only his household.  Clearly, Onesiphorus has already died at the time of composition of this letter and St. Paul has, himself, prayed that the Lord would have mercy upon him even though he has already departed this life.  The Apostle Paul is interceding on behalf of his departed co-laborer.

Inscriptions in the Roman catacombs suggest the practice continued from the earliest days of the Church in Rome.  Catacomb inscriptions often contain prayers along the lines of “May his soul rest in peace,” “May God grant peace to the soul of Alexander (as an example),” or “May he live among the Saints.”  These too are prayers inscribed on behalf of those within the catacomb tombs.  The late second century bishop Abercius of Heirapolis inscribed these words on his own tomb prior to his death: “…May everyone who is accord with this and understands it pray for Abercius.”  Tertullian of Carthage declared that it was a duty of a widow to pray for the soul of her husband, stating,

“Indeed, she prays for his soul, and requests refreshment for him meanwhile, and fellowship (with him) in the first resurrection; and she offers (her sacrifice) on the anniversaries of his falling asleep.  For, unless she does these deeds, she has in the true sense divorced him…”  (On Monogamy, X:5-6)

An even greater testimony to the pervasiveness and orthodoxy of prayers for the deceased is found in St. Augustine’s magnum opus The Confessions.  In chapter 13 of Book 9, St. Augustine praises his mother for her virtue but ultimately begs intercession on her behalf and says, “I know that she acted mercifully, and from the heart forgave her debtors their debts; do Thou also forgive her debts, whatever she contracted during so many years since the water of salvation. Forgive her, O Lord, forgive her, I beseech You; enter not into judgment with her.”

St. Augustine’s prayer would evoke a reference to St. Matthew’s Gospel wherein Jesus states, “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” (St. Matthew 12:32)  This passage is one of the few that is used to establish the Roman-Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, but the two issues are not, as some suggest, inexorably linked.  The Eastern Orthodox churches have never accepted or endorsed any doctrine related to Purgatory yet, nevertheless, have a very elaborate and ornate liturgy involving praying for the departed.

St. Basil the Great, the Cappadocian Father and one of the four Doctors of the Eastern Church, said this in his Third Kneeling Prayer at Pentecost:

“On this perfect and salutary Feast, make us worthy to utter supplications in favor of those imprisoned in Hades, O Lord, for You promised to grant relief to the dead from the afflictions besetting them, and to send down consolation and repose upon them. Accept then our prayers, give rest to the souls of your departed servants, in a place of delight and refreshment, where there is no pain, sorrow or sighing; establish them in peace and joy in the mansions of the just. O Lord, the dead send up no praise to You, nor do those who dwell in Hades dare to offer glory to You: but we the living will bless You, and send up our supplications and sacrifices for their souls and our own: for You are the Peace of our souls and bodies, and we send up glory to You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and always and forever and ever. Amen.”

Finally, the earliest extant liturgies include prayers for the deceased.  In the Liturgy of St. James, perhaps the oldest extant liturgy, we find this passage included in what we would consider the Prayers of the People: “[For] the rest of the fathers and brethren that have fallen asleep aforetime.”  This tenet of the Catholic faith is witnessed even in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer where the celebrant offered this prayer: “We commend unto thy mercye (O Lorde) all other thy servauntes, which are departed hence from us, with the signe of faith, and nowe do reste in the slepe of peace: Graunt unto them, we beseche thee, thy mercy, and everlasting peace, and that, at the day of the generall resurreccion, we and all they which bee of the misticall body of thy sonne, may altogether be set on his right hand, and heare that his most ioyfull voice.”  Were one to investigate the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, they would find many references to prayers for the departed.  In the Burial of the Dead virtually all of the collects and all of the commendatory prayers (including a blessing) are, in fact, prayers for someone who has already died.

Prayers for the departed are an aspect of that faith which has been handed down by the Apostles and has been upheld by the Church Universal throughout all ages.  The practice is Biblically supported by multiple verses and historically testified to by catacomb and funeral inscriptions from the pre-Constantinian era of the Church.  The Church Fathers from the obscure Abercius of Hierapolis to Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. Basil the Great, and others lend their support to this tenet of faith and, finally, liturgies both Eastern and Anglican also testify to this matter.

We may not quite understand why and it may not fit into our notion of death and judgement, but Christians throughout all ages have prayed for their beloved departed.  Take a few moments today when you go to the Lord in prayer and ask him to look with favor on your loved ones who have already passed out of this life.  God is not bound by human concepts like “time.”  Who is to say that your prayers for a loved one today might not have brought them to a saving knowledge of Christ decades ago?  Besides, as the poet says, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”

O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.

For a collection of traditional Anglican prayers for the departed visit this page.

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Why Do We Baptize on All Saints’ Day?

There are four days throughout the Church year that are set apart as being especially appropriate for Baptisms.  Those days are the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ (which is the first Sunday after the Epiphany), Easter, Pentecost, and All Saints’ Day.  Now three of these days appear to have fairly reasonable connections to baptisms, but one is not so readily apparent.  It makes perfect sense to baptize someone on the very day on which the Church commemorates Our Lord’s baptism in the River Jordan.  Since Easter is the day on which we celebrate Christ’s victory over death, it makes perfect sense that we would baptize new believers into the new life which triumphs over death on that day.  Since Pentecost is the day on which the Holy Spirit fell upon the Apostles in the Upper Room, it makes perfect sense to recall that, on His baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Our Lord like a dove.  And then there is All Saints’ Day.

All Saints’ Day, or Agion Panton in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, is a Solemnity of the Church year on which we honor all of the saints, known and unknown, who worshiped the Lord Jesus Christ throughout the two thousand years of history of the Church.  In the East, the Christians first celebrated the feast in 893 when the Emperor Leo VI dedicated a church to “All Saints” after the Patriarch refused to allow the emperor to dedicate the church to his deceased wife.  Orthodox Christians celebrate their All Saints’ on the first Sunday after Pentecost.  In the West, the Feast dates back to the early seventh century when Pope Boniface IV consecrated a chapel in St. Peter’s to all of the saints.  In the middle of the eighth century, Pope Gregory III transferred the observance of the Feast of November 1.

All that being said, why baptize new converts on All Saints’ Day? What is the connection?  Why are baptisms so integral to All Saints’ Day that, even when there is no one to be baptized, the church members reaffirm their own baptismal vows in solidarity with those new converts around the world who are being baptized that day?

For the Christian, Baptism is, in part, the circumcision of the New Covenant.  St. Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Colossians,

“In Him [Jesus] you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” (2:11-12)

As circumcision was to the Jew, Baptism is for the Christian.  As a result, Baptism is not just a sign of repentance, a moment of sanctification, and cleansing of sin, and impartation of special Divine Grace, but it is also an entry into a covenant community.

For the eight day old Jewish boy, nobody asked if he wanted to be a Jew.  His parents said, in effect, this is who we are; this is who our child will be, and they circumcised the child.  When God told Abraham to begin circumcising all males, The LORD said it was so that God would “establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.”  (Genesis 17:7)  Circumcision was not some flesh-mutilating ritual to scar their children; it was a permanent sign in the flesh of all males that they were a part of a covenant community.  It was never “Jehovah and Me” for the faithful Jew.  It was always about their relationship with God and their role as one of the innumerable Children of Abraham.

We err when we believe that we can live the Christian life on our own.  Christians were always called to live in community, from the apostolic days onward.  In the Epistle to the Hebrew, we are warned, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another.” (10:25)  As it is the New Covenant equivalent of circumcision, Baptism is likewise entry into a covenant community.  In our baptismal liturgy, once the candidate for Baptism has announced their intention to be baptized and responded to the inquiry of the celebrant, the priest asks the congregation, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?”  The congregation responds “we will” and, in doing so, enters into the covenant with those receiving the Sacrament of Baptism.  For the newly baptized, their relationship ought never to be just “Jesus and Me” but their walk with the Lord ought to include an intimate and personal relationship with Jesus Christ as well as a committed relationship to an active Christian community in the form of their local church.  A Christian is not baptized alone, nor should he or she ever expect to live out the Christian life on their own.

Why do we baptize on All Saints’ Day?  Because, on All Saints’ Day, we acknowledge all of the members of the covenant community, known and unknown to us, into which we are being welcomed.  The newly baptized is not just entering a covenant community with the members of his or her local parish.  Likewise they are not just entering a covenant community with the members of his or her own denomination.  They are not entering into a covenant community with all Christians worshiping God today.  Rather, the newly baptized Christian enters a covenant community with all faithful believers who have ever lived and worshiped Jesus Christ.  The community is not just the faithful we see, but also those who stand before the throne and worship Our Lord face to face.  We are one community, “one body” as St. Paul tells us, not only with those alive today, but with the saints, confessors and martyrs, whose names are known to the Lord alone.

We baptize on All Saints’ Day because when the newly baptized rises from the water he or she finds himself not only in a permanent relationship with Jesus Christ, but also in a covenantal relationship with All Saints who have ever lived and worshiped Jesus Christ.  As we join their glorious company, it makes perfect sense to baptize on the day we honor their faithful commitment to Our Lord.

O Almighty God, who have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those indescribable joys which you have prepared for those who truly love you: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.   

                                   

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