Thursday, May 31, 2007

On the road

Beginning June 1st we will be on the road from cold damp Arizona to Maryland's sunny Eastern Shore (or so I keep trying to convince myself. So far it's not working). Therefore, it may be more than a week before I can post again or say much. Pray for our safety.

For Sunday, I give you the words of Hymn 268 (from the 1940 hymnal), The Breastplate of St. Patrick, with extra words from the original hymn by the great British missionary to the Irish, and saint (translated by Cecil F. Alexander). It's not the sermon I usually offer, and I am pressed for time. But raise your voice and your hearts. Remember that the revelation of the Trinity has everything to do with our salvation in Jesus Christ.

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 forever

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 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 star lit 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,

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.

By Whom all nature hath creation,

Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:

Praise to the Lord of my salvation,

Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pheww ... Where to Begin?

The following was written by Mr Stephen Cooper for Virtueonline. I would suspect that readers will have quite a bit to say about it, but would ask that as a matter of courtesy they do it there.

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of what had promised to be a strong force for unity and hope among the oppressed faithful - the St. Louis Congress that launched the greater part of the Continuing Church.

The following piece identifies the sources for what is probably the most troubling and indefensible aspect of the Continuing Church - its persisting fractured, diminutive, and essentially helpless condition, a condition which renders it of minimal effect in this hour of need on the part of growing numbers of faithful Episcopalians and Anglicans for whose benefit the movement was created.

The Continuum, however, holds in its hands the keys of its own restoration. These are the same keys that form the cornerstone and foundations of the worldwide Anglican Communion - namely, the Faith of Jesus Christ set forth in Holy Scripture, and the doctrines of Scripture set forth for our use and edification in the Anglican Formularies: the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the classic 1662-1962 Book of Common Prayer together with the Ordinal. These are the teaching authority - the "magisterium" - and the unifying principle of Continuing Anglicanism, which can and will be effective - but only if honored in truth and in practice as well as in word.

Read it all here.

Ecclesia and Pentecost: Schmemann

As Fr Hart has reminded us in his sermon, Pentecost marks the birth of the Church, at least so far as its institutional, organisational nature. I do not pretend to be an expert in ecclesiology, but I find interesting the thoughts on the nature of the Church expressed by the late Orthodox theologian, Fr Alexander Schmemann.

"Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, is not a mere establishment of an institution endowed with specific powers and authorities. It is the inauguration of the new age, the beginning of life eternal, the revelation of the kingdom which is “joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.” The Church is the continuing presence of Pentecost as power of sanctification and transfiguration of all life, as grace which is knowledge of God, communion with Him and, in Him, with all that exists. The Church is creation as renewed by Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Read it all at All Too Common.

The Collect - Whitsunday

The Prayer

O God, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Commentary

The Collect for Pentecost appeared in the first Book of Common Prayer (1549) and prior to that in the Sarum missal and in the Gregorian sacramentary.

The 1979 ECUSA prayer book substitutes “through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord” for the traditional words: “through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior” (p. 227). Marion Hatchett’s Commentary on the American Prayer Book does not give an explanation. It may be that Hatchett didn’t consider the change significant, but given ECUSA’s decades-long slide in apostasy, the change suggests that the traditional words posed a problem for the Standing Liturgical Commission. One wonders how it is possible to call Jesus Christ “Lord” without first acclaiming Him “Savior”?

Note that the traditional Collect is addressed to the Father who sends the Spirit to teach and illumine the hearts of the faithful. It petitions the Father that, through the same Spirit, we might have right judgment and rejoice in his holy comfort. The fundamental teachings of the Church are all here: The Father sends the Spirit. The Spirit teaches, illumines, comforts and makes right judgment possible. All is accomplished through the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ, who is one with the Father and the Spirit forever. The Collect focuses less on the signs and wonders of Pentecost than on the nature of the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity. This prayer, like so many in the Book of Common Prayer, has the quality of catechesis.

Now compare the Collect to this contemporary Church of England Collect, which is addressed to the Holy Spirit:

Holy Spirit, sent by the Father,
ignite in us your holy fire;
strengthen your children with the gift of faith,
revive your Church with the breath of love,
and renew the face of the earth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the Church of England, those who favor traditional language continue to use the 1549 Collect, but it largely has been supplanted by this contemporary option which stresses signs of the Spirit with these verbs: ignite, strengthen, revive and renew. There is nothing theologically amiss with this contemporary Collect. It simply lacks depth. It fails to take up to the greater Trinitarian mystery concerning the will of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Meditation

There is great wisdom in the old prayers. Here is yet another example of the superiority of the old to the new. The Church is founded on the reality that God has sent both the Incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit. There can be no separation of the two because They form a single divine mystery which is akin to the mystery of creation, but much greater.

The working of the Spirit after Pentecost is distinct from the work of the Spirit before Pentecost because the Spirit now works in a new reality, the Church. This great Collect reminds us that the Holy Spirit is sent to the Church, not the world, because just as the world received Him not, neither does the world receive the Spirit, the Giver of Life. But those who receive Him, receive the Spirit, and to such are given the power to become the sons of God.

Alice Linsley


This picture is from Monasatry Icons

I am still in the process of moving. I wrote this and preached it at Saint Andrew's in Easton Maryland, in (if I recall the year correctly) 2003. Soon I will be back there.

The Feast of Pentecost

This day is the day in which the Church was born, in which a small band of disciples became the Body of Christ. This is the day in which that small band grew very suddenly from five hundred to thirty five hundred only to continue growing. Men who, just a few weeks earlier, had argued over who would be the greatest, who had hidden in fear, who briefly had doubted Christ’s resurrection until seeing Him face to face, stood tall and unafraid as leaders and as fishers of men. St. Peter, who only a few weeks before had denied the Lord for fear of his life, now rose up as fearless as any hero that ever inspired the writing of songs. Through these men the very same miracles that Christ had wrought, and greater in number than He had done, gave proof of His Gospel; the lame walked, the blind saw, the dead were restored to life, demons were driven out of the afflicted and possessed. What gave such power and courage to these same men who, in the four Gospels, never had come across as being impressive?

The answer is simple, but it is so hidden to the eyes of those who cannot believe that it may as well be very complicated. The simple answer is, they were filled with the Holy Ghost.

The very first thing that becomes evident is the sound of them preaching the truth of Christ in foreign languages that they had not learned. We would expect them to speak Aramaic, and to speak and read Hebrew. We would expect that they could address these same people in the Lingua Franca, or the "English" of their day, that international language, Greek. But, they spoke directly to men’s hearts in the local languages of their various homelands, the apparent mastery of the tongues themselves serving as a sign, a miraculous sign that the Logos, the Word who had been made flesh, is the Master, as in the Lord, of all communication. His word is for all people, for every kindred and tongue, people and nation. As man, in his sinfulness, was divided by the sentence of God at Babel, so the scattered peoples of the earth are gathered as one in Christ, who speaks to all in their own tongues.

When we look at the reading from the Gospel of John, we learn that the Church never was designed to function without the Holy Ghost. He is the Comforter, which is Paraclete in Greek; that is He comes to our side, pleads for us and gives us aid. “Comfort,” in the mind of the readers of the King James Bible when it was translated, did not speak of a cushion that helps us to relax and go to sleep. The meaning of the word is found, really, in the second syllable, in fort, as in fortify- to strengthen. We see that fortification in St. Peter, who, knowing the sentence of death that only weeks earlier had been passed on Christ, nonetheless had the courage to rise to his feet, to preach and to take his role of leadership as the shepherd of Christ’s flock. We hear, in his spontaneous sermon, wisdom from God, as he opened and explained the meaning of the Scriptures, unraveling the mysteries of the ancient prophecies with ease and conviction. This simple fisherman had the power to persuade men’s hearts as if it were a learned and mastered skill; just as he had, years before, thrown out his dragnet and hauled in large catches of fish, so now he is a fisher of men, converting three thousand people with a single short homily. In St. Peter’s sermon we see, as in every other utterance of the Holy Ghost through the apostles, the clear and straightforward doctrine of Christ exactly as we know it to this day, as we say it in our creeds, as we pray it in the whole of our liturgy, as it is found on every page of scripture, and as it is especially clear in the New Testament. This, that we believe today, is the same Gospel that was preached on that day.

And, beginning that very day, the Church began to live in a way that had order and understanding. It was there from the very first. It had, as the rest of the chapter tells us, organization as if everything had been planned. This is because it was ordered and organized, not by twelve men who somehow could keep up with over thirty five hundred people growing in number daily, but because the Lord was among them, ordering and organizing His body, doing so in the Person of the Holy Ghost. They followed the teaching of the apostles, and set about worshipping God, and spreading their new Christ centered life to their neighbors. But, this was not because the twelve had any ability or time to micro-manage the Church. It is because the Church was alive, and it quickly heeded and absorbed their teaching, allowing them to be Christ’s representatives to the world, and to a city whose rulers were hostile.

The only plan God ever gave to the Church was for it to be ordered and organized in this way until Christ returns. As I said, it is not designed to function without the Holy Ghost. This brings us to another title by which Christ calls the Holy Ghost in the Gospel reading. He calls Him the Spirit of Truth. He is said to be the One who teaches the Church. A very simple principle for Christians is that no authority is higher than the truth. The Truth is Christ, and without Him nothing can be known that saves us and leads us to God. Without Him God is unknown and unknowable. But, the scriptures warn of another christ and a different spirit; St. Paul in his second Epistle to the Corinthian church warned of false teachers who preach another christ, another gospel, and who have a different spirit. St. Peter warned that these false teachers will be believed by many because they scratch itching ears. What they say feels good to hear; that is, it feels good and provides comfort, the wrong kind, the cushion kind of comfort, to that sinful fallen man within each of us.

But, the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth comes to us to speak to us of Christ. In so doing the Holy Ghost is the Lord within the Church; He is God among us and within us. He guides into all truth; He cannot contradict Himself; He cannot change His mind. He guides the Church into all truth never by introducing new ideas, and never by keeping up with the spirit of the age. The world around us, that same world that did not know Christ, that received Him not, does not know the Holy Ghost, and receives Him not. But, a different spirit is easily received, either through flattering the mind of man by fashioning a god agreeable to him, or through enticing all of his lusts by proclaiming another gospel that urges no repentance, no resistance to sin.

St. Paul also told the Corinthian Christians that the Lord within the Church is the Holy Ghost, and that through Him we know God “whose service is perfect freedom (to quote the Prayer Book).” He said to them “Now the Lord is that Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (II Cor. 4: 17).” The different spirits, the spirit of the age who tempts us to “keep in step with the times” and accept ourselves as we are at our sinful worst; the spirit of heresy that cannot humbly accept the truth about God’s transcendence and our own limitation as creatures who will never fully comprehend Him, and many other different spirits with their different doctrines, do all they can to insist that their way is the way of liberty. But, only the Holy Ghost leads into the way of liberty, for liberty can come only through self-denial and obedience to the commandments of God, by which we escape the corruption of worldly lusts, and become partakers of the Divine nature. Without immortality, which comes only by the risen Christ, freedom is an illusion; but the different spirits, the many different spirits, promote only sin and death.

We must learn to depend upon the Holy Ghost for all of our strength; He gives us power. Not the power that the world gives, but the power to do the will of God. The same power that does, in fact, work miracles- for as catholic people we know better than to believe any strange doctrines that God has ceased to work miracles. He never changes; He is still the Creator, bringing light out of darkness, and life from death. We must depend on the same power by which Christ rose from the dead; He made Himself helpless and gave Himself over to death for our sins. The power that He trusted in, to make of His dead body a new immortal body that would make Him the first born from the dead, was no earthly power. That is the power we trust for our own eternal life; but also this is the same power by which we may do the will of God here and now in this life. For everything we are called to do is impossible by any lesser power. The Church cannot be the Church without the Lord of the Church, the Holy Ghost. It can be a club, it can be an organization, it can be respectable- indeed very respectable by the standards of the spirit of the age. But, to be the body of Christ, with the words of knowledge and words of wisdom, with diversities of administration but one Lord, with miracles and healing, with prophecy and the interpretations of tongues, which has martyrs and saints, and which can do and does every other impossible thing that man cannot do, the Church needs the Lord, the Holy Ghost alive and powerful in the midst of it

We have seen what a faithless group of men, a branch broken off of the church, can do. It can lose the sacraments by rejecting the God who makes sacraments. It can throw away the truth by rejecting the Spirit of Truth, and by forgetting everything He has taught since the beginning. It can use His name, and blame all of its sinful innovations on the Holy Spirit, giving Him credit (or blame) for doctrines He has never taught, which He abominates and of which He has expressly warned us through the prophets and apostles. It can, as a result, become an anti-Church with an anti-Christ.

We need the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God to be the Lord in the midst of us, mighty and who will save, who gives rest in His love, and joys over us with singing (Zeph. 3:17); we need Him to raise the standard against the enemy of our souls, to do what cannot be done by might or by power, to come down as the former and the latter rain, to bring forth within us the fruits of good character with faith, hope and charity, to make His sacraments by his power as Creator, to overcome death itself. Therefore, we must be faithful to all that He taught our fathers in the ages past. He has been guiding the Church, as Christ promised, into all truth. Among the gifts we are given, the gifts among you and in you by the sacrament of Confirmation, is the unction or anointing by which we know all things. The reason why you recoil from false teaching, from ideas that are foreign to the Tradition of the Catholic Faith, is because the Spirit of Truth is teaching you. The ones who have taught themselves not to heed His voice, and who have joined the ranks of the world that neither sees Him nor knows Him, just as they do not receive Christ, may congratulate themselves and suppose that they have liberated themselves. And they may press on with a sense of religious mission, never considering that they now have become the servants of a different spirit and another christ.

But, to have the Holy one of Israel in the midst of us, to have Christ’s Spirit living within us, we must embrace and contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3), knowing certainly that the same Spirit of Truth that has been speaking to the Church from the beginning never changes His mind. He is a far better friend, and more powerful ally, than the spirit of the age, or any of the different spirits that are called, falsely, by His Name.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, power, glory and dominion, now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

ACC, UECNA in Communion Accord

(Archbishops Haverland, left, and Reber)

I read the following news this morning with great joy.

On Ascension Day, May 17, 2007, The Anglican Catholic Church (ACC) and the United Episcopal Church (UECNA) entered into a communion agreement. Archbishop Stephen Reber of the UECNA and Archbishop Mark Haverland of the ACC signed the agreement at Saint Stephen's Pro-cathedral, Athens, Georgia to restore or reaffirm the state of communio in sacris between the churches. This agreement came into immediate effect, though it still needs to be ratified by the ACC Provincial Synod and the UECNA Convention.

“This comes at a time when Anglicanism in the USA is at a crossroads, when people are looking for firm ground to stand on and a place to belong,” said Bishop Leo Michael of the UECNA, who was present at the meeting along with Bishop Presley Hutchens of the ACC. The four Bishops celebrated Ascension Day with a noon Eucharist after signing the agreement.

“We recognize in each other the presence of the essentials of the Christian Faith, Catholic Order, Apostolic Succession, Anglican worship, and Christian morals,” said Archbishop Mark Haverland.

The 1977 Congress of St. Louis, thanks to the efforts of the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen (FCC), was an answer from faithful Episcopalians and Anglicans, both laity and clergy, to the exigencies of changes wrought by the then Episcopal Church USA. Their ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate and the doctrinally controversial 1979 Book of Common Prayer necessitated the birth of the Continuing Church. The churches were determined to “continue in the Catholic Faith, Apostolic Order, Orthodox Worship and Evangelical Witness of the traditional Anglican Church, doing all things necessary for the continuance of the same.”

Thirty faithful years later, impelled by the commonness of origin and the common participation in the one holy catholic and apostolic church, the ACC and the UECNA have come forth with a pastoral provision. The effect of the agreement will be to make explicit the somewhat doubtful continuation of the communion that many believe has always persisted between the two churches, both of which stem from the Denver consecrationsof bishops in January 1978.

Members of both churches will be welcomed at the altars of both bodies, and the clergy of both will be available for baptisms, funerals, and marriages as needed. Each church has agreed to consult carefully with the other in all matters affecting the other, including episcopal acts and ecumenical relations with other bodies and churches.

“This agreement constitutes an important movement towards restoring the unity of the Continuing Church, which stems from the Congress of Saint Louis and the Denver consecrations," said Archbishop Mark Haverland. “It is the contention of both that this Continuing Church subsists in the ACC, the UEC, and the Anglican Province of Christ the King. The organic unity of these three Churches remains our first and most urgent ecumenical task.”

Both the churches pledge to work towards full organic union in a patient, unhurried manner, meanwhile respecting inessential differences and the other church's internal integrity.

“His church is trustworthy, not because it depends upon men, but because it depends upon Him who endowed it with power and who is ever present in its council called in His name” said Archbishop Stephen Reber of the UECNA.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Today I had an unusual and rather unsettling experience. It is one I have had only a couple of times before.

Due to a headache, I felt the need for an afternoon nap, which I took in my recliner. Some time after falling asleep I began to dream. The dreams were relatively easy to interpret and explain: they related to my annoyance with certain recent school activities! For the most part they were not particularly interesting. However, near the end, I dreamt that I was in the very same lounge-chair I really was in, talking to others who were amused because I was having trouble staying awake. Then (in my dream) I dozed and “re-awoke” to find they had gone. I found myself trying to get up but initially unable to do so. I interpreted this as meaning I was not fully or really awake. After a struggle I “awoke” to my satisfaction and “succeeded” in getting out of the chair. But in all of this I was in fact still asleep.

As I noted before, this is not the first time I have had an experience like this. If my memory serves me correctly (and one can never be sure when it comes to the recall of dreams) on one previous occasion the illusion of awakening was recursive and repetitive and caused some degree of distress. That is to say, I believed I had awakened, realised I had only dreamed this, tried to really wake, again thought I had succeeded, only to realise I had again dreamed it, and so on.

But eventually, of course, one escapes from this cycle and really wakes up. And yet … can one be sure? How does one know that the latest perception of full consciousness is not yet another false dawn, so to speak? Another illusion? Logically, one could point to the much longer persistence of the sensation to “prove” the difference in an objective fashion, but the truth is that you know long before this. How? The best way I can explain it is that waking knows sleeping (and false waking) much better than sleeping knows waking.

If a person was to object that my certitude that I am awake doesn’t really prove anything, because I was just as certain in the dream, I could only reply that this certitude is “more certain” because it feels quite different and “sees” the previous illusions for what they are, that is, transcends them by having everything they had and much more. This might sound unconvincing from a purely rational analysis, but one knows that it is true nevertheless.

Now, all of this set me thinking about faith as well as different modes of knowing and degrees of certainty. (Perhaps some of you were wondering when I was going to get to the point!) It occurred to me that conversion and coming to faith are rather like waking from a dream. You see things from a greater perspective. What you thought you saw before you can now see through. It is not simply a matter of having access to more or newer, better information. It is a matter of experiencing life more fully, a new mode of existence, in fact. And, as above, to some extent this is incommunicable and intuitive, with certitude supported by propositional and “evidentiary” rational reflection but not solely reliant upon it.

After thoughts such as these, I said the Evening Office from the BCP (Canadian 1962) and, lo and behold, these were the last words of the Second Lesson: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.” Thank you, Lord.

However, a clever objector might look at the reasons I gave above for saying I knew I was really awake the last time and still reply as follows. “How do you know you are not still asleep and that a further awakening awaits that transcends this one as much as this one apparently transcended (and understood “from above”) those previous?” Ironically, as Christians our response should be, “As it happens, we firmly believe such an awakening does await. It is the final Resurrection and Vision of God.”

“And when I awake, I shall be satisfied with thy likeness.” Ps. 17.15

Ascension Day

Recently, criticism was made on this blog of the "10-minute sermon". Ouch! All I can say in my defence is that as a scientist I like conciseness and getting to the point and as a homilist I tend to expand on what I have written when I'm at the pulpit anyway. Nevertheless, the fact is I'm not into long sermons as a rule. So, here's a relatively short one. :-)

“The end of all things is at hand, therefore be soberminded”. +

The Ascension of our Lord signifies many things. It shows that he has returned in his human nature to be with his Father in Heaven, in his unveiled, glorious presence. It shows that his own glory is bestowed upon that human nature which has been so elevated. It reminds us that our human natures too are destined to be glorified, “lifted” as it were, to that higher level of existence, to see God “face to face”. And the Ascension, far from being a mere motion away from the earth’s surface with dubious astronomical implications, is telling us that Christ is now “beyond” our natural physical cosmos but still looking “down” upon us, from a position of infinite strength. Strength to save. [Note that the Jews distinguished different “heavens” (1 Ki. 8.27: “the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee”, 2 Cor. 12.2: “caught up to the third heaven”). The place where God lived was not among the stars.]

But the Ascension says something else. Something that should fill us with both holy fear and joyful expectation – hope. As Christ ascended into heaven, the angels said to the Apostles, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will return in the same way you have seen him going into heaven.”

Jesus will return from Heaven. He will descend. This time, as the book of Hebrews tells us, not to deal with sin but to reward those who await him, whose sins have been forgiven already and who walk in His ways. This is cause for joy, there can be no doubt.

On the other hand, he also comes to “reward” with eternal punishment those who are the enemies of God and goodness, those who do not wait for him because they do not want Him. This is cause for holy fear, that we may take care always to be ready by being in that state of waiting for the Lord, our minds focussed on Him. This same holy fear should prod us to fear for the unrighteous, those without faith and love. And thus, fear joining with love, it should prod us to care for them spiritually by witnessing to righteousness and the Faith by word and work.

In other words, the ascended Jesus should not be considered to be far, far away, fading to irrelevance or forgetfulness. “[B]ehold, the judge stands before the door” (James 5.9). He is hidden, but we are not hidden from Him. He holds back, extending the time of mercy and second chances, but he will not allow evil free rein forever.

And yet, he also says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any one hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3.20). He is near, though invisible. He is present, through the Spirit and the Church. He waits, not in passive indifference, but with Divine love, power and wisdom pouring out upon us. And he waits with his own expectation, his own fervour, as we are supposed to wait for Him in Spirit-filled hope. Should not the Bridegroom and Bride yearn for one another? Should not the Church rejoice that its Lord and Saviour is so highly exalted and continues to operate “from a position of strength”, so to speak? Should we not also almost tremble with ardent anticipation since He is, while presently hidden, so close?

So, let us look at the Ascension with fresh eyes. It is a part of the Gospel that says a great deal that is often ignored nowadays: Judgement is imminent. Repentance is an urgent need. Jesus may be our friend, but he is also our almighty, risen Lord, radiant with glory, transcending our (often tame) conceptions of Him. (These are certainly reasons to be soberminded, i.e., serious, as the Epistle says.) But if we are penitent, have faith in God and love for Him and others, the Ascension is a reminder of something wonderful. For He returns from Heaven not to leave it but to bring it with Him, as it were, to renew all of Creation and exalt both us and it into something unimaginably and unutterably beautiful. Praise be to God! +

Reflections on the Ascension

Monastary Icons

It will be a few more weeks before I am posting weekly sermons. But, I want to post a few theological reflections about the Ascension. Perhaps to some readers these thoughts may not seem to be profound; but it is vital never to lose sight of these points.

1) The coming of the Holy Spirit depended on Christ’s ascension to the Father’s right hand. The Old Testament foreshadows this in II Kings 2: 9, 10, using the translation of Elijah into Heaven to paint a picture for us. Elisha continued in the spirit and power of Elijah. The Church continues in the same power that was present in Christ as he “went about doing good, healing all who were oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38).” The Church is the extension of His Incarnation, the Body of Christ, because of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Suggested reading: John 16:7-16

2) The world is not worthy, and cannot bear the presence of the risen Christ. He spent forty days on the earth with His disciples, but left the world because His physical presence was premature for it in its fallen condition. His resurrection signals the end of sin and death, but in order for His salvation to be made available to all nations, His resurrection is the firstfruits of immortality and the world to come. The ascension of Christ, that mysterious removal of Himself from our dimension, reminds us that the world is unworthy to have in it the perfected and immortal new man, the Second Man and Last Adam. This clarifies both the world’s captivity to sin, and the sure and certain hope that Christ will complete His work.

Suggested reading: Matt. 24:14, Rev. 5: 9

3) His command is to occupy until he comes. An army occupies only after winning the major battles of a war (Luke19:13). He said that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against His Church (Matt. 16: 18). A gate is not an offensive weapon. The purpose of a gate is to be knocked down and trampled by the invading forces. The Church is the invading and conquering force, no matter how much we may feel otherwise. The mission for us is clear, namely, to be the agent of His salvation to all nations, which is why we depend on the Holy Spirit as we remain in this unworthy world.

Suggested reading: Matthew 28: 18-20

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What are Vagantes Bishops?

Since my last post resulted in questions from a sincere man who wants to know if his orders are legitimate, I am giving the only answer I can. I really do not have an answer about each individual bishop out there who calls himself an Anglican. The best way to obtain a good answer about validity is to ask a bishop if you can read the account of his Apostolic Succession. This really ought to be posted in whatever church serves as his cathedral. It helps, as well, to know with whom he is in unity, to whom he gives any sort of account. What are the Canon Laws of his church and diocese? Furthermore, to those who see the importance of the principles of The Affirmation of St. Louis, a direct question about the Affirmation ought to be answered easily. Is he for it or against it? Such questions should be asked politely, with the assumption that they can be answered. But, if they cannot be answered, or if they create an unreasonable anxiety or defensive posture on a bishop's part, you have every right to be suspicious.

Furthermore, a vagans (="wandering") bishop may be validly consecrated, and able to ordain. But, if he has no actual ministry, then he fits the definition of a bishop with a vacancy. In this case there is no vacant See, but the reverse; a vacant office. The vagante are bishops with no diocese; they have no church. Look at a bishop's membership, and see if it consists only of his wife, his neighbor and his neighbor's dog. Usually, the smaller the church the larger the title: "Archbishop of North America" (or "the Paraclete of Kavorka"). My favorite title was that of an "Orthodox" rather than Anglican vagans. He called himself "Shepherd of shepherds, and Master of the Universe." This sounds like he may have trespassed on a copyright from the Marvel Comics Group. It certainly would have offended Orthodox Jews, to whom "Master of the Universe" is a jealously guarded Name.

And, then the question of education comes up.

But, as I said before, this vagante problem is distinct from a problem of disunity. It is not so much a matter of fragmentation as it is of imitation. The need to be vigilant about this is the price we pay to maintain a free society.

Friday, May 11, 2007

No Comment, sort of

In response to the questions raised by David Virtue's report that Archbishop Morse plans to retire, as mentioned here, I cannot confirm or deny any aspects of the report. The last time I spoke with Archbishop Morse was about one month ago, and this subject never came up. Therefore, I simply refer the readers to the Archbishop's own words, which are short and to the point (and I will not attempt to add my thoughts to what he has said). The questions are answered to a degree which leaves everything quite vague. This may indicate one of two things: 1) The Archbishop has not decided, or 2) he is deliberately keeping things quiet. Either way, I respect his wishes.

As I looked at the comments that followed the piece posted by Albion on our own blog, the subject of disunity came up once again. And, indeed, the scandal of our fragmentation should be faced as a problem to be solved. One comment referred to an unkown "archbishop" of an unknown "archdiocese" in an unknown "province." We have a word for that: Vagans. This is not a problem of Anglican splintering, however, but rather a consequence of religious freedom such as that guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. After all, this freedom has resulted in schisms before. (The Methodists and the Reformed Episcopal Church both split off from Anglicanism long before any of us were born, and the Methodists came up with endless splinters throughout the Twentieth Century. And, in the 1960s that crazy racist Bishop Dees led his own little group out of the Episcopal Church)

The vagantes will never stop appearing (especially at every full moon), and this must be distinguished from the disunity that exists among the leading jurisdictions of tradional Anglicans who believe in The Affirmation of St. Louis. Anybody can buy a church start up kit at Walmart, and create an "Archdiocese" in his garage, complete with members among his family, neighbors, and relatives. Even his dog may join. Each such kit has an inflatable bishop consecrated by the "dead hand." (Well, alright, so maybe not.) But, the disunity among the actual jurisdictions that called themselves (at the beginning) the Continuing Church is a more serious problem. However, there is more agreement than disagreement, more common ground than division.

One thing I have observed, however, and I will dare to comment with an air of authority that only knowledge and experience can provide. As an experienced exorcist (that kind who has had to drive real demons out of real people), I have learned that spiritual warfare is always a reality. We ignore it at our own peril, forgetting the words of Saint Paul: "Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices ( II Corinthians 2:11)." I am amazed at the ease with which the enemy keeps using the same devices over and over again, with a terrifying degree of success. The deadly sin most exploited is pride.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Feliz Cumpleaños, Hija Mía

Eighteen years ago today, Andrea Lucía Land González was born in Madrid, Spain.

It hasn't been all sweetness and light, but I am blessed to be the father of a young woman who has not only beauty and brains in abundance, but also no small amount of charm and biting wit.

Te deseamos muchos, cumpleaños feliz.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Arizona Wonders

(The following is not theological, neither is it particularly relevant to the issues. I wrote it last year and stored it away on my computer. Since it does not address the issues it would not be right for Touchstone. But, for those who want to know, our move back to Maryland is not due to a lack of appreciation for Arizona. Having lived here, I am a Westerner for life.)

In March 2006, after one hundred and forty five days of drought, rain fell on the Arizona desert valley of Phoenix, and Scottsdale. When the clouds had lifted, the far away mountains, visible from the town of Fountain Hills, were covered with snow. Stretching eastward beyond the Indian Reservation, past thousands of tall Saguaro cactuses, the frozen white Four Peaks Mountain reflected the western glow with shining ocean blue amid traces of pink. The eastern sky was soft purple, while to the west, bright orange burned the horizon. With magnificent colors that rival the work of any painter, the setting sun makes light shows here.

The beauty of Arizona captivated me in my first minutes upon arrival, driving from Sky Harbor airport into Phoenix the previous June. Never before had I seen terrain of this kind. Mountains sprung up around every turn, covered with short thin bushes, sitting back behind the cactus plants that nature spaces with the care of a gardener, making perfect order for the pleasure of the eye. Even the buildings seemed as if they must have grown from the desert floor, having been constructed according to strict codes that preserve a continuity of nature and architecture.

Why should it be otherwise? Why should any town be ugly, sitting as an intruder that looks alien to the landscape? Man is a part of nature, no less than beavers in their dams, birds in their nests and bees in their hives. And, he possesses reason as the living image of God. The great cathedrals testify that we are better architects and carpenters than the beavers, the birds and the honey-bees. Bach’s The Art of Fugue, Mozart’s Requiem, and the simple hymns and songs of the countryside put the best songbirds to shame. Ugly towns, dirty and noisy, come as well from human genius. Yet, they must express more the original sin that has distorted us. Why should not houses and shops, churches and schools, fit the environment no less than the hills and the plants, and the tan pebbled desert floor?

Two months after I saw this place for the first time, my youngest son (in his teen years) was awakened to the beauty here when we crossed the state line on Route Forty from New Mexico. Right away mountains appeared that were made entirely of stone, and that seemed to have been carved by a sculptor who decorated them with straight lines like many shelves containing knick-knacks. The order of it makes a pattern that pleases the eye, because it seems right to the soul. The weariness of a long drive from Maryland wore off, when we all – my wife, two of our sons, and our dog- deviated from our journey in order to see the Painted Desert, and within that wonder another wonder yet, the Petrified Forest.

In that desert the wood turned to stone. The place seems like an alien setting on a different world, a far away planet not familiar. Little round hills are everywhere, spiraling up to a point, each painted with lines of color, contrived, harmonious and wondrous. The lines appear composed to be aesthetic. Man made plaques sit here and there at the opening along the road to each expanse into an ancient canyon, looking down at millions of years of artistic composition. The plaques explain the process, the millions of years of water levels and drainage.

And, the plaques describe, as well, the process by which the many pieces of wood have been petrified; how they came to be wood to the eyes but stone to the touch. Still, we must wonder. Must not the trees have seen the face of the Medusa, with the snakes as her hair? But, it cannot be so, for this is no curse. It is a work of beauty, a miraculous preservation that favored specific trunks and branches to be Incorruptibles, while the rest of the trees die to waste away.

Further to the west, another day’s journey, the Grand Canyon also contains the written plaques describing the process, never using expressions that speak of art, such as “methods” and “techniques”. Somehow, the description of water erosion over epochs and millennia, is taken by the blind as an explanation. But, those whose eyes are open to see the Grand Canyon, its order and harmony, its lines and compositions, know the difference between a description of a process and an explanation.

In my worst nightmares I can see such plaques in a very different setting. “Over a period of several months, the eggs of various birds were combined with natural oils and ground materials from vegetation known as flower peddles. These were applied to the surface of canvas resulting in a chemical reaction preserving the materials in a composite form.” And, such a plaque, in the nightmare, sits directly under the Mona Lisa. The plaque explains with precision what did in fact occur, but never speaks of technique or creativity, of planning and composition.

To the blind this impressive plaque is an explanation, such a powerful explanation that necessity requires no thought of an artist. The plaque writers are very learned, and yet their plaques could not give places such names as the Painted Desert or the Grand Canyon. Descriptions of process are not sufficient to the task of measuring inspiration. How can they speak of painting a desert, and of the grandeur of a canyon?

What is this process that made the wonders of Arizona? The process tells a very intriguing story, indeed a true story. But, it pales in comparison to the simplicity of the explanation. That explanation was all the more wise than every plaque and description, as penned by G.K. Chesterton, when he told us “the tree bears fruit because it is a magic tree.” The colors of the sunset in the Arizona desert where I live are produced by natural processes, all of which scientists describe quite well. But the explanation is much wiser and simpler. God has been painting again, as He does every day at this time.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Archbishop Morse to Retire: Virtue

A bit late on the pickup here, despite being tipped off yesterday by reader Clifford Bronson that David Virtue had reported the following:

"Archbishop Robert Sherwood Morse has made it known that he intends to step down as Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Christ the King on July 1, 2007. There will be a meeting of the APCK House of Bishops in late June to choose his successor. His retirement will complete thirty years of service as the head of the APCK. Back in the late 1970s, Morse, then an Episcopal priest, predicted that the Episcopal Church would descend into apostasy as a result of the 1979 Prayer Book and the ordination of women. He was one of the first to separate and create a Province for orthodox Anglo Catholic parishes as a bulwark for orthodoxy. The history of TEC since 1979 has confirmed the archbishop's worst fears. The leading candidates to succeed him are the Rt. Rev. Rocco Florenza (DOES) and the Rt. Rev. James Provence (DOWS). The Anglican Province of Christ the King currently has 57 parishes and missions across the United States. The archbishop had a heart attack recently that has convinced him it is time to step back."

I assume that the news about the retirement is true, although I just checked the APCK website and found no reference to it on their news link. But I wonder where the bit comes from about the leading candidates being Bishops Florenza and Provence.

I am also curious about what all this may mean for the prospects of the APCK moving toward union with the Anglican Catholic Church. It has been my understanding, and I may be completely wrong here, that Archbishop Morse has been a fierce opponent of union with the ACC or any other continuing jurisdiction.

As our own Fr Hart is on the road at the moment and likely to be out of contact, can someone else shed some light on this report?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Brief sermon sabbatical

Readers have become accustomed to my sermons, and I am glad to be of service in this way. Between now and early June I am preparing to move quite a long distance, and so I will be taking a break from weekly sermons until then. In the meantime, new readers can make use of the archives for sermons that have been written for each Sunday.

I will continue to post here and there; but the next few weeks will be busy and chaotic after one week of a needed rest visiting places like the Grand Canyon (while I am still in Arizona).

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Collect - Easter V

The Collect from the Roman Breviary
Deus, a quo bona procedunt, largire supplicibus tuis: it cogitemus, te inspirante, quae recta sunt; et, te gubernante, eadem faciamus.

The Collect of 1662
O LORD, from whom all good things do come; Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that be good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The collect for the fifth Sunday after Easter was drawn by Cranmer from the Gelasian Sacramentary. Both the Roman Breviary and the Gelasian collect draw upon our inward health, and the sincerity of our belief on this Sunday.

Are we praying for the installation of the Thought Police? Are we really praying for God to make our thinking just as He wants it to be? - after all the only one who is good is Our Father in Heaven. It seems as if that is precisely what we are doing in this collect – asking Him to help us to “think those things that be good”.

The thought of someone regulating the intimate workings of our minds is naturally deeply troubling. Surely the privacy of our own thoughts is the only place where we can be truly free from all censure and censorship. We cannot be judged by others for what passes silently through our heads. We can relax in our dreams safe in the knowledge that no-one else can stop us from thinking those things that we find utterly delicious. And yet here we are praying for God effectively to enter our minds and weed out all the detritus of our thoughts.

It doesn’t take long for us to realise that there is a lot of detritus that has accumulated in our thoughts over our lifetime ranging from personal observations about the lady with the big nose on the seat opposite us on the bus, or the cretinous actions of the imbecile who has tried to change lanes in front of us without any indication whatsoever, to the downright dangerous threats of “I’m going to kill that kid banging that football against my garage door.” In our minds we can insult, abuse, hurt and even kill the people around us whom God has told us to love, and they need not know a thing because it’s all done in the safety of our head. Yet as the recent, horrible events in Virginia have shown us, sometimes these thoughts leak out.

In our minds we can do a lot of damage to ourselves, and we are not so squeamish about doing so. Self-accusations, self-abasements, self-denials. We become unwitting victims of the malice that lies within all of us. There is within each of us a blackness and emptiness that needs to be filled, and we try in vain to fill it with more thoughts, inane, vapid and trivial to try and crowd out the looming darkness in our lives.

The collect calls us to perform an act of supreme trust in God. It calls us to allow Him into the depths of our minds, to invade our most intimate and private thoughts, to see things which we would rather die than divulge to another living soul. We are called to pray for God to breathe Himself into our interior darkness to lighten it, to show us the things that need clearing up. Painful. But God is not the Thought Police, His presence in our minds helps us to know Him and love Him better each day. Although we are transformed, we are transformed willingly through love, not through compulsion and not by a vicious dictator but by One Who created the wonder of the human mind and created it for love. We will just have to trust Him.

Do you trust God enough to pray this collect?

---------------------Jonathan Munn