Monday, July 31, 2006

The Cup of Salvation

The Cup of Salvation
a meditation by Ed Pacht

"This is My Body," said Our Lord, displaying the bread of that Last Supper before sharing it with His disciples. "This is My Body," repeats the priest at the Christian altar, displaying the bread of the Sacrament before sharing it with the faithful. The meaning is clear, the intent obvious, and so it has been understood by the Church of God for nearly two millennia. The priest, speaking as the living icon of his Lord, indicates by the Lord’s own words that this very bread, now held and pointed at or lifted up before our eyes,. has become the true Body of that same Lord, given once and for all on the Cross of Calvary and here placed into the hands and mouths of mortal men. This is a great and glorious Mystery, and we believe and confess it to be true.

There is a deepening of the Mystery, however, when we come to consider the life-giving and holy drink of His Blood. He took the cup, and, as recorded by SS. Matthew and Mark and quoted in our own Book of Common Prayer, said, "This is My Blood." However, SS Luke and Paul render these words as, "This cup is the New Testament in my Blood," and the Gregorian Canon of the old Latin Mass quotes it as, "This is the cup of My Blood." Even in Matthew and Mark, as also in our liturgy, though the contents are quite obviously meant, and are declared to be His Blood, it is the cup that is being pointed at, and not the contents. Why? Is it merely because the wine is hiding inside the cup? Well, of course there is something in that, but, surely one could indicate that rubrically by saying, ‘he shall take the wine,‘ verbally by not mentioning the container at all, and ceremonially by pointing down into the cup at the contents themselves. Why are we not as consistent in this as we are with the host? The question causes me to look deeper.

The Blood of His dying poured from his tortured Body, the physical life and strength draining from him, soaking into the ground at the whipping-stake, and on the Via Dolorosa. It soaked into the wood of the Cross and yet again into the ground at its foot. His life-blood drained and the life with it. He cried, "It is finished," and gave up the ghost. It was, as the author of Hebrews points out, much like the blood of bulls and goats in the temple sacrifices, whose blood was poured out on the ground and sprinkled upon the holy things as a sign of worship to God and blessing by Him, poured out and forever separated from the sacrificial victim.. But the Sacrifice that wrought our salvation did not stop there. There is more.

When, at Mass, we participate in that one sacrifice once and eternally offered, we eat the Body of Our Lord, and drink His Blood; but we are not drinking the blood of a dead sacrifice. In the Temple that was forbidden, so fervently that Orthodox Jews to this day will not eat meat that still contains blood. They use rock salt to draw the last of the blood from the flesh before they will cook the meat. What, then, does it mean that Christians are asked, yea commanded, to drink His Blood? And what makes the cup so important an element?

The Blood of His Death was, as we have seen, poured out, dispersed, lost in the earth, but it is not the blood of death with which we celebrate. We do not remember a dead God. We worship a living Saviour and King as we celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb once slain and now living and reigning forever. Our feast is not upon dead things, but upon His living and loving Presence. Then, His Blood was poured out, dispersed, but now, His Blood is contained, contained as in any living creature, in His living Body. And His Body, we are told, is His Church.

The Wine is His Blood, which is no longer poured out, but contained. Oh are we careful that not one drop be lost! It is to be contained, cherished, and free to flow in the living Body that carries His Presence in this earth. "This Cup is my Blood." We drink from the Cup, and the Blood of the Sacrifice courses through our veins, and we walk, filled with His own life, into the world for which He died and rose.

July 29, 2006

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Outline of an Anglican Life

The man who wrote the book on Continuing Anglicanism was Fr. Louis Tarsitano, a priest of the ACA who was also an Associate Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity. Now, this book, which has gone in and out of print over the last few years, is available in PDF format. It is useful for educating oneself, for Confirmation candidates, and maybe even to help rescue people from the sinking ECUSA ship- if they will but read it.

I recommend it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dear Prudence

I would like to quote from a letter that was written to me. I cannot reveal the name of the writer for reasons that will be obvious. I thank him for making a practical idea available in case it may help others.

Dear Father Hart:

Because of some of your articles in Touchstone Magazine I wanted to write to you, so that you may use this (but please don’t give out my name)… I found myself becoming addicted to mild forms of Internet Pornography. It began small, just looking at pictures of naked women a bit here and there. Eventually, I found myself waking up without sleeping most of the night, because I had been up all night looking at always just that one more picture. I have never actually broken this acquired addiction, well, at least not exactly. Rather than fight temptation I prefer to avoid it. I bought a filter program for my computer. After a lot of tinkering I got [the filter] to do what I need, namely to block out those porn sights, but never interfere with legitimate functions that I need. Then I secured the filter with a password by closing my eyes while I created it, cutting and pasting it, so that I could not memorize it. It is printed in case I ever have to let a technician work on my PC, but the only copy is miles away in a desk in an office where there is no computer. So far this works, and I have peace, and finally get the sleep I need…

This reminds me of something David Mills posted in Mere Comments from another Touchstone reader a few years ago; it had come from a man who was tempted by homosexual desires and who also had become addicted to Internet pornography. In his case, his wife controlled the filter with a password, and in this case we have a man who has placed a barrier between himself and the password. I recall that David praised the first man for his prudence, and I praise this man for having the same virtue. And, both of them have shown the charity that it takes to try to make their experience profitable to others. It is a very practical solution to avoid temptation, or as some versions of the Act of Contrition put it, “to avoid the near occasion of sin.”

In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord spoke of plucking out the eye and cutting off the hand, which Saint Paul referred to as “putting to death your members on earth.” The violent take the Kingdom of Heaven by force, and this force is to resist unto the shedding of blood in striving against sin (Heb. 12:4). The language of bloodshed and self-mutilation seems rather strange to a mild soft-sell generation like ours. But, when the New Testament was being written Christians needed to be ready to die as martyrs, and therefore free from inordinate attachments and lusts. What we must learn is to be ruthless with ourselves, and to find practical ways to avoid the near occasion of sin. If unlimited Internet freedom offend thee, cut it off and pluck it away. Better to enter into life maimed than to have thy whole body cast into Hell.

For those who want to know about the virtues, we have seven. Four come from Wisdom 8:7 (“And if a man love righteousness her labours are virtues: for she teacheth temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude: which are such things, as men can have nothing more profitable in their life”) and the other three from I Corinthians 13: 13 (“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity”).

More on "East and West"

“I see this going on in Orthodoxy all the time. The continuous discovery of new and improbable ‘differences’ between East and West has become virtually a cottage industry among some Orthodox Christians. Many of these alleged differences, however, seem not to have occurred to most Orthodox Christians who lived either before the Russian Revolution or outside of Paris.”
-Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

In the ongoing discussion about East and West, no one can speak with more authority than the pastor of All Saints Orthodox Church in Chicago, Father Patrick Henry Reardon (who also is a senior editor of Touchstone, and the author of several good books). In one lifetime, he has done what it has taken all three of the Hart brothers to do: he has been Roman Catholic, then Anglican and is now Orthodox. What sets him apart is the depth of his learning, since his knowledge of the entire Christian Tradition is about as exhaustive as any one man can possess. After all of his decades of scholarship, he has been able to speak in terms that all Christians can appreciate, demonstrating the reality of our common ground. Fr. Reardon has stated more than once the threefold separation between man and God that has been overcome for us in Christ, the separation by nature, by sin and by death. We are saved from our separation by nature in Christ’s Incarnation. We are saved from our separation by sin in Christ’s death, and we are saved from our separation by death in Christ’s resurrection.

I want to use this to answer the opinion of a commenter who calls himself Kolokotronis, specifically when this Kolokotronis wrote: “The West's concept of God, salvation, human nature, even sin itself, are near 180 degrees off that of the early Church, but are in many ways quite consistent with Greek pagan philosophy.” Before I do, let me say that this idea exalts Greek Paganism beyond measure. If the “Western” “concept of God” is consistent with Greek Paganism, then the pagans must have believed in a transcendent God who is Wholly Other from every created nature, dwelling in eternity, unknowable and unapproachable. Somehow, this does not fit the notion of Zeus on Mount Olympus, or of the gods who were subject to passions. It is simply another empty charge and invented excuse for maintaining and deepening division at any price.

About salvation, just how different is the “East” from the “West?” I believe that Saint Paul, unless he was capable of time travel, never read Cur Deus Homo by Saint Anselm. And, yet, he summarized the entire concept of the Jewish sacrificial system in the Law, and the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah, with the words “Christ died for our sins, according to the scripture (i.e. in fulfillment of those scriptures about sacrifice).” – I Cor. 15 : 3. Here we look again at those three ways in which salvation is offered to us in Christ. By dying He took away the sins of the world. Can this really have no relationship to Divine Justice? Is God so immoral or a-moral? Christ overcame death, but in His cross He conquered both sin and death. Furthermore, in order for the Incarnation to save us from death and open to us the hope that we become “partakers of the divine nature,” sin must first be taken away by the Lamb of God, the “propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” In order for His resurrection to give us immortality, sin had to be removed first. In order for us be given the grace to partake of the divine nature by Theosis, we first needed this redemption from sin/ death (really one thing for us, not two).

To what degree this Kolokotronis believes that the East and the West have different concepts about what sin is, I would rather not even begin to question. It simply makes no sense. I really cannot say what Kolokotronis meant by condemning the “Western concept” of human nature, unless he is referring to a belief taught only in some Protestant circles that the Fall created something new called “sin nature,” a kind of anti-grace in the descendents of Adam. The Fall should be understood in terms of what we lost: we lack the grace to become what we were created to be. Our only hope is in Christ, His Incarnation, His cross, and His resurrection, by which grace is restored.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Theosis East and West

Robert Hart

Among the things that “everybody knows” we find the irreparable great gulf fixed between East and West, by which two totally different theologies are expressed in the same Creed, the same scriptures and a shared reverence for the sacraments. Of course, among the things that “everybody knows” in times past were the flatness of the earth, the revolution of the universe around our world, and the simplicity of the amoeba. It seems that common knowledge is a haven for shared and reinforced ignorance of many kinds.

Therefore, it is best to learn the art of skepticism when faced with common knowledge, and to question its certainty in a radical way. Are the basic theological understandings of the East and West really irreconcilable differences? The answer depends upon whether we try to perceive on a genuine level of honest study, or on a caricature (of course the terms East and West are part of the over simplification. But, we all know what I mean). The caricature of the East (so-called, by which really we mean Orthodox) is that it is devoid of any logic, entirely mystical, and that it has no room in it for any concept of the Atonement. This caricature is not entirely due to the prejudice of uninformed Westerners; it is also very much the fault of Orthodox Christians who, mostly living in the West, very much want to be different, above all different rather than Christian. The caricature of the West (by which we mean Roman Catholic, classical Anglican, and many shades of Protestant) is that it has no room for mysticism, is so scholastic that it has no idea of “spirit,” and is only able to see Redemption in a way that is limited to substituionary atonement and nothing more. Certainly the whole idea of Theosis or Deification is only understood by the East- right? This caricature is not due solely to prejudiced Easterners, but to poorly taught Westerners as well, especially those who cannot tell Mormonism from Patristic Christology, or their right hands from their left (and also much cattle).

I suggest that we turn from “common knowledge” to knowledge, which is like turning from being honest to God simply to being honest (to draw from the well of C.S. Lewis). To begin with, the West, and Saint Anselm in particular, did not invent Atonement, and have never taught that God was morbidly and emotionally “pleased” with the sacrifice of Christ; neither has it been taught by the West (or by Saint Anselm in particular) that Christ overcame sin alone, and not death as well. Neither has it ever been taught by the East that Christ’s death on the cross was unrelated to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant prophecy in which the One Man was the Lamb of God upon whose life was placed the iniquity of us all. If either of these two caricatures were true, then neither East nor West would have been remotely Christian, as each would have denied central doctrines of the Faith expressed in the Creed we all share. Perhaps emphasis is mistaken for doctrine, and taste for Creed. For those who are content not only to live with these caricatures, but who wish in every way to represent them by fasting from the common well of Patristic Faith, it is good for one lung to breathe in a little more deeply the blessed state of sin forgiven by Christ’s once for all offering of Himself as the Propitiation for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2), and for the other lung to breathe more deeply the blessed hope of Deification. But, each lung would be breathing air native to it.

Now, to answer specific questions that modern Western Christians have, Deification is taught in scripture, especially by those haunting words of Saint Peter: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust .” – II Pet. 1: 4. This is not, I say not Mormonism, which teaches that even the Lord Who made heaven and earth was once a mere mortal, and that people can become gods equal to YHVH Himself. Obviously, Christians never have believed such blasphemy; therefore it is not the meaning of the formula of Saint Athanasius, "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." (St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, BOOK: De Decretis, about 325?), or of Saint Thomas Aquinas (those who want to see the great Angelic Doctor as simply a Western scholastic may wish to turn a blind eye): "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Philosopher, Theologian, Angelicus Doctor, BOOK: Opusculum contra errores graecorum, by order of Pope Urban IV 1261-64).

Our Lord quoted the words of Psalm 82: 6, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” About these words, the Hebrew language is very clear: Elohim, b’nai Elyon. He used these words in a context about His own Divine Nature as the only begotten Son of God, using the phrase “sent into the world” by which He spoke always of Himself in a unique sense (John 10: 34- 37). No other man has a nature we call “pre-existent.” No one else has been sent into the word, for the rest of us originated here. And, it is only in the context of the Incarnation that we dare speak of Deification, or Theosis. By grace we may become what He is by nature. This has never been understood even to suggest or imply equality, neither that we could ever possess the nature of God as the Wholly Other who is uncreated. It has never been understood to mean that we become omnipotent, omniscient or omnipresent. It has everything to do with adoption as sons through the Incarnation of Christ, sharing in the holiness of God because sin has been overcome by Christ, and becoming immortal due to the victorious death of Christ on the cross and His Resurrection. None of this would be possible if not for the fact that a Man sits at the right hand of the Father, that is, if not for the fact that even now our salvation comes through the Man who is complete in two natures. Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, having taken our created nature into his uncreated Person, our time into His eternity. When death entered the physical body of this Man, it was overcome and swallowed up by Life, as a drop must vanish when it falls into the sea.

It is in the context of our Faith in the Incarnation that apparent differences vanish, for in that revelation sin has been taken away on the cross, and death has been swallowed up in victory. Perceived conflicts evaporate like the illusion they have been all along. Our created nature is transformed by grace, deifying man because a Man ever lives who is fully God. The Man who is one with the Father from the beginning is one with us by the gracious will of God; One with the Father by the eternal Nature of His uncreated Person, and one with us in every way, except sin, through His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. And in His love we trust. We are given the deposit now by the Holy Spirit Who came on the Church at Pentecost, so that we can hope to become by grace what he is by nature: holy, eternal and perfect in charity.

The Western Church has never turned away from the doctrine of Deification. Anglicans especially have the teachings of Lancelot Andrewes (about which I suggest the paper by one Rev. Davidson Morse. However, in the link provided, the paper starts on page 9. I do not endorse every opinion contained in the first eight pages of this website, as some of them are simply too optimistic, rather than accurate).

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Note from Sunny Spain

A short note to let you all know that I am well, though exhausted.

I have spent the past nearly two weeks in a blur -- of activity and plaster dust. Sorting out bureaucracy, buying furniture and household furnishings, cleaning, painting, cleaning, painting and then cleaning some more. Mercifully, Javier, one of my neighbours' sons has been helping me out. I couldn't have done it otherwise.

The house is lovely and quite liveable. I'll upload some photos when I get home.

The children arrive tonight by bus from Madrid. We will spend just under a week here, then head back to Madrid. I'll be home at the end of the month.

Blessings to all.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

About Theosis

I see that while I was busy a few people made comments about theosis, or deification. The subject is rather important, and so, after Sunday, I will take the time to post a blog about this subject. It is a necessary part of our theology of the Incarnation. Anglican tradition is no stranger to this theme at all, and both Hooker and Andrewes were right up there with any of the Orthodox on this matter. For now, simply ponder what Saint Peter said, that we are meant to become "partakers of the divine nature." - II Pet. 1:4

Monday, July 10, 2006

Fourth Sunday after Trinity

(Lam. 3:22-33 and Psalm 91)
The Epistle. Rom. viii. 18f The Gospel. St. Luke vi. 36f

I have something in common with the Pope over in Rome. When I want to relax I play classical music on my piano. And, I was once a church organist near Baltimore. I recall one night about thirty years ago that a few friends and I were speaking with the great organist, Virgil Fox. He told us about how Pablo Casals, although he was a cellist, and no matter what the music was that he would be performing, would play from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier on a piano before every concert, “so that” as Virgil Fox put it, “he would be thinking like a musician.” I remember those words clearly- “so that he would be thinking like a musician.” This was particularly significant coming from Virgil Fox, because many of his contemporaries (including less talented organists) accused him of being too much the romantic when he played Bach. People who have never played difficult music may think that a musician is simply in an emotional state, perhaps even of emotional instability, when performing.

But, in fact, he is in a state of concentration. Deep feeling should come across; but it cannot come across by abandoning oneself to waves of emotion. Once the highest level of discipline in musical performance is learned, self-control and deep concentration actually serve to free the feelings so that they can be expressed. I believe that athletes understand this too; they are not simply exercising physical strength, or great reflexes, or some isolated skill such as throwing or jumping or batting. They must be concentrating- thinking. When I was a kid, and a Baltimore Orioles fan, my favorite baseball player was Frank Robinson. After watching him play for a few years, what began to impress my young mind the most was not his many homeruns, and spectacular catches in the outfield; it was that he was so concentrating on the game that he could be counted on to turn defeat into victory by seizing an opportunity to do just the right thing at the right time.

There is a lesson for us in this: As much as our religion appeals to deep feeling, it can only truly be felt when it is also the subject of our thinking. When I read or hear the words of scripture, including those we have heard today, I am moved very deeply, far more than would be possible had I not spent decades learning the richness of these passages.

“It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”

“Whoso dwelleth under the defence of the most High : shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”

Too often these days, churches go in for trendy services, meant to make everybody feel good and smile, even if in order to feel good they must abandon reason; even if the emotion is shallow.

Much emphasis is placed upon an artificial distinction between the head and the heart, just as emphasis is placed as well upon a false dichotomy between Faith and Science. Even worse, a totally false dichotomy is thought to exist between Reason and Faith, as if faith is supposed to be an effort to believe the unbelievable. I want us to understand very clearly that our Faith is something to think about. It should occupy our thoughts; it should be the subject of good amounts of reading, especially the reading of the Bible. In addition, I recommend reading the Fathers, and great Christian thinkers and, for those who dare, sound theologians. I really do recommend that you read writers like C.S. Lewis and G.K Chesterton. The Book of Proverbs tells us to love wisdom, which is what the word philosopher actually means- one who loves wisdom. The most powerful source of wisdom is the Bible when read in the light of the Church’s teaching about the meaning of its content.

Today’s Gospel forces us to think. What is meant by “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged?” Does it mean that we abandon any distinction between right and wrong? Does it mean that we look the other way, or wink at immorality? Does it mean that we are not to consider any behavior to be wrong?

Or, are we to take it in light of the first sentence? “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” The person who is quick to condemn others may be legally right, but he is morally wrong. The merciful person can be just as ready to judge between right and wrong, but always with a heart of compassion. The difference is that one is content to disapprove, often to form a whole picture from a half-truth about another’s alleged offense. But the merciful man wants to help, even if that help is limited only to the offering of prayer, with no opportunity to do more. The one who is ready to condemn feels superior; but the merciful says, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” The merciful person remembers that he is a sinner too, and wants the same forgiveness that he has come to know in Christ, to be extended to his neighbor.

Remember my sermon a few weeks ago: God never told us to love mankind: Rather He tells us “love thy neighbor as thyself”- which is a lot more of a challenge. Loving mankind is a big project, big enough for the self-deception of both Nazis and Communists, and any other kind of ideologue who may justify terrorism and mass murder, prison camps and “re-education” programs, all for the supposed good of mankind, the betterment of the human race. The one who judges, in this way, judges that “it is better for one man to die rather than that the whole nation should perish.” He judges that his neighbor’s life may not be worthy to be lived, and all for the improvement of mankind- which he thinks he loves. So, that in order to love mankind he must hate his neighbor. But, God tells us to love that one- our neighbor. The cause of bettering the human race is not justification for harming our neighbor. And, what we do to one of the least of these, His brethren, we do to Christ.

The merciful person is becoming ever more and more like our Father in heaven, and like our Master, our Teacher, Jesus Christ. And, as I have demonstrated, in order to feel what Christians must feel, we must think like Christians. We must not isolate the words “judge not” as a catch phrase, separated from Christ’s words about being merciful, and about giving the good measure. He gave the good measure, He gave His life for the sins of the world to reconcile us to God. And, in the power of His resurrection we can become like Him, ready to forgive and to give.

We learn from Christ’s words that a merciful person can, indeed, notice a fault in another, and try to help his neighbor repent from sin. It is funny to imagine the man who notices a mere speck in his brother’s eye, but does not see the log protruding from his own eye. If we stop with this image our lives can be easy; we can always say that we are not “judging.” But, the Lord makes it hard for us. He goes on to say this: “Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.” In other words, part of our duty to our neighbor involves cleaning up our own lives. Not only do we owe it to God, and ourselves, to try to live a holy life. We owe it to our neighbor also. If we love our neighbor we have to remove the log from our own eyes, that is, repent of our own sins, and therefore be able to help by example, or word if occasion permits. It is far easier to leave a log in our own eyes, and let our neighbor perish as well.

This brings us to more of what the Lord said in today’s Gospel: “Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?” Neither the man with the speck in his eye, nor the man with the log, can open his eyes to see where he is going. Both must shut their eyes and keep the light out. They must stumble and feel their way along. They cannot walk in the light of learning and understanding. They can feel the road beneath their feet, until they fall into a ditch. It is not enough to feel your way along, and certainly not enough to be led along by others who operate on the same level of blind feeling. The light must be allowed in; the speck must come out in order to open the eyes and see; as must the beam, or the log. When the Lord speaks of blind leaders of the blind, as he does in other passages of the Gospels besides this one, make no mistake. He is speaking of false religious leaders. They teach error because they live in error.

I hope that what emerges from the Gospel for today will provoke clear thinking. To reduce it all down to a very unprincipled and libertine catch phrase- “judge not”- robs us of the true meaning. It takes away the challenge, and is a lot easier to live with then what the Lord is really teaching here.

What we are taught is to be merciful, and above all to be made perfect in the virtue of charity. We are told a lot more than simply not to judge: we are told to love our neighbor to the point where we live holy lives, free of sin and hypocrisy. It is very easy simply to say we will not judge, and mentally to erase the context, the rest of the passage; it takes away all responsibility to God, to our neighbor, and to our own souls. But, to learn what Christ actually taught we must see that what we are not to do is to “deal out death in judgment;” the judgment of condemnation; we are not to write off our neighbor and say he is lost, wash our hands, and let him die in sin. That is the judgement that condemns him, that says he is hopeless. We are, rather, to be merciful, so merciful that we are able, if permitted, to help our neighbor remove the speck from his eye; so that part of why we repent and remove the log from our own eye is our duty to our brother, in addition to the need of our own souls.

And, in all of this I see no hope that we can feel what a Christian ought to feel, by way of compassion and charity, unless we think as Christians. Remove the log, let the light in, and then you can begin to love your neighbor as yourself.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


In sorrow I watch a once-great church slide further and further into apostacy. What was once a glorious expression of Catholic Christianity is no more than a faded imitation of what it was. When Israel was in a similar state, the son of one prophet was named 'Ichabod', meaning ' the glory has departed'.


There be some that dwell in houses,
built in mighty beauty in the sight of men,
built at first in love of God the Father,
built to honor Him who died and rose
and brought salvation
to condemned and lost and hopeless sinning creatures,
creatures who together drink one Holy Spirit,
and one holy pilgrim walk begin to follow,
in the light, toward the light, and unto endless day,
in the Truth, in the Life, and in the everlasting Way.

There be some that dwell in houses such as these,
and decorate with works of holy art before the eyes
and sounds of music solemn to the ears,
filled with a glory beholders must admire,
and yet . . .
within these walls, behind this carven work,
under every seat of singers,
and in the words and hearts of them that preach,
there be worms,
and mold,
and rot,
and though the smoke of incense may be sweet,
the odors reaching to the throne of God,
reek with offal’s awful smell,
and angel faces are distorted in the sensing
of the falseness of the worship that is brought
before the throne.

And God
withdraws His blessing from those houses,
and the beauty of His face departs,
and though the merely human beauty goes on,
emptiness is all that now remaineth,
and where once the power of His mercy reigned,
there is judgment,
and in emptiness the church goes on,

And there be some in humble houses
that hear
and know
and humbly bow
to His will
and His blessing
and go on

(c) 2006 ed pacht

Sunday, July 02, 2006


I Pet. 5:5f Luke 15:1f

“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”

I have to consider that when our Lord refers to “just persons who need no repentance” He is using irony. The emphasis seems to be more about how these persons see themselves, or even more likely, the show they put on for others.

One very cold morning in Washington D.C., I was present for the annual Right to Life march, held every January 22nd, the date of the evil and infamous Roe vs. Wade Decision. On that day thousands of people gather every year to protest the abortion Holocaust that has been unleashed by that completely arbitrary and unjust Supreme Court error back in 1973. I applaud the people who show up, and I am hesitant to be critical of anything they say on such an occasion. However, that particular year a Rabbi led an opening prayer in which he said these words: “Lord, we are not the ones who have done this. Our hands have not shed this blood.” That may very well be true concerning the members of his own Synagogue, and I want to take nothing away from them if that is so. But, I am willing to believe that more than half of the pro-life people there (mostly Christians of every kind of church background) were converts to their faith. It is quite possible that some of them had shed this innocent blood during a previous time in their lives, and had since then repented and turned to the Lord for forgiveness and healing. One of the great pro-life advocates is Dr. Bernard Nathenson; and Dr. Nathenson had actually committed several abortions before his conscience was awakened to the fact that he must stop killing innocent, helpless human beings. Later he converted to Christianity and became a practicing Catholic. And, he could not, had he been there that day, have prayed with the Rabbi on the podium.

With all due respect for that Rabbi, we cannot enter the presence of God by claiming to be among the ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. Even if we have not committed every sin in the book, the Bible tells us that to break the Law in one point is to be guilty of all. We must never pray, like the Pharisee in the temple, “Lord I thank thee that I am not as other men.” Instead, we must look at the examples of Daniel and Nehemiah, who prayed confessing their own sins, and then confessing the sins of their people, Israel; that is, they interceded by confessing the sins of their people and by identifying with those sins. In this way they prefigured the Lord, who went to the cross bearing sins none of which were His own- for he alone was without sin.

Today’s Epistle tells us to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. The only people who can enter God’s presence are those who have come by way of a humble recognition of their own sins, and who are grateful for His mercy. And so we have built into our liturgy a very honest and sane piece of reality called the General Confession. We already have prayed for His mercy, as we opened our service in praise and thanksgiving with the Kyrie and the Gloria. I have said before that people who want a religion that affirms them and tells them that they are wonderful, have come to the wrong place. Here we confess our sins. We are not morbid or grim. We confess and repent because we have hope. We know that Jesus Christ has died for our sins, and so forgiveness has been provided. We know that he gives us the Holy Spirit, and we are empowered to grow in holiness and the highest virtue of holiness, charity. Or, we should know these things.

This past week I was interviewed by the editor of The Fountain Hills Times, and the subject was the difference between our Province and the Episcopal Church- or to be specific, what the difference is between what we are and what they have become. Anyone who reads the news is aware that the Episcopal Church is about to lose its standing as a member church of the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury announced this on Wednesday. What has led to this? For the last few years they have defied the almost 69 million other Anglicans in the world, and ignored the clear warning given in the Windsor Report. The big sensational news for the last several years has been about one particular form of sin, which is, as most of you know, what they call “same sex attraction.” But, that is misleading. The attraction is not the sin unless it is acted on. As long as a person fights a temptation; or as long as a person confesses and repents, and makes then the effort to fight the temptation, the endurance involved may be the mark of a genuine saint, no matter how strange the temptation itself may be.

A lot of people have strong temptations of various kinds, and many of these temptations are caused by a psychological disorder. Some men are addicted to pornography. Some men are womanizers, never content with the love of their wives, always seeking that next adulterous affair. Some women are what we used to call nymphomaniacs. Aside form sexual disorders, some people are kleptomaniacs, and some are drug addicts and alcoholics. Some are addicted to gambling, and bring themselves and their families to ruin.

Now, my many readers are quite aware of my work in Baltimore City among the poorest of the poor. There is no condition of human misery I have not seen firsthand. I have had to try to help all sorts and conditions of men. The Gospels speak of the sinners who came to be baptized by John in the wilderness, and then the ones who turned from their sins and followed Jesus Christ. The scriptures tell of the prostitutes and tax collectors who repented. I have met prostitutes. I have met strippers, most of them heroin addicts who were dying of AIDS. I have met drug addicts and practicing homosexuals, many of whom were also dying of AIDS. True compassion is not found in affirming destructive behavior. You cannot help anybody by affirming a life of sin, and by accepting a destructive lifestyle. That is exactly what they do not need. And, yes, they are miserable.

The big error of the Episcopal Church (as well as some other mainline denominations) is that they have decided to be what they call “inclusive.” They will not judge anybody, they say, so they welcome everybody without any talk about sin and repentance. And so, they have decided to be, in today’s widespread abuse of the English language, the “gay” friendly church. In the process, they have to allow any and every other kind of immorality if they wish to be consistent. In a very strange twist of religious deception, they teach unrepentant sinners to consider themselves to be “the ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” Talk about irony.

Here are the problems with that whole picture.

1) Jesus did not simply come to call sinners. In His own words, He came to call sinners to repentance. He used the image of a physician when He said this, so we must never forget that repentance and forgiveness bring a kind of healing to the soul. But, without repentance there can be no healing.
2) We cannot accept something and forgive it. We cannot approve something and forgive it. People do not need to have their “life style” accepted by God; the universal human need is to be forgiven by God. Forgiveness means that certain actions and behavior are condemned, but the person who repents is accepted by God.
3) The Church has no authority to approve anything that God has forbidden.
4) We must be consistent.

The March 2004 Touchstone, after the Gene Robinson vote at the 2003 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, carried my article that they titled "The Gay Divorcee." The subject was the double mindedness of certain conservatives who were willing to approve of all kinds of wrong behavior until it came to this one particular sin, namely the sin of the practicing homosexual. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

“The way home for the conservative Episcopalians is to place Robinson’s homosexuality in its proper context, as a part rather than the sum of his life of sin. If they wish to be credible in their opposition to homosexuality, they must reject all deviations from the path of sexual purity and teach chastity of life for all persons. They must affirm marriage as a covenant and as a sacrament in which the words “as long as you both shall live” retain their full meaning.

“They must oppose Robinson’s ‘ministry’ not only because he is a practicing homosexual, but also because he is unfaithful to his wife. They must oppose the continued public ministry of all clergy who are notorious for living immoral lives…

“If this were the context of their objection to Robinson, one that is clearly and consistently based upon principle, they would have a true and prophetic message with which to oppose homosexualism. That movement would still have its supporters and apologists, but they would have to face the opposition of the great Tradition going back to Christ and the apostles, not simply an objection that they can rationally dismiss as ‘homophobia.’ ”

Normally, I do not preach this way. But, when the news requires pastoral direction, it is something that I am not going to ignore.

Who is a just person? Who is a sinner who repents? A “just person” is an illusion, a fantasy, a self deceived and lost soul. If he is affirmed and accepted, all the worse for him, all the easier his self-deception. A sinner who repents? Well, I hope that is all of us here.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

posting comments

Albion has asked me to watch over the comments feature in his absence.
We haven't figured out how to make the software work as intended, but either of these procedures will work:

1. You can submit as usual through 'add a comment' and the message will be emailed to me.
From that point I can copy and paste to submit it.

2. You can email it directly to me at

In either case I will post it if appropriate.

ed pacht