23 August 2007

Saint Isaac of Nineveh

Commemoration - August 23
Isaac of Syria is a 7th century saint known for his strict asceticism and ascetic writings.

St. Isaac was born in the region of Qatar on the western shore of the Persian Gulf. When still quite young, he entered a monastery with his brother. His fame grew as a holy man and teacher. He was subsequently ordained bishop of Nineveh, the former capital of Assyria to the north, but requested to abdicate after only five months. He then went south to the wilderness of Mount Matout, a refuge for anchorites. There he lived in solitude for many years studying the Scripture, but eventually blindness and old age forced him to retire to the monastery of Rabban Shabur, where he reposed and was buried.

15 August 2007

The Dormition of the God-bearer

Feast - August 15
The Feast of the Dormition or Falling Asleep of the God-bearer (Theotokos) commemorates the death of Christ's mother. Mary died as all people die because she had a mortal human nature affected by the corruption of this world. The Church proclaims that Mary needed to be saved by Christ just as all of us are saved from trials, sufferings, and death of this world. On this feast we seek the grace to emulate the example of Mary’s holy life of humility, obedience and love.

Morning Prayer Reading
Genesis 28: 10-17

Divine Liturgy Readings
Philippians 2: 5-11
Luke 11: 27-28

Evening Prayer Reading
Ezekiel 43:27 – 44:4

14 August 2007

Some Further Thoughts on Confession

Just some musings I posted elsewhere... thought they might go good here as well.

Sin is not just between us and God. When we sin -literally miss the mark- we harm our relationship with God and cause damage to our fellow man, even if we fail to recognize that fact. When we convince ourselves that 'confessing directly to God' is good enough (and certainly it is good... just not quite good enough) then we loose the valuable experience of humility that comes with the Confessional experience.

In the ancient Church, such confessions were public... everyone knew what you did, because you confessed to everyone. History tells us that the greater and greater influx of people to the Church, coupled with the harsh discipline of the Montanists and Donatists, lead to the end of public confession of specific sins and into the privacy of what we today consider Confession.

I am of the mind that there should be no specific Confession of Sins in Christian worship. These confessions are general, and sins are never general. Sins are always specific. Further, the liturgical texts (when properly employed) serve to paint a strong balance between sin & God's righteous anger and forgiveness & God's abundant mercy.

Further, to avoid the humiliation (that's what it is) of confessing our sins is a manifest refusal to take up our cross and be humiliated like Jesus.

Finally, Confession of sins needs to be thought of less juridically and more compassionately. The confessional act is a spiritual hospital for the sin-sick soul. We need the grace of the Great Physician, ministered by his residents, nurses, care-techs, etc... to avoid it is like not going to the hospital for a burst appendix.

Confession isn't very pleasant... but hell is even more unpleasant. When we fail to comprehend how our sins harm others, and fail to acknowledge them in utter humiliation, we fail to learn from our sins and avoid them in the future...

That's stubborn pride, and as we all know, pride goeth before a fall.

10 August 2007

Saint Laurence

Deacon and Martyr
Commemoration - August 10

Prayer - Almighty God, who called your deacon Laurence to serve you with deeds of love, and gave him the crown of martyrdom: Grant that we, following his example, may fulfill your commandments by defending and supporting the poor, and by loving you with all our hearts, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Biography - Laurence (or Lawrence) was chief of the seven deacons of the congregation at Rome, the seven men who, like Stephen and his companions (Acts 6:1-6), were in charge of administering the church budget, particularly with regard to the care of the poor.

In 257, the emperor Valerian began a persecution aimed chiefly at the clergy and the laity of the upper classes. All Church property was confiscated and meetings of Christians were forbidden. The bishop of Rome, Sixtus II, and most of his clergy were executed on 7 August 258, and Laurence on the 10th.

The accounts recorded about a century later by Ambrose and the poet Prudentius say that, as Sixtus was being led to his death, Laurence followed him, saying, "Will you go to heaven and leave me behind?" and that the bishop replied, "Be comforted, you will follow me in three days."

They go on to say that the Roman prefect, knowing that Laurence was the principal financial officer, promised to set him free if he would surrender the wealth of the Church. Laurence agreed, but said that it would take him three days to gather it. During those three days, he placed all the money at his disposal in the hands of trustworthy stewards, and then assembled the sick, the aged, and the poor, the widows and orphans of the congregation, presented them to the prefect, and said, "These are the treasures of the Church." The enraged prefect ordered him to be roasted alive on a gridiron. Laurence bore the torture with great calmness, saying to his executioners at one time, "You may turn me over; I am done on this side."

The spectacle of his courage made a great impression on the people of Rome, and made many converts, while greatly reducing among pagans the belief that Christianity was a socially undesirable movement that should be stamped out.

09 August 2007

Saint Matthias

Feast - August 9

Prayer - Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve: Grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Readings - Acts 1:15-26 and John 15:1,6-16

Biography - After the Ascension of Our Lord, His followers at Jerusalem chose a replacement for Judas. The man chosen was Matthias, "and he was numbered with the Eleven." Apart from the information given in the first chapter of Acts, nothing is known of him. It would be a mistake to conclude from this that he was a failure and a bad choice as an apostle. We know as much as we do about Peter and Paul because Luke (a travelling companion of Paul) wrote extensively about them. About most of the other apostles (those belonging to the original twelve and later ones like Matthias) we know little after Pentecost on an individual basis.

06 August 2007

Apostolic Succession

The following is a posting of a response to a question on "Primitive Catholic Fellowship", an e-group I moderate on Yahoo! Groups. The question, in a nutshell, is "Why bother to have Apostolic Succession?"

Apostolic Succession is composed of two very important elements.

1) Apostolic Truth
2) Apostolic Recognition

As you have already stated, Apostolic Truth is vital for any community of faith.

Apostolic Recognition (or the historic Episcopate), referring to the laying on of hands as a means of transmitting authority for mission and ministry is a second matter. While there are several citations in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, one only really needs to read the Scriptures in this instance to find a strong case for it.

First, the fact that there is at least a two-fold ordained ministry in Apostolic times is attested to in the Acts of the Apostles. At first, the Apostles operated as the only 'set apart' ministers of the Church. The twelve quickly replaced Judas (and the Greek word episcopos is used in Acts 1:20 to describe his vacated position) and after Pentecost they began to minister. After a time, the selected seven to serve the Church, laid hands upon them, and they became the first deacons (Acts 6: 1-7). It becomes clearly obvious, however, that they had a different ministry than the apostles/overseers. For example, they could baptize, but they could not impart the Holy Spirit (resuting in James and Peter having to go to Samaria to pray over those baptized by Philip (Acts 8: 14-17).

Now we come to the case of the Apostle Paul. For many, Paul is the absolute proof that Apostolic Succession is un-necessary. In fact, he states in the introduction to 1 Corinthians that he is, "chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ." This man, the great Apostle to the Gentiles was unquestionably chosen to minister as an Apostle by Jesus Christ directly...

So it's funny that the Holy Spirit moves in Acts 13, commanding the prophets and teachers of the Church of Antioch to 'dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them." Jesus alrady called him to be an Apostle to the Gentiles... to preach the good news of repentance and mercy... so why the prayer? Why the setting apart?

The leaders of the Church at Antioch were established themselves by the apostles. They, in turn, recognized the call of God on Paul and sent him forth to lead a missionary effort. The Church participated in the ministry set in motion by God. Paul, a man who stated he was beholden to no man for his authority, submitted to the laying on of hands in obedience to the Holy Spirit's calling, in order to do the will of God.

Why? We'll probably never know. At the risk of sounding like I am trying to cop out of the discussion, it is something we simply cannot understand.

Are there Ante-Nicene references to Apostolic Succession, both doctrinally and through the laying on of hands? Yes. Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Origen, and even the Apostolic Constitutions speak of the practice. But if you don't accept it on this Scriptural basis (as well as the other Scriptures that could be brought into play on the topic), then there really isn't a point in quoting the ANF, is there?

Now, to take a moment to debate the merits and long-term effects of Succession...

Obviously the tacticle succession hasn't been effective against preventing heresy. Plenty of people have the historic episcopate and are wallowing in the bog (so to speak). When the Church got split up, first in the Montanist and Donatist eras, and later in the politicization of the Church, the episcopate was comprimised. Thus, all kinds of people claim (and do have) the tactile succession, but have erred greviously in their manner of living or in the content of the faith they profess. The laying on of hands is not an insurance policy against heresy, mainly because it has been used as a weapon since the early 300's.

On the other hand, while I'd take the Apostolic Faith over any mere line of bishops any day, we would be absolutely foolish if we refused to accept the laying on of hands if it was offered to us. Why intentionally deprive ourselves of both sides of Apostolic Succession?

Let us also remember, we cannot take the ministry upon ourselves. As a child I felt a calling to the priesthood, but I couldn't ordain myself. Someone has to examine candidates, train them, and then recognize them through some means... if one could simply delcare themselves ordained, then Simon Magus would have needed nothing other than to be a faithful Christian in order to recieve the apostolic power to confer the Holy Spirit. Or, even more to the point, the Samaratans of Acts 8 wouldn't have needed Peter and John to lay hands on them... or even Philip to baptize them. All they should have needed to hear was the preaching by Philip, and then they could have handled the rest of it themselves.

In closing, is someone outside of the historic episcopate doomed? Surely not. However, why would someone want to refuse the gift of continuity through the laying on of hands to compliment the apostolic teachings of the early Church? God raised up Paul, but Paul still allowed himself to submit to the Church's earthly means of being set apart for ministry.

Who are we to argue with God... or Paul?

All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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