On the Bookshelf

i just finished reading Orthodox Worship: A Living Continuity with the Synagogue, the Temple and the Early Church a revised edition of the book by Benjamin D. Williams and Harold B. Anstall.  Written with the average lay reader in mind this modestly sized (199 pages) book offers a history and explanation of the Divine Liturgy. 

The book explains how early Christian worship developed out of Hebrew worship as demonstrated by the descriptions in Acts and other New Testament references. Antiphonal singing of the psalms, a practice that comes from Jewish worship practice is still a feature of the liturgical churches of numerous denominations.  The eucharistic focus becomes the dominant feature of Christian worship practice. After the legalization of Christianity under Constantine vestments distinguishing the clergy develop along with church architecture. 

By the latter part of the third century the structural change had concluded and the recognizable form of the Divine Liturgy was complete. The movement from Jewish worship in the temple or synagogue, followed by an Agape meal culminating in the celebration of the Eucharist in private gathering had become a divine joining in the heavenly worship in a beautifully adorned Church filled with rich fragrance, and glittering icons. 

Liturgy means work of the people. We were created to worship, thank and praise God. In the Fall, our worship became self-centered. As the royal priesthood of believers worships, they join the heavenly worship with the communion of saints. Linear time is transcended in the Divine Liturgy and the worshiper co-celebrates with eternal worship. “…we join with those in heaven before the Throne of God and offer Him praise and blessing.”

 In the second section of the book entitled, “A Journey Through the Liturgy” the reader is thoughtfully led through the entire process of the Preparation Service of Matins, also called Orthros to the Divine Liturgy. This is particularly instructive since many people arrive after the process is underway and never experience the Orthros. The authors clearly show how the service grew out of the original practices of the first Christians. Each part of the worship as celebrated by the first Jewish Christians is still present in the Orthodox service. The vesting and preparation of the Bread and Wine in the Orthros is clearly explained. 

The Liturgy of the Word will be the most familiar to Protestants, although most Lutherans will also be well acquainted with the Liturgy of the Eucharist along with the Roman Catholics. The differences between the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western Rites is striking. i for one love the power of the scripture evident in the Western practice and the music in western churches can be hauntingly beautiful, but St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil packed a theological depth and richness into their liturgies that stagger the careful reader. Those accustomed to “high church” worship in western churches will be able to see an echo of what they see on some Sunday’s but the processions of the Gospel and the Communion elements are often simplified drastically or eliminated altogether even in traditional services. The dismissal of the catechumens (no one is sent away) harkens back to when Christianity was illegal and those who were not baptized were sent away before the Liturgy of the Eucharist began. The reminder of the ancient past is still included in the Divine Liturgy. In Eastern Christianity time is transcended in many ways and the past, present, and future are all joined together in the worship of the Lord Eternal.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the Cherubic hymn which says, “No one bound by fleshly desires and pleasures is worthy to approach …You, the King of Glory…Yet because of Your ….immeasurable love for mankind…You became man…our High Priest…” The great entrance then processes the Eucharistic gifts. “Your own of Your own we offer you…” the priest sings.  Orthodoxy adamantly declares the Eucharist to be the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Unlike in western theology, the Orthodox do not offer speculation on how the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Our Lord. Mystery is embraced. Holy Communion is called the Mystical Supper. 

The Nicaean Creed is proclaimed by the Orthodox in its original form as agreed upon in the Ecumenical Councils of 325-381. In the West the “Filioque,” Latin for “and the Son” was added to the creed. This has been the subject of heated debate among theologians for 1000 years and i will not enter the fray here. The statement of Faith which the creed represents is incorporated into the Liturgy in both Orthodox and western liturgical churches. 

The Great Anaphora follows. Anaphora means elevation or lifting up. In all liturgical traditions, we are told to lift up our hearts. In Orthodox Worship, we learn that we are lifting our souls to join in the Heavenly worship. The original Greek word for remembrance that Our Lord requested in the Gospel carries with it a sense of process and continuing. Christ offered Himself for the whole world, for all time. There is an “Eternal, eschatological dimension of the Kingdom of God to which we ascend spiritually.” The Holy Spirit transforms the simple bread and wine into the very Body and Blood which the faithful will receive. 

The Church Militant, “earthly,” joins the Church Triumphant before the Holy Gifts in the eternal. The saints throughout time are present and remembered including the Virgin Mary the “Theotokos” or “bearer of God” in the next prayer. Then, “… with one mouth and one heart we glorify and praise Your all-honorable and majestic name: of Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit, now and ever unto the ages of ages. Amen.” The Lord’s Prayer follows as we dare to call God our Father.

The entire Divine Liturgy is included and clarified in a way that is accessible to anyone, teenager or adult. The sacrament is placed in the mouth of the faithful by the priest directly from the chalice on a spoon. Having received the Divine Mysteries, “…turning wholly to Christ, that we may perceive the world as it really is, the full glory of God’s creation in the reality in which it was made. In Communion, Christ comes to dwell within us, and we partake of Him.” Thanksgiving is next, for it is in receiving Communion that we become capable of real communion with one another.  We “… go forth from the Church, having partaken of heaven, to live out the Gospel.”

Those interested in the Divine Liturgy succinctly and simply explained will enjoy this book, which i was pleased to receive from the publisher.

Who Are All These People?

Each day the Church remembers a long list of saints. We may wonder why each day has so many otherwise forgotten names attached to the Church calendar. These are the names of some of those who gave their all for Christ. A Daily Calendar of Saints, by Lawrence R. Farley is a new publication by Ancient Faith Publishing that provides an introduction to the saints of the ages for the modern reader.

As an ardent fan of Jane Austen’s fiction I compare A Daily Calendar of Saints to “visiting the upper rooms.” This book provides us with an introduction to those whom we will love. We are not meeting the social elite we are meeting those for whom love of Christ Jesus is foremost. There are no bores or self-absorbed scoundrels here. We don’t learn all that much about most of these people, but we do meet remarkable heroes who actually deserve the title.

A wide variety of martyrs and saints from every age and geographical area are included. The brief account of lives lived fully for Christ is the beginning of our knowledge of and admiration for the “great cloud of wittiness” that St. Paul reminded us are encouraging us. The professed purpose of the book is to enable us to cultivate the “friendship of the saints who are now in patria, in our heavenly homeland.”

This book is broken down as a calendar with a short paragraph or two for each day. We are briefly introduced to the key features of each saint’s life. We may not know them—yet—but they are some of the friends who are awaiting us with God. If our hope is heaven, then these are some of those with whom we hope to share our future.

The lives of these great men, women and children will surprise and inspire you. Hopefully you will want to learn more about some of these heroes of the faith. Find out more about their lives. Particularly be inspired to check out the books that they wrote. Reading their lives and letters, sermons and musings can profoundly influence us. Most of what the ancient fathers of the Church wrote is available free or at very low cost in digital format. That can be a good place to start. Once you find a saint who really engages you, buy a book or request one from your local library. Reading the words that have moved nations and changed lives for centuries is a powerful experience. I would also urge you to be on the look out for saints of more recent times. You may discover the writings of one who can speak God’s word directly into your heart and move you in ways you could not previously imagine.

The wonderful thing about this book is that every reader will be intrigued by the lives of different saints. By offering us an introduction to each of these people we have the chance to become acquainted with the lives of those who are most worthy of our attention. As you go through the year let yourself discover astounding people from every time and place. Adding this book to your daily reading is an amazingly simple way of meeting incredible men and women. Rather than viewing the long list of names attached to each day as challenge, recognize in them a glorious opportunity for you to become aquatinted with some of the most astounding people who have ever lived. These are those who can uplift and inspire us.

I am grateful to have received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.

Made One

Today the Commonplace Book is stopping by John Chrysostom’s Homilies.

Ephesians 2:11-22

One in Christ

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

From Chrysostom’s Homily on Ephesians 2:13-15

“I will give you an illustration. Let us suppose there to be two statues, the one of silver, the other of lead, and then that both shall be melted down, and that the two shall come out gold. Behold, thus has He made the two one.”

In Christ, we are made into gold. Each of us likes to think that we are the beautiful silver statue. In actual fact, living teaches me that i am lead. Illness makes my body feel heavier than lead. Despite, or perhaps through our inadequacy, we become something beautiful together in Christ.

Christian marriage is in many ways the perfect example. Joined together with Christ we become something ontologically more and different than we had been or could be on our own. Chrysostom was talking about the Church when he gave the analogy.

architecture beach blue sky chapel

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Remember

i remember the wrong things. i make copious lists, keep multiple calendars both digital and paper, yet still, i forget things that are important and fail to reach my goals.

i blame my illness. i blame failing to remember my agenda. i blame myself. i pass out post-it notes to my family and tell them to be sure to, “write it down.”

i have a shelf filled with old planners and agendas overflowing with bits of paper flowing with all the things that i did do.

i have been guilty of calling that shelf the history of my life.

All the things that i have done do not represent my life.

i forget. My life is what i have done for Christ.

i have a little wallet-card that i received in Sunday School as a little girl For years i carried it everywhere i went. It had a picture of Jesus on the front and a verse on the back.

It was not a verse from the Bible. It simply says,

Only one life,

‘Twill soon be passed,

Only what’s done for Christ,

Will last.

i remember the wrong things.

Trust

Trust can be a mountain, or an entire range. As pilgrims in the foreign land we are naturally reluctant to trust other people. It doesn’t take us long to figure out that many people are living under completely alien purposes and ideals from the orthodox Christian.

The Post-Christian culture has produced generations of people who claim to believe in God, while they live out their lives in a totally self-absorbed manner. They don’t question the basic assumption of the modern moral order premised on relativism.

We are not living here, now to gratify our pleasure-sensors and avoid pain. As practicing, thoughtful Christians, we know that is not the ultimate reality. How then do we trust others when they are often motivated only by those goals?

For me, the pilgrimage metaphor is particularly apt. Pilgrims come from various locations all centered on a powerful, transcendant place of worship. The pilgrims journey with others as long as the path leads them the same way. As the route progresses some will follow one trail, some another, and still others will try to forge their own. i recognize that everyone is not going my way. They may not even define trust the way i do. In this i think that the relativism and multiple worldviews constructs have won a large segment of the population.

Despite my apparent acceptance of the modern order in the preceding paragraph, i believe in a thoroughgoing Orthodox Christian worldview. i believe in the sacred and cherish ultimate truth, goodness and trust. My beliefs may be regarded as outdated to some, but i firmly belive that most people long for these pillars of truth even if they deny the Christian traditions connected to them.

For orthodox Christians following the principles of Jesus Christ is the goal in life. There are more people than we realize on this journey. If we follow Christ we value living a life of truth, and we are worthy of trust. However, as fallen humans we will fail sometimes. We sin and fall short of the ideal. We repent. We turn completely around. And we try again.

The way is rough; The journey is long. We will arrive battered and broken. That is how the selfishness is scrubbed out of us. 

Let us press on in faith, dear friend!

Our trust will be broken, but we will be broken into wholeness.

One day we will wash our robes white in the blood of the Lamb, may it please the Lord!

Worship

One of the attributes of modern society that puzzles me most is the habit of denying the value of an action or attitude whilst simultaneously engaging in the same characteristics in a modified form. I know the simple nine letter noun that sums the habit up succinctly. Since i have always been a woman of more words rather than less, i will allow Miss Bates to run rampant for a minute, but only one, i can afford no more.

Worship is often relegated to the storage-rooms of history.

It is wrapped in archival paper and shut away in boxes by those who labourously toil behind a screen always scrambling to stay ahead of the market. The one thing that is valued most and occupies more of our time than any other pursuit; that which we treasure more than any other-this is what we worship.

We all worship something or someone.

Twenty centuries ago the Apostle Matthew told us that what we treasure most is where our heart will be. He did not tell us that where our heart is our treasuer will follow. We often think that our heart decides what is most dear to us. St. Matthew said that our money or treasure determines where our heart will be. We worship what motivates our spending or giving.

Where do your time and money go?

SaveSave

SaveSave

Tell

Christians are commissioned to tell the Good News of God coming in human form to save us. The ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ transformed the world and changes how we walk-not by sight, but faith. Telling the story of salvation can become easy. Telling the truth about the pain of life is often very difficult.

i have not written much lately. In a period of transition, i find that i have more questions than answers. For some reason, it is much harder for me to share the questions. My life has been happier this past year than at any time in my life. That sounds like good news, and it is. candle-1803142_1280

Simultaneously, i have been deeply aware of the flaws in my own philosophical framework.  Continue reading

We Are One

IMG_2825

Fruitless searches

Mis-spelled words

Random mis-steps

Falling hard.

Foggy brain

View obscured.

Troubled times

And misspent years.

Coursing passions

Overcome fears.

The mist parts

Softly shaded images

Emerge from shadow.

Hopes restored in

Christ alone.

We are one

In Him

Through Him

Because He Lives

A Triune God

We become

One.

A Nicodemus Moment

Nicodemus was a Jewish leader, teacher and member of the ruling Sanhedrin. He came to meet Jesus under cover of darkness. The life-altering and life-affirming conversation that followed has changed the rest of human history. Nicodemus wanted to know how one could be saved. When Jesus told him that we must be born from above, Nicodemus replied with words that really hit a nerve for me.

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” John 3:4

In a Bible study that I led on John’s Gospel many years ago we talked of how very human Nicodemus’ response was. Most of us under the same circumstances would ask or at least wonder a similar question. For those of us who have already buried our Mother it rings even more powerfully. How can we be born a second time?

Jesus was teaching a new thing. John the Baptist was baptizing with water alone for repentance.  Jesus was beginning to introduce the Holy Spirit.  The rebirth that Jesus was ushering in is different in character from what had existed before.

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above. ’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5b-6

By the power of the Holy Spirit we are made new. The water with the Spirit becomes a force that offers eternal life. The water and Spirit washes clean souls. It is miraculous. Baptism is beyond the ordinary even though it uses something as ordinary as
water.

church-window-1016443_960_720I often respond to challenges by planning my response. I create a plan. I strategize. I prioritize. I make back-up plans and worry. Nothing I do will guarantee success. When I first rely upon my own problem-solving ability I deny God the chance to guide me from the start. Only through the assistance of the Holy Spirit is real success to be expected. On far too many occasions I have resorted to prayer at the end of a planning session to ask God to bless my efforts. It galls me to admit how arrogantly I have acted.

What I do or plan is not what is important. I am not the one in control. God doesn’t exist to do what I want or to bless my endeavors.

When I try to be the source of all the answers I begin to play God. Only when I step back and allow God to exercise His rightful authority do I make room for His plans to take shape in my life.

Nicodemus recognized the problem of death. His practical question was for each one of us. Jesus told him that the Spirit is the answer. The ideas borne of the flesh are of finite value. The solutions born by the power of the Spirit lead to eternal life.

As I confessed to my Bible study friends I have had many a “Nicodemus moment.” Ever after when I find myself looking for human solutions to spiritual problems I call the problem what it is, a “Nicodemus moment.” That helps me to course-correct and make room for the Holy Spirit to have a place in the solution. I pray first and plan second. It is astounding what keeping things in the proper order will do.

This post is one for the If:Gathering study on the Nicene Creed. As we reflect on what it means when we say that we believe in,”One Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Nicodemus teaches us some of what that means. We must move out-of-the-way and let God accomplish our salvation because under our own power we cannot hope to win our salvation.

How to find Truth

Nicene Creed
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through Him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary
and became man.
For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again
in accordance with the scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,*
 with the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified, He has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

*In the original creed agreed to in 325 A. D in Nicaea it merely stated that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father. The “and the Son” was added by the western churches to help combat a heresy that was prevalent at the time. The inclusion of the phrase, “and the Son” in the west is used today to refer to the fact that God is One God, triune consisting of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the eastern churches the addition is seen to upset the nature of “procession” and is unacceptable. The following is not an article on the “filoque controversy” as it is known. For more information on the conflict please see a more informed source. I am merely noting the discrepancy so that whichever tradition you follow you will know that I cited my version here and made note of the conflict out of respect to both opinions.

imageIn the If:Gathering online Bible Study the theme for today is, I believe the Holy Spirit reveals truth to us. Our culture defines truth as relative. For those who cannot define truth it becomes impossible to know if you are living in the truth. As Christians we recognize the need for a higher truth, a definitive Truth that can withstand the effect of societies’ redefining values over time. The search for truth can occupy a lifetime. In the Nicene Creed we say, in effect, that it is the Holy Spirit who reveals truth to us.

How do we know if we belong to God? How can we know if we are His children? In Romans 8:14-17 we are told that’ “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” The way that we can find peace in knowing that we are loved by God is by the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is the Holy Spirit who leads us to Truth. In John 16: 13 Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would reveal the truth to them.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever He hears, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.”

When we study and read the Bible we are reading the Word of God. However, if we read without asking the Holy Spirit to guide us we are vulnerable to mistaken understanding. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to understand the Truth. Even the devil quoted scripture to Jesus during the 40 day of temptation in the desert. Simply learning the worlds without the Holy Spirit will not suffice. But to all who call upon the Holy Spirit to help them the words are living and active the Truth that we crave. We have not been left to uncertainty and continued doubt. When Jesus ascended into heaven he did not leave us as ‘orphans”, but left us the Holy Spirit to live with us, in us and guide us.
We pray…
Holy Spirit come and enliven our minds and guide our hearts. Help us to learn from your Word. Lead us in our thoughts, conversations with others, prayers and concerns. Help us to have the courage to turn all of our lives over to you. Make us vessels that you can use. In Jesus Holy Name we pray to The Father of Glory and Might through the Power of the Holy Spirit, One God through the Ages. Amen.