Historical History

As we left the local library and museum today, we stopped at the new Oxfam bookshop. Until recently, Oxfam had a few used books for sale in their main shop. The selected is now expanded, but still quite limited.

Nonetheless, I have a hard time passing up a used bookstore, especially if I haven’t visited it before. I saw several things that interested me. One I couldn’t pass up. For £3.99 I picked up a copy of The Life and Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. It is 632 pages, in almost perfect condition and was published in 1885. It’s not a reprint. It came off the press when William Gladstone was Prime Minister and Queen Victoria still had 16 years left on the throne.

I don’t know when I shall read it cover-to-cover, but it is nonetheless a jewel on the bookshelf and no doubt a useful Church history resource.

St Mewan

Today is the commemoration of St Mewan. Never heard of him? Not surprising. I hadn’t either until I checked the Menologion.

He appears to have been born in South Wales, worked in the vineyards of the Lord in Cornwall, and moved on to Brittany. This is not an uncommon route of ministry, as all three regions shared a nearly common language.

I feel a bit of a link with St Mewan because he was ordained by St Samson of Dol, who was elevated to the episcopate by one of my own patrons, St Dyfrig. Mewan and his godson Austol (namesake of the town of St Austell in Cornwall) both followed Samson to his monastery in Brittany. Thus when I think of my visit to the cathedral in Dol during half-term break, I also made a pilgrimage to the memory of Mewan.

Holy Mewan, pray to God for us who also try to shine the light of the Gospel in a heathen Britain.

Our Father Among the Saints Columba

Today is the 1410th anniversary of the repose of Columba of Iona, one of the patron saints of Scotland. He is by no means one of the earliest bishops in Scotland. St Ninian first worked in Scotland in the 4th century. Nonetheless, Columba’s missionary work amongst the Picts was one of the great evangelistic efforts in this island.

Though like Jesus he began his Scottish mission with twelve disciples, Columba turned Iona into a school for missionaries to the Picts, much as my own patron St Dyfrig did for the Welsh at Hentland and Moccas.

I went to Iona 17 years ago. Wow. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long ago. Anyhow, it would be a great place to be a monk, because there’s not much to do there other than pray. And you have to want to get there. Even today as a tourist attraction and place of pilgrimage, you have to want to get there. It’s not on the way to anywhere else.

Likewise, if you were going to be a missionary to the mainland or any of the other islands in the Hebrides in the 6th century, you would have to want to get there. You would have to be pretty committed to evangelism.

Columba would have probably never imagined that his rebuilt abbey and the community associated with it would be run by a woman and espouse liberal politics and theology, and pan-sexual ecumenism.

Adomnán’s Vita Columbae is one of the great hagiographies of the British church, written within first hundred years after Columba’s death. As the ninth abbot of Iona, Adomnán had access to those who knew Columba, so it is much more difficult to discount the stories told, as is often the habit of modern scholars when dealing with hagiographical literature. They have to find other ways of explaining away his prophetic gift and the miracles performed by him through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because this aspect of his ministry is so well know, Columba is a popular figure with charismatics who have dabbled in Celtic Christian history. The only difference between them and the Orthodox is that as Orthodox, we don’t see the ministry of Columba as finished, but merely translated from this life to the next, where he prays for us as part of the great cloud of witnesses.

In response we sing:

By thy God-inspired life/ thou didst embody both the mission and the dispersion of the Church,/ most glorious Father Colum Cille./ Using thy repentance and voluntary exile,/ Christ our God raised thee up as a beacon of the True Faith,/ an Apostle to the heathen and an indicator of the Way of salvation./ Wherefore O holy one, cease not to intercede for us/ that our souls may be saved.

I’m Back

I am sorry, Gentle Reader, if I left you in a lurch, wondering where I might have been these past few days. I awoke this morning 4:45 BST+1 in Isigny-sur-Mer, Calvados, Basse Normandie and over 600 miles and 15 hours later arrived back in the Shire. I drove all but the last sixty miles and the 30 miles of sea between Dunkerque and Dover.

Last Saturday we hired a seven-seater and picked up my parents, who were already in the UK. We had reserved a five-seater that can be turned into a cramped seven-seater (a Vauxhall Zafira), but when we got to the car hire place they had upgraded us to a comfy true seven (a Chrysler Voyager). We spent the night near the Channel coast and took the ferry on Sunday morning.

We wanted to take my parents (and especially my dad) to see the D-Day sights in Normandy. We had seen them last summer and since then had planned to go back with my parents. We went to the same campground where we stayed for a fortnight last summer. Last year we had originally intended to stay for one night and just never left. It must be the best campground in Europe. It was good last year, before the owner made significant upgrades (like adding a covering and heating to the swimming pool)  over the winter.  He plans even more improvement for next year.

If you are going to France on holiday, you must go to Isigny and stay at Camping Le Fanal – whether as a tent camper (as we were last year) or in one of the chalets or mobile homes. It is family oriented, friendly, and extremely clean. I know this sounds like an advertisement, but we absolutely love it. There is so much of Europe to see, but we just would just hate to miss Normandy.

The owner remembered us from last year. We had booked accommodation that he thought was too small for all of us, and it was a very light week (our half-term was the week after a French holiday week and just before the northern Europeans start coming in), so he upgraded it.

The week before half-term was filled with beautiful weather.  Last week was a bit more turbulent. We had lots of rain. It would rain as we were driving to a place we wanted to see. As soon as we would get there, the rain would stop. As soon as we got back in the car, it would start again.

The only time it didn’t was when we travelled to Saint-Malo so I my father could preach there one night. It rained while we were trying to get our bags into the hotel. After that, any time we were out of the hotel, it was dry. When we left Saint-Malo it rained until we got to Dol, where I wanted to see the cathedral dedicated to our father among the Welsh saints, Samson, who was ordained to the episcopate by St Dyfrig. It stopped while I got out, then started again when I got in the car. It rained all the way to Mont Saint-Michel, then stopped the whole time we were there. As soon as we started to get in the car – you guessed it – it started tipping down.

If I don’t stop now this will turn into a disjointed, but complete, travelogue of how I spent my spring vacation.  As it is, I’ll re-visit a few experiences over the next few days. For now I should get to sleep.

Reality Check

As is the custom with most bedtime prayers, after the fixed bit, the kids as God to bless various grandparents, uncles, cousins, and pets. Tonight Abby included Spiderman and the Green Goblin. I told her we really shouldn’t pray for them because they aren’t real.

With that sound of disappointment that drops by about a fifth at the end (or sounds like a race car passing), she said,  “Oooooooooh.”  She perked back up and said, “They’re only real on the telly.”

Blood Money for Nothing

Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were tortured into confessing that they infected 426 Libyan children with the HIV virus. They have been sentenced to death.

Why would the Libyans try to put the blame on foreign nurses? HIV principally transmitted through homosexual or non-marital heterosexual acts. This is not the sort of thing a fundamentalist Islamic country like Libyan would want to admit. That being said, the scientific evidence indicated that much of the infection was transmitted throughout the hospital by unsanitary practice.

The death penalty isn’t absolute. There is a way out. The Bulgarian government can pay $13.48 million in blood money for each for each family. That’s only a bit over $7.42 billion. But since the entire Bulgarian government’s annual budget expenditure is $12.16 billion (with revenues of only $13.28 billion) it might be just a little hard to scrape the cash together. The Libyans originally offer to trade them for Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Pan Am 103 (Lockerbie) bomber, but they withdrew this offer.

It’s not surprising that folks in Bulgaria have turned to prayer. Thousands attended a prayer service led by Patriarch Maxim at the Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia. They’ve even brought in the big guns with three miracle working icons of the Theotokos brought in from monasteries in Troyan, Rila and Bachkovo with the cathedral open throughout the night.

I don’t know if there is a traditional patron for nurses, but if you do, please add a comment.

Pray for Ashraf Ahmad Djum’a al-Hadjud, Kristiyana Vulcheva, Nasya Nenova, Valya Chervenyashka, Snezhana Dimitrova and Valentina Siropulo.

Singing, Sermons, and Saints

We had liturgy this morning. It was the bi-monthly visit from the priest (and a number of parishioners) from the Greek church in the adjoining shire.

Our family was a bit late, because Aidan had a mid-morning swimming lesson that had already be paid for before we remember that it was the appointed day for the service. I missed the chance to read the Epistle. We got there about just before the Great Entrance.

We had quite a crowd by our standards. Twenty-five that can definitely remember, fit into a very tiny space. We were packed in like sardines in the little oratory chapel kindly loaned to us by the local Catholic abbey.

Unprompted Abigail sang “Christ is Risen from the Dead” all the way from the house to the abbey. Non-stop. Over and over. Christ is risen from the dead / trampling down death by death / and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. We sing it three times before our meals and in place of “Oh Heavenly King” at bedtime prayers from Easter to Pentecost, so she hears it a lot. She sings it around the house all the time. When we sang it at the end of the Liturgy, she was disappointed that we only did it once. She tried to start singing it again until she noticed that no one else had joined in.

I just wish she had been a little more settled during the sermon as Fr Stephen spoke about “trampling down death by death” so I could have paid attention to the whole thing. He made an excellent observation about Christ as the new Adam, explaining that when Mary Magdalene saw Him immediately after the Resurrection she correctly identified Him as the gardener.

After the service I was also commissioned to assist in coming up with the name of our new community that is emerging. I have made a good case for the most important saint in the history of the Shire, St Dyfrig. As one of the founders of Christianity in the area and as a teacher and father to 2,000 missionaries sent to evangelise that part of this island that would eventually be called Wales, I am confident in his desire to intercede on our behalf. We’ll see how it all works out.

As this group will be affiliated with the Archdiocese of Thyateira, it is apparently customary to also attach a Greek patron. I’m not familiar with a lot of Greek saints, but I’m happy enough if one wants to tag along. We can use all the help we can get.

St Edelienta

When we stayed in Cornwall a couple of years ago, we stayed near the village of St Edellion. As with so many places named after local saints, the place becomes part of the local fabric whilst the story of the saint is lost to the modern or post-modern age. Thus even though we passed by repeatedly we never stopped to see the remains of the shrine of St Endelienta.

She was quite a lady. She was a daughter of St Brychan, King of Brycheiniog, namesake of the town of Brecon and the county of Brecknockshire (now absorbed into the county of Powys). St Brychan sired many saintly sons and daughter – the most common number given is 24.

St Edelienta chose to join a number of her siblings as missionaries from Wales to north Cornwall. She was very ascetical and lived on the milk of one cow and well water. The cow was killed by, or on the orders of a local chieftain, when it strayed onto his land. The chieftain was killed by others in retaliation, outraged at the injustice. Various stories connect this revenge King Arthur (either he sent someone to do it or did it himself), but this is extremely unlikely for reasons that would take too long here.

Was appears to be undisputed is that the local chieftain and the cow were both brought back to life by St Edelienta.

The site of the church bearing her name is also a result of her last wishes. She asked that her body be put on a cart, yoked to two unguided bulls and that they be left to take her wherever they liked. The church was built at the place where they stopped. Her shrine remained there until the Reformation, when the whole miracle thing was not popular with the Protestants and it was demolished.

A troparion in her honour:

O holy Endelienta,/ when thy cow, thine only source of sustenance, was cruelly killed,/ thy heart was filled with forgiveness for the slaughterer./ Pray to Christ our God/ that we may ever forgive our enemies/ and ourselves find mercy.

St Endelienta, pray to God for us.

For England, Palestine, and St George

Today is the Feast of St George, patron of England and pictured at the top of the right column on this blog.

It is very true that St George fought against a Dragon. St John calls him “the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan”. He received the martyr’s crown on this date in 303, having suffered various tortures before being decapitated.

St George is also the patron of Palestinian Christians, who must stuggle every day, pressed upon all sides – hated by the Jews for being Palestinian and hated by most Palestinians for not being Muslim.

May his example encourage us to fight the good fight.

St George, pray to God for us and for all who seek your intercession!

Martyrdom in Turkey

It is dangerous to be a Christian in Turkey. Three evangelical protestants, two Turks and a German, had their throats slit yesterday in Malatya, a town in the eastern part of the country. They were on the staff of a Bible publishing company.

This is another example of how Turkish nationalists want to purify the country from anything un-Islamic. The violence against Christians has been on the increase. In January, Armenians newspaper edior Hrant Dink was shot and killed by a nationalist in Istanbul. Incidentally, Dink was born in Malatya. In February, Fr Andrea Santoro was shot at point blank range in Trabzon by a gunman shouting, “Allah is great!” as he ran out of the church.

For all of the hullabaloo about theonomic Christians in the American political process or even the goals of establishing (or re-establishing) a Christian nation, no one is going around slitting the throats of the Muslims publishing companies.

May the memories of the martyrs Tilman Ekkehart Geske, Necati Aydin, and Ugur Yuksel be eternal.

Patrick and the Power of Positive Confession

Today is the feast of the best known Welsh saint, Patrick. St Patrick was captured and taken into slavery by some Irish raiders. As a result, there is now a campaign by Welsh-Irishpersons to get reparations from the Oireachtas. They are awaiting an apology from the Taoiseach. No, wait, I got the story mixed up with something else. . .

Actually, after St Patrick escaped and returned to Wales, he received Holy Orders and returned as a missionary to Ireland. He did the usual missionary bishop stuff, like preaching the Gospel, converting kings, baptising lots o’ people, performing a few miracles – you know the routine. He also did some writing.

Only two authentic written works by St Patrick survive. His Confessio is what evangelicals might call his testimony. He recounts who he is and what God has done in his life.

His Epistola is also called the Address to the Soldiers of Coroticus. These were Roman soldiers who had at one time declared their faith in Christ, but who had turned to raiding and enslaving other Christians. In some ways it has the flavour of a Pauline or early Patristic epistle, in that it has both a specific and general audience. At various points, St Patrick addresses the soldiers, Christians in general, the captives, and God.

The most popular work attributed to St Patrick and consistent with his theology, but most likely 7th or 8th century in origin, is the Lorica. It reminds me of the spiritual warfare prayer we used in the early 1980s. I spent my formative years in a tradition that generally eschews written prayers, but for a while there was a spiritual warfare prayer printed in tract form that was all the rage. Looking back, I’m not sure why it was okay to read that prayer and really mean it from the heart and not others.

Anyhow, as best I recall, the spiritual warfare prayer gave some attention to the armour of God, as described in Ephesians 6. I mention this because “lorica” is Latin for “breastplate”. The Lorica is not actually a prayer, per se, but more of an affirmation, or a declaration, or to use the terminology of my youth, a positive confession. As I read it again, I realised that it is a verbalisation of the sign of the Cross that as Orthodox Christians we make at various times of the day for various reasons including any invocation of the Trinity.

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Abkhazia

There’s just so much going on in the world and you never really hear about some of the little guys. Abkhazia is not recognised by any other country in the world. This is especially true of Georgia, from which is trying to establish its independence. Abkhazia held parliamentary elections yesterday, but this act has been denounced in Tbilisi.

Its absorption into Georgia is a relatively recent. It was unilaterally made a part of Georgia by Stalin in 1931. This led to attempts at ethnic obliteration, including changing the Abkhaz alphabet to a Georgian base, closure of Abkhazian schools and replacing them with Georgian schools, banning the Abkhaz language, you know, the usual stuff.

Because the head of Stalin’s secret police, Lavrentiy Beria, was a Georgian from Abkhazia, he had a special hatred from the Abkhaz. After World War II, he planned to deport the entire Abkhazian nation. Only his fall from power after the death of Stalin in 1953 prevented this.

Like Georgia, Abkhazia is an Orthodox Christian nation. It was evangelised by St Nino in the early 4th century. Having adopted the five-cross flag, maybe it’s time for Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to show a little more Christian charity.

In the meantime, I’ve added Abkhazia to my flags of unrecognised oppressed nations on the right.

Free Indeed

Gary North waits until I’m no longer a Christian Reconstructionist and then he goes and starts giving away the ICE back catalog for free. As long as you don’t mind reading these books in HTML or PDF they are free to read online or download.

I’m not mentioning this because I’m trying to promote Reconstructionism, though I have a more favourable view than Huw. I think there is a lot of good biblical scholarship there. In fact, I’m Orthodox because I was Reconstructionist. It was a Reconstructionist pastor who gave me a copy of For the Life of the World with a typewritten insert by another Reconstructionist theologian (though he’s since split off to something call Federal Vision theology). The purpose of the insert was to explain some of the differences between Eastern and Western theology – in other words, how to read Schmemann and keep Western juridical theology. I did that for a while.

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Learning from Experience

On Job chapter 5, Fr Pat in The Trial of Job notes that Eliphaz makes a good case explaining Job’s affliction in his opening address. You might say Eliphaz has an entirely Biblical argument. In contrast to Job’s other comforters, he even speaks from his own religious experience.

That doesn’t mean that Eliphaz got it entirely right.

However much, then, Eliphaz managed to misinterpret the implications of his own religious experience, that experience its was valid and sound. To say that Eliphaz was wrong in his assessment of Job does not mean that Eliphaz was wrong in respect to everything he proclaimed.

I often find that friends and others who I have known during previous developments in my theology and spiritual life assume that I have somehow repudiated everything I’ve lived through. Or that if I reject a particular theological or interpretation of experience, I have declared their experience invalid. This is probably particularly true because I spent much of the first part of my life in very experience-oriented Christianity. Read more of this post

A Snow of Devotion

Some shrines last the test of time. Others are more transient.

In the latter category is Our Lady of Lampeter. It’s no Walsingham or Lourdes, but it’s definitely worth a click.

Catholic Britain

Thanks to massive immigration of Poles to Britain, the Catholic Church is booming. Some parishes in London are having to added more and more masses on Sundays to cope with the demand.

Attendance in the Church of England continues to decline. With a formal split in the Anglican Communion looming on the horizon, this looks to continue.

Catholicism as not been the dominate religious practice in this country since the death of Bloody Mary. Charles I was suspected of it and lost his head. James II converted to it and fled in the face of the Glorious Revolution. Even a Holford (though no relation of which I’m aware) was a martyr to it in the year after the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Even though there will be no formal church-state reunion with Rome, the Catholic Church may become the de facto church of England. The Archbishop of Westminster speaks on behalf of more people than the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is all the more true because there are most British Catholics follow Catholic doctrine and belief, especially immigrant Catholics. Anglicans have such a spectrum of doctrine and belief that it would be impossible for Rowan Williams to speak for very many of them on any particular issue.

Even though the Cabinet thumbed their collective nose at Catholic protests over the impact of equality legislation on adoption agencies, they were put on notice that they can expect Catholics to express their concerns en bloc. With more and more Catholics settling here with EU rights of residence, many will become citizens. They will become harder to ignore.

Sadly, the influx of Christians will do little to offset the overall godlessness of this country. However, the light shining in the darkness may be just a little brighter, and the darkness will not overwhelm it, even if it doesn’t comprehend it.

The Unseen Reality

I’m reading Job during Lent. (I’m giving myself a head start during Cheesefare Week.) I’ve since discovered that other people are doing this, but I was motivated principally by finding my original copy of Fr Pat Reardon’s The Trial of Job when I was cleaning out the closet under the stairs. Because it had been in there since the middle of last year, Mrs H didn’t think I owned it and bought me another copy for Christmas. I figured with two copies of it, I ought to read at least one of them.

Being half way through this school year seems like another good reason to read Job. It has been one of those years.

In chapter 3, Fr Pat makes a very valuable observation:

The Book of Job illustrates what we may call the Bible’s “apocalyptic principle,” the rule that asserts that “more is happening than seems to be happening.”. . . God knows that Job’s faith is being tried, Satan knows it, and we readers know it. None of the other dramatis personae in this story, however, has a clue about what is really happening, not even Job. Indeed, especially not Job.

It’s always good to remember that whatever is happening, God has a plan. Even when it appears that the Adversary has an upper hand, God is on the Throne. God often works on a need-to-know basis, and sometimes we don’t need to know. In fact, we never really know until all is said and done.

As a teacher this is something of a comfort. It is getting harder and harder to see how anything I teach is making any sort of permanent impact. But as St Paul says, “Neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.”

It’s also helpful in dealing with particularly difficult children. They often bring a lot of baggage with them. When they act out, more is happening than seems to be happening. Occasionally we hear of particularly egregious situations through the staff grapevine or through a classroom outburst. Most of the time is it carried silently just below the skin. But like a cancer, we just see the symptoms.

The hard thing to remember is that even in these situations, God is on the Throne. This is true even when they hate God and hate me. Everything is temporary. We can’t see the future. We don’t know the next ten years, not to mention the eternal plan.

The Murderer, the Cockold, and the Plan of Redemption

Today is the commemorate of the covetous adulterer and murderer David. He was also a prophet and a king and wrote the hymnal of the Church. If there was ever an example of how God uses flawed people, he would be one. He is an inspiration to all Davids who spend more time sinning than singing.

I’m sure I could write no end of devotional commentary on the life of David, but there are few Biblical personalities who have been the subject of more. Find something someone else has written and read it.

Perhaps this Feast of Holy Innocents is an appropriate time to remember Uriah the Hittite. He was an innocent victim in the plan of redemption. We even read about him in the Gospel last Sunday, “David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah.” Without the murder of Uriah, there would have been no Solomon. Now that seems like a raw deal. God works in mysterious ways.

Holy Innocents

It is a cold, rainy, dreary, miserable day here in Merry Ol’. Seems like the right kind of day to commemorate the Holy Innocents.

Holy Innocents is a day to commemorate the big question “Why?” Most martyrs go willingly to their deaths. That’s part of the dying for your faith thing. But sometimes people just die. Sometimes lots of people just die. And sometimes somehow it is part of the Big Picture of salvation.

Holy Innocents is also a natural time to remember those who are victims of pre-natal infanticide. In the US there is Life Sunday or whatever they call the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. But killing babies isn’t an American thing. It is part of the spirit of the age that permeates the whole world. Just ask the Chinese.

I think they ought to rename Life Sunday as Impotence Sunday, because all of the political action, Christian Presidents, Republican Congresses, and Supreme Court appointments have not stopped the killing. It’s just too convenient. And frankly, abortion is just the visible pustule of a much more deeply rooted spiritual malaise.

On the Third Day of Christmas

As someone who never understood the Twelve Days of Christmas growing up, it’s hard for me to remember to keep celebrating until Theophany. I really didn’t even grow up with Advent, so just the anticipating bit took some getting used to. However, it is easier to anticipate something than it is to enjoy it once it is here.

I’m kind of glad that I didn’t read On the Incarnation in Advent this year. It gives me something to aid in my joyous appreciation of the extended feast, to relish each day the Reason for the season. Christ is born! God is with us.

Scripture tells us that during those first days, the Blessed Theotokos “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Things like the shepherds, the angels, and having to take care of baby God. I would think that even if you did have an angel show up on your doorstep nine months before and let you know what you were agreeing to do, and even if you had nine months of God growing inside, that whole Christmas story experience would be a lot to take in.

A lot of the Year 11 (same age as 10th grade) girls at my school take an electronic baby home for the weekend and then get a grade based on a computer readout concerning how well they took care of it. They are usually shattered by the time they get to school on Monday (except for one girl I know of who just stuck it in a closet the whole time). Yet they are already older than the Theotokos when she gave birth in a cave, had to put up with all those visitors, not to mention the animals, and then had to nurse, change, and protect the Son of God. Scripture doesn’t tell us, but I hope Joseph found better accommodation within a short time.

Athanasius de creatura mundi

I should have had Athanasius to hand when I was teaching about worldviews to Year 9s this year. He was able to succinctly describe the basic cosmological options in just a couple of pages of On the Incarnation. He explains the all the wrong ideas in Chapter I §2 and the right one in §3.

Reading Athanasius is like reading a commentary on the Nicene Creed several years before it was composed. Anyone sucked into the silliness of the idea popularised by Dan Brown that any theology was invented at Nicea would only need to read the ante-Nicene work of the quite young then-Deacon Athanasius to see that there was no original thought expressed in the First Ecumenical Council.

The surprising thing is that Arianism achieved dominance for a while after the Council, thanks to influential bishops like Eusebius, a terrbile theologian and not even a good historian in the view of some. But God had other plans, Athanasius stood against the world, and now only Jehovah’s Witnesses believe there was a time when the Word of God was not.

Why the Word Became Flesh

A little snippet from St Athanasius:

You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form. He has not assumed a body as proper to His own nature, far from it, for as the Word He is without body. He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men. We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.

Ignatius on the Incarnation

Today is the feast of the our Apostolic Father among the Saints, Ignatius of Antioch. On the way to his martyrdom in Rome in the early 2nd century, he wrote a number of letters to churches his route bypassed. In his letter to the church of Ephesus, he makes reference to the power of the Incarnation. I reproduce here the entirety of chapter 19 in the Lightfoot translation (originally published in 1869).

1. And hidden from the prince of this world were the virginity of Mary and her child-bearing and likewise also the death of the Lord — three mysteries to be cried aloud — the which were wrought in the silence of God.
2. How then were they made manifest to the ages? A star shone forth in the heaven above all the stars; and its light was unutterable, and its strangeness caused amazement; and all the rest of the constellations with the sun and moon formed themselves into a chorus about the star; but the star itself far outshone them all; and there was perplexity to know whence came this strange appearance which was so unlike them.
3. From that time forward every sorcery and every spell was dissolved, the ignorance of wickedness vanished away, the ancient kingdom was pulled down, when God appeared in the likeness of man unto newness of everlasting life; and that which had been perfected in the counsels of God began to take effect. Thence all things were perturbed, because the abolishing of death was taken in hand.

Off the Shelf

It’s just been there sitting on the shelf.

It wasn’t until we received a Christmas card from our solicitor with a quote from St Athanasius’ On the Incarnation that I realised I had gone through Advent without reading it. Tonight I picked it up and started with the Introduction.

It may seem obvious to start with the Introduction, but this is no ordinary introduction. Most readers will have probably read it before, because it is a well known and outstanding essay by C. S. Lewis. It is not so much about Athanasius or this particular work, but rather on the value of reading old books.

If you have not read it before, you simply must. It is readily available online. You can find it here or here or here. Those are just the first three that came up on Google.

Forefathers

Today is the Sunday of the Forefathers, the commemoration of the ancestors of Christ according to the flesh.

We might normally think of the ones mentioned in the geneologies in the Bible, but even with just one human parent, we have to remember that the ancestors of Jesus are a multitude. Even with two grandparents, four great-grandparents, eight great-greats, and doubling with each generation back, a lot of people played an important biological role in the story of redemption.

Most of these were people who lived and died unaware of their vital role in history. They had no idea that God had chosen their loins from which to bring forth the Son of Man.

It probably isn’t a tradition in the Orthodox Church, and maybe it is due in part to my interests in genealogy, but I think of the Sunday of the Forefathers as an opportunity to especially remember my own forefathers (and foremothers) whose names I don’t even know or for whose birthday into the next life I have no date. I know there are opportunities to remember the dead generally, but I especially set apart those who directly contributed to me being me.

May my departed ancestors find a place of light, a place of refreshment, a place of repose, whence pain, sorrow, and sighing have fled away. May their memory be eternal.

Even God has a Granny

Many years to Mrs H, whose took as her patroness and name saint at chrismation the grandmother of God, the Righteous Anna, whose conception is celebrated today.

It’s just another reminder of the awesomeness of the Incarnation. God became Man. A real Man, with a real family and a real genealogy connecting Him as Man throughout the trail of time to the first Adam. This is confirmed in every Divine Liturgy with the commemoration of Joachim and Anna at the end. It’s like, “And just in case you missed it… that Jesus we keep on referring to as our God… you know, when we said earlier, ‘incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became Man’… that’s really what it means.”

We get another reminder of this in eight days, when we commemorate all the Holy Forefathers.

Then another eight days, and perhaps we appreciate just a little better that Christ is Born!

St Cawdraf

Today is the feast of the Right-believing Cawdraf of Fferreg. His kingdom included part of this Shire, though he appears to have exerted influence perhaps as far north as the Severn.

He was a probably a contemporary of our family patron, the greatest of all our Fathers among the Welsh saints, Dyfrig. He was the son of King Caradog.

Cawdraf was a holy man who eventually had enough of ruling his band of Celts and retired to a monastery, most likely under the direction of St Illtud.

Troparion of St Cawrdaf Tone 8
O Father Cawrdaf, spurning the transitory glory of temporal power,
thou didst flee from the world to serve God in monastic seclusion.
Wherefore, O righteous one, pray that we, following thy example by serving God rather than self,
may be found worthy of eternal salvation.

Some Things Never Change

As I mentioned yesterday, today is the commemoration of the Prophet Habakkuk.

Habakkuk is a conversationalist – his book records a dialogue with God. He’s got some things on his mind. I’m thinking he may be a teacher in an English secondary school because he asks God,

Why do You show me iniquity,
And cause me to see trouble?
For plundering and violence are before me;
There is strife, and contention arises.
Therefore the law is powerless,
And justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.

Then God says, “Look, the baddies are gonna get theirs. It’s a-comin’. But not just yet.” (Habakkuk 2:3, Holford Paraphrase)

And the rest of chapter 2 describes how people think they can work hard and gather and accumulate and step on people, all to build themselves up in their own eyes, but God has given Habakkuk the key that is picked up three times in the New Testament, “The just shall live by faith.” One of the perversities I saw growing up on the fringes of the Faith Movement was that this was often put into practice as, “The just shall live by faith to accumulate.”

It takes no imagination to read Habakkuk 2 and see that late 7th century Judah shares much with early 21st century Britain in terms of moral decay. It is a scene so depressing, it is no wonder that God dropped in a little verse of hope in the middle:

For the earth will be filled
With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD,
As the waters cover the sea.

Most of chapter 3 is Habakkuk’s response declaring that God is the great Warrior coming to vanquish evil and evildoers. However, at the end he realises he must still wait in faith for the appointed time. God is still God whether I see Him do the thing He has promised to do.

This is in such sharp contrast to the view of God I face on a daily basis. So many people have been programmed to believe that God cannot be God, because He has not done the things they’ve demanded of Him to do, whether on a global or personal scale. This self-justifies their behaviour mirrored in chapter 2. But God will not be mocked. For every chapter 2 there’s a chapter 3.

Consolation

Following on the heels of the Feast of St Andrew (especially as it is combined with that of St Tudwal), it is probably easy to skip over commemorating the Prophet Nahum. Nahum begins a triduum of so-called Minor Prophets followed by Habakkuk and Zephaniah. It is probably not coincidental that their feasts in the church calendar follow the order of their prophecies in the Bible.

Nahum means “full of consolation” and his prophesy was just that. At least to those who heard it. As Fr Patrick Reardon notes in Christ in His Saints, “In at least one respect, Nahum is unique in all the Bible — what he announced was exactly what his contemporaries most wanted to hear!”

It wasn’t good news for those to whom it was addressed. It told of the impending destruction of the Assyrian empire. Assyria was, again to use Fr Pat’s words, “roughly the ancient world’s equivalent of the Third Reich,” so it needed a bit of destroying.

For someone not under the oppression of either Berlin or Nineveh, Nahum gives great hope. If God can destroy great empires, surely He call deal with the lesser oppressors that we face, even when we seem most under attack.

On the other hand, those that are given to oppression and persecution ought to be very concerned about God’s attitude toward such behaviour. Of course those who exhibit such behaviour these days often find comfort in not believing in God. Too bad for them that not believing in Someone doesn’t actual cause Him to go away. “Who can endure the fierceness of His anger?”

Brave and Merciful

I know I’m off by a day, but is there a more appropriate saint for Veteran’s Day/Remembrance Day than the soldier St Martin of Tours, whose memory we also honoured yesterday?

He had no lack of bravery. When he wanted to get out of the army, he was called a coward, so he offered to stand unarmed in the front line, dependent upon Christ alone for protection. God chose to protect him by the invading army surrendering without a fight.

After he got out of the army, as he spent the first part of his ministry casting out devils, having been appointed an exorcist by St Hilary of Poitiers. He was also known for the power of the Holy Spirit working through him to perform many miracles.

These things are less known about about him than his compassion. He famously gave his cloak to a beggar outside Amiens while still a catechumen. However, throughout his life he cared for the poor – so much so that he is known as St Martin the Merciful.

St Martin was the mentor to one of my favourite saints, St Ninian, the first missionary to Scotland, who began his work there in the year St Martin died (397). St Ninian also had the gift of miracles and the demonstration of the power of God brought many to saving power of faith in Christ alone.