Commitment, Continuity, and Conversation

The particular spirituality of the Appalachian Riders For Our Lady is based on our three foundational principles of commitment, continuity and conversation in addition to the general Catholic evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability adapted to a lay context. The Riders strive to promote a conversational culture, proclaiming Christ crucified, authentically Christian and Catholic, in the midst of a world largely lacking culture of any sort.  Our vows of commitment, continuity, and conversation do not necessarily mean that we have any natural inclination or talent in these areas. This public life rests upon a private foundation of reading, listening and prayer. I’m a member of St George Melkite Greek Catholic parish in Sacramento. My booklist, which is in a way deep in history (each Rider, during their novitiate, settles on 24 books of primary importance), is:

  • Bible, unabridged English Standard Version
  • Vergil’s Aeneid; Sarah Ruden translation
  • Harp of the Spirit; St Ephrem the Syrian
  • The Confessions; Saint Augustine
  • Homilies on St John; St Chrysostom
  • Summa Theologica; St Thomas Aquinas
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy; Anthony Esolen
  • Life in Christ; St Nicholas Cabasilas
  • The Poems of Saint John of the Cross
  • Collected Poems; Saint Robert Southwell
  • Comedies & Tragedies; William Shakespeare
  • Complete English Poems; John Donne
  • Complete English Works; George Herbert
  • Emily Dickinson Poems; RW Franklin
  • Collected Poetry & Prose; Robert Frost
  • The Translations of Seamus Heaney
  • Ascension Theology; Douglas Farrow
  • Truth and Tolerance; Joseph Ratzinger
  • Eastern Orthodoxy History; Schmemann
  • Compendium to the Catholic Catechism
  • Deification Through the Cross; Anatolios
  • The Divine Liturgy; Hieromonk Gregorios
  • Horologion; Melkite Greek Catholic liturgy
  • The Liturgy of the Hours; unabridged
  • Bible, unabridged Revised Standard Version

The Appalachian Riders For Our Lady have a particular interest in the season of Ascensiontide, which we consider nearly as important as Advent and Lent.  My particular interest is: That ecclesial bodies with very different ecclesiology seem to have very similar Christology.  Emphasis on “seem”. 

wasatch

Thomas Gwyn and MaryAlice Dunbar

Christian Perspectives

The foundation of everything is Christ Jesus, and him crucified. However, beyond the personal aspects of that (reading, listening, prayer), what are the implications for our social relationships?

I want to commend the Catholic perspective to you. Of course, that raises several questions:

  • Is it reasonable to speak of THE Catholic perspective?
  • Is my characterization of this perspective warranted?
  • Can one also speak of THE Protestant perspective, especially given the range of protestant ecclesial bodies?

I propose that the protestant perspective is that the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the individual or, at most, the congregation. On the other hand, I commend the Catholic perspective: the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the universal Church, the Bride of Christ, extended in spacetime and militantly subsisting in the Catholic Church whose chief steward is the bishop of Rome (for better or worse). Besides addressing those preliminary questions, I intend to commend the Catholic perspective in three aspects:

  • better able to cope with adversity
  • more resources for spiritual formation
  • closer alignment with the scriptural canon

All these points are controversial; however, I intend not to argue for them but rather to chew on them.  The difference between a primarily individual perspective and a primarily ecclesial perspective also has a significant political component since the State desires no competitor to its hegemony (see, for example, Alan Jacobs biography of The Book of Common Prayer which documents how this worked out in England) and hence is inclined to favor an individual perspective which it can divide and conquer.

I’m also assuming that the more alive an entity, the more applicable the principle that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. In addition, whenever possible I’d like to phrase matters sociologically. A major advantage of a perspective more social than individual is that one can “check one’s answers”– the boredom of, for example, discussion about end-time scenarios or sectarian doctrine being that one can not check one’s theory in one’s day to day life and interactions with others as one can, on the other hand, regarding ethics and how to live in community. Somewhat related to this, I prefer to get my history indirectly, via literature.

On a personal level, I think the core of the Protestant error centers on the attempt to place faith above love (see Luther’s commentary on Galatians) contra Saint Paul and the Catholic tradition.

The noted Evangelical scholar Mark Noll, in the book ‘Is the Reformation Over’, argues that Catholic and Protestant disagreements really come down to different understandings of the nature of the Church.  I don’t disagree; however, I very much disagree with the view that “well, maybe so but that’s not important to me..it’s my personal relationship with God that is important.”  The nature of the Church is essentially intertwined with the work of the Holy Spirit, as is reflected in the Nicene creed.  God is able to sustain what was initially established (..I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it) and it is wrong-headed to try to start over on one’s own.

Technology is very important and clearly the most important technology is language. The people who know the most about language are not the philosophers but the poets, broadly defined.

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” (Richard Feynman)

“The Catholic Church is the Church we mean when we say The church.” (Lenny Bruce)

“When I was a boy in Scotland I was fond of everything that was wild, and all my life I’ve been growing fonder and fonder of wild places and wild creatures. Fortunately around my native town of Dunbar, by the stormy North Sea, there was no lack of wildness, though most of the land lay in smooth cultivation, With red-blooded playmates, wild as myself, I loved to wander in the fields to hear the birds sing, and along the seashore to gaze and wonder at the shells and seaweeds, eels and crabs in the pools among the rocks when the tide was low; and best of all to watch the waves in awful storms thundering on the black headlands and craggy ruins of the old Dunbar Castle when the sea and the sky, the waves and the clouds, were mingled together as one.” (John Muir)

“If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.” (John von Neumann)

“Don’t get involved in partial problems, but always take flight to where there is a free view over the whole single great problem, even if this view is still not a clear one.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” (William Faulkner)

“The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like “religion”, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)

Cultural Roots

Israel

  • Bible, unabridged English Standard Version
  • The Liturgy of the Hours; unabridged
  • Horologion; Melkite Greek Catholic liturgy

Rome

  • Vergil’s Aeneid; Sarah Ruden translation
  • Harp of the Spirit; St Ephrem the Syrian
  • The Confessions; Saint Augustine
  • Homilies on St John; St Chrysostom
  • Summa Theologica; St Thomas Aquinas
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy; Anthony Esolen
  • Life in Christ; St Nicholas Cabasilas
  • The Poems of Saint John of the Cross
  • Ascension Theology; Douglas Farrow
  • Truth and Tolerance; Joseph Ratzinger
  • Eastern Orthodox History; Schmemann
  • Deification Through the Cross; Anatolios
  • The Divine Liturgy; Hieromonk Gregorios
  • Compendium to the Catholic Catechism

Albion

  • Collected Poems; Saint Robert Southwell
  • Comedies & Tragedies; William Shakespeare
  • Complete English Poems; John Donne
  • Complete English Works; George Herbert
  • Emily Dickinson Poems; RW Franklin
  • Collected Poetry & Prose; Robert Frost
  • The Translations of Seamus Heaney
  • Bible, unabridged Revised Standard Version

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The Glen at Maude’s Tavern

The hills of Appalachia are wrinkled deep in time. Some places there, as the saying goes, you can’t get to from here. At least, if the here were televised America. And if not ….

There are three large structures in the Glen at Maude’s Tavern: the chapel, the abbey, and of course, the tavern. As to which is oldest, well, that has been the heart of many a heated argument by the bar at Maude’s Tavern – especially since nobody around here puts much value in being new. The tavern looks the newest, what with Joe Turner coming down from Northern Virginia back in the 70s to renovate it; however, his taking Sue Wesley as his wife, ‘as part of the renovation’ he’s fond of joking since she grew up at the tavern, and her roots being Cherokee ‘as are the mountains! Sue says’ give grounds for the tavern being oldest.

Certainly, none of the groups have been very particular about keeping written records and much is hard to make out in the fog of time. The chapel folks, the people of the Mt Zion Freewill Sanctified Baptist Chapel, going back to Scots settlers (refugees from the losing side of the 1650 Battle of Dunbar in the 3rd English Civil War), are what most folks associate with old-time Appalachian mountain culture. And then the abbey Riders, the Abbey of the Appalachian Riders for Our Lady, with their immediate roots in what some think a humorous convolution of Francis Asbury inspired Methodist circuit-riding with Francis Assisi inspired devotion to renewal of the Catholic Church, trace their roots all the way back to the first century after Our Lord’s rising from the dead. So, depending on one’s view of what counts as evidence and as connection, the abbey and the chapel and the tavern each have grounds for claiming to be the true foundation of the Glen.

Myself, Tom White, I’m a lapsed Unitarian, coming from a family of lapsed Unitarians. My mom lapsed from Unitarianism into Methodism and I continued the lapse all the way back into the Catholic Church (and into the Riders, in spite of or perhaps, because of their limiting brothers to two dozen books).

And, though I keep forgetting, since this might be read by someone outside the Glen, I really need to start with that, since it holds them all – the tavern, the abbey and the chapel. What with its geography, which kept it free from the reach of television’s invasion and of thoroughfares from elsewhere in the United States, it is in many ways a world of its own, a sociological laboratory of sorts, one might say. Any reader will, I trust, appreciate my reticence regarding the specific location and features of the Glen, in order to preserve its privacy. The crucial fact, both geographical and geological, is that it is fairly well isolated from the rest of the country. In fact, my descriptions of land and environment will often be of similar, though larger, regions far to the west: the Uinta Basin in Utah, the Flathead and Pend d’Oreille regions in Montana and Idaho, and the lower montane and Shenandoah Valley of the Sierra.

The first white men to set eyes on the Uinta Basin and Uinta Mountains were members of the small Spanish expedition from Santa Fe headed by Fray Silvestre Velez de Escalante and Fray Francisco Atanasio Dominguez. The expedition crossed into Utah and the Uinta Basin several miles northeast of present day Jensen [see the chapter ‘Las Llagas – San Andres’ in The Dominguez-Escalante Journal, University of Utah Press]. These explorers opened the Uinta Basin and the eastern portion of the Great Basin to Spanish, and later Mexican, American, and British fur-trappers and traders.

The Uinta Basin drew little interest during the initial phase of settlement of the Great Basin. Early in the 1860s Brigham Young did order a small expedition to the Uinta Basin to determine the suitability for locating settlements there. Upon the expedition’s return, the Deseret News reported that the expedition had found little there and that the basin was a “vast contiguity of waste…valueless excepting for nomadic purposes, hunting grounds for Indians and to hold the world together.”

To hold the world together – that is the purpose of the less traveled places of which I speak.

Chief Sitting Bull

At least two Paleo-Indian cultural sites (12,000-8,500 BC) have been located in the Uinta Basin. These people were primarily hunters of the mammoth, bison, and other big game. During the Archaic period (8,500-2,500 BC), the basin was occupied by Plateau Archaic People who were gatherers as well as hunters. More recently, people identified with the Fremont Culture have occupied the Uinta Basin. The Fremont Culture parallels in time and development the better known Anasazi Culture. People of the Fremont Culture lived in semi-subterranean shelters (kivas) and were dependent primarily upon corn agriculture and hunting of smaller game and fishing.

During the ethno-historical period (A.D. 1300 to present), the Uinta Basin has been occupied by a band of Utes. The basin was also occasionally visited by the Northern and Northwestern Shoshones (hence the picture of Chief Sitting Bull).

And then, there’s Father Pierre Jean De Smet and the tribes of what’s now Washington, Idaho,  and Montana; however, that will have to wait for another posting. I just wanted to introduce all the main characters and set the stage before getting back to Maude’s Tavern.

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A Rich Life

Nowadays the media suggests many things are needed to live a rich life. Emily Dickinson, a misplaced catholic saint, showed in both her life and her art a different view:

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

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Bible Study: background

From Dr Mazinghi’s translation of the Wisdom of Solomon

Wis 1:1-15

Love justice, you who govern on earth,
reflect on the Lord with a soul that is well-disposed
and seek him with simplicity of heart,
for he allows himself to be found by those who do not test him
and he reveals himself to those who do not lack faith in him.
For devious thoughts separate one from God,
so that, when put to the test, divine power punishes the foolish.
Because wisdom will not enter a soul that is plotting evil
and it cannot dwell in a body that is the slave to sin.

For wisdom is a spirit, the friend of humanity,
but will not leave unpunished the one who blasphemes with his own lips,
because God is the witness of his feelings (kidneys)
and the true searcher of his heart
and hears what the tongue says.
For the spirit of the Lord fills the earth
and the one who holds all things together knows every voice.
Therefore no one who speaks unjust things can remain hidden from him,
and accusing justice will not pass him by without notice.

Keep yourselves, therefore, from useless murmuring,
and avoid the tongue of slander
because not even a word spoken in secret will escape without consequences
and a lying mouth slays the soul.
Do not strive to seek death by the error of your life
nor bring ruin upon yourselves by the works of your hands.

Because God did not create death,
and he takes no delight in the destruction of the living.
For he created everything for existence,
the generations of the cosmos are bearers of salvation
and there is no poison of ruin in them
nor is the dominion of Hades over the earth
for justice is immortal.


Wisdom 1:16 – 2:24

With their deeds and words, however, the ungodly summon [death],
the pine for it, believing it to be a friend,
and they make a pact with it,
because they deserve to belong to its party!
For reasoning falsely, they said to one another:

Short and sad is our life,
there is no cure for a persons end
and no one is known who can free from Hades.
By chance we were born
and afterwards we shall be as though we had never been.
Because the breath of our nostrils is steam,
thought, a spark which comes from the beating of our heart.
When it is extinguished, the body becomes ash
and the spirit vanishes like thin air.
Even our name will be forgotten with time
and no one will remember our deeds.
Our life will pass away like the trail of a cloud
and will be scattered like the mist,
chased by the rays of the sun
and overcome by its heat.
for the time of our life is the fleeting of a shadow
and our end is without return;
once the seal has been fixed, no one turns back.

Come, then, let us enjoy present pleasures
and take advantage of created things with the ardour of youth!
Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes
and not allow the flower of spring to escape us!
Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither,
let no meadow be safe from our orgy.
Let us leave the signs of our pleasure everywhere,
because this is our role, this is our heritage.

Let us lord it over the poor man who is just,
let us not spare the widow,
no respect for the white hairs of the old, laden with years.
Let our might be the law of justice,
because weakness is no use for anything.
Let us set snares for the just an, because he is troublesome to us
and opposes our actions.
He rebukes us for sins against the Law
and accuses us of sins against the traditional discipline.
He proclaims that he possesses knowledge of God
and declares himself to be son of the Lord.
He has become for us a reproof to our way of thinking,
the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his life is different from that of others
and his ways are totally alien.
We are considered counterfeit coin by him
and he avoids our ways as something impure.
He proclaims the final destiny of the just to be happy
and he boasts of having God as his father.

Let us see if his words are true
and let us put to the test what will happen at his end,
for if the just man is son of God, he will take care of him
and deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.
With insults and tortures, let us put him to the test,
to discover his meekness
and try his forbearance.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
because he claims, God will come to him at the end.

They reason thus, but they deceive themselves;
for their wickedness has blinded them,
since they have not known the mysterious plans of God,
nor hoped in a reward for holiness
nor looked for a reward for souls without fault;
for God created humanity in incorruption,
and made it the image of his own nature.
But through the devil’s envy, death entered the world
and those who belong to its party experience it.






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Weathering Totalitarian Regimes

The Church has weathered two totalitarian regimes. I think it important to read at least a short history of each of these trials of the Church.

For the Church’s response to Islam, I will be reviewing Alexander Schmemann’s book ‘The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy’ in a broad context.

For the Church’s response to Tudor hegemony, I will be reviewing Evelyn Waugh’s book ‘Edmund Campion: A Life’.

In both cases, I’ll be reading the books from a rather different perspective than the authors probably intended. Hence these will not be general book reviews. When I say The Church you should know that I have a Lenny Bruce ecclesiology: “The Catholic Church is the Church we mean when we say The church” and that I’m a member of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, in particular.

When reading history, it is important to also consider what is being left out. This is particularly true for Schmemann’s book given how broad of an historical period and geographic region he covers. The first chapter, focusing on the 1st and 2nd century, emphasises the important roots within Judaism and how early ecclesial structures developed. The second chapter covers the very interesting, and very complex, 4th century. For me, Schmemann has just the right amount of detail here, both about the period itself and regarding various modern opinions about the events within Christendom of that period.

(to be continued)

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The Central Question

Below is the first chapter from a useful little booklet: The Illumined Heart, by Frederica Mathewes-Green:

The Central Question

You are holding a small book with an old-fashioned title. It might seem like a messenger from the past, or form no time at all, like one of those book you pull of the shelf at a musty old retreat house.

That’s pretty much what I’m aiming for. The shelves at your local bookstore are bulging with titles addressing urgent, transitory concerns, but this book intends a different pace. I want to examine a more timeless and universal question, one basic to the human condition, and to address it with more timeless wisdom.

That kind of wisdom is certainly not my own. I am too caught in my own time to attempt timelessness, not to mention having a pretty short stock of personal wisdom. But I hope to pass on, as accurately as I can understand it, a consensus regarding how to do the most important–perhaps the only really important–thing we can do: to live in Christ.

This is the early Christians’ wisdom, not mine. I hope not to say anything original. If I do, ignore it. What is this human condition, this timeless question? To take the most global approach, we could. say that it is the riddle of why none of us feels really at home in this world. We’re not consciously aware of this uneasiness every minute, of course; with enough entertaining distractions, we can hold it at bay. But still it’s there all the time, just under the surface, a murmuring unease. Almost unheard but still persistent, it rushes in the background of our lives like an underground river.

It can take different forms with different people. For some, there’s a vague, haunting feeling that we’re always disappointing others; for others, it’s that everyone else is always disappointing us. A lot of us feel like the whole rest of the world is in on a joke we’re not getting, and we just smile awkwardly and pretend to go along. Some of us are burdened throughout our lives with a severe and genuine evil we’ve committed. Others feel peppered daily by twinges over a host of minor offences, pursued as by a cloud of mosquitos.

For all of us, I think, there is a recurrent sense of loneliness. Ultimately, we are alone, humanly speaking, on this hurtling earth. Even in the most jovial and affectionate of families–and I speak from blessed experience–there remains a melancholy awareness that each of us is still fundamentally alone, encapsulated in skin like a spaceman. even when enjoying those whom we love most, we are looking through a pane of glass, and all the urgent longing of our hearts can’t break through.

We modern Christians have a ready and confident response to this dilemma. We say that of course this is so; it is because, as St Augustine said, God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together, as St Paul put it. When we draw near God, and only then, do we find our place in relation to the world. It is like going up the spoke of a wheel to the center, and when nearest hime we find ourselves closest to everything else he has made.

Here is communion. In God’s presence we discover ourselves able to love one another, to be vessels of heroic love, even toward our enemies, even unto death. We find all creation in harmony around us, as responsive and fruitful as the Garden was to Adam and Eve. The peace that passes understanding informs our every thought.

All this sound pretty good, right? So why are we doing such a crummy job of it?

Why are we modern Christians so undistinguishable from the world?

Why are our rates of dysfunction and heartbreak just as high? Why don’t we stand out in virtue and joy? Does anyone ever say, “We know that they are his disciples, because they love one another”?

How come Christians who lived in times of bloody persecution so heroic, while we who live in safety are fretful and pudgy?

How come the earlier saints “pray constantly,” while our minds dawdle over trivialities?

How could they fast so valiantly, and we feel deprived if there’s no cookie at the end of the in-flight meal?

How could the martyrs forgive their torturers by my friend’s success makes me pouty?

What did previous generations of Christians know that we don’t?

That’s what this book is about.

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The Lesson for Today: Robert Frost

I

If this uncertain age in which we dwell

Were really as dark as I hear sages tell,

And I convinced that they were really sages,

I should not curse myself with it to hell,

But leaving not the chair I long have sat in,

I should betake me back ten thousand pages

To the world’s undebatably dark ages,

And getting up my medieval Latin.

Seek converse common cause and brotherhood

(By all that’s liberal–I should, I should)

With the poets who could calmly take the fate

Of being born at once too early and late,

And for those reasons kept from being great,

Yet singing but Dione in the wood

And ver aspergit terram floribus

They slowly led old Latin verse to rhyme

And to forget the ancient lengths of time,

And so began the modern world for us.

II

I’d say, O Master of the Palace School,

You were not Charles’ nor anybody’s fool:

Tell me as pedagogue to pedagogue,

You did not know that since King Charles did rule

You had no chance but to be minor, did you?

Your light was spent perhaps as in a fog

That at once kept you burning low and hid you.

The age may very well have been to blame

For your not having won to Virgil’s fame.

But no one ever heard you make the claim.

You would not think you knew enough to judge

The age when full upon you. That’s my point.

We have today and I could call their name

Who know exactly what is out of joint

To make their verse and their excuses lame.

They’ve tried to grasp with too much social fact

Too large a situation. You and I

Would be afraid if we should comprehend

And get outside of too much bad statistics

Our muscles never could again contract:

We never could recover human shape,

But must live lives out mentally agape,

Or die of philosophical distention.

That’s how we feel–and we’re no special mystics.

III

We can’t appraise the time in which we act

But for the folly of it, let’s pretend

We know enough to know it for adverse.

One more millennium’s about to end.

Let’s celebrate the event, my distant friend,

In publicly disputing which is worse,

The present age or your age. You and I

As schoolmen of repute should qualify

To wage a fine scholastical contention

As to whose age deserves the lower mark,

Or should I say the higher one, for dark.

I can just hear the way you make it go:

There’s always something to be sorry for,

A sordid peace or an outrageous war.

Yes, yes, of course. We have the same convention.

The groundwork of all faith is human woe.

It was well worth preliminary mention.

There’s nothing but injustice to be had,

No choice is left a poet, you might add,

But how to take the curse, tragic or comic.

It was well worth preliminary mention.

But let’s go on to where our cases part,

If part they do. Let me propose a start.

(We’re rivals in the badness of our case,

Remember, and must keep a solemn face.)

Space ails us moderns: we are sick with space.

Its contemplations makes us out as small

As a brief epidemic of microbes

That in a good glass may be seen to crawl

The patina of this the least of globes.

But have we there the advantage after all?

You were belittled into vilest worms

God hardly tolerated with his feet;

Which comes to the same thing in different terms.

We both are the belittled human race,

One as compared with God and one with space.

I had thought ours the more profound disgrace;

But doubtless this was only my conceit.

The cloister and the observatory saint

Take comfort in about the same complaint.

So science and religion really meet.

IV

I can just about hear you call your Palace class:

Come learn the Latin Eheu for alas.

You may not want to use it and you may.

O paladins, the lesson for today

Is how to be unhappy yet polite.

And at the summons Roland, Olivier,

And every sheepish paladin and peer,

Being already more than proved in fight,

Sits down in school to try if he can write

Like Horace in the true Horatian vein,

Yet like a Christian disciplined to bend

His mind to thinking always of the end.

Memento mori and obey the Lord.

Art and religion love the somber chord.

Earth’s a hard place in which to save the soul,

And could it be brought under state control,

So automatically we all were saved,

Its separateness from Heaven could be waived;

It might as well at once be kingdom-come.

(Perhaps it will be next millennium.)

V

But these are universals, not confined

To any one time, place, or human kind.

We’re either nothing or a God’s regret.

As ever when philosophers are met,

No matter where they stoutly mean to get,

Nor what particulars they reason from,

They are philosophers, and from old habit

They end up in the universal Whole

As unoriginal as any rabbit.

VI

One age is like another for the soul.

I’m telling you. You haven’t said a thing,

Unless I put it in your mouth to say.

I’m having the whole argument my way–

But in your favor–please to tell your King–

In having granted you all ages shine

With equal darkness, yours as dark as mine,

I’m liberal. You, you aristocrat,

Won’t know exactly what I mean by that.

I mean so altruistically moral

I never take my own side in a quarrel.

I’d lay my hand on his hand on his staff

Lean back and have my confidential laugh,

And tell him I had read his Epitaph.

VII

It sent me to the graves the other day.

The only other there was far away

Across the landscape with a watering pot

At his devotions in a special plot.

And he was there resuscitating flowers

(Make no mistake about its being bones);

But I was only there to read the stones

To see what on the whole they had to say

About how long a man may think to live,

Which is becoming my concern of late.

And very wide the choice they seemed to give;

Thee ages ranging all the way from hours

To months and years and many many years.

One man had lived one hundred years and eight.

But though we all may be inclined to wait

And follow some development of state,

Or see what comes of science and invention,

There is a limit to our time extension.

We all are doomed to broken-off careers,

And so’s the nation, so’s the total race.

The earth itself is liable to the fate

Of meaninglessly being broken off.

(And hence so many literary tears

At which my inclination is to scoff.)

I may have wept that any should have died

Or missed their chance, or not have been their best,

Or been their riches, fame, or love denied;

On me as much as any is the jest.

I take my incompleteness with the rest.

God bless himself can no one else be blessed.

VIII

I hold your doctrine of Memento Mori.

And were an epitaph to be my story

I’d have a short one ready for my own.

I would have written of me on my stone:

I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

Robert Frost, A Witness Tree
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Christianity in the Middle East

A comprehensive reference book:

The Rowman & Littlefield Handbook of Christianity in the Middle East, edited by Mitri Raheb and Mark Lamport.

While expensive, this 600+ page book with over 50 contributors has much material difficult to obtain elsewhere. From the Preface:

First, a disclaimer and an orientation statement: this is not a ‘Christian’ book, nor is it written from a Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox or Pentecostal or any other faith perspective; this is a book about Christianity as it has existed and does exist in the Middle East. Due to the vast and often extreme historical interactions of people, politics, cultures, languages, and religions, the story told herein is uneven and uncomfortable, and the task, which is not an easy one, is to describe and not prescribe, report and not take sides, and interpret and not prejudice. If our collective efforts are able to elucidate the nature of the ancient and modern faith of Christianity as it has existed–thriving and floundering, triumphalistic and tenacious–for twenty centuries, then we will have succeeded. If not, we have been less that effective in our efforts. Whatever else may be said, certainly the story of Christianity in the Middle East is nothing less than a surviving jewel.

In the Foreword, Philip Jenkins writes:

Much of the history of Christianity involves a gradual but quite thorough displacement from the origins of the faith–ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and geographic. Of course, the faith emerged from a Jewish matrix, and that lengthy process of separation was traumatic enough. But for several centuries, the heart of Christianity lay decisivly in the region that today we term the Middle East. Of the church’s original five patriarchates, four lay in that region–Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria–with Rome as a distant West European outlier. That concentration is all the more marked when we recall the serious claims to patriarchate status of the Church of the East, which long found its seat in Baghdad. Well into the eighth or niinth centuries, if not later, so much of the intellectual and spiritual life of the faith was expressed Syriac, Coptic, and Greek, and Latin was very slow to enjoy a comparable status.

Of necessity, any account of the historic development of Christianity must focus on the Middle East–and that remains true far beyond the “early church.” Through perhaps the half-way point of its story to date, the Christian center of gravity lay far to the east. As late as the end of the first millennium, on ecould make a plausible case that Antioch stood at the geographic center of a Christian world that stretched from India to Ireland, from the Baltic to the Horn of Africa.

So much writing on Christian history focuses exclusively on those Western and Latin regions where the faith would flourish in later ages and underplays or ignores those older Eastern developments. Some accounts seem to suggest that when those regions fell under Islamic political power, Christian life swiftly faded or vanished almost overnight, and nothing could be further from the truth. Partly, such a distortion reflects the inevitable tendency to view the past in terms of the present: we see things not as they are, but as we are. That habit is reinforced by the steep decline suffered by many eastern churches in later eras, and especially after the disasters and persecutions of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Particularly from around 1500, the heart of Christianity moved decisively to Europe, and to European realms overseas, and those burgeoning Western churches readily ignored their sadly declined Eastern counterparts.

. . .

If we cannot write the history of christianity without that continuing Middle East theme, neither can we comprehend that region without its enduring Christian presence. Into the twentieth century, Christians made up a substantial proportion of the population of the Middle East, from Persia to Egypt, and most particularly in the Ottoman territories. Only the catastrophic events of the First World War era smashed that older reality, setting the stage for the near total Islamic dominance in many regions. . . .

Sections of the Handbook

  1. Sociohistorical Sketches of Christianity in the Middle East, pp 1-112
  2. Religious Encounters in the Middle East, pp 113-222
  3. Contextual Expressions of Christianity in the Middle Ease, pp 223-340
  4. Sociopolitical Influences on Christianity in the Middle East, pp 341-448
  5. The Story of Middle Eastern Christianity by Country and in the World Context, pp 449-572

The Amazon sample (see link above) gives further information about the book.

Regarding Melkite Christians, chapter 23 is written by Fr. Sebastian Carnazzo (There is an abbreviated version at the St Elias website.)

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The Sacrament of Matrimony

THE SACRAMENT OF MATRIMONY

337. What is the plan of God regarding man and woman?

1601-1605

God who is love and who created man and woman for love has called them to love. By creating man and woman he called them to an intimate communion of life and of love in marriage: “So that they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matthew 19:6). God said to them in blessing “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).

338. For what ends has God instituted Matrimony?

1659-1660

The marital union of man and woman, which is founded and endowed with its own proper laws by the Creator, is by its very nature ordered to the communion and good of the couple and to the generation and education of children. According to the original divine plan this conjugal union is indissoluble, as Jesus Christ affirmed: “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mark 10:9).

339. How does sin threaten marriage?

1606-1608 

Because of original sin, which caused a rupture in the God-given communion between man and woman, the union of marriage is very often threatened by discord and infidelity. However, God in his infinite mercy gives to man and woman the grace to bring the union of their lives into accord with the original divine plan.

340. What does the Old Testament teach about marriage?

1609-1611

God helped his people above all through the teaching of the Law and the Prophets to deepen progressively their understanding of the unity and indissolubility of marriage. The nuptial covenant of God with Israel prepared for and prefigured the new covenant established by Jesus Christ the Son of God, with his spouse, the Church.

341. What new element did Christ give to Matrimony?

1612-1617
1661 

Christ not only restored the original order of matrimony but raised it to the dignity of a sacrament, giving spouses a special grace to live out their marriage as a symbol of Christ’s love for his bride the Church: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church” (Ephesians 5:25).

342. Are all obliged to get married?

1618-1620

Matrimony is not an obligation for everyone, especially since God calls some men and women to follow the Lord Jesus in a life of virginity or of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. These renounce the great good of Matrimony to concentrate on the things of the Lord and seek to please him. They become a sign of the absolute supremacy of Christ’s love and of the ardent expectation of his glorious return.

343. How is the sacrament of Matrimony celebrated?

1621-1624

Since Matrimony establishes spouses in a public state of life in the Church, its liturgical celebration is public, taking place in the presence of a priest (or of a witness authorized by the Church) and other witnesses.

344. What is matrimonial consent?

1625-1632
1662-1663 

Matrimonial consent is given when a man and a woman manifest the will to give themselves to each other irrevocably in order to live a covenant of faithful and fruitful love. Since consent constitutes Matrimony, it is indispensable and irreplaceable. For a valid marriage the consent must have as its object true Matrimony, and be a human act which is conscious and free and not determined by duress or coercion.

345. What is required when one of the spouses is not a Catholic?

1633-1637 

mixed marriage (between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic) needs for liceity the permissionof ecclesiastical authority. In a case of disparity of cult (between a Catholic and a non-baptized person) a dispensation is required for validity. In both cases, it is essential that the spouses do not exclude the acceptance of the essential ends and properties of marriage. It is also necessary for the Catholic party to accept the obligation, of which the non-Catholic party has been advised, to persevere in the faith and to assure the baptism and Catholic education of their children.

346. What are the effects of the sacrament of Matrimony?

1638-1642

The sacrament of Matrimony establishes a perpetual and exclusive bond between the spouses. God himself seals the consent of the spouses. Therefore, a marriage which is ratified and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. Furthermore, this sacrament bestows upon the spouses the grace necessary to attain holiness in their married life and to accept responsibly the gift of children and provide for their education.

347. What sins are gravely opposed to the sacrament of Matrimony?

1645-1648

Adultery and polygamy are opposed to the sacrament of matrimony because they contradict the equal dignity of man and woman and the unity and exclusivity of married love. Other sins include the deliberate refusal of one’s procreative potential which deprives conjugal love of the gift of children and divorce which goes against the indissolubility of marriage.

348. When does the Church allow the physical separation of spouses?

1629
1649 

The Church permits the physical separation of spouses when for serious reasons their living together becomes practically impossible, even though there may be hope for their reconciliation. As long as one’s spouse lives, however, one is not free to contract a new union, except if the marriage be null and be declared so by ecclesiastical authority.

349. What is the attitude of the Church toward those people who are divorced and then remarried?

1650-1651
1665 

The Church, since she is faithful to her Lord, cannot recognize the union of people who are civilly divorced and remarried. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). The Church manifests an attentive solicitude toward such people and encourages them to a life of faith, prayer, works of charity and the Christian education of their children. However, they cannot receive sacramental absolution, take Holy Communion, or exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities as long as their situation, which objectively contravenes God’s law, persists.

350. Why is the Christian family called a domestic church?

1655-1658
1666 

The Christian family is called the domestic church because the family manifests and lives out the communal and familial nature of the Church as the family of God. Each family member, in accord with their own role, exercises the baptismal priesthood and contributes toward making the family a community of grace and of prayer, a school of human and Christian virtue and the place where the faith is first proclaimed to children.

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The Sixth Commandment

From the Compendium to the Catholic Catechism:

THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT:
YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY

487. What responsibility do human persons have in regard to their own sexual identity?

2331-2336
2392-2393

God has created human beings as male and female, equal in personal dignity, and has called them to a vocation of love and of communion. Everyone should accept his or her identity as male or female, recognizing its importance for the whole of the person, its specificity and complementarity.

488. What is chastity?

2337-2338

Chastity means the positive integration of sexuality within the person. Sexuality becomes truly human when it is integrated in a correct way into the relationship of one person to another. Chastity is a moral virtue, a gift of God, a grace, and a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

489. What is involved in the virtue of chastity?

2339-2341

The virtue of chastity involves an apprenticeship in self-mastery as an expression of human freedom directed towards self-giving. An integral and continuing formation, which is brought about in stages, is necessary to achieve this goal.

490. What are the means that aid the living of chastity?

2340-2347

There are many means at one’s disposal: the grace of God, the help of the sacraments, prayer, self-knowledge, the practice of an asceticism adapted to various situations, the exercise of the moral virtues, especially the virtue of temperance which seeks to have the passions guided by reason.

491. In what way is everyone called to live chastity?

2348-2350
2394

As followers of Christ, the model of all chastity, all the baptised are called to live chastely in keeping with their particular states of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others, if they are married live in conjugal chastity, or if unmarried practise chastity in continence.

492. What are the principal sins against chastity?

2351-2359
2396

Grave sins against chastity differ according to their object: adultery, masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution, rape, and homosexual acts. These sins are expressions of the vice of lust. These kinds of acts committed against the physical and moral integrity of minors become even more grave.

493. Although it says only “you shall not commit adultery” why does the sixth commandment forbid all sins against chastity?

2336 

Although the biblical text of the Decalogue reads “you shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14), the Tradition of the Church comprehensively follows the moral teachings of the Old and New Testaments and considers the sixth commandment as encompassing all sins against chastity.

494. What is the responsibility of civil authority in regard to chastity?

2354

Insofar as it is bound to promote respect for the dignity of the person, civil authority should seek to create an environment conducive to the practice of chastity. It should also enact suitable legislation to prevent the spread of the grave offenses against chastity mentioned above, especially in order to protect minors and those who are the weakest members of society.

495. What are the goods of conjugal love to which sexuality is ordered?

2360-2361
2397-2398

The goods of conjugal love, which for those who are baptized is sanctified by the sacrament of Matrimony, are unity, fidelity, indissolubility, and an openness to the procreation of life.

496. What is the meaning of the conjugal act?

2362-2367

The conjugal act has a twofold meaning: unitive (the mutual self-giving of the spouses) and procreative (an openness to the transmission of life). No one may break the inseparable connection which God has established between these two meanings of the conjugal act by excluding one or the other of them.

497. When is it moral to regulate births?

2368-2369
2399

The regulation of births, which is an aspect of responsible fatherhood and motherhood, is objectively morally acceptable when it is pursued by the spouses without external pressure; when it is practiced not out of selfishness but for serious reasons; and with methods that conform to the objective criteria of morality, that is, periodic continence and use of the infertile periods.

498. What are immoral means of birth control?

2370-2372

Every action – for example, direct sterilization or contraception – is intrinsically immoral which (either in anticipation of the conjugal act, in its accomplishment or in the development of its natural consequences) proposes, as an end or as a means, to hinder procreation.

499. Why are artificial insemination and artificial fertilization immoral?

2373-2377

They are immoral because they dissociate procreation from the act with which the spouses give themselves to each other and so introduce the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Furthermore, heterologous insemination and fertilization with the use of techniques that involve a person other than the married couple infringe upon the right of a child to be born of a father and mother known to him, bound to each other by marriage and having the exclusive right to become parents only through each another.

500. How should children be considered?

2378

A child is a gift of God, the supreme gift of marriage. There is no such thing as a right to have children (e.g. “a child at any cost”). But a child does have the right to be the fruit of the conjugal act of its parents as well as the right to be respected as a person from the moment of conception.

501. What can spouses do when they do not have children?

2379

Should the gift of a child not be given to them, after exhausting all legitimate medical options, spouses can show their generosity by way of foster care or adoption or by performing meaningful services for others. In this way they realize a precious spiritual fruitfulness.

502. What are the offenses against the dignity of marriage?

2380-2391
2400

These are: adultery, divorce, polygamy, incest, free unions (cohabitation, concubinage), and sexual acts before or outside of marriage.

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Jeremiah chapter 31

The Joyful Return of the Exiles

31 “At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.”

Thus says the Lord:
“The people who survived the sword
    found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
    the Lord appeared to him[a] from afar.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
    O virgin Israel!
Again you shall adorn yourself with timbrels,
    and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
    upon the mountains of Samar′ia;
the planters shall plant,
    and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when watchmen will call
    in the hill country of E′phraim:
‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion,
    to the Lord our God.’”

For thus says the Lord:
“Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
    and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
    ‘The Lord has saved his people,
    the remnant of Israel.’
Behold, I will bring them from the north country,
    and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
    the woman with child and her who is in travail, together;
    a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
    and with consolations[b] I will lead them back,
I will make them walk by brooks of water,
    in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I am a father to Israel,
    and E′phraim is my first-born.

10 “Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
    and declare it in the coastlands afar off;
say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,
    and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’
11 For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
    and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
    and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
    and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall be like a watered garden,
    and they shall languish no more.
13 Then shall the maidens rejoice in the dance,
    and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
    I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14 I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance,
    and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness,
                says the Lord.”

15 Thus says the Lord:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
    she refuses to be comforted for her children,
    because they are not.”[c]

16 Thus says the Lord:
“Keep your voice from weeping,
    and your eyes from tears;
for your work shall be rewarded,
                says the Lord,
    and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
17 There is hope for your future,
                says the Lord,
    and your children shall come back to their own country.
18 I have heard E′phraim bemoaning,
‘Thou hast chastened me, and I was chastened,
    like an untrained calf;
bring me back that I may be restored,
    for thou art the Lord my God.
19 For after I had turned away I repented;
    and after I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh;
I was ashamed, and I was confounded,
    because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’
20 Is E′phraim my dear son?
    Is he my darling child?
For as often as I speak against him,
    I do remember him still.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
    I will surely have mercy on him,
                says the Lord.

21 “Set up waymarks for yourself,
    make yourself guideposts;
consider well the highway,
    the road by which you went.
Return, O virgin Israel,
    return to these your cities.
22 How long will you waver,
    O faithless daughter?
For the Lord has created a new thing on the earth:
    a woman protects a man.”

23 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Once more they shall use these words in the land of Judah and in its cities, when I restore their fortunes:

‘The Lord bless you, O habitation of righteousness,
    O holy hill!’

24 And Judah and all its cities shall dwell there together, and the farmers and those who wander[d] with their flocks. 25 For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”

26 Thereupon I awoke and looked, and my sleep was pleasant to me.

Individual Retribution

27 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast. 28 And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. 29 In those days they shall no longer say:

‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

30 But every one shall die for his own sin; each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.

A New Covenant

31 [e]“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

35 Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day
    and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
    the Lord of hosts is his name:
36 “If this fixed order departs
    from before me, says the Lord,
then shall the descendants of Israel cease
    from being a nation before me for ever.”

37 Thus says the Lord:
“If the heavens above can be measured,
    and the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
then I will cast off all the descendants of Israel
    for all that they have done,
                says the Lord.”

Jerusalem to Be Enlarged

38 “Behold, the days are coming says the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the tower of Hanan′el to the Corner Gate. 39 And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Go′ah. 40 The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the Lord. It shall not be uprooted or overthrown any more for ever.”

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St Chrysostom’s homily on St Ignatius

Paragraph 4 of this homily includes this:

4. And I will speak of a fourth crown, arising for us out of this episcopate. What then is this? The fact that he was entrusted with our own native city [Antioch]. For it is a laborious thing indeed to have the oversight of a hundred men, and of fifty alone. But to have on one’s hands so great a city, and a population extending to two hundred thousand, of how great virtue and wisdom do you think there is a proof? For as in the care of armies, the wiser of the generals have on their hands the more leading and more numerous regiments, so, accordingly, in the care of cities. The more able of the rulers are entrusted with the larger and more populous. And at any rate this city was of much account to God, as indeed He manifested by the very deeds which He did. At all events the master of the whole world, Peter, to whose hands He committed the keys of heaven, whom He commanded to do and to bear all, He bade tarry here for a long period. Thus in His sight our city was equivalent to the whole world. But since I have mentioned Peter, I have perceived a fifth crown woven from him, and this is that this man [St Ignatius] succeeded to the office after him. . . .

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Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian

Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian that we pray daily during Lent.

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Deification Through the Cross

A paragraph, and a bit more, from the introduction of Khaled Anatolios’ book ‘Deification Through the Cross’

The third factor that I have suggested to be an obstacle to the contemporary appropriation of the Christian teaching on salvation is the lack of experiental access to this doctrine. Perhaps this is especially the case in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, where the claim to an experience of “being saved” is frowned upon. But legitimate caution against hubristic certainty about one’s eternal fate does not mean denying the experiential accessibility of the content of Christian salvation. For those who have put on Christ and who can say, along with the elder Simeon, “My eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:30), rejection of the experience of salvation is not a tenable option. Nor is it everywhere rejected. It is true that certain strands of the Protestant tradition still place a premium on the felt assurance of being “saved,” and proponents of liberation theology insist that salvation be acted out and made manifest in bringing about justice and peace. However, my complaint about the lack of experiential access to the Christian teaching on salvation presupposes that the ultimate touchstone of Christian experience is neither individual affect nor external action but liturgical worship. If that is true, the loss of the sense of worship as the performance and celebration and actualization of salvation must be counted as a prime cause for the modern inaccessibility of the “joy of salvation.” The kind of worship that would mediate this joy would have to include an interpretation of liturgical prayer not onlyu as an appropriation of the effects of Christ’s salvific work but also as a participation in the internal dynamiosm of that work. At least in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, such an understanding and experience were given in older conceptions of the eucharistic liturgy as representing, in some manner, the salvific sacrifice of Christ. There was a similar understanding of sacramental confession as a sharing in the internal dynamism and the fruits of Christ’s salvific work. For a variety of complex reasons having to do with both modern conceptions of liturgical worship and vagueness and perplexity with regard to the doctrine of salvation, Christian communities today inadequately appreciate liturgical worship as an experience of salvation, as an entering into the very dynamism of Christ’s salvific work, and as a conscious participation in Christ’s saving death and resurrection. Without such a basis in liturgical experience, the christian doctrine of salvation is bound to remain vaguely numinous and somewhat esoteric, like a mythological construct that can be evoked by a variety of strange metophors but to which we can have no concrete experiential access.

Positive Requirements for Contemporary Soteriology

As surely as the doctrine of salvation itself dwells on the negativities of the human condition only in reference to their overcoming in Christ, so our elaboration of some key factors in the modern malaise with respect to this doctrine must issue in a constructive program for the reversal of this malaise. It is fitting, then, to follow our three complaints with three positive prescriptions, as follows.

First Requirement: Fidelity to the Canonical Scriptures

The first requirement for a modern, intelligible reformulation of the Christian doctrine of salvation is that the entire scriptural witness must be considered normative for the understanding and exposition of this doctrine. Of couse, this should go without saying in any endeavor that that claims to be Christian theology. . . .

Second Requirement: The Normativity of Tradition

A second requirement for the renewal of soteriological dictrine is that a critical hermeneutic of charity must be applied to the tradition. We must strongly resist dismissing any significant and longstanding interpretation of salvation within the historical experience of the church. . . .

Third Requirement: The Normativity of Liturgical Experience

A third requirement for the modern reformulation of soteriological doctrine is that it must stimulate and inform the concrete experience of Christians. christian salvation is not merely a theoretical construct but the lived experience of every Christian, and the summit of this experience is worship. . . .In the Byzantine Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the words of institution, which commemorate the death of Christ and which are remembers as the “precept of salvation,” are embedded in an anaphora of praise that identifies liturgical worship as the very culmination and ultimate fruit of God’s work of creation and salvation

It is fitting and just to sing to you, to bless you, to praise you, to give thanks to you, to worship you in every place of your dominion….

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Melkite Mission: Placerville

“House blessings, baby blessings, tree house blessing, oh my! Maybe we need to start a Melkite mission in Placerville!” – Abouna Hezekias, pastor at St George Melkite in Sacramento.

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Catholic Political Thought

I’m taking an ICC course on Catholic Political Thought, taught by Dr Chad Pecknold, with over 2500 participants from over 65 countries. Here are a few of my presuppositions:

  • Politics is about the tension between human nature and the common good for a reasonably cohesive and well defined group of people.
  • Political thought has, historically, been founded upon city government and the importance of communication and coordination has been underrated with regard to more dispersed groups of people.

Somewhat related to this:

Can a large organization do without one dominant, official language? The Roman Catholic Church’s abandonment of Latin has implications for the Catholic Church as a whole; in particular, both English and Italian become more important, albeit for different reasons.

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Vespers and Orthros

In the Melkite liturgy, as in Eastern Catholic liturgy in general, evening and morning prayer are well integrated into the regular worship of the parish. In the Melkite liturgy, here are the psalms which are chanted:

Vespers Psalms: 103, 140, 141, 129, 116

Orthros Psalms: 3, 37, 62, 87, 102, 142, 44, 50, 148, 149, 150

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Bob Dylan Interview

From the December 19th, 2022 Wall Street Journal interview with Jeff Slate, centered around Dylan’s recent book: The Philosophy of Modern Song.

….

Is there a technology that helps you relax? For instance, do you binge on movies via Netflix, because you mention streaming films in the chapter about “My Generation”; or do you use a meditation app or workout app, especially while you’re on the road?

My problem is that I’m too relaxed, too laidback. Most of the time I feel like a flat tire; totally unmotivated, positively lifeless. I can fall asleep at any time during the day. It takes a lot to get me stimulated, and I’m an excessively sensitive person, which complicates things. I can be totally at ease one minute, and then, for no reason whatsoever, I get restless and fidgety; doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.

Two or three hours in front of the tube is a lot of binge watching for me. Too much time to be involved with the screen. Or maybe I’m too old for it.

I’ve binge watched Coronation Street, Father Brown, and some early Twilight Zones. I know they’re old-fashioned shows, but they make me feel at home. I’m not a fan of packaged programs, or news shows, so I don’t watch them. I never watch anything foul smelling or evil. Nothing disgusting; nothing dog ass. I’m a religious person. I read the scriptures a lot, meditate and pray, light candles in church. I believe in damnation and salvation, as well as predestination. The Five Books of Moses, Pauline Epistles, Invocation of the Saints, all of it.

As far as being physically active, boxing and sparing are what I’ve been doing for a while. It’s part of my life. It’s functional and detached from trends. It’s a limitless playground, and you don’t need an App.

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The Public Choice of Gavin Ashenden

Gavin Ashenden writes:

How might St Paul, the Archduke Ferdinand and the Catholic Church come together in a story set at the end of 2022? They might offer themselves as useful interpretative devices as the story of what is happening in the Church in the West today continues to unravel.

Some commentators who have been following my journey and reading my work have taken an interest in the fact that I have withdrawn my application to be ordained as a priest in the Catholic Church, and wondered why. The dynamics that drove the story might have a wider application than just us.

(read the rest at: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/the-choice-to-the-church-speak-up-or-keep-your-head-down/139535.htm )

I note that the character of Horatio in the play Hamlet is “more an antique Roman than a Dane” which fits with my view of the ‘mousetrap’ being crucial to the play and also connects with this article.

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On Fasting

Here are some thoughts on fasting taken from Alexander Schmemann’s book ‘Great Lent’:

It is important, therefore, to discern the uniquely Christian content of fasting. It is first of all revealed to us in the interdependence between two events which we find in the Bible: one at the beginning of the Old Testament and the other ar the beginning of the New Testament. The first event is the “breaking of the fast” by Adam in Paradise. He ate of the forbidden fruit. This is how man’s original sin is revealed to us. Christ, the New Adam–and this is the second event–begins by fasting. Adam was tempted and he succumbed to temptation; Christ was tempted and He overcame that temptation. The results of Adam’s failure are expulsion from Paradise and death. The fruits of Christ’s victory are the destruction of death and our return to Paradise. . . .

In the Orthodox teaching, sin is not only the transgression of a rule leading to punishment; it is always a mutilation of life given to us by God. It is for this reason that the story of the original sin is presented to us as an act of eating. For food is means of life; it is that which keeps us alive. But here lies the whole question: what does it mean to be alive and what does “life” mean? For us today this term has a primarily biological meaning: life is precisely that which entirely depends on food, and more generally, on the physical world. But for the Holy Scripture and for Christian Tradition, this life “by bread alone” is identified with death because it is mortal life, because death is a principle always at work in it. God, we are told, “created no death.” He is the Giver of Life. How then did life become mortal? Why is death and death alone the only absolute condition of that which exists? The Church answers: because man rejected life as it was offered and given to him by God and preferred a life depending not on God alone but on “bread alone.” Not only did he disobey God for which he was punished; he changed the very relationship between himself and the world. . . .

Christ is the New Adam. He comes to repair the damage inflicted on life by Adam, to restore man to true life, and thus He also begins with fasting. “When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He became hungry” (Matt. 4:2). Hunger is that state in which we realize our dependence on something else–when we urgently and essentially need food–showing thus that we have no life in ourselves. It is that limit beyond which I either die from starvation or, having satisfied my body, have again the impression of being alive. It is, in other words, the time when we face the ultimate question: on what does my life depend? . . .

What then is fasting for us Christians? It is our entrance and participation in that experience of Christ Himself by which He liberates us from the total dependence on food, matter, and the world. By no means is our liberation a full one. Living still in the fallen world, in the world of the Old Adam, being part of it, we still depend on food. But just as our death–through which we still must pass–has become by virtue of Christ’s Death a passage into life, the food we eat and the life it sustains can be life in God and for God. . . .

All this means that deeply understood, fasting is the only means by which man recovers his true spiritual nature. It not a theoretical but truly a practical challenge to the great Liar who managed to convince us that we depend on bread alone and built all human knowledge, science and existence on that lie. Fasting is a denunciation of that lie and also the proof that it is a lie. It is highly significant that it was while fasting that Christ met Satan and that He said later that Satan cannot be covercome “but by fasting and prayer.” Fasting is the real fight against the Devil because it is the challenge to that one all-embracing law which makes him the “Prince of this world.” . . .

Ultimately to fast means only one thing: to be hungry–to go to the limit of that human condition which depends entirely on food and, being hungry, to discover that this dependency is not the whole truth about man, that hunger itself is first of all a spiritual state and that it is in its last reality hunger for God. In the early Church, fasting alway meant total abstinence, a state of hunger, pushing the body to the extreme. It is here, however, that we discover also that fasting as a physical effort is totally meaningless without its spiritual counterpart: “. . . by fasting and prayer.” This means that without the corresponding spiritual effort, without feeding ourselves with Divine Reality, without discovering our total dependence on God and God alone, physical fasting would indeed be suicide. If Christ Himself was tempted while fasting, we have not a single chance of avoiding that temptation. Physical fasting, essential as it is, is not only meaningliness, it is truly dangerous if it is disconnected from the spiritual effort–from prayer and concentration on God. . . .

It is for this reason that we need first of all a spiritual preparation for the effort of fasting. It consists in asking God for help and also in making our fast God-centered. We should fast for God’s sake.

[Great Lent, pp. 93, 94, 95, 96, 97.]

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Reminiscence

Vatican II kept me out of the Catholic Church for many years. Let me explain.

I was baptized as an infant at Trinity United Methodist Church in Buchanan Virginia in 1950. However, I didn’t have a living faith in Christ until 1977, after having been in the Navy for 8 years, when I joined Rock Church in Roanoke Virginia where my soon to be wife, MaryAlice, attended. The next year we moved to Blackburg where I started college at Virginia Tech and we became members of Dayspring Christian Community there.

My only church experience, for many years, was evangelical/charismatic (Botetourt county where I grew up didn’t have its first Catholic Mass until 1981) and my only knowledge of historic Christianity came from reading and that came slowly.

As I read, piecemeal and undirected, the impression I got third hand was that Vatican II meant that there was no longer any need to become Catholic. When I finally entered the Catholic Church in 2007, my conversion had little to do with Vatican II.

I’m currently a member of St George Melkite Greek Catholic parish near Sacramento.

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