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Topics - J. Thomas Shelley

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Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
October 29, 2015

Christ is in our Midst!

At the recently concluded meeting of the hierarchs of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, the attached directive was reviewed and approved for distribution to all of our clergy and laity.


The holy Church offers to her spiritual children the tender and sweet milk of the Gospel and the nourishing and substantive meat of spiritual guidance, encouragement, discipline, and reproof, so that Her children may flourish "in the fatherly adoption." Ours is a Christian culture with all of the components of instruction and guidance, so that no one may depart from the ecclesiastical garden of delights without nourishment suitable for him.

The Economy of Salvation

Thanks be to our all-merciful God, the One who created the ages and founded the earth upon the seas and crowned all of His creatures with Man himself to tend the garden of paradise and to raise creation to participate fully in the divine life which is unending and ever-new. Man fell from this ancestral glory due to his own vain pursuit of sensual pleasure and plunged himself headlong into death. This flight from the true life, inspired by empty pride, constitutes the chief force leading man to ruin. But God did not leave man to such a state: rather, He prepared the way in the Economy of salvation by sending the Law-giver, Moses, with the commandments, then the holy Prophets who applied that law and pointed to the Christ. Finally, in the last days, He sent His unique Son, the eternal LOGOS of the Father, "born of a woman, under the Law," that He might fulfill the divine Economy and effect the redemption of fallen man. Jesus, the "Son of man" (ben-Adam), the Lord, the God-man (theanthropos), "became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

Jesus Christ is the Way

Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ not only showed us the way of life, but He himself is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." In Him do we find the fulfillment of created nature in the crowning of that nature given in the first six days of creation (Genesis chapter 1) with the transcending power of the New Man of the "eighth day", of the Kingdom of God. In Christ, then, all that is natural according to creation is elevated and transfigured by the uncreated Light of the Master who was transfigured in glory on Tabor. In the words of the Apostle to the nations, St Paul, "all things that are reproved by the light are made manifest; for everything being made manifest is light."

The Mission of the Church

The Church speaks in the name of the Lord both to her spiritual children and also prophetically to the world. When we speak to our children we speak not only pragmatically but on a higher level, as from the age to come, since we do not treat earthly things only, but heavenly. When, however, the Church speaks to the world, she calls for sobriety and reminds lost man of his conscience, so that mankind may not sink into self-forgetfulness and oblivion. The paschal message to the world is that "Light has come into the world," the paschal light of the new day in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. But when the world turns a deaf ear, the Church still reminds it of its own nature given by God in the beginning of creation.

The status of so-called "same-sex marriage" and the reason for this Directive

It is this "beginning" which is often forgotten these days. As manifest by the recent U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in a 5-4 split-decision (Obergefell v. Hodges, 26 June, 2015), now well-known to all, a significant cap-stone was placed upon the rapid movement in our county toward a re-definition of marriage, which, of course, in the Church we consider to be unacceptable. To be precise, the Supreme Court's decision does not make any new law. However, it rules as non-binding any law which limits the legal definition of marriage to that of an exclusive union of one man to one woman. In the light of these facts, we issue this Archiepiscopal Directive in order to underscore the natural definition of marriage as a word to our "parish"; namely, the region of North America, so that all people may be summoned back to God-given common sense. But we also offer comfort to our spiritual children, all the Orthodox faithful—of our own Archdiocese, as well as the entire pan-Orthodox faithful of our sister jurisdictions—in order to show the "more excellent way."

Natural Creation and so-called "same-sex marriage"

Based, then, upon natural creation, even as our Lord Jesus Christ did as reported in the holy Gospels, cited at the heading of this Directive, the Church recognizes the word, "marriage," as designating only one datum: the fleshly union of one man and one woman, "just as Adam and Eve in the beginning of the world" (ancient betrothal, Service of Matrimony) in an exclusive way, allowing no others. It is this exclusive union of love which alone is fertile and thus the nursery of the human race until the end of time. Any other so-called "marriage," including so-called "same-sex marriage," is a forgery and death-dealing sterile and doomed to frustration and the ruin of body and soul of its participants. Therefore, the Church cannot recognize or countenance any other definition of marriage by any human law, since any such "law" contrary to God's own created ordinance cannot stand as law, but is and will be a dead letter. "There is a way which seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof is death." This, then, is the Church's word to our North American people.

Marriage in the New Creation

Beyond this, in the Gospel, we see the meaning of marriage expressed in terms which elevate its primacy to the highest form of community. St Paul, in teaching his children, said that he had "betrothed (them) to one spouse, that (he) might present (them) a chaste virgin to Christ." And St John the Theologian closes his revelatory vision with these beautiful words which are the call for the coming of the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ: "the Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come!'" Therefore, marriage for the Church is not defined by nature only, but rather is transfigured into the true marriage, the marriage of the eschaton, in the words of St Paul: "(marriage) is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church."

Specific Directives to Clergy and Laity

In the saving light of this holy doctrine, then, I set forth the following directives, in conceit with my brother diocesan bishops, which must be adhered to by all of the sacred clergy and the faithful laity in every capacity within our Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

1. At this time, and until further directives are given, no priest may refuse to sign a marriage license for a couple who are otherwise qualified and blessed by that priest to receive the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. It is not yet clear that the act of signing a marriage license exposes the clergyman to litigation forcing him to act contrary to our stated purposes as a Church.

2. No clergyman may solemnize the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony upon persons of the same sex. In cases where the sex (male or female) of either of the prospective marriage partners is disputed, the priest must consult with his diocesan bishop and receive specific instructions for proceeding. In short, only one male and one female (both otherwise meeting the canonical requirements; namely, at least one of them being an Orthodox Christian in good standing with the Church, and the other being a recognized Christian according to the terms of baptism) may be married canonically.

3. No clergyman may stand present in any so-called "same-sex marriage" ceremony, even as a non-participating guest, regardless of location. Nor may he attend a reception for such, since his presence at this event or others like it, will appear to condone or even bless the event.

4. Any couple which is eligible to receive the Mystery of Holy Matrimony in the Orthodox Church and who have availed themselves of a civil marriage (that is, solemnized by the secular state authority) and who express their desire for the Sacrament itself ("crowning") must be carefully screened. The priest must secure a copy of their marriage license and/or certificate. This must be reviewed and a copy maintained within the parish marriage records. Only after the pastor is satisfied that all civil laws (in agreement with the Church's doctrine) have been complied with may he then consider the couple for the great blessing of marriage crowning in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

5. Any Orthodox Christian who chooses to undergo marriage solemnities of any kind outside of the Orthodox Church voluntarily separates himself (herself) from communion with the holy Orthodox Church. Therefore, any such person is no longer in good standing with the Church and therefore may not receive holy Communion, nor serve as sponsor at baptism, nor hold any parish church office. This applies in all cases; first of all, of course, to such cases in which such a person enters into a false union of "same-sex marriage," so-called, as well as a union with a person of the other sex, outside of the Church.

6. If your parish has a policy of renting out any premises for public use, you may be at risk for litigation, due to the state of legal affairs which the Supreme Court ruling poses. Therefore, this Archdiocese strongly recommends that the parish council consult with a local attorney, in concert with communications between the pastor and his diocesan bishop, regarding the regulation of this matter.

7. Though all the clergy of this God-protected Archdiocese are directed to avoid any condoning or encouraging or supporting in word or action of so-called "same-sex marriage," we remind our pastoral clergy that we all have a calling to reconcile all men to Christ. Therefore, all persons who come to us must be treated with respect and dignity. Pastoral communications in personal contact with persons who profess to be homosexual must be positive and compassionate. Any of our spiritual children, the Orthodox faithful, who come to us as pastors to discuss their own personal struggle with homosexuality, must be treated with care as children needing the therapy of the Gospel. The pastoral relationship is basic for us, who are called to "seek out the lost sheep."

In closing I direct any specific question regarding the contents of this directive, or regarding this area as a whole, to be sent in writing to the diocesan bishop, along with a courtesy-copy to the Archdiocesan chancery in Englewood. Once I have viewed and digested all of your questions, concerns, and requests, I will take whatever actions may be deemed most pastoral and needful for our common good and salvation. I remain

Your father in Christ,

Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of All North America

"Preserve O God, the Holy Orthodox Church,
and all Orthodox Christians, unto ages of ages, Amen."

--from the Dismissal at Great Vespers

Your Turn / The Funeral Hymns of St. John of Damascus
« on: September 27, 2015, 01:31:08 PM »
From the "Least Favorite Hymns" discussion:

Protestants and Eastern Orthodox approach the subject of Christian funerals with different assumptions. (I would welcome Father Michael to offer us a Roman Catholic perspective as well, if he wishes.)

An Eastern Orthodox person is going to approach a funeral with at least the following assumptions:

1.  The deceased person's soul has now been separated from his/her body.
2.  The separation of the soul and body is traumatic, unpleasant, and disorienting for the deceased.
3.  The soul of the deceased is not immediately judged by God, although it will be eventually. We believe this is a process that takes time and set aside 40 days for it.
4.  The abode of the departed soul (either in Paradise or in torment) is determined sometime after death. However, the absolute eternal destiny of the soul will not be determined until the Last Day when the dead are raised and souls are reunited with their resurrected bodies and appear before the fearful judgment seat of Christ.  Only then will the full joy of heaven and the full torment of hell be revealed.

Without trying to argue with anybody, you can see that these assumptions certainly conflict with many modern Protestant and Evangelical assumptions and beliefs about the death of a Christian.  Certainly there is no "safe in the arms of Jesus" mentality among us that merely because the deceased was a believer in Christ that somehow, because of that fact, his/her sins are immediately forgiven.  Therefore our funeral services contain abundant requests for God to pardon the transgressions and forgive the sins, "both committed in knowledge and ignorance" by the deceased. 

In addition, a funeral to an Orthodox Christian is viewed as a Holy Sacrament.  It is part of the preparation for the next life.  And we believe it makes the transition to the next world easier and more pleasant for the person involved. So, while a funeral for us does admonish the living to a degree, it is viewed primarily and most importantly as offered for the sake of the deceased (without whom, by the way, there would be no funeral at all.)  And the last and most solemn act of an Orthodox funeral (before the actual burial) is the absolution granted to the deceased by the bishop or priest who leads the funeral service.  And we view this absolution as just as effective for the person's sins as it was when he/she was alive in the body.

Orthodox hymnody is prescribed for every service by what is stated in the rubrics of the service books.

There is no free choice left to the preferences of the Priest, the whims of the chanter or choir director, or the demands of most generous and/or influential parish members.

The service is a package deal:  Take it or leave it.

So also for Funerals.  Among the prescribed hymns are those which were composed by St. John of Damascus, defender of the Holy Images,  best known in the Christian West for his Paschal hymn The Day of Resurrection.

Tone I

Where is the pleasure in life which is unmixed with sorrow? Where the glory which on earth has stood firm and unchanged? All things are weaker than shadow, all more illusive than dreams; comes one fell stroke, and Death in turn, prevails over all these vanities. Wherefore in the Light, O Christ, of Your countenance, the sweetness of Your beauty, to him (her) whom You have chosen grant repose, for You are the Friend of Mankind.

Tone 2

Like a blossom that wastes away, and like a dream that passes and is gone, so is every mortal into dust resolved; but again, when the trumpet sounds its call, as though at a quaking of the earth, all the dead shall arise and go forth to meet You, O Christ our God: on that day, O Lord, for him (her) whom You have withdrawn from among us appoint a place in the tentings of Your Saints;yea, for the spirit of Your servant, O Christ.

Another in Tone 2

Alas! What an agony the soul endures when from the body it is parting; how many are her tears for weeping, but there is none that will show compassion: unto the angels she turns with downcast eyes; useless are her supplications; and unto men she extends her imploring hands, but finds none to bring her rescue. Thus, my beloved brethren, let us all ponder well how brief is the span of our life; and peaceful rest for him (her) that now is gone, let us ask of Christ, and also His abundant mercy for our souls.

Tone 3

Vanity are all the works and quests of man, and they have no being after death has come; our wealth is with us no longer. How can our glory go with us? For when death has come all these things are vanished clean away. Wherefore to Christ the Immortal King let us cry, "To him (her) that has departed grant repose where a home is prepared for all those whose hearts You have filled with gladness."

Tone 4

Terror truly past compare is by the mystery of death inspired; now the soul and the body part, disjoined by resistless might, and their concord is broken; and the bond of nature which made them live and grow as one, now by the edict of God is rest in twain. Wherefore now we implore Your aid grant that Your servant now gone to rest where the just that are Yours abide, Life-bestower and Friend of Mankind.

Tone 4

Where is now our affection for earthly things? Where is now the alluring pomp of transient questing? Where is now our gold, and our silver? Where is now the surging crowd of domestics, and their busy cries? All is dust, all is ashes, all is shadow. Wherefore draw near that we may cry to our immortal King, "Lord, Your everlasting blessings vouchsafe unto him (her) that now has gone away. bringing him (her) to repose in that blessedness which never grows old."

Tone 5

I Called to mind the Prophet who shouted, "I am but earth and ash." And once again I looked with attention on the tombs, and I saw the bones therein which of flesh were naked; and I said, "Which indeed is he that is king? Or which is soldier? Which is the wealthy, which the needy? Which the righteous, or which the sinner?" But to Your servant, O Lord, grant that with the righteous he (she) may repose.

Tone 6

My beginning and foundation was the form;bestowing Word of Your commandment; for it pleased You to make me by compounding visible and invisible nature into a living thing. out of earth was my body formed and made, but a soul You gave me by the Divine and Life-creating In; breathing. Wherefore, O Christ, to Your servant in the land of the living, in the courts of the righteous, do You grant repose.

Tone 7

Bring to his (her) rest, O our Savior, You giver of life, our brother (sister) whom You have withdrawn from this transient world, for he (she) lifts up his (her) voice to cry: "Glory to You."

Another in Tone 7

When in Your own image and likeness You in the beginning did create and fashion man, You gave him a home in Paradise, and made him the chief of your creation. But by the devil's envy, alas, beguiled to eat the fruit forbidden, transgressor then of Your commandments he became; wherefore back to earth, from which he first was taken, You did sentence him to return again, O Lord, and to pray You to give him rest.

Tone 8

Weep, and with tears lament when with understanding I think on death, and see how in the graves there sleeps the beauty which once for us was fashioned in the image of God, but now is shapeless, ignoble, and bare of all the graces. O how strange a thing; what is this mystery which concerns us humans? Why were we given up to decay? And why to death united in wedlock? Truly, as it is written, these things come to pass by ordinance of God, Who to him (her) now gone gives rest

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

The death which You have endured, O Lord, is become the harbinger of deathlessness; if You had not been laid in Your tomb, then would not the gates of Paradise have been opened;wherefore to him (her) now gone from us give rest, for You are the Friend of Mankind.

Both now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Virgin chaste and holy, Gateway of the Word, Mother of our God, make supplication that his (her) soul find mercy.

Celebrated on September 23 on the Orthodox calendar; beginning with Vespers tonight:

The Conception of the Honorable Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John

Rejoice, O barren woman, who before was unable to bear a child!
For behold, you have manifestly conceived the Lamp of the Sun,
who will enlighten all the world, which has been darkened by blindness.
Dance with joy, O Zachariah, and cry out with boldness:
 “He who will be born is the prophet of the Most High!”

(Troparion - Tone 4)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

The great Zachariah and his most glorious wife Elizabeth rejoice with splendor,
for she has fittingly conceived John the Forerunner, the friend of the Bridegroom.
The voice of the Word receives his beginning, as the archangel announced in gladness.
O people, let us worthy honor him as the initiate of the mystery of grace!

(Kontakion - Tone 1)

Note that this feast is not on the 24th, the precise 9 month month interval to the Forerunner's nativity; for that would indicate a perfection unfitting of him who was unworthy to untie the sandal of Him who takes away the sin of the world.

Your Turn / Holy Saturday
« on: April 04, 2015, 07:00:01 AM »
Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann on Great and Holy Saturday:

Great and Holy Saturday is the day on which Christ reposed in the tomb. The Church calls this day the Blessed Sabbath.

The great Moses mystically foreshadowed this day when he said:

God blessed the seventh day.

This is the blessed Sabbath.

This is the day of rest,

on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works . . . .

(Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday)

By using this title the Church links Holy Saturday with the creative act of God. In the initial account of creation as found in the Book of Genesis, God made man in His own image and likeness. To be truly himself, man was to live in constant communion with the source and dynamic power of that image: God. Man fell from God. Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.


Holy Saturday is a neglected day in parish life. Few people attend the Services. Popular piety usually reduces Holy Week to one day — Holy Friday. This day is quickly replaced by another — Easter Sunday. Christ is dead and then suddenly alive. Great sorrow is suddenly replaced by great joy. In such a scheme Holy Saturday is lost.

In the understanding of the Church, sorrow is not replaced by joy; it is transformed into joy. This distinction indicates that it is precisely within death the Christ continues to effect triumph.


We sing that Christ is ". . . trampling down death by death" in the troparion of Easter. This phrase gives great meaning to Holy Saturday. Christ’s repose in the tomb is an "active" repose. He comes in search of His fallen friend, Adam, who represents all men. Not finding him on earth, He descends to the realm of death, known as Hades in the Old Testament. There He finds him and brings him life once again. This is the victory: the dead are given life. The tomb is no longer a forsaken, lifeless place. By His death Christ tramples down death.


The traditional icon used by the Church on the feast of Easter is an icon of Holy Saturday: the descent of Christ into Hades. It is a painting of theology, for no one has ever seen this event. It depicts Christ, radiant in hues of white and blue, standing on the shattered gates of Hades. With arms outstretched He is joining hands with Adam and all the other Old Testament righteous whom He has found there. He leads them from the kingdom of death. By His death He tramples death.

Today Hades cries out groaning:

"I should not have accepted the Man born of Mary.

"He came and destroyed my power.

"He shattered the gates of brass.

"As God, He raised the souls I had held captive."

Glory to Thy cross and resurrection, O Lord!

Your Turn / Paid in Full
« on: March 16, 2015, 05:45:33 PM »
Onginally published in my former parish's newsletter in October of 2013

One hundred fifty years ago this congregation was in its infancy, having not even endured two years since the dedication of its first house of worship.   The nation had endured  a war between the states for a few months longer.

Some of the fiercest fighting had raged for three days at Gettysburg, thirty miles to our west, but brought very close to home by way of the Hanover Branch railroad which passed less than a mile from the church at Strickhouser’s station before reaching its terminus at Hanover Junction.

Hanover Junction ‘s fame was threefold:  First, from the raid by Confederate cavalry on June 27, 1863; second, from the many weeks of wounded warriors passing through en route to military hospitals following Gettsyburg; and third, from President Abraham Lincoln’s transfer en route to deliver an address at the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg on November 18 of that year.

Using only 272 words, the 16th President stirred the hearts and minds of this nation for generations.  In tribute to these events, the York Daily Record invited the community to write about something related to Gettysburg with the same number of words.  My offering was published almost coincidental with the anniversary of the Hanover Junction raid:
Recently June Lloyd revealed an ugly truth of our  history in a column entitled “Slavery happened in York County too”.   It was a truth which I had long known, for, like thousands of other York Countians I am descended from George Charles “Carl” Emig (1760-1824) who was a slave holder.

I discovered that  truth on page 4 of a paper authored by the late Dr. Charles Glatfelter entitled “Honoring the family of Felix Glatfelder (1747-1815)”.   He wrote:  “The Emigs were among the large landholders of early Codorus township...The tax list for 1799 indicated something quite unusual for a York county German:  Charles Emig owned one slave.”

My Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather, John Philip Glatfelter married Carl Emig’s daughter Anna Mary. Two of his brothers, Daniel and Casper, married Emig sisters Margaret and Mary Magdalena, respectively.  Among the noteworthy descendants of John and Anna Mary are P.H. Glatfelter, founder of the Spring Grove paper mill, and the recently deceased Governor George Leader.

Descendants of Daniel and Margaret Emig Glatfelter include one sixth of the Baptized members of  the Lutheran congregation which I have been privileged to serve--as well as recently deceased historian Dr. Charles Glatfelter.

Through the research of Pat Smith 78 descendants of Casper Glattfelder have been identified as having served in the Union army.  Five of them gave their last full measure of devotion in battle or in prison camps.

There has been heated discussion in recent years concerning reparations owed by the descendants of slaveowners to the descendants of slaves.  Glattfelder-Emig descendants can and should assert that their alleged debt was paid in full at Andersonville, Bull Run, Missionary Ridge, Cedar Creek, and Gaines Mills.

I live less than one mile from Bupp’s Union cemetery,  the final resting place of Anna Mary Emig Glatfelder, and pass that sacred ground on nearly a daily basis. 

The Glatfelter monument is one of the largest near the fence beside Union Church Road.  Approaching that cemetery from the west one only sees the smooth back side.  Over the past couple of years the iron pins inside the monument have degraded to the point that dark stains are now leeching onto the smooth surface, most noticeable at the monument’s corners.  The unstained portion of the monument is a very obvious equal armed cross .  Seeing this day after day I frequently pondered “why now....and what does this mean?”

The sign of the cross declares that sin’s debt has been paid in full, not by the blood of wounded warriors but by the precious blood of Christ, the Lamb of God.   The sign of the cross declares that all who have been Baptized into Christ Jesus have been buried with Christ by Baptism into death so that they may live with Christ in the glory of His Resurrection.

For Anna Mary Emig Glatfelter, the debt owed for the sin of her father’s slaveholding was paid not through her fallen cousins and cousins-in-law, but through her Brother and Savior Jesus Christ.   Her payment was made not in November of 1864 at Andersonville, but 1800 some years prior at Jerusalem and received in faith on the 11th of April, 1784 at St. Paul (Zeigler’s).

May we who have been buried with Christ in Baptism consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Your Turn / Christ is born, glorify Him!
« on: December 24, 2014, 07:46:55 AM »
A treasure from the Orthodox Matins:

Katavasia of Nativity    Tone 1

Christ is born, give ye glory. 
Christ cometh from heaven, meet ye Him. 
Christ is on earth, be ye exalted. 
O all the earth, sing unto the Lord,
and sing praises in gladness, O ye people,
for He hath been glorified.

To the Son who was begotten of the Father
without change before all ages,
and in the last times was without seed made flesh of the Virgin,
to Christ our God let us cry aloud: 
Thou hast raised up our horn,
holy art Thou, O Lord.

Rod of the root of Jesse,
and flower that blossomed from his stem, O Christ,
Thou hast sprung from the Virgin. 
From the Mountain overshadowed by the forest Thou hast come,
made flesh from her that knew not wedlock,
O God who art not formed from matter. 
Glory to Thy power, O Lord.

As Thou art God of peace and Father of mercies,
Thou hast sent unto us Thine Angel of great counsel,
granting us peace. 
So are we guided towards the light of the knowledge of God,
and watching by night we glorify Thee,
O Lover of mankind.

The sea monster spat forth Jonah as it had received him,
like a babe from the womb:
while the Word, having dwelt in the Virgin and taken flesh,
came forth from her yet kept her uncorrupt. 
For being Himself not subject to decay,
He preserved His Mother free from harm.

Scorning the impious decree,
the Children brought up together in godliness
feared not the threat of fire,
but standing in the midst of the flames, they sang:
O God of our fathers,
blessed art Thou.

The furnace moist with dew was the image and figure of a wonder past nature. 
For it burnt not the Children whom it had received,
even as the fire of the Godhead consumed not the Virgin’s womb
into which it had descended.
Therefore in praise let us sing: 
Let the whole creation bless the Lord
and exalt Him above all for ever.

A strange and most wonderful mystery do I see:
the cave is heaven;
the Virgin the throne of the cherubim;
the manger a room,
in which Christ, the God whom nothing can contain, is laid. 
Him do we praise and magnify.


Your Turn / The Comites Christi days
« on: December 02, 2014, 05:00:20 PM »
Elaborating from a discussion emerging on the "St. Andrew......" thread; the original context of the quotes posted to that thread was a parish newsletter article written in AD 2008, the last year when particular dates aligned with Sundays as they do this year.

The 2007-2008 Church Year has been extraordinary for  two reasons:  First, because the “Feast of feasts” celebrating the Resurrection of Our Lord was the earliest that it shall ever be in any of our lifetimes.  Second, because, like every fifth to eleventh year with what some almanacs still label the “Dominical Letter” of E (representing the position of the first Sunday of January:  January 1 = A, January 2 = B, etc) many Lesser Festivals have fallen on Sundays.

The abundance of Lesser Festivals will continue into the new Church Year.  Two Apostles’ Days, St. Andrew on November 30 and St. Thomas on December 21 will serve as a sort of bookends around the Advent Season even though their actual observance is transferred to the following Monday.   Another pair of “bookend” Festivals that define the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will be celebrated in the new calendar year:   The Confession of St. Peter on January 18 and The Conversion of St. Paul on January 25.

And even the days of Christmastide will be impacted by Lesser Festivals.   The Second through Fourth Days of Christmas (December 26, 27, and 28) are days of special festivals.

Writes Adolf Adam (the composer of O Holy Night):

Even the oldest liturgical calendars already have a series of saints festivals directly following on Christmas.  The Middle Ages saw these saints as a cortege of honor accompanying the Christ-child, and gave them the name Comites Christi  (“Companions of Christ.”)   In the [western] liturgy these companions are Stephen the first martyr on December 26, St. John the Apostle and Evangelist on December 27, and the children whom Herod slew in Bethlehem on December 28...the feast of St. Stephen dates from the fourth century in the East, in the West it is known from the beginning of the fifth...The feast of John the Apostle and Evangelist also goes back to the fourth century in the East...The feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28 seems to be a Western creation.  The first mention of it occurs in the calendar for the North African city of Carthage in 505.

There is a paradoxical relationship between these Companions of Christ.   Stephen was a martyr in will and in deed.  St. John was a martyr in will, but not in deed, for he, unique among the Apostles, died a natural death of old age.   And the Holy Innocents (“two years and under”--Matthew 2:16) were by that very definition of innocence too young to choose good or evil, much less martyrdom, and so were martyrs in deed but not in will.   These interrelated yet paradoxical Festivals will be celebrated on the first Sunday following Christmas on each of the next three years.

We might repel from these Festivals and consider them an unwelcome intrusion into the joy of the season.   In some ways, the consideration of Stephen’s martyrdom on the Second Day of Christmas is every bit as jarring and joy-deflating as hearing radio stations revert to their “normal” rock or country formats and seeing stores quickly replace trees and wreathes with hearts and shamrocks.  Indeed, some communities are so repelled that the Days of Christmas have been entirely replaced with the days of Kwaanza.

Writes Edith Stein:

As yet heaven and earth are not united.  The star of Bethlehem is a star shining in a dark night, even today.  On the second day the church already lays aside her white festive vestments and clothes herself in the color of blood, and on the fourth day in the purple of mourning.  For the crib of the child is surrounded by martyrs......

What does it mean?  Where is now the rejoicing of the heavenly hosts, the silent bliss of this holy night?  Where is the peace on earth?  Peace on earth to those of good will.  But not all are of good will.  For the Son of the eternal Father descended from the glory of heaven, because the mystery of antiquity had shrouded the earth in the darkness of night.

It is the promise of heaven’s true and abiding union with earth--those final words from Revelation read every All Saints’ Sunday--that is our real hope this holy Advent and Christmastide.   That hope is accompanied by ultimate change, as the Epistle to Peter declares:

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming day of God
      --2 Peter  3:11-12a
      Epistle for Second Sunday in Advent

For each of us there is no escape from a last great day.   I cannot help but note that the celebration of the Commites days on three successive years will not occur again until  2036-2038.  By then I should  be in my upper 70’s and long retired--if given that many years. 

But whether our years be many or few, let us live each day as true Companions of Christ as we await His coming again in glory!

« on: October 31, 2014, 12:00:17 PM »

For the past quarter century it has been my privilege to serve in the Holy Ministry of the church which bears the name of Martin Luther.   For two thirds of that time it has been a joy and comfort to know the consolation of the brethren through the ministerial oratory, the Society of the Holy Trinity.

Seven years ago I traveled west to join my brothers and sisters from multiple STS chapters for an Eastertide Retreat at Antiochian Village.   Little did I know, that, like Columbus, this westward travel would bring me to the East.

While my primary purpose in going to Antiochian Village was to attend the Retreat, there was a secondary agenda as well.  That was to purchase a set of Great Feast Icons by Sofrino studios, which an STS colleague had told me were available in the bookstore. During the previous Eastertide a fairly young grandmother had died of cancer, and a kindly parishioner had given me a very substantial amount of cash with the instructions to “get a nice memorial for Barbara”.

Had I stuck solely to that mission I would not be writing this, at least not today.  But while in the bookstore I  perused the shelves and decided to purchase the “Services of Holy Week and Pascha” book in order to learn how our most solemn days are celebrated by a communion of which I knew very little..  I skimmed the book during the weeks that followed and set it aside for another time.

In 2008--with the calendars of East and West five weeks out of step--I resolved to read the Antiochian Holy Week liturgies synchronous with their occurrence.   On the evening of Eastern Good Friday I was sitting on my deck, reading the Lamentations service, and became overwhelmed with emotion at what I was reading.  Then and there I resolved that the next year I simply must attend that service.  It is worthy of mention that, on Pascha Sunday a parishioner became unconscious during the liturgy at the sharing of the peace.  I offered her holy unction and by mid afternoon she was home from the hospital, fully recovered.  The parallel to Acts 20 was unmistakable.

On Good Friday 2009 I attended the Lamentations service at St. John Chrystosom, York.  The experience was overwhelming--like that of Vladimir’s emissaries.  Two days later the Hanover Conference of the Lower Susquehanna Synod ELCA met for its spring assembly, beginning with prayers which did not name God as Father and a creedal statement which did not identify Jesus as God the Father’s Son.  In the business which followed a proposal to affirm the orthodox Lutheran Bishops of Tanzania in their stand against the homosexual agenda was defeated.  The look of disdain from many colleagues when I said that failure to stand with these African Christians would drive a deeper wedge between Lutherans and Rome and Constantinople was most distressing.

The next morning--Bright Monday--I was back at St. John Chrysostom, finding refuge in a church which did not bend the knee to “political correctness” in blessing the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Fr. Peter Pier (himself a former Lutheran) knew, that day, that I was taken; it would take me several years to reach the same conclusion.

Over the next couple of years I attended various weekday liturgies at St. John Chrysostom, particularly during Great Lent.  As the calendars coincided in 2010 and 2011 I was somewhat saddened to be unable to participate in the Lamentations service, having my own parish responsibilities at that hour.  But in those years I was certain to be present on Bright Monday.

In late January 2012 a second dimension unfolded in my journey into Orthodoxy.  I had been deeply distressed to read the departure of yet another STS colleague for the church of Rome, and desired to attend a weekday liturgy somewhere....but certainly not a Roman church.  A little internet investigation revealed that the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church of York was celebrating the Three Hierarchs, so I resolved to attend despite an anticipated language barrier.

To my amazement, when Fr. Andrew Tsikitas opened the Royal Doors at the start of Orthros and saw me, he delayed the start of the office and ran to the office to give me a copy of the Orthros in Greek and English.  That warm welcome caused me to return over and over.  On my third or fourth visit the weekday Cantor invited me to stand with him at the chanter’s stand; it wasn’t much longer before he was asking me to read some of the Psalms.  The hospitality of this Greek Orthodox community to one who is neither Greek nor Orthodox (yet) has been overwhelming, humbling, and--from what I have been told about the not so distant history of this parish--nothing short of miraculous.

A third dimension of this journey unfolded in June of 2013 with the dedication of the St. Thekla Monastery.  My wife and I attended the dedication and briefly chatted with Metropolitan Philip at the clergy luncheon which followed, to which we had been invited.  The next day, Sunday June 30 we left our own parish in Seven Valleys as quickly as decently possible after worship to get to St. John Chrysostom for the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at which Philip was presiding.  When we went through the greeting line afterward Philip expressed great delight that I was there.

There was a luncheon after the Liturgy.  After the luncheon I approached the table where Philip was seated.  He clasped both my hands in his own and would not let me go!  We must have talked about  5 - 10 minutes even though there was a huge line of well-wishers developing.  He simply did not want to end the conversation.

It was though an internal switch was pulled in me that day.  Until that day I had kept a fairly strict Fast during Lent (although nothing at all like the Orthodox do!) but I had had no inclination whatsoever to keep their other  Fasts.  That following Wednesday I kept a strict, Lenten type Fast, than again on Friday...and that discipline has endured.

I came away from those conversations on June 29 - 30 feeling as though I had met a saint.   On March 19 of this year those intuitions proved correct, as Metropolitan Philip passed to Life Everlasting.  The fasting disciplines that have become firmly set in me are part of his legacy.

It is very important  to note that, up until those blessed late June days, the journey Eastward had largely been solo.  My wife, Jan, and our adult son,  John, had only a mild interest. 

As the summer of 2013 progressed the relationship with the parish I had served for 23 years deteriorated.  A very adversarial Zwinglian/Docetist had become president of the Parish Council and my removal was high on her agenda.  On the final Sunday of October we endured a contentious ninety minute Congregation meeting.   The next day, my wife and I spent several hours at St. Thekla.  If I were to pinpoint a moment when she truly began the journey, it was then and there. 

Despite the calendars being in step this year, we celebrated the Western Easter Vigil, then attended the midnight rush service at St. John Chrysostom as a family.  The next day--Easter morning--it was Jan’s turn to sound like Vladimir’s emissaries by telling any who had known about our other worship experience “I thought I was in Heaven”.

Our adult son, meanwhile, had begun to attend the Sunday Orthros and Divine Liturgy at St. John Chrysostom.  Since he is high functioning autistic and had never really known any church except the one I had pastored for nearly all of his life I had been deeply concerned about his spiritual future.  Those concerns have abated, as we are making this journey together. 

I resigned the parish I had served for 24 3/4 years on July 31.  I had hoped to stay at least a quarter century.  But that was not to be.

Tonight at midnight I will resign the office of ministry and sever myself both from the roster of the LCMC and from the Society of the Holy Trinity...precisely 25 years to the day from my Incardination into the Lutheran ministry by virtue of former Lower Susquehanna Synod Bishop Guy S. Edmiston signing my letter of call.   About a fortnight later my family will formerly enter the Catechumenate of the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

One quarter century ago I found that  in order to be fully Wesleyan as a Methodist I needed to become Lutheran.  Now I have found that in order to be fully Lutheran--and still in that Wesleyan vein--I must become Orthodox.   Wesleyan sanctification will have its perfection in Orthodox Theosis.

I shall remain forever grateful to the Society of the Holy Trinity for having introduced me to Orthodoxy through that Paschaltide Retreat, as well as to my former parish for having funded me for that event, and, most especially, to Barbara Feldman (the departed parishioner) to whose memory the Festal Icons were dedicated.  May her memory be Eternal!

Your Turn / From the ash heap of history
« on: May 21, 2014, 11:02:56 PM »
Primary Election almost every Tuesday throughout the academic year---began in its customary manner of assembling with other Lutheran clergy of various judicatories to pray Matins.

The lessons for that day, the Fifth Tuesday of Paschaltide had a penitential tone.  Leviticus 16:20-34 details the ritual for the annual Day of Atonement, in which the sins of the people were laid on the head of a goat which was to be banished from the camp, and the holocaust offerings.

Then the Epistle to the Thessalonians warned of the sudden snare of the day of the Lord, with the exhortation to take up the divine armor.  The Gospel detailed one aspect of that armor, the Our Father.  The preface to the prayer is part of the Gospel text for Ash Wednesday.

So yes, the day began with an Ash Wednesday feel.

That proved to be quite fitting, for hours later Federal Judge John Jones III struck down Pennsylvania's  Defense of Marriage Act, stating ascerbically that "We are a better people than what these [marriage] laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history."

But is the ash heap really such a bad place?

It is from the ash heap that the people of Nineveh--from the greatest to the least--turned their hearts to the Lord, who then turned from his plan to destroy that great city.

It is from the ash heap that the righteous Job cried out in faith “I know that my Redeemer lives”

And it was from the personal experience of having sat penitentially in ashes that the Psalmist David could declare “[God] lifts the needy from ashes to sit with the princes of the people”.

The laws despised by Judge Jones are  human attempts to  enshrine the Divine command given at the dawn of creation “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and a woman her home, and the two shall become one flesh”.

They are laws which which build upon the foundation of faith; faith which led the Ninevites to the ash heap of resentence; faith which inspired confidence on the ash heap in Job; faith which caused the ash maid to assent to the angelic message.

Fort no one brings redemption to the ash heap more than the lowly maid of Nazareth, who was lifted by God to bear God.   Luther described the Theotokos Mary as being a “lowly Cinderella”--the ash maid, who would bear, and carry, and tend God made ashes and dust for us and for our salvation.

Lowly and humble of heart, the pure maiden would be exalted “higher than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim”  and thus called “blessed” in every generation.

And for those of every generation who are meek and humble of heart, the ash heap is a wonderful place to be.

Thank you, Judge Jones!

The Feast of the Holy Trinity is purely a Western observance....and God in His mercy has placed a beautiful gift in the western sky on this eve of The Holy Trinity.

Tonight and tomorrow those with clear skies and an unobstructed northwest horizon will be able to see three brilliant planets:  Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury, arranged in nearly a perfect equilaterial triangle just after sunset.  The triangle will be closest to equilateral on Trinity Sunday evening.

About 30 minutes after sunset Venus is three fingerwidths from the horizon (arm at full length)
If Venus is considered the center of a clockface, then Jupiter is at 10 o'clock and Mercury at 1 o'clock.

It was magnificent observing this from the comfort of the car with Vivaldi's Dixit Dominus playing on the stereo.

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
   praise him in the heights!
 Praise him, all his angels;
   praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon;
   praise him, all you shining stars!

Your Turn / What happened for 58 hours?
« on: September 05, 2012, 10:49:30 PM »
So what happened during the 58 hours?

And what was the cause...planned maintenance or a major hack?

Your Turn / Transfiguring the "reform of the reform" (Vatican II)
« on: August 08, 2012, 10:33:10 AM »
For many years I have used the 1970 Roman Preface for the Transfiguration on the final Sunday after the Epiphany:

Father, all powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

He revealed his glory to the disciples
to strengthen them for the scandal of the cross.
His glory shone from a body like our own,
to show that the Church,
which is the body of Christ,
would one day share his glory.

In our unending joy we echo on earth
the song of the angels in heaven
as they praise your glory for ever.

In an effort to be more faithful to the original Latin this once lyrical Preface has now been rendered (and I choose that word  for all of its negative connotations):

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to givve you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

For he revealed his glory in the presence of chosen witnessses
and filled with the greatest splendor that bodily form
which he shares with all humanity,
that the scandal of the Cross
might be removed from the heart of his disciples
and that he might show
how in the Body of the whole Church is to be fulfilled
what so wonderfully shone forth first in its Head.

And so, with the Power of heaven,
we worship you contantly on earth,
and before your majesty
without end we acclaim:

The middle paragraph is one of the most tortured, convoluted run-on sentences that I have ever read.

Clearly, the "reform of the reform" stand in need for further reformation.

Your Turn / Journey to the mountain Feast
« on: March 31, 2012, 08:38:02 PM »
A quarter -century ago my wife and I attended a week-long conference in Topeka, Kansas.   Two years prior we had attended a similar conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and had then headed north in the “four corners” region.   We found southern Colorado so delightful that we were determined to return.

Topeka seemed to place us within striking distance.  The previous Colorado trip had not allowed time to ride to the summit of Pike’s Peak; so this return visit would be centered on Colorado Springs.

But even with such a beautiful destination in mind we were quite unprepared for the journey.   Everyone should travel by land westward through the length--the great length--of Kansas once in their lifetime. 

The pancake-griddle flatness of the nearly treeless landscape quickly became monotony.   In every direction there was wheat, wheat, and more wheat--and only wheat.

At fairly regular intervals a small dark speck would appear on the horizon.   Even at Interstate highway speeds it would remain just a speck for many minutes before suddenly enlarging to such size that it was recognizable as the regional grain elevator.  We would whiz past the structure back to endless fields of grain for many minutes until the next such speck would appear.

The cycle repeated for hour after hour after hour.  Field-speck-grain elevator; field-speck-grain elevator.  Hour after hour after hour.  Before lunch, and after.   Field-speck-grain elevator--again, and again.

Then, near the Colorado border something new emerged on the horizon.  This was not a single dark speck, but a random pattern of mostly white with dark intermixed.   Like the seemingly endless grain elevators this too seemed to remain tiny and distant.

But as afternoon wore on it became unmistakable--we had been staring all that time at the peaks of the front range of the Colorado Rockies; and now, at long (very long) last they were filling the view from the windshield.

The day before our departure from Topeka the midwest had been raked by severe thunderstorms, hail, and tornadoes.  Our cross-Kansas journey had carried us deeper and deeper into the clear, cool Canadian air that had spawned the severe weather.

We arrived in Colorado Spring with plenty of daylight remaining-- thanks to a favorable time-zone change--and immediately headed to Mount Manitou.   With a summit of slightly under 9,500 feet it is definitely the tiny cousin of Pike’s Peak.   We rode the now defunct Manitou incline to its summit.

The afternoon sun and crystal clear skies afforded a view eastward of the flat expanse we had crossed.   Even though this was the smaller of the railway scarred peaks it was readily apparent how Katherine Lee Bates had found the inspiration for the opening lines of America the Beautiful,  for here indeed were the sparkling spacious skies and amber waves of grain.

Would we have appreciated that view without the journey that had preceded it?   Most definitely.   But the skies were all the richer for having passed through the landscape now greeting our eyes.

On the Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord we will be brought to the summit of the mountain on which God spreads before us the ultimate blessings of plenty and peace:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
   will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food,
   a feast of well aged wines,
of rich food full of marrow,
   of well aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
   the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations
   he will swallow up death forever...
      --Isaiah 25:6-7

This is the mountain which fulfills what Abraham, the father of the faithful  foreshadowed when he named the mountain where he had taken his only son Isaac for sacrifice “Moriah”--the Lord shall provide --in that poignant saga by which we embarked on the Lenten journey.

We can--and, most assuredly, we will--reach this mountain on the Queen of Festivals and Feast of feasts whether we have been rigorous or lax; whether we have been attentive or indifferent; whether we have been diligent or neglectful. But the view is most spectacular and the celebration most jubilant if we first make the difficult journey.

         This is the LORD for whom we have waited;
         let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Your Turn / Somber Reflections: September 11, AD 2001, and now
« on: May 02, 2011, 12:21:00 AM »
September 11, 2001---the forty-first anniversary of my Baptism--was a day of somber reflection.   The reflections accelerated for me in the days that followed, for on  that 11th of September, I was sent a letter stating that I had been received as a Life Member of the International Conference of Police Chaplains.  There were 32 Port Authority of New York Police killed in the World Trade Center; and 28 member of the New York City Police.  My life member number is # 60.  Do the math.  I WILL NEVER FORGET!

So nearly a decade later--still holding Life Membership card # 60--I find myself again in somber reflection.   The morning was not so crisp and clear, but it was graced by celebrating the Holy Eucharist on the Lord’s Day, and graced with the choir’s excellent rendition of the Mozart Dona Nobis Pacem in Latin, in canon a capella.  That became the springboard for preaching on the day’s Epistle and Gospel; an ex tempore homily from the Font stressing that peace “is not that easy”--using those words as a refrain.

Learning of the death of terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden brought a brief moment of elation; but one that was quickly replaced with the words of the holy Prophet Ezekiel that I repeat at the onset of every Lenten journey:  “Almighty God does not desire the death of sinners, but rather, that they turn to him and live.”   

Peace is not that easy.  It is utterly appropriate that lex talionis be applied; even the newly Beatified John Paul II had said that those who bring mass murder in the name of God must be stopped; echoing words written by Martin Luther to Peter, the Barber of Wittenberg centuries ago concerning “Thy Will be done”  “Convert and control, dear Lord”..

But how much more appropriate would it have been for the Gospel, rather than the Law, to have prevailed---for Osama to have heard the Gospel, to have repented, and to have faced the justice of an American court!   The penultimate outcome would have been the same:  The ultimate outcome, eternally different. 

On the 11th day of September, the year of Our Lord 2001 I was en route to the monthly meeting of the clergy of the Hanover Conference.  As was our custom, we began with Eucharist.  When a tardy colleague arrived just before the Prayers he announced that the twin towers had fallen and that the Pentagon was in flames.  I immediately asked the Presider if we might sing the greater Litany as the Prayer; which he then bade me to lead.

Somber reflection began as we sang

To forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to reconcile us to them
.....we beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

Peace is not that easy.

Somber reflection continues, even tonight.   Especially tonight.

May Christ's peace be with us and always and unto ages of ages.

Your Turn / St. Thomas the Apostle & "O Key of David"
« on: December 20, 2010, 09:43:51 PM »
It is the eve of the festival of my namesake Apostle, Thomas.

At Vespers the Proper antiphon for the Magnificat is "O Key of David":

O CLAVIS David, et sceptrum domus Israel: qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et
umbra mortis.

O KEY of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel that openest and no man shutteth; and shuttest and no man openeth: come to bring out the prisoner from the
prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

Or, as rendered in modern hymnody,

O come, blest key of David, come,
And open wide our heav'nly home,
Make straight the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

By any language, in any metre,  what a beautiful juxtaposition with the Gospel for this feast:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

The Key of David--who found no room at Bethlehem's inn--has prepared a place with many rooms for us.

For us and for our salvation.

Given and shed....for you, for me, for us.

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