Friday, December 31, 2010

Blogday 2010 (or thereabouts)

Well, five years ago on Wednesday I started blogging. It's been a fair old journey from where I was at the end of 2005 to where I am now. Over the course of the year, things have changed but not by much and certainly not for the better.

A good acquaintance remarked to me that these are sad times for honest men. Personally, I wonder when the honest man ever has an easy time. The trouble is, to be honest, one has to take time to seek Truth, sift through the wheat and tares and then examine what one has in order to comprehend as much as the paucity of our understanding will allow. In a time when things change so rapidly, honest men are hard pressed to get all the facts right at first glance.

Then, of course, when the honest man puts forward an unpalatable truth before the world, he is often told to go away and find a better truth, one more in keeping with the present age.

Like all Christians, I try to be as honest as possible and fail too many times. As I look back over the year that's gone, I realise that the stresses of modern living have meant that many of my posts and reflections are not as good as they could have been. I've tried to reflect more on Holy Scripture and Divine Liturgy as far as I possibly can. I've also tried to be less polemical than I have in previous years. This is largely because I haven't had time to think as deeply on the issues dividing the Church at this time, nor about the cause of unity central to the Anglican Papalist understanding of the Church.

Tomorrow, there will be five former Anglican Bishops entering into the first Ordinariates in the U.K. One is a former Rector of the Parish where I am Reader (though this appears to be in a very nominal sense) from whom I seem to have inherited this peculiarly hybrid ecclesiology and the desire to give it a rational footing. As far as I can make out (and I simply haven't had time to sit down and think about the fine details) the issue surrounding the whole Ordinariate scheme is the issue of space.

Down even to the level of single parishes, Anglo-Catholics are not being given any space to be true to themselves and the Tradition that we hold closely. I have been informed that if a Parish with the Resolutions in place falls into an interregnum, there are male priests that will refuse to give that parish a look. Actually this is a good thing in most ways, but the reason is not out of respect for the Catholic (and Conservative Evangelical) position here, but rather for fear of being associated with what is regarded as bigotry.

Bishop Broadhurst (he still is for another 6 hours!) has effectively hit the nail upon the head in that this idea of bigotry comes from a group of Christians who are building their Church from the World up, rather than God down. The fact of the matter is that "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." I can understand how to folk from a non-theist background would easily balk at the idea of following what they would perceive as the arbitrary commandments of a tyrannical deity. Yet if we believe and trust in God as a Divine Father, then our choice to believe and trust in Him restricts our freedom to choose the way we live our life, in just the same way as our choosing to remain within a happy family restricts our freedom in what we do. Freedom is probably more about free-won't rather than free-will.

The question before me is what to do with myself this year. I'm still in the Church of England - just. I know that I have been teetering for about three years now. The trouble is that being in love means that one dares even to be torn apart for the sake of the beloved. I admit that I still have feelings for my parish and for the CofE. I still have a monastery which has a claim on me - a claim that I seek to honour as best as I can, even if I fail miserably. I am still sufficiently Anglican not to regard a personal conversion to Roman Catholicism as desirable, and I see the Ordinariate as the only presently possible way for an Anglican Papalist to remain true to both identities. I should be much happier with the Ordinariate if it can be established peaceably and without the rancour of intellectuals trying to justify latent prejudices. There are plenty of trolls under the bridge across the Tiber.

I am also seriously pondering whether maintaining this blogling is a good idea. Perhaps five years is enough. If I'm not preaching or having time to think or reflect seriously on matters arising, then I should call it a day. However, we'll see what happens in the future.

So here's to 2011. May it be a very happy and joyful year for you all, and may the clouds of gloom and austerity display a lining of pure gold rather than the customary silver.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Christmass 2010

Here's the Christmass missive to the folks at the Anglican Diaspora. I thought it pertinent to put it here too as the sentiments are precisely the same.

It's been an astonishing year and another of great upheaval which necessarily affects our Christian brotherhood. The word of the year has clearly been "Patrimony" and it is precisely this issue of patrimony that is causing division between us: some of us are leaving to set up Ordinariates within the Roman Catholic Church whilst others of us see their identity as apart from Rome. This is causing so much tension down to the smallest of parishes, and we must each of us pray for the stability and charity for all.

If we are going to consider the word "patrimony", then surely we must focus on St Joseph who acts as the human father of Our Lord. Initially, he seeks to distance himself from Our Lady gently and trying to preserve her honour in an ambient society which would perceive her very negatively. Upon the instruction from the Angel, St Joseph is willing to take her for his wife and extend his patrimony to the Son of God. Legally, he has the right to refuse, but, out of duty to God, he accepts and, in accepting this patrimony, finds himself part of the Holy Family.

In the same way, Anglican Patrimony should be about becoming the guardians of the Christ-child together. There is so much that separates us - indeed much that seeks to separate us unjustly and unkindly - but the image of the Holy Family huddled in the corner of a stable is a sign of solidarity and mutual protection. Surely this is at the heart of the idea of any patrimony not just our Anglican identity. God is Our Father whether we are even Christian or not, and we can be sure of His patrimony - though only as adopted children - if only we would all listen to Him and align ourselves to the same inheritance that He promises. Anglican Patrimony must also seek to hold tight to that Holy Family, and in embracing those three figures around the manger, we share in the Love that binds them together, for in embracing the man and the woman, we surely also embrace the child who is God Himself.

Dear friends, may your Christmass be joyful and warm and may the Holy Family guide us all together into the patrimony of God.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Laodicia

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame , and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

Does the door upon which the Lord knocks have a mirror on the inside? The message to the Laodicians seems to suggest that it does. We can sit comfortably in our little rooms and convince ourselves that we are the Brain of Britain, a highly toned Adonis with an eight-pack, clad in the clothes of purest silk of the latest fashion. However when that knock comes, we have to approach the door in order to open it, and we are then in danger of seeing the truth, that we are obese, clad in a tatty, stained sweatshirt and too-tight jogging bottoms, and that any intellectual prowess we believe that we have is no more than a C grade spelling test which we took when we were nine. Do we still open the door?

The truth does hurt, but it is so much better for us than deception and delusion. Christ is faithful and true and He cannot lie because He does not need to lie.Whatever we really think of ourselves, it is a distorted view of what is true. When Christ knocks we can continue in that delusion and never know Him, or we can face up to the truth and thus come face to face with the Truth.

Whatever we think of ourselves is immaterial. God created us and God redeemed us, it is impossible to get any clearer signs of His unconditional love than these. The trouble is that it's a tough love too. It does come with so many promises of hospitality, good company and holy revelry that surely facing up to the pain of the Love of God is worth it.

Give us strength, Great King of Martyrs, to face up to Thy Truth and learn to see ourselves in Thy Light. Deliver us from the distortions of self-adulation and self-abasement, that though our sins appal us, Thy Light may enthrall us and spur us on to open the door unto Thee, Blessed Jesu Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost reignest forever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Philadephia

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth , and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

It doesn't matter who we are, we are weak, fallible and imperfect. We can be a big cathedral community, or a little parish in the backwaters of Kent, but we are all weak and surrounded by beings which are set out to destroy us. They present themselves with faces of our ethnicity, our denomination, even tragically with the faces of our families and friends.

It's easy for us to fear. These forces are much bigger and stronger than we are and cause us to fall time and again in the same ways. We are encouraged to despair, give up and just go with the flow. So what do we do?

We present a man.

We present a weak, frail, imperfect man who through His Death was perfected and has taken back the strength and understanding that He laid aside in order to open the door to our safety. The door opens, the light floods in, and while the black catcalling mass of Darkness still pulls at us and drags us to fall again, we find our support. Like the soft, vulnerable limpet or barnacle, we harden into living rock with hearts of flesh, building and supporting each other until this impervious edifice stands immovable before the darksome world and passes into the light beyond the door which is shut to the darkness.

Assist us in our weakness, Most Loving Heavenly Father, and while being impatient with our sin, help us to be patient with the frailty of ourselves and our brethren whom Thou commandest us to love; that as we reach out for Thee in the dark, we may be comforted by Thy marvellous light until such time as Thou shalt bring us through the door to Thine Eternal Glory in the mercy of Thy Son and comfort of the Holy Spirit whom with Thee art ever one God now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Sardis

And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent . If therefore thou shalt not watch , I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

Like one that on a careless road

Enjoys his food and bed,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
And knoweth not the Second Death
Doth close behind him tread.

(With my very sincere apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge).

Back in its military history, Sardis was captured at least twice on the hop, notably by Cyrus. And here the church again is in danger of suffering the same fate for Eternity. It's all very well saying "yes, yes, yes" at the beginning, but it's seeing the task through to the bitter end in order to please the One who gave you the task at the beginning. The fact of the matter is that Sardis is not learning from its own history. This decadent, self-interested city, in its whim to fashion, does not realise that it is dying on its feet. "Faith without works is dead" says St James and the folk of Sardis are revelling in their military strength and failing to build up strength in spiritual matters.

It is the same Christ who gave the spirit to the Church in Sardis, but only a few have earned the right to wear the white robes through careful spiritual growth. It is easy to become complacent with all our physical, scientific and philosophical superiority, but the Christian knows that if he believes that Jesus Christ told the truth, then He is coming back, and will not tell us when, nor will he be alone.

Open the eyes of Thy servants, Most Gracious Lord, to await Thy coming in the clouds. Strengthen their faith and their resolve that the stupor of materialism may not dull the keen edge of the Truth which they carry spiritually and uphold them in the times of adversity, that Thy Church throughout the world may truly work to praise Thy name, even the Name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Thyatira

And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication , and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak ; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers : even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

It's very tempting to make correspondences between modern public figures and the folk mentioned in the Revelation, particularly if we treat the book as the chronicle of the events to come. We may readily see Jezebels in the Church - indeed with all the changes that have been implemented in Church Doctrine recently, it's quite clear that such Jezebels exist. The Thyatiran Jezebel was obviously a woman hence the allusion to the idolatrous and scheming queen of I (or III) Kings xvi-xxi. Does it necessarily follow that the Jezebels of the modern church have to be female? And who are the Jezebels?

Christ makes it perfectly clear to the Church that anyone who tries to water down the Christian faith with the atheistic practices of an ambient society is not to be tolerated. The Church has to say NO loudly and make a clear disassociation from those who think that the Doctrine of Christ is compatible with a fallen world. It is God and God alone who will punish all who lead people astray from the Way of Salvation according to how they do so. Only Christ has the authority to do so because He and He alone has eyes that search the soul and He and He alone stands firmly and immovably.

The interesting thing is that Christ knows that His Church is going from strength to strength. We are building upon firm foundations and it is only these voices of synchretism which are causing a deviation from where we should be. If we polish our foundations, our feet will shine like brass. If we look into the eyes of Christ, our eyes will burn too and we will be able to see as He sees and bear the authority that He wants to share with us. In following Christ faithfully, we gain the sign of the coming light -Christ Himself.

Teach us, Almighty Father, to conform to Thy ways and thus cleanse our souls. Grant us, we beseech Thee, the grace to tolerate no deviation from Thy Way and to practice the doctrine of Thy Love that Thy Church may reflect the light of Her Saviour and draw the nations to Thy Holy and Charitable Presence. We make our prayer through the same Way, even Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Pergamum

And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write ; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written , which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

As Smyrna finds out, the problem of being a Christian in an inimical society is that faithful folk tend to get killed - horribly. The Church at Pergamum is in a similar predicament. This is one of the first places to practice Emperor worship and here we can identify Satan in his capacity as prince of this world. The consequence is that there is a heavy price to pay for fidelity to Christ as St Antipas has found out. Some traditions have this holy saint being burned alive on a sacrificial altar.

So what do the folk at Pergamum do? Well, it's clear that they don't deny Christ and remain faithful and true, but there appear to be those among them who are saying, "look, let's make life easy on ourselves. Let's go along as far as we can with everyone else and we won't be terribly conspicuous and get murdered horribly." Here is a church that is being tempted to adopt synchretist belief in order to make life easy on themselves, just as Balaam wanted to make life easy on himself by cursing the Israelites as a favour to Balak in return for all kinds of lovely things.

Of course God, through Balaam's ass, ensures that the Israelites are blessed by Balaam rather than cursed, and we get the impression from Numbers xxii-xxv, that Balaam isn't exactly happy to be blessing Israel either.

We cannot be Christian and expect the easy life, however nice it is when things are going smoothly and we aren't being poked fun at. Christ is perfectly clear: there is to be no compromise. The word of His mouth has the power to slice finely and carefully cutting out that which is corrupt in order to preserve the holy. The price of seeking holiness - separation from the ideals of the world - is sustenance from God, the nourishing food of the desert rather than food however sumptuous sacrificed to a false deity.

Those who seek holiness are given a new name: Conor (Latin for 'I try') becomes Victor (meaning 'conqueror') permanently etched in a stone that reflects the pure light of God as any truly white object must. It is the duty of the Christian to ensure that no practice of the modern world interferes with the true worship of God. Synchretism is an hypocrisy as well as a sin.

O Lord God, Whose Word like a sharp sword divides Soul from Spirit, Truth from Error, and Life from Death; grant, we beseech Thee, to Thy Church the careful swordsmanship to cut away that which seeks to draw the souls of Thy little children away from Thee and we pray Thee that, nourishing Thy faithful people with Thy Heavenly food, Thou wouldst bring all souls into Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy, Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Christmas, Desire and Zigazig-a

Homily preached at Eltham College on 24th November 2010 based on St Matthew iv.1-4

Is there anyone here
who doesn’t know
what they want for Christmas?

Surely, by now,
you’ll have written down your hearts’ desires
for 25th December
in letters to Father Christmas
and addressed them to his home
in Lapland.

It’s a shame they won’t reach him really.

Everyone knows he lives at the North Pole.

So what did you ask for?

BioShock or Fallout 3?

The latest from Kings of Leon
or Taylor Swift?

The Nike ACG Wild Edge GTX trainers?

Some members of the sixth form
have asked for the Fisher Price
Bounce and Spin Zebra.

The list of desired Christmas presents seems endless!

So think now.

What do you want for Christmas?

Are you sure?

Is that what you really want?

The trouble is, you might just get it.


In 1996, five young women
asked that very same question.

Yo, I'll tell you what I want,
what I really, really want,So tell me what you want,
what you really, really want,I'll tell you what I want,
what I really, really want,So tell me what you want,
what you really, really want,I wanna, I wanna,
I wanna, I wanna,
I wanna really really really wanna
zigazig ha.

Popular opinion at the time
thought that what they
really, really wanted was a slap.

14 years of scouring
modern languages
from Sanskrit to Xhosa
as well as hours and hours
on Urban
have turned up nothing,
absolutely nothing,
to shed light on what this
Zigazig-a actually is.

However, the Spice Girls
do make a very good point.

Do you really know what
you really, really want in life?
Are you able to express it?


We might want those
Nike Wild Edge Trainers,
but what about when we’ve got them?

We might want to be drinking
ice-cold cola,
eating the finest Krispy Kreme donuts
while sitting in a hot tub with the Saturdays.

But what about when the water gets cold,
the donuts have gone,
and the Saturdays have turned into
the Happy Mondays?

What have you really gained?

Did you really want those
trainers in the first place?

You know they are going to wear out
and be no more use than
the £10 trainers from George at Asda.

You can see that you get your trainers,
but in some way
your want doesn’t go away.

Once you’ve got what you want,
the want is still there.

So what is it that you want?

Can you identify what
you’re really missing in life?


It has to be admitted
that we are terribly fortunate in the West.

In fact we are spoiled rotten.

Anything we could possibly want,
there’s an outlet for it.

Perhaps that’s the problem:
we don’t really want
what we think we want,
and before we’ve found out
what we really want in life,
we’ve been distracted from it
by the comforting glow of a tactical nuke
in COD.

We don’t know what we want
because something bright
and shiny takes our mind off it.

So how do we find out what we really want?

Well, let’s take those trainers for example.

Why do we want them?
Because they’re state of the art.

Why does that matter?
Because they’re the best.

Why won’t the £10 trainers from Asda’s do?
Because they’re cheap.

But they’ll do the job won’t they?
But they’re not as nice (or siiick).
Why does that matter?
All my friends’ trainers are nice…

Before we know it,
we’ve discovered that
we believe that having the right trainers
makes us somehow socially acceptable
- a better person.

It reveals our need
to be accepted and loved,
and that we are willing
to sacrifice being who we really are to get it.

So by allowing trainers to tell us
who to be friends with,
we’ve actually completely missed
what we really want in life
– a group of good friends.

Real friends are worth more than trainers, aren’t they?


Of course,
you now realise that this changes the situation.

If we want good friends,
we need to be a good friend.

If we want to be accepted,
then we have to accept others.

If we want to learn,
then we need to study
and help people to study
in order to let them teach us.

In short, we have to do unto others
as we would want them to do to us.

St Francis reminds us that
we should not seek so much as to be loved
as to love.

We have to love first before we receive love.

Often that’s very hard
and takes a long time to achieve.

However, then we get
what we’ve worked hard for
and it is more satisfying than a pair of trainers
that will only end up smelling worse
than a long-dead fish wearing Hugo Boss.
St Augustine goes further
and suggests that all human want
is at heart the search for God.

He says to God,
“Thou hast formed us for Thyself,
and our hearts are restless
till they find rest in Thee.”

For St Augustine,
as water satisfies our thirst,
and food our hunger,
so does God satisfy any real want
that we have.


It’s true
we have to look very hard at ourselves
to discover what we really want
to have or do in life.

Each of us has something to offer others
and what we have to offer
will come out of trying to understand
our loneliness,
our sadness
and our confusion in life.
Finding out
what we really want in life
will tell us lots about who we are,
and will help us to get what we really want,
if we are prepared to look out
for what other people around us need too.

What do you want for Christmas?

Are you sure?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Smyrna

And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried ; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

Poor little Smyrna. This is the Job of Churches struggling to exist among the howls of protest from its accusers, holding on as best it can in a Roman-dominated culture. Indeed, Smyrna was the place of a rather spectacular temple in worship of the Emperor Tiberius, so you can imagine certain members of the Jewish population there, wishing to ingratiate themselves with the Romans, accusing the Christians of being insurrectionists. Of course, in doing so, they separated themselves from the common God that Jews and Christians worship. Of course, if the Church in Smyrna is a type of Job (or vice versa) then the Accusers have another name too - an unpleasant name with an unpleasant fate, a name which means The Accuser.

So what is poor little Smyrna's fate? Christ prophesies more suffering - more suffering. Hasn't this little group of Christians suffered enough? Ah, but Christ does not leave them without hope. First, He shows the Church that its suffering is limited - ten days. Whether this ten days is literal or allegorical or moral or anagogical is immaterial. It points to a definite end to the Smyrnans' suffering. All human suffering is limited by the end of physical life, though the length of time that one does suffer can seem endless, daunting or extreme. Christ encourages the Smyrnans to keep on despite everything. He introduces Himself as the first and the last, the One Who was dead and is alive, the One who suffered and the One who is Crowned King of Kings. And He offers exactly the same for the Church at Smyrna, a Crown of Life and exemption from the second death. Smyrna already has these riches, invisible though they may be to the naked eye. However, this little Church brought forth many martyrs, not least St Polycarp, upon whose heads this Crown of Life now rests.

Give grace, we pray Thee, Most Mighty Father, to endure the troubles and torments of the present age. Take note of those who suffer, those in misery and those in pain and enable Thy Church to succour them that they may endure only a short time in patient service to Thee, that in them the World may know of the Sacrifice on the Cross of Thine own dear Son, Jesus Christ, and that in dying with Him, they may rise with Him in Eternity, in Whose name we make this prayer. Amen.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Ephesus

I usually try to undertake a project for Advent. I thought it might be apposite, in this time of Ecclesiological upheaval, to reflect upon the seven churches which appear in the Apocalypse. So here is the first of seven.

Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write ; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne , and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured , and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen , and repent , and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent . But this thou hast , that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate . He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

Ephesus was a major city, home to the famous temple of Artemis and of course where Paul caused a little fracas in the acts of the Apostles. If you recall, he challenges the Ephesian idolatry and starts a riot with the cry of "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!"

The Ephesian Church clearly has much to worry about. It exists in the midst of a culture of idolatry and materialism. So it has a choice, either resist the prevailing tide of popular opinion or incorporate them into its Christian worship. Some Christians decide to do just that. They begin to eat food sacrificed to idols and practice certain immoralities, making up defences for doing so. These are the Nicolaitans whose practices Christ loathes.

So the Ephesian Church is very careful about the teaching that it hears. Any hint of heresy and idolatry is purged and the false apostles thrown out, all to preserve the Holiness of a Church that Christ holds very dear, as St Paul demonstrates in that wonderful opening to his letter to this Church. Christ Himself announces his presence to the Ephesians as the one in control of the Churches, who holds their spirits in His hand and who ensures that His Light still burns in the Church.

What has gone wrong? How has the Ephesian Church lost its first love? It is praised for its endurance, for hating detestable things, for not putting up with evil, but there is no mention of a desire to reach out and proclaim the Gospel by Holy living. This seems to be a Church which has barricaded itself in against the world and refuses to engage with anyone outside it. Perhaps it has transferred the hatred of the practices of the Nicolaitans to the hatred of the Nicolaitans themselves,. It is this that Christ contests by emphasising that it is the practices we must hate, not the people.

It is very easy for us to start to tar people with their own failings. We live in very similar circumstances now, and so it is easy to bind people to their misdeeds and to see no further than that which gives us grief. We have to endure this tendency of humanity to be misled along paths which are foolish. While we must necessarily separate our religion from that of idolatry, we must still integrate with idolaters in order to proclaim the Good News of Christ, though perhaps without causing the riots.


Almighty God who hast called Thy people out from the World, and yet ordained them to live in the World, that through them the World may hear of its Salvation in Christ Jesus, Thy Son, Our Lord; Grant us, we beseech Thee, the gift of Love to separate a man from his deeds, that, detesting those deeds which are detestable, we may show him the same Love that Thou hast shown in the same Christ Who with Thee and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth, One God World without end, Amen.