Sunday, November 26, 2017

Stirred but not shaken

Sermon for the Sunday Next before Advent

A church stands silently amid the leafless trees. Its grey stonework contrasts greatly with its snow-covered environment. One window bears a light from the interior. There is no movement, all is still and quiet and peaceful.

And then the earthquake comes.


All becomes a torrent of confusion. The little church is rocked back and forth; the snow gusts and whirls around it in a frozen frantic frenzy, almost obscuring the stonework from sight. Yet, still the light in the window burns as brightly not flickering once.

As suddenly as it comes, the earthquake ceases. The snow ends its flurry and begins to settle again in a gentle picturesque manner. The sky clears; the church stands unmoved, unbroken, undamaged; all becomes silent.

Until the earthquake comes again...


It's a hard life being a snow globe. However, they have to accept the job-description of being shaken regularly. However, what's the point of a snow globe if the scene inside is not fixed. If that little church had been loose or made out of porridge, then the little scene is ruined forever - it simply cannot remain after such violent shaking.

Today, we hear the words "Stir up" for the last time in this liturgical year and, yet, immediately before the new liturgical year begins as we face Advent once more. Today, we ask God to stir up our wills to bear the fruit of good works. It is now, before the new year begins, that we ask God to wake us up again into action. We ask Him to stir us out of the complacency and habit that we have developed over the course of the old year so that we do not allow ourselves to become utterly fixed in behaviour that we fail to question in ourselves because we have grown used to it. The works that we do need to be good works - they need to come from us having been grown from the goodness of God planted in us.

There is a big difference between being stirred up and shaken.

Watch carefully as Our Lord manages to feed and satisfy five thousand with five loaves and two fish.  How does the world react? How do the disciples react? How do you react?

For the world, this act is nonsense. It can't happen. Miracles can't happen. Yet, for the world to witness this happen in front of them shakes that belief. It causes a whirlwind of confusion as it seeks to understand what contradicts the rule "Miracles cannot happen." As time passes and things settle down, the world is back to where it was, denying what has happened, and sticking with the same old mantra, "Miracles cannot happen."

For the disciples, something does happen. Their view is challenged before their eyes. And something within them changes and stirs up into being. They believe what Jesus says and does, and something good, something of God Himself grows within them. And this thing that grows within them survives any further shaking.

The more they allow their beliefs to be stirred, the more they trust Christ, the more that they take Him at His word when He says, "This is my body" the more permanent do they become. These disciples become able to withstand the horrible shaking of their world around them. They will endure torture and death for that which has been stirred up within them. What is shaken flurries around them, and yet, after all the shaking is finished, there is something beautiful that remains and it remains for the good pleasure of God.


Advent is precisely the time in which we seek to be stirred up so that we might grow again as the world shakes us. Traditionally, it is the custom for us to reflect in Advent, on what we're growing into and that means considering the Four Last things: Our Death, Our Judgement, Hell, and Heaven. These are not comfortable things to think about and doing so will help that stirring up to happen. As we approach Advent, let God stir us up and pray for Him to do so so that our feast of the Nativity, our Christmas Day, may find ourselves more solid in the eyes of God.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Revising Anglican Catholicsm

One of the charges that many Anglo-Protestants lay at the feet of Anglo-Catholics is the charge of Revisionism. Essentially, what they seem to be saying (and I'm willing to be corrected in this) is that Anglo-Catholics are trying to present an ecclesiastical picture different from the established historical facts about what Anglicanism is. By and large, Anglo-Catholics are accused of trying to "air-brush" the Reformation out of Anglican thought.

I will admit that I have tried to pay absolutely no attention to "Reformation Sunday" which, in my Ordo, is simply not a thing. It is apparently five hundred years since a Saxon Religious nailed paper to the doors of a Saxon cathedral: I have found no desire to commemorate the fact. In fact, even mentioning it infuriates me as, in order to do so, I have had to pay it some attention. Given that this Augustinian Monk then went on to perform some serious acts of revisionism on Holy Scripture and thus propagate some seriously misinterpretable doctrine which has damaged Holy Church, I find the affair unworthy of celebration.

Oh-oh! Looks like I'm one of these Anglo-Catholic revisionists.

Perhaps I am. I really don't know, nor do I really care. What I do agree is that the Catholic Church needed a reformation and that great things came out of that as a result. But schism has resulted based upon different interpretations of the same things and that has made Protestantism difficult to engage with given its adherence to the five solae.

Like the thirty-nine articles, I see no need to pay the five solae any attention. Where they are right, they will be found in the Catholic Religion. Where they are wrong, they are to be denied. In fact, I would rather pass over them because different Christians cannot agree to what they mean. Indeed, Roman Catholics have seen that they can agree to interpretations of the same five solae. It's a war over semantics.

As an Anglican Catholic (rather than an Anglo-Catholic) I have categorically said that I am not an Anglican. In my eyes, (and I may be wrong about this) an Anglo-Catholic would usually regard themselves as being an Anglican. Anglicans regard themselves as being inheritors of the Catholic Faith through the Book of Common Prayer. I can't agree with that, but I do agree with Anglican principles of always going back to the Primitive Church. While Anglicans put a special emphasis on the doctrine of St Augustine, I struggle to agree that he is worthy of this emphasis and rather set him on the same level as the other Church Fathers, many of whom do not have the same consensus with the blessed Carthaginian.

I think that Anglican Catholicism is indeed revisionist, but in the best way. We always have to undergo a conversatio mores. The Christian life must be filled with repentance, of which revision plays a vital role. We cannot remain on any course that takes us away from the Divine Light. However, any revision that we make must be based solidly on the Catholic Doctrine of the Early Church.

Clearly there is a certain wiggle-room based on belief. The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church claim to have the same basis in the Primitive Church and yet they believe different things: there are doctrines which are peculiar to each church and denied by the other. This presents us with four positions:

a) neither of them are right in their peculiar beliefs;
b) precisely one of them is right in their peculiar belief;
c) the peculiar beliefs are not matters of Salvation and may be held by any Christian without jeopardising that Salvation;
d) the peculiar beliefs are matters of Salvation but are different and legitimate interpretations of the same theological fact.

Whatever of these is true, we can say with some degree of confidence that where they do agree on doctrine, that is the theological truth. It requires sifting and weighing-up and more tussles with semantics. It means that the Anglican Catholic position of sticking to that period of "agreement" - i.e. the Primitive Church, Seven Oecumenical Councils and the Church Fathers of the First Millennium - is a credible, stable and holy direction towards the Truth. It is to this that we always must turn in our lives of repentance. While Holy Scripture and Tradition are indeed immutable through the immutability of God, it is our duty in the Church to look for the sensus fidelium. This is why the Vincentian Canon makes such a good definition of what it is to be Catholic.

There are concessions to History and Anglican Catholic has to make. First, we do recognise that we have a Patriarch, namely that of the West. This means that we cannot deny the Romanism that is in our blood. This is why Anglican Catholicism really does have to wrestle with St Augustine which it has inherited through our walk with Rome. It is why many of us wear birettas (and Canterbury caps) rather than the kalimavkion, and why bishops wear the Western mitre rather than the Eastern. This walk with Rome means that we have inherited the filioque but our return to the Primitive Church makes us uncomfortable with it - in my case, deeply so.

Second, we do have to recognise that the Reformation happened and that we inherit interpretations of the faith from it. The Book of Common Prayer is the most obvious example. Yet, this book, too has been revised again and again to meet different doctrinal standards which have arisen due to the influx of Protestantism into Anglicanism. This is why, as Anglican Catholics, we accept the Book of Common Prayer before the majority of Protestant interpretations entered. We go to the 1549 BCP with the 1550 Ordinal and measure that against the Primitive Church, not the other way around. Our lex credendi  must be based in the Church so that the lex orandi can be expressed accurately. Given that the 1549 BCP was the Nation's prayer book for at least three years, we cannot say that it did not do the job it was designed for, namely to be a book of common prayer.

Third, we do have to recognise the fact that while we are not ourselves Anglo-Catholics, we owe much of our scholarship from them. Many members of the CofE like Jonathan Clatworthy disparage their work and see their influence on the Anglican Church as invention based upon Romantic principles. However, what he, and people like him, often pass over is that until it walked off into heresy, the Church of England and the Lambeth Communion worldwide, had orders inherited from the Apostles in the same way that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox have, and that the Anglican Catholic Church together with her sisters (UECNA, APCK, APA, ACA, DHC) have preserved these orders carefully. In that sense, the Catholic Faith has been constant in its transmission through valid Apostolic order. We do have to admit that a significant number of individuals (mainly those of a Protestant leaning) have denied this. The witness of the BCP declares otherwise, as does its constant usage.

The point is this: if we are true to the faith of Primitive Church and seek the Triune God honestly and wholeheartedly through the witness of this Church in the Scriptures and the Tradition that it has received, then any revisions we need to make in Ecclesiastical Polity will always bring us back to that faith. We will know this because we will not have sought to change the sacraments and thus expel the grace of God that they dispense: the unchanged sacraments themselves will be our witness to our continuity with the Primitive Church.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Body beautiful?

Sermon for the twenty-third Sunday after Trinity

People of an age will perhaps remember Charles Atlas' famous slogan, "You, too, can have a body like mine." His advertisements always used to present the contrast between his muscly physique with the "97lb weakling" whose ribs were showing.

Today, body image is a very big thing. You have to look right. Girls have to have curves in all the right places. Boys have to have abdomens which look as if they've slept on their fronts on a cattle grid. More and more, people, especially young people are being afflicted by disorders based on their perceptions of their bodies. Some magazines are only just beginning to see the damage that presenting the ideal body can do. Isn't it just better to be yourself? Is there really an ideal body?


St Paul says quite categorically that there is.
For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
So there is an ideal body! One to which we should aspire. St Paul makes it quite clear that while we are loved by God unconditionally, that love wants us to be transformed not accepted as we are now. St Paul calls our bodies vile because they are broken and corrupted by sin - our own sins and the sins of others. God hates all that is Evil and thus does not want us to be so infected by sin. He does not accept us as we are: He loves us as we are AND seeks our transformation into something like His Son.

We can have a body like Our Lord Jesus.

Yet there is a problem here. If our earthly obsession with the body beautiful is causing terrible disorders like bulimia, anorexia and dysmorphia, won't the same happened to us if we obsess about transforming ourselves into Our Lord's body?


If we think like that, then we need to listen to St Paul again. It is not we who do the changing, it is Our Lord who changes us.

This is the purpose of the Mass. We receive into ourselves the true Body of Christ. By submitting ourselves to the grace of God, we become more like Him because we learn to co-operate more and more with His grace.

We only develop spiritual diseases by trying to live on our own terms, by setting up for ourselves false ideals and false images of who we think God is and who we think we are. Where Evil is, God cannot be and if we say that we have no sin - if we say that we are not broken as we are now - then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not on us.

Once we accept that we need to be transformed into the person God wants us to be, then we shall be truly happy. Then, we spend our lives looking to be in conversation with God, recognising our suffering now and offering that suffering up to God as a sacrifice for all others in the same boat. As we Christians grow in Christ, the more we will make our pain sacred and thus deprive the Devil of his victory of separating us from Our Lord by making us believe that we are unlovable.


It seems that the choice we face is simple: do you want to be accepted by God as you are, or do you dare to accept His love for you? You can't have both!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

What rule is this?

Sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity

Would you expect the Chief Executive Officer of a multinational company to be concerned with what one of their employees owes to another?

You might expect the boss of your bank to have some concern about any mismanagement of personal funds of their staff, but is it really any of their business?

Surely, we would only expect them to get involved if there were some massive problem, otherwise they’d leave it to their middle management to sort out.

What does it say about a ruler who worries about the personal finances of their subjects?


First of all, and perhaps most obviously, the ruler Our Lord Jesus speaks of wants his example to be practised by his servants. The ruler forgives, so he expects his servants to forgive. Yet this isn’t just forgiveness of a little thing, this is major forgiveness! The ruler forgives the first servant an insurmountable debt with rivals the Gross Domestic Product of a small country. If he really does expect his subjects to be like him, then they must be prepared to be just as extravagant as their ruler.

But there is more about this ruler.

This is a ruler who listens to his staff. It is those who are scandalised by their colleague’s behaviour towards another who complain to their boss. This isn’t some petty tale-telling: the actions of this servant have hurt the community badly, and his fellows clearly feel this hurt keenly. But notice that they trust their ruler to do something about it. This ruler has their respect and they clearly look to him.

This ruler is also not afraid to punish but what does he punish? Disobedience? Or the hurt done to others? His people cry to him for justice, and that is what he gives. The hurt that this unforgiving servant has done to his community has been treated accordingly despite the fact that this man can never pay back the debt he owes. Isn’t that too severe? Is there to be no further forgiveness for this man?


In typical fashion, the Lord Jesus leaves so many questions unanswered. His message is clear, God is this ruler and He expects His subjects to be like Him. It is those who refuse to be like Him that He is compelled to punish for the sake of the others who are hurt by the actions of those who reject God. We are to forgive as often as is necessary in order for us to be reconciled with our brother if we expect to be reconciled with God.

So why does the ruler not forgive the unforgiving servant one last time? Has this servant sinned for the four-hundredth and ninety-first time?

What we have not been told is whether there is any further repentance by this man – a recognition that, in being unforgiving, he has damaged his relationship with his fellow servants and his ruler. Until we are told this, there can be no reconciliation. His fellows can’t be given the opportunity to forgive, and neither can the ruler himself.


Jesus speaks of a ruler who listens, forgives yet administers justice, and who demands his servants be like him for no other reason than their good. If this ruler is an image of God Our Father, then we see how much our sins hurt the whole of creation and yet, there is always a way back in God if we make serious steps to take it.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Ecological Sainthood

Sermon for the Sunday in the Octave of All Saints

It’s a bit of a surprise why we don’t often hear much from the Church on ecological matters. Should we be praying for animals? Should we be more involved with preserving God’s Creation?

Some people might say, “It is the business of the Church to care for souls, not to prop up Creation which is run by God for His pleasure.” There are others that say, “human beings are just animals. Why bother praying in the first place? We evolved from animals and we will die like animals.”

Of course, the Church believes that human beings are not animals. Human beings have a rational soul. We are able to question, do philosophy, and build civilisations. We are also able to sin.

Really, it is sin that marks us out from the animals in God’s Creation. We are able to reject the one who created us. Every sin which we commit tears into the fabric of Creation. Stephen Fry might accuse God of creating the parasite which infests little children and thus deny His Goodness. Yet what of the Western business that has changed the climate and economy and thus has forced little children to live in areas in which they can be infested with parasites. It is not God who is to blame for the misery in the world – it is human sin.

It only takes one fracture in a crystal to spread and break it. It only takes one sin in Creation to bring a fracture into our being in which Evil dwells. All sin cascades through Time from that first sin.

The only remedy for this is Sainthood.


We know that we are simultaneously saints and not-saints. St Paul will call us saints because he fully expects us to fulfil our destiny in becoming these citizens of Heaven, able to behold God in His glory and able to rejoice for all Eternity with Him. Yet, we cannot do so now. We can only see glimpses of God in snippets and never see Him face-to-face unless we are blest enough to behold Our Lord Jesus Christ, for to see Him is to see the Father.

We choose sainthood but know that this involves suffering as our lives are broken apart and remade in order to be transformed in the likeness of God. We can only achieve that state of blessedness by realising how poor we are in our spiritual life and accepting that poverty which distances us from the ownership of things. We must weep for our sins and recognise the pain that they cause others. We recognise the sham that is earthly power, knowing only the rule of Christ the King. The driving force of our transformation has to be our single-minded desire for God’s righteousness and yet we have to remember that this desire of ours cannot be fulfilled unless we are prepared to hold close to us even those who do us the greatest wrong, reconciling even those who a diametrically opposite.

Are you daunted by this task?


It is only those who do not feel daunted and even discouraged by this who don’t really understand the task that we have in front of us. It is frightening and we know we can’t do this of ourselves. This is where sainthood has its greatest trick – one that confounds the Devil at source.


We do not acquire sainthood by our own efforts. True holiness comes from God Himself. We have to honour this by doing what we can, recognising that, of ourselves this is not enough, but trust in God to supply whatever is lacking and correct whatever is amiss. The greater our Love for God, the more we will love Him. Like a mustardseed, that faith will grow but only if we let it go. It is through turning to God that our sins are forgiven and our lives’ course altered.

Yet, the power of Sainthood is immense.

In his Revelation, St John sees four angels with the power to hurt the earth with the results of human sin. Yet, he also sees a fifth angel who says, “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.” It is only when our sainthood is sealed in us that the old creation passes away and the New Creation comes. While we are saints in progress, we are bringing to birth the New Creation as God works with us and within us to transform us into that which is Holy.

It is our respect for God which means that we use our sainthood to sanctify this world. By caring for His creation, His animals and His people, we make the presence of God deeper so that this fractured reality passes away simply by being healed in God.

Of course we should pray for humans, but we should also pray for animals and raise them up as God’s good creation, and seek their welfare and His glory in their being. When we see Creation perfected, then we will see God within it and within ourselves. Then we shall be like Him, indeed.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Why I am Orthodox but not Orthodox

Oh dear. We all know that there are certain words that fly around whose meaning is disputed: Protestant, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox. Is "Anglican" a noun or an adjective? Does "Catholic" mean in communion with the venerable Bishop of Rome? Does "Orthodox" mean that we are in communion with one of the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, or Antioch?

Properly speaking, "Catholic" and "Orthodox" should be two sides of the same coin. Both point to fidelity to the faith once delivered to the saints. In order to be Catholic, i.e. holding the faith of the whole Church, one is keeping "correct teaching" i.e. ortho doxia. Thus, as an Anglican Catholic, I must necessarily be Anglican Orthodox. Of course, there is already an Anglican Orthodox Church which is rather a different kettle of fish from the Anglican Catholic Church and actually pre-dates it as an institution by more than a decade. There is also an Orthodox Anglican Church which, I wonder, ought to be different, and yet seems to have very similar sets of beliefs. I'm a little confused as to why these and UECNA have not made a similar concordat as ours as their raisons d'ĂȘtre seems to be almost identical. Perhaps, God-willing, this is already in progress and will imminently happen. Nonetheless, it seems to me that the two words, "catholic" and "orthodox", if not actually synonyms, cannot be separated. I don't think I see anyone trying to do this, though.

My small readership will notice that I might appear, at times, to be more like a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church than an Anglican. Fr Chadwick says that I appear more "Roman" than he, while many others will say that I'm not a true Anglican. Well, so what? What does it matter who I am? Surely, I have to empty myself of everything in order to follow Christ truly, and that includes my identity. I must decrease so that He can increase.

The trouble is that, as a priest, who I am matters to those who need me. My existence as a priest is that I present to them the image that I bear as a result of my ordination. Many a time, all that I can think of is that I'm not presenting that image - that ikon - very well. In this time of lying fallow waiting for the time for me to grow into that image again, my vocation nags and nags and nags because I must be a priest for the good of others, their salvation, their encounter with God, and their reception of His grace that happens at the hands of every single priest who has ever lived, because there is only one priesthood, Our Lord Jesus Christ. The troll will say to me, "you're overestimating your importance." No. I may be the instrument of God's sacraments, but all I can ever be conscious of are my great failures to represent Him clearly.

But who I am does matter to people. The Roman Catholic will ask me, "are you Catholic?" and when I explain that I am, just not a Roman one, they will refuse the sacraments from my hands. Likewise, the Orthodox Christian will ask me whether I am Orthodox, and I will say that I am but one who has inherited his orthodoxy through the Church in England. Of course, the Orthodox Christian may have some inkling that I am not an Eastern Orthodox priest because I can't stand growing a beard.

It's actually harder for me to explain why I am not Eastern Orthodox because, unlike Roman Catholicism, I can't simply say that I am not in communion with the Pope. As it stands, like the CofE, I'm not in communion with any of the patriarchs. This is very, very sad, but it does not stop me from being part of the Church. You are probably fed up of my (over)use of the word "ikon" and my affirmation of not being very Augustinian, rejecting the filioque, and leaning more towards a doctrine of theosis that is still very present in Anglican thought.

However, I do appear to be very close to being Orthodox in belief. Like my communion, I affirm Orthodox Christianity. While the venerable bishop, Lancelot Andrews (who certainly expressed a penchant for the doctrine of theosis) may say:
One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period – the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.
 we go further and affirm ten centuries and seven oecumenical councils. It is no wonder that the Anglican Catholic faith should be in many ways very similar to Eastern Orthodox belief.

In that sense, if I am in schism with the Eastern Church, then that schism is not a schism of heresy, but of history. Yet, for me to be recognised as being Orthodox by the East, I must convert and deny what I have received from my history. That I cannot do. If I hold the same belief as the Eastern Church, then I need not convert - I am already there.

While the ACC may be criticised by Eastern Christians by being the product of division, it has to be said that the Eastern Church is not very united either. For example, what of the status of the Patriarch of Moscow? I recently unfriended an Eastern Priest who enjoyed throwing the word "schismatic" around like breadcrumbs - despite the fact that both he and I are very similar in our belief in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Churches which hold the same beliefs do need to reach out to each other, but we need to do so honestly and not assuming superiority or pedigree - that's rather against the gospel. Where there is true heresy, well that heresy must be removed before talks on unification can be arranged. However, the nature of that heresy must be discussed honestly as well.

As a member of the Anglican Catholic Church, I am as Orthodox as I am Catholic. You are free to reject the sacraments from my hands, but I believe that if you do, then you reject the grace of God. You need to be very sure, then, that you're right!

Thursday, November 02, 2017

All Souls Dies Irae

Or, if you prefer...

Day of wrath and doom impending.
David's word with Sibyl's blending!
Heaven and earth in ashes ending!
O, what fear man's bosom rendeth
When from heav'n the Judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth!
Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
Through earth's sepulchres it ringeth,
All before the throne it bringeth.
Death is struck and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.
Lo! the book exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded;
Thence shall judgments be awarded.
When the Judge his seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing undisclos'd remaineth.
What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?
King of majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity then befriend us!
Think, kind Jesu! my salvation
Caused thy wondrous Incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation.
Faint and weary thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suff'ring bought me;
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Righteous Judge! for sin's pollution
Grant thy gift of absolution,
Ere that day of retribution.
Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning:
Spare, O God, thy suppliant groaning!
Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.
Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from night undying.
With thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To thy right hand do thou guide me.
When the wicked are confounded,
Doom'd to shame and woe unbounded,
Call me, with thy Saints surrounded.
Low I kneel, with heart's submission;
See, like ashes my contrition!
Help me in my last condition!
Ah! that day of tears and mourning!
From the dust of earth returning,
Man for judgement must prepare him:
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him!
Lord, all pitying, Jesu blest,
Grant them thine eternal rest. Amen.
(translated by W.J.Irons)
It may seem unpalatable to have this as the Sequence for a Requiem Mass. Some composers. like Verdi, have used it with operatic relish. Others, like Fauré, have found it sufficiently discordant with the the idea of committing a soul to its eternal rest that they have omitted it. I remember, when writing a setting for the Requiem Mass, facing the same question. How could I, in all conscience and remembering all those for whom I was writing it, write a setting of a Hymn about the Day of Judgement with all its visions of terror and fear.

Then I read it.

It's about the reality of Death and does not pull punches because Death does not pull punches. Barring the direct intervention of God, each one of us is going to die and that is a subject of fear and trembling. It is precisely this fear that we have that this hymn seeks to address. We sing it together in solidarity with everyone who ever lived and thus ever died. We don't sing this hymn for ourselves but for those who are dying and for those who are suffering because of the death if a loved one. We pour out our human condition, recognising our feebleness and frailty. We acknowledge that our medicine, with all its advances and innovations, merely staves off the inevitable. It's frightening, so very frightening!

And this is the beauty of this Hymn. In amongst all the fear, there is this glorious hope of someone even greater than death itself  - the Rex tremendae majestatis. If this King is greater than Death how much more fear-inducing is He? We see, in this Hymn, Christ come to be our judge and that gives us a new reason to fear. 

For, every action we have performed, every word we have said, every thought that we have entertained, all will be judged by the Great Judge in whom is perfect Justice and perfect Righteousness. By His sheer presence, the infection of Evil will be cast away, all hurts healed, all injustices righted, all tears wiped away. Those who refuse to repent of sin must depart from God, those who long for true repentance will have it at His hand together with the promise of complete transformation and perfection through His Humanity so that we can partake of His Divinity. In the judgement of God, all that our hearts long for will be supplied in Him.

In singing this Hymn together, we comfort each other with this hope that our sinful selves will be restored by His great love. This is a frightening hymn, but it is one worth singing for those who have departed this life, for their benefit, for their continued existence in the "intermediate state" and for their timeless progression to sainthood. We must never, ever despair of the mercy of God.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

All Saints 2017: looking back through the window.

What do we honestly expect to see when we see the saints?

Our ikons display women and long-bearded men with solemn expressions on their faces wrapped in robes with various designs and devices upon them belying their unique holiness in God. Why are they so solemn? Should not there be joy upon their faces?

My ikon of Christos Pantocrator also has this solemn expression. It is a look of concern, almost of worry. If we recognise this expression, then we realise why Our Lord, Our Lady and the saints are depicted with this expression. They are worried about our salvation. The saints are perfected in the love of God: they therefore bear the same concern for our welfare as God Himself as they partake of His divine nature. We use ikons to see into Heaven, and yet it is as if the citizens of Heaven from the Great King downwards use those ikons to peer through into our world of imperfection and flux, longing for us to be with them. What they see is us as we are - imperfect, striving for repentance, falling and writhing in the agony of our sins, or numbed to the pain of our imperfections by the distractions of this life.

In the West, our saints are depicted with statues, bearing emblems of their peculiar conversation in this life. These might be a small cathedral held in their hands to depict their efforts to build the Church, a pallium for their archbishopric, or the instruments of their martyrdom, even their own skin! Do these engage us in the same way as the ikon, or are they merely symbolic - used to tell tales of wonder, love and praise to the illiterate?

For an ikon to work, we need to set time aside to study it, and to look through the created matter to see the light of God. Since saints are already supposed to be ikons of God, an ikon of a saint is essentially an ikon of an ikon. This might seem to diminish the presence of God, yet the saints we celebrate today are those perfected in their purity. Just as a light shines perfectly through a pure crystal, so the Light Uncreate beams perfectly through the countenances of those whom God has washed, justified, sanctified and glorified in the name of the Lord Jesus. To worship an ikon would be like worshipping the mirror itself. It is the Light that pours out of the ikon that we worship because it is the True Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

Sometimes, though, it seems to me that, occasionally, the lips of Our Lord in my ikon seem to smile faintly as if to encourage me in remembering that, as a creation of God I cannot be all bad, no matter how far I fall. The ikon gives us this encouragement by its very existence: if there are so many people who, despite being in Eternity (in fact precisely because they are in Eternity), are rooting for us right now then it demonstrates that we cannot be alone in our troubles and sadness.

This means that we can say our Litanies of the Saints with impunity knowing that prayers will indeed be said for us in our state to the end that we may eventually attain the ranks of these perfected humans. And then, we shall pray in turn for those whom we shall see as we gaze back through the window into this fallen world.