Simple Doors to the Profound

Old tree

I was listening to the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” today, as recorded by Emmylou Harris. There’s something about the way she sings it that perfectly preserves that sweet simplicity that I feel like it ought to have. There’s a great little story about the writing of the carol. A certain Mr. Philip Brooks, an Episcopal priest from the 19th century who was rector of a church in Philadelphia, wrote the words as a poem after visiting Bethlehem on a trip to the Holy Land. He asked his church organist, a Mr. Lewis Redner, to compose a tune for it. Mr. Redner recounts the story like this: Continue reading

The Church Year

Solstice

Winter solstice sun in the arctic.

The annual cycle of seasons — of solstices and equinoxes, of agricultural death and rebirth, of the changing raiment of the trees, and of the migrations of animals — is an inescapable feature of existing on the planet Earth. Even at the equator where the Earth’s tilt makes astronomical changes like solar solstices or changing constellations not as noticeable, there are still yearly cycles of rainy and dry seasons brought about by shifting global weather patterns. From the dawn of humanity to the present, it’s safe to say that all human life is profoundly shaped by the repeating time-scale of the Year. Continue reading

The Truth Of Easter

Christ delivering Adam, Eve, and other righteous souls in prison (1 Pet. 3:19, 4:6).

Christ delivering Adam, Eve, and other righteous souls in prison (1 Pet. 3:19, 4:6).

The most famous sermon ever preached in Christian history has to be the one given by St. Peter to the multitude on Pentecost, as recorded in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The second most famous sermon, however, must be one given three hundred years later by St. John Chrysostom on Pascha (Easter) morning at the great midnight vigil. But St. John’s sermon has the distinction of enjoying an ongoing career as a living homily still preached every Easter in hundreds, probably thousands, of churches across the world at their midnight vigils. The words of the homily are timeless and universal, and they magnificently describe the truth of Easter: Continue reading

Saint Aristobulus: First Bishop of Britain

Aristobulus

In the first century, only a few years after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, a certain man who had been living in Palestine began traveling around the Mediterranean preaching about Jesus Christ to the pagan Gentiles. I’m not talking about St. Paul, although he did travel with St. Paul. He also traveled with and assisted St. Andrew on his journeys, and is even numbered among the 70 (72) disciples sent out by Jesus in Luke 10. He knew St. Paul probably through the apostle Barnabas, his brother. And it was while traveling with Paul and Barnabas that the apostle Paul ordained him as a bishop and sent him further West than Paul could then go. This man, a brown skinned, Jewish Cypriot, hailing from Palestine, traveled more than 2,000 miles Westward toward Spain, and then northward into Britannia. Continue reading

On Entropy And Turning 30

The paths of subatomic particles are traced after colliding two larger particles together.

The paths of subatomic particles are traced after colliding two larger particles together.

Yesterday I crossed a decade boundary. I left my twenties behind and became a tricenarian. The age number itself –30– is almost a misnomer for the reality: I am beginning my 31st year and have started my 4th decade outside the womb. (Because on your first birthday you’ve actually just finished one year since birth and are starting your second year, your second birthday is the start of your third year, and so on). This either confuses or disturbs many people, so I’ll settle on the normal social custom of simply saying, “I turned 30.” Continue reading

The Moral Mental Block

Veritas

Imagine for a moment that you can fly. You’re able to simply lift yourself off the ground by desiring to do so. Now imagine that you’re also able to leave earth’s atmosphere and move through space like Superman, soaring over continents and oceans, and returning to the planet in Sydney, Australia. You stop in for a quick play at the opera house, grab some fried gator tail, and lift off again heading west over the ocean toward home. You punch through the sound barrier and arrive back at home just after dark, stealthily descending so as not to be seen by any neighbors and keeping your super powers a secret. Continue reading

O Emmanuel

"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel."

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel.”

O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and Salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.

Continue reading

O Rex Gentium

Christ the King

Christ the King, holding a globe to signify his dominion.

O King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Corner-stone, that makest of two one, come to save man, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth!

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O Rex Gentium is the sixth of the O Antiphons sung with the Magnificat at Vespers in the days preceding Christmas Eve. Addressing Christ by the title “King of the Gentiles”, or “King of the Nations”, this prayer has deep political and anthropological implications. Continue reading

O Oriens

Christ shining at his transfiguration.

Christ shining at his transfiguration.

O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Sun of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!

O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

The fifth of the O Antiphons sung in the days leading up to Christmas Eve is O Oriens. The Latin oriens can be translated many different ways — sunrise, dawn of the east, morning star, radiant dawn — but I prefer dayspring. There’s a brightness to that word, and a freshness. As with a spring of water, you get the sense of a cool, thirst-quenching refreshment, but you simultaneously have images of fiery rays of golden-white light. It’s a good, evocative, poetic word, and a noble title. Continue reading

O Clavis David

Christ trampling the gates of hades with all their locks and keys and setting the prisoners (Adam and Eve) free from darkness.

Christ trampling the gates of hades with all their locks and keys and setting the prisoners (Adam and Eve) free from darkness.

O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

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.

The fourth of the O Antiphons, O Clavis David, addresses Christ by another title that comes from the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah 22, a scene is described in which a new ruler replaces an old, and this is accomplished by the Lord, who says of this new ruler that “… I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” (Isa 22:22-23). Continue reading

O Radix Jesse

Tree Of Jesse, fresco in the cathedral at Limburg.

Christ pictured as the fruit of the Tree of Jesse, with his ancestors represented below him and Jesse out of frame at the bottom. Fresco, cathedral at Limburg.

O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, come to deliver us, do not tarry.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

On December 19, five nights before Christmas Eve, the third of the great O AntiphonsRadix Jesse, is traditionally sung at the Magnificat during Vespers in the Western tradition of the Church. This antiphon is slightly more enigmatic than the the first two, but only until you’re familiar with the Scripture quotations from which it is almost entirely composed. Continue reading

O Adonai

O Adonai

O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai, come to redeem us with an outstretched arm!

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammæ rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

“O Adonai” is the second great antiphon attached to the Magnificat (Song of Mary), sung in the monastic evening prayer in the days leading up to Christmas. These short poetic lines have a mindfully expectant tone, addressing Christ by different titles and imploring him to come. Unlike the first antiphon “O Sapientia” which addresses Christ by a cosmic, universal title, O Adonai is a more personal, relational title, related specifically to the house of Israel. I’ll come back to the title itself in a moment, but first I want to point out the context of the title: the Exodus. Continue reading

The Hilarity Of Halloween

Happy Halloween

Halloween is scary — apparently. From every corner of digital Christendom is sounding the quaking alarm that participation in Halloween is tantamount to inviting the devil into your house. Hearsay about pagan origins and evil practices abounds. Even cooler-headed writers skeptical of the dubious beginnings of trick-or-treating and jack-o-lanterns warn that the overall character of Halloween is unprofitable at best and harmful at worst. But there’s a countering voice among Christians (and among people of other religions or none) that Halloween is totally innocent fun, that it’s inconsequential, vacant amusement. I personally think Halloween may be more complex and interesting than either of those positions makes it out to be. Continue reading

Columbus Day

Ships_of_Christopher_Columbus

I’ve gotten into the accidental habit of critically reflecting on American holidays. That can be an alienating habit, and one in bad taste, when we’re rewarded so handsomely by the economic machine for unreflectively participating as consumers in the one-day sales and holiday discounts. But it turns out I’m not the only one critically reflecting on Columbus Day lately. Continue reading

The Cross And The Nūn

The arabic letter ن , painted here to identify a Christian residence for persecution.

The arabic letter ن  (nūn), standing for nasrani or “nazarene”, and painted here to identify a Christian residence for persecution.

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Holy Cross, also called the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Creating Cross. This holy day is truly universal, celebrated across the world in the traditions of both Western and Eastern Christianity, but its roots are deeply historical and come from specific places and events. The first event this feast hearkens back to is the vision of the cross that Constantine saw in the sky just before winning the battle which would win him the Roman Empire. Until the time of Constantine, Christians were persecuted in the empire because they refused to acknowledge the pantheon of Roman gods and because they acknowledged a true Lord who was above the Cesar. After Constantine’s vision, he attributed his victory to the God of the Christians and passed the edict of Milan, legalizing Christianity and bringing it to the forefront culturally. Continue reading

The Right Dosage of Christ

Sts. Zossima and Mary of Egypt

St. Mary of Egypt receiving the Eucharist from the hand of St. Zossima after 48 years of repentance and ascetic struggle

In the reign of the emperor Trajan, at the start of the second century A.D., a man named Ignatius, who was the bishop of the Church in Antioch, was arrested for not sacrificing to the Roman gods. Around the year 108, he was thrown to the lions in the colosseum in Rome, and the account of his martyrdom has been preserved in the Church. The Church also preserved several letters that he wrote in his captivity — letters to the Philadelphian Christians, the Romans, the Trallians, the Magnesians, the Smyrnians, and the Ephesians. In his letter to the Church in Ephesus, St. Ignatius commends the Christians for holding true to the faith which was delivered to them — the faith he was going to die for — and not listening to the heresies of itinerant preachers, and he exhorts them to listen to their bishop, to assemble together frequently, and to celebrate God’s Eucharist, calling it the medicine of immortality and the antidote to death. Continue reading

Sleep As Death

Prayer-Boy kneeling at bed

In the desert monastery called Mar Saba near Jerusalem, a man now known as St. John Damascene (c. 676 – 749) would conclude his day of work and prayer by approaching his bed and praying:

O Master, Lover of mankind, is this bed to be my coffin, or will You enlighten my wretched soul with another day?  Behold, the coffin lies before me; behold, death confronts me…

Continue reading

God The Scientist, God The Poet

Eyes that can see

When I was a kid I lived in a neighborhood that was relatively safe to run around in and explore. There was a small creek that ran through the neighborhood, and I used to play on its small muddy banks. I’d take the route from my house that wound through my neighbors’ back yards, through dense foliage, between trees, and behind fences, until I could hear the faint babbling of the water and saw the sun only reaching the ground in a few thin shafts that squeezed through the dancing, leafy canopy above. The somewhat isolated creek had its own character and feel, and its banks and surrounding grounds became a secret garden. I was probably only a few hundred yards from my house, but it was a world away. Continue reading

Memorial Day

national cemetery

Today’s the last Monday in May, which means it’s Memorial Day — the day Americans have set aside to specially remember and honor the men and women who have given their lives in the armed service of the nation. A day that remembers this profound sacrifice from our fallen soldiers, especially on a national level, especially in the face of an ever increasingly selfish, petty, and nihilistic culture is important now more than ever. Continue reading