Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

As is usually the situation when we talk about the first Christians, we really don’t have a lot of information concerning St. Luke. Some consider him the first historian of the Christian Church due to his book The Acts of the Apostles. I don’t really consider Acts to be a history as much as the second part of the Gospel of Luke. The person I would call the first historian of Christianity, the Bishop Eusebius, wrote that Luke was born in Antioch, in Syria. He was probably a Gentile and not a Jewish convert. In the letter to the Christians in Colossae, Paul mentions the friends who are with him. First he mentions “those of the circumcision,” who are with him (Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus) and then he names Epapharas, Demas, and Luke, whom he calls the beloved physician. We don’t know anything about Luke’s conversion or where it took place, and what we know about his ministry we learn from the Acts of the Apostles. Paul mentions him in his letter to the Colossians, a letter to Timothy, and the letter to Philemon. We know that he traveled with Paul on some of his missionary journeys and also spent time in prison with Paul.

Luke is known for his two volume work which some scholars call “Luke-Acts” or the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. We may consider this a two volume work rather than two separate books, because of the way it presents the story of the message of Christ. In the first volume, Jesus brings the Good News only to the people of Israel, while the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how the Good News spread from Jerusalem throughout the Roman Empire. The Acts of the Apostles is interesting in that it is written in the third person, in the language of a historian collecting facts until the sixteenth chapter, when the word “they” changes to “we” and we get a first-person account of Paul’s vision and subsequent mission to Macedonia. Luke probably first joined Paul's company at Troas at about the year 51 and then accompanied him into Macedonia, where they traveled first to Samothrace, Neapolis, and finally Philippi. In the story of the imprisonment of Paul and Silas in Philippi, Luke switches back to the third person, which indicates that he most probably wasn’t in prison with them. It is believed that Luke remained in Philippi to encourage the Christians there. Seven years later, Paul returned to the area on his third missionary journey, and it seems that Luke rejoined Paul in Troas in the year 58, since his account in the Acts of the Apostles returns to the use of “we” rather than “they” in chapter 20. They traveled together through Miletus, Tyre, Caesarea, to Jerusalem. Luke was very loyal to Paul and stayed with him when he was imprisoned in Rome about the year 61. When everyone else had deserted Paul in his final imprisonment and sufferings, Luke remained with him to the end. This close relationship with the apostle Paul was the source of information for Luke’s two-volume work.

Luke's unique perspective on Jesus can be seen in where his gospel differs from the gospels of Mark and Matthew. Luke includes six miracles and eighteen parables not found in the other gospels. Luke's is the gospel of the poor and of social justice. Luke tells the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man who ignored him. Luke uses "Blessed are the poor" instead of "Blessed are the poor in spirit" in the his version of the beatitudes. Luke’s gospel includes angel visitations and the beautiful song of Mary, the Magnificat, in which she proclaims that God "has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Luke also seemed to have a special connection with the women in Jesus' life, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary. Luke’s gospel is the only one which includes the story of the Annunciation, of Mary's visit to Elizabeth including the Magnificat, the only gospel with the story of the Presentation, and the story of Jesus' disappearance in Jerusalem. A reading of Luke’s gospel may lead one to believe that forgiveness and God's mercy to sinners is also of great importance to Luke. Luke’s gospel is the only one which has the story of the Prodigal Son, and only in Luke’s gospel tells the story of the forgiven woman disrupting the feast by washing Jesus' feet with her tears. Throughout Luke's gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God's mercy. The stories Luke included in his gospel give the impression that he saw Jesus as one who loved the poor, who opened the door of God’s kingdom to everyone, as one who respected women, and who saw hope in God’s mercy for everyone.


A tradition that Luke was a painter seems to have no basis in fact. Several images of Mary appeared in later centuries claiming him as a painter but these claims were proved false. Because of this tradition, however, he is considered a patron of painters of pictures and is often portrayed as painting pictures of Mary. One of the Eastern Orthodox websites I visited claimed that St. Luke was the first to paint an icon, that of the Blessed Virigin Mary.

No one is really sure about Luke’s life after the martyrdom of St. Paul. Epiphanius says that after the martyrdom of St. Paul, St. Luke preached in Italy, Gaul, Dalmatia, and Macedon. Fortunatus and Metaphrastus say he passed into Egypt and preached in Thebais. Nicephorus says he died at Thebes in Boeotia around the year 84, after settling in Greece to write his gospel. St. Hippolytus says St. Luke was crucified at Elaea in Peloponnesus near Achaia. There is a Greek tradition that he was crucified on an olive tree. The ancient African Martyrology gives him the titles of Evangelist and Martyr, and St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Paulinus, and St. Gaudentius of Brescia all claim that Luke went to God by martyrdom. Bede, Ado, Usuard, and Baronius in the Martyrologies only say he suffered much for the faith, and died very old in Bithynia. Whether he died a quiet death at 84 or whether he won the martyr’s crown, he will always be known for his wonderful two-volume work. What would Christmas be like without Luke’s story of the shepherds and the angelic choir? His story of the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost has always been an inspiration. And what would Evening Prayer be like without the beauty of the Magnificat? Luke was instrumental in helping spread the word, helping spread the Good News, that forgiveness of sins and the coming of the Reign of God is available to all, and that is why we remember St. Luke today.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Feast of St. Francis

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Today I’ll talk about a saint who is not one of the early saints and I’m sure you’ll find much better posts about him all over the internet today, but I want to say my piece, too. It was the parish of St. Francis in San José, California, which raised Mona and I up in ministry and supported us in seminary, and they support our ministry in Panamá. But even though Francis isn’t a martyr or from the third century, he is one of my favorite saints. For me, the life of St. Francis is an example of total surrender to God's will, a life which full enjoyed God's creation, and his life is also a model to us of one who is gentle in spirit.

St. Francis was born in the year 1181 in the town of Assisi in Italy. His father was a wealthy merchant who sold cloth. As Francis grew up, he worked in his father's shop, helping sell cloth to the people of Assisi. He and his friends were kind of wild and had parties that lasted until early morning. When he was twenty years old he joined the army. He was captured by the enemy and spent a few months imprisoned. When he was finally released from prison, he returned home to Assisi. When he returned home, he had changed. He was no longer interested in hanging out with his friends, eating and drinking late into the night; he was no longer interested in singing outside the windows of the young women of Assisi. While he was imprisoned he had a lot of time to think, and when he returned to Assisi he no longer found happiness in the silly pursuits of his friends. He began to spend time with the poor of Assisi and helping the lepers on the outskirts of town. He spent less time working at Dad’s shop and more time in prayer in a little grotto outside of town. He and his father argued often about his strange behavior.


One day Francis decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome to see if he could figure out what God wanted of him. While in Rome he realized that he wanted to separate himself from his father's money, and one day he asked a beggar to change clothes with him. He gave the beggar his fancy clothes and put on the beggar's rags. He went around the city and experienced rejection from the well-dressed people and he began to understand the hard life of the poor. He returned to Assisi determined to find a way to please God. He continued to with the lepers of Assisi. Early one morning, he went for a ride on his horse, contemplating the glory of God in nature all around him. He almost fell off his horse when the horse balked at seeing a leper standing on the side of the road with his hand outstretched, hiding his face with his cloak. Francis was about to ride away when he heard a voice in his heart say: "Francis, all that up to now has been hateful to you must change into unspeakable joy!" He got off of his horse and was going to give the leper some coins when he bent down to kiss the sore hand of the leper as a means of seeing the face of Jesus in the leper's face. At the moment he kissed the leper's diseased hand, he felt a sense of liberation and purification. Francis continued to argue with his father and he lost all interest in his father's profession. He kept giving his father's money away. He was finally kicked out of the house and he began to spend a lot of time in a little decrepit church, the church of San Damiano. One day while he was there praying, he looked up at the crucifix and heard it say to him, "Francis, go and rebuild my house, which is threatening to collapse." Francis started working at San Damiano, reinforcing the walls, patching the roof, and fixing it all up. Other young men began to come help his with his work. Soon he had several followers, and they all took on the life of "Lady Poverty." They gave up everything and begged for their food. Francis wrote a Rule of Life for the group and after getting approval from Pope Innocent III, they became known as the Order of Friars Minor. Soon, a wealthy young woman named Claire and her friends desired to live the same life as the Friars, who were known as "Franciscans" and became known as the "Poor Claires." Both groups worked with the poor and sick and outcasts of society. Both groups lived holy lives of poverty.

St. Francis heard God's voice in the natural world which surrounded him, and he saw God's face in the elements and in all of creation. He saw the face of Jesus in the faces of the poor and sick. His understanding of the connectedness of all creation is evident in his calling everything either "brother" or "sister." An example of how St. Francis experienced God in nature is illustrated in a song he wrote, The Canticle of the Sun:

Most High, Almighty, Good Lord.
Yours be the praise, the glory, the honor and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, are they due.
And no man is worthy to speak your Name.
Praise to You, my Lord, for all your creatures.
Above all, Brother Sun who brings us the day and lends us his light.
Lovely is he, radiant with great splendor, and speaks to us of You,
O Most High.
Praise to You, my Lord, for Sister Moon, and the stars
which You have set in the heavens, clear, precious, and fair.
Praise to You, my Lord, for Brother Wind, for air and cloud,
for calm and all weather by which you support life in all your creatures.
Praise to You, my Lord, for Sister Water,
whop is so useful and humble, precious and pure.
Praise to You, my Lord, for our sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and directs us and brings forth varied fruits
and colored flowers and plants.
Praise and bless my Lord, thank Him and serve Him with great humility!


St. Francis also experienced God through the animals, and as we know, he was very fond of the animals he met. As a result, many churches celebrate his feast with a blessing of the animals. When I was at St. Francis’ in San José, we always had the blessing of the animals as part of our Patronal Festival. This was also the day that the Bishop would visit, and there were many times when I helped the bishop bless dogs, cats, mice, snakes, lizards, birds, and all manner of pets.
Another story which illustrates the love St. Francis had for creation is the story of St. Francis and the birds: One day St. Francis and some of the brothers were walking between the towns of Cannara and Bevagna. While they were walking, St. Francis saw some trees next to the road and there was a large group of many different birds, varieties that he had never seen in that area before, all standing about (think of what he would think of our birds here in Panamá!). There was another group of birds standing in the fields next to the trees. While St. Francis was looking at this strange sight, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he told his companions, "Wait here in the road, I am going to go over and preach to our sisters the birds." As soon as he went into the field the birds began to gather around him, and the birds up in the trees flew down and they all stood about him quietly, even when he walked among them. St. Francis looked at the birds gathered around him and said,

"My sisters the birds, you have so much from God and should always praise God for the gift of flight, for your beautiful colored feathers, for the food you get, for your gift of singing,
and for the fact that God has blessed you with great numbers, for your species was saved on the Ark with Noah, and for the element of Air which was set aside for you to travel in.
You don't plant or harvest and God feeds you. God gave you rivers and streams from which to drink, and mountains, hills, rocks and crags to hid in tall trees for your nests; and since you can't sew, God gave you and your chicks feathers for clothes. It's true that the Creator who made you loves you very much. So take care, sisters of mine, the birds, not to be ungrateful but be happy and always praise God."

When St. Francis finished his sermon, all the birds began to open their beaks, stretch their wings and necks and bow their heads reverently, and sing. With their songs and actions they were telling St. Francis that they liked what he said. When St. francis saw this, he was very happy and full of the Holy Spirit, and was amazed at such a wide variety of birds who showed that they loved each other. He praised God for this creation, called the birds to praise God, and blessed them with the sign of the cross. The birds all rose into the sky and flew off in the four directions, north, south, west, and east, to show St. Francis a great cross.


St. Francis died on October 3, 1226. He had passed on leadership of the Order of Franciscans seven years earlier. He was made a saint on July 16, 1228, by Pope Gregory IX. St. Francis was one who was able to surrender totally to God, he was one who was able to trust God fully; he trusted God to feed him, to provide shelter, and to keep him safe. He trusted God enough to listen for God's voice in the world around him. He was able to see God in the lives of the animals he loved, but also in the face of the poor leper at the side of the road. He was extremely humble, yet able to lead a great order which exists to this day. The life of St. Francis is proof that, if one is to be great, one must be the servant of others. May all of us look to the life of St. Francis and see God in the faces of the least among us.

Friday, September 29, 2017

A Poem in Honor of St. Michael

An ancient Celtic poem in praise of Michael the Archangel

Thou Michael the victorious,
I make my circuit under thy shield,
Thou Michael of the white steed,
And of the bright brilliant blades,
Conqueror of the dragon,
Be thou at my back,
Thou ranger of the heavens,
Thou warrior of the King of all,
O Michael the victorious,
My pride and my guide
O Michael the victorious,
The glory of mine eye.


I make my circuit
In the fellowship of my saint,
On the machair, on the meadow,
On the cold heathery hill;
Though I should travel oceans
And the hard globe of the world
No harm can e’er befall me
‘Neath the shelter of thy shield;
O Michael the victorious,
Jewel of my heart,
O Michael the victorious,
God’s shepherd thou art.

Be the sacred Three of Glory
Aye at peace with me,
With my horses, with my cattle,
With my woolly sheep in flocks.
With the crops growing in the field
Or ripening in the sheaf,
On the machiar, on the moor,
In cole, in heap, or stack,.
Every thing on high or low,
Every furnishing and flock,
Belong to the holy Triune of glory,
And to Michael the victorious

Feast of Michael and All Angels

Hey,everbuddy!It's Padre Mickey's annual Michaelmas post!
Today is the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel and all Angels, or Michaelmas.
The feast is popular again, probably due to the rise of angelology in New Age circles over the past twenty years or so. An entire industry has sprung up over for a while  around the subject of angels, producing music and books odd websites. Some people's interest and devotion to angels has replaced any interest and devotion to God, which is, of course, idolatrous, but this is not the first time in history that angel worship has been popular. It was also common during the first two centuries of Christianity, especially in Phrygia, Greece, and Palestine, and St. Paul mentions angel worship in his letter to the Christians in Colossus. The introductory lecture by the Rev. Dr. L. William Countryman in New Testament when I was at C.D.S.P. left an impression on my entire class. Professor Countryman shocked us all with the idea that the Epistle to Jude was about sex with angels! So, let’s talk about angels.
The English word 'angel' comes from the Greek word 'angelous' which means 'messenger.'
Angels are God's messengers, and that is the purpose they serve throughout most of the Old Testament. However, Zoroastrian influence during the time of the Babylonian exile changed the concept of angels from messengers of God to powerful supernatural beings who were either on the side of God or on the side of Satan; it introduced a dualistic element to the understanding of angels. By the year 160 B.C., the Essenes, who lived in the desert of Qumran, had created an entire Host or Army of angels who served God, wile the Demons, or Angels of Darkness served Satan. With this idea of an angelic army came the idea of different choirs of angels, different divisions who served different purposes. These groups originally were divided as Archangels, Cherubim, Seraphim, Watchers, and Angels. By the sixth century of the Christian Era, the mystical theologian Psuedo-Dionysius developed an hierarchy of "Heavenly Beings" which he received from his “sacred-initiator.” According to Psuedo-Dionysius, there are three three-fold hierarchies of Heavenly Beings: the first hierarchy, which are the beings which surround God the Father, are the "Holy Thrones and Orders said to possess many eyes and wings, also called Seraphim and Cherubim." The word "Seraphim" means "Fire-makers" in Hebrew, and Psuedo-Dionysius says that this means they are "Carriers of Warmth." The word "Cherubim" means "Out-pourers of Wisdom" in Hebrew, and Psuedo-Dionysius writes that the Seraphim and Cherubim are most like God in these ways. The second hierarchy consists of Authorities, Dominions, and Powers. This group works between the first hierarchy and the third hierarchy. The third and final hierarchy, according to Psuedo-Dionysius, consists of Principalities, Archangels, and Angels, with only Archangels and Angles dealing with human beings.

Human interaction with angels is described throughout the Old Testament, beginning with a Cherub with a flaming sword guarding the gate to Paradise. Abraham's angel visitations, and Jacob's vision of angels ascending and descending from a ladder between heaven and earth is another example. Moses dealt with angels such as Michael in the Wilderness, and the Day of Atonement liturgy described in the book of Leviticus describes the action of the High Priest placing the sins of the community on a goat and releasing the goat to Azazel, a fallen angel of the desert. By the time of the Book of Daniel and the prophet Isaiah's vision of heaven, angels were no longer simply God's messengers, they became supernatural beings with much power, who praised God in front of the throne or fought in God's army. Angels were also terrifying creatures; their presence was so frightening  that the first words they usually say to humans are "Fear not!" This also may be because they tend to simply appear out of nowhere; I don’t know of any stories where one was watching angels wing their way towards them with a message; they just appear and say “Fear not!” Artists over the centuries, especially during the Renaissance, tended to portray angels as androgynous blonds with wings, and they tend to portray Cherubim as fat little baby angels. But Cherubim are not fat baby angels, they are terrifying creatures; they are described as having the head of a man, the body of a lion, and wings! And Seraphim are huge, fiery, snake-like creatures, not blond guys with wings. Isaiah's description of heaven tells of Seraphim flying above God's throne, and the Seraphim are described as having six wings: two to cover their face, two to cover their feet, (which is a euphemism for genitals), and two with which to fly. They fly above God's throne chanting "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts." A Seraph picked up a hot coal from the altar of incense and put it on Isaiah's lips to purify them. In the New Testament, the Archangel Gabriel gave Mary  the message that she would become Theotokos, the God bearer. An angel also brought a message to Zechariah and silenced him. In fact, angels tend to appear throughout Luke's gospel  and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. Angels appear in Mark's gospel, but only to minister to Jesus while he iwas in the wilderness, after his encounter with Satan, and they appear in Matthew's gospel in dreams to warn of trouble to the baby Jesus.

As mentioned earlier, during the first and second centuries and during the time of Jesus, angels were very popular, as popular as they are in our day, and there were those who worshipped them and wanted to enlist them in giving them power over others. these beliefs were poplar among some Gnostic groups, and they developed amazing cosmologies in which angels were featured. The Essenes'  teachings also added to these ideas. Remember the fourth verse of Genesis, Chapter 6, about the Nephilim, (which means 'fallen ones' in Hebrew) who were the children of human women and angel fathers and were "the giants and heroes of old?" Well, some Gnostic groups took that passage and decided that it meant that they could attain certain mystic knowledge through sexual relations with angels! St. Paul seems to think that angels are attracted to a woman's long hair, and suggested that they keep their heads covered in church. But St. Paul also believed that humans were more important to God than were the angels and he said that humans would judge angels. Some people believe that Satan is a Fallen Angel,  and they tell the story of Lucifer, the Morning Star, trying to put his throne higher than God's and starting a war in heaven. Have you read that story in the Bible? No, you haven't because it is not in the Bible.
When John Milton wrote the book Paradise Lost, he used some verses from Isaiah chapter 14:

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, Son of Dawn! How you are cut
down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart,
"I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God . . .
I will make myself like the Most High.

Bu these verses are about a Babylonian king who was called the Day Star. It is interesting how something written by Milton became theological truth to many. When we read the book of Job, Satan is a part of God's Court,so perhaps he is some kind of angel.

Today's feast is named after St. Michael the Archangel. Michael is the head of the Heavenly Host, the Five-star General of God's Angelic Army. Michael is also the protector of Israel, Protector of the Chosen People. Psuedo-Dionysius claimed that every nation is actually directed and protected by one of the archangels, and that Michael is the leader of the Jewish nation; he did not name the other Archangels and their respective nations. According to tradition, Michael is supposed to protect Christians from the devil at the time of death. This probably comes from the mention of Michael arguing with Satan for the soul of Moses, which is mentioned in the Epistle of Jude and comes from the Book of the Secrets of Enoch, an apocalyptic book written in 160 B.C. There was a cult which venerated Michael the Archangel in Phrygia (a regular hot-bed of heresey!), and they believed he had the power to heal, so many hot springs in Greece and Turkey are dedicated to him. Michael's place in the heavenly court is next to the altar of incense, and when incense is blessed for use in our liturgy, the priest usually says the following prayer:

By the intercession of Blessed Michael the Archangel, who stands 
at the right hand of the altar of incense, and of all the Saints, may 
the Lord bless this incense, and accept it as a pure oblation, through
Jesus Christ our Lord.

The name Mikael, or Michael in English, means "who is like God?" in Hebrew, and this has led to some weird ideas about Michael the Archangel. Charles Taze Russel, the man who started the Jehovah's Witnesses taught that Jesus was actual Michael come to earth, and there are New Agers who "channel" Michael. These beliefs and teachings, as well as much of the angelology going on nowadays is actually idolatrous. Angels are God's messengers, and they are God's servants. Their only purpose, the only reason they were created, is to do God's will. They have no say in the matter, and they just do what they are told. Humans, however, are created in God's image, and we have been given free will, and that puts us in a different place than the angels. When you die, you won't get some wings and a harp and sit on a cloud as a new angel, no matter what image popular movies leave you. Angels probably don't spend their time fighting demons and keeping you out of trouble. Angels are God's messengers and they deliver God's messages. We are not to worship angels, we are not to try to control angels, and we are not to try to 'channel' angels or anything else. Since we have free will, it’s best if we choose to do God's will, it’s best if we choose to help bring about God's reign, it’s best if we choose to love one another as Christ loves us, and it’s best if we choose to serve God. We don't need to worry about Guardian Angels, or whether angels are real or not; what we need to worry about is how we treat each other, about how we treat those who are the least among us. We need to worry about helping others learn of the Good News of forgiveness of sins and that God loves everyone  and want relationship with everyone. We need to tend to the sick, to pray for each other, and to love each other.  Then we can join with the angels in heaven and sing God's praises, because we will be doing God's will, just as the angels do.

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist


We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Matthew was an Apostle and Evangelist, as was John, and tradition states that he was also a martyr. Matthew's name appears in all four lists of the Twelve, so we can safely assume that he really was in that group, although he is also known as Levi. He was a Galilean, although Eusebius claims that Matthew was Syrian. Tradition states that Matthew preached to the Hebrews, and the Church Father Papias wrote that Matthew had written a collection of the sayings of Jesus in Aramaic. This collection of sayings in Aramaic may have been the basis for the gospel which bears his name.

Now, usually we don't really know much about the Apostles, they left no autobiographies for historians to use. What we know about Matthew comes from the gospels. He was a publican, a tax collector, an occupation despised by most Jews. Tax collectors were seen as collaborators with the Roman government, as extortionists who took money from their own people to help further the cause of the Roman oppressors and to line their own pockets. Most people hated tax collectors and saw them as traitors, and many of the most devout refused to marry into a family which had a tax collector in it. One can see the disgust for tax collectors in some of the passages we hear from the New Testament. Even Jesus used the name as a disparaging term; he said that when Christians have a dispute they are to try to work it out alone, and if that didn't work they were to bring a witness and try to work it out, and if that didn't settle things the offending person was to be treated like a Pagan or a Tax Collector. Since he was a tax collector Matthew was obviously not the kind of person anyone wanted to be seen with, yet when Jesus passed by his office, which was probably a stand like a kiosko, Jesus looked at Matthew sitting there and said, "Follow me." And Matthew dropped everything and followed Jesus. Jesus and the disciples came to Matthew's house for dinner, and many of Matthew's fellow tax collectors and friends came and joined Jesus and the disciples at table. Since Matthew was a social outcast, we can assume that his friends were, too, and the gospel calls them "sinners." When the Pharisees saw this group of outcasts sitting together, eating and talking and drinking wine and having a good time, they asked one of the disciples "What kind of example is this from your teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?" And when Jesus heard their question, he said, "Who needs a doctor, the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, the sinners, not to coddle insiders!" I think that we all forget this at times, that we are all sinners and that Jesus came for sinners, not for those who are already perfect. The truth is, none of us are perfect, we are all sinners, we have all missed the mark, and Jesus came for all of us .So Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector and outcast, to follow him, and Matthew dropped everything and said "yes" to Jesus' call. In a way it's good that Matthew was already an outcast because becoming one of the Twelve, one of Jesus' followers, was going to keep him in that category.

As I said earlier, tradition states that Matthew was the apostle to the Hebrews, and that he wrote a collection of the sayings of Jesus. Scholars are not really sure whether the Apostle Matthew actually wrote the gospel attributed to him; it may bear his name because it contains his collection of sayings. One of the main characteristics of Matthew's gospel is the fullness with which it records the Lord's teaching; it has a special interest in the relation of the Gospel to Jewish Law, the Torah, with its stress upon Christianity being the New Torah. It also emphasizes the special commission given to Peter, and it contains the stories of the Resurrection appearances in Galilee. The Greek of Matthew's gospel is much more elegant than the Greek of Mark, and it also translates well into other languages. Because of this, it is the gospel most suitable for public reading, and for this reason it is probably the best known of the four gospels.

As is often the case with stories about the Apostles, there is some disagreement as to the rest of Matthew's life. There is a tradition that Matthew left Palestine to travel and preach, and that he wrote his gospel so that a witness would continue in his stead. The Roman Martyrology states that St. Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia, while the Hieronymianum, the martyrology of Asia Minor and Greece says that he was martyred in Persia in the town of Tarrium out on the Persian Gulf. Another tradition states that he suffered martyrdom in Pontus, and the town of Salerno in Italy claimed to have his relics.

The Martyrdom of St. Matthew

There is an apocryphal Acts and Martyrdom of St. Matthew, most probably of Gnostic origin, and it claims that Matthew was martyred in “Myrna,” wherever that is. I will tell you the story of St. Matthew’s martyrdom according to this text.

St. Matthew was on a mountain, resting, when he had a vision of the Christ Child and had a discussion with him about the fate of King Herod (“He dwells, indeed, in Hades; and there has been prepared for him fire unquenchable, Gehenna without end, bubbling mire, worm that sleeps not, because he cut off three thousand infants, wishing to slay the child Jesus, the ancient of the ages; but of all these ages I am father”). The child then instructs Matthew to go down the mountain to Myrna, the city of the man-eaters, and plant a rod next to the church Matthew and Andrew had founded. So, Matthew agrees to do so, and while entering the town he meets Fulvana, the wife of the king, and her son Fulvanus and his wife, Erva. All three of them were possessed by unclean spirits and cried out, “Who has brought you here again, Matthew? or who has given you the rod for our destruction? for we see also the child Jesus, the Son of God, who is with you. Do not go then, O Matthew, to plant the rod for the food, and for the transformation of the man-eaters: for I have found what I shall do to you. For since you drove me out of this city, and prevent me from fulfilling my wishes among the man-eaters, behold, I will raise up against you the king of this city, and he will burn you alive.” Matthew laid his hands on their heads and the demons were evicted and the people were made whole, and they followed him. Matthew went on into town and planted the rod as instructed and all manner of miracles took place, which we won’t get into here.

Now the king, Fulvanus, was happy when he learned that his wife and son and daughter-in-law had been delivered of their demons, but then he became jealous when he noticed that they were devoted to Matthew. His family had spent the night in the church with Matthew and the local bishop, Plato, and were baptized by Matthew. This increased Fulvanus’ jealousy and he decided to execute Matthew. It didn’t help that the demon Matthew had cast out of Queen Fulvana had taken on the form of a soldier and told Fulvanus that Matthew was a stranger and a sorcerer and a former tax collector, and was made an apostle by a person who was crucified, so why would you want your wife and son and daughter-in-law listening to the likes of him? The king agreed; he had no choice but to kill Matthew. Meanwhile, the Christ Child warned Matthew that the king’s men would be coming to get him. The king sent four soldiers after Matthew and Plato, but when they arrived at the church they heard voices but couldn’t see anyone, so they went back to the king to report that no one was there. This really made the king angry, so he sent ten more soldiers, who were man-eaters, and told them, “Sneak into the church and tear Matthew and Plato into pieces and eat them.” When the soldiers got to the church, they saw Matthew and Plato and the Lord Jesus, who was in the form of a beautiful boy holding a torch, which he used to burn their eyes! The soldiers ran back to the palace speechless. The king was really angry now, and he tried to get some advice on how to take Matthew from the demon/soldier, but the demon/soldier admitted that he, the demon, couldn’t do anything as God was protecting Matthew.

Now the story gets really strange: the king finds Matthew at the church and is struck blind. He cries out to Matthew to heal him, because God has decided that he wants Matthew in heaven now, and the king is to bury his body in their city as a testimony of salvation! So Fulvanus is healed and his sight is returned and he grabs Matthew by the hand and drags him to the seashore where executions take place. The king told the executioners that he heard that the God of Matthew saves those who believe in him from death by fire, but they’ll get around it by following his orders. He had them nail Matthew to the ground and cover him with paper smeared with dolphin’s oil and then cover him with brimstone and asphalt and pitch AND brushwood, and then light it all on fire. And if any of the Christians get in the way, they were to suffer the same fate. The executioners followed the king’s orders but when they put the fire to the highly flammable pile it turned to dew, and all the people watching cried out with one voice: “The only God is the Christians', who assists Matthew, in whom also we have believed: the only God is the Christians', who preserves His own apostle in the fire.” So the king had coals of fire taken from the furnace to be piled on Matthew. He also had idols of gold and silver brought to surround Matthew, to keep him from bewitching the fire. The entire pile was re-ignited, and Matthew looked up into heaven and prayed: “O God the Father, O Lord Jesus Christ, deliver me, and burn down their gods which they worship; and let the fire also pursue the king even to his palace, but not to his destruction, for perhaps he will repent and be converted.” When the king saw the flames rise higher and higher, he said, “Has your magic been of any help to you, Matthew? Can your Jesus help you now?” All of the sudden all the fire left Matthew and surrounded the idols instead. The fire melted the idols of gold and silver and also burned several soldiers to death. The king shouted “Woe is me! I should have used idols of stone, which don’t melt down!” The fire then took on the shape of a dragon and chased the king all over the place but wouldn’t let him find safety in the palace. Fulvanus ran back to Matthew and said, “I beseech you, whoever you are, O man, whether magician or sorcerer or god, or angel of God, whom so great a pyre has not touched, remove from me this dreadful and fiery dragon; forget the evil I have done, as also when you made me receive my sight.” Matthew forgave Fulvanus and actually called off the dragon, which disappeared, as did the flames. Matthew then looked up to heaven and prayed in Hebrew, commending his soul to the Lord and said, “Peace to you!” And, having glorified the Lord, he completed his martyrdom. Fulvanus took the body of Matthew and placed it on a golden bed. While they were bringing the bed back to the palace, all saw Matthew rise up to heaven, led by the beautiful boy, and twelve men in shining garments and wearing gold crowns met him. Everyone saw the beautiful boy crown Matthew, and in a flash of lightening all disappeared into heaven. And just when you thought the story couldn’t get any stranger, the king decided to put Matthew’s body in an iron coffin and throw it into the deepest part of the sea. Bishop Plato and others went to the church where they kept a vigil throughout the night. The next morning they came out of the church and saw Matthew standing on the water some seven furlongs from shore, accompanied by two men in shining garments and the beautiful boy. The king saw all this and ran out of the palace to the bishop and confessed in front of the bishop and priests and deacons that he believed in the True God, and in Jesus Christ, and asked to be baptized and given communion. After communion, Matthew appeared before them all. He told Fulvanus and his son that their names would be changed to Matthew, and that Fulvana’s named would be changed to Sophia, and Erva, the daughter-in-law’s name would be changed to Synesis. Then Matthew appointed the king a presbyter, and his son a deacon, and the queen a presbytress, and the daughter-in-law a deaconess. Then he blessed them and vanished. And they all went and destroyed all the idols and everyone in the kingdom became Christians. And King Matthew was given the gift of healing. And I’m exhausted after telling this story, as you probably are after reading it!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Feast of St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople


O God, you gave your servant John Chrysostom grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence
in preaching, and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


John was born in Antioch in the year 347 to an illustrious Greek family. His father was a pagan and was the General in charge of the Eastern army. He died shortly after John's birth. His mother, Anthusa, was a Christian whose "piety was unexcelled among the women of Antioch." An older sister completed the family. John was educated on the family's estate and had the finest teachers. He was fortunate to be raised a Christian in a town where half the population was Christian. John did attend university in Athens for a short while, but most of his education was in Antioch. He studied rhetoric under the great Neoplatonist philosopher Libanius, a man who was violently opposed to Christianity. John was one of Libanius' best students, and Libanius wanted John to succeed him as head of the philosophical school "had not the Christians stolen him." John had met a monk, Diodorus, who lived in a monastery in the mountains, and John was very much interested in the monastic life. At the age of eighteen John suddenly turned against the teachings of Libanius. He decided to put aside all "this debauchery of learning" and become a monk. He was baptized by Meletius the Confessor, Patriarch of Antioch, but Bishop Meletius refused to allow John to live as a monk. He spent three years as an acolyte for the Patriarch's palace, and he later served as a Lector. Finally, after several years, the Bishop relented and John headed for the hills. He went to live with Hesychius, a Syrian monk whose name means quietness, and they spent their time in quiet meditation. They followed the Pachomian Rule, a very austere way of life. John retired to a cave, denied himself sleep, constantly read the Bible and spent two years without lying down because he believed that "a Christian must be watchful." He didn't have the physical constitution for such a life; his stomach shriveled up, his kidneys were damaged by the cold, and his digestion was permanently impaired. He realized that he could not doctor himself, so he came down from the mountain, went into Antioch and presented himself to the bishop, who sent him to the doctor and then assigned him to the office of "attendant upon the altar." Six years later Meletius died and Flavian became Patriarch of Antioch. John was ordained a priest and he began to develop this style of preaching. The people of Antioch, including the Christians, enjoyed the Theatre and horse racing, and they also had a great love of luxury. They were just a bit hedonistic. John preached against the past vices of the Antiocheans, he preached against their addiction to wealth, their love of the theatre, and their sensual enjoyments. When the people of Antioch, in reaction to a tax, rioted and destroyed statues of the Emperor (which resulted in the Imperial Army taking over the city and executing those involved), John preached for seven days in order to keep the peace. These sermons were written down and published as On The Statues and they are a great example of his preaching style. Due to his preaching and the pleading of Bishop Flavian, Antioch was spared destruction by the Emperor. John's preaching was loved by the Christians of Antioch, and he was called Chrysostom which means Golden Mouth. It is said that he would become angry because people would begin to cheer in the middle of his sermons! John was very happy to serve God and the people of God as a priest in Antioch.

This was a strange period in the Roman Empire. Constantine had moved the capitol from Rome to his new city of Constantinople earlier in the century, and the Patriarchate of Constantinople became an important See. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Bishop Nectarius, was a very loose-living, corrupt person, and he spent his sixteen years as Patriarch gaining wealth and indulging in gluttony, drunkenness, and the accumulation of power. Emperor Theodosius had a certain advisor named Eutropius, a eunuch, whom he had sent to visit the monks in Egypt, where Eutropius heard of John. Bishop Nectarius and Eutropius decided that the next Patriarch of Constantinople would be the priest John of Antioch and not Theophilus of Alexandria (these were the days when there was no love lost between Antioch and Alexandria). For some reason, these two corrupt persons chose the very person who would work hard to clean-up Constantinople and put everyone back on the correct path; I guess the Holy Spirit influences whomsoever the Spirit wants to influence and this is another example of how God uses people, even corrupt people, to bring about God's plan. Eutropius figured that John would probably refuse the offer, and that, even if he did accept, the people of Antioch would not let him go, so he used his political power to get John to Constantinople. Eutropius sent a letter to Asterius, the Governor of Syria, ordering him to put John out of the city secretly and take him under a strong escort to Constantinople. He suggested that he have John meet him at one of the martyr chapels just outside of the city's walls, and that is exactly what Asterius did. John thought he was going to a pastoral evening with the Governor; he rode out of the Roman gate at Antioch, never to return. As soon as he got outside of the gate, soldiers pounced on him, and he was tossed into an imperial carriage and spirited off to Constantinople. There a lots of stories about men being grabbed by crowds and dragged to the bishop for ordination, but John is one of the few of which I've heard who was grabbed by the army and dragged to the capitol to be ordained a bishop!

A Patriarch may only be consecrated by another Patriarch, and Theophilus of Alexandria was in Constantinople at the time, but he refused to consecrate John, since he'd had his eye on this particular Episcopal Throne. Eutropius brought out a sheet of paper containing charges so damaging against Theophilus that the Patriarch's face turned white! Eutropius said, "You will consecrate him, or face trial on the charges listed here." So, on February 26, 398, John of Antioch was enthroned as Patriarch of Constantinople. The man who fought against luxury and despised kings now lived in a luxurious palace close to the Emperor's palace. Now the priest of Antioch who preached against love of wealth was standing before ornate golden altars and wearing silk vestments. Of course, as soon as he became Patriarch, he began to a campaign to sweep the Church in Constantinople clean of corruption. He took all the fancy furniture and silver-plated items of the bishop's place, along with the marble columns purchased for the Church of Anastasia, and sold them, using the money to build a hospital. He reformed the lives of the clergy; he learned that they were in the habit of living with widows and consecrated virgins, women who had dedicated themselves to lives of celibacy in the Church. John called the "spiritual sisters" in, harangued them for the evil they had caused and then called in the priests and told them that they were a blight on the Church. Within three months the "spiritual sisters" and clergy were up in arms against their bishop. He told the wealthy to stop making donations to the priests and to give their alms to those who were worthy and in need. The priests, who feared a loss of income, began a campaign of rumours against their new bishop. Since he lived quietly and alone, in austerity, they whispered that he spent his days in orgies, stuffing himself with fine food, and the rumours spread all over the city, until one day when John showed himself half-naked, with his rib bones showing through his half-starved and ravaged flesh, but his austerities simply angered the luxury-loving priests of Constantinople. He examined the church accounting books and ordered the bishops to list their expenditures. He preached against horse racing and theatre and he ridiculed the wealth of the city. He refused invitations to parties and he never hosted any official dinners. He spoke out against the sensuality of the city, against its dancing girls and their indecent songs. He spoke out against ostentatious wealth, asking why must people have houses with doors of ivory and ceilings inlaid with gold? Why must a nobleman have ten or twenty mansions while others lived in hovels? He was pretty much preaching the same line which made him popular back home in Antioch. He ridiculed the clergy for their frailties and the rich for their hedonism, and he must have known that one day they would all turn against him!

At first, the Empress, Eudoxia, supported John's campaign and she sent magnificent gifts to the churches and the poor. But later, for some reason, she felt that all of John's talk of reform was talk against her. She eventually became one of John's many enemies in the city. John's greatest and most vindictive enemy was Theophilus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, the man who, under threat, had ordained him bishop. He hated John because John was from Antioch; he hated John because he was made Patriarch of Constantinople when Theophilus was sure that he had that position in the bag. He hated John because of his austerities, of his monastic-style of life. Theophilus had spent part of his youth in the desert, and he had been dedicated to Origenistic mysticism, named after the great Church Father Origen of Alexandria, one of the first theologians to understand the use of analogy in scripture. But he suddenly turned against Origen and the communities of monks living in the Egyptian desert. He attacked the four Tall Brothers, monks of the desert whose ascetic life-style had brought the Romans to a love of monasticism. Theophilus excommunicated the Tall Brothers and banished them from his See. He sent armed ruffians and Ethiopian slaves to attack their mountain refuges. The four monks escaped to Constantinople where they put themselves at the mercy of John, Patriarch of Constantinople. John gave them a place to sleep but no other aid. He was an Antiochian and had no love for Alexandrian mysticism. He wrote a letter to Theophilus, begging him to receive back his flock, especially before they could file indictments against him. Theophilus answered that the fate of the monks was not his affair; he could not be put on trail in Constantinople, he could only be tried by his peers, the bishops of Alexandria. The monks asked the Empress Eudoxia for help, and she issued an imperial edict ordering Theophilus to come to Constantinople. He arrived in Constantinople in August of the year 403, laden with gifts for the Empress. John invited him to stay at the episcopal palace, but Thoephilus accepted a suite at the Imperial palace at Pera instead. He spent three weeks in Pera, giving banquets for the clergy and nobility, and holding conferences with the defrocked priests. Two deacons, whom John had expelled for murder and fornication, spent long hours with the Patriarch of Alexandria. One of them presented him with a long list of crimes committed by John: He accused Chrysostom of selling church property, leaving the church without saying his prayers, illegally deposing bishops in Asia, striking a man in the face, holding private audiences with women, dining on gargantuan feasts, and robing and disrobing at the bishop's throne. The were a total of 29 charges and none of them were true. The fate of the four Tall Brothers was now forgotten; now Theophilus and his group simply wanted to destroy John Chrysostom.

Theophilus called a Synod at the Palace of the Oak Tree, and there he sat, along with thirty-six bishops in judgment of John. Twenty-nine of these bishops were from Alexandria and had no authority in Constantinople, but they did have the protection of the Emperor, through Eudoxia. Another eight charges were added to the original twenty-nine, including a charge that John had called the Empress a Jezebel. This wasn't true, although he had once said that the clergy of Constantinople were like the priests who ate at Jezebel's table. The Synod passed a resolution depriving Chrysostom of all his offices. The Emperor ratified the decree, banishing John on the false charges of immorality and high treason. With just a word, John could have brought a mob into the streets to defend him, but that was not his way, and he gave a farewell sermon and slipped out of town. The next day an earthquake struck Constantinople, shaking the Imperial Palace and the Empress' bedchamber. She was terrified and wrote a letter begging John to return and that he would be restored to the Episcopal Throne. He refused to enter the Cathedral of Hagia Sofia, saying that he could only be restored to power by the Synod which had dethroned him. Theophilus and his Synod, however, were no where to be found; they had run out of the city right after deposing Chrysostom. A new Synod of sixty bishops met, and all the proceedings of the Synod of the Oak Tree were annulled. However, only two months later, Chrysostom managed to upset the Royal Family once again. Eudoxia had a silver statue of herself erected just across from the entrance of Hagia Sofia, and Chrysostom was enraged, comparing her to Herodias demanding the head of John the Baptist. This time Eudoxia was not frightened by earthquakes, and she acted immediately. That Christmas neither the Empress nor the Emperor took communion in the Cathedral, and the Emperor issued an edict stripping Chrysostom of his position and powers. This time John refused to obey, saying I have received the Church from God our Saviour for the care of the salvation of the people. I cannot desert it unless you thrust me out by force; only then can I plead your authority in defending myself against the charge that I have deserted my post.

On Easter Sunday, April 16, 404, the Emperor ordered 400 archers to scatter the Christians who accepted Chrysostom as their Patriarch. They polluted the churches, plundered the church treasures, and drove the catechumens half-naked into the streets. They tried to kill Chrysostom twice, and he stayed in the Episcopal Palace for two months. Finally, realizing that the lives of the faithful were in danger, he obeyed the Emperor's order and left Constantinople. He told the Christians of Constantinople to obey their new bishop, and he was escorted by army troops into a live in exile. He spent three years being moved to the farthest borders of the Empire, treated horribly by the troops who escorted him. Finally, on September 7, 407, in Comana, John of Antioch, Patriarch of Constantinople, the Golden Mouth, who defied emperors and loved God, died. The news spread like wildfire, and his burial was attended by monks, consecrated virgins, and ascetics from Armenia, Pontus, Cilicia, and Syria. His body remained at the shrine in Comana for thirty years, until, at the beginning of the year 438, the relics were solemnly removed to Constantinople, where the people gathered in close-packed boats lit with torches at the mouth of the river to see his relics arrive. His remains were deposited in the Church of the Apostles, with those of emperors and patriarch, and a new Emperor laid his head on the box which carried John's remain, imploring forgiveness before God for the wrongs committed by his mother and father. And so, John Chrysostom returned to the city from which he had been expelled.

Like all the saints, John Chrysostom was human and had his failings; he was very anti-Semitic and some of his writings can be disturbing for that reason. But we are very fortunate that his sermons were transcribed by his deacons as he was delivering them and they survive to this day. His farewell sermon to the people of Constantinople is an amazing document.

I think one of the treasures of the Book of Common Prayer is this prayer attributed to St. John Chrysostom: Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Feast of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo


Yeah, yeah, I know he's not that popular nowadays, but I likes him, so here's my regular St. Augustin sermon.

There was a time when I didn’t like Augustine; I just knew him as the “inventor of the concept of original sin” so I figured he was really just a harsh man, but the more I studied his writings the more I was convinced that he was a compassionate man and one of the greatest of the early theologians. I was able to make connections between events in his own life and in mine, and this helped change my original impression of the man.

Augustine was born in the year 354 in the city of Thagaste in North Africa. His father was a pagan but his mother, Monnica, was a devout Christian. Her tenacity regarding her faith resulted in the eventual baptism of her husband, although most folks doubted it would ever happen. Monnica made sure that Augustine had a Christian education although it didn’t seem to take during his youth and young adulthood. He attended the University at Carthage, where he studied rhetoric and considered becoming a lawyer, but he soon became more interested in literary pursuits. While in Carthage, he pretty much abandoned any Christian faith he may have had and he took a mistress, to whom he was faithful for fifteen years; they had a son together. He was a bit of a truth seeker, investigating various philosophies and the different religious disciplines popular in that era; he even cast horoscopes for a while. His experience with astrology led to his later denouncement of the so-called science. At the age of nineteen he joined the Manichees, a religion formed around the teachings of Mani, a third-century Persian who called himself “The Apostle of Jesus Christ.” Mani taught a dualistic form of Christianity which he claimed to have received in direct revelation from God. Peter Brown, in his biography of Augustine, writes of this group: The Manichees were a small sect with a sinister reputation. They were illegal; later, they would be savagely persecuted. They had the aura of a secret society: in foreign cities, Manichees would lodge only with members of their own sect; their leaders would travel around a network of ‘cells’ scattered all over the Roman world. Pagans regarded them with horror, orthodox Christians with fear and hatred. They were the Bolsheviks of the fourth century... Augustine was a hearer of the Manichees, a member of the outer circle. The Manichees required a celibate and vegetarian lifestyle, and Augustine wasn’t quite ready to give up his mistress (I don’t know how he felt about meat), but as a hearer he could subscribe to their teachings without giving up everything just yet. The Manichees lived harsh lives, and this is often attractive to young, spiritually inclined persons. I spent some three years in a cult which I joined at the age of nineteen, and I was attracted to the group’s fierce spirituality, which seemed so much more authentic than the faith of my parents, and I think that Augustine was very much influenced in the same way. But there was a point when the teachings of Mani no longer appealed to him; he became disillusioned when he met one of the great Manichean teachers, Faustus. Faustus was unable to answer Augustine’s questions about the faith. When Augustine finally finished his courses at University, he left the Manichees and Carthage, and moved to Rome to teach. But he was so disgusted with the actions and attitudes of his students, whom he considered dishonest, that he left Rome and moved to Milan to be the Teacher of Rhetoric for the city. Now during his time in Carthage his mother Monnica never stopped praying that he would become a Christian. While in Milan he fell under the influence of Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan. Ambrose was a great preacher and orator, and Augustine enjoyed listening to him. Over time, the teachings of Ambrose began to take hold in Augustine, and one day, in a garden in Milan, Augustine, wrestling with the idea of giving up his present life and having that change of mind and heart which is repentance, sat under a fig tree, crying and wondering what to do. He heard the voice of a child from a nearby house chanting: “Pick up and read; pick up and read.” He picked up his friend’s Bible, opened it at random and read Romans 13:13-14: Let us live honorably in the day, not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts. Augustine wrote about this event: I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled. And at that moment Augustine’s life changed. He was later baptized, and brought much joy to his mother’s heart. But he had many difficult decisions to make regarding the mother of his son, his teaching position, and his life in general. He left his position as Teacher of Rhetoric in Milan, and began to write essays on Christianity and philosophy and became a bit of a star in Christian circles.

Upon the death of his mother, he returned to Thagaste to take over the family estate. He and some friends decided to live lives of monastic discipline and start a monastery. Augustine went to the city of Hippo to see a friend and invite him to become part of their monastic community. The friend and Augustine attended services at the bishop's church; the bishop was preparing to retire and was speaking of the needs of the Church. The people in the church saw Augustine and grabbed him and wanted to make him Bishop, very much like what happened to Ambrose in Milan so many years before. The bishop, Valerius, managed to get Augustine to agree to become a priest in Hippo, and many witnesses thought that when Augustine burst into tears, he was sad because he wanted to be a bishop rather than a priest, but the truth was that Augustine didn’t want ordained ministry of any kind. He agreed to be a priest because he believed that this was God’s will, but it was not part of his desire.

There were two churches in North Africa in those days: the Catholic Church (not Roman Catholic) and the Party of Donatus, or the Donatists. During the Diocletian persecution the clergy were given a decision of whether to turn over the scriptures to the police and recant their faith or be executed. Some clergy gave up the scriptures and denounced their faith, but repented at the end of the persecution and returned to their churches. The Donatists believed that the sacraments administered by such clergy were not valid, since they had turned their backs on Christ and his Church. The Catholic church had reaccepted such clergy upon their repentance, but the Donatists refused them and fought with the Catholics. In many cities (much like today but unheard of in those days) there were two bishops: a Catholic bishop and a Donatist bishop, and the churches would fight and take over each other’s buildings, turning over the altars and trashing the place. Augustine preached against the Donatists, and when he became Bishop of Hippo he fought against them fiercely. Augustine taught that the bread and wine were a sacrament, not because of the worthiness of the priest, but because of an act of grace by God. The Donatists were harsh and unforgiving, but Augustine taught that God forgives all who repent, so the clergy who repented were still valid priests. Augustine became known as a great fighter of heresy. He waged war against the Donatists, the Manichees, and the Pelagians, because he desired that “no one be led astray.” Augustine wrote many volumes against the Donatist, the Manichees, and the Pelagians, and he also wrote many volumes on the scriptures and the Christian life. We could go on and on talking about his writings and many have, but we’ll move on to his final days. Augustine was a man who loved his books and his library. He spent the last three years of his life living in his library, editing and rewriting and organizing his papers. This library contained two-hundred thirty-two little books which made up ninety-three of his own works, not to mention many letters and copies of his sermons, which had been taken down by the stenographers of his admirers. He set about rezeroing his many works and produced Retractiones, a catalogue of titles, arranged in chronological order, with a brief note of the content of the work, along with Augustine’s comments. May of the remarks are self-criticisms, but quite often they were also attempts to explain himself. At the same time that he was organizing this library, he was also involved in a debate by correspondence with Bishop Julian of Eclanum, a defender of Pelagius. Augustine would spend his nights reorganizing his works and writing comments, and his days dictating letters and fighting with Julian. He was depressed to see the decline of Rome and its civilization and the military attacks of the Vandals which threatened Roman Africa. The Vandals were Christians, but Arian Christians, another group of heretics destroying the world in which Augustine lived.

In August of the year 430, Augustine came down with a fever. He knew he would die, and he wanted to die alone. His first biographer, Possidius, described Augustine’s attitude: He had told his followers that even praiseworthy Christians and bishops, though baptized, should still not leave this life without having performed due and exacting penance. This is what he did with his own last illness: for he had ordered the four psalms of David that deal with penance to be copied out. From his sickbed he could see these sheets of paper every day, hanging on his walls, and would read them, crying constantly and deeply. And, lest his attention be distracted from this in any way, almost ten days before his death, he asked us that none should come in to see him, except at those hours when the doctors would come to examine him or his meals were brought. This was duly observed: and so he had all that stretch of time to pray...

Augustine died and was buried on August 28, 430. A year later Hippo was evacuated and partially burnt, but his library escaped the destruction, and that is why we know so much about him today. His experience in rhetoric and logic, and his studies as a Neo-Platonist, along with his powerful intellect, made him a most worthy adversary of Greek philosophy, and his many written works are still studied by theologians today. His two books The Confessions and The City of God are considered classics. Yet I think it his understanding of God’s love and grace, and his desire that no one be led astray that made Augustine the mighty warrior for Christ that he was. The faith which Augustine received and defended was strengthened by his gifts, and we, the Body of Christ, are very much blessed because of his great faith. The Manichees, the Donatists, and the Pelagians all believed that humans had the power to live perfect lives or that humans could stop the work of the Holy Spirit, but Augustine taught us that “man is but a little piece of God’s creation” and that God so loved this piece of creation that God would forgive us all our sins. Augustine believed strongly in God’s grace and love. May we, too, experience God’s love and grace.

Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you: Help us, following the example of your servant Augustine of Hippo, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

Almighty and everlasting God, who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your Word: Grant that your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today is the Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle ). Of course, we don't know much about Bartholomew; actually, we really don't know anything. He is listed in the synoptics, but not the gospel attributed to John, while Nathaniel is mentioned in John's list but not in the lists in the synoptics, so some scholars think they may be the same person. Bartholomew name or person does not appear in The Acts of the Apostles. According to Eusebius' History of the Church, when Pantaenus was doing missionary work in India he was shown a copy of Matthew's Gospel in Hebrew which tradition stated was a gift from the Apostle Bartholomew. There are traditions which teach that Bartholomew preached in Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Armenia, Lycoania, and Phrygia.

Jerome and Bede both mention a Gospel of St. Bartholomew, but no copies exist in our day.


There is a tradition that Bartholomew was martyred in Armenia, flayed alive and crucified upside down for having converted Polymius, King of Armenia. However, according to the text The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, he was beaten with rods and then beheaded.

The Martrydom of St. Bartholomew really doesn't concentrate on the martyrdom, but tells a fantastic story of Bartholomew's battle with the demons behind the idols in "India." The definition of "India" in those days was a bit more broad than that of our day: it bordered on Ethiopia, Media, and the actual subcontinent of India. Bartholomew was in "India" (probably Armenia) where there was an idol to the god Astaruth. People would bring their sick to the Temple of Astaruth and sacrifice to the idol, and the sick person would appear to be healed physically, but would actually become "more diseased in soul." When our man Bart showed up in town, Astaruth stopped healing folks. People didn't know what to do, but they went to another town to a Temple to the god Becher, and the priests asked Becher what was going on. Becher said, and I quote: "From the day and hour that the true God, who dwells in the heavens, sent his apostle Bartholomew into the regions here, your god Astaruth is held fast by chains of fire, and can no longer either speak or breathe." The priests asked, "Who is Bartholomew?" and Becher responded, "He is the friend of the Almighty God, and has just come into these parts, that he may take away all the worship of the idols in the name of his God." The priests said, "Really? What's he look like? We need to find this guy!" Becher gave the following description: "He has black hair, a shaggy head, a fair skin, large eyes, beautiful nostrils, his ears hidden by the hair of his head, with a yellow beard, a few grey hairs, of middle height, and neither tall nor stunted, but middling, clothed with a white undercloak bordered with purple, and upon his shoulders a very white cloak; and his clothes have been worn twenty-six years, but neither are they dirty, nor have they waxed old. Seven times a day he bends the knee to the Lord, and seven times a night does he pray to God. His voice is like the sound of a strong trumpet; there go along with him angels of God, who allow him neither to be weary, nor to hunger, nor to thirst; his face, and his soul, and his heart are always glad and rejoicing; he foresees everything, he knows and speaks every tongue of every nation. And behold now, as soon as you ask me, and I answer you about him, behold, he knows; for the angels of the Lord tell him; and if you wish to seek him, if he is willing he will appear to you; but if he shall not be willing, you will not be able to find him. I entreat you, therefore, if you shall find him, entreat him not to come here, lest his angels do to me as they have done to my brother Astaruth." After that, Becher held his peace.

The priests headed into the streets to find Bartholomew, looking into the faces of each person going by to see if they matched Becher's description (how many guys with black, shaggy hair and a blonde beard could there be in that town?). They found him when a person possessed by a demon shouted out, "Apostle of the Lord, Bartholomew, your prayers are burning me up!" Our man Bart said, "Hold your peace and come out of him!" and the man, who had been possessed for many years, was freed. Polymius, the king of Armenia, just happened to be standing across the street when this all happened, and, having a daughter possessed by a demon, he wanted Bart's help. His daughter was chained in a dungeon, because she was tearing the skin off her limbs and biting everyone who came near. Bart came and cast out her demon, and she was whole. The king was so happy that he loaded camels with gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and clothing for Bartholomew (who left the palace immediately after the exorcism), but they couldn't find Bart and brought everything back to the palace. Early the next morning, as the sun was rising, Bartholomew appeared in the king's bedchamber and said, "Why did you look for me all day with all that gold and stuff? Those gifts are appropriate for those who seek earthly things, but the only thing that interests me is the gospel." He then preached the Good News to the king. He also explained to the king what was going on in Astaruth's temple, and that an angel of the Lord Jesus Christ was keeping the demon Astaruth in fiery chains. The king and Bart agreed to go to the temple that morning while the priests were sacrificing to see Bartholomew take care of Astaruth. When they arrived at the temple, the priests were sacrificing, when all of the sudden a voice came out of the idol, screaming: "Refrain, you wretched ones, from sacrificing to me, lest ye suffer worse for my sake; because I am bound in fiery chains, and kept in subjection by an angel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom the Jews crucified: for, being afraid of him, they condemned him to death. And he put to death Death himself, our king, and he bound our prince in chains of fire; and on the third day, having conquered death and the devil, rose in glory, and gave the sign of the cross to his apostles, and sent them out into the four quarters of the world; and one of them is here just now, who has bound me, and keeps me in subjection. I implore you, therefore, supplicate him on my account, that he may set me free to go into other habitations." Bartholomew then said to the demon, "Confess, unclean demon, who is it that has injured all those that are lying here from heavy diseases?" The demon said, "The devil, our ruler, he who is bound, he sends us against men, that, having first injured their bodies, we may thus also make an assault upon their souls when they sacrifice to us. For then we have complete power over them, when they believe in us and sacrifice to us. And when, on account of the mischief done to them, we retire, we appear curing them, and are worshipped by them as gods; but in truth we are demons, and the servants of him who was crucified, the Son of the virgin, have bound us. For from that day on which the Apostle Bartholomew came I am punished, kept bound in chains of fire. And for this reason I speak, because he has commanded me. At the same time, I dare not utter more when the apostle is present, neither I nor our rulers." Bart said to him, "Why don't you save all who come to you?" and the demon answered, "When we injure their bodies, unless we first injure their souls, we do not let their bodies go." Bart asked, "How do you injure their souls?" and the demon answered, "When they believe that we are gods, and sacrifice to us, God withdraws from those who sacrifice, and we do not take away the sufferings of their bodies, but retire into their souls." Bartholomew then turned to everyone in the temple and said, "Behold, the god whom you thought to cure you, does the more mischief to your souls and bodies. Hear even now your Maker who dwells in the heavens, and do not believe in lifeless stones and stocks. And if you wish that I should pray for you, and that all these may receive health, take down this idol, and break it to pieces; and when you have done this, I will sanctify this temple in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; and having baptized all of you who are in it in the baptism of the Lord, and sanctified you, I will save all." The king gave orders to the people and they all returned to the temple with ropes and crowbars but were unable to pull the idol down. Then our man Bart had them take the ropes off the idol. Facing the idol, he said, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, come out of this idol, and go into a desert place, where neither winged creature utters a cry, nor voice of man has ever been heard." At that, the idol rose off of its foundations and crashed to the ground, breaking into little pieces. At the same hour all the idols in the temples bell to the ground and were broken into pieces. And all witnessing this miracle cried out: "He alone is God Almighty, whom Bartholomew the apostle proclaims!!" Then Bartholomew raised his hands to heaven and prayed a long prayer which I will not quote here, but rest assured that it was full of good gospel imagery. All responded "Amen!!" and suddenly there appeared an angel of the Lord, shining brighter that the sun, winged, and four other angels holding up the four corners of the temple. And with his finger the angel sealed the temple and the people and said, "Thus says the Lord who has sent me, As you have all been purified from all your infirmity, so also this temple shall be purified from all uncleanness, and from the demons dwelling in it, whom the apostle of God has ordered to go into a desert place; for so has God commanded me, that I may manifest Him to you. And when you behold Him, fear nothing; but when I make the sign of the cross, so also do ye with your finger seal your faces, and these evil things will flee from you." He then showed them the demon and cast him away. Then the angels disappeared. The king, the queen, their two sons and all the people were all baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and King Polymius even laid aside his diadem to follow Bartholomew and the way of Christ.

Polymius' elder brother was Astreges, king of the Greeks, and when he learned what had happened to the temples, and that all the people had converted AND that Polymius had put aside his diadem, well, he was less than pleased and sent an army to find Bartholomew and bring him in chains to his presence. When Bartholomew was brought to the court, the following conversation took place: The king says to him: "Are you he who has perverted my brother from the gods?" To whom the apostle answered: "I have not perverted him, but have converted him to God." The king says to him: "Are you he who caused our gods to be broken in pieces?" The apostle says to him: "I gave power to the demons who were in them, and they broke in pieces the dumb and senseless idols, that all men might believe in God Almighty, who dwells in the heavens." The king says to him: "As you have made my brother deny his gods, and believe in your God, so I also will make you reject your God and believe in my gods." The apostle says to him: "If I have bound and kept in subjection the god which your brother worshipped, and at my order the idols were broken in pieces, if you also are able to do the same to my God, you can persuade me also to sacrifice to your gods; but if you can do nothing to my God, I will break all your gods in pieces; but believe in my God." The king was then informed that his god, Baldad, and all the other idols, had fallen down and broken into pieces. Hearing this news, the king rent his garment, and then ordered Bartholomew to be scourged and beheaded. Twelve thousand people who had been converted by Bartholomew's witness came and took his body and laid it in the royal tomb of the king of Armenia. When Astreges heard of this, he ordered that the remains be thrown into the sea, but the faithful moved his remains to the island of Liparis.

Here is how the account ends: And it came to pass on the thirtieth day after the apostle was carried away, that the king Astreges was overpowered by a demon and miserably strangled; and all the priests were strangled by demons, and perished on account of their rising against the apostle, and thus died by an evil fate.

And there was great fear and trembling, and all came to the Lord, and were baptized by the presbyters who had been ordained by the holy apostle Bartholomew. And according to the commandment of the apostle, all the clergy of the people made King Polymius bishop; and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ he received the grace of healing, and began to do signs. And he remained in the bishopric twenty years; and having prospered in all things, and governed the church well, and guided it in right opinions, he fell asleep in peace, and went to the Lord: to whom be glory and strength for ever and ever. Amen.

I See You!

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