Sunday, October 19, 2014

Didache: An Ancient-Future Catechism
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In a world where everything we thought we knew, seems to be shifting beneath our feet, it is comforting to know that our Christian faith is an unchanging and ancient one.  With knowledge increasing exponentially, how can we expect to keep up?  How do we find solid ground in the midst of fundamental transformation? How can we get the answers we need for our daily Christian life without sifting through a thousand different interpretations and opinions of armchair theologians? 

Reliable, relevant, and historical guidance can only be found in one place…its original source.  We must go back and uncover the ancient wells of our faith to find what is true, what is certain, what is rooted.  Too often, we hear of "how things were done in the early church" by preachers and teachers using scant portions of the Bible (often out of context) to formulate a theology for Christian living in postmodernity.
Although Scripture gives us glimpses of that daily life and forms a foundation of principles to live by in the New Covenant, it does not explicitly show how the early church trained its new converts, administered its sacraments, or organized its government.  Didache: An Ancient-Future Catechism uncovers the primitive protocol of our faith’s most original members, and offers it as an anchor for grounding personal and corporate worship practices.   Whether you are looking for an ancient source of practical, spiritual wisdom, or an ancient-future primer for new converts, Didache: An Ancient-Future Catechism will not disappoint!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why Mary Matters: Part Three

"It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God.  More honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare to the seraphim, without corruption you gave birth to God the Word.  True Theotokos, we magnify you."

The following is an excerpt from the Orthodox morning and evening prayers.  At first glance, especially to the Protestant, Evangelical mind, it looks and feels as if Mary is being worshipped.  But, in Part One and Part Two of Why Mary Matters, we discovered that veneration and worship are distinctly different.  The above prayer, and its similar versions found in most ancient faiths, is not some heretical aberration of early liturgies as it might appear to those unfamiliar with the ancient faith.  What it is however, is a doctrinal safeguard for the very centerpiece of our Christian faith; that is, the incarnation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Icons: Part One

"The icon is a song of triumph, and a revelation, and an enduring monument to the victory of the saints and the disgrace of demons." 
 ~St. John of Damascus

I will never forget the first time I experienced worship in an Eastern Orthodox church.  As I entered the Nave through the large wooden double doors, it was as if I was stepping out of this world and into another.  My senses were overcome with the unexpected beauty of sights, sounds, and smells that crashed into my cognisance.  I was awed...elevated...transported to a different realm...a realm of transcendent beauty and holiness that has yet to be matched in my earthly experience. 

Everywhere I looked, my eyes feasted on the images of the faith I hold dear to.   No matter where I turned or what I attuned my ear to, the landscape of heaven and the symphony of the saints drew near to me in rapturous occasion.  While each corner and every wall held some mystery worth exploring, I could not help but thinking that this was the heavenly shadow or copy that Hebrews 8:5 speaks of.  The congregants moved freely about the nave as being led by an invisible wind, stopping to pray, to bow, to meditate, to kiss, or to venerate some saint or holy object.  The priests and deacons moved in a similar fashion in what seemed like perfect harmony to and from the sanctuary as they began preparing the Holy Table, while the readers and choir filled the hall with the chanted canticles of scripture and antiphonal singing.  The activity of this place was constant and vibrant, yet the organic participation afforded by the Divine Liturgy gave one not only the sense of incredible freedom, but perfect order.  Even the repetitious litanies served to instill a sense of timeless wonder and sacred worship that I yet to find elsewhere.

On the beautifully carved Iconostasis the life-sized icons of Christ the Pantocrator,Mary the mother of our Lord, John the Baptist, the patron saint of the church, and the two archangels Gabriel and Michael, stand as both guards and hosts to the sacred table behind it.  Their rich colors and glorified figures paint seemed to shout that we had indeed "...come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born who are registered in heaven, to God the judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant..."  I was it a great cloud of witnesses. 

Growing up as a protestant evangelical, I had been subliminally taught that the senses were unsanctified creatures that needed to be denied in order to achieve holiness. Touching, tasting, seeing, and smelling were ways to get around in the world, not a means to encounter God.   I thank God however for the witness of the ancient church that seems to say, that if faith comes by hearing, then how much more can it come through seeing, tasting, touching, and smelling! 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Why Mary Matters: Part Two

"And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, 'Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that nursed you!' But He said, 'More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!'"  ~Luke 11:27-28. 

The above passage is often used by Evangelicals to "demonstrate" how Jesus de-emphasized His mother's role in the Gospel story.  At first glance, it might appear that Christ was being critical of his mother.  However, if we take a closer look at Scripture and examine it as a whole, concerning the Theotokos, we should come to a better conclusion. 

First, let me point out that Jesus was not contradicting the woman's statement about his mother's womb.  Rather, He was pointing his disciples to a higher truth, making the most of every opportunity as was and is so characteristic of Christ.   For example, in Paul's first letter to Timothy, he points out that "bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things..."  In the above passage, Jesus wasn't being critical of His mother as some would try to suggest, rather he was trying to shift their focus to a deeper and more meaningful reality!  In other words, it was not Mary's physical body that was so important to God, rather it was her willingness to hear the voice of God and obey!  In fact, we could go so far as to imagine that Jesus had Mary in mind when He said, "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"  He seems to be saying, "Yes, her womb and breasts are blessed because she gave birth to me and raised me as her son, however, more importantly, she is most blessed because she listened to God and obeyed his command!  You should follow her example."

Monday, May 13, 2013

Why Mary Matters: Part One

Yesterday (Mother's Day), the boys and I fixed French toast smothered in syrup, covered in peaches and sprinkled with powdered sugar, and an omelet filled with chopped onions, ham and cheese and brought it to my wife in bed.  A glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, a flower from our garden, a pecan pie scented candle, a hot cup of coffee, a gift certificate for a pedicure, and some heartfelt cards for Mother's Day also accompanied our entourage. She was blessed, not because she thought she deserved it, but because we chose to honor her for her role in our lives and in our home.

Of all the mothers who were honored amongst Protestant Evangelicals this past Sunday, I cannot help but think of one mother who was most likely ignored on this special day set aside to honor those who bring us into this life, who nourish us as tender shoots, and help carry us through this thorny trek we call life.... Mary...the mother of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

To mention her name among most evangelical Christians, conjures a variety of mixed thoughts and emotions; unfortunately, many of them are negative. Almost immediately, our "anti-catholic" radars are set off like air-space defense alarms in our fundamentalist minds to quickly shoot down any proposition that may cause us to think anything but suspicious thoughts about this woman we often ignore in Scripture. As evangelical Bible-believing Christians, we have oft been guilty of bearing an almost haughty attitude towards all things Mary, going so far as to highlight the times when Jesus supposedly rebuked his mother as our only recollection of this woman in Scripture. Because of our ignorance of, and lack of due-diligence in researching more "catholic" expressions of Christianity, we quickly assume that these "sub-Christians" are engaging in some sort of perverted pagan or tribal goddess worship when Mary is given a place of honor in their church experience. While, some extremes do and will always exist, we can no longer immaturely ignore 2,000 years of Church tradition or certain Biblical mandates to venerate Mary. It is much to my chagrin that I myself, in the past could even imagine an afterlife where Mary did not exist, or was somehow hidden away in some distant corner of heaven so that I would not have to deal with her in the eternal reality. Oh how foolish I was!