Saturday, April 04, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

O give us patience and steadfastness in adversity, strengthen our weakness, comfort us in trouble and distress, help us to fight; grant unto us that in true obedience and contention of mind we may give over our own wills unto Thee our Father in all things, according to the example of Thy beloved Son; that in adversity we grudge not, but offer ourselves unto Thee without contradiction... O give us a willing and cheerful mind, that we may gladly suffer and bear all things for Thy sake. Amen.

- Miles Coverdale

Friday, April 03, 2020

Hymn of the Week: Hail to the King of Glory

This week I wrote a new Palm Sunday hymn, reflecting on the events of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The opening verse introduces the theme by using the language of Psalm 24:7-10. It's set to the tune "St Thomas," sometimes used for hymns like "I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord" and "Rise Up, O Men of God."

Hail to the King of Glory

Lift up your heads, you gates!
Be lifted up, you doors!
The King of Glory shall come in,
So hail your mighty Lord!

Our Savior, Jesus, came
Riding on a donkey's foal;
In triumph he rode down the mount,
While crowds acclaimed their Lord.

Hosanna to our King!
The Son of David reigns!
All honor, strength, and majesty
Be unto his great name!

So let hosannas ring;
All praise to Christ our Lord!
May he be always, everywhere,
By everyone adored!

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Augustine

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  – Jeremiah 29:13

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  – Psalm 139:23-24

“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”  – Romans 13:12-14

Augustine of Hippo: Basic Facts

- Augustine lived from 354 to 430 AD in North Africa (what is now Algeria & Tunisia).
- He studied to become a professor of rhetoric before joining the church and becoming bishop of the city of Hippo.
- He was a non-Christian and pursued a life of sin before being converted through the influence of some friends, the teaching of a local church, and the prayers of his mother.
- He did more to shape the theology of Western Christianity than anyone since the Apostle Paul.
- He wrote 94 books in all, and 2 of them—Confessions and City of God—are still regarded as being some of the greatest classics, not only among Christian books, but of all the works of Western civilization.

Augustine's Theology

Augustine’s theology is characterized by a number of important themes: 

     - The importance of self-knowledge in the spiritual life
     - A deeply personal relationship with God
     - The need for a community of Christians to support one another
     - The power and extent of the grace of God
     - A response of humility toward God’s grace, leading to purity of heart
     - The sovereignty of God over all things—over history, nations, and individual salvation

Quotes from Augustine:

“You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

“You alone, O God, are always present, even to those who set themselves apart from you….Let them turn back, and they will find you in their hearts, in the hearts of all who confess to you and throw themselves upon your mercy, in the hearts of all who have left the hard path and come to weep upon your breast. Gently you wipe away their tears. They weep the more, but now their tears are tears of joy, because it is not some man of flesh and blood but you, O Lord, their Maker, who remakes them and consoles them.”

“Late have I loved you, Beauty at once so ancient and so new! Late have I loved you! You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself. I searched for you outside myself, and, disfigured as I was, I fell upon the lovely things of your creation. You were with me, but I was not with you. The beautiful things of this world kept me far from you and yet, if they had not been in you, they would have had no being at all. You called me; you cried aloud to me; you broke my barrier of deafness. You shone upon me; your radiance enveloped me; you put my blindness to flight. You shed your fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet odor. I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am inflamed with love of your peace.”

“Blessed are those who love you, O God, and love their friends in you and their enemies for your sake. They alone will never lose those who are dear to them, for they love them in the one who is never lost, in God, our God who made heaven and earth and fills them with his presence.”

“You are there to free us from the misery of error which leads us astray, to set us on your path and to comfort us by saying, ‘Run on, for I shall hold you up. I shall lead you and carry you on to the end.’”

“My wish is that you who believe would place yourself with all your love under Christ, and that you pave no other way in order to reach and to attain the truth than has already been paved by him who, as God, knows the weakness of our steps. This way is, in the first place, humility; in the second place, humility; in the third place, humility….As often as you ask me about the Christian religion’s norms of conduct, I choose to give no other answer than: humility.”

“You, my God, are supreme, utmost in goodness, mightiest and all-powerful, most merciful and most just. You are the most hidden from us and yet the most present among us, the most beautiful and yet the most strong, ever enduring and yet we cannot comprehend you. You are unchangeable and yet you change all things. You are never new, never old, and yet all things have new life from you….You are ever active, yet always at rest. You gather all things to yourself, though you suffer no need. You support, you fill, and you protect all things. You create them, nourish them, and bring them to perfection. You seek to make them your own, though you lack for nothing. You love your creatures, but with a gentle love….You welcome all who come to you, though you never lost them….You are my God, my Life, my holy Delight.”

More quotes from Augustine:

“Your goodness, O God, is almighty; you take good care of each of us as if you had no others in your care, and you look after all as you look after each.”

“If the things of this world delight you, praise God for them but turn your love away from them and give it to their Maker….The good things which you love are all from God, but they are good and sweet only as long as they are used to do his will.”

“Wherever we taste the truth, God is there.”

“Man’s heart may be hard, but it cannot resist the touch of Your hand.”

“Come, O Lord, and stir our hearts. Call us back to yourself. Kindle your fire in us and carry us away. Let us scent your fragrance and taste your sweetness. Let us love you and hasten to your side.”

“My love of you, O Lord, is not some vague feeling: it is positive and certain. But what do I love when I love my God? Not material beauty or beauty of a temporal order; not the brilliance of earthly light, so welcome to our eyes; not the sweet melody of harmony and song; not the fragrance of flowers, perfumes, and spices; not manna or honey; not limbs such as the body delights to embrace. It is not these that I love when I love my God. And yet, when I love him, it is true that I love a light of a certain kind, a voice, a perfume, a food, an embrace; but they are of the kind that I love in my inner self, when my soul is bathed in light that is not bound by space; when it listens to sound that never dies away; when it breathes fragrance that is not borne away on the wind; when it tastes food that is never consumed by eating; when it clings to an embrace from which it is not severed by fulfillment of desire. This is what I love when I love my God.”

“Happiness is to rejoice in You and for You and because of You. This is true happiness and there is no other.”

“My ills are many and great, many and great indeed; but your medicine is greater still.”

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

“God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.”

“If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”

In response to the question of whether our growth in the Christian life depends on God’s work or on ours: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

“Since love grows within you, so beauty grows. For love is the beauty of the soul.”

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

The Evangeliad (14:45-48)

Section 14:45-48 (corresponding to Luke 7:36-39)

Some time after that, a man named Simon,
Having heard of Christ, went to go find him.
This man, who was one of the Pharisees,
Invited Christ to have something to eat.

So there to the house of Simon he went,
Reclined at the table, and took of some bread.
And a woman who knew full well of her sins
Heard Jesus was there, and she too went in.

An alabaster flask of ointment she bore
As she walked up and stood near to the Lord.
Starting to weep, her tears wet his feet
While he spoke with Simon the Pharisee.

Then kneeling down, still crying, she dried
His feet from the tears that streamed from her eyes,
First using her hair, then kissing his feet,
Then pouring out ointment, fragrant and sweet.

Now Simon saw this and said to himself,
"If he were a prophet, could he not tell
What sort of woman is touching his feet?--
A sinner defiled by all her misdeeds."

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Photo of the Week

Wait on the Lord, ye trembling saints,
And keep your courage up;
He'll raise your spirit when it faints,
And far exceed your hope.

- from Isaac Watts' hymnographic rendering of Psalm 27

Monday, March 30, 2020

Quote of the Week

“The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be much worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.”

- Elisabeth Elliot, missionary and author

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Almighty God,
We pray that through this season of Lent,
By prayer and study and self-discipline,
We may penetrate more deeply
Into the mystery of Christ's sufferings;
So that following in the way of his cross and passion,
We may come to share in the glory and triumph of his resurrection;
Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Hymn of the Week: Cast into the Depths

This week, I wrote a celebratory hymn about the forgiveness that we have in Christ. It's based on Micah 7:19--"You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea." The song is set to the tune of an old hymn called "We Have an Anchor" (which, incidentally, is a marvelous song in its own right, and perfectly fitting for the current time of crisis). 

Cast into the Depths

Come, you hurting ones! Come, all you forlorn!
Come and find rest in our forgiving Lord.
Bring him every wound, for he can restore;
Bring him all your sins, and he'll make you pure.

     Sing hallelujah forevermore!
     All praise to Christ, our redeeming Lord,
     For by his compassion, our sins are
     Cast into the depths, and recalled no more!

If you're bowed with sin, he will raise your head;
If you hungry are, he will be your bread;
If you thirst for peace, he's the overflow;
And when you feel hopeless, he will be your hope!


Though for all our sins we deserve his wrath,
Though we've wandered off from his loving path,
Yet by his great grace we are not condemned:
He has washed us clean and has called us friends!


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Ambrose

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior. - Psalm 24:3-5

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. - Ephesians 6:13

Ambrose of Milan: Basic Facts

- Ambrose of Milan (340-397 AD) was one of the leading pastors in the Christian world during the 4th century AD, the “golden age” of the early church fathers.

- Born into an aristocratic family of Roman nobility, Ambrose was well-educated and trained for a career in politics before being thrust into pastoral ministry. His aristocratic social standing and political skills would serve him well even in ministry, because he became the leading voice of the church in several disputes against encroachments and abuses from the imperial state.

- He was known as one of the most eloquent speakers of his generation, and he used his ability to give influential sermons in defense of the orthodox Christian faith in an age when the Arian heresy was threatening to undermine biblical Christianity.

- Ambrose’s ministry attracted a young “seeker,” Augustine of Hippo, who had tried all the available religions of the ancient world after rejecting his childhood Christian faith. It was Ambrose’s influence that brought Augustine back to the church (his baptism is pictured below), and Augustine went on to become the most influential theologian in the entire history of the western Christian world.

Timeline of Ambrose's Life and Ministry:

374 AD – Ambrose, 34 years old, the son of a former prefect of France, Spain, and Britain, has recently been appointed as the supreme civic magistrate of the areas around Milan, one of the most important imperial cities. Although raised as a Christian, he has never been baptized. In the year 374, the previous bishop of Milan dies, and the city is torn apart by rival factions (orthodox Christians and Arian Christians) who each want to appoint their own leader as the next bishop. Ambrose, as civic magistrate, goes to the cathedral to oversee the convocation and make sure no riots break out. As he stands up front, eloquently trying to keep the peace, a child’s voice is heard calling out: “Ambrose for bishop!” Immediately the crowd latches onto Ambrose as a “compromise candidate,” never mind the fact that he has never served in the ministry, much less been baptized! Ambrose tries to resist at first, but eventually submits to being baptized, ordained as a priest, and then elevated to being a bishop. His first official act as bishop is to sell almost all of his wealthy family estates and give the money to the poor.

377 AD – Ambrose has become widely regarded as a powerful defender of the orthodox Christian faith, and the eighteen-year-old emperor Gratian asks him to compose a book on the faith so that Gratian will not be swayed by the arguments of the Arians. Ambrose responds with his greatest theological works, the two books of his De Fide.

385-386 AD – Justina, the mother of the new emperor, Valentinian II, begins championing the Arian group in Milan, and is determined to secure one of the two churches in the city for their use. Ambrose resists all of these attempts, often by staging sit-in protests in the church while Justina surrounds the building with soldiers. Ambrose uses these opportunities to preach to the gathered soldiers and to have his congregations sing some of the many hymns he composed (these gatherings helped launch a whole new style of worship music across the western Christian world). Ambrose wins the stand-off after Justina and Valentinian II realize that most of their soldiers are fonder of Ambrose than of them. The imperial leaders then try to force Ambrose into a staged debate against a popular Arian speaker, and when Ambrose refuses, the imperials prepare to evict him from the city. But his congregation saves him by staging their own sit-in protest, surrounding him night and day until the imperials relent.

390 AD – A new imperial ruler has now taken over, the great emperor Theodosius, and Ambrose mentors him in a number of important political decisions. However, a mob riot breaks out in the northern Greek city of Thessalonica, leading to the deaths of the garrison commander and two officers. Emperor Theodosius responds by ordering a massacre of more than 7000 people. Ambrose, on hearing this news, refuses to admit the Emperor to worship in Milan cathedral, and the Emperor, at this rebuke, publicly repents and performs penance in the streets of Milan with groans and tears.


“When we speak about wisdom, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about virtue, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about justice, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about peace, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about truth and life and redemption, we are speaking of Christ.”

“In Christ we have everything. If you want to heal your wound, he is the doctor. If you are in need of help, he is strength. If you are in dread of death, he is life. If you are fleeing the darkness, he is light. If you are hungry, he is food: O taste and see that the Lord is good!”

“It is not enough just to wish well; we must also do well.”

“I do not fear to die, because we have a good Lord.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Evangeliad (14:37-44)

Section 14:37-44 (corresponding to Lk. 12:54-56; Mt. 12:22-23; Mk. 6:30-31)

When in the west you see clouds appear,
You know straightaway that rain will be here;
The south wind brings heat, red evenings turn fair,
At a crimson dawn you know to beware.

You hypocrites, tell me, how can it be
That the signs of earth and sky you can read,
But you can't interpret the clearest signs
To help you recognize the present time?"

The multitudes heard, saw the signs he would do--
As in healing a man both sightless and mute--
And they asked each other, "Could he be the One?
Messiah-king, David's long-promised son?"

Then back from their journeys the disciples came, 
Having healed the sick and the kingdom proclaimed.
They told Christ their stories, the things they had done,
The works God had wrought while their labors went on.

The place around them was thick with the crowds,
With no place to eat or even sit down;
Christ said, "Come with me to a place all alone,
There to find rest for your body and soul."

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Photo of the Week

Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

- Romans 8:34b-35, 37

Monday, March 23, 2020

Quote of the Week

- Julian of Norwich's vision of the frailty of all created things, and of God's commitment to carry them through with his unchanging love:

"At the same time, He showed me something small, about the size of a hazelnut, that seemed to lie in the palm of my hand, as round as a tiny ball. I tried to understand the sight of it, wondering what it could possibly mean. The answer came: 'This is all that is made.' I felt it was so small that it could easily fade to nothing, but again I was told, 'This lasts, and it will go on lasting forever, because God loves it.'"

- from Revelations of Divine Love

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Lord Jesus Christ, in the days of your flesh the sick were brought to you for healing: hear us as we now bring to you in our prayers those who are ill, in body or in mind. May your presence be with them to relieve suffering and distress and to restore them to fullness of life, for your great love's sake. Amen.

- Frank Colquhoun

Friday, March 20, 2020

Hymn of the Week: Priesthood Prayer

As with many of us, I've been praying a lot for the world this week, as the coronavirus outbreak continues to strike closer and closer to home. It's made me think about our calling as God's "kingdom of priests." We Protestants talk a lot about "the priesthood of all believers," but we tend to focus on the "all believers" part, using it as an explanation of why we don't have an official priesthood (as, say, the Catholics do). But we don't give enough thought to "the priesthood of all believers." What does it mean that we're all priests? Well, one of the major pieces of that role, if we extrapolate from what Hebrews says about Christ's ministry as the Great High Priest in the heavenly courts (as well as Paul's statements in Rom. 8), is the holy task of offering intercessory prayer. So I've written a little hymn that incorporates those ideas, using the tune of "More Love to Thee."

Priesthood Prayer

Here as your priests we stand,
Raising this prayer,
Bearing this broken world
Into your care.
For those in need of grace,
Healing, and strength, and peace,
We lift our prayer,
We lift our prayer.

Christ, as the Great High Priest,
Still intercedes,
And, as his Body here,
So too do we.
Grant that our prayer may be
Sweet service unto thee:
Lord, hear our prayer,
Lord, hear our prayer.

We were designed to be
Caretakers of
All of your works, and to
Guard them with love.
So, as your servant-kings,
We our petitions bring,
Steadfast in prayer,
Steadfast in prayer.

Here as your priests we stand,
Raising this prayer,
Bearing this broken world
Into your care.
For those in need of grace,
Healing, and strength, and peace,
We lift our prayer,
Lord, hear our prayer.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Gregory of Nyssa

We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  – 2 Corinthians 3:18
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence….But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”  – Exodus 33:18-20
Gregory of Nyssa: Basic Facts
- Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-395) was one of the three great “Cappadocian Fathers,” along with his older brother, Basil, and their mutual friend, Gregory of Nazianzus. Though overshadowed by the other two during his own lifetime, modern theologians now see him as the most original theologian of the three. He was a defender of the doctrine of the Trinity at a crucial period in church history.
- Gregory was not active in church leadership until Basil thrust him forward to be bishop of the small town of Nyssa, but he did not prove to be good at church administration. His contribution to the Christian tradition comes by way of his theological ideas and his writing. He framed the classical idea of the infinity of God and laid the groundwork for every subsequent theology of the Christian life. His most prominent work today is his allegorical study, The Life of Moses.
Theological Themes of Gregory of Nyssa:
- The Trinity: Gregory defended the orthodox view of the Trinity as being one God in three persons. The three Persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are exactly identical in all respects (power, infinitude, character, etc.) and can be distinguished only in their relations with each other.
- God is Infinite: Gregory’s work was a landmark moment when Christian philosophy started to come into its own vis-à-vis the dominant Platonian philosophies of the classical world. While Gregory followed Neoplatonic thought in some respects, he contradicted classical philosophy in several important ways. Against the great Christian thinker Origen, he asserted that God is infinite—not only in time and space, but in attributes of character as well. Since God’s goodness is without measure, God himself must be without measure. This implies that God can never be fully known, and that humanity’s perfection is not in achieving a “stasis” of perfect knowledge of God (as in other philosophical systems), but in the continual upward pursuit of God.
- Human Nature: Gregory used the biblical language of humans as the Image of God. However, because of sin we have lost our likeness to that Image. Gregory compares humans to mirrors—we were made to reflect God, but because of our nature as “mirrors” we will reflect whatever we are looking at, good or evil. Thus humans must use their free will to turn themselves away from evil and toward good, so they can reflect the likeness of God again. This is a continuous process.
- The Spiritual Life: Gregory was the first to offer a systematic foundation for under-standing the spiritual journey as a continual, upward adventure into the knowledge of God. However, for Gregory, this is a journey “into darkness”—we must lay down the pride of our intellect and seek God with the understanding that he is too great to be ever fully known. There are three stages of this journey: a darkness of ignorance; a spiritual illumination; and then another darkness—the experience of God as he is: beyond every capacity of ours to understand.
“The one who is going to associate intimately with God must go beyond all that is visible and…believe that the Divine is there where the understanding does not reach.”
“If, then, one should withdraw from those who seduce him to evil and by the use of his reason turn to the better, putting evil behind him, it is as if he places his own soul, like a mirror, face-to-face with the hope of good things, with the result that the images and impressions of virtue, as it is shown to him by God, are imprinted on the purity of his soul.”
“The knowledge of God is a mountain steep indeed and difficult to climb—the majority of people do not progress beyond the base of the mountain.”
“The true sight of God consists in this, that the one who looks up to God never ceases in that desire.”
“God did not make the heavens in His image, nor the moon, the sun, the beauty of the stars, nor anything else which you can see in the created universe. You alone are made in the likeness of that nature which surpasses all understanding; you alone are a similitude of eternal beauty, a receptacle of happiness, an image of the true Light; and if you look up to Him, you will become what He is, imitating Him who shines within you, whose glory is reflected in your purity. Nothing in all creation can equal your grandeur.”
“[The mind], by the intelligence’s yearning for understanding, gains access to the invisible and the incomprehensible, and there it sees God. This is the true knowledge of what is sought; this is the seeing that consists in not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility as by a kind of darkness.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Evangeliad (14:28-36)

Section 14:28-36 (corresponding to Mk. 3:28-29; Mt. 12:31-36)

Yet whatever sins that you may commit,
Whatever blasphemies fall from your lips,
There is forgiveness, endless and grand,
Even if you're maligning the Son of Man.

But forgiveness, there's none, if you should blaspheme
Against the Spirit at work in my deeds--
God's own Holy Spirit, that's who you malign;
That sin shall remain for now and all time.

For nothing's lost or of no consequence,
Not even a word said in idleness--
All people will give account of such things
On the Judgment Day, before God the King.

The fruit of the tongue is the heart's overflow:
Whether good tree or bad, the fruit will show;
So you will be justified by what you speak,
Or by the same measure, condemned by your speech.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Photo of the Week

O sinners, come and taste his love,
Come, learn his pleasant ways,
And let your own experience prove
The sweetness of his grace.

- from Isaac Watts' hymnographic rendering of Psalm 34

Monday, March 16, 2020

Quote of the Week

"For know, dear ones, that every one of us is undoubtedly responsible for all men and everything on earth, not merely through the general sinfulness of creation, but each one personally for all mankind and every individual man. This knowledge is the crown of life for the monk and for every man. For monks are not a special sort of men, but only what all men ought to be. Only through that knowledge, our heart grows soft with infinite, universal, inexhaustible love."

- Fyodor Dostoevsky, from The Brothers Karamazov

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

May the power of your love, Lord Christ, fiery and sweet, so absorb our hearts as to withdraw them from all that is under heaven; grant that we may be ready to die for love of your love, as you died for love of our love. Amen.

- Francis of Assisi

Friday, March 13, 2020

Hymn of the Week: Eternal Praise

In the early church tradition, they conceived of their worship services as being directly joined with the eternal worship that forever goes on around the throne of God. I've always loved this notion, so I wrote a Trinitarian hymn of praise based on the idea: the verses refer, respectively, to the worship offered by the angels in heaven, by the church triumphant in heaven (all those who have passed on to their rest in Christ), by Christians here on earth, and then by all of us together. The tune is that of the old hymn "We'll Work Till Jesus Comes." (There's an echo part in the chorus that I wasn't able to sing for my solo recording, so I indicated its place with piano chords.)

Eternal Praise

From endless days, eternal praise
Pours forth from heaven's courts;
From cherubim and seraphim
Comes this exultant roar:

     All praise (all praise) to God the Father,
     All praise (all praise) to Christ the Son,
     All praise (all praise) unto the Spirit,
     The blessed Three-in-One!

The church triumphant, gathered there,
Before the Father's throne,
Resound the anthem of their praise
From their eternal home:


And we, the church at work below,
Together lift our hearts,
And in our praise, we all cry out,
"Our God, how great you are!"


Together in eternity
And here upon the earth,
We all proclaim our Maker's praise
For all his mighty works.


Thursday, March 12, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Gregory of Nazianzus

For there are three who bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.  – 1 John 5:7 (NKJV)

The Lord said to [Moses], “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”  – Exodus 4:11-12

Gregory of Nazianzus: Basic Facts

- Gregory of Nazianzus (c.329-c.390), also called “Gregory the Theologian,” was one of the three Cappadocian Fathers (along with Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa) and is honored as being among the first to explain the definitive doctrine of the Trinity.

- Although he was a classically-trained orator, he would have preferred a life of quiet study to the jobs of church politics and pastoral ministry. However, he obeyed God’s call and served in ministry for much of his life, including a brief stint as the Archbishop of Constantinople and as the president of the Second Ecumenical Council (381).

- His greatest contributions to Christianity have been through his sermons. Oration 2, “In Defense of His Flight to Pontus,” is the foundational patristic treatment of pastoral theology. And his “Five Theological Orations” became the definitive work on how to express what we believe about the Trinity.

Timeline of Gregory's Life and Ministry:

Gregory leaving Constantinople
329Gregory is born into a Christian home. His father had just become the bishop of Nazianzus. 

347 – After studying rhetoric in Caesarea (Cappadocia), Palestine, and Alexandria, he travels to Athens. There he makes a close friendship with Basil, a fellow Cappadocian.

357 – Gregory returns home to Nazianzus. He splits his time between joining his friend Basil in their monastic retreat and caring for his aging parents.

360 – His father stumbles into a bad decision by signing a theologically suspect creed, and the monks in Nazianzus rebel. Gregory returns home to pacify the situation, and earns a reputation as a great peacemaker.

361 – His aging father feels the need for a coadjutor in his duties, so he compels Gregory to become a priest. This was not what Gregory wanted, and he runs away.

362 – After staying with Basil for nearly four months, he returns to Nazianzus and takes up his new position as priest. His second sermon is an apology and defense for his actions, and it immediately becomes a classic—describing in beautiful and powerful terms the high calling of pastoral ministry.

365 – While refusing to take sides in the dispute between Basil and his bishop, Eusebius of Caesarea, Gregory works patiently to bring about a reconciliation between them.

370 – After Basil becomes the new bishop of Caesarea, he strongarms Gregory into taking up a position as bishop of Sasima, a tiny but strategic town. Gregory doesn’t want the post, but he goes there, only to be forced out shortly thereafter. This becomes a sore point between the old friends.

374 – Gregory’s father passes away, and Gregory stays on to help run the church until a new bishop can be found. Meanwhile, his speeches and writings are winning him fame as a great theologian.

379 – The struggling orthodox community in Constantinople calls on Gregory to come and be their pastor and to fight the heretical influences in the capital. He feels compelled to accept.

380 – The new emperor Theodosius, an orthodox Christian, kicks the heretical Arian Christians out of the churches of Constantinople and installs Gregory as archbishop in the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia.

381 – Gregory serves as president of the Second Ecumenical Council, which affirms the creed of Nicea (the orthodox creed). But because of church politics, Gregory is soon forced to resign. He returns home and spends the last few years of his life in seclusion.

Quotes from Gregory:

“It is more important to remember God than it is to breathe.” 

“God accepts our desires as though they were of great value. He longs ardently for us to desire and love him. He accepts our petitions for benefits as though we were doing him a favor. His joy in giving is greater than ours in receiving. So let us not be apathetic in our asking, nor set too narrow bounds to our requests; nor ask for frivolous things unworthy of God's greatness.”

“The scope of our art is to provide the soul with wings, to rescue it from the world and give it to God, and to watch over that which is in his image: if it abides, to take it by the hand; if it is in danger, to restore it; if ruined, to make Christ to dwell in the heart by the Spirit; and, in short, to deify, and bestow heavenly bliss upon one who belongs to the heavens.”

“Faith, in fact, is what gives fullness to our reasoning.”

“The Son is the concise and simple revelation of the Father’s nature.”

“We have one God because there is a single Godhead. Though there are three objects of belief, they derive from the single whole and have reference to it. They do not have degrees of being God or degrees of priority over against one another…To express it succinctly, the Godhead exists undivided in beings divided. It is as if there were a single intermingling of light, which existed in three mutually connected suns.”

“Lord, as I read the psalms let me hear you singing. As I read your words, let me hear you speaking. As I reflect on each page, let me see your image. And as I seek to put your precepts into practice, let my heart be filled with joy. Amen.”