Saturday, May 30, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

O Savior, when the fearful storms of life around us press,
And we in vain for comfort seek when all is comfortless,
Then whisper Thou the sweet command which Thou on Thine hast laid:
"Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid."

- from hymn #365 in The Augustine Hymnbook, 19th century

Friday, May 29, 2020

Hymn of the Week: My Highest Act of Worship

This week's hymn is a prayer of worship modeled on Paul's exhortation in Romans 12 to present ourselves as "living sacrifices." Each verse focuses on a particular aspect of our lives that we can offer up to God. It's written to the tune of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."

My Highest Act of Worship

Lord, I bring you all my worship;
Oh, be glorified in me!
All my praise and adoration
Will be yours eternally.

     (Chorus:)
     So I humbly bring the off'ring
     Of this living sacrifice:
     May my highest act of worship
     Be the way I live my life.

Lord, I bring you all my talents,
Every service I can give:
All the gifts that you have granted
To your work I freely give.

     (Chorus)

Lord, I bring you all my heartaches,
All the brokenness I bear.
You give strength amid my weakness;
May you grant your healing there.

     (Chorus)

Lord, I bring you all my triumphs,
Every great and noble deed:
May these virtues crown the glory
Of your craftsmanship in me.

     (Chorus)

Lord, I bring you all my failures;
All my sins I'm laying down.
In the ashes of repentance,
May your endless grace abound.

     (Chorus)

[Verse 1 & chorus may be repeated as an optional ending if desired]


Thursday, May 28, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Patrick and the Medieval Missionaries





“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”  – Matthew 28:18-20

“God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  – 1 Timothy 2:4

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”  - Revelation 7:9

Patrick

- Patrick grew up in a Christian family in Wales, and lived from about the late 4th century to the late 5th century. 

- He was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland as a slave when he was a young man. He spent 7 years in captivity there, escaped, but later came back as a missionary.

- He is credited with being the first person to bring the Gospel to Ireland, and is famous for driving the snakes from Ireland (probably a mythical event) and for using the three-leafed clover to explain the Trinity.

- He was the first Christian leader to make the case that the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) was the duty of all Christians: “For after recognizing God, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.” (Confessio 3)

- If one word could characterize Patrick’s reason for becoming a missionary, it would be gratitude.

“Who was it that summoned me, a fool, from the midst of those who appear wise and learned? Me, truly wretched in this world, he inspired before others that I could be—if I would—such a one who, with fear and reverence, and faithfully, without complaint, would come to the people to whom the love of Christ brought me and gave me in my lifetime, if I should be worthy, to serve them truly and with humility.” (Confessio 13)

“I ought not to conceal God’s gift which he lavished on me in the land of my captivity, for then I sought him resolutely, and I found him there….I am greatly God’s debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God….Therefore may it never befall me to be separated by my God from his people whom he has won in this most remote land.” (Confessio 33, 38, 58)

Martin of Tours

- Martin was one of the most influential of the early medieval missionaries. He served as bishop of Tours (in France) in the latter half of the 4th century. While other bishops of that age were content to spend their time at home, he made himself a missionary to his entire area. 

- Martin was a military officer before becoming a baptized Christian. In one story, he saw a beggar in need of clothes on the side of the road as he was riding along, and he tore his officer’s cloak in half in order to give something to the beggar. Later, Martin saw a vision where Christ was wearing the robe he had given to the beggar.

- He left the army, but he never left behind its militaristic way of thinking. (“Hitherto I have served Caesar as a soldier: allow me now to become a soldier of God.”) He evangelized the rural hinterlands aggressively, facing pagan religion head-on and performing many miracles through the power of God.

- The influence of people like Patrick and Martin sparked one of the greatest mission movements in Christian history: the Irish and Anglo-Saxon missionaries of “the Dark Ages.” They spread the Gospel throughout Britain (through the ministry of men like Aidan), France (Columbanus), the Low Countries (Willibrord), Germany (Boniface), and into Scandinavia (Anskar).

Boniface

- Boniface was another notable missionary—a church leader who evangelized among the pagan tribes of Germany during the 7th and 8th centuries. 

- One of Boniface’s most famous acts came when he dared a pagan god to strike him dead as he cut down the god’s sacred oak tree (much like the story of Elijah at Mt. Carmel).

- “Can there be a more fitting pursuit in youth or a more valuable possession in old age than a knowledge of the Scriptures? In the midst of storms it will preserve you from the dangers of shipwreck and guide you to the shore of everlasting bliss.” (Letter to Nithard)

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Evangeliad (15:37-41)


Section 15:37-41 (corresponding to Luke 10:21-22; Matt. 11:28-30)

Then filled with joy in the Spirit of God,
Jesus looked up and he spoke aloud:
"I thank you, my Father, Lord over all,
O'er heaven and earth, great things and small:

These wonders You hid from the wise and esteemed,
Yet by the children You have let them be seen;
Yes, Father, this was Your own chosen way,
Your will, Your providence, expressed in grace!

My Father has given all things unto me;
And no one knows who the Son is but He--
And who knows the Father? The Son alone,
And those to whom the Son makes Him known.

Come, come unto me, you weary ones!
And you who bear burdens, come to the Son!
In me there is peace from your weary ways:
My rest I will give you, now and always.

Take my yoke on your shoulders, learn from me--
I am humble of heart, in gentleness' peace;
So come and find rest for your souls," said Christ,
"My yoke is easy, my burden is light."

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Photo of the Week

Mighty God, while angels bless Thee, may a mortal sing Thy name?
Lord of man as well as angels, Thou art every creature's theme.
For the grandeur of Thy nature--grand beyond a seraph's thought;
For the wonders of creation, works with skill and kindness wrought;
For Thy providence, that governs through Thine empire's wide domain,
Wings an angel, guides a sparrow--blessèd be Thy gentle reign.

- from the hymn "Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee," by Robert Robinson, 18th century

Monday, May 25, 2020

Quote of the Week

"In palaces are hearts that ask,
In discontent and pride,
Why life is such a dreary task,
And all good things denied.
And hearts in poorest huts admire
How love has in their aid
(Love that not ever seems to tire)
Such rich provision made."

- Richard Chenevix Trench, Archbishop of Dublin, 19th century

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Calm me, my God, and keep me calm, while these hot breezes blow;
Be like the night-dew's cooling balm upon earth's fevered brow.
Calm in the hour of buoyant health, calm in my hour of pain;
Calm in my poverty or wealth, calm in my loss or gain:
Calm me, my God, and keep me calm; let Thine outstretchèd wing
Be like the shade of Elim's palm beside her desert-spring.

- Horatius Bonar

Friday, May 22, 2020

Hymn of the Week: God of Glory, God of Mercy

This week's hymn is an anthem of praise, as well as a prayer for God's glory and goodness to become ever more manifest in our lives. It's written to the tune of "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy."

God of Glory, God of Mercy

God of glory, God of mercy,
We, your children, sing your praise!
You are great and reign forever,
Awesome in your mighty ways!

We delight in all your goodness,
Abba and Ancient of Days!
You are King and you are Father,
So we give both love and praise!

Turn our hearts to gaze upon you,
That our souls might mirrors be,
Shining bright with all your beauty,
Showing Christ to all we meet.

Through us, Lord, dispense the fragrance
Of your great, triumphant march;
May the sweetness of your mercy
Pour abundant from our hearts.

So in words and song we praise you,
God and Savior, Father, King!
Now let deeds resound our worship:
Make our lives our offering!


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Benedict





“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”  – Psalm 133:1

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”  - Acts 2:42-47a


Benedict of Nursia: Basic Facts

- Benedict of Nursia lived from 480 to 547 AD in Italy, while the western Roman Empire was being taken over by waves of Germanic invaders.

- He left behind a life of wealth and worldly influence when he was a young man, and became a hermit living a life of prayer in a cave in the wilderness.

- Later, he founded a series of small monasteries, including the one where he would spend the rest of his life—Monte Cassino, which is still active as a monastery in Italy today.

- His greatest accomplishment and legacy is the Holy Rule he wrote and implemented—a handbook of rules and practices for monks. This little book shaped the practice of western monasticism, which would become one of the most effective forms of Christian ministry for the next thousand years.


Themes, Thoughts, and Quotes from Benedict's Ministry:

- The way of the Christian involves hard discipline, but it is a way of great joy: 

“Even if, in order to correct sins or to preserve love, we are directed to do something which seems a little stringent, we shouldn’t immediately fly away in dismay from the way of salvation, because that way is ‘the narrow road,’ and cannot but be narrow. But as we advance in the Christian life and faith, we shall run the way of God’s commandments with expanded hearts and unspeakable sweetness of love.”

“Having ascended in the degrees of humility, the monk will arrive at that love of God which casts out all fear. Because of this love, all the good works which he formerly did out of fear, and with great toil, he will now begin to keep without any effort, and as it were, naturally by force of habit, no longer from the fear of hell, but from the love of Christ, from the very habit of good and the pleasure of virtue.”

A few selections from Benedict’s list of “The Instruments of Good Works” (73 in all)—
     - In the first place, to love the Lord God with the whole heart, soul, and strength
     - To honor all people
     - To love fasting
     - To prefer nothing to the love of Christ
     - To refer whatever good one sees in himself, not to himself, but to God
     - But if he sees any evil in himself, let him be convinced that it is his own, not God’s, and charge it to himself
     - To keep death before one’s eyes daily
     - Not to desire to be called holy before one is, but to be holy first, that one may be truly so called
     - And never to despair of God’s mercy


“Let the monks, therefore, practice virtuous zeal with most ardent love; namely, that they forerun each other in honoring one another. Let them bear one another’s infirmities, whether of body or mind, with the utmost patience; let them vie with one another in obedience. Let no one follow what he thinks useful to himself alone, but rather to another. Let them practice fraternal charity with a chaste love. Let them fear God and love their Abbot with sincere and humble affection; let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may He lead us all together to life everlasting.”

“Nothing is so contrary to Christians as excess.”

Features of Benedictine Monasticism:

Western monasticism developed around three basic vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Benedictine spirituality is summed up by the words ‘ora et labora’ (‘prayer and work’): “Idleness is the enemy of the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labor at certain times; at others, in devout reading and prayer.”

Benedictines hold 8 separate prayer services each day (including one in the middle of the night!), revolving around praying the Psalms.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Evangeliad (15:32-36)

(Click here for an introduction and previous installments of the Evangeliad)


Section 15:32-36 (corresponding to Luke 10:16-20)

Turning again to the ones he would send,
Jesus continued commissioning them:
"If people hear you, or if they refuse,
They do so to God and the one who sends you."

Later those seventy returned unto Christ,
After their journey, filled with delight.
"Lord, even the demons submit unto us
All through the pow'r of the name of Jesus!"

He answered, "Like lightning I saw Satan fall;
No strength has he against the kingdom's call!
Behold, I'm giving you authority--
Over snakes, scorpions, and the enemy:

Yes, down you can tread them all underfoot;
None of their powers can truly harm you.
But don't just rejoice in your strength over them:
Rejoice that your names are written in heaven!"

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Photo of the Week

Jesus said to his disciples,
"Come away by yourselves,
and rest awhile."

- Mark 6:31

Monday, May 18, 2020

Quote of the Week

"It is the most high and noble part of holiness to search after, behold, admire, and love the great Creator in all his works."

- Richard Baxter, Puritan pastor and author

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

O Thou whose sacred feet have trod
The thorny path of woe,
Forbid that I should slight the rod,
Or faint beneath the blow.
My spirit to its chastening stroke
I meekly would resign,
Nor murmur at the heaviest yoke
That tells me I am Thine.
Give me the spirit of Thy trust,
To suffer as a son--
To say, though lying in the dust,
"My Father's will be done!"

- from a 19th-century hymn by James D. Burns

Friday, May 15, 2020

Hymn of the Week: The Hunting Psalm

This week's offering is an original creation, but it's a bit of an oddity that I've kept in my back pocket for a week in which I had no time to compose (and secretly, perhaps, I hoped that I would never have to use it). Anyway, that was this week--between illness, Zoom meetings, church administration, and video editing of lockdown-era church services, my time has evaporated quickly. So the hymn you get is one that I wrote earlier this year, and the only one I've ever done based on a personal request. A dear friend, who is something of a nature lover and a huntsman, wanted a hymn to a simple tune (something one could sing to a single drumbeat in the woods, he said) reflecting Scripture's themes of God's love for animal creation and our thankfulness for his provision (and he provided three pages worth of Bible verses for reference). So here's a hymn that's likely not fit for singing in a church setting, but might work around a campfire on a hunting trip. The music is based on a Caedmon's Call song (itself inspired by traditional Indian music), the Dalit Hymn. As the tune is likely copyrighted, I've chosen not to post it via Soundcloud, but only as a non-shareable audio file fixed in this post. Anyway, hope you enjoy it!

The Hunting Psalm

Part 1 - Creation

God made the world and declared it good
(Praise, O my soul, God most high!)
He gave us plants and meat for our food
(Praise, O my soul, God most high!)

God made the fish,
God made the birds,
All living things
Filling our world!
     (Repeat)

(Optional: repeat verse refrain as transition)

God made a covenant with all mankind
(Praise, O my soul, God most high!)
And with living things of every kind
(Praise, O my soul, God most high!)

God cares for us,
God cares for them,
So also then
We care for them!
     (Repeat)

(Optional: repeat verse refrains and/or choruses as desired)

Part 2 - Request for food

Great is the Lord and vast is his strength
(He gives us all that we need)
Ask of his bounty, and give him thanks
(He gives us all that we need)

Incline your ear,
Lord, to our prayer:
Creator-King,
Answer our prayer!
     (Repeat)

(Optional: repeat verse refrain as transition)

Every creature looks unto him
(He gives us all that we need)
He, in his mercy, feeds all of them
(He gives us all that we need)

Provide us, Lord,
Provide us, Lord,
With what we need
Provide us, Lord!
     (Repeat)

(Optional: repeat verse refrains and/or choruses as desired)

Part 3 - Thanksgiving after Food

You gave us food and you met our need
(Lord, we give thanks to your name)
Just as you feed all your living things
(Lord, we give thanks to your name)

Praise, O my soul
Your God and king:
In thankfulness,
Worship and sing!
     (Repeat)

(Optional: repeat verse refrain as transition)

You’re our Creator, our dwelling-place
(Lord, we give thanks to your name)
Through all the ages we render praise
(Lord, we give thanks to your name)

Great is the Lord,
Great is the Lord,
We testify:
Great is the Lord!
     (Repeat)

(Optional: repeat verse refrains and/or choruses as desired)



Thursday, May 14, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: The Church of the East





After Jesus had been born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his start in the east and have come to worship him.”  – Matthew 2:1-2 

You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.  – Mark 13:9-10

Babai, Timothy, and the (Nestorian) Church of the East

- Babai the Great (551-628 AD, pictured) was a prominent theologian and instrumental leader of the Church of the East during the final years of the Sassanid Persian Empire. His writings clarified the theology of the eastern church and his efforts kept the church strong in an era when it was suffering renewed persecution. 

- Timothy the Great (reigned as Patriarch 780- 823 AD) guided the Church of the East during its Golden Age. Leading from his church in Baghdad, Timothy held debates with the Muslim caliph, organized a program of scholarly translation which gave the Arab world the resources of classical science and philosophy, and encouraged the missionary expansion of the church further in India, Tibet, China, Mongolia, Arabia, and central Asia.

Notable Events in the History of the Church of the East:

c. 40 AD – According to tradition, the apostle Thomas undertakes an eastern mission to India, where he plants churches (the Mar Thoma churches) which still exist to this day. Around the same time, Addai, one of the wider circle of Jesus’ seventy itinerant missionaries, takes the Gospel to the east Syrian kingdom of Edessa.

1st-3rd centuries – The Gospel, taken along trade routes into Mesopotamia and Persia, flourishes greatly there. At this stage, there is little persecution from the Parthian rulers of the Persian Empire, who allow religious toleration. But in the mid-200s, the Sassanid dynasty takes over and chooses Zoroastrianism as the sole official religion.

4th century – When the Roman Empire, the traditional enemy of the Persians, officially adopts Christianity as its religion, the Sassanid Persian Empire begins a bloody persecution of Christians within its borders, far more fierce and thorough than any persecution that Christians suffered under the Romans (upwards of 500,000 Christians killed by some estimates).

5th century – The Church of East had always looked to Antioch as its leading church, both in hierarchy and theology. But when the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon were held, the Church of the East found its theological heroes (Theodore of Mopsuestia and, to a lesser degree, Nestorius) being derided and condemned. The Church of the East did not agree to the Chalcedonian Creed (preferring the Antiochene position which placed more emphasis on the dual nature of Christ than on his personal unity), and they broke communion with the Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox (both of whom accepted Chalcedon) and with the Egyptian Coptic Church (which stuck to the Alexandrian position emphasizing Christ’s unity). They raised their own leading church, in the city of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, to the level of a patriarchate (making it equal to Jerusalem, Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch).

6th century – Still under fierce persecution by the Sassanid rulers, the Church of the East (sometimes called the Nestorian Church in this period) was unable to elect its own leaders unless the emperor allowed them to. Into this gap stepped the great leader Babai, who shepherded the churches in the absence of a patriarch. He also outlined the Christology of the Church of the East, which held tight to the theology of its Antiochene heroes, but, as Babai made clear, was actually pretty much in line with what the other churches believed too.

7th century – The Christian East Roman Empire and the Sassanid Persian Empire had exhausted themselves by fighting a fierce, decades-long war of attrition. At just this time, the Arab tribes rose up around their new religion, Islam, and were able to step into the power gap and conquer much of the Middle East for themselves. Suddenly the Church of the East was under new overlords—the Muslim caliphs who reigned from Damascus and Baghdad. At the time, this was actually a change for the better, bringing them far more respect and far less persecution than they had faced under the Persians.

8th century – This was one of the high points for the Church of the East. Under Timothy, their missionaries penetrated to eastern China and introduced the Gospel in a culturally sensitive fashion there. They began working on preserving and translating Greek classical manuscripts into Arabic, setting the stage for the great Islamic cultural heyday under the Abbasid Caliphate.

9th-13th centuries – The Christian population of the Middle East stands firm and continues to provide the scholarly foundations for much of Islamic civilization. Their missionaries take the Gospel all the way into central Asia. By the time the Mongol hordes enter the world scene, many of Genghis Khan’s own family and courtiers are Christians.

14th century – The Church of the East suffers a dramatic and tragic collapse, brought on by the onset of the Black Plague, increasing persecution from Muslims, and the bloodthirsty ravages of the warlord Timur the Lame (aka Tamerlane). Under these pressures, the Church only remained vital and strong in northern Mesopotamia and India.

16th century – Some of the Church of the East breaks off and joins the Roman Catholic communion, becoming the Chaldean Catholic Church, still in existence in Iraq.

21st century – Suffering extreme anti-Christian persecution from Muslims because they are lumped together with Americans, whose foreign policy is resented in the Middle East, many Church of the East Christians have gone into exile (the patriarch now resides in Chicago).

Quotes:

[Timothy the Great’s explanation of how Jesus can be the Son of God, and what the Trinity is]: “Jesus was born from a virgin as man, but from God he was born as light is born of the sun, and as a word is born of the soul.” And the Trinity is like a 3-denarius coin: “one in its gold, that is to say, in its nature, and three in its persons, that is to say in the number of the denarii.”

[Babai's Creed about Christ's Nature]: "One is Christ the Son of God, worshiped by all in two natures; in His Godhead begotten of the Father, without beginning before all time; in His humanity born of Mary, in the fullness of time, in a body united; neither His Godhead is of the nature of the mother, nor His humanity of the nature of the Father; the natures are preserved in their substance, in one person of one Sonship. And as the Godhead is three substances in one nature, likewise the Sonship of the Son is in two natures, one person. So the Holy Church has taught."

Lessons for Us from the History of the Church of the East:

1.) Contrary to the popular misconception today, the entire Middle East and North Africa are actually part of the historic heartlands of the Christian faith. For more than a thousand years, Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia (Iraq), and Persia (Iran) were some of the most thoroughly Christian nations in the world. The Euro-centric view of Christian history is thus largely false. There are still substantial Christian populations in many of the Middle East nations today, who have never relinquished their faith in the face of the Muslim majority.

2.) Of course, today the vast majority of the inhabitants of those countries are Muslims. This is a good reminder to us that the Kingdom of God is not about individual nations. It’s about a movement of people from all nations who put their faith in Christ. With this view of history, it is possible that a future generation of Americans will turn our country non-Christian or even anti-Christian. But the Kingdom of God will continue to move forward nonetheless.

3.) The decision to present European powers as “Christian” back in the Middle Ages hurt the Church of the East in their heyday, and our decision to present America as “a Christian nation” is hurting Christians in the Middle East today.

4.) Back in the first millennium AD, it was the most heavily persecuted church (the Church of the East) that proved to be the most powerful missionary force on earth. It took the Gospel to China, Tibet, India, and central Asia nearly a thousand years before European Christian missionaries arrived. Today, a similar pattern is emerging: the persecuted church in China is set to become a far more influential missionary force in the world than the free churches of America and Europe. As the early church father Tertullian wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

5.) The Church of the East was notable not just for its missionary outreach, but for its piety and its scholarship. Many of the positive parts of the early Islamic empire came from Christian scholars (such as helping to preserve and disseminate the great works of Plato, Aristotle, and the Greek scientific thinkers, in an age when European society had lost them completely). Even the shape of Muslim mosques and the manner of their prayers were adopted from Church of the East customs.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A New Volume of My Poetry is Now Available

In lieu of a new set of Evangeliad stanzas today, I'm posting the announcement of my latest publication: a poetry chapbook, including many of the most popular poems featured on this blog. It's available in a handsome paperback volume, and is forthcoming in a Kindle edition. You can reach its Amazon page by clicking the linked image below.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Photo of the Week

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity.

- Psalm 133:1

Monday, May 11, 2020

Quote of the Week



"Above all things, be faithful to the present moment, and you will receive all necessary grace."

- François Fénelon

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us,
O'er the world's tempestuous sea;
Guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us,
For we have no help but Thee;
Yet possessing every blessing
If our God our Father be.

- J. Edmeston

Friday, May 08, 2020

Hymn of the Week: The Suffering Song


During this Covid-19 pandemic, I've been leading online Bible studies for my church family, looking at some of the passages that speak to the ways in which God's people respond to times of trial and suffering. Today's hymn contains some of the themes that have emerged from those studies, drawn from Lamentations 3:21-23, James 1:2-3, Romans 5:3-5, and Romans 8:35-39. It's set to the tune of the old hymn "O Jesus, I Have Promised." 

The Suffering Song

O Lord, when all around me
Are trials of all kinds,
This comfort I will cling to,
And this I call to mind:
Because of your great love, Lord,
We all are held secure--
Each day you pour out mercies;
Your faithfulness endures.

Let all my tribulations
Be counted as pure joy,
For though in sorrow's valley,
In this I can rejoice:
My suffering was shared by
My Lord upon the cross;
Yes, I am held by Jesus,
Who knows my pain and loss.

So on the road of trials
And in the vale of woe,
As perseverance rises,
May I be led to hope.
For though the world may crumble,
And all my loves be lost,
Still I will always cling to
The mighty love of God.

There's nothing in the heavens
Or on the earth below
Can ever separate us
From this triumphant hope:
That Jesus' love is endless,
Unshakable, and free,
And we will find our rest in
His love eternally.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Cyril of Alexandria and the Coptic Church





“I pray also for those who will believe in me…that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You…I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and You in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me.”  – John 17: 20b-23

In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the Lord at its border....So the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the Lord.”  - Isaiah 19:19, 21

Cyril and the Egyptian Church: Basic Facts

- The Coptic Church is a family of Christians centered in Egypt, led by the Pope of Alexandria. They trace their roots back to Pentecost, when Jews from Alexandria became Christians; and the church itself was officially founded in AD 41 through the work of the Apostle Mark. Throughout the first few centuries of church history they were the greatest intellectual and theological powerhouse in the Christian world, producing early church fathers like Clement, Origen, and Athanasius; as well as driving the first wave of the great monastic movement that revolutionized Christian piety and practice.

- In the 5th century, Cyril of Alexandria (AD 376-444) became the leader of the church in Egypt. He is one of the most famous early church fathers because of his role in defending the faith against errors concerning the nature of Christ’s incarnation, which culminated in the great Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Timeline of the Chalcedonian Controversy:

428 – Nestorius, a clergyman from the theological school of Antioch, is appointed to be the Patriarch of Constantinople. While there he causes controversy by teaching that Christ had two distinct natures—a full human nature, with a human soul, mind, and will, as well as a full divine nature—held together in one person. This position runs afoul of the theology being taught in Alexandria, which held instead that Christ had one united nature, born from a divine nature and a human nature and producing the unique, fully-human-and-divine nature of the Incarnate Logos. This question, of whether Christ had two distinct natures or one united nature, would set the agenda for the next two great church councils.

431The Council of Ephesus – Cyril, the bishop of Alexandria, objects so forcefully to Nestorius’ teachings that eventually the Emperor is compelled to call a church council to settle the matter. Cyril and his friends convene the meeting without waiting for the late-arriving parties from Syria (who favored Nestorius) and Rome (who were neutral), and have Nestorius deposed. Then the Syrian delegation arrives, holds its own meeting, and reverses the decision. Then the Roman delegation arrives, convenes another session, and decides to ratify Cyril’s first meeting. 

444-449 – Cyril, the champion of Alexandrian theology, dies. But then his theology is take one step further by Eutyches, who claims that the human nature in Christ has been completely subsumed into the divine nature. Another imperial council was convened at Ephesus, and Eutyches was upheld by the emperor’s decision. However, this decision was not consented to by the majority of the churches, and it came to be known as “the Robber Synod.”

451The Council of Chalcedon – Two years later, at another council, the decision of the Robber Synod was disallowed, and it was decided that Eutyches had gone too far. A new creed was written which upheld Christ’s two natures, but undivided. This became the standard understanding of the Incarnation for all Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Protestants. The two main adversaries in the controversy, however—Nestorius’ allies in Syria and further east, and the Alexandrian followers of Cyril—found the Chalcedonian Creed unacceptable. This led to the first permanent church split in history—the “Church of the East” in Syria and Persia followed Nestorius’ position, and the “Coptic” church in Egypt followed their preferred “one-united-nature” formula, thus breaking communion with the other churches. This rift in the Body of Christ has never been fully healed.

Quotes from Cyril of Alexandria:

“It is held, therefore, that there is in Emmanuel two entities, divinity and humanity. Yet our Lord Jesus Christ is nonetheless one, the one true Son, both God and man; not a defied man on the same footing as those who share the divine nature by grace, but true God who for our sake appeared in human form.”

“Only if it is one and the same Christ who is consubstantial with the Father and with men can he save us, for the meeting ground between God and man is the flesh of Christ.”

An Extract from the Chalcedonian Creed:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, Perfect in Godhead, Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man…co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, except for sin…acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and concurring into One Person.”

The Coptic Church after Chalcedon

By the 5th century, Christianity was the overwhelmingly dominant religion of Egypt, and it continued to be a major center of monastic spirituality. Christianity would continue to be the majority religion there for another four or five centuries, even after invaders from the new religious empire of Islam took over political control. For much of their history, Coptic Christians enjoyed great tolerance under their Muslim rulers, who persecuted them far less than the Byzantine Christians had after Chalcedon. Nevertheless, Islam was the religion of the ruling elites, and so, generation after generation, more and more of the population became Muslim in order to move up the social ladder and to avoid tax penalties. Now Coptic Christians make up around 10% of the population of Egypt (still more than the churchgoing population of many European countries).

Pope Shenouda III

Shenouda III (1923-2012) was the Pope of Alexandria and leader of the world’s Coptic Christians for four decades, from 1971 to 2012. He began his ministry as a monk, and, just like the desert fathers from the 3rd and 4th centuries, he spent six years living as a hermit in a cave, focusing on prayer and contemplation. Later, as a priest, he radically improved the youth outreach programs of the Coptic Church. When he became pope, he quickly became known as a wise and respected leader. Though he spoke out against the rise of fanatical Islamism, he was highly esteemed by the Muslim rulers of Egypt and neighboring countries. He worked tirelessly to protect the Coptic Christian communities from abuses and to deepen their spiritual life. Notably, he became the first head of the Coptic Church since the Council of Chalcedon (a span of more than 1500 years!) to visit the heads of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, and together they came to a tentative agreement that the millennia-old divisions were more about semantics than substantive theological differences.