Thursday, April 30, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Abba Moses

In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.  - Ephesians 4:26-27

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  - Ephesians 6:10-12

Abba Moses: Basic Facts

- Abba Moses (330-405 AD, also called "Moses the Black" or "Moses the Strong" or "Moses of Ethiopia") was one of the early Desert Fathers whose total commitment to a lifestyle of prayer became an inspiration to many Christians across the Roman Empire.

- Although he started out as “the Terror of the Nile,” an infamous ringleader of a murderous band of brigands, after his conversion he became known for his spirit of peace, humility, and gentleness. He was often sought out for his discernment and wisdom.

- Today, there is renewed interest in Abba Moses as a symbol of the ancient African roots of Christianity. Of all the major world religions, Christianity has the longest claim to being the religion of Africa, and Moses stands as an inspiration to many African-ancestry Christians as they deal with the continued effects of racism and social violence. Groups like the Orthodox Christian “Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black” are using his story as a powerful tool in the ministry of racial reconciliation here in America.

Anecdotes & Quotes from the Life of Moses:

When Moses converted and began to live alone in his cell, his sinful youth haunted him and would not leave him in peace. The devil attacked him with lustful thoughts and sleepless nights. He became so certain that he would never be holy that he almost despaired. So Abba Isidore took him to the roof one morning. Together they watched the first rays of sunlight come over the horizon. Isidore instructed Moses, “Only slowly do the rays of the sun drive away the night and usher in a new day, and thus, only slowly does one learn to live a holy life.”

A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, ‘Come, for everyone is waiting for you.’ So he got up and went. He took a basket, filled it with sand and carried it with him. The sand ran through the holes and fell behind him as he walked. The others came out to meet him and said to him, ‘What is this, Father?’ The old man said to them, ‘My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.’ When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

“The monk must die to his neighbor and never judge him at all.” – Abba Moses

It happened that Abba Moses was struggling with the temptation of lust. Unable to stay any longer in the cell, he went and told Abba Isidore. The old man exhorted him to return to his cell. But he refused, saying, ‘Abba, I cannot. I feel that all the armies of hell are arrayed against me.’ Then Abba Isidore took Moses out onto the terrace and said to him, ‘Look towards the west.’ He looked and saw hordes of demons flying about and making a noise before launching an attack. Then Abba Isidore said to him, ‘Look towards the east.’ He turned and saw an innumerable multitude of holy angels shining with glory. Abba Isidore said, ‘See, these are sent by the Lord to the saints to bring them help, while those in the west fight against them. Those who are with us are more in number than they are.’ Then Abba Moses gave thanks to God, plucked up courage and returned to his cell.

Early church historian Sozomen’s assessment of Moses’ life: “So sudden a conversion from vice to virtue was never before witnessed, nor such rapid attainments in monastic life. Hence God rendered him an object of dread to the demons.”

Ancient Orthodox Poem about Moses:

Blessed is he upon whom God shows mercy!
The mercy of God is joy, in both worlds joy!
Moses the Black as a prodigal son
Repented and returned to God,
With much weeping and much fasting.
He was black in his face and shining in his soul.
By many prayers he tamed his passions
And was freed from the Enemy’s sway.
His soul became as a lake atop the mountains
Which gazes into the heavens
And in which heaven mirrors its face.
The lion may change into the lamb,
But such a miracle only Christ performs.
Moses was a lion upon the mountain
And a gentle lamb became.
By his holy example,
May God spur us onto holy deeds as well.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Photo of the Week

Lift up your hearts!
We lift them up to the Lord.

- responsive lines from traditional liturgy

Monday, April 27, 2020

Quote of the Week

On the usefulness of difficult seasons in the Christian life:

"It is said that in some countries trees will grow, but will bear no fruit because there is no winter there."

- John Bunyan, early Baptist/Puritan pastor and author of The Pilgrim's Progress

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Lord God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ triumphed over the powers of death and prepared for us our place in the new Jerusalem: Grant that I, who have this day given thanks for his resurrection, may praise you in the City of which he is the light, and where he lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Hymn of the Week: The Cross and the Tomb

This week's offering is an Easter hymn, reflecting on what Christ has done for us in his death and resurrection. It's set to the tune of "O Worship the King." 

The Cross and the Tomb

The cross and the tomb, where Jesus has died,
And where, by great pow'r, was raised to new life--
They stand as the testaments of our God's grace,
So lift up your voice and proclaim Jesus' praise!

Behold now the place where Jesus was laid:
The stone's rolled away; our Lord has been raised!
In mercy he died so that sinners might live,
So now to our risen Lord praises we give!

For us Jesus died, for us he arose,
For us he has vanquished all of our foes:
For death, it is beaten, the grave is bereft;
The King to his throne in all splendor ascends!

Give glory to God, all nations on earth,
For by Jesus' death we all have rebirth:
To any who come to the Savior in faith,
He'll grant you his favor and lavish his grace.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Jerome

(Due to technical difficulties with the recording, 
there is no audio file available for this post)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.  - 2 Timothy 3:16 

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.  - Luke 14:26-27

Jerome: Basic Facts

- Jerome (331-420 AD) was one of the leading early church fathers in the late 4th and early 5th centuries (the Golden Age of Patristic Theology). He was acquainted with most of the other prominent church leaders of that day, including Augustine, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzus, and many more.

- His greatest contribution was his translation of the Bible into Latin (his version is known as the Vulgate). Although other Latin translations were available, his was the first to make careful use of the original Hebrew texts of the Old Testament.

- He was a prominent advocate for living a life of total devotion to God, and helped to popularize the monastic lifestyle in western Europe.

- Despite his prickly personality and his involvement in many controversies, he is remembered as one of the great “Doctors of the Church.”

Timeline of Jerome's Life and Ministry:

350s – As a young man, Jerome moves from his hometown (in modern Croatia) to Rome, where he is given a rigorous classical education. He undergoes baptism at Rome, and for the rest of his life he uses the Church of Rome’s doctrinal positions as his theological foundation.

360s-early 370s – Jerome and some of his friends (including a close childhood companion, Rufinus) spend some time in the cities of Trier (northwest Germany) and Aquileia (northeast Italy). At first they appear to be trying to make a living as administrative officials, but little by little they become more and more drawn to a lifestyle of all-out commitment to Christ. They begin to experiment with total renunciation—living in voluntary poverty and devoting all their time to prayer and the study of Scripture.

373-379 – Now in his early 40s and having abandoned the idea of a secular career, Jerome travels east, into the Syrian desert. There he takes up residence with a famous community of hermits in Chalcis and lives the life of a “desert father” for a short time. Difficulties arise with the community, however, and he soon retreats to the home of a patron in Antioch, where he proceeds with his Scriptural and language studies.

379-382 – Jerome goes to Constantinople and studies with another great church father, Gregory of Nazianzus, while trying to advocate for the theological position of the Church of Rome at the great Council of Constantinople in 381, where some final disagreements about the exact doctrine of the Trinity are being worked out.

382-385 – Jerome seizes an opportunity to return to Rome, where he becomes a personal friend of Pope Damasus, for whom he serves as a scribe. While there, he is tasked with beginning to update the old Latin translation of the New Testament (which had not been a particularly good translation); he does so, but draws the ire of traditionalists who liked the old version, imperfect as it was. He also becomes a teacher-in-residence for a group of wealthy Roman women, led by Paula, who want to devote themselves to a life of Christian renunciation. Unfortunately, his passionate advocacy for that kind of lifestyle earns him a great deal of controversy from traditional Romans and other Christians, who feel that he is too extreme and is unfairly denigrating the holiness of Christian marriage.

385-420 – Driven out of Rome by these controversies, he and Paula, along with a few friends, emigrate to the Holy Land. They take up residence in Bethlehem, where they become the leaders of monastic communities near the site of Christ’s birth. There Jerome is free to pursue his life of ascetic Christian practice and scholarly writing. His fame begins to grow as he publishes commentaries on many books of the Bible, and he decides to undertake a vast translation effort, putting the Hebrew Old Testament into Latin for the first time (all previous Latin translations had been based on earlier Greek translations, not on Hebrew). He never ceases to be at the center of controversy, partly for his daring undertakings (such as using the Hebrew texts) and partly for his tendency to argue about theological minutiae (for example, he gets into major battles about the reception and value of the works of Origen, an earlier scholar). He also has an acerbic personality, which grates against almost everybody and often makes him sound petty and cruel in his writings. Nonetheless, he is the greatest stylist of the Latin language that had lived since the classical age, and his translation of the Bible eventually becomes the standard Scripture text for the whole of western Christendom for more than a thousand years.

Quotes from Jerome:

“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

“When we pray, we speak to God, but when we read, God speaks to us.”

“The Scriptures are shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for theologians to swim in without ever reaching the bottom.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Photo of the Week

Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom,
sometimes where Eden's flowers bloom,
by waters calm, o'er troubled sea,
still 'tis God's hand that leadeth me.

- from verse 2 of "He Leadeth Me," by Joseph Gilmore, 19th century

Monday, April 20, 2020

Quote of the Week

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

- C. S. Lewis

Friday, April 17, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

My spirit to Thy care, blest Savior, I resign;
Thou wilt not leave me to despair, for Thou art love divine.
In Thee I place my trust, on Thee I calmly rest,
I know Thee good, I know Thee just, and count Thy choice the best.
Whatever things betide, Thy will they must perform;
Safe in Thy shelter I abide, nor fear the coming storm.
Let good or ill befall, it must be good for me,
Secure of having Thee in all, of having all in Thee.

#449 of The Augustine Hymn Book, 19th cent.

Hymn of the Week: Thank You, Jesus, for Your Mercy

In taking Holy Week off from blogging, I wasn't able to write any new hymns relating to the events of Good Friday or Easter Sunday. So here's a belated hymn of the cross, expressing gratitude to Christ for what he did there. It's written to the familiar tune of "Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus."

Thank You, Jesus, for Your Mercy

When I look upon the mountain
Of my Lord's surpassing grace,
Where he gave his life up for me,
I am filled with grateful praise:

     Thank you, Jesus, for your mercy,
     Which you gave at such a cost;
     Thank you for your love and favor,
     Freely granted at the cross.

In the cross are all my glories,
Where my pardon Jesus bought,
Where his grace met my transgressions,
And my own salvation wrought.


All my life I give to Jesus,
All my days to him consign;
For he lavished me with mercy
And made life eternal mine!


Thursday, April 16, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: John Chrysostom

When you are brought before synagogues, rulers, and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”  - Luke 12:11-12

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  - Matthew 25:37-40

John Chrysostom: Basic Facts

- John Chrysostom (349-407 AD) was one of the leading church fathers in eastern Christianity, as important to the eastern tradition as Augustine was to the west. Eastern Orthodox Christians still recite his version of the liturgy every week. He was widely known as a brilliant Bible-teacher and preacher (his nickname means “golden-mouth”), and more than 600 of his sermons have survived.

- John preached in two of the leading cities of the Eastern Roman Empire: Antioch, where he served for 14 years, after which he was abducted, taken to Constantinople, and forced to become Archbishop.

- John served as the Archbishop of Constantinople at a time when it was a very prestigious and very dangerous position to hold. Because of his forthright manner of speaking and his simple style of living, he quickly made enemies among his fellow priests, other archbishops, the wealthy people of the city, and the Empress herself.

Timeline of John Chrysostom's Life and Ministry

363-367 – A promising young man from a well-connected family, John studies rhetoric and literature under the best classical teacher of his day, Libanius. He decides, however, to pursue a life of ministry rather than law, and is baptized in 368.

372 – John goes to study with Diodore of Tarsus, a scholar who leads the “School of Antioch,” which emphasizes the literal interpretation and practical application of Scripture. After this, John spends a few years fasting and praying, living the life of a hermit.

378-381 – He begins his active ministry, first as a lector, then as a deacon in Antioch. In 381 he finds out that he is about to be seized and thrust into ordination as a priest without his consent. He doesn’t feel ready for this, so he goes into hiding.

385 – He finally submits to being ordained as a priest, and works to heal a rift between rival factions in the church. He now begins his preaching ministry, and immediately wins recognition and fame, especially for his homilies on poverty and on uncompromising faith.

398 – After 14 years of preaching in Antioch, the royal eunuch Eutropius selects him to be the next Archbishop of Constantinople. John is seized, taken secretly from Antioch, and is ordained upon his arrival in the capital city. He accepts these events as the providence of God.

399 – His first years at Constantinople win him immediate fame for his preaching, but also a good deal of enmity from those in power. He speaks plainly about the sins of greed and power-grabbing that he sees around him, and he refuses to play the expected role of Archbishop by hosting lavish parties and living in luxury. Instead, he uses the excess funds to build hospitals.

402-403 – John gives refuge to a group of Egyptian monks who appealed to him for help; in response he is attacked as a heretic by the jealous Archbishop of Alexandria. The Empress Eudoxia seizes her chance and allows John to be convicted and deposed; but this is immediately followed by riots and an earthquake, which convinces her to reverse the decision.

404 – Once again John runs afoul of the Empress by aiming his sermons a little too directly at her; so he is deposed again and exiled to the mountainous wilderness of eastern Turkey. He dies three years later.

Quotes from John Chrysostom

“I know my own soul, how feeble and puny it is: I know the magnitude of this ministry, and the great difficulty of the work; for more stormy billows vex the soul of the priest than the gales which disturb the sea.” 

“Riches are not forbidden, but the pride of them is.”

“The rich man is not one who is in possession of much, but one who gives much.”

“It is foolishness and a public madness to fill your closets with clothing and allow men who are created in God’s image and our likeness to stand naked and trembling with the cold.… You are large and fat, you hold drinking parties until late at night, and sleep in a warm, soft bed. And do you not think of how you must give an account of your misuse of the gifts of God?”

“A comprehended god is no god.”

“By the cross we know the gravity of sin and the greatness of God's love toward us.”

“Prayer is an all-efficient panoply, a treasure undiminished, a mine which is never exhausted, a sky unobscured by clouds, a heaven unruffled by the storm. It is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Photo of the Week

A stranger in the world below,
     I calmly sojourn here,
Nor shall its happiness or woe
     Provoke my hope or fear;
Its evils in a moment end,
     Its joys as soon are past;
But O! the bliss to which I tend
     Eternally shall last.

- a hymn of Charles Wesley

Monday, April 13, 2020

Quote of the Week

"The peace of this world is always uncertain, unless men keep the peace of God."

- T. S. Eliot, from Murder in the Cathedral

Monday, April 06, 2020

No New Posts During Holy Week

I'll be taking a one-week break from blogging during Holy Week. Normal posts will resume on Monday, April 13. In the meantime, if you would like to see some of the video content I'm producing during Holy Week, you can check out our church's page at, and follow the instructions for accessing our online services. In addition to our regular Sunday services on Palm Sunday and Easter, we'll also be posting services for Maundy Thursday (7 PM on Apr. 9), Good Friday (3 PM on Apr. 10), and a daily call to prayer each evening at 7 PM.

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.”