Monday, June 22, 2020

A Two-Week Break from Blogging

As I usually do around this time of year, I'm taking a quick little summer break. Normal posts will resume on Monday, July 6.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Vouchsafe to us, though unworthy,
A plenteous outpouring of Thy Spirit
To refresh Thy heritage;
For Thy Kingdom is now at hand,
And Thou art standing at the door.
Hear us, we beseech Thee, O Lord.

- John Milton

Friday, June 19, 2020

Hymn of the Week: We Will Follow the Way

This week's song has the rare distinction of having me both as lyricist and composer (and, unlike my previous forays into musical composition, this one might not be all that bad). The verses are metered according to standard hymn settings (, but the chorus is a bit more modern-worship in its style. It was inspired by the original name for Christianity, as found in the book of Acts: "the Way." I hope you like it!

We Will Follow the Way

Our Lord has taught us how to walk
According to his way;
To live as children of the light,
In holiness and grace.

     (So/Yes) We will follow the Way!
     We will follow the Way he gave us;
     We will follow the Way of our Savior forever!

We are the servants of the King;
We love to do his will;
To follow where he beckons us,
And all his words fulfill.


Though all the earth would turn our hearts,
To lead our steps astray,
We'll never cease to walk along
Our Savior's narrow way.


When trials rise to threaten us,
When storms around us blow,
We'll stand in strength in Jesus' name,
And never lose our hope.


When worlds crumble to the dust
Upon the final day,
We'll not regret we lived to walk
Along our Master's way.


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Bernard of Clairvaux

We love [God] because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  – 1 John 4:19-20

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine.  – Song of Solomon 1:2

Bernard of Clairvaux: Basic Facts

- Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was one of the leading lights of the High Middle Ages, a monastic reformer, preacher, and writer whose influence shaped the course of European history and who remains one of the most-read Christian thinkers to this day.

- Bernard was extremely active for a medieval monk, entering public debates about monastic rules and the academic pursuit of theology. He was also a leading voice against several new heresies and in the culmination of the Second Crusade (in which he spoke out both as a recruiter and as an advocate against anti-Semitic violence), as well as being a supporter and mentor of several popes.

- Bernard’s writings are centered on the personal experience of the love of God. His most famous works are the classic treatise, On Loving God, and a series of sermons on the Song of Solomon.

Timeline of Bernard's Life and Ministry:

1113As a young man of 23 from a noble French family, Bernard decided to join the newly-founded order of Cistercian monks. The Cistercians were a reform movement within monasticism, trying to bring its monks back in line with the ideals of the original founder, Benedict (6th century AD). Bernard joined the abbey of Citeaux, and managed to convince 30 others from among his friends and family to become monks along with him. 

1115 – Bernard was such an exemplary monk that after less than three years at Citeaux, he became the abbot and founder of a new abbey at Clairvaux. (During his career as abbot, he would become the leading voice of the Cistercian order, and would personally found over 70 new monasteries and promote the founding of another 100.)

1120s – Bernard writes many of his most famous treatises, including The Steps of Humility and Pride and On Loving God.

1127 – Bernard writes On the Duties and Conduct of Bishops, launching him into a debate about the appropriate behavior of clergy in an era when many bishops had become greedy landlords.

1128 – A new semi-monastic order, the Knights Templar, is established, with a mission of protecting pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. Bernard is intimately involved in the founding of this new order and becomes an outspoken proponent of its aims.

1130-1138 – After Pope Honorius II dies, an eight-year schism ensues between rival new popes. Bernard weighs into this fight in support of Innocent II, and is instrumental in securing his victory.

1139 – Bernard joins a debate against Abelard, who advocates a radical new approach to doing theology—making it the purview of academics rather than priests, and opening it to a new spirit of questioning. Bernard’s side wins (for the time being) and Abelard is condemned.

1145 – After the death of Pope Innocent II, Bernard’s former pupil becomes Pope Eugenius III.

1146-1147 – Bernard preaches in favor of the Second Crusade (which ends in defeat in 1148).

Quotes and Thoughts from Bernard of Clairvaux:

“The reason for loving God is God Himself….When someone asks, ‘Why should I love God?’ he may mean, What is lovely in God? or What shall I gain by loving God? In either case, the same sufficient cause of love exists, namely, God Himself.” 

“In the first creation God gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost. Created first and then restored, I owe Him myself twice over.”

“Righteousness is the natural and essential food of the soul, which can no more be satisfied by earthly treasures than the hunger of the body can be satisfied by air. If you should see a starving man standing with mouth open to the wind, inhaling draughts of air as if in hope of gratifying his hunger, you would think him a lunatic. But it is no less foolish to imagine that the soul can be satisfied with worldly things.”

“Here indeed is appeasement without weariness; here never-quenched thirst for knowledge, without distress; here eternal and infinite desire which knows no want; here, finally, is that sober inebriation which comes not from drinking wine but from enjoying God. The fourth degree of love is attained forever when we love God only and supremely, when we do not even love ourselves except for God’s sake; so that He Himself is the reward of them that love Him, the everlasting reward of an everlasting love.”

The Four Steps of Love (from "On Loving God")

1.) Loving oneself for one’s own sake (natural, self-centered desires)
2.) Loving God for one’s own sake (serving Him because it makes us feel good and gets us to heaven)
3.) Loving God for God’s own sake (seeing the majesty and goodness of God and loving Him simply because of the greatness of who He is)
4.) Loving oneself for God’s sake (as we grow closer to God, we are so full of His love that we love all that He loves—including ourselves)

St. Bernard of Clairvaux - Steps of Pride & Steps of Humility (as arranged for use by monks)
Since pride is the opposite of humility, the steps toward full pride are the opposite of the steps toward full humility. The steps to humility are the antidote to the steps to pride. One step leads to the next.
12 Steps of Pride

     (Initial Beginnings of the Sin of Pride)
1. Curiosity about what is not one's proper concern
2. Light mindedness: chatter and exclamation about things which do not matter
3. Laughing about nothing; foolish merriment
4. Boasting and talking too much
5. Trying to be different: claiming special rights
6. Thinking oneself holier than others
7. Interfering presumptuously with the affairs of others
8. Self-justification: defending one's sinful actions
9. Insincere confession
10. Rebelling against superiors
11. Feeling free to sin
12. Habitual sinning
     (Worst and Fullest Form of Pride)

12 Steps of Humility

     (Initial Beginnings of Humility)
12. Containment of one's interests, which shows itself in a humble bearing and lowered eyes
11. Quiet and restrained speech
10. Reluctance to laugh
9. Keeping silent unless asked to speak
8. Regarding oneself as having no special rights in the community
7. Thinking oneself less holy than the others
6. Thinking oneself unworthy to take initiative
5. Confessing one's sins
4. Patience in the face of accusation
3. Submission to superiors
2. Desiring no freedom to exercise one's will
1. Constant watchfulness against sin
     (Best and Fullest Form of Humility)

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Photo of the Week

Oh, glorious hope of perfect love!
It lifts me up to things above;
It bears on eagles' wings.
It gives my ravished soul a taste,
And makes me in his church to feast
With Jesus' priests and kings.

- from v. 1 of Charles Wesley's hymn, "Oh, Glorious Hope of Perfect Love," adapted

Monday, June 15, 2020

Quote of the Week

“All God’s giants have been weak men, who did great things for God because they reckoned on his being with them.”

- J. Hudson Taylor, 19th-century missionary and founder of China Inland Mission

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

O Christ, thou hast bidden us pray for the coming of thy Father's kingdom, in which his righteous will shall be done on earth. We have treasured thy words, but we have forgotten their meaning... As we have mastered nature that we might gain wealth, help us now to master the social relations of mankind that we may gain justice and a world of brothers. For what shall it profit our nation if it gain numbers and riches, and lose the sense of the living God and the joy of human brotherhood? Make us determined to live by truth and not by lies, to found our common life on the eternal foundations of righteousness and love, and no longer to prop the tottering house of wrong by legalized cruelty and force. Help us to make the welfare of all the supreme law of our land, so that our commonwealth may be built strong and secure on the love of all its citizens... Show thy erring children at last the way to the City of Love, and fulfill the longings of the prophets of humanity. Our Master, once more we make thy faith our prayer: Thy Kingdom come!

- Walter Rauschenbusch

(Image: "Lest We Forget," by Robert Templeton - This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Hymn of the Week: God Grant Me the Serenity

I've been toying for awhile with the idea of finding a hymn tune that I could pair with the text of the famous "Serenity Prayer." This is my first stab at an attempt, using the tune of the old hymn "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go." The lyrics below are derived from the full text of the prayer; aside from a few tweaks and a touch of poetic license, none are are my own invention. The prayer is most commonly known in a very simple form, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference," but that's really only half (or less) of the full version as written by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in the early 20th century. The prayer is beloved both for its depth of insight and its pithiness, and even if I may not have captured the 
full extent of either element here, it made 
for a fun experiment in hymnography.

God Grant Me the Serenity

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I can't change;
Yet grant me courage to act where I
Should actively work for change.
And over both of these virtues, grant
The wisdom that I will need
To know the difference between the two,
When striving or when I'm at peace.

     I'm living my life one day at a time,
     Finding joy in each moment God gives.
     I'm taking this world as Jesus did;
     I'll live as he taught me to live.

God grant me grace, that I'd accept
Hardships as your paths to peace;
That though this world is wracked by sin, 
I'd trust in your sovereignty:
That you would make all these things turn right,
If I submit to your will;
Then happy I'd be in this life and the next,
With your bold serenity filled.


Thursday, June 11, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Cyril, Methodius, and the Conversion of Eastern Europe

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

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound [of the disciples’ preaching], a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?...We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  – Acts 2:5-8, 11b

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  – 1 Peter 2:12

Cyril & Methodius: Basic Facts

- Cyril and Methodius (9th century AD) were brothers who became missionaries to the pagan Slavs of eastern Europe. Cyril was a linguist and philosopher, one of the foremost intellectuals of the Byzantine Empire. Methodius, his older brother, was a monk who was involved in the highest circles of politics in Constantinople. Together they were dispatched to convert the Slavic peoples to the north. They invented a new alphabet with which to write down Slavic languages, translated the Bible and the Orthodox liturgy, and championed the use of native languages in worship rather than always using Greek or Latin.
[Me and two colleagues at the statues of Cyril & Methodius in Mukachevo, Ukraine]

- Their impact in eastern Christianity is immense. Because of their work, eastern Europe and Russia became Christian civilizations for the entirety of the following millennium. They are celebrated as “equal to the apostles” across eastern Europe and Russia, and as the patron saints of the entire continent of Europe.

Timeline of Their Life and Work:

848 AD – The brothers have grown up in northern Greece, close enough to Slavic-speaking populations in Macedonia to learn a bit of their language. But when Cyril is just fourteen years old, their father dies, and they are taken into the protection of one of the highest officials in the Byzantine Empire. He raises Cyril to be a philosopher and sets him on the career of a professor at the highest university in the realm. Meanwhile, Methodius becomes a prominent abbot. 

860 – With his reputation as a scholar riding high, Cyril is designated by the emperor to be a foreign emissary. He is sent to the Muslim caliph of the Abbasid Empire, to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to Arab theologians. Later, he is sent out again, this time to the Khazars of central Asia, who were considering a mass conversion to Judaism.

862 – Despite having little success in the earlier missions, Cyril, this time with his brother Methodius, is called upon to go north into Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic). The king of Moravia, hoping to gain some political freedom from the powerful German areas to his west, had invited the Byzantine Empire to send in missionaries to convert his people to Christianity. Cyril and Methodius took advantage of the opportunity. They developed an alphabet, Glagolithic, which they could use to write down the language, Old Slavonic, which had previously been only a spoken language. Then they translated the Bible and introduced the Orthodox church rite to the new Christians of the area. Unlike the German Christians to the west, who were forced to use Latin in their services, these new Christians were given the freedom to learn and practice the faith in their own language.

867 – Under attack from German bishops who saw their mission as a foreign intrusion, Cyril and Methodius had to go to Rome to defend their practice. Pope Adrian II affirmed their ministry.

871 – Methodius is appointed archbishop of Moravia after Cyril’s death, but he is challenged and imprisoned for two and a half years by the Franco-German King Louis before being freed on order of the pope. The use of Slavonic instead of Latin is still highly controversial, but Methodius continues to use it throughout the 870s. During his ministry there, the region becomes almost entirely Christianized.

885 – Methodius dies, and the new pope decides to declare the Slavonic liturgy illegal. Methodius’ followers flee to Bulgaria, where they continue the work of converting the people of that country and teaching them to learn and practice the Christian faith in their own Slavic language. They take the alphabet Cyril devised and tweak it to produce “Cyrillic”—the alphabet still in use in Russian and most other eastern European languages.

Prince Vladimir of Rus

- Vladimir (958-1015) was the Viking-descendant ruler of a group of Slavic tribes around the area of Kiev (now the capital of Ukraine). Despite having been a thoroughgoing pagan in his early reign—having 800 concubines and thousands of idolatrous shrines, in addition to pursuing bloodthirsty political schemes against his own family members—he decided, perhaps for political reasons, that it would be good to convert his kingdom to a major religion. So he sent out emissaries to study Judaism, Islam, the Roman Catholicism of the Germans, and the Orthodox Christianity of the Byzantine Empire. The reports from the first three emissaries were not impressive; but the emissaries who returned from Constantinople, where they saw an Orthodox church service, reported: "We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth, nor have we ever seen such beauty, and we know not how to tell of it." So, because of the beauty they had seen, the Rus became Orthodox Christians, and this event is considered the founding of Russia itself.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Photo of the Week

Fountain of pity, now with pity flow...
O God that art more high than I am low.

- from Psalm 56 of The Sidney Psalter

Monday, June 08, 2020

Quote of the Week

"The Lord gets his best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction."

- Charles H. Spurgeon, 19th century pastor and author

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

O Lord, Thy heavenly grace impart,
And fix my frail, inconstant heart;
Henceforth my chief desire shall be
To dedicate myself to Thee.
Whate'er pursuits my time employ,
One thought shall fill my heart with joy;
That silent, secret thought shall be
That all my hopes are fixed on Thee.

- Jean Frederic Oberlin (translated by Lucy Wilson)

(Photo © Hubertl / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Friday, June 05, 2020

Hymn of the Week: Gloria Patri

The "Gloria Patri" (Glory be to the Father) is one of the most ancient songs of the Christian tradition. It has been set to many different wordings and tunes throughout the ages. Here's my own offering, somewhat less solemn than is traditional for the piece. The stanzas of the song can be moved about or repeated as desired.

Gloria Patri

Glory to the Father, glory, glory,
Glory to the Son, all glory, glory,
Glory to the Spirit, glory, glory,
Praise forevermore!

Glory to the Father, glory, glory,
Glory to the Son, all glory, glory,
Glory to the Spirit, glory, glory,
Praise forevermore!

As it was in the beginning,
And as it is today,
As it was and is and will be ever,
World without end!

Glory to the Father, glory, glory,
Glory to the Son, all glory, glory,
Glory to the Spirit, glory, glory,
Praise forevermore!

As it was in the beginning, 
And as it is today,
As it was and is and will be ever,
Amen, amen!

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Columba and the Celtic Missionaries

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and of prayer….All the believers were together and had everything in common….And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. - Acts 2:42, 44, 47b

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism….Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised to those who love him? – James 2:1, 5


- Columba (521-597 AD) was an Irish monk and missionary who sought to bring the Christian faith to the people of Scotland. While Ireland had already been largely Christian for a century at the time, Scotland had never been evangelized. Columba and his followers formed the first wave of a Celtic missions movement that would eventually reach not only Scotland, but re-introduce the faith into England and France as well. 

- Columba’s missionary method was based on a monastic model. In every journey he undertook, he always brought a team of fellow monks with him. They would found a new monastery, equip the local monks to continue the work of evangelization and discipleship, and then move on. Most famously, he founded a monastery on the island of Iona, which became a training-school for missionaries.

Columba Quotes:

“Lord, be a bright flame before me; be a guiding star above me; be a smooth path below me; be a kindly shepherd behind me; today and evermore. Amen.”

“Alone with none but thee, my God, I journey on my way. What need I fear, when thou art near, O king of night and day? More safe am I within thy hand than if a host did round me stand.”


- Columbanus (543-615 AD) was also an Irish missionary-monk, who sailed to Gaul (modern France) and founded a string of mission-monasteries that helped to reintroduce orthodox Christianity to the local population, which held to a mix of pagan beliefs and heretical Christian dogmas.

- Columbanus and his monastic movement won him both friends and enemies in Gaul. The local people were converted so quickly that his monasteries had to expand and multiply to house all the new monks. By the second generation of this movement, more than 100 of these monasteries had been founded across Gaul and the Alps. But Columbanus also faced opposition, both from the local royalty (which he angered by speaking out against their sins) and from the local bishops (who resented the success of his ministry). Driven out by his enemies, he eventually took the Gospel into unreached parts of the Alps (present-day Switzerland) before settling in northern Italy.

- Columbanus’ monasticism left a lasting mark on Christian traditions: he was the one who pioneered “confession” as a private ritual between a layman and a priest. Until that point confession and penance had been a far more public part of Christian practice (which had become problematic because it tended toward legalism rather than grace).

Columbanus Quotes:

“Grant me, O Lord, the lamp of love which never grows dim, that it may shine in me and warm my heart, and give light to others through my love for them, and by its brightness we may have a vision of the Holy City where the true and inextinguishable light shines: Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” 

“I beg you, most loving Savior, to reveal yourself to us, that knowing you we may desire you, that desiring you we may love you, that loving you we may ever hold you in our thoughts.”

Aidan of Lindisfarne

- Aidan (d. 651 AD) was an outstanding missionary in the tradition of Columba. He lived as a monk in the monastery at Iona until King Oswald of Northumbria (north-east England) requested a missionary for his people, who still held to the pagan religions of their Germanic ancestors. Aidan answered the call and founded a mission-monastery on the island of Lindisfarne, just off the coasts of Northumbria and Scotland. From there he undertook walking-tours in which he made friendships and taught the Gospel to all those he met, both rich and poor. King Oswald personally accompanied him on many of these evangelistic tours and served as Aidan’s translator. By the time of his death, Northumbria was largely converted.

A quote from Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, one of Aidan’s disciples: “What am I lying here for? God will certainly have heard the prayers of so many good men. Fetch me my shoes and stick!”

Aidan was known to be incredibly generous. Once, King Oswin (Oswald’s successor) gave Aidan the gift of a thoroughbred horse with all the royal trappings—a tremendously valuable gift in that day and age. As Aidan rode away, he came across a poor man begging for alms. Since he didn’t have any money to give, Aidan simply gave the poor man the horse and its trappings. When Oswin found out about this and protested against Aidan’s poor use of such a valuable gift, Aidan replied, “That man, made in the image of God, is of far more value than your fine horse.”

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Photo of the Week

But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you: [...]
In God's hand is the life of every creature
and the breath of all mankind.

- Job 12:7, 10

Monday, June 01, 2020

Quote of the Week

"Whatever souls are being tried [in sorrow, stress, and suffering], even in commonplace and homely ways, there God is hewing out the pillars for His temple."

- Phillips Brooks, 19th-century pastor, author, and hymnographer