Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A prayer for Ascension Day

The Book of Common Prayer includes the following prayer for Ascension Day. I found it very beautiful, and thought some of us might want to join in praying it.

O Almightly God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abideth with his Church on earth, even unto the end of the ages; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everalsting. Amen.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Wednesday Evening (First Vespers of the Ascension)

This evening many Christians turn their thoughts to our Lord’s ascension: what is means to the Church, to the world, and to one personally. In his Letters and Papers from Prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “Today is Ascension Day, and that means that it is a day of great joy for all who can believe that Christ rules the world and our lives.”

Years ago I found Jesus’ ascension something of a great puzzle; as a boy I often wondered why Jesus could not have set himself permanently, visibly, openly somewhere on earth, sort of like a pope in some sort of ecumenical Vatican. Oh, I supposed Jesus wouldn’t really want to live in a big place like that, but surely by living somewhere on this planet Jesus might have given us everlasting and continually visible proof that by his dying and rising God has finally set things right. After all, sometimes the psalms appointed for Ascension Day strongly suggest that God will set up his throne in the temple where “Kings shall bring gifts” to him for the temple’s sake” (68).

But Jesus decided not to take up an abiding residence in Jerusalem, Rome, London, New York City, or Richmond, Kentucky. The naked truth is that he's pretty much disappeared; he’s gone to be somewhere else, somewhere called heaven. It’s the plain teaching of Scriptures, and the ecumenical Nicene Creed says so: “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”

Several years ago M. Basil Pennington, a Cistercian monk and one-time abbot (who died last year) visited me in Massachusetts and gave me a long five-minute blessing with his big hands solidly on my head. His journals from trips to the Holy Land have just been published. After visiting the spot on Mount Olivet where Jesus is said to have ascended, Basil says:

It is good that Jesus ascended. His mission was complete. He gave us all. He deserves to sit on the right hand of the Father in glory. The reality of his Ascension gives us the courage to transcend ourselves and open us to divine contemplation. In Christ’s going ahead, we are assured that there is heaven for all of us humans, there is intimacy and at-homeness with the divine.

Basil’s right. Any desire for Jesus to live on a certain street in Richmond is much like that desire of Peter, James, and John to domesticate the Transfiguration. But Jesus would have none of that so that "we can transcend ourselves." The Ascension, I believe, tells us that Jesus is presents himself to us all at once in a multitude of ways:
when we read and hear the Gospel, when we table with Him in our homes and churches, when we meet children, when we visit prisoners, when we put diapers on babies, dresses on women, and coats on men, when we stand for justice, when we work for peace, when we serve the poor, when we reach out to our enemies, when two or three of us come together and name Him. In other words: when we love one another.

And then there's this which Mark Harris announces:

The ascension proposes that Jesus Christ has taken a place above all the principalities and powers in the world. He has become that to which we turn in order to find meaning and fulfillment in living.
In this sense the ascension is a key doctrine in these latter days. It is not one that patriots of any stripe will like very much. If we turn to Paul, we see that he speaks of the "spirit of wisdom" by which to discern these things. If we use that spirit, we'll be led to proclaim Christ's absolute rule--not as king, but as one who feeds and sustains.

Giving all other powers their due and their respect, we Christians cannot as a matter of total confidence or supreme trust embrace the flag, support the government, or pledge allegiance to the country for which they stand. Rather we end up having to say with Paul that Christ Jesus is "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come."

Perhaps the visual notion of the ascension is the movement of the Christ to the place at the head of the table as our great high priest, the head of the true state that is the church, the body of Christ of which Christians are all parts. Friend Jesus, move up!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Preparing for, understanding, appreciating, and celebrating Ascension Day, May 25

This Thursday, the fortieth day after the Resurrection of Jesus, will be Ascension Day, or as I grew up know it, “The Feast of the Ascension.” As the name of the day indicates, it commemorates the ascension of Christ into heaven and his completion of the work of our redemption. This fortieth-day after the resurrection celebrates the entry of Christ into heaven with our human nature glorified, and the pledge of our glorification with Him. In our Christian history, processions outside the church were held on this day to imitate Christ's leading the Apostles out of the city to the Mount of Olives, and to commemorate the entry of Christ into heaven.

As the painting by Solomon RAJ, India presents it, there is something wonderfully primitive in the story-telling about the ascension of our Lord. As a boy, I was always somewhat mystified by the Gospel story of Jesus' going up to heaven. I pictured him as a sort of Superman (or Mary Poppins bouyed up by the wind under her black umbrella at the end of the movie) who could fly up, up, and away. And, quite frankly, I'm still not quite sure how to imagine Our Lord's entrance into glory, his return to the full Presence of the Father, his transition to the realm of the Spirit as our resurrected Lord. At any rate, I always looked forward to our annual celebration of the Christ's ascension, mostly because His "leaving" paradoxically meant his "coming" to everyone--including me-- in the Gospel and sacraments. In the next few days, I'll share with you something of what others in art, music, and words tell us about the ascension of our Lord.

If you want to take a close look at what the Mark and Luke tell us about the Lord Jesus' ascension, turn to Mark 16.19; Luke 24.50-53, and Acts 1.6-11. More tomorrow.

Monday, May 22, 2006

St. Brendan and Singing the Psalms


Recently I've been listening to the cassette-tape program, Singing the Psalms by the Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault. I think we've mentioned this tape set earlier on this blog.

The passage I want to quote today is from Tape 2, in which Bourgeault tells the story of the 6th century Irish saint, Brendan, who went in search of a long-lost Christian land to the west of Ireland. He sailed away with 14 fellow monks, and, according to medieval legend, visited a variety of fantastic lands. Their quest was to find "a land where light never dropped: [it was] always illuminated by the light of Christ."

A few years ago, the National Geographic (I believe) funded an expedition by Tim Severan to see whether a crew sailing a leather-covered Celtic boat really could sail from Ireland to the New World. Tim Severan's crew made it, so perhaps St. Brendan actually arrived in Newfoundland.

Was this a real voyage? Was the legend an account of an actual Irish landfall in America 1,000 years before Columbus?

According to the manuscript, everywhere Brendan landed, he encountered monks who joined him in the Daily Office. In fact, on one island, "The Paradise of the Birds," the monks were joined in singing vespers by the birds of the land, who sang beautiful Latin.

Bourgeult notes that the modern expedition recreated everything about Brendan's voyage except one important thing. They failed to recreate the one aspect of the voyage that the medieval manuscript was the most specific about: every day the monks would raise their voices to chant the psalms together. They sang the Divine Office seven tmes a day, just as if they were back at the monastery.

"They [the National Geographic expedition] did get to the land," Cynthia Bourgeault writes, "but the question is, did they arrive at the same land that St. Brendan found?"

The modern explorers expected to arrive at the wind-swept coast of Newfoundland, and they did. St. Brendan and his monks expected to find a holy place, and indeed they arrived at "The Paradise of the Birds." There, the very birds sang, "My lips shall sing the praises of the Lord."

Brendan and his monks did not report seeing bare rocks, cold surf, and rude gulls pecking at the sand. Far from it. They found a land bathed in the light of Christ.

She contines, "For the secret is--and I think it's a very important secret--that the world that you get to in the Psalms is a different world than the world you get to without them."

Bourgeault continues, "The world that you find by going from place to place with the Divine Office as your backbone, is a different world than you find when you just get out there and go for it in linear time."

I love the suggestion that the Psalms have the power to change the way we experience reality--in a sense to change reality itself, at least for the believer. I really have no particular desire to visit the cold, rocky coast of Newfoundland, but I would love to arrive someday at the Paradise of the Birds.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Friday, May 19, 2006

Scott McKnight’s Praying with the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today (PwC) is a marvelous book. It’s so good that last night I read half of it, and today I plan to finish it. McKnight, a fine Protestant theologian, grew up in a church that deliberately avoided the use of prayer books; instead, his tradition exclusively practiced and were good at spontaneous prayers.” He was taught that you can “catch spiritual infections from set prayers” and that “there was a spiritually dangerous connection between set prayers and impersonal faith.” But what McKnight has come to discover is that “the Bible, Jesus, and the Church teach that we can learn to use set prayers at set times and pray with the Church and mean every word we say and, as a result, grow both personally and as a community of faith.”

To help us understand what praying with [McKnight likes to italicize that word!] means, he tells the story of his family’s trip to Assisi, the home of St. Francis and St. Clare. Looking for the little church, the Portiuncola, that Francis famously rebuilt, McKnight finally located it—of all places!-- housed within a huge basilica so that architecturally it’s now “a church within a church.” Using this architectural image, McKnight compares his early prayer life with that of a life praying in the little church; his traditional prayer life was private, sequestered, closeted. His prayers, although always earnest, sincere, and mostly spontaneous, was always prayed "in the church."

Now, some years later, McKnight wants to share with us what it’s like to pray, not only "in the little church," but "with the Church," in the great big basilica, to pray with the whole Church, to pray with all the people of God, to pray with everyone with everyone in heaven and on earth.
McKnight does not disparage “in-the-church” praying. He treasures praying in the church. He does, however, wish to show us how to widen, deepen, and open our praying to larger possibilities. Showing us how to do such praying is what his book is all about. If you're interested in deepening and expanding your life with God and those whom he loves, you may well wish to read this book and share your comments.

More tomorrow!

May 19: Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, 988

Today many Christians remember the life and witness of St. Dunstan.

Born of a noble family at Baltonsborough, near Glastonbury, England, Dunstan was educated there by Irish monks and while still a youth, was sent to the court of King Athelstan. He became a Benedictine monk about 934 and was ordained by his uncle, St. Alphege, Bishop of Winchester, about 939. After a time as a hermit at Glastonbury, Dunstan was recalled to the royal court by King Edmund, who appointed him abbot of Glastonbury Abbey in 943. He developed the Abbey into a great center of learning while revitalizing other monasteries in the area. He became advisor to King Edred on his accession to the throne when Edmund was murdered, and began a far-reaching reform of all the monasteries in Edred's realm.

Dunstan also became deeply involved in secular politics and incurred the enmity of the West Saxon nobles for denouncing their immorality and for urging peace with the Danes. When Edwy succeeded his uncle Edred as king in 955, he became Dunstan's bitter enemy for the Abbot's strong censure of his scandalous lifestyle. Edwy confiscated his property and banished him from his kingdom. Dunstan went to Ghent in Flanders but soon returned when a rebellion replaced Edwy with his brother Edgar, who appointed Dunstan Bishop of Worcester and London in 957. When Edwy died in 959, the civil strife ended and the country was reunited under Edgar, who appointed Dunstan Archbishop of Canterbury. The king and archbishop then planned a thorough reform of Church and state. Dunstan was appointed legate by Pope John XII, and with St. Ethelwold and St. Oswald, restored ecclesiastical discipline, rebuilt many of the monasteries destroyed by the Danish invaders, replaced inept secular priests with monks, and enforced the widespread reforms they put into effect. Dunstan served as Edgar's chief advisor for sixteen years and did not hesitate to reprimand him when he thought it deserved.

When Edgar died, Dunstan helped elect Edward the martyr king and then his half brother Ethelred, when Edward died soon after his election. Under Ethelred, Dunstan's influence began to wane and he retired from politics to Canterbury to teach at the Cathedral school and died there. Dunstan has been called the reviver of monasticism in England. He was a noted musician, played the harp, composed several hymns, notably Kyrie Rex splendens, was a skilled metal worker, and illuminated manuscripts. He is the patron of armorers, goldsmiths, locksmiths, and jewelers.

If you wish to thank God for the ministry of St. Dunstan, you may use this prayer:

O God of truth and beauty, who richly endowed your bishop Dunstan with skill in music and the working of metals, and with gifts of administration and reforming zeal: Teach us, we pray, to see in you the source of all our talents, and move us to offer them for the adornment of worship and the advancement of true religion; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Scott McKnight, Praying with the Church

Several weeks ago Mason mentioned the publication of Scott McKnight's newest book, Praying with the Church: Flowing Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today. McKnight is an evangelical scholar and professor at North Park University whose The Jesus Creed has been read by many with deep appreciation.

Upon Mason's recommendation, I ordered Praying with the Church (only $10.37 from and found its arrival in my stack of mail when I came back to Kentucky earlier this week. Paging through it, I think it will be a terrific book to read carefully. I like to suggest that some of you buy it and share your responses to what you discover within it. Here's what Publishers Weekly says about its contents:

The so-called "high church" branches of Christianity have practiced liturgical prayer, or prayer with set words and at set hours, for centuries. In this folksy, practical and welcoming guidebook for Protestants unacquainted with, or perhaps even suspicious of, what he calls the "prayer book tradition" of the Church, McKnight attempts to root liturgical prayer in three things: biblical practice, a theology based on "loving God and loving others" and an ecumenical sensitivity to the riches of various Christian traditions. A professor of religious studies at North Park University and a popular writer on Christian spirituality, McKnightexplores the Jewish practice of prayer, how Jesus practiced prayer and how various denominations use the Psalms and the Bible as foundations for liturgy. He also draws from his own experiences to illustrate how Christians can use prayer books grounded in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. "Praying with the Church," he writes, "involves allowing our own prayer lives to be adjusted to the sacred rhythms of the Church's prayer tradition." Laced with quotations from many "real-life" users, this helpful volume concludes with a chapter on how prayer book liturgies can be adapted for individual use.

The first chapter is titled "Praying with the Church" and begins with these words:

Most Christians are not happy with their prayer ife--they either don't pray often enough or well enough. This book is written to help such Christiains--and for those who do pray often, this book might also bring a welcoming word.

If you think Praying with the Church might be of interest to you, order a copy today. It should arrive at your doorstep within a week. We'll begin our discussion sometime this week.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Calvin Miller on "The Depths of God"


In his book Into the Depths of God (2000), Calvin Miller tells the following story that I found both interesting and very beautiful:

To play with God's depth is to be overwhelmed with his vastness. I remember once flying over the state of Montana with a Japanese businessman from urban Tokyo. "Does anybody live in all this empty space?" he asked.

"Not many," I replied. On we flew.

"Nobody?" he asked.

I nodded. We flew some more.

"So huge, so beautiful, so vast," he said.

I knew what he was trying to say. I knew those words: so huge, so beautiful, so vast. It is what I feel each time I encounter God. I lie down to sleep, but do not pray "the Lord my soul to keep." Instead I stalk a greater immensity in a near nightly ritual of euphoria. His blessings swarm about me in a wonderful lightness of being. It is an odd insomnia sponsored by sheer joy. My mind at first begins splashing through some tiny rivulet of God's grace. Gradually the stream grows . . . and Gloria in excelsis! I am in an ocean too wide to measure, too deep to fathom. I am deliriously adrift on the sea of his endless being. Yet I always step out into this ocean from the tiny beachhead of my heart. I am amazed that in the center of my shallow tidal soul I have such immediate access to the vast oceans of his presence (14-15).

This book seems to be filled with such moments. Just a few lines down Miller says:

First Corinthians 2:10 contains one little word that lunges at us with challenge: "But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God." Deep is the dwelling place of God. Deep is the character of the ocean. Hold the metaphor for a mement and savor its lessons. . . . For deep is where the noisy, trashy surface of the ocean gets quiet and serene. No sound breaks the awesome silence of the ocean's heart. Most Christians, however, spend their lives being whipped tumultuously through the surface circumstances of their days. Their frothy lifestyles mark the surface nature of their lives. Yet those who plumb the deep things of God discover true peace for the first time (15).

Miller contrasts visiting the Great Barrier Reef (as he and his wife did) to snorkel, and visiting the same spot to scuba dive (as his son did). He and his wife saw the reef. They were there on it, and enjoyed its colors. But his son--in the depths--experienced the reef in its full beauty, with its vast harbor of life and its expanse into seeming infinity.

May we all find a doorway into the depths of God. Comments?

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Toonspirit Update


I am sorry that I haven't written on anthrakia for a little while, but I have been working real hard on my website Since I last wrote about it, I have made a lot of progress on the 7 part "The Chlorhydris Files" lesson. I have 5 parts of this lesson done and 2 parts to go. Anyone who is interested in reading the updated lessons is welcome. I have made some changes in text and links and made things much more streamlined. I have made all of the PDF files a lot smaller and easier to download. The lessons and papers are still much the same, if not the same content. I just was able to use a better PDF converter (A friend helped me a lot).

I hope and pray everyone is having a great day.

God Bless You. Be Safe.


Mother's Day

Hello Everyone,

Is everyone having a good Mother's Day? This is a time for most of us to tighten the ties that bind us in love with our mothers. So, to the all the moms out there on anthrakia and beyond, have a good one.

God Bless You! Be Safe.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Full "Service of Word and Table" scheduled for Sunday at Richmond FUMC

Some of us in Anthrakia have been attending a class on Holy Communion using the text This Holy Mystery. Based on the reaction of the class to this text, and a conversation that Andy and I had with Pastor Gene, Mary Lou said the church is planning to use the full version of "A Service of Word and Table" from the Methodist Book of Worship at the first service on Sunday.

In addition, she wanted the class to suggest ways of enhancing the component of liturgy used for the blended second service.

I would like to request prayers for this change in our service, that it be successful, well-received, and meaningful for the whole congregation.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 47 for Thursdays of Eastertide

We’ve been talking a lot about daily prayer recently, and this morning I thought it may be helpful to articulate why the Psalms have become the backbone, so to speak, of traditional Evening and Morning Prayer in the Church. There are at least three good reasons why we regularly include and pray the Psalms in our daily prayers:
-- The Psalms place us within the community of faith.
-- The Psalms provide a profound and proper understanding of the human condition.
-- The Psalms let us listen to the heartbeat and voice of God.
-- The Lord Jesus Christ prays for us in the Psalms.

This morning many of us prayed Psalm 47, one of the psalms for Thursday of Eastertide in The Daily Prayer of the Church. It’s a typical, but short, psalm of praise, ten verses long:

1 Clap your hands, all you peoples;* shout to God with a cry of joy.
2 For the LORD most high is to be feared;* he is the great King over all the earth!
3 He subdues the peoples under us,* and the nations under our feet.peoples under our feet.
4 He chooses our inheritance for us,* the pride of Jacob whom he loves.
5 God has gone up with a shout,* the LORD with the sound of the ram’s horn.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;* sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is King of all the earth;* sing praises with all your skill.
8 God reigns over the nations;* God sits upon his holy throne.
9 The nobles of the people have gathered together* with the people of the God of Abraham.
10. The rulers of the earth belong to God,* and he is highly exalted

As I prayed, it became apparent that the Holy Spirit was encouraging everyone to express themselves with cries of joy, clapping our hands; the Spirit was encouraging us to sing praises and worship the LORD. Although I prayed this psalm alone earlier this morning, the psalm reminded me that others (“all you peoples”) were praying with me. Some, somewhere, were praying with Psalm 47. Others, of course, were praying with other psalms, or without psalms. The important awareness, however, was that I was part of the community of faith continually giving praise to God. Praying the psalms thus assures me that I am never alone. Lots of others are with me: pastors, laywomen and laymen, bishops, monks and nuns, evangelists, teachers--all kinds and sorts of Christiains in Africa, South America, Russia, and Iraq. I’m always, so to speak, “in church.” The Psalms always place us within the community of faith.

As I entered the psalm, the Spirit told why we sing, clap, praise, and worship the LORD. He is “Most High,” “the great King over all the earth,” who “reigns over the nations.” Over and again, the psalms repeats that announcement, that Gospel. “The rulers of the earth belong to God, and he is highly exalted.”

After each psalm my prayer book, The Daily Prayer of the Church, encourages “silence for meditation.” I therefore sit for a few minutes and ponder over what I have sung. To help me ponder, the prayerbook provides an antiphon at the beginning and end of each psalm. This antiphon, usually a verse from the psalm itself, serves as a frame to call attention to something special inside the psalm. The antiphon often changes from time to time, from season to season. Here’s the antiphon for today’s Psalm 47:

God is king of all the earth;*
Sing praises with all your skill, alleluia.

As I pondered the psalm’s antiphon and proclamation, I thought about its comforting message. Although I am a conservative Christian theologically, I’m something of a liberal politically, and frankly, I worry a good bit about the direction our nation is taking (I won’t get into that now). I desperately need the Word of God telling me that in spite of everything, no matter how bad it looks, God is “king of all the earth.” For that reason I appreciated the reassuring announcement that God is above all presidents, all dictators, all governments, all political craziness, all national powers, all terrors. The God of Abraham, who works his mercy in, with, under, and above all historical movements, is to be praised.

After singing such a psalm, The Daily Prayer of the Church provides a summing-up prayer like this one for Psalm 47:

Lord Jesus, the dominion of the universe is yours, for you have ascended on high and are seated on the throne prepared for you by the Father: Gather all peoples into your Church and make them a holy nation, a royal priesthood, your chosen heritage, to praise and adore your divine majesty now and for ever.

Not all of the psalms are as "easy" to sing and theologically transparent as Psalm 47. In the days to come, when I arrive at more "difficult" psalms, I hope to share my pondering over those psalms too. In the meantime, if you pray with the psalms, share with us your insights.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

May 4: Monnica, the Mother of St. Augustine

Today many Christians remember Monnica, the mother of St. Augustine.

We know about Monnica almost entirely from the autobiography--The Confessions--of her son Augustine, a major Christian writer, theologian and philosopher, whom we remember on August 28. Monnica was born in North Africa, near Carthage, in what is now Tunisia, perhaps around 331, of Christian parents, and was a Christian throughout her life. Her name has usually been spelled "Monica," but recently her tomb in Ostia was discovered, and the burial inscription says "Monnica," a spelling which all Ac (Archaeologically Correct) persons have hastened to adopt. (On the other hand, it may simply be that the artisan who carved the inscription was a bad speller.) As a girl, she was fond of wine, but on one occasion was taunted by a slave girl for drunkenness, and resolved not to drink thereafter. She was married to a pagan husband, Patricius, a man of hot temper, who was often unfaithful to her, but never insulted or struck her. It was her happiness to see both him and his mother ultimately receive the Gospel.

Monnica soon recognized that her son was a man of extraordinary intellectual gifts, a brilliant thinker and a natural leader of men (as a youngster he was head of a local gang of juvenile delinquents), and she had strong ambitions and high hopes for his success in a secular career. Indeed, though we do not know all the circumstances, most Christians today would say that her efforts to steer him into a socially advantageous marriage were in every way a disaster.

However, she grew in spiritual maturity through a life of prayer, and her ambitions for his worldly success were transformed into a desire for his conversion. He, as a youth, rejected her religion with scorn, and looked to various pagan philosophies for clues to the meaning of life. He undertook a career as an orator and teacher of the art of oratory (rhetoric), and moved from Africa to Rome and thence to Milan, at that time the seat of government in Italy. His mother followed him there a few years later. In Milan, Augustine met the bishop Ambrose, from whom he learned that Christianity could be intellectually respectable, and under whose preaching he was eventually converted and baptised on Easter Eve in 387, to the great joy of Monnica.

After his baptism, Augustine and a younger brother Navigius and Monnica planned to return to Africa together, but in Ostia, the port city of Rome, Monnica fell ill and said, "You will bury your mother here. All I ask of you is that, wherever you may be, you should remember me at the altar of the Lord. Do not fret because I am buried far from our home in Africa. Nothing is far from God, and I have no fear that he will not know where to find me, when he comes to raise me to life at the end of the world."

You may wish to use the following prayer to thank God for Monnica's witness and life, asking God to deepen your desire to bring others, perhaps your own children, to the Lord Jesus Christ

O Lord, who through spiritual discipline strengthened your Servant Monnica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we pray, and use us in accordance with your will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

May 2: St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, 373

Today many Christians are remembering St. Athanasius ( c. 290-373 CE), whom many regard as the most important theologian of the fourth century; with good reason, some contend that he is the man to whom we chiefly owe the preservation of the Christian faith. He began his clerical career in 325 when he was ordained a deacon by Bishop Alexander of Alexandria. During the same year, he accompanied Alexander to the Council of Nicaea as his secretary and deacon. In 328, he was named the successor of Alexander, remaining bishop of Alexandria until his death in 373. However, of his 45 years of reign, Athanasius spent fifteeen years and ten months in exile because of his unpopular Nicene position in the Arian climate of the fourth-century Eastern empire. Most of Athanasius' time in exile was spent with other Egyptian monks or in Rome. While in exile, he wrote several works, many of which stress the significance of the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ and how acts of God are seen through the faith of the Church and in the sacraments. Athanasius is widely regarded as the great defender of the faith of Nicaea against Arianism.

Here is quotation from Athanasius:

We were made "in the likeness of God." But in course of time that image has become obscured, like a face on a very old portrait, dimmed with dust and dirt.

When a portrait is spoiled, the only way to renew it is for the subject to come back to the studio and sit for the artist all over again. That is why Christ came--to make it possible for the divine image in man to be recreated. We were made in God's likeness; we are remade in the likeness of his Son.

To bring about this re-creation, Christ still comes to men and lives among them. In a special way he comes to his church, his "body," to show us what the "image of God" is really like. What a responsibility the Church has, to be Christ's "body," showing him to those who are unwilling or unable to see him in providence, or in creation! Through the Word of God lived out in the Body of Christ they can come to the Father, and themselves be made again "in the likeness of God."

You may wish to ask God to continue to strenthen the Church with more teachers like Athanasius with this prayer:

Uphold your Church, O God of truth, as you upheld your servant Athanasius, to maintain and proclaim boldly the catholic faith against all opposition, trusting solely in the grace of your eternal Word, who took upon himself our humanity that we might share his divinity; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
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