Saturday, July 30, 2011

Paul's Greek Adventure

[Right:  Painting by Kennedy A. Paizs of St. Paul preaching at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:16-34)]

The second reading for today's Divine Office is from Acts 17, and it set me to thinking about what Paul's experience of preaching at the Areopagus must have been like. This was his 2nd missionary journey. He, along with Silas and Timothy, ran into some major trouble in Thessalonica, where he had preached in the local synagogue so convincingly over three Sabbath days that some Jewish believers, as well as some devout Greeks and, Luke says, "not a few of the leading women"  became followers of Jesus. Such "sheep-stealing" didn't go down well with the majority of the synagogue members. They began a protest among the local gentry, into the marketplace where they enlisted the help of some "ruffians". Paul and Silas ran for cover. Accusing Paul and his band as "these people who have been turning the world upside down [and] have come here also", the crowd searched for them, in the meantime attacking Jason, the host of the preachers, and others, and hauled them before the local authorities on the charge of "acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor" by referring to Jesus as "King". After shaking Jason and company down for some bail money, probably under the excuse of a "slow economy", the city officials release them.

By night the Christian community sends Paul and Silas off to Beroea, the next town, where they do a repeat teaching session in the local synagogue. Even though the Beroean Jews, as well as "not a few Greek women and men of high standing", seem more receptive, the gang from Thessalonica pursues Paul there and continues to stir up trouble. With that, Paul is sent off to Athens, on the coast, for safety, while Silas and Timothy remain behind. Paul's final directive to his chaperones is to have Silas and Timothy join him ASAP.

Luke continues: "16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols." One can imagine Paul, ever restless and eager to tell people about Jesus, walking the streets of Athens, taking in all the astounding architecture and listening in on the heady philosophical conversations which characterized the city at that time, looking for an "angle" to convey "the mystery hidden for ages". 

Following his usual preaching routine, he can't stay away from "his" Jewish people: "17 So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the market-place every day with those who happened to be there." Nothing like a bunch of rabbis for a lively discussion! We can imagine Paul also being the sort who "never met a stranger", probably walking right up to folks in the marketplace and initiating  conversation. Maybe even some form of "Are you saved?" 

Here in Athens, unlike some of the other podunk places which Paul missionized, he would have run into some rather well-trained and intelligent academics. Luke notes: "18 Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.’ (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19 So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.’ 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new. Basically, they challenged him to "Show us what you got".

Paul unabashedly accepts their challenge, so filled was he with passion for spreading the good news about Jesus the Christ. From what Luke says next, one assumes that Paul knew Greek, which was a plus. Intellectually, given his very fine Hebrew upbringing, he could easily hold his ground with these folks. "22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way." A compliment isn't never out of place as a good way to start a sermon.  

"23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, 'To an unknown god.'" Brilliant stategy: take something with which they're familiar, then expand on what is really means. 

"What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things." I'm guessing that on this point the hearers were pretty comfortable. 

26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For 'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said,
'For we too are his offspring.' " Had we been standing in that crowd on the Areopagus, we might have noticed a few people becoming a little restless at this point. Greek philosophers had grappled for centuries trying to understand life, human beings, the origin of things, and had been all over the map in their conclusions, not necessarily coming to Paul's conclusion. For sure, many of them probably had "groped" for the existence and meaning of God.

Paul is clear in his mind about one thing, and wants to set the Greeks right about it: "29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals." I don't know if there were statues and representations surrounding them there at the Areopagus, though I'd imagine there were. Undoubtedly Paul caught their attention, and probably more than a few snuck furtive glances at representations of any deities that might've been there. 

Now Paul comes to the real message he wants to offer them: "30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’" There were probably a few winces at the words "commands", "repent", probably even some audible groans, hissses, and/or other manifestations at the phrase "the dead".

That, as Luke notes, pretty much did Paul in! "32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’" It probably wasn't the first time people had ridiculed Paul or walked away from his sermon. Some of us preachers have experienced similar situations. It really does hurt when you've tried your best to honestly share deep convictions about your faith.

Luke intimates that it wasn't all bad news, though: "33 At that point Paul left them. 34 But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them." Dionysius [Denis] the Areopagite shouldn't be confused with the later 6th century Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. Dionysius was apparently a judge of the Areopagus when he heard Paul preach, and, touched by what he said, believed. Early Church legend has it that he became the second bishop of Athens. Damaris, whom Luke also mentions, living around 55 AD in Athens, also embraced the Christian faith following Paul's presentation. She may have been of high social status, since only such women were allowed to assist the Areopagus meetings. This may be the reason why her name has been especially recorded. According to Christian tradition she may even have been the wife of Dionysius the Areopagite, and she is remembered to be his faithful assistant in organizing the early church in Athens when her husband later became bishop there. Apparently, for Luke the Evangelist, having such elite citizens converted to the new faith was very important. It served as an example of sacrificing luxury and wealth in order to serve Christ.

Perhaps the moral of the narrative, if there is one, might be that we should take great care, as Paul undoubtedly did, about what we say about our faith and how we say it, not to mention about how we live it in practice. You never know the one or two persons who may be really listening and taking what you say to heart. You could even, unknowingly, help set that person(s) on the way to a unique and wonderful relationship with Jesus.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Parents of Mary, Grandparents of Jesus

Today the Church celebrates the parents of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Theotokos. We really don’t know much about either St. Anne or St. Joachim, but it’s intriguing to wonder about Jesus’ “granny” and “grandpa”. We don’t even know if they were alive when Jesus was born, though the lack of mention of them in the Gospels may hint that they weren’t.
Joachim, meaning "the one whom Yahweh has set up" = Hebrew: יְהוֹיָקִים Yəhôyāqîm, was the husband of Anna and the father of Mary, the mother of Jesus, according to Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican traditions. We first find them mentioned in the apocryphal Gospel of James also known as the Infancy Gospel of James, or the Protoevangelium of James, written c. 145 C.E. It expands backward in time the infancy stories found in Matthew and Luke, and tells about the birth and upbringing of Mary herself. It’s the oldest source attesting to Mary’s virginity, not only prior to but during and after the birth of Jesus. The ancient manuscripts which preserve the book list different titles: The Birth of Mary, The Story of the Birth of St. Mary, Mother of God, and The Birth of Mary.
Since the genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke don’t explicitly name either of Mary's parents, but apparently name two different fathers for St. Joseph, one, Jacob (Mt), descended from Solomon, one, Heli (Lk), descended from Nathan, son of David, many scholars including St. John of Damascus (8th cent.) and particularly Protestant scholars, argue that the genealogy in Luke may be the family tree of Mary, and that Heli is her father. Traditions from the 7th century indicate that Heli was possibly a first cousin of Joachim.
In the legend of the Protoevangelium of James Joachim is described as a rich and pious man of the house of David who regularly gave to the poor and to the temple (synagogue) at Sepphoris. However, since Anna was barren, the high priest is said to have rejected Joachim and his sacrifice because his wife's childlessness was supposedly as a sign of God’s displeasure. Joachim consequently withdrew to the desert where he fasted and did penance for forty days. Angels then appeared to both Joachim and Anna, promising them a child. Joachim later returned to Jerusalem and embraced Anna at the city gate, a theme celebrated in a number of artistic paintings. The legends about Joachim and Anna were included in the Golden Legend and remained popular in Christian art until the Council of Trent restricted the depiction of apocryphal events. Traditional depictions of Joachim show him holding a shovel.
St. Anne (also Anna, Ann, Hanna, from Hebrew Hannah חַנָּה, meaning "favor" or "grace") of David's house and line, was the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus according to both Christian and Islamic traditions. Anne is not named in either the Gospels or in the Qu’ran.
Some theologians have believed either that Joachim was Anne's only husband or that she was married three times. Ancient belief, as evidenced in a sermon of St. John of Damascus, was that Anne married once. In late medieval legends, Anne was married three times, first to Joachim, then to Clopas and finally to a man named Solomas and that each marriage produced one daughter: Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary of Clopas, and Salome, respectively. The sister of St. Anna was said to be Sobe, the mother of St. Elizabeth.
Similarly, in the 4th century and then much later in the 15th century, a belief arose that Mary was born of Anne by virgin birth, a belief condemned as an error by the Catholic Church in 1677. The Church holds that Mary was conceived in the normal fashion, but that she was miraculously preserved from original sin in order to make her fit to bear Christ. The conception of Mary free from original sin is termed the Immaculate Conception, frequently confused with the Virgin Birth or Incarnation of Jesus.
Anne/Hannah is also a revered woman in Islam, and is recognized as a deeply spiritual woman and the mother of Mary. The daughter of Faqud, Hannah was said to be childless until her old age. Seeing a bird feeding its young while sitting in the shade of a tree led her to want children of her own. She prayed for a child and eventually conceived. Her husband, known as Imran in the Qur'an, is said to have died before Mary was born. Since Hannah expected the child to be male, she supposedly vowed to dedicate him to serve in the Temple. As it turned out, Hannah bore a daughter instead, and she named her Miriam/Mary. Her words after the birth of Mary reflect her status as a great mystic for Isalm.  Hannah had wanted a son, but she realized that her daughter was God's gift to her.
In writing this, I began to think of some personal associations with St. Anne, or at least her name. It was 3:40 A.M. when I came into the world in 1937 at St. Anne’s Maternity Hospital, Dayton, OH. St. Anne's was a separate unit, contiguous to St. Elizabeth's Hospital, where my Aunt Florence had taken her nurses' training. The complex had been established by the Franciscan Sisters in 1878 on Dayton's west side. Eventually the two hospitals merged, later becoming the Franciscan Medical Center which still stands today, though it has been closed as a hospital since 2000, and even, according to some, is haunted! Prior to that, new buildings went up and old ones came down over the years, but the organization remained essentially the same, making the Franciscan hospital one of the oldest in the state. The Franciscan Medical Center maintained a reputation as a hospital which gave immediate care to anyone, including the city's poor and homeless. I’m sure the Franciscan Sisters originally had a special reason for dedicating the maternity unit to St. Anne. My hunch is that the reason was their devotion to the Blessed Virgin was a major factor, as well as the connection of Anne as a mother.

In another personal connection with St. Anne, the neighborhood where my grandparents lived in Dayton, and where I, for the most part, grew up, was called St. Anne's Hill. The area was part of the original out-lots of the City of Dayton, plotted in 1815 by Daniel C. Cooper. The area apparently wasn’t settled for several decades, but by the 1830's the first documented use of the name "St. Anne's Hill" appeared in newspaper advertisements promoting the sale of nursery stock from a greenhouse in the area. Unfortunately, no explanation for the origin of the name for that area has been discovered.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, several farmsteads were built on the hill, including the area's first residence, a farm mansion, on 111 acres in 1838. It was the home of Swiss immigrant and botanist, Eugene Dutoit, who built his home with farm, orchard, vineyard and nursery on the north side of Fifth Street. That part of the hill eventually became known as "Vinegar Hill" because of the smell of ripening fruit from his orchard. His beautifully restored home, one of Dayton’s oldest residential structures, still stands at 222 S. Dutoit Street, within walking distance of my grandparents’ former home.
Another prominent resident of St. Anne's Hill at that time was William Bomberger, a German immigrant and lumber business operator who became Treasurer for the City of Dayton. He built his estate on the south side of Fifth Street. That side of the hill came to be known as "Bomberger Hill" after Bomberger’s estate was demolished in 1908 in order to make way for Bomberger Park: a huge community recreation park and swimming pool. It’s an area which recalls happy childhood memories for me. Many a day I walked down High St. to Fifth St. at the corner of which was Bomberger Park. Going west on Fifth St., I would walk to Holy Trinity School, a short distance away. In those days there were several bars along the way, and it wasn’t unusual that a few derelicts would be resting on the sidewalks!

Today St. Anne’s Hill is a remarkable and diverse neighborhood, having run the full cycle from agricultural out-land, to an ethnic core, to a flourishing streetcar community, of which I also have fond memories, and presently, to a re-gentrified historic district. It has a history of hosting diverse social and economic groups and its architecture reflects this diversity.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Kingdom Within

The liturgical Gospel readings, from Matthew 13, have shown us, for the past two weeks and again today, specifically how Jesus, through the use of simple parables, reveals the reality of God’s reign/rule/  kingdom. Parables describe God's realm in ways that move hearers, says commentator Deidre Good, “to rethink priorities so as to make room for something outside human control yet within human potential.” Dr. Richard Pervo adds that “Parables would seek to lead us to perceive once again with the freshness of discovery the graciousness and surprise of the ordinary, the myriads of miracles erupting in our daily lives; would lead us to see these wonders and then urge us to find the presence of God’s reign in just such apparently prosaic routines. Look, our Lord says, for the advent of God in the ordinary, for appearances of the kingdom in people and deeds that seem no more important than mustard seeds and pieces of yeast.
Mt. 13:1-9
Matthew begins with Jesus going out of the house, the safe haven, and sitting by the sea, the realm of storms and uncertainty, so as to teach “the crowds”, “in parables”. He then recounts the Parable of the Sower. The lectionary passage jumps to vv. 18-23 where Jesus explains the Sower Parable to his disciples, apart from “the crowd”. Unfortunately, the lectionary omits verses 10-17, where Jesus says:
Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn -- and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”
The disciples are the ones who’ve responded to Jesus words and actions for some time now. They’ve taken to heart something which Luke, in his Gospel, records Jesus saying: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’  For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within you.
Mt 13:24-30
Matthew continues with the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares/Weeds. Then the lectionary passage jumps six verses further, skipping over two parables, to where Jesus now leaves “the crowds” by the sea and returns to the house, the safe haven, the place of intimacy, and explains the Wheat and Weeds parable to the disciples.
Mt 13:31-33
The lectionary then takes up the next three verses and the two skipped-over parables from last week: the Parable of Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Woman Leavening Flour: two of five parables appearing in today’s passage. A transition will then be made to vv. 44-52, the last section of today’s Gospel passage and, effectively, the conclusion of Chapter 13 where there are three parables: The Hidden Treasure in the Field, The Pearl of Great Price, and The Net and the Fish.
The Mustard Seed
The first pair of parables, The Mustard Seed and The Woman Leavening Flour, are rather everyday, humdrum parables, dealing with common, mundane things: planting a field and baking bread. In the first, a man, in the peasant context of rural Galilee, does the outdoor, physical labor of sowing a tiny mustard seed, which matures into a sizeable bush. Despite what Matthew says, it’s not a tree, nor will it accommodate nesting birds, which may allude to the Old Testament emphasis on the universal reach of God's kingdom. Nevertheless, poetically, Matthew states that it “becomes a tree”, perhaps hearkening back to the prophet Ezekiel’s vision (17:22-24) of God restoring the people, and symbolized in a “noble cedar” in whose branches “every kind of bird will live... winged creatures of every kind”. The mustard bush isn’t even an perennial plant, only an annual. In the same way, God’s reign doesn’t strike most of us as much at first, except for every now and then when the risen Presence of Jesus, all of a sudden, breaks into our lives through other people and happenings. It appears in those quickening moments, stirrings of love, fleeting flashes which you and I experience from time to time: in nature; in our times of intimacy; in solitude; in music, poetry and art; in the experience of birth; in observing children and young people; in helping others, and even in experiencing death, our own or that of others. The intuition, the hint, of what the reign of God is like is so real at these times that it’s almost palpable. Jesus’ message, through Matthew, suggests that God’s reign grows from tiny beginnings to worldwide size. "Jesus,” according to Joel Green, seems deliberately to emphasize the notion of astonishing extravagance..." (Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke)
There’s also a slightly subversive element to the parable, as Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History (published around 78 AD), notes: "mustard…,” he says, “is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild...but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed, when it falls, germinates at once."

The Woman Leavening Flour
The other of the first two parables contrasts the man sowing in the field with a woman, a homemaker. Jesus "asks people -- male or female, privileged or peasant, it does not matter -- to enter the domain of a first-century woman and household cook in order to gain perspective on the domain of God." (Joel Green) Here she is, starting to mix yeast with flour, actually hiding it, in a peck and a half of flour (about 12 dry quarts). The King James Version says “hid” which is also the meaning of “mix” = enkrypto, in Greek. The leaven permeates the flour, so that the dough rises into a large loaf. The mysterious substance that makes bread rise is akin to the hidden, pervasive character of God’s reign. Also, the large quantity of flour hints at a planned festive occasion, since the bread produced will obviously be more than for just one family. It’s hard to miss the implication of the powerful growth of God’s kingdom from small beginnings. The final outcome is inevitable once the natural process of leavening has begun. 
The passage then shifts to vv. 44-52, where we find another set of parables: that of The Hidden Treasure in the Field and The Pearl of Great Price. These two also offer a contrast, this time, between a laborer and a merchant.  

The Treasure Hidden in the Field
A laborer, tilling someone else’s field, just doing his job, hits a buried container, perhaps a jar or a box, with his plow. It wasn’t at all unusual, especially in times of war or disaster, for people to bury their precious treasure. Sometimes they didn’t or couldn’t reclaim it: perhaps they were killed, or maybe displaced or had moved. Maybe they simply forgot what they’d hid. Whatever the reason, the laborer is shocked and elated. He keeps it to himself, hides it, even as the woman hid the leaven in the flour. The hidden nature of the treasure may indicate that God’s kingdom "is not yet revealed to everyone." The man hurries to liquidate all that he has to secure the treasure. Matthew’s phrase “sells all he has” invites us to recall Jesus’ invitation to the rich young man in Chapter 19 (v. 21), to sell all he has and become a disciple.
The Treasure Hidden in the Field is a parable about discovery without seeking, and willingness to take action, whatever the cost. God’s kingdom is of great value. The good fortune reflected in the "finding" reflects a "special gift, a privilege" and a source of joy, but also reflects a challenge to relinquish all in order to lay claim to the greater treasure one has found. (John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew)
The Pearl of Great Price
In the second of this parable duo, a parable about opportunity, we have a merchant whose business it is to travel around “in search of fine pearls”. Pearls were luxury items, associated with other valuables such as gold and precious stones. The pearl itself is a beautiful, single entity, formed through suffering in the heart of the oyster. Unlike precious stones which must be cut and polished to reveal their clarity and beauty, the pearl is perfect as it comes from the oyster. 
In Matthew 7:6 Jesus acknowledges such quality when he warns hearers “not [to] throw your pearls before swine”. This merchant is actively seeking a quality product, always on the lookout, for not only pearls, but for that one best pearl, the “deal of a lifetime”, which he’ll recognize, and maybe others won’t. Eventually he finds it. He responds immediately and completely, sacrificing everything he has to get it. John Nolland says that Matthew shares the notions of "good fortune and demanding action in attaining the kingdom of heaven", but stresses the importance of "diligent seeking." Those who aren’t prepared to accept the kingdom of heaven at the price of staking their whole future on it are unworthy of the kingdom.

The Drawing in of the Cast Net
Finally, in vv. 47-50 we have the Parable of the Net and the Fish. Fishing evokes the idea of searching, of mission. Matthew says the net is thrown into the sea and catches “fish of every kind”. The net is full and is all-inclusive. It’s taken ashore and the fish are separated: the  “good”, into baskets; the “bad”, thrown out. Matthew says that in the kingdom of heaven "the angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous" in a similar way. What we have here is an evaluation, a judgment, according to standards of quality. The kingdom is a mixture of good and evil, even as the seed sown or the wheat with the weeds. 

There’s an interesting pulling together of v. 48,”...they...sat down” and sorted the fish, with v. 1 of Mt 13: “Jesus went out” and “got into a boat and sat there, while the crowd stood on the beach...”, perhaps an allusion to Jesus‘ statement in Mt 4: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (v. 19) The parable suggests a time of decision. There’s clearly a shift from everyday time to the end of time, to the final judgment. Goodness/rightness is equivalent to understanding.  As Jesus asks his disciples: “Have you understood all this?” Evil is whatever violates trust on which relationships are built, whether with God or with our sisters and brothers in the kingdom.
Finally, we come to Matthew’s summary in v. 52. He mentions the “scribe” = the writer/secretary/clerk/note-taker who “has been trained for the kingdom of heaven”. Such a person is like “the master of a household”, someone who knows how to manage, to take care of, things, to bring “out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” This speaks of a balanced person, one open to all of life, open to both the human and the divine, one able to take in and discern the good from the bad, one able to keep trust in relationship to God and to all who inhabit the kingdom. 
Jesus provides us with a description by which you and I can gauge whether “the kingdom/reign/rule of God is within you”. St. Paul clarifies our relation to “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.” He says, in the second reading today, “...the Spirit helps us in our weakness...that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words...We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to [God’s] purpose. For those whom [God] foreknew [God] also predestined to be conformed to the image of [God’s] Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom [God] predestined [God] also called; and those whom [God] called [God] also justified; and those whom [God] justified [God] also glorified…” (8:26; 28-30) 
May you and I understand and rejoice that, indeed, “the kingdom is within” us! 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

St. John Cassian (c. 360-435)

John Cassian was born c. 360, probaby in Scythia Minor, now Dobruja in modern-day Romania and Bulgaria. As a young adult, he and an older friend, Germanus, traveled to Palestine, where they entered a hermitage near Bethlehem. After about three years, they journeyed to the desert of Scete in Egypt, which was going through a time of struggle, and where they visited a number of monasteries. In c.399, Cassian and Germanus fled during a controversy provoked by Theophilus, Archbishop of Alexandria, with about 300 other monks. John Cassian and Germanus went to Constantinople, where they sought protection from the Patriarch of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom. There John Cassian was ordained a deacon and was made a member of the clergy attached to the Patriarch while struggles with the imperial family continued. When Chrysostom was forced into exile from Constantinople in 404, the Latin-speaking John Cassian was sent to Rome to plead his cause before Pope Innocent I.

While in Rome John Cassian accepted an invitation to start an Egyptian-style monastery in southern Gaul, near Marseilles. Arriving in Marseilles around 415, he founded the Abbey of St Victor, a complex of monasteries for both men and women, one of the first in the West. It served as a model for later monastic development. Cassian's abbey and his writings influenced St. Benedict of Nursia, who incorporated many of the same principles into his famouse monastic Rule of St. Benedict. Benedict recommended to his own monks that they read the works of Cassian. Since Benedict's rule is still used by Benedictine, Cistercian, and Trappist monks, the thought of John Cassian still guides the spiritual lives of thousands of men and women in the Western Church.

John Cassian died in 435 in Marseilles. His feast day as a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Churches is celebrated on February 29, a date assigned also in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church. The Roman Catholic Church also celebrates him as a saint on July 23. Like his contemporaries, St. Augustine of Hippo and St. John Chrysostom, John Cassian was never formally canonized, a process initiated several centuries after his death. Pope Urban V referred to him as sanctus (a saint) and he was included in the Gallican Martyrology. He is also honored in the Roman Martyrology on July 23. John Cassian's relics are kept in an underground chapel in the Monastery of St. Victor in Marseilles. 

Holy and Mighty One, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ blessed the pure in heart:
We give you thanks for the life and teachings of John Cassian that draw us to a
discipline of holy living for the sake of your reign. Call us to turn the gaze of the
eyes of our soul always toward you, that we may abide in your love, shown to us
in our Savior Jesus Christ: who with you and the Holy Spirit is one God, living and
true, to ages of ages. Amen.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Apostle To The Apostles

According to Harvard theologian Karen King, Mary Magdalene was a prominent disciple and leader of one wing of the early Christian movement that promoted women's leadership. Pope Gregory the Great made a speech in 591 A.D. where he seemed to combine the actions of the three women mentioned in the New Testament, and also identified an unnamed woman as Mary Magdalene. He stated that she was a prostitute. This erroneous view was not corrected until 1969 when the Vatican issued a quiet retraction.

What is very clear from the Gospels is that Mary Magdalen was a central figure in the life of Jesus—far more central than the Church has been willing to accept in past years. Luke tells us that she was among the women who followed Jesus and “provided for [him] out of their own resources”. The original Greek is more direct: it says these women 'supported him out of their own possessions.' These women apparently literally paid Jesus’s way and provided financial backing for him during his public ministry!" (Fr. John Julian, Stars In A Dark World)

Mary's name of "Apostle to the Apostles" comes from her ascription as the first witness to the empty tomb who then shared the good news with Jesus' other close disciples. In the earliest extant Biblical accounts now available, Mary of Magdala is described as a Galilean disciple, a witness to both the crucifixion and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth's resurrected body. Luke 8:2-3 adds to Mary's persona by alluding to her having had seven demons cast out of her, which some have taken to signify a perfected status within the movement. Together with other female followers, Mary accompanied Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem, and witnessed the Crucifixion. Mary remained at the cross until the body was taken down and laid in a tomb. In the early dawn, when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene (with other women) came to the sepulchre with spices to anoint the body. They found the sepulchre empty and were informed of Jesus' resurrection.

According to the Gospel of John, she was the first witness of the Resurrection appearances of Jesus. At first she did not recognize him. When he said her name, "Mary!", she recognised him and cried, "Rabboni!" She wanted to embrace him, but he forbade her: "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God'". This is the last mention in the canonical Gospels of Mary Magdalene, who now returned to Jerusalem. She is probably included in the group of women who joined the Apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem after Jesus' ascension.

She is celebrated as a saint by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican/Episcopal churches, and is commemorated by the Lutheran Church, on July 22.   The Orthodox Church commemorates her on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers which is the second Sunday after Pascha (Easter).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Liberators & Prophets

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) was an American social activist, abolitionist, together with her husband, Henry Brewster Stanton and cousin, Gerrit Smith, and leading figure of the early woman's movement. Her Declaration of Sentiments, presented at the first women's rights convention held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, NY, is often credited with initiating the first organized women's rights and women's suffrage movements in the United States. Unlike many involved in the woman's rights movement, Stanton addressed various issues pertaining to women beyond voting rights, including women's parental and custody rights, property rights, employment and income rights, divorce laws, the economic health of the family, and birth control. She was also an outspoken supporter of the 19th-century temperance movement.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894) was an American women's rights and temperance advocate. Even though she did not create the women's clothing reform style known as “bloomers”, her name became associated with it because of her early and strong advocacy.

Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-1883) was born with the name Isabella Baumfree. When she was 46 in 1843, after she’d gone east, she stopped at a Quaker farm to ask for a drink. When asked her first name, she replied “Sojourner”, and when asked her last name, she said: “The only master I have now is God, and His name is Truth.” She was an African-American abolitionist and women's rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, NY, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man. Her best-known extemporaneous speech on racial inequalities, “Ain't I a Woman?”, was delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, OH. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit black troops for the Union Army; after the war, she tried unsuccessfully to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves.

Harriet Ross Tubman was born Araminta Ross (1822-1913) was an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War. After escaping from slavery, into which she was born, she made 13 missions to rescue more than 70 slaves, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry, and in the post-war era struggled for women's suffrage. As a child in Dorchester County, MD, Tubman was beaten by masters to whom she was hired out. Early in her life, she suffered a head wound when hit by a heavy metal weight. The injury caused disabling seizures, narcoleptic attacks, headaches, and powerful visionary and dream activity, which occurred throughout her life. A devout Christian, Tubman ascribed the visions and vivid dreams to revelations from God. In 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia, then immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family. Slowly, one group at a time, she brought relatives out of the state, and eventually guided dozens of other slaves to freedom. Traveling by night, Tubman (or "Moses", as she was called) "never lost a passenger". Large rewards were offered for the return of many of the fugitive slaves, but no one then knew that Tubman was the one helping them. When the Southern-dominated Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, requiring law officials in free states to aid efforts to recapture slaves, she helped guide fugitives farther north into Canada, where slavery was prohibited. When the American Civil War began, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and then as an armed scout and spy. The first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, she guided the Combahee River Raid, which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina. After the war, she retired to the family home in Auburn, NY, where she cared for her aging parents. She became active in the women's suffrage movement in New York until illness overtook her. Near the end of her life, she lived in a home for elderly African-Americans that she had helped found years earlier.

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Each of these women, in her own way, was an outstanding steward of God’s gracious gifts and used them to serve humankind. They all accomplished what they did “with the strength that God supplies.” Despite so many indignities and injuries heaped upon most of them, they responded with the generosity of the friend in today’s Gospel. Their courageous faith enabled them to keep asking, searching, and knocking on the doors of all who would listen to their persistent calls for freedom, justice, and equality for all God’s children.