Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles and Martyrs

My sermon about Peter and Paul

Today we celebrate the lives of two Saints, two Saints who were quite different from each other, two Saints who were very important to the fledgling Church, two Saints who were Apostles and Martyrs, two Saints who gave their all for their Lord. They are examples of two people who took up their cross and decided that Jesus was more important than their families. They came from different backgrounds, they had different methods of evangelism, and they didn’t always get along very well, but they were so important to the emerging Christian faith.

Simon Peter was a fisherman, a large, burly, solid guy who was nicknamed Cephas, which is Aramaic for Peter, or “Rocky.” He was inclined to open his mouth without thinking, and he would often say things which would come back on him. He was a down-to-earth person, not really given to mystic visions. Although he certainly received his share of visions he didn’t always understand what was going on; when he witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ, he wanted to build little huts for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah and he didn’t seem to really understand that Jesus was revealing his divinity. If the Twelve were the Inner Circle of Jesus’s disciples, Peter was in the “Inner Inner Circle;” he was present at all the events in which Jesus had just a few special persons with him. Peter was the one who confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Promised One, and he claimed that he would follow Jesus anywhere. When Jesus was being arrested by the soldiers, Peter pulled out his sword and lopped off a servant’s ear, but not too long later he denied Christ three times; at the moment when Jesus really needed him, he, like the rest of the Twelve, was no where to be found. But Peter was the first of the men to see the empty tomb, and he was commanded by the Resurrected Christ to “feed my lambs.” When the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost, Peter was the one to speak to the crowd. He became the leader of the Apostles, the leader of the Twelve, but he was not the leader of the Church; Jesus’ brother James was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, but Peter was a leader of the Church. He may have been the bishop of the Church in Rome, but the Church in Jerusalem was considered THE Church in those days. Rome didn’t become such an influential and important Church until the third century. Peter was the greatest miracle worker of the Apostles, he was involved in many healing miracles. Jesus told Peter that “someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not want to go,” and Peter went to a lot of places that he didn’t want to go; I’m sure he didn’t want to be the one on the roof seeing a sheet full of un-clean animals being lowered and told “Kill and eat!” and I’m sure he didn’t want to be the one to feel Paul’s wrath regarding circumcision and other Jewish practices which were part of the earliest Church. I’m not sure that he particularly enjoyed being caught in the middle between Paul and his fights with the Hebrew faction of the Church But he willingly went to his martyrdom, crucified head down in the Colosseum in Rome according to tradition, and he was the Rock on which the Church was established, tradition stating that he started the church in Rome and was even the first Bishop of Rome.

Saint Paul was quite a different person than Peter; he was an educated man, a Pharisee educated by the great Rabbi Gamaliel, and a Roman citizen. He was not one of the Twelve, in fact, he persecuted the Twelve, as Saul he witnessed and may have even been the ring-leader at the stoning of Stephen the Deacon, but he became one of the greatest of the Apostles. He was very much given to mystic experiences, in fact, his conversion on the Damascus Road is the result of a vision of the Resurrected Christ, and he remained blinded for several days as a result of this vision. Paul also claimed to have visited some “higher heavens,” and he articulated many of the more mystical aspects of Christology. Paul was a persistent persecutor of the Church by his own admission, but once converted, once he “saw the light,” he was one of the most ardent devotees of Jesus, he traveled the so-called “known world” and brought the Good News to the Gentiles. He was chased out of town, he was arrested, and he would preach to anyone who would listen. He founded churches throughout the Greco-Roman world, and he may have traveled as far as Spain on his missionary journeys. He would fight with the Hebrew faction of the Church, and he always seemed to think that Peter was easily led by whatever faction he happened to be with at the time, but even though he was not always in good stead with the Home Office back in Jerusalem, he gladly raised money for the poor and the Jerusalem Church. He was a prolific letter writer, (just imagine what HE would have done with e-mail) and his letters, even when chiding, were so beloved by the churches that they were shared with the rest of the faithful, and Paul’s epistles became the very first Christian scriptures, before any gospels were written and before the letters attributed to John and Peter. Tradition tells us that Paul, like Peter, was martyred in Rome, and that he was be-headed. The relics of Peter and Paul became powerful symbols of the Church in Rome, and they were moved from their original resting places to a catacomb in Rome where a basilica was later erected over their remains. Paul’s teaching on grace, on salvation, and on the resurrection of the dead formed the earliest theology of the Church, and it is not too far off the mark to call him the founder of Christianity.

These two mighty Men of God are proof that God can work through anybody. The fact that someone like Simon Peter, a brash, thick-headed fisherman, inclined to say what ever popped into his mind with out thinking, and a well educated but irritable Pharisee, a persecutor of the Church and later its great champion, could both help spread the Good News of the forgiveness of sins and the coming of the Reign of God, that these two extremes could allow the Holy Spirit to work through them and help spread the message of Christ throughout the world is proof that God can work through each one of us here as long as we are willing to answer “yes” to God’s call. Jesus stood on a beach and asked Peter to follow him, later, the Resurrected Jesus stood on a beach and asked Peter to feed his sheep. Peter said “yes” both times. Jesus appeared to Saul in a blinding light and called him to end his persecutions. Saul answered yes to Jesus’ call and became Paul, a great missionary and the first theologian. Very few of us have such experiences, but Jesus calls all of us to follow him. Jesus calls each one of us to follow him, to care for the hungry and the sick and the poor and the prisoner and the stranger. Jesus calls each of us to love one another, and Jesus calls all of us to serve each other as we serve God. God worked through men like Peter and Paul, and God can work through each one of us; all we must do is answer “yes” to God’s call and then allow the Holy Spirit to move and work through us. May we all take the examples of Peter and Paul, and answer “yes.”

Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Prayers, please.

A week ago Sunday, we (el congregación de Parroquia San Cristóbal) honored our beloved friend and drummer Ricardo Staple as Father of the Year. A week ago today, he entered Hospital San Fernando with heart trouble. The Lovely Mona and I visited him on Sunday and he's pretty weak. I'm requesting prayers for my friend.

Tuesday Miss Bebé, The World's Most Beautiful Granchile™ Blogging

Monday, June 27, 2011

Feast of Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop

Today is the Feast of Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria. I'll be honest from the start: I do not like Cyril of Alexandria. I think he was an arrogant jerk, but a genius when it came to explaining Trinitarian theology. Also, this is not going to be a scholarly article; it's a blog post, and full of Padre Mickey's opinions. You have been warned.

Cyril was of an Alexandrian family, and his uncle, Theophilus, was Partriarch of Alexandria. Cyril accompanied Uncle Theo to Constantinople for the Synod of the Oak, at which St. John Chrysostom was deposed as Partriarch of Constantinople, in a sham Synod run by Alexandrians in their constant battle against the theology of Antioch. While both groups agreed that Christ had two natures, the Alexandrians tended to emphasize the divinity of Christ, while the Antiocheans emphasized Christ's humanity. Both groups showed their Christian Love by making life miserable for each other's clergy. Alexandria had considered themselves Second to Rome in importance, and were very unhappy when Constantinople was named equal to Rome, and they tended to make a big stink anytime someone from Antioch became Partriarch of Constantinople (John Chrysostom's fate being a good example).

Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria

Theophilus died on October 15, 412, and Cyril was consecrated Patriarch on Oct. 18. He immediately went to war (and I MEAN war!) against the Novatians, the Neoplatonists, and the prefect Orestes. He ran the Jews out of Alexandria, and, while not personally responsible for the death of Hypatia, his followers were very much involved (Hypatia was a well-respected neo-Platonist teacher and philosopher. A mob, led by a lector named Peter, pulled her from her carriage, dragged her to a church and tore her flesh with potsherds until she died). In those days not everyone was inclined towards civil, scholarly debate; monks would come from the hills equipped with fuller's clubs to help drive home the theological point of their favorite bishop, and this was not limited to Alexandria, although the Alexandrians were ready to riot at the drop of a hat. The Prefect of Egypt, Orestes, was unhappy with Cyril and the expulsion of the Jews from Alexandria and expressed this fact. 500 monks from Nitria came to Alexandria to defend Cyril. One monk, Ammonius, threw a rock at Orestes which hit him in the head and left a wound. Orestes had Ammonius tortured to death, and Cyril treated his remains as the relics of a martyr. Rioting Alexandrians killed the prefect Callistus in the year 422. Cyril had a lot of power and he loved to wield it.

In the 428 Nestorius, an Antiochean priest known for his preaching, was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople by the emperor Theodosius II. On the way to Constantinople Nestorius visited with bishop Theodore, who advised Nestorius to be careful, be moderate, and respect the opinions of others. Unfortunately, Nestorius ignored this advice. At his consecration in April, 428, he shouted "Give me, O Emperor, the earth purged from heretics, and I will give you heaven!" He immediately went after the Arians, closing their only chapel and running them out of the city. However, it wasn't long before Nestorius himself was accused of heresy.

Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople

The people in Constantinople used a title for the Blessed Virgin which was popular in that city: Theotokus, or "God-bearer." This was not a title that was used in Antioch, but there were also people in Constantinople who questioned the use of the title. Nestorius decided to mediate the dispute and said things which wouldn't have raised an eyebrow back in Antioch, but really set-off his enemies, especially the Patriarch of Alexandria when he heard about it. Nestorius said, When I came here, I found a dispute among the members of the church, some of whom were calling the Blessed Virgin Mother of God (Theotokus), while others were calling her Mother of man. Gathering both parties together, I suggested that she should be called Mother of Christ (Kristotokus), a term which represented both God and man, as it is used in the gospels. This was just the opening Cyril was looking for; he was still angry that Constantinople was considered equal to Rome, and he didn't like Antioch. On Easter Sunday, 429, he publicly denounced Nestorius for heresy. He ignored the actual words of Nestorius and accused him of denying the deity of Christ. Nestorius' reaction was arrogant and he made some sloppy answers to Cyril's accusations, which was not a good idea as Cyril was a master at organizing support and destroying his enemies. Anathemas flew between Alexandria and Antioch, and finally the Third Ecumenical Council was called to meet at Ephesus in the year 431. It took a long time to travel in those days and not everyone arrived on time. The Patriarch of Antioch (a supporter of Nestorius) and his bishops were late, and instead of asking the Council to wait for their arrival, Cyril, who had brought fifty of his own bishops to the Council, opened the Council anyway. The imperial commissioner and about seventy other bishops protested this display of arrogance but were ignored. This was the most violent Ecumenical Council. Nestorius refused to attend, for fear of his life and guards were placed around the house in which he was staying to protect him. In the Bazaar of Heraclides described the atmosphere of the Council of Ephesus: They acted . . . as if it was a war they were conducting, and the followers of the Egyptian (Cyril) . . . went about in the city girt and armed with clubs . . . with the yells of barbarians, snorting fiercely . . . raging with extravagant arrogance against those whom they knew to be opposed to their doings, carrying bells about the city and lighting fires . . . They blocked up the streets so that everyone was obliged to flee and hide, while they acted as masters of the situation, lying about, drunk and besotted and shouting obscenities . . . Since John of Antioch and his bishops had yet to arrive, Cyril pushed through a vote and, 200 to 0, Nestorius was excommunicated. John and his bishops arrived too late; he declared the result illegal and held a counter-council which voted to excommunicate Cyril. These events threatened to tear apart of the unity of the Byzanine empire, so Theodosius II decided to accept the deposition of both patriarchs as a means of defusing the situation. Cyril and Nestorius were both arrested and imprisoned. Cyril bribed his way back into power with a gift to the grand chamberlain, the emperor's adviser; the gift consisted of fourteen oriental rugs, eight couches, six tablecloths, four tapestries, four ivory benches, six leather benches, and six ostriches. This "gift" put the Patriarchate of Alexandria some $3,000,000.00 in debt. Nestorius, who could be just as much of a jerk as Cyril, accepted the verdict of the emperor and went into exile, quietly protesting the injustice he experienced.

Cyril is not considered a saint because of the way he dealt with those with whom he disagreed; he was sainted because of abilities as a theologian. He was able to take the teachings of Athanasius, the Cappadocians, combined with classical Greek teachings on the Trinity, and create a systematic form of the Alexandrian theological tradition. While his writing style isn't exactly elegant, it is, according to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church: precise in exposition, accurate in thought, and skilled in reasoning. I've been reading Cyril's On The Unity Of Christ, translated by John Anthony McGuckin, and, while I can't stand Cyril the person, I love reading Cyril the theologian.

I've been thinking lately about the similarities between Nestorius' situation and Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's situation. Nestorius' comment regarding Kristotokus wouldn't have raised an eyebrow back in Antioch, and Bishop Katarine's comment "We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box" certainly wouldn't raise eyebrows in the dioceses of Nevada or Oregon or California or at CDSP, but her enemies, much like Cyril, were simply waiting for a phrase they could use against her. Cyril took Nestorius' comments and twisted them and used them against him, just as the folks in the Network and GAFCON use Katharine's words against her. But we can make sure that the truth is up there for all to see right away, unlike poor Nestorius, whose words weren't really studied until long after his death.

So, I don't like Cyril, but I think he is another example of the fact that God uses whomsoever God wants to use to bring about the Reign of God. Cyril wasn't the first bishop to behave in a less than Christian manner, and he won't be the last to do so, God is willing to use a jerk like me to help bring about God's reign. All we can do is be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and answer "yes" to God's call.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Feast of St. Alban, First Martyr of Britain

Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Alban triumphed over suffering and was faithful even to death: Grant us, who now remember him in thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world, that we may receive with him the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today is the feast of St. Alban, the first martyr of Britain. As usual, we don't really know very much about Alban, and there is some disagreement between sources about what we do know. Some believe that Alban was a Roman born in England, while others believe that he was a Roman soldier stationed in England. He lived in Verulamium, a town which is now called St. Alban's, in Hertfordshire, which is about twenty miles northeast of London. He was a pagan, and probably not really aware of Christianity. However, a persecution of Christians in Briton had broken out. Tradition, and the Venerable Bede, early historian of the Church in England, teach that is was the Diocletian persecution of the year 305, but now scholars believe that this was the persecution during the reign of Septimus Severus, around the year 209. One day during the persecution, a Christian priest who was fleeing from his persecutors sought refuge at Alban's house. Alban sheltered him for several days. He heard the priest's story and was moved by his humility and piety. Alban was so influenced by the priest's prayers and teaching that he became a Christian and was baptized by the priest. A few days later the army discovered the priest at Alban's house. They came to take the priest away, but Alban changed clothing with the priest so that the priest could escape, and Alban was brought before the judge. (According to tradition, the priest met his martyrdom a few days later when he was captured and stoned to death).

The Christians of those days believed that the Roman gods were actually demons, so the Venerable Bede's account of the martyrdom of Alban has the judge "offering sacrifice to devils," which possibly means that he was offering incense to the Roman gods and most probably to the emperor. When the judge saw Alban, he was furious that Alban, a Roman, would put himself in such danger by trading places with a priest. He ordered the soldiers to drag Alban before the altar and said, "Since you have chosen to conceal a sacrilegious rebel rather than surrender him to my soldiers to pay the well-deserved penalty for his blasphemy against our gods, you shall undergo all the torture due to him if you dear to abandon the practice of our religion!" But Alban, who now freely confessed himself a Christian refused to obey this order. The judge demanded, "What is your family and race?" Alban answered, "How does my family concern you? If you wish to know the truth about my religion, know that I am a Christian and carry out Christian rites." The judge demanded to know his name. He answered the judge: "My parents named me Alban, and I worship and adore the living and true God who created all things." This really angered the judge, who said, "If you want to enjoy eternal life, sacrifice at once to the great gods." Alban responded, "You are offering these sacrifices to devils who cannot help their supplicants, nor answer their prayers and vows. On the contrary, whosoever offers sacrifice to idols is doomed to the pains of hell." This response, of course, did not help matters at all. The judge ordered Alban to be flogged, but when he noticed that no torture would break Alban or make him renounce Christ, the judge ordered Alban's immediate decapitation.

Alban was to be decapitated on a hill top. Many people came out to witness the decapitation, in fact, there were so many people there that the soldiers and Alban could not get across the bridge since all the people filled the bridge and prevented their passing. Alban walked up to the banks of the river, and since he desired a speedy martyrdom, raised his eyes to heaven and said a prayer. The water dried up and they were able to walk on dry land. When the executioner saw this miracle,
he was so moved that he ran to meet Alban at the place of execution. He threw down his sword and fell at Alban's feet, begging that he might be thought worthy to die with the martyr if he could not die in his place. The other executioners were unsure of what to do, and were reluctant to pick up the sword. Alban continued to the top of the hill, where, being thirsty, he asked God for some water. Immediately a spring bubbled up at his feet, a sign to all present that it was the martyr's prayer
that dried up the river and now produced a perennial spring. At the same time, the river began to flow again. One of the other executioners picked up the sword and struck the fatal blow and beheaded Alban. According to Bede, "the man whose impious hands struck off that pious head was not permitted to boast of his deed, for as the martyr's head fell, the executioner's eyes dropped out on the ground." Bede also writes: "The soldier who had been moved by divine intuition to refuse to slay God's confessor was beheaded at the same time as Alban. And although he had not received the purification of baptism, there was no doubt that he was cleansed by the shedding of his own blood, and rendered fit to enter the kingdom of heaven. Astonished by these many strange miracles the judge called a halt to the persecution, and whereas he had formerly fought to crush devotion to Christ, he now began to honor the death of his saints." Bede says that a church worthy of Alban's martyrdom was built on the spot and that many sick folks were healed there and that frequent miracles occur there. Since Alban was martyred on a hill, churches which bear his name are located on hills, just like St. Alban's in Paraíso.

Alban was only a Christian for a few days but he felt so strongly about his devotion to Christ that he was willing to suffer death on Christ's behalf. He was willing to take the place of the priest and face the tortures and punishments reserved for the Christians of that time. His witness brought about the conversion of both his executioner and the judge who sentenced him to death. His witness most probably helped spread Christianity throughout Britain and the British Isles. We are all called to serve Christ but we aren't all called to the same ministries. We aren't all called to celibacy, we aren't all called to poverty, and, thank God, we are not all called to martyrdom. All of us are called to work for the coming of the Kingdom of God and we are all called to tend the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner and welcome the stranger. We are all called to love one another as Christ loves us, and we are all called to proclaim the love of God for all, and to tell others of God's forgiveness and unconditional love for all of humanity. Alban's life is a powerful example of how devotion to Christ can make someone so completely selfless that they are willing to die for others. Jesus said that a true friend is willing to die for a friend, and just as Alban was willing to die in the place of the priest, Jesus was willing to die for all of us. Jesus calls all of us to such lives of selflessness, even through he does not call all of us to face a martyr's death. May the lives and witness of the martyrs continue to inspire the Church and may we all acknowledge Jesus before the world.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fathers Day at San Cristóbal

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday, of course, but also Fathers' Day, so we had a great Fathers' Day celebration. The ECW and Sunday School put on a presentation, and we honored Ricardo Staple, Father of the Year and our drummer.

Mrs. Marie Clarke, president of the ECW, sang "It Is No Secret What God Can Do." Members of the ECW brought the out-going Father of the Year, Mr. Maynard foward, and then the in-coming Father of the Year, Mr. Staple. Ricardo was seated on a chair in the center of the dias, and Mrs. Elfrida Beckford read a biography of Mr. Staple. Then the entertaiment began! Saul Cáceres, son of Padre Cáceres, played "Amazing Grace" and "¡Alabaré!" on the steel-pan. This was followed by a short discourse by Mrs. Adica Moore on the responsibility of Christians Fathers. Then Lisa Chen (who also sang la Gloria Típica during the service) read a message she wrote for the Fathers of the parish. Members of the Sunday School (Hillary, Saul, and Abdul, along with our Youth Activities Coordinator, Peter Right, and Roseanna Arthur) performed a play about a father working hard to care for his family. It was very cute and well received. The ECW then presented Padre Cáceres and I with gifts, which was followed by the Sunday School presenting gifts to Ricky, Padre, y yo. This was followed by people from various Guilds and groups in the parish presenting gifts and saying wonderful things about Ricky. Miguel Mazza played his saxophone, followed by the Lovely Mona playing "Danny Boy" on her flute. Ricky expressed his gratitude for being named Father of the Year and the honor and love shown him by everyone. He had his drum students (Lisa, Hillary, and Saul) stand with him as he spoke. He is very proud of them, as are all of us. Yolanda Peters thanked everyone involved in the presentation, and we all retired to the Parish Hall for a breakfast of a fruit cup (always fresh Panamanian fruit, not some canned "fruit cocktail" for us!), empanadas, some miniature-franks-on-a-stick, a very interesting sammich thang, and cake. Also, coffee, tea, and chicha. All in all, a wonderful mornings, as one would expect at San Cristóbal!
Photographic proof follows.

Mrs. Cora Gill, UTO representative of San Cristóbal, Mr. Ricardo Staple, Father of the Year, and Lisa Chen, joven de San Cristóbal before the service.

Lisa singing the Gloria

Ricky playing them drums during the Gloria

Mr. Percival Thomas reading that looooong lection from Genesis

Marie Clarke, president, St. Christopher's ECW
Ricardo Staple comes forward, escorted by members of the ECW

Out-going Father of the Year, Mr. Leslie Maynard and Mr. Ricardo Staple, in-coming Father of the Year

Saul Cáceres at the steel-pan

Mrs. Moore


The Play!

Profesora Priscilla McQueen speaking on behalf of the Sunday School

Mr. Yearwood telling a story about when he owned a Club and Ricky was one of the regular musicians

Mr. Hudson, our Sexton, receives a gift from the ECW

Miguel Mazza

The Lovely Mona (interesting angle as I was also holding the music for Mr. Thomas at the organ)

Ricky Speaks!

Ricky with his students, Lisa, Hillary, and Saul

Yolanda Peters thanking everyone involved

La Familia Staple: Marian, Ricardo, y Genetta

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trinity Sunday

Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And his disciples answered and said, "Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead; others say Elias, or other of the old prophets." And Jesus answered and said, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said, "You are the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple." And Jesus answering, said, "What?"
Nicked from someone on the HOB/HOD list serve last year

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Feast of Bernard Mizeki, Catechist and Martyr in Rhodesia

Almighty and everlasting God, who kindled the flame of your love in the heart of your holy martyr Bernard Mizeki: Grant to us, your humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in his triumph may profit by his example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mamiyeri Mitseka Gwambe was born in Inhambane, in Portuguese East Africa, which we now call Mozambique, in the year 1861. When he was twelve years old he decided to go into exile with some of his older cousins. They moved to Cape Town, South Africa. He worked as a laborer for ten years, working for white settlers, commuting to his home in the slums. Many of his neighbors used alcohol to treat their despair, which actually made things much worse, and he decided not to drink. This was one of the many ways in which he was different than his neighbors, along with his desire for education.

When he was about 20 years old, he enrolled in an Anglican night school run by the Cowley Fathers and administered by Baroness Paula Dorothea von Blomberg of Germany. He was a dedicated student with a gift for languages, and he learned English, High Dutch, French, and eight African languages. He was soon working as a translator, translating the Bible into indigenous African languages. He became a Christian and was baptized at St. Philip's Mission on Sir Lowry Road in Cape Town on March 7, 1886, with the Baroness serving as his godmother. He took on the name Bernard Mizeki at baptism. He worked as a houseboy at St. Bolumba's Hostel, a residential home for African men, and it was here that his talents in evangelism appeared. A few months later he was sent to Zonnebloem College where he was trained as a catechist.

In 1891, the Rt. Rev. George William Knight-Bruce, former Anglican Bishop of Bloemfontien was appointed missionary bishop of the new Diocese of Mashonaland. He needed volunteers who spoke the language to help with this pioneer missionary work, and Bernard Mizeki answered "yes" to this call. He travelled with the bishop into what was then called Rhodesia, but we now call Zimbabwe, a place which appears in the news quite often. Bernard served as the bishop's personal assistant and interpreter. Bernard eventually settled near the place where the chief of the vaNhowe people, Mungati, kept his cattle. He continued to travel to the city of Salisbury (now Harare) to work translating the Bible and Prayer Book liturgies into the seShona language. Mungati gave Bernard some land and he built his hut there. He built himself some furniture but then decided that he wanted to live as simply as his neighbors, so he took all his furniture and burned it. Bernard's daily routine involved prayer with his neighbors as a means of getting to know them, working in his garden, and studying local languages. He opened a school and opened his house so that his students could live with him. He later moved the school and mission station (with Mungati's permission) to a plateau near a grove of trees which supposedly housed the ancestral spirits of the Mashona poeple. The station prospered and the number of converts grew. Bernard respected the local religious beliefs, and, noticing that the Shona Spirit religion was monotheistic, he made connections between Christianity and the local religion, which increased his respect among the people. He was also respected by the Government official Llewellyn Meredith and a lay missionary, Douglas Pelly, although this connection to the white colonial government was not helpful to Bernard and probably had a part in his martyrdom.

Not everyone respected or liked Bernard Mizeki. The local witch-doctors saw him as a threat to their way of life, and Mchemwa, Mungati's son, despised Bernard. Bernard married Mutwa, granddaughter of Mungati and Mchemwa's niece, but this family tie did not help his relationship with Mchemwa. Although Bernard respected some aspects of the local religion, he didn't believe in the superstitious aspects, and he cut down some of the trees in the sacred grove, and carved crosses on some of the other trees. This angered the local witch-doctors, and they combined forces with Mchemwa. Mchemwa ordered Bernard's death, and one of the local religious leaders warned the Christians to stay away from the morning service on June 14. However, they all returned that evening. The Mashona rebellion was taking place, and Bernard was warned to flee, because Mchemwa had accused him of working as an agent of European imperialism. Bernard refused to leave, choosing to obey what he believed was his bishop's order to stay and work with the people there. On the evening of June 18, 1896, his enemies knocked on his door, dragged him outside, stabbed him with a spear, and left him for dead. His wife found him nearby, wounded but alive. He told Mutwa to flee, but she went to find him food and blankets to care for him. She saw a brilliant white light, which was seen by others as well. The light was shining all over the hillside where he lay dying. Witnesses claimed to have heard a great noise, like many wings of great birds. When Mutwa returned to where she had left Bernard, his body was gone. Mchemwa had taken his body and buried it in a secret place. He and his men then destroyed the mission station, leaving nothing but mud floors. Months later, Mutwa gave birth to their daughter and named her Masiwa, which means "fatherless one." At baptism her name became Bernadina.

Mchemwa and the witch-doctors thought that they had successfully ended Bernard Mizeki's ministry with the destruction of the mission station and his martyrdom. English missionaries had been working in the area for thirty years without even one baptism, but one month after Bernard's martyrdom, John Kupya, one of Bernard's students, was baptized, followed by Mutwa and many others. The hill on which Mungati’s kraal was located is now dominated by a large concrete cross.
The church is established in Zimbabwe and the place of Bernard's martyrdom is a site of pilgrimage in Africa, where large groups of people, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Protestants, come to pray and remember him on June 18, St. Bernard's Day. Next to his shrine stands Bernard Mizeki College. There are more than twenty memorials dedicated to Bernard Mizeki in South Africa alone, including many churches, and the altar in St. Cyprian’s Church in Langa, South Africa, is inscribed Bernard Mizeki si tandaza: Bernard Mizeki pray for us.

Bernard Mizeki was not afraid of those who would kill the body and he was willing to stand up and acknowledge Christ before others, even though his witness led to his death. His bravery, his faithfulness to the people whose lives were entrusted to his care, and his love for the Good News makes him an example of one who is a Witness, a martyr, a saint. May we all have the faith and courage of Bernard Mizeki.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What We Did On Wednesday

After the Wednesday mid-week Eucharist we celebrated Violet Seale's birthday. We had good stuff to eat and good company. We always have a good time here at San Cristóbal. Here are some photos.

Yummy stuff!

This is a very interesting and tasty sammich thang

The empanadas finally made it to the table

The Birthday Girl is in the center!

I hope that guy doesn't pray too long. . .

Conference about Sunday's Fathers' Day Celebration

I See You!

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