Monday, October 31, 2011

Our Traditional Hallowe'en Photograph

Traditions Are Important!

It's Padre Mickey's Dance Party's Birthday!

Yay! Today this blog is five years old! It started out slowly, became fun and crazy for several years, and is back to being slow; heck, it's down-right boring nowadays! And why is that? Has the ol' Padre done run outta ideas n' stuff? Well, no, not really, but I'm trying to find a job in the U.S.A. and Search Committees are not interested in priests' whose blogs are a Bit Too Lively. I learned that a member of a Search Committee read this blog and felt that my writing is "too direct." So, Lives of the Saints, photos of San Cristóbal, and the occasional Miss Bebé™ photo. I am a slightly more lively presence on Facebook.

So, let's celebrate with a David Bowie video, Five Years! It's got nothing to do with the blog or our anniversary, and you can't really dance to it, but the words Five Years are repeated constantly, and that's gotta count fer sumpin'!

Happy Anniversary to Us!

This post has been visited by the Alter Guild a couple a times already!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Our Lord, and Martyr

Grant, O God, that, following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Icon written by Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG, friend of Padre Mickey's Dance Party

Let’s talk about siblings; not everyone has brothers and sisters, but if you do, I have a question: Did you always get along with your brothers and sisters? If your family is like most families, I would say 'probably not.' Usually there is some sibling rivalry in a family and there can be some competition between the children; competition for the attention of the parents, competition in the area of school work, competition in sports and winning awards. I am the eldest of four children, and the birth order is boy-girl-boy-girl, and there is eighteen months between my sister Melanie and I and eighteen months between Melanie and Jim and then four years between Jim and Marcella. Melanie and I are close in age and close in interests and close in abilities. We are both musicians, we both work in churches, and we have similar tastes in art, literature, music and politics. We are both rather competitive and always have been so. When I was trying to learn my multiplication tables, Melanie was right there paying attention and actually learning them. That's just normal sibling rivalry. Maybe your relationship with your siblings is similar, and maybe they think that you overshadow them or you thing that they overshadow you. I think that this is pretty normal in sibling relationships. But imagine having a brother who calls himself "the Son of Man," who wanders around the country, attracting crowds, healing the sick, bringing sight to the blind, preaching forgiveness of sins and proclaiming the coming of the Reign of God. Talk about overshadowing! How do you compete with someone like that?

Today is the Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, the brother of our Lord, Jesus Christ. James was one of Jesus' four brothers, but we don't know about birth order; some traditions each that the brothers and sisters mentioned in the gospels were Joseph's children from a previous marriage or that they were actually Jesus' cousins. These are good explanations for those who believe that Mary was "ever virgin." Personally, it seems more probable to me that Joseph and Mary had a normal marriage and produced several children. From what we read in the gospels, it seems that Jesus and his family didn't really get along that well; do your remember the story of Mary sending his brothers after him because the family was worried that he was crazy? Did Jesus say to his brothers, "Tell Mom I'll be there once I'm finished talking with these folks"? No, he said, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? Everyone who works for the Reign of God is my mother and sister and brother." That answer wouldn't have gone over well with my mother! We don't know what James told his mother back home about what Jesus was doing; we don't know if he told her that Jesus was alright and that he was only doing the will of God. We know that Jesus wasn't well received back home because everyone knew him, but we don't know if his brothers and sisters were part of the unreceptive group. We do know that James was an important leader in the Early Church along with Peter, and we know from Paul's writings and from the Acts of the Apostles that James was the head of the Church in Jerusalem. It was James whom Paul visited when in Jerusalem, and it was James who, after hearing of Paul's mission to the Gentiles decided that the Gentiles would not have to adhere to the Mosiac covenant and be circumcised but adhere to the Noachian covenant, avoiding sexual promiscuity, not eating food sacrificed to idols, and not eating meat from animals which had been strangled, or meat which still had blood in it. We also know that James was one of those to whom Jesus appeared after the Resurrection.

According to Clement of Alexandria, as quoted by Bishop Eusebius, the first historian of the Church, James was the first bishop of Jerusalem. James was a very important figure to the Jewish Christians and his importance is reflected in chapter 12 of the Gospel of Thomas, an early gospel which was not accepted by the Church. It is a collection of sayings of Jesus, and chapter 12 reads: The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?" Jesus said to them, "No matter where you are, you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."

According to the Jewish party in the Early Church, James represented Israel, and this is reflected in that passage. James was called the Just or Righteous because of his strict adherence to the Torah. According to Clement of Alexandria, James was: Holy from birth; he drank no wine or intoxicating liquor and ate no animal food; no razor came near his head; he did not smear himself with oil and took no baths. He alone was permitted to enter the Holy Place (Holy of Holies in the Temple), for his garments were not of wool but of linen. He used to enter the Sanctuary alone, and was often found on his knees beseeching forgiveness for the people, so that his knees grew hard like a camel's from his continually bending them in worship of God and beseeching forgiveness for the people. Because of his unsurpassable righteousness he was called the Righteous and bulwark of the People. If it is true that he entered the Holy of Holies, then James was a High Priest of the Temple, which was an important position within the community, both Jewish and Christian (It would also mean that he did take baths, as a ritual bath on the part of the priest is an aspect of the Yom Kippur liturgy). According to Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century, James was well respected by Jews and Christians because of his righteousness. Some traditions, especially those of the Ebionites, a first-century Jewish-Christian sect, taught that James performed miracles just like Jesus.

I mentioned earlier that the family of Jesus wasn't always supportive of his ministry; we know from scripture that they worried that he might have been a bit crazy, and his brothers were sent by their mother to bring him home. Was James one of the brothers sent to fetch Jesus? Did he think that his brother was behaving strangely by wandering all over Galilee healing and preaching? We don't know what James thought at the time but we do know that he came to accept his brother as Lord. According ot St. Paul, Jesus appeared to James after the Resurrection, and if James had harbored any doubts about his brother's ministry, rest assured that they were swept away by this appearance! The experience was so life-changing that, although James remained a strict follower of the Torah, he also became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, the first Church. James, just like his brother, was a strong defender and supporter of the poor, as was the Jerusalem Church. The name Ebionites, can be translated to mean "the poor." Paul collected donations for the poor, and these funds were sent back to James and the Church in Jerusalem.

Jesus was executed with the support of the religious authorities of Jerusalem, and according to both Josephus and Clement, as quoted by Eusebius in Historia Ecclesiastica, James, the brother of Jesus, was also murdered as a result of pressure from the religious authorities. According to Eusebius, James' example and his righteous life had convinced others, even members of the ruling class, that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, and the Scribes and Pharisees were afraid that all the people would accept Jesus as Lord. So, at the Feast of the Passover during the year 62, the Scribes and Pharisees asked James to stand on the Temple parapet so that everyone could see and hear him tell the facts about Jesus, since, as the Scribes and Pharisees said, "the people have gone astray after Jesus." James stood on the parapet, and the Scribes and Pharisees shouted to him: "Righteous One, whose word we are all obliged to accept, the people are going astray after Jesus who was crucified; so tell us, what is meant by 'the door of Jesus?'" And James answered in a loud voice, "Why do you question me about the Son of Man? I tell you, He is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power, and He will come on the clouds of heaven." And many people believed, and began to shout, "Hosannah to the Son of David!" So now the Scribes and Pharisees were worried and thought, "we really made a mistake putting him up there. We better throw him down so that they will be frightened and not believe him." So they began to shout, "Oh no! Even the Righteous One has gone astray!" and someone pushed James off the parapet and he fell down to the ground. Then they said, "Let us stone James the Righteous" because he was still alive after his fall. While the stones rained upon him, James got to his knees and prayed aloud: "I beseech thee, Lord God and Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing." While the stones were falling like rain upon James, the descendants of Rechab, a priestly family, shouted, "Stop! What are you doing? The Righteous One is praying for you!" Then one of the mob took a fuller's club, which was used to beat out the clothes, and brought it down on James' head, and James died a martyr's death. According to Eusebius’ version of the story, James was buried on the spot, by the Sanctuary, until the destruction of the Temple. According to this account, some believed that the siege of Vespasian and the Jewish War, which culminated in the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, were the vengeance of God for the murder of James.

Icon written by Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG, friend of Padre Mickey's Dance Party

Back in 2002 there was quite a stir caused by an announcement by Hershel Shanks of the Biblical Archeological Review that an ossory, or bone box, had been discovered which was dated to the first century and bore the inscription Ya'akov bar Yosef akhui diYeshua which translates as James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus, in Aramaic. It appears that the ossory is probably not authentic, but it certainly was an interesting find!

The word 'martyr' means 'witness,' and James was a witness. He witnessed his brother's ministry,
and he was a witness of an appearance of the Resurrected Jesus. His life was a witness to the people of Jerusalem; his strict adherence to the Torah was proof of his righteousness, but he was also able to understand that the Law was not for all, and he realized that the Law would be a burden for the Gentile converts. He understood that to work for the Reign of God meant to speak for, defend, and support the poor, and he did this as Bishop of Jerusalem. He was the brother of Jesus, and as family, probably knew Jesus better than most; even though, at one time, he may have shared the doubts of his family about his brother's sanity, he did believe, and was blessed with a post-Resurrection appearance. He believed his brother's message about the coming of the Reign of God, and he was faithful to this message unto death. The lives of the saints are examples to us all, and the deaths of the martyrs made the church grow. Tertullian, an African leader of the Church in the second century said, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." James was a bishop, an Apostle, and a Martyr, and he is an example to all of us. Today we celebrate his life and his death. May we keep the memory of James and of all the saints and martyrs as important examples always.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

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

Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

As is usually the situation when we talk about the first Christians, we really don’t have a lot of information concerning St. Luke. Some consider him the first historian of the Christian Church due to his book The Acts of the Apostles. I don’t really consider Acts to be a history as much as the second part of the Gospel of Luke. The person I would call the first historian of Christianity, the Bishop Eusebius, wrote that Luke was born in Antioch, in Syria. He was probably a Gentile and not a Jewish convert. In the letter to the Christians in Colossae, Paul mentions the friends who are with him. First he mentions “those of the circumcision,” who are with him (Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus) and then he names Epapharas, Demas, and Luke, whom he calls the beloved physician. We don’t know anything about Luke’s conversion or where it took place, and what we know about his ministry we learn from the Acts of the Apostles. Paul mentions him in his letter to the Colossians, a letter to Timothy, and the letter to Philemon. We know that he traveled with Paul on some of his missionary journeys and also spent time in prison with Paul.

Luke is known for his two volume work which some scholars call “Luke-Acts” or the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. We may consider this a two volume work rather than two separate books, because of the way it presents the story of the message of Christ. In the first volume, Jesus brings the Good News only to the people of Israel, while the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how the Good News spread from Jerusalem throughout the Roman Empire. The Acts of the Apostles is interesting in that it is written in the third person, in the language of a historian collecting facts until the sixteenth chapter, when the word “they” changes to “we” and we get a first-person account of Paul’s vision and subsequent mission to Macedonia. Luke probably first joined Paul's company at Troas at about the year 51 and then accompanied him into Macedonia, where they traveled first to Samothrace, Neapolis, and finally Philippi. In the story of the imprisonment of Paul and Silas in Philippi, Luke switches back to the third person, which indicates that he most probably wasn’t in prison with them. It is believed that Luke remained in Philippi to encourage the Christians there. Seven years later, Paul returned to the area on his third missionary journey, and it seems that Luke rejoined Paul in Troas in the year 58, since his account in the Acts of the Apostles returns to the use of “we” rather than “they” in chapter 20. They traveled together through Miletus, Tyre, Caesarea, to Jerusalem. Luke was very loyal to Paul and stayed with him when he was imprisoned in Rome about the year 61. When everyone else had deserted Paul in his final imprisonment and sufferings, Luke remained with him to the end. This close relationship with the apostle Paul was the source of information for Luke’s two-volume work.

Luke's unique perspective on Jesus can be seen in where his gospel differs from the gospels of Mark and Matthew. Luke includes six miracles and eighteen parables not found in the other gospels. Luke's is the gospel of the poor and of social justice. Luke tells the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man who ignored him. Luke uses "Blessed are the poor" instead of "Blessed are the poor in spirit" in the his version of the beatitudes. Luke’s gospel includes angel visitations and the beautiful song of Mary, the Magnificat, in which she proclaims that God "has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Luke also seemed to have a special connection with the women in Jesus' life, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary. Luke’s gospel is the only one which includes the story of the Annunciation, of Mary's visit to Elizabeth including the Magnificat, the only gospel with the story of the Presentation, and the story of Jesus' disappearance in Jerusalem. A reading of Luke’s gospel may lead one to believe that forgiveness and God's mercy to sinners is also of great importance to Luke. Luke’s gospel is the only one which has the story of the Prodigal Son, and only in Luke’s gospel tells the story of the forgiven woman disrupting the feast by washing Jesus' feet with her tears. Throughout Luke's gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God's mercy. The stories Luke included in his gospel give the impression that he saw Jesus as one who loved the poor, who opened the door of God’s kingdom to everyone, as one who respected women, and who saw hope in God’s mercy for everyone.

A tradition that Luke was a painter seems to have no basis in fact. Several images of Mary appeared in later centuries claiming him as a painter but these claims were proved false. Because of this tradition, however, he is considered a patron of painters of pictures and is often portrayed as painting pictures of Mary. One of the Eastern Orthodox websites I visited claimed that St. Luke was the first to paint an icon, that of the Blessed Virigin Mary.

No one is really sure about Luke’s life after the martyrdom of St. Paul. Epiphanius says that after the martyrdom of St. Paul, St. Luke preached in Italy, Gaul, Dalmatia, and Macedon. Fortunatus and Metaphrastus say he passed into Egypt and preached in Thebais. Nicephorus says he died at Thebes in Boeotia around the year 84, after settling in Greece to write his gospel. St. Hippolytus says St. Luke was crucified at Elaea in Peloponnesus near Achaia. There is a Greek tradition that he was crucified on an olive tree. The ancient African Martyrology gives him the titles of Evangelist and Martyr, and St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Paulinus, and St. Gaudentius of Brescia all claim that Luke went to God by martyrdom. Bede, Ado, Usuard, and Baronius in the Martyrologies only say he suffered much for the faith, and died very old in Bithynia. Whether he died a quiet death at 84 or whether he won the martyr’s crown, he will always be known for his wonderful two-volume work. What would Christmas be like without Luke’s story of the shepherds and the angelic choir? His story of the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost has always been an inspiration. And what would Evening Prayer be like without the beauty of the Magnificat? Luke was instrumental in helping spread the word, helping spread the Good News, that forgiveness of sins and the coming of the Reign of God is available to all, and that is why we remember St. Luke today.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Recently Discovered Appendix to Ignatius' Letter to the Magnesians

A fragment of an appendix to the letter of St. Ignatius to the Christians in Magnesia on the Maeandar has been discovered in a monastery high atop Mt. Athos. This important discovery gives Patristic Scholars an understanding of medicines used in the Second Century and the place of antacids in Late Antiquity

P.S. I give thanks to God and to your godly Bishop Damas, your worthy presbyters Bassus and Apollonius and the deacon Zotion, and for the Church which is Magnesia on the Maeander for your faithful witness, but most of all for the little blue bottle of milk which you presented me to relieve my distress. It calmed my stomach, ceased the rumblings from deep with in me, and opened wide the floodgates, creating a Fearful Case of the Trots, which had convinced me that I would meet our Blessed Lord long before the beasts of the arena in Rome would have their opportunity. Now I have been cleansed. However, the texture is somewhat chalky, and the flavour of this milk was much worse than if it had been left out in the sun for two days; it was all I could do to keep it down. The Lord has called me to suffer for the faith and end of appendix has been lost.

Feast of Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was also known as Theophorus which means "borne by God. He was either the second bishop of Antioch successor of St. Peter himself (according to Origen), or the third bishop, succeeding Euodius, according to Bishop Eusebius in his Historia Ecclesiastica. He lived in the late first-early second century, long before Antioch became an important Patriarchate. He was arrested during the persecution by Trajan, and was sent to Rome to be fed to the wild beasts in the amphitheatre, a fate he embraced as his calling. He traveled through Asia Minor on his way to Rome with ten guards, whom he called his "ten leopards."

When the Christian communities in Asia Minor heard of his arrest and journey to Rome, they sent delegates to meet him along the way. His contingent stopped in Smyrna for a while and he wrote letters to the Christians in Ephesus, Magnesia, Troas, and Rome. Their next stop was Troas, where Ignatius wrote letters to the Christians in Philadelphia and Smyrna, and also a letter to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. They then continued on to Rome where he won the crown of martyrdom. There are also two letters to John the Apostle attributed to Ignatius, and a letter to the Blessed Virgin Mary (with a reply!) but these letters are most probably forgeries.

Ignatius was bishop during a period of ecclesiastical change; the Syrian church depicted in the Didache, a church of traveling prophets, evangelists and missionaries was becoming a clergy-dominated church. The Spirit-directed church of St. Paul and the apostles was becoming a church of Bishops, Deacons, and Presbyters. He was concerned with strengthening the authority of the clergy, but especially the bishop. He wrote to the Magnesians: As then the Lord was united to the Father and did nothing without him, neither by himself nor through the Apostles, so do you do nothing without the bishop and the presbyters. In his letter to the Trallians he wrote: Likewise let all respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, even as the bishop is also a type of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and the college of Apostles. Without these the name of "Church" is not given. Yes, he was very much in support of clericalism! He was somewhat worried about Judizers; this may have been a problem in Antioch but it may have been more of a problem in Magnesia. He also spoke out against the Docetists, a Gnostic group who did not recognize the humanity of Jesus; as far as they were concerned only his divinity mattered, and they took things much farther in this direction than did those in Alexandria. The Docetists believed that the body of Jesus was not flesh and blood, but a mere illusion. In his letter to the Trallians, Ignatius spoke of the importance of the humanity of Jesus: Be deaf, therefore when anyone speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the family of David, and of Mary, who was truly born, both ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth; who was truly raised from the dead, when his Father raised him up, as in the same manner his Father shall raise up in Christ Jesus us who believe in him, without whom we have no true life. In this passage I see the seed of the theological battle which raged between Antioch and Alexandria centuries later, culminating in the fight between Nestorius and Cyril.

Ignatius also believed strongly in the Holy Eucharist as a means of unity. In his letter to the Christians in Philadelphia, he writes: Be careful therefore to use on Eucharist (for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup for union with his blood, one altar, as there is one bishop with the presbytery and the deacons my fellow servants), in order that whatever you do you may do it according unto God. He told the Christians in Ephesus Try to gather more frequently to celebrate God's Eucharist and to praise him. At these meetings you should heed the bisohp and presbytery attentively and break one loaf, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote that we should not die, but live for ever in Jesus Christ.

Ignatius embraced his martyrdom. Some in Rome wanted to prevent his execution but he begged them not to interfere. He wrote to the Christians in Rome: All the way from Syria to Rome I am fighting with wild animals on land and sea, by night and day, fettered to ten leopards -- a squad of soldiers -- whom kindness makes even worse. Their disgraceful conduct makes me still more a disciple, but that does not justify me. May it be for my good that the wild animals are ready for me: I pray that I may find them prompt. I shall coax them to devour me promptly, unlike some whom they have been afraid to touch; if they are unwilling and refuse, I will compel them to do it. Pardon me; I know what is best for me, and now I am beginning to be a disciple. May nothing seen or unseen grudge my attaining to Jesus Christ! Let fire and cross, encounters with wild animals, tearing apart of bones, hacking of limbs, crushing of the whole body, tortures of the devil come upon me, if only I may attain to Jesus Christ! According to The Martyrdom of Ignatius, when he arrived in Rome from Portus, he was met by many Christians who wanted to meet him but were upset that so eminent a man was being led to death. He asked those who were talking about intervening on his part to keep silent so that he could do what God asked of him. Then, with many kneeling before him, he prayed that an end may come to the persecution and that mutual love might continue among the Christians throughout Asia Minor. He was then led "with all haste" into the amphitheatre by the guards. he was immediately thrown in to the arena, "according to the command of Caesar given some time ago." And, just as he had hoped, he was torn apart "promptly" by the wild beasts.

Ignatius may have been a supporter of clericalism, but his letters give us a glimpse of a period of transition in the Early Church and the beginnings of the Antiochian Christology which was such an important part of the formation of Christianity. And that is why we remember his witness today.

Almighty God, we praise your Name for your bishop and martyr Ignatius of Antioch, who offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts that he might present to you the pure bread of sacrifice. Accept, we pray, the willing tribute of our lives and give us a share in the pure and spotless offering of your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Feast of Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky

O God, in your providence you called Joseph Schereschewsky from his home in Eastern Europe to the ministry of this Church, and sent him as a missionary to China, upholding him in his infirmity, that he might translate the Holy Scriptures into languages of that land. Lead us, we pray, to commit our lives and talents to you, in the confidence that when you give your servants any work to do, you also supply the strength to do it; 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 Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky. Even though he is a saint from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, eras which are not part of my historic interest or speciality, I want to celebrate and remember him because he was an Anglican Bishop in China, and I have family ties to China. My maternal grandparents were missionaries in China with the Assemblies of God church in the 1930’s. My mother was born in Kowloon and my uncle was born in Shanghai. Also, Bishop Schereschewsky’s story is quite interesting.

Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, a name which is quite a mouthful! He was born in the nation of Lithuania on May 6, 1831, to a Jewish family. Early in his life he wanted to be a Rabbi, so he studied at the Rabbinical College at Zhitomeer, in Russia. He was also a student for two years at the University of Breslau, Germany. There was a group, the Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews, in London and they published a New Testament in Hebrew. Samuel Schereschewsky read this New Testament, and as a result, became a Christian. He emigrated to the United States in 1854 and entered the Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as he was interested in entering the ministry in the Presbyterian Church. However, after two years of study he decided to become a priest in the Episcopal Church and he transferred to General Theological Seminary in New York City, from which he graduated in 1859. The Rt. Rev. Boone ordained him to the deaconate at St. George’s Church in New York later that year. He answered Bishop Boone’s call for workers in China, and he left for Shanghai, China that year. Bishop Boone ordained him to the priesthood at the mission chapel there in Shanghai on October 28, 1860.

Samuel Schereschewsky had a gift which I do not have; he was very good with languages. He actually learned Mandarin during his voyage to China! His first accomplishment in China was to translate the Old Testament from Hebrew into Mandarin and the Gospels from Greek into Mongolian. He continued to perform translations throughout his ministry. He translated the New Testament from Greek into Mandarin, and he also developed a dictionary of the Mongolian language. He later translated the Book of Common Prayer into Mandarin, and the entire Bible into Wenli, a dialect of Chinese. When I helped put on an exhibit of historic Prayer Books at the library of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, in 1998, I was able to obtain the Book of Common Prayer translated by Schereschewsky, and it was an amazing feeling to hold something like that in my hand. Some eight years into his time in China, a new missionary, Miss Susan Mary Waring, arrived from Brooklyn, New York. Two weeks later they were engaged to be married!

He earned so much respect for his work and his saintly life that the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. elected him Bishop of Shanghai in 1875, but he declined the episcopate. He earned the Doctorate in Divinity from Kenyon College in 1876, and a second Doctorate in Divinity from Columbia University the next year. In 1877 he was elected to the episcopate once again, and, after some serious arm-twisting by the House of Bishops, he was consecrated Bishop of Shanghai at Grace Church, New York, by Bishops Bosworth Smith, Henry Potter, Bedell, Stevens, Kerfoot, and Lyman. He returned to China and established stJohn’s University in Shanghai.

In 1883, stricken with Parkinson’s disease as a result of sunstroke and overwork, confined to a wheelchair. he became paralyzed and resigned his See. However, he continued his translation work and returned to China in 1895. Even though his hands were paralyzed and his fingers no longer responded to his brain, he continued his work on the Wenli translation of the Bible, and even typed two thousand pages of this work with the one finger that did work! In 1897 he and his wife moved to Tokyo, Japan, where he continued his work on a dictionary of the Mongolian language. He passed away in Tokyo on October 15, 1906, and he is buried in Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo, next to his wife, who supported him constantly during his labors and illness. Four years before his death, he said, “I have sat in this chair for over twenty years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted.”

I believe that Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky’s life is an amazing example of what one can do when we say yes to the call of God and allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives.
He didn’t even let paralysis and Parkinson’s disease keep him from working for the Reign of God.

Here is a poem about Schereschewsky which was given as a sermon by the Reverend Robert Cooper at Nashotah House Seminary on Schereschewsky’s feast day in 1973.

Something far greater than Jonah is there.
Russian Jew American Christian Chinaman
Yoked twenty years and more to your chair.
Who can bear to hear that this is God's plan?

"Eli! Master! I heard you calling me
from the doughy loins of my warm mother."
It was the voice of God that would not let me be
When night closed and struck me like a wrathful father.

"Ishmael, I hear you still in the desert places.
I am Isaac, son of promise. Remember me now
Carpentered to this chair by your God who grimaces
In Jew-faced Jesus. (Before him gentiles will bow.)"

Joseph is my name also. I am God's cuckold.
I was unswayed by the hot wife of Potiphar
I conquered her, and all of Egypt's grain rolled
Forth to become God's hard loaves on earth's altar.

I am your wheat, o my God in heaven
Sown in Russia milled in the U.S.A.
Baked a world away with Chinese leaven.
Myriads will rise up from me on your great day.

I was content at last to be your lifelong joke
To offer at your table my broken old crust
To learn to be consumed in bearing your light yoke
To sit those years in China long enough to trust

That I have seen the ways your bent things praise
How you laughed me straight through all my days.

Robert M. Cooper

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bible Study Retreat

We have two Bible study groups at our church. Both groups are studying "Fasting for Spiritual Break Through: A Guide to Nine Biblical Fasts" by Elmer L. Towns. It's a very interesting study and I have learned a lot from it. Well, the two groups decided to have a retreat and study the last chapter of the book together: The Esther Fast. To prepare, we all read the book of Esther. We even watched a movie about her.

We stayed at Norma Blackman's house in Coronado which may look familiar. Hortensia led us through the sessions and was part of the planning committee. We had Compline both nights and Morning Prayer both mornings. The whole week-end was well planned and fun. Below are pictures of everyone who was there and the fun we had.

This group of photos were taken Friday night, our first night at Norma's house. We had just gotten our folders with our material and agenda.

Sunrise on the beach, Saturday morning. It was incredible. My friend Magdalena and I went together. It was the first time she had ever seen a sunrise like that. "How can you not believe in God when there is such beauty on earth?" she asked me.

Here our group is gathered for our lessons. We also did a lot of singing. These were taken during a singing session.

Meal time.

Our evening swim on Saturday night.

These were taken Sunday morning during our open forum, evaluation, and closing.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Sunday School Pictures

I saw this pictures on the bulletin board at the back of the church this morning, and I just had to snap a few photos. I have no idea what age group produced these, although I think the first two are from older kids.

Here is a picture of The Creation of the World.

This is a picture of God the Father. I have no idea what's happening with God's feet; they seem to be shooting out lightning, which is something I missed in my reading of Genesis, but it's way cool! Also, excellent coconut bra on Eva.

I believe that these pictures are a response to the question: "What are your gifts?"

This person's gifts are Karate, Basketball, and Fútbol.

This person's gifts are Fútbol, Singing, and Studying

This person's gifts are intelligence, strength, and, of course, sports.

What are your gifts?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Feast of San Francisco de Assis

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today I’ll talk about a saint who is not one of the early saints and I’m sure you’ll find much better posts about him all over the internet today, but I want to say my piece, too. It was the parish of St. Francis in San José, California, which raised Mona and I up in ministry and supported us in seminary, and they support our ministry in Panamá. But even though Francis isn’t a martyr or from the third century, he is one of my favorite saints. For me, the life of St. Francis is an example of total surrender to God's will, a life which full enjoyed God's creation, and his life is also a model to us of one who is gentle in spirit.

St. Francis was born in the year 1181 in the town of Assisi in Italy. His father was a wealthy merchant who sold cloth. As Francis grew up, he worked in his father's shop, helping sell cloth to the people of Assisi. He and his friends were kind of wild and had parties that lasted until early morning. When he was twenty years old he joined the army. He was captured by the enemy and spent a few months imprisoned. When he was finally released from prison, he returned home to Assisi. When he returned home, he had changed. He was no longer interested in hanging out with his friends, eating and drinking late into the night; he was no longer interested in singing outside the windows of the young women of Assisi. While he was imprisoned he had a lot of time to think, and when he returned to Assisi he no longer found happiness in the silly pursuits of his friends. He began to spend time with the poor of Assisi and helping the lepers on the outskirts of town. He spent less time working at Dad’s shop and more time in prayer in a little grotto outside of town. He and his father argued often about his strange behavior.

One day Francis decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome to see if he could figure out what God wanted of him. While in Rome he realized that he wanted to separate himself from his father's money, and one day he asked a beggar to change clothes with him. He gave the beggar his fancy clothes and put on the beggar's rags. He went around the city and experienced rejection from the well-dressed people and he began to understand the hard life of the poor. He returned to Assisi determined to find a way to please God. He continued to with the lepers of Assisi. Early one morning, he went for a ride on his horse, contemplating the glory of God in nature all around him. He almost fell off his horse when the horse balked at seeing a leper standing on the side of the road with his hand outstretched, hiding his face with his cloak. Francis was about to ride away when he heard a voice in his heart say: "Francis, all that up to now has been hateful to you must change into unspeakable joy!" He got off of his horse and was going to give the leper some coins when he bent down to kiss the sore hand of the leper as a means of seeing the face of Jesus in the leper's face. At the moment he kissed the leper's diseased hand, he felt a sense of liberation and purification. Francis continued to argue with his father and he lost all interest in his father's profession. He kept giving his father's money away. He was finally kicked out of the house and he began to spend a lot of time in a little decrepit church, the church of San Damiano. One day while he was there praying, he looked up at the crucifix and heard it say to him, "Francis, go and rebuild my house, which is threatening to collapse." Francis started working at San Damiano, reinforcing the walls, patching the roof, and fixing it all up. Other young men began to come help his with his work. Soon he had several followers, and they all took on the life of "Lady Poverty." They gave up everything and begged for their food. Francis wrote a Rule of Life for the group and after getting approval from Pope Innocent III, they became known as the Order of Friars Minor. Soon, a wealthy young woman named Claire and her friends desired to live the same life as the Friars, who were known as "Franciscans" and became known as the "Poor Claires." Both groups worked with the poor and sick and outcasts of society. Both groups lived holy lives of poverty.

St. Francis heard God's voice in the natural world which surrounded him, and he saw God's face in the elements and in all of creation. He saw the face of Jesus in the faces of the poor and sick. His understanding of the connectedness of all creation is evident in his calling everything either "brother" or "sister." An example of how St. Francis experienced God in nature is illustrated in a song he wrote, The Canticle of the Sun:

Most High, Almighty, Good Lord.
Yours be the praise, the glory, the honor and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, are they due.
And no man is worthy to speak your Name.
Praise to You, my Lord, for all your creatures.
Above all, Brother Sun who brings us the day and lends us his light.
Lovely is he, radiant with great splendor, and speaks to us of You,
O Most High.
Praise to You, my Lord, for Sister Moon, and the stars
which You have set in the heavens, clear, precious, and fair.
Praise to You, my Lord, for Brother Wind, for air and cloud,
for calm and all weather by which you support life in all your creatures.
Praise to You, my Lord, for Sister Water,
whop is so useful and humble, precious and pure.
Praise to You, my Lord, for our sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and directs us and brings forth varied fruits
and colored flowers and plants.
Praise and bless my Lord, thank Him and serve Him with great humility!

St. Francis also experienced God through the animals, and as we know, he was very fond of the animals he met. As a result, many churches celebrate his feast with a blessing of the animals. When I was at St. Francis’ in San José, we always had the blessing of the animals as part of our Patronal Festival. This was also the day that the Bishop would visit, and there were many times when I helped the bishop bless dogs, cats, mice, snakes, lizards, birds, and all manner of pets.
Another story which illustrates the love St. Francis had for creation is the story of St. Francis and the birds: One day St. Francis and some of the brothers were walking between the towns of Cannara and Bevagna. While they were walking, St. Francis saw some trees next to the road and there was a large group of many different birds, varieties that he had never seen in that area before, all standing about (think of what he would think of our birds here in Panamá!). There was another group of birds standing in the fields next to the trees. While St. Francis was looking at this strange sight, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he told his companions, "Wait here in the road, I am going to go over and preach to our sisters the birds." As soon as he went into the field the birds began to gather around him, and the birds up in the trees flew down and they all stood about him quietly, even when he walked among them. St. Francis looked at the birds gathered around him and said,

"My sisters the birds, you have so much from God and should always praise God for the gift of flight, for your beautiful colored feathers, for the food you get, for your gift of singing,
and for the fact that God has blessed you with great numbers, for your species was saved on the Ark with Noah, and for the element of Air which was set aside for you to travel in.
You don't plant or harvest and God feeds you. God gave you rivers and streams from which to drink, and mountains, hills, rocks and crags to hid in tall trees for your nests; and since you can't sew, God gave you and your chicks feathers for clothes. It's true that the Creator who made you loves you very much. So take care, sisters of mine, the birds, not to be ungrateful but be happy and always praise God."

When St. Francis finished his sermon, all the birds began to open their beaks, stretch their wings and necks and bow their heads reverently, and sing. With their songs and actions they were telling St. Francis that they liked what he said. When St. francis saw this, he was very happy and full of the Holy Spirit, and was amazed at such a wide variety of birds who showed that they loved each other. He praised God for this creation, called the birds to praise God, and blessed them with the sign of the cross. The birds all rose into the sky and flew off in the four directions, north, south, west, and east, to show St. Francis a great cross.

St. Francis died on October 3, 1226. He had passed on leadership of the Order of Franciscans seven years earlier. He was made a saint on July 16, 1228, by Pope Gregory IX. St. Francis was one who was able to surrender totally to God, he was one who was able to trust God fully; he trusted God to feed him, to provide shelter, and to keep him safe. He trusted God enough to listen for God's voice in the world around him. He was able to see God in the lives of the animals he loved, but also in the face of the poor leper at the side of the road. He was extremely humble, yet able to lead a great order which exists to this day. The life of St. Francis is proof that, if one is to be great, one must be the servant of others. May all of us look to the life of St. Francis and see God in the faces of the least among us.

I See You!

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