Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - Spotlight: John Chrysostom

Every year, beginning with the Confession of St. Peter and ending with the Conversion of St. Paul, Christian churches of every denomination - Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox and everyone at various points on that spectrum and around the world mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

In 1908, the Rev. Paul Wattson, a North American Anglican priest, founded the "Octave for unity". The rest, as they say, is history.

Last night it was my privilege and pleasure to Officiate at an Ecumenical Service of Prayer for Christian Unity at the College of St. Elizabeth in Madison, NJ, a Roman Catholic school founded by some of my favorite nuns, the Sisters of Charity.

The preacher was a Roman Catholic priest who was also a Franciscan Friar, and the lector was a local Lutheran Pastor. The Intercessory Prayers were led by two Sisters of Charity.

We didn't celebrate Eucharist, of course - there's only so far our prayers for Christian Unity will take us - but the Spirit was very much in presence.

The Feast of John Chrysostom falls smack-dab in the week after the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unit. He was a bishop of Constantinople in the late 4th century.

Chrysostom means 'the golden mouthed,' as he was undoubtedly one of the greatest preachers of the early church. He saw preaching as an integral part of pastoral care and teaching. He warned that if a priest had no talent for the Word, the souls of those in his (her) charge "will fare no better than ships tossed in the storm."

Indeed, the Episcopal Church thinks so highly of him, we have included his Prayer of Thanksgiving as part of the Daily Morning Office. It's one of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer (page 102: " . . . granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.")

It was his devotion to the Eucharist, however, that I was thinking about last night and again this morning as I reflected on his 'spot' in the calendar this week, reminding us of just how far we remain from Christian unity, no matter how fervently we pray.

Chrysostom was especially passionate about lay participation in the Eucharist. "Why do you marvel, he wrote in one of his sermons, "that the people anywhere utter anything with the priest at the altar, when in fact they join with the Cherubim themselves, and the heavenly powers, in offering up sacred hymns?"

I don't know when it was that the Roman Catholics decided that the Orthodox couldn't receive communion from them, and the Orthodox decided that the Roman Catholics couldn't receive communion from them, and neither will "officially" feed Protestants, no matter how piously we sing that Taize Chant "there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism."

It's just a guess, but I suspect Chrysostom would have been much more Anglican in his approach and fed whoever came to him who was hungry and thirsty for the Living Christ.

The Sisters of Charity, however, did an interesting liturgical innovation. As Father read the gospel, the story of the Road to Emmaus was interspersed with the congregation singing Marty Haugen's hymn "On the Journey to Emmaus."

So, it went like this: Father would read a few of the verses of the 24th Chapter of Luke's gospel, and then we would sing one of the four verses of the hymn.

The last verse is really wonderful:
On our journey to Emmaus, in our stories and feast
With Jesus we claim that the greatest is least:
And his words burn within us - let none be ignored
Who welcomes the stranger shall welcome the Lord.
I think the one they called 'the golden mouthed' might have approved.

As I was reading over the liturgy in the sacristy before the service, one of the nuns walked in and asked me what I thought of it.

I told her that I found the Gospel reading . . . "interesting." She smiled, immediately understanding how we use the word "interesting" as code - leaving that which needed to be left unsaid in its appropriate unspoken place.

Then she came close and whispered, "It's one way to get lay participation in proclaiming the gospel."

I smiled, nodding my head in the direction of the clergy and whispered, "And 'they' don't object."

She giggled softly and said, "They haven't even noticed."

Well, in that moment, we were two women who may not have been exactly united in prayer, but we were united in a wonderful Gospel conspiracy of which I think even John Chrysostom might have approved.

I will leave you with our closing prayer:

Holy God, take us from where we are, to where you want us to be;
make us not merely guardians of a heritage,
but living signs of your coming Kingdom;
fire us with passion for justice and peace
between all people;
fill us with that faith hope and love
which embody the Gospel;
and through the power of the Holy Spirit make us one.
That the world may believe,
that your name may be enthroned in our nation,
that your church may more effectively be your body,
we commit ourselves to love you, serve you,
and follow you as pilgrims not strangers. Amen.


MarkBrunson said...

I can't share your enthusiasm for Chrysostom, and tend to choke on the prayer for him on his feast day:

"Therefore, not only are their passions [of the homosexuals] satanic, but their lives are diabolic….. So I say to you that these are even worse than murderers, and that it would be better to die than to live in such dishonor. A murderer only separates the soul from the body, whereas these destroy the soul inside the body….. There is nothing, absolutely nothing more mad or damaging than this perversity.” (St. John Chrysostom, In Epistulam ad Romanos IV, in J. McNeill, op. cit., pp. 89-90)

Of course, all the saints were deeply damaged and complex creatures given to error as much as any other.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Ooo... end of the 4th century *c.347 +407

Malcolm+ said...

1. I think you mean the Confession (vice Conversion) of St. Peter.

2. Mark, people are a product of their times, whatever else they may be.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Good pick up, Malcolm and Goran. Thanks. 'Tis fixed.

MarkBrunson said...

That doesn't mean that what they've said and done isn't used for evil. Frankly, I'm not thrilled with Chrysostom himself nor see that he did a whole lot other than complain. If being an acid-tongued critic of anyone we dislike makes a saint, then I'm-a headed for gloh-ree!

I don't believe in "celebrating" saints unreservedly. We have to acknowledge the harm they've done, as well.

MarkBrunson said...

Forgive me, Elizabeth, and ignore my earlier comments. You are more than entitled to your admiration of John Chrysostom. Indeed, I have no reason not to believe the man had God as his center.

It's simply - and this is part of the evil of the conservative "christians" - that I have seen Orthodox (Frederica Mathews-Greene, for one) and Catholic and Anglo-catholic writers use Chrysostom's words to condemn gays and not-so-subtly challenge their very right to live that it has poisoned his witness in my sight.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

No harm, no foul, Mark. What I love about your comments is that you obviously hold a strong opinion about this. I admire and respect that. Means you got some mojo working between your head and your heart. What I really love is that you didn't need to take me down for it. I never once felt attacked. You just said you don't think saints like Chrysostom ought to be celebrated. You never attacked ME for celebrating. And, since I didn't know about this aspect of his life, I will certainly do research beyond what's written in LFF. I'll actually take down, dust off and READ some of those history books from seminary that stay on my shelf.

So, thank you, Mark, for your intelligence and your ability to speak your mind without the need to hurt or intimidate others for having a different opinion - or insult your host.

Well done.

MarkBrunson said...

Thank you, Elizabeth.

I wish I were always worthy of that praise!


Michael Hartney said...

And just to note: the Feast of John Chrysostom is moved to the middle of September in the "Holy Women, Holy Men" revision of LFF now before TEC.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I know. I swear to Jesus, I don't know how that resolution passed. Have you seen it? It's awful! Changes the whole theology of what it means to be a saint. I hope we DON'T approve it next GC.

MarkBrunson said...

Can you explain the changes in - no pun intended - layman's terms, Elizabeth?

I'm concerned about some of the changes I see coming up in the Kalendar and the Liturgy, and I'm thinking it's not just because I'm getting old and inflexible. A lot of these changes make me think of the saying, "Nothing goes out of style quicker than the ultra-modern."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Very, very briefly, Mark: We have moved from the idea of "saints" to "holy women, holy men".

Some of these 'holy women and holy men' are not Christian. Some are Communists at death.

That's an important theological shift that I'm simply not comfortable with. I'm not sure why we needed this shift or the theology that supports it, but we're to use it on a 'trial' basis until the next GenCon.

I share your frustration.

MarkBrunson said...

That is absolutely unacceptable.

I really have no other response, at this point, as I'm absolutely flabbergasted that that kind of insanity could have gotten that far!