Monthly Archives: February 2009

Leo: Sermon 39.4

IV. The Christian’s armour is both for defence and for attack

So, dearly-beloved, let us who instructed in Divine learning come wittingly to the present contest and strife, hear the Apostle when he says, for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of this dark world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly things Ephesians 6:12, and let us not forget that these our enemies feel it is against them all is done that we strive to do for our salvation, and that by the very fact of our seeking after some good thing we are challenging our foes. For this is an old-standing quarrel between us and them fostered by the devil’s ill-will, so that they are tortured by our being justified, because they have fallen from those good things to which we, God helping us, are advancing. If, therefore, we are raised, they are prostrated: if we are strengthened, they are weakened. Our cures are their blows, because they are wounded by our wounds’ cure. Stand, therefore, dearly-beloved, as the Apostle says, having the loins of your mind girt in truth, and your feet shod in the preparation of the gospel of peace, in all things taking the shield of faith in which you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the evil one, and put on the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God Ephesians 6:14-17 . See, dearly-beloved, with what mighty weapons, with what impregnable defences we are armed by our Leader, who is famous for His many triumphs, the unconquered Master of the Christian warfare. He has girt our loins with the belt of chastity, He has shod our feet with the bonds of peace: because the unbelted soldier is quickly vanquished by the suggester of immodesty, and he that is unshod is easily bitten by the serpent. He has given the shield of faith for the protection of our whole body; on our head has He set the helmet of salvation; our right hand has He furnished with a sword, that is with the word of Truth: that the spiritual warrior may not only be safe from wounds, but also may have strength to wound his assailant.

Leo: Sermon 39.3

III. Fights are necessary to prove our Faith

As we approach then, dearly-beloved, the beginning of Lent, which is a time for the more careful serving of the Lord, because we are, as it were, entering on a kind of contest in good works, let us prepare our souls for fighting with temptations, and understand that the more zealous we are for our salvation, the more determined must be the assaults of our opponents. But stronger is He that is in us than he that is against us 1 John 4:4, and through Him are we powerful in whose strength we rely: because it was for this that the Lord allowed Himself to be tempted by the tempter, that we might be taught by His example as well as fortified by His aid. For He conquered the adversary, as you have heard , by quotations from the law, not by actual strength, that by this very thing He might do greater honour to man, and inflict a greater punishment on the adversary by conquering the enemy of the human race not now as God but as Man. He fought then, therefore, that we too might fight thereafter: He conquered that we too might likewise conquer. For there are no works of power,dearly-beloved, without the trials of temptations, there is no faith without proof, no contest without a foe, no victory without conflict. This life of ours is in the midst of snares, in the midst of battles; if we do not wish to be deceived, we must watch: if we want to overcome, we must fight. And therefore the most wise Solomon says, My son in approaching the service of God prepare your soul for temptation Sirach 2:1 . For he being a man full of the wisdom of God, and knowing that the pursuit of religion involves laborious struggles, foreseeing too the danger of the fight, forewarned the intending combatant; lest haply, if the tempter came upon him in his ignorance, he might find him unready and wound him unawares.

Leo is delving more into his military metaphor. If the previous section was on organization (and even in Leo’s day the main advantage of the Roman military over invaders was organizational), now he’s getting into the agonistic/combat section of his metaphor. As far as Leo is concerned, attacks are stepped up this time of year as people get more serious in pursuing virtue.

Leo reminds us that our main strength comes not from ourselves but through God’s grace and the presence of the in-dwelling Christ. Moving to a conceptual interpretation of the Q (Double Tradition: Matthew/Luke) temptation narrative, Leo presents it as an example for Christians. Christ battled with Satan in the desert and overcame him solely through quotation of the Scriptures—not by miraculous means, demonstrating that, with divine help, we too can defeat the demonic temptations without miracles but through proper use of the Scriptures.

Leo’s approach is that our life is one of struggles with the demonic whether we choose for it to be that way or not. A fight is inevitable—therefore prepare for it and keep your eyes open to it.

Leo: Sermon 39.2

II. Use Lent to vanquish the enemy, and be thus preparing for Eastertide

Accordingly, dearly-beloved, that we may be able to overcome all our enemies, let us seek Divine aid by the observance of the heavenly bidding, knowing that we cannot otherwise prevail against our adversaries, unless we prevail against our own selves. For we have many encounters with our own selves: the flesh desires one thing against the spirit, and the spirit another thing against the flesh . And in this disagreement, if the desires of the body be stronger, the mind will disgracefully lose its proper dignity, and it will be most disastrous for that to serve which ought to have ruled. But if the mind, being subject to its Ruler, and delighting in gifts from above, shall have trampled under foot the allurements of earthly pleasure, and shall not have allowed sin to reign in its mortal body, reason will maintain a well-ordered supremacy, and its strongholds no strategy of spiritual wickednesses will cast down: because man has then only true peace and true freedom when the flesh is ruled by the judgment of the mind, and the mind is directed by the will of God. And although this state of preparedness, dearly-beloved, should always be maintained that our ever-watchful foes may be overcome by unceasing diligence, yet now it must be the more anxiously sought for and the more zealously cultivated when the designs of our subtle foes themselves are conducted with keener craft than ever. For knowing that the most hallowed days of Lent are now at hand, in the keeping of which all past slothfulnesses are chastised, all negligences alerted for, they direct all the force of their spite on this one thing, that they who intend to celebrate the Lord’s holy Passover may be found unclean in some matter, and that cause of offence may arise where propitiation ought to have been obtained.

Leo moves from typology to psychology and anthropology now. The key is that prevailing against our (demonic) enemies is only acheived by first prevailing over the self. The image that he moves to now is less martial—or at least less agonistic as there’s no direct combat involved—and more organizational. Leo cites Gal 5:17 bringing in the familiar dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit. We need to notice a few things about this, though:

  • Leo shifts the dichotomy. The language changes from flesh vs. spirit to flesh vs. mind (animus or mens).
  • This is not a simply equation between the physical and the spiritual (or mental). Leo doesn’t get into much “will” language here but when he says, “the flesh desires one thing against the spirit, and the spirit another thing against the flesh” the desire language lets us know that this is about the will, and not just a rejection of materiality in a shallow dualistic fashion.
  • Submission of the body (or the desires of the body) to the mind and its will are preferred. But it doesn’t—and can’t—stop there. In addition, the mind and its will must be in submission, through grace, to the will of God. Supremacy of the mind alone is not enough.

So, Leo here advocates fasting as tool to assist in the process of putting the body under submission to the rational will in order to properly order the whole person, forming a strong defense against temptation.

Leo: Sermon 39.1

In former days, when the people of the Hebrews and all the tribes of Israel were oppressed for their scandalous sins by the grievous tyranny of the Philistines, in order that they might be able to overcome their enemies, as the sacred story declares, they restored their powers of mind and body by the injunction of a fast. For they understood that they had deserved that hard and wretched subjection for their neglect of God’s commands, and evil ways, and that it was in vain for them to strive with arms unless they had first withstood their sin. Therefore abstaining from food and drink, they applied the discipline of strict correction to themselves, and in order to conquer their foes, first conquered the allurements of the palate in themselves. And thus it came about that their fierce enemies and crueltaskmasters yielded to them when fasting, whom they had held in subjection when full. And so we too, dearly beloved, who are set in the midst of many oppositions and conflicts, may be cured by a little carefulness, if only we will use the same means. For our case is almost the same as theirs, seeing that, as they were attacked by foes in the flesh so are we chiefly by spiritual enemies. And if we can conquer them by God’s grace enabling us to correct our ways, the strength of our bodily enemies also will give way before us, and by our self-amendment we shall weaken those who were rendered formidable to us, not by their own merits but by our shortcomings.

The paradigm that Leo chooses with which to begin his Lenten reflections is holy war. In what appears to be a reference to 1 Samuel 7, he uses the struggle of the Israelites against the Philistines as a type for how Christians need to deal with the demonic attacks of sin: as fasting enabled the Israelites to triumph over their historical foes, so fasting will enable Christians to triumph over their spiritual foes.

Jack-booted Garden Thugs

Well, the jack-booted thugs that LP is always complaining about came calling yesterday in the form of a letter to our landlord from the management company that “manages” our subdivision.

The compost bin has to go.

We placed the bin under a low-hanging pine tree so that it was darn near invisible and it never stunk or drew animals or otherwise was a “nuisance” but apparently rules are rules…

Our landlord thought it was pretty stupid too. (We got off to a great start the first time he saw the statue of Mary outside our front door—he’s Egyptian and his father was a Coptic Orthodox priest.) He’s got a compost pile at home and has offered to give us some of his whenever we need it.

Now I’m wondering what happened—whether a neighbor complained or whether some employee encountered it and am wondering what this may mean for our container gardening plans. And I’m trying to figure out if a potato-filled stack of tires would fly!

A Leonine Lent

Ok—after consulting my NPNF, I have decided on a schema for holy reading for Lent. I’ll be reading through the sermons for Lent from Leo the Great as translated in the venerable NPNF series. Rather than doing a sermon a day, I’ll be doing a section a day. I’ll be posting them—so feel free to read along…

My plan is to go through all of the sermons for Lent, then to read specific sections of his Passiontide/Holy Week sermons to fill out the rest of the time. I’m doing selections because, while they contain many gems of spiritual wisdom, Leo the Great’s sermons on Holy Week are an afront to Christian charity and partake deeply of the sin of anti-Semitism.

I’m not being overly sensitive here lest you wonder—he says some really vile things.

As a result, I’ll not be meditating on the more offensive sections as their only value towards edification is in examining the depths of our own sin and seeing how sin has entrenched itself within our ecclesial institutions.  While I do think there is value in this, enough of his anti-Semitism remains in sections that I will be present that we will have an opportunity to name it, condemn it, and—hopefully—root out similar failings on our own lives…

That having been said, Leo was termed “the Great” for a reason and is a tremendous preacher. In particular, Leo is strong on the disciplines of penitence, explaining how the three great Lenten disciplines of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer interrelate and lead us to a deeper following of Christ.

We start on Ash Wednesday.

A Liturgy for Families with Kids for Lent

Following the same guidelines as my earlier work for Advent, I’ve put together a slightly expanded form of the brief services found on pages 139ff of the Book of Common Prayer as a Lenten prayer practice that the whole family can do together. (And for those new to this blog, I do this with my kids, one 5 and a half, the other just turning 3—so they’re totally doable by pre-schoolers.)

Again, it’s on two pages that can be printed out front to back and laminated. Lamination is important if you use it like we do—we use the morning prayer side during breakfast and would like to start doing the evenbing prayer side as dinner ends. Therefore it’s near the table and for a sheet of paper in our house to survive being near the table at mealtimes lamination is essential…

What I’ve done is taken the outline from the BCP and:

  • Changed the Scripture sentence. In the Advent trial piece I posted I used the Little Chapter from Lauds and Vespers of the Roman Breviary. I changed my mind for this one and instead selected two of the sentences from the Opening Sentences for Lent from Morning Prayer.
  • Introduced an Optional Observance. In our family we use this space after the Scripture Sentence as an opportunity to help the girls learn a part of the Mass liturgy. You’ll note that here it’s the Decalogue—same as in the Advent one. Well, there’s a reason for that—they’re both penitential seasons! As we started this whole experiment in Ordinary Time last year we started with the Nicene Creed and now Lil’ G has it fully memorized and says it along with us at church; not bad for 5 and a half…
  • With Two Options. The other option is one of the traditional hymns for the season of Lent in Father John-Julian’s translation. My only concern here is that the square notation may cause some families to balk at using this option, simply because square-note is unfamiliar. I’m still considering the best way to handle this.

So, without further ado, here’s the file: episcopal-family-brief-breviary-lent

Feel free to spread it around, stick it in a tract-rack at church, give it to your Sunday School coordinator, whatever.

Lent Approaches…

Time to start thinking about how to keep a holy Lent…

I always have a hard time with this. I try to take on too much and rarely sustain it well. I’m thinking of switching to Rite II for the Office and using the Kyrie Pantocrator for the first canticle OJN-style…

I’m also thinking about using Leo the Great’s Lenten sermons as my edifying reading. I may post a section a day with thoughts and comments—but I haven’t fully committed to that one yet.

For the sake of completeness, I’ll throw in some links to M’s thoughts on keeping Lent and my two-part series at the Episcopal Cafe on fasting: part 1 and part 2.

On Teaching the Bible

Quick note stolen away from dissertation time…

I had an epiphany on Sunday about teaching the Old Testament to lay people… I’m a big picture person. It bugs the crap out of me if I can’t see bits as part of a greater whole and have a sense of that whole. So, in adult ed, I gave them three “big picture” frames of reference for the OT to help make sense of the Naaman passage from 2 Kings:

  1. A quick drive through the canon using the Jewish structuring system (Law, Prophets, Writings with Prophets bifurcated into books by prophets and books about prophets—identifying 2 Kings as the latter).
  2. A basic geography sketch of Israel, Judah and Syria (including the Phoenicians, Philistines, Edomites, & Moabites for good measure)
  3. A basic timeline from 1000 to 0 BC using 772 (destruction of Samaria and the end of the Northern Kingdom), 587 (destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the 1st Temple period), and 515 (end of the Exile and start of the Second Temple period) as my main points of reference.

Once the time line was in place I located Elisha & the Naaman story for them.  They seemed to get a lot out of it—we’ll see how much sticks.