just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Final Thanksgiving

Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised; for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see: a Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Christians and the sign of the cross

The Apostles and early Christians were known to make the Sign of the Cross on their foreheads, mouths and chests with their fingers. They also blessed their food and water and everything else they used with it as well. They would use their thumb or index finger and, as Tertullian notes, the day would be punctuated with this saving sign.

The earliest form of the Cross included the "X" sign or the first letter of Christ's name in Greek. Under the Roman persecutions, the Christians developed numerous secret symbols that they used to identify themselves and protect their religious beliefs. Christians would identity themselves to one another in the streets. If you thought another person might be a Christian, to confirm this you would draw a slash on a wall or on the ground, "\." If the other person was, in fact, a Christian, then he or she would add another slash to complete the "X." The same held true for the "fish" symbol.

It was against the backdrop of the development of mystical rites under persecution that the "Christogram" came into being. Priests and Bishops would bless their flock holding their fingers to form the first and last letters of our Lord's Name, "IC XC" or Isus Khrystos (Jesus Christ). The index finger would be extended for the "I" while the middle and last fingers would be curved for the "C" and the thumb would cross with the second before last finger to form the "X."

In Russia, the laity began to imitate their priests with respect to the Sign of the Cross so that the altered Christogram came to be used by them as the standard rite for blessing oneself.
The Russian Patriarchs even included an explanation for this rite: The thumb joined with the last two fingers symbolized the Holy Trinity, while the extended index finger stood for the Humanity of Jesus and the curved middle finger represented His Divinity that "bent down" the heavens and came to Earth.

This rite was accompanied with the Jesus Prayer. Touching the two fingers to the forehead, one said, "Lord" to show that Christ was the Head of the Church. Then, touching the belly, one said, "Jesus Christ" to show that He became Man of the Virgin Mary. Then, touching the right shoulder, one would say, "Son of God," to show that He sits at the Right Hand of the Father. One would then touch the left and say, "have mercy on me a sinner," to ask pardon of one's offenses. Then, releasing the hand, one would bow.

This rite was different from that accepted throughout the rest of the Church, even before AD1054, where the thumb would join with the middle and index fingers in honor of the Holy Trinity and the final two fingers would be folded down in honor of the Divine and Human Natures of Christ.

"In the Name of the Father" would be said at the forehead in honor of the Father Who is Eternal Mind. "And of the Son" is said when one touches one's belly in honor of the Incarnation of Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, in the Womb of His Mother. "And of the Holy" is said touching the right shoulder and "Spirit" is said touching the left shoulder in honor of the Third Person of the Trinity who proceeds from the Father. We then release the hand and bow in honor of the Holy Trinity and say, "Amen."

Other traditions have other ways of making the Sign of the Cross. The Copts may be seen doing it with one finger to denote their belief that there is "One Nature" in Christ. The Ethiopians cross the thumb and the index finger and go to the left first and then to the right as the Oriental Orthodox do. They do this to show that Christ has brought us from death (left) to life (right). The association of the left side with evil and sin comes from pre-Christian Greco-Roman beliefs. Even the Latin word for "left" is "sinister" which has come to denote "evil intention."
Roman Catholics practiced the three-fingered Sign of the Cross until the thirteenth century, as can be seen from a tract on this rite by Pope Innocent III. This tract was used by Eastern Catholics in their prayerbooks as a way to "justify" their continued use of this rite as opposed to the later Roman method of using the whole hand.

Contemporary Latin use of the whole hand and movement to the left first is, like the Old Rite method, derived from a lay imitation of the clergy. As only the Pope could bless using the Christogram, the Roman clergy began the practice of blessing with the whole hand.

When clergy bless the faithful, they move their hand from left to right or else reverse the order so that they would be "in step" with the faithful. The faithful began imitating this method, and so the practice of touching the left shoulder first took hold among the Latins to this day. It is, in fact, an error, but an error that has achieved the force of tradition through repeated and uncorrected use.

Recently, an article in a "High Church" Lutheran journal discussed the use of the Sign of the Cross in a very positive way. It described the various rites in use by the Church throughout the centuries, but said the Orthodox method of three fingers was the most correct!

The Sign of the Cross is a most powerful prayer and guard against evil. In the Ukrainian tradition, one crossed oneself even before drinking water, and marked a new, round loaf of bread by carving a small Cross at the top. In Baptism, the right hand is also marked with the Sign of the Cross to empower it make the Sign at all times.

Upon arising, or retiring, before and after work and study, before and after meals, before trips and important tasks and throughout the Divine Liturgy, the Sign of the Cross is our Shield of faith and protection. It is the ensign of Christ our Lord with which we are marked in Baptism and Chrismation forever as members of His Royal Priesthood.

When we make the Sign of the Cross, we should do it slowly and deliberately, meditating on the Holy Trinity and on our Lord Jesus Christ and His Passion, Death and Resurrection by which He opened to us the Gates of Heaven.

In times of sadness, sorrow, depression or worry, let us relax and make the Sign of the Cross, while calling on the Name of the Lord. Let us put our troubles into His Hands and learn that we cannot, nor are we intended, to fight life's battles with evil, alone. The Cross is our protection through the power of Him Who was crucified on it and Who gave His Cross to us to be our banner and shield!

Dr. Alexander Roman

The Power of Symbolic Gestures

"Let us not then be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the Cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat, and the cups we drink; in our comings in, and goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are in the way and when we are still. Great is that preservative; it is without price, for the poor's sake; without toil, for the sick, since also its grace is from God. It is the Sign of the faithful, and the dread of evils; for He has triumphed over them in it, having made a shew of them openly; for when they see the Cross, they are reminded of the Crucified; they are afraid of Him, Who hath bruised the heads of the dragon. Despise not the Seal, because of the freeness of the Gift; but for this rather honor thy Benefactor." -- St. Cyril of Jerusalem, A.D. 315 - 386

I have been thinking about the power of some of the gestures we use as Christians in our worship and spirituality. At Sunnyside Mennonite Church, you might see hands outstretched in worship. Hands raised can be a sign of adoration and exaltation.

During the sending prayer and benediction many hold out their hands as a symbol of wanting to receive God's blessing and empowerment as we go out into the week, to live, work and witness. The symbol of open arms outstretched is powerful in that it acknowledges that I need God, I don't have what it takes to make it on my own. It is a sign of humility and dependency.

The other Sunday, I invited those who were able to kneel during the call to worship as we prayed a prayer of confession. Kneeling before the cross, as we come into our corporate worship, another powerful expression of humility and acknowledging the worthiness of God.

There are other gestures that we Christians use as a part of our faith journey. Footwashing. Receiving communion with cupped hands.

I include below an article on the power of making the sign of the cross in Christian tradition. From the time of the apostles, it appears that this gesture has also been a part of Christian worship and practice.

Come, thou long expected Jesus!


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Breastplate of St. Patrick

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ with His Baptism, through the strength of His Crucifixion with His Burial, through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension,through the strength of His descent for the Judgment of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubimin obedience of Angels, in the service of the Archangels, in hope of resurrection to meet with reward, in prayers of Patriarchs, in predictions of Prophets, in preachings of Apostles, in faiths of Confessors, in innocence of Holy Virgins, in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven: light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendor of Fire, speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of Sea,stability of Earth, Firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me: God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me, God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me, God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me, God's host to secure me against snares of devils, against temptations of vices, against inclinations of nature, against everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.

I summon today all these powers between me and these evils: against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and my soul, against incantations of false prophets, against black laws of heathenry, against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry, against spells and smiths and wizards, against every knowledge that endangers man's body and soul.

Christ to protect me today against poison, against burning, against drowning, against wounding, so that there may come abundance of reward. Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation. Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of Christ. May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Pablo Neruda

"On our earth, before writing was invented, before the printing press was invented, poetry flourished. That is why we know that poetry is like bread; it should be shared by all, by scholars and by peasants, by all our vast, incredible, extraordinary family of humanity."
--Pablo Neruda

I have been drinking some exquisite vintage poetry by Pablo Neruda, thanks to José. Here is one of his lyrical offerings:


Y fue a esa edad...Llegó la poesía
a buscarme. No sé, no sé de dónde
salió, de invierno o río.
No sé cómo ni cuándo,
no, no eran voces, no eran
palabras, ni silencio,
pero desde una calle me llamaba,
desde las ramas de la noche,
de pronto entre los otros,
entre fuegos violentos
o regresando solo,
allí estaba sin rostro
y me tocaba.

Yo no sabía que decir, mi boca
no sabía
mis ojos eran ciegos,
y algo golpeaba en mi alma,
fiebre o alas perdidas,
y me fui haciendo solo,
aquella quemadura
y escribí la primera línea vaga,
vaga, sin cuerpo, pura
pura sabiduría
del que no sabe nada,
y vi de pronto
el cielo
y abierto,
plantaciones palpitantes,
la sombra perforada,
por flechas, fuego, y flores,
la noche arrolladora, el universo.

Y yo, mínimo ser,
ebrio del gran vacío
a semejanza, a imagen
del misterio,
me sentí parte pura
del abismo,
rodé con las estrellas,
mi corazón se desató en el viento.