Baptism at an Ancient Eastern Roman Catholic Orthodox Easter Vigil – A Rite Of Passage

xir244981_1024x1024[1].jpegby Aidan Kavanagh, OSB

I have always rather liked the gruff robustness of the first rubric for baptism found in a late fourth-century church order which directs that the bishop enter the vestibule of the baptistery and say to the catechumens without commentary or apology only four words: “Take off your clothes.” There is no evidence that the assistants fainted or the catechumens asked what he meant.

Catechesis and much prayer and fasting had led them to understand that the language of their passage this night in Christ from death to life would be the language of the bathhouse and the tomb — not that of the forum and the drawing room.

So they stripped and stood there, probably, faint from fasting, shivering from the cold of early Easter morning and with awe at what was about to transpire. Years of formation were about to be consummated; years of having their motives and lives scrutinised;  years of hearing the word of God read and expounded at worship; years of being dismissed with prayer before the Faithful went on to celebrate the Eucharist; years of  having the doors to the assembly hall closed to them; years of seeing the tomb-like baptistery building only from without; years of hearing the old folks of the community tell hair-raising tales of what being a Christian had cost their own grandparents when the emperors were still pagan; years of running into a reticent and reverent vagueness concerning what was actually done by the Faithful at the breaking of bread and in that closed baptistery …

Tonight all this was about to end as they stood here naked on a cold floor in the gloom
of this eerie room.

Abruptly the bishop demands that they face westward, toward where the sun dies swallowed up in darkness, and denounce the King of shadows and death and things that go bump in the night. Each one of them comes forward to do this loudly under the hooded gaze of the bishop (who is tired from presiding all night at the vigil continuing next door in the church), as deacons shield the nudity of the male catechumens from the women, and deaconesses screen the women in the same manner. This is when each of them finally lets go of the world and of life as they have known it: the umbilical cord is cut, but they have not yet begun to breathe.

Then they must each turn eastwards toward where the sun surges up bathed in a light which just now can be seen stealing into the alabaster windows of the room. They must voice their acceptance of the King of light and life who has trampled down death by his own death. As each one finishes this he or she is fallen upon by a deacon or a deaconess who vigorously rubs olive oil into his or her body, as the bishop perhaps dozes off briefly, leaning on his cane. (He is like an old surgeon waiting for the operation to begin.)

When all the catechumens have been thoroughly oiled, they and the bishop are suddenly startled by the crash of the baptistery doors being thrown open. Brilliant golden light spills out into the shadowy vestibule, and following the bishop (who has now regained his composure) the catechumens and the assistant presbyters, deacons, deaconesses, and sponsors move into the most glorious room most of them have ever seen. It is a high, arbor-like pavilion of green, gold, purple, and white mosaic from marble floor to domed ceiling sparkling like jewels in the light of innumerable oil lamps that fill the room with a heady warmth. The windows are beginning to blaze with the light of Easter dawn. The walls curl with vines and tendrils that thrust up from the floor, and at their tops apostles gaze down robed in snow-white togas, holding crowns. They stand around a golden chair draped with purple upon which rests only an open book. And above all these, in the highest point of the ballooning dome, a naked Jesus (very much in the flesh) stands up to his waist in the Jordan as an unkempt John pours water on him and God’s disembodied hand points the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ head in the form of a white bird.

Suddenly the catechumens realise that they have unconsciously formed themselves into a mirror-image of this lofty icon on the floor directly beneath it. They are standing around a pool let into the middle of the floor, into which gushes water pouring noisily from the mouth of a stone lion crouching atop a pillar at poolside. The bishop stands beside this, his presbyters on each side: a deacon has entered the pool, and the other assistants are trying to maintain a modicum of decorum among the catechumens who forget their nakedness as they crowd close to see. The room is warm, humid, and it glows. It is a golden paradise in a bathhouse in a mausoleum: an oasis, Eden restored: the navel of the world, where death and life meet, copulate, and become undistinguishable from each other. Jonah peers out from a niche, Noah from another, Moses from a third, and the paralytic carrying his stretcher from a fourth. The windows begin to sweat.

The bishop rumbles a massive prayer — something about the Spirit and the waters of life and death — and then pokes the water a few times with his cane. The catechumens recall Moses doing something like that to a rock from which water flowed, and they are mightily impressed. Then a young male catechumen of about ten, the son of pious parents, is led down into the pool by the deacon. The water is warm (it has been heated in a furnace), and the oil on his body spreads out on the surface in iridescent swirls. The deacon positions the child near the cascade from the lion’s mouth. The bishop leans over on his cane, and in a voice that sounds like something out of the Apocalypse, says:

“Euphemius! Do you believe in God the Father, who created all of heaven and earth?”

After a nudge from the deacon beside him, the boy murmurs that he does. And just in time, for the deacon, who has been doing this for fifty years and is the boy’s grandfather, wraps him in his arms, lifts him backwards into the rushing water and forces him under the surface. The old deacon smiles through his beard at the wide brown eyes that look up at him is shock and fear from beneath the water (the boy has purposely not been told what to expect).

Then he raises him up coughing and sputtering. The bishop waits until he can speak again, and leaning over a second time, tapping the boy on the shoulder with his cane, says:

“Euphemius! Do you believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, who was conceived of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was crucified, died, and was buried? Who rose on the third day and ascended into heaven, from whence he will come again to judge the living and the dead?”

This time he replies like a shot, “I do,” and then holds his nose…

“Euphemius! Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the master and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who is to be honoured and glorified equally with the Father and the Son, who spoke by the Prophets? And in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church which is the communion of God’s holy ones? And in the life that is coming?”

“I do.”

When he comes up the third time, his vast grandfather gathers him in his arms and carries him up the steps leading out of the pool. There another deacon roughly dries Euphemius with a warm towel, and a senior presbyter, who is almost ninety and is regarded by all as a “confessor” because he was imprisoned for the faith as a young man, tremulously pours perfumed oil from a glass pitcher over the boy’s damp head until it soaks his hair and runs down over his upper body. The fragrance of this enormously expensive oil fills the room as the old man mutters: “God’s servant, Euphemius, is anointed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Euphemius is then wrapped in a new linen tunic; the fragrant chrism seeps into it, and he is given a burning terracotta oil lamp and gold to go stand by the door and keep quiet. Meanwhile, the other baptisms have continued.

When all have been done in this same manner (an old deaconess, a widow, replaced Euphemius’s grandfather when it came the women’s time), the clergy strike up the Easter hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, he has crushed death by his death and bestowed life on those who lay in the tomb.”

To this constantly repeated melody interspersed with the Psalm verse, “Let God arise and smite his enemies,” the whole baptismal party — tired, damp, thrilled, and oily — walk out into the blaze of Easter morning and go next door to the church led by the bishop. There he bangs on the closed doors with his cane: they are flung open, the endless vigil is halted, and the baptismal party enters as all take up the hymn, “Christ is risen…,” which is all but drowned out by the ovations that greet Christ truly risen in his newly-born ones. As they enter, the fragrance of chrism fills the church: it is the Easter-smell, God’s grace olfactorally incarnate. The pious struggle to get near the newly baptised to touch their chrismed hair and rub its fragrance on their own faces. All is chaos until the baptismal party manages to reach the towering ambo that stands in the middle of the pewless hall. The bishop ascends its lower front steps, turns to face the white-clad neophytes grouped at the bottom with their burning lamps and the boisterous faithful now held back by a phalanx of well -built acolytes and doorkeepers. Euphemius’s mother has fainted and been carried outside for some air.

The bishop opens his arms to the neophytes and once again all burst into “Christ is risen,” Christos aneste …. He then affirms and seals their baptism after prayer, for all the Faithful to see, with an authoritative gesture of paternity — laying his hand on each head, signing each oily forehead once again in the form of a cross, while booming out: “The servant of God is sealed with the Holy Spirit.” To which all reply in a thunderous “Amen.” and for the first time the former catechumens receive and give the kiss of peace. Everyone is in tears. While this continues, bread and wine are laid out on the holy table; the bishop then prays at great length over them after things quiet down, and the neophytes lead all to communion with Euphemius out in front.

While his grandfather holds his lamp, Euphemius dines on the precious Body whose true and undoubted member he has become; drinks the precious Blood of him in whom he himself has now died; and just this once drinks from two other special cups — one containing baptismal water, the other containing milk and honey mixed as a gustatory icon of the promised land into which he and his colleagues have finally entered out of the desert through Jordan’s waters. Then his mother (now recovered and somewhat pale, still insisting she had only stumbled) took him home and put him, fragrantly, to bed.

Euphemius had come a long way. He had passed from death unto a life he lives still.

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Delivered at Holy Cross Abbey, Canon City, Colorado,
Theology Institute, August, 1977
Copyright © 2003 St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. All rights reserved.

Aiden Kavanagh, one of the great liturgical scholars and sacramental theologians of
the twentieth century, delivered this lecture at Holy Cross Abbey, Canon City,
Colorado, Theology Institute, August, 1977. He departed this life in June, 2006.

Attention Random Internet Reader: I Promise To Rescue You, Should You Find Yourself Damned

hell[1]Attention random internet reader: If there IS a Hell, and you end up stuck in it, I promise that I’ll come down there and rescue you, free of charge <3 Trust this promise and chill the fuck out.

I’ve already assembled a crack squad of saints to back me up in the mission. Believe me when I tell you that these glorified men and women also unconditionally promise to storm the gates of Hell and bust you out of the prison, should you find yourself there. “The gates of Hell will not prevail against the assault of the church” after all!

You’ll have to forgive most of these saints for not being Christian. More than half of them are Mahayana Buddhists, a significant number are Mormons, and many of them are gasp Sufi Muslims. But don’t worry, St Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine are big dogs in the crew too 🙂

I assure you we won’t stop trying so long as there is a single lost soul wandering in the outer darkness. Hitler, Judas and Satan are proving quite difficult to rescue, but we have full confidence that this A-Team of holy men and women will eventually be able to evangelise them back into heaven where they belong.

Also, Holy Saturday is coming up soon too, so the big man himself says he’s gonna come down there and help everyone out. Fuck yeah amirite?

With Love,

-Alex Roberts

LSD Heroic Dose Trip Report: Beauty and Heavenly Bliss, Dark Psychosis and Insanity

Christ Failed – Temptations in the Wilderness

Location: Sydney, Australia

Background

My new flatmate L was playing his first Gig at a cool bar on Glebe point road (Red bar). I was keen to turn up and show some support. On a couple of previous occasions, I had 1. Microdosed a 10th of a tab and gone to work. 2. Microdosed half a tab, 3. Taken a full tab and stayed up all night translating the Vulgate into English. I recalled that the full tab of acid didn’t really have much noticeable effect – almost no visuals and the headspace wasn’t particularly different. In retrospect this was probably due to the rapid tolerance buildup of psychedelics (I was unaware of this at the time). In any case, due to my lackluster experience tripping on a single tab, I decided that this time I would take two.

I took the two tabbies as I left the house and headed to the bus stop to catch a bus from Annandale down parra road to glebe. I donned my “trippercunt sunnies” – diffraction glasses that split light into it’s component colours. I also wore my most expensive shirt, a mambo “roses” loud shirt that hasn’t been in print for years and regularly sells for over $300AUD on ebayau. This fact became highly relevant the next morning.

The Gig

I quickly arrived at the venue, while still coming up, and rubbed my hands as I looked at the décor: The furniture all was semi-transparent and illuminated from within with many and various colours, purple, pink, blue, red, green. There was also all sorts of psychedelic and spiritual art hanging on the walls. I instantly got good vibes as I knew this was gonna be a kickass trip.

I found a seat middle and centre in front of the stage and listened to the opening solo act by HF, who is a regular opener in the Sydney gigging scene. I had invited my other flatmate (little A)’s sister S to come along too, and she arrived during the opening act. We chatted as I was coming up about her new job and my current job hunt and uni studies.

Eventually HF concluded his act and my flatmate L and his band mounted the stage. All of a sudden I started getting WILD visuals. My flatmate L has a bit of a hunch, but his lead guitarist was standing tall and straight. It suddenly hit me hard just how short L looked next to this guy. And now that the acid was kicking in, he looked like even more of an oompa loompa because his bass guitar was so damn massive. All of the colours of the lights, the curtains, the stage the walls started popping and jumping. The rug that the band was standing on started to melt and wave and the patterns on it looked like live snake sorta things. I could read every little expression on the faces of the members of the band. L looked so excited and happy that the gig was going well. He kept breaking out into these nervous but happy smiles whenever the crowd applauded. Seemed like I wasn’t the only one having a good trip.

I just sat there, shuffling in my seat due to the body load, but not feeling “bad” in any way whatsover. The gig was amazing. The entire show felt like a religious experience. I felt as if I was God, and this band was giving me glory. The fact that so many people gathered together to watch this performance felt as if it had some sort of cosmic significance. As if this is the meaning of life and the pinnacle of human achievement. I started thinking that the story of history is the story of the emergence of God: In the beginning there was nothing, and from that nothing sprung everything, and via evolution, humanity emerged, and with humanity, beauty, truth and goodness. I started to perceive that mankind is on a trajectory towards God, and that final moment of history IS God.

These were the utterly crazy theological and philosophical thoughts I was thinking, and they only got even more intense as the next band mounted the stage. This band was hilarious: on the right side of the stage were three really cool looking dudes with badass haircuts, clothing and moustaches, playing drums, keys and bass. On the left side of the stage was this super geeky looking guy playing guitar. His parents were in the crowd and got a shoutout. In the centre of the stage was what I can only describe as a goddess. This girl with a perfect feminine figure, just the right amount of makeup, brilliant, revealing attire that showed off her physical goods and beauty. While tripping hard on the acid, I was struck to the core by beauty and mystery of the feminine form. I felt drawn to it on a deep and profound metaphysical, essential level of my being. Suddenly I was reconsidering my vocation: Do I REALLY want to enter the priesthood (I had been discerning priesthood for about three years and up to this point, was super committed to signing up)? Considering that the mystery of the feminine has captured my heart in such a fundamental way, perhaps this is some sign from God that my vocation actually involves marriage?

I continued thinking all these thoughts, and absorbing the beauty of this diva with my eyes as they played their set. The sensation that I was God and these people were here to worship and glorify me intensified. The visuals exploded. I noticed every little detail that presented itself to me through my five cardinal senses simultaneously.

Finally, the headline act went on. I was tingling with excited ancipation as I saw the final band wheel their instruments onto the stage. “Holy fucking shit” I thought to myself, “these cunts are playing a fucking HARP and CELLO!” It was a three piece band, with keys, harp and cello. I still felt like God, and as the weirdly dressed keys player gave commentary and introduced the songs, I got this fascinating train of thought that was something like “Look at what my little people are doing, gathering to offer praise and worship to me. Look at how far they’ve come.”

As the harp and the cello and keys started playing, I just lost my shit, in the best kinda way. I could perceive all the infinite microtones as the bow crossed the strings of the cello, as if it were an auditory fractal. It was simply the most beautiful thing I had ever heard in my entire life. And the music was in a slightly sad and melancholy key. The emotions that were being conveyed by the music  were ineffable and beautiful and sad. It felt as if the entire story of history was encapsulated in the song: All the ups, all the downs. The tragedies and the victories. And it just felt as if it was a “movement forward”, as if there is only one direction we can go: onwards and upwards to the heights of heaven.

“It just keeps getting better” I remember thinking to myself. “This is heaven”. I was experiencing infinite bliss, but not just infinite bliss, infinitely INCREASING bliss. This beatific vision was completely exponential!

And yet the sad notes in the music made me remember. Remember all the tragedies of life and history, remember the holocausts, genocides, rapes and murders. And all of a sudden, for the first time in my life, I was struck with the full force of the mystery of evil. “What even is evil?” I remember whispering to my flatmate L, who had resumed his seat in the crowd. I simply couldn’t comprehend it. I knew from my theological studies that evil has no inherent existence or reality, that it is a complete illusion, and suddenly I realised just how mysterious that is.

It just seemed so baffling to me, that here I am, experiencing the heavenly joy that comes from listening to the angelic music of the eschaton, and yet ISIS is out there lopping heads off at this very moment. It just didn’t seem right. Like, of course this is a wonderful moment and I am enjoying it to the full, but fuck; what am I supposed to make of the fact that Hitler did what he did to the Jews? How should I understand this supreme symphony of good, in light of the incomprehensible mystery of evil?

These thoughts occupied me all the way to the end of the gig. At no point did the trip actually become a “bad trip”, but I started to take on a strong sense of apprehension and anticipation. Somewhere deep down, I realised that tonight was to be the night where God (me) confronts evil and attempts to make sense of it. And I realised that this fundamental interplay between good and evil is what is driving all of reality as we know it.

The Walk Home

As the gig was over, I exited with my flatmate L and we headed for the busstop. Now that the supreme beauty of the music had concluded, the trip started to get very confusing. I remember saying to L something about how girls don’t exist, and all girls are evil. I was pondering the fundamental dualisms of masculine and feminine, good and evil, and I was drawing some link between light, goodness and masculinity, and another link between darkness, evil and femininity. I thought of the story of Adam and Eve, and how Eve (the feminine) was the principle which introduced sin into the world. L had no clue what I was talking about, and probably was amused at just how hard I was tripping. I began to distrust him, thinking that he was an enemy in some respect. I hadn’t known him for very long after all.

As we got to the busstop, L called an uber and hopped in with his girlfriend. I decided to walk home. That turned out to be a very bad idea.

I walked down paramatta road, still thinking I was God, but this time the thought had a very Christian slant on it. I thought that I was Jesus. I was relating my trip to the gospel stories. I felt as if I had just descended from heaven to earth, and right about now the temptation in the desert was probably due to occur. As I walked home down parra road, pondering the mystery of evil, the insanity started to overcome me. It just sorta crept up on me as I was philosophising. It was as if wondering about evil with such intensity was driving me mad.

I started to feel as if I am invincible, and made the stupid decision to stop by a servo and buy a supersized energy drink. I seriously doubt that the massive caffeine and sugar hit had a positive impact. I even realised this at the time, and was thinking to myself “I am going to die tonight. And when they find me, it’s gonna make the newspapers and they’ll comment on how the exact moment where it all went downhill was when I decided to smash an energy drink while high as fuck on acid”

My thinking started to get more and more scrambled. And the thoughts loops got more and more intricate. Eventually I made it to the local maccas and decided I wanted to get something to eat. I stood in front of the touch screen interface where you order your food, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out. I kept touching and selecting and there was just something that wasn’t working. At the time I figured the system was bugged, but in retrospect I was probably just tripping really hard.

I felt like I was standing in front of that touch screen for an eternity, punching the options and trying so hard to buy something. Notions of “Limbo” and “purgatory” became stuck in my mind, and I felt as if I had failed in my temptation in the wilderness and was being punished with this eternal torture of eternally trying to order dinner and not being able to.

Eventually I managed to snap out of it, say “Fuck it” and get out of the maccas. But my delusions of grandeur were multipling. As I walked through the carpark, I started throwing my wallet and phone away, thinking “I don’t need these”. I felt as if I was living out the most important moment of my life, and it was like “I don’t need a phone. There are more important things. I don’t need a wallet.”

I started to feel as if no matter what I do, I can’t die. I felt as if even if I stepped out into the traffic, something would stop me from being run over. I felt as if it was not yet my time to die, and I could therefore do any stupid thing and be ok. This was clearly VERY dangerous thinking.

Following that train of thought, I ended up knocking on the door of two of the brothels on parra road. There are a craptonne of brothels on parra road. Usually I just walk past them and laugh, but I had always been curious about what goes on inside, and I was in the perfect mindset to ring the bell and find out. I was let in to both of them, but very quickly ferried out once the mistresses realized I had no money on me.

Divine Madness

I was descending even deeper into madness. By the time I got to the empire hotel, I was thinking about the orthodox “holy fools” of Russia. These crazy dudes who get naked and wander around the towns and villages prophesying. I started to feel as if I was one such holy fool, with a message that could save the world. That idea, coupled with my sensation of invincibility, caused me to unbutton my shirt and cast it off into the wind and the night. As I crossed the road, I dropped my pants and underpants, and kicked off my shoes and socks.

I was stark naked, rambling on and on about good and evil, walking around residential Leichhardt. Thankfully it was a very quiet part of town, so I’m pretty sure not many people saw me, but still it was an incredibly wacky occurrence.

Eventually I made it home, but I didn’t have my keys on me because I had thrown them away back at maccas. I ended up pacing in loops between my front door and the front door of the house beside ours. My philosophizing was in overdrive. I was thinking about the trinity, dualism, masculine, feminine, the whore of Babylon, the virgin Mary, Jesus etc etc etc.

My drug induced insanity just kept getting worse. Eventually, failing to get in to my house, I instead continued to walk around the suburb, and eventually found myself walking in circles around the local catholic church, where the capuchin friars live. The visuals were labyrinth by this point. Not good, not bad, just alien and weird. I was stuck in insane thought loops, and the trip was oscillating between good, bad and neutral. When I was feeling good, I was anticipating that at any point it would head south, and when it headed south, I was holding onto the gospel promise that it’s all gonna be ok in the end and eventually I would return to the good. This was clinical insanity.

One common theme that kept recurring was the idea that “the unknown” could intrude into my reality at any time. And I was prophesying to myself as I walked around naked around the church that “yes, at some point tonight, something unexpected is gonna happen that sends me to hell.”

The Cops Arrive

Well, lo and behold, as I found myself pressing my naked body against the cold outer wall of the church for some reason, a cop appeared. Soon there were more cops. They asked me what I’d taken. I wanted with all my heart to cooperate and answer their questions honestly, but I was tripping so hard by this point that it was a struggle to communicate with them. They ended up pulling me aside and sitting me down on the concrete, as they tried to establish who I was, where I live, what I had taken, what the fuck I was doing naked running in circles around the local church at midnight etc.

I was very much in “bad trip” territory by this point. The cops were relentlessly asking me the same questions over and over again. “Where do you live?”, “Do you have any flatmates?”, “What’s your name?”, “How old are you?”, “Have you taken anything tonight?”

At one point one of the male officers laughed out loud and said “He’s the priest!” and I just felt so full of shame, thinking that I legitimately was the priest and was setting a terrible example and letting down the parish and the church and God. Suddenly one of the officers was saying “Look at his passport photo! He looks like a criminal!”. I was so utterly confused, thinking “how the fuck do they have my passport?”

After what felt like an eternity of shame and horror, the officers chucked me in the back of the paddywagon and locked me up. I felt resigned to my fate. I figured I was about to go to prison, my family was going to be notified, my life was coming to an end. The ride in the back of the police wagon felt like forever.

But wow what good luck I had. When the door of the wagon opened, I found myself out the front of my house, with L standing there at the front door looking sleepy, annoyed and bemused. I hopped out, walked up the steps and went straight inside to the shower.

The cops must have been able to accurately extract my address from me during the earlier interrogations on the concrete at the church. One of them had driven over, knocked on the door and asked L to confirm that I live there. L had gone to my room, found my passport and proved that I was a resident. So instead of locking me up for the night they just kindly drove me home. I was so infinitely thankful that it turned out like that, rather than something worse.

But I was still shaken up by the experience. As I hid under the covers of my bed, I had to leave the lights on so that I could stare at my clock and verify that time had passed and time was passing. The insanity was wearing off, but I was still terrified that at any time I could discover that it was all a dream, and I was actually in a prison cell or somewhere worse. I remember going down and brewing some tea and holding my head in my hands while praying “Oh God, please tell me it was a dream, please tell me it didn’t really happen”.

I managed to rest up a little. When I woke up, I discovered that it was NOT just a dream and it DID really happen, and I knew this because I didn’t have my phone, my wallet, my shoes, or my $300 loud shirt. I had to retrace my steps and literally pick up the pieces. I couldn’t remember where I had dumped all my stuff on the way home, and I had to make use of apple’s “find my iphone” app to locate all my stuff. I ended up finding everything except for my shoes, socks, watch, drink bottle and loud shirt. It had rained during the night, so my shorts and underpants (which I found in the middle of the road) were soaking wet.

Conclusion

In the end, I learned so much from the experience, and I don’t regret it. But It was the first time that I realized that bad trips can involve the police, and actual bad things happening, rather than just psychological terror. I have tripped many times since then, but not on acid. This trip taught me that acid is psychologically next level, and 25i-nbome is actually a safer drug in terms of the headspace.

This trip directly led to me reconsidering my vocation. After being so utterly fascinated by evil, darkness, the feminine, I figured God might be calling me to move away from ordination and instead investigate relationships with girls again. Maybe I’ll get married? At time of writing (A couple of months after this trip), I’ve picked up a new girlfriend. The future is bright, and even from a bad trip, good lessons are learned.

Beautiful Heresy 101 – Adoptionism: “Jesus was not born God, he ‘became’ God”

20091210_thisissue_600-kindle-cover_w[1]The Muslims are right: Jesus was just a man. He wasn’t God. He was just a dude. He had a single nature and that nature was human. In fact, Jesus was peccable, which is to say he was able to sin. Adds a whole new dimension to the temptation in the wilderness story doesn’t it? Our saviour really could have failed, he really could have given in to the temptations!

However, at no point did he actually sin. If we conceive of sins as the bricks in a wall that stands between us and God and separate us from him, then consider what it means for Jesus to not have to contend with such a barrier. At all times, Jesus the man had full and direct access to God. There was no sin that stood in his way. In other words, from the moment of his conception all the way through his life and ministry, and even up to his death; Jesus experienced a profound unity with God and a full theosis.

Now, Jesus was fully man, which means that he inherited a fallen, imperfect human nature just like the rest of us. And this was why he needed to be baptised! Baptism removes the curse of original sin, which Jesus suffered from just like all of us, even if he never commit any actual moral fault.

But Jesus experienced full theosis, which is to say that even though he was merely a man by nature, it would be accurate to call him “fully God” by participation. And this would hold true for the duration of his entire life. So there is a sort of dyophysis at play: Jesus is fully man by nature, and fully God by participation, and there is a strict separation between the two natures. If at any time he had slipped up and sinned, he would have lost his full participation in divinity, as the bricks in the wall between him and God would have begun to stack up.

But no, Jesus was fully united to the divine λογος for his entire life. Never did he slip up. There have been many saints, Christian and otherwise who have also achieved a full unity with the λογος, for example Muhammad and Buddha, but what separates these saints and mystics from Jesus is that they begun their journey behind the wall of sin, and had to dismantle it brick by brick, whereas Jesus experienced theosis for the entire duration of his life.

Now, Jesus died. For the purposes of this discussion the details are not relevant, whether it was by murder or by old age does not matter. The crucial point is that this innocent man died; the only man who had ever lived his entire life without sinning once. But the wages of sin is death, so how could a man who had never sinned be subject to the penalty of death? And so the Justice of God becomes manifest as God raises Jesus from death to new life; a new life from which he will never die again.

But something funny happened as Jesus passed from death to new life. His nature changed. He took on an eschatalogical existence. No longer was he a dyophysis of created nature and divine participation. Instead he takes on the divine simplicity of a miaphysis; he becomes God! My thesis is therefore that the full incarnation did not occur at Christmas, but at Easter. Jesus was not born as God, he became God. Yes there was a sense in which he was fully God for his entire life and ministry, but this was merely by “participation”, not by “nature”. However the game changed after the resurrection. Jesus truly could be referred to as fully God in every respect. In fact, all of the imperfections and limitations of his human nature were swallowed up in the divine nature, like a drop in the ocean. Nevertheless he retained his created attributes.

This is why it is now appropriate to worship Jesus as the one true God. He has attained the divine perfections and exists already at the end of history, in the eschaton. This is why he says “no one comes to the father except through me”. God is eternally hidden, unmanifest, and there is valid no way to worship him, despite his being the only valid object of worship. But Jesus changes all that. He has broken the curtain that separates us from God in half and taken on a tangible form. Now we direct our worship towards this man Jesus, in the Eucharist, in the flesh. He became God, but by being God, he always was God. And so it will be with us. All of us will achieve theosis, and then all of us will achieve resurrection, and finally all of us will become the λογος incarnate. But while we are pilgrims here, on this side of the eschaton, waiting for that glorious resurrection, only Jesus is God, and only him do we worship.

Beautiful Heresy 101 – Catholic Idolatry: “Venerate by your Hands; Worship in your Heart”

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Idolatry

Catholics cop a lot of crap from fundamentalists for having statues in their churches. According to these fundamentalists, Catholics are committing the grave sin of idolatry by doing this. Even more damnable in the eyes of these heathen Protestants is the fact that Catholics bow down to the statues and some Catholics even go so far as kissing them. This seems like clear and undeniable evidence that Catholics disregard and stand in contradiction to the scriptures; our good God’s infallible words:

Exodus 20:1-6 RSV-CE

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.“You shall have no other gods before me.You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

The basic moral principle that both Catholics and Protestants (and Jews and Muslims) agree on is that it is inappropriate to worship anyone but God alone. To worship something that is not God as God is the grave sin of Idolatry.

So, why do Catholics do this? Why do Catholics bow down to statues? There are lots of things to consider.

Veneration versus Worship: Which one is related to Idolatry?

A very helpful distinction to keep in mind is that between veneration and worship. Simply stated, veneration is a physical action that someone performs with their body towards some other physical object, whereas worship is an attitude in the heart of a person towards an object that may or may not be physical. In this way, it becomes possible to venerate an object without worshipping it, as well as to worship something without venerating it, and finally to both venerate and worship an object simultaneously. To worship anything other than God is Idolatry, however it is permissible to venerate almost anything without any Idolatry being committed.

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Idolatry

Some examples may be helpful. If you were ever to meet someone of royalty, for example a Saudi Arabian prince or the Queen of England, etiquette would require that you make some sign of deep respect towards the monarch, for example by genuflecting or kissing a ring. Now, some fundamentalist Muslims and Christians would get uncomfortable about this and their overclocked idolatry detectors would be pinging deep in the red end of the scale. However the vast majority of both Protestants and Catholics would consider this to be a socially acceptable expression of respect towards the Monarch. Reasonable people would not consider these actions of veneration to be idolatrous, because it is understood that we are not worshipping the monarch, we are merely venerating them.

It is the same with Catholics and their statues. When Catholics kiss, genuflect before and bow down to statues of Saints, Mary or Jesus, they are simply Venerating the depicted figures, but they are definitely not Worshipping them. There is therefore no idolatry occuring.

Another example may help. When a mystic sits completely still for an extended period and focuses his mind on union with God, his heart may very easily slip into a state of extremely intense and ecstatic worship of the good God on high. In this case, he is sitting completely still and so is not demonstrating any evidence of veneration, however within himself there is occurring extremely strong and delightful waves of love and worship towards God. It is appropriate that there be no act of veneration in this case because acts of veneration always have to be directed towards some physical object or location, however God does not have a physical location; he is simultaneously omnipresent and located nowhere. For this reason even if the mystic wanted to venerate God, he wouldn’t be able to. Instead he must direct his worship towards God in an abstract sense. So in this case, there is worship without veneration.

An interesting example for Muslims is the fact that during their five daily prayers they prostrate towards the Kaabaah in Mecca. Prostration is an extremely profound movement of veneration, so it is rather telling that Muslims pray towards a physical location, despite their intense aversion to idolatry. The explanation in this case is that their action of veneration – the Salat prostrations – are directed towards Mecca, however their attitude of worship is directed towards God alone, who has no physical location.

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Idolatry

A final example is appropriate. When Catholics engage in adoration of the Eucharist, this is an example of a simultaneous veneration and worship, because the Catholic belief is that the bread they are staring at has literally been transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ himself. The Catholics believe they are literally staring at God, and so they may bow down towards the Eucharist as an act of veneration whilst simultaneously confessing the divinity of that towards which they bow in their hearts as an attitude of worship. In this case, there is both veneration and worship. Whether you believe that this is idolatry depends on your view of the Eucharist.

The crucial point is that veneration and worship are distinct. It is permissible to venerate pretty much anything, but it is only appropriate to worship God. In summary, veneration is an action of the hands, whereas worship is an attitude of the heart. Idolatry is the worship of anything other than God, but veneration of pretty much anything is always permissible.

Dulia, Hyperdulia and Latria

The doctrine of theosis declares that God became man so that man might become God. According to theosis, the saints all participate in divinity to different degrees, and therefore it is appropriate to “worship” the saint to the exact degree that they participate in divinity. Of course, Mary participates in Divinity to the maximal possible extent, so it is appropriate to direct maximal worship towards her. However, it is an established principle that worship is to be directed to God alone, and while Mary and all the saints have been truly “divinized”, when push comes to shove they are fundamentally human and not divine. The water is muddied: should we or should we not worship these saints who have attained to a combination of created and divine natures?

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Idolatry

It is helpful to introduce a helpful historical distinction at this point. There are three different kinds of worship: Dulia, Hyperdulia and Latria.

Dulia is worship reserved for a divinized saint. To the extent that the saint is united to God and has divinity permeating his soul, it is appropriate to worship the saint. The reason why is that you are not actually worshipping the saint as a created being, but are instead worshipping the divinity that is united to that saint. To the extent that the saint is divine, we worship them, to the extent that the saint is created, we do not worship. The technical term for this mixture of worship and non-worship is the word Dulia.

Now, Mary has achieved maximum theosis. She is as closely united to God as it is possible to be. As such, it becomes appropriate to direct maximal worship towards her. However, the fact remains that Mary is essentially human before she is divine, and therefore it would be inappropriate to give her the fullness of worship reserved for God himself. In this way, the worship we give to Mary is also the worship of Dulia, just as with all the other saints. However on account of the fact that Mary has achieved maximum theosis, she also receives maximum Dulia. Theologians invented a new term for this maximal level of worship: Hyperdulia. In essence, it is still just the worship of Dulia, however due to it’s maximal nature, it is called hyperdulia.

Finally, there is the worship reserved for God himself. This is the worship of Latria. To give Latria to anything but God would be the deepest idolatry, for this is the form of worship reserved for him and him alone. Catholics direct their Latria towards the Eucharist during adoration, or towards God in the abstract during deep prayer. To direct Latria towards Mary or a Saint would be gravely sinful, because regardless of how deep their experience of divinity, they are fundamentally human before they are God. Whereas God himself is Divine before he is human, and it is therefore appropriate to give him the infinitely elevated worship of Latria, rather than the lower and lesser worship of Dulia.

In summary, it is appropriate to worship anything that is divine just to the extent that it is divine, however it is important to pay attention to the essential nature of the object you are worshipping: If the object is fundamentally created before it is divine, then we should only give it the worship of Dulia, whereas if the object if fundamentally divine before it is created (ie, God himself) then we should give it the worship of Latria.

But what about the commandments against statues, images and idolatry?

Someone might be reading this and think “That’s all well and good, but in scripture doesn’t God explicitly say that it is not permissible to make statues and bow down to them? All the arguments in the world can’t change that brute fact.”

This is true, so it is helpful to examine the status of the law in Christianity. The idea is that there is the Moral law and the Mosaic law. Jesus abolished the Mosaic law when he died and resurrected, however the Moral law is still in force. It can sometimes be hard to tell which commandment belongs to which law. However in this case the church has identified the commandment concerning statues as belonging to the Mosaic law, and as therefore having been abrogated by Christ along with the laws concerning ritual cleanliness, clean and unclean foods, sacrificial rituals and so on. Whereas the moral law against idolatry remains in force in the sense that it is inappropriate for Christians to worship anything that is not divine, and it is inappropriate to give the worship of Latria to anything but God himself.

Idolatry

Idolatry

It is interesting to revisit the arguments that were put forward at the seventh ecumenical council, which was primarily concerned with this very debate. The fathers of the council claimed that God abrogated the commandment against images when he became incarnate: When God took on the form and image of the man Jesus, he for all time made it permissible to make use of created images as an aid to worship. God represented himself with flesh, and in doing so made it lawful for Christians to represent the divine via other created images. If the commandment against representing God with images were still in effect, it would imply that God had broken his own commandment by becoming incarnate! This is clearly an impossibility, and the only possible conclusion is that God has abrogated the commandment in question by his incarnation.

One final consideration from the seventh ecumenical council is worthwhile touching upon. When a Christian venerates a statue and directs his worship of Dulia towards the depicted saint, they are not actually worshipping the statue; they are instead worshipping the saint whom the statue depicts. In the language of the council fathers, the worship directed towards a statue or image travels through the image to the “prototype”. In this way it is not the statue being worshipped, but the saint that the statue depicts.

Conclusion

An easy to remember way of expressing the principles outlined in this post is the following: Veneration is an action of the hands; Worship is an attitude of the heart. Also, we only worship an object to the extent that it is divine; Saints receive Dulia, Mary receives Hyperdulia, and only God himself receives Latria.