From ‘What’ to ‘Whom’

The Gospel according to Saint John is one of my most treasured books of the New Testament to use as a base for meditation and prayer. It is easy to dive into the synoptic Gospels with concordance, commentary and study Bible in hand to cross reference passages, compare events with other historical evidence and build up the three year mission that was Christ on earth. It is not as easy with the Gospel of John. But it is easy to get lost in the mystical, metaphysical and flat out supernatural depths of the Gospel of John. And we see this right from the opening passage of his account of Jesus:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

I could spend (and have) hours praying, thinking and expanding on that single line. Saint John grasps the concept of the Logos (Greek: “statement” or “utterance”) which was present in Greek and Roman culture as an association to the order of the universe. Very common to what we would call the natural law today. And what Saint John is telling the whole world (in a very catholic sense) is that Christ is the Logos, Jesus is the Word, the same Word that was present when the world was made (Genesis 1:1) and the same Word which all things were made through (the order, so to speak). This message is universal because shadows of it existed and still exists today within the world outside of the Church. This is because the Word is Truth and relevant in everything we do as creatures created by God through the Word.

But in this post I want to focus on just two very small parts of John’s Gospel that I think have profound implications for the mission of Christ and how we understand the relationships between the Covenant in the Old Testament and the New Covenant in the New Testament.

When we speak of the Gospels from a literary analysis perspective, all four can in fact be placed into a particular Greek genre known as bioi (Latin: vitae) which roughly means Lives. This genre of writings in Greek and Roman society were more than just a biographical sketch capturing the life of the individual from a unbiased perspective, rather the author sought to convey the virtues and greatness of the individual (desirable traits in ancient Greek/Roman society) by writing about key events in their life and demonstrating said virtues and greatness subjectively through the observance of their actions. Greek authors such as Xenophon and Plutarch (and Romans such as Tactius and Sueontius) were popular for these writings on significant Greek/Roman public figures. When studying the Gospels from a literary perspective, we can say that the four Gospels is the bioi of Jesus of Nazareth. It that bioi has hallmarks of Greek writing, such as placing an emphasis on the first words of an individual.

So with that in mind, what are the first words spoken by Christ in the Gospel of John? It happens after John the Baptist is introduced, while Jesus is seen walking along the shores of the Jorden River by some disciples of John;

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” (John 1:35-38)

Jesus turns to the disciples of John, who have started to following Jesus along the shores of the Jordan, and He asks them clearly; what do you seek? What. This single line probably seems rather innocuous, it does not even get specific mention in my catholic study Bible. But let’s take a look at the first words spoken by Jesus after He has risen from the dead;

Saying this, she [Mary Magdalene] turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” (John 20:14-15)

The Risen Christ asks Mary not what she is looking for, He now asks whom are you looking for (whom do you seek)? I think that this transition from what to whom that we can see clearly in the Gospel of John from the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry to the start of Jesus’ heavenly one, signifies the transition of the Law to Christ. From the what to the whom.

For the Jew around the time of Christ, faith was all about what one had to do to gain salvation. It was about living a uniquely Jewish life as God’s chosen people among a sea of Gentiles and unholiness. This is why the Temple was divided into two major portions, one where people would give sacrifice and offerings to God around the outside of the core Inner Temple– where God resided. That place was only accessed once a year by the High Priest with a blood offering on behalf of all of the unworthy people outside. Day to day Jews laboured and toiled to live out in accordance with the law, and they were supported by the Priests who laboured to understand the Will of God when it came to His acceptance of their sacrifice. It was all about the what.

But Jesus came. And what Jesus literally did was enter into the Inner Temple on our behalf without any authority from the Priests of the day (because He had authority and power from His Father, God) and He did not bring with Him a blood offering, for the living Divine Blood coursing through His human veins was the offering and it would be the final offering. Thus ending the requirement for the Temple and shattering any concept of what when it came to seeking God. Now when we reach out to God we do ask for what do we seek, we ask for whom do we seek and the answer is Christ, our High Priest and Final Sacrifice that removed us from the bondage of sin once and for all.

The Old Testament, for the most part, is all about the what. It is telling us about what is to come, about what we have to do in the meantime and what went wrong to explain how we ended up where we are in the world. The New Testament, for the most part, is all about the whom– and that whom illuminates the Old Testament in retrospect. It no longer is about what is to come, but whom is to come. Not what we have to do in the meantime, but what the One who came showed us by example to do. And it is not about what what wrong in the world, but who came to finally save us from sin.

From what to whom. What a powerful and amazing change. And everything in between is justification for the change. Let’s today not ask what we have to do…let us ask about the one who gave His life for us and purchased everlasting life!

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Laurence of Brindisi

From Universalis.com:

He was born in Brindisi, joined the Capuchin Friars, and studied at the University of Padua, where he learned a number of languages (including Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, French, and German) and acquired a deep knowledge of the Bible. His principal vocation was preaching. He preached all over Europe, not just to Catholics but to Protestants (because of his knowledge of Scripture) and to Jews (because of his knowledge of Hebrew). He wrote many sermons, commentaries, and works of controversy in support of this vocation. His administrative talents meant that he also held a number of high administrative offices in the Capuchin order. He was also entrusted with many important diplomatic missions. On one of these, he not only persuaded the German princes to help defend Hungary from the invading Turks, but also led their troops into battle, armed only with a crucifix. He was engaged in another delicate mission, to plead the cause of the oppressed people of Naples to King Philip III of Spain, when he died in Lisbon. For Laurence of Brindisi, preaching was the most important task of his life; but he took care to ensure that his preaching was backed by sound learning, so that he could preach to and not at his audiences. Let us take care that our own apostolate is similarly well founded.

Prayer from Morning Prayer:

Lord God, you bestowed on Saint Laurence of Brindisi
the spirit of counsel and fortitude,
so that your name might be glorified and souls be saved.
At the intercession of Saint Laurence
grant that we may see what we have to do,
and, in your mercy, give us the strength to do it.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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The Authority of Rome

You might have missed it, but Ben over at Politics for Catholics and I had what I consider to be a very interesting discussion on the question of authority within the Church and specifically the authority of the Bishop of Rome. This discussion took place in the comment section of my post on 185 Years of Anglo-Catholicism. Our discussion was frank but respectful and dare I say took place between two well-informed catholics (he might be skeptical the catholic claim on my part, but that is at the soul of the issue so it can certainly be excused). But in the end I have to agree with his closing remarks here:

I think both of us might benefit from a more in-depth examination of papal infallibility. I know I’m not educated enough in the subject to get much deeper. I am pretty sure the last time the pope spoke infallibly was in 1950. What I came to recognize in becoming Catholic was 1. There is a historical basis for the papacy and 2. There is a practical basis for the papacy. I’m willing to discuss those two aspects at greater length if you like. But how/when infallibility/dogma/doctrine takes place and the history of this development of papal authority seems outside the scope of this comment section and my poor little brain 🙂

I find myself able to admit clearly that I believe in everything about the catholic church, those parts of which reside within the Roman Church, and to some degree the Anglican Church (certain within Anglo-Catholic traditions), and the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, specifically with the Roman Church, I find myself unable to accept the supremacy of the Pope and how that manifests in the infallibility of the Bishop of Rome on matters concerning faith and morals. I cited many reasons why I have doubted this particular doctrine as being suspect in the Editor’s Manifesto of this blog and as well in more detail in the aforementioned comment section with Ben. And Ben certainly brings up very valid points about authority and oneness of the church which I do not disagree with but I am able to separate catholicism as articulated in the Creeds and the marks of the church and this particular doctrine.

So this is call out of sorts. With an open mind I would like to know what you think about the doctrine of Papal infallibility. Bonus points if you read the comment thread in the aforementioned post and comment on any points raised by Ben or myself. Help us better understand the doctrine itself from the perspective of the Church and from outside as well, and if anything else your own personal opinion. Leave a comment below!

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When Father Bradford Goes Away — Congregation of St. Athanasius

An essay written by Fr. Joseph F. Wilson in 2001. Every once in a while, my friend Father Bradford will … Continue reading →

via When Father Bradford Goes Away … — Congregation of St. Athanasius

A large part of what drew me to the Anglican Catholic church away from the Roman Catholic church was the liturgy. My first High Mass experience at my local Anglo-Catholic parish was intense and I had walked into it without any clue as to what I was getting myself into. The choir was amazing and sang the entire hymns, there were beautiful vestments, and incense, the Priest faced east with the people (one of the Priests was female! and the other I am pretty sure just mentioned his family sitting in the pews!!) and the booklet for the service had all of the text the Priest would say, what I was required to say and little notes to make sure I understood what was happening (I went to RC school from kindergarten to grade 12 and there was more liturgical information in that little booklet than I had been exposed to in my whole Catholic formation). The mass lasted an hour and a half, starting at 1030 and going all of the way to 1200 and when I looked around at about the hour mark it didn’t seem like people were squirming in their pews ready to jump out at the words, “the mass has ended.” Also, everyone was welcomed to the hall for a light lunch and socializing together afterward, which I have come to learn is a regular occurrence and a staple at most Anglican parishes.

At any rate, I want to share this particular post with you by a Priest who is reflecting on spending time in a Roman Catholic designated Anglican Use parish (a little different than the Anglo-Catholicism that I find a home in under the Church of England, but not by much). Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Apollinaris, Bishop, Martyr

From Universalis.com:

He was bishop of Ravenna, probably in the late second century, and was probably martyred there. Devotion to him was already common in the seventh century.

Prayer from Morning Prayer:

God of power and mercy, you gave Saint Apollinaris, your martyr, victory over pain and suffering.
Strengthen us who celebrate this day of his triumph
and help us to be victorious over the evils that threaten us.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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Definitions — The Soporific Sycophant

I promise that this is not a petty junior high school girl question; I have a larger philosophical question in mind. So do me a favor and follow this dumb scenario for a second. There is a guy and a girl who are seemingly friends. The girl has a crush on the guy but we […]

via Definitions — The Soporific Sycophant

Editor’s Note: She doesn’t have commenting up on her blog but I wanted to respond directly to the questions raised in this post because they are very interesting.

To kick off, intent does matter. And it matters in our government too. In order for any act to be deemed criminal in our justice system it requires that two elements be present actus reus (the criminal act) and mens rea (a criminal mind, or criminal intent). Mens rea specifically can have an objective or subjective analysis. For example, first degree murder requires a subjective analysis of mens rea, that is that the individual themselves were intent on killing the victim. Manslaughter on the other hand requires an objective analysis of the mens rea, regardless of what the individual intended would a reasonable person in the same situation conclude that the action could cause death. And the way you approached what is essentially a division of objective and subjective reality with your dating question in your post is exactly where you should be starting in these lines of questions. You asked whether an act between two people going out could be objectively a date but subjectively not. And you dove further, and questioned whether it was possible that one person could concur with the objective reality while the other did not– and I wager once I am done this comment you’re going to realize you already do know the answer.

Suppose you and I are standing in a room facing each other with a large wooden table between us. The room is completely bare, save for a large window directly behind you. From where I stand the table is light brown because the sun is shining directly on it. From where you stand the table is dark down because the sun is not shining directly on it. We are asked what colour the table objectively is and I say “light brown” and you say “dark brown” … who could be correct? Objectively the table must be a colour but subjectively, how we individually see the table, there are literally hundreds of millions of different colour combinations that the table could be called. Does it mean that the table in fact has no objective colour? That there is no objective truth? We can use a better example to dive into this question. What makes a fork a fork? You might say well a device that can be used to pick food and transport it in pieces to the mouth. Well I can do that with a screwdriver, so can a screwdriver be a fork? There must be something, some essence, that makes the fork a fork. For early philosophers like Plato that essence was the concept of the perfect fork that existed on some other plane but which we were aware of in this imperfect world (he used the analogy of a perfect circle which although easily conceived by humans, can never actually be physically made here on earth). Schopenhauer (who I love) went a little further and said that objects have a thing-in-themselves that usually manifests in utility, so a fork is a fork because, when I look at it, I imagine using it to pick and eat food and I do this because the thing-in-itself for a fork is a device used to pick and eat food. Schopenhauer also added that the thing-in-itself could never fully be perceived or understood either, for once it manifested itself materially it would become imperfect and therefore would cease to be a thing-in-itself. But I digressed in the philosophical history lesson.

To commit an act of sin requires both a sinful act and sinful intention. Sometimes this intention is subjective (i.e. did the person themselves knowingly intend this sin) and sometimes it is objective (i.e. would a reasonable person in the same position conclude it would be a sin before doing it).  It is not much different than our criminal system (probably because the criminal system was modelled after our understanding of sin at first). The difference between the criminal system and how God distributes justice is that a judge from the courts of the land cannot read into your heart and soul and know what you were thinking and knowing at the time. God really doesn’t require the objective reality because He is the objective reality and because He knows your subjective self objectively, that is what makes Him God. He does not have to compare your actions to a concept of a reasonable person because He can just know what you were thinking and what motivated your actions. He also knows what defences you might have before you even need to make them. A great Priest once told me something very insightful in high school when I was struggling with the same questions about sin because I do not consider it a sin to have sex outside of marriage in a monogamous and loving relationship. And I racked myself over this because objectively it can be said to be a sin but subjectively it did not feel that way to me and not just feel but logically it seems the spirit of the sinful act was a lack of monogamy and a depreciation of sexual acts. So he summed it all up for me,

“You know, come Judgement Day it will be just you and God, not me, not the Pope, no lawyer, no advocate, just you and Him. And you won’t need to speak or even defend yourself, He knows. And He will pass judgment. So if you’re comfortable in your decision, like really deep down comfortable and can say to yourself, knowing that God knows if you’re doubting or if there is a place inside saying it is not right that you are ignoring, that you are not sinning, than you are ready for Judgement Day.”

And I think considering the nature of God and the realities of objective and subjective truths in the world, that this is a pretty good approach and one that is certainly evident in the Christian faith.

 

A Word on Orthodoxy

I have had a few people message me concerning my last post, specifically about how I defined ‘orthodox’ as being an emphasis on early church liturgy and worship. The first few messages I tried to address privately with the individuals in question, but since a few more have landed in my inbox, I decided to write up a quick hot take on orthodoxy and how it is a word and term that gets used in such a perverse manner within Christianity today.

Around the end of the Middle Ages a movement began to take form within the Christian church in Europe. There was a desire to go back to a more “pure” church that was more like what the church would have been for early believers throughout Israel and the entire Roman world immediately and shortly following the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. When we speak of the church in that period we call it the patristic church. There is a spiritual and temporal reason for this push to go back to how things were done originally within the church. First from a spiritual perspective, the men and women who established those practices were closer to Christ in terms of time and space than we are, so that could give them more insight than we have today regarding what Christ’s intention was for His church. And secondly, from a temporal perspective, without any sort of guidance in the face of multiple forms of worship and adoration, the Church Fathers concluded (no doubt with the guidance of the Holy Spirit) that the best litmus test to determine what would be good and bad liturgy should be whether or not it was practiced in the patristic Church.

So having this historical perspective in mind regarding roots of the movement to turn to the early church for guidance in how liturgy should look today, we can say that orthodoxy is a desire to justify all forms of modern worship and liturgy using the rites and customs that were developed by the early church. True orthodoxy goes a step further and says that only those rituals and customs established by the early church are pleasing in God’s eyes and validates a human action as liturgical, orthodoxy is embracing a single form of liturgy to the exclusion of all others. It is important to note that orthodoxy should not be confused with the development of liturgical forms of worship via sola scriptura. An example of this would be an evangelical church that baptizes anyone who walks in the front door on any given Sunday on the grounds that Scripture does not explicitly state a catechist period is required. Interpreting Scripture alone personally and developing modern liturgy around that unilateral understanding of the Bible is not catholic and it certainly is not orthodox. To go back to the baptism example I used, we know that in the early church that there were established and enforced time periods for a potential convert to Christianity, and that catechism classes were a fixture of the early church right from the start. Taking that historical fact and building it into our liturgical practice today is exactly how true orthodoxy manifests itself within the church. It is orthodox that we have Christian schools for our children, adult initiation programs for converts and an entire liturgical form around the act of baptism.

But the problem with how the word orthodox is used today is that it has been warped to really mean ‘conservative.’ Meaning, a person or catholic who adheres to the traditional precepts of the church (but more often it specifically relates to how one see social issues within the church). This is wrong. It is wrong because what this little change in meaning of the word orthodoxy does is paper over partisan positions within the church using ecclesiastical terms. And if you are an Anglo-Catholic you probably hear it all of the time, that priest who wears his cassock after mass when speaking with parishioners during lunch is described as being “very orthodox” by parishioners who are not used to seeing a priest in a cassock. Or a person will write on a Christian blog that they are “orthodox” and therefore will never accept gay marriage as being a Christian concept. Who gets to be married by the church is not a question of orthodoxy, it is a question of church teaching and Biblical interpretation, which are entirely different things. Whether or not we have a marriage ceremony at all is the orthodox question in that mix. If a church suddenly decided that marriage was no longer a sacrament worthy of a liturgical movement, that would be unorthodox (there are churches that practice this, they are unorthodox). The fact that some churches allow same-sex couples to engage in the beautiful liturgical movement that is the Christian wedding ceremony is not unorthodox, it is the application of church teaching within a very orthodox practice of two people going to church together for their special day to witness before their friends, family and God their Christian commitment to one another. It saddens my heart to scroll through the ‘Christian’ or ‘catholic’ tags here on WordPress and see post after post of Christians attacking other Christians for not being orthodox or being too orthodox over a debate of whether or not the priest should face the people or not during mass. They miss the mark because while they are fighting over this trivial issue, there are actual unorthodox churches that have gone away entirely with a organized form of worship that includes an officiant– that is unorthodox. It is not unorthodox for a pastor to set up a youth geared mass with music from instruments like guitars and drum sets. It is unorthodox to conduct a so-called Christian service with only that music and nothing else, saying that the music alone gives us the Eucharistic form of worship we need and that God instituted for us during the Last Supper.

So how do you avoid this very common misunderstanding of the word orthodox and it’s use within the church? Before you label something orthodox or unorthodox, ask yourself if this wasn’t a spiritual issue but a temporal one, would you find yourself using the word ‘conservative’ instead of orthodox or ‘progressive’ instead of unorthodox. If that is the case, chances are you are not using the term properly. If you are calling yourself orthodox because you like to discern yourself from your fellow Christians who believe in Christian same-sex marriage than you are using the word improperly. If you are calling yourself orthodox and you show up to a church that never prays the Kyrie together (literally the oldest form of worship we know in the church) and this troubles you than you are bang on the definition. Partisan categorizations, even ones that are given fancy ecclesiastical terms to paper over the temporal labels, have no place within any Christian church. We are not conservative Christians or progressive Christians or classic Christians or [insert temporal partisan adjective here] Christians– we are Christians. And we are part of the catholic church, which means our Christianity is universal, meant for all, regardless of whether you are a conservative, progressive, liberal or otherwise when you are not sitting the pews. We undermine a legitimate catholic principle of justifying the sacredness and importance of our liturgy using practices from the early church (orthodoxy) when we remove the true meaning from the word orthodox. We give some form of legitimacy to truly unorthodox liturgy when we try and take this term and apply in within the church in a way it was never meant to be used.

God be praised!

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185 Years of Anglo-Catholicism

Many Anglican Catholics are probably already aware that this past July 14th marked the traditional commencement of the Ango-Catholic Movement within the Anglican Church with a sermon by John Keble at the University Church of St Mary’s in Oxford. I’ve pulled this quote from Ritual Notes via The Anglophilic Anglican concerning the event:

“Most Anglo-Catholics know that 185 years ago today, John Keble ascended the pulpit at the University Church of St Mary’s in Oxford to deliver the sermon at the opening of the Assize Court. If the date is not remembered, the result certainly is. John Henry Newman wrote that this sermon, easily forgotten during any other time, was the beginning of the Oxford Movement.”

I am personally a recent convert to Anglo-Catholicism from the Roman Catholic Church. I was raised Roman Catholic and attended a conservative Roman Catholic school from junior kindergarten to grade 12. The fact that I am not entirely comfortable using the word ‘convert’ when I speak of my recent membership in the Anglican Church and specifically the Catholic wing of said church, is proof of the complexities that dominate the catholic debate within the Anglican Church and indeed among many protestant flavours of Christianity.

Because I was raised Roman Catholic I spent the vast majority of my life under the impression that the Bishop of Rome and the entire Roman Church had a monopoly on the word ‘catholic.’ I’ve always believed (as per the Creeds) that the catholic church is the one, true, holy and apostolic church founded by Christ. I just, like many Roman Catholics, equated ‘catholic’ with Roman and the Pope and all that came along with that system. I was first introduced to the idea of universal catholicity (specifically the Branch Theory), or the core of the Oxford Movement– which is quiet simply that the Roman Church does not hold court over what is catholic and what is not– a few years ago after a Roman Catholic commentator who I had great respect for left the Roman Church after having an epiphany over social issues within the church. His leaving the Roman Church and taking up worship in the Anglican Catholic church piqued my interest and I began to research. I learned that what made a church catholic was not adhering to the will of Rome or speaking in Latin but rather it was a staunch devotion to the Creeds, to orthodoxy (meaning placing emphasis on the original forms of worship of the Church) and to an understanding of a truly universal church founded by Christ. I always knew that I was a catholic, if not because I do not feel like I am worshiping God in a manner that is pleasing in His sight unless there are bells and smell (as those who criticize the richness of catholic liturgy like to say). I knew I was a catholic because I believed firmly in the Creeds– never, even in the darkest and loneliest moments in my faith have I doubted the articles of the Creeds. And I knew I was catholic because I had a deep conviction that Christ did not found a fragmented and broken form of Christianity with sects fighting between each other each holding a nugget of truth, I firmly believe that the catholic church is the one Christian church founded by Christ.

But here is the kicker: catholicism can never be confined to one single sect. Catholicism is universal, it is applicable to all people, all races, all tongues because it is the Body of Christ here and present on earth. And because we are all creations of God, no matter where we come from or what we do in this life, we can all be part of and served by this catholic church.

I am an Anglican Catholic today because I do not believe that catholic is the same as being Roman. I believe that the Roman church places too much emphasis on culturally important aspects of the faith (like not eating one hour before Mass) to the point that what is dogma and a core belief and what is a cultural or best practice is often just lumped in as essential all around. I also believe that the doctrine of the Supremacy of the Pope is flawed and uncatholic– there is nothing universal about linking the movement and spirit of the universal church to one arbitrary geographical location here on earth. I also take issue with doctrine that has come out of the direct authority of the Pope such as Papal Infallibility and the Immaculate Conception– I do not see these as core catholic concepts, but they are certainly Roman.

“The Catholic Revival in the Church of England had nothing to do with gin, lace, and backbiting, as is often caricatured. Yes, elaborate ritual and church building followed in the next generation, but this was a logical development of the belief that the Church is not the same as the Post Office. [Or, as I sometimes put it in defending the use of traditional language in worship, “The liturgy – the worship of God – is not Uncle Joe’s barbecue.”] The Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives and not the same as chicken tetrazzini at the weekly Rotary Club. The development of ritual and devotion was the servant, the handmaid, to the truths Keble turned our minds to 185 years ago.”

I have never felt more catholic, more Christian than when worshiping and sharing fellowship in an Anglican Catholic church.

God be praised!

The sky is falling! — Episcopal Cafe

By Juan M.C. Oliver, Custodian of the BCP The first word coming to mind at the thought of new liturgical development called for by the 79th General Convention is anxiety. Looking at it closely, I find two types of anxiety both in myself and in others discussing the matter. The first is knee jerk anxiety.…

via The sky is falling! — Episcopal Cafe

Coming on the heels of my post about Biblical interpretation, I wanted to share this post from the Episcopal Cafe about orthodoxy and liturgy with a focus on language and historical context when we talk about words in liturgy and our faith.