FROM FATHER SMITH: GOD'S GRANDEUR
Last week, Father Matthew Jacobson and I attended a conference at Fordham University, Lincoln Center. The conference was organized by the university's Orthodox Studies Center, and its topic was a grand and unabashedly theological one, "Faith, Reason, and Theosis." Theosis is a Greek word, sometimes translated as "deification," or "divinization." The word refers to an ancient teaching concerning the nature, and possibilities of, the Christian life. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215) defined theosis in this way, "Deification is the attaining of likeness to God and union with him so far as possible" (Exhortation to the Greeks I.3).
The spiritual doctrine of theosis has had a long and complex history. Its adherents appeal to a number of biblical texts and philosophical concepts to explain the teaching. A verse from the Second Letter of Peter has been foundational, "[God's] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature" (1:3-4).
One of the highlights of the conference for me was the keynote address by David Bentley Hart, an Orthodox layman, who is a fellow at Notre Dame's Institute for Advanced Study. Hart, formerly an Anglican, is a philosophical theologian and a brilliant and learned thinker, who has produced a number of books, including his own translation of the New Testament. He has strong opinions about many things. He seems to revel in being one who refuses "to suffer fools gladly." Still, his reasoned defense of the Christian faith in a world of "cultured despisers" can be an exciting and inspiring thing to see and hear.
Hart does not regard theosis as some kind of esoteric theological sideshow. For him it is a doctrine that is based on foundational Christian beliefs about creation and redemption. During his presentation he asked, "Can there be a human nature without an orientation to the divine?" The answer was No. He believes that God would not-cannot?-create a "rational creature" without an orientation to the divine as its final goal or end. To be created in God's image means that human beings are oriented toward God and that they desire God, though they do not always know-or remember?-this or accept that it is true.
One of Hart's arguments for this implanted orientation to the divine is a Christological one. He says, if it is true that Jesus Christ is one person who is fully and completely human and fully and completely divine (see Book of Common Prayer 864-865), then the two natures, human and divine, united in Christ, must be compatible, not opposed. The human orientation to the divine, Hart argues, is one of the things that makes the Incarnation possible. The intimacy of this relationship reminded me of the succinct words of Saint Ephrem the Syrian (c. 306-373), "He gave us divinity. We gave him humanity" (Hymns on Faith 5:17). All this gives the phrase "child of God" a different sense for me. All that I have and all that I am comes from God. It is pure gift. But it is not a gift given begrudgingly. To be united with God in Christ through the power of the Spirit is who we are and who we are meant to be.
The conference's other keynote address was delivered on Tuesday night by Archbishop Rowan Williams during a rather grand and ecumenical event. The archbishop was introduced by Fordham's president, the Rev. Dr. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., who also introduced and presented an award to His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, the recently retired primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. Seeing representatives of the Anglican, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic communions gathered in this way in order to listen to and learn from each other was a moving and inspiring thing. Still, I couldn't help thinking at one point that the grandeur of the event and the beauty of the topic could not alter the fact that all of our churches are facing significant challenges at the moment, in the United States and around the world. What was not being said in that room was as significant as the things that were. It was, of course, good to spend some time together talking about "participation in the divine," but it occurred to me that evening that the doctrine of theosis really takes on flesh when it is lived out in this world and not just in anticipation of the next. It is helpful to remember our deeply rooted orientation to God when faced with so many difficult and intractable problems. We are not alone in our struggles.
Saint Paul writes in his Letter to the Ephesians, "For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (1:9-10). Like the spiritual doctrine of theosis, Paul's words are beautiful, shimmering, filled with grandeur. How wonderful to think that we, whose lives are mostly not grand, exist day after mundane day within God's eternal plan of creation and redemption. In Professor Hart's words, "We can only become what we [already] are."
- Jay Smith
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR David, Philippe, Barbara, Bryan, Dianna, Beulah, Cyrisse, Wendell, May, Willard, Alexandra, Karen, Susan, Carolyn, Ivy, Ridhima, Lakshmi, Marilouise, Takeem, Carmen, Emil, Michael, Robert, and Dennis; for Horace, James, Gaylord, Louis, and Edgar, priests; for all the benefactors and friends of this parish; and for the repose of the souls of Denise Corbé and Tim McCormack.
GRANT THEM PEACE: June 16: 1889 Nellie Benson Beame; 1900 Ellen Havens; 1911 Sarah Jackson; 1923 Frances Victoria Murray; 2011 Carol Pepper.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . Denise Corbé died on June 8 in El Paso, Texas, after a brief illness. She was the mother of Philippe Corbé, who worships with us most Sundays. Mrs. Corbé was born in Brittany, France, where she lived her entire life. She had traveled to the United States in order to attend Philippe's wedding on June 1. Please keep Denise, Philippe and his husband, Javier, their family and friends, and all who mourn in your prayers.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY'S . . . Sunday, June 16, the Trinity Sunday, Sung Matins 8:30 AM; Mass 9:00 & 10:00 AM; Solemn Mass and Solemn Te Deum 11:00 AM; Evensong and Benediction 5:00 PM (this is the final Evensong of the season) . . . Wednesday, June 19, Sung Mass 12:10 PM . . . Wednesday, June 19, Ministry to the Homeless: Drop-in Day, 2:00-4:00 PM in the Mission House basement . . . Thursday, June 20, 12:10 PM, Mass with Healing Service . . . Friday, June 21, Centering Prayer Group, 6:30 PM in the Atrium in the Parish House, Second Floor.
THE SUMMER SUNDAY WORSHIP SCHEDULE BEGINS on the afternoon of Corpus Christi, Sunday, June 23. From this afternoon, this year, the Eve of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, Evening Prayer will be read at 5:00 PM and on Sunday mornings, beginning on June 30, Morning Prayer will be read. Sung Morning Prayer and Solemn Evensong on Sundays begin again on October 6, 2019.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . The work of restoration and repair: Workers from Milan Restoration, LLC, were at work on part of the roof on the east side of the church this week, especially that portion of the roof that covers the frontal room. They opened and made repairs to the drain on the roof, which will prevent water damage in an area where altar frontals and candlesticks are stored . . . In other news: at long last, we are commencing work on the restoration of the Forty-sixth Street façade. The existing sidewalk shed will be taken down, and a new construction shed and scaffolding will be erected beginning Monday, June 17, 2019. We expect the restoration process to take approximately forty-five weeks, and therefore it should be completed by Spring 2020 . . . The Gospel Book, newly repaired and conserved, returned to Saint Mary's last week and was used at the Solemn Mass on the Day of Pentecost . . . We received word this week that longtime parishioner Bob Picken will soon be moving from his home in Queens. As of June 18, Bob will be living at a retirement community on the North Shore of Long Island. If you'd like to drop him a note, please contact Father Smith . . . Father Jay Smith will be away from the parish beginning on Thursday evening, June 13, until the morning of Monday, June 17. He returns to the office on Monday afternoon. He will be attending his fiftieth high-school reunion in Buffalo, New York . . . Brother Thomas Steffensen SSF will be away from the parish from Monday, June 10, until Wednesday, July 31. He will be in Michigan working on a project with and for the Diocese of Upper Michigan . . . The Rector will be away from Tuesday, June 11. He returns Saturday evening, June 15 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 221.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . The Mass setting on Sunday morning is the Mass in G minor by the noted English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). This Mass was composed in 1921 and is dedicated to another noted English composer, Gustav Holst (1874-1934), and the Whitsuntide Singers at Thaxted in north Essex. Its first performance was in concert by the City of Birmingham Choir on December 6, 1922. While first performed in concert, The Mass in G minor was intended to be sung liturgically and was subsequently premiered as such at Westminster Cathedral under the direction of Sir Richard Terry. Vaughan Williams's Mass is clearly in his own distinctive twentieth-century musical vocabulary, but it derives its sonic and affective character from the great heritage of English choral composition of earlier centuries. His Mass is often considered the most significant English work of its kind since the sixteenth century, and it has been an inspiration to many composers who have followed Vaughan Williams. The original conception is a work for double chorus and four soloists. This morning four of its movements will be performed by a choir of eight singers in which the differentiation between choruses and soloists will merge more into a unified choral texture.
The Communion motet on Sunday is a setting for five voices of the Matins responsory for Trinity Sunday by Peter Philips (c. 1560-1635), a contemporary of William Byrd. Philips, like Byrd a Roman Catholic, was both an organist and a composer. He had a particularly colorful life which included performing, composing, editing and publishing sacred and secular music in England, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Like Byrd, Philips's compositional mastery extended to all the forms he took on, including instrumental, keyboard, and choral expressions. Despite his having begun his music formation as a choirboy at Saint Paul's Cathedral, Philips's madrigals and motets are stylistically closer to continental styles than the English examples of his time. Tibi Laus is one of the more madrigalian of Philips's motets with its chordal textures and meter shifts between duple and triple.
Among the organ Choralfantasias of Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707) is a set of five movements dedicated to the ancient Latin hymn Te Deum laudamus. This set of pieces begins with a free introduction or Praeludium. In the second movement, Primus versus, the traditional chant melody is introduced as a cantus firmus played in long tones alternately below and above a second more animated accompanying voice. This same chant fragment is later played in long tones on the pedals and finally used in imitative counterpoint at the movement's conclusion. These first two movements are played as the prelude on Sunday. The fifth movement of Buxtehude's Te Deum, based on the text "You overcame the sting of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers," is in five-voice imitative counterpoint. It is played as the postlude.
2019 NYC WORLDPRIDE-STONEWALL 50 MARCH, Sunday, June 30, 2019, 11:00 AM-11:00 PM. In order to march with diocesan groups: check in for Episcopalians is at 4:00 PM. Formation Block: 32nd Street between Madison Avenue and Park Avenue. Section Number: 8. Order Number: 29. For fully updated information check the Committee's Facebook page.
A NEW RELIGIOUS TYPOLOGY . . . The well-known and much respected Pew Research Center recently published a comprehensive study of religious belief and adherence in the United States. The Center describes the study on their website, "Most U.S. adults identify with a particular religious denomination or group. They describe themselves as Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Jewish, Mormon or Muslim--to name just a few of the hundreds of identities or affiliations that people give in surveys. Others describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or say they have no particular religious affiliation. These are the conventional categories into which Americans sort themselves. But a new Pew Research Center analysis looks at beliefs and behaviors that cut across many denominations--important traits that unite people of different faiths, or that divide people who have the same religious affiliation--producing a new and revealing classification, or typology, of religion in America. The new typology sorts Americans into seven groups based on the religious and spiritual beliefs they share, how actively they practice their faith, the value they place on their religion, and the other sources of meaning and fulfillment in their lives." We encourage all our readers and friends to take a look at the study and its results.
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY'S . . . Our next Drop-in Day will take place on Wednesday, June 19, 2:00 to 4:00 PM, in the Mission House basement. On those Wednesdays when a Drop-in Day does not take place, we continue to offer our Grab-and-Go days in the former Gift Shop off the church Narthex. On those days, basic, even emergency, items can normally be provided-socks, underwear, toiletry articles, and, in the winter months, cold-weather clothing. Please contact Brother Damien if you would like to make a donation of cash, clothing, or toiletry articles, or to volunteer for this important ministry . . . We continue to receive donations of canned goods and other nonperishable food items for the Saint Clement's Food Pantry. Donations may be placed in the basket next to the Ushers' Table at the Forty-sixth Street entrance to the church.
AT THE GALLERIES . . . At the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Edmond J. Safra Plaza, 36 Battery Place, New York, NY 10280, through January 3, 2020. From the museum website, "This groundbreaking exhibition brings together more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs from over twenty institutions and museums around the world. Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away is the most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the history of Auschwitz and its role in the Holocaust ever presented in North America, and an unparalleled opportunity to confront the singular face of human evil-one that arose not long ago and not far away.
"Featuring more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs, the New York presentation of the exhibition allows visitors to experience artifacts from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on view for the first time in North America, including hundreds of personal items-such as suitcases, eyeglasses, and shoes-that belonged to survivors and victims of Auschwitz. Other artifacts include concrete posts that were part of the fence of the Auschwitz camp; fragments of an original barrack for prisoners from the Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp; a desk and other possessions of the first and the longest serving Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss; a gas mask used by the SS; Picasso's Lithograph of Prisoner; and an original German-made Model 2 freight train car used for the deportation of Jews to the ghettos and extermination camps in occupied Poland."