Archive for January 2010

Feast of Johann von Staupitz (November 8)   Leave a comment

Above:  Johann von Staupitz

Image in the Public Domain



Martin Luther’s Spiritual Mentor

Johann von Staupitz, born circa 1460, joined the Augustinian Order in 1485.  In 1500 he became a Doctor of Theology.  Two years later Staupitz became Dean of Theology at the University of Wittenberg, then Vicar-General of the German Congregation of Augustinians the following year.  In 1512 he resigned his professorship and moved to southern Germany.  Eight years later Staupitz resigned as Vicar-General.  In 1522 he joined the Benedictines to become Abbot of St. Peter’s in Salzburg, Austria.

While visiting the Augustinian monstery at Eufurt, Staupitz met a monk named Martin Luther.  From 1505 to Staupitz’s death the two men stayed in contact.  Staupitz heard Brother Martin’s lengthy confessions then counseled Luther regarding grace and encouraged him to pursue an academic career.

When Luther sparked the Reformation with the 95 Theses Staupitz understood Luther’s criticisms as valid critiques of church abuses, not dogma or doctrine.  If Staupitz had been in power in the Roman Catholic Church, the Church would have stopped selling indulgences.  But he was not in church power.  Yet Staupitz criticized the Protestant Reformation as schismatic, for he shunned schism.  Staupitz’s connection with Luther caused suspicion to fall upon him, and Pope Paul IV placed his writings on the Index of forbidden books in 1559.



Almighty God, your Holy Spirit gives to one the word of knowledge,

and to another the insight of wisdom,

and to another the steadfastness of faith.

We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted to your servant Johann von Staupitz,

and we pray that by his teaching we may be led to a fuller knowledge of the truth

we have seen in your Son Jesus, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Proverbs 3:1-7 or Wisdom 7:7-14

Psalm 119:89-104

1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16 or 1 Corinthians 3:5-11

John 17:18-23 or Matthew 13:47-52

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 61

Feast of Daniel Payne (November 3)   Leave a comment

Above:  Daniel Payne

Image in the Public Domain



African Methodist Episcopal Bishop

Historiographer of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1848-1852); Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1852-1893); died in 1893

Daniel Payne, born to a free Black family in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 24, 1811, grew up a Methodist.  He opened his first school at age 18, in 1829.  Payne had to close that school six years later because the state had outlawed teaching literacy to slaves and free people of color. (Aside:  South Carolina has been regressive for a very long time–since its foundingN.)

In May 1835 Payne moved to Pennsylvania, where he converted to Lutheranism.  In Pennsylvania he attended Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.  He had drop out because of poor eyesight, however.

In 1842 Payne joined the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.  There he provided leadership for the rest of his life.  The AME Church was divided between partisans of order and supporters of emotionalism; Payne sided with the former.  Also, Payne sought to improve the educational levels of the clergymen so they could lead the people  more effectively.  Toward this end he encouraged a liberal arts education for seminarians and believed that ministers must be literate.  And Payne’s reforms concerned church music, too.  He introduced trained choirs and instrumental music to AME congregations.

With the help of representatives from the Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939, a forerunner of the present-day United Methodist Church) Payne founded the Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1856.  The purpose of this institution was to promote classical education among African Americans.  Payne served as President from 1863-1877, making him the first African-American college president in the United States.

In 1865 Bishop Payne began to organize AME congregations in the former Confederacy.  Church growth was rapid, but not without complications.  Finding sufficient meeting spaces could be difficult, for example, as was finding enough ministers, given the requirements of literacy and education.

Payne opposed Henry McNeal Turner, a promiment AME bishop, with regard to the “Back to Africa” movement, which Turner, alienated from white-dominated society, supported.  Payne said, however, “To God alone can we look for protection” from racism and Jim Crow segregation.



Almighty God, you have raised up faithful bishops of your church,

including your servant Daniel Payne.

May the memory of his life be a source of joy for us and a bulwark of our faith,

so that we may serve and confess your name before the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35

Psalm 84

1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3;14-21

Matthew 24:42-47

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60

Feast of John Woolman (October 7)   2 comments

Above:  John Woolman

Image in the Public Domain



Quaker Abolitionist

John Woolman, born in Burlington, New Jersey, on October 19, 1720, was an itinerant Quaker preacher in the American colonies.

As a young man Woolman discovered a robin’s nest full of hatchlings and their mother.  He threw rocks at the mother robin, killing her.  Filled with remorse and realizing that the young birds could not live much longer without her, he removed the nest from the tree and killed the hatchlings quickly and out of  mercy.  This was a turning point in Woolman’s life, for thereafter he loved all living things.

As an adult Woolman opposed slavery actively, convincing many fellow Quakers to free their slaves.  He wore undyed clothing because the manufacture of dyes entailed slave labor.  Also, he paid slaves whenever a slaveholder extended him hospitality.  Woolman’s writings on slavery contributed to the increase of abolitionism among the Friends.

Being a Quaker, Woolman was a pacifist.  Hence he protested the French and Indian War, and refused to pay taxes used to support that conflict.

In 1772 Woolman traveled to England (in steerage, voluntarily, consistent with his creed of simplicity).  At London he convinced that Yearly Meeting to oppose slavery.  Shortly thereafter he died of smallpox at York.



A Prayer by John Woolman, from The Communion of Saints: Prayers of the Famous, edited by Horton Davies:

O Lord my God! The amazing horrors of darkness were gathered round me, and covered me all over, and I saw no way to go forth; I felt the depth and extent of the misery of my fellow-creatures separated from the Divine harmony, and it was heavier than I could bear, and I was crushed down under it; I lifted my hand, I stretched out my arm, but there was none to help me; I looked round about, and was amazed.  In the depths of misery, O Lord, I remembered that thou art omnipotent; that I had called thee Father; and I felt that I loved thee, and I was made quiet in my will, and I waited for deliverance from thee.  Thou had pity on me, when no person could help me; I saw that meekness under suffering was showed to us in the most affecting example of thy Son, and thou taught me to follow him, and I said, “Thy will, O Father, be done!”


Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.  Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.  Help us, like your servant John Woolman, to work for justice and peace among people and nations, to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Police Squad! (1982)   Leave a comment

Police Squad! (1982)

Leslie Nielsen as Detective Frank Drebin

Alan North as Captain Ed Hocken

Ed Williams as Mr. Olson

William Duell as Johnny

Peter Lupus as Norberg

The same brains behind Airplane! (1980) made this short-lived (six episodes) series.  Police Squad! was a satire on 1970s Quinn Martin crime series.  Leslie Nielsen played the square-jawed Detective Frank Drebin, who was usually oblivious to what happened around him.  Rex Hamilton played Abraham Lincoln (shooting back) in the opening credits.  Also, each week’s guest star died in the opening credits.  In addition, Ed Williams played Mr. Olson, the police lab scientist who conducted dubious experiments (such as fun things to do with discarded swimwear) and had unusual forensic science techniques (such as shooting bullets through video tapes of Barbara Walters interviews). Another fun feature of each episode was the fact that the title the announcer read did not match the title on screen.  And there were many visual gags (such as an Egyptian-style human form next to a chalk outline of where a body fell).   Each half-hour episode was a comedy gem without a laugh track.

But don’t take my word for it.  Consider the following dialogue from the first episode.  Ralph Twice, a man just laid off from a tire factory, cashed a check at a credit union.  Sally Decker, the cashier (in need of money to pay off her orthodontist) shot Ralph Twice then the teller, Jim Johnson.  Next she stole the money from Twice’s check and created a lie to tell the police.  She claimed that Twice had held up and shot the teller, and that she shot Twice in self-defense.

Frank: Do you feel up to any questions?

Sally: I’ll try.

Frank:  Where were you when all this happened?

Sally:  I was right here at my desk, working.

Frank:  When was the first time you noticed something was wrong?

Sally:  Well, when I first heard the shot, then, as I turned, Jim fell.

Ed:  He’s the teller, Frank.

Frank:  Jim Fell’s the teller?

Sally:  No, Jim Johnson.

Frank:  Who’s Jim Fell?

Ed:  He’s the auditor, Frank.

Sally:  He had the flu, so Jim filled in.

Frank:  Phil who?

Ed:  Phil Din.  He’s the night watchman.

Frank:  Now, wait a minute.  Let me get this straight.  Twice came in and shot the teller, and Jim Fell.

Sally:  No, he only shot the teller, Jim Johnson; Fell is ill.

Frank:  Okay, then.  After he shot the teller, you shot twice.

Sally:  No, I only shot once.

Ed:  Twice is the hold-up man.

Sally:  Then I guess I did shoot Twice.

Frank:  So now you’re changing your story?

Sally:  No, I shot Twice after Jim fell.

Frank:  You shot twice and Jim fell?

Sally:  Jim fell first then I shot Twice once.

Frank:  Who fired twice?

Sally:  Once.

Ed:  He’s the owner of the tire company, Frank.

Frank:  Okay, now Once is the name of the tire company, and he fired Twice.  Then Twice shot the teller once.

Sally:  Twice.

Frank:  And Jim fell, then you fired twice.

Sally:  Once.

Frank:  Okay.  Alright, that’ll be all for now, Ms. Decker.

Ed:  We’ll need you to make a formal statement down at the station.

Sally:  O, of course.

Frank: You’ve been very helpful.  We think we know how he did it.

Sally:  O, Howie couldn’t have done it.  He hasn’t been in for weeks.

Frank:  Well, thank you again, Ms. Decker.

(Frank walks toward Ed, and they move toward the exit.)

Frank:  Weeks?

Ed: Saul Weeks.  He’s the comptroller, Frank.

Fortunately, the series is available on DVD, as are the three Naked Gun movies based on this series.  The show is better, though.


Posted January 30, 2010 by neatnik2009 in Reviews

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Feast of Joanna, Mary, and Salome (August 3)   6 comments

Witnesses to the Resurrection

Identifying who certain biblical figures can prove difficult.  Relying on names is insufficient sometimes.  For example, the Apostle Bartholomew and the Apostle Nathanael were the same person.  And Simon Peter was Cephas.  These are relatively easy cases, for they pertain to Apostles.  Attempting to sort out the identities of the women who witnesses the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus is not as easy, however.

Mark 15:40 states that Salome (not the one who demanded the head of John the Baptist) and Mary Magdalene were present at the crucifixion.  Salome was probably the same person as Mary (of Clopas), wife of Zebedee, sister of Mary of Nazareth, and aunt of Jesus.  (See Matthew 27:56 and John 19:3.)  Zebedee was the father of the Apostle John and one of the two Apostles named James.  This made Jesus a cousin of two of his Apostles, assuming that Salome was Mary of Clopas.

The Gospel accounts say that the women  traveled to the tomb to annoint Jesus’ body with spices.  The Gospel of Mark, in its original version, ended abruptly, with an empty tomb:

And the women came out (of the empty tomb) and ran away from the tomb because they were frightened out of their wits; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Volume 7 of The Interpreter’s Bible (1951), pages 911-912, contains the following analysis of the women’s presence at the tomb:

These women who figure so notably in the resurrection stories portray powerfully the love that does not end with death.  They loved Jesus beyond the end.  They sought to pay the last reverence that could be paid.  But on their sad journey of faithfulness they ran into a surprise.  Faithfulness has a way of running into surprises.  When one goes faithfully on with duty, doing in times of darkness, disappointment, or defeat, what is often the little that can be done in devotion to Christ, one meets the unexpected.  The thing beyond one’s own power and wit happens.  New strength, the comfort of the fortified heart; the fresh awareness of a Burden-bearer, walking alongside; the way opened through seemingly insuperable obstacles–all these surprises of God have been encountered along the road of faithfulness.

Fear seems a natural reaction in that context.  I might have been scared, too, at least briefly.

There is some confusion and disagreement concerning the identity of Mary, Mother of James.  Mark 16:1 lists her alongside Salome and Mary Magdalene as present at Jesus’ tomb.  Matthew 28 identifies the women at the tomb as Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary.”  Luke just mentions Joanna, Mary the mother James, and Mary Magdalene.  Her identity rests with the question of who James, her son, was.  I can of at least three followers of Jesus (two Apostles and an early Bishop of Jerusalem) named James.  And there were other people named James at the time.  Mary the mother of James was faithful.  That is all that matters.

Luke 24:10 states that Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, and Mary Magdalene returned from the empty tomb and informed the eleven surviving Apostles that Jesus was alive.  The Apostles did not believe the women.

So, who was Joanna?  Luke 8:3 identifies her as the wife of Chuza, who was the steward of Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (reigned 4 B.C.E.-39 C.E.).  The Lukan Gospel states also that Joanna supported Jesus and the Apostles financially.  Joanna is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, too.

Were Joanna and Salome the same woman, just as Bartholomew and Nathanael were the same man?  Or, or were both present but not listed together?  I think it unlikely that Joanna and Salome were the same person, unless Chuza the steward was also Zebedee the fisherman.  Yet I think that it does not matter.  Let us not distract ourselves with trivia, and so miss the main point:  Today we celebrate the faithfulness of women who followed Jesus.

I conclude with an excerpt from Hidden Women of the Gospels, by Kathy Coffey (New York: Crossroad, 1997).  Read as Coffey writes in the voice of Joanna:

I could barely sleep, the morning’s errand looming over the night.  A monstrous boulder dominated my dreams, and I felt crushed beneath its weight, grazing my knuckles against its flinty surface.  That night followed the least restful, most nerve-wracking Sabbath I’d ever spent.  Any “holy” thoughts were lost in wondering about the dark tomb, the stench, the violence we might face the next morning.

For the tenth time, I checked my supplies:  Cloths and spices, balm for that broken body.  Would we have enough?  Would the guards stop us?  Would everyone who’d agreed to come show up?  Could we budge the stone?  Maybe I stewed over the little questions so I could suppress the larger one: how could a tomb contain him, his vibrant, pulsing life?

My friends looked exhausted too when we gathered in the greyness before dawn.  We’d all had a sleepless night and longed to begin the day, no matter how terrible it might be.  Something stronger than our questions drove us to the sad task ahead.  Maybe it was the memory of his arm hanging limply from the rock-hewn shelf, the bruises in his hand turning violet.  Maybe it was his insistence at our last meal together: remember me.  Maybe it was the look on his mother’s face when we wrapped the torn limbs into linen.  Each of us bore different memories, like shadowy companions along the road.

From a distance, I thought the stone loomed larger and darker than I’d remembered.  But as I got closer, I realized it wasn’t a boulder but a dark opening, a glaring hole.  Our pace quickened.  Was I hallucinating, or did glimmers of white flash inside?  I grasped Mary Magdalene’s hand for courage as we stepped into the cool tomb.  We barely had time to blink our eyes and adjust to the darkness before we heard a voice buoyant with song.

For the rest of my life I will carry those words, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”  Would every sadness unravel so swiftly?  Would our sharpest sadness unravel so swiftly?  Would our sharpest tragedies be robbed of their sting?  If someone told me then that paralytics could dance, trees could hoist themselves into the sea, and the dead could sing, I’d believe it.  My inner terrain has shifted somehow.

And the men who scoff at us?  They’ve just missed the best news they could ever hear, poor fools.


Blessed Lord, through your only-begotten Son you overcame death and by your Holy Spirit you call us to Him that we might believe and be saved.  Grant as the women came to his tomb on Easter morning and found joy where they expected sorrow, so we might also come to Christ Jesus, casting our cares upon Him and receiving forgiveness, peace, and the sure and certain hope of everlasting life through Him who reigns eternally with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Psalm 45:1-9

Mark 16:1-9 and Luke 24:1-12

Posted January 29, 2010 by neatnik2009 in August 3, Saints of the Bible

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Feast of St. Matteo Ricci (May 11)   3 comments

Image in the Public Domain


Roman Catholic Missionary to China

To say or write that we stand on the shoulders of giants has become cliched.  Yet often the sentiment is accurate.  Certainly it applies to many Chinese Christians and Christians of Chinese descent.  For, despite the best efforts of Chinese authorities from the 1700s forward to suppress Christianity, the faith has never died there.  And a giant of faith–St. Matteo Ricci–a saint on my Ecunemical Calendar–did much to establish the church there.

Ricci, born to Italian nobility in Macarata, studied law at Rome.  There, in 1571, our saint, against his father’s wishes, joined the Society of Jesus.  Ricci volunteered for missions in India in 1577.  He arrived in Goa the following year.

Ricci’s greatest work, however, was in China, where St. Francis Xavier had labored faithfully yet not successfully.  (As Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, God calls us to be faithful, not successful.)  Yet, in 1583, Ricci arrived at Chowkingfu (near Canton), from where he worked as a missionary for about six years.  From 1589 to 1595 our saint served as a missionary based at Chaochow.  His next stations were Nan-changfu (until 1598) then Nanjing then Beijing (fro 1601).

Ricci’s life as a missionary in China was challenging, for how does one adapt properly to a different culture?  How to dress was a major issue.  Our saint learned to adopt the wardrobe of a Confucian scholar.  He and his fellow Jesuits in China adapted to Chinese culture, becoming fluent in Mandarin, mastering Chinese classics,and speaking with Chinese scholars–working from the top of society down.  The fact that Ricci had prisms, clocks, and geographical, astronomical, and musical knowledge impressed many Chinese elites greatly, opening doors for his mission.

So, despite challenges, Ricci and his fellow Jesuits were able to make inroads at Beijing, with the emperor and the imperial court.  Jesuit knowledge of astronomy made members of that order useful to the Son of Heaven, whose duties included maintaining an accurate calendar showing the locations of heavenly bodies.  They were more skilled at that difficult task than were the people attempting it.  And the emperor, coming under Christian influence, did not convert, but some courtiers and members of the imperial family did.

The Jesuit mission in China, by working within Chinese culture–a tactic appropriate in the Middle Kingdom–opened up China to Catholic missionaries.  And the Jesuit mission created a cultural exchange.  Not only did Jesuits learn much about China, but Chinese elites gained knowledge about the West, learning Euclidian geometry and seeing an clavichord, for example.  Ricci’s detailed volume about Chinese geography expanded knowledge about that subject in Western Europe also.

The saint died at Beijing on May 11, 1610.

Unfortunately, political pressures sabotaged the Jesuit mission in China.  Had the Jesuits accommodated to Chinese culture too much?   Some Franciscans, Dominicans, and Augustinians thought so.  Their tactics of working among the common people instead alienated leading elements in China, making life more difficult for the Jesuits.  And Confucian opposition to Christianity, grounded in xenophobia, cultural misunderstanding, and doubts about major doctrines, encouraged the imperial suppression of Christianity which began in 1722.

I wonder what would have happened if more missionaries had done as Ricci did.






God of grace and glory, we praise you for your servant Saint Matteo Ricci,

who made the good news known in China.

Raise up, we pray, in every country, heralds of the gospel,

so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of your love,

and be drawn to worship you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Isaiah 62:1-7

Psalm 48

Romans 10:11-17

Luke 24:44-53

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 59


Feast of St. Marcellinus of Carthage (April 6)   Leave a comment

Above:  Roman Province of Africa (highlighted)

Image in the Public Domain




One of the more extended and unpleasant schisms in Western Christianity involved the Donatists.  At the end of the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, who retired in 305 C.E., the Imperium launched an empire-wide persecution of Christians.  Many Christians, faced with the prospect of imprisonment or painful death, renounced the faith and gave up Bibles for burning.  Others, however, went to prison or their deaths.  Some of the northern African survivors of the Diocletian persecution developed a holier-than-thou attitude with regard to the repentant apostates who sought to return to the fold.  The Roman Catholic Church forgave the penitents; the schismatic Donatists did not.  The Donatist sect survived until the 700s, when the Muslims, conquering northern Africa, extinguished that group.

The Donatists were moral perfectionists, the purest of the self-proclaimed pure.  The main problem with a purity test, of course, is that it affirms its author as pure and condemns as impure those with whom the author disagrees.  A purity test is inherently exclusionary.  And how many among us are pure enough to pass such a test?  Fortunately, God shows mercy to penitents.  We who claim to follow God should emulate that example.

Marcellinus was a a friend of St. Augustine of Hippo, the great bishop and theologian.  He was also the Secretary of State of the Western Roman Empire during the reign of the Emperor Honorius, who held that office 395-423.  Marcellinus, in his imperial capacity, granted the Donatists freedom of worship in 409.  Two years later, when the Donatists had become powerful and begun to oppress Roman Catholics, the latter petitioned Honorius for protection from the former.  The Emperor sent Marcellinus to preside over a conference at Carthage.  The Secretary of State declared the Donatists heretics and ordered them to surrender their buildings to Roman Catholic bishops and priests.  The Western Roman Army executed this order brutally.

Two years later, in 413, some Donatists, blaming Marcellinus for army brutality, accused the Secretary of State and his brother, Apringus, who had also been active in the Donatist matter in 411, of having been complicit in a recent rebellion against the Emperor.  Heraclion, an African count, had led an insurrection against Honorius in the wake of Alaric’s 410 Sack of Rome.  The Western Roman Army had suppressed the revolt and executed Heraclion.  General Marcius, a Donatist sympathizer who had suppressed the recent rebellion, ordered the arrest and imprisonment of Marcellinus and Apringus.  Their deaths on the false charge constituted judicial murder.


Gracious God, in every age you have sent men and women who have given their lives in witness to your love and truth.  Inspire us with the memory of St. Marcellinus, whose faithfulness led to the way of the cross, and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives to your Son’s victory over sin and death, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.   Amen.

Ezekiel 20:40-42

Psalm 5

Revelation 6:9-11

Mark 8:34-38

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 59

Feast of St. Maria Skobtsova (March 31)   2 comments

Above:  Icon of St. Maria Skobtsova

Image in the Public Domain



Orthodox Poet, Nun, Martyr, and Resister of the Nazis

Also known as Saint Maria of Paris

Elizabeta Pilenko came from an aristocratic family in Latvia, Russian Empire, in 1891.  Raised Christian, she declared her atheism during adolescence, after her father died.  In 1906 Elizabeta moved with mother to St. Petersburg, where the young woman entered radical intellectual circles and married her first husband.  The marriage was brief, ending in divorce.  Elizabeta returned to Christianity after the end of this union.

In 1918, after the Bolshevik Revolution, Elizabeta became Deputy Mayor of Anapa, in south Russia.  When the White Russian Army occupied the town, prompting the mayor to flee, Elizabeta became Mayor.  Almost immediately she faced charges of being a Bolshevik.  The trial resulted in an acquittal, and the judge, Daniel Skobtsova, became her second husband.    The Skobtsovas (including a young daughter, Gaiana) fled Russia a few years later and arrived in Paris in 1923.  By that time new additions to the family included a son, Yuri, and a second daughter, Anastasia.  Elizabeta began to study theology and to devote herself to social work.  Three years later Anastasia died of influenza, Gaiana was studying at a Belgian boarding school, and the marriage crumbled.  Daniel kept custody of Yuri, and Elizabeta worked with the needy people of Paris.

In 1932, after the Orthodox Church granted an ecclesiastical divorce, Elizabeta became a nun, took the name Maria, lived in a rented house open for public service and intellectual and theological discussion, and continued her work among the poor.  In 1940, after the Nazis occupied France, Mother Maria helped shelter Jews and aided the flight of others to safety.  Her conspirators in these righteous deeds included Sophia (her mother), Yuri (her son), and Father Dimitri Klepinin (the chaplain of her house).  Eventually Gestapo agents arrested them.  Yuri and Father Dmitri died at the Dora concentration camp.  Mother Maria died on March 31, 1945, when she volunteered to take the place of a Jewish woman bound for a gas chamber at the Ravesnbruck concentration camp.

Sometimes the demands of faith require one to die for another human being.  I think also of St. Maximilian Kolbe (August 14), a Roman Catholic priest who sheltered Jews and took the place of an otherwise doomed Jew, too.  And I ponder the example of Jonathan Myrick Daniels (also August 14), an Episcopal seminarian who placed his body in the path of a bullet meant for an African-American girl in 1965 Alabama.  St. Maria Skobtsova understood the relationship between theology and life.  Her theology demanded that she care for those who needed what she had to offer.  At the end she offered her life.  There is no greater love than that.

Maria, her chaplain, and her son are now saints in the Orthodox Church.



Taking Up the Cross, by St. Maria:

We must seek authentic and profound religious bases in order to understand and justify our yearning for man, our love of man, our path among our brothers, among people.

And warnings sound from two different sides. On one side, the humanistic world, even as it accepts the foundations of Christian morality in inter-human relations, simply does not need any further deepening, any justification that does not come from itself. This world keeps within three dimensions, and with those three dimensions it exhausts the whole of existence. On the other side, the world connected with the Church also warns us: often the very theme of man seems something secondary to it, something that removes us from the one primary thing, from an authentic communion with God. For this world, Christianity is this relation to God. The rest is christianizing or christianification.

We must be deaf to these two warnings. We must not only suppose, we must know that the first of them, coming from a world deprived of God, destroys the very idea of man, who is nothing if he is not the image of God, while the second destroys the idea of the Church, which is nothing if it does not imply the individual human being within it, as well as the whole of mankind.

We must not only be deaf to these warnings, we must be convinced that the question of an authentic and profound religious attitude toward man is precisely the meeting point of all questions of the Christian and the godless world, and that even this godless world is waiting for a word from Christianity, the only word capable of healing and restoring all, and perhaps sometimes even of raising what is dead.

But at the same time, perhaps for centuries now, the Christian soul has been suffering from a sort of mystical Protestantism. Only the combination of two words carries full weight for it: God and I, God and my soul, and my path, and my salvation. For the modern Christian soul it is easier and more natural to say “My Father” than “Our Father,” “deliver me from the evil one,” “give me this day my daily bread,” and so on.

And on these paths of the solitary soul striving toward God, it seems that everything has been gone through, all roads have been measured, all possible dangers have been accounted for, the depths of all abysses are known. It is easy to find a guide here, be it the ancient authors of ascetic books, or the modern followers of ancient ascetic traditions, who are imbued with their teachings.

But there is also a path that seeks a genuinely religious relation to people, that does not want either a humanistic simplification of human relations or an ascetic disdain of them.

Before speaking of this path, we must understand what that part of man’s religious life which is exhausted by the words “God and my soul” is based on in its mystical depths.

If we decide responsibly and seriously to make the Gospel truth the standard for our human souls, we will have no doubts about how to act in any particular case of our lives: we should renounce everything we have, take up our cross, and follow Him. The only thing Christ leaves us is the path that leads after Him, and the cross which we bear on our shoulders, imitating His bearing of the cross to Golgotha.

It can be generally affirmed that Christ calls us to imitate Him. That is the exhaustive meaning of all Christian morality. And however differently various peoples in various ages understand the meaning of this imitation, all ascetic teachings in Christianity finally boil down to it. Desert dwellers imitate Christ’s forty-day sojourn in the desert. Fasters fast because He fasted. Following His example, the prayerful pray, virgins observe purity, and so on. It is not by chance that Thomas à Kempis entitled his book The Imitation of Christ; it is a universal precept of Christian morality, the common title, as it were, of all Christian asceticism.

I will not try to characterize here the different directions this imitation has taken, and its occasional deviations, perhaps, from what determines the path of the Son of Man in the Gospel. There are as many different interpretations as there are people, and deviations are inevitable, because the human soul is sick with sin and deathly weakness.

What matters is something else. What matters is that in all these various paths Christ Himself made legitimate this solitary standing of the human soul before God, this rejection of all the rest – that is, of the whole world: father and mother, as the Gospel precisely puts it, and not only the living who are close to us, but also the recently dead – everything, in short. Naked, solitary, freed of everything, the soul sees only His image before it, takes the cross on its shoulders, following His example, and goes after him to accept its own dawnless night of Gethsemane, its own terrible Golgotha, and through it to bear its faith in the Resurrection into the undeclining joy of Easter.

Here it indeed seems that everything is exhausted by the words “God and my soul.” All the rest is what He called me to renounce, and so there is nothing else: God – and my soul – and nothing.

No, not quite nothing. The human soul does not stand empty-handed before God. The fullness is this: God – and my soul – and the cross that it takes up. There is also the cross.

The meaning and significance of the cross are inexhaustible. The cross of Christ is the eternal tree of life, the invincible force, the union of heaven and earth, the instrument of a shameful death. But what is the cross in our path of the imitation of Christ; how should our crosses resemble the one cross of the Son of Man? For even on Golgotha there stood not one but three crosses: the cross of the God-man and the crosses of the two thieves. Are these two crosses not symbols, as it were, of all human crosses, and does it not depend on us which one we choose? For us the way of the cross is unavoidable in any case, we can only choose to freely follow either the way of the blaspheming thief and perish, or the way of the one who called upon Christ and be with Him today in paradise. For a certain length of time, the thief who chose perdition shared the destiny of the Son of Man. He was condemned and nailed to a cross in the same way; he suffered torment in the same way. But that does not mean that his cross was the imitation of Christ’s cross, that his path led him in the footsteps of Christ.

What is most essential, most determining in the image of the cross is the necessity of freely and voluntarily accepting it and taking it up. Christ freely, voluntarily took upon Himself the sins of the world, and raised them up on the cross, and thereby redeemed them and defeated hell and death. To accept the endeavor and the responsibility voluntarily, to freely crucify your sins – that is the meaning of the cross, when we speak of bearing it on our human paths. Freedom is the inseparable sister of responsibility. The cross is this freely accepted responsibility, clear-sighted and sober.

In taking the cross on his shoulders, man renounces everything – and that means that he ceases to be part of this whole natural world. He ceases to submit to its natural laws, which free the human soul from responsibility. Natural laws not only free one from responsibility, they also deprive one of freedom. Indeed, what sort of responsibility is it, if I act as the invincible laws of my nature dictate, and where is the freedom, if I am entirely under the law?

And so the Son of Man showed his brothers in the flesh a supra-natural – and in this sense not a human but a God-manly – path of freedom and responsibility. He told them that the image of God in them also makes them into God-men and calls them to be deified, to indeed become Sons of God, freely and responsibly taking their crosses on their shoulders.
The free path to Golgotha – that is the true imitation of Christ.

This would seem to exhaust all the possibilities of the Christian soul, and thus the formula “God and my soul” indeed embraces the whole world. All the rest that was renounced on the way appears only as a sort of obstacle adding weight to my cross. And heavy as it may be, whatever human sufferings it may place on my shoulders, it is all the same my cross, which determines my personal way to God, my personal following in the footsteps of Christ. My illness, my grief, my loss of dear ones, my relations to people, to my vocation, to my work – these are details of my path, not ends in themselves, but a sort of grindstone on which my soul is sharpened, certain – perhaps sometimes burdensome – exercises for my soul, the particularities of my personal path.

If that is so, it certainly settles the question. It can only be endlessly varied, depending on the individual particularities of epochs, cultures, and separate persons. But essentially everything is clear. God and my soul, bearing its cross. In this an enormous spiritual freedom, activity, and responsibility are confirmed. And that is all.

I think it is Protestant mysticism that should follow such a path most consistently. Moreover, in so far as the world now lives the mystical life, it is for the most part infected by this isolating and individualistic Protestant mysticism. In it there is, of course, no place for the Church, for the principle of sobornost’, for the God-manly perception of the whole Christian process. There are simply millions of people born into the world, some of whom hear Christ’s call to renounce everything, take up their cross, and follow Him, and, as far as their strength, their faith, their personal endeavor allow, they answer that call. They are saved by it, they meet Christ, as if merging their life with His. All the rest is a sort of humanistic afterthought, a sort of adjusting of these basic Christian principles to those areas of life that lie outside them. In short, some sort of christianification, not bad in essence, but deprived of all true mystical roots, and therefore not inevitably necessary.

The cross of Golgotha is the cross of the Son of Man, the crosses of the thieves and our personal crosses are precisely personal, and as an immense forest of these personal crosses we are moving along the paths to the Kingdom of Heaven. And that is all.


A poem by St. Maria, concerning persecution of the Jews:

Two triangles, a star,
The shield of King David, our forefather.
This is election, not offense.
The great path and not an evil.
Once more in a term fulfilled,
Once more roars the trumpet of the end;
And the fate of a great people
Once more is by the prophet proclaimed.
Thou art persecuted again, O Israel,
But what can human malice mean to thee,
who have heard the thunder from Sinai?


Gracious God, in every age you have sent men and women who have given their lives in witness to your love and truth.  Inspire us with the memory of St. Maria Skobtsova, whose faithfulness led to the way of the cross, and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives to your Son’s victory over sin and death, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.   Amen.

Ezekiel 20:40-42

Psalm 5

Revelation 6:9-11

Mark 8:34-38


Revised on December 24, 2016


Feast of Ernest Trice Thompson (March 31)   4 comments

The Seal of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (1861-1983)

“Lux Lucet in Tenebris” = “The light shines in the darkness.”

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor



U.S. Presbyterian Minister and Renewer of the Church

Ernest Trice Thompson was one of the most important Southern Presbyterian clergymen of the Twentieth Century.  A seminary professor for 42 years, he helped transform the Presbyterian Church in the United States, once the Southern Presbyterian Church mired in racism and the cult of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, into a moderate body which addressed racism and merged with The United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Thompson entered the world in Texarcana, Texas, in 1895.  A prominent role in the Southern Presbyterian denomination came naturally, for his father was a Moderator of the General Assembly.    Thompson graduated from Hampden-Sydney College, Union Theological Seminary of Virginia, and Columbia University.  He entered the Presbyterian ordained ministry and served as a chaplain during World War I.

Thompson spent most of his career at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, where he taught for 42 years as Professor of the Bible then of Church History.  While at UTS served as moderator of his presbytery (in 1931), synod (the Synod of Virginia, in 1940), and President of the Virginia Council of Churches (1944-1946).  During his tenure Thompson faced also a heresy trial in the 1930s, for he favored higher biblical criticism.  The trial resulted in acquittal, as you might have guessed, O perceptive reader.

In 1944 Thompson founded The Presbyterian Outlook, a magazine devoted to civil rights, higher biblical criticism, and and advocacy for ecumenism.  All these causes were controversial in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS) during much of the Twentieth Century.  The PCUS joined the Federal Council of Churches (a predecessor of the National Council of Churches) then withdrew then debated whether to rejoin it.  (The denomination wound up a longterm member of the National Council.)   Also, the PCUS, founded as the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America, spent its early years using the Bible to defend slavery and treating its African-American members paternalistically; it was a white man’s denomination.  The Spirituality of the Church, a doctrine which stated that social and political matters were not concerns of the church, provided convenient cover for justifying slavery, Jim Crow laws, and racism–or for evading these questions of social injustice.

Yet the church began to change in the 1930s.  The 1934 General Assembly created a Committee on Social and Moral Reform, which issued its first report the following year.  Thompson served on this committee, which defined social and moral concerns more broadly than the usual suspects:  drinking, gambling, fornicating, and violating the Sabbath day.  They added political, racial, and economic issues.  The 1935 report said in part:

In other words, the Church cannot rest its efforts until all men, in all nations, are seeking to follow Christ, not only in their individual lives, but also in their corporate lives, and to build their economic life, their political life and their international life, as well as their individual lives on the teachings of Jesus.  It cannot rest until Jesus is Lord of all men, and until He is also Lord of all life.

In 1936 the committee issued its second report.  It condemned–no surprise here–gambling and violating the Sabbath day–and “the Threat of War,” “the Need of Economic Justice,” and “the Race Problem.”  The committee stated that since Church should condemn economic injustice because the Bible does.  (And it does–many times in both Testaments.)  Regarding war, the committee called for peace, human brotherhood, and mutual understanding.  And the committee condemned lynchings, supported human brotherhood, and encouraged local improvement of race relations.

One D. P. McGeachy, a Special Correspondent for The Christian Century, wrote of the 1936 General Assembly for that magazine.  He noted that the section on race and racism omitted a clause declaring the relationship between discrimination and certain crimes.  McGeachy wrote:

We are not ready to admit that the whites are in control.  One wonders whether we would insist that we are the helpless slaves of the blacks!  Nevertheless this was and is a great paper.  Its adoption, or even its consideration, would have been impossible a few years ago.  Slowly we are coming to realize that a man’s religion has to do with his actual life, and that it is not some unrelated theory with no ethical content.

By the early 1940s the changes in the denomination had caused such alarm in certain quarters that The Presbyterian Journal (the opposite number of the The Presbyterian Outlook) began publication.  The Journal midwifed the birth of the Presbyterian Church in America in 1973.  For more details consult Religion & Race: Southern Presbyterians, 1946-1983, by Joel L. Alvis, Jr.  (Aside:  I was planning to write my doctoral dissertation on the Journal‘s role from 1942 to 1973, but my program and proposed dissertation met an unpleasant fate at The University of Georgia’s Department of History.)

Thompson became more prominent in the denomination as time passed.  He served as Moderator of the General Assembly in 1959-1960, for example.  His prominence marked the liberalization of the Southern Presbyterian Church.  And Thompson left his mark in many places.  He edited The Presbyterian Outlook for many years, wrote weekly Sunday School lessons, and authored much of the Book of Church Order.

The Southern Presbyterian denomination began to address issues of civil rights seriously during World War II.  It became the first church body to support the 1954 Brown decision, which declared forced segregation in public schools unconstitutional and inherently unequal.  Thompson was on the vanguard of this movement in the PCUS.  At the Outlook he contradicted segregationist interpretations of the Bible.  (The Presbyterian Journal published such segregationist interpretations.)  In 1965 Thompson marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., at Selma, Alabama.  Keep these facts in mind as you read the following paragraph from Thompson’s 1950 book, The Changing South and the Presbyterian Church in the United States:

The movement of the Negroes in our Southern cities may furnish us the opportunity which we seek.  The author knows one Southern city where the Negroes who have been more fortunate economically are moving in rather large numbers into an area formerly occupied by the whites.  There is no Negro church in this large residential neighborhood and none that can conveniently minister unto it.  Many of the leaders of this community, it has been ascertained, would welcome and support a Presbyterian church.  It has not yet become clear whether the white Presbyterians are ready to support such a venture.

Thompson thought the Spirituality of the Church too narrow a doctrine.  An excerpt from Through the Ages: A History of the Christian Church (1965) follows:

For a generation now the Presbyterian Church in the United States has officially accepted the idea that the gospel does have implications for the whole of life.  The task of the present generation will be able to find ways in which this concept can be accepted by the church membership as a whole, particularly our lay people, the People of God, who alone can translate the principle into practical reality.  Only so can we be true to our Calvinistic, and also our Christian, heritage.  And so can we hope, in a measure, to fulfill our true spiritual mission.

One gauge of the extent of that change in official priorities is A Brief Statement of Belief (1962), which superceded a 1913 document.  The sin-related section of the 1913 statement dealt solely with individual sins.  Contrast that with the 1962 paragraph on Total Depravity:

Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us more andmore with fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive power, so that even men of good will are unconsciously and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

Thompson wrote over 20 books.  A partial list follows:

  1. Presbyterian Missions in the Southern United States (1934);
  2. Changing Emphases in American Preaching (1943);
  3. One World, One Lord: Studies from The Gospel of Matthew (1947);
  4. The Changing South and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (1950);
  5. You Shall Be My Witnesses: Studies in the Acts of the Apostles (1953);
  6. The Gospel According to Mark and its Meaning for Today (1954);
  7. Jesus and Citizenship (1956);
  8. Meeting God Through the Beatitudes (1958);
  9. Tomorrow’s Church, Tomorrow’s World (1960);
  10. The Spirituality of the Church: A Distinctive Doctrine of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (1961);
  11. Presbyterians in the South (3 volumes, 1963-1972), an essential work in the field of Southern Presbyterian history;
  12. The Sermon on the Mount and Its Meaning for Today (1964);
  13. Through the Ages: A History of the Christian Church (1965);
  14. Plenty and Want: The Responsibility of the Church (1966);
  15. The Board of National Ministries: Its History (1973); and
  16. The Greatness of of Jesus: Words of Hope for Happy, Healthy Living (1973)

Thompson supported the ordination of women also.  The Southern Presbyterian General Assembly approved this in 1964.

Thompson died on March 29, 1985, at 90 years of age.

Every year The Presbyterian Outlook announces the winner of the Ernest Trice Thompson Award for excellence in education, church history, journalism, or social justice.



Almighty God, we praise you for your servant Ernest Trice Thompson, through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.  Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit, whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:35-45

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60


Revised on December 31, 2016


Feast of Sts. Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos (February 13)   14 comments

Above:  Sts. Aquila and Priscilla

Image in the Public Domain



Coworkers of the Apostle Paul

Aquila and Priscilla (a.k.a. Prisca) were husband and wife.  Aquila was from Pontus.  He and Priscilla moved from Rome when the Emperor Claudius I ordered all Jews to leave the city.  So Aquila and Priscilla settled in Corinth, where they supported themselves by making tents.  When Paul came to Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla hosted him in their home for 18 months.

The Pauline Epistles reveal that Paul held the couple in high regard.  In Romans 16:3 (New Revised Standard Version) he wrote:

Greek Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.

Also, consider 1 Corinthians 16:19 (New Revised Standard Version):

Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, great you warmly in the Lord.

When Paul left Corinth for Syria, Priscilla and Aquila accompanied him as far as Ephesus.  There they encountered Apollos, a Jewish Christian from Alexandria, Egypt.  Apollos, who was preaching at Ephesus, had not heard of the Holy Spirit until Priscilla and Aquila informed him thereof.  Acts 18:24 provides an account of this.  By Acts 19:1 Apollos, Priscilla,and Aquila were in Corinth.

The name Apollos appears in Pauline Epistles.  In 1 Corinthians, for example, Paul mentions that a faction of the congregation in Corinth claims loyalty to Apollos.  There was no mention of what Apollos thought of this, although one may presume safely that he did not approve of this faction.)  And, in 1 Corinthians 16:12, Paul writes that Apollos is not in Corinth, and will return to that city “when he has the opportunity.”

Reading the Pauline Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles for clues to who certain people were can yield only sketchy information.  This is a problem with which historians of the ancient world are well acquainted, for their documentation can be scarce, too.  It is just that we modern Christians revere the work of Paul.  This is especially true if we are Gentiles.  Yet Paul did not work alone.  Let us honor his coworkers, also.



God of grace and might, we praise you for your servants Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos, to whom you gave gifts to make the good news known.  Raise up, we pray, in every country, evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Acts 18:1-4 and 18-28

Psalm 67

Matthew 12:15-21

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006)



Posted January 22, 2010 by neatnik2009 in February 13, Saints of the Bible

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