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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Thursday, 30 July 2015

JUSTIN WELBY OF CANTERBURY, POPE FRANCIS, N.T. WRIGHT, FATHER STEPHEN FREEMAN, AND FATHER ROBERT BARRON: EVANGELISATION


ARCHBISHOP JUSTIN WELBY
ON EVANGELISATION
The Archbishop of Canterbury has set out his vision for a Church in which every Christian shares "the revolutionary love" of Jesus Christ. 

"The best decision anyone can ever make is to be a follower of Jesus Christ." Archbishop Justin Welby, Lambeth Palace, 5 March 2015. (Photo: Lambeth Palace) 
The Archbishop was giving the inaugural Lambeth Lecture, a new series of talks which will feature guest speakers addressing key issues for the Church. 

 The Archbishop of Canterbury's Lambeth Lecture 
Lambeth Palace, 4th March 2015 

I want to start by saying just two simple sentences about the church. First, the church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ.

Second, the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything else is decoration. Some of it may be very necessary, useful, or wonderful decoration – but it’s decoration.

When I talk about making disciples as we go through, of course I’m not only talking about words; I’m also talking about actions, and we’ll come back to that in a little while.

The best decision anyone can ever make, at any point in life, in any circumstances, whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever they are, is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. There is no better decision for a human being in this life, any human being.

When I started this role a couple of years ago, after some prayer and thought and reflection, three priorities, in the period between the announcement and when I got going as it were, lodged themselves in my mind. These were the three. First of all, prayer and the renewal of the Religious life. And my guess is that there were nods of assent and interest but hardly surprise. 

At the news that reconciliation was my second priority there was probably mild interest and murmurs of approval that this was a Good Thing, but that someone was going to have their work cut out.

When I introduced my third priority as evangelism and witness I imagine some, maybe a minority, were high-fiving, while others stopped and stared into space with a look of horror, thinking, ‘Oh golly, here we go again’. I won’t ask you which group you fall into.

This evening it’s that priority that I want to talk about. To make the case for it not just a priority for any old spare Archbishop with not enough to do; but as the priority of the church of Jesus Christ, something which is testified to in the first of the Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Church: ‘To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.’

I’ll try to define my terms, then set this in the context of what the Church is called to, and from there I hope to approach the scope and motives of evangelism, before addressing some of practice.

I will then seek to root this in the life and witness of the local church and most specifically in the life and witness of every Christian – not only the professionals.

This is our particular passion, priority and focus. In fact all we endeavour to do is done with the intention that we serve and enable the lives of every follower of Jesus to be faithful witnesses to the transforming love of God.

I am under no illusion as to the seismic shift that needs to take place in order for this to happen. But a seismic shift is what we need. For this country will not know of the revolutionary love of Christ by church structures or clergy, but by the witness of every single Christian.

Of course there were others words available to avoid the dreaded ‘e’ word of evangelism. Why not talk of ‘mission’? It’s so much more inclusive and encompassing, and something we are all, me included, passionate about. That was my reason for steering away from it.

I have nothing against mission – quite the reverse: the recent renewal of the Church’s appropriation of the term has been heartening. But such is the widespread use of the term that my sense of this talk being committed to mission would be to say that I was committed to everything.

No, I wanted the call to be focussed on the specific proclamation of the Good News. What does it look like for the Church in this country to find its voice in these days?

There is obviously a huge amount that has been written about the content of the Good News, the Gospel, and there’s a good amount more that will be. We will never plumb the depths of the wonder of the Gospel; there will always be more to be said.

I am not going to enter that debate, apart from saying that the Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ. It’s the announcement of a person in history, and what God has done in this one life for everyone who has ever lived and ever will live.

I wonder if I might use a painting to represent the Gospel. The painting is The Calling of Saint Matthew and was painted by Caravaggio in around 1599. Art historian Sir Kenneth Clark considered it the piece of art that changed the history of painting:



It’s a representation of the scene in Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 9) when Jesus calls the tax collector Matthew to follow him. The painting shows Matthew in the middle surrounded by four colleagues.

Notice the finery of those around the table in contrast to Jesus and Peter’s clothing and bare feet on the right. Two of the tax collectors, at the far left of the picture, do not even look up, so intent are they on counting their money.

Between these five men and Jesus you will notice a barrier of darkness. All the light has come in with Jesus – the figure on the far right of the picture – as you will notice that from him, and not the window in which we see the cross, the light is coming.

Evangelism is the Good News of the coming of Jesus Christ into this dark world. And it is news not simply because without this light we are in the dark, but also because it comes to us unwarranted, unsought, without our initiation.

Jesus comes to us. This is the free work of God to bring light into the darkness. It’s not technique, it’s not manipulation, it’s not organisation, it’s not systems… it’s God. It’s raw God.

The men in the picture were not looking for Jesus; He came to them and transformed their world. In fact He caused great disruption. Jesus is the light of every person; He comes to all and for all. Apart from him there is only darkness. He comes not just to those who might seek him, or to those who have an interest in that kind of thing.

Caravaggio brings the drama into the painting through the outstretched hand of Jesus. This hand singles out Matthew. It’s a definite choosing – a particular invitation. Jesus comes and reaches out to each of us.

And those who first saw the painting could be in no doubt as to what Caravaggio was implying – notice the similarity between the hand of Jesus and the hands in his scene from the roof of the Sistine chapel.

The hand of Jesus is both the hand of the second true Adam and of God. The Gospel is the call of God himself through the true man Jesus Christ. It is an act of creation, and recreation; a bringing into being, a life-giving calling, which is only possible because of the initiative of God.

We do not bring about this alteration, but it has been accomplished – it is done – apart from us, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We did not contribute to it; but we are alive because of it.

We all know that. But it is as we get hold of that truth that we are impelled outwards into the world. Because it’s as that truth grabs us that we remember that this isn’t us, it’s God. This is no survival strategy for the Church. It’s God. It’s raw God.

Matthew clearly can’t quite believe that this invitation and command are addressed to him. Could he be so lucky? Surely there has been some mistake. You can see him thinking that – ‘Me? What, me? You’re kidding. Wrong guy. There’s another Matthew down the road.’ What on earth could he have done to have warranted this action of God on his behalf?



Pope Francis said: "That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew. It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze.”

Does that ring bells with people? That beautiful, wonderful moment when you realise that Jesus looks on you, on me, and doesn’t hate, doesn’t despise, is not indifferent, but utterly compelled and compelling in love, says ‘follow me’.

As a Christian it is my deepest conviction that in Jesus Christ, God comes to call every one He has made. Everyone has been summoned in Jesus Christ. For in Jesus Christ, God has poured out his love and his grace, his forgiveness and his mercy, his faithfulness. God would not be doing this without you or I.

Evangelism is then a joyful proclamation of what has happened. It’s the news of Jesus Christ. His life as the light breaking into this dark world for us. His death as the fount of our redemption. His resurrection as the hope of all. This news must be told, or how will people know?

We live in a world where hope is in increasingly short supply. Cynicism about politics is the opposite of hope.  Fear is the opposite of hope. Where there is no hope we turn on each other to give ourselves security – temporarily, briefly. When we’re filled with hope, all things become manageable, even the greatest fears. Who can keep quiet about such a fact?

In 1525 William Tyndale, rumoured at one point to have been locked up by one of my predecessors in a tower at the top there, said this: ‘Euangelio (that we call gospel) is a greke word, and signifyth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a mannes hert glad, and maketh hym synge, daunce, and leepe for joye.’

But before I join Peter and continue Jesus’ ministry of calling everyone to follow, I must be one myself who has heard the call. I am a recipient of this light that has broken into my darkness. It is as one who has received that I offer this gift.

This requires my constant, daily conversion. One of the great phrases of Ignatian spirituality is the call to daily conversion. To receive daily, as Cyprian termed it, ‘one great gulp of grace’.

For me, grace is the most beautiful word in the English language. It is so evocative of all. The fact that the Gospel comes afresh to me as a sinner and astounds me with the news that I am loved, accepted, forgiven, redeemed and chosen in Jesus Christ.

My spiritual director came here on Tuesday, an extraordinary Swiss monk with whom I speak from time to time, and he celebrated Mass down in the Crypt Chapel. It was a wonderful moment when those among us who are not Catholics received a blessing and the Catholics received the Eucharist – the opposite to what has been the normal pattern here. And we felt that pain of the Church’s separation.

And he spoke and he said: “We can do nothing except by grace.” It’s his great phrase: “C’est tout grâce.” It is all grace.

Each day the Gospel comes afresh to me as a sinner and astounds me with the news that I am loved, accepted, forgiven, redeemed and chosen in Jesus.

We must open ourselves and the Church to the continual conversion which the Spirit works in us. The Church must continually be converted from the reduction of the Gospel into its fullness.

We cannot leave things as they are, but we experienced grace best by bowing before it and allowing it, every time, to begin with us as though it were for the first time. Even tonight I must receive His grace again.

And if every Christian knew only to receive His grace afresh each day, what transformation would there be? That we can do.

Having received the goodness of God in Jesus Christ it obviously becomes a priority for us as his Church to let others know of what God has done for them.

Of course the church is called to orientate everything around God – that is called worship. But because of who this God is, we are also compelled to be for others the Good News that made this community and instructs this community.

While the Church always exists in time and space, in a locality with particular people, in a particular culture, it is this particular Church. Wonderfully this is God’s work, done by His Spirit. And God initiates this in every church, in every place.

I was, as you might know, Bishop of Durham for a few minutes. My predecessor was Tom Wright. He has the most helpful analogy as to the work of the Church. Imagine a new Shakespeare play was discovered, but it only had four acts and the last one was missing.

What would we do? It wouldn’t simply be discarded. We would call on the greatest directors and producers, the finest actors, to immerse themselves in the first four acts and to engage with the plot and development, and to work together on what the fifth act might be.

This is the position of the Church. We have the first four acts, we have the plot and characters, and now it’s over to us.

But we are not left alone. The director, the artistic producer, the prompt and writer with us is the Holy Spirit. It’s the Spirit that makes the Church, every day, afresh.

In this fifth act, what does the Spirit compel us to do? To invite people to become, like ourselves, participants in the drama of God.

Karl Barth, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century said this: ‘No other task is so urgent as that of spreading the news on earth and making it known.’

It is God’s initiative. We cannot as his Church proclaim his Good News in our own strength or inspiration. The Spirit goes before us, preparing the ground for the seed. Of course the wine of the Spirit takes the form of the wineskin, and so we as a Church must do the job of clearing ground of thistles and weeds, or rocks and trodden-down paths. But only the Spirit makes it possible.

A few years ago I heard it reported that it was the practice in large supermarkets to pump through the air conditioning system the smells from the bakery. So on entering the shop we, the unsuspecting public, would be met by the aroma of freshly baked bread, and we would therefore desire bread.

It seems to me this is a rather unsophisticated way of interpreting one of the crucial drivers of the New Testament when it comes to evangelism: it’s the work of the Spirit, the ‘go-between God’ [Taylor], to prepare the hearts, desires, minds and senses of people that they might receive the message of God. It’s why we pray – that God would prepare.

Simon Tugwell, a Roman Catholic charismatic theologian was one of those who coined the title of ‘the speech-giving Spirit’ for the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enables the joyful proclamation of the Church, in the telling of the Good News of Jesus Christ – news that is literally ‘new’ to people.

Tugwell traced the early Christian tradition that linked salvation to the opening of the mouth by the Holy Spirit. Again the New Testament sets this out: it’s the Spirit that calls us to say “Abba father” and “Jesus is Lord”. But why do this?

We know how important motives are in detail and the big picture. Gandhi said: “The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.”

How often have we looked at the Church and wondered what they’re really up to? Or we’re really up to? Or I’m really up to?  

Yet the Church gets so many reputations for mixed motivation.

Talleyrand, the great French diplomat, who managed to work for the French royal family until the Revolution in 1789, to work for the Revolutionaries, to work for Napoleon, and to come back to working for the French royal family in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, died at the Congress of Vienna. And when Metternich, the Austrian Chancellor, was so clever at his manoeuvring that he was told that Talleyrand had died he said: ‘Hmm, what does he mean by that?” [laughter]

Our motive driving this priority for the Church is not, not, not – never, never, never – that numbers are looking fairly low and the future is looking fairly bleak. Never. This is not a survival strategy.

This is not to say I am in any way nonchalant about the seismic challenge facing the church. But evangelism is not a growth strategy.

Of course we want to see full churches. But this is not anxiety for an institution, or worst still self-survival.

Martin Luther’s definition of sin as a heart curved in on itself is instructive for us here. The Church which is concerned primarily for its own life or survival, a church that is curved in on itself, is signing its own death warrant.

As the wonderful missiologist Lesslie Newbigin said: ‘A church that exists only for itself and its own enlargement is a witness against the gospel.’ One could say both a lack of action and too much frantic action thinly mask a lack of confidence in the sufficiency of God.

What compels this priority is the same motive that compelled the first proclaimers; that compelled Archbishop William Temple’s great report in 1945, ‘Towards the conversion of England’; that compelled evangelist Billy Graham; that compelled the decade of evangelism; and all the reports and publications from the General Synod; and Pope Francis’ wonderful encyclical Evangelii Gaudium.

It is summed up in 2 Corinthians 5: 14-15: ‘For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.’

It is the love of Christ that compels us. Every time I think of that, I reflect on how often I have failed to act in the love of Christ, and how unsurprising therefore that there is little response.

Everyone has a right to hear the Gospel, and as Christians we have a duty to proclaim the Good News without excluding anyone.

The only qualification for hearing the Good News is that you don’t know Christ – and that’s not just good news; it’s true news. Indeed it’s only because it’s true that it’s good. And if it’s true, it’s true for all, and must not be concealed from any.

The love that has found us in Christ compels, or constrains us to speak. So does our love for everyone God has made.

John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople who died in 407AD, said something similar:

“Nothing is more deadly than a Christian who is in­different to the salvation of others. Indeed I won­der if such a person can be a true Christian. To become a disciple of Christ is to obey his law of love; and obedience to the law brings joy beyond measure and description. Love means to want the best for others, sharing with them the joy of love. So the Christian feels compelled to speak to others about the law of love, and the joy of obeying this law. Of course, many people are shy about speaking to others; in their case actions motivated by love will be a most eloquent testimony. But those who are not shy will surely want to express their joy at every opportunity. There is no need to use fine words or elegant phrases.”

The Gospel is anything but formulaic. Becky Pippert says: ‘evangelism is not memorising techniques to use on unsuspecting victims.’ Nor is it an inter-church competition – and yet we make it so. But it is God who does it.

The same Spirit who gives us speech enables the proclamation of the Gospel to be always fresh and always distinct. This is the Spirit who, as Eugene Peterson says, ‘always has an address’.

At Pentecost, the speech-giving Spirit enables the news of all that has been opened up to be proclaimed in a tangible and comprehendible way. This is a gospel, Luke is saying to us, for the whole world.

If the Gospel is best and most authentically spoken from person to person in a way which is particular to the hearer, as at Pentecost, the task of translating the gospel into graspable words and concepts is essential. And the process of gospel translation is profoundly interactive. We don’t simply arrive with a set of words grammatically related, or a system of ideas. It is a story that makes history, and we must pay attention to what God is already doing and stirring, for God’s work does not begin with us. It begins with him.

In every respect Jesus Christ is the plumb line for our announcing, for he remains not just the central fact of the Christian faith, but the determining point.

Our constant care must be to proclaim the Good News in ways that are appropriate and fitting to Jesus. It’s obvious, but so often we fit it to what we need. Like the bed in the ancient legend of Procrustes – when he had guests at his castle, if they were too short for the bed, he’d put them on a rack to stretch them, if they were too long he’d cut them down to size.

So often we want to fit people who are not Christians into our church, not make the church fit for new Christians.

The Gospel can be proclaimed in a way that denies the very one it proclaims. We can do the right thing in such a wrong way that it becomes the wrong thing. Anything manipulative or coercive, anything disrespectful or controlling, is ruled out because of who Jesus is.

Having said that, it is clear that God gloriously puts up with all kinds of ways of announcing the Good News which are less than ideal. For example, he uses me. [Laughter]

Having insisted that we take care to speak the Good News in ways that are good news, I am persuaded that the confession of faith in all languages and to all cultures is possible because of the distinctive character of God’s action.

Christian good news must not become bad news for people of other faiths, but we must not shy away from true engagement. 

It is not unethical to present the Gospel with love, grace and gentleness borne of true assurance. The privilege of living in a free and mature democracy is that we can both be held accountable for what we do and what we profess, while having the freedom to pray expectantly and to speak intentionally of what we know to be the transforming love of Christ.

That is a freedom to cling to. If our motivation is truly of love and of divine calling, then we must share our experience of Christ with one and all.

Having laid out the motive for evangelism, let us think about how we might go about it.

The old adage is attributed to St Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times, where necessary use words.” Lay it aside, put it down, forget it. Don’t even think about it. Mainly for the reasons that he almost certainly didn’t say it, and even if he did, he was wrong. As T.S. Eliot’s character Sweeney said: “I gotta use words when I talk to you.”

But in order to know how to speak and proclaim, we must listen and converse. We are those who have listened to the Gospel, and our reception of the Good News has formed us.

Luke Bretherton of Duke University in North Carolina says this:

“The merciful command to listen first is ever present, as we cannot presume to know what needs to be said and done with these people, in this place, at this time if they are to truly hear and dwell within the Gospel. Listening to God and neighbor is the prerequisite of proclaiming the Word that, as a human word, can only be heard in dialect.”

The listening and speaking to God is where we start. This is God’s work. Ears only open, eyes only see, hearts only open, hands only receive when the Spirit works. At my installation service the anthem sung took early words from the Rule of St Benedict: “Listen, listen O my child…”

The importance of prayer cannot be overestimated. As St Paul testifies: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has made it grow.” [1 Corinthians 3: 6]

In prayer we actively acknowledge that and practice it, by imploring the Spirit to work powerfully before and behind us, in our stumbling words and efforts.

The subject of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 is that his friends “may have power, together with all God’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know that love that surpasses knowledge”.

For example, there is no evidence of any revival of spiritual life taking place in a society in the Western Christian tradition without the renewal of prayer and the Religious life. How much more would the Lord do if we do but ask Him?

Hospitality, openness and a deep desire to love and accept the other who has not heard and responded to the gospel are fundamental to our proclamation.

At times I wonder about Bonhoeffer’s letter to Eberhard Bethge, in which he set out the idea that common theological language is so misunderstood we could do with ceasing to use it for a generation and then reintroducing it to fresh ears – so that we might be able to define our terms without any of the baggage these words have accumulated. Words like ‘evangelism’, ‘evangelical’, ‘gospel’, and so on and so forth.

However, that’s not what we can do. Wherever we bring the Gospel, we are certain that we do not know the full implications of what it means to say: “Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again.” And when we set forth the Gospel invite, there are always fresh nuances and gifts for us to receive in how each person receives it.

Years ago, in a church we were worshipping at, there was someone who came to Christ quite unexpectedly. The impact of that on that church was profound. The vicar found a whole new desire to evangelise, as he saw the transformation in that person’s life, which he has never lost since. And this was well over 20 years ago. [That person] struggled with faith, but so many people saw what it was to become a Christian and therefore saw their own hope that they had.

The best evangelism takes place when the evangelist and the evangelised learn something new about Christ.

Anything that is tired or worn, blasé or bland, hasn’t begun to cope with the Gospel. The Spirit inspires us to greater and more inspiring creativity and imagination, co-opting every medium possible to extend the invitation, always compelling, definitely arresting – calling on all our senses to be open to His love.

Having said that the Gospel is profoundly personal, I want to mention the corporate element.

The Gospel also has the most profound of public implications. Lesslie Newbigin again: “A serious commitment to evangelism means a radical questioning of the reigning assumptions of public life.”

That’s not a party political statement, just for the record. It is clear in many of the comments that are made regularly in the media that the Church’s basis of faith is not grasped. The starting place for all thought and action is Jesus Christ, who was, and is, and is to come. He cannot be accommodated or co-opted. We can’t say, “well we’ll put him on this to make it more attractive”.

The simple truth is that the resurrected one cannot be accommodated in any way of understanding the world unless He is the starting point.

And finally we think about those whose task it is to proclaim the Good News.

There are of course those who have the gift of setting this forward in ways which are most compelling and constraining. We call those people evangelists.

The church, however, is essential for evangelism. Not just in action and prayer, in activity and engagement, but as the place where the Gospel is seen to make sense.

The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr asked in the middle of the last century why the lives of most Christians looked like celebrities who endorsed products you knew they didn’t use themselves.

And of course Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium said why is it that so many people go to evangelise looking as though they’ve just come from a funeral?

That is, why should people believe what we say about forgiveness and grace, reconciliation and sacrifice, love and commitment, welcome and acceptance, if when they look at the life of the Church they see something so diametrically opposed to it?

Lesslie Newbigin, as we know, said “the church is the hermeneutic of the gospel.” The tool of interpretation. For our words must be backed up by integrity.

The institutional life of the Church must reflect, enable, promote and speak of the Good News.

How does our structural life reflect and empower our proclamation? We must insist that all of our structures and committees, budgets (which are merely theology in numbers) and plans are appropriate to Jesus Christ, and the imperative to make him known.

What the Church has to do must not be determined by its institution; its institution must be determined by what it has to do. Evangelism is good for us, it is necessary for a healthy church, because by it the Gospel takes a fresh hold of us and Jesus Christ increases his presence and joy among us.

And that is a priority for every Christian. Luke says the last words of Jesus to the disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses.” [Acts 1: 8]

He is not describing what they’ll do – witness is not a verb, it is a noun. He is describing what they are. The question is not whether we want to be witnesses; it is whether we are faithful witnesses. We are all witnesses; it’s just whether we live that out. It is such a strong concept.

For a witness simply says what they have seen and experienced. We say what we know. Each witness is unique; no two witnesses can witness in the same way.

In 1945, the report which William Temple instigated came out, ‘Towards the conversion of England’. In it they were uncompromising: there would be no significant turning to God in the nation apart from the witness of every Christian. In 1985, the Church of England published the report, ‘All are called – Towards a theology of the laity’. It argued that by virtue of baptism every Christian was called to witness to Jesus Christ.  

The man acclaimed as the best theologian in North America, Stanley Hauerwas, goes as far to say: “Witness names the truth that the only way we can know the character of the world, the only way we know ourselves, the only way we know God, is by one person telling another.”

Do our lives reflect that call? It’s the biggest hill for the Church to climb. That is the one that we have not cracked. Professional evangelists are wonderful; thank God for them. They are utterly necessary, totally essential – but they are not sufficient. Every Christian is required to be sufficient.

To go back to Chrysostom as we come the end:

“Don’t tell me ‘it is impossible for me to influence others.’ If you are a Christian, it is impossible for you NOT to influence others! Just as the elements that make up your human nature do not contradict each other, so also in this matter – it belongs to the very nature of a Christian that he influences others. So, do not offend God. If you say, ‘the sun cannot shine,’ you offend Him. If you say, ‘I, a Christian cannot be of service to others,’ you have offended Him and called Him a liar. It is easier for the sun not to shine than for a Christian not to do so. It is easier for light itself to be darkness than for a Christian not to give light. So don’t tell me it is impossible for you as a Christian to influence others, when it is the opposite that is impossible. Do not offend God. If we arrange our affairs in an orderly manner, these things will certainly follow quite naturally. It is impossible for a Christian’s light to lie concealed. So brilliant a lamp cannot be hidden.”

This is not easy or without cost for any of us. As we remind ourselves that the Greek word for witness is martyr, we are more and more, in these days, confronted with the fact that the word has come to have the associations it has with death, because of the price the first witnesses were prepared to pay to be faithful.

A couple of weeks ago we know 21 Christians were murdered in Libya. I was talking to Bishop Angaelos, the Coptic Bishop in England, who I went to see to offer condolence. He told me that from one who escaped they heard that as each one was killed, most savagely, they cried out, “Jesus Christ is Lord”. Their last words were witness.

As I finish let us return to Caravaggio’s painting. Notice, if you will, down at the bottom of the picture, another hand that mirrors the calling hand of Jesus. It’s that of Peter. You see him hesitant, not confidant, and seeming to look not at Matthew but one of his friends.

Jesus involves us in His work of calling people to follow him. This is the work of evangelism.

However weakly, however hesitantly, He calls us to extend our hands and our hearts, to use our words and lives, to echo His call to every person to follow Him.

For it is the best decision anyone can ever make is to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Amen. 





THE RISE OF EVANGELICAL CATHOLICISM
by George Weigel

For more than thirty years it’s been my privilege to explore the Catholic Church in all its extraordinary variety and diversity. I’ve traveled from inner-city parishes to the corridors of the Vatican; from the barrios of Bogotá to the streets of Dublin; across the United States and throughout Europe, Latin America, Oceania, and the Holy Land. I’ve spoken to Catholics of all states of life and stations in life, from popes and heads of state to cloistered nuns and campus ministers and literally thousands of clergy; with political activists of all stripes and the wonderful people of the parish in which I’ve lived for almost three decades; with modern Catholic confessors and martyrs and with men and women who are troubled in their faith. 

The experience has been exhilarating, sometimes exasperating, occasionally depressing; I’ve been immeasurably enriched by all of it, in ways I can never adequately repay. But I’ve tried to make a small down payment on a large debt with the publication of Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church . In the book, I’ve tried to focus what I’ve learned in more than thirty years of Catholic thinking, writing, and activism through two prisms: a new interpretation of modern Catholic history linked to a fresh proposal for how we should understand the Catholic possibility in the third millennium, and a detailed program of Gospel-centered reform that will equip the Church for its evangelical responsibilities in a time of great challenge. 

The challenge can be defined simply: Throughout the Western world, the culture no longer carries the faith, because the culture has become increasingly hostile to the faith. Catholicism can no longer be absorbed by osmosis from the environment, for the environment has become toxic. So we can no longer sit back and assume that decent lives lived in conformity with the prevailing cultural norms will somehow convey the faith to our children and grandchildren and invite others to consider entering the Church. 

No, in our new situation, Catholicism has to be proposed , and Catholicism has to be lived in radical fidelity to Christ and the Gospel. Recreational Catholicism”Catholicism as a traditional, leisure-time activity absorbing perhaps ninety minutes of one’s time on a weekend”is over. Full-time Catholicism”a Catholicism that, as the Second Vatican Council taught, infuses all of life and calls everyone in the Church to holiness and mission”is the only possible Catholicism in the twenty-first century. 

The Evangelical Catholicism of the future is a Catholicism of radical conversion, deep fidelity, joyful discipleship, and courageous evangelism. Evangelical Catholics put friendship with the Lord Jesus at the center of everything: personal identity, relationships, activity. Evangelical Catholics strive for fidelity despite the wounds of sin, and do so through a daily encounter with the Word of God in the Bible and a regular embrace of Christ through a frequent reception of the sacraments. Evangelical Catholics experience dry seasons and dark nights, like everyone else; but they live through those experiences by finding their meaning in a deeper conformity to the Cross of Christ”on the far side of which is the unmatchable joy of Easter, the experience of which gives the people of the Church the courage to be Catholic. And evangelical Catholics measure the quality of their discipleship by whether, and to what extent, they give to others what they have been given: by the degree to which they deepen others’ friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ, or bring others to meet the unique savior of the world. 

Evangelical Catholics enter mission territory every day, leading lives of integrity and charity that invite from others the question, “How can you live this way?” That question, in turn, allows the evangelical Catholic to fulfill the Great Commission by offering others the Gospel and the possibility of friendship with Jesus Christ. Having responded to the Risen Lord’s call to meet him in Galilee, evangelical Catholics go into the world in witness to the Christ who reveals both the face of the Merciful Father and the truth about our humanity. 

Strong truths generously lived: that’s Evangelical Catholicism. 

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. His previous “On the Square” articles can be found in First Things . 



MY COMMENTARY
This post is goes to the root of what Christianity is all about. I start with a talk given by Justin Welby who, although he is the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury,  could well have been expounding the teaching of Pope Francis. Four videos of Pope Francis follow, also on evangelisation and on the importance of bearing witness "in synergy with the Holy Spirit." . I use videos of Fr Robert Barron who gives us a commentary on Pope Francis and evangelisation.  I also use N.T. Wright, the Anglican expert on the New Testament whom Fr Robert Barron calls the greatest scripture scholar alive. He tells us that the Church on earth and heaven are not two separate entities; but that they are two dimensions of the same kingdom. This leads me to a link with Fr Stephen Freeman who is a convert from Protestantism to Orthodoxy and who has a wonderful blog called "Glory to God for All Things."   He tells us that heaven and earth are not like two storeys in a building, but that we form a single community with the angels and saints.   This is why Our Lady, the angels and saints play such a large part in Catholic/Orthodox worship.  The Protestant objections to that practice only make sense in a two-storey cosmos.

Every video contributes to the theme. Please spend time in absorbing what is said.   Read it.   Digest it.  Pray it.



SIMPLY GOOD NEWS


WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?



 WHO ARE THE PEOPLE OF GOD?

please click on:
CHRISTIANITY IN A ONE STOREY UNIVERSE
(Orthodox)

THE RESURRECTION



MAGNIFICAT DAY: REFLECTIONS ON REVELATION 3:7




 JESUS AND THE PEOPLE OF GOD


POPE FRANCIS AND THE NEW EVANGELISATION

Monday, 27 July 2015

THE CHALLENGE OF 20TH CENTURY SAINTS: MARIA SKOBTSOVA, ALEXANDR SCHMORELL & OTHERS WHO BECAME SAINTS IN OPPOSITION TO THE NAZIS

Source: In Communion
Jim Forest | 31 March 2015


Mother Maria Skobtsova — now recognized as Saint Maria of Paris — died in a German concentration  camp on the 30th of March 1945.

The Challenge of a 20th Century Saint, Maria Skobtsova

Although perishing in a gas chamber, Mother Maria did not perish in the Church’s memory. Those who had known her would again and again draw attention to the ideas, insights and activities of the heroic nun who had spent so many years of her life assisting people in desperate need. Soon after the war ended, essays and books about her began appearing in French, Russian and English. A Russian film, “Mother Maria,” was made in 1982. Her canonization was celebrated in May 2004 at the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in Paris. Among those present at the event was Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, archbishop of Paris and Jewish by birth, who subsequently placed St. Maria on the calendar of the Catholic Church in France. One wonders if there are any other saints of post-Schism Christianity who are on both the Catholic and Orthodox calendars?

We have no time today for a detailed account of her life. I will only point out that she was born in Riga in 1891 and grew up on a family estate along the Black Sea. Her father’s death when she was fourteen was a devastating event that for a time led her to atheism, but gradually she found her way back to the Orthodox faith. As a young woman, she was the first female student at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. In the same period she witnessed the Bolshevik coup and the civil war that followed. Like so many Russians, she fled for her life, finally reaching Paris, where she was among those who devoted themselves to serving fellow refugees, many of whom were now living in a state of destitution even worse than her own. At that time, she worked with the Student Christian Movement.

Elizaveta Skobtsova with the children. Anastasia is on the left.

The tragic death in 1926 of one her daughters, Anastasia, precipitated a decision that brought her to a still deeper level of self-giving love. In 1932, following the collapse of her marriage, her bishop, Metropolitan Evlogy, encouraged her to become a nun, but a nun with an exceptional vocation. Metropolitan Evlogy blessed her to develop a new type of monasticism — a “monasticism in the world” — that centered on diaconal service within the city rather than on quiet withdrawal in a rural context.

In a time of massive social disruption, Mother Maria declared, it was better to offer a monastic witness which opens its gates to desperate people and in so doing to participate in Christ’s self-abasement. “Everyone is always faced … with the necessity of choosing between the comfort and warmth of an earthly home, well protected from winds and storms, and the limitless expanse of eternity, which contains only one sure and certain item … the Cross.”

It was clear to her that it was not only Russia which was being torn to shreds. “There are times,” she wrote, “when all that has been said cannot be made obvious and clear since the atmosphere around us is a pagan one and we are tempted by its idolatrous charms. But our times are firmly in tune with Christianity in that suffering is part of their nature. They demolish and destroy in our hearts all that is stable, mature, hallowed by the ages and treasured by us. They help us genuinely and utterly to accept the vows of poverty, to seek no rule, but rather anarchy, the anarchic life of Fools for Christ’s sake, seeking no monastic enclosure, but the complete absence of even the subtlest barrier which might separate the heart from the world and its wounds.”

She saw that there were two ways to live. The first was on dry land, a legitimate and respectable place to be, where one could measure, weigh and plan ahead. The second was to walk on the waters where “it becomes impossible to measure or plan ahead. The one thing necessary is to believe all the time. If you doubt for an instant, you begin to sink.”

The water she decided to walk upon was a vocation of hospitality. With financial support from Metropolitan Evlogy, in December 1932 she signed a lease for her first house of hospitality, a place of welcome and assistance to people in desperate need, mainly young Russian women. The first night she slept on the floor beneath the icon of the Protection of the Mother of God. A small community of co-workers began to form. To make room for others, Mother Maria gave up her own room and instead slept on an iron bedstead in the basement by the boiler. A room upstairs became a chapel.

The first house having become too small, in 1934 the community relocated to a three-storey house at 77 rue de Lourmel in an area of Paris where many impoverished Russian refugees had settled. Now, instead of 25 people, the community could feed a hundred. Stables in back became a small church.



The vocation of hospitality is much more than the provision of food, clothing and a place to sleep. In its depths, it is a contemplative vocation. It is the constant search for the face of Christ in the stranger. “If someone turns with his spiritual world toward the spiritual world of another person,” she reflected, “he encounters an awesome and inspiring mystery …. He comes into contact with the true image of God in man, with the very icon of God incarnate in the world, with a reflection of the mystery of God’s incarnation and divine manhood. And he needs to accept this awesome revelation of God unconditionally, to venerate the image of God in his brother. Only when he senses, perceives and understands it will yet another mystery be revealed to him — one that will demand his most dedicated efforts…. He will perceive that the divine image is veiled, distorted and disfigured by the power of evil…. And he will want to engage in battle with the devil for the sake of the divine image.”

By 1937, there were several dozen women guests at 77 rue de Lourmel. Up to 120 dinners were served each day. Other buildings were rented, one for families in need, another for single men. A rural property became a sanatorium.

From a financial point of view, it was a very insecure life, but somehow the work survived and grew. Mother Maria would sometimes recall the Russian story of the ruble that could never be spent. Each time it was used, the change given back proved to equal a ruble. It was exactly this way with love, she said: No matter how much love you give, you never have less. In fact you discover you have more — one ruble becomes two, two becomes ten.
The house at rue de Lourmel

Mother Maria’s day typically began with a journey to Les Halles to beg food or buy cheaply whatever was not donated. The cigarette-smoking beggar nun became well known among the stalls. She would later return with a sack of bones, fish and overripe fruit and vegetables.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh provides an impression of what Mother Maria was like in those days: “She was a very unusual nun in her behavior and her manners. I was simply staggered when I saw her for the first time. I was walking along the Boulevard Montparnasse. In front of a café, there was a table, on the table was a glass of beer, and behind the glass was sitting a Russian nun in full monastic robes. I looked at her and decided that I would never go near that woman. I was young then and held extreme views.”

Mother Maria felt sustained by the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount: “Not only do we know the Beatitudes, but at this hour, this very minute, surrounded though we are by a dismal and despairing world, we already savor the blessedness they promise.”

Life in community was not easy. Conflicting views about the relative importance of liturgical life were at times a source of tension. Mother Maria was the one most often absent from services or the one who would withdraw early, or arrive late, because of the pressing needs of hospitality. “Piety, piety,” she wrote in her journal, “but where is the love that moves mountains?”

Mother Maria saw blessings where others only saw disaster. “In the past religious freedom was trampled down by forces external to Christianity,” she wrote. “In Russia we can say that any regime whatsoever will build concentration camps as its response to religious freedom.” She considered exile in the west a heaven-sent opportunity to renew the Church in ways that would have met repression within her mother country.

For her, exile was an opportunity “to liberate the real and authentic” from layers of decoration and dust in which Christ had become hidden. It was similar to the opportunity given to the first Christians. “We must not allow Christ,” she said, “to be overshadowed by any regulations, any customs, any traditions, any aesthetic considerations, or even any piety.”

Russians have not been last among those enamored with theories, but for Mother Maria, all theories had to take second place. “We have not gathered together for the theoretical study of social problems in the spirit of Orthodoxy,” she wrote, “[but] to link our social thought as closely as possible with life and work. More precisely, we proceed from our work and seek the fullest possible theological interpretation of it.”

While many valued what she and her co-workers were doing, there were others who were scandalized with the shabby nun who was so uncompromising in her hospitality that she might leave a church service to answer the door bell. “For many in church circles we are too far to the left,” she noted, “while for the left we are too church-minded.”

In October 1939, Metropolitan Evlogy send a priest to rue de Lourmel: Father Dimitri Klépinin, then 35 years old. A man of few words and great modesty, Fr. Dimitri proved to be a real partner for Mother Maria.

The last phase of Mother Maria’s life was a series of responses to World War II and Germany’s occupation of France.

Her basic choice was the decision to stay. It would have been possible for her to leave Paris when the Germans were advancing, or even to leave the country to go to America, but she would not budge. “If the Germans take Paris, I shall stay here with my old women. Where else could I send them?”

She had no illusions about Nazism. It represented a “new paganism” bringing in its wake disasters, upheavals, persecutions and wars. It was evil unveiled, the “contaminator of all springs and wells.” The so-called “master race” was “led by a madman who needs a straightjacket and should be placed in a cork-lined room so that his bestial wailing will not disturb the world at large.”

Paris fell on the 14th of June. With defeat came greater poverty and hunger for many people. Local authorities in Paris declared the house at rue de Lourmel an official food distribution point.

Paris was now a prison. “There is the dry clatter of iron, steel and brass,” wrote Mother Maria. “Order is all.” Russian refugees were among the high-priority targets of the occupiers. In June 1941, a thousand were arrested, including several close friends of Mother Maria and Fr. Dimitri. An aid project for prisoners and their dependents was soon launched by Mother Maria.

Early in 1942, with Jewish registration underway, Jews began to knock on the door at rue de Lourmel asking Fr. Dimitri if he would issue baptismal certificates to them. The answer was always yes. The names of those “baptized” were also duly recorded in his parish register in case there was any cross-checking by the police or Gestapo, as indeed did happen. Fr. Dimitri was convinced that in such a situation Christ would do the same.

In March 1942, the order came from Berlin that a yellow star must be worn by Jews in all the occupied countries. The order came into force in France in June. There were, of course, Christians who said that the law being imposed had nothing to do with Christians and that therefore this was not a Christian problem. “There is not only a Jewish question, but a Christian question,” Mother Maria replied. “Don’t you realize that the battle is being waged against Christianity? If we were true Christians we would all wear the star. The age of confessors has arrived.”

In July, Jews were forbidden access to nearly all public places. Shopping by Jews was restricted to an hour per day. A week later, there was a mass arrest of Jews — 12,884, of whom 6,900 (two-thirds of them children) were brought to a sports stadium just a kilometer from rue de Lourmel. Held there for five days, the captives in the stadium received water only from a single hydrant. From there the captives were to be sent to Auschwitz.

Mother Maria had often thought her monastic robe a God-send in aiding her work. Now it opened the way for her to enter the stadium. Here she worked for three days trying to comfort the children and their parents, distributing what food she could bring in, even managing to rescue a number of children by enlisting the aid of garbage collectors and smuggling them out in trash bins.

The house at rue de Lourmel was bursting with people, many of them Jews. “It is amazing,” Mother Maria remarked, “that the Germans haven’t pounced on us yet.” In the same period, she said if anyone came looking for Jews, she would show them an icon of the Mother of God.

Fr. Dimitri, Mother Maria and their co-workers set up routes of escape to the unoccupied south. It was complex and dangerous work. Forged documents had to be obtained. An escaped Russian prisoner of war was also among those assisted, working for a time in the Lourmel kitchen. In turn, a local resistance group helped secure provisions for those Mother Maria’s community was struggling to feed.

In February 1943 Mother Maria, her son Yuri, Fr. Dimitri and their collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky were arrested by the Gestapo and sent to the camp at Compiegne.

In December, Yuri and Fr. Dimitri were deported to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany and from there to Dora, 40 kilometers away. On the 6th of February, Yuri was “dispatched for treatment” — a euphemism for being sentenced to death. Four days later Fr. Dimitri, lying on a dirt floor, died of pneumonia. His final action was to make the sign of the Cross. His body was disposed of in the Buchenwald crematorium.

Mother Maria was sent to Ravensbrück in Germany, where she endured for two years, an achievement in part explained by her long experience of ascetic life. “She was never downcast, never,” a fellow prisoner recalled. “She never complained…. She was on good terms with everyone. Anyone in the block, no matter who it was, knew her on equal terms. She was the kind of person who made no distinction between people [whether they] held extremely progressive political views [or had] religious beliefs radically different than her own. She allowed nothing of secondary importance to impede her contact with people.”

By March 1945, Mother Maria’s condition was critical. She had to lie down between roll calls and hardly spoke. Her face, a fellow prisoner Jacqueline Pery recalled, “revealed intense inner suffering. Already it bore the marks of death. Nevertheless Mother Maria made no complaint. She kept her eyes closed and seemed to be in a state of continual prayer. This was, I think, her Garden of Gethsemani.”

She died on Holy Saturday. The shellfire of the approaching Red Army could be heard in the distance. We are not certain of the details of her last day. According to one account, she was simply among the many selected for death that day. According to another, she took the place of another prisoner, a Jew. Jacqueline Pery wrote afterward: “It is very possible that [Mother Maria] took the place of a frantic companion. It would have been entirely in keeping with her generous life. In any case she offered herself consciously to the holocaust … thus assisting each one of us to accept the Cross…. She radiated the peace of God and communicated it to us.”

We now know Mother Maria as St. Maria of Paris. Her commemoration occurs on July 20.

Every saint poses a challenge, but Mother Maria is perhaps among the most challenging saints. Her life is a passionate objection to any form of Christianity that seeks Christ chiefly inside church buildings. Still more profoundly, she challenges each of us to a life of a deeper, more radical hospitality, a hospitality that includes not only those who share our faith and language but those whom we regard as “the other,” people in whom we resist recognizing the face of Christ.

Mother-Maria-Fostoropoulis

Mother Maria was certain that there was no other path to heaven than participating in God’s mercy. “The way to God lies through love of people. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, Did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked. About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need…. I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews. It fills me with awe.”

We can sum up Mother Maria’s credo in just a few words: “Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world.”


Source: http://www.pravmir.com/the-challenge-of-a-20th-century-saint-maria-skobtsova/#ixzz3gjfXOKrF

A Canonization in Munich: Saint Alexander Schmorell
by Jim Forest
my source: Jim Forest

Saints come in many sizes and varieties, ranging from kings to beggars, surgeons to street sweepers, scholars to the illiterate, the extraordinary to the unnoticed. Some never marry, some are the parents of large families. Some die in bed in their old age, others die early in life at the hands of executioners. There are millions of saints — heaven is crowded — but relatively few of heaven’s population have been formally canonized. The vast majority are rank-and-file saints, an inspiration to those who knew them, but never placed by name on the church calendar.

Reporting on canonizations, journalists often say that so-and-so was “made a saint” today at such-and-such location, but in fact the Church does not make saints. Canonization is merely an act of carefully considered recognition that a particular person became a saint in his lifetime and is unquestionably among the blessed and thus in no need of our prayers for his forgiveness and salvation. The saints who are singled out for special recognition are mentioned at the Liturgy on a particular day every year, some locally or nationally, others in churches around the world. They are also depicted in icons in both churches and homes.

What is it that makes the Church occasionally canonize a particular saint? In many cases it has to do with some remarkable quality or achievement — their exceptional impact on other lives. The memory of their works and lives needs to be passed on from generation to generation in order to encourage others to follow in their footsteps. It is one of the ways the Church declares, “This is sanctity. This is the path to eternal life.”
Cathedral of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia

The majority of those canonized are martyrs. One of these — Alexander Schmorell — was added to the church calendar this past weekend. His canonization took place at the Cathedral of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, a church in Munich not far from Schmorell’s grave. On the far side of the cemetery, at Stadelheim Prison, Schmorell was beheaded on 13 July 1943. He was only 25 at the time. He was an Orthodox Christian who had put his life at risk by being part of a anti-Nazi resistance group.

The canonization got underway on Saturday afternoon, February 3, as people began to gather in the church. Aware that the reporters and cameramen present would need certain photos before the ceremonies started, Fr. Nikolai Artemoff, dean of the cathedral, brought out the icon of Alexander Schmorell in anticipation of its formal presentation later in the day. Many photos were taken, a pre-canonization ceremony that would not have been imagined in earlier centuries. The icon showed Alexander Schmorell as the tall, brown-haired young man he was, wearing the white robe of a physician with a Red Cross arm band (he had been a medical student at Munich’s Maximilian University), his left hand raised in a gesture of greeting, the other holding a blood-red cross plus a white rose. He is standing against a pure gold background representing eternity and the kingdom of God.

As Father Nikolai explained to the journalists, the white rose in his hand symbolizes the White Rose group Schmorell co-founded with Hans Scholl in the spring of 1942. Before the arrests began the following February, the group succeeded — assisted by friends in many German and Austrian cities and towns — in widely distributing a series of six anti-Nazi leaflets. All six members of the core group were guillotined. (The story is powerfully told in an the Oscar-nominated film, “Sophie Scholl – The Final Days,” much of which was photographed in Munich.)
 


Press photos taken and interviews completed, at about 4 PM a procession of about two hundred people set out led by a cross bearer. Behind the cross were six bishops: Archbishop Mark (who leads the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in Germany), Metropolitan Valentin of Orenburg (the Russian city where Schmorell was born), Metropolitan Onufriy of Czernowitz in Ukraine, Archbishop Feofan of Berlin, Bishop Michael of Geneva, and Bishop Agapit of Stuttgart. How many priests? I lost count.

The frigid air was challenging — it was about 15 degrees below zero Centigrade (5 degrees Fahrenheit), with snow and ice on the ground. Though the cemetery, Perlacher Forst, was just across the street, its entrance was several hundred meters away. Once inside the gate, we wound our way through tombstone-lined paths, first stopping to pray at the graves of Hans and Sophie School, the brother and sister who were the first to be executed from the White Rose group, and Christoph Probst, beheaded the same day — 22 February 1943. Here three tall black crosses stand side by side, a single cross piece linking the crosses over the Scholl graves. Sophie, the one woman in the White Rose inner circle, and the youngest, was 21 when she was killed. Today many German streets and squares are named in honor of Sophie and Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst and others executed for their part in the White Rose. Hans and Sophie came from a closely-knit Lutheran family. Christoph Probst was baptized in the Catholic Church a day before his execution.


Archpriest Nikolai Artemoff placing a candle of the grave of St Alexander Schmorell



The procession than continued to Alexander Schmorell’s resting place, not far away. A bouquet of white roses was resting against the rough surface of the tombstone and more flowers heaped over the grave. Embedded in the stone was a bronze Russian Orthodox crucifix. Memorial prayers — a panikhida — was sung, concluding with the melodic two-word chant, Vyechnaya Pamyat (eternal memory), sung repeatedly by all present. Every year there has been a panikhida sung at this grave on the 13th of July, the anniversary of Schmorell’s death, but this was the final panikhida. Now that he has been officially glorified, future services at his grave no longer have a penitential character.

The high point of the day came during the Saturday evening Vigil, which began at 5 PM and lasted three-and-a-half hours, by which time an almost full moon was shining through the windows. In the middle of the service, several icon stands were placed in the center of the church with candle stands behind. At least a hundred candles were lit, forming a curtain of light. Finally a procession of bishops, clergy and altar servers poured out of the sanctuary carrying an icon of Saint Alexander Schmorell followed by another icon crowded with images of New Martyrs of the twentieth century. Next came a huge silver-bound Gospel book, a copy that had been a gift from Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, to Russian Orthodox Christians in Germany. The two icons and the Gospel book were solemnly placed side by side on the stands, then incensed. Finally everyone in the church, beginning with the six bishops, venerated the icon of the newly recognized saint.



“When they brought out the icon,” Nancy told me later that night, “it was such a climax, with the servers holding all those fans over the icons and the choir singing with such exaltation. It was as it there were neon arrows pointing at the icon of Alexander Schmorell and saying, ‘This is what really matters.’ It’s the Church pulling out all the stops. They couldn’t do more to make you look in that direction and feel the importance, the challenge, of this brave life. You couldn’t not get it. This is what the Church does in interpreting human events and letting us know what’s truly valuable. This is something that requires all the ceremony the Church is capable of. But it’s not ceremony for its own sake. It’s all meant to confront us with the inner meaning of a young man putting his head on the chopping block. The canonization ceremony pulls you out of ordinary time and confronts you with the message: consider this life and let it influence your own.”

At the Liturgy the following morning, the church was even more crowded than it had been for the Vigil. We were jammed together like cigarettes in a carton — it was challenging to make the sign of the cross without grazing your neighbors with your elbows. Perhaps as many people were present as would fill the church for the All-Night Easter service. (Also present on Sunday– given a special chair placed at the right end of the iconostasis — was Bishop Engelbert Siebler, representing the Catholic Archdiocese of Munich.)


In the Orthodox Church every Sunday is regarded as a little Easter, but rarely have I experienced so intense a paschal radiance. Resurrection was at the heart of Father Nikolai’s sermon, delivered just before communion. He reminded us that the name the White Rose group adopted for itself had been proposed by Alexander Schmorell. His suggestion came from a story in the novel The Brothers Karamazov, written by Schmorell’s most beloved author, Dostoevsky. In one chapter Christ comes back to earth, “softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, every one recognized Him.” He is suddenly present among the many people in Seville’s cathedral square, a place were the pavement is still warm from the burning of a hundred heretics. Responding to a mother’s desperate appeal, Christ raises from the dead a young girl whose open coffin was being carried across the square on its way to the cemetery. Flowers have been laid on her body. “The procession halts, the coffin is laid on the steps at [Christ’s] feet. He looks with compassion, and His lips softly pronounce the words, ‘Maiden, arise!’ and she arises. The little girl sits up in the coffin and looks round, smiling with wide-open wondering eyes, holding a bunch of white roses they had put in her hand.” This merciful action completed, he is recognized by the Grand Inquisitor, who orders Christ’s arrest.

The white rose is a paschal symbol, a sign of the victory of life over death.

That Alexander Schmorell would one day be canonized at this cathedral had been evident for years. He is shown among of a row of twenty-two martyrs of the twentieth-century included in an icon that has long been part of the cathedral’s iconostasis. After the Liturgy and the emptying out of the church, I went to look more carefully at that older icon. Schmorell is easily picked out — there he is, in the first row, third from the right, wearing a white robe. What is remarkable is that, within the group, he alone group has no halo, for at the time the icon was painted canonization was only anticipated. In one hand he holds a thin cross, in the other a scroll with these words taken from his last letter to his parents:

“This difficult ‘misfortune’ was necessary to put me on the right road, and therefore was no misfortune at all…. What did I know until now about belief, about a true and deep belief, about the truth, the last and only truth, about God? Never forget God!!”

One can imagine future icons of Saint Alexander of Munich will often use the same text while other iconographers may decide to use his last words, spoken to his lawyer as he was being taken to the guillotine: “I’m convinced that my life has to end now, early as it seems, because I have fulfilled my life’s mission. I wouldn’t know what else I have to do on this earth.”

In a time when fear is being sold every minute of the day, every day of the year — where would the “war on terror” be were we not prisoners of fear? — the pilgrimage to Munich to honor a saint who had freed himself from the tyranny of fear gave me an injection of pure courage.

(report written 9 February 2012)

* * * * *

Extracts from Fr Nikolai Artemoff’s sermon:

Holy New Martyrs are glorified by the Church because, in the particular circumstances of their own times, they bore a clear witness to Christ and in so doing sacrificed their own lives. On July 13, 1943 Alexander Schmorell was executed by means of the guillotine in Munich’s Stadelheim Prison. On Sunday (in Russian, the “day of resurrection”) the 5th of February 2012, he shall take his place among the band of New Martyrs of Russia, to whom this cathedral church is dedicated.

The death of a martyr is always comprised of both the love for Christ as well as, through this love, the exposure of wickedness of evildoers in this world, and therefore also those who pave the way for Satan and his complict servant, the antichrist.

Alexander Schmorell’s favorite book was The Brothers Karamazov, from which the name “White Rose” hails, as a symbol of purity and resurrection (as evidenced in the resurrection of the girl at the appearance of Christ in Seville at the beginning of the “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor”). The path of Alexander Schmorell led from religious instruction which he received from priests in Munich, to the contribution of an Orthodox worldview via F.M. Dostoevsky in the catagorical repudiation of both regimes, enemies of man and idols that they have become of the “Fueher”, Hitler, as well as of Stalin, both nationalist and socialist. The “White Rose” considered Nazi rule as anti-Christian, but for Alexander Schmorell, no less anti-Christian was the regime in which his beloved was enslaved — Bolshevism. “I admit to my love of Russia without reservation. Therefore I also stand in opposition to Bolshevism.”

The last flyer of the White Rose primarily authored by Alexander Schmorell (Nr. IV) witnesses to his concept of the spiritual dimensions of this struggle in the name of God and his Son, Christ. He wrote:



“When he [that is, Hitler] blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed. True, we must conduct a struggle against the National Socialist terrorist state with rational means; but whoever today still doubts the reality, the existence of demonic powers, has failed by a wide margin to understand the metaphysical background of this war. Behind the concrete, the visible events, behind all objective, logical considerations, we find the irrational element: The struggle against the demon, against the servants of the Antichrist. Everywhere and at all times demons have been lurking in the dark, waiting for the moment when man is weak; when of his own volition he leaves his place in the order of Creation as founded for him by God in freedom; when he yields to the force of evil, separates himself from the powers of a higher order; and after voluntarily taking the first step, he is driven on to the next and the next at a furiously accelerating rate. Everywhere and at all times of greatest trial men have appeared, prophets and saints who cherished their freedom, who preached the One God and who with His help brought the people to a reversal of their downward course. Man is free, to be sure, but without the true God he is defenseless against the principle of evil. He is a like rudderless ship, at the mercy of the storm, an infant without his mother, a cloud dissolving into thin air.
“I ask you, you as a Christian wrestling for the preservation of your greatest treasure, whether you hesitate, whether you incline toward intrigue, calculation, or procrastination in the hope that someone else will raise his arm in your defense? Has God not given you the strength, the will to fight? […] Though we know that National Socialist power must be broken by military means, we are trying to achieve a renewal from within of the severely wounded German spirit.”

(with thanks to Katja Yurschak for the translation of Fr. Nikolai’s words)

* * *

Hymns sung at the glorification of Saint Alexander of Munich (annual commemoration day July 13):

Troparion, tone 4:



Today a light adorns our glorious city, / having within it your holy relics, O Holy Martyr Alexander; / for which sake pray to Christ God / that He deliver us from all tribulations, / for gathered together in love we celebrate your radiant memory / imitating your bravery, / standing against the godless powers and enemies.

Kontakion, tone 4:



From your mother you did inherit the love of Christ, / and through the love of your care-giver you were nourished in the fear of God, O all-glorious one, / to Whom you did give thyself, O all-honorable Alexander, / and you diligently pray with the angels. / Entreat on behalf of all who honor your memory a forgiveness of their sins.

* * *

A section of the web site of the Cathedral of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia is devoted to St Alexander Schmorell, with texts both in Russian and German:
http://www.sobor.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=79&Itemid=109&lang=de

A biographical essay (“Alexander Schmorell: a Witness in Dark Times”) is here: www.jimandnancyforest.com/2011/02/02/alexander-schmorell-a-witness-in-dark-times/

Russian translation of “Alexander Schmorell: a Witness in Dark Times”: http://www.sobor.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=272:alexander-schmorell-a-witness-in-dark-times&catid=79:alexander-schmorell-verherrlichung&Itemid=109&lang=ru

An English translation of Schmorell’s letters from prison:
www.katjasdacha.com/whiterose/alexbriefe_e.html

A set of photos of the canonization:
www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/72157629206699911/with/6832060277/

A set of photos having to do of the White Rose:
www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/72157625346459536/with/5161067764/

Wikipedia entry about the White Rose:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_rose

* * *

Jim Forest is international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship — www.incommunion.org — and is the author of many books — see: http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/books/ . He belongs to St. Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam and lives in Alkmaar, the Netherlands.


MOTHER MARIA SKOBTSOVA AND OTHERS, CATHOLIC, ORTHODOX AND LUTHERAN, WHOSE LIVES AND DEATHS REFLECTED GOD'S HOLINESS IN WWII:






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