st. john of the ladder is one of the more unusual saints. he was a syrian, but is claimed in spirit at leastby the celtic church, is celebrated by both the eastern and western church with a feast day, 30 march, and he is also celebrated in the mid-lent synaxis by the eastern church. his book, the ladder of divine ascent is the only book with its own icon. it is traditionally read during lent in monasteries.
a brief outline of his life is available on the website of st. john of the ladder orthodox church in piedmont, south carolina.
it has been a few days since i've posted anything, but that does not mean that i have not been busy: i have been trying to discern "what next?" how do i best carry out my ordination vows, trying to see the one holy catholic and apostolic church and to serve her in a world gone full-bozy zonkers while the church chases after?
it has been helpful to read about the struggles of earlier men who have had the same struggle. i have read john henry cardinal newman's apologia and maria trench's story of dr. pusey's life.
the struggle for me has been whether my own position was that of newman, before he famously "went over to rome:" that i had been ordained in a part of the church that was not merely scismatic but invalid, or whether pusey was right, as he fought for the church to remain orthodox against the growing tide of modernism.
on page 542 of trench's book is a quote that has helped me immensely, written as the church of england was debating whether to withdraw the athanasian creed from its worship:
"that a church which would withdraw from public worship . . . the athanasian creed would, in the convictions of thusands of its members, no longer be the same church as that in which we were baptized, and which at our ordination we vosed to serve. . . . it would not be my own orders, but her character, as having abandoned the trust committed to her, which would be brought into question."
i was ordained in a lineage as mongrel as barak obama's family tree, combining old catholic and syrian and coptic and malabar apostolic successions, the purpose of which marriage i understood to be the preservation of these ancient traditions in the west at a time when the continued existence of them in the post-colonial wars seemed uncertain. alas, the followers of that lineage these days have withdrawn from those traditions, and i no longer feel it possible to continue with them.
but, i also know the vows i made and the tradition i received, and so i am excited to explore the celtic and syrian traditions which have been given to me, seeking to remain faithful to the celtic, the western orthodox, church.
celtic and syrian and coptic? you might wonder. the answer is at the base of most of the high crosses in ireland, where the meeting of paul of thebes and anthony of the desert is usually the bottom panel. the wonderful tradition is that seven monks from the desert came to ireland around the beginning of the fourth century, bringing the teachings of the desert fathers to that green land: western orthodoxy; an understanding of the faith onc held which needs, i firmly believe, to be held today, despite the anxiety that it is unfashionable.
so, i ask the most holy theotokos, blessed chad, blessed bridgit, blessed john the wonderworker, all the saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me as i begin this next part of my pilgrimage.
of all the legends surrounding the "hidden years" of jesus, which according to luke's gospel weren't hidden at all but rather usual for a jewish boy growing up in first-century nazareth, my favourite is that he was taken by his foster-father joseph of arimathea on a trip to cornwall to trade for tin.
the legend continues that after the resurrection joseph returned to cornwall to become a missionary to the british. and although there's certainly a big of perhaps-unwanted gnosticism to william blake in general, and a certain chiliasim in the last verse, i of course still love the the great hymn, "jerusalem".
(of course, there's another and wonderfully ancient legend about the conversion of britain, too, connected to st. aristobulus of 16 march.
there is snow under the pine trees this morning, reminding me of the snowy morning by the pine tree at amelia white park in santa fe eighteen years ago when i took chad as my patron in my journey with christ. chad the barefoot walker who recognized that fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom.
my faithfulness in that journey has been far from consistent.
now i am in the ozarks, back to the place i was sent 14 years ago, on a morning with snow under the pines once again. the pine underneath which i took my first vows of obedience, poverty, stability, and chastity, has been cut down. in its place is an ugly statue. that's it in the picture above. one that statue is plaque that i can only paraphrase: be careful what you do here. simple acts can have great consequences. i came back to the ozarks on what i thought to be a retreat, to spend some time in silence, listening to the wind words. ah, that can be a dangerous thing to do.
on this second day of march, the feast of st. chad, bishop of mercia. i find the wind owrds saying, inconveniently at this time when once again there is no king in israel, albeit the new israel, and every man does as he pleases, to call for a return to the faith that has been given to us by the apsotles, to call us to receive it. alas, this morning's matins reading for a patron saint who is a bishop is from the tenth chapter of the gospel according to matthew: go to the lost sheep of the house of israel. so, i pray this morning, under the tall pines among which i know dwell, for the grace to be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves. amen.