Tuesday, December 25, 2007

St. Stephen


December 26, 2007
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral
Fargo

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;

We all know this hymn very well—with those beautiful lyrics by the great Anglican hymn-writer and priest, John Mason Neale.

Well, today is the feast of Stephen—the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Christain church.

St. Stephen is one of those saints that we find ourselves looking toward again and again as an example of proclaiming Jesus to the world.

In addition to being the proto-martyr of the Church, he was also a deacon and is still highly esteemed by deacons.

Being the first martyr, St. Stephen was, of course, as we hear in the book of Acts, stoned to death for his belief that Jesus is God.

In his persecution he experienced a theophany—a vision of God, and of Jesus seated at God’s right hand.

As he lay dying, he prayed the first prayer ever recorded to Jesus, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

The word martyr actually means “witness” and truly St. Stephen is a witness to us.

Even in the face of opposition, even in the face of death, St. Stephen professed his faith in Jesus—in that which he knew was true.

He is an example to all us in that we are all called to be witnesses one way or the other.

Some of us are called to witness for Christ as St. Stephen did—with our lives.

Those witnesses are called to proclaim their faith in Christ by dying for their faith.

Even now in the world, Christians are being persecuted for their faith and all too often, countless numbers of Christians still die for Christ in those hostile environments.

And, while dying for the faith might seem to be, ultimately, a failure, we have to remember that the Church has flourished with the blood of the martyrs.

The famous motto—“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”—is a very true statement.

What would our Church be without those Christians who were—and still are—brrave enough to stand up against injustice and oppression and die for Jesus rather than give up their faith in Christ and take on another faith?

So, yes some are called to be martyrs.

Not all of us are called to be witnesses as martyrs.

But all of us, as Christians, are called to witness to Jesus by our words and actions.

Being a Christian, as we discover in the story of Stephen and all martyrs, is more than just going to church on Sundays or on Christmas and Easter.

It is more than doing dramatic things, like Stephen, for the Church.

Being a Christian means living out our faith every day of our lives, every moment of our lives.

It means living out our Baptismal Covenant.

In the Baptismal Covenant, we first of all profess out faith in God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We then take that belief and carry with us in our witness to the world.

We promise to “continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”

We promise to resist “evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.”

We promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”

We promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor” as ourselves.

We promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbor[s] as [ourselves].”

And finally, we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

So, on this Feast of Stephen, as the snow lays “round about, deep and crisp and even,” as we think about the witness of St. Stephen and all martyrs, let us remember that we too are witnesses, every time we strive, with God’s help, to live out the Baptismal Covenant in our lives and in the world.

So, let St. Stephen be your guide. Let the Baptismal Covenant be your Rule of Life.

And as God worked through St. Stephen to bring renewed life into the Church, let God work through you as well to bring continued life to the Church.

Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve


December 24, 2007
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
Fargo, North Dakota

In the name of God, Father, + Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Well, here it is. Christmas Eve. Although it might have felt like Christmas since sometime in September (at least in the malls and stores), Christmas didn’t officially start until tonight.

As many of you know, I am an Oblate—or an associate –at Blue Cloud Abbey in Marvin, South Dakota—a Benedictine Roman Catholic monastery. At Blue Cloud, the Christmas tree and the Christmas decorations don’t go up until tonight—until Christmas Eve, when Christmas officially starts.

And now—this evening— Christmas is here. In this dark, cold night, we celebrate Light. We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our collective and personal darkness. We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our despair and our fear, in our sadness and in our frustration. And as it does, no doubt most of us are feeling two emotions—the two emotions Christmas is all about—hope and joy.

Hope—in our belief that what has come to us—Christ—God made flesh—is here among us

And Joy—at the realization of that reality.

As we come forward tonight to meet with joy and hope this mystery that we remember and commemorate and make ours this evening, we too should find ourselves feeling these emotions at our very core. This hope and joy we are experiencing this evening comes up from our very centers. We will never fully understand how or why Jesus—God made flesh—has come to us as this little child in a dark stable in the Middle East, but it has happened and, because it happened, we are a different people. Our lives are different because of what happened that evening. This baby has taken away, by his very life and eventual death, everything we feared and dreaded.

When we look at it from that perspective, suddenly we find our emotions heightened. We find that our joy is a joy like few other joys we’ve had. We find that our hope is more tangible—more real—that anything we have ever hoped in before.

And that is what we are facing this evening. Our true hope and true joy is not in brightly colored lights and a pile of presents until a decorated tree. Our true hope and joy is not found in the malls or the stores. Our true hope and joy does not come to us with things that will, a week from now, be a fading memory.

Our hope and joy is in that Baby who, as he comes to us, causes us to leap up with joy at his very presence. Our hope and joy is in that almighty and incredible God who would come to us, not on some celestial cloud with a sword in his hand and armies of angels flying about him. Our hope and joy is in a God who comes to us in this innocent child, born to a humble teenager in a dusty third world land. Our hope and joy is in a God who comes with a face like our face and flesh like our flesh—a God who is born, like we are born—of a human mother—and who dies like we all must die. Our hope and joy is in a God who comes and accepts us and loves us for who we are and what we are—a God who understands what it means to live this sometimes frightening uncertain life we live.

But who, by that very birth, makes all births unique and holy and who, by that death, takes away the fear of death for all of us. This is the real reason why we are joyful and hopeful on this beautiful night. This is why we are feeling within us a strange sense of longing. This is why we are rushing toward our Savior who has come to visit us in what we once thought was our barrenness.

Let the hope you feel tonight as Jesus our Savior draws close to us stay with you now and always. Let the joy you feel tonight as Jesus our Friend comes to us in love be the motivating force in how you live your lives throughout this coming year.

Jesus is here. He is in our midst tonight. He is so near, our very bodies and souls are rejoicing. So, greet him tonight with all that you have within you and welcome him into the shelter of your hearts.

Amen.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Advent-Christmas letter

Advent-Christmas, 2007

Happy holidays! I hope all is well with you and those you love.
Well, another busy year to put to rest.

I am still serving as Assistant to the Bishop for Communications for the Diocese of North Dakota, as an Assisting Priest at Gethsemane Cathedral and as chaplain to All Saints Episcopal Church in Valley City, N.D. I also helped out for a good part of the year at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in north Fargo, while their priest (and my good friend) Liz Powers recovered from West Nile Virus.

My seventh book of poems, Just Once, was published on February 21, which was also the fifth anniversary of my diagnosis with cancer. It’s a beautiful book that has done very well (for a book of poems). I have received many glowing reviews and comments about it.
My poems continue to be published regularly in the literary journals, including The Solitary Plover, Albatross, Arabesques, Sea Stories, Right Hand Pointing and The Litany Series. I also had a poem published this Fall in the Wilderness House Literary Review Anthology.

I was also a “poet in the schools” yet again in the spring at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo and also did a “Poetry Out Loud” session at the school in Kensal, North Dakota in November.
Be sure to check out my new website: http://www.jamieparsley.com/ which I launched this year. I also have a blog http://www.jamieparsley.blogspot.com/ where I post poems, sermons, etc.
One of the low points of the year was a disturbing experience with a stalker. A bi-polar cross dresser (yes, you read that right—I couldn’t make it up even if I tried) did over $3,000 worth of damage to my car on three occasions in May and once in August after several frightening incidents of harassment. He also stole the Cathedral Coordinator’s purse and did damage to the Cathedral van. He was eventually banned from the Cathedral and has stayed away from me since, but to say it was a sobering experience is an understatement.
The Cathedral elected a new Dean in September—the Very Rev. Dr. Steven Sellers. I am very pleased with the choice and have greatly enjoyed getting to know and work alongside Dean Sellers and his wife, Dixie.
I traveled quite a bit this year—including another wonderful trip to New York City in April and an equally wonderful trip to Los Angeles earlier this month as part of my duties as a member of the Board of Governors for Episcopal Life.
I start my fifth year at the University of Mary next month, where I teach a full load of courses. In addition to classes in theology, ethics and philosophy, I also taught a course this year in Crime Literature, which was fun. The University is sending me to Phoenix in January to teach a course.
My parents are doing very well. My mother just celebrated a year and half of no smoking in May. My father continues to work right through his “retirement.” They both are dealing with the aches and pains of aging, but otherwise, they’re healthy as ever.
My brother, Jeff, had a stroke in October following a heart attack and is slowly recovering at home.
I presided at five weddings this year (with two more already scheduled in 2008), mostly of students and former students. I also had three baptisms. And of course a steady run of funerals. One of the funerals I presided over was for my Uncle, Marvin Olson, who died Nov. 21.
So, as you can see, my life is never boring. There’s always something happening and I am enjoying all of it.
I wish you only the very best this season and many, many blessings in 2008.
-peace,
Jamie+

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe




The Chapel of the Resurrection
Wednesday Dec. 12, 2007

Luke 1.39-47

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It isn’t an official day in the Episcopal Church, but in the Roman Catholic Church, it is and in some Mexican communities, this is a very huge feast day.

I love the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which I will share with you. Between Dec. 9 and Dec. 12, 1531, a Mexican native by the name of Juan Diego, reportedly saw a “brown-skinned” Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City. During these visitations, the Virgin talked to him in his native language and, during the conversations, told him that he should build a church on the site. When Juan Diego went to the Bishop about this, the Bishop told him he would only build a church there if there was a miraculous sign of some sort.

So, according to an online source:

"….the Virgin told Juan Diego to gather flowers from the hill, even though it was winter, when normally nothing bloomed. He found Spanish roses, gathered them on his tilma (or cloak), and presented these to the bishop. According to tradition, when the roses fell from it the icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared imprinted on the cloth."

Sure enough, this was enough of a miracle for the Bishop and a beautiful church was built on the site that is still a great center of pilgrimage and devotion.

And the tilma with the image of the Our Lady is still on it. It’s impressive image and one that I find quite beautiful.

Here’s a few interesting tidbits regarding the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also from that same internet source;

"Some consider it miraculous that the tilma maintains its structural integrity afternearly 500 years, since replicas made with the same type of materials lasted only about 15 years before disintegrating.In addition to withstanding the elements, the tilma resisted a 1791 ammonia spill that made a considerable hole, which was reportedly repaired in two weeks with no external help. In 1921, an anarchist placed an offering of flowers next to the image. A bomb hidden within the flowers exploded and destroyed the shrine. However, the image suffered no damage.
Photographers and ophthalmologists have reported images reflected in the eyes of the Virgin.In 1929 and 1951 photographers found a figure reflected in the Virgin's eyes; upon inspection they said that the reflection was tripled in what is called the Purkinje effect. This effect is commonly found in human eyes. The ophthalmologist Dr. Jose Aste Tonsmann later enlarged the image of the Virgin's eyes by 2500x magnification and said he saw not only the aforementioned single figure, but rather images of all the witnesses present when the tilma was shown to the Bishop in 1531. Tonsmann also reported seeing a small family—mother, father, and a group of children—in the center of the Virgin's eyes.

"In response to the eye miracles, Joe Nickell and John F. Fischer wrote in Skeptical Inquirer that images seen in the Virgin's eyes could be the result of the human tendency to form familiar shapes from random patterns, much like a psychologist's inkblots—a phenomenon known as religious pareidolia.

"Richard Kuhn, who received the 1938 Nobel Chemistry prize, is said to have analyzed a sample of the fabric in 1936 and said the tint on the fabric was not from a known mineral, vegetable, or animal source.

"In 1979 Philip Serna Callahan studied the icon with infrared light and stated that portions of the face, hands, robe, and mantle had been painted in one step, with no sketches or corrections and no paintbrush strokes."

But not everyone was so encouraging. You have to remember that the time this happened in 1531 was also the time of the Inquisition and people could be executed for believing anything that was contrary to what the Church proclaimed. Some people accused those who professed faith in Our Lady of Guadalupe as idolaters. The Dominican Order spearheaded the Inquisition and the Dominicans were especially upset with the image. One of the Dominicans, Martin de Leon, said that devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe was nothing more than worship of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin.

Still, despite all of this, the image has become a very important one in Hispanic culture and even in the Episcopal Church. One of the of the largest churches in the Episcopal Church is Nuestra SeƱora de Guadalupe Episcopal Church in San Jose, California.

I was in Los Angeles about a week ago and I was staying at the Cathedral Center there. In the Cathedral, there is a side Lady Altar, with a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

What is so wonderful, I think, about this story, is that it is the first apparition of Our Lady in the Americas. And when she appeared to Juan Diego, she did not appear as a white European, but rather as a dark-skinned Indian, just like Juan Diego himself.

And this is the message I think Our Lady of Guadalupe has for all of us. While some might say that devotion of the Virgin of Guadalupe is merely paganism in disguise, I think it is a sign for all of us how wonderfully God works in our lives. God speaks to us and breaks through to us in any way possible. God even breaks through to us in the form of a humble, dark-skinned Virgin who speaks to a humble dark-skinned Indian. And by breaking through, by speaking in such a humble way, instills deep and truly heart-felt devotion in lives of people.

This is what Advent is all about. It about God breaking through to us in the only way we are truly going to “get it.” God breaks through to us by appearing as one of us—with flesh like our flesh and faces like our faces.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a perfect example of God breaking through and meeting people where they are. And we, who lament and wail over the fact that it seems as though God has abandoned us or doesn’t speak to us anymore or complain about God not listening to us, really are not looking very closely around us. God still does speak to us—in our own language, through people who look like us and act like us—whoever we might be and from whatever culture we might come from. And God does it in seemingly humble and beautiful and sometimes subtle ways. And in the case of the Virgin of Guadalupe, God does it is in a combination of subtle and not so subtle ways.

So, in this season of Advent, remember the beautiful story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And like Juan Diego, look for the vision in your own life. Look for God breaking through in your life and realize that God’s breaking through might not be what you think it is.

Monday, December 10, 2007

2 Advent

December 9, 2007
All Saints Episcopal Church
Valley City, North Dakota

Romans 15.4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

In the Name of God, Father+ Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Well, here we are on the Second Sunday of Advent. I love Advent. Partly I love Advent because we get to hear some of the best scriptures the Bible has to offer.

Today is no exception. One of my favorites is our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In it we find Paul commending scriptures to us. Traditionally, in the Anglican Church, this Sunday is often called “Bible Sunday” because of this reading.

It reminds us that we turn to scripture for hope. In these days when scripture is used as a weapon, as a way of condemning others and hurting others, in this Sunday following the news that the Diocese of San Joaquin has decided to split from the Episcopal Church on essentially scriptural grounds, it is refreshing, on this Second Sunday of Advent, to read this scripture that is essentially about hope. Because it is hope that this Season of Advent is all about—a hope we find in scripture, a hope we live with in our daily lives as Christians, a hope that fortifies us and a hope that we can cling to when everything else goes wrong.

In this morning’s Gospel, we are also faced with the formidable figure of John the Baptist. The impression we get from Matthew is of someone we probably wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. He comes across to us through the ages as a kind of crazy man. He is dirty. He is not very well mannered. He is shouting strange words and prophecies. He is frightening. Certainly it would be difficult for any of us to take the words of a man like this seriously. Especially when he’s saying things like, “prepare, for the Kingdom of heaven draws near” “the axe is being laid to the root of the trees” and “the chaff will be burned in an unquenchable fire. “ Somehow, in the way John the Baptist proclaims it, this is not so much hopeful as frightening.

It is a message that startles us and jolts us at our very core. But this is the true message of Advent. Like John the Baptist and those who eagerly awaited the Messiah, this time of waiting—this time of hope—was almost painful. When we look at it from that perspective, we see that maybe John isn’t being quite as difficult and windy as we initially thought. Rather his message is one of almost excruciating expectation and hope.

If you notice in the Prayer Book, the Latin heading for Psalm 40 is Exptans Expectavi. Used within the context of that particular psalm, it can be translated as “I waited and waited for you, O God.” That phrase really suits, in many ways, everything we experience in this season. Like John, we are waiting and waiting for our God to come to us, to appear to us as one of us.

Recently I’ve been reading a very fascinating book. The book is called The Forgotten Desert Mothers. It is a book about those early Christians who tended to take the words we heard this morning from the Baptist as literally as they could. These desert mothers (and fathers) have a lot to teach us. Like us, they lived in an age of uncertainty. Many had suffered dearly during the persecutions against Christians. Others had previously been pagans who lived lives of excess. It was a time when nothing in the world seemed too stable. Governments gave way to stronger governments. Differing religions battled each other for what each perceived to be “the truth.” And so too did many Christians.

It sounds familiar doesn’t it? In the face of all of this uncertainty, these men and women heard the call of the Baptist. “Prepare, for the kingdom of heaven draws near.” In response they did something we might find unusual. We, as modern Christians, are taught that we must not only live out our faith, but also, in some way, must proclaim our faith to those around us. We take seriously the command to go out into the world and proclaim what we believe. Certainly that is what we will do this morning when we recite the creed. It is what we do when we go out to feed the hungry or to tend the sick. We do it when we reach out to others in the name of Christ.

These early Christians, however, did the exact opposite. They retreated from society and went off to the desert, in this case usually the deserts of Egypt and Palestine. Oftentimes, coming from wealthy homes and positions of authority, they sold it all, gave the money to the poor and went off to live alone. And we’re not talking about a few individuals here. We’re talking about people leaving in droves. The deserts were literally populated with men and women who tried to leave it all behind. More often than not, they formed loosely-organized communities, usually around a church, in which they lived and prayed alone for most of the time, only coming together to pray the Psalms or celebrate Eucharist. Their lives in the desert weren’t, as you can imagine, comfortable lives by any means. Some walled themselves up in abandoned tombs. Others lived in caves. One went so far as to crawl atop a tall pillar and live there for years on end, exposed to the elements.

Even then they couldn’t completely escape what they left behind. Many of the stories tell of these poor souls being tormented by demons and temptations. It’s not hard to imagine that, yes, alone in a dark tomb or cave, one would be forced to face all the darkest recesses of one’s soul. Part of the process of separating one’s self from the world involves finally wrestling with all those issues one carries into the desert.

Few of us in this day and age would view this kind of existence as the ideal Christian life. In fact, most of would probably look on it as a sort of insanity. But at the time, in that place, people began to see this as the ideal. People, I imagine, were tired of the day-to-day grind of working, slaving, fending for themselves in a sometimes unfriendly society. They felt distant from God and they were not able to find God in the society in which they lived. The idea of going off and being alone with God was very appealing.

Of course, even this seemingly simple and pure way of living was soon tarnished by another form excess. Some of the people who went off to live in the desert were simply mentally unsound to begin with. Others went insane after years of living alone in a tomb or a cave. They abused their bodies, sometimes to the point of death, by whipping themselves, by chaining themselves to walls, by not taking care of themselves physically, or simply starving themselves to a point close to death. Some even went so far as castrating themselves for the kingdom of heaven.

But despite these abuses, the message of the desert mothers and fathers to us is still a valid one. The whole reason they went off like they did was to shed everything that separated them from their hoping and waiting for God. They sought to make their very lives a living Advent. They were waiting expectantly and anxiously for Christ. And by mortifying themselves, by chastising their bodies and fasting, they would be prepared for his coming again.

Although I hope no one here is called to a life quite that extreme, I think their message speaks to us clearly in these days before Christmas. We should find ways to prepare for the Incarnate God’s coming to us. We should shed some of those things that separate ourselves from God. We should find our own deserts in our lives—those places in which we can go off alone and be with God. A place in which we can wait for God longingly. It is a place in which we can fully express our hope.

And that is what we are doing in this time of Advent. We are hoping. We are looking longingly for God to come to us. Those of us who dwell here in the darkness—those of us who dwell in our tombs, in our caves, in the darkest recesses of our own souls—find ourselves clinging to that blessed hope, looking longingly for the light to burn away that darkness.

That Light is, of course, Christ. That Light comes into our darkness in the form of a simple, beautiful child. And that Light can be frightening, because it reveals things to us we might not want revealed. It reveals to us aspects of ourselves we might not want revealed and it reveals things about our world that we don’t want to see. But by enlightening us and making us see fully and completely, we know that we are freed. We are freed from those things that keep us in the dark and we are freed to go forward into the Light and dwell there.

So, yes, John’s message in the wilderness is a frightening one at times. It is frightening because the Light he is telling us is coming to us can be frightening, especially when we’re used to the darkness. But it is also a message of hope and longing. It is a message meant to wake us from our slumbering complacency. His is a voice calling us to sit up and take notice.

The kingdom of heaven is near. In fact it’s nearer than we can probably ever hope or imagine. So, be prepared. Watch. Wait. Hope. For this anticipation—this expectant longing of ours—this wonderful and beautiful hope—is merely a pathway on which the Christ Child can come to us here in our darkness and appear before us as one of us.

Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

St. Clement of Alexandria


Weds. Dec. 5, 2007
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral
Fargo, North Dakota

John 6.57-63

In the Name of God, Father, + Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the feast of St. Clement of Alexandria. He comes to us right in the middle of a series of days celebrating several so-called Fathers of the Church. Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of John of Damascus. Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas and on the Friday we celebrate the Feast of St. Ambrose of Milan. All of this leads us to an unofficial feast of our Church and a Holy Day of Obligation in the Roman Catholic Church—the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady on Saturday (which also happen to be my birthday). In the midst of this celebration of Church Fathers and in this time in which we ponder such things as Incarnation—Our God made flesh—I thought I would talk a bit about who these men were and why they are important to us.

I have been reading a lot of Patristics lately—Patristics being the study of the writing of these Church Fathers. It has been a great experience for me. I love these Fathers of the Church and I can’t get enough of their works. I have been amazed by their brilliance, their clarity, the depth of their thinking. And I have been especially amazed at how their words still speak with such power even now. Even after a thousand or so years, these Fathers are still fresh. They still speak to us and the Church, just as they spoke to the Christians of their time and, for a large part, what they said still speaks loud and clear to us.

One of my favorite of the Father is St. Gregory of Nyssa. Just when one thinks that the Fathers can’t be radical in this time of seemingly radical theology, one is amazed to find Gregory, who died in about 394, writing things like this:

“The soul of the dead man will be brought before judgment, it will hear the sentence on its past life, it will receive punishment and reward according to its desert, either to be cleansed by fire according to the word of the gospels, or to be blessed and comforted in the dew of grace.” (Patrologia Graeca, XLVI, 167)

At first, we might think this is pretty standard. But if you were listening closely, what Gregory—good, Orthodox (or “right –thinking”)—Gregory is talking about is what is now called Universal Salvation. He is saying that, yes, there is a time of damnation and fire for those who are damned, but, he says, it is not eternal. What the time of fire does is cleanse the soul and makes it ready for eternal life with Christ. In other words, even those whoa re damned are not damned for all eternity. Eventually, they will be brought into a full relationship with Christ and will be redeemed. To state it simply, no one is lost forever. In the end, all will be saved.

But this isn’t the most radical thing Gregory has to say on the topic. He says that because there is no eternal damnation, not even our greatest enemy, Satan, will be damned forever. Another Church Father, Origen, had already, before Gregory, stated that he believed eventually even Satan would be redeemed. For Origen, however, this idea of Universal Salvation—even for Satan—is seen in the ”light of an abstract idea,” according to Robert Payne in his book, The Fathers of the Eastern Church. For Gregory, this salvation of all of us, including “the Prince of Darkness” is “accomplished in the joyfulness of God.”

I love that. Our salvation—the salvation of all of us—is accomplished in the “joyfulness of God.” For Gregory, he saw a day in which “even the Prince of Darkness would once more be restored to his seat beside the throne of God.” Talk about radical thinking. To even bring up this concept that the damned—and even the Devil—could be saved in certain company today is seen as radically liberal, radically left of center, radically crazy, But for the Church Fathers, this was simply a way of saying that unless the damned are ultimately redeemed, unless Satan himself is redeemed, the full mission of Christ’s salvation of the created order has not been accomplished and, in a sense, shows that God has failed somewhere along the way.

You can start to see why I love the Church Fathers so much. These Fathers lived in a time not all that long removed from the time of Jesus, As Robert Payne said in his book, they lived in a time when “[t]he face of Jesus has left a shining on the air; they see His face; and in His pathways they walked in fear and trembling, for they could almost see His shadow at the turning of the road.”

They are important to us now because, as I said, the Church is in a similar place as it was in their day. We too are being rent apart by schisms. We too find Christians fighting against other Christians over matters of dogma and policy, over scripture and tradition. And it may be time for us to turn to these Fathers, who saw the Church through the tumultuous times in their day to lead us yet again through the tumultuous times of our Church now.

Or maybe, we should be praying for new Fathers and Mothers in our midst. We should be praying for another Clement or Nicholas, another John of Damascus or Ambrose of Milan, another Gregory of Nyssa. We should be praying for those people who will lead us with strength of faith and gentleness of compassion. We should be praying for people who are radical in their thinking and yet orthodox in their foundation. We should be praying for men and women who can inspire us and lead us, who can say to us, as St. Polycarp did in the early Church:

“Let your baptism serve as a shield, your faith as a helmet, your love as spear, your endurance as full armor.” (Ad Polyc. VI)

We need people in the church like Clement who can say to us—and convince us—that “All this life is a holy festival.” Because it is. All life is a holy festival. And we should be rejoicing. So, like those early Fathers and Mothers of our Church, rejoice in this holy festival of life