Michaelmas; a sonnet for St. Michael the Archangel | Malcolm Guite

Continuing my sequence from Sounding the Seasons, the collection of my sonnets for the church year, published by Canterbury Press, the 29th September brings us the feast of St. Michael and All Angels which is known as Michaelmas in England, and this first autumn term in many schools and universities is still called the Michaelmas term.

Source: Michaelmas; a sonnet for St. Michael the Archangel | Malcolm Guite

Today, September 29th, being Michaelmas – the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels – in the Western Christian calendar, here is a Michaelmas sonnet by the inestimable Malcolm Guite. Includes both the written sonnet, and a recitation of it by Malcolm, a priest in the Church of England, and a gifted poet. With commentary, including this excellent short sketch of Michael (whose name means “Who is like God?”) himself:

“The Archangel Michael is traditionally thought of as the Captain of the Heavenly Host, and, following an image from the book of Revelation, is often shown standing on a dragon, an image of Satan subdued and bound by the strength of Heaven. He is also shown with a drawn sword, or a spear and a pair of scales or balances, for he represents, truth, discernment, the light and energy of intellect, to cut through tangles and confusion, to set us free to discern and choose.”

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More on the Autumn Equinox

Cornucopia – horn of plenty

Yesterday (September 21st) may have been the traditional date for the Autumn Equinox – that I was born on the Equinox is an excuse I often cite for any eccentricities in my character! – but today is this year’s astronomical Equinox: that point in the Autumn of the year when the day and night are of equal length (“equinox” literally means “equal night”). So I offer this discussion of the day by a friend:

22nd September

The Celtic festival of Mabon – The autumnal equinox

The autumnal equinox is the time when the day and night are of equal length. This was a solar festival of great importance to the Celts who used the sky as both clock and calendar, as it was seen as a turning point in the year and as such, a time to get prepared for the colder months to follow.

Traditionally, this would have been the second harvest festival, celebrated with a feast and offerings to give thanks for the fruits of the earth and also acknowledge the harsh times ahead. The “Harvest Moon” is associated with the autumnal equinox, as being the closest full moon to it. It occurs when the moon rises approximately 30 minutes later from one night to the next. Thus, there is no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise for several days following the actual date of the full moon.

The Celts did not seem to have a specific name for this time of year, but it has become widely known recently as Mabon, named after the character from the mabinogian, Mabon ap Modron.

Mabon Ap Modron (son of Modron) is stolen from his mother Modron when he is only 3 days old. While Modron grieves for her loss, Mabon, the bright child of promise, is hidden or locked away (depending on the version ) in a castle for many years. His rescue becomes a quest for one of Arthur’s knights. Cei, Arthur’s adopted brother, and Gwrhyr, the translator of animal languages. In their journey they must seek out many ancient animals, each older and wiser than the one before.

They visit a Blackbird, a Stag, an Owl and an Eagle, until they are finally led to the salmon of Llyn Llyw, the oldest animal of them all. The enormous salmon carries them downstream to Mabon’s prison in Gloucester, where they hear him through the walls, singing a lamentation for his fate. The rest of Arthur’s men launch an assault on the front of the prison, while Cei and Bedwyr sneak in the back and rescue Mabon.

In the restored Druidic tradition of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and other British Druidic Orders, this day is known as “Alban Elfed“:

The name for the festival of the Autumn Equinox in Druidry is Alban Elfed, which means ‘The Light of the Water’. The Wheel turns and the time of balance returns. Alban Elfed marks the balance of day and night before the darkness overtakes the light. It is also the time of the second harvest, usually of the fruit which has stayed on the trees and plants that have ripened under the summer sun. It is this final harvest which can take the central theme of the Alban Elfed ceremony – thanking the Earth, in her full abundance as Mother and Giver, for the great harvest, as Autumn begins.

Whether you call it Alban Elfed, Mabon, the Autumn Equinox, or the first day of Fall, I hope you have an enjoyable celebration of this day when light and dark are in balance!

Autumn Equinox Rituals September 2017 Mabon Celebration

Find the way to honor this ancient holiday that works best for you.

Source: Autumn Equinox Rituals September 2017 Mabon Celebration

Although yesterday, September 21st – which also happens to be my birthday! – was the traditional date of the Autumn Equinox, today, the 22nd, is the “official,” astronomical date for this year (it varies between the 20th and, occasionally, as late as the 23rd).

With the coming of the Fall Equinox, Summer is at an end; and for those with eyes to see it, the signs of the changing seasons are everywhere apparent in the natural world. Trees are changing colours, leaves spin or drift lazily down, autumn wildflowers – chickory, asters, goldenrod – replace those of summer, and birds gather in foraging flocks or roost along telephone wires, gathering energy for the migration… or, if year-’round residents, for the long season of cold and reduced food sources.

This is always a bittersweet time of year for me: having been born into this season, I love it, and wait for it with anticipation and even longing for most of the rest of the year. The sights, the sounds, the smells, even the tastes of Autumn speak to my soul. But I would be less than honest if I did not admit to a tinge of regret as the sun slips earthward earlier each evening, and rises later and more reluctantly each morning.

Besides, it is a transition, and transitions are always poignant, for me. So it is not without mixed feelings that I greet the Autumn Equinox! With that in mind, I share this essay: a lovely selection of suggestions for both celebrating this season, and dealing with the sometimes conflicting emotions it can evoke within us.

“Nowadays, the fall equinox reminds us that, not only is the weather going to change, but so will our personal lives and plans. Home and family usually take center stage during the colder months, which can mean moving our priorities around. Consider this day a brief respite before you find yourself dragging out the heavy coats and planning holiday meals.”

Indeed! Read and, hopefully, enjoy – perhaps, even find some comfort.

Feast of the Transfiguration

 

transfiguration-large-icon

Good morning! Wishing all friends of this blog, and of St. Bede the Venerable Traditional Anglican Mission, both a joyful Sunday, and a holy and blessed Feast of the Transfiguration. It was on this day that the divine nature and glory of Jesus the Christ was manifested on the mountain in the presence of His disciples Peter, James, and John.

If I am reading the Tables of Precedence correctly, this is one of the few feasts in the Church year that takes precedence over a Sunday, although “On these Holy Days the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel for the Feast shall be used; but on Sunday the Collect for the Feast shall be followed by the Collect for the Sunday.” Here, then, are the Propers of the Feast:

Propers for the Transfiguration of Christ.

The Book of Common Prayer 1928.

The Collect.

O GOD, who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistering; Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty, who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Collect for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity.

O GOD, whose never-failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth; We humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. 2 St. Pet. i. 13.

I THINK it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,. but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.

The Gospel. St. Luke ix. 28.

AND it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance war altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.

Fathers Day reflections: in food is remembrance…

General-Tsos-Chicken-6

It is not unusual for me to get Chinese carry-out, especially for the midday meal on a Sunday: going to a Chinese restaurant for Sunday dinner – always in the middle of the day, as was de rigueur in the old days – became our family tradition, especially once Ma was getting older, and no longer had the energy to put together her classic Sunday meal of pot-roasted beef, with onions, potatoes, and carrots (broccoli or cauliflower on the side, and usually a gelatin salad). But even before that, we often went out for Chinese on special occasions.

My father was a Far Eastern specialist in his work for the Federal government, and frequently traveled to the nations of the Pacific Rim. On some of those trips (I later learned, although of course my mother knew it at the time) he carried with him that special little pill, that would prevent – permanently – America’s enemies from getting any information out of him, should he have been captured.

As a code-breaker and signal intelligence analyst – and in his later years with the NSA, a rather senior one – there were powers in the world at that time that would have loved to have gotten hold of my father! Consequently, we were not allowed to know anything of the details of the work he did; but oh, the travelogues he brought back, the photographs captured on 35mm slide film, the detailed accounts of the things he had done and seen when he was not working. And that included the food! My father loved to eat, a trait that seems to have been passed on to me. And he came to love Asian food.

In those days, Chinese was about all you could get, in the Continental U.S. (during our time in Hawaii, Japanese food was fairly common), so we ate a good bit of it. And if Pa said a particular Chinese restaurant had especially good food, it was from a basis of personal knowledge and experience! So as I consume my carry-out General Tso’s Chicken – which overtook Sweet-and-Sour Pork as I got older, and came to appreciate spicy over cloyingly sweet – on this Father’s Day, I think of Pa: his travels and travelogues, his skill as both a provider and a raconteur, and his dedication to preserving the secrets that would keep America safe. Continue reading “Fathers Day reflections: in food is remembrance…”

Trinity Sunday

sbHoly Trinity in images - stained glass - small

Good morning, all, and happy Sunday! Wishing my Christian friends a holy and blessed Trinity Sunday: the only Feast in the Christian Year which is devoted to a doctrine, thus pointing to the importance of this doctrine – the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, one God in three Persons – to the Faith itself.

Why is it so important? Because it protects two of the key insights of the Christian faith: that God is One – Christianity is not tritheism; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three gods – and yet, at the same time, God is relational – not just with regard to His Creation, but in His very nature. And of course, it explains how, without tritheism, Christ can be God, as the Prologue to the Gospel of St. John (“… and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”) and many of Jesus’ own sayings, recorded in the Gospels, assert.

Indeed, the great battle in the Christian Church has always been the precise identity and nature of Christ Himself. Is He merely a gifted and inspired human teacher and prophet, or is He in fact God? And if so, how is it that He is Divine? Was He created by God, adopted by God, or is He actually Divine in and of Himself? This was a major struggle in the 4th century – between the Arians (disciples of a presbyter named Arius) and the orthodox, catholic Christians, led by St. Athanasius – and it remains a struggle to this day.

Many today, Christians as well as non-Christians, believe Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ – the Messiah, the Anointed One of God – to be the Son of God, if at all, through adoption: that he was a great human religious and moral teacher, perhaps indeed “anointed by God,” but nonetheless human. The problem with this is that, if true – if Christ was only a human teacher, however great – then Christianity is but one human philosophy, one school of thought, among many in the “supermarket of religions.”

Orthodox, catholic Christianity – what some call “the Great Tradition” of Christianity – teaches something more radical, and ultimately far more rewarding: that Jesus the Christ was the Incarnate Word of God: that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” as the Prologue to St. John puts it. That the very Word of God Himself became Man for our sake, walked among us, taught us by word and example, died for us and rose again.

It is this which, to me, gives Christianity its power: not necessarily or primarily its moral teachings – many of which, as others have pointed out, may be found in other religions and philosophies. This is not surprising, if one believes that the human religious impulse comes from God and tends toward God, and that there is such a thing as natural, or general, revelation. But, orthodox Christians believe, Christ is the reality which pre-Christian myths foreshadowed, and toward which pre-Christian philosophies reached. To borrow the Platonic analogy of “the Cave,” they were the shadows on the wall; He is the thing itself.

But as I say, this is a debate which has raged since the earliest centuries of the Christian Church. Is Christ simply a man, however gifted? Or is He God? The solution reached at the Council of Nicaea, 325 AD, under (as Christians believe) the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was to affirm that Christ was indeed homoousios (of one single identical substance, essence, or nature) with God the Father, not (as the Arians would have had it) homoiousios, or “of like substance.” That is to say, Nicaea affirmed the full personal divinity of Christ: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.” The first Council of Constantinople (381 AD) further affirmed that the Holy Spirit was the full Third Person of the Trinity; thus, what we nowadays call the “Nicene Creed” should properly be called the “Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.”

The Definition of Chalcedon (451 AD) more fully defined the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ Himself, and the Athanasian Creed (so-called, it was not actually by St. Athanasius; dated c. late 5th/early 6th century AD) provided further explication on both the Doctrines of the Holy Trinity (one Nature in Three Persons) and the Incarnation (two Natures in one Person), while adding some imprecations against those who do not hold the fullness of these doctrines.

Trinity Sunday, the observance of which developed over time, celebrates the Holy Trinity, one of these two most distinctive and important doctrines of the Christian Church. It is important to note that the Holy Trinity, like the Incarnation, is a Holy Mystery: we can say what we can say about it, but ultimately, the details of this sacred reality are known but to God (“now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face,” as St. Paul said).

As one commentator has put it,

“By mystery the Church does not mean a riddle, but rather that the Trinity is a reality above our human comprehension which we may begin to grasp, but ultimately must know through worship, symbol [see the image in stained glass, above], and faith. It has been said that Mystery is not a wall to run up against, but an ocean in which to swim.”

Rather a fine metaphor, in my opinion! And it reminds me of the analogy of the Eastern Orthodox mystic St. Symeon the New Theologian, who compared our knowledge of God to a man standing beside a vast ocean at night, holding up a lantern… Here, at any rate, is the traditional (English language) text of the Nicene Creed, as used in the Western Church:

nicene-creed

And here is another graphic image in stained glass, reminding us (in Latin) that the Father is neither the Son nor the Holy Spirit; the Son is neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son: but all are God.

Holy Trinity in Latin

Wishing everyone, once again, a holy and blessed Trinity Sunday!

Rogation and Ascension

Source: Rogation and Ascension

A wonderfully complete and informative treatment of Rogationtide, and the upcoming feast of the Ascension, from the excellent Anglican-focused blog, “Full Homely Divinity.” Especially noteworthy: helpful suggestions and recommendations for the liturgical celebration of this Feast, including the Rogation Procession.

Some of the historical notes are interesting, too, such as this:

“The route of the walk was around the boundaries of the parish, which was a civil as well as a religious unit. Thus, the processions were useful in teaching people, particularly the young, their parish boundaries. Known as ‘beating the bounds,’ the processions customarily stopped at boundary marks and other significant landmarks of the parish, such as a venerable tree, or a great rock, or perhaps a pond.

“The priest would read the Gospel and perhaps affix a cross to the landmark. Then the boys of the parish would suffer some indignity intended to help them remember the spot. Boys were bumped about against rocks and trees, thrown into the water, held upside-down over fences, thrown into bramble patches, or beaten with willow wands – and then given a treat in compensation. In later times, the marchers beat the boundary marker with the willow wands, beating the bounds, rather than the boys.”

I suspect the village lads may have appreciated the change! But whether they remembered the boundaries as well is open to question…