OREMUS: 2 May 2007

Steve Benner steve.benner at oremus.org
Tue May 1 17:00:01 GMT 2007

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OREMUS for Wednesday, May 2, 2007 
Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, Teacher of the Faith, 373

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Blessed are you, God of peace, 
who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, 
the great shepherd of the sheep, 
by the blood of the eternal covenant, 
making us complete in everything good 
so that we may do his will, 
and working among us that which is pleasing in his sight.
For these and all your mercies, we praise you,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
Blessed be God for ever!

An opening canticle may be sung. 


Psalm 139

Lord, you have searched me out and known me;*
 you know my sitting down and my rising up;
   you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places*
 and are acquainted with all my ways.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,*
 but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
You press upon me behind and before*
 and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;*
 it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
Where can I go then from your Spirit?*
 where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there;*
 if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
If I take the wings of the morning*
 and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand will lead me*
 and your right hand hold me fast.
If I say, 'Surely the darkness will cover me,*
 and the light around me turn to night',
Darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day;*
 darkness and light to you are both alike.
For you yourself created my inmost parts;*
 you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I will thank you because I am marvellously made;*
 your works are wonderful and I know it well.
My body was not hidden from you,*
 while I was being made in secret
   and woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
   all of them were written in your book;*
 they were fashioned day by day,
   when as yet there was none of them.
How deep I find your thoughts, O God!*
 how great is the sum of them!
If I were to count them,
   they would be more in number than the sand;*
 to count them all,
   my life span would need to be like yours.
Search me out, O God, and know my heart;*
 try me and know my restless thoughts.
Look well whether there be any wickedness in me*
 and lead me in the way that is everlasting.

A Song of Faith (1 Peter 1.3-4,18-21)

Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ!

By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading,
kept in heaven for you.

Who are being protected by the power of God
through faith for a salvation,
ready to be revealed in the last time.

You were ransomed from the futile ways of your ancestors
not with perishable things like silver or gold

But with the precious blood of Christ
like that of a lamb without spot or stain.

Through him you have confidence in God,
who raised him from the dead and gave him glory,
so that your faith and hope are set on God.

Psalm 147:13-end

Worship the Lord, O Jerusalem;*
 praise your God, O Zion;
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;*
 he has blessed your children within you.
He has established peace on your borders;*
 he satisfies you with the finest wheat.
He sends out his command to the earth,*
 and his word runs very swiftly.
He gives snow like wool;*
 he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.
He scatters his hail like bread crumbs;*
 who can stand against his cold?
He sends forth his word and melts them;*
 he blows with his wind and the waters flow.
He declares his word to Jacob,*
 his statutes and his judgements to Israel.
He has not done so to any other nation;*
 to them he has not revealed his judgements.

FIRST READING [Jeremiah 50:17-20]:

Israel is a hunted sheep driven away by lions. First the king of Assyria devoured it, and
now at the end King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon has gnawed its bones. Therefore,
thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to punish the king of
Babylon and his land, as I punished the king of Assyria. I will restore Israel to its
pasture, and it shall feed on Carmel and in Bashan, and on the hills of Ephraim and in
Gilead its hunger shall be satisfied. In those days and at that time, says the Lord, the
iniquity of Israel shall be sought, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and
none shall be found; for I will pardon the remnant that I have spared.

Words: Reginald Heber (1783-1826), 1827
Tune: Nicaea    
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Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.

Holy, holy, holy! All saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the sinful human eye thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.

SECOND READING [John 10:31-42]:

The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, 'I have shown you many
good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?' The Jews
answered, 'It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for
blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.' Jesus
answered, 'Is it not written in your law, "I said, you are gods"? If those to whom the
word of God came were called "gods" and the scripture cannot be annulled  can
you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is
blaspheming because I said, "I am God's Son"? If I am not doing the works of my
Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I
am in the Father.' Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their
He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing
earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him, and they were saying, 'John
performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.' And many
believed in him there. 

The Benedictus (Morning), 
the Magnificat (Evening), or 
Nunc dimittis (Night) may follow.

Give us your peace, O God, that we may rejoice in your
goodness to us and to all your children, and be thankful
for your love revealed in Jesus Christ.
Especially we thank you for
     people who reveal your truth and righteousness...
                         (We thank you, Lord.)
     courage to be bold disciples...
     those who show hospitality...
     surprises that have blessed us...
     the unity of the church of Jesus Christ...

Give us your peace, O God, that we may be confident of
your care for us and all your children, as we remember
the needs of others. Especially we pray for
     friends and relatives who are far away... 
                              (Lord, hear our prayer.)
     neighbors in special need...
     those who suffer hunger and thirst...
     those who work at night while others sleep...
     Episcopal and Methodist churches...

who created and fashioned us,
who knows us and searches us out,
who abides with us through light and dark:
help us to know your presence in this life
and, in the life to come, still to be with you;
where you are alive and reign,
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Everliving God,
whose servant Athanasius testified
   to the mystery of the Word made flesh for our salvation:
help us, with all your saints,
to grow into the likeness of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.     
Rejoicing in the God's new creation,
let us pray as our Redeemer has taught us:

- The Lord's Prayer

Lead us always to the living waters
where you promise respite and refreshment,
that we may be counted among those
who know and follow you, O Lord. Amen.

The psalms and the invitation to the Lord's Prayer are from _Celebrating Common
Prayer_ (Mowbray), (c) The Society of Saint Francis 1992, which is used with

The canticle is from _Common Worship: Daily Prayer, Preliminary
Edition_, copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council, 2002.

The biblical passage is from The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized
Edition), copyright (c) 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education
of  the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by
permission. All rights reserved.

The opening prayer of thanksgiving uses one sentence from _Revised
Common Lectionary Prayers_, copyright (c) 2002 Consultation on
Common Texts and another sentence from _Opening Prayers: Collects in
Contemporary Language_.

The closing sentence is from _New Patterns for Worship_,
copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council, 2002.

Outside the pages of the New Testament itself, Athanasius is probably the man
to whom we chiefly owe the preservation of the Christian faith. He was born
around AD 298, and lived in Alexandria, Egypt, the chief center of learning of
the Roman Empire.
In 313 the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which changed
Christianity from a persecuted to an officially favored religion. About six years
later, a presbyter (elder, priest) Arius of Alexandria began to teach concerning
the Word of God (John 1:1) that "God begat him, and before he was begotten,
he did not exist." Athanasius was at that time a newly ordained deacon,
secretary to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria, and a member of his household.
His reply to Arius was that the begetting, or uttering, of the Word by the
Father is an eternal relation between Them, and not a temporal event. Arius
was condemned by the bishops of Egypt (with the exceptions of Secundus of
Ptolemais and Theonas of Marmorica), and went to Nicomedia, from which he
wrote letters to bishops throughout the world, stating his position.
The Emperor Constantine undertook to resolve the dispute by calling a council
of bishops from all over the Christian world. This council met in Nicea, just
across the straits from what is now Istanbul, in the year 325, and consisted of
317 bishops. Athanasius accompanied his bishop to the council, and became
recognized as a chief spokesman for the view that the Son was fully God,
co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.
The party of Athanasius was overwhelmingly in the majority. (The western, or
Latin, half of the Empire was very sparsely represented, but it was solidly
Athanasian, so that if its bishops had attended in force, the vote would have
been still more lopsided.) It remained to formulate a creedal statement to
express the consensus. The initial effort was to find a formula from Holy
Scripture that would express the full deity of the Son, equally with the Father.
However, the Arians cheerfully agreed to all such formulations, having
interpreted them already to fit their own views. (Those of you who have
conversed with members of the Watchtower Society, who consider themselves
the spiritual heirs of Arius, will know how this works.) Finally, the Greek word
"homo-ousios" (meaning "of the same substance, or nature, or essence") was
introduced, chiefly because it was one word that could not be understood to
mean what the Arians meant. Some of the bishops present, although in
complete disagreement with Arius, were reluctant to use a term not found in
the Scriptures, but eventually saw that the alternative was a creed that both
sides would sign, each understanding it in its own way, and that the Church
could not afford to leave the question of whether the Son is truly God (the
Arians said "a god") undecided. So the result was that the Council adopted a
creed which is a shorter version of what we now call the Nicene Creed,
declaring the Son to be "of one substance with the Father." At the end, there
were only two holdouts, the aforesaid Secundus and Theonas.
No sooner was the council over than its consensus began to fall apart.
Constantine had expected that the result would be unity, but found that the
Arians would not accept the decision, and that many of the orthodox bishops
were prepared to look for a wording a little softer than that of Nicea,
something that sounded orthodox, but that the Arians would accept. All sorts
of compromise formulas were worked out, with all shades of variation from the
formula of Nicea.
In 328, Alexander died, and Athanasius succeeded him as bishop of
Alexandria. He refused to participate in these negotiations, suspecting
(correctly as it turned out) that once the orthodox party showed a willingness
to make reaching an agreement their highest priority, they would end up giving
away the store. He defended the full deity of Christ against emperors,
magistrates, bishops, and theologians. For this, he was regarded as a
trouble-maker by Constantine and his successors, and was banished from
Alexandria a total of five times by various emperors. (Hence the expression
"Athanasius contra mundum," or, "Athanasius against the world.") Eventually,
Christians who believed in the Deity of Christ came to see that once they were
prepared to abandon the Nicene formulation, they were on a slippery slope that
led to regarding the Logos as simply a high-ranking angel. The more they
experimented with other formulations, the clearer it became that only the
Nicene formulation would preserve the Christian faith in any meaningful sense,
and so they re-affirmed the Nicene Creed at the Council of Constantinople in
381, a final triumph that Athanasius did not live to see.
It was a final triumph as far as councils of bishops were concerned, but the
situation was complicated by the fact that after Constantine there were several
Arian emperors (not counting the Emperor Julian, who was a pagan, but
correctly saw that the most effective way to fight Christianity was to throw all
his weight on the side of the Arians). Under one of them Arian missionaries
were sent to convert the Goths, who became the backbone of the Roman Army
(then composed chiefly of foreign mercenaries) with the result that for many
years Arianism was considered the mark of a good Army man. The conversion
of Clovis, King of the Franks, in 496, to orthodox Christianity either gave the
Athanasian party the military power to crush Arianism or denied the Arian
Goths the military supremacy that would have enabled them to crush
Athanasian Christianity, depending on your point of view.
Since Alexandria had the best astronomers, it was the duty of the Bishop of
Alexandria to write to the other bishops every year and tell them the correct
date for Easter. Naturally, his annual letter on this topic contained other
material as well. One Easter Letter (or Paschal Letter) of Athanasius is well
known for giving a list of the books that ought to be considered part of the
canonical Scriptures, with a supplementary list of books suitable for devotional
Quotations from the writings of Athanasius follow:
    We were made "in the likeness of God." But in course of time that image
has become obscured, like a face on a very old portrait, dimmed with dust and
    When a portrait is spoiled, the only way to renew it is for the subject to
come back to the studio and sit for the artist all over again. That is why Christ
came--to make it possible for the divine image in man to be recreated. We
were made in God's likeness; we are remade in the likeness of his Son.
    To bring about this re-creation, Christ still comes to men and lives among
them. In a special way he comes to his Church, his "body", to show us what
the "image of God" is really like.
    What a responsibility the Church has, to be Christ's "body," showing him to
those who are unwilling or unable to see him in providence, or in creation!
Through the Word of God lived out in the Body of Christ they can come to the
Father, and themselves be made again "in the likeness of God." [James Kiefer,

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