Sunday, November 29, 2009


Another piece from the local paper:

Recovering the Lost Season of Advent

In an age where the most important thing about Christmas tends to be how the economy has fared, perhaps a look into past traditions can help us recover a better focus. Many of us have heard of Advent Calendars and, indeed, you can still find them in stores. Most have a little treat of candy or a simple toy like a marble or a bouncy ball. These calendars are made for children, of course, and usually start on December first and help the child count down the days until Christmas, when, hopefully, he will find something other than coal in his stocking.

The wreaths associated with Christmas are actually borrowed from another season of the year. They were known in the past—and still are by many—as Advent Wreaths. Christmas has taken them over. Christmas has, in fact, taken over the whole season of Advent.

I would contend that this is a mistake and a sorry loss for our culture. Advent is a very different season from Christmas. Advent is all about preparation and anticipation—very like the child’s anticipation of Christmas morning. But the current Christmas rush—carols and decorations up this year long before Thanksgiving—misses the finer points of the Advent preparation.

Advent as a season can be traced in the literature of the Church to the 500s. As the feast of Christmas grew in its importance and in its celebration, a time of preparation to Christmas began to be observed as well, just as Lent was a time of preparation for Easter.

In the Eastern Church, the Advent season is known as the Little Lent. Advent is a time of fasting, of preparation, of penitence and of discipline. It is shorter than Lent and not quite as rigorous. The preparation is for the celebration of Christmas, the birth of God as man, and for the second coming of the God/Man Jesus Christ who will, in the words of the creeds, come again to judge the living and the dead.

Advent has always been a time of anticipation, and many traditions grew up around Advent over the centuries, helping to anticipate the first coming of the Savior as well as the second. Advent carols were sung, the Advent wreath was laid on the dining room table, and its candles were lit as each Sunday in Advent came. More recently, in the 20th century, the service of Advent Lessons and Carols became a very popular service coming from St. John’s College in Cambridge, England.

While many of the songs sung at an Advent Lessons and Carols service are not as well known in our age, a few, such as O Come, O Come Emmanuel, are familiar to contemporary America as Christmas carols—yet another borrowing from Advent. The Lessons from Holy Scripture are mostly from the Old Testament about the coming of a Messiah. Interspersed among the lessons are the carols and a few prayers. A choir usually sings a few anthems, as well, and about 45 minutes later, the congregants go home with (one hopes) anticipation for Christmas front in their minds.

Because these traditions and the whole season of Advent has been lost, we tend to celebrate Christmas during Advent, confusing the celebration with the anticipation and also losing out on the celebration of Christmas. Most of us sing about the twelve days of Christmas, but seem a bit lost on where those twelve days have gone. In fact, Christmas begins on December 25th, and doesn’t end until January 5th.

A discussion of the great traditions and celebrations for Christmas season are for another day, but because of the focus on Christmas as a major economic event in our materialistic society, we’ve lost those traditions as well. The tree now comes down on the 26th, the Christmas CDs are put away, and Christmas is over by the 2nd day of Christmas. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that everyone put up a wreath in December for Advent, and then on Christmas Eve put up a tree for the 12 days of that season and all the parties and celebrations that took place.

Perhaps a recovery of Advent would help us all to have a better mind and heart about the Christmas season. That wouldn’t mean you couldn’t put your tree up before Christmas, but perhaps getting an Advent Wreath up before the tree would be a good reminder. Perhaps an Advent Calendar promoting charity and good deeds each day might help get the children in the right frame of mind. Perhaps learning an Advent carol or two might be helpful as well.

If learning more about Advent interests you, the St. Andrew’s Academy Choir has its annual Advent Lesson and Carols Service on December 10th (7:00 pm, Chester United Methodist Church). Though not quite the St. John’s College Choir, nor the St. John’s College Chapel, the little service at the end of our first term is one of my favorites, and everyone is encouraged to “make a joyful noise” in anticipation of the coming of the Savior.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


An brief piece in the local paper from last year:

I find it telling that people generally have a long list of requests during the “Prayer For All Men” that is towards the end of the morning prayer service that I lead almost every day. Of course, I find it is also true of my own prayers. It is much easier to think of all the things I need, or think I need, or just plain want, than it is to think of what other people need. Of course, many of the requests at the morning prayer service are for other people, and that encourages me.

We all have needs and we all have family and friends and neighbors with needs. I don’t think there should be fewer requests during the prayer service, but it is telling, nonetheless, that there are usually quite a few more requests than there are thanksgivings expressed. This is true in my prayer life as well. Do we just not know how to be thankful? Is it a lost art to have a thankful heart and attitude? Are we just too cynical a society to really be thankful?

My mother taught me to count my blessings. I try to do that on a regular basis and remind myself of how many things I have to be thankful for. Meditating on the blessings in our lives tends to remind us to be thankful. Perhaps in this difficult economy and the realities it brings to many families in our community, we ought to do some counting of blessings. Perhaps we can start with the blessing of living in a community where people are actually people and not just a number; or how about living in scenery worthy of the attention of the greatest landscape painters. I’m sure there are many, many more for all of us. These things may not pay the bills, but they are worthy of being thankful for.

So as I continue to lead morning prayers, I am reminded of St. Paul’s words: ”Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6, emphasis mine).

Father Brian Foos

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Birthday Fun

My daughter's Birthday Party was last weekend. I suppose that this is an unusual post after all these months, but the pastoral life has to start at home, right? There were plenty of princesses to go around and a few princes.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"...The content and significance of the Christian experience preserved in this Apostolic Faith and Order transcends all individual perceptions and defies all final rational analysis. For it contains within itself a truth more adequate than the world's own and therein lies its authority and influence. It comes in all its saving power to identify with the world, but as soon as the world attempts to accommodate and trim that Apostolic Faith and Order to its own limited insights, it is lost, and the Church with the world ends up like a ship aground on rocks. The Fathers in every age have been aware of this and that the only way of salvation for a shipwrecked Church and world is to be conformed to the Eucharistic self-giving of God. Let this be our ministry of reconciliation, the way for people of the tradition today, living and working for the reintegration of the whole Church 'Eastern, Western, our own'. In this Third Millennium we will need to hear less of individual denominations and more of the Una Sancta, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, in whose catholicity all our fragmentation can be made whole."

from Father Arthur Middleton's Fathers and Anglicans: The Limits of Orthodoxy

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Meandering Thoughts on the Fathers

When I was a child, I went to Church in an independent bible Church that claimed to be the Church of the New Testament. In other words, we were discarding all the traditions of men that had crept into the Church since the time of the Apostles and were going to live life as the New Testament Church did--straight from the Scriptures (emphasis on the New Testament, please)!

Of course, little did I realize at the time--nor did anyone else, I think--that the early Church had no New Testament written, but only the written Old Testament, as we would call it, and the oral tradition of the Apostles for at least the first 20 years of her existence. Now what?

Tradition, as you’ve guessed, was considered a bad thing, so I don’t know what I would have done had I known of the conundrum. Of course, no one had actually done any historical study, so the way the New Testament Church worshipped, worked, dealt with discipline, etc., seemed to be made up when the need arose in our congregation to know that information.

When I found out much later that the New Testament Church looked a lot like those traditional Churches with their “dead” liturgy and empty prayers; looked a lot like the Jewish synagogues and the Jewish Temple liturgy, I was quite shocked. This made so much more sense than the “make it up as you go” school of liturgy which I had been a part of all the way through college.

So, then, if the Scripture was my authority, and the early Church looked something much different than I had been taught in Church, what had I learned? I had learned that the past, the history of the Church, shapes the Church now--or it ought to. I had rather be doing, living, continuing steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, not someone else’s.

Thus, we have a need for the authority of tradition. I’m not talking Advent Wreaths and Christmas Carols. I am talking about the need to listen to what the Church has always said about the Scriptures, in particular. There is much more to be talked about, for sure, but let’s just stick there for a moment.

The Church I grew up in had little to no use for anything labeled “tradition.” Yet, if I want to know how to interpret the Apostles writings, who am I to listen to? Do I trust myself? Do I trust the Pope? Do I trust the pastor down the street?

Of course, in contemporary America, this becomes a real dilemma for a lot of people, because everything under the sun is said to be the doctrine of the Son.

I’ve learned that the Fathers of the Church are to be trusted. As a son of a Church that went through and was shaped by the Reformation, I have to own the desire of the English Reformers (and many others, by the way), however poorly they managed to work it out in certain cases. And that desire was to return to the doctrine and practice of the primitive Church. To do so, they returned to the Fathers, and argued their case against the anabaptists, the Roman polemicists and the Puritans.

In today’s world of polemical arguments amongst the Catholic traditions (Eastern, Roman, Anglican), in particular, the Fathers are constantly called in to buttress or make an argument, to defend a practice or doctrine, etc.

In defense of the Anglican view and use of the Fathers, let me again quote Father Arthur Middleton, who says of the Fathers of the Church: "They are not infallible, but are seen as the best-appointed judges since the apostles, and it is not the role of a judge to make laws, ...but to interpret those already made” (Fathers and Anglicans, 229).

We are not looking to the Fathers to be the revealed word of God, but we look to them as the authoritative interpreters of the same. Obviously, many of the Fathers were involved in making canon law, etc., but Middleton is talking of the the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Scriptures are the final authority and that final authority needs an interpreter. This is a happy place to come after so many various authorities asserting themselves, particularly in American Christianity.

Many want to make much more or much less of the Fathers. I leave you with 18th century Anglican divine Daniel Waterland’s thoughts:

We allow no doctrine as necessary, which stands only on Fathers or on tradition, oral or written; we admit none for such, but what is contained in Scripture, and proved by Scripture, rightly interpreted. And we know of no way more safe in necessaries, to preserve the right interpretation, than to take the ancients along with us. We think it is a good method to secure our rule of faith against impostures of all kinds, whether of enthusiasm or false criticism, or conceited reason, or oral tradition, or the assuming dictates of an infallible chair. If we thus preserve the true sense of Scripture, and upon that sense build our faith, we then build upon Scripture only; for the sense of Scripture is Scripture. Suppose a man were to prove his legal title to an estate, he appeals to the laws; the true sense and meaning of the laws must be proved by the best rules of interpretation; but after all it is the law that gives the title, and that only. In like manner, after using all proper means to come at the sense of Scripture (which is Scripture), it is that, and that only which we ground our faith upon, and prove our faith by. We allege not Fathers as grounds, or principles, or foundations of our faith, but as witnesses, and as interpreters and faithful conveyors. (qtd. in Middleton, ibid.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Archbishop Laud is loved by at least a few....

Another quote today from Father Arthur Middleton’s Fathers and Anglicans: The Limits of Orthodoxy. Middleton is reviewing Archbishop William Laud’s legacy and impact on the Church of his day and ours. Of course, Laud is well hated by many who find themselves enamored of the Puritan camp—no matter what the stripe of Puritan. Middleton, however, cuts to the chase and deals with the theological realities of the disputes between Puritans and High Churchmen. Essentially, is the Church going to follow the patristic and ancient Church (High Churchmen, such as Laud) or is it going to follow the contemporary model of Geneva (Puritans)?

Here, Middleton deals with Laud’s legacy of the Altars at the East end of the Church surrounded by rails and the theological implications therein.

...The greatest triumph for Laud is the adoption by the whole English church of a prominent position for the altar at the east end, fenced by communion rails where communicants kneel to receive the Sacrament. This illustrates the central focus of Laud’s theology in the Incarnation as an objective fact and its organic connection with the Church as Christ’s mystical body. This is patristic and quite alien to the Puritans, whose theology was certainly Christocentric in making the value of Christ to the soul a central and dominating idea, but their emphasis was on our experience of Christ as Saviour, rather than on the Incarnation as objective fact. Hence for them the efficacy of the sacraments was dependent upon the preaching of the Word, reducing the sacraments to a position of inherent inferiority, so that the sermon becomes more important than the Sacrament. The logical consequence is…that preaching becomes valued by the Puritans almost to the exclusion of worship, prayer, and sacrament. Therefore to Laud the position of the altar and the ordering of the Liturgy is crucial in demonstrating that the Christian life and ministry must be centred in the sacraments, whose efficacy does not depend upon an instructive imparting of knowledge, but on divine grace. (154-155)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A man is what he prays.

A man is what he prays. The person who prays is a theologian and a theologian is a person who prays, or to put it in the words of St. John Klimakos, the climax of purity is the threshold of theology. ...The character of [Lancelot] Andrewes’s theology can only be grasped when it is realized that for him the mind and intellect must also be offered to God. Human reason must be subjected to prayer.
Father Arthur Middleton, Fathers and Anglicans: The Limits of Orthodoxy, p. 154

This quote is one I would like to have used in my workshop at the conference mentioned in my last post. It points us back to prayer as the experience which shapes everything--importantly, theology.

As we remember to pray for our country this week, perhaps we ought to remind ourselves that until we Christians get on our knees and start getting first things right, we will have little impact on our culture and society.

To continue the quotes, from the next page, Father Middleton continues talking of Andrewes, particularly referencing his private devotional prayers, published after his death:

There is no evidence here of our modern pseudo-problem, a conflict between personal and public prayer; not only is the liturgy Andrewes’s theological teacher, it is also his tutor in prayer. Dean Church has commented on the liturgical quality of these devotions,
...incorporating bursts of adoration and Eucharistic triumph from the Liturgies of St. James or St. Chrysostom, recalling the most ancient Greek hymns of the Church, the Gloria in Excelsis, and the Evening Hymn preserved at the end of the Alexandrian manuscript of the New Testament--all this is in the strongest contrast ot anything that I know of in the devotions of the time. It was the reflection, in private prayer, of the tone and language of the Book of Common Prayer, its Psalms, and its Offices; it supplemented the public book, and carried on its spirit from the Church to the closet.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Anglican Way Institute Conference

We know things were busy this year when none of my faculty’s blogs were touched for months at a time. Mine has been DOA since January. I’m breathing a bit now that school’s over and the choir tour is done and my trip to Dallas is completed.

I am now hoping to be just a bit more consistent in my posts. The first thing I would like to make mention of is the Anglican Way Institute Conference. This was the reason for my trip to Dallas. The Institute is brand new and was just started with a bang in Dallas with the conference. The Institute is about helping to strengthen the “youngest adult generation” and, practically, I think, connect them and help them to know that they are not alone in this traditional Anglican practice. After all, with only a few young people in a parish, the young adults might seem a little odd to the culture at large--even to the Christian culture.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing for me was the number of attendees. The conference did not have exceptional advertisement, nor even lead time, yet there were some 60 attendees between the ages of 18 and 35. Add in the old priests and their younger wives, and there were almost 100 in attendance.

The topic under discussion by Bishop Ray Sutton was worship. In the keynote addresses, Bishop Sutton walked through the topic from a number of angles. He showed the basic, biblical pattern of worship and how the Anglican liturgy is in historic continuity not only with the biblical pattern, but with the oldest liturgies of the Church--especially the connection with the liturgy of St. John the Divine of Ephesus. He talked of the shaping power of the worship of the Church and the types of prayer that Churchmen have always participated in--Eucharistic, daily corporate prayer, and family or personal prayer. He connected a lot of dots for a lot of people and that too was encouraging. Perhaps some notes of Dr. Sutton’s talks will appear on the Anglican Way Institute website.

All the old priests were there to give workshops. We had them in evangelism, incarnational theology, architecture, the arts, education, courting, John Donne, and my workshop, which was titled “ Everyday Anglicanism From Worship to Work: Embodying the Counter-cultural Ethos of the Gospel.” Perhaps in my next post, I’ll sketch out what we talked about.

The only thing missing was a call to arms, so to speak. I’m sure that will come later, but I missed the call to follow Christ no matter what. What has God called each of us to? Have we listened? Are we too afraid? The young folks at the conference are just idealistic enough and perhaps trusting enough to follow God where He leads. Let us hope that we all are. After all, we only go around this merry-go-round once. Will we consider the calling God gives us? Will we seek to join those ordinary people that have done great things for the Kingdom merely because they were obedient to God? That might mean joining a monastery for one and managing billions of dollars for another. What we do know, though, is that God has something particular for us to do; we need to listen to the Holy Spirit and then to act.

All in all, a great start to something that needs to continue, not just in a yearly conference, but organically, amongst those who attended and those who they will pull into the orbit of the conversation. I trust and pray that it will be so, as the Church desperately needs to have a strong foundation of young people serving and leading.