Month: March 2015

isisdeathsIn case you missed it, 21 mostly Coptic Christians from Egypt, who were working in Libya, were kidnapped, tortured, and killed by Islamic Extremists.  They were offered the chance to recant their faith but refused to do so.  They died praising the name of Jesus.

Now they are being essentially canonized by the Coptic Church.  You can read about this in Christianity Today:

The deaths of 21 Christians to ISIS will not be in vain as they will be declared martyrs by the Coptic Orthodox Church, the equivalent of canonisation in the Catholic Church.

In a statement, Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church affirmed that the martyrdom of the 21 will be commemorated every 8th Amshir of the Coptic Calendar, the feast day of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

…Despite their impending death, the Christian men could be heard continuously chanting the words “Lord Jesus Christ”, while some even screamed the name of Yeshua in their final moments.

While the intention of ISIS was to sow fear among those who do not share their beliefs, the courage of the Christians has inspired many to further profess their faith.

Beshir Kamel, whose brothers Bishoy and Samuel were among the martyrs slain by the group, said that his siblings’ martyrdom serves as a “badge of honour to Christianity.”

“ISIS gave us more than we asked when they didn’t edit out the part where they declared their faith and called upon Jesus Christ. ISIS helped us strengthen our faith,” he said in an interview with SAT-7 Arabic.

A new icon has been created by a Coptic American artist, Tony Rezk, and appears on the webpage of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California, and Hawaii.

Coptic-MartyrsYou can find more about this work here: here.  Mr. Rezk gave an interview to the National Review:

“My ultimate purpose was to honor them and the sacrifice that they made. Tertullian, a Christian apologist from the third century, before he joined a non-Orthodox Christian sect, said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” We believe that their martyrdom will help the Church grow stronger. My other purpose was to take out my frustrations on something, as I find that the process of making any kind of art is a relaxing experience.”

Read more at:

(Administrator’s note: Today we welcome a new author/contributor, Sister Marie.  We appreciate this insightful posting, and look forward to future work from her).


“A cleaner version of Hell” is the phrase used by Robert Hood, to describe the place where he was warden during the years 2002-2005.  This “hell” is the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo, or “ADX” for short, also known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies”.  Some of the worst Federal offenders are living out their remaining days here, including 9-11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, the spy Robert Hanssen, Oklahoma City Bomber Terry Nichols, and the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, to name just a few. ADX has gotten a rare detailed airing in the New York Times; You can find the full article here:

I was struck by two things when I read this article.  First, I find remarkable the appropriateness of the term “hell” as a description.  It is said that inmates spend 23 hours of their days in solitary confinement, isolated from any human contact.  Their only glimpse outside of their cell is of a bit of sky through a 4 inch wide slit-shaped window.  Inmates in solitary confinement generally do not cope well, as this article states: Whatever the reasons, such extreme isolation and sensory deprivation can take a severe, sometimes permanent, toll on emotional and mental health. Researchers have found that prisoners in solitary quickly become withdrawn, hypersensitive to sights and sounds, paranoid, and more prone to violence and hallucinations. Craig Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has documented several cases of individuals with no prior history of mental illness who nonetheless developed paranoid psychosis requiring medical treatment after prolonged solitary confinement.   The aforementioned Mr. Hood sums it up: “this place is not designed for humanity.”

Isolation is also a hallmark of the Biblical Hell, described by Jesus as “outer darkness” (For example, see the fate of the unprofitable servant in Matthew 25:30).  It is the loneliness of being shut out from God’s presence.  In Matthew 7, Jesus states that some will be told “away from me” and “I never knew you.”  The Greek word that is commonly translated as “Hell” in the New Testament is “gehenna”, which referred to the valley of Hinnom, which at the time was a desolate place outside the city of Jerusalem that was being used as a kind of garbage dump into which all kinds of excrement (including corpses) might be cast (See, for example, this entry from The New World Encyclopedia).

The second thing in this article that has struck me is how our far our earthly justice is from divine justice.  Despite our best efforts, human justice is tainted and corrupt.  The mental illness found at the Supermax is not merely due to the deleterious effects of isolation.   The reason that the NY Times article has emerged is that the U.S. has been incarcerating those who are mentally challenged, in contravention of our own statutes:

The story of the largest lawsuit ever filed against the United States Bureau of Prisons begins, improbably enough, with this letter. Deborah Golden, the director of the D.C. Prisoners’ Project, fields approximately 2,000 requests each year, but Bacote’s, which she received in October 2009, caught her eye. “I thought I might be missing something, because it was inconceivable to me that the Bureau of Prisons could be operating in such a blatantly illegal and unconstitutional manner,” she said. Golden was referring to B.O.P. regulations that forbid the placement of inmates who “show evidence of significant mental disorder” in prisons like the ADX.

I’m filing this one under “Reflections of the Fall.”

Photo above: “Supermax prison, Florence Colorado” by US Bureau of Prisons – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I have discovered a website that offers an intellectual discipline for those interested in early church writings.  They have put together a plan of readings, which they describe as follows:

By reading seven pages a day for seven years, you can study a vast library of theology, history, liturgy, apologetics, biblical commentary, and devotion written in the first seven centuries of the Christian church. We provide a schedule of readings, the texts in English translation, and—most important—a community to discuss what you’re learning. Laypeople, clergy, seminarians, students, and Christians of all denominations will benefit from joining our community to read the church fathers.

They are in year 3 of this project, and have covered works written by such luminaries as Origen, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr.

You can find more at

The Lorica of Saint Patrick


The “lorica of St Patrick” is a prayer or incantation for divine protection (“lorica” meant “breastplate”).  These verses have been attributed to Saint Patrick, the 5th century evangelist who is now the patron saint of Ireland, and whose feast is celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike.  It is also now a hymn, which is commonly sung on Trinity Sunday (for obvious reasons).

In honor of Saint Patrick’s feast day I offer this prayer.  You may find this and prayers of other famous Christians at our website:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation

(St. Patrick, 387-461; This particular version is popular on the internet though I am not sure of the original translator; it is found in Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, Lindisfarne Press, 1992, p 78.  There is a truncated version posted at Beliefnet).

(The photo above is © Copyright Chris Eilbeck and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence).

An inspirational story came out in January about a Detroit man named James Robertson, who trudged miles to get to work every day:

Getting to and from his factory job 23 miles away in Rochester Hills, he’ll take a bus partway there and partway home. And he’ll also walk an astounding 21 miles.  Five days a week. Monday through Friday.  It’s the life Robertson has led for the last decade, ever since his 1988 Honda Accord quit on him.

The article highlighted that despite his difficulties, he sets the standard for attendance at his workplace, according to his supervisors.

So, what gets him past dangerous streets, and through the cold and gloom of night and winter winds?   “One word — faith,” Robertson says. “I’m not saying I’m a member of some church. But just before I get home, every night, I say, ‘Lord, keep me safe.’

See the full article at Detroit Free Press.

This tenacity and drive got him national attention, including a feature as the ABC News “person of the week”. It is reported that a 19 year old college student named Evan Leedy saw his story and started an online fundraiser that eventually amassed $350,000 and a new Ford Taurus (See, for example, this follow up article from CBS news).



Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury who presided over the conversion of the English realm from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism, penned what is the first official English Language ceremony, the “Great Litany”, in 1544.  He drew upon litanies in the old “Sarum Rite” as well as the litany of Martin Luther.  The Litany is a collection of prayers and petitions, and is generally used in the penitential seasons of Lent and Advent.

The text of the litany is posted below.  Here are two small portions of that Litany, sung in a beautiful setting by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), who is considered by many the “father of Anglican music.” An organist at Waltham Abbey, he later became a gentleman of the Chapel Royal, and was a teacher of William Byrd.

We will hear the Gentlemen of the Choir of Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, NYC.  Here are the opening sentences, an invocation of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

Now I’ll move to the end.  The sublime concluding phrases here remind me of the somber ending to Tallis’ great work “The Lamentations of Jeremiah.”

The entire Litany in its appropriate context within a communion service, is available online for a period of time at the website for this church.

The Text of the Litany (From the Book of Common Prayer, 1928).  Responses from the congregation/choir are in italics.

O GOD the Father, Creator of heaven and earth;
Have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world;
Have mercy upon us.
O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful;
Have mercy upon us.
O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God;
Have mercy upon us.

REMEMBER not, Lord, our offences, nor the offences of our forefathers; neither take thou vengeance of our sins: Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

FROM all evil and mischief; from sin; from the crafts and assaults of the devil; from thy wrath, and from everlasting damnation,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all inordinate and sinful affections; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion; from all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word and Commandment,
Good Lord, deliver us.
By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and Circumcision; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation,
Good Lord, deliver us.
By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion; by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost,
Good Lord, deliver us.
In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment,
Good Lord, deliver us.

WE sinners do beseech thee to hear us, O Lord God; and that it may please thee to rule and govern thy holy Church universal in the right way;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee so to rule the heart of thy servant, The President of the United States, that he may above all things seek thy honour and glory;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to bless and preserve all Christian Rulers and Magistrates, giving them grace to execute justice, and to maintain truth;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to illuminate all Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of thy Word; and that both by their preaching and living they may set it forth, and show it accordingly;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to send forth labourers into thy harvest;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to bless and keep all thy people;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to give to all nations unity, peace, and concord;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to give us an heart to love and fear thee, and diligently to live after thy commandments;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to give to all thy people increase of grace to hear meekly thy Word, and to receive it with pure affection, and to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to bring into the way of truth all such as have erred, and are deceived;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to strengthen such as do stand; and to comfort and help the weak-hearted; and to raise up those who fall; and finally to beat down Satan under our feet;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to succour, help, and comfort, all who are in danger, necessity, and tribulation;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to preserve all who travel by land, by water, or by air, all women in child-birth, all sick persons, and young children; and to show thy pity upon all prisoners and captives;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to defend, and provide for, the fatherless children, and widows, and all who are desolate and oppressed;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to have mercy upon all men;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to give and preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the earth, so that in due time we may enjoy them;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to give us true repentance; to forgive us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and to endue us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit to amend our lives according to thy holy Word;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.
Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.

O Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world;
Grant us thy peace.
O Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world;
Have mercy upon us.
O Christ, hear us.
O Christ, hear us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

I am indebted to the folks at Wikipedia and the following website:  Also, while refreshing my memory about Cranmer I ran across this blog post, which neatly summarized key aspects of his life and contributions:

In addition, my heartfelt gratitude goes to the folks at St. Thomas Church for publishing such beauty on their webcasts.

I offer this in fond memory of Leonard Nimoy, who played one of childhood heroes, Mr. Spock from Star Trek. (So as not to date myself, I’ll hasten to add that it was in syndication).


I have read that when Leonard Nimoy came up with this gesture for Mr. Spock’s famous “live long and prosper” Vulcan salute, he was thinking back to his childhood religion of Judaism.  This reflects the gesture of the kohanim (descendents of Aaron, the brother of Moses) when giving what is called the Aaronic blessing.  This is recorded in the pages of the Old Testament:

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, “Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them,
The LORD bless thee and keep thee:
The LORD make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.

(Numbers 6:22-27)

Leonard Nimoy discussed this in a 2000 interview with the Baltimore Sun (online here):

“It was my addition to the character, and it came from an experience I had as a child with my parents. In the blessing, the Kohanim (a high priest of a Hebrew tribe) makes the gesture with both hands, and it struck me as a very magical and mystical moment. I taught myself how to do it without even knowing what it meant, and later I inserted it into “Star Trek.” There was a scene in one episode that needed something. People were seeing other members of the Vulcan race for the first time, and I thought it called for a special gesture.”

This blessing (without the gesture) has carried into Christianity as well, and is often given at the end of a church service, as a benediction.  As you might expect, this blessing has inspired musicians and composers as well.  I leave you with lovely setting of the benediction, which I have found.  The composer was Christian Peter Lutkin (1858–1931), a respected choir director and organist who became the first dean of the School of Music at Northwestern University in suburban Chicago.