The Form of Religion We Inhabit

The following is an adapted excerpt from Father Hannam’s charge to the Advisory Board meeting held on Sunday, February 21, 2016.

The form of religion that we inhabit at St Bart’s has several characteristics upon which I would ask you to be reflecting at this time as we approach Vestry:

1) Our religion is CATHOLIC: that is to say, we worship ‘one God in Trinity and the Trinity in unity’ (so-called ‘Creed of St Athanasius’, BCP, p. 695). The Catholic Faith (from the Greek ‘kath’hôlon’ – ‘according to the whole’) is universal; it is the worship of the One Triune God, who lives His One Life as three distinct Persons living in a relation of Love so intimate that their Life and Essence are One. The nature of this relationship was most fully articulated by two Ecumenical Councils or Synods of the ancient Church: Nicaea (AD 325) and Constantinople (AD 381). A précis of these teachings was set forth by the latter council in the Creed we sing each and every Sunday and on most Feast Days. Our God is most ancient because He is from everlasting; He is most new because, in His divine eternity, He never ages and is always the Giver of Life. Hence the motto that I chose for our posters and Mass papers: ‘The Ancient Faith for the Contemporary World.’

2) Our religion is CONTEMPLATIVE: that is to say, our worship engages out intellects, which discern God, both naturally (by natural reason) and supernaturally (by reason illumined by faith), as the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, who is also the only cause of all that is good, true, and beautiful in our lives and in the universe as a whole (kath’hôlon).

3) Our religion is SCRIPTURAL: that is, our contemplation, the engagement of our intellects with God, is mediated by God’s Word written in Holy Scripture (cf. Article 20, BCP, p. 706). The Word of God – the Second Person of the All-Holy Trinity – is not only the subject of Scripture throughout, He is also the Speaker throughout. It is Christ Himself who taught the Apostles to read the Old Testament Scriptures so as to find Him and not another Christ (cf. Luke 24); it was under the guidance of His Holy Spirit that the Apostolic Church judged the Scriptures of the New Testament of equal authority with those of the Old. Through the reading of these Scriptures in the Church (in our parish, according to the Western Church’s ancient and ecumenical lectionary) and by the Church’s members in their meditations, Christ makes Himself present to us, teaching us how to pray in and through Him to His Father and ours by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit shed abroad in our hearts in Baptism (cf. Rom 8).

3) Our religion is SACRAMENTAL: that is, God mediates His Presence to us through specially chosen creatures – water, bread, wine, and oil – and by the ministry of those who are chosen instruments through whom He exercises His ministry to us – the members of the Apostolic Ministry – Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. God does not despise His creation – far from it! God elevates creation by drawing it, through Christ, into his own Life. We, as portions of that creation, and as members of Christ Himself, are ‘deified’ (‘made God’ – Sts Irenaeus and Athanasius) and ‘transhumanised’ (Dante), elevated from the status of mere creatures to friends (John 15:15) and sons (i.e., fellow-heirs with Christ; Rom 8:16). All that Christ is by Nature (as God) we are by adoption (because God has shared His Life with us).

4) Our religion is LITURGICAL: that is, our worship draws our whole nature – not just the intellect, but the body and its senses–into the worship of the Church as it is in heaven. Because the Christian Religion is the Religion of Christ Himself, who did not destroy our nature, but took it upon Himself and remade it in Him (John 1:1-14 and Philippians 2), our religion cannot be purely contemplative (purely a religion of the intellect); rather, it must transform our whole selves – our souls AND BODIES. It is for this reason that our worship involves movement (standing for praise, kneeling for prayer, sitting for instruction, and processing in witness of the hope that is in us); it involves the sense of hearing (beautiful music of various sorts at different points in the year, hearing the Word proclaimed and preached); sight (vestments, statues, banners); smell (incense, candle wax); taste (bread and wine); touch (‘sacramentals’ such as holy water or Candlemas candles, the touch of the priest who blesses or heals, the exchange of the peace by the sacred ministers at High Mass). Creation is not to be despised: ‘grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it’ (St Thomas Aquinas).

This is the religion we practice at St Bart’s.

•It is a religion of wholeness, redeeming the whole person.

•It is a religion of fullness, endeavouring to offer as much of the goodness of God in worship as possible to creatures–catholic and reformed, eastern and western, old and new. More importantly, however, it is the offering of the best we have to God, to be used to His glory and for our salvation.

•It is an attractive religion, drawing upon the ancient for our own times. This is precisely why we see our congregation growing and also why initiatives such as our Ryerson outreach, for example, is so important. It is essential that we who know and love this religion make it available to those who have never known it and yet long for it in their hearts, because it mediates to them the God who is Beauty itself–the One for whom their hearts long ‘as the hart desireth the waterbrooks’ (Psalm 42).

I wish you all a very blessed Lent. We are present to one another when we pray, and most especially at the Holy Mass, at which I offer for you all.

The Form of Religion We Inhabit