Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

re: A question about repentance

April 8, 2017

I preached a sermon on Sunday, March 19, 2017 (Lent 3A), in which I offered an interpretation of St. Paul’s understanding of the “Wrath (of God)” (Romans 5:1-11), and the kind of forgiveness that Jesus promises us in the example of the Woman at the Well (John 4:5-42).

Later that day I received a question by email asking about the role of repentance. The person asking was taught that forgiveness follows repentance. This is the way most people think about God’s forgiveness. Basically, that it is a transaction. I’m not so sure.

I responded pretty much like the following and I have permission to publish it.

St. Paul recognizes the problem of human sin and self-deception (Rom 7:15), but he struggles to come up with a way to reconcile the consequences of sin (misery), God’s anger, and God’s mercy and love.

The Johannine texts (those books attributed to John the Apostle) seem to be a later stage in the development of a more nuanced understanding of the causes of hatred, scapegoating, and violence. For instance, in the case of the story of the Samaritan women at the well (John 4) we have a situation in which Jesus is handling what looks like a pastoral problem.

The woman seems to be held in general disrepute, and Jesus offers her living water. This living water will sustain and preserve her forever. This is a reference to the Holy Spirit. The work of the Spirit directs people to live lives according to the will of God. The Holy Spirit affirms people in their status as beloved children of God. The Holy Spirit guides people toward honest self assessment. The Holy Spirit provides healing and upholds people in their faith in the Lord.

The living water is nourishing to the point of creating in us proper desires that are completely satisfying, and it open us up to the recognition of our deepest and worst sinful desires (without falling into despair or resorting to denial).

Repentance is crucial to moral and spiritual health. In the past it was generally assumed that a person only needed to do some basic self-reflection to arrive at what exactly is in need of repentance. With the knowledge we have now about unconscious motivation, I would suggest that experiences of God’s Grace and the promise of forgiveness tend to produce gratitude and repentance. This is more in line with the way Jesus deals with the woman caught in adultery and the woman at the well.

My own experience in talking with people confirms this. Remorse (not true repentance – “a turning around,” but regret and self-loathing) is late in coming, and often provoked by the experience of unpleasant events or circumstances. This dynamic gives support to the false notion that God actively punishes people by bringing misfortune.

So, finally I come down on the side (mostly) of reminding people they are forgiven, and trusting true repentance will follow.

2016 Lenten Reflection

March 24, 2016

Lenten Reflection by Fr. Michael Gorchov

During Lent I’ve been giving talks on Wednesday nights at St. Anthony’s Church. This is part of a series of events that is designed to draw three Troy churches (St. Anthony’s [Roman Catholic], St. John’s and St. Paul’s [Episcopal]) closer together. The initiative is called the Fellowship of St. Francis.

The Lenten presentations are on the Nature of the Church as represented in agreed documents that have come out of dialogues between Anglicans and Roman Catholics that started in 1967, and became known as the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Committee (ARCIC).

One of the most helpful aspects of doing research on the ARCIC agreements is finding that both sides in the discussions have had to admit that certain terms have separated, rather than united, each other. And that these terms have often been used by each side to mean different things.

The following two words are good examples: Sanctification and Justification.

Some of the difficulty is that Anglicans did adopt principles expressed in two (gasp!) Lutheran Confessions (Augsburg and Württemberg), and that Anglicans have tended to believe that Roman Catholics intentionally repudiated these positions at the Council of Trent. In fact, the Anglican formularies had not even been compiled when the Decree on Justification from the Council of Trent was promulgated.

During the ARCIC discussions it was agreed that the New Testament employs a wide variety of language concerning salvation, and that there is no single controlling term or concept. All the terms (including deliverance, forgiveness, redemption, liberation, adoption, regeneration, rebirth, new creation, sanctification, and justification) complement each other.

Protestants have suspected that Catholics try to “buy” their way into heaven through prayer and good works (sanctification). Catholics tended to believe that Protestants felt so assured of their salvation (justification) that there was nothing left in this life for them to do.

Through the ARCIC talks it was agreed that justification and sanctification are actually two aspects of the same divine act (1 Cor 6:11).
1. Sanctification is that work of God which actualizes in believers the righteousness and holiness without which no one may see the Lord, and
2. the term justification speaks of a divine declaration of acquittal.

What this means for me is that God’s merciful “acquittal” (justification) is not at all the same as being judged “innocent.” Far from it. It just means that I have another opportunity to get closer to Jesus (sanctification).

A Lenten Collect

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and, finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Thomas Aquinas on mirth (and wet blankets)

September 29, 2014

Words or actions where nothing else but fun is sought, are called playful or humorous [ludicra vel jocosa]. It is necessary at times to make use of them, in order to give rest, as it were, to the soul.1

Everything, in human affairs, that is contrary to reason is sinful. Now it is against reason for a person to be burdensome to others, for instance, by offering no enjoyment to others, and even by impeding the fun of others.2

1. Summa Theologiae. IIa-IIae, 168, 2
2. Summa Theologiae. IIa-IIae, 168, 4

Review of Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition by Alasdair MacIntyre (University of Notre Dame Press, 1991)

February 13, 2012

This is a great book. The crucial thing to keep in mind while reading the book is that this is a book about method. Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry concerns how to go about finding out who is in the right. MacIntyre offers three approaches.

When I was a kid we had a long row of big books on the floor in the corner of the living room. If we had an argument about something, somebody would always go to the encyclopedia to find out who was right. MacIntyre says, in effect, that the perspective of the writers who submitted articles to the encyclopedia, along with the subsequent editorial smoothing, produced a sort of god-like voice that dispensed disembodied pseudo-objective knowledge talk. This is the Enlightenment voice of reason, a “view from nowhere” (TNagel), invented when the best minds became convinced there finally was hope for agreement in all disciplines regarding
1. a universal standard for rationality,
2. a conceptual scheme for a single cosmos governed by uniform physical laws, and
3. inevitable progress.

During the 20th century a number of catastrophic events (wars, genocide and failed economies) eroded the confidence of the experts, and a movement inspired by Nietzsche set out to uncover the deceptions (and use of power) hidden in the history leading to the modern era. MacIntyre thinks the methods used by people like Foucault to “unmask” power rely on a non-stable conception of the self, while they use language in their arguments that “presuppose ascriptions of both identity and continuity to persons.” Presumably, for all their subversive posturing, they still copyright their books and accept tenured positions. The genealogist owes (but doesn’t give) the same suspicion of himself that he heaps on others.

MacIntyre presents Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae as a systematic method of inquiry that has never been equaled. The biggest mistake one could make reading Three Rival Versions is to assume that the answers given in the Summa are in some way like the information one gets from the Encyclopedia Britannica. People have used Aquinas this way, but Thomas’ intention was always to demonstrate a method of learning (and debate) that moves through at least four stages:
1. By apprenticeship: “What is my good?” This stage assumes the presence of a teacher who will guide the learner from an understanding of “basic moral apprehensions,” and then on to the cultivation of the more advanced skills (virtues) that are required to become a teachable student.
2. As members of a community of learners: “What are our goods?” How members of a community who at least agree on first principles (logic, do good, avoid evil), conduct debate centered on resolving the “precise formulations” of rational inquiry.
3. Engaging opponents one-on-one: In the third level of debate about who is in the right, the student learns to confront serious problems of incommensurability with opponents, with the goal of identifying the “limitations, defects, and errors” of the opposing view, while affirming and appropriating what is “cogent, insightful and true.”
4. Critique: Finally, a general account (or explanation) of ideological blindness, which represents a will to power and has its roots in the corruption of the will. Throughout the Summa Thomas demonstrates a painstaking approach that he uses to expose error. He provides provisional answers to a whole host of questions, while maintaining an astonishing level of generosity and humility in entertaining as many objections to his points of view as he can find.

Again, the main thing this book offers is a comparison of methods of moral inquiry. I find MacIntyre’s (and Thomas’) conclusions persuasive.

Rector’s Newsletter Article for January, 2012

January 7, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

There is much rejoicing here at the Gorchovs’ house! Marianne’s back surgery has healed wonderfully, and she is doing things she was unable to do before the surgery. In addition, her eye operation was also successful. I had hand surgery in October and have recovered full use. Many great blessings!

In December I celebrated the tenth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. We had a wonderful worship service, with three bishops in attendance, and the choir offering their lovely voices. A great friend, Laurel Masse, honored us with a performance of Schubert’s Ave Maria, which she also sang at my ordination. I was very pleased that Anna Plumey was Confirmed in the Faith at the same service. The evening was capped by a wonderful dinner in the parish hall. What a great way to celebrate the beginning of my second decade as a priest in God’s one holy catholic and apostolic Church!

The theme of my sermon at the Eucharist was Christian vocation. Since my ordination anniversary falls on the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I took the opportunity to advance the idea that when God first conceived of Our Lady, God had in mind a person who would bear His incarnate Son. Still, it seems that Mary had the freedom to opt out – but thanks be to God – she said yes!

In the same way, Anna Plumey, has always been included in God’s plan as a person with a vocation (a calling) to God’s service. I, myself, was called to serve too. The time and place in which each person stands up to answer a call from God differs according to each person’s particular faith journey and circumstances. I am most grateful that God has been so patient and kind to me.

I pray that, as we move into Epiphany and then on to the season of Lent, you will take the time to seriously reflect on your own vocation. You may have been conceived by God to a life of service to the poor. You may have been called to offer your talents in other ways. But, I’m sure you have been called in some way. It is your task, if you choose to take it on, to discover what your vocation is, and then say yes!

Blessings, Michael+

Rector’s Newsletter Article for November, 2011

November 10, 2011

“For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”  2 Corinthians 1:5

Marianne is home! Thanks be to God! Many of you know that my wife Marianne recently had lower back surgery to restore lost function to her legs. This operation came just weeks after she had cataract surgery. In between these surgeries I had surgery on my left hand. When we made the arrangements earlier in the year, our thinking was that we would like to be fully operational by the time the weather is really cold and nasty. The jury is still out on whether we made the right calculation. Marianne’s eye is almost completely healed, and my hand is proceeding apace.

But, the surgery on Marianne’s back is of a wholly different nature and scope. Her level of pain, and the expected recovery time, is much greater. The surgeon told me in the waiting room afterward that the operation went well, but that Marianne would experience a very high degree of pain in the coming days. According to Marianne, he wasn’t exaggerating!

The new patient pavilion at St. Peter’s Hospital includes a very large surgical waiting area. Usually patients spend about two hours in “recovery” before being transferred to a hospital room. For some reason Marianne didn’t get to her room in the main hospital building for over four hours! By the time she was moved, the waiting area had cleared out and there were only two people left – myself, and a woman waiting for her husband.

The next day I ran into the same woman again in the hallway outside Marianne’s room. After exchanging pleasantries, she shared with me that her husband had decided to come in to have a quick “in-and-out” hip replacement. During his recovery something went wrong with the new hip and because of the excruciating pain, he began to put so much weight on his other “good” hip that he managed to break that one. So, here he was now back in the hospital getting the first hip replacement repaired, but also having an entire replacement of his other hip! The woman standing before me, shaking her head really didn’t think it was funny – it was more that the situation was so absurd that she couldn’t believe it was all actually happening.

I saw the woman one more time in the hospital that week. She was at a table with a friend, on the far side of the food court. We waved to each other as people who had shared a common experience. We both had sat for hours in the same waiting room while our loved ones underwent surgery. We both were now attending to our spouses at the beginning of a long recovery. With a simple wave of a hand we were acknowledging each to the other that even though we can’t always make sense of what life dishes out, we still want more of it. We still want to go forward with our lives – she, to walk again with her husband; me, to walk with Marianne.

I have struggled, as do most people who have lived a bit, with the meaning of suffering.  I have come to an understanding (and in trusting to a loving God) that evil, pain, and suffering are simply facts of life. I trust that God knows best. But I do notice now how precious the good times are, especially as I become more and more aware of how little we can count on a safe and pain-free existence. I feel somewhat foolish thinking back on how much of my life I spent expecting, and counting on, things to go well. Oh well, as Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young.”

I was driving today to one more medical appointment while listening to the country music station. The song I heard lifted my spirits. Here it is. It’s about a man who just learned he had a terminal illness.

How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?

Man whatcha do?

An’ he said: “I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,

“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.

“And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,

“And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”

An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,

“To live like you were dyin’.”

He said “I was finally the husband,

“That most the time I wasn’t.

“An’ I became a friend a friend would like to have.

“And all of a sudden goin’ fishin’,

“Wasn’t such an imposition,

“And I went three times that year I lost my Dad.

“Well, I finally read the Good Book,

“And I took a good long hard look,

“At what I’d do if I could do it all again,

“And then:

“I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,

“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.

“And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,

“And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”

An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,

“To live like you were dyin’.”

Like tomorrow was a gift,

And you got eternity,

To think about what you’d do with it.

An’ what did you do with it?

An’ what can I do with it?

An’ what would I do with it?

Blessings, Michael+

*Tim McGraw, Live Like You Were Dying

Rector’s Newsletter Article for September, 2011

September 11, 2011


In this issue of the parish newsletter I offer a quick peak into our recent vacation, and a couple of more comments about doctrine.

1. Marianne and I had great time in Rangeley, Maine on our vacation. We again took along our Field Spaniels, Oscar and Babette – and our Maine Coon Cat, Kirby. The dogs had a very good time swimming in Dodge Pond! They were really good about swimming out to get a toy and coming right back (for a treat). There was only one time when things got out of hand. We were down by the dock and the dogs were still on their leashes, when a female Mallard duck flew in, plopped down, and started paddling around about ten feet away. The dogs started barking and became just a tad excited. Oscar slipped his collar, but I was able to hold him by the scruff of his neck. Babette got loose and ran to the end of the dock, but didn’t jump in because her leash was caught on a nail. Marianne quickly got to her and grabbed the leash, and we decided that was enough excitement for the afternoon! We didn’t see the duck again, and the dogs went swimming a few more times before our vacation was over. Kirby declined our offers to take him swimming. And now on to the other topics.

2. I was reminded recently about something that seems on first glance a bit odd: Down to this day the Latin and Greek titles for the Nicene Creed are Symbolum Nicaenum (Nicene Symbol) and symbolon tes pistews (Symbol of Faith). In the ancient Greek world a symbolon was half of a broken object, which when joined to the other half, became proof of the bearer’s identity. So, by extension, the Creed became the symbol of Christian identity by which Christians could recognize each other.

3. In my last newsletter article I wrote about an ecumenical approach to achieving agreement on doctrine advanced by George Lindbeck in the 1980s. In his groundbreaking book, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Post-liberal Age, (Westminster John Knox Press, 1984), Lindbeck proposed that by treating doctrinal statements as rules by which we speak about God, we might be able to discuss with other Christians the way church teachings are internally coherent, without getting bogged down in endless circular arguments about how something we say is true, is true, because we have always said it is true. Lindbeck uses the secular example of how Brits drive their cars on the left side of the road, and North Americans drive on the right. It would be fruitless indeed to spend much time arguing about who is right on that topic!

But there are many things that various Christians can agree on, and they can agree not primarily because these are things that each group has always said they believed, but because they represent core truths about Christian Faith. Often, these are things that we can all agree should not be said about God.

Here is an example of how this approach might work:

The doctrine of the Trinity says that the Father and Son are co-eternal, and therefore the Church has insisted that the Creator of the universe is essentially loving, forgiving, and merciful. But the violence attributed to God in parts of the Old Testament seems inconsistent with the Christian belief in a loving Creator. In this case the doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that the Bible is a divinely inspired document that has been written and handed down through the generations by fallible human authors, and that the actions and motives attributed to God by these authors must always be interpreted through the offering of God Himself in the Life, Suffering, and Death of our Lord Jesus.

“He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” 1 John 4:8, RSV.

Therefore, we must not say that God is violent or actively encourages violence.

I pray that you would take from these comments about the Nicene Creed, that
a. by calling the Creed a symbol (or sign), the Church has never said that it should be received symbolically, but instead, truthfully as “statements of our basic beliefs about God.” (BCP, p. 851)
b. by seeking agreement between Christian churches through dialogue, we all might learn more of what is essential to Christian faith and belief, so that we “may all be one.” (John 17:21)

May God bless you, Michael+

On the Trinity

August 14, 2011

From the Rector’s Desk . . .

Continuing a discourse on the Trinity from a recent sermon:

I have heard people say that that they have trouble reciting the Nicene Creed. The most common objection is that the Creed is an ancient formula that attempts to define God in ways that do not reflect modern categories of thought. In effect, that the Creed is irrelevant to modern life and experience. I have also been told that the Creed represents an attempt by leaders of the Church to impose standardized teaching on debatable matters, and so perpetuates paternalism and clericalism. Finally, I hear that the Apostles’ Creed is more ancient, less legalistic, and will do fine thank you if we need a creed at all.

My own view is that the Apostles Creed is indeed quite old, and that there is evidence that in the early Church a rudimentary version was used as part of the rite of Baptism. Since this particular confession of faith begins “I believe,” there is good reason to reserve this form for Baptisms and personal reaffirmations of the Baptismal Covenant.

On the other hand, the Nicene Creed begins “We believe,” and therefore is intended to express the agreed Faith of the Church, even if individual Christians may experience doubt or reservations on occasion. This “We” formula seems quite appropriate for the corporate nature of the weekly parish Sunday Eucharist.

In the past it was assumed that the Creeds express “propositional” truth. That is to say, that they make statements that refer to objective reality. This “orthodox” perspective bothers liberals, who tend to think of church doctrine (and the Bible) as relating to religious experience rather than objective truth.

There is a third way to understand the Creeds[1], in which they function as a kind of symbolic system, or “language”, for expressing the rules by which we talk about God. In my recent sermon on Trinity Sunday, I held up a diagram of the Trinity. For those who could not see the drawing I have reproduced it below.

I do not think the drawing adequately represents God, or even begins to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity. But I will say that at least we can derive some lessons from the drawing regarding what not to say about God.

Here are some examples of how this approach to the Creeds could apply:

1. The doctrine of the Trinity says that the Father and Son are co-eternal, and therefore the Church has insisted that the Creator of the universe is essentially loving, forgiving, and merciful. But the violence attributed to God in parts of the Old Testament seems inconsistent with the Christian belief in a loving Creator. In this case the doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that the Bible is a divinely inspired document that has been written and handed down through the generations by fallible human authors, and that the actions and motives attributed to God by these authors must always be interpreted through the offering of God Himself in the Life, Suffering, and Death of our Lord Jesus.

“He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” 1 John 4:8, RSV.

Therefore, we must not say that God is violent or actively encourages violence.

2. In his First Letter to the Church in Corinth, St. Paul chides the members for a number of failures. Each of these errors could be described as a mistake in understanding God by appropriating one Person of the Trinity, while ignoring another Person. “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.” 1 Corinthians 11:17, RSV.

a. The wealthier, presumably non-working, members of the church assembled earlier in the day and held meetings, while consuming all the best food and wine. Later, after a hard day at work, the poorer members would come to the meeting and were offered the leftovers. St. Paul tells the Corinthians that no one should think that the Holy Spirit would benefit one person (or a special group) with wealth, leisure, or spiritual gifts, at the expense of other Christians. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1Cor 12:7)

Therefore, the Church gathers together as the Body of Christ, and we must not say that the Holy Spirit operates alone, and only for the benefit of a select few.

b. In addition, some of the Corinthians thought they were spiritually superior, and lorded this over the others. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2, RSV.)

Even when a particular Christian leader is blessed with immense spiritual gifts, we hold that the Holy Spirit gives the gifts through the co-operation of the Father and Son, and therefore, we must not say that he or she is permitted to treat others with disrespect. 

3.  It is not uncommon for Christians to grow up learning to associate the Persons of the Holy Trinity with a specific divine activity:

a. God the Father, in Creation.

b. God the Son, in Salvation.

c. God the Holy Spirit, in Wisdom.

As we mature we should be mindful that the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that each of the Persons of the Trinity is at “work” co-equally and co-eternally. The Gospel According to John goes as far as to say that the Son was with the Father “in the beginning.” And if we believe that God is “still” sustaining and creating the universe, we should also be confident that Jesus is “still” active in the deliverance of the world from futility and chaos. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul uses the language of childbirth to describe the way that God in Christ is “still” making the world. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now.” (Rom 8:22 RSV)

How else can we say the Son of God is working in creation even today? The most important way is through the Cross. The death of Jesus on the Cross sets up the conditions for how all Christians are able to understand themselves – even now – as being created in the image of the Living God, entirely caught up in God’s Love, Forgiveness, and Hope.

Jesus’ own disciples betrayed and deserted him. “All of them deserted him and fled.” Mark 14:50, NRSV. The religious and civil authorities persecuted him, and conspired to put Jesus to death. Even so, Jesus forgave them. “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34, RSV.

When Jesus later appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room, he did not condemn them, but graciously offered his love and forgiveness. He also shared with them the blessing of the Father, and the life-giving encouragement of the Holy Spirit. “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:21, 22, RSV.

Therefore, we must not say (even by implication) that long-ago the Father created a defective world, and that the Son later came to repair it. Instead, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that God has been, and continues to be, with us for the “long-haul,” Even when we go our own way (and after other gods), our loving God is still with us, calling us to faithfulness and holiness of life.

Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace to continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 251)

[1] George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, Westminster John Knox Press, 1984.

Rector’s Newsletter Article for April, 2011

March 29, 2011

From the Rector’s desk –

I am writing this article in the second week in Lent. During my daily prayer time my thoughts turn constantly to the people of Japan as they struggle to respond to three separate and interrelated catastrophes. Even trying to deal with one earthquake, or one tsunami, or a nuclear reactor failure would be devastating by itself, but all three at once seems more tragedy than any one country could be expected to bear. And yet, even though it is difficult to watch on television, there is no lack of courage and fortitude among the people of Japan. How do people persevere when family members are suddenly washed away? Where do the workers who are sent in to cope with the nuclear reactors find it within themselves to go on when they know they are cutting their lives short by continuing to be exposed to high levels of radiation?

The news from Japan has been heartbreaking, but the work of the many selfless and courageous people who are coping with overwhelming problems is inspirational. My prayers are with the people of Japan as they experience unremitting suffering.

Heavenly Father, we commend to thy goodness all those who are in any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; especially the people of Japan; that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

I also have been praying for the people of Libya. I watch television helplessly as Colonel Qaddafi becomes increasingly bellicose, delusional, and violent. The situation seems to change hourly, but as I write this, an international coalition is engaged in bombing strikes to create a no-fly zone and force a cease-fire.

As our country engages once more in the use of military force I have been reviewing the Christian teaching concerning the proper use of military force, usually called the ‘just war’ tradition. International law has replaced, and expanded upon, just war theory in governing the conduct of independent nations in their relationships with one another. But it is still very important for Christians to understand the basics of just war in order to be able to make good judgments and conduct reasonable debate, concerning our involvement in armed conflict. I offer the following as a reflection on the Christian tradition regarding how Christians have been guided in the use of appropriate military force.

Just war theory traditionally (from Cicero, Ambrose, Augustine and Aquinas) sets down seven conditions for waging war:

1. The cause must be just. (no retaliation is allowed for a personal insult, but force may be used to protect innocent life and correct a grave, public evil.)

2. Comparative justice. (the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other.)

3. War must be declared by the legitimate authority.

4. The authority must have the right intention. (just cause, not material gain or to maintain the economy.)

5. The war must have a reasonable chance of succeeding. (Arms may not be used in a futile cause.)

6. Last resort. (force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been tried.)

7. Proportionality. (benefits of waging war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms.)

It may be foolish of me to say anything about our involvement in Libya. By the time you receive this newsletter the situation may have changed dramatically. But, at this point, I think I can say that if there is convincing evidence that Qaddafi intends to commit genocidal violence against those rebelling against his regime, and we can prevent him from doing this by limiting his military power and forcing a movement toward a cease-fire, then I am in support of the United Nations resolution. On the other hand, if the number of civilian casualties is expected to be high and the likelihood for creating anarchy and chaos is very high also, then the decision does not satisfy just war conditions for a reasonable chance for success, comparative justice, and proportionality.

I pray our leaders’ intentions are right, our involvement will be short-term, and that peace will be waged even more strongly than war.

In Christ, Fr. Michael Gorchov

A Priest-Craftsman Discusses the Presence of Jesus at the Eucharist

December 10, 2010

A Newcomer with Questions
Last year Lori came to church one Sunday. The following Sunday she returned. After the service she explained to me that she, her husband and their two young sons had just moved into the area, and they were searching for a church to join. I loaned her a prayer book and asked her to contact me if she had questions. Three weeks later Lori emailed me with a list of questions about what the Episcopal Church teaches. Uh-Oh.

There were a number of questions about the differences between Christian denominations. Finally, there were two on Holy Communion. The question about how to receive Communion was easy to answer, but there was another that I found difficult. – “With respect to the Holy Eucharist – transubstantiation or something else? What do ‘episcopols’ believe?” Uh-Oh.

I thought it wasn’t a good idea to go into a long treatise on the Eucharist, so I decided to respond briefly, but with the door open if Lori wanted more information. I wrote back that Anglicanism has generally seen fit to use the term “the real presence” of Jesus Christ without being too specific about how Jesus is present at the Holy Eucharist. Basically, I avoided the question regarding what happens to the bread and wine. Maybe this was best. I’m pleased to report that the whole family joined our church, and that Lori has an important role in our Christian Education program!

Still, her question was important and deserves consideration. This article is my attempt to return to Lori’s question and provide a more adequate response about the presence of Jesus at the Eucharist.

A Little History
From the Medieval period up to the 16th century ‘reformations’, the Roman Catholic Mass (especially for clergy) became increasingly centered on producing the miraculous transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. And since the laity did not normally receive Communion, popular religion became more and more focused on the worship of the Sacrament from a distance. In time, the Elevation of the Host became the high point of the Liturgy.

There were any number of precipitating factors for the Protestant Reformation, but certainly part of the agenda of the 16th century reform movements included the Holy Communion, or Lord’s Supper. Reformation theology, to this day, places a heavy emphasis on the active faith of the believer: Holy Communion is intended to be received inwardly – personally – not just worshiped from afar.

From this Protestant perspective, the Lord’s Supper is a memorial meal honoring Jesus, the one in whom Christians were (and are) formed as a community. During the communion service the faithful are intended to remember the saving ‘work’ of Jesus: That he suffered, died and was raised for our salvation. When we ‘re-member’ ourselves in Jesus, he becomes present in our hearts.

The Episcopal Church, heirs of the English Reformation, has surely inherited this aspect of Protestantism. For instance, the “worthy reception” of Communion has had a place in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) from the very first edition in 1549 all the way up to our own 1979 revision.

On the other hand, we ‘episcopols’ are inheritors of the Catholic tradition as well. In our prayer book, and by the common practice of many parishes, we make it clear we believe that the bread and wine undergoes a change during the Holy Eucharist. The celebrating priest is directed by the prayer book to touch the bread and chalice during the Prayer of Thanksgiving. If there is not enough of the Sacrament for everybody, the priest prays over additional bread and wine in order to “consecrate” it also to be the Body and Blood of Jesus. And in many parishes, the Sacrament is “reserved” in a special place to be taken to the sick or home-bound.

The protestant “Memorial Meal” point of view tends to view the presence of Jesus at the Eucharist as dependent on the sincerity of the gathered believers. The “Catholic” position has the merit of upholding the reality of Jesus’ presence at the Eucharist, regardless of the “feelings” of those present, but seems to depend on a miracle brought about by the consecration of the elements by a validly ordained priest.

Is there a way to understand the presence of Jesus at the Eucharist that avoids both a reliance on sentiment, and the language of a performed miracle? I think there is, and it comes from an unlikely source.

St. Thomas and the Medieval Craft Tradition
St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) is credited with the doctrine of transubstantiation. Using categories taken from Aristotle, Thomas argued that even though the Eucharistic elements look and taste like bread and wine, they undergo an essential change. His explanation became the normative teaching in Roman Catholic theology.

The doctrine was later repudiated in Anglicanism (see Articles of Religion, BCP, p. 873). I have no intention of defending the outmoded metaphysics of transubstantiation, but I will say that when Thomas actually describes how Sacraments work – how they make us holy – he becomes much more persuasive! Instead of focusing on a miracle of change in the bread and wine, Thomas uses a marvelous analogy. He says God the Creator is a Craftsman, and that God intends to save us just as a master-craftsman would: God uses tools!

Pursuing this analogy Thomas explains that everyone is familiar with two types of tools. First, there are so-called “attached” or “connected” tools. These are the parts of our body that we can direct, like eyes and hands. Second, there are “disconnected” tools that we can employ, like a hammer or saw.

Thomas goes on to say that God the Father, the great Master-Craftsman, uses Jesus’ humanity as God’s perfect (connected) tool to redeem the world. And further, that Jesus himself uses the Sacraments as His (disconnected) tools to accomplish the will of the Father throughout the generations. (Summa Theologiae, Part III; The Road To God, Q. 62, Art. 5)

The Eucharist: Carpenter Jesus and His Holy Hand-Plane.
This craft-tool analogy has significance for me personally. Before I became a priest I worked as a cabinet-maker for twenty years. During that time I enjoyed making my own tools as a hobby. My favorite pastime was making wooden hand-planes. A well made and tuned hand-plane is capable of removing a tissue-paper thin shaving of wood the entire length of a board. The surface that remains is so smooth it often requires little further polishing.

I am going to suggest that we think of the Holy Eucharist as a kind of holy hand-plane of God. During the Divine Liturgy the People of God are shaped and transformed by the presence of Jesus Christ. If this is an apt description it may also serve to reconcile the Reformed and Catholic positions on the presence of Jesus at the Eucharist.

From this perspective, we might say that, at the Eucharist Christians offer themselves to God. Then, God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, transforms his People – making them holy- (smoothing out the rough and damaged places) through the means of His own Body and Blood. The presence of Jesus at the Eucharist is a genuine miracle of God’s Grace, which also elicits our active will and participation. Praise be to God!

Fr. Gorchov is the rector of St. Paul’s Church in Troy, NY

An earlier version originally published in the Albany Episcopalian (2003).

Copyright MIGorchov 2003