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 inter-related dynamic 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 genuine 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 bad events or circumstances. This process 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. (more…)

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. (more…)

Rector’s Newsletter Article for September, 2011

September 11, 2011

Greetings!

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

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. (more…)

Rector’s Newsletter Article for April, 2011 (reflection on ‘just war’ tradition)

March 29, 2011

(more…)

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