Archive for February, 2013

Defining: Catholic, Apostolic & the Independent Sacramental Movement

Before we go too far afield, perhaps this is a good time to examine a few terms I’ve been throwing around, namely: Catholic, Apostolic, and what is called the Independent Sacramental Movement (ISM). The Independent Bishop Movement (IBM) is similar to the ISM –and I have heard some persons use the terms interchangeably– but IBM leaves the question of the importance of the sacraments open, whereas all members of the ISM consider the sacraments to be important.

 
Sidebar: The New Advent website (www.newadvent.org) has compiled a vast amount of information as understood from the Roman Catholic perspective, and they in part define the word “sacrament” as (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13295a.htm):

“[Sacrament] in its broadest sense, [is defined] as the sign of something sacred and hidden (the Greek word is “mystery”), we can say that the whole world is a vast sacramental system, in that material things are unto men the signs of things spiritual and sacred, even of the Divinity.”

Wikipedia defines the word “sacrament” more generally as “a sacred rite recognized as of particular importance and significance.” I would add to this, the word sacrament also implies the presence of a “hierophany” which is at the very least a manifestation of the sacred [Greek: (hieros), meaning “sacred” or “holy,” and (phainein) meaning “to reveal” or “to bring to light”], if not a “theosophy” meaning the revelation of “divine wisdom” [Greek: (theos = divine) + (sophia = wisdom)]. A theophany refers to the actual appearance of a deity (Moses receiving the Ten Commandments; Job meeting the Whirlwind; etc).

Wikipedia has some interesting web pages explaining these terms in greater detail. I especially enjoyed reading their page on theosophy, and think it would provide some useful insight for the discussions we sharing having on this blog:

 

Catholic

 

“Catholic” simply means “universal.” Everyone who is “catholic” claims to represent a Universal Church of Jesus Christ. Some churches take this to imply division between them and the rest of the world (the traditional Roman Catholic Church(RCC) view), and others take this to mean all of Christianity -if not all of humanity- is within the “universal” church of the Christ (the Old Catholic Church (OCC) view). It is worth observing this strongly stated position of the RCC has actually been softened since Vatican II, and appears to be slowly changing more broadly. Pope John Paul II was well known to have expressed views that all sincere religious paths are valuable. So the official RCC position on the plurality of faiths is more accommodating than I often find in “street” encounters.

 

Apostolic

 
“Apostolic” means your line of bishops can trace a physical laying on of hands, bishop-to-bishop, all the way back to the time of the original apostles, some 2,000 years ago. Needless to say, written records able to document this are in short supply 😉 so much of the early “lines of succession” are supported by traditional belief as opposed to hand-written records maintained for these past 2,000 years. Speaking from a historical perspective, it is unlikely this was a top priority of the early church. We see this quite clearly in the progression of the state of the churches in the letters of Paul. It is not until the late letters we find references to what we might today consider official clergy members.

 

Independent Sacramental Movement

 

Many members of what is known as the Independent Sacramental Movement are concerned about such matters as apostolic succession and by extension sacramental authority. As a result they have an interesting history of their own. I’m not going to get into this in any great detail. It is rather confusing to me even after having read several books on the topic.

Suffice it to say that following the schism between the “Old” and “New” Catholic Churches (meant with tongue in cheek humour: Old = Old Catholic; New = Roman Catholic) the Old Catholic Church continued to fraction and split apart. We see a parallel to this in the Protestant movement, following the schism instigated by Luther and then Calvin, there are now hundreds of Protestant Churches. Eventually, as we near the end of the 1800’s, the Liberal Catholic Church (LCC) is formed (as a branch within the OCC). None of the other churches are very large when compared to the Roman Catholic Church (which comprises approximately half of the world’s Christian population, and about 25% of the Christian population of the United States).

I mention the LCC because my church borrows from some of their liturgy. Their founding bishops did a great deal of research to ascertain what they could of the early church liturgy, and at the same time dropped most of the negative, fear-based language in the liturgy which had found its way into the Roman liturgy in the Middle Ages. The result is to my mind a more uplifting and “ascending” liturgy. And I truly believe we are better served worshipping in praise than by subjecting ourselves to self-hate, or fear.

One might also note the Old Catholic Church believes in “unity in diversity.” Therefore, they offer greater diversity in both belief and practice across their churches than is characteristic of either the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox churches. I personally find this very appealing.

Which, provided we ignore the vast series of schisms which took place on the Protestant side of the fence, I believe finally brings is to the point we can compare some of the key beliefs of the RCC and OCC, and when speaking specifically of the church to which I belong (EEC), adding some of the LCC influences.

Stay tuned to the same Bat Channel! heheh

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Major Breaks in Orthodox Christianity

As mentioned in a previous post, early Christianity was comprised of a wide range of understandings of what it meant to be a Christian. These groups struggled amongst themselves over the first centuries of the Common Era, and certain forms of Christianity were undermined, others eradicated, as the majority view of the proto-orthodox began to dominate more completely. (We name those groups who were later to become orthodox as “proto-orthodox.”) The organization of the “orthodox” form of Christianity really began in earnest under the reign of Constantine the Great (c. 274-337 bce).

The year 325 ce is an important date because this is when the First Council of Nicaea convened. This was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom. (Or more accurately, those selected to be present – only those holding what were deemed orthodox views.)

Some say Constantine wished to promote Christianity because he was truly converted, and others say he believed Christianity served as the best tool at his disposal to unite his empire. I cannot settle such disputes, but I can say that when we read the Nicene Creed, what we we are reading is really a litany of exclusions to other forms of Christianity (centering on divisions of understanding over Christology). The exclusive nature of the Nicene Creed is why I personally dislike this creed, and favour in its place the unifying Act of Faith:

We believe that God is Love, and Power, and Truth, and Light;
that perfect justice rules the world;
that all His sons shall one day reach His feet, however far they stray.
We hold the Fatherhood of God,
the Brotherhood of man;
we know that we do serve Him best
when best we serve our brother man.
So shall His blessing rest on us and peace for evermore.
Amen.

Compare this to the Nicene Creed (first composed in 325 ce) and refined in 381 ce:

First Council of Nicea (325 ce)

1. We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

2. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

3. By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];

4. Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;

5. He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;

6. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

7. (None. Compare to 381 ce.)

8. And in the Holy Ghost.

9. (None. Compare to 381 ce.)

NOTE: [But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]

First Council of Constantinople (381 ce)

1. We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

2. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

3. by whom all things were made;

4. who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

5. he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;

6. from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead;

7. whose kingdom shall have no end.

8. And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.

9. In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Great Schism

There are two major points of contention worth noting. First, the majority of this language centers around Christology, the understanding of what Christ means to Christians. The Father and the Holy Spirit are not really points of contention. This provides some insight as to the nature of the debates going on at this time. The second main point is to realize that while we may now read these two versions of the creed as being so similar as to be moot, at the time they were far from moot! Disagreement over defining Christology in fact is eventually what became the final straw, and split the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church! (Called the Great Schism.) That’s a pretty major event and took place about 1,050 ce. From this point forward, there is an Eastern and Western form of Christianity, both of which claim to be orthodox; both of whom share the same ancient roots.

(This link offers a RCC view of the “Eastern Schism”: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13535a.htm)

Theosis

One of the fascinating theological points which I find offered by the Eastern Orthodox Churches is that of “theosis.” This is the belief that we are to strive to bring ourselves closer to God throughout our lives. This is understood to be a process of deification. It is the spiritual pilgrimage through which each of us seeks to imitate the Christ and cultivate our inner (esoteric!, spiritual) life through “unceasing prayer” (“hesychasm” and most famously, through the constant saying of the Jesus Prayer), until we are ultimately united (I would say re-united) upon our physical death with the “fire of God’s love.”

Theosis is often misrepresented (or misunderstood) as saying we are to “become God.” But this is not entirely accurate. The Eastern Orthodox view is that we become “adopted” children of God. Sharing the Divine Flame/Spark, but not exactly the same as the Divine Spark. (I don’t know… is God able to make us one with the Divine? A question worth pondering, I think.)

Theosis is an example of the more “mystical” nature of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as compared to that of the West. It also serves as an example of why I feel identifying important and instructional teachings from various understandings of Christianity is very important for my personal spiritual growth and development. Naturally, I would recommend this to others.

Patriarchs, Bishops, and the Pope

Before leaving the differences between the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholic Churches, I wish to underscore another point which I think is critical. In the Eastern Orthodox Church the church leaders are known as the Patriarchs (fathers) of the church, and in the Western church they are known as Bishops. In the East each Patriarch operates as one among equals. This was originally also true of Bishops – they all held equal status.

However, in the West the Bishop of Rome eventually became known as the Pope, and seen as the leader of the entire Roman Catholic Church. While there are similarities in the roles of Patriarchs and Bishops, the biggest difference is the emphasis the Western church placed on the role of leadership in the Pope. My guess is because Rome was also the capital of the Roman Empire for so long, the political power of the Bishop of Rome quickly grew to overshadow all the other Bishops. This desire for centralized power is very nearly as old as the church itself. We can even see this power being reached for in the letters of Paul, where the Bishop of Rome is attempting to dictate doctrine to the Bishops of other cities. But the Bishop of Rome does not yet have the power to do so unilaterally.

Bear in mind I was raised Protestant so I have my own unique perspective on this point. But as I now read of the historical schisms in the Christian church, the largest ones come as a direct result of the Bishop of Rome’s attempt to control other Christians. Those that obey, remain Roman Catholic. Those who refuse, form another branch on the tree of the Holy Catholic Church. (Although those that split sometimes observe they are retaining the original point of view, and therefore it is technically Rome that forms the new branch of the tree. Such points are a matter of one’s perspective.)

Papal Infallibility

Within the Holy Catholic Church, the next major schism we see is between the Old Catholic Church (OCC) and the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). The most important disagreement over doctrine which caused this schism was Papal Infallibility. The “Old” catholics wished to remain with the “old” or “traditional” position while the Roman Catholic Church adopted the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Once again, it is fair to point out the schism was the result of a long series of disagreements. Papal Infallibility was merely the last straw for some Catholics.

Are the “Old” Catholics still Catholic?

This is a messy and to my mind a politically driven question. There is no easy answer to it – other than, “Yes!” While the churches which comprise the Old Catholic Church are no longer in “full communion with the Holy See of Rome,” their “Union of Utrecht of Old Catholic Churches” is in full communion with the Anglican Communion. (Of course, some argue the Anglican Church itself is not valid… and so it goes.) However, even according to the Roman Catholic Church, the Old Catholic churches of the Utrecht Union have maintained apostolic succession and valid sacraments. Therefore, they remain fully and truly “Catholic.”

Roman Catholic views

Quoting from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Catholic_Church):

The Roman Catholic Church teaches, “The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches” in the 2000 declaration, Dominus Iesus, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This speaks primarily to the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches as well as the Church of the East, but also to “separated churches in the West”, which is understood to be a reference to the Old Catholic Communion. Since the Old Catholic Church is not in full communion with the see of Rome a situation of schism exists between them. A schismatic church may be recognized as having valid sacraments and clergy. The Old Catholic Church has been a leader of the ecumenical movement, and the Union of Utrecht is engaged in official dialogue with the Vatican in order to address their differences and promote Christian cooperation between the two communions.

This is the official position of the RCC on the OCC. If one wishes, the source documents may be referenced. One of the primary citations concerning this aspect of this discussion (is the OCC a “real” church and are they truly “catholic”?) is the above cited, Dominus Iesus, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I’ve looked this up in the past to verify the position is as stated.

The RCC may not “like us” (I am now an Old Catholic) very much, but they do acknowledge that the OCC is valid in that their lines of apostolic succession reach back as far as the RCC’s lines. (Prior to the schism between “old” and “new” they are in fact identical.)

Why this would matter to a member of the Old Catholic Church is an entirely different matter! 😉 heheh

A Brief History of Early Christianity

“[W]ould you tell me the name of the church you are affiliated with, what it stands for, and how it is differs from the Roman Catholic church. In other words, how and when did your church originate and when? What are the beliefs and mission of its founders? What kind of catholic church is it, and how is it different or the same as the Roman Catholic church? The reason I am asking is my son’s interest and questions regarding your ordination to priesthood. [My son’s] wife is catholic and so are her parents. Their experience is that it takes many years to become a catholic priest. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.”

I remind readers, it should be noted the following is my personal opinion and may not represent the official opinion of the church and seminaries I have attended. For any errors and omissions I claim fault to be my own.

A Brief History of Early Christianity

This will be brutally short and inelegant, as I am trying to keep this introductory statement to less than 1,000 words!

However, I find it important to first preface such a conversation with a longer perspective. If we go back to roughly the period between 1,000-333 bce we find what has been called the Axial Age. This is a rich period in history during which all the major world religions largely developed into the religious organizations and faith traditions we recognize today. To better understand the New Testament and Christianity we need to better understand the Hebrew Bible (what Christians somewhat depreciatively call the “Old” testament). To better understand the Hebrew Bible we need to have some understanding of their key developmental stages.

Sidebar: “Before the Common Era” is the same time range as B.C., Before Christ. The difference is bce is not insulting non-Christians. I feel it is improper to speak only from a Christian-centric point of view when discussing history. I agree with the scholarly view that it is more equitable to promote and use inclusive terminology as much as possible, therefore I have adopted the use of bce and ce to identify dates as Before the Common Era (aka “BC”), or of the Common Era (aka “AD”).

The Axial Age

In terms of what I believe is most important to a Christian perspective, the Axial Age begins just before the age of the United Monarchy/Kingdom under the reigns of the Hebrew kings Saul, David, and Solomon. Prior to the United Monarchy the tribes of Israel were isolated and generally autonomous. Then they formed a United Monarchy under Saul so they could repel attacks from other nations (the meaning of the word gentiles).

After the reign of king Solomon the United Monarchy fell apart, and formed an Upper and Lower Kingdom. The Upper Kingdom (of Israel) fell to the Assyrians (c. 720 bce). Later the Lower Kingdom (of Judah) fell to the Babylonians (c. 586 bce). This is the time of the Babylonian exile. This is most likely where what was to become Judaism became influenced by Zoroastrianism (primarily understood to be a Persian religion, although some scholars dispute this point; additionally, the degree of influence this had upon for formation of Judaism is subject to scholarly debate; personally, I think it was an important influence).

The period of Babylonian exile is important to the understanding of Judaism because when the Persian king Cyrus the Great defeated the Babylonians (c. 539 bce) they permitted -and even promoted- the return of the people of Judah to the Land of Canaan. They even financed the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is really important. Without a Temple there is no Temple worship, and without Temple worship, there really is not a form of ancient Judaism. (We properly call the pre-exile people Hebrews, or the people of Israel. Judaism and the Jewish religion do not appear until after the Babylonian exile and the re-building of the Temple.)

Most scholars define the end of the Axial Age as the conquest of Alexander the Great, who brings in the Hellenistic period. Under Alexander the entire empire was greatly influenced by the Greek civilization, and this remained true even after the Roman empire defeated the Greeks. This is important to Christianity because we inherit this confluence of civilizations. The majority of scholars accept that the entire New Testament was originally written in Greek, for example. (There is some debate on this point, although with regard to isolated books of the New Testament, not the entire anthology.)

Period of Great Upheaval

In the centuries immediately before the time of Jesus there was a great deal of religious upheaval. The last of these great influences was apocalyptic. This is important because this greatly effected early Christianity, and I would argue does so to this day (just read the Book of Revelation; and the Dead Sea scrolls).

Following Jesus, the next most important date is 70 ce (Common Era, aka AD). This is when the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. (This became a final defeat around 135 ce, which was when the final Jewish revolt against Rome took place.) At this point we can mark a clear line in history. Ancient Judaism comes to an end. Rabbinic Judaism is born from the ashes of Temple Judaism. So too is born Christianity. We commonly, and inaccurately, think of Christianity as evolving from Judaism. By which we mean modern Judaism, which is Rabbinic. This is an error. Both the modern forms of Judaism and the modern forms of Christianity are born from the ashes of the immediately preceding Temple period.

Both Judaism and Christianity -which began as a Jesus Movement within Judaism- continued to develop during a period of upheaval for several centuries. With regard to Christianity, it was quite varied in the years immediately following Jesus, as people struggled with their understanding of Jesus’ ministry. These early forms of Christianity include:

  •  Mithraism and Christianity (200BCE +)
  •  Ebionite Christians (1st-4th Century)
  •  Docetism (1st-7th Century)
  •  Arian Christians (2nd-8th Century)
  •  Marcionite Christians (2nd-5th Century)
  • Roman Christianity / Pauline Christianity (4th Century +)

(A Roman Catholic view on this point may be reviewed at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03712a.htm)

But which is the “proper” form of Christianity?

This is still debated by some to this day. However, for practical purposes we can say that the orthodox views are what form “real” Christianity. However, when we say this, if we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that also means the victors write history. *Any* form of early Christianity which “wins” in the long run defines itself as “orthodox” and all other forms are defined (by the orthodox) as unorthodox, or heretical. (The root meanings of these words in fact mean right opinion/belief (orthodox) and choosing not to belief rightly (heretical); meaning to choose not to believe as do the orthodox.) Along these lines, I find it important to recall that some of the early church fathers who were in their own day considered very orthodox were later declared to be heretics, or to have held heretical beliefs. Origen of Alexandria serves as an example.

Mixed in with these early forms of Christianity are the spiritual beliefs of Platonism and Neoplatonism. Concepts such as heaven are born from Platonism, not Christianity. Some argue the entire idea of our nature’s being comprised of both a body and spirit is a Greek concept. This in itself is quite interesting, but I do not wish to consider the effects of the various Greek spiritual traditions upon Christianity at this time. (They are however, clearly important influences reaching to this day.)

The Christian canon takes nearly 400 years to define what books comprise the Holy Bible

Another point which I believe is worth our consideration is that the “Holy Bible” as we think of it today did not even exist until late in the 4th century. That is nearly 400 years after the crucifixion of Jesus! And the New Testament itself was not committed to writing until somewhere between 50 ce and 100 ce. For the decades prior to this, everything existed in the oral traditions surrounding the varied understandings of Jesus and his ministry.

Scholars debate exact dates of the Christian sacred texts. Paul’s letters are consider by the majority of scholars to have been written before any of the Gospels, beginning around 50 ce. Of the Gospels, the three “synoptic” Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke/Acts) are dated between 60-90 ce, and are earlier than the Gospel of John, which is clearly written much later, somewhere around 95-100 ce. (Roughly contemporary with the apocalyptic Book of Revelation.) The Gospel of Thomas’ dates are much less certain. The most reasonable arguments to my mind place some of the sayings very early, originating in the oral traditions of Jesus’ day, while other sayings date much later, into the early 2nd century.

I introduce the above topics, not to form clear delineations of the various understandings of what it means to be Christian, but rather to make it clear there were -and still are- many competing ideas of what it means to be a Christian. This has always been true of our religion. Perhaps it will always.

On Becoming An Old Catholic Priest

I have been asked a series of questions regarding my recent ordination as an Old Catholic priest, the church with which I am affiliated, their foundational beliefs, and how the Old Catholic Church (OCC) differs from the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). I thought these topics would make good fodder for this blog. My reply is rather long and will be spread across a number of blog posts. I also expect some readers will find certain blogs boring. I suggest just skipping over those and moving along to tastier topics more appealing to your spiritual palette!

“[W]ould you tell me the name of the church you are affiliated with, what it stands for, and how it is differs from the Roman Catholic church. In other words, how and when did your church originate and when? What are the beliefs and mission of its founders? What kind of catholic church is it, and how is it different or the same as the Roman Catholic church? The reason I am asking is my son’s interest and questions regarding your ordination to priesthood. [My son’s] wife is catholic and so are her parents. Their experience is that it takes many years to become a catholic priest. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.”

My reply begins below. It should be noted the following is my personal opinion and may not represent the official opinion of the church and seminaries I have attended. For any errors and omissions I claim fault to be my own.

First the Easy Part

The name of the church I have joined is “Ekklesia Epignostika” which is Greek. “Ekklesia” means an assembly or meeting of people. In the New Testament it is frequently translated as church. “Epignostika” is best understood by breaking it down into two parts, Epi and Gnostika. “Epi” taken most literally means “upon,” “on,” “over,” “near,” “at,” “before,” “after.” But in this case it is meant to convey an idea closer to epic, as in something like large or more specifically transcendent. The root of “Gnostika” is “Gnostic” which means understanding. And not just intellectual comprehension, but more importantly spiritual apprehension. It is in this sense the word is prefixed with “epi.” So the translation would be something like the Church of Spiritual Apprehension. The church’s bishops translate the name of the church as the Church of (Divine) Realization.

It is a very new church, still small, and doesn’t even have a web site yet! It was formed in 2008, I believe. It’s seminary program is organizationally placed under the auspice of The Esoteric Interfaith Church, and Esoteric Theological Seminary, founded in Florida (1987). This is a religious church and seminary organized under the laws of the state of Florida. They are quite small however, and for this reason as well as holding a belief in the separation of church and state, do not participate in the regional accreditation evaluation program overseen by the United States Department of Education. (Yes, I understand the USDOE does not literally grant any school direct accreditation, but they still control the strings of those who do, so from a pragmatic point of view, isn’t the difference moot?)

Other than philosophical differences, USDOE status also requires much larger campus facilities than small colleges and seminaries require, especially for those which primarily offer distance education. Why should such a college require a cafeteria or dorm rooms? We see here clearly a reflection of the past, when all colleges were brick and mortar complexes. But this is changing, and eventually regulations will catch up to the present social changes.

Another consideration is financial. It costs a great deal of money to seek and maintain USDOE status. For this reason alone, many of the small seminaries I considered chose not to seek USDOE accreditation. And as a paying student, who ultimately underwrites those costs, I am happy *not* to be a part of that! I have never taken any course offering $1,000 value, and there are many seminaries who’s costs exceed even this obscene amount. (Guess I’m getting old…. ‘Back in my day, courses were only $50 a credit hour!’…. But this is really another rant, and I digress.)

In any event, in and of itself, not desiring USDOE accreditation is not uncommon in the religious community. However, I would also say such groups also tend to be comprised of smaller, more fractional groups.

My Educational Path

The following is a brief summary of my educational path. I first attended the University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio for 3-1/2 years, accumulating 128-credit hours and no concentration in any subject. I have no degree from UT. Years later I began a series of studies to complete a concentration in religious studies. I began taking on-line classes, and over a period of several years I obtained a religious Bachelors of Arts degree in Religious Studies, through the aforementioned ETS seminary. I am continuing my religious education through the Ekklesia Epignostika Seminary program, from which I will eventually obtain my graduate degree. I am not yet half way through this seminary program. I expect it will take another year or two to complete. Then I will have to write and orally defend my master’s thesis, which will take longer, in order to complete the Masters degree program.

So that’s 3-1/2 years of “real” college education and something on the order of 5 or 6 years of on-line seminary classes, taken part-time. I ain’t no Jesuit, but I ain’t no self-proclaimed prophet of agnostika either, heheh.

The Ekklesia Epignostika Seminary (EES) course work includes one of the most widely used college textbooks on the New Testament, written by Prof. Erhman. We also avail ourselves of open college lectures from highly respected professors (Harvard, Yale, etc), as well as a variety of other religious lectures either available on-line or through the Great Courses lecture series. I’ve taken well over a dozen lectures on topics ranging from Hebrew Bible studies, to comparative religion and religious studies, to classical Greek philosophy, to religious philosophy of the West, and courses on the New Testament, and New Testament writers and the writings of the Church Fathers.

I recall when I was comparing the courses offered by various seminaries I felt the EES compared quite favourably. Almost all seminaries have a base of common work with which one should become familiar, which do not vary greatly from one seminary to the next. Thereafter, one selects an area of more close study. One may choose to specialize in the letters of Paul or in Christian counselling for example.

Religious Mysticism

In the case of my seminary (EES), to a large degree that area of closer study is self-selected as a result of wishing to follow their program in the first place. A significant part of the last half specializes in the more “esoteric” studies and those exploring the subject of “divine mystery.” This does not hold an appeal for everyone, but for those such as myself, it is difficult to find a curriculum which places much emphasis on this. Which is understandable as it is a very difficult subject, and notoriously tricky to pin down.

The subject of mysticism in itself serves as an example. Many people think that means psychics, table tipping, or talking to the dead. But this is a shallow and misleading understanding of religious mysticism. It is really about the search for God and a desire to experience the Presence of the Divine. But how does one actually convey such an experience to another? Therein lies the tricky bit!

I have come to believe a large part of the problem is that the mystic experience hits us square in what Jung called our unconscious psychological function! (Also known as our inferior psychological function; because it primarily raises out of our unconscious, as opposed to being accessible to our conscious awareness; however, it is not to be misunderstood as being any less real or important to our overall psychological health.)

By definition we cannot readily relate to the mystical experience, because its domain resides within our unconscious. Yet, there have been a number of studies in recent decades which are beginning to sketch out aspects of this spiritual journey. Or at least those aspects which leave indicators in our physiology. I find this fascinating.

So what is a “typical” education for priests?

This varies quite a bit. This is obvious once one thinks about it. Just think of the huge variety of churches in the world. They each have vastly different understandings and exist in varying social conditions, and enjoy a rich variety in their histories. Some require their clergy to be ordained into a line of apostolic succession while others allow one to simply declare one is a pastor (and if such a person actually helps others, who is to say the Spirit is not present?). All of this effects the internal traditions of this multitude of churches, which is in turn reflected in their educational needs as well.

Among the more rigorous theological models are those observed by the Methodist and Jesuit seminaries. (Although early in their formation the Methodists were criticized for exactly the opposite.) The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) in general is among the more lengthy and extensive educational models, especially in the education of Jesuits. In each of the above traditions the educational course may be expected to last at least five or six years.

Taking a wider view, one might observe a number of religious educational models. In the RCC model alone, for example (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_priest):

In the United States, priests must have a four-year university degree in Catholic philosophy plus an additional four to five years of graduate-level seminary formation in theology with a focus on Biblical research. A Master of Divinity is the most common degree.

In Scotland, there is a mandatory year of preparation before entering seminary for a year dedicated to spiritual formation, followed by several years of study.

In Europe, Australasia and North America, seminarians usually graduate with a Master of Divinity or a Master of Theology degree, which is a four-year professional degree (as opposed to a Master of Arts which is an academic degree). At least four years are to be in theological studies at the major seminary.

In Africa, Asia and South America, programmes are more flexible, being developed according to the age and academic abilities of those preparing for ordination.

If we now extend this to consider religious educational paths other than RCC we will find a wider academic range. But rather than attempt to detail this, I would rather turn the discussion toward the history of the church and whether apostolic succession is required… among other bones of contention! This is where we will begin to appreciate some of the key differences among expressions of faith. This will require a brief look into the historic evolution of the Christian church to more deeply appreciate the underlying differences that separate the various denominations.

And keep in mind, this is only taking a quick look at a slice of *Christian* beliefs and practices! Once one includes other faiths the variety of religious expression and understanding becomes quite complex and very rich. Religion, faith, and spirituality is certainly a fascinating area of study!

Please, stay tuned to my blog to hear more of these interesting topics (well, interesting to me at any rate, heheh) as my answer continues!

I’m Tempted to Start at the Beginning

But what is the “Beginning” and where do we find it? In the Christian context one might consider the beginning to be the book of Genesis. Despite the fact this book is part of the Hebrew bible -and Christians often misread it- but we’ll get to that one of these days!

Herein lies the problem. Despite that most people think of the story of Genesis as the beginning of Christianity -it is the beginning of the bible, after all- it really is not the beginning. A great deal comes first. Most of which we have never even stopped to think about. What might some of these other -more primary- considerations be? Glad you asked! (Said with a chuckle!)

The text itself is more primary. And before the text, the context in which the text was written, and to whom it was written, not to mention by whom and for what reason? (The context of the context.) These are all very important questions. And as every good seminary teaches, in almost every case, each of these vital questions lacks definitive answers. (A point we may return to one of these days.)

Yet even this is not the beginning. That is the text. And the context within and surrounding the text. This is the type of lens one may carry with them throughout historical time frames, asking how the text has been interpreted across the many centuries of its existence. This offers us value. Commonly, the meaning of a text changes over time, and depends upon who is doing the reading. This is an important consideration, but is it the most important?

Which brings us to the Reader.

The text itself has no meaning. No text does. Think about it. It is just ink on paper. Random marks. It is the mind of the reader who brings to the text “meaning.” This seems obvious enough not to bother to mention it, right? Wrong. It is very important to get this, at least if one wishes to read texts and try to conscientiously discern meaning from them.

In reading this blog, you are the one who brings it meaning. I attempted to convey my thoughts to you through time. But once my hand leaves the paper, my part is done. It is you, the Reader, who determines the meaning of what I have written. You bring your life experiences with you. You bring your own understanding of the words I use, which may or many not be mine. As you now read this, there is a great deal going on in your head (and heart) which enters into the process of how you assign meaning to what I have written.

(Are you cheering me on, thoughtfully considering what I offer, or just find me to be a lunatic and wondering why your are reading such drivel? You see? You bring a great deal to the text!)

Now imagine that first you had to translate what I had written from one language to another. Immediately there will be a whole series of little -and not so little- problems you’ll have to work out. Do you translate more for the literal meaning of the words I am using? Or do you translate more for the “meaning” (which you think) I am trying to convey? What do you do when a word I have used does not have a direct translation in your own language?

Now, what if you were working from a translation of a translation? How could you get at the “original meaning” of what I had written when you only had a copy of my work, written in a language different than I used when writing the original?

And so it goes.

I don’t bring all this up to discourage you from reading the bible, or any other sacred text. I do however, wish to convey the importance of thinking clearly about what it is you are actually taking part in while doing so. While clarity of thought cannot always inform the heart, I think mental clarity is still a very useful tool, and one more of us should use more often. (My perhaps naive believe is this will discourage us from clubbing one another over disagreements of perceived meaning.)

But even this is not the beginning!

We might ask ourselves why we are reading in the first place. What is our desired goal? Do we read our sacred texts to inform our minds or inspire our hearts? Do we read for the “outer” (exoteric) meaning, or the “inner” (esoteric) meaning? (These are points I will return to in future blogs.)

I personally think that both have their place. In part, your answer will be dependent upon the type of person you are and how you process information. Are you a “Thinking” person, as am I? Or are you a “Feeling” person (with which I have great difficulty)? Are you an “Intuiting” person, or “Sensing” person?

In short, we do not all think-perceive in the same way!

All of the above influences inform our internal “screening” processes. And not only when reading texts, but as we go about our lives interacting with others, and trying to understand the world, what it all means, and why we are here in the first place. So no, for all these reasons and more, Genesis is not the “beginning” of the bible….

You are!

An Expansive Crown Chakra!

Apostolic Succession OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The theory of apostolic succession says there is a physical connection from the present reaching all the way back to the time of Jesus Christ. This “line” of succession is passed along by the physical laying on of hands from bishop to bishop, connecting all the bishops throughout all the centuries from now all the way back to Christ’s original Apostles.

Some people question whether there is anything behind the idea of being ordained into a line of apostolic succession. In fact, I was once among these persons! Having now been ordained into such a line (in the Old Catholic Church tradition) I can affirm and honestly attest, that yes, I think there is something to this!

My rite of ordainment included an anointing of the hands and upper chakras as I was brought into the priesthood of Melchizedek. I could clearly and easily feel many of these spiritual energy centers becoming activated. This sensation of activity in my various energy centers would come and go throughout the rite (and days following). I felt the strongest energy/Presence in my palms and crown chakra. I was also very much aware of a sense of “Presence” which I attribute to the Holy Spirit/Shakinah. Clearly something was happening!

Expansive Crown Chakra

For me the activity in my crown chakra was the strongest chakra activity I have to this day felt. I had always assumed when people spoke of the “crown” chakra they meant by this, the top of your head. But this was different. Very different – I felt like I was wearing a flaming crown! I could feel the energy all the way around the entire “hat line” of my head, as if I were in fact wearing a “crown” made of energy. And I was aware of it “flowing” upward, as I might imagine flames burning up and out of the top of my head, licking one and two feet above me – yet they were cool flames!

And Orbs Too

Yes. Orbs too. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but the image accompanying this blog shows me performing my first priestly duty, creating holy water for the upcoming consecration of a new bishop. This image may not show this very well, and I am not a photo analysis expert, but the apparent “orbs” seem to have both depth and definition to my eye. That they appear over my head and over the altar at which I am working I find quite interesting. No proof of anything mind you, but for those of us who believe in such things this is another piece of evidence suggesting that something very real happened to me during my ordination.

“One knows one” is a saying I once heard. And I can say that “I know.” I have no need or interests in “collecting ordinations.” I am a priest. I may become a poor priest or a good priest, that remains to be seen. Others are free to doubt – I do not. A priest in the line of Melchizedek, I am.

An Introduction

Hello and welcome to my blog.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I am Father Erik. On Jan. 25th, 2013, on the cusp of the first full moon of the year, I was ordained as an Old Catholic priest. (In the photo I’m the one on the far right.)

I consider myself a mystic in the sense that I seek union with the Divine. I suspect that one way we may obtain access to the spiritual realm is through our unconscious, which in turn offers access to the Collective Unconscious. Some of my posts here will be a discussion of matters I am considering as I undergo my journey, seeking the Divine Center. No doubt some of the discussion here will be an effort to illuminate my beliefs and compare and contrast them with those held by others.

I hope it remains clear throughout all that may transpire here, that I am a religious pluralist. Short of condoning violence, I strongly believe that we must tolerate the religions and spiritual practices and observances of others. What is right for me may not be right for you. And vice versa. And what is right for me today, may not have have been right for me 10 years ago, or possibly 10 years hence. Spiritual maturity involves growth and this must effect our understanding and apprehension of Truth.

If we are ever to have peace, tolerance must come first. Then we open ourselves to the potential to discover acceptance for others, and perhaps in some distant day, even appreciation. I have found this to be true for me. And I believe it is a productive means of building community across religious and spiritual differences. How important are such considerations? I don’t know – how peaceful has your evening news been these past weeks? As I write this, not so much I am sorry to say.

So there you have it. About as short, while retaining some value, as I can imagine a short introduction to be. Should you, my friendly reader, have anything on your mind or wish to ask a question about what I may post here, please do ask. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, they say.

With blessings,

Father Erik+