Archive for April, 2011

Adm. Dewey Aboard USS Olympia

On Friday, April 28th at 1100, Canon Nalls will deliver the benediction at a wreath-laying in commemoration of the 113th anniversary of Commodore George Dewey’s victory at Manila Bay. The ceremony will take place at Adm Dewey’s tomb in the Bethlehem Chapel of the Washington National Cathedral.  The commemoration is held annually by the National Capitol Commandery of the Naval Order of the United States of which Canon Nalls, a Navy veteran, is Chaplain and a Life Member.

Prayer for ADM Dewey Commemoration-April 28, 2011

            Eternal God, through whose mighty power our fathers won their liberties of old; Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace.  As we commemorate a true patriot, may our minds and hearts be stirred with a deepening sense of gratitude to that company of God-fearing men, men such as ADM Dewey.

Grant that the blessings of freedom, which were purchased at a tremendous cost, which we prize so highly and are privileged to enjoy in such an abundant measure, may always be coordinated with the spirit of self-discipline. We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail. Defend our freedom, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.

All of this we ask in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Read Full Post »


“Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” -St. Luke 23:43

We don’t like the Cross.  We don’t like to look at it, be reminded of it or have it around.  It reminds us of the hatred and evil that would condemn anyone to such a death, much less an innocent man, and even more so the son of God. It reminds us too much of suffering and of sin and of the fact that our own kind, not just Jews, but gentiles would engage in such barbarity.  Wouldn’t we just rather have that plain old cross, maybe with an IHS in the middle-what some folks like to call a resurrection Cross? On this night in which Christ began his journey to the Cross, I stand before you to tell you that to ignore the Cross, particularly to ignore it because of suffering-avoidance, is to ignore the very saving act of Christ to the destruction of Christianity.  That is what is at stake onthis Maundy Thursday 2011.

I am not conjuring a theme for tonight’s homily-I will let the modern heretic, the nouveau apostate, the postmodern pagan speak for themselves.  Themes at a 1993 conference of major denomination theologians, themes that have been reprised in conferences with ever-increasing frequency included destroying traditional Christian faith, adopting ancient pagan beliefs, rejecting Jesus’ divinity and His atonement on the cross, creating a goddess in the conferee’s own image, and, of course, affirming lesbianism. Their goal and objective was that Christ would be put down and the feminist goddess, Sophia, would now be accepted in all of the world churches and denominations. At the center of this was the need for self-affirmation and a world of seeming pleasure, devoid of the suffering caused by Christianity.

Delores Williams, theology professor at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, told the gathering: “I don’t think we need a theory of atonement at all…Atonement has to do so much with death…I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff…We just need to listen to the god within.”  Easy god, feel good god, pain free god, self god. All of this is grounded in the desire to flee from the pain of being incarnate, the pain of sin, the weight borne by Christ on the Cross at the hands of people trying to escape the searing pain of the convicting truth embodied in Jesus the Christ.

But suppose one can’t escape suffering (no one can, really)?  Suppose suffering its one dead on. There are two kinds of responses: 1) We can rail against God and say, “If you are such a great and powerful and loving God, why am I in this hellish mess?”  That’s the immediate post-modern response.  It is even the response of the disciples this terrible night as they flee Christ’s side.  All but John will be far from the Cross and the suffering of Christ, and even Peter, the one who had just proclaimed his loyalty unto death, would deny Christ three times.  And he would weep bitterly.

Or we can acknowledge that we are sinners and that we don’t deserve any good thing, and cry out for mercy and help in our time of desperation. Beloved, the world is full of those who rail against God in their self-righteousness and presume that the creator of the universe obliged to make their life smooth and faith easy, neat and clean. There are only a few who own up to the fact that God owes us nothing, and that any good to come our way will be due to his mercy, and not our merit.

Luke’s text about the two thieves crucified with Christ teach us that there is no great reward for responding to suffering and to the Cross like the first sort of person. Those two thieves who this night would have been awaiting their execution represent these two ways of responding to suffering and relating to Christ in suffering.  Let’s take a close look at them and their response to the Cross.

Notice first how similar they are. Both are suffering the pain of crucifixion. Both are guilty of crime (“We are receiving the due reward of our deeds,” v.41). Both see Jesus, the superscription over his head (“King of the Jews,” v. 38); they hear the words from his mouth (“Father forgive them,” v. 34). And both of these thieves want desperately to be saved from death.

Most of us have all these things in common with these two thieves: there has been, is, or will be suffering in our lives. None of us will be able to say: “I do not deserve this.” Most of us have seen Jesus on the cross and have heard his claim to kingship and his gracious words of forgiveness. And all of us want to be saved from death one way or the other.

But then the ways divide these two thieves and between two categories of people. The first thief says, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” What a picture of a spiritually destitute, worldly man. It is a matter of total indifference to him that he is suffering “the due reward of his deeds.” To him right and wrong, praise and blame, good and bad are of no interest: his one objective is to save his earthly skin. He might even believe Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews. But, it’s only a matter of convenience to him: he’ll take anybody as king who can get him off the cross. Just another shill to serve his own worldly purposes.

That’s the way one whole segment of humans relate to God in suffering. Suffering interrupts their own private worldly goals and pleasures. So why not try God; if you are king, then get me out of this mess. One writer described this as tire theology. A tire-jack is a dirty, useless thing to be kept out of sight in the trunk until you have a flat tire (a little suffering). Then you get it out, let it do the dirty work and put it away again. Here is Christ-scourged, bleeding, not a fit person to look at. “If you’re so useful, take me down off this cross, Jesus.” Or, to put it another way, “If you’re so useful, lift me up out of this sickness, out of this financial mess, out of this lousy job, and so on.”

The thief had no spirit of brokenness, or guilt or penitence or humility. He could only see Jesus as a possible power by which to escape the cross. He did not see him as a king to be followed. It never entered his mind that he should say he was sorry and should change.

But notice the other thief: this one is the one Luke wants us to be like. First, he is not drawn in by the other man’s railing. If we are to follow his example we too will have to stand our ground and not be taken in by the people all around us who say, “If your God is so great and loving, then why the 20 kids shot in Atlanta? Why sixteen miners buried in a cave? Why a village of your fellow Christians slaughtered in Sudan?” “Why suffering? Why doesn’t he come down off his helpless perch on the cross and do something?”

The first thing the repentant thief does is not get deceived by all this talk. “But he rebuked him saying, ‘Do you not fear God?’” This is the second thing about this penitent thief: he feared God. God was real to him. God was his creator, and he knew that a pot can’t take up arms against the potter and come away victorious. It is fitting that creatures bow in submission before their creator and subject all their life to his wisdom. It is even more fitting that sinful creatures bow before God in holy fear, instead of railing against HIM.

Third, the penitent thief admitted that he had done wrong: “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds” (v. 41). He had no guile, no desire to save face any more; he had no more will to assert himself much less become his own god. He was here and laid open before the God he feared and there was no way to hide has guilt.

You and I know people right now who are in trouble-this very night they are in a world of trouble. But instead of laying down their self-righteous defenses, they are devising every means to weasel and inagle and distort so as to appear innocent and cool. The penitent thief gave it up. It’s a hopeless tack, anyway, before an all-knowing God!

Fourth, not only did he admit to wrong and guilt, he accepted his punishment as deserved. The penitent evildoer’s confession of sin and of faith shows the proper response to Jesus’ absolution (Cyril of Alexandria). The penitent thief is not ashamed of Christ’s suffering and does not see it as a stumbling block, and so he makes a confession of faith in the suffering, innocent Messiah. He sees on Christ’s body his own wounds, and despite the reality of Christ’s suffering and imminent death, he goes on to voice an even stronger confession: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”

This is the real test of humility before God. Many will mouth the confession of sin: “God be merciful to us miserable offenders get angry at him. And this anger reveals that they do not really feel undeserving before God. They still feel, deep down, that they have some rights before God. There are not many people like Job, who, when he lost everything, said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” But this penitent thief did become like Job in the last minutes of his life – he took his suffering without complaint, and feared God.

Fifth, the thief acknowledged Jesus’ righteousness: “This man had done nothing wrong.” It didn’t make any difference to the first thief if Jesus was right or wrong. If he could drive the get-away car — that’s all that mattered. But it matters a lot to Jesus if we think his life was good or bad. Jesus does not want to drive a get-away car; he wants to be followed because we admire him. We must say with the thief: “This man has done nothing wrong.” This man only does what is good. This man only speaks the truth. This man is worthy of our faith and allegiance and imitation.

And then, sixth, the thief goes a step further and acknowledges that indeed, Jesus is a King. “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Even though he is suffering now, Jesus has the mark of a King. For those who have eyes to see, he has a power here on the cross — a power of love that makes him King over all his tormentors. He is not only good, he is powerful, and one day will vindicate his great name, and every knee will bow and confess that Jesus is Lord — to the glory of God, the Father.

And finally, the penitent thief does one more thing. He fears God, admits wrong, accepts justice, acknowledges the goodness and power of Jesus. Now he pleads for help. “Jesus, remember when you come into your Kingdom.” Both thieves wanted to be saved from death. But O how differently they sought their salvation: 1) “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 2) “Jesus, remember when you come into your Kingdom!” There is an infinite qualitative difference between “Save me!” and “Save me!”

Now what motive does Jesus give us to follow in the steps of the penitent thief? There is a fearful silence toward the railing thief: not a word recorded of Jesus to him. Perhaps a final pitying glance. But no promise. No hope.

But to the penitent Jesus says: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” This was almost too good. There would not even be a delay. Today the Spirit of Jesus and the renewed Spirit of the thief would be in union in Paradise. The promise would be without delay.

What is this paradise? The word is found in two other places in the New Testament. First, in 2 Cor. 12:3: Paul says, “I know a man in Christ, who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know; God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise — whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know, God knows — and he heard things which cannot be told, which man may not utter.” Thus Paradise is the heavenly abode of God where there are found things prepared by God for those who love him, which are utterly indescribable (1 Cor. 2:9). The second place the word “Paradise” is found is in Rev. 2:7. Here Jesus says to the church at Ephesus, “To him who conquers, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.” And if we look at the end of the book of Revelation we find that the tree of life is in the heavenly city of God. In Rev. 22:1 John said, “Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

But in all this, the one thing that Jesus chose to mention to the repentant thief on the cross (if you can only say one thing, what do you say?) “You will be with me todayThe penitent thief considered the cross of Christ not to be a stumbling block but power rightly merits paradise. The same apostle says, “To those Jews who have been called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”43 The Lord also correctly gives paradise to him, because on the gibbet of the cross the thief confesses the one whom Judas Iscariot had sold in the garden. This is a remarkable thing. The thief confesses the one whom the disciple denied! This is a remarkable thing, I say. The thief honors the one who suffers, while Judas betrayed the one who kissed him! The one peddled flattering words of peace, and the other preached the wounds of the cross. He says, “Remember me, Lord, when you come in your kingdom.”

Read Full Post »

Last Supper-Passion of the Christ

Our Holy Week devotions continue with collects for Maundy Thursday from Canon E. Milner-White’s Procession of Passion Prayers.

This evening’s services begin with the Washing of Feet and Mass at 6:30 followed by the Stripping of the Altar and Repose of the Blessed Sacramentat the conclusion of the Mass.  The Church will remain open for those who wish to keep Vigil before the Blessed Sacrament at the Altar of Repose which will be located in the Penance Chapel.

Confessions are being heard in the hour before each scheduled service today and on Good Friday.

Blessings of Maundy Thursday,

Canon Nalls

The Bonds

O CHRIST, the Lord of life, who madest thyself prisoner unto death: Deliver us from the bonds of sinful habit, and from every dungeon in which thy praise is forgotten; to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be all majesty and dominion, world without end. Amen.


 O ETERNAL FATHER, whose blessed Son, even in the fierce tumult of arrest, turned to heal the wounded enemy: Save us from taking the swords of wrath or hate, lest we perish by them; but arm us always with the holy and healing Spirit of the same Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same Spirit, one GOD, world without end.  Amen.


O LORD JESUS CHRIST, Son of the living God, whose disciples forsook and forswore thee, so that alone in thy pains thou didst redeem us Give faith to the lonely and the beset, that they may know the Friend who never departeth; nor, abiding, faileth to bless who art with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, one Saviour, one GOD, world without end.  Amen.


O LORD JESUS CHRIST, look upon us with those eyes of thine wherewith thou didst look upon Peter in the hall, That with Peter we may repent and, by thy same love, be forgiven.

O Lord Jesus Christ, turn thy face from our sins, but turn it not from us, for thine endless mercies’ sake.  Amen.

* A cento from Bp. Andrewes Preces Privatae;  Ps. 51;  and Christina Rossetti Face of the Deep.


 O LORD JESUS CHRIST, who, bound and alone, didst proclaim the Messiah before the High Priest and elders of thy people Make plain, we beseech thee, the perpetual truth amid the transient show; and open our ears to hear, our eyes to perceive, and our lips to declare, that thou with the Father and the Holy Ghost art one only eternal and glorious GOD, world without end. Amen.


  KEEP us, O Lord God, from hasty excuse when the semblance of a fault is charged upon us that rather we may be silent with thy holy and unreprovable Son, who when he was reviled, reviled not again; and when he suffered, threatened not; but committed himself unto thee, the only righteous and true judge with whom he liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one GOD, now and evermore. Amen.


JESUS our Lord and our God, who gavest thy cheek to the smiters, and for our sake wast filled full with reproach: Grant us to learn of thee who art meek and lowly of heart, and after the example of thy sufferings, to be patient in bearing our own; for thy holy Name’s sake. Amen.


O LORD JESUS CHRIST, Son of the living God, who wast silent when they befouled the pure beauty of thy countenance with spitting: Save us from the sin of scorning a brother, lest in him we defile also the image of thy glory; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever one GOD, world without end. Amen.

Read Full Post »

Christ Pantocrator

In the bustle of Holy Week activities there is no “day off.”  Even the rector’s customary quiet Monday with family was occupied with meetings and some long overdue appointments up in D.C. The streets were clogged with spring break tour buses, and the usual trip downtown was made even more complicated by road road work cunningly scheduled for the height of the tourist season.  “Protest time” in the Nation’s Capitol also kicked off with the unwashed and over-indulged enhancing the gridlock with the now-obligatory manifestations outside of the World Bank.  A holy time was not being had by all, and, for traffic-bound clergy, it was a test of vocation.

            Leaving the downtown, I opted to swing wide of the madness and took 16th Street north toward Maryland. For those unfamiliar, this is a broad thoroughfare along which one can find churches and houses of worship of every denomination from thoroughly revisionist Methodist to the Buddhist Vihara of Washington.  There is even the Washington Ethical Society, a band of self-proclaimed “right living” atheists who serendipitously meet on…Sundays. 

            As I crossed the park, I happened to see the sign for St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral and was moved to stop in to see what another cathedral church might be up to at the beginning of Holy Week, as well as to spend some time in private prayer and meditation.  It was a bit of a “busman’s holiday” of the ecclesiastical sort.

            I suppose that people may stop in any church for a variety of reasons. Here in Washington, D.C., high school Russian language students come to St. John the Baptist on field trips, university students may come to fulfill a requirement for a course in Russian history or culture, different flavors of seminarians pop round as part of their studies of other denominations, and tourists might stop in before or after tasting some of the ethnic foods sold at the cathedral’s well-known bazaars. 

            Perapatetic priests and other wanderers may stop by to pray, find a bit of respite and see what our brothers and sisters of the “Eastern church” are about this holy season. Others come for reasons known only to them and to God.  As the website notes, “[a]ll are made welcome, for regardless of what prompts them to enter, that entrance may be a first step on the path to salvation.”  We should remember that with each new face we see at Saint Alban’s or in any parish in which we may be.

            A burly gent running a construction crew warmly greeted me and went to get someone to open the church for me.  Shortly, the rector’s wife (the matushka) Mrs. Victor Potapov arrived with the keys and to give me a tour of the church.  Although busy directing kitchen workers and fielding parishioner calls, the Matushka generously afforded me nearly an hour of a busy day to explain the history of the church, the exquisite iconography and to talk about parish life at St. John the Baptist. Things apparently have become so busy, expecially at Holy Week, that three priests were not enough, and they had to “call for backup” from Russia.  On Palm Sunday, the crowds were so large that there needed to be three liturgies, and confessions were heard late into the evening.


            Entering the Narthex, I could only gape as I saw the nave filled with incredibly beautiful icons, and beyond it, elevated by several steps, a large iconostasis. Entering the nave itself, the world outside disappeared and the world of the Church seemed to surround and embrace me. In the central cupola, there is the Christ Pantocrator looking down upon the nave and the paople of God.  Within the cylinder supporting the cupola are representations of the six-winged seraphim, angels in constant attendance at the Heavenly Throne. Below them, written in chain calligraphy are the words “Look down from the heavens, O Lord, upon this vine which Thou didst plant with Thy right hand, and keep it.”

            The air was redolent with incense, and the early afternoon light refracted through clouds of air filled with that smoke and the aroma of the candles from the Sunday commemoration of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.

            My guide, returning to her work, left me to pray and to try to take in the beauty and timelessness of that sacred space.  To borrow from the tour book of the cathedral, the entire Church “is an icon of mankind’s relationship to its Creator, and we see that each of us is an essential part of that icon.”  I thought of yesterday’s Palm Sunday Mass at Saint Alban’s and the voices lifted in solemn hymnody, the smell of incense and candles offered to the glory of God, the prayers, and even our own iconography-stations of the Cross, icon of Saint Alban and the Crucifix.  Indeed, the faithful people of Christ are each an “essential part of that icon”-God’s icon.

            I left the Church to be given a tour of the rest of the facility by the work foreman, a parishioner, who showed me the magnificent transformation he had worked in the old parish hall, a new kitchen, library and the sacristy.  It was all work done for glory of God by a man who was found again by Christ in that place and among that community. (He was baptized just last November.)

            After being given gifts of cds of the two cathedral choirs, I returned to the main church for one last look and moment of peace from the world of Washington traffic.  The light had shifted and dimmed, the haze of smoke seemed thicker, as if the shroud of Good Friday were approaching to obscure the Light of Lights.  Yet, even in gathering darkness and gloom, the saints still hold their line against the devil, the flesh and the world; the angels still soar over the Church swords drawn against the ancient enemy; and Christ Jesus still looks upon, loves and blesses His people.

Holy Week blessings,

Canon Nalls

Take a tour of Saint John the Baptist here http://www.stjohndc.org/Russian/tour/e_tour.htm

Iconostasis at St. John the Baptist Cathedral

Read Full Post »

I have been asked to set a parish cell phone policy in light of recent ringing at most unfortunate times.  Holy Week, with its special devotions, seems an appropriate time to do so.

Please leave cell phones at home or in locked cars (concealed, of course) unless you are military, medical or law enforcement personnel in an “on call” status.  In the latter case, double check to be sure that your phone is silenced before entering the church.  A sign will be posted shortly in the narthex to alert visitors to this request.

Our thanks to all for cooperating to be sure that we continue to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”

Blessings of Holy Week,

Canon Nalls

Read Full Post »

Not surprisingly, a religious background and a firm family structure are a strong deterrent for unwed pregnancies.

Please take a moment to read this important and telling article and to pray for unwed mothers and their children.

As well, you may wish to see the full piece with charts which can be found on the Family Research Council site here.

Lenten blessings,

Canon Nalls


Mapping America: “Ever Had an Unwed Pregnancy” by Current Religious Attendance and Structure of Family of Origin

by Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D. and Scott Talkington, Ph.D.

The 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth shows that females who grew up in intact families who frequently attended religious services are least likely to have had an unwed pregnancy.

Description: Examining structure of family of origin, 19 percent of females who grew up in an intact married family have had an unwed pregnancy, followed by females from intact cohabiting families (26 percent), single divorced parent families (36 percent) and married stepfamilies (36 percent), cohabiting stepfamilies (37 percent), and always single parent families (54 percent).

Examining only current religious attendance, 16 percent of females who worship at least weekly have had unwed pregnancy, followed by those who attend religious services between one and three times a month (25 percent) and those who attend religious services less than once monthly (25 percent), and those who never attend religious services (27 percent).

Examining current religious attendance and structure of family of origin combined, 18 percent of females who worship weekly and grew up in intact families have had an unwed pregnancy. By contrast, 40 percent of females who never attend religious services and come from non-intact family backgrounds have at some point become pregnant out of wedlock. Between these two extremes are those who never worship and grew up in intact families (24 percent) and those who attend religious services weekly but grew up in non-intact families (33 percent).

Related Insight from Other Studies
Studies based on the 1995 General Social Survey show that family structure affects the unwed pregnancy rate. According to Valerie Martin of McGill University, when compared with peers from intact families, adolescent and young adult women who experienced parental divorce were significantly more likely to give birth out of wedlock.

Using this same survey, Jay Teachman of Western Washington University also found intact families to be protective in many ways: Compared with peers from other family structures, women who grew up in intact families were less likely to form high-risk marriages, to cohabit before marriage, or to have a premarital birth or conception.

Another study demonstrated the protective nature of the family’s religion: When compared with peers whose mothers had not attended religious services frequently, 18-year-olds whose mothers attended religious services often were more likely to have attitudes about premarital sex, cohabitation, abortion, and divorce.

The Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Survey also showed the impact of religion on urban mothers, finding that urban mothers who attend church frequently are at least 70 percent more likely to be married when they give birth or to get married within one year of a nonmarital birth than are urban mothers who do not attend church frequently.

Dr. Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) at Family Research Council.

Scott Talkington has been Research Director for the National Association of Scholars and Senior Research Fellow at George Mason University School of Public Policy since 1998.

Read Full Post »

Lest we ever worry over size, here is the following concerning from “the former denomination” for many of us from their own parochial reports:

–Over half of TEC congregations (52.4%) are small, family-sized congregations where average worship attendance is 70 persons orfewer (2009 Parochial Report data). Pastoral-sized congregations make up the next largest proportion of parishes and missions (28.6%). Corporate-sized congregations with 351 or more in worship represent only 3.3% of Episcopal congregations.

The median Episcopal parish had 66 persons at Sunday worship in 2009 according to the annual Parochial Report—down from 72 in 2006 and 77 in 2003.

In the Anglican Catholic Church, we are moving in the opposite direction, albeit slowly.  This should be very encouraging, particularly to smaller congregations.  So, let’s remember not drive folks off with “gatekeeping” or “Angricanism”, but concentrate on being who we are-a quiet, orthodox Christian refuge from the secular world and from “mainstream” denominations gone quite mad.

Lenten blessings,

Canon Nalls

Read Full Post »