in General

SELC Newsletter #236

Peace to you, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Now as the Church entered the time of Lent, we would like to bring to your attention a part of the sermon that Pastor Pavel Zayakin said during the Ash Wednesday service in the parish of Saint Luke in Abakan.

 Where your treasure is [Matt. 6:21], brothers and sisters?  Or, is this question incorrect?  Because everyone has his own treasure, in a bank account or under a mattress; for some of us their treasure is children or a work, or a dream…  <…>

And sometimes people dream together.  Isn’t it much easier to achieve anything together?  Do you remember how we were forced to build the “best society on earth”, so that at least if we did not reach it, our children do it… It was the same dream as an earlier one to build a “tower whose top is in the heavens” [Gen. 11:4].  The socialism and the Tower of Babel were the most vivid collective dreams, but both had the bad end.  And you know why, don’t you?  Because there was no God within these collective dreams.  Or, let say more precisely, there were humans who tried to take His place.  It was similar to the first “collective dream” near the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, “You will not surely die… you will be like God” [Gen. 3:4].

So much blood was poured n the name of these collective dreams, and it still flows like water.  All because this is a greatest temptation to force people to follow your idea, your ideology.  May be, not everyone “will be like God” according to this ideology, just whose who are closer to a dictator ruler.  And all others are just a “building material” to be consumed for the next “tower of Babel.”

If you know history, you remember that humans have always tried to climb up to the Heavens, and the Babel tower was only one of such attempts. And it is still today, after the centuries of pyramids, ziggurats and mausoleums humans are working hard to build new ideological “skyscrapers.”  <…>

But none of our aspirations and efforts to reach the Heavens by ourselves will be successful.  All our towers will turn into ashes sooner or later, like our bodies will turn into dust.  We can not “breath the breath of life” [Gen. 2:7] in our towers, all our attempts will be buried in history: Roman Empire, Byzantium, “Moscow, the Third Rome”, communism, the Third Reich[], the “Russian world”…

All our human attempts, which yesterday seemed to be the last step up to Heavens, will turn into the cold ruins in museum of humankind.

The answer is that we are only dust and ashes. And all plans will fall, and our dreams will be crashed.  Because there is only one way to reach the Heavens, the one that begins with repentance, in the humble confession that by nature we all are only “dust and ashes.”

In the beginning the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground [Gen. 2:7]. And we are still alive today only because He continues to “breath His breath of life” into us.  Only His breath is able to give us eternal life. <…>

Every year, these ashes touch our foreheads. “For you are the dust, and into dust you shall return” as we say at a funerals.  But every year God gives us a chance. Because the ashes that touch us have salvific form of the cross.  This is because Christ came to save us, to fix us, to change our dreams, to crush our towers.  And to elevate us to His heavens where our treasure is.  Amen.

We wish you blessed time of Lent!

Please pray for the Lutheran clergy and laity in Siberia.

“Faith and hope”
Please see attached photos.

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I’ve blogged on this topic multiple times before, The Pastor Debt MonsterDebt Follows Seminarians into Congregations, and Progress Being Made on Addressing Pastoral Debt. I appreciate the effort of my seminary to work to reduce this cost for current and future students. I encourage you to reduce the educational debt of your local pastor through gifts. I urge you to support MinistryFOCUS, a grassroots LCMS organization formed to provide education loan repayment assistance to recent graduates.

The Altar is a Table

The chapel at Hartenfels Castle in Torgau dedicated by Luther himself.

From The Conduct of the Services, Arthur Carl Piepkorn, edited by Charles McClean, 57-59:
In his German Mass of 1526 Martin Luther wrote: “In the true mass, however, of real Christians, the altar should not remain where it is, and the priest should always face the people as Christ undoubtedly did at the Last Supper.”[70] The practice to which Luther here alludes was common in Christian antiquity![71] The celebration of the Eucharist facing the people should not, however, be regarded as a kind of liturgical “orthodoxy.” The celebration in the so-called eastward position—the celebrant turning his back to the people so that he faces the (liturgical) east—also has a venerable history. It is still the most common practice among Lutherans, has not ceased to be the usage of the Eastern Orthodox communion, and probably is still the use of the majority of Anglican congregations.[72]

The celebration of the Eucharist facing the people serves to emphasize that the altar is a table and that the Holy Eucharist is a meal.[73] The family of God gathers around the Lord’s table for the family meal. This way of celebrating the Eucharist provides for a kind of involvement of the people with the action of the presiding minister which is not possible when the Holy Eucharist is celebrated by a minister with his back to the people.

The following directions distinguish sharply between the service of the Word and the service of the sacrament. The first part of the great service centers in the holy Word, the second centers in the holy food. The Lord of the church comes through the Word and through the bread and wine of the holy meal. A book is the focus of the service of the Word; bread and wine on a table are the focus of the service of the sacrament. To emphasize this distinction no part of the service prior to the eucharistic meal itself is conducted at the altar. There is no need for the altar, that is, the table, before the meal is to be prepared and eaten. A table is necessary neither for the prayers and hymns nor for the reading of the lessons in the service of the Word: for this a book is sufficient. Also to emphasize the table character of the altar and the meal character of the Eucharist, the corporal (the linen cloth on which the vessels for the bread and wine are placed) is not spread on the altar nor are the sacred vessels themselves placed on the altar until the eucharistic meal itself is about to begin, that is, at the offertory.

Celebrating the Eucharist facing the people reflects an approach to the liturgy, common to the pre-medieval period, which emphasizes the involvement of the whole church in the eucharistic action. In the pre-medieval period the bishop, seated behind the altar and facing the people, preached and offered the great eucharistic prayer, but the remaining portions of the liturgy were almost wholly conducted by others. The celebration of the Eucharist was understood as the action of the whole church of God in a given place, an action in which each member functioned “in his vocation and ministry.” This idea was given form by assigning various parts of the liturgy to various persons or groups of persons. Even during the Middle Ages—and for many years after the Reformation in some parts of the Lutheran Church—the normal Sunday and festival service of at least the large city churches was the “high mass,” a Eucharist celebrated by a priest assisted by deacon and subdeacon, servers, choir and congregation. But with the passage of time many Christians have come to look on this full type of service involving many participants as extraordinary, and to regard a service conducted by a solitary clergyman as normal. This development is probably regrettable, since it has unduly clericalized worship and has given the impression that the Eucharist is a rite to be read by the minister rather than an action in which the whole church participates. A return to the ancient ideal would give concrete expression to the thought that the Eucharist is the action of the body of Christ, an action in which the several members of the body of Christ have various functions to carry out.[74] For this reason these ceremonial directions encourage the participation of as many people as possible: reading the lessons, bringing the gifts of bread and wine to the altar, and so on.

In terms of the rationale of this type of eucharistic celebration, the use of the term “celebrant” for the minister who presides at the celebration is misleading. For the whole church celebrates the Eucharist; the minister only presides at the Eucharist according to his vocation. But while the term “celebrant” is misleading, the term has been retained in the following directions for the sake of convenience. More accurately one should speak of “the minister who presides at the celebration of the sacrament,” or of “the president of the eucharistic assembly.” But while these phrases are more accurate, they are also quite awkward.

The following directions provide for two kinds of eucharistic service: first, a simple way of celebrating the Holy Eucharist facing the people; second, a way of celebration involving greater use of traditional ceremonial features.

Except in cases where the prescriptive “shall” rubrics of our synod’s authorized service books are cited, the following directions should be regarded merely as suggestions rather than normative prescriptions. These directions suggest a way-of celebrating the Eucharist facing the people, a way which reflects the long history of how this has been done among the people of God, which is sensitive to ecumenical consensus, and which may prove to be an orderly and helpful way of doing the liturgy at the present time.

Celebrating facing the people is much more demanding on the officiating clergy than celebrating in the “eastward” position. The officiants are continually in full view of the people. This makes it absolutely necessary to avoid all nervous habits. The officiants must be conscious of facial expression. They should not stare at the congregation, since the members of the congregation would in this way be made most uncomfortable. The minister should look at the people when addressing them, for example, during the salutation. To grin or grimace or wink the eyes or roll them around is intolerable. (This does not, however, imply that the celebrant should look grim or unhappy.) When one person is carrying out his function, for example, reading a lesson, the other persons in the chancel should not stare or look around, but rather look at the person who is carrying out the assigned function. When the celebrant is offering prayers he may, if he is sure of the text of the prayer, lift his eyes “to heaven.” When reading a lesson, one should keep his eyes on the book as a sign that he is reading the words of another. Gestures should be bold and deliberate, without being either mechanical or theatrical. For example, when the celebrant lifts the chalice from the altar at the words, “He took the cup,” he should do this deliberately and lift the chalice high enough above the mensa of the altar so that the people can clearly see what is being done.

In general, the less “liturgically minded” pastor may find it necessary to employ more ceremonial actions than he has been accustomed to use when celebrating in the “eastward” position. The more “liturgically minded” pastor may find that some ceremonial observances possible in the “eastward” position tend to be distracting when done in full view of the people.[75]
[70] Martin Luther, “Deutsche Messe,” in D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesammtausgabe (Weimar: Hermann Bohlaus Nachfolger, 1897), XIX, 80. (Hereafter this edition of Luther’s works will be referred to as WA.) Martin Luther, “German Mass and Order of Service,” in Luther’s Works, 53 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1965), 25. (Hereafter this edition of Luther’s works will be referred to as LW)

[71] Joseph A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (Missarum Sollemnia), trans. Francis A. Brunner (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1951), I, 274ff. Basil Minchin, The Celebration of the Holy Eucharist Facing the People (n.p., n.d.7, pp. 3-12,19-27).

[72] “To pray to the East is a Christian custom that has its roots in apostolic worship since the primitive church celebrated the Eucharist in expectation of the Lord’s return. (I Cor. xi. 26) It was believed that the parousia would be heralded by the sign of the cross in the Eastern sky, as mentioned in Matt. xxiv. 30. Hence to turn to the East was an acknowledgment that the Eucharist was being celebrated in expectation of the second Advent.” Cyril E. Pocknee, The Parson ‘s Handbook, 13th edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 21. See Jungmann, I, 70f.

[73] In Christian tradition the altar is also the symbol of Christ in the church and, therefore, of the presence of God with His people. The altar is by definition a place of sacrifice and therefore stands in the church as the symbol of the one perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross, of which the Eucharist is the memorial.

[74] On this whole matter see Jungmann, I, 221E, 67ff., 195ff. See also Basil Minchin, Every Man in His Ministry (London: Darton, Longmans and Todd, 1960), pp. 188ff.

[75] For example, the celebrant probably should not kneel behind the altar as it may appear ludicrous to see only the celebrant’s head protruding above the altar.