The Stripping of the Altars

As the liturgy of Maundy Thursday instructed me to strip and wash the altars of my chapel, the thought came into mind of the title of a famous book by the historian Dr Eamon Duffy. His subject was the English Reformation and the iconoclasm that occurred in the sixteenth century, the worst happening under Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads during the English Revolution in the mid seventeenth century.

Christendom has seen fanaticism and hatred over the centuries, but nothing in comparison with our own times. As I write, churches are destroyed and Christians are martyred by Daesh and other jihadist Muslims. Once again, churches are destroyed, gutted, burned and desecrated, all in the name of a divinity that millions of people in the world worship.

I hope and pray Mr Trump will look at these pictures too before blaming everything on the secular regime in Syria and launching any further attacks on the very forces defending Christians. This is my particular intention as I celebrate the succeeding elements of the Mystery during this Triduum.

Let us pray also for Europe, that we may never fall under the same scourge as befell England in 1649 and in the Middle East now, as we discover horror after horror on reading the news on the Internet and seeing videos on YouTube.

Άγίος ό Θεός, Άγίος ίσχυρος, Άγίος άθανατος, έλεήσον ήμάς.

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7 Responses to The Stripping of the Altars

  1. ed pacht says:

    The Palm Sunday killing of Coptic Christians is just one more tragic event in the long series of martyrdoms for the Faith. It brings back to my mind a long poem and its introduction that I wrote back in 1998. May the New Martyrs pray for us who continue in apparent safety.

    Under the Altar of God

    Introduction

    Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: (Ephesians 2:19-21)

    For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. (I Corinthians 3:11-14)

    The Church and Kingdom of the Everlasting God is built, primarily upon Jesus Christ, secondarily upon the Apostles and Prophets, and thirdly upon the blood of the martyrs and the work of faithful witnesses who have suffered for the Word of the Lord. There have always been martyrs, and so will there be until the end of the age and the second coming of the Lord Jesus, in power and great glory . It has been said, and appears to be true, that this century (the twentieth), almost ended, has produced more martyrs than any other period of history; and incredible numbers of our fellow believers are suffering and dying in many parts of the world today.

    The Book of Revelation was written in another time of severe persecution. The saints were suffering, and the Lord revealed through John a series of powerful images to encourage and build up those who were almost worn out. This poem (written on the weekend after Thanksgiving, 1998) takes off from a poignant passage in which the martyrs in heaven take up the cry of the church on earth, “How long, Lord, how long?”, and the Lord gives reward, hope, and power.

    May the Lord give strength to those who suffer for His Name, and commitment to those of us who have (thus far) been spared.

    Under the Altar of God.

    “And when he had opened the fifth seal,
    “I saw under the altar the souls
    of them that were slain for the word of God,
    and for the testimony which they held:
    “And they cried with a loud voice, saying,
    ” ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true,
    dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood
    on them that dwell on the earth?'”
    (Revelation 6:9-10)
    It is the altar before the throne of God.
    It is the place whereon stands the everlasting Lamb.
    It is the table of the eating of His wedding feast.
    It is the roof of the house of martyred souls.
    Many are they who have died for His Word.
    Many are they that speak with their blood.
    Many are they of that witness supreme.
    Many are they who dwell in that house.
    It is the altar before the throne of God.
    It is the place whereon stands the everlasting Lamb.
    It is the table of the eating of His wedding feast.
    It is the roof of the house of martyred souls.
    Hear the voices from under that place.
    Hear the voices; with anguish they cry.
    Hear the voices now raised to the King.
    Hear the voices, the painful “How long?”
    “How long can it be, Lord, how long can it be?
    “How long can Your people endure?
    “How long can they suffer, how long can they die?
    “How long can Your enemies reign?”
    Under the altar, approaching the throne,
    the souls of the martyred are heard,
    calling attention to those yet on earth,
    those who still carry the fight.
    Under the heavens, obeying the Word,
    the legions of faithful ones march,
    under the heavens, running the race,
    observed by the martyrs above.
    “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about
    with so great a cloud of witnesses,
    “let us lay aside every weight,
    “and the sin which doth so easily beset us,
    “and let us run with patience
    the race that is set before us,
    “looking unto Jesus
    the author and finisher of our faith;
    “who for the joy that was set before him
    “endured the cross, despising the shame,
    “and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
    “For consider him that endured
    such contradiction of sinners against himself,
    “lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
    “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood,
    striving against sin.”
    (Hebrews 12:1-4)
    It is the altar before the throne of God.
    It is the place whereon stands the everlasting Lamb.
    It is the table of the eating of His wedding feast.
    It is the roof of the house of martyred souls.
    Hear the voices from under that place.
    Hear the voices; with anguish they cry.
    Hear the voices now raised to the King.
    Hear the voices, the painful “How long?”
    “How long can it be, Lord, how long can it be?
    “How long can your people endure?
    “How long can they suffer, how long can they die?
    “How long can Your enemies reign?”
    Wearily, sadly, joyfully laboring here,
    triumphantly bearing the cross of pain,
    the army of saints exchanges this life
    for one better, finer, fuller, for ever.
    Beaten, broken, bruised and killed,
    the conquering army, knowing, employs
    the mighty everlasting power of Him
    Who made and rules and keeps and destroys.
    Beaten, broken, bruised and killed
    by men, unknowing slaves of him who thinks
    that he can triumph over God
    and take His almighty throne.
    “How art thou fallen from heaven,
    O Lucifer, son of the morning!
    “How art thou cut down to the ground,
    which didst weaken the nations!
    “For thou hast said in thine heart,
    ‘I will ascend into heaven,
    ‘I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:
    ‘I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation,
    in the sides of the north:
    ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    ‘I will be like the most High.’
    “Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell,
    to the sides of the pit.”
    (Isaiah 14:12-15)
    It is the altar before the throne of God.
    It is the place whereon stands the everlasting Lamb.
    It is the table of the eating of His wedding feast.
    It is the roof of the house of martyred souls.
    Beaten, broken, bruised and killed,
    they come to that holy place,
    seemingly vanquished, yet in victory,
    they hear the summons of God.
    “And white robes were given unto every one of them;
    “and it was said unto them,
    that they should rest yet for a little season,
    “until their fellowservants also and their brethren,
    “that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”
    (Revelation 6:11)
    It is the altar before the throne of God.
    It is the place whereon stands the everlasting Lamb.
    It is the table of the eating of His wedding feast.
    It is the roof of the house of martyred souls.
    Beaten, broken, bruised and killed,
    the conquering armies come,
    wearing their armor, bearing their swords,
    shouting the words of God.
    “After this I beheld,
    “and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number,
    “of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,
    “stood before the throne, and before the Lamb,
    “clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
    “And cried with a loud voice, saying,
    ‘Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne,
    ‘and unto the Lamb.’
    “And all the angels stood round about the throne,
    “and about the elders and the four beasts,
    “and fell before the throne on their faces,
    “and worshipped God, Saying,
    ‘Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom,
    ‘and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might,
    ‘be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.’
    “And one of the elders answered, saying unto me,
    ‘What are these which are arrayed in white robes?
    ‘and whence came they?
    “And I said unto him, ‘Sir, thou knowest.’
    “And he said to me,
    ‘These are they which came out of great tribulation,
    ‘and have washed their robes,
    ‘and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
    ‘Therefore are they before the throne of God,
    ‘and serve him day and night in his temple:
    ‘and He that sitteth on the throne
    shall dwell among them.
    ‘They shall hunger no more,
    ‘neither thirst any more;
    ‘neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
    ‘For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne
    shall feed them,
    and shall lead them
    unto living fountains of waters:
    ‘and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’
    (Revelation 7:9-17)
    It is the altar before the throne of God.
    It is the place whereon stands the everlasting Lamb.
    It is the table of the eating of His wedding feast.
    It is the roof of the house of martyred souls.
    Hear the voices from under that place.
    Hear the voices; with anguish they cry.
    Hear the voices now raised to the King.
    Hear the voices, the painful “How long?”
    “How long can it be, Lord, how long can it be?
    “How long can your people endure?
    “How long can they suffer, how long can they die?
    “How long can Your enemies reign?”
    And the Lord of battles, the Lamb that was slain,
    with the sword in His nail-scarred hands,
    summons His troops, the white-clad host,
    and the martyrs return to the earth.
    “… And there were great voices in heaven, saying,
    ‘The kingdoms of this world are become
    the kingdoms of our Lord,
    and of his Christ;
    ‘and he shall reign for ever and ever.’
    “And the four and twenty elders,
    which sat before God on their seats,
    “fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, Saying,
    ‘We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty,
    ‘which art, and wast, and art to come;
    ‘because thou hast taken to thee thy great power,
    ‘and hast reigned.
    ‘And the nations were angry,
    ‘and thy wrath is come,
    and the time of the dead, that they should be judged,
    ‘and that thou shouldest give reward
    ‘unto thy servants the prophets,
    ‘and to the saints,
    ‘and them that fear thy name, small and great;
    and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.'”
    (Revelation 11:15-18)
    “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. . . .”
    (Revelation 20:14)
    “He which testifieth these things saith,
    ‘Surely I come quickly.’
    “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
    (Revelation 22:20)

  2. J.D. says:

    I must confess the very real “weakness as a virtue ” and pure pacificism idea of Christianity is hard to stomach, and yet in my own opinion ALL of the readings within Christian circles justifying crusades and even “just wars” come off as forced. Christianity is a life and worldview denying otherworldly religion. Since this total deification of weakness,bending ones neck to the sword and forgiving enemies to the point of absurdity in natural terms is so difficult I’ve found myself seriously drifting from Christ these days. His religion of weakness and martyrdom is much more than I can bear, it sometimes seems like lunacy. At times to seriously be a Christian feels like willingly putting on a sign in public that a says “kick me,spit on me, I’ll forgive and forget anyway.”

    I apologize for this tone, but I am seriously going through a crisis of faith. Christianity asks us to become doormats and pushovers. I cannot and will not do that.

    • It’s all very mysterious, like the question of free will. The “Great Inquisitor” of Dostoievsky argued that if our freedom was taken away, we would no longer sin – which is the principle of socialist or statist totalitarianism. Likewise, where is the dividing line between self defence or defence of our community, country, church, etc. and our own aggression towards those who are weaker than we are. The “trajectory of history” vindicates the bullies and the tyrants, until they lose their wars of aggression. I don’t have an answer to this problem. Short of becoming Muslims or Christian fundamentalist fanatics, perhaps our way is a higher reality than our life in this world. Also, when you want to fight back against evil, you need to be sure of having a bigger army and better weapons against the enemy. Otherwise you have to resort to diplomacy and find a way to build up your forces without the enemy being able to knock you down. That’s history over and over again…

      The best I can say is to ask which religion other than Christianity does more to affirm the human person and give us rights to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness? Are we more than animals with our place in the food chain? What does it mean to be human? It’s all mysterious to me. Peter asked Jesus “To whom can we go. Thou hast the words of eternal life”. What’s the alternative if we let Christianity go? There are eastern religions, but we westerners are not eastern. Pagans? Christianity needs to be as Pagan as Jewish, and transcending both.

    • ed pacht says:

      Doormats? Pushovers? Is that what you see in the martyrs? I am in awe of the strength and sheer power that makes it possible to stand up for what is right even when torture and death are a certainty. It certainly is cowardice to deny one’s faith for the sake of survival, but that is not what Christians are called on to do – quite the opposite. If it ever comes to that (and it could) I pray that I will have the courage of a Laurence or a Perpetua or any of the martyrs. Without divine help I am not strong enough for that. We are forbidden to be doormats or pushovers, but are commissioned to wield weapons that are not of this world. And, though we do not see it yet, those weapons win. There are enough questions that a pure pacifist position is not tenable, but nonviolent resistance to the point of death is a God-blessed and powerful weapon and violence itself, even in a “just war” breeds more violence in a never-ending cycle. No, “cream-puff Christians” do not advance the Gospel, but real martyrs do.

      • J.D. says:

        You certainly make some good points Mr. Pacht,but I still can’t shake the feeling that the Christian faith is basically a rejection of the world and an invitation to be stepped on and spat on,all in the pious hope that after death there’s this better place to be.

        Certainly it’s bravery to go to death rather than deny something, but from a worldly perspective it seems like insanity to never fight back, to always turn the other cheek and to resort to prayer and piety in the face of evil rather than do anything concrete.

        I agree that even a “just war” perpetuates more violence,but what other options are there? We can resort to piety and kindness and get trampled and exterminated,or we can accept reality on the ground and choose to survive.

        Personally I don’t know how people find the faith to continue to be spit on and stepped on with forgiveness in their hearts all the while knowing that their otherworldly actions will most likely lead to death,destruction and perhaps extinction such as we see happening in the middle east.

        I’m not trying to be provocative, I’m seriously struggling with this as a man who has been a Christian for years but who seriously feels repulsed by some of what is asked of Christians.

      • ed pacht says:

        Insane? By the standards of this world, most assuredly, but the standards of this world are insane and lead ultimately to the very madness we fear, to the creation of Hitlers and Stalins, ethnic cleansings and persecutions. Impractical, well, sure, but practicality doesn’t produce art and doesn’t increase love. In the short run martyrdom looks futile, but the Pagan Roman Empire could not stamp our Christianity and ultimately fell before it.

        Yes, the Sermon on the Mount presents a humanly unattainable set of demands, but that’s just the point of it. It presents a target at which we are called to aim. It draws a picture of the kind of world God intends us to build – not instantly, but over time and through the trials we must face in the now, with our eyes upon the future – a long range plan. It’s not ‘pie in the sky when we die’ but rather what kind of world do we want to build. Impossible? Well, yes, unless… Unless God works with us, and that’s exactly the message of these last few days. The Son of God suffered a very human death, but rose again and promises us the same. His death overcomes death, in the long run, in due time, and our labors are part of the process, never in vain.

        I’m not wanting to be provocative either, and I understand the struggle. If I felt it depended on my efforts, I would despair, because there’s little if anything I can do to change anything, but if God is on my side … Well, what can I fear. There’s no good human answer to any of this, and no consistent ideology will lead to a solution or even to any real betterment – and that does include consistent and logical pacifism. Gandhi was, after all, not a Christian. But we are called to direct our minds and hearts toward objectives beyond what any of our minds can really grasp, beyond the limits of our own strength.

        By the way, I do have to ask this: In what way will our military action in the Middle East NOT lead to death,destruction and perhaps extinction such as we see happening. I see no other result of anything resembling what we have been doing than that. Our involvement there in the last decades has only resulted in escalating turmoil and violence. What answers can we find? None, I think, except for searching out how God can aid us to live out the love that led Jesus to the Cross.

        Hope I’m not being too preachy, and I think I’d best stop here.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I don’t know enough to evaluate this, nor am I familiar with the authors (Damir Marusic and Karina Orlova), but I thought this was interesting, perhaps especially their saying, “Though rhetoric over Assad remained sharp, both sides in effect agreed to disagree and instead to focus on fighting ‘terrorism’—which is exactly what President Trump had wanted improved U.S.-Russian relations to hinge on. Lavrov announced that bilateral backchannel communications over Ukraine, which were an open secret under Obama (the fabled “Surkov-Nuland” channel), could be recreated under Trump. And Lavrov also identified defusing the North Korea crisis as an area where the two countries might cooperate.” And, “in announcing the joint focus on fighting terror, Lavrov suggested that the suspended deconfliction agreement could be reinstated in short order; Tillerson had gotten the Russians to back off on the only retributive step they had taken since the Tomahawk strike against their proxy Assad. […] unlike his predecessor, he appears to have taken the first halting steps toward a working relationship with the Russians.” Finally, “And from what we’ve seen so far, the Russians appear to have recognized this new landscape for what it is—and they don’t seem to be too disappointed. President Trump is, more or less, speaking their language.”

    https://www.the-american-interest.com/2017/04/13/when-rex-met-sergey/

    (I haven’t read anything yet about the subsequent Russian, Iranian, Syrian meeting and statement, but imagine that these authors’ conclusion – “These are but the opening moves in a long game—moves that are successfully rewriting the rules under which the game will be played” – might accommodate it, in some form.)

    [N.B.: When I innocently followed a link to it, I got a notice “This is your free article this month”!]

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