Rising From The Dead

Rising From The Dead

21 December 2010

"There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells." (Ps 46.4)

Two "streams" of Christianity were flowing in Britain in the 7th C. In 664 they collided, fatally, in Northumbria at the Synod of Whitby. One suppressed the other. The one which disappeared and has largely run underground for the past 13 centuries, is to be resurrected and become the Church of the Last Days.

Salvation through the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ reached Britain whilst it was part of the Roman Empire. When Caesar's Legions withdrew in the early 400s, evangelization continued, but not from the European Church with its headquarters in Rome. It was, in truth, converted by the 4th C Church of the Desert Fathers and Mothers from Egypt.

Much is made today, by some, of so-called Celtic Christianity, and its impact on Ireland, Scotland and the north of England from the 400s to the 600s. Modern scholars are substantially agreed, that there was in fact no such thing. What did exist was an expression of devotion to Jesus in that region which owed its existence and allegiance (not to the corridors of power in Rome), but to the extempore, holy abandonment of the desert hermitages of Egypt.

(This point-of-view should be completely unsurprising, as the "descendants" of Egypt's Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers "wandered" north and west, to finally settle out on the extreme, western islands of Ireland. They believed absolutely that they had come to the end of the world, and by so doing they were hastening the return of Jesus who had promised, "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Mt 24.14)

During that time, Christianity had developed there isolated from Europe (with its "rising power and growing organisation of Rome"), and not tied and tangled in the apron-strings of the State, and its political power and military might. The Celtic Church was a "loosely compacted" community of faith which drew its strength (not from bishops and their princely patrons), but essentially from prayer houses. It was an authentic "house of prayer"! (Mt 21.13)

In so many respects, Celtic society had come by the 7th C to strongly resemble Egypt in the 4th and 5th Cs where, "There is no town or village which is not surrounded by hermitages as if by walls."

At the Synod of Whitby, King Oswiu (in the tradition of the Emperor Constantine) presided over the assembly of Roman and Celtic clerics and monks. The items on the agenda were relatively minor (e.g. the "true" date of Easter celebrations?). The real issue was uniformity and conformity. The king judged, and found in favour of the followers of Rome. The Celtic contemplatives were commanded to conform. Some who did not were put to the sword...scalped!

What was knowingly driven underground that day was a manifestation and demonstration of Christianity which believed that prayer (unceasing public adoration of God and intercession for the whole human race) was the Church's foundational task and main event. It was a mode of faith which depended upon communities of men and women of prayer, living in simplicity, purity and submission... (poverty, chastity and obedience). It eschewed bishops (papal edicts and excommunications) on be-jewelled thrones, propped up by local war-lords and robber barons.

900 years later, this "stream" of intercession was driven even deeper underground and further into hiding, during the reformation of the English Church, which took place (yet again!) at the point of a king's sword. Henry VIII had no qualms whatsoever in pursuing and prosecuting his vision of church, employing kangaroo-courts, bribed witnesses and the state executioner's lethal arts. It is a matter of plain historical record, that the contemplatives and their prayer houses received the most brutal and the bloodiest treatment at the hands of the king and his over-eager, lick-spittle lieutenants. (Their reward usually being the property which had once belonged to the suppressed prayer houses!)

Why were they especially target-ed?

Because the devil and his followers know that it's just so much easier to subvert and divert a church built on a foundation of reason (intellectual assent), and secular (corporate?) organisation and power. An authentic "house of prayer" Church should be an altogether different and more difficult nut for the antichrist to crack!

The Desert Father upon his face is hard at work. The Desert Father tilling the soil, is deep in prayer. The ravens feed him. His applause is the deafening silence of the wilderness. His success is to hear huge drops of rain begin to plough, hissing, into the dust of Carmel...three and a half years drought-dried. You cannot threaten him with demotion, for he already jealously occupies "the lowest place". (Lk 14.10) You cannot threaten a Desert Father with excommunication, because he already lives "outside the camp"! (Heb 13.13) His greatest ambition is martyrdom.

What power the visible Church has today, is largely dependant upon the use of force! That's why it has so little influence upon the surrounding societies it is charged with leavening. It usually maintains order largely and ultimately through threats and sanctions. The Church cannot be powerful (dynamic) by using force...and also be influential! One inevitably negates the other.

In the Western Church today, the king no longer fires off drunken knights to decapitate "foul, turbulent, meddlesome" priests. We've stopped setting fire to heretics with tar-soaked faggots and gunpowder. But we have certainly devised a thousand different ways to oh, so subtly and craftily rid ourselves of a "troublesome" Elijah...a "depressing" Jeremiah...a "plotting" Amos. But whether it's done with a sword or a discrete phone call, a word in the right's still force, which is not influence. Force drives; influence evokes, awakens and calls forth.

"Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope." (Mt 12.18-21)

The Church of Constantine, Oswiu and Henry VIII may impress the world with its flash, velvet gloves...but inside lurk steel fists. The Desert Abbas and Ammas are unimpressive creatures to look at...tatterdemalion, starvelings and ragamuffins! Weirdos and half bonkers maybe? But they carried and guarded in their hearts the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ...unalloyed, undiluted, unedited.

"A brother said to (the Desert Father) Poeman, 'If I see my brother sin is it really right not to tell anyone about it?' He said, 'When we cover our brother's sin, God covers our sin. When we tell people about our brother's guilt, God does the same with ours.' "

"A demoniac, frothing terribly at the mouth, struck an old hermit on the jaw, and he turned the other cheek. This humility tortured the demon like flames, and drove him out there and then."

"A hermit was asked, 'What is humility?' He said, 'It is if you forgive a brother who has wronged you before he is sorry.' "

"A monk was told that his father had died. He said to the messenger, 'Do not blaspheme. My Father cannot die.' "

("The Desert Fathers" Transl. by Benedicta Ward. Penguin Books 2003)

In the Last Days, the State will universally turn against the Church and Israel. The "king" will no longer be an ally and protector...but our adversary and persecutor. Our habitation is again going to be the desert and the wilderness...for some literally; for others figuratively.

"Therefore I am going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor ('trouble') a door of hope." (Hos 2.14-15)

"The people who survive the sword will find favour in the desert; I will come to give rest to Israel." (Jer 31.2)

"I will bring you into the desert of the nations and there, face to face, I will execute judgement upon you...I will take note of you as you pass under my rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. I will purge you of those who revolt and rebel against me." (Eze 20.35-38)

"Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover?" (SS 8.5)

"In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.' This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: 'A voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.' " (Mt 3.1-3)

At the end and consummation of this grace and salvation Age, the Church of the Desert (the "house of prayer" Church) will be reconstituted and reasserted over the Church of the Corridors of Power...and this of absolute necessity. Pharaoh's battalions were destroyed when they tried to pursue God's People into the wastelands. Rebels were "overthrown...their bodies scattered over the desert." (1 Co 10.5) But the very environment which ruined these, proved to be the place of Israel's preservation and salvation. There really is "nothing new under the sun". The knee-prints of the Desert Fathers and Mothers have been preserved for us "on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come". Let us go out to meet them there!

"Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker." (Ps 95.6)

"I met a traveller from the
holy desert, Honeycomb, beggarbread eater,
lean from drinking rain
that lies in the windprints of rocks."
(Thomas Merton, hermit, 20th C)

"The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent's reach." (Rev 12.14)