In the Prayer Book this feast is called The Circumcision of our Lord. It has traditionally been associated with three issues:
These saints were active in the fourth century. Their chief aim was to affirm the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.
I shall write in more detail about both these issues shortly. But at this point I ask you to celebrate Basil's teaching about the Holy Spirit, and Gregory Nazianzen's wonderful lyrical exposition of Christian teaching.
Basil (330-379) was a stout defender of the faith, Gregory a poet among theologians, and a retiring monk.
Gregory (329-390) was however much involved in the First Council of Constantinople (360), the principal aim of which was to assert
Literally 'the showing forth of Christ' this festival has traditionally marked the end of Christmastide (as Twelfth Night). In the new Calendar however, the end of Christmas tide is now marked by the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Sunday after the Epiphany. Epiphany celebrates three things:
The first miracle - sign of Jesus as God incarnate - in the Fourth Gospel, in which Jesus turns water into wine at the wedding at Cana in Galilee.
Epiphany is now most commonly celebrated on the Sunday following 6 January. When this is a Sunday, the Baptism of the Lord follows on the Monday.
Laud was archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Charles I. His chief concern was to celebrate the majesty and the glory of God. He was one of the 'Caroline divines', who were, generally, in sympathy with this approach. This meant that they emphasised the more 'catholic' dimensions of Anglicanism. Laud's misfortune was that he was active and influential just at a time when the opposite tendency in religion was becoming overpoweringly influential in political life.
His great contribution to spirituality in Scotland was his preparation of a 'Scottish Liturgy'. It was in effect a recreation of Cranmer's original translation of the Mass according to the Salisbury tradition, first published in 1549. The government active in the reign of Edward VI, keen to develop Protestantism, had demanded some radical changes influenced by Calvinism. Laud rejected these in favour of approaches glorifying the majesty of God - and insisting on the Real presence of /Christ in the elements at the Eucharist. His Scottish Liturgy, often called 'Laud's Liturgy', was first used in St Giles' in Edinburgh in 1637. Folk-myth has it that a certain Jenny Geddes threw her stool at the head of the celebrant: but this cannot be true, since the only known Jenny Geddes, a market stall holder, is recorded as setting her stall alight in delight at the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660. The issues relating to this Liturgy were of course deeply connected to the Scottish Parliament's Solemn League and Covenant, and the later National Covenant, insisting on Protestantism as the religion of Scotland.
Laud, suspected of taking the Church closer to Rome by the English Parliament, was beheaded in 1645. He was considered a martyr by Anglicans who shared his views, as was King Charles I, who was beheaded for similar reasons four years later.
However, 'Laud's Liturgy' survived. It was revised in 1764 by the Scottish Episcopalian bishops, suffering under penal laws due to the defeat of the Jacobites (Episcopalians) at the battle of Culloden (1745). (The Scottish Church had been disestablished in 1689, when the Scottish bishops declared themselves unable to swear an oath of allegiance to King William and Mary, having already sworn such an oath of allegiance to King James VII, who, at the 'glorious revolution' was sent into exile.) The revision included an 'epiclesis' - invocation of the Holy Spirit over the elements of the Eucharist, and the worshipping people, inserted into the 1549 consecration prayer to make the declaration of the Real Presence of Christ in the elements unambiguous. This prayer is still in use: it formed the basis of the Scottish Liturgy of 1929 (Scottish Prayer Book 1929), and is the basis of the Eucharistic Prayer in the Scottish Liturgy of 1982, used across the Scottish Episcopal Church to this day.
Laud would, I think, have liked this collect:
God, who through your Son raised up the light of eternity for all nations, grant that your people may acknowledge the full splendour of their Redeemer, so that by his grace they may enter into light everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A son of the saintly Queen Margaret (and therefore of Malcolm, who followed Macbeth).
Rather like Hilda of Whitby, he reformed monastic institutions in his realm, introducing the Roman observance. He is also remembered, like his mother, for great charity towards the needy, and for his concern for the development of education in his realm.
Aelred was Abbot of Rievaulx, and died on this day in 1167.
He was a friend of St Bernard of Clairvaux, with whom he shared an approach to the spiritual life.
He was particularly concerned with the development of Christian friendship.
Kentigern is the patron saint of Glasgow, and the patron of our diocese of Glasgow. He died in 603.
He is said to have been educated at a monastic school in Culross; to have been exiled to Wales, and to have returned to Strathclyde, to found the diocese of Glasgow.
The pet name 'Mungo' was attributed to him by Jocelyn of Furness. It means 'the dear one', if the Welsh origin is correct.
His tomb is in St Mungo's cathedral in Glasgow.
On this day we are asked to pray for our diocese, and for our bishop, descended in the line of bishops from St Kentigern (Mungo).
Anthony came from a well-off family. At the time of the death of his parents he became rich himself.
At church one day he heard the text from the gospel: 'If you would be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give your money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.' Having made arrangements for his sister, he did precisely that, and went to live in the desert, more like a hermit than a modern monastic. However, he collected others around him who lived in similar seclusion, but came together at times for liturgy and prayer. His influence was enormous, and, although he was not the originator of monasticism, he is credited with establishing it as a way of life designed to celebrate the holiness of God and the importance of prayer.
There is today a monastery (of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox rite) at the place near the Red Sea where St Antony established his little community. It is high up in the desert. We think of the desert as a flat place of extensive sand, like a flat sea-shore. It is not like that at all. Egypt is a country of fertile fields on either bank of the Nile; but the rest of the country is desert, known as the eastern and the Western desert (ie on either side of the Nile). These deserts are very extensive.
My recollection of a visit to St Anthony's monastery one January is that it was unbelievably cold and windy. Even so, it is not at the highest point of land in its neighbourhood: but there are monks' cells way up there.
St Anthony was active at the time when the Christian teaching about the divinity of Christ was being formulated in theological terms, the outstanding exponent of this being St Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria. Anthony had connections with Athanasius, whom he must have met in Alexandria. I have done the journey from his monastery to Alexandria in a bone shaker of a bus - very long through seemingly endless desert, and uncomfortable. Think how long and uncomfortable such a journey would be on the hump of a camel! If you've ever ridden a camel, you will know that there are two things about such a ride which are very disorientating: first, the camel lurches all the time, and secondly, the hump sways!
Here is a collect to remember St Anthony and his work:
Most gracious God, at whose call your servant Anthony of Egypt left all to follow your Son: Grant that in the tumult of the world we may have ears to hear your voice, and the courage to be obedient; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.(GB Timms; The Cloud of Witnesses, p16)
This celebrates Peter's response to Jesus's question: 'Who do you say that I am?: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'.
In his Prayer Book (1549), Crammer changed the traditional celebration of the Apostles Peter and Paul on 29 June to a celebration of Peter only. Nowadays, the traditional feast of the two saints is normally celebrated then. Consequently, the feast of the Confession of Peter is held to remember Peter alone.
The collect for this day is:
Almighty god, who inspired your apostle Peter to confess Jesus as Christ and the Son of the living God: build up your Church upon this rock, that in unity and peace it may proclaim one truth and follow one Lord, your Son our saviour Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.(Scottish Liturgy, part 3, p15)
The week (Octave, ie, 8 days) between the Confession of St Peter and the Conversion of St Paul, has for some time now been held as a week of prayer for Christian unity.
Although the practice started in the United States from 1908, the greatest move towards widespread celebration of this week was brought about through the work of the Abbé Paul Couturier, who proposed naming the week 'Universal Week of Prayer for Christian Unity' in 1935.
Scottish Liturgy's collect for the week is:
Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, 'Peace I give to you, my own peace I leave with you.' Regard not our sins, but the faith of your Church, and give to us the peace and unity of that heavenly city, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, now and for ever.(Part 3, p43)
St Agnes' Eve - Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold
The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent were the sheep in woolly fold…
Well, this great poem by John Keats is not really about St Agnes at all, but it does represent a reminder of the reverence for St Agnes and her martyrdom over many centuries. It is a good example of the impact on the Romantic Movement of medievalism (and, of course, the period before the Middle Ages). The four lines above are well-known to us because they contain one of the best examples of the transferred epithet (and silent were the sheep in woolly fold).
She was put to death around 304, towards the end of the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Diocletian. She shared the reverence for virginity which was widespread among Christians of the time, and was martyred because she refused to marry (aged 14!). She is now perhaps more remembered for the reverence with in which she was held by thousands over many centuries than for the details of her life and death.
Grant, O Lord, that we who commemorate the martyrdom of your child Agnes, may we be strengthened to bear witness before the world to the redeeming love of your Son Jesus, who for us endured the cross, and now with you lives and reigns, in the unity of the Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
(The Cloud of Witnesses p19)
Perhaps it is unfortunate that in Scotland this date is associated with another famous person, one Robert Burns, a poet. It is important however that we remember St Paul before the Damascus gate, and the vision of Jesus calling him to serve him. It is really one of the most important dates in our church calendar.
Almighty God, by the preaching of your servant Paul you caused the light of the gospel to shine throughout the world. May we whop celebrate his wonderful conversion follow him in bearing witness to your truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
There are four accounts of Paul's experience in the New Testament:
Timothy and Titus were colleagues and helpers of St Paul, and it is appropriate that they should be remembered on the day after we remember his conversion at the Damascus gate.
They are particularly important for two other reasons:
Heavenly Father, who sent your apostle Paul to preach the gospel, and gave him timothy and Titus to be his companions in faith: grant that our fellowship in the Holy Spirit may bear witness to the name of Jesus, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Exciting Holiness, p68)
Thomas was born near Aquino in Italy 1225, educated by Benedictines at Monte Cassino, joined the Dominican order, became one of the most outstanding teachers of theology of all time, died on his way to the Council of Lyons on 7 March 1274. He is celebrated on 28 January because his remains were transferred to his tomb in Toulouse on this day in 1369.
His outstanding writings were the product of a life based on prayer and worship.
He is best known for his 'Summa thelogica' and for his work to explain and honour the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. One of his best hymns begins thus:
Thee we adore, O hidden Saviour, thee
who in thy sacrament are pleased to be;
Both flesh and spirit at thy presence fail,
Yet here thy presence we devoutly hail.
Hymns Old and New 625.
O Lord Jesus Christ, who in a wonderful sacrament have left us a perpetual memorial of your death and passion, grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of your body and blood that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruits of your redemption; who are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (A prayer of St Thomas Aquinas)
King Charles I may have been a stubborn king and a less than able politician, but he has been remembered by Episcopalian for his dogged support of the Anglican Church. In Scotland, (remember, the Church of Scotland was Episcopalian: King James VI was adamant: No Bishop, no King!) through the work of Bishops Geddes and Maxwell supported and encouraged by Archbishop Laud of Canterbury a wonderful liturgy based on the original work of Cranmer in his1549 translation of the Mass into English. This was issued in 1637 as the Scottish Liturgy, and first celebrated in St Giles' in Edinburgh in that year. Legend has it that one Jenny Geddes threw her stool at the Dean of Edinburgh in protest at this service: but this cannot be true, since one Jenny Geddes is known to have been a stallholder in the market in Edinburgh who set her stall alight in rejoicing over the restoration of the monarchy (Charles II) in 1660.
The 1637 Liturgy is the forerunner of all succeeding Scottish Liturgies, including that which is in more or less universal use in the Scottish Episcopal Church to this day.
Charles was adamant in his support of high church Anglicanism, and therefore opposed to the Scottish nobles in the Scottish Parliament, who had presbyterian views. The outcome of the clash was the solemn League and covenant, followed by the National Covenant.
The nobles in the English Parliament were also of puritan views, and the outcome of his clash with both parliaments was the loss of his head. He was executed on this day in 1649, Parliament taking over the rule of both Scotland and England under the dictator Oliver Cromwell.
He is revered by Anglicans as a martyr to the principles of Anglicanism. In his reign the work of the 'Caroline Divines' - among the greatest of Anglican theologians, many of them Scottish (the Aberdeen doctors) - flourished, to be followed by similar excellent work during the reign of Charles II.
O everlasting King and Lord of creation, by whose heavenly grace your servant Charles triumphed in suffering, and glorified the Church by his death: Grant that we, persevering in faith to the end, may with him attain the crown of life eternal, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(The Cloud of Witnesses p31)