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A nice little meditation by Dr. Fleming.

Good Friday Sermon

"I should never have favored Pegasius with such ease I not been clearly persuaded that even previously, when he was reputed a bishop of the Galileans, he understood how to honor and revere the gods."
The Emperor Julian, in his brief ill-fated reign (361-63) disestablished the Christian Church and attempted to set up a neo-pagan counter-church, complete with priesthoods, theology, and liturgies.  He was aided no little in his enterprise by the opportunists who had understood the advantages of joining an international religious society championed by the his uncle Constantine and his successor Constantius II.  This Pegasius is otherwise unknown, but when a young Julian (already secretly pagan) visited Troy, the "bishop" showed him the sights, including a religious ceremony honoring Hector, the Trojan hero of the Iliad.
Who knows how many such opportunists there were in the 4th century?  We hear of Christians who did well under Julian and pagan teachers who were favored by Christian emperors.  I think of them them as something like the chorus in The Pirates of Penzance, alternately supporting the last speaker. 
"Away you did deceive me."
"Away, you did deceive him."
"O do not leave me."
"O do not leave him." 
Christians today are forever lamenting the sad state of the churches.  They are right of course.  The Church of England has been a joke since even before Ronald Knox was driven out out by the infidelities of his generation's best and brightest, American Evangelical mega-churches are three-ring circuses with big-screen TVS, rock-and-roll music, orgiastic dancing, and preachers whose ignorance is only exceeded by their greed and effrontery.  And as for the Catholic Church here in North America, the less said the better.  The American bishops seem a wicked invention of the devil to try the patience of the humblest Jobs among us, and the Vatican II Mass, even in its current reformed state, resembles nothing so much as a fresco saint whose eyes have been gouged out by Muslims. 
To avoid offense, I'll speak only of the Catholic Church.  The hierarchy is, indeed, corrupt; the clergy are ignorant of the essentials--Latin, Greek, theology, ecclesiastical history,  and the faithful know so little of the Church that most of them think Capital Punishment is unChristian, while divorce, contraception, and abortion are merely venial transgressions on par with mowing the lawn on Sunday.
However, this one-sided picture is misleading, but not so much because there are in virtually every diocese a few good and faithful priests (and here and there an occasional real bishop) and even more decent (if ill-instructed) laymen.  These good Catholics, it is true, are an inspiration to weak-kneed time-serving Catholics like me, but I am even more comforted by the knowledge that the Church has been filled with ignoramuses, losers, slackers, and confidence men from the beginning.
I began with the all-too common case of Pegasius the opportunist.  Some would ascribe his betrayal of the faith to Constantine's "mistake" in legalizing and supporting the Church.  Wealth did, indeed, corrupt the Church to the point that one witty Roman pagan said he would gladly convert if he could possess the benefits enjoyed by the Bishop of Rome.  But if we go back to the pure days of the Apostolic Church, we meet Simon the magician who tried to bribe the apostles into giving him the secret of conferring the Holy Ghost.  Then there is the charming couple Ananias and Sapphira who pretended to give up all their wealth to the Church but held out a little something, because who knows when you may need it? 
But why be content with such small fry, when the story of this Good Friday tells of the one of the twelve who betrayed the Son of Man.  If one probably interpretation is correct, Judas Iscariot was angered by Jesus' refusal to lead a social revolution on behalf of the poor.  That would make Judas the first Christian Socialist. 
But even Peter, who boasted that he would be faithful to the end, denied his Lord repeatedly.  He was the first Pope, why we expect his successors--worthy and holy men as so many have been--to be better than Peter, I do not know.
Look round the world from China to Peru, and in every age you will find corrupt and faithless clergy and rich aristocrats who threaten and extort the clergy into granting divorce and remarriage, blessings on wicked wars, and tortured justifications for the evils of capitalism and socialism.  You will also find a greedy and indifferent laity whose Christianity consists of going to church when they have to, giving to the poor as a sop to the powerful clergy, eating, drinking, and fornicating with the eternal cry of insouciance, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."
One of the most colorful periods in the history of the Church was the so-called pornocracy of the 10th century, when immoral women put their lovers and sons upon the throne of Peter.  Compared with the house of Theophylact, the Church today seems spotless.
We moderns have a bad habit of inflating our own importance.  We have to be either the best or the worst at whatever we do.  There are ways in which we are distinctively evil--the powers over private and social life we have given to government, our indifference to our own children--but in most respects we are just the usual run-of-the-mill sorry specimens the human race has been churning out since Adam and Eve got kicked out of Paradise for their sorry misbehavior in the Garden.  Think of it, the prototypes of the entire human race, and they could not be happy in Paradise in direct communication with their Creator and his angels.  Then, what can be expected of the rest of us?
Most Christians know all this, and they are not disturbed, because they are assured by St. Paul (in the version that used to be known by all Anglicans): "This is a true saying and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."
The Christian life is not so much like fighting a battle or running a race (two metaphors used by Paul) as it is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge or, better still, cleaning a house.  Housework is an endless task, because the mere fact of living litters and dirties the place. In his Diary of a Country Priest,  Georges Bernanos tells the story of the sister who scrubbed the altar every day as if she were going to eliminate dirt, but, as the wise monsignor observes, neither dirt nor sin can be eliminated, though they can be cleaned up for the next round of living.
This is one of the purposes of the sacraments, to clean up and restore, for a time, the dirt our souls have accumulated through misuse.  In many cases (certainly my own), it seems a hopeless task, but that is because we make far too much of ourselves and the age we live in.  We are, what we have always been from the beginning, poor banished children of Eve, and there is little point in grousing about it.  We can even take a good deal of comfort from the failures of all Christian churches.  What other institution has endured so many scandals or survived so many generations of wicked and corrupt leaders?
A Serbian Orthodox bishop told me of meeting an Irish convert to his church.  When he asked the fellow why he converted, the Irishman began to explain the superiority of Orthodoxy over other traditions.  "I know all that," said the bishop, "but why in the world did you choose the Serbian Church?"  The convert explained that he had first tried the Greeks and had been impressed by the antiquity of their traditions and their body of theology, but, in fairness, he tried out the Russians and fell in love with their music and their mysticism.  In one last experiment, he attended a Serbian church for a few months, and concluded, "If anything so badly mismanaged can survive and actually thrive, it must be directed by the Holy Ghost."
http://fleming.dailymail.co.uk/2012/04/g...ermon.html
(04-06-2012, 10:10 PM)MeanGene Wrote: [ -> ]A Serbian Orthodox bishop told me of meeting an Irish convert to his church.  When he asked the fellow why he converted, the Irishman began to explain the superiority of Orthodoxy over other traditions.  "I know all that," said the bishop, "but why in the world did you choose the Serbian Church?"  The convert explained that he had first tried the Greeks and had been impressed by the antiquity of their traditions and their body of theology, but, in fairness, he tried out the Russians and fell in love with their music and their mysticism.  In one last experiment, he attended a Serbian church for a few months, and concluded, "If anything so badly mismanaged can survive and actually thrive, it must be directed by the Holy Ghost."
http://fleming.dailymail.co.uk/2012/04/g...ermon.html

As a former Serbian Orthodox I can really appreciate this! LOL LOL LOL