The House of St. Michael the Archangel just published an essay that I wrote called So That Your Hearts Will Not Be Weighted Down. It’s an extended meditation on  watchfulness, revolving around Jesus’ words in Luke 21:34: “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life.”  It’s also an invitation to repentance, to turn away from all the figurative and literal drunkenness of the world, and to instead receive the blessed inebriation of communion with Christ.

I wrote most of the essay months ago, but the timing of its release is perfect: Advent is an appropriate time to grow in watchfulness, as we “wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Hard copies are available for suggested donations of $6. A free pdf is also available. Both can be ordered here.


While you’re at the House of St. Michael’s website, also check out Shea Cole’s album of original worship music. It can also be downloaded for free, or hard copies are available for a suggested donation. (The cds make great Christmas presents, if you’re still shopping.)


Worship should take us on a journey into the Light of the Kingdom of God. This movement towards heaven is the driving force behind Father Vassilios Papavassiliou’s new book Journey to the Kingdom: An Insider’s Look at the Liturgy and Beliefs of the Eastern Orthodox Church. At the surface level, the book is a clear and readable explanation of Orthodox beliefs and worship. But at the heart of the book lies an invitation to be transfigured in the Light of Christ through worship.

As the subtitle suggests, this book is an insider’s look at Orthodox liturgy. As an outsider, I found Papavassiliou’s descriptions of the liturgy clarified both my understanding of and questions about Orthodox worship. While I’ve read a good amount about Orthodoxy, I still feel dizzy when I have the cross-cultural experience of an Orthodox worship service.  When I’ve worshiped at Orthodox churches or at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary here in Pittsburgh, I’ve known that I should simply ask more questions, but I haven’t known where to begin. This book asks and answers many of those questions. Papavassiliou also has a gift for succinctly communicating Orthodox theology in ways that any Christian can understand, often using sidebars in the book for deeper explanations of certain topics. For example, the sidebar on page 22 is the most concise and clear explanation of the veneration of icons I’ve read.

Papavassilou also explains the nuances of what happens behind the iconostasis in ways that would enrich even an insider’s understanding of Orthodoxy.  For example, chapter 7 is dedicated to explaining the use of Psalm 50 (Psalm 51 in Hebrew and Protestant numbering) in the Divine Liturgy.  This psalm of repentance is recited before the consecration of Eucharist because, “It is repentance that opens the gates of heaven to us” (p. 65). But there’s more than meets the eye going on here: Anyone familiar with the psalm may have noticed that there seems to be a change in tone between verse 17 and verse 18.  Before this change we read “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (NASB). Then verse 19 speaks of God delighting in “righteous sacrifices, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering” and “young bulls” being offered on God’s altar. The first portion of this psalm is recited during the Divine Liturgy when the not-yet-consecrated communion elements are processed throughout the church. Then there is actually a pause between verses 17 and 18 during which the priest places the bread and wine upon the altar. Then he completes the psalm demonstrating symbolically that Christ is the one righteous sacrifice Who replaces all earthly sacrifices with the offering of Himself. As the book demonstrates, this sort of poetic beauty permeates Orthodox worship, with deeper nuances always awaiting discovery.

Such beauty is a reflection of the Light of the Kingdom, the Light into which worshipers enter through the liturgy. With the liturgy’s “very goal and purpose being participation in the divine Mysteries” (pp. 82-83), all of the elements of the service are explained as preparation for entry into the presence of Christ. The hymn which follows reception of communion says, “We have seen the true light! We have received the heavenly Spirit. We have found the true faith, as we worship the undivided Trinity. For the Trinity has saved us!” (p. 169). The reception of Christ in the Eucharist transfigures Christians that we may bear His Light to the world. And this means that there is a missional component to even the other-worldly worship of Orthodoxy. As Papavassiliou writes, “We leave the world that we may return to it renewed and illumined, fit to bring light to those in darkness” (p. 18). Amen. In the Lord’s light may we see light, and may others see Christ’s light in us.

(Thank you to Paraclete Press for sharing this book with me.)

This afternoon, I will have the privilege of participating in the ordination of a friend from college who will be serving a congregation near Pittsburgh. And not only do I have the privilege of participating, but I have the privilege of actually leading the prayer of ordination at the service. My friend wanted the prayer to be extemporaneous and to conclude by calling the congregation to pray a printed prayer together. I can do extemporaneous.  But I’ve learned from experience that when a prayer has a specific purpose, it can’t be entirely extemporaneous.  Prayers such as those we use to consecrate the Eucharist, or prayers or ordination come out best when the person praying still follows an outline of specific points.  So, I set out on a mission to figure out what these key points should be for a prayer of ordination.  Here’s what I found.

1. In the Presbyterian Church, the Prayer of Ordination is done on behalf of the whole Presbytery.  In other Christian traditions, it is the Bishop who performs the ordination and prays this specific prayer.  In the Presbyterian tradition, the community of pastors and elders known as the Presbytery functions as a corporate bishop.  So rather than one person laying hands on the person being ordained, all ordained people come forward and lay hands on.  The person praying the prayer of ordination prays on behalf of all of them. This is also why I will initiate and lead the prayer, but it will conclude with a unison prayer. All that said, I will begin with an acknowledgement that we are gathered together as representatives of the whole Church.

2. In the Catholic ordination prayers which I read, the prayer of ordination begins by recalling the offices which God has established for ancient Israel and the Church throughout history. This is similar to our Eucharistic prayer which usually begins by recalling God’s faithfulness to Israel up to the time of Christ.  Because the person being ordained is being set apart to function in a similar way, the ordination prayer acknowledges the models of priestly ministry which have gone before: Moses and the seventy elders, Aaron and the priests (Exodus 24). Ultimately, all those ministries pointed forward to the high-priesthood of Christ, so this portion should conclude with thanksgiving for the ministry of Jesus Christ who is both the Priest and Offering reconciling us with the Father in a way no human ministry could (Hebrews 7:26-28).

3. But we don’t thank God only for ordained ministry.  The Holy Spirit gives diverse spiritual gifts throughout the Church, so many prayers of ordination acknowledge with thanksgiving the variety of spiritual gifts present in the Church, including apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers (Ephesians 4:11). “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).

4. Then the prayer gets specific: In all Christian traditions, this prayer calls upon the Father to send the Holy Spirit to fill the person being ordained, so that the person ordained will be able to faithfully exercise the ministry to which they’ve been called.  And notice how the Book of Common Prayer describes that ministry:

May he exalt you, O Lord, in the midst of your people; offer spiritual sacrifices to you; and boldly proclaim the gospel of salvation; and rightly administer the sacraments of the New Covenant. Make him a faithful pastor, a patient teacher, and a wise counselor. Grant that in all things he may serve without reproach, so that your people may be strengthened and your Name glorified in all the world.

Anyone in the Church can proclaim the gospel, teach, or counsel. The one thing that is unique to ordained ministry is the administration of the sacraments. The entire reason ordained ministry evolved in the life of the Church was to ensure right administration of the sacraments. So, the prayer of ordination should draw attention to the sacraments of Baptism and The Lord’s Supper, and also ask God to fill the ordained person with whatever gifts are necessary to administer the sacraments faithfully.

Tonight at sunset – 7:50pmUpper Room will begin its Easter Vigil service. I say begin because it’s actually the first part of a service that doesn’t completely end until the conclusion of our 11:00am service on Easter Sunday. Not only is it part three of the Triduum (see below), it’s also parts one and two of a four-part Easter celebration (see further below). This may merit some explanation, so, let me explain. (Note also that this explanation is also the fruit of what my co-pastor Mike explained to me earlier in the week.  He’s turning me into a liturgy geek.)

If you’ve never been to an Easter Vigil service before, you may be surprised when some of the language tonight speaks as though Christ has already been raised from the dead.  That didn’t happen till Sunday morning, right? Well, the women found the tomb empty at sunrise on Sunday morning, so technically it would have been sometime during the night that Jesus was raised.  And who would have witnessed this? The angels. We join in worship tonight with the angels, seeing the events of Christ’s passion and resurrection through their eyes.  So, our liturgy for tonight will include part of the Exultet, a centuries old hymn which proclaims the resurrection beginning with the angels: “Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, / and let your trumpets shout Salvation / for the victory of our mighty King!”

Easter Vigil is the third service of the Triduum, the series of services including Maundy Thursday and Good Friday which in effect constitute one long service. There’s no benediction at the end of any of them. And each of the services is fully aware of the events of the whole week. On Maundy Thursday we included songs about the cross and speech about the resurrection in the service.  This is because (as Mike explained to me) we’re looking at the events again through the eyes of the angels. We know the good news about how the story ends.

Now to the four-part piece of information: The liturgy we’ll use tonight is a combination of Anglican and Presbyterian liturgies, with some traditional, contemporary, and home-grown music added to the mix.  In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer’s liturgy for Easter Vigil, there are actually four parts to the service.  While I think they would normally be celebrated together as one long service, we’re breaking things up and allowing people to go home and sleep.  The parts are listed below, as we will celebrate them tonight and tomorrow morning.

1) The Service of Light – Sunset was the beginning of the next day for Judaism and for the ancient Church. So as we mark the transition to Sunday, we also will light the Christ candle again, signifying the return of life to Jesus’ body.  We’ll sing a modern version of the ancient hymn Phos Hilaron (“Hail Gladdening Light”) and process into our worship space, where we’ll read the Exultet.

2) The Service of the Word – After the Exultet, the service of the Word begins. Most of the service tonight will consist of long readings from scripture, followed by space for reflection and singing.  The scripture passages recall God’s faithfulness throughout history from creation to the promise of Christ. It’s meditative, and joyful in its simplicity.  This is becoming my favorite service of the entire Church year. When it ends, you’re free to go home and sleep.  The service continues at sunrise.

3) The Service of Baptism – This will be our sunrise service at 6:50am near the Blue Slide entrance of Frick Park.  We will sing, we will read the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom, and then we will have a renewal of baptismal vows.

4) The Service of Eucharist – 11:00am at Upper Room. Our normal Sunday worship service will conclude the celebration of Holy Week, complete with Eucharist, celebrating our union with the risen Christ.  Though this may feel like the “big” Easter service, it’s really the big conclusion and celebration of the worship which has continued throughout the week.