Saturday, November 28, 2009

St Andrew's Day

The kids have the day off from school on Monday. Turns out it is a national holiday in Scotland-- St. Andrew's Day, actually. I wasn't sure which Andrew we were talking about here so I looked it up. Its the disciple Andrew.

It just so happens that I'm leading the service at our church Sunday morning and figured maybe I'd talk about St. Andrew a little bit, maybe find a prayer or confession we could share together. In my digging here are some of the interesting things I found:

* Andrew (with an unnamed disciple, probably John), was the first to follow Jesus of Nazareth, after John the Baptist called him "the Lamb of God". First thing Andrew did was tell Peter.

* The Catholic church traces its apostolic succession back to Peter, but some Eastern Orthodox trace back to Andrew.

* I've always thought Andrew was a cool disciple. Behind the scenes, not too quotable, perhaps, but a presence worthy of mention fairly often nonetheless. We know him best simply for his friendship and brotherhood. I think it is great that the first thing that happens when he meets Jesus is that a lightbulb goes on in his head and he goes and finds someone else and says: "Oh man, I've found someone totally for you."

* After Jesus' ascension, tradition has it that Andrew's mission took him to Asia, even as far as Kiev.

* Andrew is the patron saint of Russia, Greece, Ukraine, Romania, a few smaller countries, and . . . Scotland!

* A "patron saint", incidentally, is a saint designated to a certain group of people to be their intercessor in heaven. Although intercession in heaven by anyone other than Christ is a pretty unbiblical and theologically wanting notion, I must admit that the patron saint designation does have a certain charm to it. I think the tradition arose with decent enough intentions, as people considered it a show of humility to not dare address God directly in Christ. Sometimes I think we might stand to be reminded of this humble attitude, so that we might not take it so for granted when we "boldly approach the throne of grace" in Jesus' name. Anyways, while I don't really go in for praying to patron saints thing, I like that these designations exist. I like remembering and incorporating the ancients into our lives. I feel grateful for the ancients of the faith and the untitled saints of book and song and wish I did more to thank God for them publicly and even at the dinner table. But I digress.

* According to Wikipedia, Andrew is also the patron saint of fishermen, army rangers, rope makers, singers, and musicians.

* Tradition has it that Andrew was crucified for his faith, but requested that he not be hung the same way as his Lord, considering himself unworthy of such distinction. So he was hung on an x-shaped cross, or saltire.

* Apparently there are a few relics of St. Andrew in Patros, Italy. I think a portion of one of his fingers and a piece of his cranium are considered locked away there. On one level I find devotion to relics pretty superstitious and even sort of creepy. But on another level, I love it that such incredible respect can be shown and remembrance given to these people of the past.

* In the 9th century, King Angus MacFergus was leading the Picts and Scots into war against the Angles and in a frightful sleep the night before the decisive day of the battle had a dream where he was visited by St. Andrew, assuring him of victory. According to lore, a white saltire appeared in the blue sky over the battlefield the next day and scared the Angles away.

* And if you haven't guessed by now, yes, this very image is now the Scottish flag (and also accounts for the white x behind the cross on the Union Jack).

I was unable to find a really great prayer or confession to use in church on Sunday, but will do a small quiz on some of the above before reading about Andrew's call to discipleship from John 1. One thing I did find, however, was the following prayer to St. Andrew. For reasons already mentioned I can't really see praying it to him, but putting that aside I must say I find it a beautiful poem of the faith--a sort of imaginative joining-in with that great cloud of witnesses:

"O glorious St. Andrew, you were the first to recognize and follow the Lamb of God. With your friend, St. John, you remained with Jesus for that first day, for your entire life, and now throughout eternity. As you led your brother, St. Peter, to Christ and many others after him, draw us also to Him. Teach us to lead others to Christ solely out of love for Him and dedication in His service. Help us to learn the lesson of the Cross and to carry our daily crosses without complaint so that they may carry us to Jesus. Amen."


Anonymous said...

reminds me of how easy we have it these days...oh for Andrew's passion to follow Christ in life and facing death..."without complaint". Stu

Jon Coutts said...

Such things are too surreal for me to imagine, or even to compare myself against.

What I do know is the challenge of dying to self and living in Christ's love for others while NOT threatened by imminent death. This speaks volumes to me, insulated from such outright persecution as I've been.

Dale Harris said...

Thanks for this post Jon. I think I've mentioned the soft place in my heart for hagiography before.

A thought, though: Today before I went to preach, I asked my wife to pray for me. I was feeling rather scattered and spiritually uncentered and felt that I really needed some intercession. I wasn't worshiping her, I didn't think I was by-passing Christ, or that in some way I was elevating her as an intercessor instead of Christ, or anything like that. And it wasn't that I didn't dare to approach Christ myself. I just knew that she was in a better place at that moment to take my case to Christ(who, I had no doubt, would bring this prayer into the Holy of Holies as my One Mediator before the Father in Heaven).

Now, obviously, the difference between my wife and St. Andrew is that she's living and Andrew's not, but the other difference is that he's standing (presumably) in the great cloud of witnesses with Christ now in the Heavenlies, and she's not, and I wonder: could this be the impulse behind asking a saint to intercede-- the same impulse behind my asking a living "saint" to intercede for me, something Evangelicals do all the time (and promise to do for each other all the time, and hold "intercessory prayer warrior" conferences teaching each other how to do for each other all the time)? This,coupled with the biblical belief that the departed faithful in Jesus are, though absent from the body, really present with the Lord?

Not to condone or endorse it (because I see a lot of problems in it), but when I think about it like this, it helps me understand the tradition of prayer to the saints a bit better.

Lowell said...

I like Dale's take on having the saints, both the living and the dead in Christ, intercede for us. It does bring a new level of understanding of the tradition.
N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope also addresses this issue and presents an interesting take on the matter of prayers for/with the departed saints. I don't have the book in front of me, and it has been a while since I read it, so I don't want to misrepresent his thoughts by misquoting him. So, along with Jon, I highly recommend reading Wright and having your ideas and views stretched and enlarged.

Jon Coutts said...

Lowell! Thanks for speaking up! If you find that NT Wright bit I'd love to hear it. It certainly doesn't alarm me to hear Wright and Dale and you on the same page.

I don't disagree with you, Dale. To be honest I don't know what to do with intercession as a whole. It seems more an emphasis for evangelicals than it is for the epistles. Maybe I'm wrong. That said, on a Mediatorial level, I think you're right that intercession by the living or the dead, in principle, does not threaten Christ's intercession and mediation as the God-human. What could replace that?

So you're comments clarify the issue for me, and open up other ones, obviously. Praying to the unknown dead still seems vastly different. Why do I need the empathetic prayers of someone in the heavenlies other than Jesus Christ? Why should I feel the need, if it is going to be about being interceded for by someone I can't presently see (and don't personally know), then why go somewhere other than the One who has sympathize like no other priest ever could and yet has Himself overcome?

But why do we pray? Why do we ask someone to pray? I suppose it opens up those questions, for which I don't have answers.

Jon Coutts said...

All that to say, however, that your sympathy for hagiography and also icons has really stuck with me Dale. I'd never have blogged a prayer to St Andrew three years ago.

stewart said...

Randy Alcorn deals with prayers of the departed saints in his book "Heaven" (as well as several of his novels). I confess i do like the idea of my grandma, who had a faithful intercession ministry while she was with us, praying for me today. I'll check into NT Wright and try to find a quote or two.

Stewart said...

I found those NT Wright quotes: "Since both the departed saints and we ourselves are in Christ, we share with them in the 'communion of saints.' They are still our brothers and sisters in Christ...The reason the Reformers and their successors did their best to outlaw praying for the dead was because that had been so bound up with the notion of purgatory and the need to get people out of it as soon as possible. Once we rule out purgatory, I see no reason why we should not pray for and with the dead and every reason why we should--not that they will get out of purgatory but that they will be refreshed and filled with God's joy and peace. Love passes into prayer; we still love them; why not hold them, in that love, before God? I do not, however, find in the New Testament or in the earliest Christian fathers any suggestion that those at present in heaven or (if you prefer) paradise are actively engaged in praying for those of us in the present life. Nor do I find any suggestion that Christians who are still alive should pray to the saints to intercede to the Father on their behalf...In particular, we should be very suspicious of the medieval idea that the saints can function as friends at court so that while we might be shy of approaching the King ourselves, we know someone who is, as it were, one of us, to whom we can talk freely and who will maybe put in a good word for us. The pracitce seems to me to call into question, and even actually to deny by implication, the immediacy of access to God through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit, which is promi
sed again and again in the New Testament." (Suprised By Hope p. 172,173)

Jon Coutts said...

Thanks for digging those up dad, I mean stu. I can't say I'd disagree with Wright there, although at first I bawked at the idea of praying for someone who had passed (I have enough trouble for people who haven't passed on!), but I imagine my attitude might be a bit different if I had recently lost someone, which would probably account for most of those types of prayers. That said, I don't think heaven is presented to us in the Bible as a place of sentimental reunion with people we miss. Our marriages will be "dissolved" for goodness sake, so there must be something radically different about it (while continuous in some sense too). I also am not sure heaven is meant to be a coping mechanism whereby we can send messages to loved ones rather than deal with their departure.

But with those caveats, yeah, I like what Wright is saying! Thanks for beating Lowell to the punch on those quotes!

Tony Tanti said...

Great little bit of info on Andrew. Traditions like these, that were once appalling to me, are becoming very appealing and are overtaking any admirations I once had for their replacements in Evangelical liturgy.

Lowell said...

I picked up the book from the library last night but only got a chance to post in the evening today, so my thunder was stolen. Next time I'll have to be quicker on the draw.

However, I will add the section where Wright examines the logic behind practice of asking departed saints to intercede for us.

"It is true that if the Christian dead are conscious, and if they are 'with Christ' in a sense that, as Paul implies, is closer than we ourselves are at the moment, there is every reason to suppose that they are at least, like the souls under the altar in Revelation, urging the Father to complete the work of justice and salvation in the world. If that is so, there is no reason in principle why they should not urge the Father similarly on our behalf. Or if, from another point of view, they are indeed 'with Christ,' and if part of the work of the ascended Christ is indeed to be ruling the world as the agent of the Father, we might indeed suppose that the dead are somehow involved in that, not merely as spectators of that ongoing work. But—and this is very important for those who, like me, believe that it's vital to ground one's beliefs in scripture itself—I see no evidence in the early Christian writings to suggest that the Christian dead are in fact engaged in work of that sort, still less any suggestion that presently alive Christians should, so to speak, encourage them to do it by invoking them specifically."

So while there is indeed a logic behind the practice of asking the Christian dead to intercede for us, there is no scriptural warrant for doing so. The lack of any scriptural support for the practice has kept me from incorporating prayer to the saints into my own practice.

Jon Coutts said...

Tanti: You said: "Traditions like these, that were once appalling to me, are becoming very appealing and are overtaking any admirations I once had for their replacements in Evangelical liturgy." I relate. I'd love to hear you expand on that. Why do you think that is?

Lowell: Wow, you actually signed it out of the library in order to meet my request?! That's a new high in blog commenting, I'm honoured. :)

Very interesting quote. I see the "logic" of it (while lacking biblical warrant), although I wonder why we feel they'd want or need to be "urging" God on at his side in his redemptive plan. Hmmmm....

Thanks for the interaction on this. Like the Doomsday post I did it on a whim and am now being challenged to take the thoughts further than I'd at first ventured!

Tony Tanti said...

Great interaction indeed!

Jon, to expand a bit - growing up in church I heard subtle if not blatant messages of the superiority of Evangelicalism. Even now I often hear people speak of mainline Christians as not being Christians at all and needing "conversion".

This thinking seems to have been based on a prejudice toward traditional practices which seem to have no direct biblical backing and which were assumed to be superstitious acts of uneducated sheep who don't think for themselves.

Over the last decade or so I have slowly had each of these acts (eg: confession, purgatory, praying to saints, latin services...) explained to me by thoughtful people. These are not the acts of ignorant people but each have deep tradition and meaning to those that take part in them.

Evangelicals have replaced these things with their own liturgy which also has little or no biblical backing but also has no tradition to support it. Songs with weak doctrine, devotional style topical sermons, gender stereotyped weekend retreats, the acoustic guitar...

Most disturbing of all though is the way that Evangelicals tend to all think they can just read the bible and know what it says without need for guidance from tradition and community.

That's a pretty rambling answer but those are my initial thoughts.

Jon Coutts said...

Yeah. Gotcha there.

stewart said...

good insight Tony. You think you grew up in an evangelical church setting...i came through dispensational fundamentalism... and live to talk about it! Any time we talk about tradition we are talking about man's "inventions" to assist in the continuation of God things. Any tradition can be abused, misused, overused, underused (is that a word?). Seems to me the issue always boils down to: What is truth? What is the whole truth? What is the most faithful/accurate interpretation of truth from its context into ours? How do we keep from deviating or neglecting said truth?

Tony Tanti said...

Stu, I agree about truth, I'm just tired of dozens of versions of the "truth" being preached and the versions that are the least compelling always seem to become the most popular. (ie: Jabez, Benn Hinn, Dobson etc...)

I'm not bitter about growing up evangelical, I learned good values in general and I'm glad to not have been raised fundamentalist that's for sure.

Jon Coutts said...

Evangelicalism certainly isn't out of its woods, not by a long shot, which is perhaps why lately more than ever we are starting to have another look at our deeper roots. How's that for mixed metaphors?

Its weird to so love and be thankful for your upbringing and yet have so much to look back and shake your head at too. Thanks for giving us room to sort that out, stu, and for even engaging in it closely these last few years.

So, in that spirit, and certainly for all readers still with this one and not just the family . . .

Tanti: For some reason it really bothers me what becomes popular. Like, I mean, it really bothers me. I wonder if there is a way to lose the anxiety and bitterness and dis-ease about that. It makes me more reactionary in my own thinking and loving than I'd like to be. I'm not saying that's you, I'm saying that's me. I'm really wondering about this. I recoil, too much still I think, at names such as you've mentioned, and even less extreme ones. And I'm not sure I'm past the bitterness, even as I love the church I belong to, the bitterness creeps in, often. How do I critique, even rebuke if called upon, without a spot of vengeance, bitterness, jadedness, or self-righteousness? Often I joke, just to get it out of my system, and I think that's fine. But I'm talking about something deeper than that which pops up for me now and then. I feel like if I could grow past that there'd be something good on the other end. Just thoughts...

Stu: Interesting questions: I'm going to move on to another post, but here's some playful response to those questions, in a bit of a different order . . .

"What is the whole truth?"
- They swear to give that in court but can anyone? It seems that by swearing to give it they are already lying. But by asking for it the judge is basing the court itself on a lie.

"How do we keep from deviating or neglecting said truth?"
- Is it ours to keep?

"What is the most faithful/accurate interpretation of truth from its context into ours?"
- Is "truth" an "it"?

"What is truth?"
- A Roman governor asked that once and didn't get a word in answer.


Anonymous said...

November 30th 2014, 5 years after your original post.. you just got to love google... I found this and not only read the blog but also all the following comments.. WOW amazing, Very informative.. Thank you so much for sharing.
I have Never be baptised myself but attend my local catholic church and all 4 of my children have. Through discussions like yours above and listening to others insight and beliefs...Well it makes me want to learn more.. So again thank you for your Saint Andrew's information and so much more.
Yvonne from East Kilbride, Scotland