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by The Rev. Scott Fisher

         Now, there's a question. Mostly the altar flowers don't work; they just are. That's part of their wisdom and charm. That's one of the lessons they have to teach us. We don't have to work to enjoy God's Grace; we just have to be. (The idea that we have to work our way into God's Grace was condemned by the early Church as one of the major heresies - Pelagianism. "By Grace you are saved", wrote St. Paul, remember? Hence, most Christian spirituality begins by teaching "Quit trying so hard".)
          In any case, if you are wondering how the flower "system" works; the answer is really quite easy. We have an arrangement with College Floral. They supply our flowers at minimum cost, $50 a week (or, $25/vase, which is pretty good). Winter or Summer, they come by on Saturday mornings to deliver the fresh flowers and remove the old ones (The Saturday morning Altar Guild usually saves what remaining flowers are still good). So, on Sunday mornings, even in darkest coldest winter, there are fresh flowers. (The only time there are NOT flowers is in the Season of Lent. Things are pretty empty and bare then, to remind us we need to bare our hearts). Church traditions and manners suggest that the Altar flower arrangements NOT be higher than the Cross and, if you watch, you'll see that is the case each Sunday.
          The flowers each Sunday are a Gift, an offering each Sunday from a member or members of the congregation. You can find who or what they are in memory of, or in thanksgiving for, by looking at the Sunday bulletin. There, Hilary has usually typed in a sentence that says " To the Glory of God and in memory of....; or in Thanksgiving for..." This is one of the ways People give thanks, and remember folks they love. It is good when the person leading the Prayers of the People includes this in the Prayers.
          Hilary knows what to type because there is a big sign up sheet/poster tacked on the bulletin board by the Church Office. All the Sundays of the year are up there and, at different times, people sign up on the sheet. If there's not enough room, they leave a note and then she'll call them later to ask. (Sometimes, more than one person or family signs up, and that's okay too.) Then the person or family later pays for the flowers, either stopping by the Church Office, or putting a check (marked "flowers") or envelope in the offering plate, or mailing it in. Mostly we don't send bills. We're a Church. We trust each other. (Though Vestries may note the difference between Flower expenses and income and worry about it. And then ask rectors to write Newsletter articles).
          And so, there the flowers are. Why do we put them up there? Ohhh, to Remind us, even in December, of the Easter Springtime that fills our lives year round; to remind us that even as the Father cares for the lilies and wild flowers of the field, probably He cares for us too. Why do we put the flowers up there? Remember when you were in love and gave flowers to the One you loved? Wellll....
          There the flowers are. . . Just quietly sitting next to the Cross, praising God. (They even get mentioned in Eucharistic Prayer D - " and giving voice to every creature under Heaven") What better place for them to be.....or You and I?
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at least 6 of you have asked:


WHY do we read lessons from it; and

HOW COME it's not in MY Bible?

Back in an early December, on a quiet and dark Sunday morning, in a service with the second Advent candle now lit, the Reader went up to the lectern and announced "The First Lesson is taken from the Book of Baruch". . . and some of you went: "Huh?"

Or maybe it was at a wedding, and as you sat smiling at the wonder and beauty of it, the Reader announced "The First Reading is from the Book of Tobit". And the wonderful words of Tobias's prayer - ". . . grant that we may grow old together" - rolled right past you, because you were going "Tobit? What's Tobit? Where'd THAT come from?"

Where Tobit came from, and where Baruch came from, is from the Apocrypha, from the Greek "Apokryphos"- meaning "hidden". It is the term given to the collection of fifteen books, or parts of books, written more or less in the two centuries before the birth of Christ. Most of these books were written originally in Greek, as opposed to the rest of the Old Testament, which was written originally in Hebrew.

The Apocrypha is hidden in the back of some Bibles, hidden in a section between the Old and New Testaments in some Bibles, hidden mixed up with the Old Testament in still other Bibles, and hidden so well that it's completely missing in some Bibles. And the "howcum?" of that traces back to the history of Biblical translations and Reformation doctrinal arguments. It's complicated, involving, for example, at least four DIFFERENT languages (yikes!).

By the time of Christ, Jews were living not only in the Holy Land, but scattered throughout the Mediterranean World. The common language of the time was Greek, and, for many of the scattered Jewish communities, Greek was now their language, not Hebrew. To preserve their stories and sacred writings, and so they could pass them onto their children, etc., the Hebrew writings had been translated into Greek. These writings are known as The Septuagint (from the Latin word for 70, because of a legend that 70 scholars translated the Writings into Greek). THE GREEK SEPTUAGINT was the popular text that most of the New Testament writers knew. It contained the writings Christians know as the Old Testament and other sacred writings (The Apocrypha writings!).

Before the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD, a group of rabbis formed a rabbinical council to seek to pull the religious community together in the face of the coming destruction. Among other things, they drew up a list of acceptable Biblical books. This list, "the Hebrew canon", excluded the writings of the Apocrypha. (Robert Bennett & O.C. Edwards write in the Church Teaching Series that they were excluded to eliminate anything that might lend support to Christianity. Remember, this was a time of conflict.) And so, there were now two collections of "Old Testament " writings floating around - the Hebrew canon, in Hebrew, that excluded the Apocrypha, that the Jews used. . . . and the Greek Septuagint, which included the Apocrypha, which the Christians kept using.

When St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin about 400AD, he included the Apocrypha. But he remarked in his preface that they should be read for "edification" only, because they lacked true Divine Inspiration. BUT, he included them. St. Jerome's Latin translation, the Vulgate, which included then the Apocrypha, became the Christian Bible for the next 1000 years, until the Reformation. . . when everybody began arguing again.

Various translators and Protestant reformers then did various things with the Apocrypha, depending on doctrine and whether or not they were using the Septuagint or the Hebrew canon. John Wycliffe's English translation did NOT contain the Apocrypha; Martin Luther stuck it at the end in its own section; Miles Coverdale's first complete English printed Bible put it in a section between the Old and New Testaments and the King James translation of 1611 included it. Generally, Roman Catholics (who will call the writings "Deuterocanonical" and not "the Apocrypha") and Orthodox published the Apocrypha as part of the Old Testament; Calvinists and other Protestants did NOT include the Apocrypha in their Bibles; and Lutherans and Anglicans put it in a separate section, stating that no doctrine of faith could be derived SOLELY from the Apocrypha, but that it's worth reading. (Still there? NOW read Article VI of the 39 Articles, on page 868 of the Prayer Book).

So-o-o-o-o, we read it now and then on Sunday mornings, and, in fact, we'll hear from it again near the end of Summer this year. And, it may show up in a wedding you attend.

How else does the Apocrypha show up in our lives? Well, if your name is JUDITH, that's from the Apocrypha; if you ever sang Hymn #396 ("Now Thank We all Our God"), that's a translation from the Apocrypha; and if you ever attended Christmas Midnight Mass - the ancient belief that Christ was born at Midnight comes from a remarkable prophecy in the Apocrypha (Wisdom 18:14-15).  Back to Top  Back to Rector's Notes





"Uhhhhhhh, What's a Deacon, and what's the difference?"

Here are the names of some deacons: Montie Slusher, Helen Peters, Teresa Thomas, Mary Nathaniel, Barbara Price, Margo Simple. There are more. Here are some more deacons: Titus Peter, Ginny Doctor, David Salmon, Berkman Silas, Scott Fisher. And some more: Jim Hunter, Anna Frank, Mardow Solomon, Stephen Matthew, Hunter Silides. There are more. Here's another deacon: Mark MacDonald.


Once someone is a deacon, they are always a deacon. You don't quit being a deacon, when you become a priest; you don't quit being a priest when you become a bishop. I am told that in Orthodoxy the vesting during the ordination makes this clear. When ordained a priest, the priest's vestments are put over the deacon's vestments; when consecrated a Bishop, the Bishop's vestments go over the priest and deacon vestments ("the layered look"). Once a deacon, always a deacon.

So, what's a deacon?

Modern Youth ("The Queen of the Universe") and I were driving in the car, talking about Bella Jean's up-coming ordination as a deacon. "Deacon? Priest? What's the difference?" asked Modern Youth. "Priests can bless and forgive, " I said. "So, what do deacons do - listen and complain?" "Kinda," I said, "They get to wash feet." "Whooooooa, "said Modern Youth, "There's a deal." It is.

The word "Deacon" comes from the Greek word "diakonos" meaning "servant". In The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 6, the apostles cannot handle all the details of everything going on - preaching and helping the poor, etc. Seven are chosen to take over caring for the poor, sick, etc. This is where deacons come from. During Bella's ordination, the Bishop will say to her (Prayer Book, page 543): "In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly, the poor, the week, the sick, and the lonely" . . . "Deacons are servants, first of all. I know a deacon who, after the ordination, flew to an Interior Community and went around town washing everyone's feet. "Why are you doing this? " people asked. "Because I am your servant". This was and is holy.

You can see this in a Communion Service. Deacons are the ones who prepare the Altar for Communion and clean up afterwards - "washing Jesus' dishes" Helen Peters calls it. It is.
As in that first account in Acts 6, deacons are seen as being out in the world, doing things (as opposed to priests hanging about in the Church at the altar). They remind the Church of the needs out in the World, and remind the World that the Church is out there with them. (Therefore, in some places, the Deacons do "The Prayers of the People" during a Communion Service -" Here are the Prayers of the World; the needs") I once heard a sermon that referred to priests as having an "IN House" ministry (IN the Church), and deacons having an . . . well, you can see. Deacons are OUT there.

Deacons, in a way deeper than priests, have a special relationship to The Bishop. They stand around next to the Bishop during services. The Bishop will say to Bella during her ordination: "God now calls you to a special ministry of servanthood directly under your bishop." (Prayer Book, page 543). Traditionally, in an ordination service for a deacon, only the Bishop lays hands on the new deacon; in the ordination of a priest, other priests also lay hands.

There are two types of deacons. There are deacons who feel they are called to be deacons, period - called "Permanent or Vocational Deacons"; and there are deacons who feel they are also called to be priests and they serve as a deacon first, to remind them they are servants - called "Transitional Deacons". Montie Slusher is a Permanent Deacon.
Think of a Down River Potlatch. There is someone, an Elder, standing in the Center in charge of things, directing which food gets served when, by who, keeping track of things. And there are people circling around, serving the food, humbly not looking up. Just serving. Passing up their chance to eat so I can. The servers are the deacons. The one in the center keeping track is the priest. (And the Chief, sitting over there keeping track of everything and being wise is ... .).

Priests wear their stole over both shoulders, to remind them they carry "the yoke of Christ" (Matthew 11). Deacons wear their stole over one shoulder, draped across the side. Like a towel. John 13:4.

Here are the names of some deacons: Montie Slusher, Helen Peters, Teresa Thomas, Mary Nathaniel, Barbara Price, Margo Simple. Here is the name of someone about to become a deacon: Bella Jean Savino.

Here is the name of another deacon: Jesus. And that's really what their name is too.  Back to Top  Back to Rector's Notes

you never really wanted to ask, but which we're going to answer anyway #428:



          At least three different times this Summer visiting tour groups would wander through the Church, admire the stained glass windows, stare at the great wooden altar, and then ask the above question. "What's PAIHSMT?" they would ask, thinking they had stumbled into arcane Christian or Alaskan lore. 'Episcopal' is an odd enough word, no telling what 'PAIHSMT' might be. You may have wondered the same thing, but been hesitant to ask. Therefore, a return to what you learned in confirmation classes, with a brief look at Christian symbolism.

          In 1905 or so, Miss Isabelle Emberly arrived from Boston to serve as a nurse at St. Matthew's Hospital. [In the old photograph framed in the Parish Hall, showing the Hospital and staff, she is the lady standing in the doorway.] Legend has it that one night at the Hospital she was relaxing by carving on a wooden cigar box, when Mr. Betticher or Archdeacon Stuck walked by. "Hey," commented whomever, "That's pretty good. You should carve the altar" [which was blank at this point] So she did. And somewhere along the line the design was arrived at, incorporating 5 basic Christian symbols. 'PAIHSMT' isn't a word; it's a theology and viewpoint, incorporating Christian symbolism. From left to right:

          The "P", superimposed on an "X", is actually the "Chi-Rho", a "sacred monogram" of Christ. "Sacred monograms" were developed by early Christians as a secret sign of the faith, a kind of secret code. The Chi-Rho is composed of the first two Greek letters of the word "Christ" (XPICTOC). According to the 4th century Church historian Eusebius, on the eve of a major and decisive battle, the then pagan Emperor Constantine suddenly had a vision - which included the 'Chi-Rho' and the inscription (in Greek) "Conquer by this sign". Inscribing the monogram on his banners and standards, Constantine triumphed the next day (October 28th, 312AD) and subsequently converted to Christianity. Soon after he issued the "Edict of Milan", legalizing Christianity and ending 300 years of Christian persecution. Given this part of our history, it should remind us never to persecute others, for we too once were persecuted.

          The second carved symbol, the "A", is actually the Greek letter "Alpha", the first letter of the Greek alphabet. The fourth symbol on the altar, the weird looking "M", is actually the Greek letter "Omega", the last letter of the Greek alphabet. (If we were dealing in English and not Greek, we would be looking at an "A" and a "Z" on our altar). In Christian symbolism, the two letters together refer to the passage in The Revelation to John 1:8 "I am the Alpha and Omega, " says the Lord God. " God is the beginning of each day, the beginning of our life, the beginning of all Life; and the End of each day, our Life, and all Life. (Or, as we constantly repeat throughout our services, " it was in the beginning, it is now, and it will be forever. ")

          The "IHS" in the middle panel of the altar is another of the ancient monograms. Originally it was an abbreviation of the first three letters in Greek of the name "Jesus": "IHCOYC" (The "S" for "C" is an attempt to deal with the Greek letter "Sigma"). Later, folks derived all kinds of meanings in Latin for the letters: " Jesus Hominum Salvator" ("Jesus, Savior of Men"); " In Hoc Signo Vinces" ("In this sign, you shall conquer" - back to Constantine and the "Chi-Rho" again); "Jesum Habemus Socium" (We have Jesus as our Companion") are a few of them.

          The last symbol, the fifth symbol over on the right, which visitors are reading as a "T" is, of course, a Cross. This particular design is known as the Celtic Cross, because of its popularity in the Church in early Ireland. The circle, behind the Cross, is usually taken as representing the Trinity - both the Trinity and the Circle having neither beginnings nor endings. Tradition has it that Archdeacon Stuck was particularly fond of the Celtic Cross. At the least, the flag of the Church in Alaska, which used to be in St. Mark's/Nenana, shows a Celtic Cross.

          Finally, notice one last touch. Interspersed between each of the panels Ms. Emberly has carved vines, recalling the famous passage in John 15: "I am the vine, you are the branches". That's you and I, our lives intertwined with each and with Christ. The vines are hard to see; you have to kneel at the rail to see them. Similarly and finally and always, so with our lives, for "Your life is hid with Christ in God. " (Colossians 3:3).

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OUR MISSION: We the people of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Fairbanks, Alaska receive God's love and are becoming a warm and loving community who share that love with ALL God's Children.

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St. Matthew's Episcopal Church

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