Musings from the High Desert

Flame In the Mind

Musings from the High Desert

A catechesis on the awe-inspiring rites of initiation.


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  • April 15, 2015
    This week Fr. Gabriel discusses the meaning of ritual from a number of angles with insights from Mary Douglas and Ron Grimes, scholars of ritual. He moves from there to discuss the four types of Christian ritual and then launches into a discussion of Ritual Process, an anthropological perspective and study that began with Arnold von Gennep in the early 20th Century and which was greatly enhanced through the work of Victor and Edith Turner. Fr. Gabriel believes that this extensive background material will serve as a useful template when we turn next to the history of catechesis, beginning with the New Testament.
  • April 1, 2015
    In this segment, Fr. Gabriel discusses church as a community both wrapped around and enwrapped by the Blessed Holy Trinity. We enter this community through a shared set of symbols, image, and rituals, and these bind us to one another in love. With the diminution of community in our time we also experience a loss of the symbolic world, and vice versa. This world of images, rituals, and symbols is at the heart of community in Christ—and catechesis has always been about involving people in that world. Fr Gabriel then moves to a brief discussion of St. Augustine's Instructing Beginners in Faith, a manual he produced for a friend. The treatise is important because Augustine addresses people who are in an interim period between having come to faith and becoming catechumens.
  • March 16, 2015
    Before we move on to consider historical models for catechesis, we have to confront the major difficulty with the entire process. That is this: We are attempting to say the unsayable, think the unthinkable, and express the inexpressible. We are trying to wrap words around the experience of God in order to communicate it to others. At the heart of catechesis is our search not to gain knowledge (gnosis) but rather to enter into the mind of the church (phronema). Fr. Gabriel contemplates these issues in this second installment of Flame in the Mind.
  • March 4, 2015
    Fr Gabriel returns after a hiatus with a new series. We Orthodox Christians profess our faith in a context of diminished understandings of all forms of Christianity, when a plethora of religious institutions claim to be "church," and when people have an almost blank concept of our place in the faith historically and theologically. We are a breed apart, indeed, and we are blessed to be "discovered" by motivated and intelligent people who are searching for deep roots and faithful traditions. In order to move forward in the 21st century, we will need to create or renew patterns of catechesis for this time. Fr. Gabriel will begin with historical and anthropological overviews of "rites of passage" and move forward from there. Please join in.
  • April 29, 2015
    This week Fr. Gabriel surveys what we can discern of a catechetical process already within the pages of the New Testament, with a brief look backward at the concept emerging in the Old Testament. What we find when we look at the New Testament is really two parts, kerygma (proclamation) and didache (teaching, especially ethics). We will look at a number of references that give us a fairly good idea of what the early church was requiring of candidates for baptism.
  • May 13, 2015
    This week Fr. Gabriel narrates a composite view of the "awe-inspiring rites of initiation" as they may have been experienced around the turn of the 4th and 5th Centuries. Although this narrative is a fabrication, it follows quite closely what we know about baptism, chrismation/confirmation, and the first reception of eucharist from sources such as the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem and On the Sacraments by St. Ambrose of Milan.
  • June 24, 2015
    Fr. Gabriel discusses what happened over the course of the centuries to contribute both to the demise of a catechetical process and, particularly in the western church, a re-definition of the process through a number of different understandings that arose around the notion of "confirmation." This will set the stage for our final discussion in this series: where do we go from here with catechesis for a new century?
  • June 10, 2015
    In this episode, Fr. Gabriel leads us through the consideration of the catechetical process as it would have been developed by the end of the 4th or beginning of the 5th Century, emphasizing the instruction that would have taken place in three key areas known as Traditions—that material passed on which is both ecclesiastical and to some extent personal, depending on the teacher.
  • May 26, 2015
    Baptism—the washing itself—is central to the "awe-inspiring rites of initiation." This week Fr. Gabriel explores the biblical background to baptism in the Old Testament, looks at the immediate background for Christian baptism in the rites available at the time of Jesus, and finishes with five headings under which baptism may be understood from a biblical perspective. Along the way he also looks at the concept of "sealing" which is so important in understanding the imposition of the Holy Spirit. Next time we will return to more exploration of the early rites themselves, and ultimately move into the commitment required to become Christian then and now.
  • July 7, 2015
    Fr. Gabriel wraps up the series on catechesis for a new century with six ways to focus on a new process. These include an emphasis on ritual (especially with regard to the process, beginning with enrollment), an emphasis on imagery, as in the mystagogy of old, to enable people to enter the faith with the heart, the little things that make up the ground of our faith (blessings, veneration of icons, etc.), clarity of expectations, focus on the variable aspects of each person's life as they enter Orthodoxy (get their story like an old-time doctor would interview people), and finally, arrangement of a flexible schedule for study and entry.

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