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Posts Tagged ‘Prophets’

In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Preparing for Death”

I remember watching my father breathe his last breath and literally expire.  One minute my father lay sick, and the next minute his body lay dead.  Right before was the last minute of my life with him, and right after was the first minute of my life without him.

Anguish washed over my soul.  I did not know how to breathe without him in my life; I did not know how to eat, sleep, or go to school without his presence.  But I learned.  And learning how to live my life without him was horrible beyond description.

 

We fear death.  We fear death because in dying we leave this way of existence and head into another way of existence, a way which we know nothing about by personal experience.

We fear death because we have seen others die.  We continue on, and they apparently do not.  We wish to continue on, even if our current life is miserable.  We instinctively cherish our own lives and do not want to give them up.

We fear death because death comes when the body sustains irreparable damage by accident, disease, or age.  All three are deeply ugly in our sight.  We shudder when we imagine ourselves receiving damage from a horrible accident, or succumbing to a deadly disease, or wasting away in our elder infirmity.  We would rather live in our youthful bodies, or failing that, our bodies as we currently have them.

We fear death because we naturally perceive that death is contrary to the created order of things.  Why would God create us if we were to die?  God Incarnate, Christ Himself cried when He beheld the dead body of His friend Lazarus.  If God who overcomes death cries at death, we who cannot overcome death certainly quail in its presence.

 

Death is one of the essential facts of Creation’s brokenness.  The other is sin, intimately related to death.

In Genesis, we read that “God created the heaven and the earth.”  And after each day of Creation, “God saw that it was good.”  Except on the last day, when “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  On that sixth day, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

So the human race is the capstone upon Creation, that finishing part that made it “very good” in God’s sight.  We were to live with God for all eternity in the Garden.  Possessing both body and soul, we were to walk with God and enjoy his immediate and direct presence.

But our ancestors broke our communion with God when they defied him and sought to live in power and glory without him, partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And lest they stretched forth their hands and partake of the Tree of Life, God expelled them from the Garden.

Before he expelled them, God cursed us, saying, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

So it is that death is an unnatural state brought upon by Man’s Fall into sin.  It is necessarily related to sin.  Sin brought death into the world of men.  The only way to remedy death is by remedying sin.

 

Death is a miserable predicament.  Death breaks asunder that which God created to be one.  We are meant to be whole, body and soul.  Death is like unto divorce, which rips apart that which God has joined together.  Once God has put these things together into one essential and holy thing, it is against nature and God to destroy it.  Thus, death is an abomination by its nature and by its disobedience to God’s will.

We brought upon ourselves this death, this destruction.  By following their will instead of God’s will, Adam and Eve chose to destroy themselves.  They didn’t know what they were getting into, but out of their stupid lust they went and wrecked what God had created.

And we are no better than they were.  You and I are guilty of this sin.  We have caused our own deaths.  Even the best of us “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”  By thinking that our ways are better than God’s ways, we stray from him.  God is the creator, nurturer, and sustainer of life; yet we think that we can create, nurture, and sustain ourselves away from him.  Each one of us has earned his own death.

 

So from the time of Adam and Eve until the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, death reigned in the lives of men without any sure remedy.  But God did not leave men alone.  The Patriarchs spoke with God personally, and he guided them.  God gave the Law through Moses to Israel.  God sent the Prophets to preach to Israel.

Then, as St. Paul wrote in Galatians iv.4:  “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman ….”  Christ became Man, uniting the fulness of divinity and the fulness of humanity in one holy Person.  St. Paul also wrote in Romans xiv.9, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”

We need not die like those without hope.  Christ took on our mortal human nature and died.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  And He conquered death.  But He conquered death in a most interesting way:  Christ conquered death by dying Himself.  He apparently yielded to sin and death.

But no!  Christ rose from the grave, defeating death and sin.  In Christ, we are victorious over the grave.  The grave has claimed the life of almost every man who ever lived, save only Enos and Elijah in the Old Testament.  Christ has destroyed the hold of the grave over us.  Yet we must enter the grave just like our Lord Christ did.  Each of us will die, but for those who are counted among the redeemed of the Lord, we will live with God for all eternity.

 

So, given that each of us must die unless the Lord returns first, it obviously follows that we must prepare for our deaths.  I say obviously, but sometimes it doesn’t seem obvious at all.  I want to forget that I will die, my body will rot, and my soul will flee.  I want to live my life blissfully ignoring this obvious fact of my life.  I want to ignore it because I want to do whatever I want whenever I want.  I want to dictate the terms of my life to God, just like Adam and Eve did, just you do, just like we all do.

This is wrong.  But we still do it.  So, the first thing we must do to prepare for our inevitable end is to think upon our death each and every day.  This is called memento mori.  Some will object that this is morbid and sad.  To this the Church answers that the only way to life everlasting is through faith in Christ, and that means that we must think on our death and on our Savior.  So first, remember that you will die.

Secondly, we must not only remember that we will die but have faith in Christ and repent of our sins.  The minimum duty of Churchmen, the Six Duties of Churchmen, are not only our least duty but also our saving path.

We must attend Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  We must receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least three times a year, one of those times being during Christmastide.  We must tithe, fast, and keep the Church’s rules for sexual relations.  And we must keep our consciences clean.  These tidily fall into three sections for preparing ourselves for Heaven.

First, we must focus upon the objective worship of Christ in the Mass.  We each subjectively worship Christ in many parts of our lives, such as holy thoughts, devout feelings, and inspired sharing.  But Christ gave us His Body and Blood to partake of it, not to ignore it.  When we join ourselves with Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father, we mystically join together with Christ.  A woman who has done this reverently for seventy years is better prepared to meet Christ’s Judgement than a man who mostly forgets to show up to worship.

Second, tithing, fasting, and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage help us live our lives in the moral way Christ would have us live them.  We ought to be generous, loving, patient, self-sacrificing, and treat our selves and other people’s selves in holiness and godliness.  If we were to tithe, fast, and keep ourselves sexually as we are supposed to while worshipping God and keeping our consciences pure, then we would find ourselves moving in the right direction to God, thus preparing for our judgement.

Third, we must keep our consciences pure.  On the one hand, we must avoid sin and eagerly seek after righteousness.  On the other hand, we must confess our sins.  Thus we repent, or turn away from, our sins.  We should privately tell God each day what we have done wrong, our firm resolution to avoid doing that again, and asking him for forgiveness.  We also can assist our devotion at Mass by remembering our sins and earnestly saying the confession with these sins on our hearts.  We can also come to me or another priest and confess our sins in the Sacrament of Penance.

When our last hour comes, our soul will be brutally torn away from our body.  Satan and the wicked demons will assail us at that hour to tempt us away from Christ with thoughts that He cannot save us, that our sins are more than He can forgive, and that we have no need of Christ at all.  Although our guardian angel and patron saints will powerfully intercede for us at that moment, the singularly best way for us to prepare for the torment and temptation of our death is to be strong in prayer and pure in soul.  And that requires preparation.

 

Advent is upon us.  Holy Church has for many centuries preached on death this very Sunday, which is most proper for helping us prepare for Christ’s return or our death, whichever comes first.

This Advent, I urge you to prepare for the inevitable fate you face.  I love you as my dear children.  I want each and every one of you to prosper in the loving-kindness of Jesus Christ our Lord.  I want each and every one of you to live with each other forever in God’s Kingdom.  I want to enjoy your presence forever before God our Father in the Holy Ghost.

With these wishes of love and peace and enjoying you as you were made by our Lord God, I ask you this week to try at least one of two things.  First, thoughtfully make a list of your sins and then reverently confess them to Christ either with the prayer of confession in the Prayer Book or in the Sacrament of Confession.  Second, pick your most intractable or hardest to control sin and try very hard to confess and turn from it every day this week.

The best way to prepare is to exercise.  The best way to prepare for a spiritual struggle is spiritual exercise.  Try at least one of these confessions of sin this week and prepare to meet your maker.  If you earnestly try, you will find yourself in better shape to be judged by Christ.

 

“that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“The four living creatures had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“The Holy Trinity”

The Athanasian Creed, found inside your bulletin, is not in our 1928 American Book of Common Prayer.  However, it has been in other Books of Common Prayer, most notably the English 1549 and 1662 books.  Reciting this Creed in public worship is very Anglican.

The Athanasian Creed itself is about fifteen centuries old, going back three-quarters of the way to Christ.  It is newer than the Apostles and Nicene Creeds.  It differs from those two by declaring that those who do not agree with it “cannot be saved”.  In this, it is very similar to the first version of the Nicene Creed.

The need for this Creed arose when the Visigoth and Ostrogoth barbarians were conquering what remained of the Roman Empire in Western Europe and North Africa, bringing with them heretical doctrines expelled from the Greek-speaking Church in Eastern Europe and West Asia.

The first half of the creed explains the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in a way which we can understand.  The second half explains the doctrine of Christology in a way which we can understand.  Both of these are complicated doctrines.  They are complicated because both fully conform to Holy Scripture, and the Bible is not a simple book of doctrines.

This Creed simply and repetitively states these complex doctrines in a way the common Christian can understand.  There is no need to go to seminary to grasp a basic and truthful understanding of the Holy Trinity and of Christ.

If you hearken to the words of the Athanasian Creed and understand these basic doctrines, your reading of the Holy Scriptures will be richly rewarded.  You will better understand Genesis, the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Prophets.  Today’s lesson from Revelation and the Gospel particularly make more sense to us when we read them with the true understanding of the Holy Trinity and natures and Person of Christ.

Also, you will better understand the prayers of our incomparable Anglican liturgy.  Your worship of God and your closeness to God will bear fruit from educating your mind in the God’s eternal truth.  We will live forever with God.  We ought to desire to know him a bit.

 

Here is the Athanasian Creed, or Quicunque Vult, along with some explanatory notes.  You may read along in your insert if you like.

 

“WHOSOEVER WILL BE SAVED,

before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.

(This does not mean the modern Church of Rome and her peculiar doctrines, but the entire, whole, ancient, Apostolic, and Catholic Faith.)

Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled,

without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

 

And the Catholic Faith is this:

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity,

neither confounding the Persons,

nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father,

another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the

Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.

 

The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible,

and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.

The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.

 

And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.

As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated,

but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.

 

So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty,

and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three

Almighties, but one Almighty.

 

So the Father is God, the Son is God,

and the Holy Ghost is God.

And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord,

and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.

 

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity (or truth) to acknowledge

every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,

So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion to say,

There be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.

The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.

The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son,

neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

 

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons;

one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.

And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other;

(That means that no Person of the Godhead comes before another Person.)

none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three Persons

are co-eternal together and co-equal.

So that in all things, as is aforesaid,

the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

He therefore that will be saved must think thus of the Trinity.

 

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also

believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(That is, when we believe in Christ, we know of Whom we believe.  Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, believe that Christ is a creature of God the Father and not God Himself.  Thus, through their misunderstanding of Who Christ is, even if they say they believe in Christ, they believe in something other than the Christ, in a creature not our Incarnate God.)

For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess,

that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;

God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds;

and Man of the substance of his Mother, born in the world;

Perfect God and perfect Man,

of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.

 

Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the

Father, as touching his manhood; Who, although he be God and Man,

yet he is not two, but one Christ;

One, not by conversion of the Godhead

into flesh but by taking of the Manhood into God;

One altogether; not by confusion of Substance,

but by unity of Person.

(That means that the two substances of God and Man are not mixed together.  Christ is not fifty percent God and fifty percent Man.  That is incorrect.  Rather, Christ is both entirely God and entirely Man.  He is one Person with two different natures.)

For as the reasonable soul

and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ;

Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell,

rose again the third day from the dead.

He ascended into heaven, he sitteth at the right hand of the Father,

God Almighty, from whence he will come

to judge the quick and the dead.

At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies

and shall give account for their own works.

And they that have done good shall go into life

everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

 

This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully,

he cannot be saved.”

 

We are to emulate the internal economy of the Holy Trinity in its perpetual gift of loving-kindness between the Persons of the Trinity.  This abundance of agape love pours forth as the gift which is called Creation.  We are creatures of that eternal and dynamic loving-kindness of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

We are creatures of this overflow of loving-kindness just as children are made by the abundance of love procreatively poured forth from parents in their marriage.  A man and a woman make love, and that love makes children.  So too, the eternal generous love between the three Persons of the Holy Trinity creatively poured forth to form and then sustains the good earth, the angels in Heaven, the stars and moon, and all the rest of Creation, including us.

We were created when God the Son spoke the Word and God the Father breathed the Holy Ghost upon us.  Our lives are inseparable from the Holy Trinity.  Only within the Holy Trinity do our prayers make sense.  Christ Himself taught us to pray by praying “Our Father….”  Christ Himself told His disciples that He would send us a Comforter, the Holy Ghost.

Today, release both your heart and your mind to Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and love him with your whole self and not just your emotions.

 

“The four living creatures had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Hell

 

Those words of St. John Baptist build upon the prophecy of Isaiah, where in the fortieth chapter he says:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

St. John Baptist, one of the central figures of Advent, called men to repentance.  The tricky part of calling for repentance is that it assumes a couple of rough things.  First, calling for repentance assumes that there is something to repent from.  In other words, you’re doing something wrong.  Second, calling for repentance assumes that there is a better way.  In other words, I’m doing something right.  Fundamentally, a call for repentance is a call to make a choice.

In Deuteronomy, we read of an earlier choice.  “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life.”  The whole story of the Bible, from the Law through the Prophets and culminating in Christ, points us the way to righteousness, the way to Heaven, the way to communion with God forever.

But if we may choose life, then there is another way we may choose, and we are free to choose it:  Hell.

 

Speaking of Hell makes us sound like loons.  Nobody in polite society wants to hear us talk about Hell.  But Hell is a central doctrine of the New Testament.  Christ spoke of Hell more than anyone else in the Bible, warning people from Hell to salvation in Him.  Hell is mentioned in the Apostles Creed.  Hell is a reminder that each of us faces an ultimate choice about our fate.  This is impolite.  We want to ignore it.  We want to lock it in the cellar with the red-headed step-child.  We want to ameliorate this doctrine, soften it.  We want to explain it away.  As a child I asked about Hell.  I was told:  ‘There is a Hell, but no one really is in it.  Maybe Hitler.’  Hell is awkward!

It is so awkward, that if we lower the standards for Christianity by removing it, more people will find us more attractive.  Here at our parish, we are committed to growing.  Many of us are praying and thinking hard about what we can do to grow and spread the Kingdom of God.  If we toss aside the doctrine of Hell, then more people here in Augusta will find us palatable.  But those people who would then come here would remain unconverted to the full Gospel of Christ, and we as Anglican Catholics are committed to preaching God’s truth entire.  We have seen all too well the dangers of preaching simply what we like, discarding our Prayer Book and rewriting Church teachings.

When we teach the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we hold up our people to Christ so that they may be truly converted, heart and soul.  But many find holding up the whole truth offensive.  In the days to come, they will find it more and more offensive.  To offer real Christian discipleship to some, many will turn us down.  This too is part of having a choice.

 

Now just because Hell and permanent alienation from God and goodness and joy and life are terribly sad choices doesn’t mean that they aren’t choices.  Therefore, blinding ourselves to the reality that some people make these horrible choices is not noble, it is pathetic.  Hell is a logical, Scriptural, and necessary part of Christian doctrine.  Mature Christians, that is, Baptized and Confirmed adult believers, must sternly look this possibility in the face lest we have no happy effect upon those who have not yet committed their lives to Christ.

Admittedly, choosing is a tricky thing.

This can be seen by the parable of the two sons in St. Matthew xxi:28–31:

A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.  He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.  And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.  Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first.

Flapping your gums and moving air about, pantomiming pure and soulful answers is easy.  At the end of the day, you get up off your duff and go to work in your father’s vineyard . . . or you don’t.  Christ makes this most clear.

Indeed, Christ speaks of relentlessly evil choices in the parable of the wicked husbandmen in St. Luke xx:9-16:

A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time.  And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty.  And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty.  And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out.  Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him.  But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.  So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them?  He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.

Some sinners are unrepentant and choose to continue to sin.  They are relentless in their movement away from Christ and vigorous in their pursuit of self-interest.

In that little gem of a book, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis says:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.

Christ is very clear what He would have us do:  Follow Him.  But sometimes laying down your nets and following Christ is not as difficult as it gets.  When the going gets really rough, Christ turns to an equally rough saying in St. Matthew v.30:

And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

 

But we should not so much seek to avoid Hell as to embrace Christ, and with Him, all goodness, righteousness, health, peace, and life everlasting.  All this, in the presence of God, is Heaven.

What have we to do to gain Heaven and forever lose Hell?  We must participate fully in Christ and His salvation.  In the words of St. Paul in the eighth chapter of Romans:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Every member we have is ours to make choices with.  But notice here how the apostle focuses on the heart and the mouth.  Our heart is where our treasure is.  If you value more highly your wit, your lineage, your possessions, your politics, or even your family higher than you value Christ, then your heart is not in the right place.

Your heart is where you love.  I love Christ.  I love my wife.  I love my mama.  I love my country.  I love my friends.  But without Christ, none of these loves would stand.  For Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  He was present at creation, and He knew me in my mother’s womb.  As St. John wrote:  “We love him, because he first loved us.”

I was asked once if a court of law sought to convict me of being a Christian, was there enough evidence to secure a conviction?  A court cannot read my heart, but it sure can hear my words.  Not only must I believe in my heart, but I must confess with my lips.

Here in St. Luke Church, we acknowledge Christ at Mass, Offices, Baptisms, Confirmations, Institutions, and Burials.  And that’s just in worship!  I walk around here and Augusta and hear from your lips the faith you place in Christ.  Well, I hear it from some.  If you aren’t using your lips to confess your faith in Christ on your own time, then I’d say that you have some work you need to get to.

 

My dear sons and daughters, we must believe in our hearts, we must confess with our lips, and we must let go of those things which keep us from Heaven by dragging us down to Hell.  Our respectability, our patriotism, our family, our work, our ideals, the things of this world.  These are usually good things, perhaps even things to which we are called to do.  Yet if we do even one of them to the exclusion of loving Christ first and foremost, then we have given up on living with Him forever.  For Christ must come before our respectability, our patriotism, our family, our work, and our ideals.  And if we are with Christ foremost, then we can rest assured (Romans viii.38-39) “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If Christ comes first, then all the rest will follow.  If we put Christ second, then we never had any part of Him.  And that, by definition, is Hell.

 

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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