Sailing in the Spirit

I have always wanted to integrate being an avid sailor and a spiritual director (marginally talented in both arenas — Lord have mercy). One of my long time ambitions in this direction is to plan and conduct a three day offshore “sailing retreat” and use several aspects of sailing as the basis of my reflections regarding the dynamics of spiritual transformation in Christ. Rob Des Cotes, an very talented spiritual director and overseer of Imago Dei Christian Community just wrote a wonderful reflection on sailing and spiritual transformation. It is just the kind of reflection I would like to use on the “sailing retreat.” I republish it in total below. It is excellent…

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks Rob ! !

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“We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind.”  Eph. 4:14

Picture a boat without a keel, being buffeted by wind and waves.  Its motion is totally determined by outside forces as it slides across the water.  A keel, however, helps steady a boat in relationship to the waves.  It doesn’t rock and tilt as much, nor does it get thrown from its path as easily.   And the deeper a keel is the more stable the boat will be.

The analogy here to our spirituality is obvious as there is a similar relationship between our prayer life and the stability of faith that we enjoy each day.  Like a keel, prayer prevents us from tilting too much or from overly rocking back and forth because of the wind and waves.  It helps us move forward rather than slip to the side, or be overly determined by outside forces.

Keels create stability by also providing weight that significantly lowers the boat’s centre of gravity.  One of the main determinants for stability in a boat is how deep it sits in the water.  If the vessel sits on the surface of the water it will be less in charge of its movement than if it has ballast, and sits more deeply in the water.

Prayer, too, gives us greater directional control and stability by anchoring us to a deeper place within ourselves.  It establishes our lives at a more profound level, and the ballast it creates helps counter the many superficial forces that buffet us in our day.

There is one more interesting feature in some keels that could also apply, at times, to our interactions with the world.  Some boats have a retractable keel that can be lifted up in order to allow sailing in shallower waters.   For people who have cultivated the virtue of a deep and even-keeled disposition in their lives, there might be times when it is also appropriate to pull up the keel in order to allow for more levity.  It is good to live deeply within ourselves but it is also good to recognize when it might bAse better to adjust to the more shallow waters we find ourselves in.

Rob Des Cotes, Apr. 26th, 2012

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In Christ Jesus, everyday is a day for “great sailing” regardless of the weather ! ! Christians are “all weather sailors.” Now THAT takes faith…

Fr. Thomas

3rd Sunday of Pascha – The Myrrhbearers

Here is a reposting of a previous article on the theme of today’s gospel reading. I have amended it a little as a result of my further reflections on the feast. I pray you enjoy it and are blessed …

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Today is the 3rd Sunday of Pascha. We are moving away from the tomb toward the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost ten days later. Any yet, the Church brings us back to the tomb. Listen to another account of the visit of the Myrrhbearing women to the tomb from St. Luke.

While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? [6] Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.’  And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Mag’dalene and Jo-an’na and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles;” (Luke 24.4-10)

Who were these women whose encounter of the angels and the risen Lord are recorded in some form or another in all four gospel accounts? Of those whose names are known:  Mary the mother of James and Joses; Mary Magdalene; Mary, the wife of Clopas; Joanna; Salome, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome and Joanna, and another woman referred to as “the other Mary.”

Why are we taken back to the tomb? Why go back to the place of death? Why, in the middle of the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, should we be commanded by the Holy Tradition to consider the example of these women?

The answer has to do with our need to constantly be reexamining our expectations. In essence, the angels ask them and us, “What and/or who do you seek?”

Do we understand the relationship between what we seek and what we expect? One follows naturally and inevitably from the other. What we expect defines what we seek and what we are able to see and understand. To quote myself, “Nothing will change if nothing can change.”

The Myrrhbearing women were expecting to find a dead body at the tomb. That is what they were seeking. They could not find what they were seeking and ask the angels what they had done with the body!! The Myrrhbearing women are driven by love for Jesus that is among the greatest expressions of it to be found in the Bible. But, that love was set within the context of expectations that are “out of sync.” with the truth of God’s purposes.

I believe it has always seemed best to the Church and the Holy Spirit to remind us, in the midst of our Pascha excitement, of the need to ask the question of “expectations.” What do you expect to find in the lives of others, in your job, in your children, in your spouse, in yourself? That expectation/conviction of the truth will govern what you seek and what you offer and what you can see.

The women did not recognize the angels as angels. Mary does not recognize Jesus as Jesus in another passage. The women are “perplexed.” They are expecting to find what they are seeking – death and defeat. Instead, they find life and victory.

Their eyes and ours need to be opened. Their expectations and ours need to be challenged and changed. How else can they and we live in the midst of this present darkness with hope and resolve? How else can join with Christ in the expansion of His Kingdom? Are we trapped in our delusion; in the dead end of our delusional expectations? Is there no hope for God to break through? This question is crucial.

Can a breakthrough happen? If so, how can it happen? God respects the integrity of our free will. He does not violate the boundaries we set. However, the light of His love, as we have learned, PRESSES upon us, seeking to find a place of entry. How were the eyes of the women opened? What made it possible for them to be changed?! How can the breakthrough into New Life occur?

I propose there are a number of points in life where transformation is possible.

  • Yearning to know and receive the truth – “cost what it will, lead where it may”
  • Desperate need
  • Mercy in the response to deserved condemnation
  • The speaking of our true identity/name
  • Love

Our gospel for today sheds light on how the desire to show love can become the entry point for the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Let me quote from a wonderful homily on the subject of the Myrrhbearing women:

“… in the face of hopelessness, these women act. They buy ointments that will help his body dry out as it decays, and sweet spices so that even in death, his body is honored. Their actions show their steadfast love for Christ, that even after hope is shattered, they go the extra mile to honor Jesus. Such is their love for this dead man.

In their actions, we see that the myrrhbearers came to anoint Christ not out of a desire for any recognition or reward from Jesus, nothing that they could get out of it. He is dead. The women probably have no recollection that Christ said he would rise again, so they probably have no hope of triumph in Jesus’ death. They come not to receive, and probably not consciously to give either, but they are motivated by their love for Him, that they want His body to be blessed with sweet smelling fragrance.

Yet these women are honored with being the first witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. They were the first to know the joy that Christ had defeated death, that hope was fulfilled, that despair and grief were not all that was left to them. And, they were the first commissioned with going and telling others that Christ had risen from the dead.

These women were not seeking the excitement of some great commission, but they received this as a result of their desire to love and serve Christ even after death.

Both are present in the resurrection accounts. In the account of the myrrhbearers we have the presence of love. The women sought to express their love for Jesus even in His death. (The homily in its entirety can be found here.)

The Myrrhbearers were motivated by love. The love of the Myrrhbearers was shown in the context of what they believed was a massive and tragic defeat. They were not there to “get something.” They were there to give all they believed they could give. They were there to offer something – loving care for the dead body of their beloved Lord. Misguided expectations and convictions formed the context for their expression of love for their Lord. But, God used that serving love, misguided by inaccurate expectations though it was, to bring them to a deeper relationship with their Lord.

What is the entry point the point where transformation is possible in your life? Where are your misguided expectations keeping you from seeing and responding to the risen Lord?  You have been gathered to this Holy Table in this place, at this time, with these brothers and sisters. What and/or who do you seek? That depends on what/who you expect to find? What /who do you expect to find?

Repent and believe the gospel – Christ is risen and so have you!! Expect resurrection and seek it. Seek and serve Him who is risen in all persons and all circumstances.

How easy we forget. How often we need to be reminded. We need to visit the tomb – the place where crucifixion and resurrection meet – on a regular basis, not just once. This is the essence of the Divine Liturgy and the reason that it is celebrated on each and every Sunday, the Lord’s Day. But, as we do, let us do so with expectancy, to be reminded of, recommit ourselves to, and be nourish to participate in the victory of Christ’s resurrection, not to mourn defeat or with resignation to the inevitability of sin and death in our life. Thanks be to God for His merciful reminder and challenge. Repent and believe the Gospel. Christ is risen! He goes before you and is in whatever you face. Serve Him in the place to which He has instructed you to go. He will meet you there!!

Fr. Thomas
Note: I realize that in the course of writing posts for this blog that the convictions I share may inadvertently conflict with the Holy Tradition. I stand joyfully under the authority of this Tradition to test my words. If, in any way I have erred, I stand joyfully corrected. Lord have mercy on me a sinner.

A New Chant for a New Life

One of my favorite ways to become present to Christ Jesus and enter into effective prayer is to listen to monastic chanting and chant my prayers.

Having a voice and using that voice is an essential part of being human. Obviously, I am not just talking about the use of our vocal chords. Our whole life, as St. Francis is famous for having said – the way we live our life, is a sermon. That sermon is the song of our life – a chant. Chanting, literal and figuratively is, therefore, a natural part of being human. As disciples, ours is the victory song of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I offer two such “life chants” for your consideration along with a wonderful reflection on the parameters of the resurrected life by St. Augustine. Enjoy…

Psalm 96
[1] O sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
[2] Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
[3] Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
[4] For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
[5] For all the gods of the peoples are idols;
but the LORD made the heavens.
[6] Honor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
[7] Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
[8] Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts!
[9] Worship the LORD in holy array;
tremble before him, all the earth!
[10] Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!
Yea, the world is established, it shall never be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”
[11] Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
[12] let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy
[13] before the LORD, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.

Psalm 118
[1] O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever!
[2] Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures for ever.”
[3] Let the house of Aaron say,
“His steadfast love endures for ever.”
[4] Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His steadfast love endures for ever.”
[5] Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me free.
[6] With the LORD on my side I do not fear.
What can man do to me?
[7] The LORD is on my side to help me;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
[8] It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to put confidence in man.
[9] It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to put confidence in princes.
[10] All nations surrounded me;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
[11] They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
[12] They surrounded me like bees,
they blazed like a fire of thorns;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
[13] I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
[14] The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
[15] Hark, glad songs of victory
in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
[16] the right hand of the LORD is exalted,
the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”
[17] I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD.
[18] The LORD has chastened me sorely,
but he has not given me over to death.
[19] Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
[20] This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
[21] I thank thee that thou hast answered me
and hast become my salvation.
[22] The stone which the builders rejected
has become the head of the corner.
[23] This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
[24] This is the day which the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
[25] Save us, we beseech thee, O LORD!
O LORD, we beseech thee, give us success!
[26] Blessed be he who enters in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
[27] The LORD is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar!
[28] Thou art my God, and I will give thanks to thee;
thou art my God, I will extol thee.
[29] O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures for ever!

Sing to the Lord a new song; his praise is in the assembly of the saints. We are urged to sing a new song to the Lord. This new song is the song that has been learned by the new man. Now a song it is a thing of joy; more profoundly, it is a thing of love. It is the person who has learned to love the new life who has learned to sing the new song. In order to be able to sing the new song, therefore, we need to be reminded of the nature of the new life, for the new man, the new song, the new covenant, all belong to the same kingdom. Not only, then, will the new man sing the new song, he will also belong to the new covenant.

There is no one who does not love something, but the question is, what to love. The psalms do not tell us not to love, but to choose the object of our love. But how can we choose unless we are first chosen? We cannot love unless someone has loved us first Listen to the Apostle John: We love him, because he first loved us. The source of our love for God can only be found in the fact that God loved us first. He has given us himself as the object of our love, and he has also given us its source. What this source is you may learn more clearly from the Apostle Paul who tells us: The love of God has been poured into our hearts. This love is not something we generate ourselves; it comes to us through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Since we have such an assurance, then, let us love God with the love he has given us. As John tells us more fully: God is love, and whoever dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. It is not enough to say: Love is from God. Which of us would dare to pronounce the words of Scripture: God is love? He alone could say it who knew what it was to have God dwelling within him. God offers us a short route to the possession of himself. He cries out: Love me and you will have me, for you would be unable to love me if you did not possess me already.

My dear brethren and children, fruit of the true faith and holy seed of heaven, all you who have been born again in Christ and whose life is from above, listen to me; or rather, listen to the Holy Spirit saying through me: Sing to the Lord a new song. Look you tell me, I am singing. Yes indeed, you are singing; you are singing clearly, I can hear you. But make sure that your life does not contradict your words. Sing with your voices, your hearts, your lips, and your lives: Sing to the Lord a new song.

Now it is your unquestioned desire to sing of him whom you love, but you ask me how to sing his praises. You have heard the words: Sing to the Lord a new song, and you wish to know what praises to sing. The answer is: His praise is in the assembly of the saints; it is in the singers themselves. If you desire to praise him, then live what you express. Live good lives, and you yourselves will be his praise. Source: St Augustine, Sermon 34, 1-3.5-6 (CCL 41:424-426); Word in Season III, 1st ed.

The Lord continue to bless you for resurrected living in the warp and woof of everyday life.

Fr. Thomas

More Thoughts on Knowledge – Communication of the Comprehensible and the Incomprehensible

As I have continued to reflect on the subject of knowledge and knowing, more has come to mind worth, at least in my estimation, worth mentioning.

Even though I know by means of realizing that I don’t know that does not exclude the fact that some aspects of the truth are comprehensible. Not everything is all that mysterious even though it finds its meaning in the context of all that is incomprehensible. For example, it is a pretty understandable concept that reading the same select passages of Scripture that are our favorites is not a healthy way of relating to the Word of God. The Holy Tradition teaches and offers us a systematic and thorough exposure to the Word that, in its own way, works transformation in our life. Pretty understandable. No big mystery. Of course, HOW the Word transforms us through the use of a lectionary and seasonal schedule of reading IS Mysterious. I am sure you can come up with your own examples.

The paradox of knowledge and unknowing is a representation of the character of God as is everything within the Christian tradition that is authentic. God is imminent and transcendent (knowable and unknowable). Not an either/or but a both/and.  So it is with knowledge, which comes from God. The truth is, both in its content and its form, completely harmonious with the one who offers it. Indeed, as Jesus said of Himself, “I am … the truth.”

(Let me note at this point that for the remainder of this article I will be using the truth to refer to the Gospel and therefore legitimate truth, not falsehood disguising itself as the truth. The pronoun “it” could, most appropriately be replaced by “He” because the truth is not just a thing but most properly a person – the crucified and risen and reigning Christ Jesus. There is a whole other discussion we could enter into about the strategy of the evil one to seduce us into relating to falsehood as we would relate to the truth and thus lead us astray.)

The truth is transformative by its very nature. The truth is intended to be shared in order to bless everything and everyone around it. The truth shines in the darkness banishing the darkness in which it exists. The truth extends, reaches out, and establishes itself ever more fully. In the human arena this involves communication. Most often when we think of communication we think of the use of language and the verbal/written articulation of our convictions and ideas. This is right and proper.

But, and here we find ourselves dealing once again with knowing and unknowing, the use of language is, at one and the same time, both necessary and inadequate. When we realize and embrace a new aspect of the truth we immediately want and need to express it. Why? Because it has changed us. Remember, the truth by its very nature is transformative and expansive; transforming what it encounters into the reflection of itself, filling it, and expressing itself through what it fills and transforms. But the truth is always bigger, deeper, and more all encompassing than our words no matter how accurate. And so, we must speak and yet we fall short in our speaking. The truth is imminent and yet transcendent in verbal and written communication. We must but we can’t.

Such a necessity and such an inadequacy, though it is inherent in our verbal and written attempts at communicating the truth provoke and draw forth from deep within us ongoing efforts to articulate and communicate the truth. If we legitimately obey this yearning without seeking to “conquer” the truth, deeply human artistry is the fruit. Something transcendent does, in fact, get communicated even though the words fall short.

I hasten to also add, with regard to the temptation to “conquer” or “contain” the truth in the clothing of words, that there is, in my estimation, a movement to do just that at the expense of an appreciation of the other ways in which the truth seeks to have itself communicated. The inevitable method is to “reinvent” language or adopt “more relevant” language in an attempt to effectively communicate the truth to a “target audience.” Of course, the translation of the Good News into the vernacular language of the people to whom we desire to speak is authentic. However, seeking to invent language to adequately do so as if that is the only way the truth can be communicated is an error of immense proportions.

What do I mean?

The truth is most effectively communicated in its elegant imminence and transcendence by means of the whole Holy Tradition. The Holy Tradition is not composed of words alone. Words are , of course, a necessary aspect of the Tradition . Careful and accurate articulation is necessary. But it does not stand alone. Such articulation resides in the living matrix of the following that communicate the truth:

  • Actions
  • Movement, gesture, posture
  • Rhythmic and melodic sounds
  • Images
  • Physical structures with specific shape and relationships
  • Empty space
  • Rhythm and pace
  • Abundance and lack
  • Partaking and refraining
  • Accepting and declining
  • Rest and labor
  • Silence
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Time
  • The fashioning and dedicated use of things
  • Living things
  • Touch
  • Order and sequence and typical ways of doing things
  • Light and dark
  • The use of elemental matter central to human life – water, earth, air, fire, oil, bread, wine
  • Attitudes and intentions
  • Journey
  • People
  • And the list goes on and on

The whole of the universe, in essence, is meant, to communicate – to testify effectively – the truth in addition to verbal and written communication. Words effectively communicate some aspects of the truth. And, all the time, some aspects of the truth are best communicated not through words or writing but in some other way. Once again, the temptation afoot (it has always been afoot) is to think that all of the things on the list above are extra or optional and even detrimental ways of communicating (witnessing the truth).

The Holy Tradition is “the living witness to the living faith.” It is unchanging and yet ever changing and developing in ways that are deeply authentic and interiorly harmonious with the truth and the other aspects of the Tradition.

My words fall short to communicate what I intend and yet I hope they have been able to pass on something of what I have come to realize throughout my life.

Fr. Thomas

I Know I Don’t Know

The challenge before us in the Easter season is to accept the invitation to live resurrected lives. How? Well, here is one the ways…

If we seriously reflect on all of the passages that make up the post resurrection narrative in the four gospel accounts, we will unquestioning struck by the level of “not knowing” or “not getting it” of the disciples. The relationship of the disciples with the risen Lord Jesus did not, apparently, serve to “clear things up.” As a matter of fact, it could be proposed, it made matter worse!!

In The Divine Liturgy, during the Anaphora, the priest, on behalf of all and for all, says this:

“You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come. For all these things we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit; for all things that we know and do not know, for blessings seen and unseen that have been bestowed upon us.”

I always find it to be reassuring that I am invited to give thanks not only what I know but what I do not know but are, nonetheless, true, governing my life and filling it with mysterious meaning and purpose. I am encouraged to give thanks for the limitations of my knowledge as a human being. Such a limitation is, according to the Holy Tradition, not an aspect of fallenness or brokenness I or the Lord needs to fix or heal.

We must extend our search for meaning and knowledge beyond and outside the parameters of time and space to, in any practical way address the dilemma of dealing with our own subjectivity.  We must plunge ourselves into the fathomless and eternal waters of the Mystical Tradition in all of its tangible aspects. The paradox is that we do not even know that that is what we must do unless we have already done it. Subjectivity and objectivity coexist within the human, not in a balance or tension as if they seek to overcome one another, but in a mysterious union in which they inform and deepen our experience of the other. Pun on the phrase “the other” is intended. In order to know we must know that we do not know.

It is out of a life dedicated to the cultivation/integration of this conviction and reality that such classics as, The Cloud of Unkowning spring forth. Dare I exclude all of the human authors of the books of the Bible and the mystical prayer life that is the one of the Church’s most precious treasures?!

For a deeper and satisfying explication of this mystery read Fr. Stephen’s blog post entitled “To Know What You Cannot Know.”

Fr. Thomas

Resurrected Life — Invitation, Promise, and Mandate

One of the collects in the Anglican Church, prayed during the Easter season, puts forward a wonderful challenge:

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, pg. 225)

This is the invitation, promise, and challenge of the season of Easter – resurrected living.

Let us endeavor with all our might, strengthened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to say a consistent “yes” to the invitation to live resurrected lives… Let us do so motivated by the promise echoing elegantly in our hearts and minds.  Let us pray that the Lord will direct our steps in the way that not only leads to salvation but the working out of our salvation with fear and trembling.

Another Easter Season articulates our heart’s desire for resurrected living this way:

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, pg. 225)

God Bless you as you answer the upward call to resurrected glory now and ever and to the ages of ages …

Fr. Thomas

Christ Jesus is Risen ! ! — Death and Sin are Destroyed — New Life and Righteousness are Established

Christ Jesus is Risen ! ! — Death and Sin are Destroyed — New Life and Righteousness are Established …

Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered; let those who hate Him flee from before His face (Ps. 68:1)
As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish; as wax melts before the fire (Ps. 68:2a)
So the sinners will perish before the face of God; but let the righteous be glad (Ps. 68:2b)
This is the day which the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Ps. 118:24)

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν,
θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας,
καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι,
ζωὴν χαρισάμενος!

Transliteration:
Christós anésti ek nekrón,
thanáto thánaton patísas,
ké tís en tís mnímasi,
zoín charisámenos!

Bless you on this day on which we celebrate and renew our full participation in the new universe,

Fr. Thomas

Lost in Wonder Love and Praise — Holy Saturday as the Pinnacle of the Joyful Sorrow of Great Lent

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Collect for Holy Saturday, BCP

Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24     I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; against me alone he turns his hand again and again, all day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked. The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lenten Triodion is, in my estimation, one of the best examples of the richness of the Liturgical Tradition of the Church. It is filled to overflowing with stunning imagery that is piercing in its exhortive poignancy, and Mysteriously uplifting and strengthening in its encouragement. This is especially regarding the services conducted on Holy Saturday. There are two very good articles that offer a clear overview of the themes and practices that comprise the liturgical tradition of the Church on this day. They can be found here and here. I encourage you to read them. Once again, we are encouraged to contemplate the Mystery of  the phrase “…trampling down death by death. And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

O Lord my God, I will sing to you a funeral hymn, a song at your burial: for by your burial you have opened for me the gates of life, and by your death you have slain death and hell. All things above and all beneath the earth quaked with fear at your death, as they beheld you, my Saviour, upon your throne on high and in the tomb below. For you lie before our eyes in a way beyond our understanding: a corpse and yet the very source of life.

Today you keep holy the seventh day, which you blessed of old by resting from your works. You bring all things into being and make all things new, observing the sabbath rest, my Saviour, and restoring your strength. You have gained the victory by your greater strength: your soul was parted from your body yet by your power, O Word, you have burst asunder the bonds of death and hell. Hell was filled with bitterness when it met you, O Word, for it saw a man deified, marked by wounds yet all-powerful; and it shrank back in terror at this sight.

You were torn but not separated, O Word, from the flesh you had taken. For though your temple was destroyed at the time of your Passion, the person of your Godhead and of your flesh is one: in both you are one Son, the Word of God, both God and man. The fall of Adam brought death to man but not to God. Hell is king over mortal men, but not for ever. Laid in the tomb, mighty Lord, with your mighty hand you burst asunder the bars of death. To those from every age who slept in the tombs, you have proclaimed true deliverance, O Saviour, who have become the firstborn from the dead.

Be astounded, O heavens, and let the foundations of the earth be shaken. He who dwells on high is numbered among the dead and dwells as a stranger in a narrow tomb. The second Adam, he who dwells on high, has come down to the first Adam in the depths of hell. The disciples’ courage failed, but Joseph of Arimathea was more bold; for seeing the God of all a naked corpse, he asked for the body and buried him.

Coming forth from a birth without travail and wounded in your side with a spear, O My Maker, you have brought to pass the re-creation of Eve. Becoming Adam, you have in a way surpassing nature slept a life-giving sleep, awakening life from sleep and from corruption by your almighty power.

‘Do not weep for me O Mother, beholding in the tomb the Son whom you conceived in your womb without seed. For I shall rise and be glorified, and as God I shall exalt in everlasting glory those who magnify you with faith and love.’

‘O Son without beginning, I was blessed by your strange birth in ways surpassing nature, for I was spared all travail. But now looking upon you, my God, as a lifeless corpse, I am pierced by the sword of bitter sorrow. But arise, that I may be truly magnified.

“By mine own will the earth covers me, O Mother, but the gatekeepers of hell tremble as they see me, clothed in the bloodstained garment of vengeance: for on the Cross as God have I struck down mine enemies, and I shall rise again and magnify thee.”

‘Let the creation rejoice exceedingly, let all those born on earth be glad: for hell, the enemy, has been despoiled. Ye women, come to meet me with sweet spices: for I am delivering Adam and Eve with all their offspring, and on the third day I shall rise again.’ Source: From Mattins of Holy Saturday in The Lenten Triodion (1978)

 I am so grateful for the liturgical tradition. It provides words that, first, far exceed and powerfully express my deepest longings; and second, I can confidently inhabit that will offer the matrix within which my longings have the opportunity to be fulfilled beyond what I could ever ask or imagine.

Fr. Thomas

The Cross of Christ — Trampling Down Death By Death

St. Leo the Great assists us in looking deeper into the mystery of the cross. Take time to ask this question: “How does the cross actually conquer sin and death?” Of course, asking this question is not for the purpose of solving the Mystery but of providing you and me with the opportunity to participate in the operation of the cross in our own life in a more practical way. Such is the profit of “rumination” or, to use the nomenclature of Lectio Divina, “meditatio.

When our Lord was handed over to the will of his cruel foes, they ordered him, in mockery of his royal dignity, to carry the in­strument of his own torture. This was done to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: A child is born for us, a son is given to us; sover­eignty is laid upon his shoulders. To the wicked, the sight of the Lord carrying his own Cross was indeed an object of derision; but to the faithful a great mystery was revealed, for the Cross was destined to become the sceptre of his power. Here was the majestic spectacle of a glorious conqueror mightily over­throwing the hostile forces of the devil and nobly bearing the trophy of his victory.

As the crowd accompanied Jesus to the place of execution, the soldiers found a man called Simon of Cyrene, onto whose shoulders they transferred the weight of the Lord’s Cross. This action prefigured the faith of the Gentiles, to whom the Cross of Christ would mean glory rather than shame. By this substitution the atonement of the unblemished lamb and the ful­filment of all the rites of the old Law passed from the people of the circumcision to the Gentiles, from the children born of the flesh to those born of the spirit

In the words of the Apostle: Christ our Passover is sacrificed. As the new and authentic sacrifice of reconciliation, it was not in the Temple, whose cult was now at an end, that he offered himself to the Father; nor was it within the walls of the city doomed to destruction for its crimes. It was beyond the city gates, outside the camp, that he was crucified, in order that when the ancient sacrificial dispensation came to an end a new victim might be laid on a new altar, and the Cross of Christ become the altar not of theTemple, but of the world.

You drew all things to yourself, Lord, when all the elements combined to pronounce judgment in execration of that crime. Figures gave way to reality, prophecy to manifestation, Law to Gospel. You drew all things to yourself in order that the worship of the whole human race could be celebrated everywhere in a sacramental form which would openly fulfil what had been enacted by means of veiled symbols in that single Jewish Temple. Source: St. Leo the Great, Sermon 59.4-6 – Weds in HWK 444 (PL 54:339-341); Word in Season II, 1st ed.

The ancient proclamation of Pascha (Easter) is “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death…” WHAT?! Death is conquered by death?! Therein lies the fulfilment of the Old Covenant  in its priestly, kingly, and prophetic aspects  – “Behold the Lamb of God!” and “Behold your King!” Power is made perfect in weakness. Life poured out in the face of, and, most importantly, at the hands of the triad of faithlessness, resignation, and fear which seeks to offer themselves as the way to preserve life, is the actual way of true life. “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth!” from a cruciform throne.

Take hold of your time today and dedicate a portion of it to the contemplation and veneration of the Holy Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made. (John 17.1-5)

Read read Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the Messianic Suffering Servant ( Is. 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12).

God the Father is glorifying the Son and Himself by the power of the Holy Spirit on the cross yesterday, today, and forever. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleuia!!

Let God arise! And let His enemies be scattered! And let those that hate Him flee from His presence!

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord!

As smoke vanishes, So let them vanish! And as wax melts from the presence of fire, So let the demons perish from the presence of those who love God and sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, and say in gladness –

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord,

For you drive away the demons by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified on you, who went down to Hell and trampled on the power of the devil, and gave us you, His venerable Cross, for driving away all enemies.

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord!

O most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord, help us! – with our Holy Lady the Virgin Mother of God, and all the Saints throughout the ages.  Amen.

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord!

Guard us/me by the holy and life-giving Cross and keep us from all evil. Into Your hands, O Lord, I/we commit my/our spirit. Bless us, save us, and grant us eternal life.  Amen.

God Bless you mightily on this Good Friday,

Fr. Thomas

Great and Holy Thursday — God and Man Suffer and Love as One

St. Ephrem helps us as we seek to identify with and participate in the suffering-love of the God/Man who was/is/will identify with our suffering and participate in it “for the life of the world.”

“The evening before our Lord gave himself up to death he shared his own body with his Apostles and offered them his blood, with the command that they were to do what he had done in order to keep the memory of his Passion alive. Then a strange thing happened. Earlier Jesus had charged his disciples not to fear death. Do not be afraid of those who have power to kill ­your body, he had said. But now he himself showed fear, and ­begged to be spared the cup of suffering. Father, he prayed if it be possible, let this cup pass me by. How are we to explain this?

The answer is that our Lord’s petition was wrung from the human weakness he had made his own. There was no pretence about his incarnation; it was absolutely real. And since the donning of our poor humanity had made him puny and defenceless, it was only natural that he should experience fear and alarm. Eating to alleviate hunger, showing weariness after exertion, and revealing human weakness by the need for sleep were all the effects of his taking our flesh and clothing himself with our infirmity. Consequently when the moment of death drew near, he necessarily experienced the ultimate frailty of our human condition; he was gripped by a dreadful horror of ­dying.

It was then that Jesus said to his disciples: Stay awake and pray that you may be spared the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. And in answer to our question he might well say: ‘When you are afraid, it is not your spirit that trembles but your human ­weakness. Remember then that I myself tasted the fear of death in my desire to convince you that I truly shared your flesh and blood.’

A further answer to our question is that Jesus wished to teach his disciples how to commit themselves to God both in life and in death. His own divine knowledge made him supremely wise, yet he prayed for what his Father judged to be expedient. How much more ought we ignorant men to surrender our wills to God’s omniscience!

We may also tell ourselves that we too were in our Lord’s mind as he prayed. In time of temptation our minds become confused and our imagination runs riot. By persevering in prayer Jesus was showing us how much we ourselves need to pray if we are to escape the wiles and snares of the devil. It is only by constant prayer that we gain control of our distracted thoughts.

Finally, there is our Lord’s desire to strengthen all who are afraid of death. By letting them see that he himself had expe­rienced fear he would show them that fear does not necessarily lead to sin, provided one continues to resist it. This is the force of our Lord’s concluding prayer: Not my will, Father, but yours be done. He is saying: ‘Yes, Father, I am ready to die in order to bring life to many.’” Source: St Ephrem of Syria, Diatessaron 20.3-4, 6-7 (CSCO 145:201-204); Word in Season II, 2nd ed.

Plumb the depths of your heart and from that Holy of Holies, watch and pray by the power of the Holy Spirit…

Fr. Thomas