Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Seventh Prayer, Of St. Symeon the New Theologian

From lips tainted and defiled,
From a heart unclean and loathsome,
From a tongue befouled and filthy,
From a soul bestained and soiled,

O my Christ, receive my pleading
Yea, disdain me not, nor shun me,
Nor my words, nor yet my manner,
Nor my shamelessness and boldness.

But with freedom let me tell Thee,
O my Christ, what I desire;
Rather, do Thou now instruct me
What I need to do and utter.

I have sinned more than the harlot
Who, on learning of Thy lodging,
Went and purchased myrrh most precious,
And with boldness she approached Thee,
To anoint Thy feet and lave them,
O my Christ, my God and Master.

Even as Thou didst not shun her
When she came with heartfelt fervor,
Thus, O Word, do not disdain me.

Nay, but rather do Thou grant me
To embrace Thy feet and kiss them,
And with streams of tears to wash them,
As with precious myrrh most costly,
With great boldness to anoint them.

Wash me with my tears, and thereby
Cleanse me, Word of God, and lave me.

Grant remission of my failings,
And bestow on me forgiveness.

All mine evil deeds Thou knowest,
And my wounds Thou knowest also,
And my bruises Thou beholdest.

But my faith Thou knowest likewise,
And mine eagerness Thou seest,
And my groans Thou hearest also.

There doth not escape Thy notice
Even one tear, O Redeemer,
Nor a fraction of a teardrop,
O my Lord God and Creator.

Yea, Thine eyes did see my being
While as yet it was unfashioned.

In Thy Book all thoughts and actions,
Even those not yet enacted,
Are inscribed for Thee already.

See my lowliness and toil!
Lo, the greatness of my suffering!
And, O God of all, forgive me
All the sins I have committed.

So that with a cleansed and pure heart,
And a mind with fear atremble,
And a soul contrite and lowly,
I may draw nigh to partake of
Thine all-pure and spotless Myst'ries,
Whereby all who eat and drink Thee
With a heart sincere and guileless
Are both deified and quickened.

For Thou sayest, O my Master:
He that eateth of my Flesh and
That doth drink of My Blood also
Doth abide in Me most truly,
And in him am I found also.

Wholly true is this word spoken
By my Lord and God and Master;
For whoever doth partake of
These divine and hallowed graces
Which impart deification
Is alone, in truth, no longer,
But is with Thee, Christ, Thou True Light
Of the Hallowed, Triple Daystar,
Which illumineth the whole world.

Lest, then, I remain alone now
And apart from Thee, Lifegiver,
O my Breath, my Life, my Gladness,
The entire world's Salvation,
For this cause do I approach Thee
With a soul contrite and tearful.

O Thou Ransom of my failing,
I entreat Thee to receive me,
So that I may now partake of
Thy life-giving, blameless Myst'ries,
And not suffer condemnation; That as Thou didst say, Thou mightest
Dwell with me, who am thrice-wretched;
Lest that foul deceiver find me
All bereft of Thy divine grace,
And most guilefully seduce me,
And with scheming cunning lure me
From Thy words which make me Godlike.

Wherefore, I fall down before Thee,
And cry out to Thee with fervor:
As Thou didst receive and welcome
Both the prodigal and harlot
Who drew nigh to Thee, so likewise,
O Most Merciful, receive me,
The great profligate and sinner,
The most prodigal and vile one,
As I dare now to approach Thee
With a soul contrite and humbled.

Savior, well I know that no one
Hath sinned as have I against Thee,
Nor hath wrought the deeds which I have.

Yet again, I know this also:
Neither greatness of transgressions,
Nor enormity in sinning,
Can surpass my God and Savior's
Great long-suffering and mercy
And exceeding love for mankind.

For with the oil of compassion
Thou dost cleanse and render shining
All those who repent with fervor;
And Thou makest them partakers
Of Thy light in all abundance,
And true sharers of thy Godhood.

And--O marvel for the Angels
And for human understanding!--
Thou hast converse with them often
As with friends most true and trusted.

These things now do give me daring,
These things give me wings, O Christ God;
Trusting, then, in the abundance
Of Thy benefactions toward us,
With rejoicing, yet with trembling,
I partake now of the Fire.

Though but grass--O awesome wonder!--
Yet bedewed am I past telling,
Like that bush of old on Sinai
Which was unconsumed, though burning.

[Therefore], with a mind most thankful,
And a heart most thankful also,
Thankful also in the members
Of my soul and of my body,
I adore and magnify Thee,
O my God, and glorify Thee,
As One verily most blessed,
Now and ever, to all ages.

(Taken from The Service of Preparation for Holy Communion, transl. by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston, Mass., 2006)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Between Two Comings

"Thou hast smitten me with yearning, O Christ, and by Thy divine love hast Thou changed me. But with Thine immaterial fire, consume my sins and count me worthy to be filled with delight in Thee, that leaping for joy, O Good One, I may magnify Thy two comings."

(A hymn before communion)

Doors open for us today. Through those doors come cups, vessels which give contour to the Blood of God, which carry the Bread of Life. On one side of that portal is an image of She whose "Yes" untied the ancient "No" of Eve, and the "Ear of Wheat which knew no husbandry" which came out of the good land of her sealed, silent soul and chaste body.

On the other we see the glory of the one God and Father, shining in a human face, coming with the eastern clouds, armed both with an imminent blessing for the refinement of His Creation and a New Law which will pierce all hearts, at last lancing the long-festering hatreds within.

(Lord, have mercy)

We who stand between these two images see them not as on a timeline but as arching up together into timelessness with us, for they are happy reflections (chronology be damned) which converge at the Crisis which lifts us up, as well, and upon which He was lifted up. It is in that split Body and spilt Blood that we know Him; the One who came is the Coming One.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Eastern Errancy...from a Western Mind (A Retraction of Sorts)

The past few weeks have been momentous, to be sure; we've sold a house, driven cross-country, and begun life as a seminarian family, all in less than a month. During that time, however, I have been thinking intermittently about a post on biblical innerancy which generated quite a bit of (sometimes snarky) commentary, as well as a spinoff of sorts between two of the commentators in the form of a formal debate which I greatly look forward to reading (opening statements HERE and HERE).

This post, however, is concerning the former link to my own writing and is a retraction, to a degree, of what is written there. This retraction will, no doubt, not be to a sufficient degree for some, but will serve, hopefully, as a means of expressing my own hastiness in formulating my initial thoughts.

One of the most common ways in which people tend to highlight Scriptural difficulties is through chronological inconsistencies. My initial take was to assign said differences to the realm of theological emphasis -- for example, I would have said (and have) that John's placing of Christ's cleansing of the temple at the beginning of His ministry is more to make a theological point, while the synoptic gospels' report of the cleansing directly before the Passion was meant to reflect the more chronological view. The idea, presented by conservative Evangelicals mostly, that there were two Temple Cleansings -- one at the beginning of Christ's ministry and one at the end -- was, in my opinion, laughable, for of course there was only one. This presupposition led to my viewing the harmonization accounts as stretching reports of an event to absurd degrees.

Likewise, the chronology of Christ's being called "The Lamb of God" in John and His baptism in the synoptics are followed by very different events; my initial response was to conclude that such a discrepancy was chronologically incompatible but theologically justifiable (which is still the more important factor, in my opinion).

I was quite surprised, then, to find that men such as St. John Chrysostom and the Bl. Theophylact both insisted that our Lord did, in fact, cleanse the Jewish Temple twice, and thought such a position was in no way unreasonable. This gave me pause, for my initial question would be how the Jewish leaders would have ever stood for such an outrage twice, for, indeed, they killed Him after one instance. Yet, as one of my professors is known to point out quite frequently, our liturgy has a sort of pedagogical correction which serves as a key to our confession of Who Christ is: Christ was not "given up" on the night of His Passion; "rather [He] gave Himself up for the life of the world." No man takes His life from Him; His is the ability to pass through the midst of those who would throw Him headlong off a cliff for a claim to have come before their father Abraham. Likewise, if He had been directed by the Father to cleanse the Temple daily, it would not have been in the least bit difficult for Him. Likewise, a closer reading of the gospels cleared up the baptism chronology with a possible harmonization.

These two giants, then, confirmed what I had neglected to do: give the Scripture the benefit of the doubt and seek to find a harmonization when such was possible (as in the above cases).

I do not contend that one need to go to the degree of Tatian's Diatessaron, a second-Century work in which all four gospels were harmonized into one volume, wherein differently-worded parts of the gospels were distilled into one, dogmatic "version" of what happened. One might cement into Holy Writ (as was the case with the Diatessaron in some syriac-speaking sections of Christendom) the idea that the sign on Christ's Cross said, "This is Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews" when what we can have, at the most, is an educated guess, based on incomplete information from the authors' selective reporting. Likewise, undue harmonization of the accounts will lead to a twisting of St. John's gospel at the time of Christ's death, wherein Tatian states that
"when Jesus had taken that vinegar, he said, Everything is finished. 5 But the rest said, Let be, that we may see whether Elijah comes to save him. 6, 7 (Luke 23:46a) And Jesus said, My Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and said, My Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. (John 19:30b) He said that [i.e., the quote from Luke], and bowed his head, and gave up his spirit" (emph and ed. mine)
while St. John stated that Christ simply "said, 'It is finished!' And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit." While I am not opposed to the use of the biblical texts to form plausible harmonizations (even if such harmonizations might seem at first unlikely), the forcing of one "final" phrase into the midst of a second "final" phrase is uncalled for and violence against the Scripture. While I would maintain, in the spirit of my former post, that this information is insufficent to state definitively what was the final word of Christ from the Cross (as Matthew and Mark themselves confess only to having heard "a loud cry," while John and Luke only report one statement each, and a different one at that), I would not call this a contradiction, but neither can it be said to be clear. I would still say that this needs to be admitted for one to hold to a reasonable view of the Scriptures, and an admittance of this nature does not diminish the divinity of the Scriptures; it merely highlights the limited knowledge inherent in their authors' humanity. Those hearing the Voice at Christ's baptism weren't sure what they heard; we may never know, then, if the Voice was speaking to His Son or merely about Him to others. Again, the lack of clarity is there, but immaterial to inspiration.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

«Sigue, sigue...»

From the writings of the Blessed Elder, IERONYMOS of Aegina +1966
On our need to be watchful against both the
idle and demonic thoughts which assail us

"Be heedful of your thoughts. Oppose them. They do not easily leave a person. They come over and over again, and war against him. But you, strive to chase them away. There comes an evil thought, and it tells you to do something. You counter saying, 'No, I will not do it.' The thought insists: you also insist. See to it that you have strength to chase it away. If you don't do what the thought tells you, it's not a sin. Sin is the act, not the assault of the thought."

(H/T to Fr. John Mikita of St. John of Damascus Church in Tyler, TX)

Last night, after evening prayers, my daughters and I went into their bedroom for lights out. Customary song sung and night light lit, we were ready for sleep. Hope, however, didn't want to be by herself up on the top bunk.

"Well," I said in Spanish, "do you want to sleep with the icon of St. Elizabeth or your guardian angel?"

"I want the Cross, but it's broken," she replied, referring to the ceramic cross which, indeed, had hung above them before falling off the wall recently and splitting in two. Then she added, "And I stepped on it. I just keep thinking of stepping on the Cross. The thought comes in my head. And it comes and comes and comes, all day and all night and it never goes away."

"Ohhhhh," I replied. "You know, I have thoughts like that, too, that don't leave me alone. You know what I do?"


"I pray the Jesus Prayer looooots of times. And the thought doesn't go away right away, but as long as you keep asking Jesus for help, He'll chase the thought away. Then, if it comes back, just keep going, keep going («sigue, sigue») until they leave again. They don't like Jesus."

"OK, but I'm gonna do it in English."

"Well, that's fine, mami."

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

With the Feastday

Translation of hymn (Slavonic/Bulgarian):

We magnify you, O most holy Virgin /
And we honor your holy parents /
And we glorify /
Your all-glorious nativity. (Megalinarion of the Feast, Slavonic)

Remember, Lord, King David /
and all his sadness, Hallelujah /
how he swore to the LORD /
'I will not give sleep to mine eyes /
till I find a place for the Lord.' Hallelujah." (Ps. 131, Bulgarian)

Monday, September 07, 2009

“Sometimes the best way to kill a tradition is to follow the externals without truly understanding the contents. Living tradition involves that kind of change and adaptability which preserves its continuous relevance; otherwise the Church becomes a museum of pomposity and ritualism, quite acceptable in the framework of a pluralistic and basically superficial society but actually unfaithful to Orthodoxy itself. Thus, in order to be practically helpful, our historical research should seek out the meaning and purpose of the Byzantine liturgical tradition, discover its permanent theological dimension and provide for a pattern off discernment between what is truly essential and what is historically relative.” John Meyendorff, “The Liturgy: A Lead to the Mind of Byzantium” in The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church

I know, I know..."Well...he's definitely in seminary..."

Friday, September 04, 2009

St. Elizabeth

Tonight at Vespers, and then later around the dinner table, we sang the hymns of the Church commemorating Ss. Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of the Forerunner. My elder daughter, who has the name Elizabeth spoken over her as she approaches the Chalice, was excited tonight; we'll have to plan a little trip or pick her up a little something for the day (not surprisingly, this was not planned out beforehand, given the hectic days as of late).

We read from the girls' Children's Bible Reader tonight of the Visitation and the birth of John the Baptist; Hope took it very seriously that 'twas her saint that first uttered the hymn of "Rejoice!"; she went to the prayer corner determined tonight to sing with four-year old gusto the hymn of her matron. May she know the One who dwelt in the womb of Mary, as well.
"Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.'”
Blessed Feastday to all those who have St. Elizabeth as their heavenly matron.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

New Year

Tonight at Vespers we welcomed the new Church year, which for us begins on Sept. 1st. May God grant us all many more blessed years in His Vineyard. I thought it fortunate that these hymns coincided with the end of the first day of classes here at St. Vlad's:

O timeless Word and Son without beginning,
united with the Holy Spirit,
Co-maker of all and Co-creator of all things visible and invisible:
bless the beginning of this year;
bring peace to Your Orthodox people,//
through the prayers of the Theotokos and all the saints!

Christ our God, Who in wisdom fashioned all things,
and out of nothing brought them into being,
bless the crown of the year, and preserve our city unharmed;
and make our faithful glad by Your power,
granting them victories over their adversaries,//
through the Theotokos bestowing upon the world great mercy!

O pre-eternal Word of the Father,
Who in wisdom fashioned all things,
and established the whole creation by Your all-powerful word,
bless the crown of the year with Your goodness,
and overthrow heresies, through the Theotokos,//
for You are good and the Lover of mankind!

You, O King, Who remain forever and are everlasting unto the ages,
accept the supplication of sinners asking salvation,
and grant abundance to Your earth, bestowing temperate weather, O
Lover of mankind!
Be the ally of the faithful Orthodox in battles against the ungodly
as once you were to David;
for they have come into Your tabernacles and defiled Your all-holy place,
O Savior!
Grant victories, O Christ God, by the intercession of the Theotokos,//
for You are the victory and boast of the Orthodox!

O Creator of the Universe,
You appointed times by Your own power;
bless the crown of this year with Your goodness, O Lord!
Preserve in safety Your rulers and Your cities://
and through the intercessions of the Theotokos, save us!