Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Lord Comes to His Voluntary Passion

From the Praises:  The assembly of the Jews gathers together to deliver to Pilate the Maker and Creator of all.  What lawlessness!   What faithlessness!  The Judge of the living and the dead they prepare for judgment.  The Healer of suffering they prepare for sufferings. How great is Your mercy!  O long-suffering Lord, glory to You!

The transgressor Judas, O Lord, dipped his hand in the plate with You at supper.  But now, he unlawfully stretches forth his hand for silver.  He calculated the price of the woman’s myrrh, yet he does not shudder in selling You, the priceless One.  He let the Master wash his feet, yet he deceitfully kisses Him in betrayal to lawless men.  Cast out from the ranks of the Apostles, he casts away the thirty pieces of silver, not seeing the Resurrection on the third day.  By it, have mercy on us!

Judas, the treacherous deceiver, with a deceitful kiss betrayed the Lord and Savior.  He sold the Master as a slave to lawless men, and the Lamb of God, the Son of the Father, the only greatly merciful One, was led as a sheep to the slaughter.

Servant and deceiver, disciple and betrayer, friend and devil, Judas has been revealed by his deeds.  While following the Master, he plotted His betrayal.  He said to himself: “I shall betray him and gain the purse.”  He sought to have the myrrh sold and, by deceit, to have Jesus seized.
He gave the kiss and gave up the Christ.  But, like a sheep, led to the slaughter, so went the only compassionate Lover of mankind.

The Lamb, Whom Isaiah proclaimed, goes willingly to the slaughter; He gives his back to scourging, His cheeks to buffeting. He does not turn His face from the shame of spitting. He is condemned to a shameful death. He, Who is sinless, willingly submits to all to grant to all resurrection from the dead.


Great and Holy Wednesday: Judas betrays the Master

Venerable and God-bearing Father Theodore the Studite: CATECHESIS 72

On the saving Passion; and teaching on humility and patient endurance. Given on the Wednesday of Holy Week-Holy Father Theodore the Studite

Brethren and Fathers, the present day is holy and to be venerated, for from this day the Lord begins to take on himself the sufferings of the Cross for our sake, in accordance with David’s words: Why did the nations rage and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth rose up and the rulers assembled together against the Lord and against his Christ [Psalm 2:1-2]. They assembled together to plot an evil plan against the Master.

The deceitful Judas denied him utterly and betrays the teacher with a deceitful kiss. The Lord of all things is led away prisoner, stands before the judgement seat, is interrogated and answers; and when he answers—O fearful report!—he is struck by a slave and bears it with longsuffering, saying: If I have spoken evil, give testimony to the evil; but if well, why do you strike me? [John 18:23]

Then he is scoffed at, mocked, jeered at, ridiculed, spat at, buffeted, scourged. He ascends the Cross, and when he has ascended he prays for his murderers: Father, forgive them their sin, for they do not know what they do [Luke 23:33]. Then he is given gall with vinegar to drink, he is pierced by a lance, the immortal is put to death.

These in brief are the Master's sufferings, and one who hears them with understanding is not angry, or embittered, or enraged, or puffed up, or arrogant towards his brother; is not envious, or filled with vainglory. Rather he is humbled, crushed, considers himself to be earth and ashes, desires communion in Christ's sufferings, to is eager to be conformed to his death, so that he may have a part in the glory of his resurrection.

But you too take courage, because you have shared and are sharing in the Master's sufferings. For you see where you are. Is it not for the sake of his word and his testimony that you are in exile and persecution? [These Catecheses were given when St Theodore and his monks were in exile from Constantinople in the reign of Michael II (820-829).] Have you not previously experienced prison? Have you not shed your blood under tortures? Have not some of our brothers died a martyr's death? Such then is our boast in the Lord, such our gift.

But since until the end beatitude is not assured because of the ease of reversal and the impossibility of knowing what the morrow will bring to birth, stand your ground unflinching and unmoving in the Lord striving side by side with one spirit and one soul for the faith of the Gospel, in no way intimidated by your opponents [Phil. 1:27-6], not giving offence in anything, but in everything recommending ourselves as God's ministers [2 Cor. 6:3-4], by obedience, humility, meekness, longsuffering, great endurance. For you need endurance in order to do God's will and obtain the promise. For in a little while he who is coming will come and not delay [Heb 10:36-37].

But if he will come and not delay, why do we hate being in afflictions and do not rather choose to die each day for the Master? For it is written: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are unfaithful, he remains faithful; he cannot disown himself [1 Tim. 2:11-13]. How great joy the saints will have when they see the Lord coming from heaven with the angels of his power [2 Thess. 1:7], inviting them with inexpressible joy, crowning them and becoming their companion for ever and ever? What anguish will they have who have disobeyed the Gospel and transgressed his commandments? They will suffer the penalty, as it is written, of eternal destruction, cut off from his presence and from the glory of his strength, when he comes to be glorified in his saints and marvelled at among all who have believed [2 Thess. 1:9-10].

And so, brethren, as we contemplate and think on these things, again and again let us purify ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God [2 Cor, 7:1], zealous for what is better, striving for what is more perfect, hating what is evil, holding fast to what is good, loving one another with brotherly affection, outdoing one another in showing honour, not lagging in zeal, being ardent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, patient in affliction, persevering in prayer [Rom. 12:9-12], that by such sincerity we may worthily celebrate the imminent Pascha, and be counted worthy to enjoy the eternal blessings in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Great and Holy Wednesday: Why trouble ye the woman?

 Troparion of the Bridegroom: Behold! The bridegroom approaches in the middle of the night, And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching; But unworthy he whom He shall find careless. Beware, therefore, O my soul. Be not overcome with sleep, lest thou be given over to death and shut outside the kingdom. But arise and cry:  Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God! Through the prayers of the Theotokos have mercy on us!

Kontakion, Tone 4:  Though I have transgressed, O Good One, more than the harlot, I have never offered Thee a flood of tears, but, praying in silence, I fall down before Thee, with love embracing Thy most pure feet, that Thou as Master mayest grant me remission of sins.
And I cry to Thee, O Saviour: Deliver me from the defilement of my evil deeds.

St. John Chrysostom: Matthew 26:6-7, Homily 80, part I

"Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came unto Him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on His head, as He sat at meat."

This woman seems indeed to be one and the same with all the evangelists, yet she is not so; but though with the three she does seem to me to be one and the same, yet not so with John, but another person, one much to be admired, the sister of Lazarus.

But not without purpose did the evangelist mention the leprosy of Simon, but in order that He might show whence the woman took confidence, and came unto Him. For inasmuch as the leprosy seemed a most unclean disease, and to be abhorred, and yet she saw Jesus had both healed the man (for else He would not have chosen to have tarried with a leper), and had gone into his house; she grew confident, that He would also easily wipe off the uncleanness of her soul. And not for nought does He name the city also, Bethany, but that you might learn, that of His own will He comes to His passion. For He who before this was fleeing through the midst of them; then, at the time when their envy was most kindled, comes near within about fifteen furlongs; so completely was His former withdrawing Himself a part of a dispensation.

The woman therefore having seen Him, and having taken confidence from thence came unto Him. For if she that had the issue of blood, although conscious to herself of nothing like this, yet because of thatnatural seeming uncleanness, approached Him trembling and in fear; much more was it likely this woman should be slow, and shrink back because of her evil conscience. Wherefore also it is after many women, the Samaritan, the Canaanite, her that had the issue of blood, and other besides, that she comes unto Him, being conscious to herself of much impurity; and then not publicly but in a house. And whereas all the others were coming unto Him for the healing of the body alone, she came unto Him by way of honor only, and for the amendment of the soul. For neither was she at all afflicted in body, so that for this most especially one might marvel at her.

And not as to a mere man did she come unto Him; for then she would not have wiped His feet with her hair, but as to one greater than man can be. Therefore that which is the most honorable member of the whole body, this she laid at Christ's feet, even her own head.

"But when His disciples saw it, they had indignation," such are the words, "saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. But when Jesus understood it, He said, Why trouble ye the woman? For she has wrought a good work upon me? For you have the poor always with you, but me you have not always. For in that she has poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman has done, be told for a memorial of her."

And whence had they this thought? They used to hear their Master saying, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice," and blaming the Jews, because they omitted the weightier matters, judgment, and mercy, and faith, and discoursing much on the mount concerning almsgiving, and from these things they inferred with themselves, and reasoned, that if He accepts not whole burnt offerings, neither the ancient worship, much more will He not accept the anointing of oil.

But though they thus thought, He knowing her intention suffers her. For indeed great was her reverence, and unspeakable her zeal; wherefore of this exceeding condescension, He permitted the oil to be poured even on His head.

For if He refused not to become man, and to be borne in the womb, and to be fed at the breast, why do you marvel, if He does not utterly reject this? For like as the Father suffered a savor of meat, and smoke, even so did He the harlot, accepting, as I have already said, herintention. For Jacob too anointed a pillar to God, and oil was offered in the sacrifices, and the priests were anointed with ointment.

But the disciples not knowing her purpose found fault unseasonably, and by the things they laid to her charge, they show the woman's munificence. For saying, that it might have been sold for three hundred pence, they showed how much this woman had spent on the ointment, and how great generosity she had manifested. Wherefore He also rebuked them, saying, "Why trouble ye the woman?" And He adds a reason, as it was His will again to put them in mind of His passion, "For she did it," He said, "for my burial." And another reason. "For you have the poor always with you, but me you have not always;" and, "Wheresoever the gospel shall be preached, that shall be told also which this woman has done."

Do you see how again He declares beforehand the going forth unto the Gentiles, in this way also consoling them for His death, if after the cross His power was so to shine forth, that the gospel should be spread abroad in every part of the earth.

Who then is so wretched as to set his face against so much truth? For lo! What He said has come to pass, and to whatever part of the earth you may go, you will see her celebrated.

And yet neither was the person that did it distinguished, nor had what was done many witnesses, neither was it in a theatre, but in a house, that it took place, and this a house of some leper, the disciples only being present.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Standing Firm

Pardon me for interrupting the flow of Holy Week with an interjection of the banality of evil of any kind, including the evil of the easy lie,  soft and sibilant or brassy and clanging. 

The kind of yellow journalism currently in play concerning the Vatican and Pope Benedict and the sexual perversity and excess of some of our priests in the Catholic Church needs to be corrected. 

I am a survivor of sexual abuse, so I know that truth is far more important than pay-back when it comes to genuine and lasting healing.  Somebody needs to clue the press that they may be doing more harm than good to those they are pretending to serve.  Original article source at link below:

Setting the record straight in the case of abusive Milwaukee priest Father Lawrence Murphy

Then-presiding judge for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee gives first-person account of church trial



To provide context to this article, I was the Judicial Vicar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 1995-2003. During those years, I presided over four canonical criminal cases, one of which involved Father Lawrence Murphy. Two of the four men died during the process. God alone will judge these men.

To put some parameters on the following remarks, I am writing this article with the express knowledge and consent of Archbishop Roger Schwietz, OMI, of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, where I currently serve. Archbishop Schwietz is also the publisher of the Catholic Anchor newspaper.

I will limit my comments, because of judicial oaths I have taken as a canon lawyer and as an ecclesiastical judge. However, since my name and comments in the matter of the Father Murphy case have been liberally and often inaccurately quoted in the New York Times and in more than 100 other newspapers and on-line periodicals, I feel a freedom to tell part of the story of Father Murphy’s trial from ground zero.

As I have found that the reporting on this issue has been inaccurate and poor in terms of the facts, I am also writing from a sense of duty to the truth.

 The fact that I presided over this trial and have never once been contacted by any news organization for comment speaks for itself.

My intent in writing this column is to accomplish the following:

To tell the back-story of what actually happened in the Father Murphy case on the local level;

To outline the sloppy and inaccurate reporting on the Father Murphy case by the New York Times and other media outlets;

To assert that Pope Benedict XVI has done more than any other pope or bishop in history to rid the Catholic Church of the scourge of child sexual abuse and provide for those who have been injured;

To set the record straight with regards to the efforts made by the church to heal the wounds caused by clergy sexual misconduct. The Catholic Church is probably the safest place for children at this point in history.

Before proceeding, it is important to point out the scourge that child sexual abuse has been — not only for the church but for society as well. Few actions can distort a child’s life more than sexual abuse. It is a form of emotional and spiritual homicide and it starts a trajectory toward a skewed sense of sexuality. When committed by a person in authority, it creates a distrust of almost anyone, anywhere.

As a volunteer prison chaplain in Alaska, I have found a corollary between those who have been incarcerated for child sexual abuse and the priests who have committed such grievous actions. They tend to be very smart and manipulative. They tend to be well liked and charming. They tend to have one aim in life — to satisfy their hunger. Most are highly narcissistic and do not see the harm that they have caused. They view the children they have abused not as people but as objects. They rarely show remorse and moreover, sometimes portray themselves as the victims. They are, in short, dangerous people and should never be trusted again. Most will recommit their crimes if given a chance.

As for the numerous reports about the case of Father Murphy, the back-story has not been reported as of yet.

In 1996, I was introduced to the story of Father Murphy, formerly the principal of St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. It had been common knowledge for decades that during Father Murphy’s tenure at the school (1950-1974) there had been a scandal at St. John’s involving him and some deaf children. The details, however, were sketchy at best.

Courageous advocacy on behalf of the victims (and often their wives), led the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to revisit the matter in 1996. In internal discussions of the curia for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, it became obvious that we needed to take strong and swift action with regard to the wrongs of several decades ago. With the consent of then-Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, we began an investigation into the allegations of child sexual abuse as well as the violation of the crime of solicitation within the confessional by Father Murphy.

We proceeded to start a trial against Father Murphy. I was the presiding judge in this matter and informed Father Murphy that criminal charges were going to be levied against him with regard to child sexual abuse and solicitation in the confessional.

In my interactions with Father Murphy, I got the impression I was dealing with a man who simply did not get it. He was defensive and threatening.

Between 1996 and August, 1998, I interviewed, with the help of a qualified interpreter, about a dozen victims of Father Murphy. These were gut-wrenching interviews. In one instance the victim had become a perpetrator himself and had served time in prison for his crimes. I realized that this disease is virulent and was easily transmitted to others. I heard stories of distorted lives, sexualities diminished or expunged. These were the darkest days of my own priesthood, having been ordained less than 10 years at the time. Grace-filled spiritual direction has been a Godsend.

I also met with a community board of deaf Catholics. They insisted that Father Murphy should be removed from the priesthood and highly important to them was their request that he be buried not as a priest but as a layperson. I indicated that a judge, I could not guarantee the first request and could only make a recommendation to the latter request.

In the summer of 1998, I ordered Father Murphy to be present at a deposition at the chancery in Milwaukee. I received, soon after, a letter from his doctor that he was in frail health and could travel not more than 20 miles (Boulder Junction to Milwaukee would be about 276 miles). A week later, Father Murphy died of natural causes in a location about 100 miles from his home

With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In an October 31, 1997 handwritten document, I am quoted as saying ‘odds are that this situation may very well be the most horrendous, number wise, and especially because these are physically challenged , vulnerable people. “ Also quoted is this: “Children were approached within the confessional where the question of circumcision began the solicitation.”

The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them. As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.

Additionally, in the documentation in a letter from Archbishop Weakland to then-secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone on August 19, 1998, Archbishop Weakland stated that he had instructed me to abate the proceedings against Father Murphy. Father Murphy, however, died two days later and the fact is that on the day that Father Murphy died, he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial. No one seems to be aware of this. Had I been asked to abate this trial, I most certainly would have insisted that an appeal be made to the supreme court of the church, or Pope John Paul II if necessary. That process would have taken months if not longer.

Second, with regard to the role of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in this matter, I have no reason to believe that he was involved at all. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information.

Third, the competency to hear cases of sexual abuse of minors shifted from the Roman Rota to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith headed by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001. Until that time, most appeal cases went to the Rota and it was our experience that cases could languish for years in this court. When the competency was changed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in my observation as well as many of my canonical colleagues, sexual abuse cases were handled expeditiously, fairly, and with due regard to the rights of all the parties involved. I have no doubt that this was the work of then Cardinal Ratzinger.

Fourth, Pope Benedict has repeatedly apologized for the shame of the sexual abuse of children in various venues and to a worldwide audience. This has never happened before. He has met with victims. He has reigned in entire conferences of bishops on this matter, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland being the most recent. He has been most reactive and proactive of any international church official in history with regard to the scourge of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Instead of blaming him for inaction on these matters, he has truly been a strong and effective leader on these issues.

Finally, over the last 25 years, vigorous action has taken place within the church to avoid harm to children. Potential seminarians receive extensive sexual-psychological evaluation prior to admission. Virtually all seminaries concentrate their efforts on the safe environment for children. There have been very few cases of recent sexual abuse of children by clergy during the last decade or more.

Catholic dioceses all across the country have taken extraordinary steps to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. As one example, which is by no means unique, is in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, where I currently work. Here, virtually every public bathroom in parishes has a sign asking if a person has been abuse by anyone in the church. A phone number is given to report the abuse and almost all church workers in the archdiocese are required to take yearly formation sessions in safe environment classes. I am not sure what more the church can do.

To conclude, the events during the 1960’s and 1970’s of the sexual abuse of minors and solicitation in the confessional by Father Lawrence Murphy are unmitigated and gruesome crimes. On behalf of the church, I am deeply sorry and ashamed for the wrongs that have been done by my brother priests but realize my sorrow is probably of little importance 40 years after the fact. The only thing that we can do at this time is to learn the truth, beg for forgiveness, and do whatever is humanly possible to heal the wounds. The rest, I am grateful, is in God’s hands.

Father Thomas T. Brundage, JCL

Editor’s note: Father Brundage can be contacted at or by phone at (907) 745-3229 X 11.
March 29th, 2010 | Category: Church History, Priests

Parable of the Ten Virgins

Commentary by St. John Chryostom

These parables are like the former parable of the faithful servant, and of him that was ungrateful and devoured his Lord's goods. For there are four in all, in different ways admonishing us about the same things, I mean about diligence in almsgiving, and about helping our neighbor by all means which we are able to use, since it is not possible to be saved in another way. But there He speaks more generally of all assistance which should he rendered to one's neighbor; but as to the virgins, he speaketh particularly of mercifulness in alms, and more strongly than in the former parable. For there He punishes him that beats, and is drunken, and scatters and wastes his lord's goods, but here even him that doth not help, nor spends abundantly his goods upon the needy. For they had oil indeed, but not in abundance, wherefore also they are punished.

But wherefore doth He set forth this parable in the person of the virgins, and doth not merely suppose any person whatever? Great things had He spoken of virginity, saying, "There are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of Heaven's sake;" and, "He that is able to receive, let him receive it."He knew also that the generality of men would have a great opinion of it. For indeed the work is by nature great, and is shown so by this, that neither under the old dispensation was it fulfilled by these ancient and holy men, nor under the new was it brought under the compulsion of the law. For He did not command this, but left it to the choice of his hearers.

Wherefore Paul also said "Now, concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord." "For though I praise him that attains thereto, yet I constrain not him that is not willing, neither do I make the thing an injunction." Since then the thing is both great in itself and hath great honor with the multitude, lest any one attaining to this should feel as though he had attained to all, and should be careless about the rest, He putteth forth this parable sufficient to persuade them, that virginity, though it should have everything else, if destitute of the good things arising out of almsgiving, is cast out with the harlots, and He sets the inhuman and merciless with them.

And most reasonably, for the one was overcome by the love of carnal pleasure, but theseof money. But the Jove of carnal pleasure and of money are not equal, but that of carnal pleasure is far keener and more tyrannical. And the weaker the antagonist, the less excusable are thesethat are overcome thereby. Therefore also He calls them foolish, for that having undergone the greater labor, they have betrayed all for want of the less. But by lamps here, He meaneth the gift itself of virginity, the purity of holiness; and by oil, humanity, almsgiving, succor to them that are in need.

"Then, while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept." He shows that the time intervening will not be short, leading His disciples away from the expectation that His kingdom was quite immediately to appear. For this indeed they hoped, therefore He is continually holding them back from this hope. And at the same time He intimates this too, that death is a sleep. For they slept, He saith.

"And about midnight there was a cry made." Either He was continuing the parable, or again He shows that the resurrection will be at night. But the cry Paul also indicates, saying, "With a shout, with a voice of an archangel, with the last trump, He shall come down from Heaven."And what mean the trumpets, and what saith the cry? "The bridegroom cometh." When therefore they had trimmed their lamps, the foolish say unto the wise, "Give us of your oil."

Again He calls them foolish, showing that nothing can be more foolish than they who are wealthy here, and depart naked thither, where most of all we have need of humanity, where we want much oil. But not in this respect only were they foolish, but also because they looked to receive it there, and sought it out of season; and yet nothing could be more humane than those virgins, who for this especially were approved.

Neither do they seek for it all, for, "Give us," they say, "of your oil;" and the urgency of their need is indicated; "for our lamps," they say, "are going out." But even so they failed, and neither the humanity of those whom they asked, nor the easiness of their request, nor their necessity and want, made them obtain.

But what now do we learn from hence? That no man can protect us there, if we are betrayed by our works, not because he will not, but because he cannot. For these too take refuge in the impossibility. This the blessed Abraham also indicated, saying, "Between us and you there is a great gulf,"so that not even when willing is it permitted them to pass it.

"But go to them that sell, and buy." And who are they that sell? The poor. And where are these? Here, and then should they have sought them, not at that time.

Seest thou what great profit arises to us from the poor? shouldest thou take them away, thou wouldest take away the great hope of our salvation. Wherefore here must we get together the oil, that it may be useful to us there, when the time calls us. For that is not the time of collecting it, but this. Spend not then your goods for nought in luxury and vainglory. For thou wilt have need of much oil there.

Having heard these things, those virgins went their way; but they profiled nothing. And this He saith, either pursuing the parable, and working it up; or also by these things showing, that though we should become humane after our departure, we shall gain nothing from thence towards our escape.

Therefore neither did their forwardness avail these virgins, because they went to them that sell not here, but there; nor the rich man, when he became so charitable, as even to be anxious about his relations. For he that was passing by him that was laid at the gate, is eager to rescue from perils and from hell them whom he did not so much as see, and entreats that some be sent to tell them these things. But nevertheless, he derived no benefit from thence, as neither did these virgins. For when they having heard these things went their way, the bridegroom came, and they that were ready went in with Him, but the others were shut out. After their many labors, after their innumerable toils, and that intolerable fight, and those trophies which they had set up over the madness of natural appetite, disgraced, and with their lamps gone out, they withdrew, bending down their faces to the earth. For nothing is more sullied than virginity not having mercy; so that even the multitude are wont to call the unmerciful dark.

Where then was the profit of virginity, when they saw not the bridegroom? and not even when they had knocked did they obtain, but they heard that fearful saying, "Depart, I know you not."And when He hath said this, nothing else but hell is left, and that intolerable punishment; or rather, this word is more grievous even than hell. This word He speaks to them also that work iniquity?

"Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour." Seest thou how continually He adds this, showing how awful our ignorance concerning our departure hence? Where now are they, who throughout all their life are remiss, but when they are blamed by us, are saying, At the time of my death, I shall leave money to the poor. Let them listen to these words, and be amended. For indeed at that time many have failed of this, having been snatched away at once, and not permitted so much as to give charge to their relations touching what they wished to be done.

This parable was spoken with respect to mercy in alms; but the one that comes after this, to them that neither in money, nor in word, nor in protection, nor in any other things whatever, are willing to assist their neighbors, but withhold all.

And wherefore can it be that this parable brings forward a king, but that a bridegroom? That thou mightest learn how close Christ is joined unto the virgins that strip themselves of their possessions; for this indeed is virginity. Wherefore Paul also makes this as a definition of the thing. "The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord;"such are his words: and, "For that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. These things we advise," he saith.

Great and Holy Tuesday

Yesterday's prayers of anticipation for the Bridegroom were stern warnings calling to mind the price of spiritual lassitude, letting us know that nothing good befalls those who are not prepared to greet the Bridegroom.  Today, Great and Holy Tuesday continues the theme of anticipating the arrival of the Bridegroom and emphasizing the dangers of unpreparedness, and so the Troparion of the day refrains the Troparion from Monday.

But now there is a shift in emphasis from a description of negative consequences of spiritual death to an exhortation to positive response that calls upon us after a long period of fasting and interior preparations to burn with love for the Bridgroom, burn with the oil of charity in radiant faith:

Troparion: Behold, the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom he finds watching; but unworthy is the one whom he finds slothful. Take care then, my soul, not to be overcome with sleep, lest you be given up to death, and be shut out of the kingdom; but rouse yourself and cry: Holy, holy, holy are you, O God.   Through the prayers of the Mother of God, have mercy on us.

Sessional Hymn I:  O faithful, let us be on fire with love for the Bridegroom, and with lamps burning, let us go out to meet him.  May the light of our virtue burn brightly, and may our faith be radiant.  With the wise Virgins, let us prepare to enter the banquet hall of the Lord; for the Divine Spouse offers us all the crown of Immortality.

Hymn of Light:  I see your bridal chamber completely engulfed with light, O my Savior, and I do not have a wedding garment to enter and enjoy your brightness; fill the garment of my soul with light, and save me, O Lord, save me.

Holy Week Liturgies

Link for Liturgical Resources for Holy Week~easy to access, English text, text only

Monday, March 29, 2010

Great and Holy Monday

Troparion: Behold, the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night.  Blessed is the servant He shall find awake.  But the one He finds neglectful will not be worthy of Him.  Beware therefore, O my soul!  Do not fall into a deep slumber, lest you be delivered to death and the door of the Kingdom be closed to you.  Watch instead, and cry out: Holy, Holy, Holy are You, O God.

Through the intercession of the Mother of God, have mercy on us.

Matins Canon Ode 8:  While going to his Passion, the Lord said to those whom he loved: Everyone will know that you are my disciples if you keep my commandments;  be at peace among yourselves and with all others;  be humble in your thoughts and you shall be exalted;  praise your Lord and exalt Him above all forever.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tsvetnitsa-Willow Sunday

Rites of Tsvetnitsa

Bulgaria celebrates the Orthodox faith’s Palm Sunday today, with willow branches and floral wreaths.

Only late in the day did we learn that this is Bulgaria’s biggest floral occasion, Tsvetnitsa-Vrabnitsa: Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Church. An ebullient holiday of spring, it combines remembrance of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem with much older celebrations of Bulgarian maidens and the burgeoning countryside itself.

The festivities actually began on Saturday, with Lazarovden, or St. Lazar’s Day, “a festival devoted to young girls, pastures, fields and woods.” It all sounds like something out of Sir James Frazer’s Golden Bough or a Joseph Campbell pipedream:

“The young girls called ‘lazarki’ form groups of 10 to 20 members and as they go from house to house, they sing special songs and perform traditional dances. Two of the maidens carry a basket, in which they put the eggs, collected from the housewives. Another couple sings and dances while all the others clap their hands and sing in accompaniment. The songs, containing love and bridal elements, are directed to all members of the family. The heads of the girls bear wreaths of spring flowers. The young ‘lazarki’ wear colorful sleeveless dresses and bright stockings as a symbol of the awakening nature. It is believed that a young girl is not ready for marriage until she performs dances and songs for ‘Lazarovden.’”

On the morning of Palm Sunday itself (celebrated April 24th this year among Bulgaria’s Orthodox Christians), “the ‘lazarki’ go to the river. After finding a place where the waters are calm, they put pieces of traditional breads called ‘kukli’ (dolls) on willow barks and let them go into the river simultaneously. The girl whose bark outsails those of the others is pronounced ‘kumitsata.’”

We assume that’s a good thing. Bulgarian readers, please advise.
“Once the ritual is performed, they go to the house of the ‘kumitsata,’ where they sit down to table, on which ritual pieces of bread, hominy and mashed nettle are served.”

Floral headpieces are an insignia of maidenhood, or at least feminine sexuality, in many cultures —from Olympia and Billie Holliday to ‘here comes the bride’; Tsvetnitsa headgear is especially splendid. But this festival’s Human Flower Project extends way beyond costumes. It’s also the name day for every Roza, Lilia and Violeta in the land. Name days are more important than birthdays in Bulgaria, and Palm Sunday—Tsvetnitsa—celebrates every person who’s named for a flower or tree.

Can all this be? We are very eager to learn if these are living customs or simply “local color” dribbled on a travel website—Bulgaria’s version of maypole dancing.

In any case, good wishes to all Tsvetelinas, Yavors, Kamelias, and our dear Roses of North America too.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, Preparation for the Passion

by St. Cyril of Alexandria, “Seal of all the Fathers.”


Luke 22:31-34. Simeon, Simeon, behold Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you that your faith fail not: and do you also hereafter when converted strengthen your brethren. And he said to Him, Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death. But He said, I tell you, Peter, that the cock shall not crow to-day until you have thrice denied that You know Me.

The prophet Isaiah bids those who embrace a life of piety towards Christ to go to the proclamations of the Gospel, saying, “You who thirst, go to the waters.” These waters are not the material waters of earth, but rather are divine and spiritual, poured forth for us by Christ Himself. For He is the river of peace, and the torrent of pleasure, and the fountain of life. And so we have heard Himself plainly saying,  “Whosoever thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.”  Come therefore, that here also we may delight ourselves in the sacred and divine streams which now from Him: for what says He to Peter?  “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has asked for you to sift you like wheat: but I have prayed for you that your faith fail not.”

Now it is, I think, both necessary and profitable for us to know what the occasion was which led our Saviour’s words to this point. The blessed disciples then had been disputing with one another,  “which of them was the great one:” but the Saviour of all, as the means whereby they obtained whatsoever was useful and necessary for their good, delivered them from the guilt of ambition, by putting away from them the striving after objects such as this, and persuading them to escape from the lust of preeminence, as from a pitfall of the devil. For He said, “he who is great among you, let him be as the youngest, and he who governs as he that serves.”  And He further taught them that the season of honour is not so much this present time as that which is to be at the coming of His kingdom. For there they shall receive the rewards of  their fidelity, and be partakers of His eternal glory, and wear a crown of surpassing honour, eating at His table, and sitting also upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

But lo! He also offers them a third assistance, as we read in the lessons before us. For He teaches us, that we must think humbly of ourselves, as being nothing, both as regards the nature of man and the readiness of our mind to fall away into sin, and as strengthened and being what we are only through Him and of Him. If therefore it is from Him that we borrow both our salvation, and our seeming to be something in virtue and piety, what reason have we for proud thoughts? For all we have is from Him, and of ourselves we have nothing.

 “For what have you that you did not receive? But if you also received it, why do you glory, as though you did not receive it?” So spoke the very wise Paul: and further, the blessed David also at one time says, “In God we shall make strength:” and at another again, “Our God is our house of refuge and our strength.”

And the prophet Jeremiah also has somewhere said,  “O Lord, my strength and my house of refuge, and my help in the days of trouble.”  And the blessed Paul also may be brought forward, who says with great clearness,  “I can do all things through Christ, Who strengthens me.”   Christ Himself also somewhere says to us,  “Without Me you can do nothing.11

Let us then glory not in ourselves, but rather in His gifts. And if this be the state of any one’s mind, what place can the desire of being set above other men find in him, when thus we are all both partakers of the same one grace, and also have the same Lord of hosts as the Giver both of our existence and of our ability to do well. To humble therefore our tendency to superciliousness, and to repress ambitious feelings, Christ shows that even he who seemed to be great is nothing and infirm. He therefore passes by the other disciples, and turns to him who is the foremost, and set at the head of the company, and says;  “that Satan has many times desired to sift you as wheat:” that is, to search and try you, and expose you to intolerable blows.

For it is Satan’s wont to attack men of more than ordinary excellence, and, like some fierce and arrogant barbarian, he challenges to single combat those of chief repute in the ways of piety. So he challenged Job, but was defeated  by his patience, and the boaster fell, being vanquished by the endurance of that triumphant hero. But human nature he makes his prey, for it is infirm, and easy to be overcome: while he is harsh and pitiless and unappeasable in heart. For, as the sacred Scripture says of him, “His heart is hard as a stone: and he stands like an anvil that cannot be beaten out .”  Yet he is placed under the feet of the saints by Christ’s might: for He has said,   “Behold, I have given you to tread on serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Satan therefore, He says, has desired to sift you like wheat: but I have offered supplication in your behalf, that your faith fail not.”

See again, He humbles Himself to us, and speaks according to the limits of man’s estate, and yet He is God by nature, even though He became flesh. For though He is the power of the Father, by Whom all things are preserved, and from Whom they obtain the ability to continue in well-being, He yet says that He offers supplication as a man. For it was necessary, yes necessary, for Him Who, for the dispensation’s sake, became like to us, to use also our words, when the occasion called Him thereto in accordance with what the dispensation itself required.  “I have supplicated therefore, He says, that your faith fail not.”  Now by this then He shows, that if he had been yielded up to Satan to be tempted, he would have proved altogether unfaithful: since, even when not so yielded up, he proved weak from human feebleness, being unable to bear the fear of death. For he denied Christ, when a young girl troubled him in the high priest’s palace by saying,  “And you also are one of His disciples.”

The Saviour then forewarned him what would have been the result had he been yielded up to Satan’s temptation: but at the same time He offers him the word of consolation, and says,   “And do you also hereafter, when converted, strengthen your brethren:”  that is, be the support, and instructor and teacher of those who draw near to Me by faith. And moreover, admire the beautiful skill of the passage, and the surpassing greatness of the divine gentleness!

For, lest his impending fall should lead the disciple to desperation, as though he would be expelled from the glories of the apostleship, and  his former following (of Christ) lose its reward, because of his proving unable to bear the fear of death, and denying Him, at once Christ fills him with good hope, and grants him the confident assurance that he shall be counted worthy of the promised blessings, and gather the fruits of steadfastness. For He says,   “And do you also, when converted, strengthen your brethren.”

O what great and incomparable kindness!  The disciple had not yet sickened with the malady of faithlessness, and already he has received the medicine of forgiveness: not yet had the sin been committed, and he receives pardon: not yet had he fallen, and the saving hand is held out: not yet had he faltered, and he is confirmed: for  “do you, He says, when converted, strengthen your brethren.”  So to speak belongs to One Who pardons, and restores him again to apostolic powers.

But Peter, in the ardour of his zeal, made profession of steadfastness and endurance to the last extremity, saying that he would manfully resist the terrors of death, and count nothing of bonds; but in so doing he erred from what was right.  For he ought not, when the Saviour told him that he would prove weak to have contradicted Him, loudly protesting the contrary; for the Truth could not lie: but rather he ought to have asked strength of Him, that either he might not suffer this, or be rescued immediately from harm.

But, as I have already said, being fervent in spirit, and warm in his love towards Christ, and of unrestrainable zeal in rightly performing those duties which become a disciple in his attendance upon his Master, he declares that he will endure to the last extremity: but he was rebuked for foolishly speaking against what was foreknown, and for his unreasonable haste in contradicting the Saviour’s words. For this reason He says,  “Verily I tell you, that the cock shall not crow to-night, until you have thrice denied Me.”

And this proved true. Let us not therefore think highly of ourselves, even if we see ourselves greatly distinguished for our virtues: rather let us offer up the praises of our thanksgivings to Christ Who redeems us, and Who also it is that grants us even the desire to be able to act rightly: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for over and ever, Amen.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Entry into Jerusalem

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
    —Zechariah 9:9-10

Illness not to Death but to Glory

Meditation on Lazarus Saturday
Yesterday, the 6th Friday, marked the last day of Great Lent in the eastern Churches. Fasting does not stop on the last day, but rather intensifies through the next week, Great and Holy Week. Lazarus Saturday prepares us for what is to come.
Lazarus Saturday is, in many ways, the 'Feast of The Test of Faith' for as you read at the end of the critical Scripture text below, the Chief Priest of the Temple suggested that Lazarus be killed because this last great resurrection miracle had caused many people to believe what was said concerning Jesus, who he was and why he had come.
This text completes the cycle of action that begins with the sorrowing Jesus declaring that he and the apostles must return to Judea, and the Apostle Thomas' sonorous declaration, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” It is clear from this resurrection pericope that those who loved Jesus knew there was a price on him and they believed that many would die with him, and perhaps even thought that they might be willing to die in his stead.
But the key to knowledge and insight, as always, is Jesus. Knowing why he had come better than any other, he says quite clearly, about the ailing Lazarus, “This sickness is not to death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” The sickness of Lazarus, the sickness of fallen mankind, are what took Jesus to Judea, and to the Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
This feast as none other save Pascha itself turns our attention to redemption, pain, death, healing, and resurrection. It is a 'Test of Faith' offered by the Master Teacher, who is the substance of Faith itself...the substance of things seen and unseen.

Critical Scripture texts for the Saturday of Lazarus
Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent to him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not to death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he stayed two days still in the same place where he was.  Then after that said he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. His disciples say to him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone you; and go you thither again?  Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbles not, because he sees the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbles, because there is no light in him. These things said he: and after that he said to them, Our friend Lazarus sleeps; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.  However, Jesus spoke of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus to them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent you may believe; nevertheless let us go to him. Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, to his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.

Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. Now Bethany was near to Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.  Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.  Then said Martha to Jesus, Lord, if you had been here, my brother had not died.  But I know, that even now, whatever you will ask of God, God will give it you. Jesus said to her, Your brother shall rise again. Martha said to him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Believe you this? She said to him, Yes, Lord: I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calls for you. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came to him. Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goes to the grave to weep there. Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying to him, Lord, if you had been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. And said, Where have you laid him? They said to him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?
Jesus therefore again groaning in himself comes to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay on it. Jesus said, Take you away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, said to him, Lord, by this time he stinks: for he has been dead four days. Jesus said to her, Said I not to you, that, if you would believe, you should see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank you that you have heard me. And I knew that you hear me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that you have sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus said to them, Loose him, and let him go. (John 11:1-44)
A great multitude therefore of the Jews knew that he was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests thought to kill Lazarus also: Because many of the Jews, by reason of him, went away, and believed in Jesus.
And on the next day, a great multitude that was to come to the festival day, when they had heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried: Hosanna, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel. (John12:11-13)


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Conference for the Theological and Historical Examination of the Orthodox/Catholic Dialogue

The Solon and Marianna Patterson Triennial Conference for the Theological and Historical Examination of the Orthodox/Catholic Dialogue Fordham University, The Orthodox Christian Studies Program

On June 28-30, 2010, we will host the first installment of the Patterson Triennial Conference for the Orthodox-Roman Catholic Dialogue. The title of the Conference is "Orthodox Constructions of the West." Registration for the Conference will begin in February.

Orthodox Constructions of the West Concept and Abstract

In preparation for the publication of Orthodox Readings of Augustine (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2008), the co-founding directors of the Orthodox Christian Studies Program were struck by ways in which Orthodox authors, especially in the twentieth century, had created artificial categories of “East” and “West” and then used that distinction as a basis for self-definition. The history of Orthodox Christianity is typically narrated by Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike as developing in the ‘East’, which is geographically ambiguous, but usually refers to the region in Europe east of present-day Croatia, Hungary and Poland. In contemporary Orthodoxy, ‘West’ refers not simply to a geographical location, but to a form of civilization that was shaped and influenced by Latin Christendom, which includes both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The “West,” thus, represents a cluster of theological, cultural and political ideas against which Orthodox self-identify. In other words, Orthodox self-identification often engages in a distorted apophaticism: Orthodoxy is what the “West” is not.

Given that much of the Orthodox world has until recently suffered oppression from the Ottomans and the Communists, one can read the creation of the “East-West” binary as a post-colonial search for an authentic Orthodox identity in the wake of such domination. After centuries of repression, it is not surprising that the Orthodox recovery of identity would take the form of opposition to that which is seemingly the religious, cultural and political “Other.” The question that the conference will attempt to answer is whether such a construction has as much to do with Orthodox identify formation vis-à-vis the West as it does with genuine differences. By creating this opposition to the “West,” do Orthodox communities not only misunderstand what Western Christians believe but, even more egregiously, have they come to believe certain things about their own tradition and teachings that are historically untrue? The importance of addressing these questions is not simply limited to the theological realm. There is evidence of anti-democracy and anti-human rights rhetoric coming from traditional Orthodox countries that have recently been liberated from communism, and this rhetoric often associates liberal forms of democracy and the notion of human rights in general as “Western” and, therefore, not Orthodox. In other words, the self-identification vis-à-vis the “West” is affecting the cultural and political debates in the traditional Orthodox countries in Eastern Europe. Insofar as this conference addresses the broader theme of identity formation, its impact is potentially far-reaching, as it hopes to influence the production of theological, cultural and political ideas within contemporary Orthodoxy.

The purpose of this conference is to explore how these artificial binaries were first created and, by exposing them, make possible a more authentic recovery of the rich Orthodox tradition that is unfettered by self-definition vis-à-vis the proximate other. It is also expected that the deconstruction of false caricatures of West will impact the discussion on culture and politics throughout the Orthodox world, as well as assist in moving the ecumenical conversation forward.

Feast of the Annunciation


In the Russian language this holy day is called Blagovescheniye - "the announcement of glad tidings," because this was the first time that the glad tidings of the coming of the Savior were proclaimed to the world. Annunciation generally falls during the Great Lent, but it is of such great importance that it is still celebrated even if it coincides with Holy Friday or Pascha. When the Annunciation falls on the exact date of Pascha the two feasts are celebrated and it is called Kyriopascha.

When Mary became of age, according to Hebrew custom of the time, she could no longer stay at the Temple, but had to either return to her parents or marry. Since Joachim and Anna were dead, and Mary had given a vow of virginity to the Temple's High Priest, it was decided to betroth her to a distant relative who would be able to protect and care for her. She, therefore, went to live in Nazareth with Joseph, who was a carpenter.

Here according to tradition, while Mary was reading from the prophet Isaiah about the birth of the Messiah to a virgin, the angel Gabriel appeared to her. "And the angel came in unto her and said, "Hail, thou who art most fully favored, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.' And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying and cast about in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, 'Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name JESUS. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His Kingdom there shall be no end.' Then said Mary unto the angel, 'How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?' And the angel answered and said unto her, 'The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. Therefore also that Holy Being who shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.' .And Mary said, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word." And the angel departed from her" (Luke 1: 28-38).


My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;
for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Because he that is mighty,
hath done great things to me;
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is from generation unto generations,
to them that fear him.
He hath shewed might in his arm:
he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath received Israel his servant,
being mindful of his mercy:
As he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed for ever.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Anticipating Lazarus

And death shall have no dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion....Dylan Thomas

Better than anyone, Dylan Thomas would have known that once a poem passes the lips or drips off the end of a pen all exclusivity of ownership or control of meaning is lost to the poet. Dylan was fond of talking about that elliptical obscurity that a poet is allowed to interject into the work, those gaps and points of ingress and regress and egress, where the individual imagination wanders in and out and back again, adding and subtracting images and ideas as it pleases. And in that way, by means of what is not said, a poem takes life and flight, and all of us individually, including the poet, gets to own some idiosyncratic part of the poem that cannot be taken away or diminished or forbidden, so today I read:

Matins Canon, Ode 3

Today Lazarus dies. But this death does not escape the divine eye of Jesus. Therefore, He spoke to His disciples and said: My friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I shall go and raise him up.

When you spoke of returning to Judea, you frightened your apostles, O Lord: but Thomas, filled with fervor, cried out: Let us go there for He is our Life; if we die, He shall raise us up.

.And death shall have no dominion!!


Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian

Κύριε καὶ Δέσποτα τῆς ζωῆς μου, πνεῦμα ἀργίας, περιεργίας, φιλαρχίας, καὶ ἀργολογίας μή μοι δῷς.
Πνεῦμα δὲ σωφροσύνης, ταπεινοφροσύνης, ὑπομονῆς, καὶ ἀγάπης χάρισαί μοι τῷ σῷ δούλῳ.
Ναί, Κύριε Βασιλεῦ, δώρησαι μοι τοῦ ὁρᾶν τὰ ἐμὰ πταίσματα, καὶ μὴ κατακρίνειν τὸν ἀδελφόν μου, ὅτι εὐλογητὸς εἶ, εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.

O Lord and Master of my life, give me not the spirit of sloth, idle curiosity , lust for power and idle talk.
But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brother. For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Here is the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian, who, some traditions claim, was born in Nisibis [modern Nusaybin, Turkey] within the first few years of the 4th Century.
On October 5, 1920, Pope Benedict XV proclaimed St. Ephrem as a Doctor of the Church because of the richness of his hymn cycles and homilies, and most particularly for the depth of his insights into Scripture. There are approximately 400 poetic hymns attributable directly to St. Ephrem that have come down to us today.
St. Ephrem was a wild boy, lazy and recalcitrant, susceptible to temptations of the flesh, with a hot temper. A brief imprisonment reoriented his attention and while still a youth, he joined a group of ascetic men and women, called respectively, brothers and sisters of the covenant This group was a Syriac prototype of early Christian monasticism, that was also in its infancy in Egypt at the time of St. Ephrem's years in Nisibis. We can see now that there were many ascetic ideas and practices shared in these early monastic communities of the near and middle east. Some of the most important counsels concerning the ascetic life and life of unceasing prayer are contained in this Lenten supplication from the stylus of St. Ephrem. During this period St. Ephrem also became a highly revered and talented student in the exegetical tradition of his patron, James, Bishop of Nisibi. For his exegetical illumination, St. Ephrem earned the title of Doctor of the Syrians.
When Nisibi was overrun by the Persians in 363, St. Ephrem moved from his great house in Nisibi that had become a renowned center for the study of Scripture. He went to Edessa where he lived in solitude, only leaving his retreat to preach and teach, and during a great famine where he spent the waning energies of his old age in begging for the poor and working to help them though an otherwise impossible time of starvation and grinding poverty.
Tradition also tells us that he was ordained to the deaconate by St. Basil the Great, though he refused to be ordained to the priesthood, but rather taught hymnody and preached the gospel to ordinary people and nuns. Of Ephrem, St. John Chrysostom wrote: "The great Ephrem is scourge of the slothful, consoler of the afflicted, educator, instructor and exhorter of youth, mirror of monks, leader of penitents, goad and sting of heretics, reservoir of virtues, and the home and lodging of the Holy Spirit." [from PRINCIPI APOSTOLORUM PETRO (On St. Ephrem the Syrian), Benedict XV]
Oh Lord and Master of my life, give to me not the spirit of sloth...” In this striking and powerful opening to the prayer above, St. Ephrem does two things:

He surrenders all of himself to Christ by calling on him as Lord and as Master, but not just as Lord and Master at a distance, but as Lord and Master of
my life!! A Lord and Master intimately and personally engaged with each of us, from the very beginning of our life.
And then he implores of Him, this divine ruler and teacher, author of life, to protect him from all temptations of the spirit of sloth. He begs to be relieved from this one great debilitating weakness, from even the least temptation toward doubt, or lameness of spirit. He begs freedom from spiritual lassitude and apathy that deadens the heart and the intellect equally leaving one open to all the rest of what comes when we convince ourselves we cannot ever become truly holy, when we kill in ourselves all hope and thus all faith, and thereby all our capacity to truly love selflessly.
The Greek text here translates as acedia, or sloth prompted by spiritual despondency, which is the self-delusion of the impossibility of ever achieving sanctity. Acedia is the great scourge of the monastic, and of all lay men and women who choose to follow the royal way of contemplative prayer and ascetic living, and even of those who watch from a distance but still try to lead a life influenced by the gospels and by liturgy and liturgical prayer.
To pray this prayer aloud and with open heart, it cannot help but plunge us into the depths of humility. St. Ephrem declares emphatically, from the very first moment, that none but Christ is Master of Life, Master of each individual life, whether we offer ourselves to Him or not.

None of the rest of the prayer can be prayed without this initial surrender and the humble petition for the spiritual freedom, the graced freedom necessary to fulfill the rest of the prayer.

But there is another key to this prayer and that is in its simple-minded presumption that if one asks for the grace to be gracious and spiritually free that it will be there. For fallen man, who fell out of grace by choice, to say to the Christ “Give to me not...!!” is the height of great expectations.
Who are we to say “give to me not....”? Well not only did St. Ephrem learn some things about freedom while enslaved to the temptations of the world, but he also learned something about his Lord and Master in the meanwhile as well. He learned that if you ask of God any grace necessary to sanctity that which is profane, your petition would never be denied. We may or may not be granted earthly treasures but of the treasures of heaven, we will be given, pressed down and over flowing.
It would not be for another ten years or more after the death of St. Ephrem that St. John Cassian would cross over the land, where the teachings of St. Ephrem were widely known, to stay for a time in a monastery in Bethlehem. It was from the renown of the great teacher, St. Ephrem and another contemporary, Evagrius Ponticus of Egypt, that St. John would learn of the Greco-Roman list of evil temptations and thoughts. And so it was in that patrimonial line of eastern monastic fathers, and from the systematic stylus of St. John Cassian that the western catholic world would get what we now recognize as the list of the seven deadly sins. In the Greco-Roman tradition there were in fact eight evil thoughts whose definitions and cures comprised most of what we know as St. John Cassian's Institutes.
But it seems to me as I sit here writing that the most important message that both St. Ephrem and St. John teach us, is the lesson which makes all else possible and spiritually useful. It is this great and holy presumption that when it comes to our sanctity there is nothing too great to ask for, to nag for, to presume to expect, to dare to hope:

"For the Lord, Who wants to bestow what is eternal and heavenly. encourages us as it were to coerce Him by our persistence. He not only neither disdains nor refuses the persistent but He even welcomes and praises them, and He very graciously promises that He will give them whatever they have perseveringly hoped for when He says: 'Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who seeks finds, and to everyone who knocks it shall be opened.' And again: 'Everything whatever that you ask for in prayer you shall receive if you believe, and nothing shall be impossible for you.' "

St. John Cassian.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Christ the Just Judge

Spring has come early to the valley. It has been an unusually warm March, definitely the warmest even in long memory. The air was heavy today, humid and still, redolent with the odor of spring mud from the creek, more than a multitude of green things pressing up, and woodsmoke from fires stoked to cut the residual damp and chill. Alas there is no wood burner or fireplace in the skete to take off a chill now and then.

The atmosphere seemed heavy and burdensome outside at first but then my attention was caught by the evening songs of a half a dozen different species of birds and the mood immediately lifted and filled with anticipation of the deep quiet of dark night and the promise of morning song to follow.

This week we work in anticipation of Pussy-Willow Sunday, of Christ's Entry into Jerusalem. We are deep into the heart of the Great Fast, but somehow there begins now the anticipation of release, of relief to come. We can stop here for a moment looking back, looking forward. We are in a time between the long weeks of fasting already done and the relatively few days left to complete our preparations for Great and Holy Week with its rigors of long liturgies and deep emotional connections between each soul and our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, Son of God. In this way the remaining days of this sixth week of the Great Fast are so precious to us.

For those who have done well in the fast, they are days of some satisfaction for having come successfully down this last stretch. For those of us, who have not done as well, they are days for acceptance of weakness, our own, and the overwhelming humility that should come with knowing that we are loved however weak we may be, and still there is enough time to make better preparations: time to fast a little more in terms of quantity if not kind; time to spend a few more hours in prayer each day; time to open our hearts a little more to the messages of the gospels, time to set about living the Beatitudes fully, not just in the parts that are more or less easy for us to do naturally.

Canon of Matins: Ode 9

Long ago the first created couple was expelled from Paradise for having eaten the forbidden fruit, and the human race was subject to death. Therefore O my soul, fast in these present days; run from this harmful example and turn yourself away from the pleasure, which is the source of evil, brought about by the forbidden fruit.

In my spirit I think about your judgment, and it is eternal fire. Even before appearing before you, O just Judge, I feel myself to be condemned. I shudder and tremble, for, more than any other here in this life, I have sinned against You without measure. But in your goodness, spare me.

Let us blot out the darkness of our passions with the light of prayer. And carrying the palms of virtues, let us hasten to meet Christ who shall come on a donkey; for his is preparing himself to suffer for the salvation of the human race.

* Icon: Christ the Just Judge

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