Again, I thought of writing my own reflection, but I think I’d rather just share, for those who have not read it or heard it, the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom. This is read every year in every Orthodox parish on Pascha (Easter), and it is one of the highlights of the night. (We begin at 11pm.) Pascha, for us, is a season that begins with the feast today and does not end until forty days later on the feast of the Ascension. Thus, I’m sure I will have plenty of time for my own words. But for now, I will simply say that all the hope and joy and triumph and peace of Christianity is summed up in the single phrase: “Christ is risen!” View full article »
Further, when we are on the way, and that not a way that lies through space, but through a change of affections, and one which the guilt of our past sins like a hedge of thorns barred against us, what could He, who was willing to lay Himself down as the way by which we should return, do that would be still gracious and more merciful, except to forgive us all our sins, and by being crucified for us to remove the stern decrees that barred the door against our return?
~ St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 1.17.16
Tonight Orthodox Christians like myself commemorate by anticipation the Great and Holy Friday upon which Jesus Christ was crucified. I had meant to write a reflection, but poetry seems far more appropriate. View full article »
The woman who had fallen into many sins, perceiving Your Divinity, O Lord, assumes the role of a myrrh-bearer; and lamenting, she brings the myrrh before your burial. “Woe to me!” she said; “For me, night is an ecstacy of excess, dark and moonless, and full of sinful desire. Receive the sources of my tears, You, Who gathers into clouds the water of the sea. Incline the groanings of my heart, You, Who in Your ineffable condescension, bowed down the Heavens.
“I will embrace and kiss Your sacred Feet, and wipe them again with the tresses of the hair of my head. Your Feet, at whose sound Eve hid herself in fear, when she heard Your footsteps while You were walking in Paradise in the twilight. O my Saviour and soul-Saver! Who can ever track down the multitude of my sins, and the depths of Your judgment? Do not disregard me Your servant, You, Whose mercy is boundless.”
~ Hymn of Kassiani, from the Holy Wednesday Bridegroom Matins
The hymn above is one of the finest in the Byzantine tradition. It is written by the nun Kassiani, a saint of the ninth century. On Holy Wednesday we commemorate the woman from the Gospel who comes to Christ and weeps at his feet. This hymn midrashicly takes up the woman’s perspective in a beautiful display of repentance. View full article »
Let us now add our lamentation, and let us shed our tears with those of Jacob, bewailing Joseph, his memorable and wise son. For Joseph, though enslaved in body, preserved his soul in freedom, becoming lord over all Egypt. For God grants his servants an incorruptible crown.
~ Oikos for the Matins of Holy Monday
Holy Week has finally arrived for Orthodox Christians like myself. It is full of services with beautiful hymns that truly enchant the hearer not only with their musical excellence but also with their deep lyrics as well. The passage above, however, is not a hymn but is to be read. Tonight, on Palm Sunday evening, we have a matins (morning prayer service) for Holy Monday by anticipation. On Holy Monday we commemorate two things, the withering of a fig tree at the command of Christ and the patriarch Joseph from the book of Genesis in the Old Testament, who I would like to reflect upon here. View full article »
Abba Poemen said also: “Grief is twofold: it works good, and it keeps out evil.”
~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 3.12
Sayings like this (and there are many) are not easy to understand at first. The desert fathers and others talk about joy, and I have highlighted this in the past. So why grief? Why compunction? Why praise the virtues of a tearful life? There are many reasons, but I will look at just a few with reference to this saying of Abba Poemen here. View full article »
John the Less of the Thebaid, a disciple of Abba Ammonius, was said to have lived for twelve years ministering to an old man who was ill, and sitting on a mat near him. But the old man was always cross with him; and although John worked a long time for him, he never said: “May it be well with you.” But when the old man was on his death-bed, in the presence of the elders of that place, he held John’s hand and said: “May it be well with you, may it be well with you.” And the old man commended John to the old men, saying: “This is an angel, not a man.”
~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 16.4
John the Less (not to be confused with John the Short) lived, according to this story, “for twelve years ministering to an old man who was ill.” And yet, not once did he hear from the old man, “May it be well with you.” I think that there are many in John’s situation in the world today—serving others thanklessly for years and years. Yet how many of us have eyes to see: “This is an angel, not a man [or woman].” How many of them know what saints they are? View full article »
A brother sinned, and the presbyter ordered him to go out of church. But Abba Bessarion rose up and went out with him, saying: “I too am a sinner.”
~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 9.2
The Christian confession that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and that we ought to remember this fact with regards to ourselves daily can often strike people (including Christians themselves) as overly pessimistic. But is such a claim one of pessimism? Is it necessarily like the dreary, uncharitable (but common) caricature of Calvinism? I, at least, do not think so, and I doubt Abba Bessarion would either. View full article »
Saint Syncletice said: … If a hen stops sitting on the eggs she will hatch no chickens: and the monk or nun who moves from place to place will grow cold and dead in faith.
~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 7.15
I had the opportunity these last two days to visit Princeton for an academic conference. It is a beautiful place, but in many ways it does not feel much different than home in the Midwest … except for all the castles, that is. View full article »
There was a story that some philosophers once came to test the monks. One of the monks came by dressed in a fine robe. The philosophers said to him: “Come here, you.” But he was indignant, and insulted them. Then another monk came by, a good person, a Libyan by race. They said to him: “Come here, you wicked old monk.” He came to them at once, and they began to hit him: but he turned the other cheek to them. Then the philosophers rose and did homage to him, saying: “Here is a monk indeed.” And they made him sit down in their midst, and asked him: “What do you do in this desert more than we do? You fast: and we fast also. You chastise your bodies and so do we. Whatever you do, we do the same.” The old man answered: “We trust in God’s grace, and keep watch on our minds.” They said: “That is what we cannot do.” And they were edified, and let him go.
~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 16.16
I have always liked this story. It’s message is pretty straight-forward, but I will record here a few observations. View full article »