This last Friday, I did not place my accustomed posting on this blog. Ria and I were in Houston for the forty day blessing of our newest grandson, Peter. It was a great honour for us to be present as a new child of God made his entrance into the temple of Our Lord. I hope you all excuse me for being a proud Papou and skipping the last entry. I promise to make it up, as this conversation continues.
Today, I would like to talk about silence. As I was growing up, my parents always referred to the Friday before the Saturday of Lazarus – as the “Silence (oi koufi)”. I always thought this was because the Akathist had finished and there wasn’t a service that night. Ok, there was silence. Now, I look at this a bit more deeply. If you remember a few years ago, there was this movement to help young people make better decisions by using the question, “What would Jesus do?” As I recall, there were even little rubber bracelets with the letters “WWJD” on them. In this case this is the question that should be asked. The Gospel reading of the Raising of Lazarus, (John 11, 1 – 45) begins with Jesus apparently hesitating to go to his friend’s aid. Well, this supposed hesitation had a real purpose, for all to see the glory of God. How was this to be accomplished? Our Lord seemingly was blasé about Lazarus’s illness and rushing to his side. After staying put for two days, Jesus prepared to go to Bethany informing His disciples that Lazarus was dead. As Jesus encountered Martha and Mary, they expressed thoughts that we all feel at sometime, “if only.” They were sure that if only Jesus had been there Lazarus wouldn’t have died, but Jesus was silent and missing. For us to truly understand Jesus’ hesitation, we need to know a bit about the Jewish teaching concerning death. At day four, in the Jewish understanding, the soul left the body in other words the body was a cadaver, a corpse. So if Lazarus was a corpse, Jesus did not simply resuscitate him. As Jesus called forth Lazarus and Lazarus walked out of his tomb Christ created life from dead matter. The Creator God bestowed life on Lazarus. Christ is God and the silence of Lazarus’ tomb was shattered. To the assembled crowd this silence was deafening.
It hardly seems possible, but here we are at week four of Great Lent. The Church tries to bolster our spirits by holding up the Holy Cross as a symbol of courage, sacrifice and victory; pointing us to the Resurrection. Never the less, if you’re like me there is this feeling of a slump. We start the fast with enthusiasm and zeal, but we’ve come this far and it seems that we’re tiring of the whole thing. Besides during this Lenten period, it seems that there are “slumps” everywhere, the markets have really slumped, the employment picture is slumping, and even the new president’s popularity numbers are slumping. I guess we are not immune to the sense of dissatisfaction even with the course of our progress towards the Great Feast.
As a young boy, I remember my dad, who was a priest, always placed the Holy Cross on a tray of bright yellow daffodils. This sign of spring and the promise of the coming of Pascha seemed enough when I was that age. Now, I don’t know! I am much older; life is much more complex. Our consumer society offers so many distractions and alternatives. In every Orthodox parish there is the increased availability of services during this period, but there is also all those other things that sidetrack us. It is so easy to say not tonight, not this morning, next time. So what should we do? I know you’re probably thinking … Here it comes – the scolding and the guilt trip. Actually no – because this year I am more at fault than most of you! Well, again, what do we do? I really don’t know. Last night, when I was trying to think how to structure this entry something came to me. Maybe, what I need is to quiet the clamor. The word that came to mind, which reminded me of St. Gregory Palamas, is hesychia, silence or quiet. This might be the time to sit down, shut the world out and let God speak to me and tell me how to fight the slump. What a novel idea listen, don’t think – don’t talk – just listen. As you probably guessed, the concept of not thinking and being quiet is difficult for me. I’ll let you know if it helps.
As we enter the second week of Great Lent, I would like to reflect on a theme, which recurs throughout the hymns of the Church during this period. Repeatedly, we are reminded of the image of the fallen Adam seated outside the gates of Paradise lamenting his state.
Most strikingly this image is brought to our attention during the first and fifth week of the Great Fast with the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. This beautiful piece of poetry is more than words and chant. The difficulty that we experience is that the theology and metaphors are lovely, but how do we relate to them in this day and age. The theme of repentance has been developed from the pre-lenten Sundays until this time in Lent, so let’s leave that one aside. I would like to think about an aspect of the illustration of Adam sitting in front of the gates pondering his circumstance. The idea that we must sit back and consider “where we are” is one painfully close to home. When I think about the things that must have been going through Adam’s mind, one possibility keeps bothering me more than any other. It occurs to me that he might very well be thinking about being separated from a friend, a real friend, one who genuinely cared for him. Was Adam aware of his new condition? How aware was he of the emptiness in his heart and did he long to have God back in his life?
During these difficult days, people out of work (me included), the economy in a tailspin, major companies in trouble and the markets very unpredictable, the sense of uncertainty can be overwhelming. What must Adam have been thinking? Talk about an uncertain future! Did he ask the same questions we all have asked? Where do I go from here? My world has changed, it will never again be the same, – can I cope? Where has God gone? The reality is that even after Adam had disobeyed God’s law; God came looking for him. The plan of salvation was already in process. God loved so much He already had humanity’s restoration willed through the grace of the mystery of the incarnation of the Son through the Holy Spirit, for our sake. As Christians, we live in the light of Christ’s Resurrection. Our fallen nature has been lifted out of Hades, just as our ancestral parents were seized by the hand of Christ and rescued from darkness. When we think that our life is so dark know that Christ our God is there in the darkness waiting to lift us up by the hand.
Our prayer should be: “O my God, here is my hand!”
AS OUR HOLY ORTHODOX CHURCH PREPARES US GREAT LENT, SHE PREPARES US FOR A JOURNEY. SHE SPEAKS TO US CONCERNING OUR JOURNEY TO PASCHA. THE JOURNEY WE BEGIN IS TO THE CROSS, TO THE TOMB AND TO THE GLORIOUS RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD, GOD AND SAVIOUR, JESUS CHRIST. WE ARE REMINDED THAT WE WILL NOT MAKE THIS JOURNEY ALONE, BUT THAT WE WILL JOURNEY WITH THE LORD, AND TRAVEL WITH OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST. PREPARING FOR THIS JOURNEY WE ARE NOT GIVEN A LIST OF THINGS TO BRING, NOR DOES THE CHURCH TELL US WHAT TO EAT OR NOT TO EAT ON THE ROAD. HOWEVER, SHE SPEAKS DIRECTLY TO US ABOUT OUR ATTITUDES. LENT CAN BE SUMMED UP BY THE PHRASE, “SHARING AND CARING” INSTEAD OF “DO’S OR DON’TS”. ATTITUDES CONCERNING OUR NEIGHBOUR ARE OF THE PRIMARY IMPORTANCE DURING THIS PREPARATION FOR PASCHA. IN OUR HEARTS, EACH OF US KNOWS THAT OUR LIVES ARE FAR FROM PERFECT. WE REALIZE THAT WE MUST SEEK FORGIVENESS FROM GOD FOR FALLING AWAY FROM HIM, BY PUTTING HIM OUT OF FOCUS IN OUR LIVES. WE KNOW THAT THIS FORGIVENESS IS NECESSARY FOR OUR RETURN TO HIM. AT THE BEGINNING OF THE GREAT FAST, WE ARE TOLD THAT THE FORGIVENESS, WHICH WE SEEK FROM GOD IS CONDITIONAL. IT IS CONTINGENT ON OUR ATTITUDES TOWARD OTHERS. ARE WE PREPARED TO SHARE OURSELVES WITH OUR NEIGHBOUR? ARE WE PREPARED TO CARE WITH COMPASSION? CAN WE FORGIVE OTHERS? DO WE CARRY ANIMOSITY IN OUR HEARTS, WHILE SEEKING FORGIVENESS FOR OURSELVES? OUR FORGIVENESS FROM GOD IS COMMENSURATE WITH THE FORGIVENESS WE OFFER THOSE WHO HAVE OFFENDED US. THE GREAT CHRISTIAN MARTYR OF THIS LAST CENTURY, DIETRICH BONHOEFFER SUMMED UP OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO OUR FELLOW CHRISTIANS IN THIS WAY:
” IN A WORD, LIVE TOGETHER IN FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS, FOR WITHOUT IT NO HUMAN FELLOWSHIP CAN SURVIVE. dON’T INSIST ON YOUR RIGHTS, DON’T BLAME EACH OTHER, DON’T JUDGE OR CONDEMN EACH OTHER, DON’T FIND FAULT WITH EACH OTHER, BUT ACCEPT EACH OTHER AS YOU ARE AND FORGIVE EACH OTHER EVERY DAY FROM THE BOTTOM OF YOUR HEARTS.”
AS WE BEGIN OUR LENTEN JOURNEY, LET US NOT BE SO CONCERNED WITH WHAT ENTERS OUR MOUTHS, AS WHAT COMES OUT OF THEM. AS WE PROVIDE FOR OUR SPIRIT IN ADDITIONAL PRAYER AND SOUL SEARCHING. LET US SUBDUE OUR EGOS AND OUR JUDGEMENT OF THOSE WE ENCOUNTER. LET US TURN TO GOD IN REPENTANCE WITH HUMILITY, ONLY AFTER WE SOFTEN THE HARDNESS OF OUR OWN HEARTS AND GRANT FORGIVENESS TO THOSE CLOSE TO US. WE MUST REACH OUT TO THOSE WHO HAVE HURT US OR OFFENDED US. EQUALLY WE MUST GENEROUSLY ACCEPT OTHERS SEEKING OUR FORGIVENESS. AS THE HYMNS OF VESPERS OF FORGIVENESS REVEAL:
“REJOICING IN THE VIRTUES OF THE SPIRIT – MAY WE PERSEVERE WITH LOVE, AND SO BE COUNTED WORTHY TO SEE THE SOLEMN PASSION OF CHRIST OUR GOD, AND WITH GREAT SPIRITUAL GLADNESS TO BEHOLD HIS HOLY RESURRECTION.”