This is part one of a journey with Christ through His Passion and Resurrection. This section begins with the Saturday of Lazarus through Great and Holy Wednesday. It is an introduction to the theology of the services, liturgical themes and customs of the week. It is hoped that this exploration allows for a better appreciation and understanding of the commemorations of Orthodox Christian Holy Week. Have a Blessed Week. Please Join us as we stream live the Holy Week Services from Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, Austin TX (@transfiguration.org)
** Continued from Nov. 26 Post…
Let’s consider the words: “Thine own of thine Own.” What does this mean? With these words, we acknowledge that all is God’s. He has give us the bounty, but there is an even more basic dimension. God has given man wheat, water, salt and yeast. He has given us sugar and grapes. These are the raw materials for the bread and the wine, but it is not complete. We have to add something, something only we can, our effort. We must take God’s gifts and add our human effort to create bread and wine. We must work with the raw materials plus our effort. But, now they are just plain bread and plain wine. What is the missing ingredient? …PRAYER.
As we include this essential ingredient, we also add our intention to dedicating this effort and these gifts to God. This is symbolised by the Seal which we stamp on the bread. With this dedication and our prayers we bring the offering to the Church. Then God begins to interact with man, just as he did with His Incarnation. He takes our offering and adds His Blessing. Before, it can come to the altar as an offering; it must become more than the self centred gift of one person or one family. In the Service of the Oblation (the Proskomidi) our offering is expanded to include the entire cosmic reality of God’s world, this is what is on the Paten which will be brought to the Altar with the Chalice in the Great Entrance and offered to God. “Thine own of Thine Own,” but what is the rest of it? For all, that is all of God’s creation and on behalf of all, each and every one of us. This is the ultimate Thanksgiving, this is the connection we have with all of God’s created world, the entire Christian family, both living and departed and the with the Cosmos. Ultimately, these gifts are not only blessed, they are consecrated by God’s Holy Spirit; which is send down upon ‘us and upon these Gifts here presented’ in an Universal Thanksgiving for Salvation of the world by Christ Jesus. AMEN
** the next few posts are taken from a Homily given:
Nov. 28, 2010
In the Name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit…..
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” Luke 24, 28 – 32.
This quote was taken from this morning’s Eothinon Gospel, the 5th. Dawn Gospel which was the reading in the Orthros (Matins) service. I thought to myself what an interesting coincidence that on the week of Thanksgiving, we should be hearing of Christ sitting down to eat with some of his disciples. We even read what was on the menu – bread.
Our own tables last Thursday were so different, all of us had such abundance. No doubt, at most Thanksgiving Tables, there were the traditional foods: turkey, dressing, potatoes, cranberry and all types of pies. We in North America, the US and Canada, are the only countries which officially celebrate Thanksgiving. But, let’s look at our customs. Thanksgiving tables in our homes do have similarities. We gather as families or with a few close invited friends. The people we invite are like ourselves and they are carefully selected. Each Thanksgiving table is surrounded by the familiar: familiar foods and familiar people. This is the comfort of the holiday, the fact that we can be with the people close to us.
But there is another Thanksgiving Table, one older than the table by which we remember the Pilgrims. It is the table, we gather around each time this family comes to give thanks. This table is open to all races, nationalities and peoples. It too is surrounded by a group of chosen friends, chosen by Christ to share in His bounty, His love and His life. Let’s examine the word’s St. John Chrysostomos uses to focus on the Gifts brought for God’s Holy Spirit bless and sanctify: “Thine Own of Thine Own in all and for all”
This centres all of us on what? A piece of Bread? A Cup of Wine? Not these things, but the ultimate Thanksgiving, the body and blood of the lamb of God.
During the Divine Liturgy we are called to partake of Christ with the “Fear of God, Faith and Love… ” The fear of God is not the type of fear that means we are petrified and so terrified of God that we quake and live in horror; instead this “fear” is awe, reverence and veneration. We know the holiness of God as Trinity and our separation from Him caused by our own sinfulness. This awe requires us to look at ourselves honestly and to understand the great gulf between us and Our Lord. But, there is more to the invitation to the Chalice than fear. There are two more phrases that we need to consider.
With faith! How can we approach God without faith? We understand the great gulf between us, but faith can overcome this separation. Faith in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, Our Lord becoming one of us; truly God and truly Man. His love for His Creation is so great that He put on our humanity through the Theotokos by the Holy Spirit to allow us to relate to Him. He assumed our nature to decrease the separation between us. This mystery is beyond our understanding. The result of His love for us is to lessen the “fear” we have for Him. How can we fear one of our own? Can we live in dread of someone who is there waiting for us to reach out so that His strength supports us in our weakness? With faith, we are certain that he is the gentle shepherd who will search us out when we’re lost and carry us on His shoulders when we’re too tired to walk to Him. This faith is a faith in God’s love for us. This faith is an assurance of Christ’s continued presence among us, His People.
When we realise Christ is there in the Chalice waiting for us, there is only one response – Love. Love for God, a burning desire for Him to be the centre of our life. By the invitation of the Church, we are called to partake and become one with Him. Not only are we summoned to join with Christ, but also to become one with all who share in this Cup. This is true love, to become part of each other. Christ became one of us and shared our nature because of His love. By sharing Him, we share each other. It is a miracle of His love that we enter into an intimate relationship with each other as a community. As we partake of Holy Communion “with the fear of God, Faith and Love,” not only do we draw near to Christ; but equally to each other. The closeness of this bond is the unity that makes us the Body of Christ with one head – Our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Answer the invitation! Let us meet Christ and each other at His Cup of Love.
“Faith is a dialogue, but the voice of God is almost silent. It exerts a pressure that is infinitely delicate and never irresistible. God does not give orders He issues invitations.” This beautiful quote is taken from a lovely book by Paul Evdokimov, Ages of the Spiritual Life. This is a thought provoking statement, which really should be considered in these thoughts about faith. We have spoken about teaching faith to children and learning faith from our elderly. But, what is faith? The beginning phrase “faith is a dialogue” is at once a simple yet complex idea. With whom do we dialogue? What can we say? How does God answer our questions about faith? As Christ tells us in the book of the Apocalypse (Revelation) 3, 20:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock;
if anyone hears my voice and opens
the door, I will come to him and eat with
him, and he with me.
Isn’t this quite an invitation? Christ is waiting for us. His response to our faith is assured. So like a child whose first steps are tentative, our first faith steps may be shaky. God is there waiting for us no matter how weak our faith. He has promised us that if we reach out, as did St. Peter, he will grab us by the hand. The invitation from Christ is offered more often than we realise. At each Divine Liturgy we are issued an invitation. The call to the Chalice allows us to reaffirm our Baptism. It is our adult response to eat with Christ and to partake of him. Our God stands in waiting. No matter how far we have wandered or how long it has been. The invitation is prepared and personal. Our faith is not an exercise by which we test God, but rather an opportunity to engage God in our life. Faith depends on our attitude. Do we realise that we have move away from God? Is there faith, however weak? More importantly, do we love God? Our invitation awaits us. The invitation reads:
With the fear of God, with Faith and Love
Last week, I brought to your attention the news out of Istanbul that a mosaic of an angel’s face was uncovered in Agia Sophia Cathedral (Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας). The latest news is that this mosaic was above what was the Holy Altar. It appears the face was part of the Platytera Mosaic in the main apse. So from the six century until the end of the fifteen century, this angelic face gazed at the Theotokos and the Christ Child. The faithful looked up for 916 years, that is from 537 AD when Justinian the Emperor finished the Cathedral to 1453 AD when the mosaics were plastered over. All those years the clergy, the laity and the imperial household chanted this hymn:
“All creation rejoices in thee, O Thou that art full of grace, both in the hierarchy of the Angels and the generations of men. Thou art a hallowed temple, and a spiritual paradise, the glory of virgins, whence God was made flesh and became a little Child, He Who is from Eternity our God. For He made thy womb His throne, and formed Thy body to be broader than the Heavens. All creation rejoices in Thee, O thou that art full of grace, glory to Thee. “
Now once again, the angelic face is visible. Waiting there to join with the heavenly host to sing praises to the Incarnate One and the Theotokos, who is “more honourable than the Cherubim; and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim.” This is a manifestation of the true purpose not only of the angel, but also of the temple. The way the angel was covered suggests that it may be the first to be uncovered and that more may be awaiting under the surface to be revealed. From iconographic schemes, angels are usually not placed singularly, except for the Archangels. Our prayer is that this is the first, of many, we will see. Just as we know that each of us is accompanied by our guardian angel, this uncovered angel has been as a silent guardian to the image of the Platytera and the Incarnate Christ. Axios!
The two chapters, which we will look at today, center on two very diverse topics. Beginning with Chapter 3, Mme Behr-Sigel discusses a lifelong passion of hers. The title of this chapter reveals her focus, Orthodoxy and Peace. Rightly, the beginning of this chapter deals with the liturgical aspect of peace. Even though it is not always emphasized, this should be the crux of any discussion of the theology of the Church. I once read a statement from a well known Orthodox theologian who endured the Communist repression of the Church in the last century. He said that Church was striped of all her riches, schools, and influence; as long as the Liturgy was served, the Church would survive. This was the reality of persecuted Orthodoxy; liturgy is the heart of the Church and fed the soul of the faithful. Behr-Sigel chose to begin her essay with this observation. She points out the central place of peace within the Divine Liturgy. The deacon begins the Great Litany asking that “peace” be the entire bearing of the participants in the liturgy.
The priest blesses and calls for “peace for the congregants and they respond asking for his spirit to be peaceful. Clergy exchange the Kiss of Peace. With the exception of the personal pronouns “we and us,” peace is the single most often used word in our liturgy. After focusing on the centrality of peace in the liturgy, Elisabeth then discusses the effect that nationalism and national identity influence the Church and its mission to strive for peace among nations. No doubt, complex geopolitical issues affect the closely knit church-state relations in many Orthodox countries. Behr-Sigel points out areas of concern to Orthodox peoples; Serbia (note the date of the article), Palestine, and the cooperation of Constantinople, Russia and the WCC and peace efforts. Never the less, the increased presence of Orthodoxy in the west should help provide a catalyst for a pan-orthodox peace movement. For further information link to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (http://www.incommunion.org)
Chapter Four discusses a theological theme which is dear to my heart. The topic is the concept of kenosis.(see post Standing by) The scriptural heart of this principle is not only Philippians 2, 5-7 as pointed out in the essay, but also all of salvation history.
The kenosis of Our Lord is at the center of Orthodox theology. God humbling Himself to take on flesh, so that He could identify with us His creation is the essence of His salvific mission in obedience to the will of the Father. The hymns, poetry and art of the Church bear witness to this tenet. Behr-Sigel describes the prevalence of this concept in Russian theological thought and literature. The monastic vocation is a true reflection of this theological concept and has been since its inception in the Egyptian and Palestinian deserts. Modern Greek theologians Zizioulas, Nellas, and Vlachos; in addition to many familiar Russian theologians have written about this aspect of Orthodox theology. Dr. Behr-Sigel masterfully weaves the theme of kenosis and its imprint on the soul of Russia and her people.