20000 Martyrs In
Sat. Great Vespers
Sun. 9am 3rd/6th Hrs & Typica
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
For in our bodies too all
distempers arise from excess; and when the elements thereof leave their
proper limits, and go on beyond moderation, then all these countless diseases
are generated, and grievous kinds of death. --
Do not befoul your intellect by clinging to thoughts filled with anger and sensual desire. Otherwise you will lose your capacity for pure prayer and fall victim to the demon of listlessness.
- St. Maximus the Confessor
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Life Behind the Veil
I want to say that it is difficult to live in the ever-present awareness of God’s world. The real world, rather than the veil that is pulled over my eyes – “the frail shadows of elusive dreams”. But then I think of what that world is, and how it came to be, and I am ashamed. It is my life apart from God that is the illusion. It is my atheism that is the veil. I don’t really believe that “the bridgegroom cometh in the midst of the night”. I live as though the illusory world were an end in itself.
Fasting: How can I eat when I have betrayed and crucified him? How can I find it difficult, when He hungered 40 days in a desert, when He cried blood, when He stood for me in execution, and raised me with Him? And dare I say that I am only a man, when He became man for me?
Feasting: How can I pass the day like any other when He is born and He is risen? How can I fail to honor the day that He honors, having filled it with His Grace? How can I fail in hospitality to His friends, greeting them in the day of their honor? How can I feel no excitement? Is my soul dead? How can I forget those who have begotten me and anchor me, through so righteous a chain of begettings?
The Hours: How can I sleep, and how can my soul slumber, when I would wish so desperately to rise to meet him if he came for the last time. He waits for me. He is to be found where the Church is praying. Is my lamp trimmed and filled with oil? Then let us go together and meet the Lord who walks about in the Church.
My Rule of Prayer: How can I think my prayers long or that they are too long for me to pray? “Could you not keep watch for one hour?” asks the Lord who has gone up to the highest mountain to pray for me. He intercedes for me even now. How can I find it tedious when it is God with Whom I speak, unless my soul does not regard Him in prayer, and does not befriend Him who is my friend.
The world is changed. The universe is remade. God has become man for me. Glory to Him forever.
It is difficult to write of excess in a culture in which we slather our foods with gravy and sauces and oils and sugars. Everything must be seasoned and coated and drowned in stimulation and titillation. It is folly to write of it while smoking like a coal engine, drinking caffeine like any drug addict, and sucking down soda, desserts, and rich foods like a pagan king in a city aflame and at its foul end. I cannot do it. I can only say that I know that I live in this city, and that it is a time on the brink of death.
Master, let me not be found at the Altar of Excess, blind to Your coming at the end, and blind to Your coming every day. I came to You and asked, “Lord, what must I do to me saved?” And You said to me, ‘Sell this world of excess back to the world, and concern yourself with your brethren, the poor.’ But I, desiring to always be full, went away empty, because I am the rich man.
I have an evil twin. It is the self that is pious with the pious but disregards the truth in private. It is the me that speaks one way with the saintly, and another with those who do not see God. I am the man who embraces my brother at Church and rails at my wife at home. I am a divided person, a split-man, half of a soul and part corpse. If a lie is the difference between deception and truth, then the life I regard as my ‘normal’ life is the lie. But then my ‘Church’ life is a lie, too. In truth, there are no half-lies, and there is no half-life. I am either man or wraith, either fake or sincere, either charlatan or disciple.
If I am changed in appearance, in play acting, but my ‘unsupervised’ life is unredeemed, then I am the Pharisee who goes away unfilled. I am the rich man whom the Lord sent away empty. I am that unworthy disciple. I am found with the Lord, but I do not regard Him in my heart. I walk with him, but plan my escape.
Nor do I love others. I am angry but civil. I am thinking of myself but am courteous. I am careful with you my brethren but careless with others and when alone. I do not see the cloud of my witnesses. I do not believe in this Kingdom of which the Lord speaks. I praise the Saints that I may not feel compelled to live as they do. I laud the martyrs that I may not feel compelled to let go of my own life. And I do regard it as my own life; after all, it is all I have. Much good may it do me on that frightful day, since I have laid up no treasure in Heaven and sleep at the sound of trumpets.
Deliver me from the Man of Death, O Lord, for like Judas do I give Thee a kiss.
I said to the world: “My love, how I long for you. I know what the world is for. Entertain me. Comfort me. Satisfy me. Fill me. Be my reason for being. Do not be hard or difficult. Do not try my patience. Give me what I want now. Hide me in the warmth of your embrace; hide me even from my soul. There is no comfort like your bed. There is no pleasure like your food. Blot out my thoughts and surround me with sleep. My lover, my tryst, my true passion.”
And the world said to me. “Do not worry, love. I will keep you warm and comfortable. Your comfort will be my chief concern. I will slow your mind and excite your passions. You will be my plaything and lie upon my lap. You will have no purpose but me. I will be your whole life. Your all. Drink deeply of me. You will spend your days in comfort. You will spend them.”
So I thought only of that comfort. I wanted to be warm all the time. I never wanted to hunger or suffer. I wanted to feel good all the time. I wanted the fruit of slumber rather than labor. I did not want to be assaulted with difficult things. I wanted the world to tell me what I want. I wanted it to find things for me to enjoy. I listened when it told me I was bored, and that I should play with whatever it gave me. I said to the world, “Deliver me from pain. Let me live for pleasure. Have my mind. Have my will. O World, take my flesh.” So I pulled it around me like a blanket. I buried my face in its darkness. I slipped out of thought and ceased willing. Such was our union, that I ceased even to be.
Then God was found in the world.
I could not think when He spoke. I could not choose what I wanted. I could not feel a love beyond myself and my comfort. I called Him “Lord,” but then I turned and went back into the darkness. I went on and on. I went on until the world was all that was left. Even so, I looked back to make sure He was still there. That’s when I saw that I was in flames. All that was good had followed Him.
A Community of Love
Where any two of us are gathered together in the Name of
Christ, there is Christ in our midst. Therefore one of us speaks: “Christ is
born.” and another responds: “Glorify Him.” One of us says “Christ is in our
midst.” and another answers “He is and ever shall be.” We hold to the
One thing impressed upon me by the Holy Supper on the Eve of Nativity is that the early Orthodox ate together, and that they ate together the way a family does. This is significant, I think, as a sign of their unity in love. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, we read of the Church gathered together breaking bread. They went even farther, of course; they sold what they had, gave mightily to the poor, and lived in community, working each for the common good. We can learn much from this. Which of us would not be willing to sell at least some of what we have to satisfy the needs of others? Which of us would be unwilling to give and to work where we also receive and partake? But how too is it so significant that the early Orthodox ate together?
Perhaps it is speculation, but it does not seem too much of a stretch to suggest that they were making of one another a kind of family. Not only ‘begetting’ children in the Faith and standing as ‘parents’ at Holy Baptism, but these families became ‘interlocking’ members of each other, bearing witness to the reality of the Church as the One Body of Christ by sharing in each others’ sufferings and joys. They were mutual members not merely in the sense of a theoretical set of relationships, but they were continually gathered together, according to the Acts, devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. The implication is a community seeking theosis, with each other, whose bond and unity is love.
And again, I am reminded of this by the Holy Supper, since the Holy Nativity – God becoming man for us – has the sole purpose of our theosis, our union with God, the deification of ourselves and all creation. Because of the Incarnation, all things are now for our salvation, but most especially each other. Sartre said “Hell is other people.” but we believe that other people lead us to Heaven, in our love for them, and in their manifold helps to us. The Holy Communion in Christ’s Incarnate flesh and blood fulfills all meals and all possible union between men. The common meal of the family of God then indicated the extension of this reality of being and sharing the Body of Christ into a continual attitude.
The Law and the Prophets bare witness entirely to Christ, the Incarnate God, and it is He that said to us “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” When we say “Christ is born.” therefore, it is this love for each other that is one meaning of our answer - “Glorify Him.”
If you happen to think of me, make the thought a prayer.
-- the unworthy