Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Hymn of Entry (3)
Last week at church, in the Adult Education class, we continued our study of Hymn of Entry: Liturgy and Life in the Orthodox Church by Archimandrite Vasilieios. The author, the Abbot of Stavronikita Monastery on Mount Athos, has produced an incredible little book, only 133 pages, but powerful in its impact. I plan to post a few excerpts from each of the 6 chapters, but will withhold whatever meager commentary I could offer until the end of the series.
Chapter 3 -- The Divine Liturgy as a Theological Rite
The Liturgy consists not of sacred words but of sacred action. We do not speak but act. There is nothing here without deep roots. What is depicted or heard externally is a manifestation of an inner, personal and conscious sacrifice.
Here we learn to live, to offer ourselves. the really free life dawns, the life to come that has been given to us. We see that offering is increase, self-emptying is fullness, humiliation is glory. We learn to give thanks. And "while this thanksgiving bestows nothing upon Him, it makes us more intimate with Him."
When something is offered to God in all and for all in the atmosphere of the Liturgy, this results in its sanctificaton and fundamental transformation. The life and will which is offered to God is immediately and inalienably sanctified. When we offer what is non-essential and corruptible with a sense of gratitude, it brings us an increase of what is holy, eternal and spiritual....so the believer's whole life becomes a spiritual increase inasmuch as it is an offering. Instead of being exhausted it is regenerated, because before time and old age and illness can exhaust it, he has given his strength and his life to God and received grace. He has been sanctified in soul and body, and now time, old age and illness have no hold over him: his joy, life and youth escape from the hands of his enemies and go on "to the infinity" of the freedom of the Spirit.
Finally, the death and bodily burial of the believer in the earth is his last earthly act of universal offering. he does not vainly try to resist death. He has learned that offering is increase and life....He is not buried as a dead man conquered by illness or time. rather, he is offered as a liturgical gift given on behalf of all. He became voluntarily dead to self-will, fear and evil before he died physically. He died in all and for all, in every sphere of his life, so that He who is eternal and incorruptible could enter into him, as owner and master. thus even the final death which has come upon his body has been accepted by hm as the visitation of God's fatherly love, the purpose of which is total cleansing, resurrection and freedom.
Life brings us satisfaction only when it is tormented by the spirit of freedom which blows where it will. We are ceaselessly extended by eternal life once we surrender the weapons of our cowardice, of our own free will, and entrust to the will of God incarnate our entire destine, "all our life and hope."
The life which lacks the infinite and boundless dimensions of death, is in itself lifelessness and death. that is why the life which is strong as death has as its gateway the death of everything corruptible; the loss of our very soul, in order to find it again in a place open and unrestricted, free of every constraint and anxiety. In this way, when we have death as our companion, our spouse, we are married to life.
The faithful are not like spectators or an audience following something that makes a greater or lesser emotional impression on them. the faithful partake in the Divine Liturgy. the mystery is celebrated in each of the faithful, in the whole of the liturgical community. we do not see Christ externally, we meet Him within us. Christ takes shape in us. the faithful become Christs by grace.