ר֛וּחַ אֲדֹנָ֥י יְהוִ֖ה עָלָ֑י יַ֡עַן מָשַׁח֩
יְהוָ֨ה אֹתִ֜י לְבַשֵּׂ֣ר עֲנָוִ֗ים שְׁלָחַ֙נִי֙
לַחֲבֹ֣שׁ לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵ֔ב לִקְרֹ֤א לִשְׁבוּיִם֙
דְּר֔וֹר וְלַאֲסוּרִ֖ים פְּקַח־קֽוֹחַ׃
לִקְרֹ֤א שְׁנַת־רָצוֹן֙ לַֽיהוָ֔ה וְי֥וֹם נָקָ֖ם
לֵאלֹהֵ֑ינוּ לְנַחֵ֖ם כָּל־אֲבֵלִֽים׃
לָשׂ֣וּם׀ לַאֲבֵלֵ֣י צִיּ֗וֹן לָתֵת֩ לָהֶ֨ם פְּאֵ֜ר
תַּ֣חַת אֵ֗פֶר שֶׁ֤מֶן שָׂשׂוֹן֙ תַּ֣חַת אֵ֔בֶל מַעֲטֵ֣ה
תְהִלָּ֔ה תַּ֖חַת ר֣וּחַ כֵּהָ֑ה וְקֹרָ֤א לָהֶם֙ אֵילֵ֣י
הַצֶּ֔דֶק מַטַּ֥ע יְהוָ֖ה לְהִתְפָּאֵֽר׃

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me;
because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek;
he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all that mourn;
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion,
to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
that they might be called trees of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.

(Isaiah 61:1-3)

Today marks the tenth anniversary of this blog. (See the first two posts, John Bekkos in jail and Happy New Year.) It is also the beginning of the ecclesiastical year (year 7526 according to the Byzantine calendar), and a day, at least since 1989, on which prayers are made in the Orthodox Church for the welfare of the creation. (See the Vespers for the Preservation of Creation, composed by Monk Gerasimos of the Skete of Saint Anne and translated into English by the late Archimandrite Ephrem Lash.) The observance of September 1st as a day for prayer on behalf of the physical creation has, in recent years, spread from the Orthodox Church to other Christians; in 2015, Pope Francis instituted it as a day of observance for Catholics, Protestants appear to be observing it as well, and it now is referred to, at least in some places, as “the World Day of Prayer for Creation.” In connection with this, Pope Francis of Rome and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople jointly issued a statement today, which I think is worth reading, and will reprint here:

JOINT MESSAGE

On the World Day of Prayer for Creation

The story of creation presents us with a panoramic view of the world. Scripture reveals that, “in the beginning”, God intended humanity to cooperate in the preservation and protection of the natural environment. At first, as we read in Genesis, “no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up – for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground” (2:5). The earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy, for which all of us share responsibility until, “in the end”, all things in heaven and on earth will be restored in Christ (cf. Eph. 1:10). Our human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.

However, “in the meantime”, the history of the world presents a very different context. It reveals a morally decaying scenario where our attitude and behavior towards creation obscures our calling as God’s co-operators. Our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets – all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation. We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession. We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.

The consequences of this alternative worldview are tragic and lasting. The human environment and the natural environment are deteriorating together, and this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people. The impact of climate change affects, first and foremost, those who live in poverty in every corner of the globe. Our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures. The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work toward sustainable and integral development.

Therefore, united by the same concern for God’s creation and acknowledging the earth as a shared good, we fervently invite all people of goodwill to dedicate a time of prayer for the environment on September 1st. On this occasion, we wish to offer thanks to the loving Creator for the noble gift of creation and to pledge commitment to its care and preservation for the sake of future generations. After all, we know that we labor in vain if the Lord is not by our side (cf. Ps. 126-127), if prayer is not at the center of our reflection and celebration. Indeed, an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world. The goal of our promise is to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives.

We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation. We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.

From the Vatican and from the Phanar, 1 September 2017

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

There are, of course, plenty of people who deny that there exists an ecological crisis or that human-induced climate change is a reality or is anything to be concerned about. Frankly, I wonder how such people can look at what happened in Texas and Louisiana this past week and not change their minds.

I recognize that minds do not change easily. That is precisely why prayer is called for. Μετάνοια (“repentance,” literally, “a change of mind”), as St. Augustine saw, is not just a rational choice of a perfectly free moral agent: it is the movement of an enslaved moral agent into a state of freedom, and that movement requires a divine intervention, which he called grace. It may be that some would cavil at the implications of this: I seem to be implying that one’s response to the environment is a moral matter, and that those who refuse to see this are not merely intellectually in error, but morally blind. Well, so be it; on this matter, I agree with the Pope and the Patriarch.

May this year be, for all of us, a year of grace and repentance, the acceptable year of the Lord.

 

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Christ is risen!

April 24, 2011

Christ is risen from the dead:
This is the primal faith
that overcomes a fallen world
immersed in ways of death.

This is the song the angels sang
when, standing at the tomb,
they saw an uncreated light
pierce through the heavy gloom.

This is what the apostles sang
when through the world they sped
attesting to the one they knew:
Christ risen from the dead.

This song is what the martyrs sang
when, hauled before the thrones
of princes, sultans, emperors,
they risked their lives and bones.

And, through all generations,
the Church has sung this hymn,
proclaiming Christ the king of kings
and triumphing in him.

Christ is risen! and the hosts
of demons quake with fear
to see within their gloomy realm
the lord of life appear.

Christ is risen, and has given
death a deadly blow,
and life and light have come to those
who languished deep below.

Christ is risen! sin and death
have lost their sovereignty,
for Christ the everlasting lord
has won the victory.

Christ is risen! grace and truth
to us are freely given,
for Christ has made a way for all
into the realm of heaven.

Christ is risen! let not fear
oppress us any more,
for Christ destroyed sin’s ancient curse
and settled that old score.

Christ is risen! may our tongues
with joy proclaim his name,
and may the countless hosts of heaven
echo with the same.

For Christ has risen from the dead
and trampled death by death,
and all who slumber in the tombs
shall waken at his breath.

The hymn of Kassiani

April 19, 2011

Troparion in the 8th tone, sung on Tuesday evening of Holy Week.

O Lord, the woman who fell into many sins,
when she perceives your divinity
takes on the role of a myrrhbearer,
and, in sorrow, provides you myrrh before your burial.
Alas! she says,
for night is what exists for me,
a mad rage of unchastity,
the gloomy, moonless love of sin.
Accept the fountains of my tears,
you who, by clouds, draw forth the water from the seas.
Bend down to the groanings of my heart,
you who incline the heavens by your
ineffable self-emptying.
I will warmly kiss your spotless feet,
and, again, with the tresses of my head
I will wipe them,
those feet whose dreaded sound
Eve heard with her ears in paradise
so that she hid herself for fear.
Who shall trace out the multitude of my sins
and who shall trace out the depths of your judgments,
O my Savior, the soul’s deliverer?
Do not disregard me, your handmaiden,
for with you there is immeasurable mercy.

Τὸ τροπάριον τῆς Κασσιανῆς

Κύριε, ἡ ἐν πολλαῖς ἁμαρτίαις περιπεσοῦσα γυνή,
τὴν σὴν αἰσθομένη θεότητα,
μυροφόρου ἀναλαβοῦσα τάξιν,
ὀδυρομένη μῦρά σοι πρὸ τοῦ ἐνταφιασμοῦ κομίζει,
Οἴμοι, λέγουσα,
ὅτι νύξ μοι ὑπάρχει,
οἶστρος ἀκολασίας,
ζοφώδης τε καὶ ἀσέληνος ἔρως τῆς ἁμαρτίας.
Δέξαι μου τὰς πηγὰς τῶν δακρύων,
ὁ νεφέλαις διεξάγων τῆς θαλάσσης τὸ ὕδωρ.
Κάμφθητί μοι πρὸς τοὺς στεναγμοὺς τῆς καρδίας,
ὁ κλίνας τοὺς οὐρανοὺς τῇ ἀφάτῳ σου κενώσει.
Καταφιλήσω τοὺς ἀχράντους σου πόδας,
ἀποσμήξω τούτους δὲ πάλιν
τοῖς τῆς κεφαλῆς μου βοστρύχοις,
ὧν ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ
Εὔα τὸ δειλινὸν κρότον τοῖς ὠσὶν ἠχηθεῖσα,
τῷ φόβῳ ἐκρύβη.
Ἁμαρτιῶν μου τὰ πλήθη
καὶ κριμάτων σου ἀβύσσους
τίς ἐξιχνιάσει, ψυχοσῶστα Σωτήρ μου;
Μή με τὴν σὴν δούλην παρίδῃς,
ὁ ἀμέτρητον ἔχων τὸ ἔλεος.

Presented below is a chapter from an unpublished book, titled Light from the East, by the late Brother Robert Smith, FSC (1914-2006), longtime tutor at St. John’s College, Annapolis. It was a book he was working on during the last few years of his long life; when he left his house at Annapolis a few months before his death, he asked me to save the files of it onto my computer. I have cleaned up spelling and punctuation as best I can, but, as far as possible, have left Brother Robert’s wording intact; occasionally, what is presented here is a hypothetical reconstruction of the meaning of an unclear original passage.

The essay will give the reader, I hope, some idea of what sort of a man Brother Robert Smith was, and what sort of a God he worshiped. And it is also, I think, a most insightful reading of St. Andrew’s Canon, and an excellent lenten meditation.


THE GREAT CANON BY ANDREW OF CRETE

This poem, beloved by the Eastern Church, lets us overhear a conversation between Christ and an old man, who knows he will soon die and then face judgment on all the deeds of his life.

Andrew asks renewed forgiveness for his known sins and light to uncover any hidden leanings still within him that, if uttered, would show how unfit he was to talk openly with his Lord.

Christ in words found in Scripture reminds Andrew of how all-inclusive the two commandments of love are, and how eager he is to greet prodigals when they return.

To many the mere thought of anyone having to face judgment will be terrifying.

Imagine: an all-knowing God coming to question us, weak from age, about things we did in youth, middle age, and later years!

When, however, we hear this poem read in Church, it will strike us as indeed grave, but still consoling because it shows Christ’s never-failing desire for us to become one in mind with himself. He wants to talk familiarly with us in the way God did with Adam in the coolness of the afternoon.

Andrew has a vivid sense of his own failings, but, despite this, the conversation between him and Christ is between people who love one another. Andrew is talking to his soon-to-arrive judge, but he knows him to be presently anxious to help him put on the wedding garment guests need to wear.

The old man grieves over his past wrongdoing, but expressions of this concern are interspersed with memories of his master trying to find lost sheep or search for lost coins that have the king’s image stamped on them. Even more to the point, Christ condemns our failings because he wants us to be better.

In listening to Andrew, Christ hears an old man who has spent his life seeking to find what his Master wants. Now, in these last days, that old man is striving to know whether there are unknown commands he has not heeded, or failings he has neither recognized nor confessed. From the bottom of his heart he is begging his Lord to help him become a good disciple; he fears being disowned by someone he loves and whom he knows wants him not to fail.

There is no better way for any of us to learn what God wants of us than meditating on the stories of good and bad men spoken of in Scripture. Andrew has been pondering on them during all the years of his monastic life. Now, in old age, he is going over in his mind texts grown dear to him and peering into them in hope of discovering lessons he has missed.

He does not, like some scholar, speak in an orderly way of all parts of Scripture simply because they are there to be read dispassionately. Instead Andrew will be listening for messages God set down for us to heed. In the light of those stories there is one more chance to find out how he falls short of thinking and feeling as God does.

Memories of past blindness renew his worry about wrong desires that may still be lurking in some corner of his mind. Therefore he keeps asking both forgiveness for failings he knows about and help for him to uncover still hidden ugliness.

The Great Canon shows us thoughts of someone who reads the Scriptures in an affective way. He knows stories about God’s interaction with outstanding men and women from the past, and, as he thinks about them, he uncovers their bearing on him.

So his approaching meeting with Christ is not something unlooked-for; on the contrary it is a culmination of many years spent talking with his Master about his actions and how to make them better.

The Church invites us to listen to this poem during Lent (1) because we too will have to face judgment and (2) Lent is a time for readying ourselves to rise into the newness of life made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection.

Read the rest of this entry »

On the situation in Egypt

February 3, 2011

As the world watches events unfold in Tahrir Square, I will add my own brief comment. The people who have gathered there this week to demand Hosni Mubarak’s resignation have done a very simple but profound thing: they are asserting their human dignity, their right to live as free human beings under a government of their own choice. Some of them are now paying for that assertion with their lives, as Mubarak’s hired thugs spray the square with machine-gun fire. The courage displayed by the Egyptian people during the past few days will not be forgotten. And their assertion of their right to political freedom poses a question to the rest of us: do we support that right? The tepid response of the American government to what is happening on the streets of Cairo is shameful; our hypocritical inaction in this crisis will also not be forgotten. President Obama needs to tell Mubarak to leave Egypt, now.

Not long ago, I got into a debate on this blog with a man for whom I have a high regard, Dr. Michaël de Verteuil; I found it difficult to accept the proposition that Islam is a religion of peace. I still view that proposition, taken in the abstract, as dubious. Yet those of us who are Christians, who would like to think of Christianity as a religion of peace, are all the more obligated to acknowledge and encourage the aspirations for peace that we find in others; we betray our faith, we blaspheme our God, when we fail to recognize our common humanity in the face our neighbor. The Egyptian people are asserting that common humanity, and are asking to be treated, by their own government and by others, as human beings. Those of us who are Christians know that the source of that ineradicable sense of human dignity, the basis of all political freedom, is the image of God that exists in all of us, because of which the human person can never be made into a mere means to an end.

Egypt is a land that Jesus visited as a child; people there remember that fact. As that land gave him shelter when he was under persecution, may he now grant shelter and protection to the people who are being attacked in Tahrir Square by government thugs, and may he grant the people of Egypt a responsible, democratic government in place of the dictators they have had to endure for more than one generation.

I find today that Nathan Hollenbeck has again begun posting at the blog Toward Transfiguration. He has there a remarkable video showing the appearance of a bright form, in the shape of a woman, standing on the roof of a Coptic Orthodox church in Cairo, filmed this past December 16th, the day that marked the beginning of the Coptic month devoted to the Virgin Mary. I viewed it just now, with my poor, dial-up connection, and found it altogether remarkable. And it seems to me that Nathan’s remarks need to be taken to heart:

“I tremble when I see this and remember Kibeho and Fatima. Fatima preceded and prophecied a world war. Kibeho preceded and prophecied the Rwanda genocide. The greater the mercy, the greater the trials ahead. Perhaps also God … has allowed his Most Holy Mother to appear to Christian and Muslim alike as a plea to her Muslim children to turn to God in light of what she, God, and the holy angels only know the future may hold if we don’t all repent, pray, and fast, but what we already see foreshadowed in current tensions.”

In view of Cristian Ciopron’s article on the Transfiguration, which I posted earlier today, I would recommend that readers of my blog look at this video, as a testimony to the reality of the transfigured life in Christ and as a plea for Christian unity more powerful than any which my poor pen can muster.

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2009


Ἡ Παρθένος σήμερον
τὸν προαιώνιον Λόγον
ἐν σπηλαίῳ ἔρχεται
ἀποτεκεῖν ἀπορρήτως.
Χόρευε
ἡ οἰκουμένη ἀκουτισθεῖσα·
δόξασον
μετὰ ἀγγέλων καὶ τῶν ποιμένων
βουληθέντα ἐποφθῆναι
παιδίον νέον
τὸν πρὸ αἰώνων Θεόν.

Today the Virgin comes to a cave
to bear ineffably
the preeternal Word.
Dance for joy
O inhabited earth
when this news comes to your ears;
glorify
along with angels and with shepherds
the God before the ages
who willed to appear
as a little child.