Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Monday, December 30, 2013
Some upcoming events - sacred art class teaching the method of the gothic School of St Albans in March, and a talk in Berkeley CA in January 13thDavid Clayton
For any interested, I am offering a sacred art class in the spring at Thomas More College that is open to all; and speaking in mid January at St Mary Magdelen, the Dominican church in Berkeley, CA on January 13th The details are in the fliers below. The paintings shown on the posters for any who don't recognise them are first of all the gothic St Christopher by the English artist Matthew Parris, and below that St Francis at Prayer by the Spanish baroque artist Zurburan
Posted Monday, December 30, 2013
|(Images from St. Edmund Campion Missal used with permission)|
And what is it that attracts so many young people to the Traditional Liturgy of the Church? It can’t be nostalgia, they have never experienced the Liturgy before 1962. Why are they not content with the new liturgy that is supposed to appeal especially to the young – active participation, creative liturgies, modern music, dancing – is this not everything that young people want? It is quite clear that it is not. The modern Mass, as presented to them in recent decades, has alienated them from the Church. In preparation for this talk I consulted all the members of the Federation and also those new groups that have contacted me. The comments I received, especially from the young leaders of the newly-formed groups in all parts of the world, reveal a thirst for truth, for dignity and reverence in worship, for something transcendent.Indeed, the old guard of the “spirit of Vatican II” accuse traditionalists of wallowing in nostalgia, yet Fr. Richard McBrien once found himself caught short trying to explain how it is that young Catholics, who never grew up with the Latin Mass—who, in fact, were born long after it had nearly vanished—are today flocking to it, loving it, and passing it on to their children. A “nostalgia” for what one could never have remembered is positively indecent and categorically illogical!
In an interview for the National Catholic Reporter, Archbishop Piero Marini memorably compared the traditionalist nostalgics with the carnal Jews who, having been liberated from the bondage of Pharaoh and his evil empire, longed for the fleshpots of Egypt:
First of all, it’s important that I spoke about a path [of liturgical reform], one that I believe is irreversible. I often think about the journey of the ancient Israelites in the Old Testament. It was a difficult journey, and sometimes the people became nostalgic for the past, for the onions and the melons of Egypt and so on. In other words, sometimes they wanted to go back. But the historical journey of the church is one which, by necessity, has to move forward.His Excellency is puzzled that so many young people are drawn to the older liturgical forms—how can this be? He shares his reasoning process with us:
I see a certain nostalgia for the past. What concerns me in particular is that this nostalgia seems especially strong among some young priests. How is it possible to be nostalgic for an era they didn’t experience? . . . I’m always surprised to see young people who feel this nostalgia for something they never lived with. “Nostalgia for what?,” I find myself asking.In reality, what we are witnessing are the first fruits of a long-delayed genuine liturgical renewal, thanks to Summorum Pontificum and the re-introduction of traditional doctrine and practice throughout the Church. Younger Catholics who take their faith seriously are doing just that: taking it seriously. Taking it as given, not as manufactured; as timeless, not as up-to-date. They have come to see that the Mass is not a do-it-yourself experiment: it is the very Sacrifice of Calvary made present in our midst, in a hallowed form we receive from our forebears, bearing not only its own sanctifying reality, but also the sanctified history of the communion of saints. The reaction of any sane believer is to fall to his knees in thankful adoration, along with generations past and generations to come.
A More Profound Understanding of Nostalgia
No less a philosopher than Karol Wojtyla considered nostalgia to be one of the most distinctively human characteristics, a sign of our awareness that we transcend the present moment. In his inaugural encyclical, John Paul II wrote:
“You made us for yourself, Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (St. Augustine). In this creative restlessness beats and pulsates what is most deeply human—the search for truth, the insatiable need for the good, hunger for freedom, nostalgia for the beautiful, and the voice of conscience. (Redemptor Hominis, 18)Addressing artists two decades later, John Paul II fittingly quotes the same saint:
Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savor life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God which a lover of beauty like Saint Augustine could express in incomparable terms: “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!” (Letter to Artists, 16)Again, in an encyclical that has been recognized as particularly close to his heart, the same pontiff wrote:
The Apostle [in Acts 17:26-27] accentuates a truth which the Church has always treasured: in the far reaches of the human heart there is a seed of desire and nostalgia for God. The Liturgy of Good Friday recalls this powerfully when, in praying for those who do not believe, we say: “Almighty and eternal God, you created mankind so that all might long to find you and have peace when you are found”.(22) There is therefore a path which the human being may choose to take, a path which begins with reason’s capacity to rise beyond what is contingent and set out towards the infinite. (Fides et Ratio, 24)
In Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, faith recognizes the ultimate appeal to humanity, an appeal made in order that what we experience as desire and nostalgia may come to its fulfilment. (Ibid., 33)All of these texts are believed with good reason to have been penned directly by John Paul II, and they breathe a spirit distinctively his. For Wojtyła, nostalgia seems to mean a deep longing or hunger for the fullness of beauty, a powerful movement of the human spirit towards divine transcendence, in which there is mingled restlessness, memory, a striving for completeness, a straining to the infinite from the very midst of our finitude. All this, it seems to me, has enormous implications for how we think about and celebrate the sacred liturgy.
In a document that deserves to be much better known, The Via Pulchritudinis: Privileged Pathway for Evangelisation and Dialogue, the Pontifical Council for Culture states, in language strongly reminiscent of John Paul II’s:
The way of beauty replies to the intimate desire for happiness that resides in the heart of every person. Opening infinite horizons, it prompts the human person to push outside of himself, from the routine of the ephemeral passing instant, to the Transcendent and Mystery, and seek, as the final goal of the ultimate quest for wellbeing and total nostalgia, this original beauty which is God Himself, creator of all created beauty.
Certainly, the consciousness that beauty has something to do with pain was also present in the Greek world. For example, let us take Plato’s Phaedrus. Plato contemplates the encounter with beauty as the salutary emotional shock that makes man leave his shell and sparks his “enthusiasm” by attracting him to what is other than himself. Man, says Plato, has lost the original perfection that was conceived for him. He is now perennially searching for the healing primitive form. Nostalgia and longing impel him to pursue the quest; beauty prevents him from being content with just daily life. It causes him to suffer.This passage, with the others quoted above, help us to see that there is a very rich positive understanding of nostalgia that we would do well to take seriously in our reflections and actions, particularly in regard to the sacred liturgy and man’s vital experience of it.
In a Platonic sense, we could say that the arrow of nostalgia pierces man, wounds him and in this way gives him wings, lifts him upwards towards the transcendent. In his discourse in the Symposium, Aristophanes says that lovers do not know what they really want from each other. From the search for what is more than their pleasure, it is obvious that the souls of both are thirsting for something other than amorous pleasure. But the heart cannot express this “other” thing, “it has only a vague perception of what it truly wants and wonders about it as an enigma.”
In the 14th century, in the book, The Life in Christ by the Byzantine theologian, Nicholas Cabasilas, we rediscover Plato’s experience in which the ultimate object of nostalgia, transformed by the new Christian experience, continues to be nameless. Cabasilas says: “When men have a longing so great that it surpasses human nature and eagerly desire and are able to accomplish things beyond human thought, it is the Bridegroom who has smitten them with this longing. It is he who has sent a ray of his beauty into their eyes. The greatness of the wound already shows the arrow which has struck home, the longing indicates who has inflicted the wound” (cf. the Second Book, 15).
On this basis, one could distinguish between a superficial and sentimental nostalgia, and an existential, spiritual nostalgia rooted in the human soul’s longing for immortality, transcendence, and ineffable peace, stretching out towards the beautiful with eros and pathos. The former kind of nostalgia would tend to fixate on sad recollections of the past (being in this way close to regret tinged with self-pity), whereas the latter kind is characterized by a restless search for the absolutely beautiful Beloved, for which countless particular memories, experiences, and objects would serve as symbols. Nostalgia in the bad sense is enstatic, trapped within oneself, whereas nostalgia in the Wojtyłan-Ratzingerian sense is ecstatic, taking one out of oneself.
As we come to the end of this year of our Lord, A.D. 2013, a time when it is very natural to cast a pensive gaze back over the year that is past and to peer into the blurry shadows of an uncertain future that we know will bring both sorrows and joys, we should thank the Lord for His mercy in giving us a taste of that transcendent sweetness that makes all earthly delight pale, a foretaste of the eternal blessedness for which we long and of which our nostalgia is a poignant reminder.
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Friday, December 27, 2013
Send to firstname.lastname@example.org. Merry Christmas!
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Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Posted Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
First and foremost, the Church only observes the daily office of Prime, Terce, Sext, and None as she does on Christmas Eve on two other days of the year: the vigil of Theophany (Jan. 5) and Good Friday. This observance is called the “Royal Hours.” The Orthodox Church in America offers a good explanation of the name here:
All Divine Liturgies in the Orthodox Church are preceded by the chanting of the Hours services, consisting of psalms, hymns and prayers. But in the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, the Byzantine Emperor was present each year at the service beginning the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. Therefore, the Hours preceding the Vespers and Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great on Christmas Eve are given the name “Royal Hours.”The Emperor's attendance at the service was in part a demonstration of his humble acknowledgment that Jesus Christ reigns over all mortal beings. The third psalm is Psalm 44, “My heart overflows with good tidings as I sing my ode to the King; my tongue is like the pen of a skillful scribe. Thou art the fairest of the sons of men; grace is poured upon Thy lips; therefore God has blessed Thee forever. Gird Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O mighty one, in Thy splendor and beauty. Draw Thy bow, ride forth in triumph and reign, for the sake of truth, and meekness, and righteousness.” Such words could apply to only one Sovereign.
|St. Joseph speaking with prophet Isaiah about his doubts in this traditional icon of the Nativity (detail).|
After the Vigil liturgy, which traditionally takes place in the late afternoon, the faithful retire to their homes for the Holy Vigil Supper. Up until this point, the ascetical observance of the day has corresponded to that of Good Friday and Holy Saturday: no food or drink should pass your lips. But after the Eucharistic liturgy, we observe the “festive fast” like we do on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is the only Sunday of Lent where fish is permitted, and similarly, while Christmas Eve is still dairy free and meat free, we have a festive twelve course meal that includes fish, oil, and wine. As with Palm Sunday there is still a fasting note: we are not at the feast yet, we still await it. But there is also a celebratory note: the King has been announced, creation is waiting to acclaim Him in song, and so while we abstain from certain foods, this is a joyful supper nonetheless. Again, we see here the importance of not merely making Christmas Vigil an early version of Christmas Day. The fast is still in place until midnight; Christmas is not yet here.
At midnight, the faithful gather at the Church for Great Compline. Sometimes the Divine Liturgy for Christmas immediately follows. The highlight of the Great Compline service is the hymnal proclamation that Immanuel has come. As the shepherds heard the proclamation in the dead of night, so too do we hear it. Taking the words of Isaiah for her own, the Church sings: “God is with us! Give ear all you nations, and be humbled! For God is with us!”
Monday, December 23, 2013
|An 18th century Greek icon of Christ-Emmanuel, from the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon.|
In various medieval uses of the Roman Rite, although not in that of Rome itself, the Vigil of Christmas was often extended back to include the Vespers of the preceding day, December 23rd, with the addition of a special responsory to be sung between the chapter and the hymn. (A similar custom is found in the Breviary of St. Pius V on the Epiphany, the vigil of which runs from Vespers of January 4th to None of the 5th.)
R. De illa occulta habitatione sua egressus est Filius Dei; descendit visitare et consolari omnes, qui eum de toto corde desiderabant. V. Ex Sion species decoris ejus, Deus noster manifeste veniet. Descendit. Gloria Patri. Descendit.In his curious work On the Correction of the Antiphonary, the first liturgy critic, Agobard of Lyon (ca. 780-840), says that this responsory should be rejected “with great severity”, since its “vain and presumptuous author … lyingly asserts that He visited and consoled all those who long for Him, when rather He caused those whom He deigned to visit, to acknowledge and long for Him.” His opinion was not accepted, and the responsory is found in a great number of medieval antiphonaries and breviaries; in the post-Tridentine period, however, it appears to have been retained only by the Premonstratensian Order and a few local uses.
R. From that hidden habitation of His, the Son of God shall go forth; He hath come down to visit and console all those, who long for Him with all their heart. V. Out of Sion the loveliness of His beauty, our God shall come manifestly. He hath come down. Glory be. He hath come down.
|A page of the Breviary according to the Use of Prague, 1502; the responsory De illa occulta is in the middle of the left column.|
On the vigil of the Lord’s Birth, that beautiful prophecy of divine consolation is most frequently and solemnly spoken by the Church. “This day ye shall know that the Lord shall come, and on the morrow ye shall see His glory.”And then, in reference to Introit of the Mass:
When the Lord had said to the sons of Israel, “Behold, I will rain bread from Heaven for you,” Moses and Aaron said to them, “In the evening you shall know that the Lord hath brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord.” (Exod. 16, 4 and 6-7) … (this) invites us to consider that that manna, which was given to the sons of Israel when they had come out of the land of Egypt, and were marching for the promised land, was a figure of the Word of God, which took on the flesh through the Virgin, and came to feed us that believe in Him, … The interpreter of this similitude is not just any man, but the very One who said, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that if any man eat of it, he may not die.” (John 6, 48-51)
|The Miracle of the Manna in the Desert, by Tintoretto, 1577|
Why was the Lord conceived not simply of a virgin, but of one espoused? First, that by the begetting of Joseph, the origin of Mary may be shown. Secondly, lest she be stoned by the Jews as an adulteress. Third, that She might have a protector as She fled to Egypt. The martyr Ignatius (of Antioch) added a fourth reason why He was conceived of one espoused, saying, “that His birth might be concealed from the devil, who would think that He was begotten not of a virgin, but of one married. “Before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” She was found so by no other, but only by Joseph, who had already almost an husband’s privilege to know all that concerned his wife. But where it is said “Before they came together,” it followeth not that they came together afterwards; but the Scripture showeth what did not happen.On Christmas Day itself, there are three different Masses; at Matins of Christmas, therefore, there is read in the Third Nocturn a brief homily on the Gospel of each of the three, the first by St. Gregory the Great, the second by St. Ambrose, the third by St. Augustine. The inclusion of a passage of St. Jerome completes the number of the four doctors of the Latin Church; between the vigil and feast, each of the four preaches to us on the Nativity of the Lord.
In the year from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, five-thousand, one hundred and ninety-nine; from the Flood, two-thousand, nine hundred and fifty-seven; from the birth of Abraham two-thousand and fifteen; from Moses, and the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt, one-thousand five-hundred and ten; from the anointing of David as King, one-thousand and thirty-two; in the sixty-fifth week, according to the prophecy of Daniel; in the one-hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the seven-hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome; in the forty-second year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus; while the whole earth was at peace, in the sixth age of the world, Jesus Christ, Eternal God and Son of the Eternal Father, wishing to hallow the world by His most gracious coming, having been conceived of the Holy Spirit, nine months having passed after His conception, at Bethlehem of Juda is born of the Virgin Mary, having become Man.At the words “at Bethlehem of Juda” he raises his voice, and all kneel. The final words, “The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh,” are sung “in the tone of the Passion” according to the Martyrology’s rubric, a reminder that the coming of Christ was also so that He might suffer, die and rise for our salvation.
The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
In the Roman Use, the priest who has sung the Martyrology departs at the end of this notice, and those of the other Saints of December 25th are sung by another reader. In the Premonstratensian Use, however, the Breviary directs that all shall prostrate themselves and say Psalm 84 Benedixisti, followed by Kyrie, eleison, Pater noster, a versicle, and the prayers of the vigil of Christmas and the Advent Mass of the Virgin.
O God, who gladden us by the annual expectation of our redemption, grant that we who now joyfully welcome thy Only-begotten Son as our Redeemer, may also behold Him without fear when He cometh as our Judge.The rubric continues thus: “Giving thanks to God, who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, let them for a time in silence, with devout elevation of the mind, consider the grace of the divine goodness, which is so great towards man.”
O God, Who didst will that Thy Word should, by the message of an Angel, take flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grant unto us, we beseech thee, that all we who do believe Her to be truly the Mother of God, may be helped by Her prayers before Thee.
With the abolition of the Hour of Prime, the liturgical use of the Martyrology has all but vanished from the revised Roman Rite; a new version for the post-Conciliar liturgy was not published until 2001. A prominent exception is the proclamation of the notice for Christmas, which is now often read before Midnight Mass. In the following video, taken in St. Peter’s Basilica, a more-or-less official revised version of the text is sung in a special tone written for the purpose, a tone which was also widely used before the modern reform. It begins with the date according to the famously inconvenient and complicated Roman dating system, in which “December 25th” is “the eighth day before the Kalends of January”. This is followed by the phase of the moon, the nineteenth in this case.
When numberless ages had passed from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and made man according to His image; and likewise many ages, from when after the Flood, the Most High had placed the rainbow among the clods, as a sign of His covenant and peace; in the twenty-first century from the migration of Abraham, our father in the Faith, from Ur of the Chaldees; in the thirteenth century the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt, led by Moses; in roughly the one-thousandth year from the anointing of David as King; in the sixty-fifth week, according to the prophecy of Daniel etc. (The rest of the text is the same as above, except for the omission of the words “in the sixth age of the world”)
Grant us, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we on whom the new light of Thine Incarnate Word is poured, may show forth in our works that brightness, which now doth illuminate our minds by faith. Through the same Lord...
Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we who devoutly keep the Feast of blessed Anastasia, Thy Martyr, may feel the effects of her pleadings with Thee. Through our Lord...
Of course, the place we most often encounter St. Anastasia is in the Roman Canon, in the second series of saints mentioned at the "Nobis quoque peccatoribus." In the years when I was first immersing myself in the traditional Roman Rite and savoring each new discovery I made, I distinctly remember how much these lists of saints meant to me: pondering these names of God's friends was such a comforting and familiar touch: I felt that I was in their presence begging to be counted among them, that invoking them by name brought them close and somehow collapsed the distance between the Church right now and the Church at the time of her miraculous birth upon the stage of the world.
Around that time, I heard a talk given by Fr. Cassian Folsom, OSB, the Prior of the Monastero di San Bendetto in Norcia, about the numerological symbolism contained in the saints of the Roman Canon. I was therefore delighted to see that Fr. Cassian preached on this very subject this past Solemnity of All Saints. Hence, in honor of Saint Anastasia and all her companions in this venerable anaphora, I present part of Father Prior's meditation. The whole homily may be found here.
How many saints are there? The first reading which we just heard, from the book of Revelation, speaks of 144,000. That’s it? It doesn’t seem like that many! The text then explains how it arrived at that total. There are 12,000 people in each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The symbolism is clear. Twelve is a mystical number which means totality and completeness. If we were to indicate a large number of completeness, we would say “12” twice. Even in Italian, words are repeated to underline their importance: “pian, piano” means “go really slowly.” (Think of the Gospels, when our Lord says “Amen, Amen, I say to you”; what He’s about to say is important!) Therefore, “twelve by twelve” is a way to express a really large, important number. And what if we were to go over and above, and indicate an astronomically large number? The ancients would indicate this concept adding the number 1,000. Therefore, “12” is already large. “12 by 12” or 144 is a really big number. But, 144,000 is a number so big that it’s almost impossible to count.
The Roman Canon uses the same numerology. There are two lists of saints in the Roman Canon. Count with me those listed before the consecration. First, there are the apostles:
Peter and Paul,
Simon and Jude. (12)
There are twelve saints. Next, the martyrs:
John and Paul,
Cosmas and Damian. (12)
How many saints are named? 12 and 12 – which multiplied together makes 144. Completeness, totality, all of the saints.
Now, let’s count those named in the second list, following the consecration. John the Baptist gets mentioned first because of his unique relationship to the Church in Rome. In fact, the Cathedral of Rome is the Basilica of St. John the Lateran, not St. Peter’s Basilica. So, after St. John the Baptist, the head of the choir of saints, two groups of saints follow, a list of male saints and a list of female saints. Let’s count them:
Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter. (7)
Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia. (7)
Seven men and seven women. The number seven, just like the number 12, means perfection, fullness. Therefore, the second list, just like the first, means “All of the saints”, a huge multitude, which no one can really count…the communion of saints. Many saints have a feast day in the liturgical calendar, and still others have their name etched in the martyrology, but don’t have a special feast day. Finally, there are still many unknown saints – or rather, those who are only known to God.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
|The Creation of Adam, by Andrea Pisano, 1335; from the bell-tower of the Cathedral of Florence.|
Saturday, December 21, 2013
|A 17th century Russian icon of Christ the High Priest|
O Thoma Didyme, per Christum quem meruisti tangere, te precibus rogamus altisonis, succurre nobis miseris, ne damnemur cum impiis in adventu judicis.
O Thomas the Twin, through Christ, Whom thou didst merit to touch,with prayers resounding on high we beseech thee, come to help us in our wretchedness, lest we be damned with the wicked at the Coming of the Judge.
Beginning on Dec. 20th, however, we formally enter into the “pre-festive” days, and now every night there are specific meditations at Vespers that look toward Christmas. In the troparion for these days, the Church turns our gaze in some ways forward to Christ, and at the same time, asks us to remember why Christ was born: “Bethlehem make ready, Ephratha prepare yourself. Eden has been opened for all…Christ was born to raise up the likeness that was fallen.” In her songs for these days, the Church especially draws us to consider the relation between Adam’s fall and Christ’s birth. In the Vespers aposticha (dismissal hymns), the Church employs the prophet Habakkuk to explain the link between Adam and Christmas, and offers us a guide in how to prepare ourselves for the coming feast.
“I heard the sound of you in the Garden, and I was afraid, so I hid myself.” These are Adam’s first post-fall words to God. Habakkuk the prophet took up the words of Adam and made them his own in a different context (Hab. 3). Like Adam, Habakkuk heard God coming. For Adam the sound was God walking in the garden; but for Habakkuk God is “coming from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran”, and the Church opens with this verse in her aposticha. Immediately following, the Church takes up Habakkuk’s and Adam’s response to this approach, “O Lord, I heard your voice and I was afraid; I knew your deeds and I was terrified.”
The language of Habakuk’s prayer in chapter 3 is similar to what Moses employs to describe the covenant from Mount Sinai, (Deut. 33, 2). In the context of Deuteronomy and its description of the Exodus covenant, however, the people of Israel are described as following in the Lord’s steps, freed from Egypt, joined to God. Habakuk uses almost identical language to describe God coming from Mount Paran, but with one major difference: in Habakuk, Israel is suffering, awaiting redemption. “O Lord how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear? Plead against tyranny, and no deliverance be granted me?” (chap. 1, 1). A little later the prophet declares, “I will take my stand to watch...and look forth to see what the Lord will say to me” (chap. 2, 1). Thus, Habakuk’s prayer is a prayer for the coming redemption, cast in the language of Exodus; the coming redemption will be like when God manifested His power at Mount Paran.
The Church identifies this expected redemption for which Habakuk waits as the Incarnation. By placing the verse from Habakuk’s prayer in the context of the pre-Christmas vespers, the Church makes his prayer her own, and by extension the words of Adam become the words of the whole Church: our life is full of sin and we hear the sound of the Lord’s approach and tremble. We both hope for His coming, and fear His approach; we yearn for the possibility of redemption, and yet are terrified when that glorious help comes near. Thus Adam’s answer to God, through the mediation of Habakkuk, becomes the Church’s prayer for the coming of Christ in the flesh. As sinners we are by that very fact distant from the mystery of Christmas. In repentance we are called to enter into the yearning and waiting for the fruits of the Incarnation, identifying ourselves with those who awaited it in time. And in the Christmas liturgy, the historic event is made present anew to us who have re-prepared for it.
Habakuk says that he has heard the report of the Lord’s coming, he has heard tell what the Lord sounds like when he walks in the garden, and he is in fear. And yet, he prays that the Lord will renew this awesome work in the midst of the years, and in wrath, to remember his mercy (chap. 3, 2). One can very much imagine Adam feeling the same way as he hears the glory of the Lord approaching him, and he trembles with fear, hoping against hope that in wrath God may remember mercy. As Habakkuk notes (3, 4-15), at the Lord’s coming in previous times, His glory covered the heavens, the earth echoed with his praise, and His brightness was like lightning flashing from his fingers. Before the Lord comes, there is pestilence and plague, the nations were shaken and the mountains were scattered and the hills brought low. The tents of his enemies were filled with affliction; his enemies trembled. It was as if He was angry with the rivers and the sea as he rode over them, stirring them to such a storm as if a giant chariot were spinning and splashing the waters. The depths of the sea and earth cried out, and the sun and moon stood still. And in all this sound of fury and destruction, the Lord “went forth for the salvation of thy people.” He crushed the head of the serpent and laid bare the nakedness of iniquity, and destroyed those who were at war with his people.
This then is the sound of Exodus, the sound of the Lord coming in the garden. He comes in wrath and mercy, in fury and for salvation. To crush the serpents head and expose the nakedness of Adam’s sin, but also to save him. And at all this Habakuk writes, “I hear and my body trembles, my lips quiver at the sound.”
Immediately after bringing all of this to mind, however, the Church offers various meditations to make clear
Yet all of the powerful destruction that Habakkuk so vividly describes, although veiled, is still present in this mystery. For this reason, the Church commemorates a great martyr every day of the days of preparation for Christmas: Ignatius of Antioch, Julia, Anastasis, the ten Martyrs of Crete and Eugenia. All point to the wrath and fury of wickedness, that burns and churns the waters, but, as we pray at the Vespers for Ignatius, the martyrdom does not have its explanation in the fury of sin, but in the power of God: “There is no fire in me desiring to be fed, but there is within me a water that lives and speaks saying inwardly, Come to the Father! Therefore inflamed by the divine Spirit, you chose the beasts to separate you quickly from the world and to send you to the beloved.”
|The Martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch|
The blood of the martyrs is the flip side of the veiled Incarnation; it is the power and majesty pouring forth, witnessing to the lightning, glory and fire hidden in the babe in the cave. The fury against sin, the exposure of the nakedness of evil, the crushing of wickedness is united to the bringing of salvation both in the bloodshed of the martyrs and in the tiny babe in the cave of Bethlehem.
Thus, the sound that Adam heard in the garden, that caused him to tremble, was the sound of God coming in the flesh to be born an infant. God will confirm this in His words to Adam: Childbirth, toil and work are the punishment of the fall, but through these, eventually, the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent, and bring salvation and the tree of life. Therefore, we too, must make the words of Adam our own. We must acknowledge the nakedness of our own guilt, laid bare in the light of the martyrs, and we must tremble as the glory of the Lord approaches us. And we must hide in the garden, not to avoid the coming of the Lord, but so that we may worthily respond to his awesome coming. How do we do this? There is a new garden now; as prayed in the troparion for the day , “The Tree of Life has blossomed forth form the Virgin in the cave. Her womb has become a spiritual paradise wherein the divine fruit was planted, and if we eat of it we shall live and not die like Adam.” We must turn to the Theotokos, and entrust ourselves to her protection. We must place ourselves under her care, as Adam hid himself in the garden. In so doing we are also fulfilling the command in the first strophe of the aposticha: “Magi, come with gifts! Hasten, oh Shepherds.” As the Magi and the Shepherds must go to the the Virgin in order to meet their God, so do we turn to her, in fear and trembling, but also, as the prophet Habakuk says, with joy. Though darkness stand around, “I will rejoice in the Lord, I joy in the God of my salvation. God the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like hinds’ feet, he makes me tread upon high places” (chap. 3, 19). It is indeed a time for joy, for the Lord is coming for a much overdue walk with mankind. But this time, when He again calls me, I will not stay cowering in fear, but instead rejoice as I tread the high places of the garden.
Friday, December 20, 2013
|The Harrowing of Hell, from an Exsultet scroll of the later 11th century.|