Posts Tagged ‘Great Lent’

The Bridegroom Cometh at Midnight

March 29, 2010

Today is the first full day of Holy Week, the finish race of our lenten marathon.  Beginning Sunday night, Orthodox churches started Holy Week  with an evening service called Bridegroom Matins (don’t ask me why a Matins service is served in the evening).  The service is based upon the parable of the ten virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom with their lamps.  Only five were ready with sufficient oil in for the sudden appearance of the bridegroom, Christ.  The other five were messing around with unlit lamps – unready souls –  scrambling at the last minute to find oil to fuel their light.   Matthew 25:13.

You could say that today then is the “namesday” of this blog – Cometh at Midnight.  When I started writing an Orthodox blog more than a year and a half ago, the first thing I noticed about other blogs was that they all had catchy names.   I spent more time trying to come up with a name then it took to write the first post.  I have no idea why the words of the Bridegroom Matins tropar came to my mind, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight…”, but it fairly summed up the way I felt as an Orthodox Christian. 

We are all servants of the Lord but it’s the attitude and the way we spend our lives that distinguishes us from each other.   Some spend their lives living as if Christ will return at any minute – in prayer, repentance, and charity.  Others take a ‘tomorrow will do just fine’ attitude.  Life is to be lived now, with as much fun as you can cram into it.   Can you imagine their surprise when the Bridegroom returns?  But for many of us, our lives aren’t so clear-cut between readiness for our Lord’s return and a life of spiritual neglect.   We have days of intensity and attunement to our faith; when we feel like Christ is right their beside us.  Other days, the worries of living, the pursuit of our own hobbies, interests, and passions, the busyness of our lives just takes over everything.

I must make a confession now that is contrary to what you’d think about someone who spends so much time writing about faith, religion, and Orthodoxy.  Who is fascinated with the religions of the world as they relate to the Orthodox faith, and who loves to tell everyone how much I love the Orthodox Church.  My confession?      I am not a good Orthodox Christian. 

What is a ‘good’ Orthodox Christian?  Have I murdered anyone?  Well, not physically, but didn’t Christ say we can commit murder in our hearts with a single thought?   Have I gone to church and communed regularly?  Yes, but did I prepare to receive Communion properly?  Do I pray the morning and evening prayers?  Do I read the Bible daily?  Do I practice charity?  Did I fast properly during Lent?   No.  

It’s Holy Week and I have to admit to myself and to the piddling few readers of this blog, that I’m one of the servants who frittered away Great Lent and am now faced with the fact that the Bridegroom is coming and I am that servant with the unlit lamp.  I have spent more time thinking about my Orthodox faith then deeply practicing it.

You want to know the kicker about all this?  God still loves me even when I ignore him, even when I procrastinate in my spiritual life.  Holy Week is a fresh start, and as the old tent preachers say, ‘the time has come to get yourself right with the Lord’.   The Bridegroom tropar is a warning, but it also tells us what we have to do to get right with the Lord.  This is our spiritual awakening at the midnight hour – “…rouse yourself, crying:  Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O our God.” 

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching:  and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.  Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.  But rouse yourself crying:  Holy, holy, holy, art Thou, O our God.  Through the Theotokos, have mercy on us.

 

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Orthorobics – Fitness in 50 Days

March 3, 2010
presanct

A quiet moment during Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts last night

I originally posted this on March 19, 2009 after a Pre-Sanctified Liturgy that seemed particularly strenuous.  Tonight I just got home from a 2010 Pre-sanctified Liturgy.  My joints are one year older and really feeling it.  There is something so right though about worship that requires hard physical effort.  The psychological effects of prostrating yourself before God reminds you how humbling it is to be in His presence.  

We are almost at the halfway point – I pray you all persevere in good spirits looking towards the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection.

Orthorobics – that’s what my friend and fellow parishioner Jamie A. called it after we climbed back up off the floor for what seemed like the hundreth time during the Liturgy of the Pre Sanctified Gifts last night.  Well, actually four sets of prostrations with the Prayer of St. Ephraim and the entry of the Pre Sanctified Gifts, a couple of kneeling sessions, and various metanias (bows from the waist).   My knees aren’t what they used to be, but there’s nothing like a little orthorobics to keep you fit and awake for a long Lenten service. 

I think the Liturgy of the Pre Sanctified Gifts, more than any other Orthodox service, emphasizes the physicality of worship – the active participation of your body in praising God.  Orthodox worship reflects the heavenly worship which is also active.  The angels and saints are active in their movements as they surround the Throne of God.  Here on Earth in your unresurrected body, the pain in your joints, the stiffness in your back, only reminds you that worship is real hard work. 

My kids complain all the time that Church is boring, their feet hurt and they’re tired from standing so much (mind you, they make a miraculous recovery as soon as they go outside after services to chase their friends for an hour).   I used to worry about their complaining and feared they weren’t connecting with their faith, until I remembered that sometimes all the other grownups, me included,  feel just the same way.  Liturgy is not easy.  It’s not meant to be completely still, passive or comfortable.  Yes, there are quiet, meditative moments, but on the whole, an Orthodox Christian acknowledges and dedicates himself to God and the Church in both his body and soul with physical signs.  And, in my opinion, if something doesn’t hurt by the end of a service, you might want to take it up a notch.

To understand the Orthorobics of the Church more fully, I am excerpting  a great primer on Orthodox worship below, courtesy of an unknown contributor at OrthodoxWiki.  ( http://orthodoxwiki.org/Worship)

Standing –  One distinctive feature of Orthodox worship is that the faithful generally stand at all times during the service. This varies somewhat based on local custom, but historically the people have stood in Church in hopes of maintaining an attentive posture at all times. Sitting is practiced by some at various times in the services and is recommended for those who feel physically unable to stand. Most churches accommodate these individuals with chairs or pews along the sides of the church interior. Some churches have pews or rows of chairs that individuals stand in front of.

Bowing  During services, a bow is often made by the inclining of the head and neck (also called a reverential bow). It is more than a mere nod of the head. A bow at the waist (also known as a deep bow or profound bow) is also practiced with the metania.

Metania Another common gesture is the metaniaMetania(or metany) comes from the word metanoia (Greek μετάνοια). It is performed by first making the Sign of the Cross. Then, one bends from the waist, reaches toward the floor with the right hand open and facing outward, and touches the ground. It is used as the substitute for the prostration when it is normally prescribed, but not permitted by the Canons of the Church. The metania is often used when venerating an icon and when approaching a hierarch or a priest for his blessingWaist reverence (Slavonic: poiasnyi poklon), little reverence Prostration

Full prostration Also simply called prostration, is an act of distributing one’s weight on the knees, feet, and hands, touching the forehead to the floor, staying in the position as long as desired or necessary, then standing up. One usually makes the Sign of the Cross before or after the movement. This physical motion is similar to the Chinese kowtow (“bump head”). Interestingly, the use of the word prostration in this way is different than common english usage, where prostration means to pronate oneself or lay completely flat. The full prostration is sometimes called kneeling. Again, this word usage is different than the english usage of kneel, which means to distribute one’s weight on the knees and feet only.  The prostration is associated with penance, submission, and obeisance.  According to custom and tradition, a prostration is assumed (or not assumed) at different times in the services and church calendar. The twentieth canon of the First Ecumenical Council forbids kneeling on every Sunday and the fifty days between Pascha and Pentecost.

Kneeling –  Kneeling is also practiced by some Orthodox in their services.  The bending of one’s knees is also known as the lesser penance (metanoia mikra). Genuflection, or the bending of the right knee, is practiced in the Roman Catholic Church.

Holy Friday and Saturday 2009

April 24, 2009

holyfri2

I realize it’s the end of Bright Week, but I just figured out how to download the photos on my camera.  1400 of ’em takes up a lot of room.  Now that I’ve figured that out, the quality of the graphics should improve on this site.

holyfri4

I won’t swear to the chronological order of these photos.  You know how it is after 6 straight days of lenten services – they all sort of start to flow one into the other, and it’s hard to keep them straight. 

"Kiss the Gospel, kiss the face, kiss the feet"   Fr. L instructing my 7 yo

"Kiss the Gospel, kiss the face, kiss the feet" Fr. L instructing my 7 yo

 

HolySat

Liturgy Holy Saturday

The Lamentations

The Lamentations

I always forget just how long the Holy Friday Lamentations services are.   9 year old still willingly served….not joyfully, but as you can see below, that is just not the look of a serious dedicated altar boy – that look says “my feet are killing me… when is this going to be over?…I’m bored”.

lamentations

"Mom....(insert whine here)...this is taking foreeeevvverrrrr!"

 

The length of Holy Friday Lamentations is only exceeded by the Holy Saturday Liturgy (add a couple chrismations and you’ve got 3 hours).  But it’s an important and special service that I think too many people neglect to come to.  They’re home sleeping in or getting their Pascha baskets ready or cooking, and they miss out on the message and spiritual benefit of the service, as Christ descends into Hades and releases the souls from their imprisonment by Satan.  It is the end of the Old Testament bondage and the beginning of the new life in Christ. 

holy-saturday

Saint Mary of Egypt

April 5, 2009

zosimas_and_mary_of_egypt

This past week on April 1st (new calendar) Saint Mary of Egypt reposed more than 1500 years ago in the desert of Palestine.  She led such an inspiring life that she is celebrated with her own Lenten Sunday today.  Most Orthodox Christians know the basics of how such a great sinner became one of the Church’s most inspiring ascetics. 

A prostitute from a young age, she had no scruples about hopping aboard a ship carrying pilgrims from Alexandria to Jerusalem in approximately 475 AD, and “working”  her way across the Mediterranean.   The pilgrims were on their way to attend the Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross, and on the day of the Feast, Mary found herself drawn to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Wood of the True Cross, but she was not permitted to enter the door with the other pilgrims.  Held back by an unseen force she repeatedly tried to enter the door.   In frustration she looked up and saw an icon of the Mother of God and appealed to her for an explanation.  Whether it was the Mother of God’s reply pointing out her sinfulness or a God-inspired revelation, she suddenly became aware of the course of her sinful life and repented on the spot. 

What follows is not your average salvation story – without hesitation she immediately left for the desert to live out her life in contrition and prayer, scavenging off the land, naked and alone for 47 years.   Her skin was blackened from the sun, her clothing rotted off her body and she became skeletal on a diet of three dried loaves of bread she’d bought on the day of her flight into the desert and whatever she could find in the wasteland.  She didn’t see or speak to anyone for 47 years until the priest monk Zosimus took a retreat into the desert during the Great Fast, improbably found her, learned her story and gave her communion and a promise to return the following year.  Saint Zosimus was good to his word and returned during Great Lent in about the year 521, but only to miraculously find her dead body, which he buried with the help of a lion to dig the stony ground.   Wow!   And I think I’m doing good when I fast successfully for one week and make it to confession before mid-Lent.   Do I regret and sincerely ask forgiveness for my sins?  Are my past indiscretions reason for repentance or fond memories of wild oats sown and harvested?

It’s sad and ironic that a depressed, raging alcoholic, one of the 20th century’s defining poets, and the son of a suicidal father, should write a contemplative poem about Saint Mary of Egypt.  John Berryman (1914 – 1972) lived with a lifetime of demons and never found the peace achieved by Saint Mary.  Sad and broken, he committed suicide by jumping off a bridge.

Dream Song 47:  April Fool’s Day or Saint Mary of Egypt

-Thass a funny title, Mr Bones.
-When down she saw her feet, sweet fish, on the threshold,
she considered her fair shoulders
and all them hundreds who have them, all
the more who to her mime thickened & maled
from the supple stage,

and seeing her feet, in a visit, side by side
paused on the sill of The Tomb, she shrank: ‘No.
They are not worthy,
fondled by many’ and rushed from The Crucified
back through her followers out of the city ho
across the suburbs, plucky

to dare my desert in her late daylight
of animals and sands. She fall prone.
Only wind whistled.
And forty-seven years with our caps on,
whom God has not visited.

maregypt

Forgiveness Sunday

March 2, 2009

panagia_and_christ_-_extreme_humility

Great Lent is finally here and I couldn’t be more excited and happy.  I ate blini and eggs at the Maslenitsa dinner till I could bust and  I completed my ritualistic, gluttonous consumption of Blue Bell ice cream this evening.  Somehow that makes me ready to face the Great Fast.   More importantly, my parish began yesterday afternoon with the Forgiveness Vespers service, personally embracing and giving a kiss of peace to each and every man, woman and child in our parish. 

There is something so humbling and spiritually cathartic about having to go from one person to the next in a receiving line and ask the personal forgiveness from your fellow parishioners.   The words are simple:  “Forgive me brother/sister”.   The response is “God forgives”.   Two words that contain the whole message of the Gospel.   You say these words as you look straight into the eyes of someone you’ve had a tiff with, someone you bad mouthed, a friend you failed, even your own children.  And at that moment of personal admission you connect with the one you’ve sinned against in a spirit of  real Christian brotherhood.  There is no hiding personal animosity from a person you’ve just embraced. 

I’ve learned some practical things about the service, such as don’t wear mascara, take your glasses off,  only air kiss the kids, and thank the men who’ve taken the extra care to close shave that morning.  But what I’ve never learned, no matter how many times I participate in this service, is how not to sin until the beginning of Great Lent the following year.   I am obviously a slow learner and a fast sinner and I humbly ask the readers of this blog for their forgiveness if I have offended with my hasty or unkind words, my presumption or my pride.   I wish everyone a blessed Lenten journey as we approach the life-giving death and glorious Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour.

His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah has written a very edifying message for the beginning of Great Lent and I post it below for your benefit.

To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Monastics
and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America

Dearly Beloved in the Lord:

Christ is in our midst!

Our Church has gone through a tragic and bitter episode in her history. Many souls suffered shipwreck, demoralized by the sins of a few. That is over. But the lingering bitterness and mistrust, resentment and desire for retribution, hang over us. We must heal this, both on an individual as well as corporate level. The only way to do this is repentance, using this season of repentance to make changes in our lives, cleanse our hearts and minds, and embrace the hope that can only be grasped by forgiveness. Unless we forgive others from our hearts, we cannot accept God’s forgiveness for our own sins.

Every time we criticize, judge, condemn or despise another person, no matter how gravely he or she may have sinned, we sin equally ourselves. All our self-righteous indignation is all hypocrisy that blinds us to our own sins. The resentment we allow to fester in our hearts gives us over to corruption and evil. We allow ourselves to gossip, and talk about other people, and forget that we condemn ourselves by doing so. It does not matter what another person has done; that is his or her sin. Why do I need to make his sin my own, by my judgment and criticism, and destroy my own life by resentment of someone else?

If I fast from foods, St John Chrysostom said, how can I devour my brother by gossip and slander? If we don’t eat things that have been slaughtered, why do I murder my brother by character assassination? If I abstain from wine, how can I allow myself to be drunk on my passions of resentment and bitterness? It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but rather what comes out of the mouth and the heart. It is these things, judgment and criticism, which reveal our piety to be a hypocritical sham. All our self-righteousness is as filthy rags before God, and we only condemn ourselves.

The only way of life for us, as Christians, is repentance and forgiveness. We must be “transformed in the renewal of our minds,” (the real meaning of “repentance”) and forgive those who have offended and sinned against us. Only then can we be free from our resentments, and our souls and livesand our Churchcan be healed. In short, we have to change our behavior, our words and our thoughts.

Let our fasting be accompanied by the refusal to indulge in judgment and criticism of others: gossip, slander, suspicion and innuendo, all that is hateful to God. Let us fast from meat, as we fast from the carnality of hatred and resentment of others, which is the source of our passions, pain and addictions. Let us fast from cheese, as we cut out the bitterness that curdles the joy in our lives, the pure milk of love. Let us fast from eggs, so that the seeds of corruption do not hatch in our souls. Let us fast from oil, so that we do not grease our lips to slander and fry our neighbor. Let us fast from wine, that we might remain sober and watchful, to maintain the purity of our souls, minds and hearts.

Let us make this Lent a spiritual fast, so that purified in mind and heart, as well as in body, we might behold the radiant Resurrection of Christ in the reception of the Holy Mysteries at Pascha, but most especially, in the resurrection of our souls. Let corruption be abolished, and let us be loosed from the sins that keep us enslaved. The only place to start is in our own souls, mindful of our sins, and in a spirit of love and compassion towards our neighbor. Only by the purification of our souls, freed from the guilt of sin and pain of resentment, will we be able to feast with Christ at His Messianic Banquet, illumined by His grace, being made partakers of the eternal Joy of His Kingdom.