With the cross, as though with a plow.

The cross is raised and appears above the earth, which until recently malice had kept hidden. It is raised, not to receive glory (for with Christ nailed to it what greater glory could it have?) but to give glory to God who is worshiped on it and proclaimed by it.

It is not surprising that the church rejoices in the cross of Christ and robes herself in festal clothes, revealing her bridal beauty as she honors this day. Nor is it surprising that this great throng of people has gathered together today to see the cross exposed aloft and to worship Christ whom they see raised upon it. For the cross is exposed in order to be raised and is raised to be exposed.

What cross? The cross, which a little while ago was hidden in a place called “The Skull” but now is everywhere adored. This is what we rejoice over today; this is what we celebrate; this is the point of the present feast; this is the manifestation of the mystery. For this hidden and life-giving cross had to be exposed, set on high like a city on a hill or a lamp on a stand, for all the world to see.

We who worship Christ on the cross must try to grasp the greatness of his power and all the wonders he has wrought through the cross on our behalf. The holy David says: “Our God and eternal King has wrought salvation throughout the world.” For through the cross the nations were caught as in a net and the seeds of faith are sown everywhere. With the cross, as though with a plow, the disciples of Christ cultivated the unfruitful nature of humankind, revealed the Church’s ever-green pastures, and gathered in an abundant harvest of believers in Christ.

By the cross the martyrs were strengthened, and as they fell they smote down those who struck them. Through the cross Christ became known, and the Church of the faithful, with the scriptures ever open before her, introduces us to this same Christ, the Son of God, who is truly God and truly Lord, and who cries out: “Any who wish to come after me must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

-St Andrew of Crete – 8th century

Each year on September 14 Orthodox Christians commemorate this of the Twelve Great Feasts: The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Pascha (Easter) is the Feast of Feasts and isn’t counted in this list of other important events in our salvation history.

We have tried all courages.

Philip Larkin’s poetry is often bleak in various ways, but his uniquely beautiful voice draws me.  So I borrowed a fat collection of his work from the library to peruse; it was fascinating. In a few poems, even though I don’t claim to see halfway to their depths, I catch glimmers of our common humanity and perspective, and am prompted to pray for him.

This one was unpublished in his lifetime.

Come then to prayers
And kneel upon the stone,
For we have tried
All courages on these despairs,
And are required lastly to give up pride,
And the last difficult pride in being humble.

Draw down the window-frame
That we may be unparted from the darkness,
Inviting to this house
Air from a field,
air from a salt grave,
That questions if we have
Concealed no flaw in this confessional,
And, being satisfied,
Lingers, and troubles, and is lightless,
And so grows darker, as if clapped on a flame,
Whose great extinguishing still makes it tremble.

Only our hearts go beating towards the east.
Out of this darkness, let the unmeasured sword
Rising from sleep to execute or crown
Rest on our shoulders, as we then can rest
On the outdistancing, all-capable flood
Whose brim touches the morning. Down
The long shadows where undriven the dawn
Hunts light into nobility, arouse us noble.

-Philip Larkin

Rescued by a mantis.

It was nearly dusk when I realized I had lots of stuff to put in the yard waste bin for pick-up tomorrow, so I raked pine needles and cut tangles of wisteria vines that were trying to get in the kitchen window. At the last, I pulled out the wallflower bush that has been dead and bleaching in the sun for a couple of weeks now. I put it on top of the stuffed-in green matter, but the lid was not near to closing, so I went back for my pruners to cut up the bush a bit.

Then I saw the mantis, barely browner than the bush, and he wasn’t interested in going anywhere. So I took his picture, such a patient subject he was. My neighbor came down to look at him, too, and watched while I managed to pick him up and move him over to the coreopsis.

I had hoped to have a full day of gardening today, but very little of that got done. I measured bathroom floors, ran around from the tile store to the home improvement store, measured floors again… back to the tile store, researched windows and window coverings…

In an email to my contractor I wrote the proverb that came to mind, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I think I still have patience; what else is there to have? But I ran out of emotional strength about three days ago. I’m managing without it.

That last little burst of pruning and raking and being in the garden was the best thing of the whole day, and by itself lifted my heart quite a bit. But the mantis saved the day, by showing up and hanging out with me for a few minutes, and letting himself be rescued. ❤

RFC on idols and abstractions

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Today we had our annual birthday party for the Virgin Mary. Did you know her birthday is September 8th? It is one of the Twelve Great Feasts that we Orthodox Christians celebrate, and today, when it fell on a Sunday, several of us baked birthday cakes to eat at the agape meal. Even I baked one! I will try to post the recipe soon.

I guess that festivity put me in the mood to publish this post that I’ve had hanging around for five years. Back then I’d written several on The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon, and was working on a few more. Then, as they say, Life Happened, and RFC fell gradually down to the bottom of the drafts pile.  But he’s back, and I hope you feel the richer for revisiting his delightful book.

“A calorie is not a thing; it is a measurement. In itself, it does not exist. It is simply a way of specifying a particular property of things, namely, how much heat they give off when burned. Only things, you see, are capable of being eaten or burned, loved or loathed; no one ever yet got his teeth into a calorie.

“….How sad, then, to see real beings…calorie counters — living their lives in abject terror of things that do not even go bump in the night. What a crime, not only against hospitality, but against being, to hear him turn down homemade noodles in favor of idols and abstractions — to watch him prefer nothing to something. And what a disaster to himself! To have capitulated so starchlessly before the the devil’s policy of desubstantialization! His body may or may not lose weight; his soul, however, is sure to wither.”

-Robert Farrar Capon in The Supper of the Lamb

Other posts in this series:

RFC is the man we need.
RFC begins with the meat.
RFC considers blood and sacrifice.
RFC makes one of nature’s marvels.
RFC for Butter Week
RFC drinks in graces