Tag Archives: bell-ringing

From bitter cold to laughter and light.

I know that the Feast of the Nativity of Christ has passed; the Leavetaking of Nativity was yesterday, so that we might enter fully into today’s feasts. So it may seem a bit odd for me to post the poem below, but for many reasons it seems most appropriate. (One practical reason is that I only now rose from my sick bed to look at my blog!) I might be hearkening back to the early church, about which we read:

“During the first centuries of Christianity, the Feast of Theophany was celebrated together with a number of observances as recorded in the Gospels. They are: the Annunciation of the archangel Gabriel to the Holy Virgin Mary; the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, with the glorification of the heavenly hosts, the veneration by the shepherds and the coming of the Magi; the Circumcision; the Naming of our Lord; the Presentation in the Temple; the Flight into Egypt and Return; the Baptism at the River Jordan; the Temptation in the Wilderness and the Testimony (Witness) of St. John the Forerunner.

“This group of feasts was celebrated from the 6th to the 13th of January, called the octave of Theophany; the most prominent being the Birth and Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, with special importance afforded to the Baptism. The church grouped the birth and baptism, together (called Theophany, “the revelation of God,”) on January the 6th because they were the first revelations of His divinity, incarnation, and the beginning of His ministry as Lord and Savior of mankind.”

I first read the poem last summer on Elizabeth’s blog, so she obviously thought it applicable at any time of the year. And for myself, I can’t imagine looking forward to a new calendar year with anything but foreboding, were it not for the fact that “God is with us.”

Do you count this the seventh or eighth day of Christmas? Most Christians count Christmas Day itself as the first day, so New Year’s Day is the Eighth Day. For us Orthodox, it is also the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, and St. Basil’s Day. Soon we will arrive at the glorious Feast of Theophany.

So many feasts and commemorations! But they all flow from the astounding fact and reality that “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Happy New Year, Dear Friends!

NOËL

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.

The lord of snows upreared his head;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o’er hill and dale.
The world was blind, the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.

The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang:
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.

Mary sang in this world below:
They heard her song arise
O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
in Heaven’s towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard,
That was mother of Heaven’s King.

Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.

-J.R.R. Tolkien

If your Christmas celebrations were lacking in bells, I recommend these videos of bell-ringing from New Jersey to California and abroad. Most of them start out slow and progress to very lively and joyous. Nothing compares to hearing them as you are leaving church after services of a Great Feast, but these are worthwhile substitutes. The bells of Paradise never stop ringing.

Bells of St. Nicholas

Brother Seraphim

St. Alexander Nevsky

Sf. Ioan Teologul

St. Alexander Nevsky (shorter)

To Walk in Spaciousness

On the Feast of the Transfiguration I was standing in church listening to the prayers a few minutes before the main service was to begin, when our rector handed me the Psalter and asked me to go outside and ring this bell. I was to ring it once by means of the foot pedal, read aloud a passage from the Psalter which was penciled off, push the pedal once more, read the next passage, and so on until another parishioner came to relieve me.

It was the first time I had ever rung that big bell. As I began chanting, I was praying the Psalm and at the same time reflecting on how I’d never known, when standing inside the church I heard those slow peals, that the bell-ringer’s voice was ringing out there along with the bell.

After a few stanzas, the words, “I walk in spaciousness, because I search Your commandments,” came out of my mouth and piqued my consciousness, as I did not remember reading that word spaciousness in the Bible before. Before I knew it, the skilled bell-ringer had come to my side and was gathering the ropes for all the other bells, getting ready to ring the full and celebratory announcement that accompanies the priest’s “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!” and I went back in. I hadn’t noticed which Psalm it was that I was reading, partly because the number was in Roman numerals, and those don’t register without my actively working them out as a puzzle, however speedily.

So it was days later that I found out it was Psalm 119 (or 118 in the Septuagint, which we use) and verse 45. Before that, I’d searched all the Bible translations and discovered that spaciousness is not in them. It is in the lectionary of the Orthodox Church in America. The other translations do use similar language, such as “I’ll stride freely through wide open spaces as I look for your truth and your wisdom.” (The Message) or “I will walk at liberty and at ease, for I have sought and inquired for [and desperately required] Your precepts.” (Amplified)

Just the week before, I’d been thinking about the negative and positive meanings of freedom and liberty. We can be free from something, or free for something. Even some of our positive freedom can be used to enslave, as T.S. Eliot put it: “Hell is where everyone must do what he wants.” That would be confinement, and not liberty.

This experience of true spaciousness can only be of God’s presence, or His energies, as the theologians explain it. And I like that Amplified phrasing, “I have sought and inquired for and desperately required Your precepts.” As Deuteronomy 4:29 explains, we find Him when we seek with our whole heart and soul.

Our whole heart and soul? I know that I have rarely felt that kind of wholeness. I am too scattered, distracted, agitated, muddled—even when I am not downright uninterested and double-minded. But occasionally I catch glimpses, of that spaciousness that is my Lord, the Holy Trinity in my heart. Breezes blow from those wide open spaces, and I know I am there for Now. And you can’t be in Now if you are wondering how long it will last.

This morning my dear friend at Bread on the Water sent me the whole of George MacDonald’s poem A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul, and I immediately looked, naturally, at the section titled “August,” which begins with this fitting stanza:

So shall abundant entrance me be given
Into the truth, my life’s inheritance.
Lo! as the sun shoots straight out his tomb,
God-floated, casting round a lordly glance
Into the corners of his endless room,
So through the rent which thou, O Christ, hast riven,
I enter liberty’s divine expanse.

Now, I expect we will have plenty of full-sunny days for another month, which will remind me to contemplate the divine expanse of His endless room, and strive to enter into His spaciousness.