Tag Archives: Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Here it thickens to the limit.

“…what transformed the cross and eternally transforms the cross into victory if not the love of Christ, the same divine love that, as the very essence and glory of the kingdom of God, Christ manifested and granted at the last supper? And where, if not at the last supper, do we find the consummation of the full, complete self-sacrifice of this love, which in ‘this world’ made the cross — betrayal, crucifixion, suffering and death — unavoidable?

“The gospels and the church services, particularly the wonderfully profound services of passion week, witness precisely to this link between the last supper and the cross, to their connection as the manifestation and victory of the kingdom of God. In these services, the last supper is always referred to that night that surrounds it on all sides and in which particularly shines the light of the festival of love that Christ accomplished with his disciples in the ‘large upper room, furnished,’ as if prepared in advance from all ages.

“This was the night of sin, night as the very essence of ‘this world.’ And here it thickens to the limit, it prepares to devour the last light shining in it. Already the ‘princes of the people are assembled together against the Lord and his Christ.’ Already the thirty silver pieces  — the price of betrayal — are paid. Already the crowd, incited by their leaders, armed with swords and spears, are heading out on the road leading to the garden of Gethsemane.

“But — and this is infinitely important for the Church’s understanding of the cross — the last supper itself took place under the shadow of this darkness. Christ knew ‘the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table’ (Luke 22:21). And it was precisely from the last supper, from its light, that Judas, after taking the morsel (John 13:27) went out into that dreadful night, and soon after him, Christ.

And if in the services of Holy Thursday, the day of the express commemoration of the last supper, joy is all the time interlaced with sadness, if the Church again and again recalls not only the light but also the darkness overshadowing it, it is because, in the double exits of Judas and Christ from that light into that darkness, she sees and knows the beginning of the cross as the mystery of sin and the mystery of victory over it.”

-Father Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist

Eating food that is not dead.

“Prepare yourself, my soul! Be courageous like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that acquiring diligence and wisdom you too may meet your God. Through contemplation may you reach the awesome depths in which He dwells and in so doing become a good steward of the Lord.”

-Canon of St. Andrew

For the Orthodox, it is the first week of Great Lent, which is called Clean Week. We began the fast on Monday, after the Vespers of Forgiveness on Sunday. This year in my parish we were thankful for good weather that day, as our long line of people bowing to each other in their masks, and mostly not hugging, stretched in a long loop that went out the side door of the church and wrapped loosely around the front. We were saying, “Forgive me,” to each one, and replying “God forgives.” Many of us had not seen each other in person for months or even the whole year.

Two new frescoes had been completed just in time to take down the scaffolding and make room for Lenten services. As I took pictures of them on Sunday I realized how each of them draws me into an aspect of the season.

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha in Bethany (on the other side of the arch, not pictured, is Martha scowling) makes me want to imitate Mary and sit at Jesus’s feet. And The Feeding of the Five Thousand reminds me of various levels of meaning in the lines of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” As we are going without physical food in various ways during this season, that part of our prayer is extra meaningful. The most striking words I ever read on the relation of earthly and heavenly food were in For the Life of the World by Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

“The natural dependence of man upon the world was intended to be transformed constantly into communion with God in whom is all life. …He still loves, he is still hungry. He knows he is dependent on that which is beyond him. But his love and his dependence refer only to the world in itself. He does not know that breathing can be communion with God. He does not realize that to eat can be to receive life from God in more than its physical sense. He forgets that the world, its air or its food cannot by themselves bring life, but only as they are received and accepted for God’s sake, in God and as bearers of the divine gift of life. By themselves they can produce only the appearance of life.

“…Things treated merely as things in themselves destroy themselves because only in God have they any life. The world of nature, cut off from the source of life, is a dying world. For one who thinks food in itself is the source of life, eating is communion with the dying world, it is communion with death. Food itself is dead, it is a life that has died and it must be kept in refrigerators like a corpse.”

The most prominent reading during the first week of Lent is The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, which is typically divided into four parts sung during services of that week. This year our women’s book group also chose a book on the Canon to read during this season.

I’ve noticed that during the Compline service when the Canon is being read, year by year, there are so many Scripture passages and characters referred to, that I can’t absorb half of it in my mind. Being at the service and participating with my whole body, soul and spirit is way to do it — we humans are so much more than our thoughts! This week the Compline hymns have been the sweetest part for me, and as usual, a phrase or two from the Canon about a particular sin or person in the Bible will also grab my mind and stick. I seem to have the opportunity for more contemplation generally these days, which is why the lines at top made their impression.

Psalm 69/70 is part of Compline, also, and a few lines from it will help me end this ramble.

“Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: and let such as love thy salvation say continually, Let God be magnified.

“But I am poor and needy: make haste unto me, O God: thou art my help and my deliverer; O Lord, make no tarrying.”

Beauty meets death.

LAZARUS SATURDAY

“’It stinketh,’ say the Jews trying to prevent Jesus from approaching the corpse, and this awful warning applies to the whole world, to all life. God is Life and the Giver of Life. He called man into the Divine reality of Life and behold ‘it stinketh’…The world was created to reflect and proclaim the glory of God and ‘it stinketh.’

“At the grave of Lazarus God encounters Death, the reality of anti-life, of destruction and despair. He meets His Enemy, who has taken away from Him His World and become its prince. And we who follow Jesus, as He approaches the grave, enter with Him into that hour of His, which He announced so often as the climax and the fulfillment of his whole work. The Cross, its necessity and universal meaning are announced in the shortest verse of the Gospel: ‘and Jesus wept’ …We understand now that it is because He wept, i.e., loved His friend Lazarus, that Jesus had the power of calling him back to life.

“The power of Resurrection is not a Divine ‘power in itself,’ but power of love, or rather love as power. God is Love and Love is Life, Love creates Life…It is Love that weeps at the grave and it is Love that restores life. This is the meaning of the Divine tears of Jesus. In them love is at work again—recreating, redeeming, restoring the darkened life of man: ‘Lazarus, come forth!…’ And this is why Lazarus Saturday is the beginning of both: the Cross, as the Supreme sacrifice of love, the Resurrection, as the ultimate triumph of love.”

-Fr. Alexander Schmemann

It is the end of Lent in the Orthodox Church. We enter Holy Week with Lazarus Saturday, and though we do fast until Pascha, it’s not technically Lent anymore for us. We now stop thinking about whether we succeeded or failed at Lent, because we need to focus on what God has done and be fully present for these last days of the remembering of the death and resurrection of the Lord.

Matins of Lazarus Saturday is a time to remember the whole story of how Lazarus had been dead four days when Jesus came into town and his friends said, “If only you had been here, he wouldn’t have died.” And Jesus wept. Then He showed his power over death, and raised Lazarus. And then followed the events that sent Him to His own death, which He also overcame for our sakes. His powerful beauty is still filling this world.

“Despite the effects of the Fall and despite our deep sinfulness, the world continues to be God’s creation. It has not ceased to be ‘altogether beautiful.’ Despite human alienation and suffering, the Divine Beauty is still present in our midst and still remains ever active, incessantly performing its work of healing and transfiguration. Even now beauty is saving the world, and it will always continue to do so. But it is the beauty of a God who is totally involved in the pain of the world that He has made, of a God who died on the Cross and on the third day rose victorious from the dead.”

–Metropolitan Kallistos

christ passion

 

(Old material from the archives, but Life ever new.)

In us the dead still belong.

Today, about a week before our Orthodox beginning of Lent, is Saturday of Souls, or Memorial Saturday. In Divine Liturgy we commemorate all those who have “fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and life eternal.” Father Alexander Schmemann writes in Great Lent:

To understand the meaning of this connection between Lent and the prayer for the dead, one must remember that Christianity is the religion of love. Christ left with his disciples not a doctrine of individual salvation but a new commandment “that they love one another,” and he added: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love is thus the foundation, the very life of the Church which is, in the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the “unity of faith and love.”

I was able to attend Liturgy this morning, and many things contributed to my great joy in participating. Saturday morning is not an “easy” day to make it to church, and I probably could count on one hand the number of these memorial Saturdays that I have attended over the years. They are celebrated often during Lent, and other dates on the church calendar.

Today many of us had offered our contributions to the list of names of the departed that were read aloud as we all prayed. My dear godmother was present with me this morning, which made me feel more complete 🙂 and it happened to be the exact date that my uncle was killed in a plane crash long before I was born — the uncle I wrote about once here.

Today we were also praying especially for two men who more recently fell asleep in Christ, one just 40 days previous. George and Nikolai, memory eternal! Romanian women brought koliva, one made of barley instead of wheat, and other commemorative foods.

Just to stand in church, to stand in Christ, to stand with my departed loved ones — it was awfully sweet. Because of this reality that Metropolitan Anthony speaks of in Courage to Pray:

The life of each one of us does not end at death on this earth and birth into heaven. We place a seal on everyone we meet. This responsibility continues after death, and the living are related to the dead for whom they pray. In the dead we no longer belong completely to the world; in us the dead still belong to history. Prayer for the dead is vital; it expresses the totality of our common life.