Tag Archives: Holy Mysteries

A harbor, medicine and peace.

This portion of another pastor’s letter was passed on to us via our rector this week; it was written by Orthodox Bishop Irenei of London. I am comforted when our shepherds in Christ lead by their example of faith and love. I hope that you all have similar fortifying influences in your life, but if you can use one more good word on this topic…

The Church of Christ has endured through many centuries — in the course of which she has been confronted with countless illnesses and diseases, small and great — in solid faith and with peaceful hearts, each member of the Church knowing that he or she is part of no worldly or man-made institution, but the Harbour of Life that is Christ’s Body. We are fed the food not of men but of angels; we are inspired by the truth, not of this world, but of God Himself; and we are ruled, not by worldly fear which grows and begets more fear, but by the peace of Christ which surpasseth all understanding (Philippians 4.7) and brings unfailing comfort, whether in times of peace or peril. In the present moment, therefore, I urge you to be not afraid (Isaiah 43.1) nor let the concerns of the moment shake you from the firm foundation that is unhindered faith in the living God, Who heals the sick and restores the broken-hearted. The present situation may be a cause of great upset in the world around us, but in the Church, and in our Christian lives, we continue unhindered and undeterred in all that God has delivered into our hands for the salvation of our souls.

…local governments will be issuing various instructions and protocols for managing and controlling the spread and effects of this momentary health challenge: we urge all our faithful to be acquainted with these practical instructions…in all such things we should be examples to the world of pious trust in God that leads not to undisciplined alarm, but rather to a continuance of life in an untroubled spirit and undisturbed reliance on the Divine Will.

In our churches, we shall continue with the celebration of all our rites, customs, Divine Services and above all the offering and receipt of the Holy Mysteries in precisely the same manner as we have always done. No genuinely believing Christian can for one moment accept that the Holy Mysteries might bring or be the source of sickness or ill-health: by no means! The Mysteries of Christ are the true medicine of our souls and bodies, and bring nothing but life—and life eternal. Any whose hearts are troubled by present matters should pray fervently for an increase of faith so that fear can be cast aside; and the Church will continue her ancient witness to the love that is beyond fear, bringing the Holy Mysteries to the world, and to each of us, in a time when it needs them profoundly. Do not be afraid! As we sing so frequently in these Lenten days, God is with us! And He is merciful and loving, quick to hear and heal and save.

—With love in Christ,
IRENEI, Bishop of London and Western Europe (ROCOR)

A theme of love and serving.

This sign on the wall in our church kitchen shows evidence of its location above the coffee maker. I was looking at it as though for the first time this morning as I prepared the agape meal at church. It was my fourth time cooking for 100-120 people; I don’t know exactly how many ate today, but the important thing is we didn’t run out of food. 🙂

I went back and forth from the kitchen to the church as needed to put things in the oven to warm, and to worship. Before Divine Liturgy there was a glorious baptism, and I was surprised to miss the actual immersion of the baby, but I came in to the heady scent of Holy Chrism as he was being lifted out of the font, which in an Orthodox baptism is no more than halfway through, so there was plenty of praying left to do, and rejoicing in the love and joy that filled the place.

The next time I had to leave and come back, I entered when Father Peter was giving the homily. I’d never heard him preach before, and his words were full of warm encouragement. Near the end he recited the whole poem below, with a fitting and enlivening amount of expression.

It was a great honor to be the one serving and feeding my fellow worshipers a few minutes later. All week I’ve been grousing and anxious about the upcoming event, even though I had planned and organized well and had young and competent helpers, an easy menu, etc. As has been the case before, I began to relax on Saturday when we did the first steps of cooking. I was so grateful for my assistants who are my friends and love me.

Today, even more people helped, were thankful, told me that they loved the food — all the hugs and kind words I could want, to make me feel what a gift it is to be part of this parish and of Christ’s Church, and to work with people on a worthy project.

When I heard Herbert’s poem, I immediately thought, “I must share that on my blog!” I forgot to take any pictures of the food to share, but I think you can envision a hefty chunk of cheesy polenta with a scoop of the meatiest possible red sauce ladled over, plus a dollop of pesto on top. Mixed greens on the side, and ice cream for dessert. I might do this same menu again sometime, it was so relatively easy and successful.

For the good of our souls, it was not worth much, though, compared to the Love that Father Peter talked about, and George Herbert sang of, and which we had tasted in the Holy Mysteries that morning.

But it was an echo and a reminder, and gave us sustenance so that we could sit around basking in our family happiness for a while. “O taste and see that the LORD is good!”

LOVE

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

–George Herbert

Not an absence, but an antidote.

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From Father Stephen Freeman:

When the Fathers used the word “symbol,” they understood that something was actually, really and truly made present. A symbol makes present that which it represents. This is fundamental in the doctrine of the Holy Icons. In our modern world, a symbol represents something that is not there, it is a sign of absence. Indeed, because our modern world-view is essentially one of nominalism, we believe that the ancient notion of symbol is simply impossible. It feels like superstition to the modern consciousness.
…..
But this brings us to my description of sin as not being a “legal problem.” St. Justin says that “sin defiles a man and his being.” This is not contemporary language. He means exactly what he is saying. It is of a piece with St. Athanasius’ description of sin as death, corruption and non-being. Sin is something, not just a thought in the mind of God. It kills us, and not because God is doing the killing. Sin is death itself. The “lawlessness” of I John 3:4 is the anarchy, chaos, and disorder of death and corruption. Sin is utterly contrary to the life that is the gift of God.

This is why St. Justin (and the Church) can say that the remedy of sin is holiness, the “synthesis and unity of all the holy virtues and grace-filled energies.” When we partake of the holy mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood, they “cleanse us from all sin.” This is not a simple change of our status in the mind of God. His Body and Blood are life. They are the antidote to death, decay, corruption and non-being. They destroy the lawlessness that is the anarchy, chaos and disorder of death and corruption.

You can read the entire article here: Secularized Sin

Mystical Supper

mysticalsupper02

On Thursday of Holy Week (today) we commemorate the first eucharist as the Lord Jesus instituted it, what we Orthodox call The Mystical Supper. On the Orthodox Wiki discussion page I found that someone had asked for clarification of what the Real Presence is, according to Orthodoxy; it seemed confusing to them. Then various people gave input. One said that it may be confusing because it is a Mystery. [Think smiley face] It is a common joke in or on the Church that this is a facile answer.

But it points to the true nature of the faith, that our relationship with God is not purely intellectual. We do not know Him by putting together all the facts we’ve learned; He doesn’t reveal Himself through our intellects alone, or even primarily.

Fr. Thomas Hopko says, “The mystery of the holy eucharist defies analysis and explanation in purely rational and logical terms. For the eucharist — and Christ himself — is indeed a mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven which, as Jesus has told us, is ‘not of this world.’ The eucharist — because it belongs to God’s Kingdom — is truly free from the earth-born ‘logic’ of fallen humanity.”

The page on The Holy Mysteries, what we call the sacraments, is very good! It starts right out with this perspective and reality about the Church that I love:  “…the Orthodox Church considers everything which is in and of the Church as sacramental or mystical.” I suppose this is why “There has never been a universal declaration within the Orthodox Church that there are only seven sacraments.”

I knew that, but I learned some other things, more historical and not so mystical, reading these pages today: “While the Synoptics do give the Last Supper as a Passover seder, John’s Gospel (which the Church privileges over the others) has it happen before the Passover.” The contributors all seemed to agree on these points though they differed on their theological significance.

On a more personal note, while I am grieving the death of my husband, I’ve been so grateful that we are in Holy Week, with its numerous opportunities to participate in this sacrament, this mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven — and truly, in all the abundant graces of the Church. It’s not facts that have been sustaining me, but His Real Presence.