“He died although he cannot die; he dies although he is immortal, in his very human nature inseparably united with his Godhead. His soul, without being separated from God, is torn out of his body, while both his soul and his flesh remain united with the Godhead. He will lie in the tomb incorruptible until the third day, because his body cannot be touched by corruption. It is full of the divine presence. It is pervaded by it as a sword of iron is pervaded by fire in the furnace, and the soul of Christ descends into hell resplendent with the glory of his Godhead.
“The death of Christ is a tearing apart of an immortal body from a soul that is alive and remains alive forever. This makes the death of Christ a tragedy beyond our imagining, far beyond any suffering that we can humanly picture or experience.
“Christ’s death is an act of supreme love. It was true when he said, ‘No one takes my life from me; I give it freely myself.’ No one could kill him — the Immortal; no one could quench this Light that is the shining of the splendor of God. He gave his life, he accepted the impossible death to share with us all the tragedy of our human condition.”
–Metropolitan Anthony Bloom
I attended Matins of Holy Friday this evening; it’s a long service during which twelve Gospel readings of Christ’s passion are read, while we stand holding candles. One of the most beloved hymns of this evening is: “Today is Hung Upon the Tree.”That link is to the version that our parish choir sings, but at a somewhat more stately pace. Tonight we had plenty of men singing, and the sound was full, and appropriately worshipful.
“We worship Thy passion, O Christ. Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection!”
Sometimes good things can be found on Facebook, like the quote below. (I added the icons and Psalm.) We are at the Sunday of the Last Judgment in the Orthodox calendar, and also in the midst of painful current events. We might acknowledge that the traumas and crises and pain are always with us, and being experienced by countless souls. So the exhortation applies at all times:
“It is often thought: what can we do? When the heart is torn with love for some and sympathy for others, what can we do if we are powerless, hopeless, and suppressed?
“We can stand before the Lord in prayer, in the prayer that Elder Silouan spoke about, that praying for the world is shedding blood.
“Not in that easy prayer that we offer out of our comfort, but in a prayer that rushes to heaven from sleepless nights; in a prayer that does not give rest; in a prayer that is born from the horror of compassion; in a prayer that no longer allows us to continue living our insignificant and empty life. That prayer requires us to finally understand that life is deep and that we are spending it racing about something unworthy and also unworthy of ourselves, unworthy of God, unworthy of sorrow and joy, the torment on the Cross and the Glory of Resurrection, which constantly alternate and intertwine on our earth.
“It is not enough to sympathize a little, and it is not enough to say that ‘we cannot do anything.’ If only we would stand in such a prayer, if only such compassion would exclude from our life everything insignificant in the face of the horror of our existence, then we would become people worthy of Christ. And then, perhaps, our prayer would also ascend like a burning and shining flame. Then, maybe, there would be no more inertia, indifference, or hatred that prospers around us because we do not become an obstacle to every evil in our own life.
“In the face of what is going on in front of the Cross, death, and spiritual agony of people, let us renounce the pettiness and insignificance of our life—and then we will be able to do something: by our prayer, by way of our life, and perhaps even by something braver and more creative.
“But let us remember that Christ did not differentiate between people; Christ died for all—because righteous are persecuted and because sinners perish. In His unity with all the people around us, in this dual unity with a righteous and a sinner, let us pray for the salvation of both. For the mercy of God, that the blind may see, and that truth may be established—not judgment, but the truth. This truth will lead us to love, to the triumph of unity, and the victory of God. Amen.”
-Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, excerpt from a 1968 sermon
P.S. 1968 Events:
-Soviet armed forces invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia, reinstituting hardline Communist rule.
-The U.S. State Department announced the highest U.S. casualty toll of the Vietnam War, with 543 Americans killed in action and 2,547 wounded. U.S. ground troops killed more than 500 Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam.
-Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
-Students protest all over the world.
-Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Our soul shall wait for the Lord, for He is our helper and our defender. For our heart shall be glad in Him, and in His holy Name have we hoped. Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in Thee.
When in my last post I shared only two paragraphs from a whole book on prayer, and those two said nothing about prayer, I ought to have given some context! When questions came in, I thought I would open my copy of Beginning to Pray and see what Metropolitan Anthony had said just before or after those puzzling words. But it must be one of those books I have given away; I will have to buy another. But in the meantime, I want to try to make up for a presentation that was confusing by being too truncated.
When I first came into the Orthodox Church and asked my priest confessor a question about prayer — I don’t remember what exactly — he recommended that I read “anything that Anthony Bloom has written on the subject.” Our church bookstore had some titles and I think Beginning to Pray was the first one I read. I’ve also read his Living Prayer and Courage to Pray.
My praying up to that point in my life was mostly not the kind of prayer that Met. Anthony encourages us to explore. The perspective of his teachings was incredibly refreshing. I think the foundation of it all is “Blessed are the poor in spirit….” I found some quotes from the same book online, such as this one, in which he talks about that empty, needy feeling:
“The day when God is absent, when He is silent – that is the beginning of prayer. Not when we have a lot to say, but when we say to God ‘I can’t live without You, why are You so cruel, so silent?’”
It may be that this awareness of one’s need for God evolves out of feeling “boredom” with ourselves. But I am not one to explain prayer; I’m definitely at the beginning to pray stage. Met. Anthony makes it clear that you need to just do it.
Here are a few more excerpts from Beginning to Pray:
“St. John Chrysostom said ‘Find the door of your heart, you will discover it is the door of the kingdom of God.‘ So it is inward that we must turn, and not outward – but inward in a very special way. I’m not saying that we must become introspective. I don’t mean that we must go inward in the way one does in psychoanalysis or psychology. It is not a journey into my own inwardness, it is a journey through my own self, in order to emerge from the deepest level of self into the place where He is, the point at which God and I meet.”
“I have tried to point out, first of all, that your prayer must be turned inwards, not towards a God of Heaven nor towards a God far off, but towards God who is closer to you than you are aware; and secondly, that the first act of prayer is to choose such words of prayer as are completely true to what you are, words which you are not ashamed of, which express you adequately and are worthy of you – and then offer them to God with all the intelligence of which you are capable.”
“You cannot, having never prayed before, start with eighteen hours of dialogue and prayer with God continuously like this while you do other things. But you can easily single out one or two moments and put all your energy into them. Simply turn your eyes Godwards, smile at Him and go into it. There are moments when you can tell God ‘I simply must have a rest, I have not strength to be with You all the time,’ which is perfectly true. You are still not capable of bearing God’s company all the time. Well, say so. God knows that perfectly well, whatever you do about it. Go apart, say for a moment ‘I’ll just have a rest. For a moment I accept to be less saintly.’”
“One of the dangers in prayer is to try to find words that will be somehow on the level of God. Unfortunately, as none of us are on a level with God, we fall short and waste a great deal of time in trying to find the right words.”
There are several videos of Metropolitan Anthony online, giving the talks from which his books were compiled. Below is a link to a good one that I have listened to before; now I am listening again, and it is fascinating and at times entertaining. Even if you only watch ten minutes, I think it will bring life to his words, to hear him and see his kind face.
“In Christ we see something which could be revealed by God but which could not even be dreamed of by man: the fullness of Divinity in human flesh. Here is the crux of holiness. It is accessible to us because of the fact of the Incarnation. This does not lessen the mystery of God: a purely transcendent God is easier to understand or imagine than the God of the Incarnation.
“And when we see the crèche of the Nativity in our imagination, or in plastic representations, and can take the Child-God in our hands, we are confronted with a greater mystery than that of the imperceptible God. How can we understand that the full depth of infinity and eternity lies here, hidden and at the same time revealed by a frail human body that is fragile and transparent to the presence of God?”