This past Sunday, I purchased from our parish booktable two CDs: Fr Apostolos Hill’s Gates of Repentance and Eikona’s The Akathist Hymn. With the disclaimer that the following evaluation comes from a Kansas redneck type who knows pretty much nothing about music: these are among two of the most beautiful collections of music I’ve ever heard, particularly Fr. Apostolos’ Gates. Whether it’s the male voice on Akathist chanting the “Rejoice” or Fr. Apostolos singing “Purify Thou me” I am nearly brought to tears. More importantly, on listening to these Church hymns, I have found myself already making repentances, felt my irritability gentling and disappearing, and praying when there hasn’t been much praying before.
I realize that some of this may be fueled by the emotions engendered by the chanting on these discs. And if these acts are motivated by nothing but feelings, then, more am I to be pitied and prayed for. Further, even if these acts are motivated by genuine repentance, helped along perhaps by emotion, I suspect that even in the few minutes remaining before I turn in tonight I may find occasion for these things to be tested for their authenticity. Certainly sometime, many times, through the day tomorrow.
Interestingly, this year, unlike the last few, I am quite cognizant of the approach of Forgiveness Sunday and Forgiveness Vespers, when I will look my wife and daughters in the eye, confess my sins and plead their forgiveness. It may just simply be my ego, and not the male ego per se, but this seems, from a worldly eye, such an unmanly thing to do. But having done it before, I know it will take a rather large amount of manly courage to do this little act. I will not, of course, ask forgiveness of only my wife, but of all my fellow Christians present, and will have occasion to give forgiveness, too.
“Open to me the gates of repentence,” indeed.
I have also, of late, found myself developing, well, perhaps not a devotion to Our Lady, but certainly a greater affection for her and her role in our life. I have prayed the Akathist hymn on occasion before as part of personal devotional observances. So this is not unfamiliar. But in the past few months I have found myself defending the honor, if you will, of God’s Mother to Restoration Movement Christians (among whom I was raised, trained for ministry and once ordained), and perhaps as a result of that, I have become (can I say it this way?) closer to the Theotokos. I have found myself just absolutely awed by her role in our salvation. One image that is a constant one for me is that of the burning bush: that Mary, though indwelt by God bodily in her womb, was not consumed by the fire of divinity. Just think on that for as long as you dare. The God who is a consuming fire did not in his blazing divinity consume Our Lady, but condescended to be contained, the Uncontainable, in her womb. Dang.
This developing affection cannot, I do not think, be called a devotion. I do not pray the Akathist very often, really, nor do I pray the rosary as I have in the past. But I am quite conscious on a daily basis of the motherly and protective role the Blessed Virgin plays for our household. There is an authority combined with what feels to me like sweetness. She is a mistress who will command: Do whatever he tells you to do. And yet she is a mother with a heart of sympathy: They have no wine. And our Lord, loving his mother as any good son will do, acquiesces: the God who creates all mothers accedes to his mother’s request.
There are so many ways in which I am not ready for Lent this year. And yet, perhaps these two things, repentance and the intercessions of Mary, are fundamental to the whole preparation for Pascha. If so, pray God these have already begun for me.