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Archive for July 22nd, 2008

Paraklesis

In the Supplicatory Canon to the Theotokos the fourth ode is as follows:

I have heard, O Lord, of the mystery of Thy dispensation, and I came to knowledge of Thy works, and glorify Thy Divinity.
O most holy Theotokos, save us.
The turmoil of my passions, and the storm of my sins do thou bestill, thou who gavest birth to the Lord and Pilot, O thou Bride of God.
O most holy Theotokos, save us.
O bestow, out of the abyss of thy compassion, on me thy supplicant; for thou didst give birth to the Kindhearted One and Savior of all that hymn thee.
O most holy Theotokos, save us.
While delighting in thy gifts, O spotless one, we sing a song of thanksgiving to thee, knowing thee to be the Mother of God.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As I lie on the bed of my pain and infirmity, do thou help me, as thou art a lover of goodness, O Theotokos, who alone art Ever-Virgin.
Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Having thee as our staff and hope, and as our salvation’s unshaken battlement, from all manner of adversity are we then redeemed, O thou all-lauded one.

What a striking way in which to refer to the Lord of the entire universe: the Kindhearted One!

Why is it we find it so hard to believe that God will freely, joyfully, abundantly give us what we need? Why is it we do not trust him with wild abandon? Why is it that we still think he parcels out his love to us a teaspoonful at a time? Jesus tells us God will give us the good things we need, even more so than do our earthly fathers. We do not have to persuade him. We do not have to earn his love and mercy. He is ready to give it to us, if we but come to him as loving children, ready to embrace him.

All his work toward us is love and mercy–kindheartedness. If we do not experience this love and mercy it is because we draw back, we refuse it, or our own distortions of God distort our experience of his love. It is because, whether from fear or hurt, we hold back, distrustful, misreading his heart and his motives. The pain of our encounter with God is not from the outflowing of his love, but due to the sin and fear and distrust we still wish to hold on to. All things that God does for us are love and mercy and kindness. There is no hurt or pain and fear. His yoke is easy and his burden light. The hardness of his yoke is our struggle against accepting it. The heaviness of his burden is our insistence on holding on to the useless trifles and debilitating baggage. He only asks us to give up that which harms and hurts us. He only asks that we do not put our hands into the flames of sin, that we do not drink the poison of our passions. If we hurt, if we burn, it is not him, it is us and the sin and death we clutch to ourselves. His love only burns that it may clear away that which is death and fear and darkness for us. Cleansed of these painful things, his love and mercy are warmth and light.

What do the saints tell us? Run with arms wide to embrace him. He is kindhearted. Kind.

And this is what the Theotokos says to us as she gestures with her hand and with the tilt of her inclined head toward her Son, the Kindhearted One.

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Pay Attention to Elijah

Yesterday, I received in the mail the latest issue of The Orthodox Word. That prompted, for whatever reason, my combing through some back issues of some other magazines I had, and that led to thumbing one-by-one through back issues of AGAIN magazine, which I began last night but didn’t finish until this morning. And it was this morning, while thumbing through the summer 2006 issue of AGAIN, that an old bulletin from the Divine Liturgy at All Saints, my home parish, fell out. On the cover of that bulletin was an icon of the Prophet Elijah ascending to heaven in the fiery chariot. I do not know why I put that bulletin in that issue of AGAIN two years ago, but precisely two years later there it was.

Now, on the one hand it’s very dangerous to go about “looking for signs” of what God is saying to one. Our capacity for self-delusion is quite large and since “signs” require some level of interpretation, we tend to read into these “signs” pretty much what we want to read into them. On the other hand, sometimes the coincidence of events, the serendipity of the juxtaposition of things, leaves one a bit startled. And one is naturally led to think, “Okay. What’s going on here, Lord?”

Well, as those who know me can attest, I’m pretty thick-headed. And that’s why I probably need these sorts of coincidences. Any less obvious and I’d miss it. As far as the “what’s going on here”–I think it’s pretty simple: pay attention to Elijah. And in particular, pay attention to Elijah’s prayers. St. James tells us:

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. (James 5:16-18 NKJV)

I’m confessedly skeptical of the close identification St. James makes between Elijah and us–though notice he doesn’t say we are like Elijah, only that Elijah shares the same nature we do–but then I don’t really have any stand to quarrel the Scripture. So, to what about Elijah’s prayer ought I pay attention?

That will take some further reflection. But if I’m not mistaken, there’s another part of this juxtaposition of Elijah events that fits in here. For it was only last evening that I read part of Wounded by Love, a book detailing the life and teaching of Elder Porphyrios. That is to say, unless I am mistaken, I think the two things I am to take from the prayer life of Elijah are humility and abandonment of oneself to God. I leave you with the Elder’s words:

We shouldn’t blackmail God with our prayers. We shouldn’t ask God to release us from something, from an illness , for example, or to solve our problems, but we should ask for strength and support from Him to bear what we have to bear. Just as He knocks discretely at the door or our soul, so we should ask discretely for what we desire and if the Lord does not respond, we should cease to ask. When God does not give us something that we ask for insistently, then He has His reasons. God, too, has His ‘secrets.’ Since we believe in His good providence, since we believe that He knows everything about our lives and that He always desires what is good, why should we not trust Him? Let us pray naturally and gently, without forcing ourself and without passion. We know that past present and future are all known, ‘open and laid bare‘ before God. As Saint Paul says, Before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to His eyes [Heb 4:13]. We should not insist; such persistence does harm instead of good. We shouldn’t continue relentlessly in order to acquire what we want; rather we should leave things to the will of God. Because the more we pursue something, the more it runs away from us. So what is required is patience, faith and composure. And if we forget it, the Lord never forgets; and if it is for our good, He will give us what we require when we require it.

In our prayer we should ask only for the salvation of our soul. Didn’t the Lord say, Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you [Matt 6:33 & Luke 12:31]? Easily, without the slightest difficulty, Christ can give us what we want. And remember the secret. The secret is not to think about asking for the specific thing at all. The secret is to ask for your union with Christ with utter selflessness, without saying ‘give me this’ or ‘give me that.’ It suffices to say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’ God has no need to be informed by us about our various needs. He knows them all incomparably better than we do and He gives us His love. What is important is for us to respond to this love with prayer and with the keeping of His commandments. We should ask for the will of God to be done. That is what is in our best interest and the safest thing for us and for those fro whom we pray. Christ will give us everything abundantly. When there is even a trace of egotism, nothing happens.

–Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, pp 116-117

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