Friday, June 09, 2006

"O God, Make Speed to Save Us"

Why do most of the Western hours open with the versicle, "O God, make speed to save us/O Lord, make haste to help us"? Perhaps others could trace the historical development (or have?). However, the spiritual significance of this (now) distinctively Western practice could not be better attested than by the Abba Isaac of Scete. He reflects on their vital importance to Eastern monks in the Conferences of St. John Cassian., a work recommended in the Rule of St. Benedict:

. . . (W)e must give you also the form of this spiritual contemplation, on which you may always fix your gaze with the utmost steadiness, and both learn to consider it to your profit in unbroken continuance, and also manage by the practice of it and by meditation to climb to a still loftier insight. This formula . . . every monk in his progress towards continual recollection of God, is accustomed to ponder, ceaselessly revolving it in his heart, having got rid of all kinds of other thoughts; for he cannot possibly keep his hold over it unless he has freed himself from all bodily cares and anxieties. And as this was delivered to us by a few of those who were left of the oldest fathers, so it is only divulged by us to a very few and to those who are really keen. And so for keeping up continual recollection of God this pious formula is to be ever set before you. "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me," for this verse has not unreasonably been picked out from the whole of Scripture for this purpose. For it embraces all the feelings which can be implanted in human nature, and can be fitly and satisfactorily adapted to every condition, and all assaults.
Since it contains an invocation of God against every danger, it contains humble and pious confession, it contains the watchfulness of anxiety and continual fear, it contains the thought of one's own weakness, confidence in the answer, and the assurance of a present and ever ready help. For one who is constantly calling on his protector, is certain that He is always at hand. It contains the glow of love and charity, it contains a view of the plots, and a dread of the enemies, from which one, who sees himself day and night hemmed in by them, confesses that he cannot be set free without the aid of his defender. This verse is an impregnable wall for all who are labouring under the attacks of demons, as well as impenetrable coat of mail and a strong shield. It does not suffer those who are in a state of moroseness and anxiety of mind, or depressed by sadness or all kinds of thoughts to despair of saving remedies, as it shows that He, who is invoked, is ever looking on at our struggles and is not far from His suppliants. It warns us whose lot is spiritual success and delight of heart that we ought not to be at all elated or puffed up by our happy condition, which it assures us cannot last without God as our protector, while it implores Him not only always but even speedily to help us. This verse, I say, will be found helpful and useful to every one of us in whatever condition we may be. For one who always and in all matters wants to be helped, shows that he needs the assistance of God not only in sorrowful or hard matters but also equally in prosperous and happy ones, that he may be delivered from the one and also made to continue in the other, as he knows that in both of them human weakness is unable to endure without His assistance.

I am affected by the passion of gluttony. I ask for food of which the desert knows nothing, and in the squalid desert there are wafted to me odours of royal dainties and I find that even against my will I am drawn to long for them. I must at once say: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." I am incited to anticipate the hour fixed for supper, or I am trying with great sorrow of heart to keep to the limits of the right and regular meagre fare. I must cry out with groans: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." Weakness of the stomach hinders me when wanting severer fasts, on account of the assaults of the flesh, or dryness of the belly and constipation frightens me. In order that effect may be given to my wishes, or else that the fire of carnal lust may be quenched without the remedy of a stricter fast, I must pray: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." When I come to supper, at the bidding of the proper hour I loathe taking food and am prevented from eating anything to satisfy the requirements of nature: I must cry with a sigh: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." When I want for the sake of steadfastness of heart to apply myself to reading a headache interferes and stops me, and at the third hour sleep glues my head to the sacred page, and I am forced either to overstep or to anticipate the time assigned to rest; and finally an overpowering desire to sleep forces me to cut short the canonical rule for service in the Psalms: in the same way I must cry out: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." Sleep is withdrawn from my eyes, and for many nights I find myself wearied out with sleeplessness caused by the devil, and all repose and rest by night is kept away from my eyelids; I must sigh and pray: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." While I am still in the midst of a struggle with sin suddenly an irritation of the flesh affects me and tries by a pleasant sensation to draw me to consent while in my sleep. In order that a raging fire from without may not burn up the fragrant blossoms of chastity, I must cry out: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." I feel that the incentive to lust is removed, and that the heat of passion has died away in my members: In order that this good condition acquired, or rather that this grace of God may continue still longer or forever with me, I must earnestly say: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." I am disturbed by the pangs of anger, covetousness, gloominess, and driven to disturb the peaceful state in which I was, and which was dear to me: In order that I may not be carried away by raging passion into the bitterness of gall, I must cry out with deep groans: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." I am tried by being puffed up by accidie, vainglory, and pride, and my mind with subtle thoughts flatters itself somewhat on account of the coldness and carelessness of others: In order that this dangerous suggestion of the enemy may not get the mastery over me, I must pray with all contrition of heart: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." I have gained the grace of humility and simplicity, and by continually mortifying my spirit have got rid of the swellings of pride: In order that the "foot of pride" may not again "come against me," and "the hand of the sinner disturb me," and that I may not be more seriously damaged by elation at my success, I must cry with all my might, "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." I am on fire with innumerable and various wanderings of soul and shiftiness of heart, and cannot collect my scattered thoughts, nor can I even pour forth my prayer without interruption and images of vain figures, and the recollection of conversations and actions, and I feel myself tied down by such dryness and barrenness that I feel I cannot give birth to any offspring in the shape of spiritual ideas: In order that it may be vouchsafed to me to be set free from this wretched state of mind, from which I cannot extricate myself by any number of sighs and groans, I must full surely cry out: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." Again, I feel that by the visitation of the Holy Spirit I have gained purpose of soul, steadfastness of thought, keenness of heart, together with an ineffable joy and transport of mind, and in the exuberance of spiritual feelings I have perceived by a sudden illumination from the Lord an abounding revelation of most holy ideas which were formerly altogether hidden from me: In order that it may be vouchsafed to me to linger for a longer time in them I must often and anxiously exclaim: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." Encompassed by nightly horrors of devils I am agitated, and am disturbed by the appearances of unclean spirits, my very hope of life and salvation is withdrawn by the horror of fear. Flying to the safe refuge of this verse, I will cry out with all my might: "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." Again, when I have been restored by the Lord's consolation, and, cheered by His coming, feel myself encompassed as if by countless thousands of angels, so that all of a sudden I can venture to seek the conflict and provoke a battle with those whom a while ago I dreaded worse than death, and whose touch or even approach I felt with a shudder both of mind and body: In order that the vigour of this courage may, by God's grace, continue in me still longer, I must cry out with all my powers "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me."

We must then ceaselessly and continuously pour forth the prayer of this verse, in adversity that we may be delivered, in prosperity that we may be preserved and not puffed up. Let the thought of this verse, I tell you, be conned over in your breast without ceasing. Whatever work you are doing, or office you are holding, or journey you are going, do not cease to chant this. When you are going to bed, or eating, and in the last necessities of nature, think on this. This thought in your heart may be to you a saving formula, and not only keep you unharmed by all attacks of devils, but also purify you from all faults and earthly stains, and lead you to that invisible and celestial contemplation, and carry you on to that ineffable glow of prayer, of which so few have any experience. Let sleep come upon you still considering this verse, till having been moulded by the constant use of it, you grow accustomed to repeat it even in your sleep. When you wake let it be the first thing to come into your mind, let it anticipate all your waking thoughts, let it when you rise from your bed send you down on your knees, and thence send you forth to all your work and business, and let it follow you about all day long. This you should think about, according to the Lawgiver's charge, "at home and walking forth on a journey," sleeping and waking. This you should write on the threshold and door of your mouth, this you should place on the walls of your house and in the recesses of your heart so that when you fall on your knees in prayer this may be your chant as you kneel, and when you rise up from it to go forth to all the necessary business of life it may be your constant prayer as you stand. (Conference 10:10).

This should remind us of the importance of a meditative reading of the Scriptures, Lectio Divina, as practiced by the holy monks and desert fathers. More importantly, his words will impart new significance to our prayer of the Hours, especially if we're tempted to sprint through these familiar -- but sacred -- words. When we pray these words -- now preserved within Orthodoxy only in the Western liturgical tradition -- we are praying for the Spirit and for God's Kingdom.


Once Saved, Always Insecure

Pastor William Weedon has wise words on the doctrine of "Eternal Security," or "Once Saved Always Safe":
There IS certain salvation in Christ; there is NO certainty that I will be in Christ when I die. Therefore this calls for constant and unending vigilance and attendance upon the promises of God and the Means of Grace...absolute security is not possible in any place: an angel fell in heaven; Adam fell in paradise; Judas fell under the tutelage of Christ Himself.
Despair leads us to believe struggle is futile; Protestant heresy would lead us to believe this vital ascetical struggle is unnecessary. May God deliver us from both and help our poor efforts.


Distractions in Lectio Divina

One of the most discouraging troubles one encounters when practicing Lectio Divina is the seeming inability to concentrate -- that one's mind, heart, and faculties burn with a longing for God yet seem inextricably tied to the things of this world. This is a problem all the saints experienced, some for decades. This is particularly a problem in any meditative or contemplative form of prayer, such as Lectio. Recognizing this, some practitioners advise:
When you meditate, do not be alarmed or discouraged if you initially experience a high degree of inner noise – fragments of conversations, TV shows, loud music, recollections of the previous day’s events – seemingly making a travesty of your desire to sit quietly...We are so unaccustomed to silence that its strangeness provokes a protective reaction of noise in our heads, to compensate for the threatening absence of sound. Stay calm, be patient and persevere. Simply focus on your chosen text, read it aloud softly if necessary, and go over it slowly several times. You will notice the inner noise begin to fade.
This is good advice about distractions that come during prayer in general.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Melkite Rite of Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament

Following up on our discussion of Benediction and Eucharistic devotion, I am grateful to a friend who posted this text online: the service of Benediction for the Melkites. Although Benediction is a Western/Latin devotion, it is interesting to see an Antiochian-based Byzantine tradition adopt it with its own Eastern sensibility.


The Eucharistic Sacrifice is an offering and a meal uniting man in a unique way with Christ the Saviour. This special union with Christ sets man in the only right direction, leading him out of himself far beyond the closed circle of his earthly life, and giving him back to his Creator. The holy and divine Liturgy celebrates our return to the Father through Jesus Christ: for the Son has become a way for man, the way of return, and not a stopping place. This dynamic movement is indeed unfolded in the mystery of the Eucharistic celebration in which the Christian is preeminently brought up and restored to the Father. The Eastern Church, particularly attached to the dynamic aspect of the work of redemption, has not always understood the Roman development of the cult of the Blessed Sacrament, that is, reverence for the static presence of Christ. Yet, the development of this devotion to the presence of Christ in the Consecrated Host is legitimate. It became popular with the Melkites in the days of Patriarch Maximos Hakeem in the 18th century.

The purpose of this devotional service is to express faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, to request his blessings, to offer Him reparation for the Sins of the world and to give thanks to Him for his favors and especially for the favor of his body and blood as food for our souls.

The priest, standing before the holy table, begins aloud:

BLESSED + is our God, at all times now and always and for ever and ever.

R. Amen.

While the priest incenses the Blessed Sacrament, the people say:

Let the Armies of heaven be present, and all the hosts of the holy angels. Let them stand with fear before their Creator and God, deeply worshiping Him who is most good, Jesus. He who is feared by the Cherubim is present now, in an invisible manner, hidden under the sensible species. We see Him, and we see Him not, for He is the visible and invisible God.

-Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Glory to You, O Lord!

The priest: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Glory to You, O Lord!R. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Glory to You, O Lord!Together: O our God and our Hope, glory to You!

Together: O our God and our Hope, glory to You!

While the people are chanting the last Alleluia, the priest incenses. At the end of the chanting, the priest blesses with the covered holy Host saying:

May God the Father bless you, + He who saved us through the Incarnation of his beloved Son.

R. Amen.

- May God the Son bless you, + He who gave us the admirable Sacrament of his love.

R. Amen.

- May God the Holy Spirit bless you, + He who sanctified us by his awe-inspiring descent.

R. Amen.

- Glory be to the holy, consubstantial, life-giving and indivisible Trinity, now and always and for ever and ever.

R. Amen.

The priest places the covered Host on the holy table and incenses it while the people say:

IT IS INDEED a tremendous miracle to see God taking flesh and becoming man, and a greater miracle still to see Him suspended on the cross. But the highest of all miracles, O Christ our God, is your ineffable presence under the mystic species. Truly You did institute, through this great Sacrament, a remembrance of all your marvels. How merciful of You, O God, to give Yourself as food to those who fear You! To recall your covenant forever, and to remember your passion and your death until the day of your glorious coming! Let us, O faithful, receive our food and our life, our King and our Saviour, and cry out: "Save, O Lord, those who worship your glorious and venerable presence."

The priest replaces the Host in the tabernacle, while the people recite the


CHRIST, having loved his own, loved them until the end, and gave them his body and blood as food and drink. Therefore let us adore them with veneration and say with fear: "Glory to your presence, O Christ! Glory to your compassion, glory to your condescension, O You who alone are the Lover of Mankind!"

The priest: Glory to You, our God! Glory to You!

- O Christ, our true God, O You who gave us your body and your blood as food and drink for our salvation, through the intercession of your Mother all-pure and of all the saints, have mercy on us and save us! Amen.

Together: Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord, Jesus Christ, our God have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

From Byzantine Daily Worship, ed. Joseph Raya and Jose de Vinck. (Allendale, New Jersey: Alleluia Press, 1969), pp. 402-404.

(Hat tip: Dan at York Forum)


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Effects of Lectio Divina

Although Lectio Divina is best known from the Rule of St. Benedict, meditation on Scripture has had significant impact on Eastern spirituality. We mentioned the Desert Fathers, but other Eastern Fathers echoed the practice. St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote, "Either pray assiduously or read assiduously; sometimes speak to God, at other times listen to God speaking to you" (Letter 1,15; P.L.4:221).

The fruits of meditation on Scripture have been considerable.

Monasticism developed because of meditation on the Scriptures. According to St. Athanasius’ The Life of Antony, St. Antony was confronted with the verse, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (St. Matt. 19:21). Pondering how to live this, he became the father of monasticism.

The Way of a Pilgrim brought its author to the Jesus Prayer, after he meditated on the verse, “pray without ceasing.”

The Rule of St. Benedict instructs monks to practice Lectio Divina two hours a day and all day Sunday – and at other times if possible. Describing those monks who follow his saintly Rule, he wrote, “from the fourth till about the sixth hour they devote to [holy] reading. After the sixth hour, however, when they have risen from table, let them rest in their beds in complete silence; or if, perhaps, anyone desireth to read for himself, let him so read that he doth not disturb others” (Chapter 48).

St. Augustine of Hippo was converted to Orthodox Christianity by meditation on two verses of Scripture. The saint was troubled over his history of physical lust culminating with his cohabiting with a woman. Despite all his wishes, he felt he could not break free of this passion. While weeping over his sins, he heard a small child chanting a sing-song, “Telle, Lege. Telle, Lege.” (“Take up and read. Take up and read.”) He proceeded to pick up a book of St. Paul’s epistles:
I seized it and opened it and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes
fell: “Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in
quarrels and rivalries. Rather arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend
no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites” (Rom. 13:13-14). I had no wish
to read more and no need to do so. For in an instant, as I came to the end of a
sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all
the darkness of doubt was dispelled. (Confessions, Book 8:12).
As importantly, one can only imagine the rich spiritual fruit grown in the souls of holy men and women -- lay and monastic -- who spent hours meditating on the Scriptures.

Today, many Orthodox are rediscovering Lectio Divina, a long-lost portion of their spiritual heritage. May it bring us another rich harvest.


Byzantines Demand Eucharistic Adoration

Tabernacle from the high altar of the Beuron Archabbey.

The mind boggles when Orthodox who (rightly) encourage the faithful to venerate icons, feel the presence of God through them, attend liturgy on feast days dedicated to icons, and even make pilgrimages to miraculous icons, then imply worshipping the True Body and Blood of Christ already reserved on the altar is somehow unseemly.
This is all the more true when one realizes the Byzantine East has an interesting parallel to Eucharistic Adoration. The scholar Hugh Wybrew notes this in his work The Orthodox Liturgy, discussing the development of the Great Entrance. He references the theologian Symeon of Thessalonike:

Popular devotion at the Great Entrance found a more willing protagonist in Symeon than it had in [St. Nicholas] Cabasilas. He holds that veneration of the gifts is perfectly justified, since they are already images of the Body and Blood of Christ, comparable to, though greater than, icons. They are, as St. Basil called them, antitypes of the Body and Blood of Christ, and have already been offered to become the Body and Blood. Symeon reckons worse than iconoclasts those who criticize such veneration as idolatry. He encourages the veneration even of holy vessels which are empty, "for they all partake of sanctification, the holy gifts being offered in sacrifice in them." Perhaps Symeon was deliberately trying to correct what he considered Cabasilas' mistaken caution. But his use of the word antitype is significant, for in the anaphora of St. Basil it is used of the consecrated gifts. Symeon here reflects the view by now deeply ingrained in Orthodox eucharistic piety, that a certain holiness attaches to the bread and wine from the time of their preparation in the prothesis. This is in fact implied in the prayers said during the proskomidia, and by the ceremonial surrounding both that rite and the Great Entrance. The Orthodox Liturgy (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1996) p. 169.
Apparently St. Nicholas Cabasilas also believed veneration of the sanctified gifts was appropriate, as during the Presanctified Liturgy (p. 163).

Clearly, if veneration of unsanctified gifts is appropriate Orthodox piety, then it borders on blasphemy to deny the same reverence to Christ's Body and Blood, truly present in the consecrated Eucharist.

This is made more clear by context: parishes began reserving Communion to take to the sick. With the Church's high view of the Eucharist, this reservation took place in a sufficiently ornate tabernacle. As all church buildings -- whether Orthodox, Roman, or Protestant -- were until recently left unlocked for the benefit of respective parish faithful, if one piously paused to pray and noticed upon the altar was...God might appropriately feel reverence, even if the elements had originally been reserved for consumption rather than adoration.
I suspect were we to truly perceive the Divinity present in the Eucharist on the altar of every Orthodox church, we would be incapable of rising from our faces.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Orthodoxy on "666"

Following up on our earlier post about today's date, here are some Orthodox and patristic reflections on the number 666:

St. Hippolytus of Rome: "I have an opinion as to this number [666]...will give us the words, 'I deny.'"

St. Irenaeus of Lyons writes this number signifies the number of heresies from the foundation of the Church.

The Coptic priest Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty gives an interesting review of patristic thought on this number in his Commentary on Revelation: "Many of the Fathers think that he mentioned the number simply to confirm the truth, that he is in fact a man and has a name." He also relates St. John Climacus' view that "6" means "incomplete" and "inferior," two outstanding traits of this figure. Fr. Malaty concludes, "[I]t is enough for us to know that he will come denying and refuting faith in the Lord Jesus, appointing himself as a king."

Rassophore Monk Vsevolod follows the fathers in discouraging vain speculation -- particularly the kind rampant in the "end times" culture of today -- in his article "Count the Number of the Beast: '666,'" published in the ROCOR publication Orthodox America:

[T]he Apostle John the Theologian indicated specifically that in order to comprehend the name of the beast it was essential to have wisdom, i.e., Christian love of wisdom, and not simply an arithmetical formula...Many people think that the seal of the Antichrist will be something like a stamp or brand, or an electronic chip implanted under the skin. The basis for such thinking lies in the fantastically rapid development of science and technology in this direction. Most likely, however, this scientific development is designed to distract mankind's attention from the real mark of Antichrist, which will have nothing to do with the advances of science, technology or medicine. At a time when people's suspicions and anxieties are fixed upon some innovation of progress-the implantation of computer chips in humans, for example-the real seal of Antichrist will be imprinted quietly, without any particular commotion...even before the placing of the marks (or even before the coming of Antichrist), they will accuse the earthly part of Christ's Church with having accepted the mark of Antichrist, although in fact this will be simply some credit card or new type of personal document. Furthermore, such zealots "not according to knowledge" will proclaim that their group alone - which has rejected these "marks" (cards, documents, products with certain symbols, etc.) - is the true Church. Clearly, this will be nothing but a new schism or sect. Already now we find many sad examples of such splinter groups, and they will only increase in the last times.

This makes an interesting contrast with this picture of the Greek Church in Cyprus from the year 2000:

The Greek Orthodox Church spoke out against the use of 666, prompting the government to announce that it will no longer issue its citizens identity cards that bear the creepy code. In fact, it went so far as to promise that the I.D.s will now feature six instead of three digits.

This should take care of any and all numeric disputes until a devout churchgoer ends up with 696969.

Finally, I see the phone number for Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral in L.A. (home of Bp. TIKHON) begins with -- wait for it! -- "666." Other Orthodox churches with this prefix include:

(My Russian friends tell me that's St. George Cathedral gets for leaving ROCOR.) :)

The Orthodox fathers, though perhaps non-plussed by having the number 666 plastered on a church, would draw attention not to the numbers on the outside of the Church but the Savior within Who beckons all to Himself in the hopes that where He is, we may be also.


The Numbers of the Beast

Perhaps you've seen this before; I couldn't resist given today's date:

666Biblical Number of the Beast
660Approximate Number of the Beast
DCLXVIRoman Numeral of the Beast
668Number of the Beast's Neighbor
665Number of the House Across the Street from the Beast
999Number of the Dyslexic Beast
665.9997856Number of the Beast on a Pentium
0.00150150...Reciprocal of the Beast
6.66 x 102Scientific Notation of the Beast
25.8069758...Square Root of the Beast
443556Square of the Beast
1010011010Binary Number of the Beast
1232Octal of the Beast
29AHexidecimal of the Beast
2.8235Log of the Beast
6.5913Ln of the Beast
1.738 x 10289Anti-Log of the Beast
$665.95Retail Price of the Beast
$55.50Monthly Payments for Beast, in 12 easy installments
#666666Font of the Beast (a pale gray)
i66686CPU of the Beast
6.66ERA of the Beast

666? Booga, booga, booga!

Today is June 6, 2006, or in numerical notation 6/6/06. Taking advantage of the date, Hollywood has released a remake of The Omen. (The first wasn't boring enough?) Credulous evangelicals are taking care not to walk under ladders or cross the path of black cats. This author thought a former boss -- a very evangelical-minded Methodist -- was going to run us off the road when we got behind a taxi with the number "666."

Why the heightened tension around this date? First of all, the date isn't "666" but "6606," which isn't the number of anything. Secondly, generations have "accepted" this date once a century (June 6, 1906; June 6, 1806, etc.) and will continue to do so until time shall be no more.

But most importantly, like blaspheming the Holy Spirit, the nervous view is informed by an overly literal interpretation of this number (as are worries about Social Security numbers, taxi tags, and the like). Accepting the "number of the Beast" will involve a rejection of Christ. It may be no more than offering a pinch of incense in front of the emperor's statue -- or the new false gods of the secular age, who are legion. The best preventative against this is a close relationship with God and membership in His Church. St. Augustine of Hippo noted, "evil is nothing but the removal of good until finally no good remains." Conversely, an unbroken stream of witnesses say overcoming evil involves some warfare against that passion...but also the acquisition of good (or rather, acquisition of The Good One) until evil is crowded out of our lives by the indwelling of God, drowned in the flow of the Holy Spirit. This will get any Christian much further than, say, skipping work today (which you will have to confess at some point, anyway).


An Ancient, Desert Conference on Lectio Divina

The ancient art of spiritual reading, Lectio Divina, is another spiritual discipline of the primitive Orthodox Church now preserved primarily in the West. Like an earlier example, the ancient testimony comes from Abba Nesteros in St. John Cassian’s Conferences (Conference 14, 9-10):

Preserve that eagerness for reading, which I believe is in you, and hasten in all eagerness to acquire practical – that is, moral – knowledge...Then, having banished all worldly concerns and thoughts, strive in every way to devote yourself constantly to the sacred reading [Latin: lectio divina -- BJ] so that continuous meditation will seep into your soul and, as it were, will shape it into its image. Somehow it will form that Ark of the Scriptures (cf. Heb. 9:4-5) and will contain the two stone tablets, that is, the perpetual strength of the two Testaments. There will be the golden urn, which is a pure and unstained memory, which will preserve firmly within itself the everlasting manna, that is, the eternal heavenly sweetness of spiritual meanings, and of that bread which belongs to the angels…

Now all of these things are covered over the two cherubim, that is by the plentitude of historical and spiritual lore. Cherubim [emphasis his] means knowledge in abundance. They provide an everlasting protection for that which appeases God, namely the calm of your heart, and they will cast a shadow of protection against all the attacks of malign spirits.

Therefore, the sequences of Holy Scripture must be committed to memory, and they must be pondered ceaselessly. Such meditation will profit us in two ways: [I now shorten his words - BJ]

1. It keeps our mind from “being taken over by the snares of dangerous thoughts”; and

2. We may not understand their meanings at once, but when the mind is unoccupied, especially during sleep, “the hidden meanings and sense of them are bored into our minds.”

A most worthy form of meditation, so "we may also in heart and mind thither ascend [into the heavens], and with Him continually dwell, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen."

Labels: ,

Monday, June 05, 2006

No, It Doesn't Matter

Huw is against the Marriage Protection Amendment; I'm for it. But honestly speaking, it doesn't matter: a Constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate to pass, and it does not have nearly that many votes. Even should it pass some future senate chamber, it would have to be ratified by more "blue" states than show any signs of changing their, err, culture (?) on the issue.

In other words, it has no chance of being passed, much less ratified. All the debate time could be better used teaching the Orthodox view of marriage, and prayer.

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit

A question frequently encountered by scrupulous Christians of all backgrounds is: "What exactly does 'blaspheming against the Holy Spirit' mean?" This sin is mentioned in St. Luke 12:10: "And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit it will not be forgiven him." Our friends in the Diocese of St. Gregory present the standard Orthodox answer in their Q & A on the Holy Spirit:
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not disbelief in the Holy Spirit, His Divinity or His work; nor is it insulting of the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the complete and continuous, lifelong refusal to allow the Holy Spirit to work in the heart. The outcome of such a refusal is lack of repentance from the person’s side and consequently, lack of forgiveness from Almighty God’s side...However, if a person, no matter for how long having rejected the Holy Spirit turns back, accepts Him and repents (even if it were during the last minute of his/her life), they will be accepted by Almighty God.
According to its website, Abuna Yesehaq received the diocese into the Ethiopian (Oriental, or non-Chalcedonian) Orthodox Church in June 2004. The "Q & A" is well worth reading, particularly by Western Rite Orthodox who are preparing for the Feast of Pentecost.