Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Saints at War?

Several years ago, an Eastern Orthodox priest tried to correct this errant pro-Western Riter, believing perhaps that I just did not comprehend the glories of Byzantium. Given enough time and exposure, I'd fall in line and see how silly I'd been. Little did he know I love both rites deeply -- and I had worshipped with the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom far longer than he had. Nonetheless, he made it incumbent upon me to read two books: one was a book on Byzantine vestments and accoutrements, and the other was The Blessed Elder George Karslides (1901-1959) by Monk Moses the Athonite.

A few events in the Blessed Elder's life stood out. For one, he levitated, like the Roman Catholic saint Joseph of Cupertino. Another I will relate in a later message. However, this quotation came to mind this week, as we averted a terrorist attack; nonetheless, some insist all good Orthodox must essentially oppose both sides in any conflict -- anywhere, at anytime, for any reason including self-defense:

After a liturgy at Transfiguration, he related with great contrition: "We had visitors Saint Nicholas and Saint John, a strict visitor, Saint John the Forerunner..." When he censed him his hand trembled. At first he used to say: "Today we had the such and such saint concelebrating," afterwards he stopped mentioning this. On the eve of the war with the Italians, he cried constantly. They told him: "What do you have Elder, and why are you crying?" He said: "I remained an orphan." When the war was declared he said, "The Panaghia with Saint George left for the front." (pp. 63-65).

It seems he had made similar statements at other times:

Another villager related that during the Bulgarian occupation invaders came to murder the inhabitants of Sipsa. They took the Elder and led him to the cafe of the village together with other men. The head officer, addressing himself to them said: "You have some saint here who protects you Although we were coming intending not to leave even a chicken alive, our feet and hands are cut." The Elder told them when they left that the Precious Forerunner was cutting their feet and hands. (p. 80).

When women visited the monastery who on the way had denied giving water to soldiers who asked them for some, the Elder spoke to them strictly: "Strive for charity if you want to come to the Elder, be very careful of your actions, examine yourselves always, so that God will love you and the Elder will rejoice." (p. 106).

I wonder what Orthodox Peace Fellowship makes of this?


Thursday, August 10, 2006

The First Orthodox in North America: Western Rite?

Here's an interesting article by Fr. Andrew Phillips, published in the ROCOR publication Orthodox America. As for the author's historical veracity, I cannot say. However, Fr. Phillips does not mention that, if true, these visitors to North America would have celebrated a Western Rite Mass.

Orthodox Christians in America 1,000 Years Ago

Although school children are no longer taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America, what they are not told - and what is not generally known - is that the first European to set foot on the New World was an Orthodox Christian, some five hundred years before the Roman Catholic Genoan. Who was he?

In the last two centuries of the first millennium, countries in northwest Europe and elsewhere became aware of peoples called Northmen or Vikings (from "viks" or "wicks," villages located on creeks or inlets in the cold, barren lands of Scandinavia). Setting sail in their distinctive high-prowed "long ships" in search of timber, fish and arable land, the Vikings acquired lasting notoriety with their savage attacks of peaceful countries. Their repeated onslaughts on England were particularly vicious. Martyring hundreds of monks and nuns, they put an end to the Golden Age of English Church culture.

Not all Vikings, however, were as bellicose. An eastern group, whom today we would call Swedes, were chiefly mercenaries and traders. They travelled widely to the east and south through Russia, where they founded the ruling Rurik dynasty,* to Constantinople. A third group, who inhabited what today is Norway, were traders and explorers, who travelled primarily westward. They settled in the hermit-occupied Shetland Islands and Orkneys. In northwest Scotland and England, in Wales and Ireland. In 870 they began colonizing Iceland where Irish monks, "papar," were already dwelling. Here Viking speech, Old Norse, has hardly changed in a thousand years, being preserved in the time-capsule of modern Icelandic. From here some were to move on to Greenland. The chief among these was Eric (Eirik) the Red. An outlaw like his father, he left Iceland in 982 and spent the next several years exploring the southwest coast of an ice-rimmed land he called Greenland in hopes of attracting settlers. He then led there a seven-hundred-strong expedition of emigrants. Their descendants were to occupy the land for five centuries, until they mysteriously disappeared in about 1500. To this Eric the Red we shall later return. Let us first speak of the Christianization of these Northmen.

The Vikings were heathen, and they had their own dark and hopeless mythology of pagan gods and fates. Though their onslaught on Christendom led at first to bloodshed, the spiritually sensitive among them began to accept Christianity. By the end of the ninth century, the Danish Vikings who had settled in England after wreaking such havoc, had accepted the Faith at the hands of Alfred the Great. (It is notable that the Danish homeland itself did not accept Christianity until later still.) A century later the Swedish Vikings had begun to accept missionaries from England, whose presence is proved by, among other things, the Old English-style church of Saint Peter at Sgituna. Among the western Norwegian Vikings, the influence of English Christianity was greater still.

In 994 the leader of the Norwegian Vikings, Olaf Tryggvason, laid siege to London, famously destroying London Bridge. Olaf, however, had a change of heart and was chrismated and confirmed at Andover in the south of England by Alphege, Bishop of Winchester, the then English royal capital. When Olaf Tryggvason left England in 995, a new man, he took with him bishops and priests from Winchester and elsewhere in England, including a Bishop Grimkell, an Englishman of Danish origin, who was to become Bishop of the Norwegian capital at Nidaros, now called Trondheim. It was this mission which was to lead to the spreading of Christianity in Norway and the veneration there of such English saints as Saint Swithin of Winchester. In time, the Christian influence of Olaf Tryggvason spread to all future Norwegians, and outside Norway as well. Thus, the Icelandic Kristni Saga and the Saga of Olaf Tryggvason relate how, at his behest, the Christian faith was brought to the Norse settlers in Iceland in about the year 999. Such was the success of Christianity here that it is recorded that in about 1050 one Icelandic missionary, Thorwald, died in Kiev on a visit there. Let us now rejoin the saga of Eric the Red, the voyager and discoverer of Greenland, where our story begins in earnest.
One of the Norwegian Icelanders to join Eric the Red's expedition of settlers to Greenland, was a man called Herjolf. According to the Greenlanders' Saga, on board Herjolf's ship there was a Christian from the Hebrides who, sailing into the unknown, addressed the following prayer to Christ:

Master of monks, most pure, Thee Do I beseech, shield my journey. May the Lord of Heaven bless me And stretch forth His hand upon me.

On arrival in Greenland, Herjolf made his home on a cape or "ness" not far from Eric the Red, who set up a farm in a place they called Brattahlid, "the steep slope."
This Herjolf had a grown son, Bjarni, who was a merchant. When Bjarni Herjolfsson returned to Iceland from Norway, where he had been on business, and discovered his father gone to Greenland, he decided to seek him out. It was the Year of Our Lord 986. Heading for Greenland but driven southwards by bad weather, Bjarni sighted land, wooded, not mountainous. Realizing that he had lost his way, he headed northwards, only to see a second land, flat and wooded, and then a third land with flat stony coasts and mountains of ice. Finally he arrived at the cape named after his father, Herjolfsnes, in the south of Greenland: Bjarni had sighted - but not landed in - new and unknown lands.

Herjolf's friend and guide, Eric the Red, had four Greenlander children: three sons - Leif, Thorvald, and Thorstein - and a daughter, Freydis. In 999 this first son, Leif Ericsson, "most excellent to look at, and in addition wise and moderate in everything as well as highly respected," set out from Greenland and went to Norway. There, while wintering at the royal court in Trondheim, he met King Olaf Tryggvason and, almost certainly, the English Bishop of Trondheim, Grimkell, whom we mentioned before. According to the sagas, King Olaf received Leif with much honor and, as a new Christian ruler, converted him to Christianity. According to the Saga of Olaf, "it was easy to baptize Leif," and Olaf assigned to him the task of converting the still heathen Greenlanders to Christianity.

The next spring, in the year 1000, Leif set out as a missionary to return to Greenland. He took with him a priest, perhaps one of the many English missionaries then at work in Norway, as well as "other holy men to baptize the people there and teach them the right faith." The Saga of Eric the Red records that on Leif's arrival at Brattahlid, his mother, Thjodhild, was baptized, and here they built the first church in Greenland. Leif and the "papa" or priest soon baptized most of the Greenlanders, and this first church was followed by some sixteen others, including a cruciform cathedral and also a monastery and a nunnery. The ruins of this first church were discovered and excavated almost a thousand years later, in 1961. It was a small wooden building, some twelve yards long and four wide, with turf walls, surrounded by sixteen graves.

Here in Greenland in 1001, Leif Ericsson first heard of Bjarni Herjolfsson's discovery of new lands to the southwest. This story moved him to buy a ship from Bjarni, with the idea of discovering for himself these new lands. What Leif's exact motives were we cannot say, but since Leif had been entrusted with bringing Christianity to Greenland, which he had done with the aid of clergy, his purpose may have been partly missionary. Thus it was, probably in the year 1002, that Leif Ericsson set out from Greenland with thirty-four companions and indeed discovered the same lands as Bjarni, but in reverse order, from north to south. First he found a coast of stone slabs beyond which rose glaciers, "mountains of ice." He called it "Helluland" (Flatstoneland). Then he saw a low, wooded land with white sand beaches, which he called "Markland" or "Woodland." Finally, two days further to the south, he came to another land of grass, pasture and woods, with a cape and very shallow bay, where their ship ran aground. The Norsemen took their ship up a creek into a small lake, near where they erected houses. They "gave the land a name in accordance with the good things they found in it, calling it Vinland" or "Vineland the Good," meaning, not "land of vines," as is often thought, but "land of meadows": "vin" in Norse means "meadow." Compared to Greenland it was a paradise for the Norsemen, for here they could pasture their cattle and drink fresh milk. Here they found wild grain and many berries from which they made bread and wine. They built "large houses" here and stayed the winter, seeing no snow.

On his return to Greenland the following spring, Ericsson found that his father was dying, and he assumed duties as the governor of the now numerous Greenland colony. The following year, 1004, his brother Thorvald sailed to "Leifsbudir," Leif's camp in Vinland. The next summer Thorvald explored the country to the west, with its woods, white sands and many islands. The summer after that, sailing east, he discovered a shallow cape that he called "Kjalarnes," "Keelness." On a headland to the east of there, Thorvald was killed in an affray with hostile "Skraelings" or "yellers" as the sagas called the natives on account of their loud war-cries. Before he died, Thorvald asked as a Christian that crosses be planted at the head and foot of his grave. These crosses were the first to be planted on American soil, and it is appropriate that this headland was called "Krossanes" (Crossness).

After the winter, Thorvald's crew returned to Greenland. A year later, in 1008, the third brother, Thorstein Ericsson, set out for Vinland but failed to reach it. In about 1020, the new husband of Thorstein's widow, an Icelander by the name of Thorfinn Karlsefni, sailing for two days with two ships, 140 people and livestock, went to Helluland and Markland, wintering near Keelness with its long beaches. It was there that a son, Snorri, was born - the first European to be born in the New World. His grandson was to become Bishop Thorla of Iceland. Karlsefni returned to Greenland with a cargo of furs which he had traded with the Skraelings and also Skraelings themselves, whom he had captured in Markland. These he had baptized - probably he had sailed with a priest - taught Norwegian and Norwegians had learned some Skraeling. Finally, after Leif's death in about 1020, Leif's sister, Freydis, visited Leif's original camp in Vinland with two ships in about 1024.

Further information about these early settlers is scant. In 1117, a Bishop Eric Gnupsson set sail for Vinland from Greenland, where he was papal legate, commissioned by Pope Pascal II to spread papal control of Scandinavia and the North. He stayed in Vinland, "that extensive and most wealthy country," for at least a year. As late as 1347 the Icelandic Annals indicate that there was some kind of Norse settlement in Markland. But beyond that, until further evidence proves otherwise, it is generally accepted that no permanent settlement was established there in Vinland, while the settlements in Greenland survived for about five hundred years.

It is only in the twentieth century that the truths of these Icelandic sagas and chronicles, as related above, have been interpreted and appreciated. From the precise directions, distances and descriptions given in the sagas, it is now clear that the Helluland of the sagas, the land of flat stones and glaciers, is Baffin Island, Canadian territory scarcely two hundred nautical miles from the closest point of Greenland. Markland, the flat land of forests, is Labrador. Keelness is Cape Porcupine, and, though once identified with areas as far south as Rhode Island and Cape God, Vinland itself must in fact be Newfoundland. This was confirmed by the startling find in 1960 of a Norse turf- and timber-built settlement at L'Anse-aux-Meadows near Cape Bauld on the northern tip of Newfoundland. Intensively researched by Dr. Helge Ingstad, the site was excavated by Norwegian archaeologists under the direction of Mrs. Anne Stein Ingstad, and carbon-dated to approximately AD 1000. The settlement remains suggest a large hall with four rooms, some eight other buildings up to twenty-five yards in length, including a bath-house and a smithy, as well as four boat sheds. One of the houses contained a slate-lined recess identified as an ember pit, similar to one excavated at Brattahlid. Norse artifacts were also found on the site. In 1964 a young Canadian helper unearthed a tiny soapstone wheel, a flywheel for a wool spinning spindle, evidence that the settlers did in fact include women. The same type of wheels have been found at Norse sites in Greenland, Iceland, and Norway. The architecture at L'Anse-aux-Meadows likewise corresponds to the very earliest buildings in Greenland; the lower walls are of turf, while the upper walls were probably of timber. Nearby are the ruins of two stone cairns - could they have once been standing crosses?

Although it cannot be stated of a certain on the basis of existent evidence, it is likely that this was the very site of Leif Ericsson's original camp, enlarged by those many who came after. Striking, too, is the very name of this settlement. "L'anse" is a French word meaning "inlet," "small bay," "creek"; and in Norse, the English word "meadow," as stated above, is "vin"; Vinland, the land of meadows, the pastureland. Nearby is a creek through which the Norsemen could have hauled their ship. It leads to a small lake which is surrounded by large meadows, beyond which there once stretched woods. Once Beothuk Algonquions lived here, but, massacred by French and English settlers, they became extinct in 1829. Were these not the "Skraelings" of Norse saga? The area around L'Anse aux Meadows is full of wild berries, cranberries, squash-berries (similar to grapes) and cloudberries, from which local people used to make wine. A type of wild grain, lyme grass, grows there and sometimes winters, made mild by the Gulf Stream, are virtually snow-free. We can imagine that a thousand years before, when the climate was milder, snow-free winters may have been the rule.

What became of these settlers? Did they all return to Greenland? Some think that they were decimated by disease. Others think it more likely that they intermarried with the "Skraelings." Reports from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century explorers like Champlain speak of white-skinned and fair-haired "Indians" with "wooden ships." Another hypothesis is that the settlers were killed by the aggressive Skraelings; we know that the settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows was burnt down, leaving today only low turf walls.

However we may look at it, the fact is that the first Christians in North America came from Scandinavia at a time when Scandinavian Christians were an integral part of Orthodox Christendom.

It is perhaps not idle speculation to wonder what might have been had these early Scandinavians settled in large numbers in North America. We can suppose that together with their priests and bishops they would gradually have moved further south towards more favorable climes, converting more native Americans along their way. Perhaps Christopher Columbus himself would have found here an already ancient native Orthodox Christian civilization, an Orthodox America. But history took a different turn. And so it is up to us to take up the mission begun in this land by Leif Ericsson and his Orthodox descendents.

Adapted from a longer article by Priest Andrew Phillips

For further reading, see Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, Orthodox Christianity and the Old English Church, and The Tragedy of English History - all by Fr. Andrew Phillips..

Also: G. M. Gathorne-Hardy, The Norse Discoverers of America, 1921. H. Hermansson, The Problem of Wineland, 1936. R. A. Skelton et all., The Vinland Map and the Tatar Connection, 1965. Helge Ingstad, Westward to Vinland, 1969. Anne Ingstad, The Discovery of a Norse Settlement in America, 1977. Finn Gad, Groenlands Historie indtil 1700, 1978.


Off-Topic? Traditional Dominicans

For our Dominican and Trog/Trad readers, here's a link I found interesting: Traditional Dominicans. Some in the O.P. preserve their old, pre-Vatican II ways. I had no idea. It's not "Western Rite" or "Orthodox," just noting.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Sermon on the Holy Name of Jesus

Subdn. Robert Llizo reproduces these words in honor of the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus:
The sweet Name of Jesus produces in us holy thoughts, fills the soul with noble sentiments, strengthens virtue, begets good works, and nourishes pure affections. All spiritual food leaves the soul dry, if it contain not that penetrating oil, the Name Jesus.
-- Bernard of Clairvaux

Read the rest here.


Rosary of the Blessed Name of Jesus

Many Western Rite parishes today are commemorating the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. In that spirit, I've reproduced one popular devotion, which struck me by the remarkable overlap this (presumably post-Schism) Western devotion has with both the Rosary of St. Seraphim of Sarov and of the standard Byzantine practice of the Jesus Prayer. As our Roman Catholic friends celebrated the "Feast of St. Dominic" Friday, and one writer has stated, "I believe this Rosary is sometimes called the Old Dominican Rosary," this devotion would take on added significance to our RCC readers:

Rosary of the Blessed Name of Jesus
What is most significant about this rosary, in addition to a few different mysteries, is that it employs entirely different prayers. Instead of alternating Paters and Aves, one prays:

Joyful: O Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us.
Sorrowful: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, have mercy on us.
Glorious: Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us.

Joyful Mysteries:
1. Incarnation.
2. Birth of Jesus.
3. Circumcision.
4. Finding in the Temple.
5. Baptism of Jesus.

Sorrowful Mysteries:
1. Washing the Feet of the Disciple.
2., Prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gesthsemene.
3. Our Saviour is Apprehended or Arrested.
4. Our Saviour Carries His Cross.
5. Descent of Our Saviour into Hell.

Glorious Mysteries:
1. Resurrection.
2. Ascension.
3. Our Lord Jesus Sends Down His Holy Ghost.
4. Our Lord Jesus Crowning the Blessed Virgin Mary and All the Saints.
5. Our Lord Jesus Christ Coming to Judge Mankind.

(Incidentally, I'm not sure about the Dominican origins of this devotion; does anyone know for certain?)


Transfiguration: Eastern and Western Rite Lectionaries

Your humble narrator never shies away from admitting when he was wrong. Fr. Matthew Thurman posted a welcome correction on my last post. I've changed it to reflect this. I appreciate the correction. (You can read my response to his comment for more.)

The original intention of my last post was to explore the subtle differences between the Byzantine lectionary and that of the West. Both Eastern and Western Rite Orthodox select St. Peter's epistle, but where the Byzantines read St. Mark chapter 9, the Western Rite reads St. Matthew chapter 17.

The two accounts are more similar even than those of St. Mark and St. Luke. Both St. Matthew and St. Mark place the Transfiguration "six days" after the previous event. Neither says the apostles were "heavy with sleep" -- something I find important in understanding the apostles before the Resurrection. (Not that we did not know this tendency, but that we see it on yet another occasion.)

The differences between St. Mark and St. Matthew, though, are also interesting. Both mention the changing of Christ's clothes as whiter than snow. St. Mark records that His clothes became "so white as no fuller on earth could white them." This, seemingly, to indicate it was a divine intervention.

However, it is only in St. Matthew, now read in the Western Rite tradition, that one gets another piece of the puzzle, when the former tax collector wrote: "And His face did shine as the sun." In the lives of saints and mystics in the Orthodox world, we read of their faces shining as though fire were radiating from them. One of the post-Schism theological disputes between East and West involved such light, with St. Gregory Palamas discussing the role of the Uncreated Light in the mystical life and as part of our theosis. This Uncreated Light shown forth in the holy saints, especially St. Seraphim of Sarov. So, too, did Moses' face shine like the sun upon descending Mt. Sinai. But here on Mt. Tabor, we see not a reflection but a glimpse of the divine glory, such as the Apostles could bear it. I find it interesting the Gospel basis for this pillar of Byzantine hagiography is now read only in the Western Rite on this date.

The final difference is also worth discussing: St. Mark says the Apostles reacted to the Transfiguration with fear, St. Peter spitting out "let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias" since he "wist not what to say, for they were sore afraid." In St. Matthew, after the cloud enveloped them and the voice of God intoned, "This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased; hear ye him," the apostles "fell on their face and were sore afraid." Jesus Himself had to comfort them, touching them and saying, "Arise, and be not afraid."

Were one to read these minor differences, one could note the presence of Christ's "comfortable words" in the second account: "Arise, and be not afraid." This is the flying seraph cleansing the lips of the Prophet Isaiah in heaven, the Captain of the Lord's Host telling Joshua to loose his shoe, for he was standing on holy ground. The apostles were in fear, either of the revelation of Christ's eternal Sonship or of His divine glory itself, turning away in haste like a mole who has suddenly entered a well-lit room. Here again we hear Christ say, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you."

When we're faced with what humanity should be -- a transfigured humanity blindingly imbued with the fire of divinity -- we turn away from the brilliance for our darkness' sake. We cannot believe we, too, are called to become by grace what Christ is by nature. We sense our inherent unworthiness -- "Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof," etc. -- and we turn away from God in shame, confusion, and above all: habit. Again Christ embraces us, touches us tenderly, and and tells us not to fear the Antidote. (Truly, Sunlight is the best disinfectant.) The Byantine Rite makes explicit that Christ is the means of sanctification and the destination, as (some? most?) versions of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom have the priest quote Isaiah after the people commune: "Behold, this has touched your lips and shall take away your iniquities and cleanse your sins."

Our divine transfiguration is more than the Antidote to sin; it is the purpose for which we were born. Perhaps no other Gospel demonstrates the exalted original nature of mankind, the aversion fallen humanity has to itself and its Author, and the overflowing mercy and tender compassion of Christ -- in condescending to show His apostles His glory to strengthen their faith during His Passion and in telling them not to be afraid of what He had revealed -- this than this.


Transfiguration: Byzantine and Anglo-Catholic Lectionaries

On the Feast of the Transfiguration, one sees the commonality of the East and the West. The lectionaries for both the Byzantine and Western liturgies select nearly identical readings. Both choose St. Peter's own record of the Transfiguration for the Epistle. The Gospel differs merely in the choice of one Synoptic over another: St. Mark in the Byzantine Orthodox tradition, St. Matthew's version of the same event in the Anglican Missal, American Edition.

This blog usually underlines the similarities between Eastern and Western practice, which are legion. These readings are another example. However, in this case, I will point out the two outstanding differences between the Gospel accounts:

St. Mark wrote that Christ took Sts. Peter, James, and John to Mt. Tabor "six days" after the last event recorded, while St. Luke wrote it occurred after "eight days."

St. John Chrysostom reconciled these two chronologies thus: "'After eight days,' does not contradict this; for he reckoned in both the day on which Christ had spoken what goes before, and the day on which He took them up."

Secondly, St. Luke adds one additional piece of information -- at the time of the Transfiguration, "Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep." This prefaces the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the three apostles would again abandon our Lord at the time of His greatest need. I would find a profound connection with the disciples's failure, but mine is much more mundane: I've often fallen asleep during private prayers, as well.

St. Ambrose of Milan commented in passing on their drowsiness:
Peter saw this Grace: so, too, did those who were with him, though they were heavy with sleep. For the incomprehensible magnificence of the Godhead overwhlems the perceptions of our body. For if the sharpness of bodily vision cannot bear the ray of the sun directly into watching eyes, how may the corruption of human members endure the glory of God? And, thus, the garment of of the body, purer and finer after the removal of the materiality of vices, is fashioned for the Resurrection. And, perchance, they were so heavy with sleep that they saw the radiance of the Resurrection after their repose. Therefore, keeping vigil, they saw His majesty, for none sees the glory of Christ unless he is vigilant. -- Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, Book 7:17.
Whatever vigil they may have held on this occasion, it's clear we must attempt to heal our own infirmities. But we are buoyed by this Gospel account, as well as that in the Garden: "Peter ascended, who received the keys of the Kingdom; and John, to whom His Mother is entrusted; and James, who was the first to mount a Bishop's Throne" (St. Ambrose, Exposition, Book 7:9). These were truly the chiefest of His followers -- and they failed Him. Yet despite their flaws, Christ graciously revealed a glimpse of His pre-existent glory.

In fact, the Orthodox belief is that the revelation was granted -- and not to the other nine apostles -- in part because of their oustanding efforts, but more importantly because the revelation of heavenly glory itself confirmed them in their faith and established them in His righteousness. We believe the highest praise is to "taste and see that the Lord is good." Upon experiencing this spiritual sweetness, one develops a taste for it. Thus, the Western baptismal ritual administers a grain of salt to the newborn, to give the child a savor for eternal life. So, too, does St. Augustine tell us that the one who commands us to ask, seek, and knock is Himself the answer, the path, and the door. It is by Him and to Him we go, learning to love Him for His own sake. He is the destination and the means of our spiritual journey. It is the transfigured Christ we receive in the most Blessed Sacrament, Which also transfigures us. But it is this direct participation in the energies of the Holy Trinity that gives us a taste for yet more. If you grow tired of reading the Gospels, drowsy in prayer, distracted in the Mass, remember you are in good company -- "so great a cloud of witnesses" who have overcome the same distractions and not behold Him eternally in Heaven to the degree they learned to on earth.

"If the transfigured humanity of Christ and the society of but two saints [Moses and Elijah-BJ] seen for a moment, could confer delight to such a degree that Peter would, even by serving them, stay their departure, how great a happiness will it be to enjoy the vision of Deity amidst choirs of Angels forever" -- The Venerable Bede.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

Transfiguration: Light from the East

So, on Mount Tabor Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated the Kingdom of God with power, giving the Apostles the joy of communion with God. By His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor the Lord calls us for a new life, to internal transfiguration which would make us meek out of proud, diligent out of idle, sober out of passionate, temperate out of greedy, concentrated out of absent-minded, God-obedient out of self-willed, compassionate out of heartless...

Divine light resides in everyone since baptism. For a human not to be proud and lazy, God does not give him to feel the shining of internal light all the time. But still this light dwells inside the person's soul, increased by moral perfection, ardent prayer at church and at home, reading of the Holy Scripture, thinking about God, doing good works, and especially by receiving the Holy Communion. It is dangerous to artificially invoke and try to see the shining of spiritual light. This may lead to being caught in the devilish net. Clear vision of this light may be given rarely, when God finds it necessary to give consolation and support to a Christian.

Internal effect of this light is felt in peacefulness of soul, disgust for any sin, love for God and neighbors, desire to live for the good, strongly believe and trust God, long for the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us treasure the Kingdom of God inside us so that God would grant us eternal life in the Kingdom of Never-ending Light. Amen.
-- Bishop Alexander Mileant