Friday, April 11, 2008

St. John Chrysostom: Meditate on the Sufferings of Christ

So far in our Lenten series on the Orthodox saints' who counseled us to meditate upon the sufferings of Chris, we have read the words of St. Ephrem the Syrian and St. Tikhon of Zadonsk. Now let us hear the counsel of the greatest preacher in Byzantine Orthodox history: St. John Chrysostom:
[L]et us not merely read of these things, but bear them in our mind; the crown of thorns, the robe, the reed, the blows, the smiting on the cheek, the spittings, the irony. These things, if continually meditated on, are sufficient to take down all anger.
St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St. John (Homily 84)

For what could be equal to this insolence? On that face which the sea, when it saw it, had reverenced, from which the sun, when it beheld it on the cross, turned away his rays, they did spit, and struck it with the palms of their hands, and some upon the head; giving full swing in every way to their own madness. For indeed they inflicted the blows that are most insulting of all, buffeting, smiting with the palms of their hands, and to these blows adding the insult of spitting at Him. And words again teeming with much derision did they speak, saying, “prophesy unto us, thou Christ, who is he that smote thee?” because the multitude called Him a prophet.

But another saith, that they covered His face with His own garment, and did these things, as though they had got in the midst of them some vile and worthless fellow. And not freemen only, but slaves also were intemperate with this intemperance towards Him at that time.

These things let us read continually, these things let us hear aright, these things let us write in our minds, for these are our honors. In these things do I take a pride, not only in the thousands of dead which He raised, but also in the sufferings which He endured.
St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew (Homily 85)

And the insults were different, and varied. For that Divine Head at one time they buffeted, at another they insulted with the crown of thorns, at another they smote with the reed, men unholy and accursed!

What plea shall we have after this for being moved by injuries, after Christ suffered these things? For what was done was the utmost limit of insolence. For not one member, but the whole entire body throughout was made an object of insolence; the head through the crown, and the reed, and the buffeting; the face, being spit upon; the cheeks, being smitten with the palms of the hands; the whole body by the stripes, by being wrapped in the robe, and by the pretended worship; the hand by the reed, which they gave him to hold instead of a sceptre; the mouth again by the offering of the vinegar. What could be more grievous than these things? What more insulting?

For the things that were done go beyond all language. For as though they were afraid lest they should seem to fall short at all in the crime, having killed the prophets with their own hands, but this man with the sentence of a judge, so they do in every deed; and make it the work of their own hands, and condemn and sentence both among themselves and before Pilate, saying, “His blood be on us and on our children,” and insult Him, and do despite unto Him themselves, binding Him, leading Him away, and render themselves authors of the spiteful acts done by the soldiers, and nail Him to the cross, and revile Him, and spit at Him, and deride Him. For Pilate contributed nothing in this matter, but they themselves did every thing, becoming accusers, and judges, and executioners, and all.

And these things are read amongst us, when all meet together. For that the heathens may not say, that ye display to people and nations the things that are glorious and illustrious, such as the signs and the miracles, but that ye hide these which are matters of reproach; the grace of the Spirit hath brought it to pass, that in the full festival, when men in multitude and women are present, and all, as one may say, at the great eve of the passover, then all these things should be read; when the whole world is present, then are all these acts proclaimed with a clear voice. And these being read, and made known to all, Christ is believed to be God and, besides all the rest, is worshipped, even because of this, that He vouchsafed to stoop so much for us as actually to suffer these things, and to teach us all virtue.

These things then let us read continually
; for indeed great is the gain, great the advantage to be thence obtained. For when thou seest Him, both by gestures and by deeds, mocked and worshipped with so much derision, and beaten and suffering the utmost insults, though thou be very stone, thou wilt become softer than any wax, and wilt cast out of thy soul all haughtiness.

...Hearing then these things, let us arm ourselves against all rage, against all anger. Shouldest thou perceive thy heart swelling, seal thy breast setting upon it the cross. Call to mind some one of the things that then took place, and thou wilt cast out as dust all rage by the recollection of the things that were done. Consider the words, the actions; consider that He is Lord, and thou servant. He is suffering for thee, thou for thyself; He in behalf of them who had been benefited by Him and had crucified Him, thou in behalf of thyself; He in behalf of them who had used Him despitefully, thou oftentimes at the hands of them who have been injured. He in the sight of the whole city, or rather of the whole people of the Jews, both strangers, and those of the country, before whom He spake those merciful words, but thou in the presence of few; and what was more insulting to Him, that even His disciples forsook Him. For those, who before paid Him attention, had deserted Him, but His enemies and foes, having got Him in the midst of themselves on the cross, insulted, reviled, mocked, derided, scoffed at Him, Jews and soldiers from below, from above thieves on either side: for indeed the thieves insulted, and upbraided Him both of them. How then saith Luke that one “rebuked?” Both things were done, for at first both upbraided Him, but afterwards one did so no more. For that thou mightest not think the thing had been done by any agreement, or that the thief was not a thief, by his insolence he showeth thee, that up on the cross he was a thief and an enemy, and at once was changed.

Considering then all these things, control thyself. For what sufferest thou like what thy Lord suffered? Wast thou publicly insulted? But not like these things. Art thou mocked? yet not thy whole body, not being thus scourged, and stripped. And even if thou wast buffeted, yet not like this.

St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. Matthew (Homily 87)
As we see, the Golden-Mouth had a great deal to say about the subject; this is but a sample. It is interesting to note the recurrence of his command to read of Christ's sufferings "continually," to "write [them] in our minds," and to "Consider the words, the actions" when we "seal" our breast by "setting upon it the cross." Read in conjunction with the foregoing counsel of Byzantine saints, we are exhorted to pay heed and homage to Christ's humility by contemplating His eternal glory and those things that in His condescension he voluntarily suffered for our sake.

Read the previous posts in the series:
St. Ephrem the Syrian: Meditate on the Passion of Christ.
Stations of the Cross: Another Similarity.
A Brief Post on St. Tikhon of Zadonsk on the Passion.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Sermon for William F. Buckley Jr.'s Funeral

The following is the sermon preached in honor of William F. Buckley Jr., whose funeral was last Friday. The homilist was Fr. George Rutler of EWTN.



APRIL 4, 2008



In the village of Bethany was the house of Mary and her sister Martha and their brother Lazarus. There Jesus wept when Lazarus died, and then he called into the tomb and Lazarus came forth alive.

Here is a paradox of holy religion: such utter domesticity is so close to the unutterable mystery of Temple. Bethany was near Jerusalem. About fifteen furlongs. Furlongs. William F. Buckley Jr. could have translated that. It is just a little more than the distance between the corner of Park and 73rd Street and this cathedral. In the life of the one we remember today, his home was never far from Jerusalem. Park Avenue and 73rd Street was near Jerusalem and so were Sharon and Camden and Stamford. The key to all that William was and did is that wherever he was and whatever he did, reading a book or writing one, opening a bottle of wine or sailing some sea, he was near Jerusalem. He left this world from his desk in the garage of the house of the one he most loved who had died less than a year before. Their Bethany was near Jerusalem.

After our friend had published a book about sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, an interviewer on television showed a certain condescension about yachting as a socially useless activity. He found tedious the long descriptions of navigation and asked the author if there is any real difference between sailing from east to west and from west to east. There came from Buckley a response as from an oracle: "Yes. They are opposite directions." Bethany lies east of Jerusalem and to reach the holy city you must travel west. William F. Buckley Jr. has now traveled west. But he started in Bethany where our earthly home is.

He did his work using such domestic tools as words, and though some thought them only amusing and clever, those words were strong enough to help crack the walls of an evil empire. A fatal flaw in the materialist dialectic of Marxism was its underestimation of the power of evil, embracing it like a useful energy. When cynics mocked the very idea of evil, he mocked the mockers, and angered them most by their inability to stay angry in his congenial presence. It was as if an ancient voice could be heard speaking through him: "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

His indignation at the wrong ways of men was not savage like that of Jonathan Swift, for it was well-tempered and confident of victory. He fit Newman's definition of a gentleman as one who is "merciful towards the absurd." Nearly fifty years ago he wrote, "We deem it the central revelation of Western experience that man cannot irradicably stain himself, for the wells of regeneration are infinitely deep...Even out of the depths of despair, we take heart in the knowledge that it cannot matter how deep we fall, for there is always hope." Once on a retreat, he led the others in praying the Stations of the Cross. The Third Station: Jesus falls a first time. The Seventh Station, Jesus falls a second time. Then with a solemn and astonished voice: the Ninth Station, Jesus falls a third time. He knelt and all of us knelt, and then he got up, and we got up with him.

When he wrote his first book about God and man at the age of twenty-five, and launched his magazine at twenty-nine, the inspiration could have seemed the naïveté of callowness, but now we know it was the courage of innocence. At long last, when he sold his boat and silenced his harpsichord, he suddenly seemed much older. It is inadequate to say that he lasted eighty-two years. It is more resonant with his sonorous life to say that he began four score and two years ago. By one of those quirks which are either inexplicable fate or explicable providence, as a young boy he passed by an airfield in Britain at the very moment the prime minister was waving a piece of paper and proclaiming peace in our time. The rest of his life testified that there can be no concord with evil, for evil always seeks to devour the good, and peace at any price is very expensive.

His first and formative academy was his father's dinner table where he was taught that the most important things in life are God, truth, and beauty. This reverses the classical order of beauty, truth, and goodness, because in Athens the philosophers searched the heavens for a beauty that would explain truth and reveal what is good, while in Sharon the Buckleys believed that the eternal logic of the heavens had come to earth, and by showing goodness in the radiance of his Holy Face, Christ touched us with the truth, and those who were touched became beautiful. Since William Buckley's death, many people have told how he brought them to belief in God, and there are those who became priests because of him. His wide circle of friends encompassed those of different beliefs, but its width was the measure of his own unfailing confidence in the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church. Faithfulness and patience as husband and father, and goodness to others, were joyful because of this. With the Psalmist (Psalm 45:1) his tongue was the pen of a ready writer, and while some write well but do not speak well, or speak well and do not write well, he did both, in a consistent crusade against reducing any human enterprise to a merely human calculus; for then the right to life itself would be at best constitutional but not sacred. Secular humanism is vestigial humanism, charity without a cross, and because it will never lead man up the ladder to heaven, it builds little hells for man on earth. Politics is a bore if it is only politics, and so with any art or science that sees only itself. Our friend knew that Communism was worse than a social tyranny because it was a theological heresy. His categories were not right and left but right and wrong. What graces he had to change a century came by his belief in Christ who has changed all centuries.

At more than a month's remove from his death, a homily yields to that kind of eulogy which he would call precisely a panegyric. The Greeks like Lysias or Isocrates developed this form of speech for Olympiads and other public sporting occasions to see how far an orator could go in praising the dead without actually lying. This does not suit here today for two reasons. Our friend, skier and sailor, was not drawn to public sports arenas. When a friend invited him to a Yankee game, he declined, saying that he had already seen one. More importantly, in the record of his life is little tension between praise and honesty to tease the art of lauding him. By a moral adaptation of a law of optics, he loomed larger the closer you examined him. From his own side of the lens, he saw not according to worldly size or influence. He could write at length on immanentizing the eschaton and also pray the rosary for a schoolboy who was having difficulties with his homework.

One night, he announced it was time for his confession, and we stumbled around the church looking for the light switch. Then he said, "No problem. I can get around this church in the dark." He would have disdained turning that into a cheap metaphor, but he did walk his way through the dark by remarkable paths. Many times the college boy in him still sang "We are poor little lambs/ Who have lost our way...We are little black sheep/Who have gone astray." He may have sung that with perfect insincerity, for he never lost the way, and while he has passed he is not forgotten with the rest. We commend him to his Lord who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. May he now be numbered among the elect, and in this heavenly election he will not demand a recount.

The Lord raised Lazarus from the dead in Bethany and Bethany is not far from Jerusalem. William, who frequently had the last word, wrote this:

"Granted, that to look up at the stars comes close to compelling disbelief – how can such a chance arrangement be other than an elaboration – near infinite – of natural impulses? Yet, on the other hand, who is to say that the arrangement of the stars is more easily traceable to nature, than to nature's molder? What is the greater miracle: the raising of the dead man in Lazarus, or the mere existence of the man who died and of the witnesses who swore to his revival?"
Fr. Rutler speaks eloquently of William F. Buckley Jr., and grief is still too compelling for me to add anything to his words. May this great man rest in peace.

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Lancelot Andrewes Press has...

Nice icons for sale, too.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Available Today: Monastic Breviary Matins

It's available today. Monastic Breviary Matins, once the rarest of treasures, is in print again. Lancelot Andrewes Press has made this invaluable volume available for $45, which includes shipping and handling. You can see the details here (PDF). You can order here, if you scroll down far enough.

It's worth noting, this is in no way a new translation or LAP's own compilation. This is the Divine Office according to the Breviarium Monasticum, the Divine Office according to the Rule of St. Benedict. Monastic Breviary Matins is the companion to the Monastic Diurnal and was originally published in 1961 by the Society of the Sacred Cross in Tymawr, Wales. It runs more than 1,200 pages.

While it has always been possible for those so interested to pray the full Divine Office in the ancient Benedictine tradition, these two volumes make the material far more accessible to English-speakers, laymen, and, may the Lord grant it, aspiring oblates and future vocations.

Our proverbial biretta is off to LAP for this.

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The Chanticleer: A New WR Parish Publication

Fr. Fenton announced on his blog that Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Church (AWRV) has a new parish publication:
Holy Incarnation now has a monthly parish newsletter. It's called The Chanticleer and can be accessed here.
The first issue looks good.


Rare Sarum Missal for Display

A rare edition of the Sarum Missal will soon be on display in England. Here's the story from the London Telegraph:
The earliest-known printed book bearing the stamp of William Caxton, the father of British printing, has been saved for the nation by the National Trust at a cost of almost £500,000.

The book, dated 1487 and printed in Latin, is the only surviving example of the earliest edition of the Sarum Missal, the most commonly used rite for celebrating Mass in pre-Reformation Britain...

"This isn't just rare, it's unique," said Mark Purcell, the libraries curator of the National Trust...

It is a mystery how many copies were printed but the National Trust's volume, bought from the Legh family of Lyme Park, Cheshire - who have owned it since at least 1508 - still has 243 of the original 266 pages.Mr Purcell said: "What is remarkable is that it is the only one that has survived. It is hard to think of another book that has stayed in the same family for 500 years."
Check out the link for a picture of the missal.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

The Seeker-Sensitive Takeover of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

It looks like another denomination is going the way of "praise bands": the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Although the LCMS has a wing of "Luthero-catholics," liturgically minded people who use a modified Breviary, there has been a strong cultural pull to slide into LCD (lowest common denominator) worship. Here's how one LCMS blogger views the current situation:
[L]ook around, dear friends. It's happening, and has been happening for some time. That much is incontrovertible. How premeditated it is and how many are involved is unknown...and moot.

We knew when Pres. Kieschnick was elected. It is not our Grandfather's Synod, after all. Doubt this? Listen to this radio interview conducted the very same day Issues Etc [a talk radio program produced by the LCMS - BJ] was canceled.

We knew when the 2004 Convention re-elected Kieschnick and the resolution to provide Contemporary worship materials passed.

We knew when Ablaze! was passed.

We knew when Fan Into Flame! was promoted in our Districts (that's the fund-raising scheme behind Ablaze!)

We knew when we read stories like this (note the Ablaze! Live Church in the bottom left of the first page. See more here). And saw websites like this. Yes, JH Church is LCMS in theory (to put the "best construction" on this, they have a very professional, sharp web design, and some slick marketing and branding. It is very effective marketing).
"Issues Etc." was no friend of happy-clappy worship, hosting shows on "The Self-Centeredness of Pop American Christianity" and "Praise Bands." The program, though sometimes critical of the Orthodox Church, aired shows on "The Market-Driven Church" with Fr. John Parker of the OCA and two programs on Eastern Orthodoxy with Fr. John Matusiak (OCA).

Rev. William Weedon, whose blog is linked to your left, was frequently heard on "Issues Etc." as well. He adds the replacement for "Issues Etc." is a touchy-feely show for women. Anyone taking bets on how long it will take before the entire LCMS can be described that way?