Monday, August 27, 2012

A New Prayer Rope Order

Following are some pictures of a couple of prayer ropes that I made for Kim in Texas. Kim, I hope your husband and son get many prayerful hours from these once they arrive. :)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Noetic Work and Psalmody

Today I just finished reading through the staretz St. Basil of Poiana Marului's Introduction to the Book of the Blessed Hesychios contained in a collection of introductions he wrote for the writings of the Philokalia. This particular introduction contained a great deal that I had to struggle with. You see, he goes on and on in this particular introduction about how "noetic work" - i.e. the work of the hesychast on discerning and guarding the inner workings of the heart and keeping the heart fixed on God - is much more important than Psalmody, and how it can even replace Psalmody. He even goes on to speak of how Psalmody, or rather excessive Psalmody, can become a danger to the soul because we can get caught up in this Pharisaical attitude that the quantity of our Psalmody somehow makes up for a lack of quality in our prayer.

I was disturbed by this chapter in part because I felt as though he was down-playing the role of the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours - the prayer of the Church herself - in the life of the individual Christian. "These things are not important," he seemed to be saying, "if one has taken up noetic work; particularly the work of the Jesus Prayer." But as I continued to read and think on his words, I gradually came to realize what it was that he was actually saying.

Far from denying the importance of the role of the Divine Office, he was actually revealing the true source of its power in our lives! The whole point of the Divine Office and the other liturgical services of the Church is to teach us to put on the mind of Christ, to engage us so that we might actively enter into the story of salvation history. St Basil here was not criticizing the Divine Office nor those who pray it. Rather he was warning his readers - us today - not to pray carelessly, prattling our way through the words that we have memorized from our youth without engaging our minds and hearts in what we are saying.

Think about it. When was the last time you prayed the "Our Father" and really paid attention to what you were saying? I for one feel as though I rarely pay attention to the words in that prayer. But I remember hearing a story of a young shepherd who never could get beyond the words "Our Father..." without bursting into tears simply because he was so moved by the fact that we have a Father in heaven who loves us so infinitely! Would that our own prayers were so deep and perceptive.

"Wisdom! Let us attend!" "Let us be attentive!" These words are repeated over and over throughout the Byzantine Divine Liturgy and throughout our Divine Office. When the priest or deacon proclaims them, are we really attentive? Do we allow the words we are saying to simply roll off our tongue without giving them another thought? Do the words sung throughout the Liturgy - whether it be a Byzantine Liturgy, a Roman Mass, a Maronite Qurbono, or whatever - to simply go in one ear and out the other? Or do we listen attentively with our heart and allow ourselves to be transformed through hearing? Hearing in the Biblical tradition didn't mean simply that the sound wave hit our ears and that we understood intellectually what was being said. Rather, listening implies that we become affected and transformed through the words that we hear. Our hearts are touched and we are changed by what we hear. When Christ said, "He who has ears, let him hear," this was the kind of listening He had in mind.

So what do I think was St. Basil's point in all of this? The point is that all prayer is meant to transform our hearts. When we are praying our morning or evening prayers, when we are attending the Divine Liturgy or the celebration of any of the Hours, when we are praying the Jesus Prayer or the rosary or whatever else, we have to learn to truly listen with our hearts instead of just prattling our way through. Be attentive to the prayers. St. Theophan the Recluse says that we ought to read through the prayers and stop whenever something in the prayers jumps out at us and touches our heart. Don't feel like you have to get through every single prayer in the morning and evening prayer rules. Don't feel like you have to say those 300 Jesus Prayers in the morning. Don't feel like you have to get through all five decades of the rosary before your prayer time is up. The purpose of prayer is not so that we can say a certain number or prayers. The purpose of prayer is so that we might enter into dialogue with God the Trinity and be transformed through that dialogue. It's awfully hard to hear God speaking to us in prayer when we are too busy mindlessly reading off or repeating prayers.

I find that it's actually more effective for me to assign a certain period of time for prayer. This way, rather than feeling like I have to get through a certain number of prayers, I can read through the prayers carefully, really engaging my heart and mind, and pausing when certain prayers or sections of the prayers stand out to me. I can then turn that prayer or that phrase over in my mind, allowing it to penetrate into my heart. The whole point here is that we become transformed through such contact with God!

I believe that this was what St. Basil was getting at. We need to approach prayer and noetic work humbly. After all, we have nothing new to say to God. He's heard it all before. But He wants to speak to us, to reveal His love to us! This is why St. Basil encourages people who wish to engage in noetic work to search the Scriptures and carefully read the writings of the great mystics and spiritual elders. These are the people who have heard the Word of God in their prayer, and have allowed that Word to penetrate down to the core of their being to such an extent that the Word transforms them and shines out through them. It is a great mercy that they have written of their experiences because now we have the opportunity to learn from them, if we are truly humble enough to listen carefully.

May heaven consume us!

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

As lay people I feel that we are often tempted to believe that if we really want to live holy lives we have to shut ourselves off in a monastery or hermitage somewhere. Only there will be find the necessary silence to really engaged in the spiritual life, and with God the Trinity dwelling within us. If only we could spend all our free time in Church, praying the Divine Office, attending the Divine Liturgy, receiving Holy Communion, singing the Psalms continually, and really getting the time to sit down and engage the writings of the holy Fathers and Mothers of the spiritual life! If only! Then we would truly be able to live a life dedicated 100% to God. Then we would truly be able to be made holy and perfect as our heavenly Father is holy and perfect.

But the spiritual Fathers and Mothers of the Church teach us that nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, our own experience, if we have eyes to see, teach us that nothing can be further from the truth. I am reminded of events taking place in monasteries today, and events that have taken place in monasteries throughout history, that show us clearly that holiness is not to be found in monasteries alone. Indeed, there are times when holiness is a rare thing even within the confines of monastery walls. 

Now I'm not writing this post to discourage monastic vocations. Such vocations are truly wonderful callings and ought to be embraced by those who are called. Rather, I'm writing this post for those of us who do not have monastic vocations, and yet feel like we would've been happier, or perhaps had a better opportunity to become holy, had we entered the religious life.

There's a saying from St. Nikon of Optina that I believe puts such thoughts (or are they temptations?) into perspective: "A place cannot save you... because there is no place where you can flee from yourself." Ultimately it's not where we go, or what vocation we are called to that saves us. Rather, salvation is something that is offered to us by Christ through the vocation to which we are called or which we have embraced. We accept the salvation offered to us by engaging ourselves and living up to the challenge to be transformed, to be converted, through the vocation in which we are living right now. If we who are called to marriage cannot be drawn more deeply into the Trinitarian life through our vocation, then what makes us think that a monastery will be any different. We could say the same of monastics. If men and women who are genuinely called to the monastic life cannot be drawn more deeply into the Trinitarian life through their vocation, then a change in vocation isn't going to fix things. We could apply this to any calling. The place and persons surrounding you may have changed, but you're still going to have to deal with yourself with all your faults, imperfections, quirks, etc.

Our calling in life, no matter what calling that may be, provides us the opportunity to become truly holy. Through our vocations we are forced to take a long and serious look at ourselves, to examine the inner workings of our heart. Our vocations reveal to us all that is good and all that is bad within us; our strengths and our weaknesses, where we have surrendered ourselves fully to Christ and where we have clung to our sinful ways, where the light of Christ has shone, and where the darkness of sin still remains within us. We are then provided with the opportunity to grow in Christian holiness through our vocation. Vocations provide us with the opportunities we need to be converted, to change our fallen ways over to Christ's ways, to surrender ourselves over to Him completely.

We ought not to think for a moment that a monk in his monastery, or hermit in his cell, or a priest in his parish is somehow automatically holier than a lay person. There is a wonderful story about an angel that appeared to St. Antony (the Great) of the Desert - founder of monasticism in the East. This angel revealed to St. Antony that there was a man, a doctor, living in the midst of the hustle and bustle of city life. This man had reached the same heights of holiness as St. Antony himself! How? By living fully living out his vocation out of love for God and his neighbor, and allowing himself to be transformed through the calling which God had given him.

People and places do not make us holy. Rather, they provide us with opportunities to grow in holiness. Our responses to persons and situations show us where our hearts lie. It is up to us to hold those responses up to the witness of the Gospels and the examples of the saints to see how we are measuring up. When we fall short, it is our vocation that provides us with the opportunity to repent and correct our failures, with the help of God's grace of course.

In the end there is really only one vocation, as St. Therese of Lisieux so wisely pointed out. All of us, whether single, married, priest, monk, nun, hermit, or whatever, all of us are called to love. That is the universal vocation. Through the Incarnation Jesus showed us that love is not some over-arching general idea, or sentiment of goodwill towards all mankind. The love to which we are all called is a love lived out in the nitty gritty and tedious details of everyday life. This is where our specific personal vocations come in. The universal call to love is lived by us through our individual callings or vocations. May God give each of us the strength to fully embrace our vocations in order that we might be ever more conformed to the Divine Likeness!

Monday, August 20, 2012

What's a Layman to do?

I am often astonished and greatly grieved to hear stories of people being told, whether by another lay person, or by some clergy or other religious, that they ought not to pray the Jesus Prayer because they don't have a spiritual guide. Or that the practice of hesychasm associated with the Jesus Prayer is not a spirituality meant for lay people, but only for monks and nuns - and even then often only for a select few. Such comments irk me not only because they are in direct contradiction to the teachings of the great Fathers and mystics of both the East and the West, but also because they are in direct contradiction to the teachings of Scripture. Do not the Scriptures encourage us to fix our minds on the Lord, to meditate on His Word day and not, to "pray without ceasing?" The Scriptures make no distinction here between who it is that ought to be praying ceaselessly; they just issue the general command, which implies that all of us who truly believe on God's Word are called to pray without ceasing.

Jesus Himself encouraged us to evoke His name, particularly when making requests from our loving "Abba," our Heavenly Father. And there are numerous references of people in the Scriptures invoking the name of God in times of distress, need, temptation, or what have you. Who among us is not almost constantly in some form of temptation? Doesn't it make sense for all believing Christians to continually call on the name of God - the name which is above every other name - as the most powerful weapon against temptation? I can't comprehend why anyone, priest, religious, lay, or otherwise, would discourage pious people from praying the name of Jesus, whether it be a simple and humble invoking of His name, or the full "Jesus Prayer." What better weapon have we in our day-to-day lives to continually call forth God's presence within us?

In his excellent little work On the Prayer of Jesus, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov sternly reprehends those clergy who discourage the laity from praying the Jesus Prayer and practicing hesychasm. Such prayer, he says, is for all the Church because we have no mightier weapon against our enemy than the holy name of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Both he, St. Theophan the Recluse, and St. Basil of Poiana Marului (spiritual father to St. Paisius Velichkovsky) go so far as to refer to those who discourage such a practice as fools who have fallen into spiritual delusion!

A more "moderate" approach to this problem says that lay people can certainly practice the Jesus Prayer and hesychasm, but only under the guidance of an experienced elder or spiritual father/mother. But this again flies in the face of what the great mystics of past ages have told us in the writings they left behind. The spiritual fathers and mothers of the past (at least so far as I have been able to discover) are in complete agreement that the in an ideal world the practice of the Jesus Prayer and hesychasm would take place under the guidance of an experienced elder. However, these same mystics recognize quite openly that we do not live in an ideal world! Even during periods that we today consider "golden ages" of the Church, the saints of those ages bemoaned the lack of experienced spiritual guides. They speak of the general hunger among the laity of the Church for a deeper spiritual life, a more intimate communion with God the Trinity, but in the next breath they acknowledge the fact that scarcely one or two people per generation really have the experience necessary to guide folks on their spiritual journey.

So what do these saints suggest? Well, they suggest everything I've been suggesting here: READ THE WRITINGS OF THE SPIRITUAL ELDERS OF THE PAST, search the Scriptures, associate with other spiritually-minded people who are also seeking a deeper relationship with God, attend the Church services regularly, go to confession frequently (which reminds me, I'm about due), receive Communion as frequently as possible. Above all, they recommend maintaining a humble disposition. St. Basil of Poiana Marului emphasizes this particularly. While it is certainly possible that we may have mystical experiences during our prayer, that is not the goal of our prayer life, and in fact such experiences are generally reserved for a select few. Not even all the great mystics of the Church (East or West) had such deep mystical experiences. We should approach prayer humbly, not expecting to reach the heights of contemplation in this life, but working towards such contemplation with hope nonetheless.

With regards to those who fear spiritual delusion if anyone attempts to practice the Jesus Prayer and hesychasm without a spiritual father/mother, I again refer you to St. Basil's excellent little series of "introductions" to some of the Fathers of the Philokalia. The Fathers of the Philokalia, he says, speak of the dangers of delusion not to discourage us from practicing the Jesus Prayer and hesychasm, but so that when such temptations arise we might have ample warning and sound teaching for combating delusion. Again this is why it is necessary for us to search both the Scriptures and the writings of the great mystics, particularly in times where spiritual elders are so few and far between. These writings warn us of the dangers of the spiritual life in order that we might avoid those dangers, not in order that we might excuse ourselves from entering ever more deeply into the spiritual life.

In all of this, the spirit of humility and child-like simplicity are our greatest defenses against delusion. Personally I believe the greatest mystics of the Church are not those who left behind volumes of writings to guide us through the spiritual life. Rather, I believe that the Church's greatest mystics are those who held simple and child-like relationships with our Heavenly Father. The man in the village of Ars during the time of St. John Vianney who simply sat in Church looking at God in the Eucharist while God looked back at him; the illiterate woman in a third-world country who, despite the fact that she lived a hundred miles from the nearest Catholic Church, was still the light of Christ in her otherwise non-Christian village; the farmer who has little to no time for reading books, but prays the whole time he goes about his daily tasks, performing all for the love of God and giving abundantly to others of the blessings that God showers upon him; the simple housewife who lovingly performs the hum-drum household tasks of her family out of love both for them and for God; or the worker in the secular world who, day in and day out, strives to be the light of Christ shining in an otherwise darkened world - these people, I believe, leave behind the greatest testament to the spiritual life. No amount of "book learnin'" can take the place of the witness that these people give us. So in the absence of spiritual elders, we must look to one another. We're all in this together, after all.

May heaven consume us!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Let Us Rejoice!!!

As I was praying through the Maronite Morning Pray (known as "Safro") this morning, I was struck by a short phrase in "Nuhro" (The Hymn of Light). The phrase goes: "Our King comes in majestic glory... Let us find our joy in Him, for He has found joy in us. He will indeed rejoice us with His marvelous light."

So often when we approach God we approach either with a sense of duty and obligation, or otherwise we approach like a dog approaching its master - somehow compelled to respond to God for no other reason than that we've been conditioned to do so - or we approach God with a sense of guilt and fear. How often do we approach God the way a bride approaches her groom on the day of their wedding? How often do we approach God with this sense of joy in Who He is, the way He approaches us with joy in who we are, who He created us to be? Even when we have been unfaithful to Him through our own sinfulness, He still approaches us with this joy! Look at the story of the prodigal son. Before the son even has a chance to apologize to his father, the father rejoices in his return, robes him, puts rings on his fingers and shoes on his feet, throws him a party, etc., etc., etc. and the son hasn't even had a chance to express his deep sorrow for abandoning the loving care of his father!

Do we hold this vision of God? Or do we believe in some Zeus-like entity waiting to strike us down with a bolt of lightning the minute we slip up? Oh sure, our God is a God of justice. But He is also a God of mercy and compassion, as the Psalms tell us. I believe it was St. Symeon the New Theologian who emphasized the mercy of God in his spirituality, because he knew that if God was only just and not merciful then none of us would be deserving of eternal life.

How often I could repeat that phrase to myself, meditating on it over and over, slowly until it becomes a part of who I am and how I approach God and others: Let us find our joy in Him, for He has found joy in us. Christianity is not a religion of guilt. Too often our media portrays Christians as people with a guilt-complex and an inferiority-complex masking itself as humility. This is a distortion of Christianity in general, and Catholicism and Orthodoxy in particular. We are not people of guilt. We are people of joy. For God has so loved us, so found joy in us, that He saw fit to send His only Son - Light of Light and True God of True God - that all who believe in Him might have eternal life. And what is eternal life if not eternal communion with God, who has found his joy in us! If we do not have joy in God now, how can we expect to rejoice in Him in the age to come?

I remember one Laetare Sunday (aka "Pink Sunday") during Lent at a Roman parish up in Ann Arbor, MI. During the pastor's homily he mentioned the shortest verse in the Bible. Many people believe that the shortest verse is "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). This isn't true. That may be the shortest verse in English. But in the original languages, particularly in Greek, the shortest verse is found in 1 Thessolonians 5:16. The phrase in Greek is "Pantote cairete," which translates into English as "Be joyful always." This homily has stuck with me for many years because it puts our entire Faith into perspective. Our Faith is not a Faith of weeping and mourning. We are not called to maintain some sort of guilt complex because we are not morally perfect beings. Rather, our Faith is a Faith of joy and rejoicing because while we were mired in sin and darkness, God Himself took the initiative to come to us and show us His Light, offering that Light and Life to us!

Repentance from sin, as is so clearly shown in the liturgical texts of the Byzantine tradition for Great Lent, is not meant to imply a guilt complex, but a joyful turning from our former darkened ways to the true Light and Life of God! This is also clearly shown in the ritual for Baptism in both the Byzantine and the Roman traditions. In the Byzantine tradition we still physically turn from the West - the realm of death and darkness - to the East - the realm of light and life from where we expect our Savior to return at the end of the age. Even liturgically the Divine Liturgy (and Roman Mass for that matter) was not traditionally celebrated either with the priest's back to the people or "facing the high altar." Traditionally the entire congregation faced East in eschatological hope for the return of our Savior. In some church buildings this meant that at the time of the Consecration of the Eucharist the people would have their backs to the priest!

I don't mention this to argue for or against the tendency in the Roman Church today to have Mass celebrated facing the people, or the counter-tendency to restore Mass facing away from the people. I mention this to highlight the joyful expectation that the early Christians had in Christ, and the joyful hope with which they awaited His return. They looked around and exclaimed "maranatha," "Come Lord Jesus," not because they saw darkness in the world and wanted it to end, but because they had seen His Light and rejoiced in it, longing for all of creation to be bathed in that Light!

I think too this is one of the reasons I've so loved the writings of people like Archbishop Joseph Raya, Fr. George Maloney, the Servant of God Catherine Doherty, and others - particularly Raya. These people truly found their joy in God. From a simple lay Russian immigrant, to a highly educated Jesuit, to an Archbishop in the Melkite Church, to them the spiritual life didn't consist purely in feeling guilt over our sins, but primarily in "finding joy in Him, Who has found joy in us!" Repentance and conversion are certainly part of the spiritual life. But we repent and convert because we have seen and experience the great love that the Father showers upon us through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit! When bathed in such light we can't help but see our own sinfulness. And we can't help but repent and convert our ways from sinfulness because we too want to become light! A famous saying from a desert father goes, "If you will, you can become all fire!"

"We have seen the true Light! We have received the Heavenly Spirit" we sing at the Divine Liturgy after receiving Holy Communion. This light has "shed the light of knowledge upon the world." We know not only our own sinfulness, but above all God's great love for us and just what lengths He is willing to go to in order to be united to us. What man, having met the woman of his dreams, would not bend over backwards in order to win (and keep) her heart? There's a great Irish song in which the man sings about climbing all the hills in the land and swimming all the waters in the sea, just to be able to kiss the lily-white hand of his beloved. We hear that and we think that it's such a beautiful poetic image. What woman wouldn't swoon over a man who loved her enough to overcome any difficulty just to be with her, even if only for a moment? Mention Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice to just about any woman, and their eyes will almost immediately glaze over as they think of Mr. Darcy and all he went through just to win Elizabeth Bennet's heart!

I tease, of course. But if we find such poetic images and such stories so compelling, we need to wake up and see what is right in front of us. We as Christians believe that God really did overcome all the impossible odds just so that He could be united to us! What sort of odds are we willing to overcome in order to be united to Him? Many of the great saints went through enormous suffering just so that they could draw closer to God, and still that suffering doesn't even compare to what He has done for us. How often we take this for granted! "God so loved the world that He sent His only Son..." We hear that phrase all the time, but have we really thought about it, prayed over it, pondered it? I know I haven't, because I find myself continuing to fall into the same old sins and failures that I've half-heartedly struggled against for years and years. And yet, despite my half-hearted efforts, God continues to reach out to me and offer me His Light, His Life, because He finds joy in me! Such love! Such unfathomable love!

So let us find our joy in God. Let us rejoice in Him every day. Because He has rejoiced in us from all eternity. He rejoices in you personally. He rejoices in me personally. All we need do is respond! May heaven consume us!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mothers, Babies, and Our Future Glorification

I was struck this morning by something I read in another blog (see here). When a  woman bears a child - or multiple children - each child actually leaves behind a bit of itself in his/her mother. This is known as "fetomaternal microchimerism." The blogger used this scientific fact in order to highlight the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven (just yesterday Western Catholics celebrated the feast of the Assumption, and Eastern Catholics celebrated the Eastern equivalent, the Dormition). The argument hinged on a passage from one of the Psalms, "You will not suffer your beloved to undergo corruption." In light of this passage, argued the blogger, it would make sense that God would assume the body of the Theotokos into heaven because her body physically continued to contain within it the body of Jesus even after His birth, and that body was not to undergo any form of corruption.

To me this sounds like a perfectly logical conclusion. It also illustrates something that we as Catholics and Orthodox have believed since the earliest periods of the Church: all veneration we give to the Theotokos is given to her not because of who she is, but because of Who her Son is. We glorify the Theotokos because she is the one who bore God in her womb. God the Word became incarnate in her body, and through her He was born into this world in order to save humanity from sin and offer to us the possibility of salvation and glorification in Him.

But for me, such lofty dogmas and beliefs always have to have a certain down-to-earth practical significance. So I got to thinking; if God glorifies the Virgin Mary (at least in part) because she continued to bear Christ's body in her even after His birth, the same can be said even of us, who receive His Body and assimilate it into our bodies when we receive Holy Communion. Too often we have either too careless an approach to Communion, or, dare I say, too "spiritual" an approach. On the careless level we may receive Communion when we are in a state of serious sin (what Western Catholics call "mortal sin"), or we may simply approach in a careless and near-indifferent way, not realizing the great gift that is being given to us in Communion. I'm sure we've all encountered such approaches to Communion in the past. And I know I, for one, have been guilty of approaching Communion at times very carelessly in sin or without a grateful awareness of the gift being given.

What about this "overly spiritual" approach to Communion? So often in general well-intentioned and pious people approach the spiritual life as though the body does not matter at all. The mantra that I've heard over and over throughout the years has been, "I need to save my soul," or, "what can I do to save my soul." There are two problems with both those comments. First, you and I do not save our souls. Christ Jesus is our only salvation. What we do is open ourselves up to receive the gift of salvation offered to us by the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. This "opening up" to receive the gift implies a conversion to God, a metanoia, a turning from our former ways and embracing the life given to us in Christ Jesus. Obviously this does have moral consequences for our actions as well as our thoughts.

The second problem with the above statements is that Christ did not come into the world to save our souls. He came into the world to save us. When God made us He did not make us as merely spiritual beings. Humans are both physical and spiritual. We were created as the mediators between the physical world and the spiritual world. That is why God gave us dominion over the physical world and made us stewards of this world; because we are meant to orient this world to the spiritual world. When the second Person of the Trinity, God the Word and Son of the Father, took flesh and became man, He restored to mankind that vocation to orient this world to the spiritual, not so that this world might become spiritual, but so that it might be transfigured and become what it was truly created to be.

So what does this have to do with Holy Communion? Well, when we receive Communion it is not a purely spiritual act. We don't receive Christ into our souls. We receive Him into our bodies. And we don't receive Him so that our souls might be transformed. We receive Him so that we might be transformed, body, mind and soul. There's a famous saying, "You are what you eat." When we receive Christ's Body into us through Communion, our bodies assimilate Him. We truly become physical temples not only of spiritual realities, but of the physical Body of Christ given to us in Communion! If such is the case - and it is - how much care ought we to take of our bodies! I don't mean here that we ought to be hyper-sensitive about eating all organic foods, clothing ourselves in the best clothes, maintaining a regular exercise regimen, etc. Those things are all well and good, but can become a disorder. Rather, what I'm talking about here is how we live in and through our bodies. The fact that we become physical temples of Christ's physical body makes the moral standards that we as Christians uphold make so much sense! We have such a high moral standard because of the Gift that we have been given, a Gift that is both physical and spiritual.

In assimilating Christ into our bodies in Holy Communion, therefore, we are called to go out and be Christ in the world. As St. Paul points out in his letter to the Romans, we await a future glorification of our bodies, and while we await that glorification we prepare for it by being constantly renewed and turning fully to Christ and pointing all creation to Christ.

With regards to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, we too await a similar end because we too have borne Christ in us physically, and God "will not suffer His beloved one to undergo corruption." We too, like the Virgin, have given birth to Christ in the world by being continually transformed into Him through Holy Communion and by conforming our lives to His. This is why all spirituality, to be truly "spiritual," must also be "incarnational." It must have consequences in our day-to-day lives. The Faith we profess is not a list of dogmas or syllogisms carried to their logical conclusions. These things are important, but ultimately our Faith is an encounter, a life-changing event! If we are not transformed in body, mind and spirit by the realities of our Faith, then we have not yet fully understood the Good News preached and offered to us by Christ.

May heaven consume us!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Daily Liturgical Prayer

Among Roman Catholics, since the reforms of Pope Paul VI that followed the Second Vatican Council, recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours has continued increase in popularity. This has been particularly true among the so-called "laity" of the Church. I remember growing up my mother always encouraged us to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. While I was in college at Franciscan University of Steubenville a vast number of my friends and acquaintances also prayed the Liturgy of the Hours - I myself vacillated between the Roman Liturgy of the Hours and the traditional Franciscan version (yes, there is a difference). While living in Ann Arbor, MI., and preparing for my wedding, all of my friends prayed the Liturgy of the Hours; and in the chapel just up the hall from where I was working Morning Prayer/Matins, Midday Prayer and Vespers were offered daily, usually led by one of the lay people in attendance. Incidentally, it was my time spent involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal that really instilled in me a deep love for the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office.

In the Byzantine tradition it is impossible to celebrate Orthros/Matins/Morning Prayer and Vespers/Evening Prayer on one's own. The services themselves are quite complex and devised in such a way that it really does require at least a small group of people (including at least a "reader") to celebrate (readers are sometimes ordained, but not always). The "Lesser Hours" can be celebrated in private. Monks and nuns will often recite the Lesser Hours alone in their cells. Compline can also be celebrated privately, but is more ideally celebrated as a group. But in our tradition we have devised a series of Morning and Evening prayers that are geared more towards lay people and can be recited either alone or as a group. These prayers are readily available in almost every prayer book. I would recommend the Melkite Publican's Prayer Book available from the Eparchy of Newton's "Sophia Press," or Let Us Pray to the Lord, Vol 1: The Divine Office available from "Eastern Christian Publications." You could also check out The Divine Liturgy: An Anthology for Worship available from the Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky Institute in Ottowa, Canada. Then, of course, there is the perennial classic Byzantine Daily Worship compiled and translated by Archbishop Joseph Raya (a personal hero of mine) and Baron Jose de Vink, available from Alleluia Press.

The Maronite tradition has also sought to re-establish this habit of the daily cycle of prayers by publishing the three-volume Prayer of the Faithful intended for use among the clergy, and the one-volume Eyes of the Heart: A Short Prayer of the Faithful intended for use among busy lay people. I have actually been using this latter volume in my daily prayer life at the moment, and find it quite uplifting.

Why do I mention this? Well, in a recent lecture given to the Orientale Lumen Conference here in D.C., Fr. Robert Taft, S.J. mentioned that in the Patristic literature you will find infinitely more references to the obligation to attend the daily cycle of Morning and Evening Prayers than you will to any sort of obligation to attend Sunday Mass/Liturgy/Qurbono. This he said not to downplay the importance of Sunday Liturgy, but to emphasize the importance of the Church's daily cycle of prayers, particularly for us lay people. It is through this cycle of prayers that we ourselves learn to pray. In his wonderful book, Feast of Faith, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of the Church as our Mother and her cycle of prayers as a mother teaching her children to pray. It is only through embracing these prayers and making them our own that we truly learn how to pray.

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, especially among Roman Catholics, the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours was seen as the sole property and obligation of the clergy and religious. But the Church has told us that this is not the case, and never has been. While clergy and religious may have a particular obligation to pray the Divine Office because they exercise a role of spiritual leadership within the Church, that does not lessen our own obligation to enter into the Church's daily cycle of prayers and thereby learn to pray truly from our Mother. Indeed, unless I have been wrongly informed, among Coptic Christians of both the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, this obligation is taken so seriously that it is considered a "venial sin" for the laity not to pray the Divine Office (known to them as Agpeya) daily. Would that we too would take this "obligation" as seriously.

So for you Roman Catholics out there, get a copy of Christian Prayer, or, if you prefer it, the pre-Vatican II Roman Breviary. Byzantines, follow the prayers that have been given to us in the prayer books, as St. Theophan and other great Byzantine mystics have recommended. The Anthology for Worship is a great source because it provides not only the normal Morning and Evening Prayers, but also the "Lesser Hours" and a great number of selections from other liturgical books. Maronites, the Eparchy of St. Maron's publishing house has either the three-volume Prayer of the Faithful or one-volume Eyes of the Heart readily available. And the Coptic tradition has a number of versions of Agpeya that are also easily available.

Folks, we have few spiritual fathers or mothers these days, especially here in the U.S. Many people are seeking, striving to learn how to pray, but when they get confused or fed up with our Christian tradition, they look to other non-Christian traditions for techniques in meditation, relaxation, centering, or whatever else. If you are confused in your search to learn how to pray, turn to your loving Mother. Christ has taught us, through our Mother, everything we need to know in order to learn to pray. All we need do is pick up a book and listen.

Hello!!! I'm Still Here. :)

Hi Everyone,

I realize it's been quite some time since I've posted anything, and I apologize. I've been very busy with family, schoolwork, a new job, and catching up on prayer rope orders. For the first time since I started making these prayer ropes, I'm actually back-order for several months. It's good to be busy, but also quite a challenge.

I do have some new posts in the works, but I want to make sure the content is correct and well-stated before I post anything. So it may take me a bit of time before I get any new longer posts up.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is doing well and that God blesses you all abundantly. :)