Monday, May 20, 2013

The Liturgy of the Faithful

The Liturgy is the everlasting interaction of the gathered community being united in the body of Christ. The liturgy can be understood as an ontological interaction with Christ as the community is constantly being molded in the image and likeness of Christ (cf. Gen 1.26-27). That is why a presbyter can never celebrate a liturgy without the gathering of the community because the community represents the living body of Christ in the world. The presbyter recites during the institution narrative "for He gave his life up for the world". The He, being Christ, is what is being offered on behalf of all and for all. If Christ is being offered for all and we represent His image and likeness then we to are also asked to give up our lives for the life of this world. When we gathered together to celebrate the liturgy it is a joyful occasion because after the death of Christ we live in the joy of the resurrection. It was through death that we received life. The following are passages taken from  Archimandrite Robert Taft, who is the world's leading figure on liturgy. The passages sum up what the liturgy should represent and not what we make liturgy ought to be.

"No prayer is "private" in the sense of being done alone..our prayer is always done in company with "the communion of saints" to which we belong by baptism." + Archimandrite Fr. Robert Taft
"When asked directly how to pray, Jesus teaches his disciples the Our Father as the ideal model (Mk 6:9-15; Lk 11:2-4). He also instructs them to pray without making a show of it, but quietly, humbly, and in the spirit; not with "long prayers in public" like the Pharisees (Mk 12:40; Lk 20:47), but in solitude, using few words (Mt 6:1, 5-8), humbly asking forgiveness like the publican (Lk 18:9-14)." + Archimandrite Fr. Robert Taft

"Liturgy is at the very center of the redemptive work Christ exercises through the ministry of the Church. Anyone who does not celebrate and live the liturgy of the Church according to the mind of the Church, cannot pretend to be either a Christian or an apostle, true to the Church of Christ." + Archimandrite Fr. Robert Taft
"Our basic identity is Christian, and to be Christian is to be another Christ. That is what the liturgy makes us in baptism, nourishes in the eucharist and the proclamation and preaching of the Word, restores in confession and anointing of the sick. Liturgy, then, is a locus of our spiritual lives because in the liturgy it is Christ himself who forms us into other Christs by conforming us to himself."  + Archimandrite Fr. Robert Taft
"...if the Bible is the Word of God in the words of men, the liturgy is the saving deeds of God in the actions of those men and women who would live in him. Its purpose... is to turn you and me into the same reality. The purpose of baptism is to make us cleansing waters and healing and strengthening oil; the purpose of Eucharist is not to change bread and wine, but to change you and me. Through baptism and Eucharist it is we who are to become Christ for one another, and a sign to the world that is yet to hear his name.

Our true Christian liturgy, therefore, is just the life of Christ in us that we both live and celebrate. That life is none other than what we call the Holy Spirit. This is salvation, our final goal. The only difference between this and what we hope to enjoy at the final fulfillment is that the mirror spoken of in 1 Cor 13:12 will no longer be needed: as Adrien Nocent put it, the veil shall be removed." + Archimandrite Fr. Robert Taft

"Liturgy teaches us balanced, objective, traditional, ecclesial prayer. As the prayer of the Church, the liturgy is the prayer of Christ himself, the full Christ, head and members. This alone gives a transforming value to our prayer that it cannot have when done alone. Liturgy is traditional ecclesial prayer in that it has stood the test of time, and has been with the Church from its origins. Liturgy is balanced, objective prayer because it is not something that depends on our tastes and sentiments, but is the Church's efficacious encounter with God in the worship of the Father through Jesus in his ever-forming Spirit. So liturgy is the Church's ancient school and model of prayer, in which she teaches her age-old ways of how to glorify God in Christ as Church, together as one Body, in union with and after the example of Jesus her head. Through this constant diet of Sacred Scripture, not only does God speak his Word to us, not only do we contemplate over and over again the central mysteries of salvation, but our own lives are gradually attuned to this saving rhythm, and we meditate again and again on the mystery of Israel, recapitulated in Jesus, which is also the saga of our own spiritual odyssey. The march of Israel across the horizon of Sacred History is a metaphor for the spiritual pilgrimage of us all.

This gives liturgical prayer a concentration on the essential rather than the peripheral; it gives our prayer equilibrium insofar as its rhythms are set by the Church and not by our own private subjectivity and sentiment. How much penance, how much contrition, how much praise, how much petition, how much thanksgiving should our prayer-life contain? It is all right there in the pedagogy of the Church's liturgy. How much devotion to the Holy Trinity, how much attention to the Mysteries of Christ's life, how much to his Passion, how much to the Mother of God, how much to the saints? How much fasting, how much feasting? Our liturgical calendar with its seasonal and festive rhythms has it all. This gives a balanced and objective comprehensiveness to the Church's prayer that is a sure remedy for the one-sided excesses and exaggerations of a subjective devotionalism that emphasizes only those aspects of prayer that have personal appeal to some particular culture or individual at any given moment, often for less than ideal reasons." + Archimandrite Fr. Robert Taft


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Contemplation on the Resurrection: By Father Matthew the Poor

The following Contemplation is taken from the Chapter entitled Resurrection and Redemption in the Orthodox Concept from the book Communion of Love by Father Matthew the Poor:

Great is the Church’s jubilation when it celebrates in the Easter season the resurrection of Christ from the dead, repeating the words "Christos Anesti.” For the Church these words mean that redemption is accomplished and that it has become a right of all sinners to receive with faith the bond of freedom from the captivity of sin and death and to accept the call to eternal life...

Resurrection in the Church’s theology on the concept of the cross—as a voluntary self-sacrifice for the atonement of the sins of all the world—stands both as a foundation and a summit. The mystery of resurrection as a tangible reality of faith was like a heavenly glorious light which, when it entered the hearts of the disciples, transformed all the humiliating and painfull sorrows of the cross into honor, triumph, and glory. Death became redemption, the grave turned from the pit of death into the fountain of life...

When we consider the joyful song of the Church "Christos Anesti,” we realize the reason for this overwhelming joy that annihilated all the sorrows and agonies of the cross, all the pains of sin and death. For if Christ has risen, then our faith is true and we are no longer in our sins. His cross was not an ignominy but a glory. If the body we eat and drink is the body of His crucifixion, it is also the body of His resurrection, and we are partakers in the self-same resurrection and life eternal.

Christ’s resurrection turned the disgrace and curse of the cross into grace, salvation, and glory, and made the broken body and the shed blood not only alive but also life-giving. Moreover, if death was paid as a price for our sins, resurrection increased this price by making it openly and permanently acceptable both in heaven and On earth...

In the doctrine of the Orthodox Church, resurrection has come to be the foundation of the act of redemption that was latent in the heart of Christ from the very beginning. Redemption did not mean merely that Christ should pay the price of our sins or remove the wrath of God from the reprobate who were enslaved to sin. To Christ redemption meant in the first place something beyond forgiveness and reconciliation—to restore the love and eternal life we had lost through transgression and separation from God. This was originally implied in the concept of incarnation as understood by the Fathers of the Church, such as St. Athanasius who says: "The Word became human that we might become gods in Him” (that is, partakers of the divine nature)...

Our life in Jesus Christ is henceforth written for us in heaven in the newness of the spirit, that we may reign with Christ. All the daily deeds of the Church have become known to and read by all heavenly beings, because Christ, who sits at the right hand of power in heaven, is also the King of saints for the heavenly Church, and He is here the head and the bridegroom of the Church on earth, just as St. Paul says: "That through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose which He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10,11). Whether in the sacrament of baptism, where death with Christ and resurrection with Him are accomplished to obtain the new birth that qualifies us to enter the Kingdom of heaven and behold it from now, or in the sacrament of Eucharist, where the body of Christ is revealed, the Spirit descends and believers partake of the oblation, declaring His death and confessing His resurrection in preparation for sharing in His resurrection.

Whenever the Church sings the words "Christos Anesti” (Christ is risen) the echoes of their response resound in the heavens in the mouths of the saints, "Alithos Anesti” (Verily He is risen).

Friday, May 3, 2013

Great Friday Contemplation: Father Matthew the Poor

The following Contemplation is taken from the Chapter entitled Resurrection and Redemption in the Orthodox Concept from the book Communion of Love by Father Matthew the Poor:

Thus through resurrection, the cross was transformed from being an instrument of retribution and death in the hands of the crucifers to being an effective instrument of divine love in the hands of the good Shepherd, who redeemed His sheep and who today also follows the lost sheep to the end of the earth. What place in the world is without a raised cross, a cross that seeks sinners to restore them to the Father’s fold? The cross has become an instrument of joy for all those who comprehend within it the mystery of forgiveness, the mystery of divine love, "for He loved me and gave Himself for my sake.”

So Christ died only to offer Himself as the sacrifice of all sinners in the world, and through this sacrifice to give His broken body and shed blood to every person just as He did on Thursday, so that He might eat and drink forgiveness, resurrection, and everlasting life.

Christ still practices in every Church and among His beloved people the mystery of His Supper. Just as He did at the Thursday Supper He offers on every altar with His own hands His body and blood to communicants for remission of sins and for life eternal; the Eucharist has come to convey to us all the Thursday Supper power of infinite love, the power of the pains endured by the flesh on the cross, and the power of the resurrection in which the body rose and left the grave empty.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Holy Week Contemplation: By Father Matthew the Poor

The following contemplation by Father Matthew the Poor (Matta El-Misken) is from the chapter entitled Gethsemane and the Problem of Suffering in his book, Communion of Love.

How did Jesus accept the shame of man?

Christ’s acceptance of the shame of man must be counted a mystery. In order for us to discern it we must drain ourselves of all feelings and emotion; there are few who can attain to this. Just as the Lord took our nature and was united to it without its diminishing or changing His divinity, so too He consented that His body should, in Gethsemane, take on our stain without being soiled. He did not take sin upon Him merely in thought, or symbolically or in imagination, for as the Bible says, "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree” ( l Pt. 2:24).

At this point, who can discern the mystery of Christ and the heart of redemption?

All we can say is that just as He approached the incarnation and brought it about through His will, so by His will He bore our sin in His body. And when God wills anything, it is so. If His hunger, thirst, and weariness are evidence to us that He was incarnate in a truly human nature, so His distress and grief and the sorrow of His soul are evidence that of His free will He mysteriously accepted what mankind was to lay upon Him on the cross.

Just as the lamb of the sacrifice in ancient times used to bear a person’s sin and die with it for the sinner without the lamb itself being considered sinful, so the Son of God, the "Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29) who takes away the sin of the whole world, became sin for us, but remained utterly sinless. "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteous of God” (2 Co. 5:21). He remained just as He was, "holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:26).

Just as He, in us, became sin although He remained utterly sinless, so we, in Him, have become utterly without sin, although we are sinful human beings. "He took what was our portion and gave us what was His, so let us praise and glorify and exalt Him.” (Coptic Psalmody: Theotokia of Friday).

We met together in Gethsemane and with that the problem of suffering, which has bowed our back and crushed our soul, comes to an end forever.