Thursday, November 28, 2013

Last words of Fr. Alexander Schmemann-Let us give thanks!

Today, the feast of Thanksgiving is celebrated across the United States (mid-October for our Canadian readers). On this feast day Father Alexander Schmemann gave his final words in the church before his passing away a few weeks later (Dec 13 1983). It is quite fascinating how the Eucharist translates into thanksgiving. These final words were written down by Father Alexander, even though all his sermons were never written down. The beauty about this feast is that the church is always thankful because it is through our thanksgiving that we come together in love in the body of Christ.


Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.
Thank You, O Lord, for having accepted this Eucharist, which we offered to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which filled our hearts with the joy, peace and righteousness of the Holy Spirit.
Thank You, O Lord, for having revealed Yourself unto us and given us the foretaste of Your Kingdom.
Thank You, O Lord, for having united us to one another in serving You and Your Holy Church.
Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, temptations and restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Thank You, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and reminding us of the "one thing needed;" Your eternal Kingdom.
Thank You, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to Worship You.
Thank You, O Lord, for this school, where the name of God is proclaimed.
Thank You, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives and, especially, children who teach us how to celebrate Your holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise.
Thank You, O Lord, for everyone and everything.
Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles.
Lord, it is good to be here! Amen.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why Fasting?

St. Catherine of Sienna-A role model to us all who held fasting in high regard throughout her life.

The church imitates Christ. Fasting in the life and works of Christ represent our first response to the act of unction and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Sadly enough many think that fasting is a physical act of giving up food and a simple change of diet. This of course is important to the concept of sanctifying a fast because if we cant learn to give up our own desires and pleasures how do we expect to imitate Christ if the passions have taken a hold of our nature. If we look to scripture we see that many forms of fasting had taken place and this did not necessarily include giving up food. If we look to the Samaritan woman in the gospel of John we find an individual who came to get water and left with the everlasting water, the water that will never make her thirst again. What was this water? Christ! How did she receive this water? By stripping away her passions through her honesty in answering Christ's questions and allowing Christ to penetrate her life in order to purify her body and was made worthy to behold Christ.

Fasting is a divine act of life which we have received from Christ himself. The first act Christ did following his Baptism was to go into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. The church from the very beginning has always infused its own body, the acts of Christ' life, in order that those acts become life-giving for the life of the world. The church, which is one with Christ, becomes the image of the life of Christ. If the church becomes imitators of Christ then fasting has become a fundamental phase that not only Christ went through but we also must go through to sanctify our bodies. To claim that we live in the body of Christ and to overlook fasting is to misunderstand the person of Christ. If we are to follow Christ in our baptism, death and resurrection we are to also follow with our own fast! We should take note that all actions done in the person of Christ, revolve around Christ and end up in him. This is why He spoke and said "for my sake", "come, follow me", "for my name's sake", "come after me". All these acts, fasting, baptism, enduring persecution and suffering lead to our union in the body of Christ.  

Why then do we fast? Fasting is a test in which the personality defies the self. It is an an exercise in which the self is resisted by man. Fasting then, should be considered an act of love of the highest order, a physical way of entering into the experience of the cross (Good Friday in the Coptic Rite calls for all parishioners to abstain from food). The fasting that Moses and other prophets did was to profit them and mankind. On the other hand, the fasting of Jesus, was not done that He might receive anything, but to make a free offering of Himself in an act of love and to manifest the coming sacrifice of the cross. We fast by offering our bodies as a sacrifice. The outward form is naturally our fatigue, but the true essence is the our intentional acceptance of death, that we may be born again in life in the mystery of Christ. It is then and only then we become, in the sacrifice we make, a pure sacrifice, capable of interceding and redeeming in the image of Christ for the life of the world.

Fasting should not be viewed from the paradigm of changing your diet as we naturally are taught but rather fasting should be viewed from the paradigm of death and life. We die to the world in order that we are given life in the body of Christ. All acts within the church lead to our salvation. All acts the church administers and teaches is meant to bring us in the body of Christ. All the mysteries of the Church point to the paradigm of death and life. If we learn to shed the passions of the body then we become imitators of Christ. Fasting is one of many acts that lead to this realization.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

Elder Sophrony on Liturgy

Liturgy is the essence of the Christian life. Liturgy is the starting point in which we Christians begin to live our life for the world. When we tell others to "come and see" that usually entails bringing that individual to a liturgical service. Whether it is vespers or the liturgy the point being made is that the liturgy is our starting point. What it means to be united in the body of Christ begins with the chalice which was offered to us on the cross and glorified through the resurrection. Our joy and hope rests in the resurrection of our Lord. This is why the last offering given by Christ was received through the last supper meal Christ shared with his disciples. The last supper has become a form of unity build on love between human beings. Christ offered himself for the sake of humanity and in doing so bestowed his unconditional love for us through the last supper meal as his last act before the cross. This is how we today share in the body of Christ. The highest point of the liturgy is the Eucharist, the meal of love which binds us in the body of Christ. Elder Sophrony has spoken beautiful words on the liturgy and in doing so let us see how the liturgy penetrates the life of a Christian.
We Christians live Christ within the Divine Liturgy, or rather Christ lives within us during the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is a work of God. We say: "Time is a creation of the Lord". Among other things it means now is the time for God to act. Christ liturgizes, we live with Christ. The Divine Liturgy is the way we know God and the way God becomes known to us. Christ celebrated the Divine Liturgy once and this passed into eternity.

His divinized human nature came to the Divine Liturgy. We know Christ specifically in the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy we celebrate is the same Divine Liturgy which was done by Christ on Great Thursday in the Mystical Supper. The 14th through 16th chapters of the Gospel according to John is one Divine Liturgy. So in the Divine Liturgy we understand Holy Scripture. The early Church lived without a New Testament, but not without the Divine Liturgy. The first records, the written hymns, exist in the Divine Liturgy. In the Divine Liturgy we live Christ and understand His word.

As Christ cleansed His disciples with his world and said to them: "You are already clean because of the world which I have spoken to you" (John 15.3) and He washed the feet of His disciples with water, during the Sacred Washing, so also in the first section of the Divine Liturgy He cleanses us that we might attend later His table of love. The purpose of the Divine Liturgy is to convey Christ to us. The Divine Liturgy teaches us an ethos, the ethos of humility. As Christ sacrificed Himself, so also should we sacrifice ourselves. The type of the Divine Liturgy is the type of impoverishment for us.

In the Divine Liturgy we try to be humbled, because we have the sense that there is the humble God. Every Divine Liturgy is a Theophany. The Body of Christ appears. Every member of the Church i an icon of the Kingdom of God. After the Divine Liturgy we must continue to iconify the Kingdom of God, keeping His commandments. The glory of Christ is to bear fruit in every member His fruit. This explains His word: "Herein is my father glorified that ye bear much fruit" (John 15.8)."

Elder Sophrony of Essex