Archive for the ‘Liturgy’ Category

NativityChristmas Eve, 2013

As the Holy Babe lies hidden amongst the tiny birds and pinecones of my Advent Wreath, preparing for His arrival at the crèche on Christmas Eve, I find myself turning to a review of those ancient days.

Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the Galilee, and nearly all of the Mediterranean, as well as much of Western Europe and Britain lay under the yoke of Roman armies—called Pax Romana by modern historians. Yet even in this period of relative political peace, many were enslaved; disease and famine often drew near; and the various passions of temper and desire continued to rage within the hearts of humankind.

And in the next few centuries, more trouble brewed: the poor became worse off, while a tiny percentage amassed wealth and power; those who were deemed ‘other’ endured scorn, persecution, and sometimes martyrdom; ‘barbarians’ began to challenge the power and influence of the empire, leading to foreign wars and increased taxation; drought, famine, and crop failures, along with soaring unemployment, led to a faltering economy and mass migrations across political boundaries. Even in the fledgling Christian Church, contemporary cultural mores and theological controversies threatened not only the unity of the Church, but even the heart of the Gospel of Christ.

Well, a Christmas letter is not really the place for a history lesson, is it? Yet only a few viewings of the evening news make it all seem so very familiar. And perhaps that is as it should be, for time after time, century after century, it is into this very context of tragedy, sin, and evil that we need to hear anew the great Good News of Jesus the Christ.

Born in humility
becoming our flesh:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

For only in that great mystery of the Incarnation have the shepherds of Bethlehem, the apostles and disciples of Galilee, the monks, nuns, and hermits of deserts, mountains, and forests, and countless souls—men, women, children—found hope, joy, peace and eternal life.

May this season bring the same to each of our hearts, and thence out into the world.

SING, O ANGELS OF HEAVEN!

A Christmas Litany

Born in humility,
Becoming our flesh:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!
Mothers will come,
To nourish a babe:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!
 
Fathers will come,
To shelter the weak:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Children will come,
Trusting, unafraid:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Shepherds will come,
Knowing his Voice:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Royalty will come,
To adore the true King:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Servants will come,
To serve at His Throne:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Sinners will come,
To weep at His Feet:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Mourners will come,
Seeking the Light:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Prisoners will come,
Longing for freedom:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Priests will come,
To lift bread and wine:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Born in humility,
Becoming our flesh:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

 © 2010 Susan Creighton

 

 

 

 

Saint Mary the Virgin August 15

May the prayers of the Most Holy Theotokos sustain the Christians of Egypt, Syria, and other Islamic areas where they are under violent persecution.

Dormition Theotokos

 

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

 

 Song of the Most Holy Theotokos

Hail blessed Virgin, hail and rejoice.
Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb,
for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us now, and at the hour of our death.

 Persecution of Christians

http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/49974/#more

St. Saviour’s Anglican Church in Suez is under heavy attack from those who support former President Mursi. They are throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the church and have destroyed the car of Rev. Ehab Ayoub, the priest-in-charge of St. Saviour’s Church. I am also aware that there are attacks on other Orthodox churches in Menyia and Suhag in Upper Egypt (photo above), as well as a Catholic church in Suez. Some police stations are also under attack in different parts of Egypt. Please pray and ask others to pray for this inflammable situation in Egypt. —(The Most Rev.) Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, Bishop of the Episcopal / Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa

http://ad-orientem.blogspot.com/2013/08/anti-christian-pogroms-underway-in-egypt.html

Church of the Virgin Mary and Anba Abram of the Coptic Orthodox. the village of Daljah, the district of Deir Mawas, Minya province. Burning and demolishing the church.

The Church of St. Mina of the Coptic Orthodox. The neighborhood of Abu Hilal Kebly Minya province. Burning the church.

St. George Church. Coptic Orthodox archbishopric land, Sohag province. Burning the church.

Baptist Church. Status of  Bani Mazar, Minya province. Burning the church

Church of the Virgin Lady of the Coptic Orthodox, Nazlah village, Yusuf the righteous district, Fayoum province. Burning the church…

Monastery of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd School. Suez. Burning.

Church of Franciscan fathers. Street 23. Suez. Burning.

Bible society friends, fayoum. Burning.

Church of Saint Maximus. 45th Street. Alexandria. Harassment.

Church of Prince Taodharos Elchatbi. Fayoum. Burning.

Church of the Virgin Lady of the Coptic Orthodox. butchers street. Abu Hilal District. Minia province. Burning.

Church of Saint Mark. Catholic Copts. Abu Hilal District, Minya province. Burning.

Church of the Jesuit Fathers. Abu Hilal District, Minya province. Burning.

Church of the Virgin and Anba Abram. Sohag. Burning.

Church of Saint Mark, and the building of services. electricity Street. Sohag. Burning.

The house of Father Onjelios king. Pastor of the Church of the Virgin and Anba Abram in Daljah. Deir Mawas district. Minya province. Burning the house completely.

Burning the Greek Church in Suez.

See also:

Coptic Defense League:  https://www.facebook.com/Coptic.Defense.League

Persecution of Christians in Syria: http://www.persecution.org/category/countries/middle-east/syria/

And finally, the words of another Christian of Alexandria, Egypt: Origen of Alexandria, +254

Just as those who endure torOrigen3tures and sufferings demonstrate in martyrdom an excellence more illustrious than those not tested in this way, so also those who byusing their great love for God have broken and torn apart such worldly bonds as these in addition to their love of the body and of life, and who have truly borne the Word of God, living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12)—these have been able to return like an eagle to the house of their master (cf. Prov. 23:5 LXX) by breaking apart such bonds and by fashioning wings for themselves. An Exhortation to Martyrdom, XV.  

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 1

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 2

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 3

Part 4

HOLY DWELLING – Saturday and Sunday

As we continue to pray the psalms through the week, and through the architecture of the church, I am reminded of two stories from many years ago, one told me by a friend and another which I witnessed directly. In the first of these, some time in the early 1970’s, my friend’s son, perhaps only four or five years old, said to his mother one day after church, “Mama, what’s happening up there in front behind the fence (the altar rail) is what’s really REAL, isn’t it?” His child’s innocence enabled him to perceive the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine in a way that most of us struggle to ever know. In the second instance only a few years later, I was attending a meeting of Episcopal religious orders held at one of the more traditional convents. We gathered for Eucharist in a small chapel, and the celebrant wanted to remove the free-standing altar rail so that we could all gather around. An elderly nun was serving as thurifer, and she simply could not bring herself to step into the sanctuary proper across the line where the rail had stood. At the time, I was appalled that she was so locked into the ‘old’ way of doing things. Now I realize that her actions (perhaps unconscious, but nevertheless genuine) were rooted in an awareness that our souls must be sufficiently prepared to cross that sacred threshold into the Heart. Would that the rest of us (especially we clergy!) had the humility to recognize the sacred ground of the Altar.

For the Altar within the Sanctuary is the preeminent symbol of the Heart, where God dwells, the site within the human soul wherein the most profound and exalted contemplation of the Holy Trinity may occur, and it is the destination to which everyone is called.  St. John Chrysostom says, “Find the door of your heart, and you will find the door of the Kingdom of Heaven” and The Philokalia calls the Heart:

“the spiritual centre of man’s being, man as made in the image of God, his deepest and truest self, or the inner shrine, to be entered only through sacrifice and death, in which the mystery of the union between the divine and the human is consummated.”

And so, in this arrangement of praying the psalms week by week, over a four week cycle, we will find ourselves on Saturdays focused on the kind of Holy Dwelling best exemplified by the Theotokos, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the original sanctuary of our Lord, as well as on the fullness of virtue and purity to which the soul gradually ascends.

On Sunday, our prayer through the psalms brings us to the praise and worship of God for the ultimate expression of Holy Dwelling in the Resurrection of Christ, as well as giving us hints of theosis, in which as St. Maximus the Confessor says:

“When, urged by love, the mind soars to God, it has no sensation either of itself or of anything existing. Illumined by the limitless Divine light, it is insensible to all the created, just as is the physical eye to stars in the light of the sun.”

Yes, this is the “really, Real” that only an innocent child—or a holy saint—could recognize. Even so, the wonder is that every time we make our way up that long aisle, though the choir, to the altar, and receive in our own hands and mouths the Body and Blood of Christ, we, too, know the “really, Real”; we, too, enter in to Holy Dwelling.

HOLY DWELLING

CONTEMPLATION OF THE HOLY TRINITY

Holy Dwelling finds the Soul increasingly dwelling within her heart, and now, even the mind is quiet and ‘naked’.

Holy Dwelling brings the Soul ever nearer to the goal of her journey in God. Now, she experiences an ever deepening illumination and contemplation of all that is, seen and unseen.

Holy Dwelling brings the Soul to contemplation of the Holy Trinity, moving beyond mere words about God, to the wordless silence of the heart in pure adoration.

Holy Dwelling is found as the Soul enters the sacred altar of the heart, the Kingdom of Heaven, the place where God alone dwells.

 

HOLY DWELLING Incarnation / Virtue 
SATURDAYWEEK 1WEEK 2WEEK 3WEEK 4
Matins2452512
9168215
856510196
13311397
SATURDAYWEEK 1WEEK 2WEEK 3WEEK 4
Vespers37, Part I1112147
37, Part II1046441
67131128
145130

 

HOLY DWELLING Resurrection / Theosis
SUNDAYWEEK 1WEEK 2WEEK 3WEEK 4
Matins99196187
1182366116
1174686111
47146
150
SUNDAYWEEK 1WEEK 2WEEK 3WEEK 4
Vespers110107, Part I12111
30107, Part II12431
348493
1349198

 

 

Transfiguration

Part 3

CONTEMPLATIVE LIVING – Thursday and Friday

It is somehow fitting that today, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, this post brings us to CONTEMPLATIVE LIVING. Peter and James and John had walked the path of FAITHFUL LIVING during their years as disciples of Jesus. Now, as Jesus led them up a high mountain, they were—no doubt unknowingly!—ascending with their Lord into a new realm of being, a higher state of consciousness, if you will, and into a more spiritually sensitive aspect of the soul. Now, they were able to perceive the saints (Moses and Elijah), but even more critically, to see with the eyes of their souls the Light of the Transfigured Christ. (How frustrated poor Peter was to discover that he could not contain this vision, this Reality-with-a-capital R, in his booths!)

But back to Dwelling in the Psalms. If we return to the architectural model of the church, having spent our time in the Nave, we move past the Pulpit and Lectern, and (in most traditional buildings) ascend Three Steps, past the Rood Screen / Iconostasis into the Choir.

First, let us look at the Three Steps. In the ancient mystical tradition, these have been seen as signifying mystically our three stages of purification—from external passions of the body (gluttony, fornication, avarice), internal passions of the soul (wrath, despair, and acedia), and finally from passions of our mind (vainglory and pride).

The Rood Screen / Iconostasis is seldom seen in western churches, even if built with a more traditional floor plan. Nonetheless, many medieval churches had some sort of screen or railing between the Nave and the Choir and Sanctuary.  (See for example photos by Allan Barton, (see here and here.) In St. Paul’s, Bellingham, WA, where I worship our rather elaborate wrought-iron rood screen has occasionally become a point of controversy, with some congregants loving it, and others feeling that it in some way “shuts them out” from the altar. I recall the first time twenty years ago when I preached at St. Paul’s, my initial reaction was one of being in a prison of sorts! However, I am now a fervent support of the Rood Screen, for I better understand its spiritual significance. Such an architectural feature whether subtle or bold serves to nudge our soul to the awareness that we are moving from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the visible created order we discern with our five senses to the invisible and intelligible we can only discern with our heart.

And so we come to the Choir. In the medieval churches, this was the territory of the monastics whose lives were dedicated to prayer and contemplation, but to this day the choir is the place where we “pray twice” through our singing. Now, whether singing in the choir or moving through it on the way to receive communion, we open our souls to Illumination and Wisdom, to moving more deeply into the sacred presence as well as to depths of Sacrifice and Redemption.

As a result, the psalms chosen for Thursday and Friday support our soul’s movement into ever deepening understanding (poor word, but it will have to do for the moment) and wonder at the works of God, whether through the awesome gift of creation itself, or through the ultimate gift in the Person of his Son

 THURSDAY

CONTEMPLATIVE LIVING

CONTEMPLATION OF THE CREATED ORDER

Contemplation of the Created Order was called by the ancient church “second natural contemplation,” or “contemplation of the book which is read.”

Contemplation of the Created Order initially utilizes our five senses to rejoice in the wonders of God’s works in all creation, from the earth, planets, and stars, to the smallest atom and particle of matter.

Contemplation of the Created Order strengthens as the Soul’s life in God matures and deepens, and we become more deeply aware of the transcendent presence of God in all of creation.

Contemplation of the Created Order continues the process of purification of the Passions of Desire (gluttony and fornication), and deepens the purification of the Passions of the Temper (avarice, sorrow, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride). This purification helps the Soul to develop a higher degree of Dispassion, and transformation of the vices into virtues.

Contemplation of the Created Order also brings us to a fuller experience of illumination in the eternal truth of God’s Word as we give praise for all His works of redemption.

CONTEMPLATIVE LIVING (Contemplation of the Created Order) Illumination / Wisdom
THURSDAYWEEK 1WEEK 2WEEK 3WEEK 4
Matins63297175
277214894
9248149
THURSDAYWEEK 1WEEK 2WEEK 3WEEK 4
Vespers18, Part I4973132
18, Part II6290115
126127

FRIDAY

CONTEMPLATIVE LIVING

Contemplation of the Heavenly Jerusalem

Contemplation of the Heavenly Jerusalem was known in the ancient tradition as “first natural contemplation,” or “contemplation of the intelligibles.” Here, the Soul moves from a contemplation of the visible creation, perceived by the senses, to the contemplation of the invisible, or unseen—those things which can only be perceived by the mind. (Or more specifically, the Nous—not just the rational, deductive mind.)

Contemplation of the Heavenly Jerusalem develops when the Soul comes to an even more mature level. Now we realize that ‘the Kingdom of God is within,’ and we enter more deeply into the silence of our Souls.

Contemplation of the Heavenly Jerusalem continues the (life-long) process of purification, but now there is likely more emphasis on the passions of pride and vainglory, as well as the Passions of the Mind, when we encounter the temptations of false visions, prophecy, and revelations.

Contemplation of the Heavenly Jerusalem brings forth a flowering of the ‘Fruits of the Spirit’, with ever-deepening love, joy, peace, and wisdom.

CONTEMPLATIVE LIVING (Contemplation of the Heavenly Jerusalem) Sacrifice / Redemption
FRIDAYWEEK 1WEEK 2WEEK 3WEEK 4
Matins795012277
22205551
138143
FRIDAYWEEK 1WEEK 2WEEK 3WEEK 4
Vespers89, Part I35140123
89, Part II12512988
28139103

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 1

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 2

Part 2

FAITHFUL LIVING – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday

Another way of thinking about Dwelling in the Psalms is to visualize our movement through the physical structure of the church. (And here I am utilizing the very traditional floor plan of a medieval, Western cathedral or monastery chapel, an architecture that is still to be found in many smaller churches built prior to say about the 1960’s.)

We enter the church from the out-of-doors, remembering our ancient movement from the Garden and the glories of creation. We climb the steps to enter the Narthex, responding to the call of God. We then come to the Baptistry, remembering our deliverance from captivity, and our initiation into the Body of Christ. Then we come to the Nave, where most of us spend most of our worshiping lives, hearing again and again the stories of salvation history, and learning what it means to come into covenant with God, and to follow His Law, and become His Holy People. From the Pulpit and Lectern, we learn the meaning of faithful discipleship, as we learn to follow the Commandments, and live the Beatitudes. In so doing, we encounter our passions, and through purification and repentance, transform them from vices into virtues, and grow in faith, patience and charity.

In summary, then:

Faithful Living comprises the foundational phase of the Soul’s life in God. It begins with creation itself, and with the call to God’s people to follow, love, and obey him.

Faithful Living concerns our deliverance out of captivity—the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt through the Red Sea, and the Christians’ initiation into the Body of Christ through Baptism and Chrismation.

Faithful Living calls us into Covenant with God, into the relationship of obedience, and surrender to God, who in turn, protects and guides us to the fulfilling His Law, and to becoming His holy people.

Faithful Living above all teaches us to “Love one another.”—to live with compassion for all, even ourselves; to grow in faith, patience, and charity.

Faithful Living continually calls us to repentance and conversion, and to the grateful reception of God’s loving mercy to us, and to all who “fall short of the Glory of God”—which, of course, is all of us.

Faithful Living transforms our vices into virtues, and, through detachment and discrimination, we become more dispassionate—no longer at the mercy of our own passions.

MONDAY

FAITHFUL LIVING Creation / Salvation History 
MONDAYWEEK 1WEEK 2WEEK 3WEEK 4
Matins13568818
33244476
136
MONDAYWEEK 1WEEK 2WEEK 3WEEK 4
Vespers105, Part I106, Part I78, Part I78, Part II
105, Part II106, Part II100114

TUESDAY

FAITHFUL LIVING Discipleship / Passions  
TUESDAYWEEK 1WEEK 2WEEK 3WEEK 4
Matins119:1-16119:49-64119:97-112119:145-160
119:17-32119:65-80119:113-128119:161-176
52365821
70
TUESDAYWEEK 1WEEK 2WEEK 3WEEK 4
Vespers119:33-48119:81-96119:129-14417
14105340
7439144
1203

WEDNESDAY

FAITHFUL LIVING Purification and Repentance
WEDNESDAYWEEK 1WEEK 2WEEK 3WEEK 4
Matins802683108
6038102109
5613
142
WEDNESDAYWEEK 1WEEK 2WEEK 3WEEK 4
Vespers696425
547443137
3259141
57

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 1

 

 

 

Alder Bench

29 July 2013

Feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany

Dwelling in the Psalms

Part 1

 

INTRODUCTION

The Book of Common Prayer introduces the Psalter by saying “it is a body of liturgical poetry, designed for vocal, congregational use, whether by singing or reading.” And in the Anglican tradition, there has long been an expectation that clergy would say the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, and that this discipline would also be followed by devout laity as much as possible. Yet I think if we are candid, it is a discipline that is likely practiced only by a minority, whether lay or clerical. I can only confess that, having once known the riches of the monastic community praying and chanting the prayers and psalms day after day, season after season, I frankly found it nigh on impossible to say the offices on my own. They were designed for corporate, congregational prayer, and that was no longer an option for me on a daily basis.

Yet always, my heart hungered for what I knew was truly food for the soul. And so after years—nay, decades!—of praying in an unstructured, irregular manner, I found myself returning once again to a more traditional practice. Perhaps my own interior silence had deepened sufficiently to sustain a richer feast of psalms, readings, and canticles.

As a result, this arrangement of the Psalms is the fruit of an effort to find a way of praying the Psalms that is in accordance with the practice of the ancient Church, and that is also coherent with the life-style of the solitary anchorite or hermit. (Perhaps it may also be useful for others who pray alone, or even in community.)

Praying the Psalms in solitude is very different than praying them in a congregation or a monastic community. In solitude, one does not have the support of other voices, other souls—except, of course, for the presence of the Communion of Saints, who are even now and unto the ages lifting their voices in praise to the Holy Trinity.

The life of a vowed anchorite or hermit is also a life dedicated to silence and simplicity. As such, the traditional breviaries and lectionaries may be found cumbersome, and unduly complicated, often impinging upon the deep silence of contemplative prayer.

This arrangement, then, is significantly simplified. The cycle of Psalms is spread over a four-week cycle. In addition, rather than the ancient tradition of seven daily offices, and the more contemporary tradition of four offices a day, this Psalter is divided between Matins and Vespers. Some may choose to add a period of intercession at noon day, and the traditional late-evening office of Compline may more easily be recited by memory while preparing for sleep.

A few comments about the distribution:

For generations, lectionaries have distributed the scripture readings to reflect to some extent the season of the liturgy (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter….and less so for “ordinary time”). Yet I have been unable to find any tradition (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican) that does the same to a significant degree with the Psalms. By and large, the Psalms most often seem to have been prayed in a roughly numerical order, whether on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly cycle, with occasional variations to be found. If anyone knows of other types of ‘thematic’ lectionaries for the psalms, I hope you will let me know!

The only thing I have found which is close to a thematic (non-seasonal) distribution was that developed by Bonnell Spencer, OHC, in A Monastic Breviary, used by the Order of the Holy Cross and the Order of St. Helena. Fr. Spencer introduced the Psalter by saying,

In determining the assignment of [the psalms], the effort was made, not only to fit them to the time of day, but also to give certain days of the week a special tone. Thus worship and thanksgiving characterize the psalms selected for Sunday, and also for Thursday because of its association with the Eucharist and the Ascension. Friday, and to a lesser extent Wednesday, have been treated as penitential. The Incarnation and the part taken in it by the Virgin Mother are associated with Saturday.  A Monastic Breviary (Holy Cross Publications, 1976)

However, the more I have immersed myself in the ancient patristic tradition of ascetical practice, and discovered therein a clear path for the journey of the soul, I found the traditional psalm distribution to be jarring and seemingly without any reflection of this spiritual path. So at last, building on these studies, I began to examine the traditional stages of the mystical path as a context for praying the Psalms.

In the Western Church, we have traditionally identified three stages: Purification (or Purgation); Illumination; and Union. These designations found their roots in the teaching of the early church (3rd-7th centuries), especially in such masters of the life of the soul as Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius of Ponticus, Dionysius the Areopagite, and Maximus the Confessor. They identified similar stages, but more often used terms such as the Practical Life, Contemplation, and Theosis (or Divinization). Further, contemplation was often seen as having two stages within it, the earliest being contemplation of the created order, and the more advanced being contemplation of the ‘intelligibles’ or the ‘Heavenly Jerusalem.’ Only after passing through these stages, would the soul come to the fullness of the ‘likeness’ of God, or theosis, or union.

I have adapted these stages under the headings of “Faithful Living”, “Contemplative Living”, and “Holy Dwelling.” While using this understanding of the mystical path, rather than simply reciting the psalms in numbered sequence, I have arranged them—to the degree possible—to reflect the journey of the soul through the stages according to various themes reflecting the experiences and emphases of each stage.

Psalm Stages & Themes

WEEKDAYSTAGESTHEMES
SUNDAYHoly DwellingResurrection / Theosis
MONDAYFaithful LivingCreation / Salvation History
TUESDAYFaithful LivingPassions / Discipleship
WEDNESDAYFaithful LivingPurification / Repentance
THURSDAYContemplative LivingIllumination / Wisdom
FRIDAYContemplative LivingSacrifice / Redemption
SATURDAYHoly DwellingIncarnation / Virtue

 Such a distribution of the Psalms supports the soul by each week emphasizing the different stages of the mystical journey. Of course, not every psalm fits neatly into these categories, and someone else might determine a very different distribution. I was also constrained by an effort to approximate the number of verses for each office, coming up with an overall average of 44 verses for each of the 56 offices in a four-week cycle.

Although traditional practice is to begin each week with Saturday Vespers, I have chosen to use our more modern calendar by beginning with Sunday. However, it would be simple to adjust this system to the more traditional, simply by moving Saturday Vespers to the beginning of each week.

What about the ‘imprecatory’ verses? Our modern sensibility finds them very objectionable, indeed. Some lectionaries omit them entirely. And yet, does that not simply impose our own sensibilities upon what has for millennia been part of the prayer of faithful people, Jew and Christian alike? As hard as some of these verses are to pray, it seems to me they must be retained. We may not wish to think of ‘dashing little ones’ heads against the rocks’ (Ps. 137), but there are people out there who do just that, and perhaps our prayer can bring them—and our own unruly passions—into the transforming presence of God. It is also worth noting that the ancient tradition was to see some of these verses as directed against the assault of demonic and evil forces, a reality which must be encountered by any soul who prays for very long.

One other note: Psalm 95 is not included here because it is used every day at the beginning of Matins. The translation used is that of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

In the coming days, I will continue these posts on the psalms, with a slightly fuller explanation of each stage, and with a chart of the psalms assigned to each office and day within each stage.

Susan Creighton+

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 2

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 3

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 4

 

Mystical Icon of the Holy Church by the hand of Matthew Garrett, 2008 http://holy-icons.com/

In this season of ecclesiastical upheaval and discontent, it seems useful to remember that, sadly, thus it has ever been down through the centuries. It is even more important to remember that though the Church may sail through treacherous seas, Christ is always at the helm.

My prayers for the Church this morning led to those of St. Isaac of Nineveh (also known as St. Isaac the Syrian) from the 7th Century:

O Mystery exalted beyond every word
and beyond silence,
who became human in order to renew us
by means of voluntary union with the flesh,
reveal to me the path
by which I may be raised up to your mysteries
. . .
Gather my mind into the silence of prayer
. . .
Stir up within me
the vision of your mysteries
so that I may become aware of what was placed in my
at holy baptism.
You made me to be light and salt for the world:
may I not prove a stumbling block for my companions.
Prayers of Isaac of Nineveh, 7th C.
Translated by Sebastian Brock

Lord, overshadow your holy Church which has been redeemed by your blood; cause to dwell in it your true peace which you gave to your holy apostles; bind her children in holy bonds of indissoluble love; may the rebel not have power over her, and keep far from her persecution, tumult, and wars, both from those within and from those without; and may kings and priests be bound together in great peace and love, their minds always filled with gazing towards you, and may the holy faith be a wall for your flock.
A prayer of Isaac of Nineveh, 7th C.
Translated by Hilarion Alfeyev

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole
body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified:
Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before
you for all members of your holy Church, that in their
vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you;
through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Almighty God, kindle, we pray, in every heart the true love of
peace, and guide with your wisdom those who take counsel for
the nations of the earth; that in tranquility your dominion may
increase, until the earth is filled with the knowledge of your
love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Gracious God, the comfort of all who sorrow, the strength of
all who suffer: Let the cry of those in misery and need come
to you, that they may find your mercy present with them in all
their afflictions; and give us, we pray, the strength to serve
them for the sake of him who suffered for us, your Son Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.

Merciful God, creator of all the peoples of the earth and
lover of souls: Have compassion on all who do not know you
as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; let your Gospel
be preached with grace and power to those who have not
heard it; turn the hearts of those who resist it; and bring
home to your fold those who have gone astray; that there
may be one flock under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look
favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred
mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry
out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world
see and know that things which were cast down are being
raised up, and things which had grown old are being made
new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection
by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus
Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity
of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set
your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and
our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and
grace to the living; pardon and rest to the dead; to your holy
Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life
and glory; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live
and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

 

Adorn yourself, O cavern!
Make ready, O manger!
O shepherds and wise men,
bring your gifts
and bear witness,
for the Virgin is coming,
bearing Christ in her womb!
Vespers Hymn of St Nicholas Day

Advent, 2011

For millenia past counting, humanity has experienced both a fascination and a dread of caverns and caves. Caverns can be awesome and beautiful; caves may be narrow and constricting, or broad and expansive. Our earliest ancestors found shelter within them, and a place of defense against weather, wild animals, and human foes. Other ancestors entered caverns for shamanic rituals, and painted their walls with the creatures who both sustained and frightened them.

In the Holy Scriptures, caves are the hiding places for warriors and prophets. They are also places of revelation—Elijah hears the Voice of God in a cave, and later discovers that the Voice is most truly heard in the silence of the heart. In the Psalms, David finds caves to be a place of prayer, penitence, and forgiveness. Even the Arc of the Covenant and the altar of incense, in flight from the destruction of the first temple, find refuge in a cave. And over and over, from Abraham to Judith to Lazarus, caves are the place of burial, symbolizing the words we hear at our own burial: “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shall return.”

Is it any wonder, then, that the early Christians identified the place of our Lord Jesus Christ’s birth as a cave? Truly, it was a refuge from the perils of travel, and the crowds filling the streets of Bethlehem. This humble cavern sheltered the prayers of Mary and Joseph, shone with the adoration of shepherds, received the Magi and their gifts, and rang out with the angels’ songs of great joy.

Assuredly, this lowly cave became the Holy Dwelling of revelation—the revelation that God has come among us, clothed in human flesh; it is also a foreshadowing of Jesus’ return to a cave for His own burial, the same cave that would bear witness to His Resurrection.

May this season of Christ’s birth remind us all to pray for and serve those who also seek refuge in the night, protection from all danger, and a Holy Dwelling—be it ever so humble—in which they too may receive the gift of God’s love, and learn to sing with the angels.

The Rev’d. Susan Creighton

 

(Thirty years ago–1981–The Feast of the Visitation fell on a Sunday. It was transferred to Monday, June 1st, and on that day I was ordained to the sacred priesthood. This meditation—in the form of a ‘letter’ from Elizabeth to Mary—was given a year later as a sermon in the Convent of St. Helena, Vails Gate, NY. I offer it once again, in thanksgiving to God for the many blessings of being called to stand at His altar and offer the Holy Mysteries.

Please pray for me that I may continue to bear this sacred office faithfully.)

A Meditation on the Feast of the Visitation

My Dear Cousin:

I dictate this letter with faltering voice and with a great sense of weariness, for the years have multiplied upon my head. I am so old now that I’ve forgotten just how many years there have been. But I’m not so old that I’ve forgotten everything. In fact, it seems the events of long ago happened only yesterday, and now as the dusk of my life draws to a close, and the soft darkness of death approaches, I feel moved to share some of these memories with you.

For you see, dear cousin, you were really the only one who fully understood; and of course you were the only one who could—for you, too, were a woman, and a mother—and you, too, have borne a son dear to your heart.

That day long ago when you visited me so unexpectedly is as clear in my memory as the summer sun. Then, as now, we lived high in the hills of Judea, and the air was clear and sharp, yet heavy with the expectation of the late rains and of the harvest soon to be gathered in. It had been a long, cold spring for me, and I had felt all the aches of the ancient in my heavy body; even then, my years were many. And then there was this added burden—so welcome but still so heavy.

My belly grew and my legs ached with the weight of it, and I wondered as my time grew near whether or not my strength would fail me.

My body had never learned in its youth how to be a mother, and these lessons come late were taxing to body and soul. I found a loneliness in it, for my beloved husband was enveloped in a great silence that even my love could not seem to penetrate. He had been like this ever since his last turn of service at the temple in Jerusalem: utterly unable to speak, and with the light in his eyes turned inward as if he gazed upon a sight beyond human vision. I know now that his silence came from God, but then it was a hard thing to know, and I longed so for just a word from him—just a word to tell me that he shared both my pain and my joy. But his silence became my silence, and together we waited.

In all those silent months, I had long hours to pray and think, for my old body refused to labor in other ways. It, too, had turned inward, and all my energies seemed to pour into this new life within me, and to leave little over for outward concerns. And as I waited and prayed, and grew heavier and heavier, I remembered: I remembered Sarah as she must have been: like me, both joyous and frightened with the advent of a pregnancy so ardently longed for. I remembered her faithfulness, her willingness to follow Abraham to new lands, to uncertain futures, to the eternal seeking of what must have seemed an illusory promise. Sarah knew; she knew what it was to wait, and pray, and remember. She knew what it was to be a mother, to bear a son, to let him go.

Then there was Rachel: won by Jacob after long years of labor; sharing him with her sister Leah. Rachel, too, must have known long years of silence and grief and prayer. And then at last God “hearkened to her and opened her womb” and she bore her son Joseph. Rachel knew: she knew what it was to wait, and pray, and remember; she knew what it was to journey ever forward and follow a God who demanded all; Rachel knew what it was to give that all as she labored over the birth of her son Benjamin, the son who claimed her life as the price of his own.

And so the long months went on, there on the hills of Judea. The days passed, and I waited, and my belly grew. I found it hard to sleep, and often rose long before the dawn to sit in the soft darkness and watch the light slowly creep over the eastern mountains. Those were the moments when I felt utterly at peace; I knew that my beloved had been faithful to God; I knew that the life within me would not die; I knew that the silence and waiting would come to an end.

Those quiet mornings were precious to me, and I felt my own heart sing as the first sleepy birds began the morning chorus. And singing brought to mind that other old friend from the past: Hannah. Like me, Hannah had been long barren, and sorely tormented by her affliction. She, too, had known the scorn of others as the years rolled past. She, too, waited and prayed most fervently, and the Lord heard her prayer and had pity upon her. In due time Hannah conceived, and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.” Hannah knew what it was to bear a son, and to let him go—to lend him to the Lord’s service; and she knew how to rejoice in her blessing: “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides thee; there is no rock like our God … He raised up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.”

Hannah knew how to wait, and pray. Hannah knew how to sing.

And so, dear cousin, the months passed. And that clear spring day dawned, and the birds sang, and I went about the chores of my silent house, waiting, ever waiting.

Then you came. You entered my house and greeted my beloved and me, and with the sound of your young, hopeful voice, the child in my own womb leapt for joy. 

From the deep pit of silence within me came the cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! … And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

And your voice broke into song: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” You sang, O Mary, my cousin, and you brought joy and peace to our silent house. And then you departed upon your own way, already swelling with the child within your own womb, and I waited, larger and heavier, and so near to my own time of delivery.

Yes Mary, we both know what it is to wait, to bear a son, to let him go, to sing.

And in these many years since, we have not ceased learning to wait, to pray, and to sing. Even in those moments of the greatest grief, we have known joy. My own John left us so early; his father’s blessing was upon him, and he went forth to prepare the way of the Lord; he went forth to be the prophet of the Most High … It was hard to let him go, and yet we knew we must, for he was ours no longer; the Spirit had claimed him from time before time, from that moment in the temple when my beloved Zechariah was struck dumb.

But it was hard to let him go: Sarah’s son was spared the knife; my son was not.

Yet still we sang: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free.” And you, my dear: you were so very young, yet you bore so very much more. You bore the Son who redeems us all; you bore the pain of scorn and rejection even as he lay in your womb; you bore the abandonment of Golgotha; you bore the incredible news of his resurrection; you bore the sight of his risen body and sore wounds. 

You bore all this, my dear Mary, because you are the most favored one: You are she, chosen above all women to be the Mother of God.

You are she, my dear, who has become the mother of us all. Yes, even of me, your old, old cousin. For you are she who has taught us all to wait, to pray, to remember, to sing.

You are she who has taught us to bear forth within our barren bodies the Word of the Lord.

You are she who has taught us to seek the fruit of Christ within the hearts and minds and souls and bodies of all whom we meet.

You are our Mother, calling us forth to give birth to Love.

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

With weary joy, my dear, I remain your affectionate cousin,

+Elizabeth+

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