Monday, February 11, 2013

The Liturgy of the Hours - Compline

"It is greatly to be desired that the laity should take part in the recitation or singing of Vespers or Compline.” - Pope Pius XII

At the End of the Day

Compline is the final Hour of the Solar Day, and the second Hour of the Liturgical Day. The word Compline, comes from the Latin Completorium, which means to have “Finished Work”. Roughly corresponding to the time frame of 8 - 10pm, Compline would be prayed in a parochial setting on the earlier side, giving parishoners a chance to arrive home with enough time to finish the day’s tasks and prepare themselves for the day ahead. If prayed in a household, Compline would come after dinner, giving the children a chance to join in prayer with their parents before going to bed, as the Greek term for this Hour, Apódeipnon (“After Supper”) suggests.

“By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” - (Psalm 42:8)

As Compline occurs at the end of the day, it is particularly suited to be celebrated by parish churches and cathedrals. This was the one Hour where most of the Laity were not working, and could be celebrated early enough to still draw church attendance. As a result, it occupies a place of importance between the Dominical Hours of Vespers and Lauds, and the Little Hours. This gave Compline a rich character that has set itself apart.

Compline has a long history that developed very early in many Christian communities. In the 4th century, Athanasius describes the Monks of the Egyptian desert celebrating an end of the day service before departing to their caves for the night. After the end of the Roman Persecution, Basil the Great, and Benedict of Nursia oversaw the codification of Greek and Latin Compline in the 5th century. Monasteries all over Christendom incorporated a Compline-like Hour into their services so that this Hour became universal by the 7th century. Toward the end of the first millenium, Compline was celebrated in most Cathedrals and in many parishes, but this practice began to slowly ebb by the middle of the second millenium. Compline became a “Special Hour” that was only celebrated for High Feasts or in many places, disappeared completely, becoming a devotional practice amongst the laity.

O Lord, Make Haste to Help Me

The themes of Compline come partly from it’s place in the day. As we come to the end of the day and prepare to sleep, we are reminded to “check ourselves” by the prayer of John Cassian used in Roman Compline: “O God, come to my aid. O Lord, make haste to help me.” Remembering that we are sinners, and calling to mind our offenses that we have committed during the day, we ask for forgiveness before going to sleep. It is best not to delay our repentance until the next day, when we don’t know with certainty that we will see a new day.

“Again, at the beginning of the night we ask that our rest may be without offence and free from evil dreams.” - Saint Basil the Great

We also ask that we may come to see another day, by asking God to grant us this gift. As night is physically the absence of daylight, it was seen to symbolically represent spiritual darkness as well. It was at night after the Last Supper that Christ was praying in the Garden that his task be taken from Him if it could be. Shady dealings, conspiracies and even demonic activity were linked with the darkened world. This was reflected by the inclusion of prayers for the deliverance from evil, the devil, and temptation. Dreams and nightmares are often attributed to the influence of the devil, but may also be the work of our polluted minds. We ask, as Basil the Great points out, for deliverance from these, that even our subconscious may be pure by the Grace of Our Lord.

We also thank God for every experience that we were given during the past day. Praising him as the Psalmist says for His Love. This life is a gift, and every minute that we are given, whether in good times or bad, is bestowed on us by God. We are never out His mind, so why should we shut him out of ours? The prayers of the Church given to us at this hour bring us back to a spirit of thanksgiving for both his forgiveness and his love.

The Order of Things

Just like Vespers and (every other Hour), Compline begins with introductory prayers. Coptic Compline starts with a prayer of Thanksgiving:

“Let us give thanks to the beneficent and merciful God, the Father of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ, for He has covered us, helped us, guarded us, accepted us unto Him, spared us, supported us, and brought us to this hour.”

Then follows the recitation of the psalms, which are fewer in number than Vespers. The order and number varies according to tradition.

After the Psalms, the second part of the liturgy begins. Several prayers for protection during the night can be found, such as this one from Syrian Compline:

“Grant us, O Messiah; our Savior; a peaceful evening and a sinless night, for Thou art a glorious king, and unto Thee, are our eyes lifted up. Forgive our debts and our sins; have mercy upon us, both in this world and in that to come. May Thy loving kindness shelter us O Lord, and Thy grace be upon our faces. May Thy cross protect us from the evil one and his hosts.”

During the second half of the Liturgy, there are prayers of the faithful or litanies, for the needs of the Church. Responsorials and Antiphons make their appearance at this point as well, followed by, in many traditions, the recitation of the Nicene Creed as a confession of the Orthodox Faith.

Just before the concluding or dismissal prayers, universally there is some hymn to the Mother of God.

Compline is one of the easiest Hours to pray if you are just getting started with praying the Holy Hours. If you are at all looking for a way to increase your evening prayers, I would definitely recommend giving Compline a try. Not only is it a wonderful ending and act of praise (along with so many other benefits and blessings) for your day, but it helps us remember our sinfulness and our need for Mercy. If you can attend a Compline Liturgy, even better. What better way to end your day, than in the House of the Lord, with the sound of the Choir chanting timeless psalms echoing off the walls of nave of the Church!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Liturgy of the Hours - Vespers

“Sunrise and sunset are not anonymous moments in the day. They have unmistakable features: the joyful beauty of dawn and the triumphant splendour of sunset follow the cosmic rhythms that deeply involve human life. Furthermore, the mystery of salvation that is actuated in history has moments linked to various phases of time. So it is that together with the celebration of Lauds at daybreak, and the celebration of Vespers at nightfall, these have gradually became a regular practice in the Church. Both of these Liturgical Hours have an evocative charge of their own that recalls the two essential aspects of the paschal mystery: "In the evening the Lord is on the Cross, in the morning, he rises to new life.” - Saint Augustine of Hippo

Vesperial Light and Sunset

Vespers marks the start of the new liturgical day in the Christian tradition and as such is one of the two Dominical Hours of the Church. This is based upon the account given in Genesis whereby morning followed evening.

"There was evening and there was morning, the first day." (Genesis 1:5).

The word “Vesper” is a latin word that means evening star. Just as the stars light up the darkness of the night sky, and led the magi to the worship of the incarnate Word, so our first prayer of the new day begins with hope in Christ the Light of the world who brightens spiritual darkness. In antiquity, the lighting of the oil lamp after sunset brought a note of joy to a household in what would have been an otherwise dark world. In lighting the lamp at dusk, the Christian community also prayed with gratitude for the gift of spiritual light. This was called the "lucernarium", the ritual lighting of the lamp whose flame is the symbol of Christ, "the Sun that never sets". It is God who brightens the darkness of night with the radiance of his presence and the light of his teachings.

"The sun has set and with the ending of the day, once again we are called to pray. Since Christ is the true Sun, let us pray while the sun sets and the day fades in this world, imploring that the light shine on us anew; and let us call for the coming of Christ who will bring us the grace of eternal light." - Saint Cyprian of Carthage

Drawing inspiration from the symbolism of light, the prayers of Vespers developed as an evening sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for the gift of physical and spiritual light, and for the other gifts of the Creation and the Redemption of mankind, as Saint Basil the Great says:

“[It is a fitting time] to give thanks for what has been given to us or for what we have been able to do with integrity."

Order of Vespers

The order of vespers begins with introductory prayers, usually some form of the Gloria Patri is used in most traditions followed by other hymns or responsorials. In the Syrian tradition, Ramsho (Vespers) begins with a little prayer recounting the theme of creation.

“You created me and placed your hands upon me. In the beginning God created Adam from the dust and breathed on him the spirit and gave him speech that he might sing praise to him, halleluiah, and give thanks to his creator.”

After this follows the psalter. Depending on the day, time of year, and proximity to a Great Feast, the number of psalms and order can change. Abbreviations occur for parochial use, and if you are praying this alone, then the number of psalms prayed of course, is at your discretion. This forms the first part of the Liturgy. You can think of this as akin to the Liturgy of the Word in the Mass.

The second half of vespers can be seen as the Liturgy of the Faithful or Eucharist, in a very superficial way of course. It begins with a hymn or canticle. The hymn “O Joyful Light” marks the second part of vespers in the Byzantine tradition, and features the transition from darkness to light by the illumination of chandeliers during liturgy. In Roman vespers, a canticle of creation signals this transition.

Following the transitional hymns, supplications for the world and the Church in the form of litanies or responsorials occur. In the Armenian vesperial service, this begins with a portion of a psalm of David, “... may our prayers arise as incense before [God], and the lifting up of our hands be as an evening sacrifice (Psalm 141).”

Readings may also occur in the second half of vespers, though they are not a universal feature. Scriptural readings were the last development to occur in the formation of the Hours, and only begin to be found in the middle ages, appearing initially only on the eves of great feats.

Vesperial services conclude with some form of Hymn or Canticle often to Our Lady, or the Song of Symeon, and an invocation of protection and visitation upon all the faithful in the night to come. This would constitute the primary evening liturgy in most parishes during antiquity. In some cases, a vigil Mass would follow the celebration of vespers as the first mass of the new day.

In Hours celebrated by a Priest, additional prayers proper to his office will occur, including blessings appropriate only to a Priest.

If you’d like to know more about Vespers, or pray Vespers, Universalis contains the entire revised Office (The Hours) according to Pope Paul VI available with daily updates for variable material for your convenience.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Liturgy of the Hours - An Introduction

“I would like to call everyone to pray the Psalms, to become accustomed to using the Liturgy of the Hours, Lauds, Vespers, and Compline. Our relationship with God can only be enriched by our journeying towards Him day after day.” - Pope Benedict XVI

The Liturgy of the Hours, the Holy Hours, the Divine Office, the Daily Cycle; all of these are different names given for the eight periods of prayer throughout the day. Perhaps you have heard the name Vespers or Compline mentioned by someone, or you know someone who prays the Hours as a personal devotion, or maybe you own a copy of the Breviary and have attempted to pray one of these hours at one point or another and found it altogether confusing to figure out let alone pray . For most catholics this is enough to end their acquaintance with the Hours. So what are they and how did Christians start praying them?


The Hours as we have them today can be found in every tradition of apostolic Christianity, which illustrates just how ancient they are (at least fourth century old). Drawing from the example of the Jewish Faith at the time of the Second Temple, the Hours really begin to take form during the second and third centuries. At the temple, minor priests lead prayer services during the morning, midday and evening (on occasion midnight) that consisted primarily of the chanting of psalms. Early Christians adopted this as a way to consecrate their days to Christ, joining together not only at the Holy Mass, but now also in short prayer services that marked the coming of light at sunrise and the coming of darkness at sunset and times in between. Because of the underground nature of the faith at this time, there was much variation in practice as attested to by early fathers like Clement of Alexandria

With the lifting of the persecution by Emperor Constantine, Christians were now free to address variations amongst regional prayer services and formulate what would become the Hours. Over the period of about two hundred years, between the fourth and fifth centuries, the church began to piece together the hours. Psalm 119 was influential, owing to two lines:

“Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws (Psalm 119:164).”


“At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws (Psalm 119:62).”

Called by different names by different traditions, they all boil down to the same basic periods of time: sunrise prayer, morning prayer, mid morning prayer, noon prayer, afternoon prayer, sunset prayer, evening prayer, and middle of the night prayer. Initially these services were all celebrated at the cathedral of the bishop, but as diocese grew and more country churches became established, it became burdensome and impractical for smaller communities to celebrate the full set of Hours. Some regions never celebrated the entire eight from the get go. Gradually though, the dominical hours of Sunrise and Sunset became the only two Hours celebrated in most parishes. But the full set of Hours did not die. Monasticism embraced the Hours, becoming the foundation for Monks everywhere. Over time as Christianity spread, so did the Hours, and wherever they went, they acquired a unique character of their own, from the Malabar Coast in India to the lonely islands of west Scotland.

The Nature of the Hours

At their core, the Hours are the daily communal work of the faithful. To give you an idea of their place in the Christian life, they can called the “Little Liturgy” whereas the Mass is the “Great Liturgy”. With one voice, we offer our supplications for the world, offer our thanksgiving for all gifts and blessings, and praise Him for his ineffable glory. Everything you would find in the Mass, except the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice. Instead, we have the Psalter; the heart of the Hours.

Each Hour contains at least 3 or 4 psalms (and sometimes many more)and have been selected for each of the Hours according to a particular theme. Interspersed between the psalms are prayers and litanies. All of these are focused on a particular mystery or theme which that gives each of the Hours their unique character: Watchfulness, Creation, the Resurrection...

To pray the Hours, is to immerse yourself in the Psalms; the prayers of Christ, and his ancestors. A treasury of healing and faith.

"The Book of Psalms contains everything useful that the others have. It predicts the future, it recalls the past, it gives directions for living, it suggests the right behavior to adopt. It is, in short, a jewel case in which have been collected all the valid teachings in such a way that individuals find remedies just right for their cases... [In every Psalm, there is] the voice of the Church.” - St. Basil the Great

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What do you want from Christ?

What do you want from Christ?

I think this passage will offer a wonderful meditation for us though our Advent journey.

Luke 18:35-43 The Healing of the Blind Man
"At that time, as Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God."

To provide some background, Jericho was the city which the jews had conquered with God’s help in the Book of Joshua as they paced around the walls blowing trumpets, and instead of using siege equipment they had relied on God’s mercy and faithfulness to bring down the walls. Jesus’ action of going to Jericho serves to connect us with the Old Testament, and point us to it’s fulfillment in Himself, the Son of Man. Just as God was present with the Jews in the Shekinah Glory of the Temple, so he comes to Jericho (Jericho being this world) again, but as the Word made Flesh (God’s promise amongst men, and with men as a man). On his journey there (which can be viewed as God coming down to humanity in the Incarnation) Jesus encounters a blind beggar on the way. The blind man, represents humanity, blinded to our knowledge of what is truly good and truly sinful by the fall of our ancestors. He recognizes Christ as the Messiah and calls out to Him. Jesus stops and has the man brought to Him and asks him directly “What do you want me to do for you?” He asks to see with his eyes, and Christ obliges. “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.”

This was a bold action by the beggar. If the blind man truly desires to see, asking to see, and being granted this will put an end to all that he knows and he may be forced to change his life completely (think of Saul becoming Paul as another example of this). Isn’t this our challenge when we are faced with the gospel? If we truly begin to listen to the words of Christ, and begin to live according to his statutes, we are shedding the cataracts upon our eyes. We may be forced into discomfort, but Christ never promised an easy life if we followed Him. Our generation loves comfort, and loves to ignore the gospel. It likes the idea of the Gospel, with feel a feel-good Jesus, but it does not like anything that sounds like self-sacrifice or suffering. Thankfully we have the fasts, to discipline our bodies and minds where they have grown lazy and fat. Charity, to force us back into reliance on God and not worldly things, and that we are called to humble ourselves before everyone. So what do we all want from Christ? Are we prepared to do what we need to do, once we are given it? Are we willing to make major changes in our lives to put aside our old life and enter into a new one? Remember your baptism! Embrace it! In our Baptisms we threw aside our blindness and spit upon the lies of the Devil! Cast off your boredom, your sleep and arise, the Bridegroom will come and we will not know his Hour! Fear afflicts all of us and draws us away from doing the right thing, but don’t despair, fight, and remember the words of Christ to the Beggar! “Receive what you have asked for, for your faith has saved you.” Trust, Hope, and Pray, and you will find a new faith awakened in you. Ponder this as we make our way toward the Feast of the Nativity over the next few weeks and God Keep you All!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tribulation and Struggle

Tribulation and Struggle

It’s amazing to see just how many people seek an easy out of any tough situation these days. Whether’s its held under the banner of being “non-confrontational” or a genuine attempt at apathy, no one seems to try anymore. Sadly, many Christians have succumbed to this but, this is nothing new under the sun. Since the very first centuries, Christians have been finding ways to shrug off struggle and tribulation for comfort and ease. But Christ did not promise us a life free of suffering, free of strife. In Saint John’s Gospel, Christ speaks frankly on this matter, saying, we are to endure all manner of pain in this life, but in Hope, and Faith. This is a mark of a Christian, to bear the world’s scorn in Peace.

John 16:33
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

This seems like an impossible task for anyone, when our natural inclination is to kick the dust in front of us, complain, and be miserable in our endurance of whatever unpleasant ness may come our way. Some of us may even just call it quits (God forbid by taking our own life but, it can be as casual as numbing ourselves by frivolous entertainment).
The first step is accepting that we are called to face our afflictions and not avoid them (Baby steps, even the Desert Fathers would endorse). In doing this, we have done probably the hardest part, and have begun to open our heart and minds to the Holy Spirit.

A man of our day, Saint Padre Pio the Wonderworker was no stranger to the struggles of this life. He fought demons, he endured scorn and envy, was afflicted by physical pain, and bore unnumbered sorrows of the heart. But his teaching to those around him was very clear. Our life, as little imitators of Christ, is to endure in humility, everything the world has to throw at us, to our full measure. Whether it is the slander from lips of our brothers and sisters, the effects of disease and imperfection from the fall, or the assaults of the enemy.

However hard it may be, the seeking of worldly comfort and avoidance of pain is not congruent with a Life in Christ as Padre Pio explains:
“We must humble ourselves on seeing how little self-control we have and how much we love comfort and rest. Always keep Christ before your gaze; He did not come to rest nor to be comfortable either in spiritual or temporal matters, but to fight, to mortify Himself and to die.”

In order to sanctify ourselves, and climb the Divine Ladder, we must endure struggle:
“The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self; there is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain.”

The more afflictions we bear and pass through in faith and hope, the greater we grow in our relationship with Christ. We enjoin ourselves further and further into His life, by suffering as He did:
"The more you are afflicted, the more you ought to rejoice, because in the fire of tribulation the soul will become pure gold, worthy to be placed and to shine in the heavenly palace.”

Only at our death will we be freed of struggle. Until then we must never give up the fight. As Saint Anastasius the Persian said to the Sassanian Shah Khoserau before his death, “We Christians fall, and we get up, and we fall and get up again, and we do this until our deaths, praying that we die standing on our feet.” May we struggle to the end in Hope and Joy.

Advent is upon us, let us look again at our relationships with Christ and His Body, preparing ourselves rightfully for the coming feast of the Word made Flesh, by taking up our crosses with a renewed vigor.

God Keep You All!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Pascha 2012!

Today is the Day of the Resurrection! A Blessed Pascha to you all!

For any readers who may not know what Pascha means or the origin of the term, here is and explanation of the term attributed to Saint Augustine of Hippo:

"Pascha (Passover) is not, as some think, a Greek noun, but a Hebrew: and yet there occurs in this noun a very suitable kind of accordance in the two languages. For inasmuch as the Greek word paschein means to suffer, therefore pascha has been supposed to mean suffering, as if the the noun derived its name from His passion. But in its own language – that is, in Hebrew – pascha means Passover; because the Pascha was then celebrated for the first time by God’s people, when, in their flight from Egypt, they passed over the Red Sea. And now that prophetic emblem is fulfilled in truth, when Christ is led as a sheep to the slaughter, that by His blood sprinkled on our doorposts, that is, by the sign of His cross marked on our foreheads, we may be delivered from the perdition awaiting this world, as Israel from the bondage and destruction of the Egyptians; and a most useful journey we make when we pass over from the devil to Christ, and from this unstable world to His well-established Kingdom. And therefore surely do we pass over to the ever-abiding God, that we may not pass away with this passing world." - St. Augustine of Hippo

And abiding words on this glorious day from our Holy Father Gregory of Nyssa:

"This is the day which the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad! O glorious state, O sweet invitation! Who tarries in accepting this invitation? Joy is the task, jubilation the injunction, through which the judgment growing out of sin is suspended and sorrow is turned into happiness.

Every memory of our condemnation is totally wiped out. Formerly birth was with pain but now without. Formerly we were born as sons of men but now as children of God. Formerly we were sent down from heaven to earth but now the Heavenly One has made us heavenly. Formerly death ruled through the power of sin but now through life justice has got the upper hand. One person opened the portal of death; Another Person led life back. We lost life through death in former times, but now death has been conquered by life. We hid under the fig tree of shame, but now in glory we approach the Tree of Life. We were driven out of paradise for our disobedience, but now by faith we gain paradise. Again the fruit is offered us for our enjoyment at will. Once more the fountain of paradise parted four-fold by the streams of the Gospel, gives drink to the whole Church—so that the Church may cause the furrows of our soul to overflow, those furrows ploughed by the teaching of Him Who sowed the word--and that the fruits of virtue may multiply. What, then, shall we do? What, indeed, but imitate the skipping of the mountains and hills in the Prophet? For the mountains, he says, skipped like rams and the hills like young lambs (Ps. 114:4, 6).

Come, then, and let us rejoice in the Lord Who has broken the power of the enemy and has raised the sign of victory of the Cross through the overthrow of the adversary. Let us raise a battle cry. But a battle-cry is a shout of victory. Because now the battle line of the enemy has been cast down, he who has power over the evil hosts of demons has vanished and, being uprooted, has sunk back into nullity.

Let us proclaim that it is God, the great Lord and great King of all the earth , Who has blessed the crown of His Acceptable Year and has gathered us to this spiritual congregation in the Lord Christ Jesus, to Whom be the honor to the ages of ages."
- St. Gregory of Nyssa

Christós anésti!

Grab your favorite Lager and celebrate!

Friday, April 6, 2012

On the Passion of Our Lord

A Blessed Good and Holy Friday to all of you!

Here are a few words to consider as we worship and commemorate the passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Saint John Chrysostom in one of his homilies on the passion of our Lord, speaks about the necessity of writing this mystery in our minds. By remembrance of that mystery, we are humbled and take honor in being called Christians.

“What could be equal to this [scene]? On that face which the sea, when it saw it, had reverenced, from which the sun, when it beheld it on the cross, turned away its rays, they spit, and struck it with the palms of their hands, and some even struck its head; giving full swing in every way to their own madness.  Adding to the insult of spitting at Him, they cried out in derision saying, “prophesy to us, you the Christ, who is he that smote you?” because the multitude called Him a prophet. Not only freemen, but slaves also were intemperate with this intemperance towards Him at that time.

These things let us read continually, these things let us hear aright, these things let us write in our minds, for these are our honors. In these things I take honor, not only in the thousands of dead which He raised, but also in the sufferings which He endured.

Let us always bear them in our mind; the crown of thorns, the robe, the reed, the blows, the smiting on the cheek, the spittings, the irony. These things, if continually meditated on, are sufficient to take down all anger.” - St. John Chrysostom

Saint Ephrem the Syrian, in typical Syrian fashion, compliments Chrysostom, by calling us to take the passion into our hearts, with tears of joy and sorrow. In this way, we find ourselves living a life in adoration of our Lord and His statutes. Through this disposition we prepare ourselves for the day in which we will meet our beloved God:

“We should meditate like this: by shedding tears every day, giving thanks to the Master for the sufferings that he suffered for you, so that in the day of his Coming your tears may become your boast and exaltation before the judgment seat.
Blessed is the one who has before his eyes the heavenly Master and his sufferings, and has crucified himself from all the passions and earthly deeds, who has become an imitator of his own Master.” - St. Ephrem the Syrian

And lastly, writing in the 18th century, Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk says the suffering of Christ should call us to examine our own lives, and how we have fallen short of our Lord’s Mercy and Love:

"Try to know yourself, your own wickedness. Think on the greatness of God and your wretchedness. Meditate on the suffering of Christ, the magnitude of Whose love and suffering surpass our understanding." - St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

Today is the day of the Crucifixion. Rejoice! For the suffering our Lord endured in his compassion, is our joy. By His death, he descends into Hades to loot it of all fear and despair. By faith we are preserved in peace and await His Glorious Resurrection.

Festal Beer Pairing:
Copper Ales at Sundown for His Precious Blood and His descent into the Tomb!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Saint Hesychios the Presbyter and Watchfulness

Here is a little bit on Watchfulness and what it means, and why we need to be attentive to ourselves and our relationship with God.

In the Byzantine tradition, the first three nights of Holy Week serve as reminders for us to be watchful over our hearts. These are called the Bridegroom services and they are based upon Jesus own words in his parable of the virgins and the bridegroom. The virgins were not expecting the bridegroom to arrive at the wedding feast at such a late hour. Some were prepared, having cautiously guarded their oil, whilst others had let their lamps burn through all their oil during the night. Only those who had oil were allowed to attend the wedding feast (See Matthew 25:5-13). Jesus makes it clear, He is the bridegroom, as the troparion (hymn) for the feast says:

Behold, the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night: blessed is the servant He shall find awake. But the one He shall find neglectful will not be worthy of Him. Beware, there-fore, O my soul! Do not fall into deep slumber, lest you be delivered to death and the door of the kingdom be closed on you. Watch instead, and cry out: "Holy, Holy, Holy are You, O God! Through the prayers of the angels, have mercy on us."

We anticipate his return without knowing the hour of his entry. At this hour, we will have to give an account for every action, word and thought upon our meeting. This is why we must always be repentant for our sinfulness, humbling ourselves before his ineffable love.

We will look at what Saint Hesychios the Presbyter has to say about watchfulness. A man of great asceticism, Saint Hesychios was a monk and priest from the Monastery of the Burning Bush in Sinai. He lived during the 8th century, stressing the guarding of one’s heart as deliverance from the passions, and the invocation of the name of Christ as a defense against temptation.

Saint Hesychios tells us why we should be watchful:

"Watchfulness if practiced over a long period, completely frees us with God's help from impassioned thoughts, impassioned words and evil actions."

Watchfulness is guarding of one’s heart, the filtering of one’s mind, and controlling of one’s flesh. By these means, a person’s personal passions and temptations (insomuch as we can control them) are tempered or hacked away completely.  Saint Hesychios explains the nature of watchfulness:

"Watchfulness is a continual fixing and halting of thought at the entrance to the heart. In this way, predatory and murderous thoughts are chopped down as they approach and what they say to us duly noted. By this, we can see just how delusive and insidious the demons are in trying to deceive our minds."

Saint Hesychios recommends to us his four methods of watchfulness. His first recommendation is that we diligently scrutinize the nature of our thoughts. Are they good? Are they innocent? Or will they lead us into a path of thought toward temptation? :

"One type of watchfulness consists in closely scrutinizing every mental image or provocation; for only by means of a mental image can Satan fabricate an evil thought and insinuate this into the intellect in order to lead it astray. "

His second instruction is to keep our heart at peace. What does this mean though? We should first strive to not allow our heart to be  invested in bad persons, or projects or commitments. Are you in an abusive relationship because of fear? Are you addicted to gambling because of the rush it brings? These are yearnings or “desires” that are associated by many of the fathers with the heart. By being still or at peace, we open our heart up to God and his calling:

"A second type of watchfulness consists in freeing the heart from all thoughts, keeping it profoundly silent and still. "

Hesychios says we should always seek help from God. Paramount to this, is the acquisition of humility. By God all things are possible says Saint Paul. Humility is the cornerstone of all virtues. Without it, anything we do is empty.

The other half of this coin is love. We call on God who loves us. It is by our renewal and our continual desire to deepen our relationship with Him, that we will grow into the persons we should be, and were created to be. We come to understand ourselves better once we have seen what God sees in us. Certainly what Saint John Chrysostom says can apply to many aspects of our lives, not just our relationship with the Holy Trinity: “When we begin to form good resolutions, God gives us every opportunity of carrying them out”

"A third type consists in continually and humbly calling upon the Lord Jesus Christ for help."

This last one may sound a bit macabre in our death fearing American culture. The thought of Death should not be one empty of God. That leads to depression and despair. But fear of death, as pertains to our judgement and knowing we must give account to Christ for everything. This last point goes back to the original image of the bridegroom. We must always be prepared. And what better way, than continually remembering our meeting with the Bridegroom? By being aware we could die at anytime, we are kept humble, charitable and repentant. All which help to keep us from sin and purify our passions.

"A fourth type is always to have the thought of death in one’s mind."

We've only a few days of lent to go, so, keep watch over your mind and your heart.  If you have gotten lazy about fasting, start fasting. If you have forgotten to read through scripture, do it! If you have not prayed much, begin now! If you haven't been to liturgy, then go! It's not too late! The Great feast is coming! Remember the wise thief, who at his last hour, asked for mercy. And our lord showed it. Remember the prodigal son. It is never too late!

Saint Hesychios Pray for us!

Have a Belgian wheat ale today. Hesychios would want you to.

Have a Blessed Holy Week!

Friday, March 23, 2012

On Repentence

Considering as it is Lent, we should consider the words of our Lord, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:12-25)

But what does this mean you ask? We should consider the Greek word Metanoia, which means a change of mind in a lasting sense, like a commitment. We should change our hearts and minds from seeking everything that is not God, to embracing, choosing the statutes, because they set us free. When you are able to not chose sin, you have gained freedom. This is the freedom the saints speak of. To be master of our base inclinations.
Because of the fall, we make all sorts of justifications for our pettiness, and inattentiveness to our hearts. We are bold enough to say to God, just wait for me until I'm doing x,y,z , then I will come to you. And by then, we have fallen into so many pitholes it must seem incredulous to the angels! But true boldness, as Chrysostom says, is admit one's fault, and turn away from it:

"Sin is the wound, repentance is the medicine. Sin is followed by shame; repentance is followed by boldness. Satan has overturned this order and given boldness to sin and shame to repentance." - St. John Chrysostom

Augustine calls us to remember, that we don't know the time the bridegroom will come. As such, we should always watchful over our hearts.

“God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.” - St. Augustine of Hippo

And lastly, consider the advice of Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. Here he says that repentance softens the heart, and allows us to begin the work of  overcoming and fighting our passions:

"Know firstly that repentance, according to St. John of Damascus, is a returning from the devil to God, which comes about through pain and ascesis. So you also, my beloved, if you wish to repent properly, must depart from the evil one and from evil works and return to God and to the life proper to God. 

Just as hunters are not satisfied with merely finding a beast in the forest, but attempt through every means to also kill it, likewise, my brother sinner, you should not be satisfied with merely examining your conscience and with finding your sins--for this profits you little, but struggle by every means to kill your sins through the grief in your heart, namely, through contrition and affliction." - St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain

May you all continue to have a fruitful and blessed Lent!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Suffering and the Cross by Saint John of Riga

Holy Martyr, John of Riga tells us, that when our suffering may seem unbearable, we should look to the Cross and Christ. In meditation and remembrance of his passion, we can see how one should suffer affliction. We see how Jesus, the God-Man, took bodily torture and death and endured it bravely. In his humanity, we see by example the way by which we are to bear our crosses.

The Cross also transforms. By the Crucifixion and Resurrection, His Cross, and our cross, our suffering, is transfigured from meaningless torture, to a means of enjoining with Christ. By being scorned, assaulted, and pitied, our faith either collapses under the weight of the cross, and we give into despair, or we are saved by it-- by embracing the life--the life in Christ, and lifting up our suffering to Christ. Thus our Cross becomes that same Cross of the Crucifixion which, is now called the Life-Giving Cross. Let us remember the apocryphal words of Saint Peter to his disciples in Rome :

"If it is to the cross I must go, then remember it is also by the cross you are saved. The tree of death is actually the tree of life. "

St. John of Riga writes:

"We can more easily bear our afflictions if we keep in mind the example of our Saviour. See with what peaceful and holy determination He goes to meet His passion. And then follow Him along the path of the Cross until, with His last breath, you hear from His lips the Divine words: It is finished. And then ask yourself: aren't you drawn by this example? Doesn't this make clear the commandment, He who wishes to follow Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me. Doesn't this lead you to the conviction of that disciple who said, I cannot wear a crown of roses when my Saviour is wearing a crown of thorns?

At the cross of Christ, even the most suffering soul among us can find consolation: I have endured and even now endure much, but my Divine Saviour endured still more. If you find this example too lofty, read what the holy Apostle St. Paul says: Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep. In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren. In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. (2 Cor 11:25-27). See what he endured for Christ's sake; how many times he was beaten, stoned, imprisoned... and then understand how far we are from him." - St. John of Riga

"Everywhere the Cross is the sign of Christianity. A Christian can simply not be without his cross." - St. John of Riga