Today’s Election, Today’s Gospel Reading

For most Byzantine Catholics in the United States, today’s Gospel Reading was from the Holy Gospel according to the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke. In it we hear these words:

And the Lord replied, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute [the] food allowance at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so. Truly, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful. That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.

A good friend blessed me with a wonderful collection of reflections on the liturgical calendar’s readings. Thoughts for Each Day of the Year was written by St. Theophan the Recluse, and I have found it to be a most valuable guide.

Tonight St. Theophan’s reflections were read as I was pausing from the din and hubbub of politics on this election day to eat dinner with my family, having turned off the TV but wondering if I was missing any key updates.

As I read the reflections in much distraction and conflict, I realized that regardless of the outcome of any individual campaign for election or passage of a ballot measure, I would need these words more than any pundit’s or statistician’s analysis.

St. Theophan writes:

The parable about the steward shows how a Christian should behave with relation to worldly things. A steward diligently does his work, but in his heart he is not attached to anything. He is free from all bonds; he relates to everything externally. So also must a Christian be in relation to all worldly things. But is this possible? It is possible. As there exists outward piety without inner piety, so worldly concern which is only outward and without inner bonds is also possible. But in such a case will everything around us turn into a mere lifeless form, emitting coldness like a marble statue? No-in the midst of worldly things another life will develop which is more attractive than the fullest worldliness. Worldly things, being worldly things, will truly remain as a form, while that which warms the heart will start to proceed from another source, and whoever drinks from this source will no longer experience thirst (cf. John 4:14). But in such a case is it better to drop everything? What for? Even one who outwardly drops everything can still be attached in his heart, and one who does not outwardly drop everything can be free from bonds. Of course it is easier for one who outwardly renounces everything to control his heart. Choose what is most suitable to you-just dispose yourself to be as the Lord commands.

On this day as any other, may our thoughts not be focused on victories or failures in this world, neither on worldly rights and wrongs. These will fade and wither like the grass, but eternal truths remain both in and above worldly realities. So many times, a true change of heart is replaced with accusations about how the other is wrong, distracting us from our own flaws that remain unchanged.

St. Theophan’s reflections point out so clearly that one can be obsessed with worldliness with the heart even if one lives in a state of worldly detachment in terms of physical status. I could be oblivious to political wranglings and yet wonder about facts and statistics in a vague grasping for distraction. Conversely, one can walk in the world with deep concern for its inner workings and machinations, but if its proper priority is upheld, one can have the deeper communion with God and neighbor which transcends policies and politics.

May God give us that heart to see that way, no matter how we feel about any national election, ballot measure, or gossip from the water cooler about the latest office politics.

Of course, it is true that in our liturgical life there is much mention of our government and civil authorities. But that focus is overshadowed by the larger reality of God’s presence, His Kingdom.

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!

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The Theology of the Body Broken

So much of the Byzantine Christian prayer life is at odds with society today. We are told that we suffer from a low self-esteem, that we need to appreciate how amazing we really are. Now, at first glance, that’s actually something that we would also affirm, being made in the image and likeness of God. The image of God, in our Tradition, is indelible. The likeness, well, some of us have done our best to erase it from any vestige. But it remains, in varying degrees, in all mankind.

But I think that on a very fundamental level, we have a life of Prayer which sees God in all things, including our own broken bodies. We revel in the magnificence of Christ, singing hymns of His victorious resurrection. And yet, at the same time, we can look to our flaws and find God in those very flaws as well.

As one example of this, note the hymns that are proper to some of the Paschal Sundays. In the Sundays of the Paralytic and the Man Born Blind, we do not shy from the ugliness of sin and disease. Instead, we see them as portals into heaven, whereby we reflect upon our own weaknesses.

“With eyes that are spiritually blind, I come to You O Christ; and like the man who was blind since birth, I cry out to You with repentance: You are a light shining to those in Darkness”.

“O Lord, with your divine authority, as You once raised the paralytic, now raise my soul, paralyzed dreadfully with all kinds of sin and disgraceful deeds, that, being saved, I may cry out to You: Glory to Your merciful power: O merciful Christ.”

This is not a perspective that shies away from the imperfections of this world. No, this is a perspective that sees the flaws and sadness brought about by our sin, to be an occasion of eye-opening embrace of our fallenness, with the hope of moving beyond that fallenness. The paradox of understanding our weakness, and God’s open arms who accepts us, and yet takes us and molds us as clay in His merciful power that shines as a light in our Darkness, answers our longing to be made whole, and loved at the same time.

This all comes to mind because of the very many complaints that could justly be thrown against our Bishops and priests, and ourselves. While not denigrating the importance of them, there is something to this idea of acknowledging our own blindness, and our own inability to walk. It is hope for the meanwhile, for the today, when I am not all put together. We have such a long way to go, but even in our broken state of affairs, we can see a beautiful story that is being created after that ideal likeness that came to this earth to save us all.

A New Year/Salutations

St. Ephrem
Glory to Jesus Christ!

God willing, this site will be a place to share my thoughts about living a life of peace and repentance. It will include thoughts about many issues that the Eastern Christian lives on an individual level, as well as more broader matters that pertain to Christianity. But the title was chosen to stress prayer, the heart of our spiritual life. The title that I’ve chosen is taken from one of my favorite prayers that express peace and repentance. St. Ephrem (pictured above) is an Eastern Christian saint whose most famous prayer is used during the Great Fast that precedes the Feast of Feasts, Pascha. My hope and prayer is that these postings will speak of the truth and life that comes through living such a life, a life that I aspire to live with each new day. On the Byzantine calendar, September 1st is the New Year. So I venture this evening to start a new blog by giving it a title that expresses this life captured so well by this prayer of St. Ephrem. This prayer is accompanied with prostrations, and while the image below is taken from Good Friday prostrations before the holy sepulcher that adorns most Byzantine Christian temples, I could not resist posting this image. It captures the spirit of the prostrations that are used in this prayer so beautifully.

What are the words to this prayer?

One ancient translation is as follows:

Господи и владыко живота моегω, духъ оунынїѧ, небрежεнїѧ, любоначалїѧ и празднословїѧ ѿжεни ѿ мεнε.
Духъ же цѣломѹдрїѧ, смиреномѹдрїѧ, терпѣнїѧ и любве, дарѹй ми рабѹ твоемѹ.
Ей Господи Царю, даждь ми зрѣти моѧ согрѣшенїѧ, и не ωсуждати брата моегω, якω благословенъ еси во вѣки вѣковъ. Аминь

In my home church, the words that we use are a bit more modern, and they are surely also English. We say:

Lord and master of my life, spare me from the spirit of indifference, despair, lust for power, and idle chatter.
Instead, bestow on me your servant the spirit of integrity, humility, patience, and love.
Yes, O Lord and King, let me see my own sins, and not judge my brothers and sisters, for You are Blessed, forever and ever. Amen.

I wanted to start things on the right “foot”, and the key for that beginning is to start with what matters most. May the words of this prayer guide us all into a life of love, which is a life of peace and repentance.

IC XC NIKA