An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
This originally found in the book previously mentioned, but tracked back through a book by Taft (devoted entirely to the Great Entrance and thus titled) and finally to Theodore of Mopsuestia of the late 4th Century. In it, Theodore is describing the Great Entrance of his time. (It should be noted that Theodore is a somewhat controversial character and you can read a brief account of that here.) However, that seems rather irrelevant if one is interested in the Liturgical topic addressed here, I think.
It is the deacons who bring out this oblation...which they arrange and place on the awe-inspiring altar, a vision...awe-inspiring even to onlookers. By means of the symbols we must see Christ who is now being led out and going forth to His passion, and who, in another moment, is laid out for us on the altar...and when the offering that is about to be presented is brought out in the sacred vessels , the patens and the chalice, you must think that Christ our Lord is coming out, led to His passion...by the invisible host of ministers...who were also present when the passion of salvation was being accomplished...
And when they bring it out, they place it on the holy altar to represent fully the passion. Thus we may think of Him placed on the altar as if henceforth in a sort of sepulcher, and as having already undergone the passion. That is why the deacons who spread linens on the altar represent by this the figure of the linen cloth of the burial...[and afterwards] they stand on both sides and fan the air [aer] above the the Holy Body so that nothing will fall upon it. They show by this ritual the greatness of the Body lying there...which is holy, awe-inspiring, and far from all corruption...a Body that will soon rise to an immortal nature...
It is evident that there were angels beside the tomb seated on the stone...and now too shouldn't one depict as in an image the similitude of this angelic liturgy?...[the deacons] stand around and wave their fans...because the Body lying there is truly Lord by its union with the Divine nature. It is with great fear that it must be laid out, viewed, and guarded. These things take place in complete silence because, although the liturgy has not yet begun, still it is fitting to watch the bringing out and deposing of such a great and wonderful object in recollection and fear and a silent and quiet prayer, without saying anything...and when we see the oblation on the altar as if it were being placed in a kind of sepulchre after death, a great silence falls on those present. Because that which is taking place is awe-inspiring, they must look on it with recollection and fear, since it is suitable that now, by the liturgy...Christ our Lord rise, announcing to all the participation in ineffable benefits.
We remember therefore the death of our Lord in the oblation because it makes manifest the Resurrection and the ineffable benefits.
We climb mountains or go to National Parks to marvel in awe at the sights. We even gasp at the visual trickery Hollywood feeds us. But our eyes are closed to the AWE-FULL mystery which culminates in the Anaphora. St. Cyril's description is poorly translated as "awful" when what he really wrote was "that which makes your hairs stand on end."
This notion came from my readings of the book "The Orthodox Liturgy" by Hugh Wybrew, which us part of my assigned reading for the 4th semester of the DVP. I've actually read this book years ago either while I was a catechumen or shortly thereafter. I find that reading it now, after nearly 10 years of experience with the Divine Liturgy and especially the last few years of both serving and also having my children be of age that remotely allows me to pay greater attention to the service, has given me a much fuller connection to what is being written about in the book.
The subtitle of the book is "The Development of the Eucharistic Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite" and living up to this, Wybrew (because it's delicious and fun) goes into depth exploring the history of the Liturgy. He does a good deal of comparisons between the Western Liturgy and the Eastern, but these are of little use to me because I simply was not an Episcopalian long enough and the Assembly of God Liturgy is a totally different breed.
The section were he writes a great deal about the "Mystagogical Catecheses" by St. Cyril of Jerusalem we are really giving a fantastic image of 4th century Eucharistic theology which apparently had a good deal of emphasis on the "mystical sacrifice" which instantly (in this Lenten season) called me back to that powerful hymn we sing as the Gifts are processed to the altar in the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy:
Now the pow'rs of heaven invisibly with us do serve. Lo, the King of glory enters in. Lo, the mystical sacrifice is upborne, fulfilled.
But along side the theology was the "practical" application of believing it...and that practical application was for them at the time to stand in awe. Clearly this takes some effort for even in a time when they didn't have all manner of awe-inspiring special effects in movies and such the people needed some reminder of the astonishing sacredness of what they were receiving in the Eucharist. St. Cyril writes:
In approaching therefore, come not with thy wrists extended, or thy fingers spread; but make thy left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed thy palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen. So then after having carefully hallowed thine eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake of it; giving heed lest thou lose any portion thereof for whatever thou losest, is evidently a loss to thee as it were from one of thine own members. For tell me, if any one gave thee grains of gold, wouldest thou not hold them with all carefulness, being on thy guard against losing any of them, and suffering loss? Wilt thou not then much more carefully keep watch, that not a crumb fall from thee of what is more precious than gold and precious stones?
Then after thou hast partaken of the Body of Christ, draw near also to the Cup of His Blood; not stretching forth thine hands, but bending, not kneeling, but standing in a bowing posture and saying with an air of worship and reverence, "Amen," hallow thyself by partaking also of the Blood of Christ. And while the moisture is still upon thy lips, touch it with thine hands, and hallow thine eyes and brow and the other organs of sense. Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks unto God, who hath accounted thee worthy of so great mysteries.
Hold fast these traditions undefiled and, keep yourselves free from offence. Sever not yourselves from the Communion; deprive not yourselves, through the pollution of sins, of these Holy and Spiritual Mysteries.
So while the mechanism of communion has changed, the attitude has not...or at least should not. As Wybrew (because it's delicious and fun) points out "St. Cyril uses the language of awe and fear for the sacrament in itself: merely to be in its presence is cause for fear and trembling." And St. Cyril also suggests that through communion we do indeed become, as St. Peter suggests: "partakers of the Divine Nature." We would thus say: Salvific, a word utterly unknown to most people outside of Orthodoxy.
In my old denomination we would have communion once a month and I can vividly recall being greatly excited each time I would come into the sanctuary and see the tall silver coated plastic tray set up on the "altar" engraved with the words: "In Remembrance of Me." I could not put my finger on it at the time, but something about the physical nature of this remembrance worship service was profoundly moving to me. If you think about it, we humans are rather naturally inclined to physical things especially in the context of something we deem to be of the utmost importance: flags, candles, pictures of lost loved ones, objects held dear by loved ones etc. Watch in the face of catastrophe how we tend to cling to "things." Unless we are gnostics we see nothing wrong with this at all. The world is a gift, we are apart of it and our Lord Himself creation upon Himself making all things new. Looking back, what I think I see in my attraction at that time was a sort of embryonic notion of sacramental theology. I was on my way.
In the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy (in particular, but not exclusively) as the gifts are processed I remember the ill-evolved word "awful." As noted above St. Cryil intended it as "AWE full" and not so much "bad." I'm presently sick and inclined to tell people I feel awful...but it feels wrong now. When I feel awe, I feel a certain amount of ecstasy tempered with some fearful self-examination and a pull to change. So that after the entrance we finish the song:
Let us draw near in faith and love, and become communicants of life eternal. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
The greatest miracle we'll see in this life happens each and every Sunday. Around us the invisible hosts stand and marvel. Where am I?
At the end of December last year, after nearly 15 years in the same laboratory, I accepted a position as Research Laboratory Supervisor (Stupivisor) with Dr. Michael Jensen at Seattle Children's Research Institute. It was a big step for me as it entails more responsibility and a much larger array of scientific methods with which I need to familiarize myself.
I'm now 3 months into the new job and I could not be more happy with my decision. There's a real urgency and mission to the work we are doing, which is known in the scientific field as "translational research." What this means is that we aren't doing science for the sake of science (broadening human knowledge), but rather our work has directly in our sights the goal of bringing to patients a viable therapy.
It's a blessing and an honor to be working at a place where success is largely defined not be received grants or published papers, but rather lives saved. Unfortunately grants and published papers are how we get there so that doesn't change...but they remain the means to an end and not the end.
It's obvious that Facebook has largely consumed my time that I used to spend blogging...I suppose that's okay, but I find I'm growing weary of the machine gun pace on Facebook. It's a great way to stay in touch with people, but it feels like I'm being subjugated by a billion different TV channels that are often largely filled with politically based commercials. It's like listening to an endless stream of soundbytes...and I don't say that in criticism of others, it's just rather the nature of FB. I miss the more leisurely front porch style of Blogging. So, I'm back.
That said, what I don't miss here (or on FB) are online debates and arguing. This isn't to suggest I won't engage in a little comparing and contrasting of attitudes, ideas, or whatever but what I will be trying to consciously avoid topics that tend to engage the passions. Chief among these is politics. Ii once said on Facebook that the only thing that engages people's passions more than politics is pornography and I still think that is largely true. In my own life and experience, if I'd put half the energy and conviction into my faith that I put into my political persuasions then I might see some real progress. I will of course leave others to decide for themselves the extent to which this might be true for them. So, all of that said, they'll be precious little politics to be found here (at least as far as it depends on me...there seems to be no end to the intellectual reach that people will grant to politics).
Instead, I want to return to the roots of this blog which was really all about converting to Orthodoxy, living immersed in ancient Traditions of the Church, and more recently our efforts to live more self-sufficiently and sustainably - closer to God's gift to us...the dirt from which we were formed. (I'm learning to get over my fear of it...honestly). And also, the everyday struggles of fatherhood and family.
Since October I suppose a lot has happened. I've slowly continued with the Diaconal Vocations Program, having recently started the 4th Semester program on Liturgics which has been quite profitable to me personally. This is particularly true as we began Lent...I have felt a very strong pull to "come to my senses"...in the evangelical context one might say I've rededicated my life. If Lent is all about calling us home...well, I'm trying to listen.
Our Mission in Poulsbo has purchased land with a former American Legion Hall on it which we will convert into a Temple. It's an exciting time for us!
On the farm we've fought a vicious battle with rodents this winter and I think we currently have the upper hand. Egg production has been close to ZERO and this has weighed heavily on us financially. Many of the birds are finding their way into the freezer, but that is a slow process. Hopefully as the sun gets higher and more plentiful we'll start seeing more eggs.
The kids are getting rabbits this week and it is expected that this will put more meat on the table for us...though I am apprehensive about killing cute bunny rabbits, but we'll see.
Several high electric bills have made us painfully aware of the need to utilize wood. We were short on wood this year, but thankfully some friends offered some already downed and seasoned timber from their property in Port Townsend and this was truly a Godsend. That wood is now gone and I've been burning some wood that isn't quite seasoned.
Well if anyone happens to stumble by (I'm sure many have given up this blog), I do intend to be back on a fairly regular basis. Not because I feel I have anything particularly grand to say, but would like to sit on this porch and converse with people with similar interests. I'd be happy to have folks join me.