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[The Creation of the Chicken]

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.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Awful

A blurb I threw up on Facebook:

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?

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:35 AM [+]
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3 comments


3 Comments:

Not to discount the solemnity of your thoughts ("awe" for me is a rare state), but the "Wybrew (because it's delicious and fun" reminds me of a shop/store sign I hadn't previously noticed on the way home yesterday, "Brewed Awakening." :)

By Anonymous D Buhler, at 7:06 PM  

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That is a great name for a coffee joint! I really have a hard time saying the authors name and then failing to answer the question.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 7:17 PM  

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One of the things that I learned from the very first time I went to a monastery, and one of the things I love about them yet today, is just this AWE! It is something you do not see at the parish level. The sister taught me, by example, that what takes place during Divine Liturgy is truly something to be in Awe about. They are so reverent about everything, but especially during Liturgy! They take it VERY seriously, they truly act as if they are taking in God! And that is what it is! Do we really, truly understand this? I'm not sure we laity, especially we converts, realize the reverence that is due during the Anaphora. On weekday services of non-feast days we are prostrate!! God is there, moving and we lackadaisically sit and wait for communion.

By Blogger Susan Sophia, at 8:10 AM  

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