"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Monday 30 November 2015


Much of contemporary Christianity has developed a newly inflamed affection for what they believe to be a first century pattern of Christianity: abandoning all formal or structural ecclesiology for simple house churches, which is allegedly where Christianity was supposed to remain without the hierarchical clergy getting their ugly paws on it.  It is assumed that these congregations must have been similar to the informal evangelical low churches today that gather together in someone’s living room, sing a few three-verse praise songs, listen to an elder give a lecture out of the Bible, and maybe take turns offering up extemporaneous prayers. For a growing number of people, this essentially sums up early Christian worship.  Furthermore, there is a common notion that formal and liturgical Christianity (often called “High Church”) is something that developed after the legalization of the faith under Constantine in the early fourth century.  This event is believed to mark a great turning point when the Church began to rapidly decline into nominalism, parading the traditions and practices of men over against what the Bible says (at least until the corrections of the Reformers in the sixteenth century).

For this first part of the article, I would like to briefly examine what historical and archeological evidence is available from the earliest church that may address both the idea that it was simply an extemporaneous prayer meeting with a lecture prior to Constantine, as well as the alternate extreme that every minute iota of the modern liturgy and Church calendar with every small “t” tradition is an unbroken necessity passed down from the first century.  The next part will consider some of the rationale behind early worship as well as some quibbles the modern Christian may have with it.


Let us begin this investigation by considering the scene in which the first Jewish followers of Christ found themselves after Pentecost.  The New Testament time and again references the Christians, especially the Apostles, continuing to attend Temple worship and the daily prayer hours for as long as possible before the Jews excommunicated them.  This is because they continued worshiping the Lord according to the pattern they had always known, as explicated in the Old Testament.  The reason we are given for why Jewish worship was the way it was according to the instruction of Moses with the tabernacle, and later the Temples of Solomon and Zerubbabel, is due to its being a picture of, or even a participation in, the worship that takes place before the throne of God.[i]

This is not to say that the entire Old Testament parameters must be followed to truly worship God, for the early Christians realized that with the inauguration of the New Covenant a certain dispensation had arrived with reference to ceremonial regulations that were a shadow and a type of New Testament realities where they find fulfillment.  This was especially the case with communion, as Christ literally equated the entire New Covenant itself with “this cup.”  Nevertheless, the first Christians had no reason to invent an entirely new and informal way to worship such as they had never known; especially since they had witnessed their own Savior participate in formal Jewish worship with them during his earthly life.

As the first Christians began the practice of communion (and with the destruction of the Temple and the sacrificial offerings along with it in 70 A.D.) this sacramental fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrifices found its place on the first day of the week–Sunday, the Lord’s Day–as the Christians gathered Saturday evening (the next day on the Jewish calendar) for the Eucharistic meal after having observed the Sabbath at Temple (see Acts 20:7). As the first persecutions began, the Christians already had to form their own worship tradition independent of the Jewish Temple and synagogues, but still having its derivation and explanation in the tradition of the Jews.  One significant element of Jewish worship was the existence of formal or written prayers in corporate worship as opposed to spontaneous or extemporaneous ones.  For example, the Kiddush prayer which was used for Sabbath and feast days, the Shemone Esre (“Eighteen Blessings”), or the Kaddish prayer which is believed to be the central source Jesus drew upon in articulating the Lord’s Prayer.[ii]


We see the early Christian worship beginning to take shape in the New Testament writings.  In Acts 13:2, the New King James Version states that the Holy Spirit visited the teachers of the church in Antioch “as they ministered to the Lord and fasted.”  The Greek word translated “ministered” is in fact leitourgounton; a more literal translation would read, “as they performed the liturgy to the Lord and fasted.”[iii]  In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John states that he experienced the vision therein when he “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” (1:10).  The implication here is that John was at Sunday liturgy, and the elements and occurrences of this incredible vision have a remarkable parallel with historic liturgical practices of the Church; beginning with small things, such as “the seven lampstands,” (Rev. 1:13).  The book of Hebrews is also a very liturgical text and implies that the Christians continue to practice much of what is described, albeit with a more complete Christological understanding (e.g. 13:10, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.”)  In Hebrews Christ is the archetype of all Old Testament practices, but what is significant is that they are “filled full,” and rendered obsolete by becoming absorbed into New Testament practices, rather than altogether forgotten.  Since He is “a priest forever” (Heb. 7:17, 21), “it is unthinkable that He would be a priest but not serve liturgically.”[iv]  Thus the purpose of liturgy on earth is to portray the liturgy of heaven.  The understanding behind this more formal, liturgical worship style was rooted in the concern for true corporate worship, where all is subsumed into the common act/work (the literal translation of liturgy) of the organic community, becoming a reality that is greater than the sum of its parts, rather than merely individuals praying or worshiping privately whilst in the same room.


Outside of the New Testament there are some insights into the worship life of the earliest Church that are still preserved in early Christian writings.  A few examples would be the surviving letters of Ignatius, who was discipled and ordained by the Apostle John as bishop of Antioch, traditionally, around 68-70 A.D.  Ignatius wrote extensively on church government, as well as how the sacraments were to be administered.  A few of his words follow:

“Anyone who acts without the bishop (episcopos), the presbytery (priests), and the deacons does not have a clean conscience.”[v]

“See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.”[vi]

These words come from a Christianity living in intense persecution, where being ordained into the clergy meant painting a target on oneself for martyrdom.  Ignatius himself was thrown to the lions in the arena in the early second century.  The condemnation of a hierarchical clergy as a post-Constantinian development full of pride and pompous is clearly lacking in evidenced validation here.

Other early writers went into a good bit of detail describing the worship services of their day, such as Justin Martyr in the second century in his First Apology, Hippolytus of Rome in the third century in The Apostolic Tradition, or Cyril of Jerusalem in his fourth century Catechetical Lectures.  There are key liturgical consistencies throughout the works of these centuries, but most prominently are that of facing east to worship, the reading of an epistle and then a gospel reading for that day, the antiphonal singing or chanting of psalms and early hymns, the response of the people to the priestly prayers with the phrase “kyrie eleison” (“Lord have mercy”), and many preparatory prayers, hymns, and rites performed by the clergy leading up to the climax of participation in communion.  The service was always arranged by an initial liturgy of the Word, followed by a brief homily, and then moved into the service of the gifts, concluding with consuming the Eucharist.

In archeological studies of early house churches, especially the underground catacombs to which the Christians fled in times of intense persecution, two key elements stand out: “the baptistery and the place of the Eucharistic sacrifice.”[vii]  The latter was a raised platform at the east end of the worship area on which the celebrant performed the liturgical celebration.[viii] “A large, mosaic inscription in Greek at the Megiddo [Palestine] house church reads: ‘The God-loving Aketous has offered this table to the God Jesus Christ, as a memorial,’” the words “table” and “memorial” confirm its liturgical Eucharistic function as well as the concern for apostolic authority and permission from the bishop to celebrate the Eucharist there.[ix]

There is also much evidence of actual church buildings dedicated to liturgical Christian worship prior to Constantine.  For example,

“. . . the mid-third-century Christian house church discovered at Dura Europos in eastern Syria, which contains an extensively decorated room used for baptism [for photos, see this article]. . . A fifth-century octagonal church building at Capernaum was built over an existing domestic structure, believed to have been an early house church located in St Peter’s house.  A double church building at Aquileia incorporates an oratory that might be dated to the reign of bishop Theodore (308-19).  Documents mentioning the existence of Christian church structures, books, and furnishing in various parts of the Roman empire offer further evidence of growing Christian communities in the mid- to late third century, that had a relative degree of security, wealth, and permanence, and had moved from modest gatherings in homes to larger crowds in imposing edifices.  For example, Porphyry complains: ‘But the Christians, imitating the construction of temples, erect great buildings in which they meet to pray, though there is nothing to prevent them from doing this in their own homes.’”[x]

More interesting insight into these communities comes from an inventory record of Munatius Felix after ransacking a worship service at Cirta – a Roman official under the horrific Christian persecutor emperor Diocletian, who reigned from 284 to 305 CE – in which is listed numerous liturgical instruments, gold, silver, and bronze vessels, cups, lamps, candelabras, liturgical vestments, and the like.[xi]

Fragments containing anaphoras – liturgical hymnography – that bear remarkable similarity to liturgical compositions from first century Christian hymnody such as in the Didache, have also been found at second and third century churches, as well as extensive evidence of early iconography and Christian art.[xii]

The next part of this study will consider some of the rationale behind early worship as well as some quibbles the contemporary Christian may have with liturgy in the modern age.

Joseph is committed to reading, writing, and meditating on, as well as experiencing the infinite love and wisdom of God as He has revealed Himself within the Christian Church. Having obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies at Regent University, he went on to complete a Master of Arts in Theological Studies at Columbia International University in 2013. In his last semester of seminary he began investigating Orthodox Christianity and the ancient Church, and after much research, prayer, and attendance at the closest Orthodox parish an hour and a half away, he was received into the Orthodox Church in America. Joseph currently lives on his family’s farm in South Carolina and works as a videographer. His website is www.framedandshot.net.

Friday 27 November 2015

LIVING IN THE "NOW": LIVING TRADITION IN THE CITY by Sister Vassa Larin (Orth) of the, University of Vienna, Austria

My talk is entitled “Living tradition in the City,” and this is something I’ve already talked about in New York City.  …I put this podium up so that you can’t see that I wrote the talk on the back of a napkin; there are some coffee stains on it.

I would like to talk about this because by “city” I mean basically any large or small town, village; the places where lay people live in the modern day world, and also where many of them lived in the ancient world. I would like to dispense with the seemingly popular idea that it’s quite a challenge, or it’s somehow untraditional, to be confronted with this living of tradition in the city. Because actually, if we remind ourselves of a basic fact of Church history, Christianity spread and flourished first and foremost through cities. It was not in the countryside that Christianity spread in the pristine Church. And it was the rural populations, actually, that persisted in paganism the longest. In fact, the etymology of the word “pagan” is often, perhaps, mistakably, – but that’s not as important as the perception that we have of that word – “pagan”, it actually means “paganus” – the inhabitant of the countryside. So this is equated in the perception of Church history actually with rural populations.

So that’s the first little fun fact that I wanted to present you with, and also remind you of the fact that when on the rare occasion that Christ mentions the Church, He himself uses a metaphor that refers to an ancient city, when He says, perhaps, perplexingly for some of us in Mathew 16 that “I will found my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it”. I don’t know if you ever thought of this, but you don’t go to war with gates as some kind of a weapon of war. What did He meant by that? What Christ was talking about?  He was referring to the highest political authority in the Old Testament. The gates of the city were the place where the elders would meet to decide difficult issues. This was for a long time the highest political authority for the chosen people and on specific occasions, on special occasions called “Moed” they would decide difficult questions at these gates. You could see this in the Book of Ruth or in Proverbs. What Christ is saying – He is juxtaposing the political entity that is hell and the political entity, so to say, – the City of God, that is the Church. This is how familiar it was to Him that He is founding His Church in the familiar setting of a city. For this ancient Church the most familiar setting was, in fact, a city.

I have to also say that in the realm of liturgy, when we study liturgy, we usually systematize it-  although it’s an oversimplification – and divide the traditions of Christian liturgy into the “cathedral” rite and the “monastic” rite. There is sometimes the third rite that we talk about today – the “urban monastic” rite, but the point that I want to make is that the most ancient tradition is the “cathedral” rite. In other words, the rite of the cities, of the cathedrals. So what you would have in a church like yours here is actually the most traditional setting for Christian worship, for the simple reason that monasticism, organised monasticism, only came around in the 4th century.


So the point I’m making by all of this is that as lay people, people who do not live in monasteries, you should not somehow operate on the assumption that the real spiritual life or real Christian life is only attainable in monasteries, or somewhere in the wilderness. And we should not lead lives (those of you who are lay people), sort of lives of quiet desperation, thinking that if your spouse doesn’t die sometime soon, you are never going to get to “real” spiritual life. There seems to be in modern-day Orthodoxy sometimes an underlying assumption that lay people don’t have the real spiritual life. So they either run around trying to behave like monastics on Saturdays and Sundays, or somehow to aspire to be monastics at some point. But actually, a very legitimate and traditional Christian life is that of cathedrals and cities. That is in fact the original form of Christian life.

Now I would like to draw your attention to the fact, as well, that the “Tradition,” coming from the Latin “tradere” – to deliver or pass on, is relational:  in order for tradition to exist, to be passed on, there have to be people. And most effectively tradition can be passed on where there are lots of people. And very effectively the tradition has been passed on, and continues to be passed on, in towns, cities, as we have them today and as they were in the ancient world. So we should not be discouraged, those of us who live in cities. And the most ancient forms of sanctity are, of course, relational. Our entire existence in the Church, in fact, presupposes other people. Think about the most ancient forms of sanctity, like martyrs, “μάρτυς” – meaning “witness”. You are not witnessing to anything if there is nobody before whom you bear witness. Or a confessor – “Ὁμολογητής”  that means, when you say Ὁμο and λεγειν, you say the same thing as somebody else, you say together with someone else. So this is all relational, and together in this organism that we call Church we make our way, or we contribute, to the path of our salvation.


Now I want to say briefly, since we are running a little bit late, what was it that was shared or passed on by ancient Christians, and continues to be shared today, as “Tradition”? It’s obvious that we come together and realize our unity in the Eucharist. However, returning to the cathedral rite that I mentioned, the rite of the cities, it was not until fairly recently in Church history that there was a daily Eucharist. This was a reality of the ancient Church that the Eucharist was a relatively rare occasion: on Sundays the Christians would gather. In the earliest times, of course, this involved great danger. Now on the other days of the week what was it that unified the Christians?

There is a common story that is first spread through the Word of God; a common, shared story or remembrance of this story that is shared by Christians, which is made real and brought alive in the hearts and minds of Christians every single day. And this kind of remembrance is called ἀνάμνησις, it is also the purpose actually of the Eucharist. When Christ tells us what the purpose actually is of the Eucharist, He says: “τοῦτο  ποιεῖτε  εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν” (Do this in remembrance of Me). Sometimes this falls through the cracks, because, not hearing the prayers and not hearing what is actually remembered on this occasion, we don’t always experience this kind of remembering.

Regardless of that phenomenon in our modern day liturgical celebration, I want to say that the sharing of the common story is also today fixed in our very rich liturgical calendar; that every day we have a certain memory or commemoration or, as you know, actually many memories every day. The common story is first found in Scripture as I said, then in the Church calendar. And what I do with these videos (Coffee with Sr. Vassa) is simply share with you, those of you who watch the video. (Please, don’t raise your hand if you don’t because that’ll just be a little bit embarrassing. I’m just kidding.) The thing is, I’m sharing a kind of experience of the church calendar in the city, because I find myself, although I’m a monastic, I find myself living in a city, and I go to work every day, as most of you do. So I thought that this could be a useful thing to share for all of us, because I do look into the Church calendar and it keeps me in touch with what is going on in the liturgical life of the Church.

And as you can see in the show, it’s also food for thought, or if I could be more precise, it’s food for prayer. It is what we call meditation. Although that sometimes makes Orthodox Christians queasy: “Oh, we think, meditation is something from the Far East”. But the fact is that all our hymnography calls us to meditate on the salvific truths of our salvation. And there are, contrary to popular opinion, there are often calls in our hymnography to imagine certain pictures and meditate on them: “Let us ascend to the Mount of Olives,” or “Let us go to Bethlehem and accompany Holy Virgin,” and so forth. So we do imagine certain pictures in our mind in order to make present that reality of the Gospel truths, in order to call ourselves to that reality and to not forget about it. Again, it’s ἀνάμνησις – it’s this remembrance. This facilitates our communion with God on a daily basis. So the point I’m actually making is that this very unfortunate thought, that somehow it’s the monastics who have the real spiritual life, and sort of waiting around for some future, more appropriate moment when I will begin the spiritual life, – this is a very damaging and unfortunate kind of supposition to have. And perhaps I’m preaching to the choir and you don’t have this, but actually I think that it does exist. I have had this type of conversation with people I know. But there is nothing we need to wait for, nothing that needs to happen to us, to begin a spiritual life. And to create such an obstacle or to have this idea that it’s really only happening in monasticism, or somewhere in the wilderness, is simply inaccurate, and it does not reflect the way Christianity was lived and spread in Church history.


Another thing I should mention is that it has always been problematic and a challenge for the Church to discern what the “common story” is. And this is a normal phenomenon. Today, parts of Church history are actually contested, and the vision of what the past is, or what the Church reality was, the way the Church was run… For example, the very topical issue of primacy (of hierarchs), that might be seen in different ways in various Orthodox Churches. This is simply one of the issues today. Another issue involving ἀνάμνησις and the way we remember our history that is challenging – and it doesn’t mean that it’s some kind of a disaster or a huge tragedy that it’s contested; the fact is that we are human beings, and the Church being a human-divine organism – upon some things the dust has not settled. So there’s another question that’s also an enduring problem, which is: How do you engage culture? To what extent do Christ and civilization sort of mix? Or, to what extent is it allowable… to what extent do you speak the language that is spoken on the streets? To what extent do you engage, for example, modern day music? These things are not resolvable in an ideal way. The main thing to remember, I would suggest to you, is that nothing we do without the complimentary action of the Spirit can possibly be perfect. It’s just with humility we try to see, and to live our lives in a way that is meaningful, and that also passes on this living remembrance of the Church from generation to generation.

But when we find ourselves here and now, in a certain cultural climate, in a certain city, in a concrete world, we are called to live our lives here and now, also in connection with this “Tradition” that we have. So the thing that I do is to engage not in a perfect way, of course, but in the way that I do, also culture and to say: “Look, here and now, in this city, that’s why I make mention of people on the street, I sometimes have this music inserted (of course, it is inserted by these misfits who work for me). The point is that here it is that the tradition is passed on. Not by creating a bubble. It is very real, and it is relevant, in this situation. It does not have to be this dualism of creating one world that is the Church, and then there is the “real” world. Because then there is a danger, especially for children, who might start to approach Church life as some kind of a fairy tale or dress-up their parents play. This is a very real living tradition. So there is no need to create a bubble, there is a need to make this real here and now, and not to wait until we are elsewhere, or in some different time, nor do we need to escape to some point in the past.

I was thinking the other day, when we were celebrating Theophany – you know when you have that “Aha” moment during liturgy – and it happened that I heard: “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen”. And I thought: Wow! “Now” is really the focus there. It’s living in the now. There is only an indirect reference to the past. The focus is clearly on the now. And that just stunned me, because so much of our spiritual life would be really strengthened and empowered if we had this capacity to live in the now, and not constantly be comparing, or hoping for something in the future, or regretting something in the past, or comparing ourselves with someone else, being somehow dissatisfied. Gratitude and a living faith have so much to do with living in the “now,” and I thought that little doxology that we have in every service so many times (“Glory be to the Father…”), is really so informative.

And so we can be taking little steps every day.  Sometimes, however, we have a certain maximalism in Orthodoxy that can be very discouraging. You know, I was talking to my nephew a couple of weeks ago and I was just asking him, honestly, what he does in the morning. He is a college student and he is graduating this year. We have the “Prayer book”, with wonderful prayers, – but a Russian prayer book has quite a gazillion of prayers there. My nephew looks at this prayer book in the morning, and sort of goes: “Naah” – and ends up not praying. And this is an unfortunate result of beginning at the end. I said to him, “How can you just not pray?” How can one manage life without just praying? It’s unfortunate that you don’t want to read those prayers, but eventually you will, you will find that you might need to. But it’s not that God is waiting for us, saying “It’s either those prayers or nothing! I don’t want to hear you talk to Me in any other way!” But we block ourselves from Christ, from prayer, through misconceptions about how prayer works. That is why in one of my shows I said that “Impropriety is no obstacle to prayer,” – because, where the rubber hits the road, and on a daily basis, we don’t see the forest for the trees. It’s not the case with everybody. It’s wonderful if people already have that routine, of praying the prayers of the Prayer Book, but there are some people that find themselves in a different situation, and they might tend to turn the tradition into something that it’s not supposed to be. And I said to my nephew: Just get on your knees and pray every day, just in your own words, if that’s what you have to do. You’ll find that you can’t live without this. But this is something that’s blocking him because of the way he has been taught. And my message here is not: don’t pray the prayers of the Prayer-book. The point is, rather, that there are little simple things that we lose sight of, I think, because we think of something that is actually secondary. This is one of the things that a lay person, I think, might face on a daily basis.

So I think that because we are a bit late, we should stop. – I know you are going to beg me to not stop, but I should. So why don’t we open this for discussion, and perhaps you have comments or questions.

-I’m Loren. When you talk about recollection in Church and we think about our lives, how would repentance fit into that recollection?

– Hi Loren. Well, that’s a very good question. Loren asks about how repentance fits into remembrance or recollection. First of all, note that repentance is “a change of mind.” As you probably know, in Greek μετἀνοια means “a change of mind.” This is not something that occurs once, and then you move on. No, it’s a constant process. We are a “work in progress”, all of us, and the saints were as well. You are constantly refocusing. You have to keep refocusing yourself.  It’s like cleaning your house. You don’t expect it to stay clean. It is frustrating, but the fact is that it will get dirty again. This is a process, so we are constantly doing this. And the second thing, about this remembrance, – when you come to confession, which is part of the sacrament of repentance, you are actually reinstating the proper version (or proper memory) of the story. In other words, your human mind, your fallible mind tells you at the moment when you are committing a sin, that it’s justified. Somehow, you justify it, “This is okay,” – and you do it. And eventually, when you come to “repent” this; i.e., you are changing your focus again and you take the time to “remember” things that you did wrong, where you sinned, you are reinstating the proper remembrance. You are saying what was wrong, what was right. (You should also not forget things that you do well.) But you are “confessing” what the proper version of the story is, and what you regret. This reinstating of the proper version of the story is exactly what happens when we “confess” the Creed before Communion – i.e., we sing it during the Eucharist – the Confession of Faith, because that is the proper version of our common story. So confessing the faith, when you say “I believe,” and the often unpopular tradition of confessing our sins before going to Communion, is actually on the same plane. Except that confessing of sins is our individual story that we are reinstating, because we tend to misinterpret it where we justify ourselves. While the Creed is the proper interpretation of our common story of salvation history, – that story which is very historical, it begins at the beginning, and ends with the fulfilment. Anyway, this is my answer to your question: that repentance involves confession, which is remembrance, remembrance of our own individual story in the proper light.

– You had mentioned this sort of notion of perhaps a false distinction between the monastic life and lay life, unnecessary elevation of the monastic life…

– That’s not what I said.

– That notion that the real spirituality is among monastics and that it’s only something lesser that can be obtained by lay people. I have a lot of friends who don’t feel themselves particularly called to marriage, but don’t particularly feel themselves called to the monastic life either. Often it seems like there is this very strict “either … or”. I’ve heard spiritual counsellors say that if you are not planning to get married, you should go and join a monastery. What I wondering is if you perhaps have some thoughts about some notion of the vocation of singleness or some rediscovery of living outside the monastic tradition, but not necessarily striving for marriage. 

– That’s a very good question. It’s true that it’s simply a reality, regardless of how you evaluate it, that our churches are now full of single people. Often in my videos I’m actually speaking to single people.  I have students at my University, and I often deal with single people. It’s simply a reality that we have to somehow speak a language of, and recognise the reality of, the people who are in Church, and many of them, it’s true, are single. When this is what God sends you, it’s simply a fact of life. And we just have to grow up and realise it, that we don’t always fit into a certain box. I never thought, for example, that I would be living in a city outside of a convent, and I didn’t want that. I was telling my spiritual father when I was in my twenties, how I knew I’m going to be a recluse… I had the whole thing planned out, how I would have a cell with a little window, and so on. I really saw myself that way. So my spiritual father just said, “Oh, well, we’ll see what God sends us”. But now I think, he must have been rolling his eyes! This regards what I keep saying about living in the now, and exactly where God put you. And God needs you where you are. You can constantly see the grass being greener somewhere else. Often people are single simply because they haven’t met the right person. And what do you do? Do you go on one of these dating sites? People get very desperate. Here it’s very important to live in the now, and accept this reality, and the take it from there, – because it’s very humbling. You are not that hero, or not the τύπος , as in Greek, “the type”. You are not any “type,” you are not this or that, you don’t fit into a certain box. And that’s very humbling, because people will say “Why aren’t you married?” or “Oh, God, he is I don’t know how old, and he is not married. There must be reasons for that!” It’s humbling, and you just have to accept this sometimes. And – I talked about this in one of the videos – it’s an ambivalent situation. God sometimes sends us ambivalence, and it drives us crazy, because we want to control these things. We don’t really want the will of God, we want to control; we want to say “I imagine myself to be some Byzantine hero from the 8th century, and I’m going to do this and that for my salvation.” Well, no. Just deal with what God is sending you. This is where He put you. He is sending you these specific people, and He is not sending you other things. Try to deal with that, and then see what He sends next. This is a realization that can really change your life, and daily prayer can bring us to that. But it’s a constant “work in progress,” because not every day are we willing to accept these things. Some days are frustrating, while some days we have the grace that doesn’t come from us to face these things differently. But it’s all a wonderful adventure.

– We are living not in an isolated world where all of our surrounding people are faithful. How to approach people, how to speak about faith to people who are far from the Church? Our even close-by relatives and colleagues? What are your words of wisdom?

– There is a famous incident with quite an old saint of the Latin West, who said something like: “The most important thing is to spread the faith, and when necessary, – use words.” You get what I’m saying? When you are living a life of faith, this is the main thing that people will recognize and, perhaps, they’ll ask questions. God also shows you what to do in each case. I don’t know your situation. There are different situations, different people, and you have to take that case by case. Not everybody wants you to talk to them about faith, but sometimes there is the time and place where that is needed. The main thing we could do is take care of our standing before God, or our falling before God. So this is what I would say, but that doesn’t exactly answer your question.

– I’m Claire and I wanted to ask about your team that helps you make your podcasts. Who are they and how did this begin?

– Hi Claire. Well, I just picked these people up. Like I said, they are misfits, but they are trying. I have mostly recovering drug-addicts, and we have a new crew member. The writers are recovering drug-addicts, I mean, – not the really responsible roles. One of our guys, the costume designer, the Greek one, is in jail, but we are going to welcome him back as soon as he comes back, in the meantime his place has been taken by another guy. They are doing well. They are actually random people, but I’m very grateful that they have agreed to come on board. Sometimes it doesn’t work out too well, but they are doing their best.


– I’m Tatiana. You work in Austria, in Vienna, right? And in Europe people are less and less interested in any kind of religion. This is what I would like to ask you: what is your observation living in Europe?

– Hi Tatiana. Well, that wouldn’t be my observation. Austria is a very Catholic country. Even in tabloids where on page 3 there is this pornographic picture, – then on page 8 the Cardinal has his sermon. It’s all very mixed. The Cardinal is a very important figure in the city of Vienna, cardinal Schönborn. Of course, fewer people go to Church in Austria today, but certainly a larger percentage than goes in Orthodox countries, if you look at the statistics. They have about 11%, I think, at this point (I might be mistaken), but France has a little bit more. You have Orthodox countries like Greece or Russia that have a lower percentage of Church liturgical participation. So I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I’m just one person observing from my bell tower. And I also teach at a Catholic theological faculty, so I’m also exposed to the Catholic world there. I have to say that we often highly overestimate the supposed “demise” or weakening of the non-Orthodox world. I can’t say that that is fair assessment of what’s happening. Especially today, with the new Pope, there is a very vibrant sort of excitement in the Catholic world. Young people are very excited about this Pope. We live in a very strange time, you know, when the Papacy that is famous, especially from our Orthodox perspective, for being power-hungry, centralistic, suddenly presents us with the strange fact that the previous Pope Benedict resigned. He just said “It’s time for me to go.” This is totally unheard of, totally unheard of. At a time when in the Orthodox world we are not succeeding in calling together the “Great Council” of all the Orthodox, which we’ve been trying to call together. Why? Because we can’t agree on the issue of Primacy. Our inner-Orthodox disagreements are basically about who is supposed to be first, i.e., issues of power and prestige seem more of a problem for us today than they are for the Papacy. You know, there is a Chinese malediction that I read recently. It’s well-known, but I only saw it recently in Peter Brown’s recent book. The malediction means when you wish someone ill. It says, “May you live in interesting times!” We live in interesting times. And it’s not always easy to discern what’s really going on. But it’s humbling, if nothing else. It’s humbling for us. It’s like God is tapping us on the shoulder, saying, “Don’t take your tradition for granted.” So, it’s not necessary to put other traditions down. We have our own set of problems. So I wouldn’t engage in putting other traditions down.

– You are from New York. How did you end up in Vienna?

– I got offered a job there, basically. I haven’t lived in the United States since I was 19. I entered a convent in France first. It’s a very long story after that. I finished my Doctorate in Munich in Germany. And right before I finished the Doctorate, I was offered this job in the University of Vienna. They wanted someone who knows German and English. They like to have a connection to American academia. And we don’t have a convent there in Vienna, but I ended up there, and my Bishop said “Okay, (blessing) you can go”. So that’s where I live now. That’s what I’m doing there.

 – Isn’t it rather unusual in the Orthodox world for a monastic not to be in a monastery?

– Yes, that’s very unusual.

– So are the broadcasts.

– And coffee. But it’s a lot of fun.

– I have a question for you and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately for a while. You were talking about your conversation with your nephew and then you think about St. John Maximovich who is right here and he – paraphrasing – has said something about “just try to pray as best as you can especially in the morning when you are just driving to work, just say the Lord’s prayer, just do it here, do what you can, just have this conversation with God». For me I have been trying to pray more and more. Some days it is easy because of the grace of God and some days it is very difficult just to even get there in front of my icons. It’s because of distractions. And so I was wondering if you have any advice or guidance about distractions, especially now in the postmodern world, full of all kinds of distractions out there. How not to be distracted in prayer when all these assaults are coming at us when we are praying? Do you have any advice how we can combat that in today’s world?

– Yes, and when I give advice, I am sharing rather than teaching, because we are all in this together. I really see us doing this together, and we should share with each other about this. Our Church life can and should be a little bit more about supporting one another in our spiritual struggle. It is not only about the fundraisers and the bake sales. I know that it’s not only about that for you people. I’m just saying we could focus our conversations more on helping one another in this type of thing, in our parish ife. About distractions. One piece of advice that I give myself is: get up earlier. You can get up a little bit earlier. And if you do this in the morning, you’ll find that you actually want to get up a little bit earlier. It’s really great to have that charging of your batteries in the morning. Start out with just a little time in the morning, but don’t overdo it in the beginning. Do a little bit, read a little bit of the Gospel, pray to God, put everything in God’s hands, everything that’s going on. You can use your own words. You shouldn’t worry that “Oh no, I’m not St. John Chrysostom, what words should I use?” We always set up these roadblocks. Just do a little bit, with humility. And the second thing is, when all else fails, because there are times in life when there’s just something going on and we are distracted. When all else fails, then embrace the distractions. In other words, pray over these distractions. Just say, “God, this is me being distracted. This is my distraction”. Put it in His hands. You could always sort of ride that horse of distraction. I remember Metropolitan Vitaly, who was the ROCOR Metropolitan several Metropolitans back, and he really had a very strong prayer life, and he said: “When there is something that won’t let you go, the monkey on your shoulder (whatever the English expression is): take that horse and ride it. Even if you are doing something and you start having these thoughts of arrogance or vainglory about what you are doing. Good. Then ride that horse and say: “God, alright, that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m being vainglorious”. But you are putting it in God’s hands. You are not in denial, everything is in God’s hands. Christ descended even to hell, so there is nothing He cannot enter into.

Washington, DC
Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist
January 24, 2014

Thursday 26 November 2015


I. The History of Advent

Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB

Source: Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB, Advent, ca. 1841, Volume 1, The Liturgical Year, translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B., ca. 1867. London: Stanbrook Abbey, 1918.

The name Advent 1 is applied, in the Latin Church, to that period of the year, during which the Church requires the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the feast of Christmas, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. The mystery of that great day had every right to the honour of being prepared for by prayer and works of penance; and, in fact, it is impossible to state, with any certainty, when this season of preparation (which had long been observed before receiving its present name of Advent) was first instituted. It would seem, however, that its observance first began in the west, since it is evident that Advent could not have been looked on as a preparation for the feast of Christmas, until that feast was definitively fixed to the twenty-fifth of December; which was done in the east only towards the close of the fourth century; whereas it is certain that the Church of Rome kept the feast on that day at a much earlier period.

We must look upon Advent in two different lights: first, as a time of preparation, properly so called, for the birth of our Saviour, by works of penance; and secondly, as a series of ecclesiastical Offices drawn up for the same purpose. We find, as far back as the fifth century, the custom of giving exhortations to the people in order to prepare them for the feast of Christmas. We have two sermons of Saint Maximus of Turin on this subject, not to speak of several others which were formerly attributed to St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, but which were probably written by St. Cesarius of Arles. If these documents do not tell us what was the duration and what the exercises of this holy season, they at least show us how ancient was the practice of distinguishing the time of Advent by special sermons. Saint Ivo of Chartres, St. Bernard, and several other doctors of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, have left us set sermons de Adventu Domini, quite distinct from their Sunday homilies on the Gospels of that season. In the capitularia of Charles the Bald, in 846, the bishops admonish that prince not to call them away from their Churches during Lent or Advent, under pretext of affairs of the State or the necessities of war, seeing that they have special duties to fulfill, and particularly that of preaching during those sacred times.

The oldest document in which we find the length and exercises of Advent mentioned with anything like clearness, is a passage in the second book of the History of the Franks by St. Gregory of Tours, where he says that St. Perpetuus, one of his predecessors, who held that see about the year 480, had decreed a fast three times a week, from the feast of St. Martin until Christmas. It would be impossible to decide whether St. Perpetuus, by his regulations, established a new custom, or merely enforced an already existing law. Let us, however, note this interval of forty, or rather of forty-three days, so expressly mentioned, and consecrated to penance, as though it were a second Lent, though less strict and severe than that which precedes Easter.

Later on, we find the ninth canon of the first Council of Macon, held in 582, ordaining that during the same interval between St. Martin's day and Christmas, the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, should be fasting days, and that the Sacrifice should be celebrated according to the lenten rite. Not many years before that, namely in 567, the second Council of Tours had enjoined the monks to fast from the beginning of December till Christmas. This practice of penance soon extended to the whole forty days, even for the laity: and it was commonly called St. Martin's Lent. The capitularia of Charlemagne, in the sixth book, leave us no doubt on the matter; and Rabanus Maurus, in the second book of his Institution of clerics, bears testimony to this observance. There were even special rejoicings made on St. Martin's Feast, just as we see them practised now at the approach of Lent and Easter.

The obligation of observing this Lent, which, though introduced so imperceptibly, had by degrees acquired the force of a sacred law, began to be relaxed, and the forty days from St. Martin's day to Christmas were reduced to four weeks. We have seen that this fast began to be observed first in France; but thence it spread into England, as we find from Venerable Bede's history; into Italy, as appears from a diploma of Astolphus, king of the Lombards, dated 753; into Germany, Spain, &c., of which the proofs may be seen in the learned work of Dom Martène, On the ancient rites of the Church. The first allusion to Advent's being reduced to four weeks is to be found in the ninth century, in a letter of Pope St. Nicholas I to the Bulgarians. The testimony of Ratherius of Verona, and of Abbo of Fleury, both writers of the tenth century, goes also to prove that, even then, the question of reducing the duration of the Advent fast by one-third was seriously entertained. It is true that St. Peter Damian, in the eleventh century, speaks of the Advent fast as still being for forty days; and that St. Louis, two centuries later, kept it for that length of time; but as far as this holy king is concerned, it is, probable that it was only his own devotion which prompted him to this practice.

The discipline of the Churches of the west, after having reduced the time of the Advent fast, so far relented, in a few years, as to change the fast into a simple abstinence; and we even find Councils of the twelfth century, for instance Selingstadt in 1122, and Avranches in 1172, which seem to require only the clergy to observe this abstinence. The Council of Salisbury, held in 1281, would seem to expect none but monks to keep it. On the other hand (for the whole subject is very confused, owing, no doubt, to there never having been any uniformity of discipline regarding it in the western Church), we find Pope Innocent III, in his letter to the bishop of Braga, mentioning the custom of fasting during the whole of Advent, as being at that time observed in Rome; and Durandus, in the same thirteenth century, in his Rational on the Divine Offices, tells us that, in France, fasting was uninterruptedly observed during the whole of that holy time. 

This much is certain, that, by degrees, the custom of fasting so far fell into disuse, that when, in 1362,  Pope Urban V endeavoured to prevent the total decay of the Advent penance, all he insisted upon was that all the clerics of his court should keep abstinence during Advent, without in any way including others, either clergy or laity, in this law. St. Charles Borromeo also strove to bring back his people of Milan to the spirit, if not to the letter, of ancient; times. In his fourth Council, he enjoins the parish priests to exhort the faithful to go to Communion on the Sundays, at least, of Lent and Advent; and afterwards addressed to the faithful themselves a pastoral letter, in which, after having reminded them of the dispositions wherewith they ought to spend this holy time, he strongly urges them to fast on the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, at least, of each Advent. Finally, Pope Benedict XIV, when archbishop of Bologna, following these illustrious examples, wrote his eleventh Ecclesiastical Institution for the purpose of exciting in the minds of his diocesans the exalted idea which the Christians of former times had of the holy season of Advent, and of removing an erroneous opinion which prevailed in those parts, namely, that Advent concerned religious only and not the laity. He shows them that such an opinion, unless it be limited to the two practices of fasting and abstinence, is, strictly speaking, rash and scandalous, since it cannot be denied that, in the laws and usages of the universal Church, there exist special practices, having for their end to prepare the faithful for the great feast of the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Greek Church still continues to observe the fast of Advent, though with much less rigour than that of Lent. It consists of forty days, beginning with November 14, the day on which this Church keeps the feast of the apostle St. Philip. During this entire period, the people abstain from flesh-meat, butter, milk, and eggs; but they are allowed, which they are not during Lent, fish, oil, and wine. Fasting, in its strict sense, is binding only on seven out of the forty days; and the whole period goes under the name of St. Philip's Lent. The Greeks justify these relaxations by this distinction: that the Lent before Christmas is, so they say, only an institution of the monks, whereas the Lent before Easter is of Apostolic institution.

But, if the exterior practices of penance which formerly sanctified the season of Advent, have been, in the western Church, so gradually relaxed as to have become now quite obsolete except in monasteries, 2 the general character of the liturgy of this holy time has not changed; and it is by zeal in following its spirit, that the faithful will prove their earnestness in preparing for Christmas.

The liturgical form of Advent as it now exists in the Roman Church, has gone through certain modifications. St. Gregory seems to have been the first to draw up the Office for this season, which originally included five Sundays, as is evident from the most ancient sacramentaries of this great Pope. It even appears probable, and the opinion has been adopted by Amalarius of Metz, Berno of Reichnau, Dom Martène, and Benedict XIV, that St. Gregory originated the ecclesiastical precept of Advent, although the custom of devoting a longer or shorter period to a preparation for Christmas has been observed from time immemorial, and the abstinence and fast of this holy season first began in France. St. Gregory therefore fixed, for the Churches of the Latin rite, the form of the Office for this Lent-like season, and sanctioned the fast which had been established, granting a certain latitude to the several Churches as to the manner of its observance.

The sacramentary of St. Gelasius has neither Mass nor Office of preparation for Christmas; the first we meet with are in the Gregorian sacramentary, and, as we just observed, these Masses are five in number. It is remarkable that these Sundays were then counted inversely, that is, the nearest to Christmas was called the first Sunday, and so on with the rest. So far back as the ninth and tenth centuries, these Sundays were reduced to four, as we learn from Amalarius St. Nicholas I, Berno of Reichnau, Ratherius of Verona, &c., and such also is their number in the Gregorian sacramentary of Pamelius, which appears to have been transcribed about this same period. From that time, the Roman Church has always observed this arrangement of Advent, which gives it four weeks, the fourth being that in which Christmas Day falls, unless December 25 be a Sunday. We may therefore consider the present discipline of the observance of Advent as having lasted a thousand years, at least as far as the Church of Rome is concerned; for some of the Churches in France kept up the number of five Sundays as late as the thirteenth century.

The Ambrosian liturgy, even to this day, has six weeks of Advent; so has the Gothic or Mozarabic missal. As regards the Gallican liturgy, the fragments collected by Dom Mabillon give us no information; but it is natural to suppose with this learned man, whose opinion has been confirmed by Dom Martène, that the Church of Gaul adopted, in this as in so many other points, the usages of the Gothic Church, that is to say, that its Advent consisted of six Sundays and six weeks.

With regard to the Greeks, their rubrics for Advent are given in the Menæa, immediately after the Office for November 14. They have no proper Office for Advent, neither do they celebrate during this time the Mass of the Presanctified, as they do in Lent. There are only in the Offices for the Saints, whose feasts occur between November 14 and the Sunday nearest Christmas, frequent allusions to the birth of the Saviour, to the maternity of Mary, to the cave of Bethlehem, &c. On the Sunday preceding Christmas, in order to celebrate the expected coming of the Messias, they keep what they call the feast of the holy fathers, that is the commemoration of the Saints of the old Law. They give the name of Ante-Feast of the Nativity to December 20, 21, 22, and 23; and although they say the Office of several Saints on these four days, yet the mystery of the birth of Jesus pervades the whole liturgy.

II. The Mystery of Advent

If, having described the characteristic features of Advent which distinguish it from the rest of the year, we would penetrate into the profound Mystery which occupies the mind of the Church during this season, we find that the Mystery of this Coming, or Advent, of Jesus is at once simple and threefold. It is simple for it is the one same Son of God that is coming; it is threefold because He comes at three different times and in three different ways.

'In the first coming,' says St. Bernard, 'He comes in the flesh and in weakness; in the second, He comes in spirit and power; in the third, He comes in glory and majesty; and the second coming is the means whereby we pass from the first to the third.' 3

This, then, is the mystery of Advent. Let us now listen to an explanation of this threefold visit of Christ, given to us by Peter of Blois, in his third sermon de Adventu: 'There are three comings of Our Lord; the first in the flesh; the second in the soul; the third at judgment. The first was at midnight according to the words of the Gospel: At Midnight there was a cry made, Lo, the Bridegroom cometh! But this first coming is long since past for Christ has been seen on the earth and has conversed among men. We are now in the second coming, provided only we are such as that He may thus come to us; for He has said that if we love Him, He will come to us and take up His abode with us. So that this second coming is full of uncertainty for us; for who, save the spirit of God, knows them that are of God? They that are raised out of themselves by the desire of heavenly things, know indeed when He comes, but whence He cometh or whither He goeth they know not. As for the third coming, it is most certain that it will be, most uncertain when it will be; for nothing is more sure than death, and nothing less sure than the hour of death. When they shall say, peace and security, says the apostle, then shall sudden destruction come upon them, as the pains upon her that is with child, and they shall not escape. So that the first coming was humble and hidden, the second is mysterious and full of love, the third will be majestic and terrible. In His first coming, Christ was judged by men unjustly; in His second, He renders us just by His grace; in His third, He will judge all things with justice. In His first, a lamb; in His last, a lion; in the one between the two, the tenderest of friends.' 4

The holy Church, therefore, during Advent, awaits in tears and with ardour the arrival of her Jesus in His first coming. For this, she borrows the fervid expressions of the prophets, to which she joins her own supplications. These longings for the Messias expressed by the Church, are not a mere commemoration of the desires of the ancient Jewish people; they have a reality and efficacy of their own, an influence in the great act of God's munificence, whereby He gave us His own Son. From all eternity, the prayers of the ancient Jewish people and the prayers of the Christian Church ascended together to the prescient hearing of God; and it was after the receiving and granting them, that He sent, in the appointed time, that blessed Dew upon the earth, which made it bud forth the Savior.

The Church aspires also to the second coming, the consequence of the first, which consists, as we have just seen, in the visit of the Bridegroom to the bride. This coming takes place, each year, at the feast of Christmas, when the new birth of the Son of God delivers the faithful from that yoke of bondage, under which the enemy would oppress them. 5 The Church, therefore, during Advent, prays that she may be visited by Him who is her Head and her Spouse; visited in her hierarchy; visited in her members, of whom some are living, and some are dead, but may come to life again; visited, lastly, in those who are not in communion with her, and even in the very infidels, that so they may be converted to the true light, which shines even for them. The expressions of the liturgy which the Church makes use of to ask for this loving and invisible coming, are those which she employs when begging for the coming of Jesus in the flesh; for the two visits are for the same object. In vain would the Son of God have come, nineteen hundred years ago, to visit and save mankind, unless He came again for each one of us and at every moment of our lives, bringing to us and cherishing within us that supernatural life, of which He and His holy Spirit are the sole principle.

But this annual visit of the Spouse does not content the Church; she aspires after a third coming which will complete all things by opening the gates of eternity. She has caught up the last words of her Spouse, 'Surely I am coming quickly;' 6 and she cries out to Him, 'Ah! Lord Jesus Come!' 7 She is impatient to be loosed from her present temporal state; she longs for the number of the elect to be filled up, and to see appear, in the clouds of heaven, the sign of her Deliverer and her Spouse. Her desires, expressed by her Advent liturgy, go even as far as this: and here we have the explanation of these words of the beloved disciple in his prophecy: 'The nuptials of the Lamb are come, and His wife hath prepared herself.' 8

But the day of His last coming to her will be a day of terror. The Church frequently trembles at the very thought of that awful judgment, in which all mankind is to be tried. She calls it 'a day of wrath, on which, as David and the Sibyl have foretold, the world will be reduced to ashes; a day of weeping and of fear.' Not that she fears for herself, since she knows that this day will for ever secure for her the crown, as being the bride of Jesus; but her maternal heart is troubled at the thought that, on the same day, so many of her children will be on the left hand of that Judge, and having no share with the elect, will be bound hand and foot, and cast into the darkness, where there shall be everlasting weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is the reason why the Church, in the liturgy of Advent, so frequently speaks of the coming of Christ as a terrible coming, and selects from the Scriptures those passages which are most calculated to awaken a salutary fear in the mind of such of her children as may be sleeping the sleep of sin.

This, then, is the threefold mystery of Advent. The liturgical forms in which it is embodied, are of two kinds: the one consists of prayers, passages from the Bible, and similar formulae, in all of which, words themselves are employed to convey the sentiments which we have been explaining; the other consists of external rites peculiar to this holy time, which by speaking to the outward senses, complete the expressiveness of the chants and words.

First of all, there is the number of the days of Advent. Forty was the number originally adopted by the Church, and it is still maintained in the Ambrosian liturgy, and in the eastern Church. If, at a later period, the Church of Rome, and those which follow her liturgy, have changed the number of days, the same idea is still expressed in the four weeks which have been substituted for the forty days. The new birth of our Redeemer takes place after four weeks, as the first nativity happened after four thousand years, according to the Hebrew and Vulgate chronology.

As in Lent, so likewise during Advent, marriage is not solemnized, lest worldly joy should distract Christians from those serious thoughts wherewith the expected coming of the sovereign Judge ought to inspire them or from that dearly cherished hope which the friends of the Bridegroom 9 have of being soon called to the eternal nuptial-feast.

The people are forcibly reminded of the sadness which fills the heart of the Church, by the sombre colour of the vestments. Excepting on the feasts of the saints, purple is the colour she uses; the deacon does not wear the dalmatic, nor the sub-deacon the tunic. Formerly it was the custom, in some places, to wear black vestments. This mourning of the Church shows how fully she unites herself with those true Israelites of old who, clothed in sack-cloth and ashes, waited for the Messias, and bewailed Sion that she had not her beauty, and 'Juda, that the sceptre had been taken from him, till He should come who was to be sent, the expectation of nations.' 10 It also signifies the works of penance, whereby she prepares for the second coming, full as it is of sweetness and mystery, which is realized in the souls of men, in proportion as they appreciate the tender love of that divine Guest, who has said: 'My delights are to be with the children of men.' 11 It expresses, thirdly, the desolation of this bride who yearns after her Beloved, who is long a-coming. Like the turtle dove, she moans her loneliness, longing for the voice which will say to her: 'Come from Libanus, my bride! come and thou shalt be crowned. Thou has responded to my heart.' 12

The Church also, during Advent, excepting on the feasts of saints, suppresses the angelic canticle, Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis; for this glorious song was sung at Bethlehem over the crib of the divine Babe; the tongues of the angels are not loosened yet; the Virgin has not yet brought forth her divine Treasure; it is not yet time to sing, it is not even true to say, 'Glory be to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will.'

Again, at the end of Mass, the deacon does not dismiss the assembly of the faithful by the words: Ite missa est. He substitutes the ordinary greeting: Benedicamus Domino! as though the Church feared to interrupt the prayers of the people, which could scarce be too long during these days of expectation.

In the night Office, the holy Church also suspends, on those same days, the hymn of jubilation, Te Deum laudamus.13 It is in deep humility that she awaits the supreme blessing which is to come to her; and, in the interval, she presumes only to ask, and entreat, and hope. But let the glorious hour come, when in the midst of darkest night the Sun of justice will suddenly rise upon the world: then indeed she will resume her hymn of thanksgiving, and all over the face of the earth the silence of midnight will be broken by this shout of enthusiasm: 'We praise Thee, O God! we acknowledge Thee to be our Lord! Thou, O Christ, art the King of glory, the everlasting Son of the Father! Thou being to deliver man didst not disdain the Virgin's womb!'

On the ferial days, the rubrics of Advent prescribe that certain prayers should be said kneeling, at the end of each canonical Hour, and that the choir should also kneel during a considerable portion of the Mass. In this respect, the usages of Advent are precisely the same as those of Lent.

But there is one feature which distinguishes Advent most markedy from Lent: the word of gladness, the joyful Alleluia, is not interrupted during Advent, except once or twice during the ferial Office. It is sung in the Masses of the four Sundays, and vividly contrasts with the sombre colour of the vestments. On one of these Sundays, the third, the prohibitionof using the organ is removed, and we are gladdened by the grand notes, and rose-coloured vestments may be used instead of the purple. These vestiges of joy, thus blended with the holy mournfulness of the Church, tell us, in a most expressive way, that though she unites with the ancient people of God (thus paying the debt which the entire human race owes to the justice and mercy of God), she does not forget that the Emmanuel is already come to her, that He is in her, and that even before she has opened her lips to ask Him to save her, she has already been redeemed and pre-destined to an eternal union with Him. This is the reason why the Alleluia accompanies even her sighs, and why she seems to be at once joyous and sad, waiting for the coming of that holy night which will be brighter to her than the most sunny of days, and on which her joy will expel all her sorrow.
III. Practice During Advent

If our holy mother the Church spends the time of Advent in this solemn preparation for the threefold coming of Jesus Christ; if, after the example of the prudent virgins, she keeps her lamp lit ready for the coming of the Bridegroom; we, being her members and her children, ought to enter into her spirit, and apply to ourselves this warning of our Saviour: ‘Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands, and ye yourselves be like unto men who wait for their Lord !' 14 The Church and we have, in reality, the same hopes. Each one of us is, on the part of God, an object of mercy and care, as is the Church herself. If she is the temple of God, it is because she is built of living stones; if she is the bride, it is because she consists of all the souls which are invited to eternal union with God. If it is written that the Saviour hath purchased the Church with His own Blood, 15 may not each one of us say of himself those words of St. Paul, ‘Christ hath loved me, and hath delivered Himself up for me ‘ ? 16 Our destiny being the same, then, as that of the Church, we should endeavour during Advent, to enter into the spirit of preparation, which is, as we have seen, that of the Church herself.

And firstly, it is our duty to join with the saints of the old Law in asking for the Messias, and thus pay the debt which the whole human race owes to the divine mercy. In order to fulfil this duty with fervour, let us go back in thought to those four thousand years, represented by the four weeks of Advent, and reflect on the darkness and crime which filled the world before our Saviour’s coming. Let our hearts be filled with lively gratitude towards Him who saved His creature man from death, and who came down from heaven that He might know our miseries by Himself experiencing them, yes, all of them excepting sin. Let us cry to Him with confidence from the depths of our misery; for, notwithstanding His having saved the work of His hands, He still wishes us to beseech Him to save us. Let therefore our desires and our confidence have their free utterance in the ardent supplications of the ancient prophets, which the Church puts on our lips during these days of expectation; let us give our closest attention to the sentiments which they express.

This first duty complied with, we must next turn our minds to the coming which our Saviour wishes to accomplish in our own hearts. It is, as we have seen, a coming full of sweetness and mystery, and a consequence of the first; for the good Shepherd comes not only to visit the flock in general, but He extends His solicitude to each one of the sheep, even to the hundredth which is lost. Now, in order to appreciate the whole of this ineffable mystery, we must remember that, since we can be pleasing to our heavenly Father only inasmuch as He sees within us His Son Jesus Christ, this amiable Saviour deigns to come into each one of us, and transform us, if we will but consent, into Himself, so that henceforth we may live, not we, but He in us. This is, in reality, the one grand aim of the Christian religion, to make man divine through Jesus Christ: it is the task which God has given to His Church to do, and she says to the faithful what St. Paul said to his Galatians: ‘My little children, of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed within you !‘ 17

But as, on His entering into this world, our divine Saviour first showed Himself under the form of a weak Babe, before attaining the fulness of the age of manhood, and this to the end that nothing might be wanting to His sacrifice, so does He intend to do in us; there is to be a progress in His growth within us. Now, it is at the feast of Christmas that He delights to be born in our souls, and that He pours out over the whole Church a grace of being born, to which, however, not all are faithful.

For this glorious solemnity, as often as it comes round, finds three classes of men. The first, and the smallest number, are those who live, in all its plenitude, the life of Jesus who is within them, and aspire incessantly after the increase of this life. The second class of souls is more numerous; they are living, it is true, because Jesus is in them; but they are sick and weakly, because they care not to grow in this divine life their charity has become cold ! 18 The rest of men make up the third division, and are they that have no part of this life in them, and are dead; for Christ has said: ‘I am the Life,’19

Now, during the season of Advent, our Lord knocks at the door of all men’s hearts, at one time so forcibly that they must needs notice Him; at another, so softly that it requires attention to know that Jesus is asking admission. He comes to ask them if they have room for Him, for He wishes to be born in their house. The house indeed is His, for he built it and preserves it; yet He complains that His own refused to receive Him ; 20 at least the greater number did. ‘But as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God, born not of blood, nor of the flesh, but of God.’ 21

He will be born, then, with more beauty and lustre and might than you have hitherto seen in Him, O ye faithful ones, who hold Him within you as your only treasure, and who have long lived no other life than His, shaping your thoughts and works on the model of His. You will feel the necessity of words to suit and express your love; such words as He delights to hear you speak to Him. You will find them in the holy liturgy.

You, who have had Him within you without knowing Him, and have possessed Him without relishing the sweetness of His presence, open your hearts to welcome Him, this time, with more care and love. He repeats His visit of this year with an untiring tenderness; He has forgotten your past slights; He would ‘that all things be new.' 22 Make room for the divine Infant, for He desires to grow within your soul. The time of His coming is close at hand: let your heart, then, be on the watch; and lest you should slumber when He arrives, watch and pray, yea, sing. The words of the liturgy are intended also for your use: they speak of darkness, which only God can enlighten; of wounds, which only His mercy can heal; of a faintness, which can be braced only by His divine energy.

And you, Christians, for whom the good tidings are as things that are not, because you are dead in sin, lo! He who is very life is coming among you. Yes, whether this death of sin has held you as its slave for long years, or has but freshly inflicted on you the wound which made you its victim, Jesus, your Life, is coming: ‘why, then, will you die? He desireth not the death of the sinner, but rather that he be converted and live,’ 23 The grand feast of His birth will be a day of mercy for the whole world; at least, for all who will give Him admission into their hearts : they will rise to life again in Him, their past life will be destroyed, and where sin abounded, there grace will more abound. 24

But, if the tenderness and the attractiveness of this mysterious coming make no impression on you, because your heart is too weighed down to be able to rise to confidence, and because, having so long drunk sin like water, you know not what it is to long with love for the caresses of a Father whom you have slighted — then turn your thoughts to that other coming, which is full of terror, and is to follow the silent one of grace that is now offered. Think within yourselves, how this earth of ours will tremble at the approach of the dread Judge; how the heavens will flee from before His face, and fold up as a book ; 25 how man will wince under His angry look; how the creature will wither away with fear, as the two-edged sword, which comes from the mouth of his Creator,26 pierces him; and how sinners will cry out, ‘Ye mountains, fall on us! ye rocks, cover us !' 27 Those unhappy souls who would not know the time of their visitation, 28 shall then vainly wish to hide themselves from the face of Jesus. They shut their hearts against this Man-God, who, in His excessive love for them, wept over them: therefore, on the day of judgement they will descend alive into those everlasting fires, whose flame devoureth the earth with her increase, and burneth the foundations of the mountains, 29 The worm that never dieth,30 the useless eternal repentance, will gnaw them for ever.

Let those, then, who are not touched by the tidings of the coming of the heavenly Physician and the good Shepherd who giveth His life for His sheep, meditate during Advent on the awful yet certain truth, that so many render the redemption unavailable to themselves by refusing to co-operate in their own salvation. They may treat the Child who is to be born 31 with disdain; but He is also the mighty God, and do they think they can withstand Him on that day, when He is to come, not to save, as now, but to judge? Would that they knew more of this divine Judge, before whom the very saints tremble! Let these, also, use the liturgy of this season, and they will there learn how much He is to be feared by sinners.

We would not imply by this that only sinners need to fear ; no, every Christian ought to fear. Fear, when there is no nobler sentiment with it, makes man a slave; when it accompanies love, it is a feeling which fills the heart of a child who has offended his father, yet seeks for pardon; when, at length, love casteth out fear, 32 even then this holy fear will sometimes come, and, like a flash of lightning, pervade the deepest recesses of the soul. It does the soul good. She wakes up afresh to a keener sense of her own misery and of the unmerited mercy of her Redeemer. Let no one, therefore, think that he may safely pass his Advent without taking any share in the holy fear which animates the Church, She, though so beloved by God, prays to Him to give her this fear; and in her Office of Sext, she thus cries out to Him: ‘Pierce my flesh with Thy fear.’ It is, however, to those who are beginning a good life, that this part of the Advent liturgy will be peculiarly serviceable.

It is evident, from what we have said, that Advent is a season specially devoted to the exercises of what is called the purgative life, which is implied in that expression of St. John, so continually repeated by the Church during this holy time : Prepare ye the way of the Lord! Let all, therefore, strive earnestly to make straight the path by which Jesus will enter into their souls. Let the just, agreeably to the teaching of the apostle, forget the things that are behind, 33 and labour to acquire fresh merit. Let sinners begin at once and break the chains which now enslave them. Let them give up those bad habits which they have contracted. Let them weaken the flesh, and enter upon the hard work of subjecting it to the spirit. Let them, above all things, pray with the Church. And when our Lord comes, they may hope that He will not pass them by, but that He will enter and dwell within them ; for He spoke of all when He said these words : ‘Behold I stand at the gate and knock: if any man shall hear My voice and open to Me the door, I will come in unto him.' 
The Root of Jesse

please click on:

Search This Blog

La Virgen de Guadalupe

La Virgen de Guadalupe


My Blog List

Fr David Bird

Fr David Bird
Me on a good day

Blog Archive