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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Divine Office: part of a Restored Life

Someone recently commented, regarding the length of Byzantine versus Western Rite services:

> My thinking is that to glorify God is the purpose of these services, whether they're WR or ER, and both do so very well...

Here was my reply:

I would like to expand on these words, starting from the thought that the daily services are for the glorification of God.

People often wonder if it's really the best use of our time, to be in church each day chanting the Hours. This issue is perhaps the most acute for the Byzantine rite, where Matins does take a while, especially on feast days. But it's also acute for the old forms of Western rite, which are undeniably lengthier than the modern. Matins in the Sarum Use of the Roman rite can be managed in an hour and a half (including the Little Office of St. Mary and often the Little Office for the Dead), but only if you are experienced and move briskly (no "What comes next?" or "Where do I flip to, for THAT?").

It really is the best use of our time. By these frequent daily prayers, we glorify our Creator. We also preserve within ourselves a spirit of repentance and vigilance (nepsis), which refines our life in faith and prepares us for death and eternal life. The grace given us by the Holy Mysteries (for prime example, in Holy Communion in the Liturgy on Sunday) is thereby preserved in us across time, so if we do it right, we manage to live in a state of grace day after day. Thus we become bearers of grace, bearers of God, in the world. We turn into human candles which cannot be hidden under a bushel but will shine into the world. Okay, there are other ways in which that can be done, but back to the topic.

When we pray the Hours, heaven and earth are in communion. We know that at the Liturgy angels of God stand there and pray and sing alongside us. Usually you can't see them, but sometimes you can. Well, the exact same thing is true for the Hours. Angels concelebrate them with us, as St. Etheldreda experienced so keenly.

In the Hours (especially, in Western rite, the Matins) Christian instruction is delivered. Holy Fathers comment on Scripture. The lives of Saints are unfolded and impress themselves in our minds, showing us how to implement the Gospel teachings in various circumstances. The theology of the Church is revealed (one advantage of the old Roman rite over the modern forms: higher theological and educational content).

In the Hours, that divine order in which creation rejoiced before the Fall, is renewed and restored. Things proceed by grace and divine order, rather than the randomness and purposelessness of the post-Christian life of alienation. This helps a person order his thoughts and feelings, thus reducing harmful effects of passions and bringing greater spiritual rootedness to one's life.

By imposing a divine order upon our words, thoughts, and bodily motions, the divine office breaks the wheel-rut of our daily grind. Thus the power of worldliness is broken, for a time, and new avenues are opened for the human spirit. (It is necessary, afterwards, to use this corner of freedom to deepen our personal relationship with God in private, inward prayer; if we don't do that, we're getting a momentary blessing but discarding it.)

The divine office prepares us for other spiritual tasks, such as feeding the poor, instructing the ignorant, visiting the sick and those in prison, studying the Holy Bible, obeying our superiors, etc.

The divine office is like a mighty spiritual tool, for it can make us clay in God's artistic hands. Like any tool, it can be misused, misdirected, and does not guarantee healing or salvation for all. Still, the most hardened church-attending sinner can find that a little "Cupid's arrow" of repentance may be shot into his heart, at some moment, from the quiver we call "the divine office." It can perfect saints, and it can lead a thief to cry, "Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest in Thy kingdom!"

What, we have time enough for two hours of television and over an hour on the computer, but that's too much time to spend in church on God, soul, life, faith, the kingdom, and all the reasons we were put on this earth? That's not realistic.

In our post-Christian age we need powerful tools to overcome the powerful influence of growing darkness and evil. We need a radically re-ordered way of life, maybe more like the rhythm of mediaeval life. Not working a job all the time like the 19th century factories, and not aimless leisure, but the support of community; church- and family-based education; living close to church, within the sound of the bells; going to daily services (full round not required); soup kitchen or a workshop for employing unemployed people; small-scale agriculture / horticulture; and spending more time in carpentry and carving and sewing and learning music and video producing, for God's glory, or minding an Orthodox bookstore, than in other activities which take up too much time (each person knows which those are).

Down with Babel, raise the walls of Jerusalem!

Fr. Aidan+ sinner
Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church, Austin, Texas

Monday, July 5, 2010

Dom Augustine Whitfield Reposes

Announcement by Dom James Deschene of Christ the Saviour Monastery (Christminster) in Canada:

"We at Christminster received news this morning of the repose last night of Dom Augustine Whitfield, Abbot of Mount Royal. It was he who not merely brought the western-rite monastic community of Mount Royal into the Russian Church, but also -- over many years, and in the face of many difficulties, and often alone -- sustained and maintained that mission and vision, handing it on eventually to Christminster and to Holyrood Hermitage in Florida, under its Abbot Dom David Pierce. Abbot David has been a most faithful and dear son to Dom Augustine for many years and cared for him at the end with the Church's holy Mysteries and prayers. He and we at Christminster are the happy inheritors of Dom Augustine's long and lonely struggle.

"Thus it is with mixed feelings of sadness and joy that we greet his repose: sad because we have lost a long-time friend and mentor, and joy that he can now receive the thanks he so much deserved for his often thankless task. May God greet his homecoming son as we pray he might greet each of us: Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things. Enter into the joy of thy Lord."

"According to his wishes he will be buried privately in a local Orthodox cemetery. There will be a solemn memorial Requiem scheduled for him in early August -- possibly at Christminster -- to enable all those who would honour his life and work to gather and pray for his eternal repose and heavenly reward.

"May his sins lie lightly upon him and may he come to see, face to face, that one Face we all long to see and to adore and praise for all eternity. May this unsung hero of western-rite Orthodoxy and monasticism truly enter into the joy of his Lord.

"A Mass of Requiem will be offered for him tomorrow at Christminster. Further details will follow.

"Dom James M. Deschene
"Abbot of Christminster
"Hamilton, Ontario"

To Paradise may the Angels lead thee. At thy coming, may the Martyrs welcome thee, and lead thee into the holy city of Jerusalem. -- from the Sarum burial services