14th Sunday After Pentecost

The rain and gloom cover the scene outside my window like a blanket of nostalgia, reminding me of my of my early years in the dreary pall of southeast Michigan. Strangely I feel comforted by the almost hypnotic white noise of the rain and the gathering gloom around me, and I do not at all feel sad or distressed.

This morning at Matins the lessons from the first Nocturn were from the Book of Job, perhaps one of the most distressing of all the books of the Bible. The verse and responses were just as gloomy, and yet, the Gospel for the day, the antiphons for the Benedictus and the Magnificat as well as the Collect were all about finding hope in the midst of suffering and distress. Once again we see the genius of the traditional Benedictine Breviary, and how it’s pretty much a school of theology and a guidebook for living all wrapped into one.

On the one hand we have Job who rightly wrestles with the problem of evil, and on the other we have our Lord saying to trust in Him. It’s not always easy by any stretch of the imagination but, as the Collect says, with grace it is possible. Without grace man is frail, man WILL fall, but with grace he can stand. As this 14th Sunday after Pentecost comes right in the midst of Hurricane Irma when so many feel like Righteous Job I feel like these readings are providential.

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Sometimes the Breviary comes to life…

I've tried to stay consistent with the Monastic Office for the last three weeks and so far it's been manageable, although if I'm honest it's sometimes hard for me to pray all the Hours, especially Compline. The morning hours are fairly easy for me since I'm regularly up before 5 am most days, but for some reason my energy level and desire to slog through another round of prayers dries up like a puddle caught in the midday sun once the late afternoon rolls around with its lazy allure. I actually love Benedictine Compline with its stability and rootedness, the only change being the Marian Antiphon at its close, but that's the one I miss most.

I've often wondered why Compline was set up the way it was, why was it so unchanging, and it dawned on me that symbolically Compline and its prayers are meant to ease one into sleep, both for the night and for life– the sleep of death. It's meant to be memorized and prayed at the end of ones day and the end of ones life. I've often heard it said that in some monasteries the monks can chant it by heart recto tono in the dark. Heck, even in the short time I've retaken up the Office I've memorized a little of it, and hope that in time I will know it by heart!

Matins is my favorite hour, the time of day when it's just me, Kratom, coffee and my 7 year old ginger feline curled up purring on my lap. I rise early and it never gets easy, it's just that you get used to feeling like dirt first thing in the morning, the sleep and the first pangs of caffeine and kratom withdrawal clinging to every part of me like the crust under my eyelids I have to wash away in front of the mirror.

Sometimes I confess I slog through Matins, so sleepy I hardly pay attention to the content of the psalms, hymns and antiphons, but at other times something catches my eye and I touch upon something profound. The majority of the time it is about discipline and having the fortitude to set your mind on something and do it no matter what, at other times it really does become something of a subtle spiritual experience where you fleetingly see a connection between an antiphon or a verse and your own life, some aspect of Christian dogma, or some insight, but it's not like that most of the time.

The most recent feast where I felt that special something was during the feast of St Laurence early this week. For some reason one of the antiphons and psalms took me to that beach in Libya where those Copts were beheaded a few years ago. I could vividly imagine some of these guys kneeling in the sand, watching these jackals with knives, listening to the crashing of the Mediterranean, the lazy call of the gulls and terns oblivious to the coming red tide, and perhaps praying one of these psalms by heart, making these ancient Hebrew prayers applicable to their own life and impending death.

I could see somehow that sometimes the Breviary comes alive, the psalms reveal their mystic character. This is not why I pray the Breviary, as I don't go chasing visions, but it does help make it worthwhile. It gives you an immersion into the mysteries of our Faith, and acts as a compass and a map for our life's journey.

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Thoughts on the Office Continued…

There’s never enough time I thought as my alarm chimed annoyingly upon the floor, it’s vibrations sending mild shockwaves through the floor as I pathetically scrambled out of a peaceful night’s sleep and frantically tried to silence it’s 21st century cockcrow. Oh well, I thought, I’m used to mornings, and if I’m brutally honest I have actually cherished this pre dawn hour more than any other time of day for as long as I could remember.  To risk sounding tacky, there’s something semi mystical about that early hour when it’s just you, your prayers and the darkness.  After years of praying at this hour I feel like I understand in part just why the wee hours before dawn were held in high esteem from our fathers in the faith from the desert dwellers of the Egyptian Wadi to the stone monasteries of St Benedict’s time and even till now.

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The psalms come alive in this hour, and over the years they become familiar.  It’s funny but now that I’ve taken up the Benedictine Office again in earnest I am floored by just how much the Office is made up of parts of scripture, especially the psalms. St Benedict ordained that the entire psalter would be prayed in the course of a week. He puts a premium on the psalter, and since the Benedictine life puts the praying of the breviary above all else, it goes without saying that the Benedictine life is a life  lived immersed in the richness of the psalter.

 

This morning after Matins I leashed up the dog and prayed Lauds and Prime by starlight and streetlight as I took him for his morning stroll.  As I looked up I saw the morning star in the heavens and thought of that name sometimes given to the Theotokos, “Star of the Sea” and it kind of made the moment even more prayerful.

I confess I am still agnostic about the Roman Catholic Church and whether I can in good faith consider myself a member again. After years of agonizing over ecclesial membership I find that I am wholeheartedly Orthodox in terms of ecclesiology, believing more in a sort of Eucharistic ecclesiology and a Slavophile Sobornost way of looking at things than the monarchical, papal, and bureaucratic Roman Catholic view. There’s some of me they can’t totally let go of Rome, but I’m mostly Orthodox in praxis, theology and even in the saints I venerate. It’s always been that way if I’m honest.

 

Maybe I’m destined to be an ecclesial outsider, forever on the margins. I often wonder whether I’d ever have had these ecclesial crises if I would have had say, Clear Creek or Silverstream nearby, or, on the Orthodox side, if I lived across the street from Jordanville or the ROCOR monastery on Vashon Island in WA.  Since I’ve got no real traditionally inclined community of either Church within my limited resources and traveling options, I’ve got to make up for it it’s the next best thing— the Office.

For now when I pray the Office I do so more in communion with the saints of all ages and with all those who say the Office alive today. When I think of bishops and priests I keep agnostic, praying that I may be in communion with true priests and true bishops wherever they may be.

 

 

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More Thoughts on the Office

The last week or so has had me praying most of the Benedictine Office from sunup to sundown every day, and it’s been nostalgic. It’s nostalgic because I have fond memories of being a Roman Catholic layman devoutly praying the same psalm schema as St Benedict himself, and because I love the rhythm of the hours, their symbolism, and how aside from Matins the whole Office is fairly easy to pray. The Little Hours are short and to the point, yet they have a depth that is hard to explain.

 

The Benedictine Breviary is the mystery of Christ set to psalms, hymns and patristic readings. I had immersed myself into it for a few years, and as you get used to praying it the various psalms, antiphons and hymns start to mean something to you, as if it is God Himself speaking to you through a verse or a psalm. I have memories of standing on the beach in St Augustine, the waves crashing their lullaby on the shore while the rays of sunset burst out of the cloud like an image of grace visible, all the while praying Saturday Vespers with it’s majestic psalms speaking of the Kingdom of Christ, and our Heavenly homeland. I cannot pray Saturday Vespers without thinking of this. Of course that’s just one example! In short, the Office becomes a part of you, and the wheel of the liturgical year takes you into it’s mysteries and sanctifies time. In a secular world busy erasing every last vestige of Christ from it’s horizons, the Breviary can be a Godsend, a means of coping with our Brave New World.

The agony of it all is that, while I love the Western Office I feel deeply estranged from the Roman Catholic Church. I sometimes go to Mass at the local chapel but that’s really because there isn’t any Orthodox Church around. I honestly do not believe in the papal claims at all, in fact, I cannot even in good faith WANT to pray in union with Pope Francis.  I actually long for a church community that actually lives by a traditional Lex Orandi. There are some decent places associated with Rome where this exists—places like Silverstream Priory–but they are in spite of papally sanctioned destruction of the Latin Patrimony, and I wonder if I could ever really handle the cognitive dissonance of praying in old fashioned ways in a small community that belongs on the hinterlands of a Church that no longer teaches, preaches or prays in the way it used to.

Will I go back to my Old Orthodox Prayerbook or continue getting back into the Western Office? Time will tell…

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Benedictine Office

For some mysterious reason I woke up one  pre dawn morning last week with the usual coffee, kratom and a prayerbook, but instead of my battered 2nd Edition Old Orthodox Prayerbook I held in my hands my barely used velvety copy of the Lancelot Andrewes Matins. I admit I felt a tinge of guilt in holding a Western Breviary in my hands after almost two years of being on the Julian Calender and praying in the manner of an Old Believer, but the guilt didn’t stop me from furtively glancing around, opening it up, and praying a full Matins.

It held up, it was everything I remember it was. I recall the first time I ever prayed in the manner of the breviary I had a copy of the little My Daily Prayer Pocket Psalter and the Angelus Press Divine Office which was just Prime and Compline if I remember correctly. I loved the psalms, and the daily and seasonal rhythm of the Western Office. Eventually I got…the Farnborough Monastic Diurnal and became hooked. At a time when I was paralyzed by the cognitive dissonance inherent in being a lover of the Latin Rite Tradition in a Church that has moved on, the Office was a Godsend. It became my life raft apart from the Barque of Peter, a small vessel tossed to and fro in a raging storm yet sustained and guided by the psalms, hymns and seasons of the Breviary.  In truth praying some form of Office is still how I am sustained in my Christian Faith apart from any parish, although I still sometimes attend the little  Roman Catholic student chapel near here for daily Mass  and an occasional confession.

For better or worse I was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church, and despite having serious reservations about papal infallibility, primacy of jurisdiction, the Filioque, Indulgences and the nature of the Reforms of the last 100 or so years I sometimes feel like there’s a part of me that is still Catholic, that still wants to remain in that Church even if it must be on the far flung hinterlands of Rome, kind of like Athanasius Schneider way out in the steppes of Central Asia.

Again, just the other day I found myself exploring the Vultus Christi blog after several years, and all of a sudden I remembered that years ago I had asked Dom Kirby about the Oblateship. My memory of this desire to become an oblate, fueled by both my quiet, introspective nature and my love of the Office made me contemplate this path once again. It’s something I want to explore over the next year or so, following the 12 point list I saw on the Vultus Christi blog, really discerning if I ought to become an oblate or if my Slavic Orthodoxy tendencies will make it impossible for me to take up. Or maybe, just maybe I could be an Oblate praying the Western Office and the Jesus Prayer and looking at the Western Tradition through the Eastern lens.

For now, I’m getting back into the Monastic Office.

 

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Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi Again…

The Theology of Ritual and the Russian Old Rite: The Art of Christian Living

Old

Ever since I first tried to make sense of the radical changes within Roman Catholicism in the last 60 some odd years I’ve been drawn to try and understand how the externals–the signs, symbols,rituals and gestures of a religion–literally help prop up and imbue ones life with the content of the Faith. I guess I’ve always had almost an intuitive sense that externals matter a great deal, and that to change them is quite literally to change the religion. This was the instinct of the much maligned Old Believers and is the instinct behind the most staunch supporters of the Traditionalist movement within Catholicism. Even if they cannot articulate their disquiet in terms of Lex Orandi,Lex Credendi in the same thorough and academic fashion as the author of the paper I linked to, many Catholics still know intuitively that what they see at at old Latin Mass in a pre Vatican II chapel and what they see at the average Pauline Mass in a suburban parish built in the 1970’s is quite possibly a different religion and not just two different expressions of the same thing.

In a discussion with someone who told me that I’m wrong because there are devout Catholics who attend the New Mass at these surburban parishes doesn’t convince me of anything other than these devout Catholics have the Faith from praying traditional devotions like the rosary or after having read traditional Catholic books or having prayed extensively in traditional ways. In short, it is in spite of the new religion taught through the radically different signs, symbols, prayers, gestures and architecture of the post Vatican II Church.  I feel the same way about many traditionalists. They hole up in chapels where the architecture, signs, symbols, rituals and gestures in use are no longer in vogue in the mainstream church, and so they literally hold to Catholicism as it was and not as it is. The cognitive dissonance this engenders is because intuitively they know that they practice a religion that no longer exists among the mainstream of their Church.

Let’s quote a few things from the document I linked to in order to flesh out just what Old Believers mean by ritual, signs and symbols and what the average modern means.

 

Modern:

In modern understanding, particularly under the influence of enlightenment rationalism, the general tendency is to perceive a ritual act as an outward expression of an inner disposition, the form, as it were, that is given to a particular content; the objectified expression of a subjective -‘spiritual’meaning or disposition, the ‘symbol’ or ‘sign’ which represents a meaning or

belief.

There may well be a correct doctrinal form for a given ritual, but this form
is nevertheless detached from the doctrine it expresses in the sense that it
operates as a mode of expression for that doctrine. Thus, in semiotic terms, ritual
actions constitute signs which express but are nevertheless distanced from that which they signify. The connection is indeed present and clear, but it is a
connection of expression, the sign or signifier expresses and represents the signified. It then follows, at least by implication, that the same meaning, subject or content can be expressed in a plethora of forms, objects and symbols: the
stamp of authenticity is the subjective disposition rather than the ritual expression–the whole issue being understood in a rather dualistic fashion. Pages 81-82
Old Believer View:
According to the worldview of the Old Belief, the distinction between inner and
outer, content and form, subject and object, the signified and the signifier, or the
symbol, is not as clear cut as dualist conceptual distinctions would make it seem. A ritual act like the Sign of the Cross for example, is not simply the outward

expression of a particular meaning or devotional disposition, the physical sign as it were, of a spiritual content, but is an integral devotional-theological act thoroughly permeated by meaning: an act which embodies rather than expresses meaning and which therefore is inherently and integrally meaningful. In this act there is a kind of identity between the signified and the signifier, not to be sure an absolute equality, an absolute or literal identity, but a kind of interpenetration, as it were–like a sponge soaked in water. The sponge is at once substantially different to the water and when it is soaked it does not become the water or the water the sponge, but it is nevertheless integrally permeated by the water. There is of course no question of ‘transubstantiation’ here as in the Eucharistic change (an issue we will return to shortly) but there is a mode of semiotic identity. The ritual gesture does not then simply represent or express some doctrine, meaning or spiritual content but is a meaningfulact: literally, an act full of, imbued with,

inherent meaning. Page 82

 

Is ritual really all that important? Do architecture, icons, gestures and old prayers really matter? I would answer a wholehearted “yes” to all of these questions; all of these things matter much more than many would like to imagine.

 

I actually like to think that the Old Believers were onto something when they clung tenaciously to the rituals and gestures themselves as being integral to the Faith.

What do you think about this?

 

 

 

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End of Bright Week

Bright Week is coming to a close and this year it’s been one of minimal prayer unlike in previous years. Since the Hours are basically the short Paschal Hours I have sort of fallen off the Horologion and stuck to the Jesus Prayer. I have not really paid attention to who is on the calendar this week, as I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to commemorate any saints during the week long celebration of the Holy Resurrection. Maybe someone more knowledgeable than I can tell me whether in the East saints are commmorated during Bright Week. I’m kind of curious.

My interest in Islam is still high, but only on an intelectual level. My Christianity is too strong for me to repudiate Jesus as the Son of God;give up the Jesus Prayer and the Horologion; hide or destroy my icons and take up Islam. I remain an admirer of aspects of the Quran and even the character of Muhammad, but as a Christian I cannot and do not believe that he was a prophet.  I believe he was sincere, but IF he spoke the unadulterated truth and Islam IS the final religion than us Christians must get rid of our icons, our prayers and venerable traditions and accept only a human Jesus bereft of the mystery of Chalcedon. I cannot do that. I don’t know if at my age and my deep level of commitment to Christ in the Eastern Tradition I could ever really walk away from my Faith.

 

One strange thing i thought of when wrestling with Islam is that I got a glimpse of what Jews must feel like when dealing with Christians throughout history, that is to say, I felt like Islam was trying to say that us Christians are liars with corrupted scriptures and erroneous beliefs that are only rectified in the light of the Quran. Jews must feel similar when Christians tell them God is Trinitarian, that Jesus was the Messiah and God, and that despite their thousands of years of Tradition and exegesis it’s all bogus and superseded in the light of Christ and the Church.  If anything this gives me a different slant on things.

 

You know, this week I even almost went to Mass and Confession, but I’m not ready for it, I’m not ready to put myself back into intentional communion with the Papacy, the Vatican and the deformed externals of post conciliar Catholicism. Maybe some day, but not now, not yet.

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