Sunday, January 13, 2008

Wisdom. Stand Upright!

Σοφια. Ορθοι! Ακουσωμεν του αγιου Ευαγγελιου.

Wisdom. Stand upright. Listen to the Holy Gospel.

How strange it was, after so many times over the years having heard the priest, in Greek, calling the people to order to hear the reading of the Holy Gospel, this morning to hear the bidding in English.

I finally made it today to my first-ever celebration in English of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, something I have been trying to get myself to do for more than a month now. It hasn't been made any easier by the fact that it is only offered every other Sunday, and then only at the unsociable hour of 8 o'clock in the morning.

The liturgy was held in Old St Nicholas Church in the village of Pano Lakatamia, near to where we lived during our first four years in Cyprus, and now still only a leisurely 15 minute drive from my new home on the sadly un-congested Sunday morning roadways.

Taking the orthopraxis in as laid-back a fashion as I expected of the Orthodox, I had already decided not to arrive on time, heaven forbid arriving early, for the start. I walked in about 20 minutes past to find the church virtually empty -- an elderly man here, a scarf-covered woman there and three female cantors making up the entire congregation -- as the young Texas-born priest, Fr Joseph Coleman, stood at the altar.

I noticed when I walked in that there was a small portable gas heater on the far side of the church, but there was no way it had any hope of warming the space. After about 15 minutes of holding out with T-shirt, long-sleeve dress shirt, a sleeveless woolen sweater and a heavy tweed jacket, I could take it no longer. I went out to my car and got my oilskin jacket and thermal gloves.

As time passed, more and more people began to arrive, including parents with infants, toddlers and young children. In the end, I would imagine there must have been 25 or 30 of us there. I later discovered the old man whom I had first seen on coming in was English, and I also met a man from San Antonio, Texas. For the most part, though, it was an assortment of Greek Cypriots who had returned to their homeland from such places as Australia, England and South Africa, and for many of whom English was their first language.

I had brought with me the English translation of the liturgy (with the Greek on facing pages) that I bought at a meeting of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius in St Albans, England back in 1997, just after it had been issued by the Greek Orthodox Church there. I was pleased to find that I could actually follow along, though Fr Coleman was using a slightly different -- and better translation.

And I was deeply moved to find that without the "mystery" of hearing the liturgy in Greek, but in very clear yet eloquent English, the words had lost none of their awesome power.

As an Anglican, I dearly love the Prayer of Humble Access, but this prayer of those who are about to receive the Sacrament is equally powerful, if not even more so:

"I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. Amen.

"How shall I, who am unworthy, enter into the splendor of Your saints? If I dare to enter into the bridal chamber, my clothing will accuse me, since it is not a wedding garment;and being bound up, I shall be cast out by the angels. In Your love, Lord, cleanse my soul and save me.

"Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these holy Gifts be to my condemnation because of my unworthiness, but for the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body and the pledge of the future life and kingdom. It is good for me to cling to God and to place in Him the hope of my salvation.

"Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your kingdom."


GK Chesterton said...

Floating as I am between Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Orthodoxy I can say that I am also captivated by this prayer. I love the idea that the clothing of our lives makes it plain that we don't deserve to be in the marriage chamber of the church and that we are allowed further only by the love of God.

poetreader said...

Judas betrayed Him with a kiss. Peter pledged eternal loyalty and then said, "I don't know Him", and I ...

Well, I'm no better than that How do I dare approach His Table as if I deserve to be welcome? I don't, and I can't be -- except that He makes it so.

That's enough mystery, before I even start thinking about the depths of our Faith.


Anonymous said...

My own rather superficial excursions into Orthodoxy led me to the conclusion that, at minimum, an Orthodox knows the following:

1. that he is a sinner; and
2. that God loves him

and that 1 and 2 above are actually rather a lot to know.