Glory to God for All Things

Worship at His Footstool

Sunday, the third in Lent, is set aside to honor the Venerable and Life-Giving Cross. I offer these thoughts:

In a short work, The Beginning of the Day, (I believe it was a special printing and not generally available), Met. Kallistos Ware notes this about the Cross and its connection with the whole of creation:

…[The] created order in its entirety participated in the Savior’s Passion: the earth shook, the rocks were split, the whole cosmos shuddered (Matt. 27:51). In the words of St. Ephrem the Syrian, ‘humans were silent, so the stones cried out’. As the old English poem The Dream of the Rood expresses it, ‘All creation wept.’ This all embracing participation in the death of God incarnate is memorably expressed in the Praises or Enkomia sung in the evening of Good Friday or early in the morning on Holy Saturday:

‘Come, and with the whole creation let us offer a funeral hymn to the Creator.’

‘The whole earth quaked with fear, O lord, and the Daystar hid its rays, when Thy great light was hidden in the earth.’

‘The sun and moon grew dark together, O Savior, like faithful servants clothed in black robes of mourning.’

‘O hills and valleys’, exclaims the Holy Virgin, ‘the multitude of mankind and all creation, weep and lament with me, the Mother of God.’

Most remarkably of all in what is truly an amazing statement, it is affirmed: ’the whole creation was altered by Thy Passion: for all things suffered with Thee, knowing, O Lord, that Thou holdest all in unity.’

Do we reflect sufficiently, I wonder, upon the environmental impliations of our Lord’s Incarnation, upon the way in which Jesus is ecologically inclusive, embedded in the soil like us, containing within His humanity what has been termed ‘the whole evolving earth story’?

Do we allow properly for the fact that our Savior came to redeem, not only the human race, but the fullness of creation? Do we keep constantly in mind that we are not saved from but with the world?

In such a fashion St. Paul can say that the “world is crucified to me, and I to the world.” Frequently our own thoughts about the things of God are too restricted, too limited. The Cross is diminished to an execution role in a very narrow atonement theory, the Incarnation reduced to a stage entrance. These great mysteries of God, manifest among us, are the gate and ladder, the entrance into the Kingdom of God and Kingdom of God’s entrance into our world. This is true not only of the Cross of Golgotha, but ultimately in every Cross that participates in its reality. A believer’s making of the sign of the cross, with faith, participates in this reality (and so the demons flee).

Christ has promised that we would have life “more abundant.” By this is not meant that we will be rich or have more material things (for these are not the true life). But the Kingdom is an endless abundance that enters our heart and world, shattering the narrowness of opaque minds and opening to us the fullness of life in Christ.

The Reality presented to us in the Cross (as with all things of God) is never comprehended in rational theory. It pushes us beyond the limits of our own poorly defined rationality and towards the greater rationality of the Truth of things. As noted by St. Gregory of Nyssa, “only wonder grasps anything.” To approach the Cross with wonder is to begin the journey that it makes possible. The life that we refer to as salvation belongs to this world of wonder – despite the banalities of much Christian conversation on the topic.

It is not surprising that silence is among the most important tools in our spiritual life. O, sweet wonder!

16 Responses to “Worship at His Footstool”

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  1. Philip Jude says:

    I was just listening to a Reformed pastor attempt to explain the two natures of Christ to a bewildered man who called his radio show. The man was not satisfied by the pastor’s answers. I can understand his frustration. What amazed me was the pastor’s anger: He thought the man was either daft or deceitful for not comprehending the mystery of the incarnation. And that’s just it: the pastor never once used the word “mystery.” He presented the incarnation as though it is easily grasped by finite minds. “The Bible is clear,” he said, “it is perspicuous.” The man ended up hanging up none the wiser. I shuddered: Why couldn’t the pastor have just referred him to the hymns of St Ephrem? God help all of us, especially me, for I am the greatest of sinners!

  2. Philip,

    To paraphrase Inspector Clouseau: “Ah, the old perspicuity ploy!” Anyone using perspicuous in a sermon (let alone radio call-in) should flunk the course. Eschew obfuscation!

  3. Rhonda says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    Awesome work as usual :-) Keep it coming! The first time I read “For the Life of the World” by Fr. Schmemann was a real step forward in my catechumen period. Far too many in the Protestant ranks think too individually about Christ & thus salvation…”personal Lord & Savior”…”my Bible”…”I can interpret the Bible for myself”…Thanks for the reminder of the true expanse of the inclusivness of the Holy Trinity :-)

  4. Rhonda says:

    Philip,

    I heard that broadcast! I too was saddened by the host’s response, which is not unusual…I have listened to him off/on for years now. Yes, he can be very harsh and even abrasive to those who differ from him ideologically. He is not the only one out there either…I heard another one on the way home tonight.

    IMO, few Protestants use the word mystery in their conversations of faith because it ultimately conflicts with their legalistic mindset which places logical philosophy in a position of superiority over faith. If it can’t be explained logically then it ultimately isn’t real.Some will go to great lengths to explain how some miracle could have happened according to natural physical laws; then they will proceed to argue how ALL miracles will eventually be so explained once mankind has enough scientific knowledge. Some will go to great lengths to exegete the Holy Scriptures down to every last syllable, accent & dipthong in the text & lose the entire glory, beauty & majesty of the message within the text. Ultimately, their mindset ends up leaving them totally without any depth of faith, or more properly leaves them without any faith. Everything Christian becomes a metaphysical philosophical construct…quaint concepts to be sure, but not quite real or tangible for those of us in the real & tangible here & now. Just ask most Protestants about the Body of Christ or the Church; you will see what I mean. They forget that God the Holy Trinity is the ultimate Mystery! He therefore cannot be understood nor explained, or else He is not God. Sadly, the more “theologically educated”, the more entrenched this mindset…in my experience.

    Personally, I’ll keep the mystery along with the glory, beauty & majesty…& my faith as well, thank you very much!

  5. Philip Jude says:

    Marc,

    This pastor would just say, “You don’t understand the context. Typical Catholic/Orthodox cherrypicking eisogesis!”

    That’s the response I constantly receive. They loathe the ability of the ancient churches to make connections across authors and books. Which is strange, since they make such a big deal about divine authorship. Yet God forbid you try to quote James and Peter together!

  6. Andrew says:

    Wonderful!

  7. John says:

    How do you understand the difference in the heart and the mind?

  8. John,
    It depends on the writer/father. Some use the terms (nous or kardia) interchangeably; some use them with some subtle difference. For instance, though the gospels will use kardia as the center of a man, it is the seat of both good and evil (“from the heart proceed…”). This is something of a Semitic usage. The the fathers, as the language develops, there is less use of “heart” to mean the “center” or “seat” of a person; it becomes more like “nous” or “mind,” which does not mean the rational faculty, but something more like that faculty by which we know God. It is something like intuition, but not a hunch or guess. It is a means by which we know what cannot be expressed in words.

    To make matters more complicated, today, some use “mind” in the sense of “the place where thoughts occur.” Thus many writers and Orthodox teachers will speak of “uniting the mind and the heart” by which they mean quieting the thoughts, and entering in to the center of yourself, and praying without distraction.

    Again, it depends on the writer/teacher. When reading, it’s pretty easy to see what they’re doing. For myself, most often I use “heart” for the faculty of inner knowing, and sometimes in the Biblical sense of “seat” of a person. So, I’m not perfectly consistent.

  9. John says:

    Comment on their usage in ‘Way of a Pilgrim.’

  10. In the Way of a Pilgrim (I did a scan on my kindle) :) the usage is a bit less disciplined. Mind is generally used synonymously with “thoughts.” Heart both means the center of the person, but is strongly identified with the actual organ in the chest.

    The technique of the Jesus Prayer has a very strong physical element within the Tradition. I would suspect that it would be rather troubling to the non-Orthodox, where “physical” is often associated with anything but “spiritual.” Orthodoxy is more comfortable with a strong physical component within the spiritual life.

    Learning to pray “the prayer” (meaning the “Jesus Prayer”) in union with the beating of the heart is a profound experience – it’s as though the whole body itself is praying (as well as thoughts). These practices (the Jesus Prayer) are best undertaken with an experienced spiritual father (as it indicates in the book).

    I hope that’s a helpful answer.

  11. John says:

    Thanks. He talked about moving your consciousness (I don’t think that was his word) from the mind to the heart. I guess he just meant to focus and pay attention to what you were doing. Maybe he meant to put more personal emotion/feeling into it. You ever been to Russia? The pilgrim didn’t have much trouble finding places to spend the night. I was surprised he didn’t run into highwaymen more than he did.

  12. Historically, Russia was famous for pilgrims traveling across the country (during the period of the Tsars). There was a cultural reverence for pilgrims – the very act of pilgrimage was seen as grace-bearing – thus it was incredibly sinful to attack one. Of course, they were poor, so there was not much profit in robbing a pilgrim. Such books give a look at what was once an amazing culture.

  13. Rhonda says:

    Marc,

    Excellent point! However, many that don’t hold to Sola Scriptura will still argue for a minimalist approach based on what they perceive or don’t perceive in the Holy Scriptures.

    A non-Sola Scriptura evangelical told me recently that believing in the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos was a “minor” doctrine based on “his” exegesis of the Scriptural texts we were citing; furthermore he felt that we should agree to disagree on this issue. He was taken aback when I agreed that we disagreed on this issue, but my agreement in no way signified that I felt that his belief was equally valid to mine since two totally opposing statements cannot both be true. For me there is just doctrine, & one chooses to accept doctrine or they choose not to accept doctrine. He could not understand my refusal to classify any specific Orthodox doctrine as “minor” or “major”, because IMO doing so ultimately results in a faithless “system” rather than a true fullness of faith that is Orthodoxy.

  14. John says:

    Suggest some books on 19th century culture in Russia. I’ve read Karamazov, Cossacks, and Ivan Ilyich. Fiction or non-fiction will work. Thanks.

  15. Rhonda says:

    Marc,

    Very well said & said much better than I :-)

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