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Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory. - Philippians 3:20-21

All ye who seek for Jesus, raise
your eyes above, and upward gaze:
there may ye see the wondrous sign
of never-ending glory shine.

Behold Him in celestial rays
Who never knoweth end of days;
exalted, infinite, sublime;
older than heav'n or hell or time.

This is the Gentiles' King and Lord;
the Prince by Judah's race adored,
promised to Abraham of yore
and to his seed for evermore.

To Him the prophets testify;
and that same witness from on high,
the Father seals by his decree:
'Hear and believe my Son', saith He.

All glory, Lord, to Thee we pay,
Transfigured on the mount to-day;
all glory as is ever meet,
to Father and to Paraclete. Amen.
Quicumque Christum - The Office Hymn at Vespers

I love the Feast of the Transfiguration, and shall be celebrating it tomorrow at the Parish of the Intercession of the Mother of God here in Manchester.

I'm ashamed to say that it was only last year that I began to properly understand the significance of the Feast, and yet I'm delighted that I now do. It had always been for me the cause of some confusion. Yes, Our Lord appeared in brilliance and two long-deceased key figures in the history of the people of Israel appeared along with Him, but what was the point of it all.

It is, of course, Christ's showing to us that He is the fulfilment of all things, and giving us a taste of the pure Light that is God, in which we are called to share, and which is the purpose of our journey of theosis/deification, and the whole point of our life and existence. Moses and Elijah's presence show Christ as the summit of both the Law and the Prophets, not called to replace them but to show their meaning in the splendour of their fullness in Him.

The disciples, who are with Christ, not having yet completed their theosis, are unable to look upon Him transfigured for they do not yet share in that brilliance, holiness, and life of the Trinity. I love the way the Transfiguration icons show them in various states of disarray, averting their eyes, tumbling down the mountain, falling to the ground. For them to behold that Presence would be destructive to them. We see the same thing in the Old Testament where contact with holiness means sure and certain death. Uzziah reaches out to prevent the Ark of the Covenant from falling and dies instantly because he lived before the Incarnation and Ascension, before the New Covenant, where completion of theosis was quite simply impossible. Only those in the Old Covenant who had met with God's favour were able to approach Him, and even then it was in veiled form, as a burning bush, or a voice from a cloud. Even then, for them to have been exposed to the fullness of the splendour of God would have been pain beyond what they could bear. This is hell - the brilliant Presence of God as experienced by those who have not accepted his grace to conform their hearts, minds, bodies, wills, and their entire being to Him. This bizarre concept that hell is somehow the absence of God is just too far removed from God's revelation of Himself to us and indeed from the belief and practice of the Church to be taken seriously.

O heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things; Treasury of blessings and Giver of life, come and abide in us, cleanse us from all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One!
- from the Trisagion Prayers

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?

And from thy Presence whither shall I flee?
If I go up to heaven, Thou art there;
if I go down into hades, Thou art present there.
If I take up my wings toward the dawn
and make mine abode in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there shall thy hand hold me.
- verses from Psalm 138

How can there be a place where God is not? Yes, hell is a separation from God but only in the sense of self-imposed rejection of unity and communion with Him, causing his Presence to be experienced as unbearable agony.

Yet with our the restoration of our human nature to the heavenly state at Christ's Ascension was the gate once again opened for us to follow, including all those who had died before the coming of Christ who, at his glorious Resurrection, pulled them from the jaws of death and Hades where they had been waiting.

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was held by it extinguished it.
Having descended into Hades, He made Hades captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of his flesh.
And Isaiah, receiving this beforehand, cried out:
'Hades,' said he, 'was embittered when it met Thee in the lower regions.'
It was embittered, for it was destroyed.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was cast down.
It was embittered, for it was bound.
It received a body, and met God face to face.
It received earth, and encountered heaven.
It received that which was seen, and fell upon that which was unseen.
O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen! and thou art cast down.
Christ is risen! and the Angels rejoice.
Christ is risen! and life lives.
Christ is risen! and not one of the dead remains in the grave.
- from the Paschal catechetical sermon of St John Chrysostom.

So in the Transfiguration, we have a foretaste of our calling, made possible by Christ's taking upon Himself our human nature, descending to our death and conquering it by his glorious Resurrection, and taking that human nature once more into the Presence of God. It is this destiny of ours that in which the Saints already share, and of whom Our Lady is chief, whose glorious Assumption we celebrate in a few days' time. May they pray for us.

A blessed Feast of the Transfiguration to all celebrating at this time.

O God, Who in the glorious Transfiguration of thine Only-Begotten Son didst confirm the mysteries of the Faith by the testimony of the fathers, and in the voice which came down from the bright cloud didst marvellously foreshow the perfect adoption of sons: vouchsafe in thy mercy to make us coheirs with the glorious King, and grant that we may be partakers of his glory. Through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, Who with Thee and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, God, world without end. Amen.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Holy Anna, Judah's glory!

The noble stock of Jesse hath brought forth a pleasant stem, from which doth spring a flower of wondrous fragrance. - Magnificat Antiphon for Vespers of the Feast

Holy Anna! Judah’s glory!
through the Church from east to west
ev’ry tongue proclaims thy praises,
Holy Mary’s Mother Blest.
Under thy protecting banner,
here assembled in thy name,
Mary’s mother, gracious Anna,
grace and help of thee we claim!

Saintly kings and priestly forbears
blended in thy sacred line;
thou in virtue those before thee
didst excel by grace divine.

Linked in bonds of purest wedlock,
thine it was for us to bear,
by the favour of high heaven,
our salvation’s morning star.

From thy stem in beauty blossomed
ancient Jesse’s mystic rod;
earth from thee received the Mother
of th’almighty Son of God.

All the human race benighted
in the depth of darkness lay;
when in Anne it saw the dawning
of the long-expected day.

Honour, glory, virtue, merit,
be to Thee, O Virgin’s Son!
with the Father and the Spirit,
while eternal ages run.

Vespers this evening begins the Feast of Ss Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Mother of God. My Anglican parish church when I was growing up was dedicated in honour of St Anne and so I have had an affinity to her for some years. I even adopted her name as my screen name on a discussion forum for a few weeks until I realised that people had begun to assume that I was female. It surprises me that so many do not know who she is.

Only as an adult, however, did I come across the Protoevangelium of James, perhaps because the Presentation of Our Lady on the 21st of November doesn't feature in the kalendar of the Anglican Province of the West Indies. I think that this gives us a splendid picture of the faith of Our Lady's parents in constantly praying to God for a child and in so willingly offering her to his service. They are certainly models that I could do with emulating much more, and I hope that their prayers will aid me to do this.

Holy Joachim, pray for us!
Holy Anna, pray for us!
Holy Mary, pray for us!
May the divine help remain with us always, and may the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Mother Anne, be joyful;
sing, O mother lowly,
since thou art the parent
of God's Mother lowly.

Praise thy wondrous daughter;
Joachim, too, raises
to the Virgin Mary
his paternal praises.

For in her our planet
first hath benediction
which in hapless Eva
suffered malediction.

Therefore take the praises
joyous hearts are paying;
and from all defilement
cleanse us by thy praying.

Father, Son eternal,
Holy Ghost supernal,
with one praise we bless Thee,
Three-in-One confess Thee. Amen.
Gaude, mater Anna - The Office Hymn from 1st Vespers

The morning star succeeds to night,
the dawn soon follows, growing white
to herald in the surise bright
that floods the waking world with light.

Christ is the sun of righteousness,
the dawn, the Mother full of grace;
bright Anne precedes her, like the star,
to drive the shades of law afar.

Lo, Anne; the very fruitful root,
the tree of healing, whence a shoot
to richest blossoming did spring,
and brought us Christ, to Whom we sing:

All honour, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to Thee;
all glory as is ever meet,
to Father and to Paraclete. Amen.
Succedit nocti Lucifer - The Office Hymn from Lauds

Let all the Saints in concert sing,

the mother of that Maid to laud
by whose unstainèd childbearing
salvation came to men from God.

She sought her faithful progeny
from God the Father, Lord of light;
and merited most worthily
the pride of virgins, Mary bright.

To Joachim, esteemed the peer
of any in his goodliness,
Anne brought forth Mary, mother dear
of Jesus, King of righteousness.

Let Jesse's noble stock efface
from mother Eve ancestral traits:
Anne bears her child, the child of grace,
the fairest blossom of the Saints!

All honour, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to Thee;
all glory, as is ever meet,
to Father and to Paraclete. Amen.
Omnis sanctorum concio - The Office Hymn from 2nd Vespers


Our parish is on a bit of a break at the moment, only for a few weeks while my parish priest is away. Perhaps if we get our own building we could have Reader services during August.

Oh well, it gives me the opportunity in a few weeks' time to visit the cathedral in London. I have wanted to go for some time but my plans have always been thwarted by people or circumstances. Our bishop is visiting the diocese at the end of the month and will serve an Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at the cathedral, and perform a diaconal Ordination as well. I suppose that a few of you will have had the letter from Reader Andrew Bond that accompanied the most recent edition of Orthodox News, alerting us that he is to be ordained to the diaconate. Am I right in believing that he will need to be ordained to the subdiaconate the day before? Or does the "no two orders in any one day" rule only apply to the diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate? If he is ordained the day before,it will probably be a quiet affair. In any case, I'm quite excited at the prospect of seeing my first Ordination and visiting the cathedral of my diocese for the first time.