Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Week - The Ultimate Perspective



Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


At the beginning of Holy Week we contemplate "The End" — of the earthly ministry of Christ, of our own lives and the judgment that will lead to, and of the "end of the world." In other words, there is something of an "apocalyptic edge" to the texts of the services, beginning with the Scriptures and extending into the hymnography.

Another term would be "eschatological," meaning the "last things" in relation to the fulfillment of God's design for the world. That may initially sound like a strange combination of themes. After all, our major concern and focus is upon our Lord voluntarily going up to Jerusalem in order to ascend the Cross in the flesh. But right before the Son of Man ascends the Cross, He solemnly declares, "Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out" [John 12:31].   In judging Christ, "the world" judges itself. Sin and darkness seem to prevail when the Innocent Christ is led away to be crucified. The triumph of such darkness can freeze the heart and lead many to despair, the very fate of the disciples at this time. As the prophet Amos said, "The one who is stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked on that day" [Amos 2:16; cf. Mark 14:51-52].    Where do we stand?

It is striking that in the hymns for the Bridegroom Matins of Holy Tuesday, for example, there are not many direct references to the Passion of Christ. There is much more of a combination of exhortation and warning to us -- the contemporary disciples of Christ -- concerning our relationship to Christ, to the world, and to our neighbor. Are we loyal to our Lord as we remain in the world? As we await the Second Coming of the Lord in glory, do we manifest true discipleship by fulfilling His commandments? If the Bridegroom were to come "at midnight," would He find us "watchful" or "heedless?" Are we "weighed down with sleep" -- the sleep of spiritual sloth and torpor -- or do we "rouse" ourselves in order to glorify God through our faith and deeds? Do we have a "wedding garment" with which to enter the "bridal chamber" of the Lord? 

To come to the service is to subject oneself to this deep probing as the Lord searches our hearts for signs of faith and love. This is done through the hymnography which in turn elaborates upon the parables of the talents, the wise and foolish virgins, the wedding banquet, etc. These hymns are far more striking - and convicting - when listened to prayerfully within the context of the actual services as they unfold during Holy Week.

Firmly, but rather relentlessly, the hymns reveal the true state of our souls in order that we turn to the Lord and seek His healing forgiveness:

How shall I, the unworthy one, appear in the splendor of Thy saints? For if I dare enter Thy bridal chamber with them, my garments will betray me; they are unfit for a wedding. The angels will cast me out in chains. Cleanse the filth of my soul, O Lord, and save me in Thy love for mankind.

O Christ the Bridegroom, my soul has slumbered in laziness. I have no lamp aflame with virtues. Like the foolish virgins I wander aimlessly when it is time for work. But do not close Thy compassionate heart to me, O Master. Rouse me, shake off my heavy sleep. Lead me with the wise virgins into the bridal chamber, that I may hear the pure voice of those that feast and cry unceasingly: "O Lord, glory to Thee!"

Thou art more beautiful than all men, O Bridegroom. Thou hast invited us to the spiritual banquet of Thy bridal chamber. Strip me of the ugly garment of my sins as I participate in Thy passion. Adorn me in the glorious robe of Thy beauty that proclaims me a guest in Thy Kingdom, O merciful Lord.

Contemplating "The End" at the beginning of Holy Week provides the necessary and ultimate perspective on the events of Holy Week that culminate with the Cross of our Lord. "This world" will judge itself -- a judgment from which we flee by remaining loyal to Christ. But to do this meaningfully, we must make a choice: are we like "innocent," but apathetic bystanders, who safely flee from any engagement in the passion of Christ or of any self-denial and a willingness to bear our own personal crosses? Or do we heed the Gospels and the call of the hymnography to rouse ourselves to both the active and contemplative life of authentic discipleship?

The "end" of Christ's ministry on the Cross is the "beginning" of the New Age of the Kingdom of God's presence in this world. The Son of Man will be raised from the dead and glorified to the right hand of the Father on high. We anticipate that as we move through Holy Week, but it will be as "stewards of grace" that the Kingdom will be an experience in our lives and not simply an idea.


Originally published here April 14, 2009.
Republished this week on the OCA website.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Our Commitment to Holy Week


Dear Parish Faithful,


I am trying to fit in one more book before Pascha, and that is The Final Days of Jesus by two PhDs and professors at a Baptist Theological Seminary(!).  It is a day-by-day account, based on the Gospels, of Christ's last week before His Death and Resurrection. It is very well done and provides a good chronology and excellent background material that allows the reader to better understand the religious, cultural, political and social realities of 1st c. Jerusalem. All of this is based upon a close reading of the four canonical Gospels.

The authors actually refer to "Holy Week" in the process, and write about it very reverently, but as if this is something their fellow Baptist or Evangelical believers are not overly familiar with. 

In fact, a kind of sub-text to the book is precisely to awaken a sense of Holy Week in their fellow (Protestant) Christians.  That is not our problem!  As Orthodox, we "live" for Holy Week and realize that it is the key week of our liturgical year, as it will culminate in the Lord's Death and Resurrection - the great paschal mystery.  As Fr. Sergius Bulgakov once wrote:  Holy Week sweeps the Orthodox believer along as if on a mystic torrent. 

Our problem may just be observing Holy Week with focused attention and prayerful participation, as other demands of life impinge upon us in a never-ending flow of responsibilities - and distractions.

Therefore, I would simply like to provide a few pastoral suggestions that everyone can think about and perhaps incorporate into your daily lives as Holy Week unfolds:

+  One must first make a commitment to Holy Week and  make it the priority for your respective households, regardless of how often you actually make it to the services. This is a week of strict fasting, and no other activities should impinge upon that.  Your commitment to making Holy Week the center of your lives is synonymous with your commitment to Christ.

+  Try and arrange your schedules so that you are able to attend the services as well as possible.  However, if you are not able to attend the services, it must not be because of something of "entertainment value;" or some other distraction that can wait for a more appropriate time.  Be especially aware of Great and Holy Friday and Saturday.  These are the days of the Lord's Death and Sabbath rest in the tomb.  These are days of fasting, silence and sobriety.  Respect that fact that you are participating in a great mystery - the mystery of redemption and salvation.

+  Parents, you may think of taking your children out of school on Holy Friday and attending the Vespers service in the afternoon.  (This may already be solved for you in some school systems as we celebrate Pascha this year with Roman Catholics and Protestants and perhaps your school district allows for a taking Good Friday off).

+  Reduce or eliminate TV and other viewings for the week.  Keep off the internet except for essential matters.

+  Be regular in your prayers.

+  Try not to gossip or speak poorly of other persons.

+  Choose at least one of the Passion Narratives from the four Gospels - MK. 14-15; MATT. 25-26; LK. 22-23; JN. 18-19 - and read it carefully through the week.  There is also other good literature about Holy Week and Pascha that could be read.

+  If you have access to any of the Holy Week service booklets, read and study the services carefully before coming to church.  This will deepen your understanding of that particular service's emphasis as Holy Week unfolds.

+  If you come to the midnight Paschal Liturgy, do your best to stay for the entire service, prepared to receive the Eucharist.  You may or may not choose to stay for the meal to follow, but what matters is the Liturgy.

__________

Yesterday evening, at the last of our Presanctified Liturgies for this year, we heard the following hymn:

 
I am rich in passions,
I am wrapped in the false robe of hypocrisy.
Lacking self-restraint I delight in self-indulgence.
I show a boundless lack of love.
I see my mind cast down before the gates of repentance,
starved of true goodness and sick with inattention.
But make me like Lazarus, who was poor in sin,
lest I receive no answer when I pray,
no finger dipped in water to relieve my burning tongue;
and make me dwell in Abraham's bosom in Your love for mankind.

Does this possibly sound familiar to anyone?  Do you know of anyone that this hymn may be describing?  Is this person well-known to you?  If so, you may want to keep this person in your prayers so that they may one day - by the grace of God - be freed of these spiritually-devastating traits.

Friday, April 4, 2014

An Icon of Repentance


Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Yesterday evening, we had a wonderful reading of the entire Life of St. Mary of Egypt, in the context of the Canon of Repentance.  All that was missing were people to hear it!  This Life is one of the premier hagiographical works of the Church that has come down to us through the centuries (it was written by St. Sophronius of Jerusalem in the 7th c.). 

With his usual meticulous care, our webservant has prepared an excellent resource page on our parish website, that will give everyone access to an abbreviated form of her Life, together with many insightful reflections about this marvelous saint - a true "icon of repentance."

If you know nothing about St. Mary of Egypt, here is a great opportunity to fill in that gap.

http://christthesavioroca.org/maryegypt.html


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Remaining Steadfast... with the Lord's help!



Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


Yesterday evening was our most well-attended Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts so far this Great Lent.  At the service we heard the following stichera that sounds like a deeply encouraging call to remain steadfast in the course of the Fast, in imitation of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself:

The fast, the source of blessings,
now has brought us midway through its course.
Having pleased God with the days that have passed
we look forward to making a good use of the days to come,
for growth in blessings brings forth even greater achievements.
While pleasing Christ, the giver of all blessings, we cry:
O Lord, who fasted and endured the cross for our sake,
make us worthy to share blamelessly in Your paschal victory,
by living in peace and rightly giving glory to You
with the Father and the Holy Spirit.


As we begin "to run out of gas" at this midway point, it is encouraging indeed to be reminded that our own Lenten efforts find their source in Christ, who not only "fasted," but who also "endured the cross for our sake."  Jesus did not give up because He was either tired or distracted.  His whole life was a steady journey to the Cross that He would voluntarily ascend, again, "for our sake."  Basically, everything that Christ did and said was "for our sake."  Our modest efforts, combined with and/or manifesting our faith, find their meaning in the possibility that we may be considered "worthy to share blamelessly" in the Lord's "paschal victory."  If Great Lent is a "journey to Pascha," then the prospect of not completing our journey should be a frightening and sobering one.  This annual journey toward the "paschal victory" of Christ is a microcosm of our entire life's journey toward our ultimate goal of experiencing the paschal victory of life over death.

Temptations abound, all with the potential to divert us from our goal.  This being the case, some of the most encouraging words we can hear are found in the Epistle to the Hebrews:  "For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted" (HEB. 2:18).  Knowing through experience what it means to be tempted, as the Lord was in His humanity, He is compassionate towards all of us. 

In another magnificent passage in Hebrews, we are further encouraged:

"For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning" (HEB. 4:15).  

Since the Lord Jesus Christ is the "great high priest who has passed through the heavens" (HEB. 4:14), a great blessing has been bestowed upon us:

"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need" (HEB. 4:16). 

Not a harsh Judge, but a great and compassionate high priest - this is our Lord Jesus Christ!


Monday, March 24, 2014

The Cross: 'To Refresh Our Souls and Encourage Us'



Dear Parish Faithful and Friends in Christ,

“Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection, we glorify.”

This hymn – together with the accompanying rite of venerating the Cross – replaces the usual Trisagion hymn during the Divine Liturgy on the Third Sunday of Great Lent. According to The Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion and Pentecostarion, the full title of this mid-lenten commemoration is “The Sunday of the Veneration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross.” Notice, that though our concentration is on the Cross of our Lord, the hymn culminates with the Resurrection.  This is in full agreement with the Gospel passages in which Christ reveals to His disciples that He is bound for Jerusalem and death on the Cross and that He will rise on the third day. (MK. 8:31; 9:31; 10:34)
 
In a wonderful commentary, The Synaxarion sets before our spiritual sight the meaning of this particular commemoration and its timing: 

The precious and Life-Giving Cross is now placed before us to refresh our souls and encourage us who may be filled with a sense of bitterness, resentment, and depression.  The Cross reminds us of the Passion of our Lord, and by presenting to us His example, it encourages us to follow Him in struggle and sacrifice, being refreshed, assured and comforted. [p. 78]

Hopefully, the first three weeks of the Fast – even if we have truly “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” [Galatians 5:24] – have not led us to experience “bitterness, resentment and depression!”  However, we could be suffering from precisely those spiritual wounds for other reasons and diverse circumstances in our lives, both external and internal.  My own pastoral experience tells me that this is probably – if not assuredly – the case.  And there is no better time than Great Lent to acknowledge this.  Such acknowledgment could lead to genuine healing if pursued in a patient and humble manner.

How, then, can we be healed?  Perhaps the Sunday of the Cross reveals our basic starting point.  The Cross of our Lord, placed before our vision, can release us from our bondage to these passions when we realize that Christ transformed this instrument of pain, suffering and death into an “emblem of victory.”  Christ has absorbed and taken our sins upon Himself, nailing them to the Cross. In the process, “He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in Him" -- or, in some variations, “in it,” meaning the Cross [Colossians 2:15].  These “principalities and powers” continue to harass us to this day, but if we are “in Christ,” then we can actualize His victory over them and reveal their actual powerlessness.  Our lenten journey is leading us to the foot of the Cross and to the empty and life-giving tomb, and the Third Sunday of Great Lent anticipates our final goal so as to encourage us.  Again, from The Synaxarion:

As they who walk on a long and hard way are bowed down by fatigue find great relief and strengthening under the cool shade of a leafy tree, so do we find comfort, refreshment, and rejuvenation under the Life-Giving Cross, which our Holy Fathers 'planted' on this Sunday.  Thus, we are fortified and enabled to continue our Lenten journey with a light way, rested and encouraged. [p. 79]

Certainly none of the above is meant to deflect our attention away from the “scandal of the Cross” by poeticizing this scandal away in pious rhetoric.  We must never lose sight of the sufferings of our Lord on the Cross, and the “price” He paid to release us from bondage to sin and death.  The world in its indifference will never come to understand the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice.  So as not to lose sight of the utter horror of crucifixion as a form of capital punishment, I would like to include a passage from Martin Hengel’s book Crucifixion:

Crucifixion satisfied the primitive lust for revenge and the sadistic cruelty of individual rulers and of the masses.  It was usually associated with other forms of torture, including at least flogging.  At relatively small expense and to great public effect the criminal could be tortured to death for days in an unspeakable way.  Crucifixion is thus a specific expression of the inhumanity dormant within men which these days is expressed, for example, in the call for the death penalty, for popular justice and for harsher treatment of criminals, as an expression of retribution.  It is a manifestation of trans-subjective evil, a form of execution which manifests the demonic character of human cruelty and bestiality. [p. 87]

So much for the “noble simplicity and greatness” of the ancient world!  But there is “nothing new under the sun,” and fallen human nature is just as cruel and evil today.  Again, Christ absorbed all of that human cruelty and bestiality on the Cross.  This was a scandal, for the Son of God died the death of a slave on the Cross [Philippians 2:8].  Now, as a “new creation” in Christ, we must of course manifest our freedom from precisely that dark and demonic abyss into which human beings can plunge, and manifest the transfiguration of our human “energy” into the virtues that are so wonderfully revealed in the lives of the saints.  This was the prayer of the Apostle Paul when the light of the crucified and risen Lord began to shine in a world of darkness: 

May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us [or you] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. [Colossians 1:14]

The Church understands and will put before our gaze the sufferings of the Lord during Holy Week.  But it is also from within the Church that we come to know the victory of Christ achieved through His death on the Cross and fully revealed in His Resurrection.  Thus the marvelous paradox of venerating a “Life-Giving Cross!”  The rhetoric of the Church’s language is thereby not empty but revelatory of a mystery that has been accomplished in our midst.  The Synaxarion concludes its section on “The Sunday of the Veneration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross” with the following prayer, a fitting way, I hope, to conclude this meditation: 

O Christ our God, through the power of the Holy Cross, deliver us from the influence of our crafty enemy and count us worthy to pass with courage through the course of the forty days and to venerate Thy divine Passion and Thy Life-Giving Resurrection.  Be merciful to us, for Thou alone art good and full of love for mankind.  Amen.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

St Basil's Liturgy: Deserving our Deepest Attention and Overwhelming Awe


Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


During the five Sundays of Great Lent we turn to the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great for our Eucharistic celebration on the Lord's Day.  This Liturgy is used another five times during the year, two more of which are during Holy Week - Thursday and Saturday.  (The other three times are the Feasts of Nativity and Theophany, and then on St. Basil's day of commemoration, January 1).   This Liturgy is known for its long(er) prayers, some of which may challenge our capacity to stand still in concentration and prayerful attention.  But what prayers!  They strike me personally as being unrivaled in our entire Tradition for their beauty of expression and the depth of their theological/spiritual content.  Even though we are hearing them in translation, that beauty and depth remain intact and shine through quite well.

Now St. Basil did not sit down and "compose" the entire Liturgy "from scratch," to use that expression.  The basic structure of the Liturgy was already an essential element of the Church's living liturgical Tradition.  However, there is every reason to believe that he is responsible for the magnificent Anaphora prayers.  These prayers reflect St. Basil's intense preoccupation with the Church's Trinitarian faith - that we worship the One God as the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; the Son and the Holy Spirit being consubstantial with the Father as to their divine nature, and thus co-enthroned and co-glorified  with the Father from all eternity. (St. Basil wrote a separate magnificent treatise On the Holy Spirit, demonstrating the divinity of the Holy Spirit through his knowledge of the Scriptures and the Church's liturgical Tradition).

That belief in the Holy Trinity, though present "in the beginning" of the Church's proclamation of the Gospel, was under attack during the turbulent fourth century, with the Arian heresy and its various offshoots stirring up seemingly interminable debate and dissension. St. Basil was one of the premier exponents of the Church's faith that the one God is the Holy Trinity; and he helped establish the classical terminology of the Church in expressing that Faith:  God is one in "essence" (Gk. ousia), yet three distinct "Persons" (Gk. hypostaseis).  That terminology remains intact to this day.  The opening Anaphora Prayer, "O Existing One, Master, Lord  God, Father almighty and adorable! ..." is steeped in praise and glorification of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; and thus deserves our deepest attention and sense of overwhelming awe as we stand in the presence of the Holy Trinity and as we join the angelic powers in "singing, shouting, and proclaiming: Holy!  Holy!  Holy!  Lord of Sabaoth! ..."

In profound relationship to the prayers of the Liturgy revealing the Church's belief in the Holy Trinity, we find St. Basil's unrivaled expression of the divine "economy" (Gk. oikonomia) throughout. This refers to God's providential dispensation/design toward His creation - culminating in the salvation of the world - in and through the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection and Glorification of our Lord Jesus Christ.  If I were asked to present to an interested inquirer the most compelling and succinct expression  of the divine economy as taught and proclaimed by the Orthodox Church, I would definitely refer this person to the long Anaphora Prayer of St. Basil's Liturgy beginning where the Thrice-holy left off:

"With these blessed powers, O Master who lovest mankind ..."  

After praising God "for the magnificence of Thy holiness,"  we begin to prayerfully recall - and thus make present - the full extent of His providential dispensation toward the world:

"When Thou didst create man by taking dust from the earth, and didst honor him with Thine own image, O God ..."  

This long remembrance takes us through what we refer to as the "Fall," through the promises of the prophets — "foretelling to us the salvation which was to come ..."  — all the way through to the Lord's Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, Ascension and even Second Coming:


"Ascending into heaven, He sat down at the right hand of Thy majesty on high, and He will come to render to every man according to his works ..."

 Further recalling, and thus actualizing "the night in which He gave Himself up for the life of the world," this entire process will culminate with the Epiklesis, or Invocation of the Holy Spirit "to bless, to hallow and to show" that the bread and wine of our offering will "become" the Body and Blood of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.  We will then receive the Holy Gifts "for the remission of sins and unto life everlasting."

Today, the Orthodox faithful are blessed in that the prayers of St. Basil's Liturgy are read aloud so that the entire gathered assembly of believers may actually "hear" the prayers that reveal the Lord God's Trinitarian nature and the divine economy together with the consecration of the Holy Gifts.  In the past that may have not been so, and even today it is not so in all Orthodox churches.  So we thank God for our own liturgical revival which has so enlivened our contemporary worship experience with full parish participation in the Church at prayer and praise.

However, and admittedly, there is one prayer that is usually read while the choir is singing (at least that is what we do here in our parish); and that is a final prayer near the very end of the Liturgy that the priest will say while facing the Table of Preparation and the remaining Holy Communion that will eventually be consumed by the priest, and while the choir is singing "Blessed be the name of the Lord, henceforth and forevermore" three times:

The mystery of Thy dispensation, O Christ our God, has been accomplished and perfected as far as it was  in our power;
for we have had the memorial of Thy death; we have seen the type of Thy Resurrection; we have been filled with Thine
unending life; we have enjoyed Thine inexhaustible food; which in the world to come be well-pleased to vouchsafe to us
all, through the grace of Thine eternal Father, and Thine holy and good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto
ages of ages.  Amen.

This summation of the meaning, purpose and experience of the Liturgy is an "awesome" claim that perhaps may strike us in its awesomeness  even more effectively if we break the prayer down into its component parts:

  • We have had the memorial of the Lord's death;
  • We have seen the type of the Lord's  Resurrection;
  • We have been filled with the Lord's unending life;
  • We have enjoyed the Lord's inexhaustible food;
  • We ask to continue in this partaking in the world to come;
  • All this through the grace of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit!

That is quite a Sunday morning experience which we so blandly describe as "going to church!"  Clearly the remainder of the day is all downhill - no matter what we do!  When we begin the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great we know that we have a long road ahead of us.  That will require some patience, concentration, and a willingness to "stay with it" through to its dismissal.  If we are able to do that, then the "rewards" are inestimable.  It will also test our deepest desires about what is "the one thing needful" in our lives and what is the treasure of our hearts.  Yet, the Sundays of Great Lent are a unique opportunity to further our movement towards the Lord as we move through Great Lent and our lives toward the gladsome light of the Kingdom of God.



Saturday, March 15, 2014

Resistance to False Gods


http://www.amazon.com/Aftermath-Provocations-David-Bentley-Hart/dp/0802845738
Dear Parish Faithful,

I continue to read David Bentley Hart, the brilliant Orthodox theologian/philosopher who has a "way with words" and yet simultaneously offers a trenchant critique of contemporary culture and an impassioned defense of the Christian revelation.  One of his most well-known essays is "Christ and Nothing (No Other God)" from his book of collected essays, In the Aftermath - Provocations and Laments. 

I am lifting a passage out of this article because it refers to the "Lenten privations" and the "Christian asceticism" that we embrace; but places these in the larger context of  a "refusal of secularization" that we must be vigilant about because it can lead us astray toward false gods.  His writing takes a good deal of careful reading and concentration, even in such a short passage as the following.  But the richness of his thought and the insights there on display are indeed "provocative" as Hart "laments" the moral morass and stagnation of the post-Christian world:

To have no god but the God of Christ, after all, means today that we must endure the Lenten privations of what is most certainly a dark age, and strive to resist the bland solace, inane charms, brute viciousness, and dazed passivity of post-Christian culture - all of which are so tempting precisely because they enjoin us to believe in and adore ourselves.  
It means also to remain aloof from many of the moral languages of our time, which are - even at their most sentimental, tender, and tolerant - usually as decadent and egoistic as the currently most fashionable vices.  
It means in short self-abnegation, contrarianism, a willingness not only to welcome but to condemn, and a refusal of secularization as resolute as the refusal of the ancient Christians to burn incense to the genius of the emperor.  
This is not an especially grim prescription, I should add:  Christian asceticism is not, after all, a cruel disfigurement of the will, contaminated by world-weariness or malice towards creation; it is a different kind of detachment, the cultivation of the pure heart and a pure eye, which allows one to receive the world and rejoice in it, not as a possession of the will or an occasion for the exercise of power, but as the good gift of God. It is, so to speak, a kind of Marian waiting upon the Word of God and its fruitfulness.  
Paradoxical as it may seem to modern temperaments, Christians asceticism is the practice of love, what Maximus the Confessor calls learning to see the logos of each thing within the Logos of God and it leads more properly to a grateful reverence ...

Take your time to "unpack" that paragraph and think upon these things!