Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Presanctified Liturgy: "A Day in Our Life," and "Our Life in One Day"

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

GREAT LENT: The Eleventh Day

If we look inside our hearts
and find there even a trace of animosity toward others
for the wrongs they have done to us,
then we should realize that we are still far removed
from the love of God.
The love of God absolutely precludes us
from hating any human being.

~ St. Maximus the Confessor


Yesterday evening, we served the Liturgy of the Presanctifed Gifts for this second week of Great Lent. I believe that it was Fr. Thomas Hopko who said that this is one of the true "masterpieces" of the Byzantine liturgical tradition. After a long, hard day of work - combined with fasting - we enter into the presence of our Lord within the stillness and solemnity of this superb lenten service. Into the darkened church Christ will come as the "Gladsome Light" that "illuminates all." We are all tired, hungry and humbled by our weakness. Thus we learn of our great dependency on God - for truly "man does not live by bread alone." We offer the day back to God, with its sorrows and joys; its successes and failures. And God does not disappoint us, for at the end of the service we will receive the very Body and Blood of Christ from the presanctified Gifts that were prepared for this moment. This is the manna that sustains us through the "desert" of the Fast. This is the "Bread from heaven" which is Christ Himself. Now we are strengthened in order to "complete the course of the Fast." What an incomparably blessed way to end the day! Yet another gift from God. Many will stay for the "agape" meal to follow; others will have to leave. Either way, we then return to our homes - still tired! - but no longer hungry because our hunger was fulfilled by receiving the Eucharist. At the end of the day there is Christ - and that is everything.

Perhaps we can understand this day of the Presanctified Liturgy as a microcosm of our entire lives. At the end of our lives, we hope to encounter the glorious Light of the presence of Christ. We hope to enter the Kingdom of Light where the Holy Trinity dwells in inexpressible glory. That will be the unending Banquet of Life where are fellowship with God will be our fellowship with each other. Our entire life is a preparation for that encounter. It means a life spent in prayer and fasting; in following the commandments of Christ amidst all of the temptations and tests that life presents before us. There are sorrows and joys; successes and failures. And we will offer all of this back to Christ Who will "judge" it. Thus, we are "rehearsing" our greatest hope as Christians when we experience Christ in this particular service at the close of the day. It makes for a long, perhaps even exhausting day; but that is how life is often.

When you choose to attend and then prepare for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, you are anticipating your deepest desire for how you want your life to end - in union with Christ. One of the many gifts that Great Lent brings to us.

Fr. Steven

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