Friday, August 5, 2011

Life Transfigured through the Festal Experience


Dear Parish Faithful,

Here is a timely passage from the small journal published quarterly by the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA. The journal is appropriately called “LIFE TRANSFIGURED.” (That already says a great deal about an Orthodox worldview!) In one of the journal’s anonymously written articles by one of the nuns, entitled “The Festal Experience,” we read of the central place of the major Feast Days in the life of the Church – and hopefully within our own lives:
Why is it that on a feast day the whole of nature mysteriously smiles? Why is it that then a heavenly gladness fills our hearts: a gladness far beyond that of earth and the very air in church and in the altar becomes luminous? It is the breath of Thy gracious love (from the Akathist, “Glory to God for all Things”). Feast days are an important part of our life as Orthodox Christians. Many of us have experienced the heavenly gladness that fills our hearts on Pascha, the anticipation, the excitement, and the joy. Pascha is a celebration that just needs to be experienced – reading a book is no substitute for participating in the services. In addition to Pascha, the Church gives us many other feasts throughout the year, each with its own unique grace.

The feast days of the Church are important because they set the cycle for the entire year and help us grow from one year to the next. Many of us learned about these feasts in Sunday school or catechism classes or through personal reading. But as we know from Pascha, our Orthodox understanding of the feasts as well as our life in Christ is built on liturgical experience. It is not enough for us to simply learn about these events and their theological significance. We must celebrate them within the liturgical cycle of the church. It is through these special days that the Church brings us the very voice of God. We respond to this voice of His grace and love by letting ourselves be led into the fullness of each service, allowing the words spoken through the Church by that Voice to form us more clearly into His image.

Two of those great feast days fall within the month of August – Transfiguration and Dormition. These two feasts reveal to us our destiny as human persons created “in the image and likeness of God” – to be transfigured by the uncreated energy of God – the gift of the Holy Spirit; and to fall asleep in the Lord awaiting our “translation” to heaven, already anticipated in the falling asleep of the Mother of God. As the unknown monastic author of our article reminds us, this is a gift to be experienced in the liturgical assembly of the Church and not simply something to be read about in a book. Thank God we do not have “worship by committee” in the Orthodox Church, where services and celebrations are more-or-less made up as we go along, artificially striving for “creativity” and the illusion of “relevance” (with irrelevance victimizing every new “gimmick” almost before it is enacted). We are blessed with an authentic and ageless liturgical Tradition that initiates us into the “mystery of Christ” that organically combines holiness, majesty, spiritual sobriety and aesthetic beauty in the experience of worshipping the one living God – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Fr Steven

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