Wednesday, August 31, 2011

To Begin That Interior Renewal

Dear Parish Faithful,

A reminder, that in preparation and recognition of the Church New Year that begins on Thursday, September 1; we will serve the beautiful akathist hymn “Glory to God for All Things” at 7:00 p.m. The title of this hymn is taken from the last known words of St. John Chrysostom before he died in exile in a remote part of Asia Minor. This brings to mind the words of the Apostle Paul from his Epistle to the Romans:

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ROM. 8:38-39)

Although uncertainty remains, many attribute this hymn to the Archpriest Grigory Petrov (+1942), while he was a prisoner in a Soviet labor camp. There are allusions to life in the camp within the hymn. The possibility of such a magnificent glorification of God emerging from terrible suffering once again attests to the power of St. Paul’s words above; the resilience and perseverance of a person who entrusts his life to Christ; and the power of Christian hope recognizing that God is the ultimate reality and Lord of the living and the dead. This akathist hymn, with its particular structure of thirteen kontakia and twelve ikoi, is amazing in its comprehensive praise of God for “all things” both temporal and eternal: the cosmic and natural realms in all of their vastness to the smallest of fragrant flowers that bring delight to our senses. God is glorified for the range of human experience that embraces everything between life and death: our capacity to love, to create, to feel awe and beauty in the presence of the created world, and even to endure suffering in the hope we have through Christ when we must. And God is glorified for the presence of His “two hands” – the Son of God and the Holy Spirit. We hear praise for the gifts of the human mind and spirit, including poetry and scientific discovery.

This akathist hymn in which God is glorified for “all things” can serve to offer some much-needed context to, and even comfort for, the “trials and tribulations” of our own lives which can overwhelm us at times, leaving us physically exhausted and spiritually drained. There is always that nagging question -“What’s it all about?” - that can intrude upon our many efforts to avoid such questions with the busyness of everyday life, or the restless efforts to distract ourselves and entertain ourselves into a stupor of insensitivity to life’s deeper questions. This hymn is a wonderful antidote to such myopic efforts toward self-gratification, as well as a genuine inspiration to look at our lives with the renewed vision of faith that detects the presence of God in the world around us and within us.

If life allows you to be present so as to glorify the living God that we claim to collectively believe in as a parish of Orthodox Christians, then here is a wonderful opportunity to begin that interior process of renewal as we begin the Church New Year. In the final analysis, it is all “about God” when we ask the essential questions about life and death. And we need to thank and glorify God whenever the opportunity to do so presents itself.

Fr. Steven

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