Tuesday, July 23, 2013

'We are on a Journey . . .'


Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Unless we find ourselves on an exciting vacation somewhere far from home, it seems that nothing can conceivably be more uneventful than a Monday morning in mid-July.  The only “variety” offered seems to be found in the weather.   Will it rain or will the sun shine?  Will the blistering heat continue, or will we feel some relief?   At this point in the summer, we may have already been on vacation – which means that there isn’t much to look forward to; or we are awaiting an upcoming trip that at least fills us with some sense of anticipation and “escape.”  Which poses a further question:  are those carefully-planned vacations into which we invest so much time, energy, money – and even hope – always as rewarding, relaxing and renewing as anticipated?  I suppose that can only be assessed once we have returned – hopefully as intact as when we departed!  Whatever the case may be, the following passage from the Scriptures may just inspire us to see beyond the tedium that leads to the forgetfulness of God: 


Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather healed.” (HEB. 12:12-13)

Adding to our spiritual ennui is, admittedly, the fact that July is the most uneventful month of the year liturgically:  no major fasts or feasts occur during this month.  Basically, there is “only” the Liturgy on Sundays and the commemoration of a few well-known saints throughout the month.  With vacationing parishioners, there can be a noticeable drop in church attendance.  There may also be certain signs of “spiritual laziness” setting in (induced, perhaps, in part by the haziness of the weather) leading to that condition of spiritual torpor known in our spiritual literature as akedia.  July, therefore, is something of a month-long stretch of desert, for we celebrated the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul at the end of June and await the major Feasts of the Transfiguration and Dormition in August within the context of the two-week fast from August 1-14.

Of course, we never want to find ourselves saying that there is “only” the Liturgy on Sunday mornings.  The word “only” is hopelessly inadequate when applied to the Lord’s Day celebration of the Eucharist!  “Only” implies “uneventful.”  Yet, every Liturgy is the actualization of the paschal mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ, and our participation in that mystery.  At every Liturgy we proclaim and bless the presence and power of the Kingdom of Heaven.  We are praying to and praising the Holy Trinity together with the angels and the saints.  We are in direct communion with God and one another in the Liturgy.  This means that every Liturgy is “eventful” in a manner that we can barely comprehend!

If, indeed, the summer proves to be something of a spiritual drought, then we can only thank God for the weekly liturgical cycle that begins and culminates with the Divine Liturgy on the Lord’s Day so that we can recover and renew our genuine humanity that has been created, redeemed and transformed “in Christ.”  To speak of our life “in Christ” on the communal level we believe that at every Liturgy, we anticipate the messianic banquet where and when many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (MATT. 8:11). The heavenly manna, or the “Bread from heaven” that we receive by the grace of God, strengthens us in the somewhat outward and inward “desert-like” conditions of the world around or within us.

On a more interior level, we may one day make the wonderful discovery that we need not travel far away geographically in order to embark upon a life-transforming journey. In the Prologue to his book The Orthodox Way, Archbishop Kallistos Ware relates the following anecdote:

One of the best known of the Desert Fathers of the fourth-century Egypt, St. Sarapion the Sidonite, travelled once on pilgrimage to Rome.  Here he was told of a celebrated recluse, a woman who lives always in one small room, never going out.  Skeptical about her way of life – for he was himself a great wanderer – Sarapion called on her and asked:  “Why are you sitting here?”  To this replied: “I am not sitting, I am on a journey.”

Admittedly, this will not work well with the children.  But at one point in our lives, we need desperately to make that discovery of our interior depths wherein we find a point of stillness that will further still our excessive restlessness that endlessly pushes us “outward” rather than “inward.”  In one of my favorite sentences in The Orthodox Way, Archbishop Ware puts it this way: 


We are on a journey through the inward space of the heart, a journey not measured by the hours of our watch or the days of the calendar, for it is a journey out of time into eternity.

“Vacations” are one thing, and “journeys” (or pilgrimages) another.  The packaging and planning of the former make them much more predictable that the limitless possibilities of the latter. So, as we plan our outward vacations by plane or car, we need make provisions for the interior journeys into the greater space of our hearts through “faith, hope and love,” as well as through the practices of prayer and fasting, so as to remain attentive to the “still voice of God” that gives direction and meaning to our lives.  Be that as it may, we pray that God will bless us on both forms of travel!

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