Monday, October 16, 2017

The Perfect Ending to the Perfect Day


Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,



Although the day has passed, and is therefore now in the irretrievable past, I would like to explain why I believe that it was the "perfect time" to have come to Saturday evening's Great Vespers a couple of days ago.

It struck me as the "perfect time" because it came at the end of what can only be described as a (near) "perfect day." Saturday was a truly beautiful day or, as some would say, a gorgeous day. Well into the Fall at this point in time, it was not only warm, but the drenching sunshine, the pellucid clarity of the blue sky, and the changing colors of gold, yellow, orange and red still clinging to the trees combined to make each of us instinctively - or perhaps consciously - grateful for the simple joy of being alive. "Glory to You for the Feast Day of life!" we hear in the Akathist Hymn "Glory to God for All Things." What a day to wake up to and have your spirit lifted up in the process! As Fr. Alexander Schmemann used to say, it was the kind of day on which life made a great deal of sense. And such a day offered many opportunities for a variety of activities: working around the house (many of those leaves are now on the ground and need to be raked up); children playing in the yard; a trip to the park; a long walk, etc. The list can easily go on.

It is my humble opinion that the "perfect" culmination to such a day would have been to come to Great Vespers and truly thank God through the prayers and hymns of the service for the gift of such a day. (It is possible that someone may have said or thought that it was too nice of a day to "interrupt" by going to church. But, as the saying goes, better to not even go there ...) 

During the day, we may have paused for a moment and thanked God for its beauty, but the entire structure of Great Vespers is such that we offer our thanksgiving to God from within the Church as "ecclesial beings." It is not the impersonal forces of "Mother Nature" that we worship, but our heavenly Father, "the Maker of heaven and earth and of all things both visible and invisible." Again, that worship is most perfectly expressed from within the Church in our liturgical prayer. The very atmosphere of the church and our prayerful attention greatly magnifies our awareness of this truth. 

As mentioned above, from within the Church, our instinctive awareness of "goodness, truth and beauty," becomes a conscious awareness culminating in worship and thanksgiving. The service at the end of the day helps us to remember this. And perhaps this is something we forget without the liturgical service of Great Vespers.

Every Vespers service begins with Psalm 104, which is a form of "poetic theology," a hymn to the divinely-ordained diversity, order and purpose of all of creation: "O Lord, how manifold are Thy works, in wisdom has Thou made them all!" Therefore, on the one hand, as the day wanes, and the sun begins to set, Great Vespers comes at the day's end so that we thank God for the enjoyment and experiences of that day - good or bad. 

On the other hand, according to the Scriptures "there was evening and morning, one day" (GEN. 1:5), so the evening service of Vespers begins the next day liturgically - and on Saturday evening that means the Lord's Day. As the sun sets, we sing an ancient hymn to Christ, the "Gladsome Light" Who illuminates the darkness of the world with a light that cannot be "overcome" (cf. Jn. 1:5). In our liturgical theology we proclaim the "sanctification of time," indicating by this term the divine source of time and its (re)direction toward the Kingdom of Heaven made possible through the Death and Resurrection of Christ - the major theme of Sunday, the Lord's Day. And like the Elder Symeon, we can "depart in peace" - today and at the end of our earthly lives - for our eyes, too, have seen the salvation that God has "prepared before the face of all people."

I repeat: it struck me that being at Great Vespers was the perfect ending to the perfect day that last Saturday was. We had eight hours or more to enjoy it. Plenty of time for a great deal of activity. Then, we offer back an hour of our time to the God who makes all things possible. This is not an "interruption" in our day, but a "culmination" of the day. 

For the sake of emphasis, I used the term "perfect time" somewhat rhetorically when I began this meditation on being present at last Saturday's Great Vespers service. It is always the "perfect time" - rain or shine - when we include our presence in church as we make our plans and plot out our days as they come to us as gifts from God. Many such days have passed, and hopefully there are many more yet to come.

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