O Lord Thou shalt open my lips and my mouth shall declare Thy praise.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Byzantine Chant for Lent

From Byzypriest:

The Canon of St Andrew of Crete during the first week of Lent at Ukrainian catholic University, Lviv (2012).

The Canon of St Andrew of Crete is a penitential canon chanted during Lent in the Eastern Churches. Note the prostrations during the refrain "Pomiluj me Bozhe, Pomiluj me" ("Have mercy on me O God, have mercy on me"). The prostration is a penitential mark which is a very common feature in Eastern Catholic liturgies during Lent. The chanting of the canon goes together with the reading of the life of St. Mary of Egypt, which I recounted here.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Love Does Not Relent

First Sunday of Lent - I Class
Christ came into the world to save sinners; to give Himself in sacrifice for the sanctification of sinners. He is so consumed by and obsessed with getting sinners to Heaven that with no regard whatsoever for His own well being or even His place in Heaven (Phil 2:6), He endures every pain and ignores every temptation from the devil and the world to stop or do things differently as part of His Self-sacrifice unto the remission of sin. All throughout His passion, from the garden to Calvary, Christ was tempted to give up or speak out. He refused to stop. He refused to speak up and make His case that He was right. The Divine Bridegroom is so obsessed with getting sinners to Heaven that He suicidally gives Himself to the Father, enduring all the pain and hatred as a penance to increase His sacrifice unto the remission of the sins causing that same pain in order to get His Beloved Bride the Church to Heaven. He renews this sacrifice daily on the altar, that He may always be offering Himself for His Bride and always giving Himself to Her in their intimacy of the Eucharist, enduring every sacrilege in the Church as a penance to increase His sacrifice unto the remission of the same sacrileges. So relentless is love.

Love refuses to be satisfied by anything other the union of the beloved with God and the lover is so consumed by the relentless desire to make that happen that he willingly and without hesitation destroys himself to make that happen. He doesn't care if he undergoes the greatest and worst destruction; he wants his beloved in Heaven and he will not relent. Love really does not count the cost. The lover is so obsessed with getting the beloved to Heaven that he wants to destroy himself to make it happen. When the devil and the whole world try to convince him otherwise, he refuses to be convinced by them, and turning the other cheek to them, he endures their persecution as a penance to increase his sacrifice for his beloved and continues to give himself to God for the beloved's sanctification. So much is he consumed by the desire to sanctify her that he wants to be reviled to offer up an always more perfect sacrifice unto the remission of her sins.

Zelus domus tuae comedit me.
Zeal for thy house hath consumed me.
-Ps 68:10

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Lord Mighty In Battle

Why does Christ allow evil? To increase His own suffering on the cross which He then offers up unto the remission of that same evil. This is how He turns the other cheek. He does not rebel against the evil nor does passively let it continue. He endures it as a penance unto its own remission. It is truly an awesome sight to behold the Lord running circles around the devil in such a manner. This is something to keep in the front of our heads as we soldier on this Lent.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This Lent, We Must Pray for Conversions Such as This One

-Greek Vespers last night (for today).

Ash Wednesday - I Class Feria
Commemoration of St. Margaret of Cortona, penitent - IV Class

Today us Latins begin the Great Fast, but also in the Roman Martyrology we have the commemoration of St. Margaret of Cortona. Sadly she is always covered up, usually by the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (which would have been today if it wasn't Ash Wednesday). She was a rebellious teenager that hated her parents and wanted to live her life her own way. She ran away with her lover and lived with him in concubinage (cohabitation), bearing for him a bastard son and very much wanting to marry him. It was only his death that woke her up from her life of sin and convinced her to give herself to God to live the life for which He created her. As it is with penitents, her conversion was all at once, not gradual. St. Margaret realized that she was wrong at the most fundamental level as to what love is. Therefore it became instantly clear that her whole life was wrong and she abandoned it all at one. Love is all or nothing. There is no room for compromise in love: either you completely give yourself to God for the sake of your beloved, or you don't. Either love is the complete giving of yourself to God that He might use you to strengthen your beloved or it isn't. Sex is not an act where people simply give themselves to each other to accomplish the goals they set for their relationship according to what they want. "If the Lord doesn't build the house, in vain to the builders labor." (Ps 126:1) Sex is the perfection and symbol of your entire life where you give yourself to God that He might use you as the sustenance for your beloved in a live-giving union that imitates the life-giving union between Christ and His Bride the Church. Also normal of penitents, St. Margaret was very greatly tempted to return to her former life, however she persevered because if what God says about love is right, then her life was wrong no matter how many people in the world around her say the contrary.

Here is a re-post from last year of the life of St. Margaret of Cortona:
I love all saints who are penitents. St. Margaret of Cortona is an especially good one. I wrote about her recently. She died on the feast of the Chair of Peter in the year 1297, and is listed in the martyrology on that day only, but I'll do her today because her day is obviously impeded. The day after is St. Peter Damian and he's to important to cover up. I could say much about her. When I spoke of her last, I spoke about true love vs. false love. I wanted to speak of her pride, but I decided to save it for today. We all know young people with a sense of pride. It's one of the most defining characteristics of that age group. St. Margret was no exception. She was born at Laviano in Tuscany in 1247. She was a strong-willed teenager. She wanted to "get away from her parents" and live life her own way. She didn't want to have to obey some authority figure because she was already grown up and could do what she wanted and didn't want her parents or God bossing her around. She was a big girl. She could live life however she wanted and be with whatever person she wanted. Stop me if you've heard this one before. Go to confession if this sounds like you.

So our little Margaret is "all grown up". She isn't some little girl, she's a grown woman. The problem is, she isn't a grown woman, she's a teenager that is proud and stubborn and wants her own way. If parents say the contrary, then they're wrong. What teenager doesn't fit this mold? Margaret, now college-age, decides to co-habit with her boyfriend. She lives with him for 9 years (until she's 27) and bears him a son. She wanted to marry him, but he was never really willing. So her chief sins were pride, lust, and sloth, for she was a fallen-away Catholic this whole time. She was freed from her life of concubinage by his murder. The killer was never found. He was found in a ditch several days later. That served as a wake-up call to revert back to the faith. She lived a life of severe penance. She was many times tempted to go back to her sinful life. She stayed strong and joined the third order of St. Francis at Cortona. She received private revelations from Christ, who became her mystical lover. After three years of penance, the revelations got more intense and Christ became more intimate with her, as she had worked off all of her temporal punishment from her life of sin. She is depicted with a crucifix to symbolize these revelations and mystical marriage to Christ. Aside form her conversion, she is famous for being a mystic and founding a group of sisters who worked in a hospital. She is incorrupt and buried in Cortona.

There are many, nay, most, teens today that act just like her and continue to do so long after their 20th birthday. When it comes to love, the mentality is about "getting something out of it". It's all about either the sexual pleasure or the romantic pleasure. The couple descends into what I call the "economy of pleasure". The boy gives the girl romantic pleasure in order to get sexual pleasure. The girl gives the guy sexual pleasure to get romantic pleasure. As long as this "you scratch my back, I scratch yours" agreement keeps flowing back and forth, the two are happy together, even though they are just using each other to get to happiness and calling it "love". At this point boys will do all sorts of crazy, ridiculous, and embarrassing things to impress a girl to which they're attracted, just to be able to have sex with her. He will expose himself to ridicule and degrade himself just to get the girl to have sex with him. The girl, inversely, will do all sorts of things to give him sexual pleasure, be it a sexual act or just simply the way she dresses, in order to please him enough to get him to give her romantic pleasure. She will turn her body from the greatest masterpiece of the Divine Artist, God's ultimate creation, and degrade herself just to get the boy to have give her romantic pleasure. For both the boy and the girl, this is an obsession. It is an obsession with a certain type of pleasure, whether it be romantic or sexual, and being willing to degrade your own self and destroy the dignity God gave you just to get to that pleasure. This is sin. The boy and the girl both destroy themselves just to get this passing pleasure. The pleasure passes and like a cup with no bottom they need more, and the girl will degrade her body by having letting him have sex with it and the boy will degrade himself by doing foolish things to get sex.

They are addicted and will do anything to leech the pleasure they seek from the one they "love". This is not love. I'll tell you what love is. Love, like these addictions, is a force greater than yourself, it consumes you. However, it does not bring anxiety and does not trouble you or cause you to madly crave the pleasure you seek. Love gives you tranquility and serenity, it gives you true peace. You love the person. It hit you like a ton of bricks and now you don't want anything out of them. Rather, you want to give yourself to them and be with them. In other words, you want companionship. This companionship is a deep and close friendship within the context of a romantic relationship, motivated by your love for that person. You do not want lust; it would be nice, but isn't a priority. Rather you want the companionship of the person you love. The underlying mentality is not one of an action towards you, the reception of sexual or romantic pleasure. Rather the underlying mentality is one of an action away from you. You want to give yourself to the other person. When I say that you want companionship, it is not a mentality of "I want the person to come here towards me and be with me." That is the mentality behind lust. The mentality behind lust is "I want to go over there to that person, give my very self to them and be with them." Love gives; it does not desire to receive. Love is completely self-less and self-giving. For this reason pride is completely incompatible and kills love quite easily.

This is why so many people cannot find lasting love today. This is why we have so many broken homes, single mothers, divorce, and cohabitation. They get consumed by the "economy of pleasure" and never experience actual love. They often care about the person and have good intentions, but unless the mentality is one of giving yourself completely to the other while not wanting any pleasure in return, it is not love. It is so easy to care about the person and have good intentions while still wanting to get them to fulfill your dreams of romance or carnal union. That is not love. It is manipulating someone you care about because you care about your romantic or sexual dreams more than you care about that person. The foundation of their relationship is weak and that is why so very few relationships last for a long time. The foundation is not that companionship, that romantic friendship. They might both want that romantic friendship, but have great difficulty in getting it to work because they want to get either sexual or romantic pleasure out of it. That desire for pleasure gets in the way and chokes the romantic friendship, preventing it from developing and this is what causes the break-up or divorce. If they really loved each other with that true, honest, self-giving love, then it would be easy to establish that romantic friendship. There would be no desire for happiness or pleasure in the way because love is self-giving and seeks nothing for self. They look to get some sort of happiness out of it instead of looking to give themselves to another person. They are acting in the wrong direction: towards themselves instead of away from themselves. Today is the day to pray for their conversion. We began the season of Septuagesima yesterday. For the next two months, we have nothing but penance leading up to Easter. Everyday is the day to pray for their conversion. Santa Margarita, ora pro nobis.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Let Us Begin the All-Holy Season of Fasting With Joy

Let us begin the all-holy season of fasting with joy;
Let us shine with the bright radiance of the Holy Commandments of Christ Our God:
with the brightness of love and the splendor of prayer,
the strength of good courage and the purity of holiness!
So, clothed in garments of light, let us hasten to the Holy Resurrection on the Third Day,
that shines on the world with the glory of Eternal Life!
-Greek Matins for the first day of Great Lent (cf. Rom 13:11-14:4; Mt 6:14-21)
Re-post from last year regarding the full Lenten practice for Latin Rite Catholics and which parts of it are obligatory under pain of sin:

Lent is nigh. Here are the traditional fasting rules and what is still binding under pain of sin today:

Abstinence from meat: Meat is defined as the flesh of warm-blooded animals (mammals and birds) and broths/sauces made with or from such animals. Cold-blooded animals (fish, reptiles, frogs, etc.) are allowed. Abstinence begins at age seven and becomes obligatory under pain of sin at age 14.

Fasting: Obligatory under pain of sin for those ages 18-59 (formerly 21-59 in the 1917 Code). Fasting limits food to one full meal and two partial meals that do not add up to a full meal. Beverages are unlimited. Fasting can come with either full or partial abstinence. Full abstinence forbids meat at all three meals. Partial abstinence allows meat at the full meal only.

Ash Wednesday, all Fridays, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are days of fast and full abstinence. Mondays through Thursdays as well as Saturdays are days of fast and partial abstinence. There is no penance on Sundays. Fast and full abstinence is obligatory under pain of sin on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Full abstinence (but not the fast) is obligatory under pain of sin on all Fridays. On I Class Feasts, the penance is not removed from the day but the obligation under pain of sin to observe it is removed. In some countries, Saturdays of Lent are days of full abstinence and not partial.

Relevant canons:
Canons 1250-1254 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law
Canons 1249-1253 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law
If this sounds too hard or strict consider that in the Eastern Rites, every day of Great Lent, including all the Sundays, is a day of strict fast. Strict fast is a day of fasting where no meat or dairy is allowed. Meat has a stricter definition as it includes all parts of the animal and in most places also includes vertebrate fish. Dairy includes all animal byproducts: milk products, eggs, lard, the whole nine yards. Some jurisdictions include oil products as well in addition to meat and dairy, but only during the week. So the traditional Latin practice is nice and easy...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Hymn For The Blind

Quinquagesima Sunday - II Class

Domine, ut videam. Lord, that I may see.

Lord, we pray that Thou wilt shine the truth of Thy love on sinners. Give them the light to see their vocations and the strength to attain the dignity for which they were created. Do not let them die. Do not let them waste their lives living as the world lives, but strengthen them to live in Thy love. Let them see Thy love and run towards it, abandoning all things that oppose it. Send forth Thy light and Thy truth to expose their current lives as deceits of the devil and show forth the lives in Thy love for which they were created.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.
Both now and forever through the ages of ages. Amen.

We have no recourse but thee O Theotokos. There is none that can help us. We have no ability to so much as compose a prayer to hymn thee O All Pure Theotokos, let alone destroy what sin has built up all around us, obscuring the light of Divine Love. Smash that which was erected by Satan with thy Scepter of Purity. Let thy purity overpower and destroy their impurity. Show them the love of thy Son and teach them to love as He loves. Purge them as pure as thou art pure. Bring poor sinners to the dignity for which they were created. Show forth the purpose why the Almighty breathed the breath of life into their nostrils. Let none of the God's creation be lost. Save even the smallest of the small O Guadalupe, that even in them the glory of the Love of God might shine forth, leading and guiding all who look upon them into the inner chambers of the Love of thy Son.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Devil Hates Sex

Icon of the Nymphios
There are very few things that the devil hates more than sex. Yes, you read that right. Contrary to what you see in the world, the devil hates sex. Why? Sex is a most perfect and pure reflection of the love between Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride, the Church. Sex so perfectly reflects the love of Christ and His Bride that the devil hates it with a hatred that is beyond our capacity as human beings to describe. Therefore, the devil perverts sex to make it about physical and emotional pleasure and covers up the truth that sex is a procreative self-sacrifice, the pinnacle and perfection of marriage, which is itself merely a self-sacrifice and nothing other.

The Anointed Nymphios (Christ the Bridegroom) loves His Bride the Church with a perfect love. How can I wrap words around love? Love is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, Who is the union of God the Father with God the Son and also of Christ and His Bride. Love is Divine. How an anything infinite be described by us finite mortals? Most pure Theotokos, give me words with which to tell the glory of thy Son. We can see the Love of God on display if only we look at the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. I'm laughing to myself that as soon as I typed that prayer, the Theotokos reminded me of my meditations on her rosary. That's so like her. Let's go through them:

The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden We contemplate the Divine Nymphios suffering in the garden under the full knowledge of the life of sin of His Bride, the Church.

The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Flagellation We contemplate the Nymphios suffering under the lashes, with the weights on the whips digging into His Flesh like each of the sins of His Bride.

The Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Coronation We now contemplate the Nymphios in full nuptial regalia. His wedding crown is become a torture device, the sins of His Bride digging into Him like a thousand needles in His Head. His scepter, His symbol of authority over Her, is become a symbol of mockery.

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross We contemplate the Nymphios suffering under the weight of the cross, which bears down on Him like the entire life of sin of His Bride.

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord We now contemplate the Nymphios offering His entire Self to the Father for the sake of His Bride. He gives His entire Self to Her, even His very Body, which She receives in the Eucharist.

This is the love that married couples are called to live. Christ sacrificed Himself and completely destroyed His Life and His very self to get His Bride to the dignity for which She was created by God. He offered His entire Self as a sacrifice to the Father for Her sake and the Father joins the Son to the Bride in the Eucharist. Likewise, bridegroom and bride offer themselves completely to God for the sake of each other. This is what happens at a wedding. The bridegroom and bride give their entire lives to God for the sake of each other. Receiving them, God joins them together in a union that is completed in the marriage bed.

Christ is over His Church, protecting Her, and gives everything of Himself to take care of Her, bringing Her to the dignity for which She was created by God. She is under Him, submitting to Him, and gives everything of Herself to Him to support Him in His work. So it is with married couples. The bridegroom is over his bride, giving everything of himself to take care of his bride, bringing Her to the dignity for which She was created by God. He holds back nothing for himself, but submits himself to suffering for the sake of his bride, just as Christ deemed Heavenly glory nothing to be grasped at for Himself, but emptied Himself and submitted Himself to suffering for the sake of His Bride. (Phil. 2:6-8) The bride gives everything of herself to her bridegroom to sustain and support him in his work.

Christ is glorified by pouring Himself our for His Bride (Phil. 2:9) and so too the bridegroom is sanctified by living, not for himself, but for the sake of his bride, to elevate her to the dignity for which she was created. Her sanctity becomes the one and only measure of the success or failure of his life. The Church becomes sanctified by submitting Herself to Christ in carrying out His work: to bring all men to Heaven. The bride too is sanctified by submitting herself to her bridegroom in all his work: to care for her and their children. They each entrust themselves to each other that the other might provide for their needs. Christ, as God, needs His Kingdom spread. The Church, not being God, needs to be brought to Heaven. The Church evangelizes and Christ washes away sins in the Blood flowing from His Broken Heart. Bridegroom and bride, neither being God, support each other in their endeavor to get to Heaven and in this regard are equals.

St. Paul summed this all up with great beauty when he told the Ephesians: "Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it." (Eph. 5:24-25) St. John Chrysostom preached on this passage with great eloquence and relationship advice desperately needed today in his 20th homily on the Epistle to the Ephesians, describing marriage as in much the same manner as what I have already explained (even though he is a better preacher than I). Homily 20 is a necessary read for all people today, so I'll link to it here.

The union of Christ and the Church is perfected in the Holy Eucharist. Here, Christ gives His entire self, even His very Body, to His Bride. She submits to Him perfectly, carrying out worship that is focused entirely on Him and not on Herself or others (we've all seen community-based worship since the 1960's and much ink/pixels have been spilled on liturgy already). Here they are united perfectly. Here is where mystics achieve the greatest joys. St. Faustina writes at length with great eloquence in her Diary about the intimacy she had with Christ in the Eucharist. Well, she tries anyway: Divine Glory is beyond description. This is the union through which God brings about Eternal Life. That is the reason why this Divine Intimacy exists. Both the Holy and Life-giving Cross are rightly called the Marriage Bed of the Church, since the Crucifixion is what is present on the Altar. Traditionally (in the East, but especially in the West) an altar has a canopy over it, in imitation of an actual marriage bed. Likewise, in an actual marriage bed, the union of bridegroom and bride is perfected. They have given themselves to each other completely, even their very bodies, even the most private parts of their bodies. Nothing is held back; they exist for each other and not for themselves. This union is a symbol of their whole lives, where the bride submits herself to her bridegroom as his support, living for him and not herself, while he is over her as her protector, giving his entire self to take care of her desiring to keep nothing for his own happiness.

This is something of great beauty and it is only beautiful insofar as it mirrors the Love and Self-Giving of Divine Nymphios and Eccesial Nymphe. If this vocation is lived in conformity to the Love of the Nymphios, then it is a brilliant and resplendent reflection of Heavenly Glory and the matter of great sanctity. It is a saintly couple like this that the Church needs at a time like this. Surely God is preparing a nymphios and nymphe for this purpose; saints in the making; saints that will reflect the reality of the union between Christ and the Church. In a day when sex and marriage is so viciously attacked, God will raise holy ones for the good on mankind. God calls so many to marriage, how many will stand up and answer the call to live like this? How many of these sainted couples will we have? Would that we have an army of them! Neither bridegroom nor bride are good people or worthy of any praise on their own-either as individuals or a couple. They only are good people and worthy of praise insofar as they mirror the Love of the Nymphios. Not to us O Lord, not to us, but to Thy Name give glory. We do not seek glory for ourselves O Lord, we only want Thee, the Burning Sun of Love to shine forth, overwhelming us, overwhelming mankind. Even my knowledge of this Thy Love, O Nymphios is a great grace Thou hast given me, of which I am the least worthy, for Thou knowest well my sins and rightly do I call myself the first among sinners. (1 Tim. 1:15) Pray for such marriages to rise up. If you are married, start living in accordance with this Love. I've never written or said anything as serious as this paragraph in my life. With the Love of the Nymphios we are everything; without the Love of the Nymphios we are nothing.

The great majesty of marriage and it's pinnacle, sex, which is the marital oblation is so viciously hated by Satan just because it is the mirror image of Christ. So the devil perverts sex to make it selfish and about pleasure. The devil wants men to treat sex and women's bodies as if it exists for their physical pleasure and women to act as if relationships exist for their emotional pleasure. The devil like a rabid beast wants every last detail of sex an marriage to fail in the worst possible way, such that his demonic empire will be the exact opposite of what God designed, each detail being the exact opposite of God's design, for He so hates God and he will ruin entire lives to accomplish this satanic work and indeed he does as we speak. As we speak, the devil, who is Lucifer and Satan perverts many in the Church to tolerate sin, partly to prevent the Church from defending the Love of Her Bridegroom and partly so he can use the Church's authority to defend such sin; but that is an illegitimate and invalid use of ecclesial authority. This is why we must never rest on our laurels, but always be vigilant, for the devil is a roaring lion looking to kill us (1 Peter 5:8-9) and he is very good at it.

[EDIT: Here is another point that I forgot to mention. The marital vocation is one that can be lived even during physical separation and while the spouses are not getting along. Now, the union cannot be perfect in such times, because that happens with the mutual oblation in the marriage bed, but they can still live their vocation without each other because their vocation is to live for each other. Like the Nymphios, their vocation is to offer themselves to God as sacrificial victims for the sake of each other. Even when separate, they can still offer prayers and penances for the sake of each other. When one spouse lashes out at the other, the other can bear it as a penance for the one. Separation and division is not capable of defeating them because their love can bear it because their love is from God. (Rm 8:31-39) On the other hand, if their union is not the Love of the Nymphios but human emotion, then they do not live for each other but with each other, looking for good times. They then cannot survive separation or argument. If their union is just emotion and pleasure, then it originates from them and not God. Therefore, because their union is only human emotions, it is harmed by their emotions turning on each other or not properly sustaining each other. Their relationship is based on human strength and not the Divine Strength that bears hardship and suffering for the sake of the other, even when that suffering comes from each other.]

Like a ravaging lunatic, fueled by his indescribable hatred of the Nymphios, the devil promotes pleasure seeking, knowing that if love is about pleasure, then everything God says is wrong. However, God is right, just because He's God; He is Love (1 Jn 4:7) and created sex, so pleasure-seeking is sinful, even in marriage. Lust is a sin, even in marriage, because by it couples violate their own marriage bed by refusing to live the Love of the Nymphios and instead selfishly use each other for pleasure, degrading the marital self-sacrifice to an act of pleasure. They lie about what sex is. The morality of sex is not a matter of married vs. not married, as if getting married is "permission" for sex, then you can lust all you want after your spouse. Lust is not acceptable for some but not for others. Either it's right for everybody or it's right for nobody. Either it's good or evil. To be both would be hypocrisy. The married cannot lust because they are to offer a mutual self-sacrifice. The unmarried cannot lust because the self-sacrifice includes your whole life. The morality of sex is a matter of pleasure vs. procreative self-giving. If sex is about pleasure, then one must defend homosexuality, pornography, contraception, masturbation, group sex, and everything else the Church condemns because if pleasure is an end of sex, then all those things are in fact good. However, sex is not about pleasure. Sex is a procreative complete self-oblation. It is the pinnacle and symbol of your entire life as a couple lived in sacrifice for the sake of each other in the Love of the Nymphios. This is the Truth. This is my belief. May I be killed for it before I abandon it. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Joy of My Youth

Sexagesima Sunday - II Class

Today's Communion Verse is my favorite verse from my favorite psalm. It has great personal significance for me and I have great personal devotion to Psalm 42 and one of the things that makes the Traditional Latin Rite so beautiful is that it starts with a thrice declaration of "I will enter into the altar of God, to God who gave joy to my youth."

Friday, February 10, 2012

HHS Mandate & Separation of Church & State

OK, so our beloved dictator Obama has made an "accomodation" for religious organizations in the contraception mandate. We are no longer required to provide contraception and abortion coverage. However, we still need to provide health care and all health care nationwide must provide contraception and abortion coverage. In other words, we no longer need to pay 50 cents, we just need to pay 25 cents twice. Anyone who sees Obama's health care policies as a good thing is as gullible as Dear Leader Obama wants them to be as he continues his attempts to establish an authoritarian state.

One thing that has gone largely unsaid in all this is that the HHS mandate is a violation of the separation of Church & State. Church & state are separate, therefore the state cannot tell the Church what to do. Not only is this a violation of our basic freedoms, but also a violation of our governmental system that, at a very fundamental level, separates Church & state.

Early Church Interior of the Hagia Sophia

Here's a video showing the inside of the Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom of God (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople:

The design of the iconostasis is what iconostases looked like in the early Church. Now, not every church had a such a large three-sided iconostasis protruding into the nave, but the iconostasis had a half wall surmounted by pillars then a horizontal beam. The openings are covered by curtains and we can already see small icons of the Mother of God and Christ the Teacher on either side of the Royal Door (the central door). Over time, the icons in iconostases grew to fill the whole opening. The three doors grew to fill their openings and gained icons. The Royal Door gained an icon of the Annunciation (the Mother of God on one door and St. Gabriel on the other) and often times the Four Evangelists as well. The north and south deacon doors gained icons of either deacon saints or angels. The other openings gained icons as well. North of the north door is usually St. Nicholas the Wonder-worker, Archbishop of Myra, and south of the south door is the patron of the church. The icons of the Mother of God and Christ the Teacher go between the doors. The iconostasis came to be surmounted by icons of the 12 apostles, although some churches will instead put them on high on the apse wall, forming an icon of the Mystical Supper (Last Supper).

The West however, modified the original design in another direction. Instead of filling the openings with icons, the curtain and small icons were removed and the crucifixion scene was added to the top above the central door, which came to be the only door. The Icon Screen came to be named the Rood Screen, with "rood" being a Middle English word for "cross". Eventually, the whole screen was dropped down to make the altar rail of today.

Here's the outside of the Hagia Sophia:

Monday, February 6, 2012

With Zeal, Everything can be Repaired!

Over at Salvem a Liturgia! there is a piece about an altar missal from 1818 (yes, 1818!) that he fixed up.

Here's the before picture...

...and here's the after:

The cover is plainer than the original (the design isn't clear on the original but it's still there), but the conversion is amazing. It's hard to accurately describe just how radical of a change this is. It looks brand new. Even though the pages are still the original, they are in far better condition.

Now, my immediate reaction was "God does the same thing with souls." God takes sinners in the most destroyed and blackened condition and changes them into the most pure saints who are whiter than snow. He takes the people the most separated from Him and joins them the most intimately to Himself. He purifies the sinner as if she had never sinned, such that if anyone defends the sins of her past, they are delusional because they are defending something that not exist. They are merely "beating the air". On the other hand, the one who prayed for her conversion while she was still that most filthy sinner, claiming that she could be the purest saint was never at any point delusional or "beating the air", as St. Paul said in yesterday's Epistle (1 Cor 9:26), just like the one who claimed that this missal could change from the before picture to the after picture was not delusional.

The missal is now ready to be used as if it never fell out of use or into disrepair, just as long as the priest remembers to mention St. Joseph in the Canon.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ever Wanted to Erase Your Past?

Classic of Iconography, there are multiple successive
scenes (clockwise from the top left): the inheritance is
divided, the son lives a sinful lifestyle, the son tends swine.
At last, he returns; the angels celebrate that he regrets
his sins, a servant brings a robe, and his brother is envious.
Sunday of the Prodigal Son

In the Greek Rites, today is the second Pre-Lenten Sunday. The Latin Rite has one less Sunday, so Pre-Lent starts today. Both Gospels speak of the same thing: an absolved life is more celebrated than a just life. Today Latins have the Parable of the Workers (Mt 20:1-16), where all the workers were payed the same wage regardless of how many hours they worked, with those who came in late receiving in only an hour what the others received in a day. Greeks have the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32), where the prodigal son is exalted over his brother who never betrayed their father.

How can this be, that one whose life was nothing but self-degradation in sin with simple confession at the end receive the same end in Heaven as the just one who never sinned and kept himself pure all his life and even be more celebrated than the just one? How can a life which is 99% sin and 1% confession be considered holy? For this, we must consider how the love of God reacts when it comes into contact with different things. When the Love of God comes into contact with something good, it refines and improves it, as silver is tried by fire (Ps 11:7) in a constant cycle of heating and taking impurities off the surface. So the just one has his himself improved in the present moment. His past however, stays untouched, since because of his purity, he is in no need of forgiveness. If he were to travel back in time (if that were even theoretically possible) he would find his past just as he left it, since it is already holy, albeit a less mature version of himself in his practice of the faith.

However, when the Love of God touches something evil, it does not refine it; rather it ruthlessly destroys it, as a mother bird defending her nest from a predator. The penitent's sins are not only erased from her in the present moment, but if she were to travel back in time (again, if that were even theoretically possible), she would find that her sins no longer exist in her past either. Her sins have been completely destroyed and eradicated, not existing in the present, nor in the past, or anywhere else. Her sinful past no longer exists. Confession left a void that was instantly filled with the perfect Love of God in proportion to her sins (Rm 5:20-21). A theoretical time-traveler into her past would find only the Love of God, which has completely replaced the sins it destroyed. He would find not the imperfect love of a just one, nor sin of any kind, but only the perfect love of the Anointed Bridegroom who sacrificed Himself for her sake, which has completely replaced all the sin of her past. She arrives at the gates of Heaven upon her death to be judged and the Just Judge of the Last Day sees not the imperfect reflection of Divine Love that He sees in the just one, but rather the perfect presence of His own Divine Love with no sins whatsoever because she has been absolved. Thus "there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance" (Lk 15:7) "and where sin abounded, grace did more abound." (Rm 5:20) The penitent received more because she repented of more, as Christ said of the Magdalene (Lk 7:47).

Saturday, February 4, 2012

...It is the House of God and Gate of Heaven...

Via Facebook:
Communion with God is Restored

The Church is that place where heaven and earth are united, and where we can live as we were meant to be, as before the Fall. The Church's Divine Liturgy is that place where the disunity that came with the Fall is put aside, and communion with God is restored. Our participation in the Divine Liturgy is the moment when we are restored to the Garden of Eden, and God and man walk together. The Divine Liturgy unites us to the Heavenly Banquet which is taking place before the Throne of God.

We do not attend the Divine Liturgy, but participate in the Divine Liturgy, communing with God, and receiving the Bread of Life. The dysfunctional and disordered world is put aside, and we are on the path to restoration, healed by the self-emptying love of Christ.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon
This reminds me of the Offertory Antiphon of the Eastern Liturgy (which is a fixed part of the Liturgy, unlike the Latin Rite where it is variable):

Let us who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the Thrice-Holy hymn to the Life-Giving Trinity now lay aside all cares of life. (3x)

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Meeting of St. Blaise, Ecce Homo, and the Pope

Feast of St. Blaise - IV Class

Today is a sort of patronal feast for the blog, as across the square from the Ecce Homo Shrine in Ponta Delgada, Portugal is the Fort of St. Blaise, belonging to the Portuguese Army. Every year during the procession, upon passing the fort, the statue stops and faces the fort. The statue then gets a 21 gun salute from ships in the harbor, a fly-over, and the fort's band plays the hymn. The fort's coat of arms is on the ground in flowers.

Here is the scene from last year's feast:

In 1991, Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Santo Cristo the week after the feast, so the statue came out twice that year. It was only the second time the statue left the convent for a reason other than the feast (after the penitential procession for an end to the earthquakes in 1713) and the only time the statue left without a formal procession. The Papal Mass was in front of the Fort of St. Blaise. Here is John Paul II in prayer before the statue in front of the fort:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Sacrifice of Obedience

Feast of the Encounter of Our Lord with St. Simeon the God-receiver and St. Anna the Prophetess - II Class
Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary - II Class

Hail, full of grace, Virgin Mother of God, for from thee there dawned the Sun of righteousness, Christ our God, who enlightens those in darkness. Be glad too, righteous Elder, for thou didst received in thy embrace the Liberator of our souls, who grants us also resurrection.

O Christ Our God, through Thy birth Thou didst sanctify the Virgin's womb; and blessed, as it was proper, the hands of Simeon. Today, Thou hast come to bring us deliverance. Give peace to nations at war, and strengthen our civil authrorities, for You alone art the Lover of mankind.

Behold the humility of the Theotokos: she offers the sacrifice of obedience to the law when she was immaculate and had no need of purification. Behold the humility of the Anointed Bridgroom: as a part of the emptying of Himself and taking the form of a slave without any loss of His Divine Majesty in a sacrifice of Himself for His Ecclesial Bride, He submits Himself to the law He Himself promulgated for His servants, before consummating His Holy Sacrifice on the Marriage Bed of the Church, the Holy and Life-giving Cross.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How the Biggest Whore Became A Levitating Prophetess

It is no secret that I have devotion to penitents above just about all other saints. Penitents are female saints who were neither virgins nor married. I have already written about St. Margaret of Cortona, St. Pelagia of Antioch, and St. Mary Magdalene. Now I am overdue to cover St. Mary of Egypt. The life of St. Mary of Egypt was recorded by Sophronios of Jerusalem (do go there and read the whole thing, although it is rather long). I could tell this story briefly, but I would rather include quotes of the saint, because of the great beauty of her statements.

Sophronios begins by recounting the life of St. Zosimas, the monastic priest who found St. Mary in the desert near the River Jordan. During Great Lent, the monks of his monastery would live in the desert as hermits, returning only on Palm Sunday. Only one monk would remain behind and that was to keep Our Lord in the tabernacle company. One Great Lent, in 521, while out in the desert, St. Zosimas spotted a figure on the horizon. Realizing that it was a person, he went closer to investigate. He saw that the person was nude and had white hair, short, reaching only to the shoulders. The figure fled from him, so he called out to her, asking why she fled. The figure responded, "Forgive me for God's sake, but I cannot turn towards you and show you my face, Abba Zosimas. For I am a woman and naked as you see with the uncovered shame of my body. But if you would like to fulfil one wish of a sinful woman, throw me your cloak so that I can cover my body and can turn to you and ask for your blessing." He was terrified that she knew his name, but realized that he could only know it by a special grace from God, so he threw her his cloak and looked away as she crudely covered her body. She asked what he wanted of her. Knowing her sanctity, he asked for her blessing. Knowing (by her insight) that he was a priest, she asked for his. They each prostrated themselves before each other repeating to each other "Bless me." and this continued for a long time. Eventually they relented and the woman blessed saying, "Blessed is God Who cares for the salvation of men and their souls."

He asked for her prayers. She insisted that he instead pray since he was the priest, but out of obedience, she prayed silently. The sight of her praying filled him with such awe and when she started to levitate, all he could do was prostrate himself and with tears repeated incessantly, "Lord, have mercy." While prostrate he was tempted to think that she was an evil spirit, but she interrupted his thoughts by telling him that she is only a sinful woman, albeit guarded by baptism; not a spirit, but mere earth and ashes, and flesh alone. She guarded herself with the sign of the cross saying, "May God defend us from the evil one and from his designs, for fierce is his struggle against us." Gripped with even more terror, St. Zosimas begged and insisted that she tell him her life story. She responded, "I am ashamed, Abba, to speak to you of my disgraceful life, forgive me for God's sake! But as you have already seen my naked body I shall likewise lay bare before you my work, so that you may know with what shame and obscenity my soul is filled. I was not running away out of vanity, as you thought, for what have I to be proud of -- I who was the chosen vessel of the devil? But when I start my story you will run from me, as from a snake, for your ears will not be able to bear the vileness of my actions. But I shall tell you all without hiding anything, only imploring you first of all to pray incessantly for me, so that I may find mercy on the day of Judgment." With tears, she began her story.

She said she was a native of Egypt. When she was twelve years old, she ran away from her loving parents and went to the big city of Alexandria. There she violated her virginity and gave herself up to debauchery. She did not whore herself out for money, rather she often refused payment from the young men and did it only for the pleasure. She was so whored out that she made herself a prostitute that worked for free. During the day, she supported herself by begging and spinning flax. Harlotry was done only for the fun of it. She lived 17 years like this and kept the account brief out of shame of such a vile lifestyle. One day, she saw vast crowds boarding ships and inquired why. They were on their way to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross. She decided to go in order to find new partners for her lusts. I can't call them "clients" as they didn't need to pay and I can't call them "lovers" as that would be blasphemy against love, which is a supernatural grace. She was laughed at by the pilgrims for trying to beg her way onto the boat and using her harlotry to pay for the journey, but she tempted them and taught them every manner of depravity, even against their wills.

Upon reaching Jerusalem, she looked for more youths with which to defile herself and decided to follow the crowds into the Church of the Resurrection (the Holy Sepulcher). When she tried to cross the threshold, she was stopped by an unseen force, as if she ran into an invisible wall. She tried about half a dozen times to enter but couldn't manage to enter. Completely exhausted, she went aside to rest. She related, "And only then with great difficulty it began to dawn on me, and I began to understand the reason why I was prevented from being admitted to see the life-giving Cross. The word of salvation gently touched the eyes of my heart and revealed to me that it was my unclean life which barred the entrance to me. I began to weep and lament and beat my breast, and to sigh from the depths of my heart. And so I stood weeping when I saw above me the icon of the most holy Mother of God. And turning to her my bodily and spiritual eyes I said: 'O Lady, Theotokos, who gave birth in the flesh to God the Word, I know, O how well I know, that it is no honour or praise to thee when one so impure and depraved as I look up to thy icon, O ever-virgin, who didst keep thy body and soul in purity. Rightly do I inspire hatred and disgust before thy virginal purity. But I have heard that God Who was born of thee became man on purpose to call sinners to repentance. Then help me, for I have no other help. Order the entrance of the church to be opened to me. Allow me to see the venerable Tree on which He Who was born of thee suffered in the flesh and on which He shed His holy Blood for the redemption of sinners and for me, unworthy as I am. Be my faithful witness before thy Son that I will never again defile my body by the impurity of fornication, but as soon as I have seen the Tree of the Cross I will renounce the world and its temptations and will go wherever thou wilt lead me.'"

She then was able to enter the church with no difficulty and the crowd even cleared in front of her, as if an invisible force was escorting her. After spending some time in prayer, she came back out and returning to the icon said, "'O loving Lady, thou hast shown me thy great love for all men. glory to God Who receives the repentance of sinners through thee. What more can I recollect or say, I who am so sinful? It is time for me, O Lady to fulfil my vow, according to thy witness. Now lead me by the hand along the path of repentance!' And at these words I heard a voice from on high: 'If you cross the Jordan you will find glorious rest.' Hearing this voice and having faith that it was for me, I cried to the Mother of God: 'O Lady, Lady, do not forsake me!'" Leaving, a stranger gave her three coins with which she bought three loaves, inquiring the way to the Jordan, she quickly made her way to the holy river, still with tears in her eyes. Upon reaching the Church of St. John the Baptist, she received the sacraments. She ate half of one of her loaves and drank water from the Jordan. She spent the night on the ground there near the Church of the Forerunner and in the morning found a small boat to cross the river into the desert in which the Forerunner lived. She then spent 47 years in the desert until the present moment in the story with St. Zosimas. She had only for food the two and a half loaves which quickly turned hard and took several years to finish. St. Zosimas was amazed that she had only that for food and was still healthy.

She continued, "Believe me, Abba, seventeen years I passed in this desert fighting wild beasts -- mad desires and passions. When I was about to partake of food, I used to begin to regret the meat and fish of which I had so much in Egypt. I regretted also not having wine which I loved so much, for I drank a lot of wine when I lived in the world, while here I had not even water. I used to burn and succumb with thirst. The mad desire for profligate songs also entered me and confused me greatly, edging me on to sing satanic songs which I had learned once. But when such desires entered me I struck myself on the breast and reminded myself of the vow which I had made, when going into the desert. In my thoughts I returned to the icon of the Mother of God which had received me and to her I cried in prayer. I implored her to chase away the thoughts to which my miserable soul was succumbing. And after weeping for long and beating my breast I used to see light at last which seemed to shine on me from everywhere. And after the violent storm, lasting calm descended.

"And how can I tell you about the thoughts which urged me on to fornication, how can I express them to you, Abba? A fire was kindled in my miserable heart which seemed to burn me up completely and to awake in me a thirst for embraces. As soon as this craving came to me, I flung myself on the earth and watered it with my tears, as if I saw before me my witness, who had appeared to me in my disobedience, and who seemed to threaten punishment for the crime. And I did not rise from the ground (sometimes I lay thus prostrate for a day and a night) until a calm and sweet light descended and enlightened me and chased away the thoughts that possessed me. But always I turned to the eyes of my mind to my Protectress, asking her to extend help to one who was sinking fast in the waves of the desert. And I always had her as my Helper and the Accepter of my repentance. And thus I lived for seventeen years amid constant dangers. And since then even till now the Mother of God helps me in everything and leads me as it were by the hand."

She continued further, "After finishing the loaves I had, of which I spoke, for seventeen years I have fed on herbs and all that can be found in the desert. The clothes I had when I crossed the Jordan became torn and worn out. I suffered greatly from the cold and greatly from the extreme heat. At times the sun burned me up and at other times I shivered from the frost, and frequently falling to the ground I lay without breath and without motion. I struggled with many afflictions and with terrible temptations. But from that time till now the power of God in numerous ways had guarded my sinful soul and my humble body. When I only reflect on the evils from which Our Lord has delivered me I have imperishable food for hope of salvation. I am fed and clothed by the all-powerful Word of God, the Lord of all. For it is not by bread alone that man lives. And those who have stripped off the rags of sin have no refuge, hiding themselves in the clefts of the rocks (Job 24; Heb 11.38)."

Hearing that she quoted the Scriptures, St. Zosimas asked her how she learned them. She said, "Believe be, I have not seen a human face ever since I crossed the Jordan, except yours today. I have not seen a beast or a living being ever since I came into the desert. I never learned from books. I have never even heard anyone who sang and read from them. But the word of God which is alive and active, by itself teaches a man knowledge. And so this is the end of my tale. But, as I asked you in the beginning, so even now I implore you for the sake of the Incarnate word of God, to pray to the Lord for me who am such a sinner." Finishing her story, she bowed before him and he exclaimed, "Blessed is God Who creates the great and wondrous, the glorious and marvellous without end. Blessed is God Who has shown me how He rewards those who fear Him. Truly, O Lord, Thou dost not forsake those who seek Thee!"

She begged him to keep all this secret while she was still living and the following year he wouldn't be able to go into the desert, but asked him to bring her Holy Communion on Holy Thursday the next year, since she hadn't received since being baptized in the Church of the Forerunner. She told him to tell Abbot John of his monastery that there is much that needs correction in the monastery. Off St. Zosimas went, returning with the others on Palm Sunday, keeping secret everything that happened. On the First Sunday of the Great Fast the following year, St. Zosimas was ill with a fever and so he was chosen to be the one to remain behind that year. He remembered the prophecy of St. Mary. Holy Thursday came and after the community Divine Liturgy, he put some of the Holy Body and Blood in a chalice, and taking some figs and soaked lentils, set off for the Jordan. After a long wait filled with doubt as to whether she would come, she finally arrived, but he did not see how she could cross the river. She made the sign of the cross over the river and walked on the water to the other side. At the sight, St. Zosimas wanted to prostrate himself, but she admonished him to stand aright since he was holding the Sacred Mysteries. She asked his blessing and he did so saying, "Truly God did not lie when He promised that when we purify ourselves we shall be like Him. Glory to Thee, Christ our God, Who has shown me through this Thy slave how far away I stand from perfection." Having received the Holy and Life-Giving Mysteries, she exclaimed, "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Lord, according to Thy word; for my eyes have seen Thy salvation." She asked him to return the following year and took only three lentils of the food he brought. She crossed again as before and he returned home, regretting not asking her name.

The next year her returned only to find her dead body lying on the ground, facing east and arranged according to the manner of a body for burial. Weeping, he said the burial psalms and prayers and found the inscription on the ground, "Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust that which is dust and pray to the Lord for me, who departed in the month of Fermoutin of Egypt, called April by the Romans, on the first day, on the very night of our Lord's Passion, after having partaken of the Divine Mysteries." The year in which she died was 522. He understood that she died shortly after their last meeting after travelling in an hour what took him twenty days. He tried digging a grave with a piece of wood, but fount it exceedingly difficult. A lion happened by and he became afraid as she said she never had encountered wild animals in her 47 years in the desert. He asked the lion to dig a grave and it did. Having buried her body, he and the lion departed peacefully, each his own way. St. Zosimas told the brethren all that happened and Abbot John indeed found much wrong that he corrected with Divine Assistance. St. Zosimas died almost at a hundred years of age and the monks passed down the story of Sts. Zosimas and Mary of Egypt until Sophronios wrote it down.