15 February 2010

Let Us Set Out With Joy Upon the Season of the Fast

Yesterday we observed Forgiveness Sunday, when ‘we ask forgiveness from our brothers and sisters in Christ so that we may begin the race in the stadium of Great Lent unhindered by any animosity.’ [1] For that reason, as my dear friend Esteban Vázquez aptly put it in his helpful post of today (here), ‘Since I interact with some of you nearly as much as I interact with those physically closest to me, I would like to take this chance at the beginning of the Fast to say to each and all:

Forgive me for all the ways in which
I have undoubtedly grieved and offended you.’

I am consistently struck by the hymnography with which we embark upon the season of the Great Fast. Take for instance this sticheron in Tone 6 from the stichera at Lauds during Matins for the Sunday of Forgiveness:

Adam was driven out of Paradise, because in disobedience he had eaten food; but Moses was granted the vision of God, because he had cleansed the eyes of his soul by fasting. If then we long to dwell in Paradise, let us abstain from all needless food; and if we desire to see God, let us like Moses fast for forty days. With sincerity let us persevere in prayer and intercession; let us still the passions of our soul; let us subdue the rebellious instincts of the flesh. With light step let us set out upon the path to heaven, where the choirs of angels with never-silent voice sing the praises of the undivided Trinity; and there we shall behold the surpassing beauty of the Master. O Son of God, Giver of Life, in Thee we set our hope: count us worthy of a place there with the angelic hosts, at the intercessions of the Mother who bore Thee, O Christ, of the apostles and the martyrs and of all the saints. [2]

The direct reference to the possibility of the vision of God, while not uncommon in the prayers and hymns of the Church, never fails to catch my attention. If we do desire to see God, let us not miss this opportunity to follow Him.

One of the commenters on my Guardian article on Saturday (here) quoted ‘The Book Of Common Prayer, publ. 1769, the Gospel for Ash Wednesday, St Mathew 6.16[-21]’:

When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou fasteth, anoint thine head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

I’m not sure whether the commenter was simply adding some appropriate context for my remarks, in response to those who indirectly suggested I was a self-righteous hypocrite for extolling the virtues of fasting, or whether he was himself trying to make such a suggestion. At any rate, this Gospel is not of course read by Anglicans only, but—with the addition of verses 14 and 15—was read at Liturgy in every Orthodox church yesterday, Forgiveness Sunday. Furthermore, the spirit of these verses can be clearly discerned in the hymnography surrounding the beginning of the Fast. Consider two examples. The first is a sticheron in Tone 2 at ‘Lord, I have cried’ at Vespers on Sunday Evening (yesterday):

Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat. Let us purify our soul and cleanse our flesh; and as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit may we persevere with love, and so be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His holy Passover. [3]

The second is a sessional hymn in Tone Two at Matins today, Monday in the First Week:

Let us joyfully begin the all-hallowed season of abstinence; and let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God, with the brightness of love and the splendour of prayer, with the purity of holiness and the strength of good courage. So, clothed in raiment of light, let us hasten to the Holy Resurrection on the third day, that shines upon the world with the glory of eternal life. [4]

As will be noticed, both of these hymns begin with an exhortation that we conduct ourselves with joy, even as we go about the business of repentance and abstinence. Furthermore, I would almost read the references to shining with the ‘radiance’ of the commandments, ‘the brightness of love and the splendour of prayer’, as a spiritual gloss on Christ’s instructions that we anoint our heads and wash our faces—the physical effect of which is a natural brightening of the countenance. This would seem to be supported by the following troparia from Ode 8 of the second canon at Matins for today:

O ye faithful, with joy let us enter upon the beginning of the Fast. Let us not be of sad countenance but let us wash our faces in the water of dispassion; and let us bless and exalt Christ above all for ever.

Let us anoint the head of our soul with the oil of loving compassion, and let us not use vain repetitions when praying to our Father in heaven; and let us bless and exalt Him above all for ever. [5]

Despite this Clean Monday post, which I felt was obligatory, I intend to follow my practice of last year throughout Lent and continue to focus on the Menology here at Logismoi. I may occasionally post passages from or reflections on the Triodion at this blog, which a friend of mine started, and there may be occasional references to the Lenten fast here at Logismoi, but I feel my first calling here is the Saints and Feasts that we commemorate in the Menaion.

[1]Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion & Pentecostarion, ed. Fr David (Kidd) & Mother Gabriella (Ursache) (Rives Junction, MI: HDM, 1999), p. 50.

[2] The Lenten Triodion, tr. Mother Mary & Archim. Kallistos (Ware) (South Canaan, PA: STS, 1994), p. 179.

[3] Ibid., p. 181.

[4] Ibid., p. 190.

[5] Ibid., pp. 192-3.

1 comment:

Ian Climacus said...

As God forgives, I forgive.
Forgive me, a sinner.

And thank you for the wonderful hymns, as well as the usual fine commentary, you provided; we have a fine treasure in the hymnody of the Church.

And I look forward to continuing to learn more about the Saints through your postings; thank you.