St. Nicholas Kabasilas: Doubting the Mysteries

“But, you will say, the priests who make the offerings are not always good men; some of them are guilty of the worst vices; so we are in the same doubt as we were before. When both the offerers are displeasing to God (and this does happen) where do the offerings receive the grace to be acceptable to God and accepted, consecrated and sanctifying? Surely, they cannot receive such grace; they must be truly unacceptable. We must therefore always be in doubt, since we can know nothing of the spiritual state either of the offerer or of the priest. ‘For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him’ (1 Cor. 2:11); therefore we have serious mistrust and doubt concerning the holy mysteries, and no confidence in them. And of what use is participation in the holy mysteries to the faithful if they lack firm belief?

Such arguments might be justified, and such doubts legitimate, if one regarded the priest as sovereign lord of the offering of the gifts; but he is not. That which brings about their offering is the grace which sanctifies them, since for them, to be offered is to be sanctified […]

Grace works all; the priest is only a minister, and that very ministry comes to him by grace; he does not hold it on his own account. For the priesthood is nothing other than a ministerial power over sacred things. But from what has been said it is clear that all the offerings sanctify the faithful always, since they are always accepted by God.”

Excerpt from A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy.

Theology of Ecclesiastical Music

On January 30, 2020, Fr. Maximos Constas delivered a presentation at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (GOA) titled Sing to the Lord a New Song: The Three Hierarchs and the Theology of Music. It was recorded and the video is linked to below.

In his presentation—tragically short due to the limitations of the program—Fr. Maximos mines for us the writings of the Three Hierarchs (Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom) as they relate to the theme of music. Particularly revelatory (literally) are the connections made between angelic song and worship and our own. There is much in this theology of music that is pertinent to our own day and place, and can help inform liturgical awareness on the part of celebrants, musicians, and worshipers. There are ongoing discussions concerning traditional ecclesiastical chant and translation of texts from the original Greek language that wrestle with things like intelligibility of words and appropriateness of performance styles relative to that.

Regardless, Fr. Maximos helps us access the mind of the Fathers as regards worship forms that have remained with us, and in doing so helps us appreciate how we got where we are, what we might be missing now, and where we might go from here.


Skip to minute 26:25 if the timestamp embed or link doesn’t work.

An image from the lecture.

Quiet

I need quiet. And I’m pretty sure a lot of you do, too.

SERVING IN one of the largest of our parishes in NYC— let alone the USA—with an office abutting a busy thoroughfare, an animated office environment, a school with hundreds of elementary- and middle-schoolers, and so on and so on, makes finding that quiet time and place quite a challenge.

Anyone who’s been in my office has seen this. When I’m in the office, this is my quiet place during the day. I often have a candle lit. I stop to pray occasionally. It’s the center of my attention when I look up from my desk.

At its center is the Cross. Christ crucified. Between two jeering thieves. Above mocking crowds. Deafened by the silent screaming pain of wounds and strain, and a heart pounding in the eardrums. Crying out, “why have you forsaken me!”

Gasping. Dying. Dead.

Quiet.

What better way to drown out mundane clatter—both that outside my head and the grumbling voice of self-pity and annoyance inside it—than to recall the noise endured for us by Christ? What better way to find gratitude for noise engendered by peace and freedom, not by war? What better way to be revived than to recall Jesus’ life-giving death?

I need quiet. We all do.

I suggest the Cross of Christ as a place to discover it, no matter where we might be.

Our Mother, Our Wealth

Only a reductive and impoverished rendering of the Christian Faith could exclude the Mother of God from the Church’s life and experience, including its theology, which is faithful and inspired reflection on the experience of salvation in Christ.

— Fr. Maximos Constas, from his introduction to Mother of the Light

Me and my shadow

“What pleasure in life remains without its share of sorrow? What glory stands on earth unchanged? All things are feebler than a shadow; all things, more deceptive than dreams. One instant, and death supplants them all.”

Excerpt from the first of the funerary hymns, composed by St. John of Damascus

I saw my shadow once while at a cemetery, and it reminded me of this, one of my favorite hymns. 

The lived experience of the Church recommends a healthy remembrance of our own mortality (μνήμη θανάτου, memento mori), for it is the common and inescapable lot of us all. Another great Syrian saint, Isaac (7th c.), said: “This life is given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits.” 

How are you dead?

Mural in the guesthouse at Holy Protection Monastery, White Haven, Pennsylvania.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God”

Psalm 50 (LXX)

Are we dead in sins, or dead to sin?

Christ resurrects us from the “death” of sinful living and constantly giving into temptations, and helps us put sin to death (cf. Colossians 3:5) in us. He cleans our pierced hearts of the poison deposited there by the arrows of temptation.

St. Syncletica on thoughts

“The soul, like a ship, when it is swallowed up by external waves, is overwhelmed by internal bilge water. Certainly, we are destroyed sometimes by external actions, and other times we are led astray by internal thoughts. Therefore, we must watch out for encounters with external spirits, and drain out the impurities of internal thoughts; and always be vigilant of thoughts, for they occur continuously. In reference to the external waves, when sailors cry out, often their salvation occurs by means of the nearest boat. But the bilge waters, often while the sea is silent and the sailors are sleeping, come in and drown them.”

“Endeavor, O Priest…”

“Endeavor, O priest, to show yourself to be a blameless worker, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

The opening line of St. Basil’s admonition to priests, paraphrasing St. Paul (2 Timothy 2:15), included in the Hieratikon, the priest’s service book.
A depiction of St. Basil, by Kontoglou, found in the Hieratikon (Apostoliki Diakonia). The scroll reads “No one bound by carnal desires and pleasures is worthy to approach, draw near, or minister to you, the King of Glory. For to serve you is great and awesome [, even for the heavenly powers.],” from the priestly prayer read prior to the Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy.