Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mystagogia Epsilon

Sursum corda: Lift up your hearts!

If, as I suggested at the beginning of this series, the Liturgy of the Word corresponds to the catechumenate, then the solemn beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist corresponds to the illumination of baptism. Instructed by God's Word and actively working to uproot vice and plant virtue in our hearts, we prepare to enter God's presence in a fitting state. The first movement in this preparation is to exclude from our hearts any worldliness, and lift our hearts up to ponder heavenly realities. The Cherubic Hymn, used in Orthodox liturgies, beautifully exhorts us in this regard:

"Let us who mystically represent the cherubim now lay aside all earthly cares. That we may receive the King of all Who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts. Alleluia!"

If it is our task to represent the very cherubim who attend at God's throne, we have to make the effort to situate ourselves there, in heaven, away from the world.

At the risk of repeating myself, I believe it is important one last time to recall the prerequisites for receiving the King of all: "Lord, who shall be admitted to your tent and dwell on your holy mountain?" Answer: "He who walks without fault; he who acts with justice and speaks the truth from his heart; he who does not slander with his tongue; he who does no wrong to his brother, who casts no slur on his neighbor, who holds the godless in disdain but honors those who fear the Lord; he who keeps his pledge, come what may; who takes no interest on a loan and accepts no bribe against the innocent. Such a man will stand firm forever. [Ps. 15; cf. Ps. 24, and Ps. 118: 19-20]"

This requires an act of imagination. The King comes to us invisibly, and when He does manifest Himself, He does so not yet fully in glory, but in the humility of bread and wine, transformed into His Body and Blood, sacrificed upon the Cross.

I suppose many today ask if this is 'realistic' or 'worth it'. Many of us would, without much forethought, perhaps prefer more tangible results, like smiling parishioners who make us feel good to be there. Nothing against smiles and hospitality, but here is where I believe that we need mystagogy, an appreciation of the mysteries so badly. When life throws us curveballs, such as when the person we are counting on to smile has encountered terrible suffering and isn't smiling today, if our faith is only supported by this human effort, it is going to wither. We need to "seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God [Col 3: 2]." It is this Christ, raised from the dead, triumphant over all human failing and dealing the death-blow to death itself, Who gives us confidence in the face of trials. Only Christ can save us: no amount of effort at warm fellow-feeling can save us from death.

"Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet....For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet....But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering! [Heb 12: 12, 18-19, 22]" Would that we truly believed this in our hearts! What could stop us from being saints?

Does our turning our backs on the world mean disdain for those in the world, or the many blessings of creation? Me genoito! May such a thing not be said! We will be sent back into the world as Christ's ambassadors, but if we do not return to the world having received Christ's presence, and the grace to triumph over temptation, then what will we bring to the world that the world does not already have in some way? No; we must bring Christ, and to bring Christ, we must first receive Him, invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts. To receive Him, we must lift up our hearts to Him.

May the peace that surpasses all understanding be with you!

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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