Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | January 30, 2011

Archimandrite Zacharias: The Grace of the Liturgy

So if we aren’t to live the hesychastic life as uns and monks, if we aren’t to become clergy… what is given to us that we might learn who we are to be in living within the Church with all that move and breathe and have our being bit? Understanding this offers a direction for those of us living life in the world. No, we’re not going to fake our way or want to be something we’re not, but what can we aspire to without giving into frustration, cluelessness, or simple posing? And here as in so many places Archimandrite Zacharias’s familiarity with Elder Sophrony offers something to build on:

“He (Fr. Sophrony) said many times that the conditions of the modern world are such that hesychastic life, as he himself had known it in the desert, is no longer possible. But the only thing which is left to us now is the Liturgy. If we celebrate the Liturgy with reverance and attention, we find as much grace and even more than can be found in the hesychastic life. For this reason, if we keep the Liturgy properly, there is hope for a renewal, maybe even for a renaissance of the whole world. This general crisis that we face nowadays – and it may intensify – will force many people to look for a spiritual solution and may lead them back to the Church. And if this is already happening with a small number of people, God is able to generalise it. He was very optimistic – ‘As long as we keep the Liturgy,’ he used to say.

He was such a man, with such a life of preparation over so many years – and still, when he was to celebrate the Liturgy, he would be rapt in expectation from the day before, mindful that on the morrow he would present himself before the altar of God. He was rapt by the Liturgy. For him, celebrating the Liturgy was an event, and each time he celebrated was like his first time.” pp 396-397

There is more. For the humble attitude towards the liturgy is key:

“And although  he (Father Raphael) had been a deacon for twenty-one years, he got a bit lost in his first Liturgy. And Father Sophrony liked this very much, he liked it more than if he had celebrated knowing everything and with a certain confidence. He liked it because it showed that as a deacon he had been very humble, just performing his service without thinking further about it.” pp. 397-398

Each of us plays our own part, helping others play theirs. And in fulfilling our roles – and nothing more – whether our work is at the altar or elsewhere in the church matters not. All is the work of the people and offered to the glory of God as best we can. He doesn’t make the point here, but I have always loved the emphasis placed on the fact that our worship joins temporally with that which is eternal in heaven, that we join into an on-going service. And as much as it is still offered, I prefer something of the image conveyed by the sense that what we do is more to “join” than to “offer”… as it seems more humble as well… as though it were not, nor need it be sufficient on its own… as sufficiency comes only by virtue of participation with others, and especially through and in the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Finally and perhaps most relevant to me is the comment Archimandrite Zacharias makes at the end when he speaks about how he spent long years as a simple monk before ordination, as this in many ways is more akin to our own unglamorous lay life:

“My Liturgy was my time of personal prayer in my cell. I even forgot about ordination.” p. 398

And this seems right on the mark to me: If you prayer life is full, is that not enough? Let the Church choose whom it may to ordain for this and that as it needs. But let each of us seek a life of prayer, of prayer that is full and in the heart as our goal. And if we can find this or build it within our lives, we pay attention to our status before Christ and before all men… rather than our status as according to men. And that seems enough.

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