Saturday, April 03, 2010

Peter of Damascus a propos the day

Today is Holy Saturday. It is a day for remembering yesterday and hoping for tomorrow. Funerals are interesting times, usually filled as much with laughter and smiles as with tears and weeping--and all of that is mourning. But I suspect the laughing and the weeping, the chattering and the condolences are basically a way to fill the silence. Not silence in general, but a specific silence. We remember the life of our beloved, we tell each other stories of his or her life and we wish aloud he or she was still with us. All of it because we no longer hear or see that beloved until kingdom come.

I intended to use this piece from Peter of Damascus yesterday in the Good Friday service, but perhaps it is just as appropriate today.

"Who is not amazed when he thinks of Thy inexpressible self-abasement? For being God, inscrutable, all-powerful, and ruling all things, enthroned above the cherubim--who are figures of wisdom in its multiplicity--on account of us, who have provoked Thy anger from the beginning, Thou has humbled Thyself, accepting to be born and brought up among us. Thou hast endured persecutions, stoning, mocking, insults, cuffs and blows, ridicule and spitting, then the Cross and the nails, the sponge and the reed, vinegar and gall, and all the rest that I am unworthy to hear about. Then a spear pierced Thy most pure side, and from this wound Thou hast poured forth for us eternal life: Thy precious blood and water.

"...Lord Jesus Christ, Son and Logos of God, the most tender name of our salvation, great is Thy glory, great are Thy works, marvellous are Thy words, 'sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb' (Ps 19.10). Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee. Who can glorify and hymn Thy coming in the flesh, Thy goodness, power, wisdom, Thy life in this world and Thy teaching? And how is it that Thy holy commandments teach us the life of virtue so naturally and so easily? As Thou didst say, Lord: 'Forgive, and you will be forgiven' (cf. Matt 6.14); and again: 'Seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you' (Matt 7.7); and: 'Whatever you would that men should do to you, do also to them' (Matt 7.12). Who, having understood Thy commandments and other sayings, will not be astonished when he perceives Thy boundless wisdom? For Thou are the wisdom of God, the life of all, the joy of angels, the ineffable light, the resurrection of the dead, the good shepherd 'who gives His life for the sheep' (John 10.11). I hymn Thy transfiguration, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension, Thy enthronement at the right hand of God the Father, the descent of the Holy Spirit and Thy future advent, when Thou wilt come with power and great, incomprehensible glory.

"I grow weak, my Lord, before Thy wonders and, at a loss, I long to take refuge in silence. Yet I do not know what to do. For if I keep silence, amazement overwhelms me; but if I dare to say something, I am struck dumb and rapt away. I regard myself as unworthy of heaven and earth, and as deserving every punishment, not simply because of the sins I have committed, but much more because of the blessings I have received without my showing any gratitude, contemptible as I am. For Thou, Lord, who dost transcend all goodness, hast filled my soul with every blessing. I dimly perceive Thy works and my mind is amazed. Merely to look on what is Thine reduces me to nothing. Yet the knowledge is not mine, nor the endeavour, for it is Thy grace. Therefore I will lay my hand on my mouth, as Job once did (cf. Job 40.4), and will take refuge in Thy saints, for I am bewildered. ..."

From "Eight Stages of Contemplation," Fourth Stage, transl. from The Philokalia, pp. 128-9.

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