Thursday, April 06, 2006

Seven hours of liturgy!



Last week, those of us using the new calendar prayed the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. This is a lengthy penitential matins that always occurs during the fifth week of the Great Fast. The odes contain reflections on instances of penitence throughout the Old Testament, contrasting it with the lack of penitence of us. Here is a sample:

By straying far from you, * I have imitated our first parents;* and like Adam, I have been deprived of your divine grace and unending kingdom * because of my sin.

Alas, O my poor soul, * why do you imitate the first Eve? * Your look was evil and you were bitterly seduced; * you have touched the tree and tasted the fruit, * the bitterness of sin.
In place of the Eve of former times, * a spiritual Eve surges up in me; * it is the thought of carnal desires, * recounting sensual pleasures * and unceasingly relishing the bitterness of sin.
Justly was Adam dispelled from Paradise for one sin, O my Savior; * but what shall my punishment be, * for I have unceasingly rejected your life-giving word?
I have followed in the footsteps of Cain, * I have chosen to become a murderer; * for I have led my poor soul to death, * by living according to the ?esh * in the wickedness of my deeds.
O Jesus, how is it that I could not follow the path of the just Abel, * that I could not present to you pure offerings, * holy deeds and an unblemished sacri?ce, * by the purity of my life?

This goes on for about three and a half hours, tracing out all the examples of sin and repentance in the scriptures, and connecting them directly to the state of the soul of the one singing the Canon. The Canon is scripturally based, and both presumes and provides a detailed knowledge of the bible. It doesn't read it as if the bible is some sort of dead text merely to be analyzed, but as a living appeal to the soul of all Christians. After praying the Great Canon, one has the sense that everything that has gone before has happened for the sake of one's own soul. The bible becomes personal and, to use a favorite phrase of the day, becomes relevant. Toward the
end of the Canon, after the participant has reminded himself in great detail of how little good he has done, the figure of Christ appears, giving hope and the possibility of forgiveness:

Christ has become a little child; * he was united to my ?esh* to voluntarily ful?ll the entire human condition, * except for sin.* He shows you, O my soul, * the example and image of condescension beyond description.
Christ has become incarnate, * calling the thieves and harlots to repentance; * repent, O my soul, * for the gate of the Kingdom opens, * and the pharisees, publicans and repentant sinners go in ahead of us.
Christ has saved the Wise Men and gathered the Shepherds;* he called the innocent children to martyrdom; * in the Temple, he glori?ed the Elder * and the Widow in her latter years. * O my soul, you have not imitated the deeds of their lives; * woe to you, for you must undergo judgment!

Christ appears, transforms the tragic history of man, and glorifies it. The scriptures and the life of each human being find their fulfillment in the person of Christ. After these odes, we conclude the liturgy with the psalms of praise, thus experiencing in the space of three hours (or
more) the entire drama of salvation.

And I got to do it twice, since I helped another parish with their singing in the morning, and then cantored at my parish in the evening. Seven hours of liturgy!

By the way, for other reactions to the Great Canon from some bloggers that prayed it with me, see Eric, Renee, and John. One of these days I'll add them to my bloglist.

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