Arise, O God.

As I have followed the news about the suffering Christians around the world, I am reminded that I know something about them. We have worshiped along side the Chaldean, Syriac, Coptic and Palestinian Christians on several occasions. These Christians keep ancient traditions and are liturgical people.  I imagine, living in a land where the church is so heavily persecuted, these people are made to ponder and affirm in their lives the truth of Christianity–leading to a deep and lasting connection with the liturgy. And from that connection to the liturgy comes joy, and hope, and the grace to persevere, even unto death.

When our lives flow froResurrectionYaroslavlSchoolm the cycle of services, we come to know and understand the life of Christ. Indeed we are participating in His life when we participate in the church year.  Living according to the Liturgical calendar means to live as one with Christ and the rest of the Church. It is a foundation for our faith.

The faith as experienced from living according to the the Church calendar for so many years now is what has comforted me through all the devastation and has sustained me through the difficult times I have experienced in my own life. “Liturgical services are not one of the’aspects’ of the Church: they express its very essence, are its breath, its heartbeat, its constant self-revelation.” (Schmemann, 1993)

Manny has been singing a hymn from Holy Week for the past several days. His faith has always grown from the hymns of the Church. The rest of the house gets to be the blessed recipients of his regular singing. I know why he keeps singing this hymn; what else can we say in such troubling times?

Refrain:  Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!

Verse 1:  God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment (refrain).

Verse 2:  How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked (refrain)?

Verse 3:  Give justice to the weak and the fatherless, maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute (refrain).

Verse 4:  Rescue the weak and the needy, deliver them from the hand of the wicked (refrain).

Verse 5:  They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken (refrain).

Verse 6:  I said, You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince (refrain).

This hymn (Psalm 82 reorganized in verse & refrain form) is from our favorite service of the year: the vesperal liturgy of Holy Saturday.  It is at this service that we witness what Fr. Schmemann describes as not merely the transition from sorrow to joy but the transformation of sorrow into joy, “the death of death itself.” At the moment we sing this hymn, we get our first glimpse of Christ’s victory over the “last enemy” (1 Cor 15:26).  It’s almost as if you can feel Adam rejoicing when he sees that he has not been abandoned.  God has come to earth, passed through death, shattered Hades and has at last found the one he has been looking for. Truly, this is one of the most powerful moments in the church cycle. Here is a Sticheron from the same service:

Today Hades cries out groaning: ‘My authority has been destroyed.  I received a mortal as one of the dead, but have no strength at all to hold him, but with him I shall lose those over whom I reigned. I held the dead from every age, but see, he raises them all.’ Glory, O Lord, to your Cross and to your Resurrection!

From this place and from this moment I can look at the suffering of the Christians in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and everywhere else and can have hope.  Because I have seen with the eyes of my own heart, through the liturgy of the church, that Christ has “trampled death by death,” I have in a sense already witnessed the resurrection of these new Christian martyrs. And though their pain and suffering is in no way lessened by the promise of resurrection, neither is it in vain.




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