Archive for May 10th, 2008

A Dowry Much Finer Than Gold

May 10, 2008

I have wrtten before of my Father-in-law. Regular readers of this blog will know that he was a man of great faith whom I never knew to be less than thankful to God. The goodness of God was doubtless his greatest joy and favorite topic of conversation. He was also a man of great prayer.

I found out early in my married life just how great his prayers were. In the course of a conversation when I questioned how easily he accepted me into the family (I would have been far more hesitant had I been him), he stated very matter-of-factly, “Well, when Beth (my wife) was first born, we began praying for her future spouse. When she brought you home, we trusted God that He knew what He was doing.”

That was that. My presence was accepted as a matter of faith. It also meant, I have come to realize, that my marriage carried a treasure that was beyond comprehension: twenty years of the prayers of a righteous couple for a man (and a boy) whom they would only someday meet. It was a dowry (if you will) much finer than much gold (to use a Biblical expression).

I have come to understand enough about prayer to know that my life had a hand upon it that I would never know until I was blessed enough to marry a young woman whom I met in a prayer group.

I have learned over the years that the dowry was more than 20 years of prayers: it was an on-going gift of prayer and compassion that was my wife’s own gift to our family. Thus it is that 32 years into this life has given us four children that are not only the joy of our life, but who themselves are clearly the beneficiaries of much prayer.

I cannot, on this Mother’s Day, do more than say, “Glory to God for All Things! Glory to God Who blesses beyond our capacity to understand or to comprehend! Glory to God for His goodness!”

Happy Mother’s Day, my dearest.

Myrrhbearers and the Truth

May 10, 2008

The second Sunday after our Lord’s Pascha is always remembered as the “Sunday of the Myrrhbearers,” when the Church remembers the women and men who cared for our Lord’s body after His death on the Cross. Joseph and Nicodemus are the two men remembered. Mary and Martha of Bethany, Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Cleophas, Salome, Susanna and Joanna (and in some accounts Mary, the Mother of God) are those numbered as Myrrhbearers.

Some of them are among the first witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ. They are certainly the most fearless in their love and devotion to Christ when everyone else was hiding. Theirs is also an excellent example of how the Church “reads” Holy Scripture. There are the bare facts listed in Scripture, from which we may glean names and deeds attempted or accomplished. What we do not find there is theological commentary (at least not on this particular action) or more than the bare facts.

But the Church does not gather to rehearse bare facts: it gathers to worship. In its worship it affirms as much of the fullness of the faith as has been given to us – in Scripture – in doctrine – in the whole of Tradition. The Church does not stop with the facts for the facts point beyond themselves to eternal truth – and it is this eternal Truth that the Church proclaims.

Thus in Orthodox worship, Christ is almost always mentioned together with His Father and the Holy Spirit, for now the Church proclaims the fullness of the Trinitarian faith. We can do no less. We cannot speak of the Cross without at the same time saying all that the Cross has accomplished.

And thus it is, when hymns honoring the Myrrhbearers are sung, they reach into the depths of theology and sing what was True that day, though the Myrrhbearers would not yet have known it. It is the Church singing the fullness. For as the “Fullness of Him that filleth all in all,” how can the Church sing less?

Hymn to Joseph and Nicodemus from the Vespers of the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers:

Joseph, together with Nicodemus,

took Thee down from the Tree,

Who clothe Thyself with light as with a garment.

He gazed on Thy body – dead, naked, and unburied,

and, in grief and tender compassion, he lamented:

“Woe is me, my sweetest Jesus!

 A short while ago, the sun beheld Thee hanging on the Cross,

And it hid itself in darkness.

The earth qualked in fear at the sight.

The veil of the Temple was torn in two.

Lo, now I see Thee willingly submit to death for our sake.

How shall I bury Thee, O my God?

How can I wrap Thee in a shroud?

How can I touch Thy most pure body with my hands?

What songs can I sing for Thy exodus, O compassionate One?

I magnify Thy Passion.

I glorify Thy burial.

and Thy holy Resurrection,

crying, ‘O Lord, glory to Thee.'”