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The Father Takes Us into His House: Insights into the Liturgy from Fr. Aimilianos of Simonopetra

42nd OCA Diocese of the South Assembly

Ancient Faith Radio is pleased to present two lectures by Fr. Silviu Bunta, both of which were presented at the 42nd OCA Diocese of the South Assembly in Jupiter, Florida, from July 22-26, 2019. The theme of the assembly was “Thy Light and Truth Guide Us to Thy Holy Altar with Joy.” Fr. Silviu holds a B.A. degree in theology from the University of Sibiu (Romania), an M.A. degree in biblical studies from the University of Oradea (Romania), and a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible from Marquette University. He is presently Associate Professor at the University of Dayton, Ohio. He has recently completed a translation into English of the Simonopetra Hieratikon (with copious notes).

August 2019

The Father Takes Us into His House: Insights into the Liturgy from Fr. Aimilianos of Simonopetra

Fr. Silviu Bunta

August 12, 2019 Length: 47:38

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Transcript

The Most Reverend Archbishop Alexander (Golitzin) of Dallas and the South: Fr. Marcus made the mistake of asking me to introduce Silviu, which the latter deeply regretted. [Laughter] For reasons you’ll find out. So of course I’ll begin with a story about me. In 1997, I received a letter from perhaps the brightest and most interesting theologian in the Orthodox world, Fr. Dn. Ioan Ica, Jr., then of Sibiu, who wrote me saying, “I’ve started a printing press, publishing outfit, in Romania for theological books”—which, by the way, is now the most important academic publisher of theology in Romania, and certainly the most interesting, called Deisis—“and I’ve collected a number of your essays and have translated them into Romanian. Do I have your permission to publish them as a book?” I said, “Of course!” And in 1998, almost exactly a year later, I received another letter from the same source, saying, “The book’s done. Could you come out for a book tour? We can’t afford the ticket, but once you get here, we’ll take care of you.” [Laughter]

So I went and had a wonderful time, flogging the book, essentially. Thanks to that book, a year after that, the first Romanian shows up on our doorstep at Marquette. That’s him. [Laughter] Who immediately handed me an enormous essay on Maximus the Confessor which I confess gathered dust on top of one of my filing cabinets for some years thereafter, which, as it turned out, wasn’t all that bad a thing because three years after he introduced himself to me as my student, he informed me that he was abandoning patristics and me for the Scripture section. In response to my outraged cry of alarm, he said, “Well, it’s your own fault. Every lecture you give, you spend half the time on Old Testament. So I just thought I’d go where the action is.” And indeed, that’s where he’s been much of the time.

He’s now a tenured professor at the University of Dayton, a Catholic institution in that city. He occupies a place rather similar to me at Marquette as the ornamental Oriental on the theology faculty. [Laughter] Although I fear that in his colleagues’ eyes, he’s much more purely ornamental than I was for mine. He does not have the advantage of a number of historians or actual Scripture scholars there, so almost nobody to talk to. They’re all systematists—and that’s one thing Fr. Silviu is not. He is not a systematic theologian. If you want to hear his take on systematic theology and its origins, then I suggest a YouTube talk which is a presentation of his paper at Iaşi this past January, which is very interesting stuff.

However, it wasn’t just Scripture. He remains interested in the Fathers—well, “interested” is too weak. He remains devoted to the Church Fathers, to the Divine Liturgy, and increasingly to the person of Fr. Aimilianos of Simonospetros. He had the wisdom, in short, to go past me to my source, through my origins and discover the font of my inspiration. Hence, his paper’s title, his presentation’s title for this evening is: “The Father Takes Us into His House: Insights into the Liturgy from Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetreas.”

Fr. Silviu Bunta: Thank you. Thank you, Vladyka, and thank you all for having me. It’s a blessing being here. There is still a guilty pleasure about it, and I’ll tell you why. Just a couple of weeks ago, Vladyka texted me, taking a lot of delight in the fact that I was melting in 98° in D.C. while he was in California in the 70s, yes, luxuriating in California, but he texted me, and he said, “Guess what! The mothers at Ormylia just emailed me, asking me to translate a book” which I asked him to translate a couple of years ago, the first time, and he said no to me; he can’t say no to the mothers. [Laughter] Watching the bishop work, it’s a rare pleasure of a priest. [Laughter] So he’ll have to translate the book on which this talk is based. Most of these quotes are mine; most of these quotes come from this book which hasn’t been translated into English yet. I apologize up front for the awkwardness of my translations, because I don’t really know modern Greek. It takes me about half an hour to translate a paragraph, while surrounded by five dictionaries. So he’ll have to do that work. Oh, my goodness! It feels so good! [Laughter]

His Eminence Archbishop Alexander: I’ll find something for you…

Fr. Silviu: Yes, yes, yes.

Why Elder Aimilianos? Indeed, I read Elder Aimilianos already in Romania, because the same Fr. Ica whom Vladyka mentioned also translated the Elder into Romanian. The first book came out not long after your volume. The Elder struck me very, very deeply. I knew your connection to him, but I didn’t know that I would end up meeting him in you, to quite some extent. It’s extraordinary.

Some of his appeal to me will make sense based on what I will say tonight, and I will put it in one word: realism. I found the Elder to be deeply, deeply realistic. A great aspect of that realism is liturgical, so without further ado, I’ll just tell you what I got.

Of course, much more can be said than what I will say tonight about the Elder’s insights into the liturgy. What I really want to do is to focus on two of his insights. Really, those are all my points: two points. The first one is what the liturgy actually is, and the second one, the second point is the experience of the liturgy, the participation in it. The two things, according to the Elder, are quite radically different. They are not necessarily one and the same thing, because we don’t necessarily experience the liturgy accurately. Our experience of the liturgy doesn’t necessarily reflect it.

I found the Elder’s—if you ask me, best definition of the liturgy, and I don’t mean just capital L, but small l, our entire worship, in this book. He put it this way. He starts really by trying to define what Church is, but he ends up telling us what liturgy is in his view. So this quote:

What is, then, the Church? Do you remember the prodigal son? The father—and his father is the Son of God, Christ—saw his son going far away, becoming a prodigal. What did he do? From that day on, he couldn’t find his peace. He couldn’t rejoice in anything good. He went out of the village, out on the mountains, looking into the distance. Maybe he will see his son. And when one day he saw him, he ran and embraced him, took him home, and took care of him. This is what the Church means: the Father takes us into his house. The Church is a house, a spiritual place, a spiritual dwelling, spiritual temple, which gives us security and saves us from sin, from corruption, and from death.

The Liturgy, then, according to the Elder, and its life, and its location, the Church, are fundamentally based on this search of Christ for us, or rather, probably better put, fundamentally constitute this search of Christ for us and his reception of us. It’s not our search for him, but his search and his finding of us. The liturgy is not the reality that we find something or someone, but the reality that we are found. This is precisely the meaning of hope, which language of hope dominates our prayers, our liturgy. According to the Elder, the hope is precisely being found, and, rather, the hope is the one who finds us, Christ, as we say at the end our services.

Our hope—and the Elder loved this passage in Romans—is his unfailing love. Our whole faith and prayer hang fundamentally on what he is, not on what we are. In the liturgy, we admit that we anchor our whole drawing-near to him in his loving, self-denying self-offering to us. As Fr. Aimilianos points out, our whole liturgy hangs on the fact that God “receives our prayer, because he promised that he would.” By the way, we say this much in the prayer of the third antiphon: “You who have given us these common prayers of one voice and have promised to grant their request to two or three who call on your name in one voice, yourself now also fulfill…” and it keeps going. So you told us you’d do it, do it—we put it very simply.

Our reception into the Father’s house, our hope, is then forever, because he is not changing. Again, as Fr. Aimilianos points out, the priest’s, out loud, by the way, at the end of the liturgy: “Always, now and ever, unto the ages of ages” is “the moment in which Christ promises to remain with us always.” The Elder loved the end of the Gospel of Matthew: “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” That “behold” in Luke, by the way, that call to look, to see, happens because our hope is right in front of us.

Now the Elder concluded, our meeting with God in the liturgy will happen undoubtedly. Due to this liturgical reality, Fr. Aimilianos emphasized often that we don’t go to the liturgy to ask for one or another thing “that is, to fulfill our necessities. We go to ask only for him. We leave all other things in his care.” As the Elder also points out, this reality is a marker of a wonderful, wonderful thing. Our liturgy, framed by this hope, is, in essence, not a petition, but rather—and he loved this vocabulary—is a sacrifice, functioning very much like the sacrifices of old. As the epistle to the Hebrews, by the way, would put it: “Accept that the sacrifice now is the true sacrificial Lamb, not just a shadow of the Lamb.” The liturgy is the giving of our gift, the Elder would say, and God’s answer to it. We give and he always receives, although even the gifts are his.

As a side note, by the way, this, I became convinced, is our response to the Catholic doctrine of ex opere operato. You know what I am talking about: the fact that the sacraments, the prayers you’ve said according… I think the Catholic Catechism puts it this way: If they are done according to the intention of the Church, [it] makes the grace, the sacramental grace, present. That’s very, very mechanical. It has to do with what the priest does. This is our equivalent to it, and it’s got nothing to do with what the priest does; it’s got everything to do with the way Christ is. So our equivalent is not mechanical; it’s very, very personal. Or, rather than mechanical, it is ascetical, and it has to do with God’s eternal giving of himself to us.

If you want our solution to “How is this working, if the priest is not worthy?” it’s Dionysian rather than Thomist, because Thomas the Aquino had to explain God’s infinity based on syllogism. On very strict Aristotelian logic, he works out the intellectual conclusion that God is infinite, while St. Dionysios the Areopagite draws the conclusion he is infinite because St. Dionysios experienced God’s self-giving love for him, which cannot have an end. The infinity of God, if you want, is a mystical experience of God’s self-giving. Note aside; done with the note.

To conclude this first point—that was my first point: what the liturgy is—the Elder emphasized that “the liturgy is Christ and does not depend at all”—these are his own words—“does not depend on what we experience.” Yet he also noted one can doubtlessly experience the liturgy or participate in it at different levels, or in different ways. How come? This, he said, depends on our preparation. By the way, this is the second point, the second point of my talk.

When it comes to the practical aspects of the preparation, the Elder emphasized that the preparation for the liturgy begins long before it, specifically in the night vigil with which one gets himself ready for the liturgy. This helps us approach the liturgy “calm and very sweet”—these are the words he used—or “aware that we stand truly before God, and also concentrated,” which he defines: that we avoid discussions, we avoid meddling in someone else’s life, discussing things, figuring things out, anything. He insists that this is actually improperly called concentration, because it is supposed to begin naturally, to happen naturally, not programmatically, not deliberately, not intentionally. The imagery he offers—he says, “Just like one walks and breathes in an uncalculated way,” we don’t tell ourselves, “Breathe in, breathe out, left, right, left, right.” We just do it. And this concentration is supposed to be just as natural.

But in order for that to happen, he says we have to go through something that is very, very, very important, and in one word that amounts to our death. The Elder emphasized that in order for this participation to happen, for this concentration to take place naturally, what is needed is not an extraordinary ascetical feat or a spiritual warfare against the devil. (The Elder, by the way, loved emphasizing that we really don’t battle anything, because the victory already exists. We are rather called to participate in it.) But rather what is needed, the only thing needful and the only thing that we can accomplish, by the way, is to realize and accept our exile, our nakedness, our nothingness. This, he would say repeatedly, is the beginning and the substance of spiritual life.

When is it, then, that a soul says, “I must live a Christian life; I must live differently”? When it acquires the sense that it is a soul in exile, when it realizes that it is something that has been cast away and now exists outside of its proper place, outside of paradise, in a foreign land, beyond the borders within which it was made to dwell. Because we do not know this thing, we do not understand it, most often we feel so good where we are—in apartment blocks, on construction sites, on roads. In all habitations of sinfulness, one finds people who are content. Usually we delude ourselves, because we say a good prayer, because we have a certain piety, a certain virtue, a certain progress, or because we deceive ourselves in our pseudo-confessions. We think that we have God’s grace, that God has visited us. But now, with this experience of exile and I understand that I am a stranger, that I have no connection to him, I now feel that I am very small, a speck of dirt. Before God I don’t even have the height of an ant; I am nothing. I am a shadow that can neither advance nor shine.

This moment, this finding of myself naked, broken, powerless, incapable of anything, is a sort of death, we could say, because it brings down everything I have built, and it brings down everything that I have built myself into. All of that comes crashing down; my life is reduced to nothing. I am sorry; this is another long quote from the Elder, but it’s very powerful.

Naked man is something tragically diminished in his being. He is nothing and has only the consciousness of his nakedness, only the awareness of his sin, only the knowledge that he is a sinner, and this does not mean that I say things like, “I am a sinner” or “I must go to confession,” but it is rather an existential situation in which the soul is much more profoundly aware of its sin. Any soul can go to confession, read spiritual books, pray much, and shed copious tears, but all of that can take place without the sense of sin that we are describing here.

Why do we so often choose to conceal ourselves and cover things up? For the simple reason that it is a terrible thing for us to realize we are nothing. Do you know what it means to go from thinking that you are special and important, from being respected publicly, from thinking that you’ve done great things, from being talented, wonderful, good-looking, charming, and I don’t know what else besides, going to recognizing that, on the contrary, you are naked and of no consequence whatsoever. It requires strength to accept that, a lot of strength, and yet we can’t even accept the slightest blemish that we might have, or any fault, failure, error, or sin that we may have committed, without covering it up, like with a lie, and then covering up that lie with a second one, and the second with a third. A person may conceal his or her nakedness by means of an inferiority complex, by acts of aggression, by self-justification, by donning various masks, and by many other means.

Let me give you an example. It will be one taken from external experience, because I can’t tell you anything else, that would be too much and too deep. Your professor asks you a question in class, and all the other students make fun of you because you don’t know the answer. You get up, you leave school and go straight home, you stand in front of the mirror, fix yourself up, and put on your make-up, even though there is no one there to see you. But there, in front of the mirror all by yourself, with that self which is everything to you, you can assure yourself that I, whom they made fun of, am beautiful. In this way, I seek to regain my balance, to compensate for the weakness exposed by my teacher and my classmates. At such a moment when I am in front of the mirror, I am not standing there in my nakedness, in my inability to answer questions, but instead I am standing on what I believe are my good qualities, such as my beauty, be it genuine or the artificial effect of make-up. And such beauty may be physical, emotional, intellectual, or even spiritual, as we are now in the habit of saying, but it makes no difference. Whatever it is, it’s a substitute for my nakedness.

Such strategies of denial also involve concealment from myself. What does that mean? It means that even though I am naked; I live as though I were not, and thus I lead a double life. Or I may refuse to grow and progress, as though I weren’t naked at all. And this is something much more terrible, for it is the rejection of reality, and such a rejection can only have tragic consequences for me. Life is full of people like that.

Only in the discarding of all illusions, I face reality: the reality of my own self, the Elder would say. At this moment, in this act, I’ve learned that I am what I am, as St. Paul puts it, by the way. This is, in a sense, the ultimate realism, and only in the facing of my real self I can truly encounter God, encounter God as he is, instead of conceiving him—although he’s the inconceivable, as we call it. The Elder says, “Sensing what I am, I start understanding what he is.” Now I understand that he is, that he is great, and that he is holy.

There are many things that the Elder said about this essential aspect, this essential substance of preparation in nakedness, which, by the way, the Elder also defines pretty much as spiritual life. This is what spiritual life is, in the splendid book, The Way of the Spirit. I will focus here only on five aspects, and I will close my talk with these five aspects.

First, this brokenness becomes a need, which turns into a longing.

When the soul becomes conscious of this and remembers its place of origin, then it can say: I must return to my home. It follows then that, when the soul realizes it doesn’t have God, when it feels itself to be in a state of exile without a home, without a father, estranged from its Creator, that it has become like an object long since discarded and having no real contact with God, then it can say in its exile: I feed with swine and eat husks. I will go back to my father. This is when the soul begins to make progress.

The Elder often emphasized that this progress is not my own. I cannot do anything more but have this sincere look at myself, to see myself for what I truly am, naked and broken and sinful. Yet, in this very look, in this very moment of realism hides this look at myself, hides the need for Christ, for longing for home. And this is the only thing I can do: long for my God. But—and this is a wonderful thing—in this very longing itself, the kingdom draws near to me and into me. I cannot draw near to the kingdom. I can only look for it, get my heart to thirst for it, to break for it. And this very look is the finding, actually. The kingdom draws near to me, enters me.

The kingdom is thus hidden in my own smallness, in my nothingness, in my own failures and brokenness, in the acknowledgment of my real self. And all of that amounts to my own death. St. Paul would say that what is required for Christ to live in me is precisely for me to die. We could say that it is precisely this realization of nothingness when we come undone, when we lose our contest with God. And the Elder loved the imagery of contest. It is actually already in St. Paul. St. Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 5 being knocked out by the love of Christ for him, existing, not just tipped over: knocked out. When we fall apart, when we are shattered, reduced to dust, this nothingness is our clothing, our victory. As the Elder put it somewhere else:

By struggling to find the right relation to suffering, to our own death, we will simultaneously find God, and not simply find him, but acquire him, and indeed conquer him completely.

And because most of us—well, many of us—here are priests, but this applies to all, really, this is one of my dearest things he ever said, and it is in Vladyka’s book on the holy mountain, which has been just re-edited, reprinted. This is from a talk he gave to a gathering of priests, actually, I think in Thessaloniki, and he says that a fundamental aspect of this brokenness is to expect to fail, not expect to succeed, but to fail.

In addition to their pastoral work, priests should also foresee the degree to which they will fail in the work they do. Fail not because they are not themselves capable of succeeding, but because, so we would say, the apostolate of the worker in the Church is precisely to fail. To fail in order to demonstrate the power of God. Elijah the Zealot was sent to witness to the truth and preach the living God, but what results did this holy prophet see from his mission? The way in which God snatched him from this life was wonderful, certainly, but we might also say that it must have been a blow. It meant his replacement by another prophet. Yet it was exactly for the seed of his witness that God sent him. John the Forerunner both bore witness to the truth and reproved the lawless.

Yet while transgression went on and seems to prevail to the present day, he lost his precious head. He did not succeed, yet again he remains the Forerunner of Christ, the very summit of the prophets. Where is the multitude of churches that the apostles founded in the East? They are ruins. Where are the ascetic feats and miracles accomplished by so many saints? What has happened to the preaching of ten thousand heralds of the divine word? The world continues to wallow in the mire of sin, and our own children, our own flocks, our own people for whom we grow weary and over whom we agonize? Let us admit that they will go on living in the sins of their hearts, in those passions by which the whole society lives. They will, however, survive into eternity when God snatches them up in the hour ordained for each of them, and which he alone knows.

God is the one who gives the victory, even while we ourselves suffer perpetual hardship. It is he who wins our people, not by our own labor, but via the way he revealed to Isaiah, whose own failure he foretold when he prophesied to him the holy seed is its stump, that is the stump of Zion, as if to say to him: You will fail. So let us admit to ourselves that we are useless and fit as witnesses only to be crushed beneath the tread of that toe of God’s love. Be trodden in the wine-press of the ascetic and Christ-delighting monastic life. Be poured out as new wine to gladden the Lord, and be changed into the sacrament of the world to come.

The second aspect of this moment of nakedness that I will emphasize is that, because of it, ethics and all ethical attitudes, all attitudes centered on commandments or on what I must do or must not do, unravels right in front of our eyes, and the Elder very, very often used to say, “In the kingdom there is no do or don’t. This is one of the emphases.

Contrary to our expectation, there is no must. Such a word does not exist within the Christian life. The idea that something must be or must take place is a product of the intellect. It is something that I arrive at as a logical conclusion, a deduction based on something in the gospels, or something which Christ taught in his parables, or with respect to his ethical teachings to do this or that. But the word must has never moved anyone to do anything. On the contrary, it makes you feel like a slave and discourages you from moving forward. The force of must moves neither God nor the heart. It pertains only to the logical human deliberation, to the endurance of human determination, which, as we all know, is something that unravels and comes apart very easily.

The third aspect of this realism, this moment of sincerity about myself, is that in this standing naked in front of Christ, my experience of myself happens in a new way, [an] entirely new way. Namely, there is no judgment and no self-analysis in this moment, and that is essential, and the Elder always emphasized:

Do not measure yourself in any deed. (And this is St. Isaiah.) Do not judge yourself for what you have done—good, bad, virtue, sin—or compare it with others. How often we are dealing with this thing! Let us forget what is behind us and show no interest in what we have done. For by analyzing, we discover that we have done something important or something well, something great and good and more accomplished than someone else, or something smaller than someone else. Whether we judge the thing in itself or in connection to our neighbor, we will fall into one of the traps, either into pride, if it something good and greater, or into despair, misery, into the disintegration of our self if it is not good. This is so since, as long as we believe that we are mature, that we have power within ourselves, we bear the inaptitude of Adam and Eve, the failed ego that our ancestors bequeathed us.

Therefore, in order to remain untroubled by thoughts, never stay to analyze what you have done. This is valid for all that happens with us. But then you will ask: How will I confess, if I don’t judge? In confession, I don’t make analysis of my deeds, but the revealing of my sins. This is a different thing, since I do not evaluate my deeds, but I simply relate them. I don’t stay to think what I have done that morning, what I have done and what I have not done, since this thing creates in my soul a suffocating atmosphere. If we convince ourselves that we have done something good, you do understand how much egotism we can fall into. The word “do not measure yourself in any deed” is the true wisdom. Most, when they fall, they also fall for this reason. Or we use it to justify our passions. For example, I sinned once, and afterwards I tell myself: What good is repentance? What misery this is! How much is our self torn to shreds this way!

Fourth aspect of this moment of sincerity is the fact that I will accept the other as the other is. This is the Elder, again:

Let us therefore accept the other as he is. One will insult me—of course. Another will praise me—indeed. One will give me half a glass of water—very well. Let us not meddle in the life of the other. Only when they ask for our love, let us give it to them as God gives, both over the righteous and the unrighteous. Let us keep the union of the Spirit, that is, the holy faith that God gave us. This is the subject of our struggle, the one that God loves.

Fifth and finally, our struggle, our any and every ascetical effort, is now revealed not as a battle against evil, but rather as the sharing of Christ’s cross. It is revealed as the sharing of the cross precisely in my smallness. It is a self-emptying, self-erasing, so that only Christ exists.

On the way to Christ, as much as it depends on me, I have shared in the cross of Christ, not because this has any merit, but to show that I accept my own cross, that all the powers of my soul together wait for him in the upper chamber to which I climb. This cross of mine is something that is accomplished in the most fundamental way: in my profound desire that I no longer exist in this life, but that I lose myself in his shadow, that I decrease, as St. John the Baptist says. Then I enter his darkness, not to be seen from anywhere, and most of all not by me myself.

This desire I express through my unending fasting, through my sleeping on the floor, through my vigil,  through my voluntary hardships, with have no value whatsoever before God, and no reward, and from which I cannot expect anything. They only carry the meaning that, through them, I express what my soul seeks, my patient insistence, my longing, as if I were to tell him:

You, my God, are my expectation, the One whom my soul longs for. This is the only meaning that asceticism may have for an Orthodox Christian. Since I have come to change my own self, create in me a clean heart. Create in me a new heart from nothing, from non-existence. Put it in the place of the one I have now.

Since I have come to replace my own self with God, it’s impossible to pray for myself, but only to say:

My God, blot me out! My God, remove me, so that only you remain.

To recapitulate, this is the preparation for the liturgy: our vigil, in the concentration of the heart and mind, in the realization of my nothingness, in my powerless longing. In this state, the Elder said, all progression stops, all preparation ends.

When I reach this moment, then I can no longer advance. I can no longer progress. I cannot even pray. I cannot do anything at all. The only thing I want is to liturgize, to grab in my hand the One who is invisibly present with me, and with craving to shove him into myself.

All emotions come to die in this participation in the liturgy of which the Elder is talking. This participation, as the Elder said, is without thoughts, without desires, and without human wounds.

When we feel wounded, forgotten, hurt, this whole experience is false. The emotion we feel is not from God but from the stroking of our own ego so that it can stand. But when I have no desires, when I don’t feel afflicted, abandoned, when I go to church joyful and peaceful, then my feeling has depth, has security. When I participate in the liturgy, truly united to Christ, I unite myself to the whole cosmos. It is impossible not to love truly. I cease to have enemies, jealousy, hatred, desires. All these are thrown into the holy chalice, and all that is left is my deep love for God and for people, as something firm, as the body of Christ.

Instead of conclusion, allow me to finish this talk on the same note on which I started it, actually, and go back to what the liturgy is, behind what the liturgy is supposed to feel like, and quote on this assuredness of the kingdom, this entrance into the Father’s house of which we can be certain.

Our liturgy is a betrothal to Christ, a wedding. It takes us into his kingdom. Then we will depart again to go to our houses with our passions, with our sins, with our miseries. It does not matter. We will again go to the liturgy. We will grab Christ again. He will deify us again, and thus, through a continuous struggle, through a continuous journey, in front being the priest and behind him, us, we will reach the kingdom of heaven. Do we go to the liturgy with this longing? Then we have secured the kingdom of heaven.

When it comes to priests, the Elder—and this is one of the things that impressed me the most, not only at Simonopetra, the monastery itself, the way they serve, but also in their Ieratikon, which I just finished translating with Vladyka’s help—I’ll talk about that tomorrow—the serving at Simonopetra is so sober, so collected, so crisp, as Vladyka likes to put it. And the Ieratikon very often has all these notes in the rubrics that the priest must serve simply, that he must bow a little bit, that he must, in other words, erase himself. The Elder always insisted that priests serve in such a way that they are not noticeable, that at the end of the liturgy, the one who is there, if a person who is there would be asked, “Did you like how Father served?” the person would say, “Who was the priest again?”

I cannot be noticeable by anything—by gestures, by the way of singing, by the way of moving, by the way of speaking, of giving the sermon, of… I don’t know if Vladyka told you earlier today, but he has very few recollections of what the Elder actually told him, because the Elder did this in the first place, to his own disciples. The intention was always to put forth Christ and not himself. And in this very strange way, he did it because they really have to scratch their heads—and I witnessed this there, the fathers going, “Do you remember when Geronta said—?” “Oh, yeah, I think so. I’m not quite sure…” If they didn’t have these cassettes that they have, they would be in deep trouble, because all of this would have been lost, if you want, in this fashion and this form, because it exists only as Christ in his disciples.

That was the most striking thing to me, and when—I forgot who it was; I think it was Fr. Gerasim or Fr. Marcus who invited me to speak—I was just finishing wrapping up my translation of the Ieratikon—I had to talk about the Elder’s vision of the liturgy, about this precise thing. I really thank you for your attention. Thank you. [Applause]


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