Sunday, February 21, 2016

The gates of repentance

Open to me the gates of repentance, O Giver of Life,
For my spirit rises early to pray towards Your holy temple.
Bearing the temple of my body all defiled;
But in Your compassion, purify me by the lovingkindness
of Your mercy.

Lead me on the paths of salvation, O Mother of God,
For I have profaned my soul with shameful sins,
and have wasted my life in laziness.
But by your intercessions, deliver me from all impurity.

When I think of the many evil things I have done, wretch that I am,
I tremble at the fearful day of judgement.
But trusting in Your lovingkindness, like David I cry to You:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your great mercy!

Today we are at the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, not yet Lent, but it's never too soon to pursue repentance, as the hymn quoted above testifies. This Lord's day we met these images once again, spoken by the Word of God in human form, our Lord Jesus Christ. Nor is it ever too soon to yearn for true discipleship, for the grace of God who alone bestows it upon us, praying in the words of Ephraim of Syria…

O Lord and Master of my life,
take away from me the will to be lazy and to be sad,
the desire to get ahead of other people and to boast and brag.
Give me instead a pure and humble spirit,
the will to be patient with other people, and to love them.
Let me realize my own mistakes,
and keep me from judging the things other people do,
for You are blessed now and for evermore.

This prayer is associated with the time of Sarakostí, Great Lent, the forty-plus days of fasting before the feast of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Pascha, the ‘Passover of God’, the Lamb without spot, slain before the foundation of the world.
Yet the fast is not a program of ascetic discipline designed for our pride. As the fathers teach, ‘Eat what you please, anything, but not the flesh of your brothers.’ To remember this prayer and say it faithfully and with all our heart, even if only once in this fast, with prostrations or without, it doesn't matter. God knows our hearts. He knows our lives. All we have to do is bring our burdens to Him, and lay them down before His Cross, and receive from Him what we do not deserve but what He longs to grant us, great mercy.

Prayer. Speaking to God. He speaks to us, we speak to Him. In our own words, or in words that we make our own, partaking of the mind of the Church, when we read aloud or inwardly what we find in our prayer books. Do you think it is really any different, whether we speak to Him out of our private treasury, or out of the treasury that the saints have bequeathed us? Maybe to some of us, but not to Him. Again, He is listening to our hearts, and our hearts are listening to Him. ‘Remembering our most-holy, most blessed…’ and praying with her and all the saints, as we join them in the heavenlies, ‘a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb… wearing white robes… holding palm branches in their hands,’ there we are, together, one in faith, one in hope, one in charity:
There is the Church, and there is no other.

Prayer is the language of welcome between heaven and earth.

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