“We have heard as they were read aloud those words, so shining and luminescent, we have taken in by ear, we have considered in our minds and honored in our belief.”
It is wonderful to be able to share with you how grateful I am for all the encouragement and support from the team at the Institute for Studies in Eastern Christianity throughout the time that I was developing and writing my new book. During the worst of the pandemic, I worked with Gorgias Press developing it, and editing it and preparing the type, and now it is a real pleasure for me for me to be able to share with you: From Their Lips: Voices of Early Christian Women.
It should come as no surprise that early Christian women are heard praying to the Lord from the beginning to the end of it. So, it offers the reader the opportunity to take a good look at early Christian prayer as it was remembered by generations of faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. By exploring the lives and ministry of a dozen early Christian women from the first centuries after the Resurrection, it delves deeply into their prayer lives. For professors, in their teaching; for students, in their studies—you will find this book helpful in bringing to life women whose faith and prayer to the Lord contributed to the history of early Christianity.
In fact, the volume opens in the New Testament, down by the river-side in Macedonian Philippi, in a scene I’m convinced was inspired by the living prayer of a woman. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that the Apostle Paul had come to town and was looking for people to evangelize about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He heard that Jewish people met to pray together out by the river; so, on the Sabbath Day, he went out bright and early to meet them. As it happened, on this particular day, it was the women who were gathered there praying. And he spoke with Lydia—and Lydia spoke back (Luke 16:14-15).
“Heartful thanksgiving should have first place in our book of prayer. Next should be confession and genuine contrition of soul. After that should come our request to the universal King.” So writes St John Climacus, seventh-century abbot of Mount Sinai, in his classic work The Ladder of Divine Ascent. I do not think that he intended to lay down an inflexible rule to which no exceptions could be allowed. It was rather his purpose to indicate the usual pattern, the normal sequence, to be followed in our practice of prayer. Thanksgiving, repentance, petition: such is the basic and primary succession that we should envisage.
To many it might seem that to pray is essentially to ask God for something, to bringing before Him the distress and the needs of others and ourselves. Alternatively, some of us might imagine that prayer should begin with an act of repentance. But this is not the perspective adopted by Climacus. On the contrary, before bringing before Christ the suffering and pain of the world, and before looking downward at our own ugliness and failings, we should look upwards at the beauty and glory of God. All too often our prayer can take the form of grumbling before God, of complaining and expressing regret. But that, so Climacus assures us, is not true prayer.
On the day of our Lord’s Transfiguration, whose feast day is celebrated on August 6th, Jesus took with him three disciples, Peter, John and James (Mt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36). They are at the ‘high’ mountain, which is often a place of revelation in the Bible, and at this mountain Jesus is transfigured. St. Matthew tells us, “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” St. Luke narrates that the “appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.” St. Mark says, “His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.”
The story, in short, teaches us about what the Church has affirmed for centuries: the divinity of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the God-man, truly God and truly human. As Rowans Williams so eloquently puts it, “Jesus’ human life is shot through with God’s life, he is carried on the tide of God’s eternal life, and borne towards us on that tide, bringing with him all the fullness of the creator” (The Dwelling of the Light, 6).
The other thing that we learn from the story of Jesus’s transfiguration concerns us, our humanity. The story of the Transfiguration teaches us what we are called to be, the reason for our creation. Continue Reading…
Orthodox opponents to ecumenism are highly critical of Orthodox participation in prayer and other services in common with non-Orthodox Christians. This opposition is usually based on ancient canons forbidding prayer with “heretics and schismatics.” Among frequently cited canons are Apostolic Canons 10, 11, 45, 65 and 71. Apostolic Canon 10, for example, reads: “If one who is not in communion prays together, even at home, let him be excommunicated;” and Canon 45: “Let any bishop, or presbyter, or deacon that merely joins in prayer with heretics be suspended, but if he had permitted them to perform any service as clergymen, let him be deposed.” (See, for example, here and here.)
Referring to ancient canons is relevant to Orthodox involvement in ecumenical prayer services, but several major qualifications are in order. Continue Reading…