Monday, January 30, 2012

Litany for Persecutors

I vilify persecutors.  I must admit that this is a habit I have, and one that I have trouble breaking.  When I hear of Kathleen Sebellius and the HHS contraceptive mandate, I vilify Ms. Sebelllius.  When I hear of attacks on Nigerian Christians by Boko Haram, I vilify militant Muslims.  Now, I don't say that they are going to hell: I know I can't judge that at all.  Though I sometimes speak in generalizations (such as just talking about "Muslims" when I discuss teachings of the Qur'an made prominent by militant groups or "Jesuits" when I discuss the many heretical teachings of individual Jesuits throughout the past few decades), I know that they're generalizations: not all Muslims want to kill me or subdue me with a jizya, and not every Jesuit is a Resurrection-denying, "historical Jesus"-promoting heretic.  Yet I have this terrible habit of vilifying those who commit manifest evil acts, particularly high-profile ones that they seem proud of.

The thing is, in my prayer last night, I came across this line from St. Paul that smacked me upside the head in this area:

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them" (Rom 12:14).

That verse made me realize that I need to try to change.  Though I will of course not stop pointing out evil acts, I will make an effort to stop vilifying those who perform them.  I will try to hold faster to that great dictum of St. Augustine: hate the sin, love the sinner.  One idea I have for how to love those who commit evil acts is taken from a few verses later in St. Paul's chain of exhortations:

"'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.'  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:20-21).

What is it that those who commit evil deeds seem to be hungering for and thirsting for the most?  The Truth, that is, Jesus Christ.  Thus I have resolved to pray for those who commit evil acts, especially those who persecute Christians (either directly or indirectly).  To do this, I have decided to write a short litany in the style of the litanies from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  Feel free to take this idea and switch out the petitions for anyone you specifically want to pray for, and feel free to make it longer.  I know I will not keep the same list of petitions forever.  I hope that you will pray this with me, and I hope that you will pray for me, that I may be more charitable and less vilifying.

In peace, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy.
For our President, Barack Obama, and for all elected authorities, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For Kathleen Sebellius and the Department of Health and Human Services, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For the courts of the United States of America, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For Planned Parenthood and for all abortionists and clinics, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For those who wish to redefine marriage, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For those who wish to silence Christians, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For the government of Britain, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For all governments persecuting Christians, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, let us pray to the Lord Lord, have mercy.
For Boko Haram, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For the officials in Iraq, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For the government of Saudi Arabia, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For persecutors of Christians in Sudan, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For practitioners of sharia law, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For blasphemers, heretics, apostates, and schismatics, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For atheists and secularists, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy.
For all persecutors of Christians in any respect, let us pray to the LordLord, have mercy. 
Protect us, save us, have mercy on us, and preserve us, O God, by Your grace.  Lord, have mercy.
Remembering our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary with all the saints, let us commit ourselves and one another, and our whole life, to Christ, our God.  To You, O Lord.

I hope this litany (or at least the concept of it) helps you.  Again, please pray for me, that I may grow in charity, and pray for persecutors of Christians, that they may come to the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.  Let us end by invoking the prayers of St. Stephen, who prayed as he was martyred, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60).  Thank you for reading, and God Bless.

St. Stephen the Protomartyr, pray for us!

Nota Bene: All Scripture quotes are from the Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition.  The litany is based off of the Litany of Peace from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (with the prayers in italics taken directly from the liturgy).  My source was the Study Text of the Ruthenian Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, with the prayers taken from the 2009 Pastoral Update (see the link to the pdf in the first post on the page I linked to).

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Make A Little Tabernacle in Your Soul

In the very start of those strange, exotic, "eXtreme" days known as the '90s, a quirky little band called They Might Be Giants released a nigh-nonsenical song entitled "Birdhouse in Your Soul" (paired with an incomprehensible video).


The song is sung from the point of view of a nightlight in the shape of a blue canary belonging to what seems to be a very lonely child.  The aforementioned nightlight asks the child, in the chorus, to "make a little birdhouse in your soul," so that the child will carry the memory of the luminous bird wherever he goes.

While having a birdhouse in our souls would not be conducive to the spiritual life (unless you think of it as a birdhouse for housing the Holy Spirit in the form a dove), what would be conducive is a tabernacle.  The concept of keeping a perpetual space for the Lord within our hearts is one I wrote about before, in my post on the teachings of Ven. Clara Fey.  She wrote,

"Our Lord does not wish to dwell in us in a transient way through Holy Communion. No, His spiritual dwelling in us should be continual. He remains in us."

In another place, she wrote that our hearts should remain "like sanctuary lamps before the tabernacle."  St. Faustina agrees with this idea, commenting how she set up a "little cell" in her heart to keep continual company with Christ.  Yet these two are not the only spiritual writers to discuss this idea: in the Eastern tradition, this is a common theme.

For instance, St. Ephrem the Syrian (a Doctor of the Church who should be read much more than he is) compares to a "heavenly angel" he who "stands at prayer in service to God all times has pure thoughts" and "who always retains in himself remembrance of God" (Ps 1).  He also exhorts,

"Let us stand vigilant at the Bridegroom's door, that we might enter with the Bridegroom into His bridal chamber and inherit eternal life" (Ps 91).

While St. Ephrem's quotes may refer a bit more to just diligent vigilance in prayer rather than the concept of an oratory in our souls, St. John Climacus refers to the concept more specifically:

"The cell of a hesychast is the body that surrounds him, and within him is the dwelling place of knowledge" (Step 27).

St. Symeon the New Theologian, likewise, prays (referring to Jn 15:4), "Abide even in me, as You have said, so that I, too, may become worthy of abiding in You, and may then consciously enter into You and consciously possess You within myself" (Ethical Discourses V).  This concept of the continual abiding of the Lord within us is often linked with monasticism, as when the same saint writes, "The monk is one who is not mixed with the world and always converses with God alone" (Hymns on Divine Eros 3:1-2).

Indeed, monks are called to continual prayer: "The true monk should have prayer and psalmody continually in his heart" (Abba Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyrus, Saying 3).  They are called to stillness and complete focus on God by remaining in their cells: "Remain sitting in your cell and your thoughts will come to rest" (Anonymous Saying 66);"Watching means to sit in the cell and be always mindful of God" (Abba John the Dwarf, Saying 27).  In all, these teachings of watchfulness and silence (the translation of the Greek word ἡσυχια, hesychia, from which "hesychasm" comes) are summed up in the famous exhortation of St. Paul (1 Thess 5:17):

Αδιαλειπτως προσευχεσθε.

Pray unceasingly.

What do all these teachings do for those in the world?  These are teachings for monks, not for laymen: we do not have the luxury of living constantly in a cell.  That is why we use the above quote from St. John Climacus to help us: "The cell of a hesychast is the body that surrounds him."  Though we cannot stay in a cell all the day long, we never leave our bodies (unless you can astrally project, but that's a whole other issue).  Thus inside our hearts we can set up a cell (as St. Faustina said), a sanctuary, a tabernacle, where can constantly be with the Lord.  When the Lord abides in our hearts, then we will be abiding in His.

In conclusion, let us not make a birdhouse in our souls, as They Might Be Giants suggests, but instead let us make a little tabernacle in our souls.  After all, as Ven. Clara Fey said, "The Lord is in the tabernacle only that He may enter our hearts": let us then have a place prepared for Him, so that He may abide in us, and so that we may always be like "heavenly angels," "vigilant at the Bridegroom's door."

St. Ephrem the Syrian, Harp of the Holy Spirit, pray for us!

Nota Bene: Sources for the quotes from Ven. Clara Fey and St. Faustina can be found on my post on Mother Fey.  Quotes from St. Ephrem are from A Spiritual Psalter, or Reflections on God excerpted by Bishop Theophan the Recluse, translated by Antonina Janda, published by St. John of Kronstadt Press.  The quote from St. John Climacus is from Paulist Press' edition of his The Ladder of Divine Ascent, translated by Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell.  The quotes from St. Symeon the New Theologian are from editions of his works published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press: Ethical Discourses V is in On the Mystical Life, Vol. II, translated by Fr. Alexander Golitzin, and the Hymns on Divine Eros are translated by Daniel Griggs.  The quotes from Abba Epiphanius and Abba John the Dwarf are from Sr. Benedicta Ward's translation of The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, published by Cistercian Publications, Inc.The anonymous saying is from Sr. Benedicta Ward's translation of The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers, published by SLG Press.

A Theologian's Renunciation

Though I hesitate to take on the title, by my studies, I think I must be classed as a theologian.  Yet with the trends popular among many who bear the title "theologian," I sometimes recoil at the very name itself.  I have thought about these positions and ideas that many theologians hold dear to their hearts (or dear to their intellects).  It is with a strong heart, a sound mind, and a firm will that I renounce these opinions.  I declare:
  1. I renounce renouncing the Father.  Though, it is true, God is beyond gender, the First Person of the Trinity revealed Himself under the title of Father: who are we to renounce that title?
  2. I renounce renouncing the Son.  Jesus Christ is the Son of God, one divine Person in two natures, human and divine.  The Councils stated it, and I confess it: anything else is heresy.
  3. I renounce the Spirit's domination.  The Holy Spirit is God, the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity: this I affirm.  The Father and the Son being subordinated to the Spirit: this I deny.
  4. I renounce the Blessed Mother's divinity.  O Theotokos, you are all-pure and ever-virgin, the Mother of God, but you are not a part of the Divine Godhead, and I cannot imagine the pain you must feel when your humanity is rejected and the Trinity is maligned.
  5. I renounce the empty chair.  The See of Peter has not been vacated: Pope Benedict XVI is no hologram.  The Church has a vicar, and he is a German.
  6. I renounce the "symbolic" resurrection.  If I affirm the Pope is no hologram, I also affirm that neither was Christ on Easter Sunday, and neither will we be at the end of time.
  7. I renounce the Godhead's passing.  "God is dead."--Nietzsche.  "Nietzsche is dead."--God.  "We must kill God."--certain theologians.  "Did you see what happened to Nietzsche?"--God.
  8. I renounce the Spirit's failure.  If the Church was leading Christians astray for 1500 years, the Spirit was pretty incompetent for sending Luther so late.
  9. I renounce the class in Biblical Lit.  It's the Word of God, not the word of Ovid: it's the Truth, not a myth: it's inerrant, not aberrant.
  10. I renounce a God without mystery.  If St. Thomas Aquinas thought his Summa was straw, how can my little work plumb all the depths?
  11. I renounce the motto sola ratio.  It's "faith seeking understanding," not "faith equaling understanding."
  12. I renounce "my truth, my choice."  Sorry to break your bubble, but there's only one Truth: you can reject, but you sure can't change it.
I see all these ideas throughout theology today.  The more I read, the more it seems to me that there's a secret creed of untruthful statements that one solemnly vows when one declares, "I am a theologian."
If Aristotle said, "Dear is Plato, dearer still is truth," I say, "Dear is theology, dearer still is truth," and if this is theology, then I renounce it.
If however, being a theologian is more than this: if it is really about truth--not just truth, but the Truth--if it is about the true Triune God, if it is about the Son of God, made incarnate of the Theotokos, Who suffered and died and rose again and left His Church to continue His work...if that is theology, then I embrace it, renouncing the lie that stands in its place.  And I believe that this is the case: so now I can declare, as a son of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church:

I am a theologian.

"Choose then whichever blasphemy you prefer, my good inventor of a new theology, if indeed you are anxious at all costs to embrace a blasphemy...We at any rate will hold fast to the Trinity, and by the Trinity may we be saved, remaining pure and without offence, until the more perfect shewing forth of that which we desire, in Him, Christ our Lord, to Whom be the glory for ever. Amen."--St. Gregory the Theologian

St. Thomas Aquinas, patron saint of theologians, pray for us!

Nota Bene: If I unwittingly fell into theological error in this post, I humbly and sincerely apologize: please inform me so I can correct it and renounce my own error.  If there are any major current theological errors I left out, please inform me, and I will add them.  The quote from St. Gregory the Theologian (a.k.a. St. Gregory of Nazianzus or St. Gregory Nazianzen) comes from Oration 29.10,21, found in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume 7, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, found in The Faith Database.

Friday, January 27, 2012

"Pray for me, my friends, who have not strength to pray."

My girlfriend's grandmother died last night, and I have been praying for her soul.  We are called to pray for the dead in general, for they cannot pray for themselves once they have passed, and we usually especially pray for those who are close to us.

One way I pray for the souls of the faithful departed is by listening to a musical setting of a Requiem Mass, the beautiful prayers of the Church for all her departed children.  While listening, I pray for the recently deceased (I often do this whenever someone I know dies).  While I have a soft spot in my heart for the works of the famous Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, the setting I usually pray with is the setting by the famous Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi.  Though Verdi was an atheist, he felt inspired by the sacred prayers of the Church found in the Requiem Mass, and his recently-deceased friend Alessandro Manzoni (a poet and novelist famous for The Betrothed) was Catholic, so he felt inspired to compose a Requiem.  The music stuns me with its beauty and power, and it truly helps me pray for those who have passed.

One of the most striking parts of this Requiem is the opening of the "Dies Irae," a long Latin poem, thought to be written by Thomas of Celano (the first biographer of St. Francis of Assisi), about the Day of Judgment, which is included in the Requiem Mass.  Below is a video of this opening, which truly portrays the opening lines of the poem: "The day of wrath, that day / Will dissolve the world in ashes."  Never have I found a piece of music that inspired me with the fear of God's judgment as this piece does.


Yet praying this music does not feel to be enough for the departed souls.  I could pray countless rosaries, countless Divine Mercy chaplets, and yet I would still feel that I have not done all I could.  I could offer penances and indulgences for souls, yet it would still not be enough.  In the end, our prayers can do nothing if God does not will it.  In the end, we can only entrust the departed to the mercy of God.

I feel like I have said nothing worthwhile here.  I feel like I have merely discussed a custom I have without getting to the point: death is terrifying.  No matter how close we are to Christ in this life, there will be uncertainty at our death.  In the end, I am fearful for the salvation of my girlfriend's grandmother, not due to a multitude of sins on her part (indeed, if I were the one judging her salvation, I would have no doubt in my mind that she would be saved), but due to the sheer mystery of death.  It truly is a mystery, that "crossing of the bar," in the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson.  At death, it seems we face "that shapeless, scopeless, blank abyss, / That utter nothingness, of which [we] came" (in the words of Bl. John Henry Newman's Gerontius), and we are terrified.  While St. Francis was able to greet his end joyfully, calling her "Sister Death," I have more fear than that: it is no lack of trust in God, but more a true fear of the Lord, the mysterious Lord Whom we can never know in His fullness.  Even though I believe, as St. Hilary of Poitiers wrote, that "Immortal God has not given life only to end in death; for none can believe that the Giver of good has bestowed the pleasant sense of life in order that it may be overcast by the gloomy fear of dying," I am still terrified of the mystery.

In the face of the utter mystery of the edge of life, I can only plead to God for mercy on the departed, and I can only implore Christ for mercy on me (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!), and I can only hope that when, with Gerontius, I beg, "Pray for me, my friends, who have not strength to pray," the Holy Spirit will move my friends to respond.  And now I pray in the only words that come to mind, the memorial prayer of the Eastern Church, and I pray for the beautiful woman who so lately died, and I humbly ask you to pray for her too, that she may be resurrected by Christ at the end of time:

Eternal memory, eternal memory.  Grant to Your servant Mary, O Lord, blessed repose and eternal memory.

Nota Bene: The quotes from Bl. John Henry Newman's "Dream of Gerontius," and the quote from St. Hilary of Poitier's On the Trinity (I.2) come from the Faith Database, while the quote from the "Dies Irae" comes from Wikipedia.  Information on Verdi's Requiem can be found on Wikipedia.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Iconic Icons Supplement: Our Lady of Guadalupe

"Am I not here, I, who am your mother?"

I must apologize for taking so long to write about Our Lady of Guadalupe (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe): though her image is not an icon in the typical sense (that is, made by human hands for the purpose of connection to Christ or the saints in Heaven), it most definitely should be classified as an acheiropoieton (an sacred image not made with human hands).  I apologize for not including it in my original post on these images: it didn't enter my mind until much later.  This post, then, is a supplement for my post on the acheiropoieta.

St. Juan Diego (1474-1578) was a Native American from what is now Mexico (his birth name was Aztec: Cuauhtlatoatzin).  Originally a mystical and devout pagan, around 1520 or so he converted to Christianity, taking the name Juan Diego.  Shortly thereafter, in 1529, he became a widower, yet his faith remained strong.  It was in 1531 that the events for which he is now known began.

On Saturday, December 9, 1531, Juan Diego was running down Tepeyac Hill (near Mexico City) to attend Mass, when suddenly the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him.  She told Juan Diego to have the bishop build a church on the place she stood.  The obedient saint ran to the bishop and told him these events.  The bishop, understandably wary, examined the farmer (for that was Juan Diego's profession) carefully, and then directed him to ask the Virgin for a sign that she was truly the Mother of God.

The following Tuesday, December 12, the saint was running to get medicine for his dying uncle, and he changed his course to avoid Tepeyac, where the Virgin said she would appear again.  Undeterred, Mary appeared in his path and asked, "What road is this thou takest, son?"  She entered into a maternal dialogue with Juan Diego, reassuring him about his uncle (also appearing to said uncle and curing him) and calling herself "Holy Mary of Guadalupe."  When she told the saint to return to the bishop, he asked for the requested sign.  She instructed him to go to some nearby rocks and gather roses.  Knowing this was neither the proper season for roses nor a place roses would grow, Juan Diego still obeyed the Virgin's command, and, to his surprise, roses abounded among the rocks.  He gathered them into his tilma (a long cloak worn by his people) and returned to the Virgin.  She arranged the roses and asked him to keep them hidden and untouched in his tilma until he reached the bishop.  Keeping the orders of Mary, Juan Diego walked to the bishop's and unfurled his cloak, dropping roses as fresh and dewy as if they had just been picked on a spring morning.  Looking at the bishop and his attendants to see their response, he saw them kneeling before him.  In confusion, he looked down at his tilma.

On the tilma was a life-size image of the Blessed Virgin, exactly as she appeared to Juan Diego.  She appeared in the clothes of a Native American woman of that region (that is, clothes based in Aztec culture), with a sash on her waist and a star-filled cloak on her shoulders.  Unlike most images, the Virgin was most noticeably pregnant, pregnant with the Son of God.  Her eyes were closed, her hands folded in prayer, and her feet on a crescent moon (a symbol of an Aztec god that she was crushing).  Beneath the moon was an angel, shown in an Aztec style (for instance, the wings were colored in blue, yellow, and red), holding up the Virgin's robes.  All around, Mary shone with radiant light, Heaven's light, the light of her Son.

The bishop enshrined the tilma with the Virgin's miraculous image in the preliminary shrine he built according to Mary's wishes, and St. Juan Diego spent the rest of his days as a hermit, guarding this blessed image.  Since that time, the acheiropoieton (for that is truly what it is) has remained at Tepeyac Hill, moving from shrine to shrine as new ones were built.  Presently, it resides in a basilica built to house it in 1904.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is frequently invoked in the Americas.  Indeed, her titles include "Patroness of the Americas" (I've also seen "Empress" often), "Empress of Latin America," and "Protectoress of the Unborn."  She is the patron of the Americas, especially Mexico, and Native Americans especially venerate her.  Due to her pregnancy in the image, she is often invoked among those in the pro-life apostolate.  Her feast day is December 12, while St. Juan Diego's feast day is December 9.

Before I close, I just want to write a short digression on the Virgin's title: "of Guadalupe."  There was no place named Guadalupe where she appeared: indeed, she appeared on Tepeyac Hill.  Why is she not then called "Our Lady of Tepeyac"?  That is due to her own command.  Why did she pick this name, then?  One theory is that she spoke a term in Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs, the native language of Mexico).  Some alternatives are Tequatlanopeuh ("she whose origins were in the rocky summit"), Tequantlaxopeuh ("she who banishes those who devoured us"), or Coatlaxopeuh ("the one who crushes the serpent"--possibly referring to Quetzacoatl, a popular Aztec serpent god).  Another theory I've heard (which I think I am most inclined to) is that the name is a reference to the city of Guadalupe in Spain.  In this city there was a miraculous statue of Our Lady carved by St. Luke the Evangelist given to the St. Leander, Bishop of Seville, by Pope St. Gregory the Great.  After this statue was lost for 600 years, it was rediscovered in 1326 by Gil Cordero, who was led to it by a vision of the Blessed Mother.  This statue was even referred to as Our Lady of Guadalupe due to its being rediscovered there.  There will probably never be a definite answer, as debate seems to be too common, but the one thing certain is this: the Blessed Virgin declared she wished to be known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, so how can we refuse her wish?

The statue entitled Our Lady of Guadalupe in Spain

Again, I apologize for not discussing Our Lady of Guadalupe with the rest of the acheiropoieta, but it honestly slipped my mind.  I also find her patronage as Protectoress of the Unborn timely to remember due to the recent March for Life in Washington, D.C. and due to the recent mandate by the U.S. government that all health care plans will have to provide not only contraceptives, but abortifacients (drugs that cause an abortion chemically rather than surgically).  Keeping this patronage in mind, let us ask for the prayers of the Theotokos under her title as Our Lady of Guadalupe, and let us ask for the prayers of her faithful servant, Juan Diego.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Protectoress of the Unborn, save us!
St. Juan Diego, pray for us!

Nota Bene: Most of my information came from the pages on St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Additional information came from Wikipedia and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Monday, January 23, 2012

"Come After Me": Poems in Response

"Come after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men."--Mk 1:17

This command of the Lord was heard yesterday (though in the New American Bible translation, not the Douay-Rheims) during the Gospel reading at Mass.  Though it was addressed to Simon (Peter) and Andrew, it is in some sense addressed to all of us: we are all called to follow the Lord.  While some (that is, religious and consecrated virgins) answer this call by "[following] the Lamb whithersoever He goeth", the rest of us are called to follow Him "not whithersoever He shall have gone, but so far as ever [we] shall have been able" (Rev 14:4; St. Augustine, On Holy Virginity 28).

In response to this call to be followers, we are to draw close to Christ, so close that to be apart from Him is painful to us.  (Thus the absence of Christ's presence, or the feeling of it, is part of the dark night of the soul.)  Many spiritual writers have expressed this fervent desire to be with Christ and the excruciating pain of feeling apart from Him, and some of expressed it in poetry.  Two great examples of poems expressing this theme can be found in the poetry of the Spanish Golden Age.

The first example is a hymn by Fray Damián de Vegas, a friar (who I believe was Augustinian) from around the late 16th century, entitled "Estate, Señor, conmigo" ("Stay, Lord, With Me").  This hymn is included in the Spanish version of the Liturgy of the Hours.  The hymn entreats the Lord to stay with us and take us with Him wherever He goes.

Estate, Señor, conmigo
siempre, sin jamás partirte,
y, cuando decidas irte,
llévame, Señor, contigo;
porque el pensar que te irás
me causa un terrible miedo
de si yo sin ti me quedo,
de si tú sin mí te vas.

Llévame en tu compañía,
donde tú vayas, Jesús,
porque bien sé que eres tú
la vida del alma mía;
si tú vida no me das,
yo sé que vivir no puedo,
ni si yo sin ti me quedo,
ni si tú sin mí te vas.

Por eso, más que a la muerte,
temo, Señor, tu partida
y quiero perder la vida
mil veces más que perderte;
pues la inmortal que tú das
sé que alcanzarla no puedo
cuando yo sin ti me quedo,
cuando tú sin mí te vas. Amén.

Stay, Lord, with me
always, without ever leaving,
and, when You decide to go,
take me, Lord, with You;
because the thought that You will leave
causes me a terrible fear
that I without You will remain,
that You without me will go.

Bring me in Your company,
wherever You go, Jesus,
because well I know that You are
the life of my soul;
if You do not give me life,
I know that to live I cannot,
nor if I without You remain,
nor if You without me go.

Therefore, more than death,
I fear, Lord, Your parting
and I want to lose my life
a thousand times before losing You;
for the immortality You give
I know that obtain it I cannot
when I without You remain,
when You without me go.  Amen.

The second example is an anonymous sonnet (Petrarcan sonnet, not Elizabethan sonnet) from the late 16th century.  It is been attributed to many famous Spanish writers and saints, including St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, the Golden Age poet Lope de Vega, and Doctors of the Church St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of Ávila.  Despite all the attributions, it still remains anonymous.  This poem is less related to the theme of following Christ and being with Him: instead, it is about why to follow Christ.  The poet declares that he follows Christ not for any benefit he gains but instead solely because of Christ's identity.  While it does not focus on the theme of following Christ "whithersoever He goeth," it explains the mindset behind why one would follow Christ: in a sense, it could be seen as the mindset of Simon and Andrew in the verse that prompted this post.  Here, then, is the sonnet "A Cristo Crucificado" ("To Christ Crucified").

No me mueve, mi Dios, para quererte 
el cielo que me tienes prometido;
ni me mueve el infierno tan temido
para dejar por eso de ofenderte.

Tú me mueves, Señor; muéveme el verte
clavado en una cruz y escarnecido;
muéveme ver tu cuerpo tan herido;
muévenme tus afrentas y tu muerte.

Muéveme, en fin, tu amor, y en tal manera
que aunque no hubiera cielo, yo te amara,
 y aunque no hubiera infierno, te temiera.

No tienes que me dar porque te quiera
pues aunque cuanto espero no esperara,
lo mismo que te quiero te quisiera.

It does not move, my God, to love You,
the Heaven that You have promised me;
nor does it move me, the hell so feared
to cease for that offending You.

You move me, Lord; it moves me to see You
locked in a cross and incarnate;
it moves me to see Your Body so wounded;
they move me, Your affronts and Your death.

It moves me, finally, Your love, and in such a way
that even if there were no Heaven, I would love You,
and even if there were no hell, I would fear You.

You do not have to give me because I would want You
because as much as I hope I would not hope,
the same that I want You I would want You.

[Nota Bene: The verb I translate "to want" can also mean "to love."]

I hope these poems will help your spiritual life, and I hope they will help you to, like the apostles Simon and Andrew, respond to Christ's call, "Come after Me."  Thanks for reading, and God Bless.

Holy Brother Apostles Peter and Andrew the Protoclete (First-Called), pray for us!

Nota Bene: The hymn by Fray Damián de Vegas is from the hymnal Cantad a Dios con salmos, himnos y cánticos inspirados, published by Magnificat.  The anonymous sonnet is from Anthology of Spanish Golden Age Poetry, edited by R. John McCaw and Kathleen Thornton-Spinnenweber.  Information on proposed authorship for this sonnet is from Wikipedia and this page.  The quote from St. Augustine is from a translation by Rev. C.L. Cornish, M.A. in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series One, Volume 3, retrieved from The Faith DatabaseThe English translations of the poems are mine: I apologize for any bad translation work.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On the Church in Nigeria

The Church in Nigeria has been frequently persecuted as of late.  The persecution came into the spotlight with the Christmas Day bombing of St. Teresa Catholic Church near Abuja, in which the militant Islamic group Boko Haram murdered at least 32 people.  According to the Associated Press (via The Telegraph), Boko Haram is responsible for at least 510 killings in 2011 alone, and many of these killings (if not most or all of them) were of Christians.  Already this year in Nigeria, there have been 28 murders specifically of Christians by militant Muslims (many most likely part of Boko Haram), including two attacks on churches.  It is very obvious that Catholics and all Christians in Nigeria desperately need prayers.

To help with prayers, I searched for information on the Church in Nigeria.  According to my research, there are two patron saints of Nigeria: St. Patrick (yes, St. Patrick of Ireland) and Mary, Queen of Nigeria.  Nigeria has no saints so far, but it has one blessed, Bl. Tansi.  There have also been three alleged sets of apparitions in Nigeria: one has been condemned, and two have at least some support by their bishops (and no condemnation I can find).

 Bl. Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi (1903-1964; beatified 1998): Bl. Tansi was a parish priest (ordained in 1937) for 13 years, during which he initiated many organizations and methods to care for the spiritual needs of Nigerian Catholics, including The Mary League and St. Anne Societies, which are basic and integral to catechesis in Nigeria.  He felt a call to the monastic life, and in 1950 he entered the Trappist (Cistercian Order of the Strictest Observance) community at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey in Leicester, England, where he remained until his death.  One of his famous quotes is "If you want to be a Christian at all, you can as well live entirely for God."  Bl. Tansi was declared the patron of Nigerian Catholic priests in 2010, during the Year of the Priest.  His feast day is January 20th.

(Note: Neither of these is officially approved by the Church, though both seem to have some backing by their respective bishops.)
  • Enugu State (Barnabas Nwoye): Barnabas Nwoye began receiving visions in 1995, and they continue to this day.  The visions are of Jesus, Mary, angels, and saints, and the most prominent aspect of them are devotion to the Precious Blood of Christ.  A book of messages released in 1999 received a Nihil Obstat, and book of prayers dictated by Jesus received an Imprimatur in 2001.  From what I can find, there is no statement by the local bishop or any higher Church authority against these visions (though private individuals, such as the source I used, are against them). 
  • Aokpe (Christiana Agbo): Christiana Agbo received numerous visions of Mary and Jesus from 1992 until 2004.  They emphasize praying the Rosary, doing penance, and honoring Mary with the title "Mediatrix of All Graces."  (Sometimes the title of Rosa Mystica was used as well.)  A book was published to raise funds to build a shrine, and this book received an Imprimatur; however, the extent to which the book discusses the apparitions cannot be discerned.  There is no other statement made by a bishop or other Church authority about these visions that I can find.
Now that we know a little more about the Church in Nigeria, let us fervently pray for our brothers and sisters, Catholics and Christians, being persecuted there (and all over the world).

Bl. Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, pray for us and for the persecuted Church in Nigeria!

Nota Bene: Most of my sources for this post were linked to throughout the post, but two more are a TIME article on Boko Haram's Christmas Day attacks and the list of Islamic terror attacks at (WARNING: harsh on many Islamic beliefs, especially those involving violence, and descriptive of many brutal events and practices by militant Muslims).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Iconic Icons: Axion Estin

The original icon

 The original icon without its riza (the metal covering revealing only the faces)

The Axion Estin (Αξιον εστιν), "It is truly meet," is an icon of the Theotokos (Eleusa-style) located in the the Protaton, a church in the Karyes settlement of the famous Mount Athos in Greece, home to many ancient monastic communities.  The event which the icon takes it name from occurred in 980, so the icon was written sometime before then.

The name of the icon comes from the opening words of a Marian hymn in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  Up until this famous event, the hymn only included the latter half, starting at "More honourable than the Cherubim," which was written in the late 700s by St. Cosmas the Hymnographer, foster-brother of St. John Damascene.  This section of the hymn reads thus:

More honorable than the cherubim,
and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim.
Without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word.
True Theotokos, we magnify thee.

On June 11, 980, a passing monk who called himself Gabriel was granted hospitality in a cell near Karyes.  During a Saturday night vigil service (the service of Sunday Matins) being prayed before the icon, when the hymn of St. Cosmas was being recited, the passing monk began to chant a new section of a hymn before continuing on to the familiar hymn:

It is truly right to bless thee, O Theotokos, 
ever blessed, and most pure, and the Mother of our God.

The monk from Mount Athos was entranced by the beauty of this new section of the hymn, so he asked the passing monk to write it down: however, no paper or ink could be found.  Undeterred, the mysterious monk inscribed the lines on a stone tile with his finger, and he decreed that the hymn be recited with this addition ever after.  Following this, he disappeared, and with this disappearance, the icon began to radiate light for a while afterwards.

 An icon of the miraculous revelation of the hymn by St. Gabriel

After this event, the modified hymn was spread around all Christians of the East.  The icon was transferred to the Protaton, the main church of the settlement of Karyes, where it is located to this day.  The tile inscribed by the Archangel Gabriel (the traditionally-accepted identity of the passing monk) was taken to Constantinople as evidence of the miracle and in order that the hymn be dispersed throughout the world by St. Nicholas II Chrysoberges (the Patriarch of Constantinople from 984 to 996).

There is little discussion about the icon itself I can find: most sources just related (with varying details, of course) the story I have just related to you.  The most interesting thing about the icon is scroll that the Christ Child is handing to the Theotokos.  Though I cannot tell what the scroll represents, it seems to be an interesting foreshadowing of the miraculously-revealed text connected to the icon.

The revelation of the hymn by St. Gabriel (and thus the icon as well) is celebrated on June 11th, and the icon by itself is celebrated on July 13th.  For a bit more information (and a reflection) on the hymn itself, see this post from The Ever Blessed.  I hope this post was helpful.  Thank you for reading, and God Bless.

St. Cosmas the Hymnographer, pray for us!

Nota Bene: I compiled the story for this post from many sources: Iconograms, The Orthodox Christian Faith, OrthodoxWiki (on the Panagia Axion Estin and on St. Cosmas), Mount Athos, and Wikipedia (the translation of the hymn was taken from here).

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Opera Consecrata: Novus Ordo Mass

Pope John Paul I at his Papal Inauguration Mass

Today I am beginning a new series: Opera Consecrata (Consecrated Works).  In this series, I will attempt to look at the liturgies of the Church throughout the world, both those formerly celebrated and those currently celebrated.  I will look at the liturgies of all rites, not just the Roman Rite.  My goal is to provide a short history of each liturgy along with a very short description of the liturgy, along with aspects that make each one unique.  I hope the series is informative and interesting, and I hope it brings us all (myself included) a deeper appreciation of both the liturgy and the diversity within the Catholic Church.

[Etymological note: The name of this series is etymologically related to the word "liturgy": "liturgy" comes from the Greek λειτουργια (leitourgia), which itself is made from the words λαος (laos, people) and εργον (ergon, work).  Since the Greek word for liturgy contains the word for work, I decided to make the name of the series based on the Latin word for work (opus in the singular, opera in the plural), and since in all liturgies bread and wine are consecrated and become the Body and Blood of Christ, I decided to include the Latin word for consecrated (consecrata in this form).]

The first liturgy I will look at is the liturgy that I (and probably most of my readers) grew up with: the Novus Ordo Mass, or the Mass of Paul VI (Pauline Mass), which is presently the Ordinary Form of the liturgy for the Roman (Latin) Rite.  The term "Novus Ordo" means "new order," and it refers to the Ordo Missae, the Order of the Mass (that is, the parts of the Mass that do not change from day to day).  In referring to the older form of the Mass (the Tridentine Mass), the term Ordo Missae was used, so, to eliminate confusion, the term novus Ordo Missae was used to refer to the new Mass when it was still being revised.  Eventually, the term became shortened to Novus Ordo, and now it is used to refer to the Mass of Paul VI in its entirety.

The revision of the Tridentine Mass into the Novus Ordo Mass began slowly, most prominently with Ven. Pope Pius XII's changes to the liturgies of Passion (Palm) Sunday, the Easter Triduum, and the Vigil of Pentecost in 1955.  Pope Bl. John XXIII, who called the Second Vatican Council, made some changes when he promulgated the 1962 Missal (which was still the Tridentine Mass), including removing the word "faithless" (perfidis) from the Good Friday prayer for the Jews and adding the name of St. Joseph to the Roman Canon (now Eucharistic Prayer I), a part of the Mass that had remained almost completely unchanged since Pope St. Pius V promulgated the Tridentine Mass in 1570 (and before that, the Canon had been mostly unchanged since the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great in the late 500s, if not even earlier).

The creation of the Novus Ordo began in earnest at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), whose Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilum, called for a reform of the liturgy:

In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it.

In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community (21).

In particular, the Council Fathers called for the rites of the Mass to be simplified while at the same time "[restoring] to the vigor which they had in the days of the holy Fathers" other elements which had "suffered injury through the accidents of history," the selection of Biblical readings to be expanded in order to read to the people "a more representative portion of the Holy Scriptures," the homily to be a more esteemed part of the Mass, the "prayer of the faithful" to be restored, the use of the vernacular to be expanded, the laity's frequent reception of the Eucharist to be "strongly commended," and the practice of concelebration to be extended (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 50-58).

All this was done in the years following the Council.  The first public celebration of the Novus Ordo was in the Sistine Chapel in October 1967 with the Synod of Bishops present.  Following the celebration, the Synod voted on the new liturgy, with most approving it, although a slightly smaller amount approved it with reservations.  Thus more revisions followed until Pope Paul VI issued the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum on April 3, 1969, promulgating the Novus Ordo Mass.  This missal, the first edition typica of the Novus Ordo, was the Missal of 1970; over the years, two more typical editions were promulgated, that of 1975, and that of 2000 (or 2002 for the Latin), the latter of which (the third edition typica) is the missal in use today.

In describing what the Second Vatican Council called for in a new liturgy, I mentioned some aspects of the Novus Ordo, but I'd like to explain it a bit more.  Of course, this liturgy was written in Latin, since it is based on the Tridentine Mass, which was also in Latin (it is for the Latin Rite, after all).  The liturgy is split into two main sections, termed the Liturgy of the Word (which lasts until the Prayer of the Faithful, also known as the General Intercessions) and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (which starts with the Offertory).  The former includes opening prayers, the Penitential Rite, more opening prayers (including the Gloria on certain days), the Biblical readings, the homily, the Creed on certain days, and the Prayers of the Faithful.  The latter includes the Offertory, the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer, the Sanctus, the Eucharistic Prayer, the Pater Noster, the Sign of Peace, the Agnus Dei and the preparation for communion (the Ecce Agnus Dei and the Non Sum Dignus), Holy Communion, the concluding prayers, and the Dismissal.

Many of the more special parts of the Novus Ordo are its differences from the Tridentine Mass (which maybe I should have discussed first).  Some of these were mentioned above when discussing Sacrosanctum Concilium, but others include the addition of three more Eucharistic Prayers besides the Canon, the possibility of the priest's orientation towards the people rather than towards the altar (this latter is referred to as ad orientum, towards the East, based on how churches used to be built), almost all of the priest's prayers being audible, the possibility of using the vernacular language rather than Latin, the peoples' reception of communion under both species, the expansion of the Sign of Peace to the people, and a recommended translocation of the tabernacle (a fancy way of moving the tabernacle off of the main altar).

As I mentioned before, a lot of the particular aspects of the Novus Ordo Mass are related to their differences from the Tridentine Mass.  It is also difficult to discuss unique aspects of this liturgy when it is the first one being discussed.  Some of its changed aspects are actually common in other liturgies (not counting the Tridentine Mass), such as communion under both species (though other liturgies often use intinction, which I will explain when it comes up later), the Prayers of the Faithful, and the use of the vernacular.  Some aspects that are closer to being unique are placement of the Penitential Rite so early in the liturgy (I think it is often much closer to the reception of the Eucharist), the greater prevalence of the priest's facing the people (although the ancient Liturgy of St. James, which I will discuss later, also included this), the small number of inaudible prayers on behalf of the priest, and the greater selection of Biblical readings (especially the use of the Old Testament).

[A short sidebar on the Biblical readings: at most Novus Ordo Masses, there is one reading usually from the Old Testament (it may also be from the Acts of the Apostles or the Revelation of St. John), a responsorial psalm that involves the faithful's responses (rarely, this is actually not a psalm, such as the use of the song of Miriam from Exodus 15 during the Easter Vigil), and a reading from the Gospel.  On Sundays and other greater feasts, a reading from the Epistles of the New Testament is included before the Gospel reading.  In many other liturgies, including the Tridentine Mass, there is usually only a reading from an Epistle or other New Testament book, a short responsory that often does not involve the faithful, and the Gospel reading.]

In conclusion, the Novus Ordo Mass, or the Mass of Paul VI, is a Latin liturgy first promulgated in 1969 which is the present Ordinary Form of the liturgy in the Roman Rite.  I apologize if this post was too technical or dry: if you have any suggestions or critiques, please let me know in the comments or in an e-mail.

The latest English translation of the Novus Ordo (the translation whose use just began this liturgical year) can be found here.  The entire Roman Missal of 2002 (the third edition typica) in Latin can be found here, with the Order of the Mass beginning here (sorry for the difficult formatting on this site: if you have an easier-to-use site, please let me know). 

I hope this post was helpful to you.  Thank you for reading, and God Bless.

Pope Bl. John XXIII, Opener of the Second Vatican Council, pray for us!

Nota Bene: Most of my information for this post comes from Wikipedia's posts on the Novus Ordo and the Roman Canon.  I also looked at AskACatholic for a bit more information.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iconic Icons: Theotokos of Vladimir

The original Vladimirskaya

The Theotokos of Vladimir (Our Lady of Vladimir, the Virgin of Vladimir), Владимирская (Vladimirskaya) in Russian, is an Eleusa style icon of the Theotokos.  According to Russian tradition, it was written by St. Luke the Evangelist on a board from the Holy Family's table: upon seeing it, the Virgin exclaimed, "Henceforth, all generations shall call Me blessed. The grace of both My Son and Me shall be with this icon."

The first historical mention of it is its sending by Greek Patriarch Luke Chrysoberges of Constantinople to Prince Mstislav (or Grand Duke Yury Dolgoruky) in 1131.  The icon was placed in a monastery near the city of Vyshgorod.  Andrei Bogoliubsky (son of Yury Dolgoruky and a saint among the Eastern Orthodox) built the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir and installed the icon there in 1155.  (Tradition says the location of Vladimir was chosen because donkeys carrying the icon would not move past the town, and this was interpreted as a sign that the Virgin wished to remain in Vladimir.)

During the invasion of Tamerlane in 1395, the icon was moved from Vladimir to Moscow.  When the Great Prince Basil (Vasily) I went out to meet the icon as it was traveling to Moscow, he spent a night in prayer and weeping before it, and the same night Tamerlane had a vision of a radiant woman commanding him to turn back.  When he asked his experts the meaning of the vision, they said the woman was the Mother of God, Protectress of Christians.  Upon hearing this, Tamerlane ordered his troops to retreat.

After the fleeing of Tamerlane, the icon was placed in the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Moscow Kremlin, where the intercession of the Theotokos of Vladimir was credited with saving Moscow from Tartar hordes in 1451, 1480, and 1521.  Many centuries later, 1941, Joseph Stalin allegedly ordered that the icon be flown around Moscow as the Germans advanced toward it.  A few days later, the Germans retreated.

The icon, while in the Moscow Kremlin, also was present at many other important events in Russian history.  Some of these include the elevation and election of Jonah, Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia, in 1448, Job, the first Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, in 1589, and Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and "Enlightener of North America," in 1917 (all three of these are saints among the Russian Orthodox).

There are three festal days of the Theotokos of Vladimir for the Russian Orthodox.  On August 26th is celebrated the Meeting of the Vladimir Icon upon its Transfer from Vladimir to Moscow, when Basil I prayed before the icon and the Virgin command Tamerlane to retreat.  On June 23rd is celebrated the Saving of Moscow from the Invasion of Khan Achmed, a leader of the Tartar horde that attacked Russia in 1480.  On May 21st is the Celebration of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God, which remembers her intercession that protected Russia from the Tartar invasion of 1521.

Due to its fame, many copies were made of the Vladimirskaya, some of which themselves became wonder-working.  The most famous is Our Lady of St. Theodore (Black Virgin Mary of Russia), or Федоровская (Fyodorovskaya) in Russian.  The St. Theodore of the title (Theodore is "Fyodor" in Russian, hence Fyodorovskaya) is St. Theodore Stratelates, a Greek martyr and warrior saint from the 4th century.  The icon was found in a forest on August 16, 1239, by Prince Vasily of Kostroma.  When he tried to touch it, it miraculously rose in the air.  He brought the icon back to his city, and it was venerated in the Assumption Cathedral there.  When the cathedral burned down, almost all the icons in it were destroyed, but the Fyodorovskaya was found intact three days after the fire.  A copy of the icon was given to Mikhail Romanov, the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty, by his mother Xenia upon his acceptance of the position of tsar.  Due to this, the Fyodorovskaya became the patron icon of the Romanov family, and its fame grew considerably.  Presently, the original Fyodorovskaya is in the Epiphany Cathedral of Kostroma, and Our Lady of St. Theodore has two feast days in the Russian Orthodox Church: March 27th and August 29th.

There are debates surrounding the history of the Fyodorovskaya and its name.  According to some, the icon was originally owned by the town of Gorodets-on-the-Volga but was lost after the Mongols sacked the town.  After hearing of the icon in Kostroma, the town of Gorodets demanded the icon back, and instead they were sent a copy of it.  There are two main traditions for the name.  The first is that an apparition of St. Theodore Stratelates carrying the icon into the forest was seen while Prince Vasily was there.  The second is that the icon was originally commissioned by Grand Prince Yaroslav II of Vladimir, whose Christian name was Fyodor.  Also, the main difference between the Vladimirskaya and the Fyodorovskaya in appearance is that in the latter, the Christ Child has a bare leg.  One source says this was possibly a detail of the original Vladimirskaya (which was repainted numerous times, hence the absence of this detail today).

 The original Fyodorovskaya

At the end of this post, as at the end of the last one, let us ask for the prayers of the Theotokos that the Russian Orthodox Church may be reunited with Rome.

Theotokos of Vladimir, save us!

A copy of the Vladimirskaya written by Andrei Rublev

Nota Bene: The main sources of information for this post were Wikipedia (on the Vladimirskaya and the Fyodorovskaya) and Orthodox Wiki.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Iconic Icons: Our Lady of Kazan

 The copy of Our Lady of Kazan given by Pope Bl. John Paul II to the Russian Church

Our Lady of Kazan (Virgin of Kazan, Theotokos of Kazan), Казанская Богоматерь (Kazanskaya Bogomater: "Theotokos of Kazan") in Russian, is a close-up version of a Hodigitria icon that is one of the most venerated icons in the Russian Orthodox Church.  It is difficult to determine the exact history of this icon due to the many copies that were made of it.  Of the numerous ancient copies that exist today, there is still debate which one (if any) is the original.

According to tradition, the icon came to Kazan (a city in Russia) from Constantinople in the 13th century.  When Kazan was besieged by the Tartars in 1438, the icon disappeared until it was found buried in a garden by a young girl named Matrona on July 8, 1579, after the location was revealed by the Theotokos in a prophetic dream.  The icon was placed in the Church of St. Nicholas in Kazan, where it cured a blind man the next day; not only that, but the priest at this church, Hermogen, eventually became Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.  It was by his doing, after his becoming Metropolitan of Kazan, that the icon was moved to the city's Cathedral of the Annunciation and July 8 was declared the feast day of Our Lady of Kazan.

In the centuries following, the icon (or a copy of it: there is debate) was processed and venerated during numerous military conflicts (including the Polish invasion of 1612, the Swedish invasion of 1709, and Napoleon's invasion of 1812), and Russia's success in these battles was attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of Kazan (thus adding nationalistic connotations to the icon).  During this time, the icon (or copy) was placed in increasingly more prestigious locations, first in a small chapel to the Virgin of Kazan built in the Moscow Kremlin, then, in 1638, to the Kazan Cathedral built for it in Moscow, and eventually, in 1812, after Napoleon's invasion, to a Kazan Cathedral built in St. Petersburg.

From this time, the history becomes even more clouded, especially since many copies were written, and nine or ten of these became wonder-working.  The copy in Kazan was stolen on June 29, 1904, and the copy in St. Petersburg disappeared after the October Revolution of 1917.  (According to some, this latter copy disappeared en route to Moscow and eventually turned up in New York City.) There is a report that a copy was processed during the Siege of Leningrad in World War II.

The most famous copy of the icon today is one from around 1730 that was acquired by the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima and enshrined in Fatima in the 1970s.  (One source says this is the same copy as the one that disappeared from St. Petersburg around 1917 or 1918.)  Wishing to return the icon to the Russia, Pope Bl. John Paul II was given this icon in 1993, after which it was placed in his private study for eleven years.  The Pope wanted to personally return the icon to the Russian Orthodox Church, but when his efforts failed, he instead gave the icon unconditionally to the Russian Church on August 26, 2004, when it was sent to Moscow after being venerated on the altar of St. Peter's Basilica.  (One source says the Pope in the end sent the icon instead of continuing to try to return it personally because he knew he was near death.)  The icon is now enshrined (next to a relic of the Virgin Mary's robe) in the Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross in Kazan, part of the former Monastery of the Theotokos, which was built on the spot of the original finding of the icon by Matrona in 1579.  Kazan is now being turned into a pilgrimage site for all religions (since not only the Orthodox, but Catholics and even Muslims have a devotion to Our Lady of Kazan) which will hopefully help bring peace between them.  Our Lady of Kazan has two festal days for the Russian Orthodox: July 8th celebrates the Appearance of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God in 1579, and October 22nd celebrates the Deliverance of Moscow From the Poles by the Kazan Icon in 1612.

In addition to the famous copy now in Kazan, there are two icons written in a style similar to Our Lady of Kazan that are now famous and wonder-working.  Our Lady of Sitka is attributed to the famous 18th and 19th century portrait painter Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky.  Workers at the Russian-American Company gave the icon to the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Sitka, Alaska, in 1850.  It was originally part of the main iconostasis of the cathedral, but due to the many miracles attributed to it, it was eventually relocated to a special place of honor on the far left of the iconostasis.  It is also commemorated, along with Our Lady of Kazan, on July 8th.

 Our Lady of Sitka

Our Lady of Soufanieh is in the Soufanieh neighborhood of Damascus, Syria.  The icon itself is a small replica of Our Lady of Kazan bought in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1980.  The owner of the icon is Myrna Nazzour, a Greek-Melkite Catholic mystic who has reportedly had five apparitions of the Virgin Mary (1982-1983), many ecstasies in which she received messages from Jesus Christ and the Blessed Mother, and five occurrences of the stigmata.  (As a side note, Myrna's messages from Christ and the Blessed Virgin received a Nihil Obstat from her bishop in 1987.)  Before all these experiences (except for one experience of Myrna's own body exuding oil during prayer), on November 27, 1982, the icon of the Virgin of Kazan began to exude oil.  Until November 26, 1990, the icon exuded oil following the rhythm of the liturgical year (except for a period from November 27, 1985, to November 25, 1986).  The icon exuded oil once again during Holy Week of the year 2001.  Aside from the original icon owned by Myrna, many photographic reproductions and replicas of the icon have exuded oil as well.  This oil has caused numerous miracles.

 Our Lady of Soufanieh

In conclusion to this rather long post, let us ask for the prayers of Our Lady of Kazan, and let us especially pray through her intercession for the reunion of the Russian Orthodox Church with Rome.

Our Lady of Kazan, save us!

Nota Bene: I consulted many websites for information on this post: Wikipedia, Orthodox Wiki, Ikons - Windows Into Heaven, Cleansing Fire, the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, the Orthodox Church in America (for feast day information), and Our Lady of Soufanieh.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Preparation for Communion Through the Prayers of the Blessed Mother (St. Ephrem)

Happy New Year, and Holy Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God!  To celebrate today's Solemnity, I decided to post a short writing by St. Ephrem (Ephraim) the Syrian, a Doctor of the Church: a prayer to the Theotokos asking for her prayers in preparing to receive the Sacred Mysteries.  If you have yet to attend Mass today, perhaps you can use this prayer during your preparation for Communion.  If you have attended, perhaps this prayer could help you in the future.  Whatever the case, I hope you find this prayer helpful.  God Bless!

To the Theotokos -- 
A Confession of Her Pepetual Virginity 
and a Prayer to Partake Worthily of the Holy Mysteries

O Mother of God, who surpassest every mind and word!  O Virgin who exceedest all earthly virginity, for even before the Divine birth wast thou a Virgin beyond all virgins -- and such didst thou remain both during and after the birth!

Thee, O Lady do I beg, thee do I entreat, O merciful and man-befriending Mother of the merciful and man-befriending God: defend me at this hour if ever thou wilt do so, for now am I most in need of thy protection and thy help.

I am all a mire of filth and sin, a dwelling place of soul-corrupting passions.  Yet I intend to approach the all-pure and terrifying Mysteries of thy Son and God, and therefore do I suffer fear, and trembling embraces me because of the unbearable multitude of my sins.

But if ever I am to remain without communion on the pretext of my unworthiness, then shall I fall into a great abyss of evil and bring upon myself great chastisement.  I anguish over both the first alternative and the second.

To thee do I run; be kind to me, my all-pure Lady.  Take advantage of thy motherly boldness before thy Son and God, and gain for me forgiveness of my former sins.  Vouchsafe me to be made pure and enlightened by communion of the Mysteries, and show me how to spend the remainder of my life in repentance, purity and humility.  Remain always with me in my thoughts, words and deeds, in all the movements of my soul and body, instructing me, leading and guiding me, deflecting from me all hostile powers, and preserving me and providing thy servant, however worthless, with thy grace in every way.

O Theotokos, Mary, Mother of God, save us!

Nota Bene: This prayer is Psalm 111 of A Spiritual Psalter, or Reflections on God, a collection of writings of St. Ephrem excerpted and arranged in the manner of the Psalms of David by St. Theophan the Recluse, an Orthodox saint from the 19th century.  This translation is by Antonina Janda, published by St. John Kronstadt Press.