Friday, June 6, 2014

"Guide Me in the Way Everlasting"
 A Hodigitria Icon, an icon of She Who Guides, from the National Museum of Art in Bucharest, Romania

"And see if a lawless way is in me, and guide me in the way everlasting."--Ps 138:24

The way of the Lord is an everlasting way, for He is everlasting, and if we hope in Him, we too shall become everlasting, for we shall have no end to joy.  If we trust in the Lord, an eternal Heaven awaits us, the eternal liturgy where men of all tribes and tongues and races and nations will praise the Lord unceasingly.  The way to this eternal liturgical rest is what we ask from the Lord in this psalm.

We ask Him to lead us in the way everlasting (בְּדֶרֶךְ עוֹלָם), a way proportional in length to his everlasting mercy and loving-kindness, "for to eternity is His mercy" (כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ).  His mercy is to the ages (εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ), and so He leads us on the way of the ages (ἐν ὀδῷ αἰωνίᾳ).  Thus His mercy accompanies us along our way, our way which goes on for all eternity, unto the ages of ages, for so God has deemed it.
St. Isaac of Nineveh

If the way is eternal after this life, it is also long in this life.  While truly our years on earth are merely the smallest grain of sand compared to the immense sea of eternity, they still feel long while we are in them, for they are filled with pains and difficulties.  Life is a sea of tribulations, as so many of our Fathers have said, and the Lord is the raft we cling to in order to save us.  For prayer is the star that guides our path across the sea of life, and "Blessed is he whose voyage is not disrupted on this wide ocean.  Blessed is he whose ship is not wrecked and who reaches that haven rejoicing" (St. Isaac of Nineveh).  And so the words of St. Ambrose, though giving a strange image, ring true:

"Imitate the fish, which, though it has obtained less grace, yet should fill thee with wonder. It is in the sea, and above the waves; it is in the sea, and swims over the billows. In the sea the storm rages, the winds howl; but the fish swims, it does not sink, because it is wont to swim. Therefore this world is a sea to thee also. It has divers billows, heavy waves, fierce storms. And do thou be a fish, that the wave of the world sink thee not."

All of us have difficulties in this long, yet short, life, and these difficulties can make it hard to find our way.  Yet the Lord will enlighten our eyes to show us the way, if we ask Him.  His Mother too, the Hodigitria, the Guide, will show us as well.  Her we implore: "Deliver me from the surge of the Sea of this Age; and be my safe harbor"; and again we pray, "Do not let the whirlpools of this frightening / Sea of tribulation submerge me, / But let your prayers be a ship for me / And your intercession my little boat."  What we must do (and I speak to myself above all) is humbly ask Him to guide us, and then to patiently accept His guidance.  With His guidance, life will still be hard, a carrying of the Cross ("for no one can cross the sea of this world unless carried by the Cross of Christ," as St. Augustine declared), and prayer will still be "warfare to the last breath," as Evagrios Pontikos truthfully proclaimed, yet Jesus will consecrate us in His Truth when He joins us to Himself, branches on His ever-living, ever-fruitful tree.  So let us, with the trust and submission of children, ask the Lord to guide us and humbly trust in that guidance.

"Piscis bonus pia est fides
Mundi supernatans salum."

"A good pious fish is faith
floating on the sea of the world."

Nota Bene: The quote from St. Isaac of Nineveh is from his Mystical Discourses XXXIII, as found in Brian E. Colless' The Wisdom of the Pearlers: An Anthology of Syriac Christian Mysticism, volume 216 of the Cistercian Studies series (Kalamazoo, Cistercian Publications, 2008).   The prayers to the Theotokos come from the Enzira Sebhat, sections G.7 and R.5, as translated by John Anthony McGuckin in Harp of Glory: Enzira Sebhat: An Alphabetical Hymn of Praise for the Ever-Blessed Virgin Mary From the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, volume 39 of the Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2010).  The quote from St. Augustine is from his Tractatus in evangelium Ioannis 2.2.  The final quote comes from St. Ambrose's hymn Amor Christi Nobilis.

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