BLESSING CHRIST IN THE WEST
(Tuesday, April 25)
“Cast your eyes about you, O Zion, and behold! For your children have come to you from the West and from the North and from the South and from the East, as divinely radiant luminaries, in you blessing Christ unto the ages.” (Paschal Canon, Ode 8)
This Tuesday I am flying to Rome, a city where I lived and studied for several years, among some of the most generous and best-educated priests I ever met. I mean, the Jesuit luminaries of theological scholarship at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, to whom I remain eternally grateful, not only for the hospitality and education I received from them, but for their openness and dedication to learning about my tradition. This Thursday I will be honored to give a presentation to them about my new little book, about daily prayer in Orthodox Christian tradition.
As I head for the ancient center of “Western” Christianity, I am thinking about the above-quoted Troparion of the Byzantine Paschal Canon, which addresses “Zion,” meaning in Byzantine hymnography the Church, and which notes the children of Zion gathering from all ends of the earth, – in the first place, “from the West,” and then those from the North, South, and East, “as divinely radiant luminaries.” I am of course aware of the fact that the Paschal Canon was composed well before the split of my Church with the Roman Catholic one, and ages before the anti-Western rhetoric in my Church of the present day. But I am also grateful that today we sing this text as it was written by St. John of Damascus in the first half of the 8th c., when those blessing Christ “from the West,” as do most of those reading this little reflection in English, are listed among, nay, even first, as “divinely radiant luminaries.” Because much light continues to come into our Church “from the West,” in which and from which we receive so much hospitality and education (as did and do I), and from which we continue to have a lot to learn. I dare say, our divisions must be, in order for us to grow and learn more about ourselves, because it is easier to see ourselves, when in contact with “others.” As St. Paul says, “There also must be factions among you, so that those who are approved (dokimoi, tested-and-proved-reliable) may become evident among you.” (1 Cor 11:19) Thank You, Lord, for all of us, from the West and from the North and from the South and from the East, and please help me always to remain teachable.