“My yoke is easy”
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
This inscription, or part of it, is found on many icons of our Lord. It gets to the heart of the Christian paradox. The cross, suffering and martyrdom are given such prominence that it seems we add to burdens rather than take them away. We honor, kiss, wear and emblazon the cross on everything. Sadly, there are deformed ways of piety, what Fr Alexander Schmemann called “pastoral pathology,” that really are heavy, burdensome and joyless. But that is not the Christian gospel, whose mystery is the paradox that “through the cross joy has come into the world.” And the only way of discovering this is to walk by faith through the most dark and difficult times, to labor and feel heavy laden and then to turn to Christ and discover from him a rest that makes the yoke easy and the burden light.
Years ago when I was a teenager, my parents took us five kids to spend the summer in Rawdon, Quebec, where my grandmother had a cottage and there was (still is) a Russian community whose life revolves around St Seraphim chapel. On the way, driving through the Quebec farmland, my father—looking for bargain antiques—stopped by a farm having a yard sale and bought two yokes: a heavy wooden yoke for a pair of oxen (it must have weighed 100 pounds) and a very light shoulder yoke for carrying water. We managed to put the heavy yoke in the trunk and get it back to New Jersey, but it never left the garage. The light one stayed there too, but eventually I inherited it and now have it in my living room as a reminder of my Dad (who died a few years ago) and this gospel reading.
Yesterday a family friend was visiting the Chancery and I gave her a tour that included the archives, housed in the basement and overseen by Alexis Liberovsky, the longtime OCA Archivist. I’ve seen him do the quick tour of the archives a number of times, and he is unfailingly enthusiastic about the treasures we have. Handwritten records of parish, diocesan, missionary and clergy life, photographs, minutes of meetings of the bishops, councils. He took down a pewter flask, labeled in Russian “Holy Chrism, 1904.” It was empty of course, but still retained the scent of chrism brought from Russia by an auxiliary to St Tikhon, Bishop Innocent. He opened a parish file from 1897, with the typed minutes of a parish meeting (in Russian) and the handwritten comments of the bishop. The Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council regularly consult him when questions arise about past decisions and practices. Parishes and dioceses celebrating anniversaries contact him, as do people tracking down information about clergy relatives from the past. Scholars from the US, Canada, Russia and elsewhere come to do research.
I hope that in future the OCA will be able to get grants to computerize the archives to make them much more accessible to all, to provide interns to assist the Archivist and to completely refurbish the housing of the archives to ensure that they are protected for future generations.