August 12, 2014

Postfeast Transfiguration of our Lord

Psalm 131

1 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
  my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
  too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
  like a [weaned] child quieted at its mother’s breast;
  like a child that is quieted is my soul.
3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
  from this time forth and for evermore.

“Like a child that is quieted…” [icon]
Mother & Child
Mother and Child, by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

This beautiful confession of peaceful trust in God centers around the image of mother and infant. Not an infant drinking from her mother’s breast, but a weaned infant, “no longer crying fitfully for its mother’s milk” (New Jerome Biblical Commentary). Many of us need to slow down and recover this childlike trust and rest in the Lord, especially if our default passion is anxiety over problems to tackle and wrestle to the ground.

But don’t mistake Psalm 131 as encouraging us to throw up our hands, walk away from difficult problems and leave everything to God. We shouldn’t give up our interest, questions, initiative or responsibility too quickly with the excuse that these are “too great and too marvelous for me.” We are God’s fellow workers (1 Cor 3:9), and passivity in the face of problems is no virtue. Don’t forget that David the Psalmist was a king, immersed daily in the difficult affairs and decisions of state.

And yet, while David dealt as best he could with the practical tasks confronting him, he also had the humility to know that the outcome of his efforts did not depend on him alone. Or even on everyone around him. He understood that there is so much that we don’t know and can’t control. David lets go of the passion to control everything; he lets go of eyes “raised too high” with arrogant self-reliance. And in letting go he can be at rest with whatever the outcome. As Saint Paul wrote centuries later,

I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. (Phil 4:12-13)

Prophet David
King David

Saint Hilary of Poitiers sees Psalm 131 as a reflection of King David’s character, as he balanced personal humility with a transcendent inner life. He remained humble in the face of adversity while holding on to deep communion with God in thought and prayer.

His kingdom did not make him haughty; he was not moved by hatreds. He loved those who persecuted him; he paid honor to his dead enemies; he spared his incestuous and murderous children…

He is exalted in mind, and cast down in heart. He is humble in his own affairs, but he is not humble in his thought. For his thought reaches to heaven; his soul is lifted up on high. But his heart, ‘out of which proceed,’ according to the Gospel, ‘evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, railings’ (Mt 15:19) is humble, pressed down beneath the gentle yoke of meekness.

We must strike a middle course then, between humility and exaltation, so that we may be humble in heart but lifted up in soul and thought.  (Saint Hilary of Poitiers, Homilies on the Psalms, in J. Manley Grace for Grace: the Psalter and the Holy Fathers)


Last Thursday evening I went with His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon to Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn for the memorial service for the newly reposed Luba Baktis, mother of Father Peter Baktis and longtime member of Holy Trinity. Father Peter has had a distinguished career as a US Army Chaplain and will retire from the military in 2015. He currently works at the Pentagon and lives in the Washington DC area. He serves from time to time at Saint Nicholas Cathedral, where memorial services were also held for his mother, who had been living with Father Peter and Matushka Jeanne for the last twenty years. At the funeral on Friday His Grace, Bishop Michael of New York presided. May Luba’s memory be eternal!

“The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”

On Saturday, I served Liturgy for the feast of St Herman at Saint Sergius Chapel. On Sunday, Father Basil Summer celebrated the Liturgy and Chrismated “Eric Raphael,” husband of his goddaughter Kyriaki. It is always moving to see someone making the decision to join the Church and follow Christ. At least one of the prayers for the “Office of the Reception of Converts” is fitting for all of us to say for ourselves and our loved ones from time to time.

Enable him to walk in all Your commandments, and to fulfill those things which are well-pleasing to You; for if a person does these things, he shall find life in them. Inscribe him in Your Book of Life, and unite him to the flock of your inheritance, and may Your holy name be glorified in him, together with that of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and of Your Life-giving Spirit.

Let Your eyes ever look upon him with mercy, and let your ears always receive the voice of his supplication. Make him to rejoice in the work of his hands, and in all his generation, that he may confess You, worshipping You always, all the days of his life.

For all the powers of heaven praise You, and Yours in the glory, of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.