Great and Holy Friday

It has been a long Holy Week already (we’ve had two services daily so far), and there’s more to come. Last night’s 3-hour service, with readings of twelve passion Gospels, struck me as especially grueling.

But I was blind-sided emotionally at the singing of the Beatitudes during the Royal Hours this morning.

Whether because of my emotional make-up, a longstanding distrust of religious emotionalism, or the discipline of actually serving services instead of just participating, that doesn’t happen often.

As is often the case, it’s difficult or impossible to articulate a feeling. This one probably emerged from the accumulation of impressions of the week combined with something I passed along earlier in the week.

The judgment of God is revealed in Holy Week. The crucified Christ is the fullness of the revelation of God. There is no further revelation to be made known, no unveiling of a wrath to come. The crucified Christ is what the wrath of God looks like.

[I]n the judgment of God, His own love is shown to be what it truly is – self-sacrificing, forgiving, relentless in its mercy. It is not a love that pronounces forgiveness from the Cross only to pronounce destruction on another occasion. The crucified Christ is not a revelation that is succeeded by another.

So this morning, there we stood, singing such things as “Blessed are the meek” in the presence of a large icon of Christ, hanging on the cross the wrath of God:


That’s not my little church, by the way.  We’ll take that icon down from the cross this afternoon at 3 pm and put a cloth version in a symbolic tomb — one being decorated with carnations and other flowers by some folks at Church as I write this.

Add to that, we earlier in the week were greeted each time we entered Church by the icon of our most improbable “Bridegroom”:


This icon, the Nympios or Bridegroom, is also sometimes called “extreme humility.”

So what hit me this morning was roughly “this is not Christianity as I misunderstood it for nearly fifty years.”

Then tears of gratitude welled up that I was privileged to serve these grueling Holy Week services. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Why can’t we “turn back the clock”?

I have become increasingly interested in classical education, but was unaware that one of the Inklings gave a lecture which has been very influential in that “movement:” Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning.

The syllabus was divided into two parts: the Trivium and Quadrivium. The second part—the Quadrivium—consisted of “subjects,” and need not for the moment concern us. The interesting thing for us is the composition of the Trivium, which preceded the Quadrivium and was the preliminary discipline for it. It consisted of three parts: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, in that order … [T]he first thing we notice is that two … of these “subjects” are not what we should call “subjects” at all: they are only methods of dealing with subjects.

One snippet toward the end particularly grabbed me at several levels:

We cannot go back to the Middle Ages. That is a cry to which we have become accustomed. We cannot go back—or can we? Distinguo. I should like every term in that proposition defined. Does “go back” mean a retrogression in time, or the revision of an error? The first is clearly impossible per se; the second is a thing which wise men do every day. “Cannot”—does this mean that our behavior is determined irreversibly, or merely that such an action would be very difficult in view of the opposition it would provoke? Obviously the twentieth century is not and cannot be the fourteenth; but if “the Middle Ages” is, in this context, simply a picturesque phrase denoting a particular educational theory, there seems to be no a priori reason why we should not “go back” to it—with modifications ….

This grabbed me, first, because it points out the fallacy in the modern faux truism that “you can’t turn back the clock.” Second, it shows precisely why the truism isn’t true. And third, it shows that using the very tools of learning that she says we need to recover. Thus does it tacitly explain what she early on alluded to as the “extraordinary inability of the average debater [today – i.e., 70 year ago] to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side.”

I cannot recommend this lecture too highly. I paid 99¢ for a Kindle edition, but it’s available for free other places, like this, which just happened to be my top Google hit.

* * * * *

The Benedict Option ultimately has to be a matter of love. It can’t be a strategy for self-improvement or for saving the church or the world.

(Pastor Greg Thompson by Rod Dreher in the closing refrains of The Benedict Option)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.