Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Divine Liturgy: Reflections of Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra

Excerpt from 'The Church at Prayer: The Mystical Liturgy of the Heart' by Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra:
The subject which concerns us today is the spiritual life, a life which is inspired, guided, directed, and imbued by the Holy Spirit. It is a journey to Heaven. The one who undertakes such a journey rises up to heaven, even though he still walks upon the earth. Going about his ordinary tasks, he celebrates a feast in Heaven. He travels on the wings of the Holy Spirit, and his aim, his desire, his vibrancy, and daily concern is heaven.
But how often do we even think of heaven, living as we do amidst so many pleasures, and absorbed by so many trivial things? Our various preoccupations, like magnets, pull on our hearts, and make heaven appear too lofty for us to reach; something beyond our grasp and unattainable by any means. And if a person is lacking in spiritual experiences, if he has not turned his heart to Heaven, if he has not visited there from time to time, or cast so much as a glance in that direction, then the danger is even greater. If we could even turn our gaze towards heaven, even for a moment, and catch a glimpse of its breadth, its beauty, its joy, and its grandeur! It would certainly be very difficult for our soul to forget such a thing. But how can we see heaven?
If only we could open a window into heaven, and gaze upon it, and – if we found it pleasing – leap forward and enter in it to see what might be there, to make it ours, to conquer it!
If you want to look upon some superb prospect situated on the other side of a mountain, what would you do? You’d climb up to some fine summit, and from there you’d let your eye range over all the beautiful places you were longing to see. That’s what we’ll do today. We’ve all come to Church, to the temple of God, precisely to the place, that is, from where we can easily behold heaven, a region which is made radiant, beautiful, and adorned by the unfading light of the Godhead which shines with a threefold brightness.
The Church takes us and raises us up and presents us to God Himself. But is this what we feel? Is that our experience? When we come to Church, does our soul have the means of perception necessary to sense and grasp these realities? What sort of people have we become? We know all the breeds of dogs and horses, we know the species of plants, the makes of motor cars and radios, but we often fail to know those things which have a direct bearing on our life.
At the conclusion of every Divine Liturgy, you should feel what St John Climacas once said: “Now you have ravished my soul, and I cannot contain your flame, so having sung a hymn to you, I go on my way”. O my God, he says, I have felt you, I have listened to you, I’ve seen you alongside me; I have felt you pierce my heart with your arrows, set fire to my soul, light a flame which I cannot bear. And so I sing a hymn to you, and continue on my way, taking you with me. You will teach us the truth in all its fullness.
How does the Liturgy begin? “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Why does the priest begin the Liturgy with these words? What do they mean? With these words, Christ unveils for us a marvellous sight. He presents us with a heavenly vision. Before our very eyes He opens up His Kingdom. It’s like going to a shop, and the shopkeeper unfolds a bolt of fabric, and you look at it, you feel it, you test its strength, you see its beauty, and you say. “I’ll buy that.” This is what Christ does at the beginning of the Liturgy. Before our very eyes He opens up His Kingdom for us to see it, for us to feel it, for us to be satisfied, and to say: “This is what I choose for my life.” This is what our soul should feel at the beginning of every Liturgy.

Elder Aimilianos celebrating the Divine Liturgy

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