Daily Reflection for August 31, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  AUGUST 31  •  The Placing of the Cincture (Sash) of the Mother of God


Christians do not believe in kismet, fate or destiny. Even if God determines the chief lines of our life, He, according to our prayers and merits, can change them. Thus, He prolonged King Hezekiah’s life for fifteen years: “Go and say to Hezekiah, thus said the Lord, the God of David Your father, I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears: behold I will add unto your days fifteen years” (Isaiah 38:5), and to the Venerable Dius (July 19) he likewise prolonged his life for fifteen years. God extended the life of St. Basil the Great, according to the prayer of the saint for one day until he baptized the Jew, Joseph, his physician. But, as God can, by prayer, prolong life, so He can shorten it because of sin. Emperor Anastasius adhered to the Severian heresy, so called the Acephalites (the headless ones), who spread the foolishness that the Church does not need bishops and priests but rather that everyone unto himself is a bishop and a priest and that everyone has the right, in his own way, to interpret Holy Scripture and to teach others as he understands and believes. In vain did St. John the Patriarch counsel the emperor to return to the truth of Orthodoxy, and not only did the emperor not accept the counsel but rather ill-treated the patriarch in various ways and contemplated to have him banished. One night, the emperor saw in a dream an awesome man on an exalted throne, who held a book in his hand. This man opened the book, found the name of Emperor Anastasius and said: “I have wanted to permit you to live for a while longer but, because of your heresy, behold, I am erasing fourteen years from your life.” And he erased something from the book. Terrified, the emperor jumped up from his dream and related his dream to his followers. After a few days, thunder struck the emperor’s place and killed Emperor Anastasius. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.
            Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb…But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (Revelation 21:9-14; 22-27)

The end of the Book of Daniel and the end of the Book of Revelation share two things in common — both have detailed visions of the end of the world and the heavenly Jerusalem, and both come at the end of my reading schedule for the Church Year. The powerful vision written by St. John in Revelation almost can stand on its own for the beauty and power of the words. Just reading it makes me want to be there. Now. To journey through the various visions of plagues and tribulations before the end in the book is difficult and even frightening. But then the final victory of God is revealed to us. And how glorious that revelation is! The first vision of that victory is that above: the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on a “new heaven and a new earth.” (Rev. 21:1) The Lord will recreate everything and fill it with Himself. Then the Lamb will be ready to receive His Bride.

The Bride, of course, is the Church triumphant, resplendent in glory, spotless, virginal, and faithful. The gates to the Bride are the twelve patriarchs of Israel, the foundations of the Bride are the twelve apostles of the Lamb. But there is no temple, for the Lamb is the temple. Same for light and glory — the Lamb illumines everything. Nations and kings shall bask in the light of the Lamb. And nothing impure, of lies, or abominations shall enter it. Only those in the Lamb’s Book of Life shall be there. This is the goal, of course, of every single Christian. What we lose sight of sometimes, however, is that it has already been given to us as a foretaste. Everything described in the revelation of the heavenly Jerusalem is present in the Divine Liturgy. We transcend time and space, we witness the glory of heavenly worship, we hear the angelic songs, we are given the Lamb of God Himself. The older I get (and presumably the closer to the grave!), the more I just love being at liturgy, and the less I understand how some just choose to not be present. When I close my eyes, the hymns take me away. When we ask that “with our entrance, there may be an entrance of holy angels, serving with us and glorifying Thy goodness,” I feel their presence. When I see the different faces, especially children, as they come to the chalice to be fed the Food of Immortality, I know that we are standing in the Kingdom of Heaven. May it be so now, and may it be so for eternity.