18 settembre 2014

Theotokos Prayer Corner




Moscow, 2011
Orthodox Missionary Society
of Venerable Serapion Kozheozersky

Once some thieves came to an old hermit and said, "We are taking everything in your cell." He answered, "Take whatever you need, my children." They took almost everything in the cell and left. But they missed a little bag of money that was hidden. The elder picked it up and went after them, crying, "Children! You forgot something!" The thieves were amazed. Not only did they not take the money, but they returned everything that they had taken. "Truly," they said, "this is a man of God."
This happened in the sixth century A.D. in Palestine. St. John Moschos recorded it, along with many other stories about Orthodox monks, which he heard firsthand. The old monk did not read sermons to his impolite guests. He did not rebuke them or threaten them, nor did he have a conversation with them. What then caused the thieves to change their mind and correct their deed? They had beheld in him a different sort of man: a man of God.
Only a man who is rich in God can be so free from attachment to possessions and to money, which have enslaved humanity. Only a man who is rooted in God can unfailing preserve peace and magnanimity when confronted with manifest evil.
But most of all, the thieves were touched by the love the elder showed them. Only a man who has become like God can demonstrate such love to outlaws who have come to rob him, such that he can sincerely place their interests above his own. This could not have happened if the monks faith had been confined to rituals, collections of rules, and pretty words about God, without real experience of life in Christ.
The thieves beheld a man in whom the word of the Gospels had become a reality. In the Orthodox Church, such men are called Holy Fathers. Over the course of two milennia, this ancient Church has striven to preserve precisely that truth received from the apostles, together with experience of living communion with God. Therefore the Orthodox Church has also been able to give birth to a multitude of saints, who have been bearers of this experience of heavenly life while still on earth.
The book that you are holding in your hands has been compiled in order to enable the reader to touch the spiritual experience of the Christian East. Collected here are three-hundred sayings of over fifty Orthodox saints from Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Greece, Russia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Georgia. Since the Western Church was part of the family of Orthodox Churches for the first thousand years after the birth of Christ, you may also find in our compilation the sayings of saints who lived in the territory of contemporary Italy, England, France, and Tunis. All of this is part of the spiritual inheritance of the Orthodox Church.
The earliest of these sayings was written in the second half of the first century. The most recent was written in the second half of the twentieth century. No matter where they lived, when they lived, or who they were, the Orthodox Saints speak of a single spiritual reality, and therefore their sayings harmoniously compliment one another. In the nineteenth century, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov made this observation: "When on a clear fall night I gaze upon the clear heavens, illumined by innumerable stars that send out a single light, then I say to myself: thus are the writings of the holy fathers. When on a summer's day I gaze upon the wide sea, covered with a multitude of distinct waves, driven by a single wind to a single end, a single pier, then I say to myself: such are the writings of the fathers. When I hear a well-ordered choir, in which different voices sing a single hymn in shimmering harmony, then I say to myself: such are the writings of the fathers." I believe that this small collection of Patristic aphorisms will be interesting and useful not only for Orthodox Christians, but even for everyone who values what is genuine.
Much of what is assembled here has helped me personally. It has given me answers to tormenting questions, permitted me to think about the events of my life in a new way. And so I have decided, through this books to present unto you that which is dear to me.

Deacon George Maksimov.
January 8, 2011.




The Resurrection is the foundation of all we are
Whether we think of the first century or the 21st century, the resurrection is both a central and a controversial part of Christian theology and experience. Today we hear about those who challenge the possibility of resurrection — whether Christ’s or ours — both outside and inside the Christian church.
The situation was much the same in St. Paul’s day. When Paul preached about the resurrection of the dead to the intellectuals of his day, some believed, but others scoffed (Acts 17:32). And much to his chagrin, after he preached the resurrection to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:1-4), some in the Corinthian church began to say that ”there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:12). Paul then proceeded to write the text on the resurrection that has been foundational and formative for 2,000 years of Christian history, 1 Corinthians 15.
In our own day of skepticism and misunderstanding about many basic Christian convictions, what can we learn from the apostle Paul concerning the theological and spiritual significance of Christ’s resurrection and of ours? We may approach this topic from four angles, beginning with the critical importance of Christ’s resurrection.
For the apostle Paul, the resurrection of Christ was not merely one among many Christian convictions; it was the one that guaranteed the significance of all others and provided the rationale for the life of faith, hope and love expected of those who live in Christ. From Paul’s perspective, to deny or misinterpret the resurrection is to undermine the entire Christian faith.
In his response to the Corinthians who denied the resurrection of the dead, Paul argued logically that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, he says, ”your faith is vain; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). That is, Christ’s death on the cross for sins (see 1 Cor 15:3) has no saving significance without the resurrection. It is merely the Roman crucifixion of a false messiah.

Furthermore, the apostle asserts, if Christ is not raised,
Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all…. If the dead are not raised: ”Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor 15:18-19,32b).
In other words, the dead are dead, there is no hope of eternal life, and the idea of living a life of sacrificial devotion to God and others in the present is simply absurd. Instead, let’s party! Death is the end, and the only logical thing to do is enjoy this life to the max: Carpe diem.
It is unlikely that the naysayers of resurrection in Paul’s day or ours recognize the grave consequences of their disbelief. It is one of the tasks of Christian preaching and formation to make these consequences clear.

The Meaning of Christ’s Resurrection
Paul, to be sure, does not think Christ is dead or that the life of faith, hope and love is an existential mistake. Rather, he exclaims, ”But now Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor 15:20a). The way this is worded is critically important: ”Christ has been raised,” rather than ”Christ arose,” implies that someone has raised Christ from the dead. That someone, of course, is God the Father, and Paul almost always uses language about Christ’s resurrection that explicitly affirms or implies God’s raising of Jesus.
By doing so, Paul tells us that the resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus and God’s stamp of approval on how Jesus lived and died. Jesus’ death, and the life that led to it, are neither misguided nor meaningless. His death was indeed God’s provision for the forgiveness of our sins and our liberation from the very power of sin itself. Moreover, Jesus’ life and death reveal the way that God operates in the world and the way God wants us as the people of God to live in this world, too (1 Cor 1:18-2:5).
Furthermore, in the resurrection of Jesus, God demonstrates that sin, evil and death do not have the final word in God’s world. We know that the twin enemies of the human race, sin and death, will be defeated (1 Cor 15:55-57). In fact, God’s resurrection of Jesus initiates a new age that is characterized by resurrection to new life (power over sin) in the present and bodily resurrection to eternal life (victory over death) in the future. We can participate in that new age by sharing in God’s resurrection of Jesus through the experience of death and resurrection contained in, and symbolized by, baptism (more on this below).
We must stress here one key point that contemporary Christians often fail to understand or try to avoid: that Christ’s resurrection was a bodily resurrection. Paul was a Pharisee, not a Platonist, and he did not believe in the immortality of a body-less soul. Bodily resurrection does not mean simply the resuscitation of a corpse, but neither is it merely a metaphor for Christ’s ongoing existence in the Church as His body, or something similar.
Paul’s Corinthian audience was apparently confused about the corporeality of resurrection, too, so the apostle develops some elaborate analogies to help the Corinthians understand that bodily resurrection means transformation, and thus both continuity and discontinuity with respect to our current bodily existence (see 1 Cor 15:35-57).
But resurrection is nonetheless a bodily experience. Paul would have agreed with later Christian writers who repeatedly urged that ”What Christ has not assumed [taken on himself], he does not redeem.” But Paul might have stated it as follows: ”Christ has in fact redeemed that which he assumed [that is, the body].” As we will see below, this has much significance for Christian ethics.
When contemporary Christians think of their own resurrection, they most often imagine the future reality of eternal life with God, however they conceive of that reality. Paul would certainly not deny the reality of our future resurrection to eternal life with God, but he also stresses the present reality of resurrection now.
In baptism, Paul says, we have shared in Christ’s death and resurrection (see Rom 6). Our old self was crucified with Christ (see Rom 6:6) and a new self was raised from the dead so that: ”just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Paul describes this ”newness of life” as dying to sin and living to God (see Rom 6:6, 11ff). The final outcome of this new life is future eternal life (see Rom 6:5, 22), but the main emphasis in Paul’s words about baptism is not on future resurrection but on present resurrection — ”living to God.”
Preaching about resurrection, whether at Easter or at baptisms and funerals, should reflect Paul’s emphasis much more than it usually does. We misinterpret resurrection and mislead both Christians and others if we convey the idea that resurrection is primarily about ”going to heaven when you die.” Resurrection is first of all about new life here and now. It is about putting on Christ in baptism (Gal 3:27) and then doing so every day thereafter (Rom 13:14).

The Spiritual and Ethical Consequences of Resurrection
The significance for Paul of resurrection to new life could hardly be overestimated. On every page of his letters, he is urging his congregations to embody the new life they have in Christ. We may briefly mention three dimensions of this new life.
First of all, the new life we live is in fact the life of Christ within us. If Christ has been raised, then He is not dead but alive, and He comes to inhabit His people, both individually and corporately, to infuse them with His very life, which is in fact the life of God: ”I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:19-20). Too often contemporary Christians underestimate and under-utilize the indwelling power of Christ.
Second, the resurrection to new life is, paradoxically, a life shaped by the cross. In being raised to new life, we do not leave the cross behind. Not only is our crucifixion with Christ an ongoing experience (again, Gal 2:19-20), but the very shape of the resurrection life is cross-shaped, or cruciform.
That is, the life that Christ lives in us by the power of His Spirit is an extension of the life of obedience to God and love for others that landed Him on a Roman cross. Christ’s self-giving generosity, service and hospitality (see 2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:1-11; Rom 15:1-3) continue their life in the life of His people.
Finally, the resurrection life is a countercultural existence that values the body as God’s temple and is dedicated in mind and body to the service of God and others (see Rom 12:1-2). Unlike our culture more broadly, we Christians know (or ought to know) with Paul that our bodies belong to God (see 1 Cor 6:19-20) and that God will one day raise them (see 1 Cor 6:14).
Thus our bodies are to be offered to God (see Rom 6:12ff) in ways that reflect their dignity, purpose and final end. Good preaching and formation will consistently explore the implications of this kind of bodily resurrection existence on our sexual lives, our vocations, our use of time and money, and on much else. The resurrection, in other words, is the foundation of all we are and do. TP

DR. GORMAN is Professor of Sacred Scripture and Dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore. Among his books are four on Paul, including, Reading Paul and Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross.

17 settembre 2014

Cherub from the Cathedral of Cefalu, Sicily (c. 1200)





St. Peter's Square


Dear Brothers and Sisters Good morning,

In the course of our catechesis on the Church, we are pausing to consider that the Church is Mother. Last time we emphasized that the Church lets us grow and, with the light and the strength of the Word of God, shows us the path of salvation, and defends us from evil. Today I would like to highlight a particular aspect of this educational work of our Mother Church, which is how she teaches us works of mercy.
A good educator focuses on the essential. She doesn’t get lost in details, but passes on what really matters so the child or the student can find the meaning and the joy of life. It’s the truth. In the Gospel the essential thing is mercy. God sent his Son, God made himself man in order to save us, that is, in order to grant us his mercy. Jesus says this clearly, summarizing his teaching for the disciples: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). Can there be a Christian who isn’t merciful? No. A Christian must necessarily be merciful, because this is the centre of the Gospel. And faithful to this teaching, the Church can only repeat the same thing to her children: “Be merciful”, as the Father is, and as Jesus was. Mercy.
And thus the Church conducts herself like Jesus. She does not teach theoretical lessons on love, on mercy. She does not spread to the world a philosophy, a way of wisdom.... Of course, Christianity is also all of this, but as an effect, by reflex. Mother Church, like Jesus, teaches by example, and the words serve to illuminate the meaning of her actions.
Mother Church teaches us to give food and drink to those who are hungry and thirsty, to clothe those who are naked. And how does she do this? She does it through the example of so many saints, men and women, who did this in an exemplary fashion; but she does it also through the example of so many dads and mamas, who teach their children that what we have extra is for those who lack the basic necessities. It is important to know this. The rule of hospitality has always been sacred in the simplest Christian families: there is always a plate and a bed for the one in need. A mother once told me — in the other diocese — that she wanted to teach this to her children and she told them to help and feed those who were hungry. She had three. And one day at lunch — the dad was out working, she was there with her three young children, 7, 5 and 4 years old, more or less — and there came a knock at the door: there was a man who asked for something to eat. And the mama told him: “Wait a moment”. She went back inside and told her children: “There’s a man there asking for something to eat, what can we do?” “Let’s give him something, Mama, let’s give him something!”. Each of them had a beefsteak and fried potatoes on their plate. “Very well” — the mother said — “let’s take half from each of you, and we’ll give him half of the beefsteak from each of you”. “Oh, no, Mom, that’s not right!”. “That’s how it is, you have to give some of yours”. And this is how this mom taught her children to give food from their own plate. This is a fine example that really helped me. “But I don’t have any leftovers...”. “Give some of your own!”. This is what Mother Church teaches us. And you, so many moms who are here, you know what you have to do to teach your children the reason for sharing their things with those in need.
Mother Church teaches us to be close to those who are sick. So many saints served Jesus in this manner! And so many simple men and women, every day, practice this work of mercy in a hospital ward, or in a rest home, or in their own home, assisting a sick person.
Mother Church teaches us to be close to those who are in prison. “But no Father, this is dangerous, those are bad people”. But each of us is capable.... Listen carefully to this: each of us is capable of doing the same thing that that man or that woman in prison did. All of us have the capacity to sin and to do the same, to make mistakes in life. They are no worse than you and me! Mercy overcomes every wall, every barrier, and leads you to always seek the face of the man, of the person. And it is mercy which changes the heart and the life, which can regenerate a person and allow him or her to integrate into society in a new way.
Mother Church teaches us to be close to those who are neglected and die alone. That is what the blessed Teresa did on the streets of Calcutta; that is what has been and is done by many Christians who are not afraid to hold the hand of someone who is about to leave this world. And here too, mercy gives peace to those who pass away and those who remain, allowing them to feel that God is greater than death, and that abiding in Him even the last parting is a “see you again”.... The blessed Teresa understood this well! They told her: “Mother, this is a waste of time!”. She found people dying on the street, people whose bodies were being eaten by mice on the street, and she took them home so they could die clean, calm, touched gently, in peace. She gave them a “see you again”, to all of them.... And so many men and women like her have done this. And they are awaiting them, there [pointing to heaven], at the gate, to open the gate of Heaven to them. Help people die serenely, in peace.
Dear brothers and sisters, this is how the Church is Mother, by teaching her children works of mercy. She learned this manner from Jesus, she learned that this is what’s essential for salvation. It’s not enough to love those who love us. Jesus says that pagans do this. It’s not enough to do good to those who do good to us. To change the world for the better it is necessary to do good to those who are not able to return the favour, as the Father has done with us, by giving us Jesus. How much have we paid for our redemption? Nothing, totally free! Doing good without expecting anything in return. This is what the Father did with us and we must do the same. Do good and carry on!
How beautiful it is to live in the Church, in our Mother Church who teaches us these things which Jesus taught us. Let us thank the Lord, who has given us the grace of having the Church as Mother, she who teaches us the way of mercy, which is the way of life. Let us thank the Lord.



Tradition has interpreted the Cherubs to represent anything from a child to a man, woman to an angel, from a bird to a Torah scholar. Ancient Near Eastern evidence answers this uncertainty, or at least tells us what the Cherubim originally meant.

Rabbi Zev Farber Ph.D. 

The most intriguing and surprising aspect of the Ark, and possibly the whole Mishkan, are the Cherubs on the Ark’s cover. What are cherubs? The Torah describes them in detail in Exodus 25:
18 Make two cherubim of gold—make them of hammered work—at the two ends of the cover. 19 Make one cherub at one end and the other cherub at the other end; of one piece with the cover shall you make the cherubim at its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They shall confront each other, the faces of the cherubim being turned toward the cover. 21 Place the cover on top of the Ark, after depositing inside the Ark the Pact that I will give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and I will impart to you—from above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Pact…[1]
According to this description, cherubs have faces and wings, and God speaks from in between them.
What do the cherubs represent?  Why are they placed on top of the ark?

Traditional Explanations
Chazal’s Interpretation
The Talmud offers several interpretations of the symbolism of the cherubs. One suggestion (b. Chagigah 13; b. Sukkah 5b) connects the face of the cherub with that of a child. This is a common western understanding as well. [2] 
What is a cherub (keruv)? Rabbi Abahu said: “Like a child (ke-ravya), since in Babylonian Aramaic a child is called ravya.” Rav Pappa asked Abaye: “But, how can you read the verse (Ezek. 10:14), ‘One face was like a cherub and another like a person’ – isn’t a cherub-face and a human-face the same thing?” [Abaye responded:] “One refers to the face of an adult and another to a child.”[3]
According to Rabbi Abahu, a cherub had the face of a child. He bases this on a word play between the Hebrew keruv and the Aramaic ruvya, utilizing the preposition “ke” (=like/as) to make up for the otherwise missing first letter. This suggestion is clearly a midrashic etymology. Ibn Ezra (Exod. 25:18) already noted that the kaf is part of the root of the word. Although suggesting a meaning for the term, Rabbi Abahu does not suggest a meaning for the image. Why should winged children sit atop the Ark? 
B. Yoma 74a discusses what the Cherubs represent, rather than what they looked like:
Rav Katina said: “When the Israelites would come to the Temple for the holiday the curtain would be pulled back for them and they would see the cherubs intertwined with each other. [The priests] would say to them: “Behold, the love of you before God is like the love of man and woman.”[4]
Rav Katina explains the symbolism of the cherubs’ wings touching each other. This represents love and should call to mind the love of God to God’s people, Israel. What Rav Katina does not explain is how the love of two creatures who are exactly the same should come to represent God and Israel. This interpretation likely reflects a midrashic connection between the phrase “spreading wings (פרשי כנפים)” used by Exodus to describe the cherubs and the identical phrase Ezek. 16:8 and Ruth 3:9 for a man spreading his cloak over a woman.[5]

The Meforshim
The meforshim (traditional commentators) on Exod. 25:18 offer a number of possible interpretations of the term, as reflected in this survey: 
Rashi endorses the position of the Talmud that they have children’s faces.[6]
R. Bahya ben Asher and R. Moshe Alshich, offering a modified version of Rav Katina’s statement, suggest that one was male and one was female.[7] (Rav Katina doesn’t actually say this, but it is possible to read his statement this way.)
Alshich adds that the meaning of this symbol is related to the mitzvah to procreate.[8]
Ibn Ezra suggests that the word keruv just means “form” (צורה), and says that the Torah does not tell us here what the form is, other than that they have wings.[9] However, he notes that he explained the meaning in his gloss to Gen. 3:24, which describes cherubs that were placed outside the Garden of Eden to block the path. Ibn Ezra says there that the cherubs were “frightening images” (צורות מפחידות).
Tying the imagery in with a different biblical account, R. Joseph Bekhor Shor says that ark is the divine throne and the divine throne and the cherubs are the “holy beasts” referenced in Ezekiel.[10] (As will be seen later, he has anticipated modern scholarship here.)  
Rashbam and Chizkuni both suggest that a keruv is a bird (עוף), presumably because they are depicted with wings. On the total opposite spectrum, R. Bachya ben Asher says they are angels. This interpretation of cherub associates them with another group of winged angels, the Seraphim mentioned in Isaiah 6. (Most biblical angels do not have wings.) Moreover, R. Bachya suggests that the meaning of the symbolism is to remind the Israelites of the second most important (עיקר) principle in Judaism, the existence of angels; according to him, angels make prophecy possible and without prophecy there can be no Torah. The reason there are two, he suggests, is so that the viewer not mistake the statue for an image of God.[11]
Rav Chaim Paltiel suggests that the two statues represent the two attributes of God, mercy and justice.[12]
R. Jacob ben Asher (Ba’al haTurim) believes they represent two study partners in a beit midrash, having a give and take about Torah.[13]

Modern Scholarship and Contextual Approach
Modern scholarship approaches the topic of cherubs both by looking at the contextual clues from the biblical stories (similar to what ibn Ezra and Bekhor Shor did) and by looking at the ancient Near Eastern evidence.

Keruvim and Karibu
The name kerub seems to be a loanword from the Akkadian karibu.[14] The word karibu is a noun derived from the Akkadian root karābu, which means “bless.” The karibu are the blessed ones; they were genies or lower level divine beings who function as supplicants, standing before the god and praying on behalf of others. The karibu were generally pictured as colossal bulls.[15] Apparently, the Torah incorporates the Akkadian concept of karibu in the Hebraicized cherub. But was their function there same as their Mesopotamian antecedents? Biblical accounts offer a variety of answers.[16]

16 settembre 2014

“O uncorrupted Virgin, thou Bride of God. . .”




I am their father, says God. Our Father who art in Heaven. My son
told them often enough that I was their father.
I am their judge. My son told them so. I am also their father.
I am especially their father.
Well, I am their father. He who is a father is above all a father.
Our Father who art in Heaven. He who has once been a father
can be nothing else but a father.
They are my son’s brothers; they are my children; I am their father.
Our Father who art in Heaven, my son taught them that prayer.
Sic ergo vos orabitis. After this manner therefore pray ye.
Our Father who art in Heaven, he knew very well what he was doing
that day, my son who loved them so.
Who lived among them, who was like one of them.
Who went as they did, who spoke as they did, who lived as they did.
Who suffered.
Who suffered as they did, who died as they did.
And who loved them so, having known them.
Who brought back to heaven a certain taste for man,
a certain taste for the earth.
My son who loved them so, who loves them eternally in heaven.
He knew very well what he was doing that day, my son who loved them so.

When he put that barrier between them and me, Our Father who art in Heaven,
those three or four words.
That barrier which my anger and perhaps my justice will never pass.
Blessed is the man who goes to sleep under the protection of that outpost,
the outpost of those three or four words.
Those words that move ahead of every prayer like the hands of the
suppliant in front of his face.
Like the two joined hands of the suppliant advancing before his face
and the tears of his face.
Those three or four words that conquer me, the unconquerable.
And which they cause to go before their distress like two joined
and invincible hands.
Those three or four words which move forward like a beautiful
cutwater fronting a lowly ship.
Cutting the flood of my anger.
And when the cutwater has passed, the ship passes, and back of them
the whole fleet.
That, actually, is the way I see them, says God;
During my eternity, eternally, says God.
Because of that invention of my Son’s, thus must I eternally see them.
(And judge them. How do you expect me to judge them now.
After that.)
Our Father who art in Heaven, my son knew exactly what to do
In order to tie the arms of my justice and untie the arms of my mercy.
(I do not mention my anger, which has never been anything but my justice.
And sometimes my charity.)
And now I must judge them like a father. As if a father were any good
as a judge. A certain man had two sons.
As if he were capable of judging. A certain man had two sons.
We know well enough how a father judges. There is a famous example of that.

We know well enough how the father judged the son who had gone
away and come back.
The father wept even more than the son.
That is the story my son has been telling them. My son gave them
The secret of judgment itself.
And now this is how they seem to me; this is how I see them;
This is how I am obliged to see them.
Just as the wake of a beautiful ship grows wider and wider until it
disappears and loses itself,
But begins with a point, which is the point of the ship itself.
So the huge wake of sinners grows wider and wider until it disappears
and loses itself.
But it begins with a point, which is the point of the ship itself, and
it is that point which comes towards me.
Which is turned towards me.
It begins with a point, which is the point of the ship itself.
And the ship is my own son, laden with all the sins of the world.
And the point of the ship is the two joined hands of my son.
And before the look of my anger and the look of my justice
They have all hidden behind him.
And all of that huge cortège of prayers, all of that huge wake grows
wider and wider until it disappears and loses itself.
But it begins with a point and it is that point which is turned toward me.
Which advances towards me.
And that point is those three or four words: Our Father who art in Heaven;
verily my son knew what he was doing.
And every prayer comes up to me hidden behind those three or four words.—
Our Father who art in Heaven.—And behind (these words) widens
until it disappears and loses itself.
The wake of innumerable prayers
As they are spoken in their text for innumerable days
By innumerable men,
(By simple men, his brothers).
Morning prayers, evening prayers;
(Prayers said on all other occasions);
On so many other occasions during innumerable days;
Prayers for noon and for the whole day;
Prayers of monks for all hours of the day,
And for the hours of the night;
Laymen’s prayers and clerics’ prayers
As they were said innumerable times
For innumerable days.
(He spoke like them, he spoke with them, he spoke as one of them.)
All of that huge fleet of prayers laden with the sins of the world.
All of that huge fleet of prayers and penances attacks me
Having the spear you wot of,
Advances towards me having the spear you wot of.
It is a fleet of frighters, classis oneraria.
And a fleet of the line,
A combat fleet.
Like a beautiful fleet of yore, like a fleet of triremes
Advancing to attack the king.
And what do you expect me to do: I am attacked
And in that fleet, in that innumerable fleet
Each Our Father is like a high riding ship
Having itself its own spear, Our Father who art in Heaven
Turned towards me, and coming behind this selfsame spear.
Our Father who art in Heaven, not so smart after all. Of course,
when a man says that, he can get behind what he has said.




Growing up, I can always remember lighting votive candles and saying a special prayer in church. What is the background for votive candles?

Before addressing the use of votive candles in particular, we have to appreciate the symbolism of light and the general usage of candles in religious practice. In Judaism, a perpetual light was kept burning in the Temple and the synagogues not only to insure the ability to light other candles or oil lamps in the evening but also to show the presence of God (cf. Ex 27:20-21 and Lv 24:2-4). Later, the Talmud prescribed a lit lamp at the Ark, where the Torah and other writings of Sacred Scripture were kept, to show reverence to the Word of God. (This practice probably influenced our own tradition of having a lit candle near the Tabernacle to indicate the presence of and to show reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.)
Roman pagan culture also used candles in religious practice. Lit candles were used in religious and military processions, showing the divine presence, aid, or favor of the gods. With the development of emperor worship, candles were also lit near his image as a sign of respect and reverence. Remember that by the time of Jesus, the emperor was considered divine and even given the titles, Pontifex Maximus (High Priest) and Dominus et Deus (Lord and God).
Christians adapted the use of lit candles (or even oil lamps in the Eastern Roman Empire) for Mass, liturgical processions, evening prayer ceremonies, funeral processions, and, again, to show reverence to the reserved Blessed Sacrament. Moreover, there is evidence that lit candles or oil lamps were burned at the tombs of saints, particularly martyrs, by the 200s, and before sacred images and relics by the 300s. St. Jerome (d. 420) in his Contra Vigilantium attested to this practice. Note, however, that this practice probably existed well before our available written evidence.
In our Catholic tradition, in early times as well as today, light has a special significance - Christ. Recall Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness; no, he shall possess the light of life" (Jn 8:12) and "I have come to the world as its light, to keep anyone who believes in me from remaining in the dark" (Jn 12:46). Moreover, the Prologue of St. John's Gospel connects Christ and true life with the imagery of light: "Whatever came to be in Him, found life, life for the light of men" and "The real light which gives light to every man was coming into the world" (Jn 1:4, 9). For this reason, in our liturgy for the Sacrament of Baptism, the priest presents a candle lit from the Paschal candle, which in turn symbolizes the Paschal mystery, and says to the newly baptized, "You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as children of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts. When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). The light then is a symbol of faith, truth, wisdom, virtue, grace, the divine life, charity, the ardor of prayer and the sacred presence which flow from Christ Himself.
With this background, we can appreciate the usage of votive candles. Here, as in early Christian times, we light a candle before a statue or sacred image of our Lord or of a saint. Of course, we do not honor the statue or the image itself, but whom that statue or image represents. The light signifies our prayer offered in faith coming into the light of God. With the light of faith, we petition our Lord in prayer, or petition the saint to pray with us and for us to the Lord. The light also shows a special reverence and our desire to remain present to the Lord in prayer even though we may depart and go about our daily business.
Interestingly, in the Middle Ages, the symbolism of the votive candles was elaborated. St. Radegund (d. 587) described a practice whereby a person would light a candle or several candles which equaled his own height; this was called "measuring to" such a saint. Although it may seem peculiar to us, this "measuring" actually reflects the idea of the candle representing the person in faith who has come into the light to offer his prayer.
Also, some Medieval spiritual writers expanded the imagery of the candle itself: beeswax symbolized the purity of Christ; the wick, the human soul of Christ; and the light, His divinity. Also, the burning candle symbolized a sacrifice, which is made in both the offering of the prayer and the acceptance of the Lord's will.
In all, the usage of votive candles is a pious practice which continues today in many Churches. The symbolism does remind us that prayer is a "coming into" the light of Christ, allowing our souls to be filled with His light, and letting that light burn on in our souls even though we may return to other activities.

Saunders, Rev. William. "The History of Votive Candles" Arlington Catholic Herald.
This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.

Father William Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Sterling, Virginia. The above article is a "Straight Answers" column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Father Saunders is also the author of Straight Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.