Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Capstone of Holiness

Father Alexander is leaving us.  A famous Oxford-educated scholar and Eastern Orthodox monk, he has had a profound effect on me.  In the form of one of his writings: Liturgy and Mysticism. And in his very Presence. Both together actually. For his writing is of a piece with his Personal Presence.

Archimandrite Alexander Golitzin
He'll leave his Presence with us. And I think every Vespers, every Liturgy will bear a trace of this man, whose Humility is the most powerful image that will always stay with me. This scruffy monk, sitting alone (in prayer) in the back of our very modest worship space. Or serving. For when he moves, he moves as a servant. And he takes the tasks of a servant. Carrying the cross or the censor. Lighting lamps. Setting out bread and wine on the small table for after communion. His sonorous voice praying the words as he serves communicants: The servant of God …. receives the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. He has a way of saying that which is so prayerful. Slowly. Meaning each word. Like a Mantra. Like the Jesus Prayer. 

He's going to be consecrated Bishop.  I am very moved by that.  By the thought of this Servant Bishop. 

When I first met him, I already knew him. Was already grateful to him. For his own words had already sunk deep into my heart. Reading his Liturgy and Mysticism had shown me how personal spiritual growth went hand in hand with the Liturgy. Were one and the same. The inner and the outer of a piece. Like the key to a puzzle in my heart.

Maybe you know what a capstone (or keystone) is:

It's the stone at the top of an arch. You erect the two sides of the arch until they almost meet. And then, in the middle, you place a stone whose weight bears down on both sides at once – joining them and making your arch sturdy. So it can't collapse.

Father Alexander, I feel sure, would not want me writing laudatory things about him. Yet I am lauding his lowliness. Not the worldly fame I'm sure he has.

Humility is surely the capstone of the spiritual life. And humility is the characteristic, I think, that most describes Fr. Alexander – soon to be known by a new name as Bishop.   

Taste and See:                                       

Addendum (5/6/2012):

Here is Archimandrite Alexander, reflecting on his consecration as Bishop and confirming so well what's already been said in this blog:
... when standing before the holy altar at the anaphora, the bishop images forth the one and unique High Priest, Christ, Who acts through His celebrant. 
... while it is true that our Lord Jesus is true God and true King, it is also true that He did not come to us, His creatures, with the pomp and splendor of the King, attended by the legions of heaven, but rather in humility He emptied Himself and was found in the likeness of a servant. 
They are very different images, the first set revelatory of the splendor of heaven, and the second of the humility, long-suffering, and charity of our Lord’s life and ministry. My first conclusion is that I must keep this difference firmly in mind throughout my life as bishop, by which I mean the glory of the liturgical iconography should have no place in my office and day-to-day demeanor. My actions, my patterns of speech, my service in short, is to be determined by the example given us by God the Word Himself.”
The capstone of holiness indeed!