Glory to God for All Things!

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
Christus resurrectus est! Vere resurrectus est!
Χριστός ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

We had much cause for rejoicing this sunny, Second Week of Pascha at HSCA; one reason is that our beloved headmaster is in our midst again! We felt his absence in many ways last week during his bout with pneumonia.

One of the most palpable signs of Magister Staley’s return can be noticed in the afternoon, after the Societas Illuminare and Schola Cantorum (our Dialectic/Rhetoric and Grammar choirs, respectively) have convened. During our cleaning work, the air is swarming with unconsciously hummed snatches of song. Not a single hand can wield a broom without murmured German or Latin lyrics on the lips. At any moment, two sets of eyes might meet, and suddenly, a duet has begun. The song spreads like wildfire, and in moments, the building is full of swirling counterpoint harmonies! We’ve all marveled at the students’ formal performances, but the impromptu cleaning chorales are quite a spectacle.

In addition to enjoying Magister Staley’s return, we’re also adjusting (as strange as it may sound) to celebration! Six weeks of Lent was just enough time to get used to solemn, quiet penitence. Fasting became automatic, and we became so accustomed to the subdued, minor litanies and prolific prostrations that we might feel a little disoriented when we realize that we can freely eat breakfast. Not only do we swing back to “normalcy” in the weeks of Pascha, but we are in fact still celebrating! Each little Lenten habit is conspicuously replaced with a deliberately joyful act of celebration, to reassure us that there is no cause for sorrow and shame! God extends daily invitations to rejoice with Him, as His beloved sons.

Everything seems sunnier in the light of Christ’s victory over death. What a blessing it is to celebrate this light together every day at Hagia Sophia, by reading the Gospels, praying and singing together, shouting “Christ is risen!” at every chance we get, breaking bread at meal times, and enjoying the fellowship of our brothers and sisters as we grow and learn together! The Church gives us countless opportunities to bask in the love of our risen Lord during this season. If we let this love soak us to the bone, we can carry the joy of Pascha with us throughout the year.

One way that we may mark the shift from Lent to Pascha at Hagia Sophia is our Friday prayer service. After celebrating the beautiful Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts on Fridays during Lent, we have returned to praying the Akathist “Glory to God For All Things.” Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov wrote this hymn of thanksgiving in a Soviet prison camp shortly before his death in 1940. No matter how distracted or dull we feel when we go into prayer, we always find it impossible to escape being deeply moved by some image or thought in this very poetic meditation on the inherent order and beauty of the cosmos, which is present amidst, and even gains meaning from, the deepest human suffering.

The Akathist asks us to consider the natural beauty of the cosmos, and reminds us that we are most blessed guests in the land of a wonderful King, but it does not therefore cast us as spectators or passive observers of some kind of cosmic spectacle. If it did so, we might find its comfort easy to brush aside in light of human suffering. Rather, the Akathist reminds us that as sons of Adam, who first named and cared for God’s creations, we have a unique “work” to do! We are first called to discover and delight in each created thing, and then to offer praise for it, agreeing with God in the very first blessing: It is good!

It occurred to me this week that this Akathist is especially appropriate for our school. As Christian students of the liberal arts, our activity and end is this humanizing two-fold “work” of contemplation and blessing. After four days of investigations into “the nature of things,” through our study of geometry, natural science, philosophy, music, poetry and languages, our minds are full of marveling! We are poised to contemplate these wonders and to speak “a good word” or blessing about them. Almost one hundred times in this relatively short service, we say or sing “Glory to you, O God,” each time offering up to God a different aspect of existence, ranging from the most humble particulars to the loftiest governing principles. Here are just a few examples.

Glory to you for calling me into being…
for spreading out before me heaven and earth, like the pages of a book of eternal wisdom…
for the feast day of life…
for all nature is filled with your laws…
for the perfume of lilies and roses…
for each different taste of berry and fruit…
for the numberless creatures around us…
for the last ray of the sun as it sets…
for the love of parents, the faithfulness of friends…
for the humbleness of the animals which serve me…
for the joy of living, moving, and being able to return your love…
for making us dissatisfied with earthly things…
for the inventiveness of the human mind…
for the dignity of man’s labor…
for making wonderfully sweet the keeping of your commandments…
for raising us from the slough of our passions through suffering…
for building your church, a haven of peace in a tortured world…

In drawing our attention to these gifts, and giving us the words with which we glorify God, the Akathist encourages us to fulfill our vocation as the priests of the world, doing our part to return order to the cosmos: Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all. After a week of investigation, observation, discussion and discovery, nothing could be sweeter!

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