Canon Of St. Andrew
St. Luke’s Gospel on The Beatitudes and The Love of Enemies
“Blessed are you when men hate you,
And when they exclude you,
And revile you, and cast out your name as evil,
For the Son of Man’s sake. (Luke 6:22)
Greetings in the Name of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
My Great Lenten exercise this year is to take a moment on the train or at work each day and dwell upon the passages of the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. Even though we read it all in the first week of Great Lent, it is quite revealing and penitential, I decided this year to read cover to cover from Frederica Mathewes-Green's book on this Great Canon. She has much more to say about its content and biblical meaning. It's great stuff to say the least. One of my problems is following our Savior's admonition to "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." In today's world we have the Muslim enemy who is extraordinarily brutal in every way. And, even more significant is the way they have brutalized our own Orthodox Christians in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa. How about the 21 New Martyrs of Libya who were beheaded for their Coptic Christian belief just recently? Sometimes, I feel they have brutalized me when I hear of our Christian brothers and sisters put to death for their Faith.
In Luke 6:27-36, the Lord goes on to say, “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.........But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."
The Canon of St. Andrew on verse 140 says: "I have passed my life in arrogance: make me humble and save me, all-pure Lady, for you have borne the Lord who has exalted our humiliated nature."
Frederica's commentary on this verse reads as follows;
Humility is indispensable to salvation. This is hard for us contemporary Christians to grasp. Our favorite stories and movies show heroes standing up boldly or arrogantly and cutting their opponents down to size with a weapon or clever words.
But Christ enveloped evil with love. He forgave those who split his hands and feet with iron nails. If this was a contemporary movie script He would have called down "12 legions of angels" for revenge.
The mistake in our thinking is that our earthly opponents are our enemies. Instead, they are hostages of the enemy. Christ died for them and for us and for all sinners. We must imitate Him, and in humility show our enemies love, in the hope that they will accept God's mercy too. "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God......Do not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans12:19, 21)
Name yourself some enemies whom you need to love. Make a decision to never avenge yourself and ask God to bring them to the same joyous salvation He has for you.
Keep praying for His guidance in all matters.
A few words about the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete and the book by Frederica entitled, “First Fruits of prayer: a Forty-Day Journal through the Canon of St. Andrew
The Great Canon is a prayerful hymn of epic length served every year in the Eastern Orthodox Church during the first week of Great Lent. St. Andrew was born in Damascus, Syria and spent his early years in Jerusalem and then served orphans and the elderly in Constantinople. Later, he was consecrated bishop of Crete and fell asleep in the Lord in 740 AD.
St. Andrew built this Canon after a close examination of Holy Scripture, primarily Old Testament. The work is very personal in tone seeking to learn life’s lesson for his own life and urging himself to love God more completely. It is a rigorous self-examination as a path to self-healing and eventually union with the Lord. It is using repentance as a positive tool. As St. Andrew searches the Scriptures, we see his humility and great confidence in the Lord who has total compassion for mankind’s sin. St. Andrew gives everyone a glimpse of the great healing power of repentance.
The experience of the presence of Christ is just that, it’s real. Many today talk of God in terms of the mind or the heart, but early Christians experienced Him in a primary sense.
Theosis is what Eastern Christian link to salvation. Western Christians see an image of a suffering Christ crucified. For Orthodox Christians of St. Andrew’s world and today, salvation is seen as the restoration of the person to the image and likeness of God. It means God dwelling within us. It is a process of transformation to the way God originally intended us to be. He is the light and “in His light shall we see light.” Theosis is the goal of life for every human being. The early church Fathers from St. Irenaeus (202 AD) to St. Athanasius (373 AD) expressed it all as, “God became man so that man might become god-like.”
Repentance means a “transformation of the mind.” It doesn’t mean feeling guilty or miserable. It is seeing the truth: admitting the truth about your sinful self, and the truth about the Lord. It is like the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) where the Father receives the lost sinful son with complete forgiveness. We are all tied up with fear and pride that is hard to admit how much we sin. Salvation is therefore a process of transformation, allowing more of our sins to come to light and be healed. St. Paul said, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
The Cardinal rule is humility. Our culture doesn’t understand humility very well. We are looking for heroes to punish the wrongdoers. Early Christians treated sinners with love in the awareness that we are all equally sinners. Look at the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee as an example of humility. Publicans (Tax-collectors) skimmed money off the top and suppressed the poor serving the brutal Roman Empire. Yet, Christ used the Parable as a great example of repentance and forgiveness – we learned humility from the Publican’s tears.
What’s missing in Western Theology? Eastern Christians have no idea that our sins put us in God’s debt legally. No idea that one has to pay something before He can forgive us. He just forgives us. The father of the Prodigal Son did not require some payment or service time in consideration of his other faithful son. He didn’t say, “I’d like to take you back but…?” The father accepted the son without hesitation and had a party for him caressing him with unconditional love.
What about Original Sin? We are not born carrying the guile of Adam’s sin. Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century came about with this idea which has permeated the Western churches. Can you imagine that a baby who died before baptism would be damned. St. Andrew and most Eastern Fathers view sins self-inflicted wounds. However, God is totally compassionate to His people rather than wrathful. Christ came to “trample down death by death” and save us from our sins. He is like the fireman carrying that child from the burning building. Our Savior is there present in every person working with those of us willing to receive His light, the light of faith, love and understanding.
St. Mary of Egypt. Frederica concludes this book with the life of this great saint since many of the verses of the Canon ask for her prayers. St. Mary was an uncontrollable harlot who asked the Virgin Mary to cure her sin. Her story is an example of someone who repented from sexual pleasures of the flesh and through prayer and fasting found it is far more important to care for the soul for it is immortal. The church commemorates her on the 5th Sunday of Great Lent.
Frederica Mathewes-Green has been a great credit to our faith through her many books. Initially her books sought to help the converts (cradles, too) grasp Orthodoxy in the modern sense here in America. Of late her books have been very spiritual and prayer oriented. This one is brilliantly organized with thoughtful further reflections. This is one of her best books and a huge credit to our Church and all of us living in the West.
What is a Christian? What must they have? Certainly, they must have patience in everything. The road that takes wayfarers to the city of Paradise is completely strewn with thorns; those who travel along it will bleed. But the hope of enjoying Paradise overcomes everything and provides the wayfarers with patience – as the Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste said when they were thrown into the frozen lake: “Winter is bitter, but paradise is sweet; the frost is painful, but the enjoyment will be sweet.” Elder Ephraim of the Holy Mountain.