5/27: Afternoon Tea

Emilia Eriksson | Flickr | bit.ly/2LeQbLx

Trinity Sunday, May 27

Isa. 6:1-8Ps. 29 or Cant. 13 or Cant. 2Rom. 8:12-17John 3:1-17

An old and gravely ill retired English professor invited me to his home, to sit for tea and some Latin readings. He may have understood what we read; I did not. We glanced back and forth and silently agreed that we would understand something true and real, if not the readings. An old man facing the end of his life could be a blessing to his young priest and the priest could, in turn, listen and sit and breathe the clean air of a simple love. We shared Holy Communion and were that communion. Love has a source, an object, a sharing, even in the formal ceremony of tea and Latin and Eucharist.

Shortly before his death, he gave me an old Latin book that had been in his family for generations, and enclosed a personal note. The book, published in Paris in 1559, is a Latin translation by Gentian Hervetus of Theodore Balsamon’s commentary on the Nomocanon of Photius. To separate these layers: Hervetus (a French theologian, controversialist, and member of the Council of Trent) translated for the Latin West a Greek summary of Eastern Orthodox canon law (the Nomocanon) interspersed with detailed commentary by Balsamon, a Greek canonist of the 12th century.

A book of canon law necessarily abounds in minute detail, the first of which says something about having tea with an old man, listening, agreeing in silence that the time is at hand and life is imbued with love. The first chapter Nomocanon concerns theology and the Orthodox Faith. Theodore adds his commentary: “The first constitution of the first title of the first books of the Codices … says this: He is a Christian who believes that divinity is one in equal power of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He who believes otherwise than has been stated is a heretic.” A thousand pastoral visits, friendships of years, marriage and children, life and loss, have confirmed for me the strength of an imperfect analogy. Even I beget love, even I respond in love, even I move where the Spirit chooses, but I cannot do this without a partner and the exchange of mutual affection.

Far above what reasons may fully know, there is a presence high and lifted up, a Lord whose train fills the temple, whose glory moves across the face of the earth, whose majesty makes smoke and flashes of fire and thunder, whose power shakes the threshold (Isa. 6:1; Ps. 29). The waters roar, the cedars break, the oaks writhe, and all storms say glory and power before which, for all its beauty, the human heart knows fear. “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among people of unclean lips (Isa. 6:5). A vaster universe and a vast presence overshadow the smallness of human life. Do we fall back into fear (Rom. 8:15)?

We are, in Christ, children of God. “It is the very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). As children who have received a spirit of adoption by a mystical and deep communion with Christ, we are sons and daughters of the one whom Christ most deeply loves. We are children who cry “Abba! Father!” by the grace of Christ in us, and by this grace we are caught up and born from above and lifted into the life of God.

In a sense, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). Fear is cast out by the power of love, and love is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Look It Up
Read Matthew 28:19.

Think About It
You will need Scripture and Tradition.


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