Friday, March 14, 2008

The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

I was blessed to be able to attend all four evenings of the Canon of St. Andrew and Compline this first week of Lent (Monday-Thursday), and was simply struck by it's ability to inspire and instruct and convict me all at once, and to help me recognize that God continues to act in my life just as He has acted in the lives of His people from the beginning.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes eloquently and concisely about the canon in his book, Great Lent, which I am currently reading:

"At the commencement of Lent, at its inauguration, as the "pitch" which is to begin the entire "melody," we find the great penitential Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. Divided into four parts, it is read at Great Compline on the evenings of the first four days of Lent, It can best be described as a penitential lamenation conveying to us the scope and depth of sin, shaking the soul with despair, repentance, and hope. With a unique art, St. Andrew interwove the great biblical themes -- Adam and Eve, Paradise and Fall, the Patriarchs Noah and the Flood, David, the Promised Land, and ultimately Christ and the Church -- with confession of sin and repentance. The events of sacred history are revealed as events of my life, God's acts in the past as acts aimed at me and my salvation, the tragedy of sin and betrayal as my personal tragedy. My life is shown to me as part of the great and all-embracing fight between God and the powers of darkness which rebel against him.

"It is precisely the function and the purpose of the Great Canon to reveal sin to us and to lead us thus to repentance, and it reveals sin not by definition and ennumerations but by a deep meditation on the great biblical story which is indeed the story of sin, repentance, and forgiveness.

"The Lenten journey begins thus with a return to the "starting point' -- the world of Creation, Fall, and Redemption, the world in which all things speak of God and reflect His glory, in which all events are referred to God, in which man finds the true dimension of his life, and having found it, repents."

It was a rich and meaningful way to begin Lent.

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