Last Sunday (which was truly busy), I had the joy of five Baptisms to begin the day. Orthodox Baptism not only has a lot of prayer, but it seems, that with each additional candidate another level of chaos is reached. It is simply a joyful action and practicalities involved in immersion (and the changing of clothes, etc.) invariably slow things down and ratchet up the chaos – but a joyful chaos.
I was once again struck by the straight-forward question of the Baptismal service, “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” Repeated three times and then asked in the perfect tense another three times. You begin to get the idea that the prayers of the Church think that uniting yourself with Christ is a fundamental issue. And of course it is.
I have become convinced over the years, both from Scripture, and reflection, and just trying to live the life of a Christian, that union with Christ is pretty much everything. I long ago ceased to have much understanding of prayer other than as union with Christ. It can’t be that I’m informing God of anything, much less convincing Him to do something He didn’t want to do. But I can easily understand that I unite myself with Him when I pray no matter what I am pray for.
The Church’s written prayers are a great help in teaching me to pray “in union with Christ.” Although I know something of prayer that is not in union with Him. I know of being angry with God or frustrated at the world or any number of complaining things I’ve hurled at God through the years. Not that such prayer has a great deal of value other than its sheer honesty. It has to be better than lying to God.
Lent will be upon us soon enough – with much prayer – and longer services – and more services. But there I have the sense of union with Christ, particularly in His sufferings. Not that prostrations and the like can count for much suffering. But the whole of Lent, the humility of fasting and asking people to forgive me, and the frequent use of the Prayer of St. Ephrem have a tendency to draw you into the sufferings of Christ.
I think there is a particular opportunity for us to unite ourselves with Christ in His sufferings that is not available to us in any other way I can recall. The Way of Christ is, as Fr. Sophrony would have said, “downward.” No life is lived without some element of suffering, some more physical than others, some more mental than others. But no life is exempt.
In Detroit last week I bought an icon of the Christ the Bridegroom for the parish (we had been using my family’s Bridegroom icon for the past 9 years – and I thought it was time for the Church to have its own). Thus I have had the Bridegroom icon with me in the altar during the services of the past week or so. The icon is, for me, the great signal of Holy Week, and the intensification of our union with the sufferings of Christ (liturgically).
“Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight,
and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching,
but unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest you be weighed down with sleep,
lest you be given up to death, and be shut out from the kingdom.
But rouse yourself and cry:
Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God, through the Theotokos have mercy on us!”
And all of it uniting ourselves to Christ. What other possible thought should the approach of the Bridegroom to His Bride bring to mind? Do you unite yourself to Christ?