Asceticism is necessary in order to think straight – about ourselves (anthropology), the world (cosmology), and God (theology). The place where we can think straight is the place where we stand straight. At the opening of the anaphora in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the deacon bids the Church, “Let us stand aright; let us stand in fear; let us attend, that we may offer the Holy Oblation in peace.” There is nothing wrong with matter, but matter has been wronged by us. By turning away from the Creator, anthropos does not use matter eucharistically or receive matter sacramentally. We have wounded creation, and by our fault matter does not fulfill its end any more. Ephrem [the Syrian] describes the reaction of the sun to human idolatry:

The sun bellowed out in silence to the Lord against his worshippers.
It was a suffering for him, the  servant, that instead of his Lord he was worshipped.
Behold the creation is joyful that the Creator is worshipped…
Since fools honored the sun, they diminished him in his honor.
Now that they know he is a servant, by his course he worships the Lord.
All the servants are glad to be counted servants.
Blessed is he who sets the natures in order!
We have done perverse things that we should be servants to servants…
Since fools honored the sun, they diminished him in his honor.
Now that they know he is  a servant, by his course he worships his Lord.
All the servants are glad to be counted as servants.
Blessed is he who set the natures in order!
We have done perverse things that we should be servants to servants…

That is why creation groans in travail, waiting for the redemption of anthropos. Asceticism is required of the liturgist so that earth may be healed; asceticism is required of the theologian in order to see matter more clearly.

David W. Fagerberg, Theologia Prima: What Is Liturgical Theology? 27-28.

I was given this book a few months ago and have only dipped into it – I wasn’t sure whether to rejoice at being given it, or mourn because the bookshop worker gave it to me because she didn’t think any of their regular clients would be interested in it! But Fagerberg is eminently quotable and what he says about asceticism highly worthshile. (I once quoted from a podcast of his here).

*****

P.S. A gem from the Preface that I quoted on FB a few months ago: “Christianity involves liturgy, theology, and asceticism the way a pancake involves flour, milk and eggs: They are ingredients to the end result. Leave one out and you don’t have exactly the same thing any more.” (x)

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