Lev Gillet


Raising Lazarus

Lazarus Saturday has a very special place in the liturgical calendar. It is not included in the forty days of  Lenten penitence; it is not included in the harrowing days of Holy Week – which are counted from the Monday to the Friday. Together with Palm Sunday, it forms a short and joyous prelude to the days of grief which follow. A topographical link unites it to Palm Sunday: Bethany is the place of Lazarus’s resurrection, and it is also the point of departure for Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. Lazarus’s resurrection, which this Saturday commemorates, is an even that, as we shall see, carries a very deep meaning. It is mysteriously linked to the resurrection of Christ himself; in relation to that event, it is like prophecy in action. One could say that Lazarus raised from the dead is shown to us, at the threshold of the Easter feasts, as the precursor of Jesus Christ triumphant over death, in the same way that, on the threshold of Epiphany, John when he baptised was the precursor of the Messiah who was about to be revealed.

Father Lev Gillet, The Year of Grace of the Lord135.

baptism-of-christrublev

It’s a bit late to post anything about Theophany, but I have been thinking quite a bit these words of Father Lev Gillet in the last week. In his meditation in The Year of Grace of the Lord, he speaks about how we cannot separate the manifestation of Christ’s humility and His glory which are presented to us in this feast. Speaking of the solemn manifestation of Christ in His baptism in the Jordan, he writes:

What does this manifestation consist of? It is made up of two aspects. On the one hand, there is the aspect of humility represented by the baptism to which our Lord submits: on the other hand, there is the aspect of glory represented by the human witness that the Precursor bears to Jesus, and, on an infinitely higher plane, the divine witness which the Father and the Spirit bear to the Son. We shall look at these aspects more closely. But first of all, let us bear this in mind: every manifestation of Jesus Christ, both in history and in the inner life of each man, is simultaneously a manifestation of humility and of glory. Whoever tries to separate these two aspects of Christ commits an error which falsifies the whole of spiritual life. I cannot approach the glorified Christ without, at the same time, approaching the humiliated Christ, nor the humiliated Christ without approaching the glorified Christ. If I desire Christ to be manifested in me, in my life, this cannot come about except through embracing Him whom Augustine delighted to call Christus humilis, and, in the same upsurge, worshipping Him who is also God, King, and Conqueror. (82)

It strikes me that it is the failure to hold these two aspects of Christ’s manifestation together that is at the heart of many of the problems that we see with Christian witness around us. In recent decades there has been an emphasis on God’s self-emptying of Himself in Christ which, in some circles has resulted in a sort of “Well, he’s not any different from any of us,” even if that is not stated so explicitly. In fact, just recently I was told that the whole point of Christmas was that God became a baby, like any other baby. I suppose that that gives people something to say at Christmas, but it’s hardly much of a basis for worship, or for building one’s life around.

But glory without humility is ultimately non-existent, or at least it’s not a Christian glory. It might be propped up by the expectations of Church or society (while they last) or even the demands of one’s own ego, but it can never be truly revelatory. For glory is something that shines forth, that is real, even if we only glimpse it fleetingly. And, as Father Lev reminds us, it is intimately connected to humility.

The feast of Christmas is the feast of the mystical Body, for it is through the Incarnation that men have become members of Christ. Whatever theological interpretation we give to this great scriptural and patristic affirmation of our incorporation into Christ, we must believe that with the Incarnation, an ineffable union – that passes all understanding – began, in human flesh, between Jesus Christ and men. Beyond the particular historical event which took place at Bethlehem and through which the Son of God took on a visible human body, another event took place that concerns the whole of the human race: God, in becoming incarnate, in some way weds and assumes the human nature which we all share and creates between himself and us a relationship which, without ever ceasing to be that between the Creator and his creature, is also that between the body and its members. There is union without confusion. Christmas allows us to become most deeply conscious of what is our true nature, human nature, regenerated by Jesus Christ.

Father Lev Gillet, The Year of Grace of the Lord: A Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church, 70-71.

A blessed Christmas to all, whenever you celebrate it!

One could think of the liturgical year as if it were a picture of the services and feast days during a cycle of 365 days, from September to September: in short, the liturgical year could be reduced to a practical diagram, to a calendar. The liturgical year is, in fact, expressed as a calendar, but simply to identify it with a calendar would be totally inadequate. One could also say that the purpose of the liturgical year was to bring to the minds of believers the teachings of the Gospel and the main events of Christian history in a certain order. That is true, but this educational, pedagogical, function does not exhaust the significance of the liturgical year. Perhaps we could say that its aim is to orientate our prayer in a particular direction and also to provide it with an official channel which is objective, and even, in a certain way, artistic. This, too, is true, but the liturgy is more than a way of prayer, and it is more than a magnificent lyric poem. The liturgy is a body of sacred ‘signs’ which, in the thought and desire of the Church, have a present effect. Each liturgical feast renews and in some sense actualises the event of which it is the symbol; it takes this event out of the past and makes it immediate; it offers us the appropriate grace, it becomes an ‘effectual sign’, and we experience this efficacy to the extent that we bring to it a corresponding inclination of our soul. But still, this does not say everything. The liturgical year is, for us, a special means of union with Christ. No doubt every Eucharist unites us intimately with Christ, for in it He is ‘both He who offers and who is offered’, in the same way that every prayer, being the prayer of the members of the mystical body, shares in the prayer of Him who is the head of the body and the only one whose prayer is perfect. But, in the liturgical year, we are called to relive the whole life of Christ: from Christmas to Easter, from Easter to Pentecost, we are exhorted to unite ourselves to Christ in His birth and in His growth, to Christ suffering, to Christ dying, to Christ in triumph and to Christ inspiring His Church. The liturgical year forms Christ in us, from His birth to the full stature of the perfect man. According to a medieval Latin saying, the liturgical year is Christ Himself, annus est Christus

Father Lev Gillet, The Year of Grace of the Lord: A Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church, 1-2.

The invocation of the name of Jesus can be put into many frames. It is for each person to find the form which is the most appropriate to his or her own prayer. But, whatever formula may be used, the heart and centre of the invocation must be the Holy Name itself, the word Jesus. There resides the whole strength of the invocation.

Lev Gillet, a Monk of the Eastern Church, On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus, (Templegate Publishers, 1985) 3-14.

Since starting to make and sell prayer ropes I have become more conscious of the Jesus prayer, both because I have been looking for resources on it to share with others, and because I have been praying it more myself as I make knots. (I will provide an update on that project soon, as I know that some readers are interested to hear a progress report). I had been conscious of Father Lev Gillet’s work on it, which I had browsed through some years ago and thought that that would be worth reading properly. And so when I saw this book for sale at a parish bookstall, thought that it would be good to get. Only after it had been removed from the glass case did I realise that it was in fact a different book. That is no great disaster – I will hopefully find a way to get hold of Fr Lev’s The Jesus Prayerat a later stage. And in the meantime, I have discovered that this is a shorter, more meditative little book that is easily accessible and looks worth a slow reading. I’ll try and present some thoughts from the different chapters…

This first chapter focuses on the different “shapes” that the prayer can take. While Father Lev leaves the reader free, he does stress that the simple recitation of the name of Jesus is the oldest form. It is the simplest and most easy to use and therefore the one that he recommends. The Holy Name is itself prayer. It can be said either verbally or mentally, and “affords an easy transition from verbal to mental prayer … and disposes the soul to contemplation.” (15)