Friday, August 14, 2015

Entering Into The Great Rest

The one-stanza hymn (troparion) sung during the memorial service of an Orthodox Christian who has departed this life reaches deeply into the treasury of sacred theology.  

“Give rest O Lord, 
to the souls of your servants who have fallen asleep, 
and establish them in Paradise. 
Give rest to your servants, O Lord, 
where the choirs of the saints 
and all the Just shine like the stars in heaven, 
and do not regard their transgressions.”

The hymn is a prayer that petitions for rest, and this rest is accompanied by two descriptors: first, rest is described as being established in paradise, and second, as shining with the brightness of the stars.  The two key words describing this rest then are, “establish” and “shine.”

Rest is defined by most dictionaries as, the ceasing of work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength. It is the ceasing of movement that Orthodox theology has in mind when it uses the term.  St. Maximus the Confessor is perhaps most helpful regarding this topic when he writes: “movement is subsequent to coming into being”. In other words, becoming a being, always results in movement.  However, this movement is not random, instead, it is a movement closing in on its destination. This power used for movement is called “passion”. This kind of passion is not the emotion that we so often call passion, rather it is the opposite of impassibility,  which is the inability to experience change. Consequently, passion is movement, which is “change in progress”. According to St. Maximus, change, passion, or motion do not cease their movement until the being in motion arrives at their final destination. 

“Motion does not come to rest until it is embraced wholly by the object of this desire. Once embraced, none want anything from themselves, for they know themselves to be wholly embraced, and intentionally by choice wholly receives the life-giving delimitation. Once wholly embraced, a being no longer wishes to be embraced at all by their own self, but are suffused by that which embraces it. The (suffusion works in the) same way air is illuminated by light, or iron is wholly inflamed by fire.” 
The Cosmic Mystery of Christ, P. 51

The point emphasized by both the Troparion and by St. Maximus, is that there is movement or passion in a human being until that person arrives at their final destination. Only then is there REST within the suffusion of the LIGHT of God, which is in God Himself. That light is the source of such ecstasy that the human being folds his own will to choose into the fixed will of God. It is an ESTABLISHMENT in the LIGHT of God which stops human passion or passibility, and takes us to our final purpose.

"Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." 
Matt 11:28