Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On memory and remembrance - I

Perhaps it is the funerals and the chanting of "memory eternal" that have had me thinking about the importance of memory and remembrance in the Orthodox Church. And although prompted, at least partially, by "memory eternal," my thinking hasn't been so much about God's salvific remembrance (cf. Gen 8:1 and Lk 23:42-43), but about our remembrance. What do we do with our memory and the things we remember or call to mind?

To me, as a priest, the Liturgy is the starting place for figuring out what the Church has to say about remembrance. We repeatedly say "Remembering/Commemorating our most holy, pure, blessed lady Theotokos with all the saints, let us commit/commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God." There are two distinct parts to this petition. The first tells us whom to remember: the Theotokos and the saints. We pray for a lot of things during our services, but we call to mind the saints. We bring to the front of our consciousness those whose lives serve as models for us. We concentrate on the good, rather than the bad.

The second part of the petition is the purpose of the remembrance: as a reminder that we, too, should follow the example of the saints in our dedication to Christ. Remembrance is not just a theoretical, mental activity; it has ramifications in daily life. To a certain extent, all our thoughts have an effect on us - on one level, I suspect this is part of why we are told to guard our thoughts. The petition, repeated several times during the service, directs our thoughts and, ideally, our lives, towards God.

There are many other instances of remembrance in the Liturgy, but the other explicit instance comes right before the consecration: "Remembering, therefore, this command of the Savior, and all that came to pass for our sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the second, glorious coming, we offer to You these gifts from Your own gifts in all and for all." Perhaps we go on auto pilot, perhaps we forget once we come out of the church building, but I can't help feeling that these words are meant to jolt us out of that auto pilot mode, to reverberate within our minds long after the priest has said the "Through the prayers" and the doors of the church have closed behind us. Do we really bring to mind and think about the events of Christ's life, but even more so, do we care (or dare) to think about that "second, glorious coming"?

Well, it is getting late and a little boy keeps acting like a cross between a monkey and a koala bear, with me playing the role of the tree. So I'll have to think more about this topic another time; one when hopefully I will have the Philokalia handy.