O Wisdom: 1st Advent Meditation

By way of introduction I have been posting meditations on the “Great O” Antiphons since I was Chrismated in 2002. There are seven in the Tridentine liturgy plus one more from the Sarum Rite. These 8 antiphons space out rather nicely over the 40 days of the Byzantine Rite Advent Fast which starts today, 15 Nov. I will, God Willing, post on 20th, 25th, and 30th November, 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th December. For a good bit of history (as well as html Frames!) see Fr Z’s page here. He also does meditations on the Antiphons and some of my RCC and even WR friends may appreciate his take more!


Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.

This Advent I’m meditating on failure – mine, mostly, but our shared failures as well.  Another word for failure is “harmartia“, which comes from the Greek ἁμαρτία, from ἁμαρτάνειν hamartánein, which means “to miss the mark” or “to err”.  It’s usually translated “sin”, but I’m going to stick with failure for now because I am here, “Midway in the journey of our life” and it seems a good time to do so.  So this is a sort of “Life Confession” or “Midlife Confession”.

From 5th Grade, at least, I wanted to be a minister.  Our family was Methodist. I’ve no idea what the Methodist “Ordination Process” was like in 1974, but it was probably some low-church version of “lunch with the Bishop.”  If the Lunch ended with “you’er a nice young man, perhaps you should consider seminary?”  You were on you way.  That lunch would not happen until late in High School, but from fifth grade on I was teaching Sunday School and preaching the “Youth Sunday” Sermon.  Pastor Bob was a great encouragement to me in Wurtsboro, NY, as was Pastor Jim when we moved to Acworth, GA.  But somehow, 40 years later, I’m not ordained.

This self-evident fact was given to me like a hard face slap a couple of years ago, just after my 49th birthday, as a friend was ordained to the priesthood.  I realized that given all the same choices as I, he had taken them differently in several places and his choices had led him to where I had claimed to want to go. Another friend was ordained this Summer and his mother commented regarding her pride in the choices he had made to get there.  She used the words “Sacrifice” and “Integrity”.  These are not words I would be able to use to describe my life’s journey.

O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who orders all things mightily,
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

The invocation of Divine Wisdom – Sapientia in Latin, Sophia in the Greek – at the beginning of these Advent Devotions is to a specific end: the inculcation of Prudence in the worshipers.  But what is Prudence?  It is one of the four Cardinal Virtues which also include Justice, Temperance, and Courage. (There are also three “Theological Virtues”: Faith, Hope, and Charity.) Prudence is primarily about foresight, about seeing which of several possible choices is the moral choice, the right choice.  By the correct actions we can grow the other virtues as well.  Prudence is regarded as a prime virtue for this reason: you can’t get the others without it.  But what is “correct action”?

In Orthodox and Catholic understanding of the human person man’s natural state of being, his φύσις or “phusis” is according to God’s plan for his life.  In this natural state – that state “according to our nature”, the nature God intended for us – man makes prudent (correct) choices and from this correct action flows. Correct action is according to our nature.  Our failures throw this prudence off course.  We make a choice based on other things: and so our choices are against nature or παρά φύσιν (para phusin) which really means “to the side” of nature: and look, we’re back to missing the mark again. We’re off to the side.

Paul uses παρά φύσιν in his epistle to the Roman to describe a number of things including same-sex sexual activities, men pretending to be women or vice versa.  Our answer to that charge, today, is “Yes, but this is my nature.  Paul had no idea about my nature.  For me to pretend to be something else would be against my nature.”  To this individualistic claim, Advent is a Divine Slapdown. Human nature is one ontological whole: yes there are many persons who are human, but there is only one Human Nature.  Just as there are three persons in the One Divinity, so there is One Humanity.  In the incarnation of that one Divinity as One of Us, part of the One Humanity, the natures are joined.  It is not my nature: it’s nature.

Your nature is no different from mine save in the ways each of us fails in the path of prudence – of making choices based not on the Divine Plan but on our own plans, our emotions, or our feelings. Human freedom lies not in the ability to choose to do anything we want, but rather our freedom to be the most amazing humanity possible lies in the choice for God’s plan – not our own.  When we choose else we are not being free: we are led away as slaves to our own reasonings, our body’s cravings, our appetites, or on our Passions, as the theologians would say.  When we convince ourselves that “This thing contrary to God’s plan is really who I am” we are exposing our own lack of understanding of our shared human nature.  We are rather like a street car refusing to ride on the tracks laid out for it – and insisting that it’s a better street car because of its ability to jump the rails.

The first Great O Antiphon is a prayer for Divine Sophia, to teach us prudence, to show us the way to go.  We want her to put our lives in o that “all things mightily and sweetly” dance into which she orders the world. We want her to make our lives, to borrow a pun from the Latin, suave.  As Sophia is Christ, the Incarnation itself is an answer to this prayer. Jesus becomes man to restore our sanity, to restore to us our natural, inborn ability to make the right choices, to become fully human (like Christ) which is the first step to becoming divine.

To get to right action again – after we’ve jumped the rails, as it were – requires a metanoia often translated as “changed mind” or “repentance”, as in “If you miss the mark, you must repent”.  But it’s  not just a “changed mind” but “beyond mind”.  We need to get beyond our own thinking, our own little box of ideas about “who I am”.  Advent is the only way out: God becomes us so we may join him in the dance.  God reveals to us in himself the fullness of humanity and, by becoming man, restores to all of us our natural humanity.

When I look at my life I see that my choices were imprudent because they were para-phusis, if phusis is understood as a divine revelation.  I will admit my choices caused me and others much temporary happiness, but I can not say that they have made me into the person I wanted to be way back in  fifth grade.  Nor, to judge by my active life in the confessional, have they made me into the person God wanted me to be.

Which leaves me with one remaining question: perhaps that desire, first voiced in 1974 or ’75, was the wrong choice.  Can a fifth grade be prudent? Is it possible for the fifth grader to derail the man?

Daily Readings 14 – 21 Dec AD 2013

The Daily Offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon. The readings are as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate supplemented with other devotional material. Each MP/EP link will take you to a complete office, needing only the daily psalter or, for MP, the Martyrology link.


  1. Saturday Conception 8va (Advent Feria) – MPEP – Martyrology
  2. 3rd Sunday of Advent  (Octave Day of the Conception) – MPEPMartyrology
  3. Monday Advent Feria VI O Sapientia (St Eusebius of Vercelli, BM) – MPEP – Martyrology
  4. Tuesday Advent Feria V before Nativity O Adonai  – MPEP – Martyrology
  5. Ember Wednesday Advent Feria IV before Nativity – O Radix – MPEP – Martyrology
  6. Thursday Advent Feria III before Nativity – O ClavisMPEP – Martyrology
  7. Ember Friday Advent Feria II before Nativity – O Orient MPEP – Martyrology
  8. St Thomas the Apostle (Ember Day Advent Feria O RexMPEP – Martyrology

O Oriens – 5th Advent Meditation

 Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

 Dawn, splendor of eternal light, and sun of justice, come, and shine on those seated in darkness, and in the shadow of death.


Dawn… it’s the slow realization of the light.

There’s a prayer in the communion preparations of the Western Rite that says, Tibi, Domine, plagas meas ostendo, tibi verecundiam meam detego. “Lord, I show my wounds to Thee and uncover my shame before Thee.”

What does the light uncover in you? Whatever you are hiding from the light, that will be the death of you.

Modern psychology speaks of our shadow side or our darker self as if it were a good thing to confront and live with.  Christianity, however, wants to make us all children of the light – sons of the Father of Lights in whom there is no shadow.  Orthodoxy would go so far as to say that the shadow is what gets burnt up by our God who is a “Consuming Fire”.

Remember, what you are hiding: that will be the death of you.

What is it that gets revealed by the Divine Light? What is it that you throw away to burn?

This is the Orthodox Sacrament of Confession, the holy mystery of Reconciliation.  What you expose no longer kills you: it dies.  But you die, too, a little bit. That part of you that was living, if you will, with a cancerous growth, a parasite dies as well.  This might be a time when “parasite” is the most literally correct word: it comes from Greek roots meaning “along side” and “food”.  A “parasite” is something that we are feeding with our own food – other than our real self.  The parasite is the thing that is eating us: a false self.  Our sinful nature is not really us.  What we do does not define who we are.

What do you bring to the light?

Advent Soup & Frybread

For Orthodox of both eastern and western rites, the period leading up to Christmas is a time of abstaining from animal products.  Fish may be ok, shellfish too, but meat, dairy and eggs are right out.  So we find other things to do.  These two recipes have become mainstays for me this season, already: and I’m surprised I never thought of them before.  Both allow for a lot of variation and so I’ve added notes to each.  Salad goes nicely with them.

Ramen Miso
We will start with the soup.  You see the ramen packs above, that’s what we want – but throw out the flavour packets. It’s all salt and some other crap.  It’s totally pointless: what we want is the noodles.

Bring two or three cups of water to a boil.  To this add some miso paste: follow the instructions on the package, mine says 1 tbl per cup of water.  Then add one extra serving – so for two cups of water, I add 3 tbls of miso.  YMMV.  Then add the noodles and simmer until tender. Salt and pepper for taste.

That’s it.  Miso soup with ramen.

It’s also very boring.  So:  try adding diced up tofu, seitan, or tempe.  This can be flavoured anyway you want.  Try adding veggies!  I’ve found that a bag of frozen mixed veggies works just fine here. As does leftover Chinese food diced up. Stir fry something or add it raw and simmer until done. Greens are good, bok choi rocks. Last night I had it with box choi and mushooms.  This works really well for two servings: one for supper and one to take to the office.

Frybread
This one is a little more complex but very tasty.

Combine 2/3 Cup self-rising flour with 1/2 tbl of NRG Egg Replacer powder. Whisk the dry ingredients together and stir in about 2/3 cup of water.  You want a very stiff dough and, depending on the flour and the weather, you may not need all of it, but you don’t want it runny: a well mixed cookie dough is about right.

Heat up a couple of tbls of olive oil or canola oil in a deep frying pan for which you have a lid.  You’re going to want about 3 inches above the bread – so pick wisely and do so before you have hot oil!

Place the dough in the oil and spread it out a little. It should start frying instantly. Add the cover and then get a couple of tbls of water.  Carefully spritz the water around the bread and cover instantly. DANGER Water and Hot Oil is a volatile mix.  Be very careful.  What you are doing is setting of a mixed cooking method of steam and fry.

In about three or four minutes the bread will rise up be easy to flip over with a turner.  Cover again and cook until done (another 3 or 4 mins).

DANGER there is still hot oil here…

Slice, spread some vegan butter spread on top and nom away.

Variations that I’ve tried so far this year: instead of water I added almond-based “winter nog” and some sugar got a wonderful fried dessert product.  I’ve mixed the bread with 1/3 cup self-rising flour and 1/3 cup self-rising cornmeal and had fried corn bread!  Instead of water I’ve added veggie broth – very savoury bread!  I’ve also made it with mushroom broth. One failure though: I tried it with cranberry sauce. Just don’t do it.