We’re gonna have a R’lyeh big shew.

JMJ

The Readings for the Elevation of the Holy Cross

Ut in nomine Jesu omne genu flectatur caelestium, terrestrium, et infernorum, et omnis lingua confiteatur, quia Dominus Jesus Christus in gloria est Dei Patris.
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Almost every Bible says this as some form of “in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth”. The Greek and the Latin have us looking at classes of beings, things that dwell Caelestium or ἐπουρανίων epouranion “in ouranos – in the heavens” things that dwell terrestrium or ἐπιγείων epigeion “on Gaia – on earth”, and things that dwell Infernorum or καταχθονίων katachthonion “under the ground”. This is where we get our word, “Chthonic” and even Cthulhu! These things hitting their knees at the Holy Name are interesting. R’lyeh interesting.

Things Ouranian, Gaian, and Chthonian are very specific classes in Greco-Roman mystery religions. Paul is making not just a bold claim: he’s making a strident, triumphalistic claim that may get lost in all the humility of the hymn about the Humility of the Second Person of the Trinity.

Ouranian things are not just what Modern Christians think of in heaven – usually Angels and Saints. For the Greeks, Demons live in the heavens as well; and Daemons, that odd class of middle beings that are neither good nor evil, but still kinda scary. And yes, Angels, and the Trinity as well, although the Trinity does not so much dwell in the heavens as vice versa. The stars and planets live here, the Sun and the moon. Also, since the universe is only one huge pattern, the things “in the air” are not divided from the things “in the heavens”. The spirits of the wind and weather live here. Zeus – even though living “on” Olympus – was Ouranian. The powers of the heavens have power over us. Think astrology.

Gaian things are animals and plants, but also spirits that dwell here – of the trees and waterways – but not of the oceans. Think Dionysius and the Dryads in C.S. Lewis. Think bear gods and hunter goddesses, hearth spirits, and fire. Humans are Gaian, in this worldview, but Christians came along and said something else. Paul is saying it in this hymn. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

Chthonic things are not things “in hell” though. We’re not talking about demons as Dante would understand them. And remember, the “powers of spiritual darkness” are Ouranian. Chthonic is something else entirely. In the ancient Greek world, Oracles were Chthonic – something dark out of a pre-human past that seemed to control us, and yet could be propitiated. Hades was chthonic, of course, but that wasn’t “hell” – it was just under the earth. Posiden, under the sea, was also chthonic. In Irish folklore, the Faeries that take you away for one night… and bring you back 400 years later… these are chthonic. The Maenads, the Furies, and the legend of the Maiden Kore – all Chthonic.

More importantly every cultus and mystery religion in the Roman Empire was easily classed as one of these three categories. The official 12 deities were worshipped in an Ouraniana manner, but every spring, every breeze carried either a Gaian or Chthonian genus locus or local spirit. Mithras was Chthonic, as was the Magna Mater with her baptism in the blood of bulls.

Paul is saying Jesus is better than all these things and, more importantly, he’s saying this being – so much more important than literally every religious idea of the Romans and the Greeks – was slain as a criminal.

On a Cross. Like a common prisoner.

Now, talk about your mysteries? There is a mystery for you: that’s what this hymn is saying. And Paul is inviting us to partake in this mystery. This is what the Cross makes possible for us: to transverse as mere mortal humans, the Chthonic, Gaian, and Ouranian worlds, and to enter – with and through Christ – into the Glory of God the Father.

The cross is the heavenly bridge, the master key that opens up the way to heaven, having first carried Christ himself there; we can now go as well, having this mind in us which was also in Christ. And while being humble before one another and before God – we now participate in one who is victorious over every evil named or invoked by our neighbors. There is nothing to be feared: for all of these things from the “evil eye” to the many tentacles of doom. All of these not only worship Jesus – but you only have to say his name and they all fall down. We are not only Gaian now – and we’re never condemned to be Chthonic. We bridge all the worlds like our glorious head for where he is so are we.

Christians do not need initiation into any of the “secret pathways” of the mystery cults: for we have our Jesus who was lifted high on the Cross and draws all men to himself now.

Sing my tongue

+JMJ+

A Blessed Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross!

The office hymn today (in the tradition office, pre-V2, and as we used it at my monastery) tells a great mystery, repeated again in Holy Week: singing the whole plan of Salvation. It begins with Matins, in the dark with notes of prehistory and Christmas.

Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,
Sing the ending of the fray ;
Now above the Cross, the trophy,
Sound the loud triumphant lay :
Tell how Christ, the world’s Redeemer,
As a Victim won the day.

God in pity saw man fallen,
Shamed and sunk in misery,
When he fell on death, by tasting
Fruit of the forbidden tree :
Then another Tree was chosen
Which the world from death should free.
Thus the scheme of our salvation
Was of old in order laid ;
That the manifold deceiver’s
Art, by art might be outweighed ;
And the lure the foe put forward
Into means of healing made.
Therefore, when the appointed fulness
Of the holy time was come,
He was sent, who maketh all things,
Forth from God’s eternal home :
Thus he came to earth, incarnate,
Offspring of a maiden’s womb.

Weeps the Infant in the manger
That in Bethlehem’s stable stands ;
And his limbs the Virgin Mother
Doth compose in swaddling bands,
Meetly thus in linen folding
Of her God the feet and hands.

To the Trinity be glory
Everlasting, as is meet :
Equal to the Father, equal
To the Son, and Paraclete :
Trinal Unity, whose praises
All created things repeat.  Amen.

But then, the office of Matins continues with glorious psalmody and antiphonal chanting. There’s a wonderful reading in this office, appended to this post. Then not until Lauds is the hymn completed. In the final verses, sung to the same tune now that the sun is risen, the last part of the story is told, how this babe…
Thirty years among us dwelling,
His appointed time fulfilled,
Born for this, he meets his Passion,
For that this he freely willed :
On the Cross the Lamb is lifted,
Where his life-Blood shall be spilled.
He endured the nails, the spitting,
Vinegar, and spear, and reed :
From that holy Body broken
Blood and Water forth proceed :
Earth, and stars, and sky, and ocean,
By that flood from stain are freed.
Faithful Cross! above all other,
One and only noble Tree;
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be :
Sweetest wood, and sweetest iron,
Sweetest weight is hung on thee.
Bend thy boughs, O Tree of glory,
Thy relaxing sinews bend :
For awhile the ancient rigour
That thy birth bestowed, suspend :
And the King of heavenly beauty
On thy bosom gently tend.
Thou alone wast counted worthy
This world’s ransom to sustain,
That a shipwrecked race for ever
Might a port of refuge gain :
With the sacred Blood anointed
Of the Lamb for sinners slain.
To the Trinity be glory
Everlasting, as is meet :
Equal to the Father, equal
To the Son, and Paraclete :
Trinal Unity, whose praises
All created things repeat.  Amen.
So all creation joins in the verse and reponse, repeated throughout today’s office:
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. For by your Cross you have redeemed all the world.

Chosroës, King of Persia, having, in the last days of the reign of the Emperor Phocas, overrun Egypt and Africa, took Jerusalem, where he slaughtered thousands of Christians and carried off to Persia the Cross of the Lord, which Helen had put upon Mount Calvary.  Heraclius, the successor of Phocas, moved by the thought of the hardships and horrid outrages of war, sought for peace, but Chosroës, drunken with conquest, would not allow of it even upon unfair terms.  Heraclius therefore, being set in this uttermost strait, earnestly sought help from God by constant fasting and prayer, and through his good inspiration gathered an army, joined battle with the enemy, and prevailed against three of Chosroës his chief captains, and three armies.

Chosroës was broken by these defeats, and when in his flight, he was about crossing the Tigris, he proclaimed his son Medarses partner in his kingdom.  Chosroës’ eldest son Siroës took this slight to heart, and formed a plot to murder his father and brother, which plot he brought to effect soon after they had come home.  Then he got the kingdom from Heraclius upon certain terms, whereof the first was that he should give back the Cross of the Lord Christ.  The Cross therefore was received back after that it had been fourteen years in the power of the Persians, and Heraclius came to Jerusalem and bore it with solemn pomp unto the Mount whereunto the Saviour had borne it.

This event was marked by a famous miracle.  Heraclius, who was adorned with gold and jewels, stayed perforce at the gateway which leadeth unto Mount Calvary, and the harder he strove to go forward, the harder he seemed to be held back, whereat both himself and all they that stood by were sore amazed.  Then spake Zacharias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, saying : See,  O Emperor, that it be not that in carrying the Cross attired in the guise of a Conqueror thou shewest too little of the poverty and lowliness of Jesus Christ.  Then Heraclius cast away his princely raiment and took off his shoes from his feet, and in the garb of a countryman easily finished his journey, and set up the Cross once more in the same place upon Calvary whence the Persians had carried it away.  That the Cross had been put by Heraclius in the same place wherein it had first been planted by the Saviour caused the yearly Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross to become the more famous thenceforward.

We wanna go back to Egypt.

+
JMJ

Today’s readings:

Cur eduxisti nos de Ægypto, ut moreremur in solitudine? deest panis, non sunt aquæ: anima nostra jam nauseat super cibo isto levissimo.
Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!
Number 21:5b
We would never raise our voices against the Lord and against Lord’s anointed like they did in Moses’ day!
Certainly not.
You can’t count complaining about the current president.
Or the congress.
Nor the economy.
These are not the same thing
You can’t count our complaining about the weather.
About the state of the culture.
You can’t count our complaining about the Bishops.
Or about what the Pope may or may not do when he’s on an airplane.
This has nothing to do with whining about crime
Or about persecution of Catholics.
Surely we should be ok moaning about the healthcare system
or the state of sexual morals and murdered babies.
We would never
Then again, we might.
And God calls us to look at the Cross and be healed.
But, you will say, such contemplative action cannot fix healthcare or the climate.
It will never stop monks who murder in hospitals
Or bishops who want to juggle at mass.
It cannot heal the racial divide or wound to death our sexual pride.
We must do something.
Yes: look at the Cross and be healed.
Have you even tried?
Do you even contemplate, bro?
Be quiet before the Cross
As Mary and John were
As time stands still and opens up across all dimensions at every liturgy.
Behold the wood on which hung the price of the world’s salvation.
Just there, the eye of the storm of all time and space.
There.
Silence and stillness.
It is finished.
Have you even tried this?
Really.
It’s the answer.