The Rosary: Introduction to the Dolorous Mysteries


The Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world” was also conceived before the foundation of the world, raise by Joseph, potty trained by Mary, educated in the synagogue of Nazareth, raised from the dead, and crowned in glory from before the foundation of the world. Jesus is God’s eternity participating in our time, but to God things are not sequential. A thing either is or is not. Things come into being, yes: but for God they are not a process. The Dolorous or Sorrowful mysteries are the events at the End of Christ’s ministry. But to God – like all the other events of the life of Christ, they are always present. By his grace (his energy), as we contemplate them, we may enter into them:

  1. The Passion in the Garden
  2. The Scourging at the Pillar
  3. The Crowning with Thorns
  4. The Carrying of the Cross
  5. The Crucifixion, Death, and Burial of Our Lord

Perhaps these are what many people think about when they think of “meditating on the Rosary”.  Any sort of “Affective Piety” or “Pious Visualization” may give one a very stereotyped idea of someone conjuring up a mental image of the Crucifixion or the Scourging and, working themselves into an emotional state, having a good, cathartic cry.

One of the most emotionally moving, “religious feeling” experiences of my life was hearing a sermon on the medical aspects of the Passion of Christ: what one feels when one is so stressed out as to sweat blood, how the purple robe would have soaked up the blood from the scourging and then dried, like a large woolen bandage – which was ripped of Jesus’ back later, opening all the wounds again, tearing off more flesh. I was on a crying jag for about 30 mins after that sermon – which I heard in 1980 on Passion Sunday at the Methodist Church in Acworth, GA. It was one of those things that sticks with you.  The Anglican and later, Byzantine hymns of Holy Week can still leave me an emotional mess because they call to mind, 30+ years later, the image in that sermon. But feelings ain’t faith and no one was ever saved by feeling something.  Faith is a walk, not a breakdown.

We are no more try and feel sadness here than we are supposed to feel or to try and feel sentimental Christmassy thoughts in the Joyous Mysteries or giddy, triumphalism in the Glorious Mysteries. Feelings may, of course, arise: but that’s not the point. We are not here to feel something, but to grow in Christ and to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. So what are we doing here?  We are thanking God for these events – as we do in the other Mysteries – and we are calling them to mind to make their reality present in our lives. We are, in a real sense, participating in them as we are in the other mysteries.

Sequebatur autem illum multa turba populi et mulierum, quae plangebant et lamentabantur eum. Conversus autem ad illas Jesus, dixit: Filiae Jerusalem, nolite flere super me, sed super vos ipsas flete et super filios vestros. Quoniam ecce venient dies in quibus dicent: Beatae steriles, et ventres qui non genuerunt, et ubera quae non lactaverunt. Tunc incipient dicere montibus: Cadite super nos; et collibus: Operite nos. Quia si in viridi ligno haec faciunt, in arido quid fiet?

And there followed him a great multitude of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them, said: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over me; but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For behold, the days shall come, wherein they will say: Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: Fall upon us; and to the hills: Cover us. For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?

Jesus said, “if they do this to me, imagine what they will do to you when I’m not around!”  We echo our modern, whiny, and self-pitying culture if we are too fast to cry “Horrible Persecution!” when all that’s happening is a change in the tax laws.  We need to be strengthened in our faith by realizing what our God has done for us.  An Anglican priest, well-beloved of me, used to say (in nearly every sermon) that “…God, whose holy name is love, was so willing to share his love with us that he accepted steel in his hands and feet and side…” and then he would charge us in the name of love to do the same.  We need to be mindful of what happened so that we can have it happen to us.

As we enter into meditation on the Dolorous Mysteries, let us remember: this is not the Passion Theater of the Mind (or Heart). This is basic training.

The Orthodox Western Rite in San Francisco

I’m a member of the OCA. We don’t have a Western Rite. In point of fact, we’ve been kinda opposed to it.  But I love it.  I’m so pleased with it that were a parish to form in San Francisco, I’d be hella supportive. The why of that is complex. I was Chrismated into the ER, I love Russian style chanting and I think our ER Holy Week is head-over-heels awesome.  I can chant our services well, I enjoy serving and I can  – with the help of our expert choir director and his “idiot books” as they are called – navigate our complex services.  
I miss, however, the simplicity of Low Mass, the starkness of Stations of the Cross, the richness of the daily office.  In the light of that last item, I am also a Novice Oblate of the Order of St Benedict, and I use a WR Daily Office as posted on a domain ironically called “Eastern Rite”.   I admit I’d like a WR parish with no pews… but the organ doesn’t scare me if it’s done right.  A “concert mass” isn’t a bad thing if it furthers devotion. The Rosary doesn’t need “Creative visualization” in order to “work”.  
As St John of San Francisco pointed out, the West was orthodox a long time before it wasn’t – and, unlike the East, the West never fell into heresy: which is why Maximus the Confessor took refuge with the Pope when the entire eastern Church fell away from the Faith.  The Western Liturgy is missing some of the “Correctives” added to the ER, because we never needed them in the West. Additionally, the “didactic hymnody” of the East is missing in the West because preaching the full faith was never outlawed here (at least not yet).
I’m not one of these people who imagines that the Western Rite is “better suited” to evangelizing Westerners. Most of the people I know couldn’t tell High Mass from Divine Liturgy or Deviled Eggs.  The unchurched, however, need missionaries and need priests.  There are enough ER communities in SF – some ROCOR Parishes are only blocks from each other.  What there are not: more than only and exactly one traditionalist WR anything.  What could hurt?
Let us pray to Pope St Gregory the great that someone will send us a new Augustine or a new Patrick. Let us pray that someone will send a new Cyril and Methodius.  Let us beg for a new St Innocent.  Let someone learn the language and reach out to us.
So if anyone is in SF and wants to pray the daily office, get with me: I do it almost daily.
And if any missionaries out there want to evangelize in SF, you should let me know. I’d love to help.

O God, who carest for Thy people with mercy and rulest them in love, through the intercession of Pope Saint Gregory, call, we pray thee, more labourers to the fields of San Francisco, white for harvest, that the flourishing of a holy flock may become the eternal joy of the shepherds; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, ever, world without end. Amen