Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nine Months

Many monastics observed the Great Fast, from Holy Cross Day (14th September) until Easter; the Dormitionists, mindful of their own proper charism, observe instead the Great Sleep, from 25th March until 25th December – in honour of Our Lord's gestation, that initial kenosis when, as Holy Mother Church sings, Non horruisti Virginis uterum.

The synkatabasis of the Eternal Word!  First, He deigned to create the world – "By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made" – and this was His first act of condescension; then, "in the fulness of time", "the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us".  Mystery!  The everlasting Word is silent, an infans in utero ere He be born into this world a helpless babe, the Babe of Bethlehem.  And His embrace of the kenotic state entails His quest for the Cross, until, soul sundered from body, He is "free among the dead", going down to the Limbo of the Fathers, visiting all them that sleep...

Just so, in the Church to-day, Christ is present kenotically: for is He not the Prisoner of the Tabernacle, all too often betrayed once more into the hands of sinners, unworthy priests and communicants?  Yet He the Omnipotent is patient toward us, that we be converted and saved.  Now, in sleep we are most vulnerable; and so the better to imitate Christus Patiens, the Dormitionist brethren seek also to sleep on, and take their rest.

During the Great Sleep, these holy Canons Regular, utterly contemplative, endeavour in their mortal flesh to in a manner relive and experience something of this.  (At the least, they try each passing year to sleep in Christ during the Paschal Triduum.)

Nature confirms the reasonableness of this observance: for do not many of God's creatures lie dormant or hibernate, and do not many (such as toads) æstivate?  Reptiles brumate; wombats snuggle in their burrows; even little lizards sleep on warm rocks in the sun: "Shew me, O thou whom my soul loveth... where thou liest in the midday" (Cant. i, 6a).  Birds enter into a nightly state of torpor: how much more should religious, seeking to imitate not birds that fly but the very wingèd angels, enter into a state of stupor.

I was minded to mention this sacred slumbering to-day, it being (in Australia) the Winter Solstice.

As a corollary to this devotion, whereby the Dormitionists focus ever more intently upon practising, even now, the eternal repose of the blessed, they are keenly concerned with prayer for the unborn, and for this end do unceasingly invoke the Holy Innocents, whose martyrdom is the enduring sign of the hatred of Satan and his minions for childhood, and above all the Holy Infant Jesus, to whom they have an especial devotion as the "Little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay", even as "the Redeemer in the Womb".

Dormitionists also love to consider the blessed repose of Limbo, that state of perfect natural happiness.  As one Dominican Father (an especial friend of the Dormitionist Order, a fellow-traveller therewith) liked to declare, how excellent that is!  What a consolation prize for missing out on baptism.

May all the unborn, all children, all the childlike, those in their second childhood, and those who as little children hope to enter the heavenly kingdom, alike sleep secure: that is their ardent prayer.

1 comment:

Kate Edwards said...

Enjoy the solstice, and happy sleeping....