ST. FRANCIS' DAY
To Francis let the chorus sing:
He was fastened
With nails new-made by True Love:
O wondrous thing!
Soul in body suffered pain,
Now gleams newly with pure light
Sunbeam from star.
He, of such new florescence,
To the very birds he preached,
For whom God daily feeds.
Just as it was taught by Christ,
Francis cherished poverty
To follow Christ's way.
He never wished his children
Ever to possess those things
That are not everlasting.
Eyes that were blind receive sight;
The mouths of the dumb are loosened;
Leprous sores are healed.
As he in heaven sings for joy,
With more and more marvels,
Glows this vale of ours.
Of all the saints down the ages the most popular must be St. Francis of Assisi. Part of this is due to his simplicity as he had no theological training, part to embracing Lady Poverty, part for giving us the Crib at Christmass, but especially for his love for all creation. Yet there is a much more mystical and spiritual side to him than simply loving all God's creatures. So much so he ended his life with the Stigmata, that is receiving the five wounds of Christ. Because of this he has been recognized as the closest imitator of Christ. He had prayed:
My Lord Jesus Christ, two graces I beg of you before I die:
the first is that in my lifetime
I may feel, in my soul and in my body, as far as possible,
that sorrow which you, sweet Jesus,
endured in the hour of your most bitter passion;
the second is that I may feel in my heart, as far as possible,
that abundance of love with which you, Son of God,
were inflamed, so as willingly to endure so great a passion for us sinner.
Francis' treasure here on earth was Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar. "He communicated often and so devoutly that others too began to honour Christ devoutly in his Eucharistic form." Not long before he died he wrote to his brothers beseeching them "to pay all devotion and honour to the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ."
O Jesus! Draw me to Your beauty bright,
O Love by You I'm rapt in ecstasy!
O Living Love! Cast me not from Your sight!
O Love, O Love, my soul is one with You!
O Love, You are its Life; From You it ne'er can part, For You have rent my heart, In such a loving strife.
Daily the Son of God demeans himself, as he did long ago when he left his kingly throne to enter the Virgin's womb. Daily he comes to us in person. Daily he descends from the Father's bosom on the altar. And as he showed himself in human form to the Apostles, so now he shows himself to us in the sacred Host. And as the former only saw his flesh and yet believed that he was God, so we too, who see the bread and wine, must firmly believe that this is his true and living Body and Blood.
Let us bow down,
let earth adore and heaven exult,
when, by means of the priest,
Christ the Son of the Living God
is present on the altar.
What admirable dignity!
What amazing condescension!
What lowly sublimity!
That the Lord of all,
the Divine Son of the Father,
should make himself so small!
To rescue us, he hides
under the homely form of bread.
Francis always had a special devotion to the Cross as his spiritual journey began in the church of San Daminao where the Crucifix spoke to him, and at the end of that journey on Mt. Alverna he received the wounds of the crucified Lord. Francis' response to the first encounter was:
Most high and glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me sound faith, firm hope and perfect love.
Let me, Lord, have sense and knowledge,
so that I may truly carry out You holy and true command.
In Francis' own life and his Rule for his brothers, poverty was the most important aspect as it meant they would always be truly free of worldly possessions. So he prayed daily:
Lord, show me Poverty whom you loved so dearly. Merciful Jesus, have pity on me; I am full of yearning for my Lady Poverty; I can find no peace without her. You, Lord, it was who first aroused love for her in my heart;
Grant me the privilege of possessing her.
I yearn to be enriched by this treasure.
I implore you, it may belong to me and mine forever.
Jesus, you were very poor, and I want to call nothing under heaven mine
But only to live on what others may give me.
Francis viewed creation as a sacrament as God was in all. Thus Francis' brotherhood included more than his fellow companions living in poverty it embraced all of God's creation the sun, moon and stars, the wind and air, the water and fire, flowers and herbs, fruits and vegetables. The sparrow was as much his brother as the pope.
This is evident in the sermon he preached to hundreds of birds about being thankful to God for their wonderful clothes, for their independence, and for God's care.
My little sisters the birds, ye owe much to God, your Creator, and ye ought to sing his praise at all times and in all places, because he has given you liberty to fly about into all places; and though ye neither spin nor sew, he has given you a twofold and a threefold clothing for yourselves and for your offspring. Two of all your species he sent into the Ark with Noah that you might not be lost to the world; besides which, he feeds you, though ye neither sow nor reap. He has given you fountains and rivers to quench your thirst, mountains and valleys in which to take refuge, and trees in which to build your nests; so that your Creator loves you much, having thus favoured you with such bounties. Beware, my little sisters, of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praise to God.
As he said these words, all the birds began to open their beaks, to stretch their necks, to spread their wings and reverently to bow their heads to the ground, endeavouring by their motions and by their songs to manifest their joy to St Francis. And the saint rejoiced with them.
Another famous story involves a wolf that had been eating human beings. Francis intervened when the town wanted to kill the wolf and talked the wolf into never killing again. Afterwards the wolf became a pet of the townspeople who made sure that he always had plenty to eat.
As the wolf approached, the saint, making the sign of the cross, cried out: 'Come hither, brother wolf; I command thee, in the name of Christ, neither to harm me nor anybody else.' Marvellous to tell, no sooner had St Francis made the sign of the cross, than the terrible wolf, closing his jaws, stopped running, and coming up to St Francis, lay down at his feet as meekly as a lamb. And the saint thus addressed him: 'Brother wolf, thou hast done much evil in this land, destroying and killing the creatures of God without his permission; yea, not animals only hast thou destroyed, but thou hast even dared to devour men, made after the image of God; for which thing thou art worthy of being hanged like a robber and a murderer. All men cry out against thee, the dogs pursue thee, and all the inhabitants of this city are thy enemies; but I will make peace between them and thee, O brother wolf, is so be thou no more offend them, and they shall forgive thee all thy past offences, and neither men nor dogs shall pursue thee any more.'
Having listened to these words, the wolf bowed his head, and, by the movements of his body, his tail, and his eyes, made signs that he agreed to what St Francis said.
The last years of Francis' life were ones of illness and blindness. It was in this state that Francis composed his now most famous hymn of praise the Canticle of all Creation to which he added as death approached the verse welcoming Sister Death. It is said that this hymn was constantly on his lips throughout his illness.
Praise be You my Lord with all Your creatures, especially Brother Sun, Who is the day through whom You give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour, and bears a likeness of You Most High.
Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
Praise be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, And fair and stormy, all weather's moods, by which You cherish all that You have made.
Praise be You Lord through Sister Water, So useful, humble, precious and pure.
Praise be You Lord through our Sister, Mother Earth who sustains and governs us, producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs. Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial. Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned.
Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Death, from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing your most holy will! No second death can do harm to them. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks, And serve Him with great humility.
Francis' great love for God overflowed into those long hours he spent in adoration and thanksgiving. On Mount Alverna after receiving the Stigmata, not long before he died, Francis composed his Divine Praises
You are holy, Lord, the only God, and Your deeds are wonderful. You are strong. You are great. You are the Most High. You are Almighty. You, Holy Father are King of heaven and earth. You are Three and One, Lord God, all Good. You are Good, all Good, supreme Good, Lord God, living and true. You are love. You are wisdom. You are humility. You are endurance. You are rest. You are peace. You are joy and gladness. You are justice and moderation. You are all our riches, and You suffice for us. You are beauty. You are gentleness. You are our protector. You are our guardian and defender. You are our courage. You are our haven and our hope, You are our faith, our great consolation.
You are our eternal life, Great and Wonderful Lord, God Almighty, Merciful Saviour.
Francis had a great devotion to Pater Noster, and always recited it with great care, so much so that he made a meditation upon it, for his own use.
O OUR most holy FATHER,
Our Creator, Redeemer, Consoler, and Saviour
WHO ARE IN HEAVEN
In the angels and in the saints, Enlightening them to love, because You, Lord, are light Inflaming them to love, because You, Lord, are love Dwelling [ in them ]and filling them with happiness, because You, Lord, are the Supreme Good, the Eternal Good, from Whom comes all good without Whom there is no good.
HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME,
May our knowledge of You become ever clearer That we may know the breadth of Your blessings the length of Your promises the height of Your Majesty the depth of Your judgments
YOUR KINGDOM COME.
So that You may rule in us through Your grace and enable us to come to Your Kingdom where there is an unclouded vision of You a perfect love of You
a blessed companionship with You
an eternal enjoyment of You
YOUR WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN
That we may love You with our whole heart by always thinking of You
with our whole soul by always desiring You
with our whole mind by directing all our
intentions try You and by seeking Your
glory in everything
and with our whole strength by spending all our
energies and affections
of soul and body
in the service of Your love
and of nothing else
and may we love our neighbors as ourselves
by drawing them all with our whole strength to Your love
by rejoicing in the good fortunes of others as well as our own
and by sympathizing, with the misfortunes of others and by giving offence to no one
GIVE US THIS DAY
in memory and understanding and reverence
of the love which [ our Lord Jesus Christ ] had for us
and of those things which He said and did and suffered for
OUR DAILY BREAD
Your own Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ
AND FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES
Through Your ineffable mercy
through the power of Passion of Your Beloved Son
together with the merits and intercession of the Blessed Virgin
Mary and all Your chosen ones
AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST
And whatever we do not forgive perfectly,
do you, Lord, enable us to forgive to the full
so that we may truly love [ our ] enemies
and fervently intercede for them before You
returning no one evil for evil and striving to help everyone to You
AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION
Hidden of obvious
Sudden or persistent
BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL,
Past, present and to come.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Francis also had a great devotion to the Mother of God
Hail, holy Lady, most holy Queen, Mary Mother of God, ever Virgin.
You were chosen by the Most High Father in heaven, consecrated by Him,
with His most Holy Beloved Son and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
On you descended and still remains all the fullness of grace and every good.
Hail, His Palace.
Hail His Taberbnacle.
Hail His Robe.
Hail His Handmaid.
Hail, His Mother.
Hail, all holy Virtues, who, by grace and inspiration of the Holy Spirit,
are poured into the hearts of the faithful so that from their faithfless state,
they may be made faithful servants of God through you.
Holy Virgin Mary,
Among all the women of the world
there is none like you.
You are the daughter and handmaid of the most high King and Father of heaven.
You are the mother of our most holy Lord Jesus Christ.
You are the bride of the Holy Spirit.
Pray for us, with St. Michael the archangel and all the powers of heaven
and all the saints, to your most holy and beloved Son, our Lord and Master.
To conclude our devotions there is a short litany with the Response: St. Francis of Assisi pray for us.
By your example may we learn that life does not consist in the pursuit of wealth nor in the abundance of our possessions.
Response: St. Francis of Assisi pray for us.
By your singleminded dedication to Christ help us to walk that narrow way that leads to Christ.
By your appreciation of God's wonderful creation, help us to appreciate God's world without defacing or spoiling it.
By your endless praises to your heavenly Father, help us to live in continual thanks and praise for God's bounty.
By your humility, help us to know that it is only when we are humble that God can come to us.
By your joy even in suffering, help us in our times of trial to be joyful in the Lord.
By your holy death, help us to live each day as our last and to welcome sister Death.
Come, let us go up with Jesus,
who climbs the holy mount,
and there let us listen
to the voice of the living God,
of the Father without beginning,
which through the bright cloud
bore witness in the divine Spirit
to the reality of the eternal Sonship;
and, enlightened in our minds,
let us in light see Light.
The transfiguration of Jesus, described in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 17.1-9, Mark 9.2-10 and Luke 9.28-36, is of the most mysterious of the events recounted in the life of Jesus. Taking Peter, James and John, Jesus goes up a high mountain, which tradition identifies as Mount Tabor in Galilee. There he is transfigured, his face shines like the sun, and his clothes become white as light. Moses and Elijah appear, talking with him. They demonstrate the witness of Law and the Prophets of Israel to Jesus as Messiah. The voice from heaven, which has already proclaimed Jesus' divine Sonship at his baptism, does so again here. This episode ends with Jesus' command to the three disciples, to tell no one about the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.
Come now, being transformed
with a better transformation,
let us prepare ourselves well
for this festival;
Let us ascend to God's holy mountain,
To see Christ's unchanged glory
Shine brighter than the sun.
Enlightened with threefold light
By it let it praise his humility.
Come, let us go up
to the mountain of the Lord,
and to the house of our God,
and let us see the glory
of his transfiguration,
glory as of the Father's only Son.
In light let us receive Light,
and, exalted by the Spirit,
let us praise the Trinity,
one in Being, for ever.
This feast began very early in the Orthodox Church, and was not adopted into the Western Church until the 15thC. In Orthodox iconography there on a mountain peak Jesus is shown within a mandorla, an almond-shaped panel symbolizing the glory of divinity. His clothing gleams, and from him come rays of light, often painted in the gold which is another symbol of divinity. They fall on the three disciples, who are prostrate on the ground below him, and Moses and Elijah on either side of our Lord.
When you prefigured your resurrection,
Christ our God,
you took your three disciples, Peter and James and John,
and went to the top of Mount Tabor;
And when, Saviour, you were transfigured,
Mount Tabor was overspread with light.
Your disciples, Word of God,
threw themselves down on the ground,
for they could not bear to look
at the form which cannot be seen.
The angels in attendance
were afraid and trembled,
the heavens shuddered, the earth quaked,
when they saw on earth the Lord of glory.
. That light which streams from Jesus in the icon illumines also the whole mountainside, representing the created order. In Orthodox thought the whole of the material creation is destined to be transformed in the kingdom of God. Orthodoxy does not separate the material and the spiritual. The material creation is meant to become the home of the Spirit and to find its fulfilment within the life of the Trinity.
The transfiguration of Jesus concerns therefore not only him personally, but ourselves and all creation. It is a sign of all mankind's eventual transfiguration, within a transformed universe. When we contemplate the icon of this feast, we contemplate our own ultimate destiny.
For when you had gone up the mountain,
Saviour, with your disciples,
you were transfigured,
and made human nature,
darkened in Adam, once again shine forth,
changing it into the glory and radiance
of your own divine nature.
So we cry out to you:
Glory to you,
Lord, Creator of all.
Christ our God, on Mount Tabor
you were transfigured in glory,
and you displayed to the disciples
the glory of your divinity:
enlighten us with the light
of your knowledge,
and guide us in the way of your commandments;
for you are good and you love mankind.(Vespers of the Eve)
The transfiguration of Jesus occurred soon after his prediction of his suffering, and death. The disciples were naturally dismayed. But the light that shone from Jesus on Mount Tabor did not last, because Jesus could enter into the glory of the Father only by way of the cross. For Luke the presence of Moses and Elijah on Mt. Tabor symbolised Christ's exodus his journey through death to life by His resurrection. This would be accomplished by His going to Jerusalem. In John's Gospel the crucifixion of Jesus is at the same time his glorification; and after his death the light of his glory will shine permanently as the light of the resurrection. After the resurrection Christ's Exodus continues as He leads forth the new people of God in the freedom of the new Covenant, now associated with the Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist and not with the Law. At the time the disciples could not grasp this Passover imagery, but the writings of' the apostolic age manifested that this passing over from death, to life and glory came to be understood as belonging to the heart of the Christian Message.
He who once spoke with Moses
in symbols on Mount Sinai,
and said: I am he who is,
today, transfigured on Mount Tabor
in the presence of the disciples,
displayed the beautiful archetype of the image,
in himself exalting human nature.
Of this great grace he made
Moses and Elijah witnesses;
and so made partakers of joy
those who announced in advance
the exodus accomplished by the cross
and saving resurrection.
Furthermore Mt. Tabor is a foretaste of the final glory, when Christ comes to establish the kingdom of God in power. So the light of Tabor is an anticipation too of the parousia, the final coming of the Lord in glory. Meanwhile, the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in the world spreads the new life of the resurrection, which will come to full fruition in God's kingdom.
Of course that kingdom is present even before his death in the person of Jesus, on whom the Spirit rested at his baptism; and the light that shone from him on Tabor is the light of the Holy Spirit. That light first of all reveals the divinity of Jesus, in whom, says St Paul, 'the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily' (Colossians 2.9). But, as the Council of Chalcedon affirmed, Jesus is not only perfect in his divinity: he is also perfect in his humanity. So the transfigured Jesus is also the revelation of what a human being, created in the image and likeness of God, is meant to be. In the Orthodox understanding of humanity, the Fall has not deprived us of the image of God, but it has taken away our likeness to him. That likeness is restored in Jesus, the proper man, as Luther called him.
By the divine transfiguration
of our human form,
once defaced by wickedness,
the Creator today has saved
our forefather Adam from corruption,
from the hidden depths of Hades
and has made our mind divine;
God and humanity have come together,
the two natures united
without confusion or change,
without division or separation.
So he has shone forth on Tabor
in manner beyond telling,
and from his whole body
he has shed forth
the rays of his divinity, illuminating those who cry out
Let Christ be transfigured, and so save all.
The transfiguration of Jesus, like his baptism, is a revelation of the Trinity. Jesus, God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, shines with the light of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity; while the voice of the Father, the First Person, proclaims Jesus' Sonship. It is the light of the Trinity, which dazzles the disciples' sight on the holy mountain, and causes them to fall to the ground in amazement.
But it was not a glory, which the disciples at the time could fathom. No doubt they would have welcomed a glory on the mountain far away from the conflicts which had happened and the conflicts which were going to happen as Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem. Yet it was these conflicts which Jesus took with Him to the mountain to be transfigured with Him. Thus It was the transfiguration of the whole Christ, from his first obedience in childhood right through to the final obedience of' Gethsemane and Calvary.
To Peter and John and James,
your chosen disciples,
you showed today, Lord,
on Mount Tabor
the glory of your divine form.
For they saw your clothing
shine as the light,
and your face
more radiant than the sun.
They could not endure the sight
of your unbearable brightness,
and fell down on the ground,
quite unable to look up.
For they heard a voice,
hearing witness from above:
This is my beloved Son,
who has come into the world
to save mankind.
It is indeed good to be here, as you have said, Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here for ever. What greater happiness or higher honour could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light? Therefore, since each of us who possesses God in our heart is being transformed into the divine image, we also should cry out with joy: 'It is good for us to be here' -- here where all things shine with divine radiance, where there is joy and gladness and exultation; where there is nothing in our hearts but peace, serenity and stillness; where God is seen. For here, in our hearts, Christ takes up his abode together with the Father, saying as he enters: 'Today salvation has come to this house.' With Christ, our hearts receive all the wealth of his eternal blessings, and there where they are stored up for us in him, we see reflected as in a mirror both the first fruits and the whole of' the world to come.
That glory which shone on the mountain top, we must remember also belongs to the plain. As we sing in a hymn for the Transfiguration,
'Tis good Lord to be here,
Yet we may not remain;
But since Lord you bid us leave the mount,
Come with us to the plain.
We are not allowed to linger there. We are bidden to journey on to Calvary and there learn of the darkness and the desolation which are the cost of glory. But from Calvary and Easter there comes the Christian hope of immense range: the hope of the transformation not only of mankind but of the cosmos too.
O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Show us too the splendour of your beloved Son. As we listen to the voice of your Son, help us to become heirs to eternal life with Him, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.