Kathryn Lopez, the editor of National Review Online, kindly invited me to do an interview about my new book, "First Fruits of Prayer: A Forty-Day Journey Through the Canon of St. Andrew." It is on the site today, with a nice image of the book cover on the title bar:
Also, Borders Bookstores is featuring "First Fruits" this month. It will be appearing on an endcap display in the Religion section, with other books recommended for Lenten reading. And I'm waiting for a callback from a reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, also on the topic of the book.
heres' the NRO interview:
1. What is “the Great Canon of St. Andrew” and what’s so great about it?
This complex poem (actually a chanted hymn) was written in the early 700's, and it picked up the adjective "Great" for two reasons: it's extra-long (about 250 verses), and it's majestic. The Great Canon was written by St. Andrew of
The whole Canon is a kind of "Walk Through the Bible." St. Andrew begins with Adam and Eve and goes all the way through, exhorting himself by applying the stories and characters of the Bible. Because it is so densely packed I provide a commentary each day on the facing page, which supplies the Scripture references, explains unfamiliar ideas, and suggests questions for reflection.
Reading the Canon helps us see how Christians in the
Some people think St. Andrew wrote it for himself, for his own private use. Throughout, he is challenging himself personally, comparing his life and behavior to that of the Bible's heroes and villains. It's pretty intimate. When the Canon became known it spread through the churches of the
The Canon is still offered as a worship service by most Eastern Orthodox Churches every year during Lent. In the first week of Lent (March 6, 7, 8, 9) one-fourth of the hymn is offered each night. In the fifth week (April 6 or 7), the whole Canon is chanted in its entirety -- about four hours of singing!
He was born in
But what he was most known for was inventing a new form of hymn, a Canon. It's composed of 9 sections, or "Canticles." Each canticle begins by referencing one of the songs in the Bible -- for example, the song of Moses when the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-18), or the Song of the Virgin Mary when the angel announced the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:46-55). Each canticle starts with a verse based on the biblical canticle and then takes off from it, almost like a jazz riff, developing the overall theme of the canon.
St. Mary lived about 200 years before St. Andrew, dying perhaps in 522. Her story was very popular in
The story of St. Mary of
"First Fruits of Prayer" is for anyone who wants to be stretched and challenged spiritually. It's tough stuff. It seems to me that so much of contemporary Christianity is squishy and sentimental. It presents the faith like a consumer product, and is desperate to please. But go back 1000 or 1500 years, to a work like the Great Canon, and you don't get that at all. There is a sense of awe and mystery here --a sense of *seriousness* -- that you won't find in a so-called "praise chorus."
The Great Canon is demanding, no doubt about it. But maybe what we're dealing with -- life, death, evil, forgiveness, God's compassion, our joy and gratitude -- is serious, too.
So there's no sense that God's justice or honor have to be satisfied by Christ's suffering before we can be forgiven. Christ's suffering, instead, is the "battle scars" of his fight to free us from Death and the Evil One.
The concepts are more extreme on both sides. Sin is not just the breaking of external laws; it's a poison that infiltrates our whole being and mind. Salvation is not just a "legal fiction" that imputes righteousness we don't really have; it is life "in Christ," saturation in the lightbearing presence of God.
Yes, that's what I had in mind. I didn't think of the parallel to Rick Warren's book, "Forty Days of Purpose," until a reviewer mentioned it. But I also hoped people might use it any time they want to tackle a serious spiritual discipline; it doesn't *have* to be Lent.
Orthodox don't have a tradition so much of individually choose things to give up. Instead, we all take part in a common fast from meat, dairy, eggs, and fish; basically, a vegan diet. This recalls Daniel's fast from rich foods in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. It's a strenuous discipline, and can be adapted for health or spiritual reasons.
The fast is not self-punishment or payment for sin. It's an exercise like weightlifting, designed to strengthen the willpower muscle. If you can resist a slice of pizza, you can resist the urge to yell at someone in traffic.
11. What got you interested enough to write this book?
The Great Canon is part of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, but really, it's part of *every* Christian's tradition; we all go back to first century
I'm reading Fr. Sophrony's life of a contemporary saint, "St. Silouan the Athonite," and also Fr. Irenee Hausherr's study of how early Christians attempted to "pray without ceasing," a 1960 work titled "The Name of Jesus." The latter because I am thinking about making my next book about the ancient spiritual discipline of habitually repeating the "Jesus Prayer."
I have a bad habit of starting too many books at once. At present I have bookmarks in Jan de Hartog's 1957 novel, "The Spiral Road," as well as "The Paradox of Choice" (Barry Schwartz), "Orality and Literacy" (Walter Ong), "Pictures and Tears" (James Elkins), "Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress" (Rachel MacNair), and am always receiving a steady IV drip of PG Wodehouse.
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