In case you missed it, Pope Francis just named a new Doctor of the Church! I was so excited when I read the news that I wanted to shout for joy (but it was 6:00 a.m. and I thought better).
Let me throw together a few thoughts, joining the online chorus that is swelling.
Pope Francis named the tenth century Armenian monk, St. Gregory Narek, the 36th Doctor of the Church. I love the writing of St. Gregory! He’s a poet to the core, and demonstrated amply, like the Hebrew prophets, that beauty is the truest form of divine discourse. Many of his theological and mystical-ascetical works are written as a colloquy — a dialogue with God — as was St. Augustine’s autobiography, the Confessions. Theological colloquy offers such a deep insight into the nature of theological discourse which must always be, in the first instance, a dialogue with the revealing God himself. God reveals to us not mere data for speculative consideration, but Himself for consummating union. Here’s a sample of Narek’s writing from his famous Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart:
The voice of a sighing heart, its sobs and mournful cries,
I offer up to you, O Seer of Secrets,
placing the fruits of my wavering mind
as a savory sacrifice on the fire of my grieving soul
to be delivered to you in the censer of my will.
Compassionate Lord, breathe in
this offering and look more favorably on it
than upon a more sumptuous sacrifice
offered with rich smoke. Please find
this simple string of words acceptable.
Do not turn in disdain.
May this unsolicited gift reach you,
this sacrifice of words
from the deep mystery-filled chamber
of my feelings, consumed in flames
fueled by whatever grace I may have within me.
As I pray, do not let these
pleas annoy you, Almighty,
like the raised hands of Jacob,
whose irreverence was rebuked
by Isaiah, nor let them seem like the impudence
of Babylon criticized in the 72nd Psalm.
But let these words be acceptable
as were the fragrant offerings
in the tabernacle at Shiloh
raised again by David on his return from captivity
as the resting place for the ark of the covenant,
a symbol for the restoration of my lost soul.
And, true to Pope Francis’ pastoral style, this doctor is chosen from the “margins” of the suffering church. (Incidentally, in 2012 Pope Benedict named a “marginal” medieval woman as Doctor of the Church, the twelfth century Abbess Saint Hildegard of Bingen. A genius. Sadly, so little fuss was made subsequently. Some time I will write on her.) The Armenian Apostolic Church (great documentary here), that traces its origins back to the first century, has a rich monastic, liturgical, and theological tradition, and a rich history of saints and culture. But Armenian Christians also have a long history of oppression, climaxing in the horrors of the “Armenian Holocaust” genocide of 1915, carried out by the Ottoman Turks who slaughtered more than one million Armenian Christians.
The Armenian Divine Liturgy is magnificent in its poetry, sense of mystery, and theological depth. One of the most cherished hymns of the Liturgy is called Khorhoort Khoreen, “O Mystery Deep.” I heard a lecture on it back around 2005 by an Armenian Orthodox priest and it blew my mind. Here are the words:
O Mystery deep, inscrutable, without beginning. Thou hast decked thy supernatural realm as a chamber unto the light unapproachable and hast adorned with splendid glory the ranks of thy fiery spirits.
Wow. If you don’t feel you have stepped onto terrifyingly holy ground when that is chanted, I don’t know if there’s hope you ever will.
I will end with a recited prayer for healing by St. Gregory. Through his intercession, may we all be healed unto the divine charity that is eternal life: