Sunrises inspire us to look skyward and outside of ourselves. They encompass the visible world for as far as we can see. Sunrises cannot be created by us; they transcend our everyday spatial associations. They cause us to wonder and be thankful that we are alive. They lead us to appreciate the majesty of God’s creation. In response, Orthodox clergy offer the following Morning Prayer on behalf of the faithful:
We thank You, Lord our God, for You have raised us up from our beds and put into our mouths words of praise, that we may worship and invoke Your holy name. We ask Your mercies, which You have always shown us in our lives. Once again, send Your help upon those who stand in the presence of Your holy glory in expectation of Your abundant mercy. Grant that they may always worship You in awe and in love, praising, singing, worshipping Your inexpressible goodness. For to You belong all glory, honor and worship: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and always and forever and ever. Amen.
In our recent trip to Maine, Presbytera Marinda and I deliberately set out to experience an early morning sunrise. We were blessed to see two… each began close to 6:00 a.m. and they reached their peak viewing about 7:00 a.m.
In my previous reflection last week, “More Than Meets the Eye,” I undertook to write thoughts and impressions about experiences we shared, with the hope that readers might share spiritual aspects at your family’s Sunday Lunch. I’m grateful to our innkeeper, a lovely and faithful Orthodox Christian, who challenged us to get up early so we wouldn’t miss the sunrise.
Presbytera Marinda and I were overtaken by the awe and beauty of God’s often-overlooked sunrise each day. Having recently read the book, Prayers by the Lake, by St. Nikolai Velimirovich*, I recalled his first reflection that enabled us to reflect deeper about what we witnessed. It is a useful guide that opened our souls and recognizes our Lord as Savior; we are His servants, dependent upon His mercy.
Who is that staring at me through all the stars in heaven and all the creatures on earth?
Cover your eyes, stars and creatures; do not look upon my nakedness. Shame torments me enough through my own eyes.
What is there for you to see? A tree of life that has been reduced to a thorn on the road, that pricks both itself and others. What else-except a heavenly flame immersed in mud, a flame that neither gives light nor goes out?
Plowmen, it is not your plowing that matters but the Lord Who watches.
Singers, it is not your singing that matters but the Lord Who listens.
Sleepers, it is not your sleeping that matters but the Lord Who wakens.
It is not the pools of water in the rocks around the lake that matter but the lake itself.
What is all human time but a wave that moistens the burning sand on the shore, and then regrets that it left the lake, because it has dried up?
O stars and creatures, do not look at me with your eyes but at the Lord. He alone sees. Look at Him and you will see yourselves in your homeland.
What do you see when you look at me? A picture of your exile? A mirror of your fleeting transitoriness?
O Lord, my beautiful veil, embroidered with golden seraphim, drape over my face like a veil over the face of a widow, and collect my tears, in which the sorrow of all Your creatures seethes.
O Lord, my beauty, come and visit me, lest I be ashamed of my nakedness—lest the many thirsty glances that are falling upon me return home thirsty.
Our spiritual encounter is difficult to describe; emotions and thoughts uniting us to God are best experienced with our families, our friends… our brothers and sisters in Christ. In taking time to be present with God and each other in the first hour of the new day, before other thoughts and priorities crowded out our prayers to Him, we witnessed firsthand and together, His majesty. We felt secure, knowing His love and providential care are the true source of our peace of mind. God fills us with joy and gives purpose to life. His will can guide us to fulfill the potential He has gifted to each of us, His children.
In closing, I offer the words of Psalm 130, to confirm God’s sovereignty in our lives. It can be a beautiful prayer we can offer each morning:
1Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord.
2Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
3If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
4But there is forgiveness with You, so that You may be revered.
5I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope;
6my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
7O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is great power to redeem.
8It is He who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
*Prayers by the Lake, by Saint Nikolai Velimirovich of Ochrid and Zica, published by the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of New Gracanica and Midwestern America.
[Photos by Fr. George Tsahakis]