A Blessing’s Expiration Date

If you know me personally, you know that I’m a little weird. For example, if you carpool with me there’s a 95% chance Byzantine chant will be playing on my stereo. It’s not the only genre of music I like, but for me, driving time is praying time. Chant keeps my mind from wandering.

A few weeks ago, I was listening to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom performed by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Choir. Like most liturgical texts, the Eastern rite contains an ancient exchange sung between the priest and the people called the Anaphora:

Priest: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

People: And with thy spirit.

Priest: Let us lift up our hearts.

People: We lift them up unto the Lord.

Priest: Let us give thanks unto the Lord.

People: It is meet and right to worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.

As I was driving, I found myself thinking about the priest, deacon, and choir on the CD to which I was listening. I gradually grew in awe with the idea that this single priest could sing this blessing one day in 1982 which would later be conferred on me hundreds of times while driving my Ford Fusion 35 years later. This priest’s blessing will never have an expiration date. His blessing will be renewed every time I listen to his voice. It’s not like it runs out of juice.

I don’t often realize the same for blessings I read in Scripture or hear in church. My brain tends to go on auto-pilot to receive blessings like “The Lord be with you” as polite greetings like “Hey, how are you doing?” In reality, the priest confers a tangible gift for me to receive, in order that I may return it to him (“And with thy spirit”). Blessings aren’t polite greetings. A blessing is a gracious act from Christ. To treat this call-and-response as a mere pleasantry misses the point.

When my priest blesses the congregation, it’s meant for me, even if I’m the worst sinner in the pew. His blessing won’t stop existing when I engage in sinful behavior. As Christians, I think we struggle with the idea that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has [God] removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103: 12) 

I have moments when I’m not too happy with clergy and laity for their treatment of LGBT people. Rather than be bitter and unforgiving, I’m resolving to create my own anaphora: An act where I invoke the persons of the Trinity, lift up my heart to the Lord, and thank Him for the gift of the person in front of me.

If my priest’s blessing doesn’t expire when I neglect to love God, then neither will my blessing expire for those who neglect to love God’s LGBT children.

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