|St. Andrew of Crete (Feast Day - July 4)|
By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas
Saint Andrew of Crete lived in the eighth century and was born of pious parents, George and Gregoria. At the age of fifteen he went to Jerusalem and served the Patriarchate of Jerusalem as a Reader and Monk. He participated in the Sixth Ecumenical Synod, that convened in Constantinople, as a representative of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. After the Synod he was ordained a Deacon in the Queen City and appointed director of the orphanage in the City. A few years later he became Archbishop of Crete. He was a personality enriched with many gifts, which is why he was loved by the people of God, whom he loved first and sacrificially ministered. In 740 he travelled to Constantinople for various issues. On his return, however, while travelling by ship, he departed this worldly life and was buried in Eressos of Mytilene, at the Sacred Church of Saint Anastasia.
Saint Andrew, Archbishop of Crete, is called by the sacred hymnographer a "wise expounder of the Divine Spirit and the boast of the Fathers". And rightly so because he was a great Father of the Church and a true Theologian. With his theological and poetic gift he "imitated the kinnor of David, putting to melody the odes of Grace". He wrote the Great Canon, the nine odes which distil the honey of Grace, sweetening and gladdening listeners and the hearts of the faithful.
The Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete is called Great both for its size, because every ode contains many hymns, and primarily for its high spiritual content. As is known, the Great Canon is chanted in the sacred churches twice a year, during the period of Holy and Great Lent. Specifically, the First Week, namely from Clean Monday until Clean Thursday partially integrated into Great Compline, and on Wednesday evening of the Fifth Week of the Fast during Small Compline, or Thursday morning of the same week incorporated into Matins.
The hymns of the Great Canon includes events from Holy Scripture, from both the Old and New Testaments, "from Adam, that is, until the time of Christ's Ascension and the preaching of the Apostles". The divinely inspired author of the Great Canon analyzes various events and incidents not moralistically, sociologically or psychologically, but theologically, and he responds to the great existential problems of man. At the same time he shows the path that leads to a meaningful life. He indicates the path we must take in order to become civilized so that we may become sanctified in our existence and not simply become good people, but citizens of the Kingdom of God.
The uncreated Grace of God filled the entire existence of Saint Andrew, and this is depicted in his works. That's why anyone who studies his writings or chants the hymns of his Canon feels this Grace, especially when it is chanted with devotion, attention and a prayerful disposition.
We will now attempt to walk in this spiritual pasture called the Great Canon, to smell the spiritual fragrance of its flowers and taste the sweetness of authentic theology.
Saint Andrew begins with self-reproach and the prompting towards repentance and confession: "How shall I begin to mourn the deeds of my wretched life?" ... "Come, my wretched soul, and confess your sins of the flesh to the Creator of all. From this moment forsake your former foolishness and offer to God tears of repentance."
After setting forth repentance and confession as a foundation, he progresses gradually towards the higher steps of the spiritual life. From praxis (namely the life of the divine commandments and the effort to purify the heart of the passions and illumine the nous) he proceeds to theoria (namely the vision of God), stressing that the life of praxis and theoria of God is achieved with pain and effort. He takes as an image the life of Patriarch Jacob and specifically refers to his two wives, Leah and Rachel. The first had many children, ten specifically, while the second, even though she was only able to give birth to two children, was beautiful and a person of patience and prayer. Saint Andrew gives this image a theological and spiritual meaning. He likens Leah to praxis and Rachel to theoria. "Now consider these two wives as images of praxis and the knowledge of theoria: Leah, who bore many children, is praxis, while Rachel is that knowledge which one acquires only through theoria. Neither, however, is possible, O my soul, without your effort."
The reading of the Great Canon causes great benefit. It enables a person to pray while indulging in Orthodox Theology, which gives answers to his existential problems and gives meaning to his life. Of course, when we say life we do not mean biological existence, because life is something much higher. It is the existential communion of God and man. It is a communion of love, mutual embrace and a continuous journey towards endless perfection.
Orthodox theology has the ability to crush the impasses of confusion and loneliness and opens paths of inspiration and creation. It leads man to the highest levels of the spiritual life, namely holiness, which is true life.
Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΑΓΙΟΣ ΑΝΔΡΕΑΣ ΑΡΧΙΕΠΙΣΚΟΠΟΣ ΚΡΗΤΗΣ (Ο Ποιητής του Μεγάλου Κανόνος)", July 2003. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.