Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Again & Again” first appeared in the September 2002 issue of Touchstone.
Again & Again
We have a VCR player in our house, and my children love to watch movies. If they had their way, they would watch the same tape over and over again every day (at least our youngest would). Going back to something familiar is comforting, and even when the story is well known, it is always possible to see the familiar in a new way. Perhaps that is why I never grow tired of looking at my wife.
A Russian expression that, in a way, characterizes the Orthodox Liturgy is paki i paki. This is heard often in the Slavonic version of the Divine Liturgy, and it means “again and again” (as in “again and again, let us pray to the Lord . . .”). As an expression, to me, paki i paki has come to mean returning to that which is comfortable, noble, and true.
The same principle applies to Holy Scripture. There are passages I have read over many, many times and find myself returning to often, even though there are many less familiar biblical books that I know I should spend time with.
One such passage is Psalm 133. I love David’s description of brothers dwelling in unity: “It is like precious oil upon the head,” and “it is like the dew of Hermon.” It is something sweet, beautiful, rare, and valuable.
Recently I came across St. Jerome’s commentary on verse one and was surprised to be able to see things afresh. He wrote, “The psalmist mentions two qualities of the common dwelling of brethren, good and pleasant. Martyrdom is good, but it is not pleasant, for it consists in suffering and sorrow; in torture there is always pain and in pain there is certainly no pleasure.” He continued, “On the other hand, sensuality is pleasant.” However, sensuality is not good, in the classical understanding of the word. Just to make this clear, he added that they are to be “brothers in mind and heart and not in body.”
Good and pleasant. Virtue and joy. Jerome pointed out how uncommon it is to find those characteristics at the same time. It is a combination that is certainly given short shrift today, for pleasure is so often tied to that which is base in our world, where the word “adult” (e.g., as a designation for bookstores or movies) is an antonym for “good.” But David is describing something that is pleasant and good, that rare combination of brothers living in unity of mind and heart.
What can we do to bring about that unity which leads to virtue and joy? That was our Lord’s prayer the night before he was crucified: that we might be one. Where can we find this? It should be found in monasteries. It should be the daily prayer of the monks and nuns who devote their lives to seeking that which is truly good and pleasant. But for us laymen, we shall find it where we make it, in our homes and even in our churches and communities. We capture a hint of it when we come together as brothers and sisters in Christ to pray again and again. It is not an easy thing to obtain, but as David concludes, there is found the blessing of life forevermore.
Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children.
“Again & Again” first appeared in the September 2002 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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