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the eternal story…

In the movie, “The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus” there is scene in which the Dr and the Devil meet in an enormous snow covered cavern. Inside, there are monks, some speaking, some praying, some waiting. The Devil, played by Tom Waits, asks Dr Parnassus, himself a monk, what they do there.

He answers that they tell the eternal story. The eternal story is the story “without which there is nothing.” The devil, doubting this to be true decides to silence all the monks. He does so, one by one as Dr Parnassus watches. When the monks are all silent he goads Dr Parnassus saying, “Cheer up… I’ve freed you from this ridiculous nonsense.” When the Devil releases the spell, an eagle suddenly swoops into the enormous cave. Dr Parnassus jumps up, jubilant. The Devil is confused but Dr Parnassus explains,

“A sign! A message! That bird was a messenger…from distant places we know not of! Other places! The point is, you’re wrong! And I’m wrong! It doesn’t have to be us here! (indicating monks)

Somewhere in the world, at any given time… someone is telling a story! Sustaining the universe! Right now, it’s happening.That’s why we’re still here. You can’t stop stories being told somewhere! You can’t be everywhere!”

There was a moment during Liturgy this when this scene came to me. As I watched the priest performs his tasks, listened to the congregation move through the litany of “Lord have Mercy.” inhaled the scent of the incense, I had this moment in which I realized that what we do there is to tell the eternal story, the story without which there is nothing.

It is at times mechanical, at times mystical. At any given moment in a congregation such as mine there are participants who lack focus or faith or fortitude but as I stood in the Liturgy this week I realized that somewhere there is always someone telling this story and that perhaps, as Orthodox christians, this is what we do in Divine Liturgy. We tell the eternal story.

For some people, this seems foolish, a waste of time and energy. It seems rote and maybe superstitious. But this is part of what drew me first to becoming Orthodox, this ancient practice still existing in a modern world, informing the lives of the people who perform the tasks, say the prayers, light the candles week after week. There is something happening here at a level we cannot even know, the mystical moment during which we connect with something outside of ourselves, the voice of someone telling the eternal story, somewhere in the world.