Wednesday, April 04 (O.S., March 22), 2018: Great Wednesday; Hieromartyr Basil of Ancyra († 363); Martyr Drosis the Daughter of the Emperor Trajan (104-117); Venerable Isaac the Founder of the Dalmatian Monastery at Constantinople († 383); Martyrs Callinica and Basilissa of Rome; Venerable Martyr Euthymius of Constantinople; Hieromartyr Euthymius of Prodromou on Mt Athos († 1814).
The choice before me is laid out in stark terms.
Like the Harlot, I can come “in tears” and cry out to God “In Your compassion and love for mankind, deliver me from the filth of my evil deeds!”
Alternatively, I can imitate “deceitful Judas” and allow my greed to draw me away “from intimate companionship with Christ.”
When, as Orthodox Christians, we emphasize the importance of human freedom (and all the rights and privileges that we have come to expect as Americans) our concern is in defending is the ability of the soul to imitate either the Harlot or Judas. Human freedom is not for us an end in itself. It is rather for something.
Immediately, freedom is for repentance. I must be free to examine myself, to know myself not simply in terms set by the culture but by Holy Tradition. Our freedom in the first instance is in the service of accurate self-knowledge.
As I grow to know myself, I am confronted with a choice.
Recognizing my vices as well as my virtues, what will I do? Will I struggle against my sins through the cultivation of virtue? Or will I, again like Judas, give myself over to despair?
A despairing soul will only infrequently commit suicide like Judas (Matthew 27:5). More often despair hides under the guise of another sin. Again, Judas is instructive.
The fallen apostle is mentioned nine times in today’s Matin service. In order, he is called “deceitful” and “burning with love of money” He is a man who “drunkenly runs” to betray his Friend (Kathisma 15).
He is called “envious,” “ignorant and evil.” A “miserable man,” a “traitor” blinded by “greedy avarice” into becoming a “traitor.” (Ode 9).
Judas is “scheming” and “enslaved to the Enemy” by his “terrible … slothfulness.” Twice we hear of “the wretchedness of Judas” (Praises).
Despair cloaks itself in all these seemingly lesser sins.
This, however, raises a question. If freedom is for repentance, what is repentance for? Again Judas is instructive.
Judas stands in bold contrast to the Harlot. While she spreads “out her hair” to dry the feet of Jesus that she has washed with her tears (Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; Luke 7:36–50; John 12:1–8), Judas spreads “out his hands to lawless men.” What the Harlot does, she does “in order to receive forgiveness,” she is repentant. And Judas? He only puts out his hand “to receive some silver” (Matthew 26:14-16, Luke 22:1-6).
As freedom is for repentance, repentance is for forgiveness. And not just forgiveness in a formal, juridical sense. But, as we hear in the service, the forgiveness that “raised Lazarus from the tomb after four days” (Aposticha).
All of this is expressed in the Hymn of Kassiane that we sing toward the end of Matins:
..accept the fountain of my tears,
O You, Who gathered the waters of the sea into clouds!
Bow down Your ear to the sighing of my heart,
O You, Who bowed the heavens in Your ineffable condescension!
Once Eve heard Your footsteps in Paradise in the cool of the day,
and in fear she ran and hid herself.
But now I will tenderly embrace those pure feet
and wipe them with the hair of my head.
Who can measure the multitude of my sins,
or the depth of Your judgments, O Savior of my soul?
Do not despise Your servant in Your immeasurable mercy!”
God stands ready to accept our repentance. He stands ready to receive us who run to Him and extend to us His “immeasurable mercy.”
So, then, what is freedom for? It is so that we can receive the mercy of God and then offer that mercy to others.