Tag Archives: Holy Wednesday

What is Freedom For?

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).

Matins: John 12.17-50
Sixth Hour: Ezekiel 2.3-3.3
Vespers: Exodus 2.11-22
Vespers: Job 2.1-10
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: Matthew 26.6-16

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.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Repentance is the Key

April 12, 2017: Holy Wednesday

The Hymn of Kassiani that we just heard summarizes the not only the theme of the service but of Holy Week and the whole of our lives as Orthodox Christian disciples of Jesus Christ. That theme is, in a word, repentance.

Though the Son is incarnate in creation, without repentance I’m aware of His presence. Blind to His presence, the world is for me a lonely and hostile place. It is through repentance, that “nature, red in tooth and claw” becomes a sacrament of God’s love and care for us.

And though at baptism God has blessed me, as He has all of us, with gifts for His glory and my salvation, without repentance, the grace He has given me lays fallow. It is through repentance that we come to know the grace we’ve been given and the vocation to which we have been called by God.

The question we must ask now is what do we mean by repentance? Let’s beginning with what repentance isn’t.

It isn’t feeling bad myself. To look at my reflection in the mirror and say “You’re a bad person!” or words to that effect isn’t repentance. It just means that I have a negative self-imagine.

But even more balanced view of my failures and shortcomings isn’t really repentance. Not to minimize it in anyway but to know what I can–and can’t–do, is simply a matter of accurate self-knowledge.

It’s important to make these distinctions because without them I’m likely to misunderstand what the hymns we’ve sung tonight in Matins. In the kontakion, for example, I heard that my soul is more corrupt than the adulterous woman. I have “transgressed, O Good Master, more than the harlot” because her sins were the fruit of ignorance. She fell yes, but she doesn’t come to know Christ and His mercy until later in life.

But what excuse do I have? I have know the Gospel from my youth. And even if my sins are relatively minor compared to hers, nevertheless “I come to You without the shower of tears.” I am worse than the harlot not because I have sinned more but have failed to repent and remained caught in “the mire of my deeds.”

So what is this thing called repentance?

In the Hymn of Kassiani, we see that while the adulterous woman is aware of her sinfulness, she is even more aware of the love and mercy of God. And it is from this experience of God’s love and mercy that she finds the strength and courage to not just acknowledge her sinfulness but to ask God for His forgiveness.

This then is repentance: To know first the love of God and then, second, to know one’s self as loved and forgiven by Him. It is only through knowing the love of God and forgiveness of God that any of us can hope to bear the burden of our own sinfulness.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, God has forgiven all of us! God has forgiven you because He loves you! Secure in the knowledge of His love for us, let us now lay aside the burden of our sin and race to greet the Risen Christ on Pascha!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory