Seeing Ourselves in Holy Week

Admittedly, this season of Lent and now Holy Week has made blogging less of a priority. While this makes sense on one level, on another level I lament that lack of ability to step back and ask myself what I’ve been learning about life during this holy season. As Holy Week is at its peak with Great and Holy Friday, I wanted to consider one beautiful way in which we see ourselves during Holy Week.

 

On Great and Holy Wednesday, Byzantine Christians receive the anointing of the sick, in reflection of that fact that Christ was anointed by the woman who was formerly sinful. There is so much beauty and parallelism that can be drawn from this. We, who are sinful people, receive anointing. On the one hand we should be anointing Christ as did the woman, but God in His goodness opens His heart to us and blesses us. The whole paradigm of worship to God is stood on its head, and we are anointed to receive healing.

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In addition to being paradoxical, there is something brutally honest about how we see ourselves. In our tradition, the anointing of the sick is not for merely the brink of death/sickness. All Faithful Byzantine Christians should receive the anointing of the sick on Holy Wednesday, because we all must come to admit our own illnesses. Sometimes these are bodily illnesses, but more often they are spiritual, emotional, or psychological. And our tradition, in its grand wisdom, condescends and says, “It’s ok. We are all in need of healing.”

 

This message has moved me powerfully in considering all of the asceticism and healing to which we are called during these days of repentance. Thank you, Dearest Lord, for this most needed gift.

 

In closing, I would like to take the parallelism between Christ and us and compare it to our liturgical prayer. Two of the stichera (hymns) at the Presanctified Liturgy on Holy Wednesday goes further and compares us to both the sinful woman and Judas. In so many ways we see ourselves in Judas, and this is a powerful reflection.

We hear these words:

“While the sinful woman was bringing myrrh, the disciple was conspiring with the lawless. She rejoiced to expend the costly myrrh, while he hastened to sell the Priceless One. She recognized the Master, the Master from whom he drew away; she was freed, but Judas became the enemy’s slave; how awful this callousness, how great her repentance. Grant us such repentance, and save us, O Savior, who suffered for our sake.”

and:

“O the misery of Judas! He saw the harlot kiss your feet, and he harbored plans to betray you with a kiss. She unbound her hair but he was bound with anger, and bore, instead of myrrh, the stench of evil; for envy does not choose its own advantage. O the misery of Judas! Deliver our souls, O God, from the same.”

 

Grant this, O Lord!

 

Morrissey, Manhunts and Maximos

“The boy with the thorn in his side,

behind the hatred there lies a murderous desire

for love…” The Smiths

“I have exhausted all available means at obtaining my name back.I have attempted all legal court efforts within appeals at the Superior Courts and California Appellate courts. This is my last resort. The LAPD has suppressed the truth and it has now lead to deadly consequences.” – Christopher Dorner

 

“By nature we have an appetite simply for what by nature is good, but we gain experience of the goal in a particular way, through inquiry and counsel.” St. Maximos the Confessor, Disputation with Pyrrhus

 

All of these quotes have something in common. They grasp at explaining how it is that humans who are fundamentally good would do something which is fundamentally evil.

Now, one could adopt the notion of “total depravity” and say that at their core, some (or all) humans are evil and will constantly seek evil.

But the Byzantine Tradition, in conjunction with the testimony of some of the most reputedly “evil” people and songwriters such as The Smiths, speaks to a higher view of good and evil. It argues that those who are seeking evil all the while are seeking good, seeking justice, and seeking love.

“Prelest” is a Slavonic term which means deception, at its core. Sin is driven by prelest, such that our deception is something which causes us to wholeheartedly embrace evil in the pursuit of good.

In contrast to this, some would say that the evil are those who are “degenerate”, “depraved”, not “chosen”, and the like. But the more I live my life and disagree with more and more people, I realize that the idea that all of us are trying to embrace that which is Good, despite coming to different conclusions, makes more sense out of the world. Whether it’s Morrissey, St. Maximos the Confessor, or the Manhunts of our day and age, there is something about seeing evil and understanding it more in terms of what is common to mankind, versus a “Hannibal Lecter”-esque depiction of sin.

May God unite us in our view of each other, and may He grant us a profound love for Him which will simultaneously bind us in love for Him and our neighbor.