Lent is usually a struggle, Holy Week, while laborious, is the reward. For many priests, the final Anastasi (resurrection service) is not Saturday night, but the Agape Service on Sunday, maybe because you can finally relax. The gift of Holy Week however, is the text — the stichoi or verses that recount with penetrating clarity the causes and consequences of the crucifixion of Christ. I study them as the services progress and I always receive insights to develop throughout the year. Here are some from this week.
- Envy is often the root of murder.
- The nature of betrayal is such that a betrayer cuts himself off from his own humanity. Judas’ suicide has a strong nihilistic dimension (to cast it in modern terms). He could not find repentance.
From the other direction, the antidote to nihilism is love. God is love and Judas could have found forgiveness, but betrayal exacts a tremendous penalty; it rents the soul.
- As, and if, culture becomes increasingly hostile towards Christianity, not only will Christianity as a cultural force be lost, but Aristotle and Plato may disappear as well. This portends a new paganism, or else a capitulation to an authoritarian religion like Islam.
- The beauty of the services frames the words. They make them easier to understand.
- The Liturgy Wednesday morning where God questions Job, had one great line and a theme I never before saw in the text but it one I have been developing for while. First the line: Counsel without knowledge is dark counsel. The theme, which actually explains what is meant by “knowledge” in the line about the counsel, deals with the knowledge that created the world and holds it together.
St. Paul of course tells us who this is (“By Him was the world created and by Him all things consist”), and it deals with the interior “logic” — the Logos that imbues creation with structure and order. Such is the power of the spoken work of God, which also has the power not only to create, but recreate and reach into the deepest reaches of the heart of man. Quite powerful.
It reminds me of a masterful essay written by George Gilder that I go back to every so often: Evolution and Me. Some corners of science are very close to the internal reality that pervades all of the created order.
- The word of God transforms. It must be clearly spoken in the assembly. It must not be spoken with private emotion — no editorializing or flourishes. No one is interested in how the reader “feels” about the text. We are only interested in what the text says.
- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” recalls Abraham’s sacrifice. Man is spared the horrible consequences of complete separation from the father (even the fire of hell is the love of God), but the Son experienced it completely because only the Son could be in complete obedience even unto death. Christ is of course Abraham’s son and the sacrifice found in the thicket.
- God’s people (and here I am thinking primarily of serious Orthodox Christians) must prepare themselves to bring forward the prophetic dimensions of the Gospel. As difficulties increase, we will see more healings, miracles, and other signs that God is with us, and that the Lord makes evident through His people to testify of Himself and thereby save others.
- The Church needs to wake up to the threats facing it. The internal lethargy, complacency and sin that weighs us down and makes our minds and hearts dull thus blinding our eyes needs to be shaken off. The Lord is working in the Church (along with some Saints) to breath more life into it.
- Never, ever, discount the power of prayer. The efficacy of prayer does not depend on one’s holiness; nevertheless the the prayer of the righteous man (one who consciously seeks to conform himself to the will of God) is especially powerful. The act of praying is itself the expression of faith. Don’t think about praying and never pray. Instead, just pray. God will answer.
The more you pray, the more you will learn how to pray. When stuck, pray the Trisagion Prayers (“Holy God, Holy Mighty…”). Pray it again if necessary, even a third or fourth time. Sooner of later it will jump start the deep internal prayer the brings results to the people you pray for.
As you learn to pray for others (you learn just by doing it), your awareness of God’s beneficence towards you grows. You will possess greater confidence and a deeper knowledge of the the power directed towards you. (Read Ephesians to grasp how great the power that is directed toward us really is.)
- Paganism was about fear; personifying the capricious, random, and sometimes deadly “elemental spirits of the world” (to quote St. Paul). The revelation that the God above all God’s actually spoke to man must have been incomprehensible until the initial hearing of that truth (the preaching of the Gospel) which revealed that God spoke from the beginning to Adam, and even revealed Himself (Moses on Sinai and elsewhere), but again, always through the word.
This too ties into why the Old Testament was so violent. In a world ruled by fear and the flight from death, the Lord God had to be mighty in battle, as the God who protected his people from the dark capriciousness of the other gods.
Moreover, only a God mighty in battle, could, when the time was right, reveal Himself as the God of love. Once that happened, once the Father revealed Himself through the Son, the fear that gripped the hearts and minds of men started to fade (at least in Christendom), so that the Old Testament accounts appear almost incomprehensible to us today (“How can a God of love sanction the killing of other people?”).