“In envy the priests and scribes cunningly gathered a council against You, Saviour, moving Judas to betrayal. He shamelessly went forth and spoke against You, saying to a transgressing people: What will you give me if I deliver Him into your hands? From his condemnation save our souls, O Lord!” (Kathisma-Hymn, Matins of Holy & Great Tuesday)
What is the point of our Church’s hymnography this week, when it bemoans the sins of the “bad guys” in the story of Christ’s passion, – the “Orthodox” Jewish religious establishment of that time, the priests and scribes, and Judas, one of the twelve (and also Jewish) disciples? Is it our point to shake an antisemitic finger at Jews, or to place responsibility for the Lord’s crucifixion at the feet of all Jewish people, or even only at the feet of these specific Jewish people, mentioned in the Gospels? Are “we” being called to assume the role of innocent bystanders, expressing (self-) righteous indignation at a Jewish crime?
No. These texts are talking about all of “us,” both the Jewish and non-Jewish Orthodox Christians, who today celebrate these Great Week services and chant this hymnography. We are being called to recognize and consider our own various roles, both as individual Orthodox Christians, and communally as Church, in the ongoing “story” of Salvation History. Are we sometimes asking “a transgressing people,” as did Judas, “What will you give me if I deliver Him…,” when we manipulate someone or some system/institution for some financial, political, social or perhaps romantic gain, while putting our Christian faith in the back seat to do that? We are to ask such questions this week, which is why the above-quoted hymn ends with the words, “From his condemnation save our souls, O Lord!” – Or do we, as the religious establishment of our Church, seek to silence Christ, as did those priests and scribes, when we seek to eliminate truth-tellers in our midst, who challenge the “politically-correct” notions of modern-day “Orthodoxy”? Are we not blinded sometimes by our own truth(s), when God sends us new revelations, as He did to the priests and scribes, through His only-begotten Son?
Throughout the services of this Great Week, when we praise our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was Jewish, we are not praising all Jewish people. Nor are we praising all bearded white males, although He was that as well. We are also not chastising all “priests and scribes,” or all Jewish “priests and scribes,” or Jewish disciples of Christ, or all Jewish people in general, when we bemoan the treacherous behaviours of those religious authorities or disciples of Christ’s time. We are rather being called to lament and re-think our own treacherous behaviours, which are “only human.” But He came, and died, and rose again, that we participate in all that, on the right side of the Cross, in the gentle, self-critical realism that is humility, – in the not “only human,” but divinized humanity of the penitent thief. So let me say with him today: “Remember me, Lord, when You come into Your kingdom!” Happy Holy Wednesday, dear friends! Tune in to our daily, weekday “Morning Coffee” audio-podcasts, for some daily inspiration on our journey through this Coronavirus epidemic! Join our ca. 500 faith-inspired subscribers at: patreon.com/sistervassa. Love from Vienna, and please wash your hands & take heart, Sister Vassa