(Monday, November 27)

(Dear Friends, Sorry today’s post is long. I’m sharing a part of the book I’m writing, entitled: Rediscovering “Orthodoxy,” because here I write about this past weekend’s Gospel-reading about the bent over woman healed by Christ in the synagogue.)

Rediscovering the Term “Orthodox”

Two things need to be said, that we might better understand the term “orthodox”: 1. It signifies “*up*-right opinion “*up*-right glorification or worship,” and “*up*-right expectation”; 2. As a name by which a group of Christians is called, it refers to an *assigned* virtue rather than a *given* one. That is to say, the name “Orthodox,” like the name of a saint that we receive in Baptism, calls us to strive for the virtues manifested by (the saint with) that name, but does not automatically give us those virtues. Let us reflect more on both these aspects of “orthodox,” below.


The first part of the word “orthodox,” that is, orthos, is related to the word used as a Byzantine liturgical invitation, “Orthoí!” (pronounced or-thee, rhyming with “a tree”), which means, Stand upright! or Stand up straight, as one does when standing at attention. It is a position that expresses both attentiveness and a readiness to serve, as when waiters in a fancy restaurant stand at attention with napkins folded over their arms, or when soldiers stand at attention when in the presence of a superior.

However, unlike the abovementioned examples of waiters and soldiers, Ortho-dox Christians are called to be attentive to, and ready to serve, not first-and-foremost any human superiors, but their primary authority, God. Thus, the upright-ness of Orthodox Christians signifies their freedom from servitude to God-less authorities and to false gods. It is the freedom of the Spirit, Who frees the faithful from “the bondage of self”; from a bondage to self-centered thinking and behavior, and to sin and falsehood, along with their crippling effects of fear, resentment, despondency, indecisiveness, and spiritual blindness.

Orthodox Christians are not freed from the crippling effects of sin only once, in Holy Baptism. God heals us, making us upright or “straightened out” again and again, in small and big ways, both individually and as a church-community, whenever we (re)turn to Him in repentance. Every now and then, our “Orthodoxy” needs some straightening out, because we walk through time not perfectly, but get rather bent over by the kicks in the gut of our historical circumstances. Note in this context the example from Luke 13:10-14a, of a woman being “straightened out” by Christ, after she had been “bent over” for eighteen years:

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, ‘Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.’ And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath…

It is significant that Christ heals this woman, returns her to upright life, specifically on the *eighteenth* year of her affliction. The number 18 signifies “life,” because this number is written in Hebrew with the Hebrew letters *Chet* and *Yod*, – with the same letters as those that form the Hebrew word “chai,” meaning *life*. This Hebrew word for life is often expressed in the plural, *Chayim* (חַיִּים), as in the well-known toast, “L’chayim!” that means “To life!” The two consecutive letters Yod (יי) in that plural noun are said to picture two “hands held together” (the Hebrew word yad [יָד] means “hand“), signifying the union of God with us. The word thus reveals that true life or “life abundantly” comes from “God with us” and our response to His presence. The healing of the bent over woman beautifully demonstrates how it comes from the touch of His hands, after “He called her to Him” and she responded, probably hobbling over to Him with great difficulty in her condition.

Another important aspect of the healing of the bent-over woman is the very different response to the presence of Christ of the ruler of the synagogue, “because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath.” According to this ruler of the synagogue, it was not the appropriate *time* for healing. We see here that he, too, is crippled or bent over, not physically as was the woman, but in his inability to see what “the signs of the times” he was living in were saying. He was reading these signs in old and crooked ways, according to which a Saturday, a Sabbath, was no time for God’s work. With his head thus stuck in the past, he is unable to see the new and main “Sign” of his times, Who was the Lord of the Sabbath in the flesh, right there in that synagogue, straightening out what had become crooked with time.

If you will forgive me some more allegorical exegesis, I think it might be a helpful way to relate the story of the healing of the bent over woman also to the afflictions of the Orthodox Church in our time. We might see the healing of the *woman* as a healing of the *church*, even while one of the “gate keepers” thereof is so OCD about maintaining its canonical rules (of the past), he has become indifferent to the actual needs of the human beings within the gates. Today we have entire churches in need of “straightening out,” most obviously (but not only) in Russia and in Ukraine, along with certain demographics in need of a way forward in our church, most obviously women. But those of us who are the “gate keepers” have our heads stuck in the past, especially in the canonical rules of the past. It obscures our vision not only of the human beings in need of healing, in need of being able to stand up straight and profess the faith and serve in the church as God is calling them to do, but obscuring also our vision of the Lord of the Sabbath in our midst. Whoever reads, let him understand