An Orthodox Hymn for Good Friday

There is a section of the Good Friday liturgy in the Orthodox Christian tradition called “15th Antiphon from Great and Holy Friday Matins.” The section juxtaposes the higher and lower parts of the life of Christ. It also is sung/chanted in a way that when speaking about the higher aspects, the voice of the priest is higher. Conversely, when speaking of the lower aspects, the voice drops. This is not a hymn in my tradition, but it is a hymn that my tradition can affirm. I hope this hymn/poem might speak to you this Good Friday. If you would like to hear the late Archbishop Job sing/chant this hymn, the video is below or you can follow this link.

“Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree,
The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails.
The Son of the virgin is pierced by a spear.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.”

The late Archbishop Job sings the 15th Antiphon at Matins for Great and Holy Friday 2009. This video almost didn't happen. We had wanted to record Vladika singing this antiphon for years, but he often refused to sing it out of humility.
Source: https://ryanphunter.wordpress.com/tag/15th...

Ethnophilia and Holy Week

Photo by  Markus Spiske  on  Unsplash

Often racism is thought about in terms of what it hates. Speaking to, acting toward and building structures against others on the basis race are among the different ways racism is discussed. Racism is an evil that needs everyone to work to eradicate, but racism is like many things: it evolves.

Of course it does not evolve like an animal might evolve to keep feathers, but it does evolve in the way ideas develop and change in order to be more palatable to society. Hard forms or racism are quickly called out, as they should be; however, there are softer forms of racism that are just as toxic. The problem is this toxicity, at first glance, sounds like a good. It is called ethnophilia.

An ethnophile is someone who loves and admires their own ethnic group, nation, or culture. This sounds like a good thing. Who would not desire to love their own? But love of own group has the dark side of hostility toward those not in the group.

So the ethnophile can talk about how wonderful their group is and even say things that sound loving but in fact are anything but. “Love the sinner and hate the sin” might be a classic example. The expression indicates that there is love for the other but really the love for the other comes at the cost of hating. When love and hate mingle there should be concern because I don’t have that high of a view of humanity. I think humans will err on the side of hate over love.

It might be argued that Holy Week was set in motion by the ethnophile, Judas. Who loved his own kind so much that he betrayed the savior of the world. Holy week was propelled by a people who loved their own kind so much they called for the crucifiction of Jesus.

If love for your own comes at the cost of hurting, killing or otherwise enslaving those out of your group, then we may be under the sin of ethnophilia. Or as Jesus said on the sermon on the mount: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Apophatic and Kataphatic

There is a saying in the Jewish tradition that scripture is “black fire written on white fire.” Weight is given to the words but just as weighty are the spaces between. It is also the case that musicians talk about music not only in terms of the notes, but also in terms of the rests.

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And yet in much of the religious tradition I engage in, there is an emphasis on the black fire or the notes and much less on the white fire and rests.

It may surprise some of you to know there is a name for the black fire/notes of spiritual practice. That name is “Kataphaticism”. It is the way of knowing by what we can affirm. So for instance, if we say God is Love we are describing God by what God is or does. This is knowing by affirming or knowing by the positive. Much of our theology is kataphatic in nature.

Kataphatic tradition is wonderful, however it is only part of the spiritual life. Another part of the spiritual life is the "Apophatic” tradition. Is the way of knowing through negation. There was an old cartoon I saw as a child which something was lost. The main characters were searching for the item were growing frustrated that everywhere they looked the item was not located. It was pointed out that this was good news because if they could locate everywhere the item was not, then they would find where the item was.

Take the previous example that God is Love. The Apophatic tradition would ask what can we discover about God by saying “God is not Love”? Perhaps one of the things we discover about God is that God is not romantic love or even brotherly love. God is not love in the same way that I love gummy bears. God is not love because God is greater than love. Limiting God to the action of love means that we begin to believe that we can fully know God. Assuming that we fully know God is also called Idolatry.

Recently I read that Gregory Palamas said, “God is not only beyond knowledge, but also beyond unknowing.”

One of the beautiful things of the apophatic tradition is that by the unknowable God requires humans to be humble and repent of our confidence that we can fully understand God.

There is comfort in knowing by what we can describe. There is mystery in knowing by what we cannot. There is security in knowing by what we can see, there is faith in knowing by what we cannot see.

Black fire without white fire is just an ink spill. Music without silence is just noise. Knowing without negation is pride.

Failing To Be In The Service Of God

There is a little book by Thomas Merton called The Wisdom of the Desert. It contains not only some wonderful reflections by Merton but also a short primer on the desert mothers and fathers of the Christian tradition. Additionally, this book contains some of the “sayings” of the desert saints. These sayings can be easy fairly straight forward but rarely are they easy to understand much less live out. For instance:

They said of Abbot Pambo that in the very hour when he departed this life he said to the holy men who stood by him: From the time I came to this place in the desert, and built me a cell, and dwelt here, I do not remember eating bread that was not earned by the work of my own hands, nor do I remember saying anything for which I was sorry even until this hour.

Here is a desert father who on his death bed and he is recalling how he worked hard and spoke well. This is the sort of thing that we all might strive for in our lives. To be able to not be a burden, drain or freeloader but to be one who worked hard for their bread and earned it all. Additionally, to be someone who spoke their mind with clarity and such wisdom they had no regrets.

However, I cheated. This is not the whole saying. This is the last line of the saying:

And thus I do to the Lord as one who has not even made a beginning in the service of God.

Pambo understands, but apparently only on his deathbed, that being in service to God requires receiving the service of others and reconciling with neighbor. If we live the life we think we are supposed to live (i.e. self sufficient and without need to apologize) then we have failed to be in the service of God. We have failed to be agents of giving the gift of receiving another’s hospitality as well as failing to speak in any way that might upset someone so that we don’t say anything meaningful at all.

The western value of self-sufficiency and the Southern USA’s value on being “nice” are not Christian values. Beware of the false teachers in the world who say the things that look like they are of the way, but in fact lead to destruction. Self-sufficiency and “niceness” sound like they are good, but ultimately they get in the way of the values that lead to salvation - humility and repentance.