Wednesdays and Fridays of the Orthodox week are always observed more solemnly than other days in terms of fasting and prayer. The use of these days in this manner can be dated as early as the first century. The Didache, a Palestinian Christian document as old as many parts of the New Testament but not included in the canon, mentions fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays and contrasts it to the Jewish (Pharasaic) practice of fasting on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Regardless of the reasons those days may have been observed as days of fasting in the first century, Tradition quickly associated them with the Cross (Friday especially) and Wednesday with the betrayal and sufferings of Christ (although in Holy Week the betrayal of Christ occurs, it seems, on Thursday).
Nonetheless as Tradition has handled Wednesday – the pace of the week changes. Our thoughts turn to the fact that we were bought with a price – nothing other than the self-sacrificial love of God on the Cross. Our own lives are so far removed from this self-sacrifice that we do well to stop and remember this sacrifice frequently. Indeed St. Paul told the Corinthians that he had determined to know nothing among them “except for Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
I have frequently wondered how many conversations we would have were we standing at the foot of the Cross. Not that we would not have conversations – but how the conversations would change. The whole world stands before the foot of the Cross whether it chooses to see it or know it and all that happens will be judged by that standard. The only word of judgment from the Cross itself, of course, is “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” But even that word of forgiveness judges us (or we put ourselves into judgement) as the banality of our concerns turn to ashes before the love of God made manifest.
What can I say before the Cross other than to echo the words spoken there? To admit that I thirst and that God, in His love, thirsts for me, though I refuse to give Him drink. That everything is finished, all is accomplished, and yet I live as though Christ had not already gained every victory and made all things well. That I am part of the family of God, loved by His Mother whom He has given to His Church and adopted as God’s son by so great a love. What more could we say or want to know?
Wednesday in the world is known as the “hump,” the middle of the week when we “get over the hump.” In too many ways we get over the hump by selling Christ for silver. You work out the metaphor.
It is Wednesday – time to eat less – to pray more – to stand before the Cross – to keep my eyes and hands away from the silver the world would give me. Better to starve than to eat the bread of the wicked.
Father, I’m glad you mentioned the Didache. We have to recall it was discovered pretty recently, and the devotional stuff written to explain “why” we fast on Wed & Fri is just plain groping. As you say, somehow it was comemmorating the Betrayal on the day *before* it happened, and the Crucifixion the day it *did*. The Didache reasoning is simplicity itself.
Hey Father Stephen,
I was curious about something. After listening to your “conversion testimony,” going from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy, from the Anglican Coloquium on ancient faith radio, I wanted to know what was so scary about beginning to live in and with your heart. Do you have a post about that somewhere? Somewhere in the archives here?
Father Stephen –
I have been searching through your blog for anything to do with the new articles on the Vatican-Orthodox “agreement” that recognizes “the pope has primacy over all bishops but disagrees over just what authority that gives him.” My brother pulled up bunch of newly released associated press statements. Any chance of responding before I leave Wyoming tomorrow? My brother is very curious (as am I now).
I am curious as well – but don’t want to say anything premature. There tends to be a big splash in the press and then you don’t hear anything for a while. Moscow at the moment seems to have pulled out of the talks, making them, for me, a moot point if Moscow is saying Nyet.
But it certainly seems true that the new Pope is willing to go further than his predecessor in his proposals to the Orthodox. Whether it is far enough is yet to be seen.
I still think much of these talks are somewhat premature in that the Roman Catholic Church has far to go in becoming Roman Catholic before discussing becoming Orthodox. What I mean by that is that present Roman Catholicism is greatly divided within itself in practice and needs to come together in a truly embraced common faith. I think the present Pope is also making efforts towards that end. But any sort of reapprochement with them prior to that would on bring confusion, it seems to me. But my personal take is to wait on Moscow. If Moscow thinks it’s a good idea, then I think it’s time to sit and read the proposals. I’m sort of conservative on this.
It should be quickly added (after re-reading your question) that these are proposed agreements. There is as yet, no one in Orthodoxy, recognizing the Pope’s authority in anything. This is just a new level of discussions. In general, the Patriarch of Constantinople has been favorable in these talks, while Moscow has not. In history, this occasional tension between Constantinople and Moscow has saved Orthodoxy from terrible mistakes, at other times it has left us bordering on the edge of internal schism.
At the talks this year, I understand that Moscow was mostly unhappy with the language the documents were using viz. Constantinople, treating Constantinople more or less as the Pope of the Eastern Church, when our model is that of a communion of authority of all the bishops. This was upsetting enough that Moscow walked out when the conference refused to change the language. If there are efforts to work out something with only part of the Orthodox, then this would become only another effort at creating more “Byzantine Catholics” rather than a true union with the fullness of Orthodoxy (in my largely uninformed opinion).
I don’t think I’ve posted on my reluctance to live “in my heart” as I mentioned at the Colloquium. It’s worth a post sometime. It’s not my finest moment. In short, some of it had to do with how I had come to be “wired.” To learn how to live in a new way (at which I fail miserably and often) was frightening. But within it, lies my salvation.
This is a great series! I was wondering if you would allow me to reproduce it in my parish news letter?
Thanks Father for another thought provoking piece.
Fr. Stephen, would you mind elaborating on your statement that God thirsts for us in his love? I think Oswald Chambers (protestant) said something similar, which also blew me away…”I long to be a cup in the Lord’s hand for the quenching of his own royal thirst”…and he was a bit of a mystic. On the other hand there’s a lot of pop-Christian language going around that seems to make God emotionally dependant on us. So I’m having trouble placing this idea; any help (or directed reading) appreciated.
Thanks for this series! I was as yet unaware of this basic facet of Orthodox living and it’s a joy to discover it. Our lives are composed of cycles of time; it’s all too easy to get swept away in it as in a stream rather than to redeem it. Moses prayed “teach us to number our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom…” and this is the best way to do that I’ve ever encountered. Orthodoxy amazes me every day. It has answers to everything and most of those answers are ways of living rather than technical arguments.
It has answers to everything and most of those answers are ways of living rather than technical arguments.
At its best, this is what makes Orthodoxy so attractive. Often times, as a protestant, I (thought I) knew the why, but I drew a blank on the how. Orthodoxy knows the why but the first answer is always how.
I understand. However, that WOULD be some good reading only because I feel that might be a bit of where I’m headed, the whole “getting away from relying on head knowledge and going into the heart” thing. (I’m walking away from presbyterian-ISM and it seems I’m wandering into Orthodoxy, fyi)
Fr. Peter, feel free to use this.
I will write at length on God’s thirsting for us. It is not an emotional thing (nor is it original with me). St. Therese of Lisieux (for our Catholic readers) wrote at some length about it, as have others in the Christian past. I think of it as another way of saying that God loves us, and this His will for us (foreordained, St. Paul says) is “to gather together in one, all things in Christ Jesus.”
It is similar to Christ’s statement that He had a Baptism to be Baptized with “and oh how I am straitened til it be accomplished.” His reference was to the Cross in Jerusalem. He is saying that it is as though He were being “squeezed” or afflicted until He finished what He came to do. God so loves us (thirsts is a very poetic way to say it) that He gave His only begotten Son…
This is the direction of my thought on it.
Thank you, this is helpful. I’m guessing it’s safe to say that none of us thinks of God as having what Lewis called a “need-love.”
Waiting on your convenience for the promised treatment,
Dear Father Stephen
This comment is referring only to the icon, which caught my attention.
How is the thorn-crown faring in the tradition of orthodox icons? I’m asking this because I printed this very icon some years ago and took a liking to it. By kind people though, I was told that the thorn-crown/this icon is not a part of our icon-tradition.
So, if possible, I would like an exposition on this icon.
To the best of my knowledge on icons, this icon does belong to our tradition. I am not aware of any questions concerning it. I wonder what they were talking about?
This icon is called the Bridegroom or Nymphos in Greek, I believe (correct me please anyone) and I found this explanation to be helpful:
Christ, God Incarnate, shows us the Divine way of humility by undergoing suffering, insults and torture at the hands of those Whom He Himself created.
This is what the Eastern Church celebrates in this icon.
“The Bridegroom” Icon portrays Christ during His Passion, particularly during the period when our Lord was mocked and tortured by the soldiers who crowned Him with thorns, dressed Him in purple and placed a reed in His Hands, jeering Him as the “King of the Jews.”
The word “Bridegroom” is a term that Christ applied to Himself. When people criticized His disciples for not fasting, Christ compared His sojourn on earth as a kind of wedding feast. As long as the Bridegroom was with the disciples and His followers, they could not fast. But there would come a time when the Bridegroom would be taken away from them, and, Christ said, they would fast in those days . . .
And this icon is precisely about the time when the Bridegroom was undergoing His voluntary Passion on the day when He would be taken away from His followers, only to rise from the dead and ascend to the Father later.
Christ as the Bridegroom is also the One Who is celebrated at the Final Judgement, to Whose eternal Banquet and Joys we are all called and are expected to prepare for. Our Church sings a beautiful prayer to Christ as Bridegroom during the weekly Nocturns or Midnight Service:
“Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching, but unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest you be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death, and be shut out from the kingdom. But rouse yourself and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God, through the Theotokos have mercy on us!”
“Meditating on that terrible day, O my soul, watch, keeping your lamp alight and filled with oil (i.e. God’s Mercy) for you know not when to you shall come the voice saying: Behold the Bridegroom! Beware, therefore, my soul, lest you fall into slumber and be left outside, knocking, as were the five virgins, but wakefully watch, that you may come to meet Christ with good oil, and He will bestow upon you the Divine Chamber of His glory!”
There are two icons that are similar, one shows our lord prior to His passion and one after, one is called “Extreme Humility” and the other “The Bridegroom”…
Fr Stephen, is this what you know to be true?
Father and Jakob,
Our Metropolitan in the Greek Archdiocese of Detroit, His Eminence Nicholas, also passes out this icon — blessed by himself — on small prayer cards whenever he visits a parish. So I’m assuming that the Greeks accept it as a “valid” icon (don’t know what word should be used there).
Thank you for the answers. The objection was that the crown of thorns was unusual in an orthodox icon. And I *think* also that the objection was to the emphasis and dwelling on the suffering.
I wonder if the association of Wednesday with Judas betraying Jesus refers to the day on which Judas went to the chief priests and agreed to betray Him, the day on which he received the thirty pieces of silver. The account in Mark’s Gospel seems to make clear that the event happened sometime between Tuesday and Thursday at the very least.
I have read somewhere that when the Lord was on the cross and said “I thirst.” He meant He was thirsting for the salvation of man, and it was already so near.