Speaking of Beauty, Continued

Speaking of beauty, tonight is the third of the Bridegroom Matins. The hymns for this service compare the repentance of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive myrrh, with the avarice of Judas, who having been with Jesus and experienced his miraculous power personally, still on this day contemplates betrayal for the sake of financial gain. Here is the first hymn in the sequence setting up the comparison:

The adulterous woman, O Christ, who approached thee and poured on thy feet ointment with tears, was delivered by thy command from the rottenness of iniquity. But thine ingrate Disciple, who was fully possessed of thy grace, rejected it, and wallowed in the mire, selling thee out of love of silver. Wherefore, glory be to thy compassion, O Lover of mankind.

The penetrating spiritual power of these hymns lie not only in their theology, but also–and I would argue most powerfully–in their use of poetic juxtaposition. In fact, if you look too closely, if you try strictly to align the hymns with the specific accounts recorded in the Gospels, you will miss by a wide margin the message the hymns are meant to convey. **

In poetically contrasting the harlot and Judas, the Church helps me to see myself mystically as both. I am the sinful woman with tears at Jesus’ feet; yet I find also Judas abiding in me: even at the most sacred moments I have thoughts of taking and acquiring for myself, thoughts of betrayal. And again I offer to Jesus the most precious myrrh of my life, my resources, my all–I pour it all out on His feet. Then my mind slips into indifference and too quickly the Judas in my mind runs off to bargain for the priceless One. Tears and hardness. Both are in me, and the hymns of this day help me to see it:

When the sinful woman was offering her spice, the Disciple was bargaining with the transgressors of the law. The one rejoiced in pouring out the spice of great price, while the other hastened to sell the priceless One. The one came to know the Lord, the other was separated from the Lord. She was freed, and Judas became a slave to the enemy. Indifference is evil, and repentance is great, which last grant us, O Savior, who didst suffer for us, and save us.
Ah the wretchedness of Judas! For, seeing the adulteress kiss his feet, he was thinking with deceit of the kiss of betrayal. She loosed the braids of her hair, and he was bound with wrath; instead of spice he offered rotten evil: for envy knoweth not how to honour what is worthy. Woe to the wretchedness of Judas, and from it O God, save our souls.

The repentance that we spend our Christian lives working out is an ever deepening look at the sin that has been lodged in our soul, the Judas within us; and it is an ever deepening offering of that self to God. These are the tears of the harlot. The one who sees no Judas in himself, perhaps, can make little sense of this continual turning with tears back to God, this continual weeping at Jesus’ feet, this continual offering again of the precious myrrh of our lives. But this is why the Church has given us these hymns with their poetic juxtaposition. By reflecting on both the offering of the harlot and the betrayal of Judas, perhaps we can all catch a clearer glimpse into our own hearts. And if we can do that, then perhaps we can in the rhythm of the life of the Church both shed tears with the harlot and rejoice with Myrrh-bearers at the glorious PASCHA of Christ.

**For example, you will notice on a close reading that the hymns of the Church elide the accounts of the anointing of Jesus once by a harlot earlier in His ministry and again before his death by Mary the sister of Lazarus. Similarly, for the hymns of Lazarus Saturday, the Lazarus of the parable is elided with the Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. This is not because the hymnographers didn’t know their Bible (You may laugh, but this is a serious criticism some Evangelicals lodge against Orthodoxy and many of the poetic prayers of the Fathers. It seems that if the interpretation and application of the Scripture by the ancients and those who are or seem “too Catholic” does not agree with contemporary linear models, then it must be because the ancients had not read the Bible very well. Really, people say these things to me with a straight face.) The truth is that a poetic interpretation and application of Scripture seeks not merely to repeat the facts of the record, but rather to reveal the meaning of those facts in a way that penetrates our hard hearts. You might even say that in many ways, both anointings of Jesus reveal the same mysteries, and by eliding them poetically we can better open those mysteries to our minds weakened, perhaps, by too much linear thought.

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