Friday, April 22, 2011

This I Plain Do Not Understand About Holy Thursday/Friday

Or, Speaking of Questioning Our Faith...

In the service for Holy Thursday evening, much mention is made of God's being "very merciful" and we also sing of how Jesus said from the Cross, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Then again, we chant about how wicked the deeds of Israel were, handing over their Messiah to Gentiles for crucifixion.  And that truly is remarkable, when you think about it the way the hymns put it, that the Jews should give gall and vinegar to Him Who fed them manna in the wilderness, that they should prefer the death of the Messiah to His Love, that they should torment Him Who healed them, that they should kill Him Who raised their dead, etc.

So far, so good, but then there are a couple of times when pray, "Do unto them, O Lord, according to their deeds." 


That's certainly not how we pray for ourselves!  Oh, no; then what we pray is, "Deal not with us according to our deeds, but according to Thy great mercy." 

So I don't get it.  I know in my heart this is not a piece of anti-Semitism, yet I can certainly sympathize with the complaints of Jews who think it is.  It hardly seems a Christian attitude, in any case.

Demetrios doesn't know the answer, either, although he did point out that God's chastisement is good for us.  Sure!  It is intended to bring us to our senses.  But is it chastisement we're talking about in these hymns?  Because it doesn't particularly sound like that, at least in translation.  (Maybe I'd better scrutinze the Greek?) 

Demetrios also points out that the people who put Christ to death ARE forgiven, unless we care to imagine the impossible, namely that Jesus' dying prayer was ignored., or that His forgiveness was not shared by the Father and the Holy Spirit.

We also know that nobody, Jews or Romans or anyone else, could kill the Immortal One, Who laid down His human life voluntarily and died when and how He had chosen to and "gave up the ghost" not from anything done to Him, but from His own free will.  It's not that "the Jews killed Christ."  As He said to Pilate,  "You would have no power over me unless it were given to you from above."

And there's one more clue I can think of.  We know we are all responsible fior His death, in the sense that our sins put us in a position from which only the Almighty Lover of Mankind could deliver us, and that, only this way.

But, these few clues notwithstanding, I'm still stumped.  I'm also absolutely sure I am not the only person who has ever wrestled with this issue.  So I'm hoping somebody amongst you  knows the answer and will share it:  What's with this "Do unto them according to their works" bit?

(Dear Margaret, are you there?) 


Anonymous said...

Perhaps this should be viewed in the same way as the imprecatory Psalms. Something about blessing those who take their little ones and dash them against the rock comes to mind. The usual interpretation of these passages within the historic Christian tradition sees the "little ones" (or other enemies) in question not as the literal childen of our earthly human enemies, but as the offspring of Satan and the evil thoughts and deeds that spring from them within ourselves. The use of the negative terminology of "the Jews" as meaning those who set themselves as enemies of Christ is found first in the Gospel of John. It is clear, however, that there, as in later texts, it is not anti-semitic, since the apostles are all likewise Jews, as are members of the Jewish leadership Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea), and Jesus Himself. The term is used in a specialized sense. Who, then, are the real enemies of our souls? The unbelief within ourselves is the target. For this there is no mercy. It is to be eradicated, destroyed, removed from thought and memory, so that only the true selves we were created to be remains.

Patrick Fodor

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thank you so much, Dr. Fodor!!!

Like evrything else that's true, it seems so obvious once it's explained.

Yes, of course, "Jews" typify unbelief, exactly as, for Jews and Christians, "Egypt" typifies slavery.

And, like all truth, it turns out to be beautiful, too, aimed, as you say, to return us to the true selves we were created to be.

Thanks again.

Anybody else?

Marsha said...

I feel so Orthodox LOL, because I was struck by the exact thing this season. I was fully basking in God's compassion and mercy and having him NOT look at our sins, etc. , and NOT dealing with us according to our deeds, and then heairng that bald facedly "do unto them according to their deeds" was shocking.

My take on it, and I couldn't be mistaken, is that is the measure of our outrage and sorrow at our Savior being put to death. Humanly, we may very well ask God to do unto an enemy according to his deeds, especially when that enemy has harmed a precious one. So, I just saw it as the human (sinful) side of our nature in a natural, human expression of grief.

Marsha said...

I mean, I COULD be mistaken LOL. Sorry.

123 said...

You and another online friend (venuleius of Ius Honorarium) both brought up the topic of the Jews in Holy Week hymnology, and I kept thinking about it all day on Holy Friday and all weekend as I was visiting family on the farm. As I reflected on some of the hymns mentioning the Jews I was struck by a couple of things.

One, reference is not always about “the Jews”. Just as often the hymns were more specifically targeted at “the priests” and “the scribes”, etc. Just like in the Psalms, I think this clarifies the intent and meaning.

Two, since the original Greek hymnography is highly metrical and poetic, I wonder if this effected the choice of words. By contrast, our English translations tend to defer to the meaning of the exact words, thus we tend to assume that word was chosen for meaning rather than alliteration or rhyme or metre.

Three, I was struck by how everything about the Scriptural account of Passion Week and Pascha is allegorical and typological, but we all assume “Jews” mean the Lubavitchers down the street or the secular Jew we know at the office. I have always understood “the Jews” to refer not only to the priests and the scribes and the mob they riled up outside Pilate’s place, but to refer primarily to the New Israel (the Church), and most importantly to me. Scripture is not only about historical events, it is also about the spiritual history of humanity, and it is about each of us individually. If it is we and our sins that (re)crucify Christ, then I am the Jew, I am the scribe, I am the one insisting on Barabbas.

Four, I wonder if the wholesale conversion to Judaism of the Khazars in Eastern Europe/Central Asia and their absorption into Russian culture from the 900s forward has something to do with the place of the Jew in Russian culture. Add to this the Judaizer sect that reached to high places within the Russian Church from the 1400s onward and the weakness of Muscovy and Russia up until at least Peter I if not until after the expulsion of Napoleon in the early 19th Century. Anti-Semitism has always seemed proof of the brittle nature of relatively new national identities and institutions, e.g., the nation-state.

Five, whatever the real, ‘spiritual’ meaning of the term, it’s obvious that historically many Christians have understood these texts in their most literal, scapegoating of readings.

Finally, I grew up traditional Lutheran, and everyone knows Luther hated Jews, so maybe I’m just used to it all. Of course, most all of my coworkers are Jews and most of my past classmates, colleagues and employers were Jews, so it can’t have been too ingrained.

DebD said...

I know this has nothing to do with your main point here, but I saw your little note at the end. I miss Margaret too. I sent her an email, but it has gone unanswered.