A new 2018-19 series of articles shared on the roots and the prospects that unite Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Traditions to the realm of Jewishness and Hassidism, Compared semantics and exegetical “paysages” by Archpriest Alexander A.Winogradsky Frenkel (Patriarchate of Jerusalem). Below the eighteenth article: “En Route To The Forty Days ”.
On the eve of New Month Day (Rosh Chodesh), the Jews use to celebrate a service called “Yom Kippur katan\יום כיפור קטן – minor day of Atonement”. This year corresponds to the Sunday of Forgiveness and the beginning of the Forty Days of Great Lent in the Byzantine tradition.
Different things could be discussed with regards tothis Yom Kippur katan/minor Day of Atonement. It is basically a day of fast at the beginning of the New Moon that inaugurates a new month in the Jewish tradition. These days of 2019/5779, it introduces the Second Month of Adar 5779. We are in a leap year. On Adar II 7th, 5779 (upcoming 14th of March 2019), the Jews will celebrate the birth and the death of Moses, Moshe Rabbenû (Moses Our Master, Teacher).
At the present, the Jewish calendar is only based on the lunar cycle. The sun shines over the whole earth during a period of 12-13 or less hours and illuminates all the planet. It remains visible and never “disappears”, whereas the moon does on a monthly basis. Indeed, the moon revolves around the Earth in more than 29 days only mirroring the light of the sun on Earth which creates this impression of a birth, a growth and disappearance of the small planet. For the Jews, the constant re-appearance of the moon became and remains a sign of Divine fidelity and eternal faithfulness towards humankind and the Jews in their difficult journey through history.
Yom Kippur\יום כיפור – the Day of Atonement – is a unique day on which God can pardon each person, provided that humans are able to ask for forgiveness, whether their repenting act will, to begin with, be accepted by the offended people. But there is more: Yom Kippur is a day of full brightness. It is white as a very clear and wonderfully shining light in the sky of Jerusalem, in particular in the Middle-East.
It is indeed a joyous feast, full of hope and reconciliation between people and individuals who may disagree, come to argue and fight, make war. The human beings are often not able for a while – sometimes for quite long period – to understand each other or to hurt, injure each other because of a lot of obvious or irrational reasons. The white clothes worn on Yom Kippur denote that, after sorrow and sins, transgressions and misconducts, God’s brightness enlightens and elucidates the dark aspects of our lives. White clothes also exemplify that the survivors come back from the great temptation of being cut from God’s project and perilous wanderings. Drug-addicted, drunkards as rotten, corrupted, sick and sickening are truly submitted to some trips, journeys through utopia or nightmares, illusions or true hope beyond hopes that space out their lives and conscience (Apocalypse 7:14).
It is interesting that we live in a system of “self-reflection”, as if every human being could not look at himself by his own capacities and would require a mirror. We are in a process of self-mirroring. In Hebrew, a “face” is a plural: “panim\פנים“ because we have “two faces”, one is frontal and the other back-sided. It is thus impossible to see them both totally and at the same time as a twofold entity. The two parts that are essential for the existence of a coherent physical appearance of the head of a person is somehow comparable to the way the Sun and the Moon are connecting and express known and visible or hidden and silent components of a living personality. The Sun is much bigger than the Moon and was created at the same time according to the Scripture to bring light either toward or against the “choshech\חושך – darkness”.
Paul of Tarsus has a very traditional saying: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror… at present, I know partially; then, in the end, I shall know fully, as I am fully known (by God). So faith, hope, love remain, but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
On Yom Kippur, the scapegoat was sent to the Gehinnom\גהינום – Valley of the Gehenna (which slopes down from Jerusalem toward Bethlehem, a sacrifice for the sins). The sacrifice that used to be in the Temple for Rosh Chodesh/New Month was also a he-goat (Hullin 60b). The explanation is curious: the moon is a smaller planet and indeed, on that day, a goat was offered as prescribed for the pardon of the sins. The Kabbalistic school of Safed developed a fast, in the 16th century, with confession of sins and strangely accompanied by “flagellation”. This is linked to the Semitic radical for “praying = PLL – to pray (l’hitpalel/להתפלל), a sort of “voluntary suffering, “refreshing of circulation” and consciousness, offering, whatsoever. It is not permitted to fast on New Month Day, thus, the fast was observed on the day before.
The ritual mainly consists nowadays in the recitation of various penitential psalms and, redundantly the 13 Middot/Attributes of Loving-kindness: “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing His kindness for a thousand generations and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7). A request is also pronounced asking for healing and renewal: “Hashivenu HaShem aleinu venashuvah\השיבנו ה’ עלינו ונשובה – come back to us, Lord, and we shall be renewed, pardoned” / “chadesh yameinu kekedem\חדש ימינו כקדם = renew our days as in the days of old”. This maybe the most challenging part of our slow-to-move and slow-to-believe spiritual life. We are slow, uncertain, unwilling to think that God does renew all things and human beings everyday, fashioning them anew in full newness.
Then the proclamation: “HaShem hu Eloheinu\ה’ הוא אלהינו – The Lord is our God” which is said 7 times as on Yom Kippur (8 times) and by the time of our passing away.
Indeed, the appealing part of the minor Day of Atonement is that Israel dug out a new slant of Judaism: fidelity of God through the cyclic birth, fullness and disappearance of the Moon that shows how anything can be understood or explained because God can hear any word of penance. The Master of the universe knows and shaped each of us, i.e. babies, grow-ups, elderly, plants, animals, insects, birds, wild and domestic creatures, small, tiny and big or XXXXLL-sized beasts… Techniques also grow, are created, develop and become obsolete.
Each month, the Moon mirrors the Sun. Both renew something of the projection of the Earth, then seemingly takes a leave.
We don’t know or feign to ignore that in the Temple people did confess and that rabbis used to hear oral confessions without any sacramental consequence or capacity of pardoning. But Maimonides gave a good example of some formula that is still found somehow in the pattern of the “Ma’avar Yaboq/מעבר יבוק – Passing the Yaboq (the ritual used when a person passes away)”: “Anna HaShem chatati\אנא ה’ חטאתי, I have intentionally sinned, I have sinned out of lust and emotion, and I have sinned unintentionally. I have done it and I regret it, and I am ashamed of my deeds, and I shall never turn back again to such a deed.” The Christian Orthodox texts are very similar to the lists of sins printed in italics and, as the Roman Latin rite, starts by the word “sin by speech – Dibbur\דינור” because our capacity to make a coherent use of our tongue and language cognition is somehow parallel, from afar, to the Outspoken Word of the Lord Who spoke and all came to be existing.
Now, Judaism proposes to read a confession of sins at least three times a day. It is a very insightful series of verbs in the past tense, in alphabetical order. “Vidui\וידוי – confession” as a prayer for pardon (Yoma 87b) refers “to point out, make known, acknowledge” (Pessahim 87b). It means that each soul is capable to introspect, to get to the very core of what ideas, moves, intuitions, feelings, actions, acts, fancy and real matters or irrationality, raw and sweet, wild and bad, evil and good, heartfelt or disgusting attitudes or projects can be apprehended and fixed, corrected, controlled or reviewed after harsh transgressions, faults or wrongdoings.
The text of the Vidui\וידוי is very difficult to translate into any tongue. It starts by a statement that is also widely unknown, i.e. that, to begin with, Jews do recognize that they are and/or act(ed) as sinners: “Our God and God of our forefathers… we are not so brazen and stubborn as to say… that we are righteous and have not sinned (chatanu\חטאנו) – indeed we and our forefathers have sinned.
The following transgressions and faults are mentioned in the alphabetic order: “Ashamnu\אשמנו”… striking the left side of the chest with the right hand/fist (introduced for long centuries into the main Christian rites) – (We sinned in) guilt, betrayal, robbery, slander, (mental and physical) perversion, wickedness, ill-mindedness, will, (mental and physical) violence, false accusation, evil, scorn, persecution, stubbornness, deceit, forgery, corruption, abomination, leading others astray. Confession also deals with awareness or absence of consciousness, if not of conscience. Human speech, ideas, thoughts, acts are shaken or twisted with much “parasitic ideas” as expressed in the Yiddish word: tsiges\ציגעס” because they are beyond reasonable or balanced control.
This Sunday, after the “Evening prayer”, in every Eastern Orthodox Church, the clergy and the faithful will beg for mutual pardon. The Greek tradition underscores that the Great Fast (Lent) of 40 days starts joyously fasting and praying during this period that leads to the “Kalo Passkha\Καλο Πασχα – Good Easter”. The service is intense and profound. In Jerusalem, it is rather short and focuses on the 40 Days of Great Lent that leads to the Week of the Suffering, the Holy Week.It is short in the Great patriarchal Monastery of Jerusalem – at least 25 minutes – clergy and laity are not really driven to personal pardon or forgiveness. As if Pascha were “done”! Christ is risen in Jerusalem, once for all times.
On the other hand, after the readings, the clergy and the faithful of the Russian Eastern Byzantine tradition face each other, kneel down and ask for forgiveness to each person, of any rank or condition. It can be a rather long ceremony, full of in-depth intercessions, an annual “one-shot” for the soul that would try to accept that each of us failed in many ways, peculiar manners and lack of consciousness, intentionally or in some mixed-up confusion. Yes, we did hurt, often know that we might continue to aggressively face the others.
Jesus said “Therefore, if you bring your offer to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar and go first be reconciled with your brother” (Matthew 5:23-24), which is reminded all through the Liturgy: “Pardon and release of our sins (we ask to the Lord)”.
The essential Christian prayer “Our Father Who are in Heaven” follows the Kippur pattern: firstly, to pardon the others in order subsequently to receive God’s forgiveness (Matthew 6:9-14).
This service of specific Forgiveness Sunday is certainly rooted in the framework of the whole service of Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement. It coincides this year with new month Adar that is dedicated to study of the Scriptures, the life and death of Moses. The Eastern Orthodox believers will focus on this atonement as paving the way to the Resurrection confessed by the Church.
Peter-Caiaphas had asked Jesus how many times one should forgive. Seven times? Jesus said: “Not seven, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21) which corresponds to the full measure-middah\מידה (full measure of the offerings in the Temple), but basically to the sign of Cain (Gen. 4:24) protecting his descent, i.e. all and each of us.
It is not possible to wipe out history. One thing is striking: everywhere in Europe, there are churches and even if secularization, Islam or other creeds did settle in Modern Europe, the level of morals, and ethical rules known to allow people’s souls and bodies to be saved from their own “devils” are low. Morals, simple basic rules are on the fall, on a turn, just as historic epochs switch to revamping periods, recurrent flashes of old-new tendencies that swing between evil and good, death fascination or despair or spiritual thirst.
On the other hand, renewal of faith can lead groups to some sort of stiffness or exclusion. I know many European or American Orthodox believers whose “zapiski\записки/lists of names to be recalled during the Liturgy” are not accepted by very “narrow-minded” communities. The names do not sound “Slavic or Greek” and thus are not accepted! A living soul or a departed person is, was and keeps by a name the singularity of Divine and human choice from birth to everlasting life.
Violence shows with more and more will to useless, mean and absurd combats. The price of life is huge when some individuals or groups are saved in hospitals. on the other hand, lives show and disappear. Life sways between incoherence and disdain, wealth and dire poverty. Peoples as objects can be erased, thrown away without any kind of respect. Lack of education, disrespect, absence of basic étiquette develop worldwide. This is the invariant feature of human conducts. We see how “faith” is misused – and has always been twisted – to abuse human limbs and souls that animate them for the benefit of those who think they can exercise some power. Faith in the One God and/or the Only One Begotten Son cannot rely upon might. Faith compels to nudity, absence of self-sophisticated ranks or ambition. Billions of living have disappeared and no seed of life can have any fixed destiny.
Pardon is really at the core of faith. Pardon and forgiveness know “no first or last or last or first”. Pardon is a move that shows as a gift: forgiveness does not expect any pay, gratitude or respect. It is a sign of Divine Presence. We may say that God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are everywhere and “among us, in our midst” and never act accordingly. And suddenly, right out of the sudden, pardon becomes true. This is what we need as in each generation.
The Aramaic version of “Our Father” in the original version of the Assyrian Church kept “and release our debts and our transgressions/sins and we already did release those who had debts toward us”. Today’s world economic system does not show an inch of basic spiritual and Christian education with regards to the tantamount level of debts. The monotheistic separated creeds are engaged in the course of harsh and cruel competition that sketches out the mental distortions that enslaves spiritual quests and requirements.
This leads to some sort of loss of spirit of forgiveness. When the faithful and the clergy are hurt from inside and hardly can take the risk of a full spiritual review, they may get stiff and focus on themselves. They may also use rituals as the only “canons or rules” in force. At this point they do not notice that spirituality has been changing since they became believers and they should need a sound “updating”. Nobody was born a Christian. Each disciple of Jesus of Nazareth goes through a special call of the Holy Spirit that comes and abides in a human shape who grows and matures, rises up to some earthly and historic plenitude granted by sole divine grace as to develop into the fulfillment of the Resurrected Body of the Messiah.
Things can be pathetic and more than perilous. The local Churches are called to freedom and rejoicing when they really enjoy by themselves the capacity to live the Divine graces where they live, getting together with the others.
Exclusion is a terrible fold of violence, just as slavery disguised with the rags of mental security and lawless theological stuff. At times, human nature denies its physical reality, thrashing around, gossiping here and there, embattled in confusion and self-contentedness. Eucharist is so alien to basic societal survival that the Holy Mystery can be drifted to snobbish pride or hereditary privilege – if not DNA pedigree that is a nonsense. Each child born to human wombs may eventually eat the Body and Blood of the Risen Lord because all are to receive Him Who let their breath and soul become Who He is forever. Therefore, t remains a major mental and societal crime to accept, hide or even assist servants of the Resurrected who dare, like vultures or devilish creatures, swallow human souls and destroy them through the virtue of fake innocence. Carnal or mental fierceness can easily turn to pagan cannibalism.
The point is that exclusion is totally bizarre and “irrational” because since the time of Enlightment, “excommunication” does not work. There are always methods to get around “exclusions/cherem\חרם in Hebrew- حرام charam in Arabic”.
The absence of true dialogue and respect of Church unity rules and regulations do not allow to stop people to wander from one community to another. This implies that people can come and go from one to many religious communities with incurring any “ban” or at least understanding of the importance of getting together in one nest.
This does diminish the in-depth meaning of true forgiveness. The English word “Atonement = at-one-ment” that targets “unity, oneness, getting to one beyond “singlehood”… (!) remains the authentic object and goal of faith and trust in God Who entrusts us to acting in this spirit of unity and uniqueness.
Forgiveness includes another character: just as Abraham and Lot took different directions, pardon may induce to retire, take a leave. The Russian language has it: “прощаться = to quit… from the radical “прощать\простить = to forgive”.
No one can ever require that a person grant some forgiveness at whatever level by force. It only consists in some concealed and immature will for crooked authority. Forgiveness is a part of the Mystery of Divine Presence, pouring out of the one fundamental predilection. “If there is one angel out of a thousand in his defense, to declare his righteousness on his behalf, He will be gracious to him and say “Spare him from going down to the pit; I have found atonement” (Job 33).