FROM ARCHBISHOP ANTHONY
February 21, A. D. 2018
To the Most Reverend and Right Reverend Hierarchs, Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Monastics,
and Faithful of The Orthodox Archdiocese of America (New York)
Dearly Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Translation from one language to another is - at best - always difficult. When the languages are totally different in their structure, the issue becomes even more complex. While biblical Hebrew has many major differences from Greek and English, there is one that makes scriptural readings very complex.
Biblical Hebrew cannot do abstractions. The language is almost totally concrete. Hebrew cannot say “in your presence;” instead, it has to say “before your face.” Among the things that this complicates for us are theology and philosophy. Abstractions, you know, make it possible to interpret and explain the perceptions we constantly receive from our five senses. Philosophy (and therefore theology) are sometimes called the “sixth sense.” Philosophy was invented by the Greeks at about the time the Hebrews were coming back from the Great Exile. The fifth and fourth centuries before the Resurrection were a time of great learning growth in every culture on earth. It was during this time frame that the foundations for modern science and philosophy were laid. Science and philosophy have to do with understanding Reality.
And the Hebrews were in no way exempt from this great growth in human life and knowledge. They just did it differently from the way that our kind of language structures did it.
They produced the Old Testament as we have it today.
Because their language and way of thinking could not do abstractions, the Hebrews told stories. By the telling of stories, the Hebrews were able to present a philosophy of the reality of the world in which they lived. Things happened and then other things followed as a result of the first things. It rained; and then the plants began to grow. The volcano erupted; and they recognized the forces that made all reality. In fact, they named their God, , which means Reality. When people killed others, or were violent to others, they saw that anger, hatred, injustice resulted. When people helped others, or were loving towards them, they saw that justice, freedom and peace resulted.
The most important thing that they discovered by telling these stories again and again is that the same Reality that makes the rain fall; that same Reality provides the sun, the volcanoes; that same Reality has a structure that is just and fair and loving. And when humans live with that structure in mind, they share exactly in the very life of Reality. They are in the “image of God”. And so they put the story of Creation at the beginning of the Bible. But they also included the second story, of how God made humans from the dust/ashes of the earth. Then Reality breathed into them: and so humans would share directly in the very life of Reality.
And humans began to live in joy and peace and freedom with justice. Suddenly from nowhere comes an extraneous thought, wiggling through the mind Reality gave humans. It’s like a darting snake, moving quickly here and there, but persisting. And when humans stepped away from Reality, they killed the life that Reality had given them.
They recognized their new nakedness. No longer clothed in the splendor of Reality; joy, freedom, justice and love - true creativity - were removed from them. Fear engulfed them as they realized that they had left the fullness of Reality - indeed, in the most real sense they were dead - they were separated from each other and therefore, from Reality. And the loincloths they made are the sign of this death. And as the story continues, all humanity shares this death, this separation from Reality. And the word for “mankind,” Adam, is used for one of them, and the other is called “motherhood,” or Eve. We all share in the same origin; AND we all share in the same separation from Reality.
But, the stories of the Old Testament tell us, Reality is immediately at work to restore the original relationship. God makes clothing for the man and the woman so they are protected from the exploitation of each other.
Then, as the Bible continues, humans begin the trip back to true life, life in terms of Reality. Reality will show each step of the way. It all begins with a new Creation - and the righteous man Noah, shows how new life from death by water. Only then does the word “father” come to the fore: Abraham becomes the father of the new People of God. The new People of God have as their task living and sharing the new life in Reality.
Paul picks up this story. In fact, Paul was raised on this story; but Paul also learned the Greek way of thinking. Paul uses the Hebrew story to show how Jesus fulfills the promises, and by his death destroys the death created in the Garden. And just as only one human brought death (separation from Reality) to all humans, SO ALSO the death of Jesus totally and absolutely restored Reality to humans. The Spirit of Reality IS that life: and THAT is what Jesus (as the 4th Gospel tells) hands to those who choose to live in Reality. THUS joy, freedom, justice and love are once again to be seen as the true Reality. And all humans can share in it by willingly giving up natural human life, and being born again into the new life of Reality - Jesus. Paul is overwhelmed by this gift from the Reality he grew up with. It is absolutely astounding, he says, and far greater than anything humans could ever accomplish on their own.
The Gospel shows us how we share in the life of Jesus. As we live in him with our baptismal life, all physical hardships lose their significance. Our fasting during Lent is the sign that we know this. Any attempt to live outside the terms of Reality is utter foolishness and will once again move humans away from their true task.
Indeed, says Jesus, the only way one can be in touch with Reality is through worship - both liturgical worship and the living out of that worship in whatever place where is has pleased God to place us. Anything that we or anyone else does that in fact brings joy, freedom, justice and love, is a participation in the worship of Reality.
And that is what we are all about, my brothers and sisters. Worship, whether it is Sunday Liturgy or Ash Wednesday worship or Holy Week Liturgy is no option. Liturgy is the very essence of the meaning of our baptismal covenant. Bringing change into the world around us is our task - and that task makes joy, freedom, justice and love a true Reality. And - as Jesus says in the Gospel lesson - anything that does not bring joy, freedom, justice and love to this world is the work of the devil.
We come to Liturgy week by week to receive the very life of Jesus into our body. We do that so that we can like in terms of Reality. And, by our Baptismal Covenant, we - each one of us - has promised that we will allow nothing at all to prevent us from attempting to live this way. And if that is the way we live and act, God promises that there is nothing at all that we can ever do (or fail to do) that will make God stop loving us. The fullness of God’s life lives in us - even when we fail to live up to it.
That in itself should so fill us with joy and freedom and justice and love, that we will come and participate - and then go and bring that joy and freedom and justice and loved with us wherever we happen to be.
Have a profitable Lent!
Affectionately in Christ,
Archbishop of New York
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Over the years, some have asked to have a copy of Archbishop Anthony’s Prayer. Here it is: