Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holy and Great Wednesday

As Easter approaches, each day takes on a new significance. On Holy and Great Wednesday, remembrance is made of the anointing at Bethany and of Judas' decision to betray Jesus. Both these events should inspire us a radical humility. They represent the total depths of human sinfulness and the most appropriate and most inappropriate possible responses to that sinfulness.

On the one hand, there is Judas who looks on the image of his creator and is so overcome by lust for sin that he conspires to destroy the one who created him. The radical irony of this cannot be overstated. When faced with the one who came to remove his sins, Judas reacted with even greater sin. When faced with the one who came in mercy, Judas turned him over to the merciless. When faced with perfection, Judas deepens his own imperfection and labels the blameless one a criminal. He meets sincerity with hypocrisy, purity with defilement, love with hate, not only for the one who loves him, but by implication for himself as well. After all, what could be more self-destructive, more self-loathing than the respond to salvation with total rejection.

Then there is the woman, scandalous and sinful though she was, who met the divine with the truly appropriate posture: on the ground, humbly making an offering to God. Where Judas became so consumed with his own desires that those desires consumed him, Mary empties herself totally for the one who would empty himself for her. She debases herself for the one who was ineffably debased on her behalf. She washes the feet of the one who washes our souls, and makes fragrant the one whose fragrance we are to become to the world. It is a beautiful juxtaposition of human inclination towards God, and one that should inculcate in us a spirit of humility and imitation.

To that end, Hesychios the Priest offers some practical advice on achieving humility to consider:

If we are concerned with our salvation, there are many things the intellect can do in order to secure for us the blessed gift of humility. For example, it can recollect the sins we have committed in word, action and thought; and there are many things other things which, reviewed in contemplation, contribute to our humility. True humility is brought about by meditating daily on the achievements of our brethren, by extolling their natural superiorities and by comparing our gifts with theirs. When the intellect sees in this way how worthless we are and how far we fall short of the perfection of our brethren we will regard ourselves as dust and ashes, and not as men but as some kind of cur, more defective in every respect and lower than all men on earth.

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