Holy Week commentaries: Wednesday

Posted in Christianity, Religion by Alex L. on April 15, 2009

My journal entry for this day last year discussed Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (“On Christian Love”) before I commented (briefly) about the Holy Week services for Wednesday. My remarks about the former are more interesting than the latter so I include both below:

“I like the encyclical, especially the first part about romantic love (the second part was about charity). I appreciated his point about the English language not having a robust enough vocabulary to describe love. The Greeks distinguished between eros – an acquisitive love – and agape – a self-sacrificial love – and I agreed with the pope that both are important. The Hebrews, I was surprised to find out, made a similar distinction about love. There is the love called dodim, “a plural form suggesting a love that is still insecure, indeterminate and searching”. There is also ahaba, which is similar to agape. I especially appreciated his point that the highest form of love is not only loving the person in exterior action but also liking the person:

‘Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.’

“I was also impressed by the pope’s condescending to address objectives to the faith presented by modern philosophers. The pope wisely responded to Friedrich Nietzsche’s argument that Christianity ruined eros in villainizing it by noting that it was the pagans who were ruining eros (e.g. having prostitutes in fertility cult temples). The pope also objected to the Marxist idea that charity is bad because it supports an unjust social structure and delays revolution by saying that to deny your neighbor of his immediate needs for the sake of a hypothetically-better future is immoral. Very impressive!

“[ . . . ] Before commenting on [the Holy Unction] service, let me talk about the Wednesday service of the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. This is the third and last service of such a kind during Holy Week. The first had readings from Exodus, Job and Matthewas the beginnings of deliverance stories. Today’s service does not have readings about the conclusion of those stories. Instead, we are shown the indeterminate middle, when in a way the protagonists face their moment of truth: Moses rejoins the Hebrews, Job does not deny God, and the actions of Judas are contrasted to those of the woman who annointed Jesus’ feet with oil. I must admit that I was confused about the choice and ordering of the readings in the Holy Unction service. [. . .] in Greek, the words for mercy, oil, and annointing sound the same, and I appreciated that connection in the service.”

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