In a previous blog, Reading the Scriptures in an Orthodox Manner, I offered some examples from the Great Canon of Repentance of how St. Andrew of Crete read the Scriptures for their spiritual significance. St. Andrew was following an interpretive method which was described by St. Isaac the Syrian.
In this blog, I will look at a few more of St. Andrew’s hymns to consider even further his understanding of repentance and also of how to read the Scriptures. St. Andrew’s Canon while being deeply remorseful is not hopeless. He totally believes in the love of God and that God is working for our salvation. God is not so interested in retribution and making us suffer for our sins as He is in our repentance and salvation. The process of salvation is thus often presented by St. Andrew more in a medical model than a juridical one. Our sins are wounds, often self-inflicted, which cause us physical suffering. God the Savior comes to heal these sinful ills.
“I have sinned, offended and rejected Your commandment, for I have advanced in sins and added wounds to my sores. But in Your compassion have mercy on me, O God of our Fathers.”
“If David, the father of our Divine Lord, doubly sinned of old, my soul, when he was pierced with the arrow of adultery and struck with the spear of remorse for murder, yet you have a sickness graver than deeds in your will and appetites.”
Sin as sickness rather than as law-breaking is a common theme in St. Andrew’s Great Canon. We need to be healed of these wounds which we have suffered because of sin. The theme of Judgment is not totally absent even when the theme of sin as illness is present.
The mind is wounded, the body is feeble, the spirit is sick, the word has lost its power, life is ebbing, the end is at the doors. What then will you do, wretched soul, when the Judge comes to try your case?
Sin by wounding us, further weakens us in our spiritual efforts. It is health (the word “salvation” implies health and healing in Greek, Latin and Hebrew) which we need in order to stand before Christ on Judgment Day.
Heal, O Savior, the corruption of my debased soul, O only Physician. Apply the compress to me, and the oil and wine – works of repentance, compunction and tears.
We for our part come to Christ to be healed because we have come to recognize our spiritual ailments and know we need someone to save us from our sinful wounds.
Imitating the woman of Canaan, I also cry, “Have mercy on me, O Son of David!” I touch Your hem like the woman with hemorrhage. I weep like Martha and Mary over Lazarus.
In the above hymns from St. Andrew of Crete, we see how for him sin is related to our health. God’s dealing with sin is an act of mercy and salvation. God is more interested in healing us than punishing us. Sin is self-inflicting wounds on ourselves while God is trying to heal us. Great Lent while being a school of repentance is also a clinic in which we begin to cooperate with Christ for our healing. St. Isaac of Syria argues that God does not react to our sins, rather He always acts towards us according to His own nature: which is love. Thus St. Isaac rejects any notion that God uses retribution toward sinners. St. Isaac says that retributive punishment is administered by those whose will is being thwarted and who are thereby threatened by those who resist them. He argues that God’s will is never thwarted and God is not threatened by those who might resist Him, so He never has a need to impose endless punishment on sinners, but rather always acts towards all in love in order to heal the wounds we inflict on ourselves and others through sin.