Two hymns from the 4th Wednesday of Great Lent for us to consider as we continue our Lenten sojourn.
In the first hymn we encounter from Tradition the practice of interpreting passages of the Old Testament using Christ as the key to to understanding the text. Abraham’s story of his taking his own son to offer as a sacrifice to God is understood in the light of the resurrection of Christ. In the hymn we experience that use of non-linear time as the way in which we encounter the eternal God. The hymn makes reference to the resurrection of Christ and yet says Abraham saw that day of Christ’s resurrection. How is that possible that Abraham could see an event that occurred more than 1000 years after he died? The hymn uses figurative language, for when Abraham saw his son’s life spared, he had an experience – a type of the resurrection – in which he received figuratively his son back from death. As it says in Hebrews 11:19 –
Abraham considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
So our hymn reflects this theology and its non-linear understanding of time:
WE HAVE REACHED THE MIDDLE OF THE COURSE OF THE FAST THAT LEADS TO YOUR PRECIOUS CROSS. GRANT THAT WE MAY SEE YOUR DAY WHICH ABRAHAM SAW AND REJOICED WHEN HE RECEIVED ISAAC BACK ALIVE ON THE MOUNTAIN AS FROM THE TOMB! DELIVERED BY FAITH FROM THE ENEMY MAY WE SHARE IN YOUR MYSTICAL SUPPER, CALLING OUT TO YOU IN PEACE: OUR LIGHT AND OUR SAVIOR, GLORY TO YOU!
The hymn expresses the wish that we might see the day which Abraham saw! The hymn has Abraham seeing the resurrection and asks that we might receive the same blessing and see the resurrection of Christ which happened 2000 years ago in our celebration of Pascha which comes three weeks from now. The hymns do not keep us in “real” time, but carry us and Abraham to the same event of Christ’s resurrection. Abraham experiences that resurrection centuries before it happens and we experience it centuries after it happens. Pure historical literalism does not help us understand the eternal, timeless Christ.
Additionally, the hymn prays that saved from death and sin, we might share in the Mystical Supper of Christ which we will celebrate at the Vespers-Liturgy on Holy Thursday evening. We share in and experience Christ and all His saving deeds in our life in the Church.
In the second hymn we will consider, we are reminded about how we are to keep the strict discipline of the fast – in secret. We are forbidden from proclaiming our fasting discipline in public but rather the fasting discipline is something we do in secret so that only God knows how we are keeping the fast. Fasting is not meant to be a way to witness publicly to Christ, nor are we to be paying attention to how others keep the fast. Our fellow Orthodox are Christ’s servants and they answer to Him, not to us. The hymn reminds us fasting is about our relationship to God and should never be used as a basis to judge anyone else but ourselves.
THOSE WHO THIRST FOR SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS PERFORM THEIR GOOD DEEDS IN SECRET, NOT NOISING THEM ABROAD IN MARKETS, BUT CHERISHING AND KEEPING THEM IN THEIR HEARTS. HE WHO SEES ALL THAT IS DONE IN SECRET WILL REWARD US FOR OUR ABSTINENCE. LET US FULFILL THE FAST WITHOUT SAD FACES, BUT CEASELESSLY PRAYING IN THE DEPTHS OF OUR HEARTS: OUR FATHER, IN HEAVEN, LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL!