Rich in Passions or Poor in Sin?

The Lord Jesus’s parable of the poor beggar Lazarus and the heartless rich man found in Luke 16:19-31 is well known.

There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’

But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”

How the Church has used the parable through the centuries is found in sermons and hymns written through the centuries.   Below is one hymn from the last Wednesday in Great Lent (Palm week) making reference to the parable and showing us what message was received by Orthodox monastics from the parable.   Because the beggar’s name is Lazarus, Orthodox hymns sometimes connect this beggar to Jesus’s friend Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead (John 11) which also explains why the hymn is sung on the Wednesday before Lazarus Saturday.

I am rich in passions and clothed in the deceitful robe of hypocrisy,

and I rejoice in the sins of self-indulgence.  

There is no limit to my lack of love.  

I neglect my spiritual understanding,

that lies at the gate of repentance,

starved of all good things, sick through want of care.  

O Lord, make me like Lazarus poor in sin,

that I be not tormented in the flame

that never shall be quenched,

and pray in vain for a finger to be dipped in water

and laid upon my tongue.  

But in Thy love for mankind

make me dwell with the Patriarch Abraham.

This Lenten hymn takes the parable, applying it to each of us personally – the hymn is spoken in the first person, “I“.  Significantly, “I” (each of us) is the rich man in the parable.  Our riches are the spiritual gifts which God has given us. The hymn removes any economic or class status message from the parable.    The hymn “spiritualizes” the parable turning the nameless rich man into a symbol of deceit, hypocrisy and self-indulgence – engaged in all the behavior of a sinner.  In the hymn, these sins are about me – how “I” behave.    Lazarus in the hymn is portrayed not as an indigent human but rather allegorized into “my spiritual understanding.”  The hymn is Orthodox spirituality, very Lenten and monastic, so everything is being turned into images of repentance for one’s sinful nature.  The parable in this interpretation is not contrasting two distinct people – a rich man and a poor man –  but is an allegory about “me”.   I am both the rich man (enriched by Christ’s spiritual gifts) and I am Lazarus (with impoverished spiritual understanding).   Lazarus is me, or in the hymn more precisely has become “my spiritual understanding” which lies at the rich man’s gate which is allegorized to be “the gate of repentance.”  It is my own heart and mind which are impoverished because I lack good deeds  and am not merciful and compassionate to others.

The hymn then switches its point of reference – I am to embrace Lazarus’s poverty by becoming poor in sin.  From an Orthodox point of view, worldly wealth does me no good if I’m also rich in sin.  I am to impoverish myself by abandoning all forms of sin in order to be spared the fires of hell.  This interpretation of the hymn avoids any judgment of the rich and also steers away from any class struggle.  The rich man is not being condemned because of his wealth, nor is Lazarus being praised just for his poverty.  The parable itself does not tell us anything about Lazarus being virtuous.  His poverty is not claimed to be voluntary.  The rich man is not accused of having obtained ill-gotten wealth through illicit or sinful means.

The hymn’s interpretation of the parable completely avoids any judgment of social status or rank.  It is not about class warfare.   The parable is allegorized in the hymn turning it into a monastic lesson about sin, not about showing compassion to the poor or giving charity to the needy.  The interpretation attempts to make the Gospel completely relevant to the monastics for whom the hymn was written – people who at least in theory had completely denied themselves all worldly wealth in order to follow Christ.  The parable is made relevant for those who have chosen poverty by reminding them that poverty is not about one’s social class nor is it about how much you really possess, but rather poverty and wealth are both about one’s spiritual condition.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit“, Jesus teaches.  Spiritual riches and spiritual poverty are not dependent on one’s wealth or possessions.  They are a matter of the heart.

Advertisements

Struggling to Love One’s Enemies

“Everyday experience shows that even people who in their inner depths accept Christ’s commandment to love one’s enemies do not put it into practice. Why? First of all, because without grace we cannot love our enemies. But if, realizing that this love was naturally beyond them, they asked God to help them with His grace they would certainly receive this gift.

Unfortunately, it is the opposite that prevails. Not only unbelievers but people who call themselves Christians are afraid of acting toward their enemies according to Christ’s commandment. They think that to do so would only be of advantage to the other side, seeing the enemy refracted through the distorting prism of hatred as having nothing good in him, that he would take advantage of their ‘indulgence’ and respond to their love either by crucifying or shamelessly crushing and subjugating them, thus letting evil, as generally personified by this enemy, triumph.

The idea that Christianity is ‘wishy-washy’ is profoundly mistaken. The saints possess a force powerful enough to sway people, influence the masses, but theirs is the reverse method – they make themselves servants of their brethren, and thus win for themselves a love in its essence imperishable. By following this course they gain a victory that will obtain ‘world without end’, whereas a victory won through violence never lasts and by its nature is more to the shame than to the glory of mankind.”   

(St. Silouan the Athonite, pp. 224-225)

Understanding Seeds and Parables

Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”  (Matthew 13:8-10)

“This tension is present as well in Jesus’ use of conventional proverbial sayings, using ambiguity to involve hearers and reader-learners in interpreting their meaning and to evoke something radically new. For example, Jesus used a familiar farming image of planting seeds that grow: “When the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:29).

The farmer does not make the seed grow but must use his judgment to discern when it is ripe, a judgement learned from his own farmer-father and his previous experience. But here the image is applied to the coming of the Kingdom! The reader-learner is invited to see the kingdom as growing seeds and ripening plants, but how does one judge that a kingdom is ripe?

If it is ripe, a harvest requires cutting down and threshing. What does that expect of reader-learners?”  (Charles F. Melchert, Wise Teaching, p. 244)

St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Sower of Seeds

In Luke 8:5-15, the Lord Jesus tells the following parable:

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?” And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.

 

St. Cyril of Alexandria writes about the types of persons represented by the three types of ground upon which the seed of the word fell. Concerning those of the first kind he says:

No sacred or divine word will be able to enter those who have minds that are hard and unyielding, for it is by the aid of such words that the joyful fruit of virtue can grow. Men of this kind are highways that are trodden by unclean spirits, and by Satan himself, and they shall never be producers of holy fruit, because their hearts are sterile and unfaithful. (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, Homily 41)

The second kind have

a religion without roots…when this kind of person goes out of the church, he immediately forgets the holy teachings he has heard there. And as long as Christians are left in peace, he keeps the faith, but as soon as persecution arises, he will be ready to take to flight in search of safety.

This holy Father finally exhorts us not to allow the cares of this world to choke the tender shoots of faith and commitment as soon as they sprout from the soil of our hearts and minds. We must not be deceived, thinking that thorns and new shoots can exist side by side.” (Archbishop Dmitri, The Parables, p. 14)

Called to the Abundant Light

“Whereas the old law proclaimed that God was the Maker and Lord of heaven, and laid down God-pleasing ordinances for those under the law, it did not give any promise of heavenly benefits, nor did it offer communion with God, or an eternal, heavenly, inheritance to those who obeyed it. But once Christ the King of all had visited us in the flesh ‘to call sinners,’ as He says Himself, ‘to repentance’ (Matt 9:13), there were greater rewards for those who obeyed and repented, and, through works of repentance, ordered their lives according to Christ’s gospel, keeping the holy commandments it contains.

Nor were these rewards simply greater, but also incomparably more excellent.

For what was promised was

the kingdom of heaven,

light without evening,

heavenly adoption as sons,

celestial dwellings,

and a divine and eternal way of life,

and even more than this:

for we shall be ‘heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ’ (Rom. 8:17), and ‘I am come,’ says the Lord, ‘that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly’ (cf. John 10:10).

These are not resounding but empty phrases, nor just a litany of vain words, but an account of the unchanging things actually stored up as prizes for those who believe and live according to Christ.”

(St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, p. 445)

The Gospel is Good News

Gospel, then, means words about the Word of God. Reflecting on the mystery of the Lord’s Incarnation and all the gifts arising from it, St. John Chrysostom explains why the account of it was called ‘Good News’:

‘What could ever be compared to these joyful tidings?

God on earth, man in heaven.

All became one: angels joined in singing with humans, humans communicated with the angels and the other heavenly powers.

You could truly see the end of the protracted war, reconciliation made between God and our nature, the Devil put to shame, demons in the headlong flight, death abolished.

You could see Paradise being opened, the curse wiped out, sin banished, delusion being hunted down.

Still more, you saw truth returning, the word of Christian faith sown everywhere bringing forth abundant fruit, the life of heaven planted on earth.’

That is why the evangelist called the account of Christ’s life ‘good news.’”

(Hieromonk Gregorios, The Divine Liturgy, p 168)

The Joy of the Gospel Commandments

In Yesterday’s post, Enmity and Discernment, I mentioned the icon at the front entrance of our church, which I must pass every day that I’m in the building.  I cannot get to my office or to the sanctuary without  passing by my Lord who is telling me:

“I give to you a new commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34)

Loving others is a command, not just an appropriate reaction to others.  It is to be a conscious choice of how we treat others, not an emotional response to how we feel about them.  The love we show them is not based upon how they treat us, or what they think about us – if it is, then we are behaving just like any sinner, but not like a Christian (Luke 6:32).

If we obey the Gospel command, it will have an effect on our heart.  What effect might it have on us if I love others as Christ loves me?

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;

the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;

the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;

the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever;

the ordinances of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.  (Psalm 19:7-11)

Fulfilling Christ’s commandment impacts my soul by reviving it; my mind be giving it wisdom; my heart by filling it with joy; and my eyes by giving me true vision.  Every aspect of my being is touched by Christ when I obey His command to love others.

Meditating on the Significance of Christmas

Today when many folk think about the Christmas story, they call to mind a manger, shepherds, a star, magi, a poor Virgin.  These are sometimes thought of as the “historical” facts about Christ’s birth.  These details are sentimentalized in Christmas cards and carols. The Evangelists who give us the Nativity narratives, Sts Matthew and Luke, probably didn’t see these details as being particularly “historical.”  They used other elements in their narratives to show the historical nature of the birth of Jesus Christ.

St. Matthew in his Gospel gives the birth of Christ a “historical” context by setting the birth in the line of a genealogy from Abraham until Christ (Matthew 1) – thus establishing the birth as a genuine part of Jewish lineage and promise.  He also  establishes the historicity by mentioning the evil “Jewish” King Herod (Matthew 2) – thus giving us the “time” in which Christ’s birth occurred – an evil time for Jews in which their faith was being corrupted by Herod’s false religion and his grand Temple complex.  St. Luke, on the other hand, uses the historical backdrop of the Roman Empire and Caesar Augustus to put the birth of Christ into world history (Luke 2).  Also, an evil time for the Jews who were a conquered people, living in subjugation to a pagan world power.  For both Evangelists, Christ is born into a threatening world, bringing God’s kingdom to worldly kings who  would oppose it.

The two Evangelists, Matthew and Luke, write within the context of their time, and with their own understanding of what “historical” means.  They weren’t historians in the modern sense of scholars searching ancient documents or doing archaeological studies to establish the facts.  They accepted as true the oral or written traditions they received and were OK with some alterations in “historical facts” if it met the theological purpose of the narrative to convey a godly truth.  Thus Luke and Matthew’s genealogies don’t perfectly match, but that is not their point, they are tracing lineages back to Abraham (so Matthew) and to Adam (so Luke) for theological reasons.  Both attempt to place the Nativity narrative within the context of different Jewish prophecies which result in some factual discrepancies in their version of events.  They weren’t however writing for each other, but rather were using the prophetic traditions known to them and important to them.  The birth of the Messiah fit the prophecies which they knew, even if the two birth narratives can’t be perfectly reconciled.  Modern folk equate fact and truth, but ancient believers saw truth as being eternal and divine, and the events of the world were the clothing which make truth visible to us.  These ancients did not always equate the details (the clothing of events) with fact.  The details simply made the truth knowable to us, and so details might be altered to  make the truth more clear.  In the current age, we generally don’t think like the ancients about these details.  We need to remember that.  [Probably the closest we moderns come to the ancient way is during election times when politicians change the details of events in their campaign speeches in order to  fit the narrative they want to tell.  “Truthiness” as Colbert called it.  But remember this is still different than how the ancients understood events.  Modern politicians still have our modern idea of facts, and alter them to fit their needs.  Ancients saw the details of narratives as simply the clothes to make something visible.  They weren’t cynically manipulating facts to create misinformation.]

In the Post-Apostolic and Patristic period, writers often had a similar sense of what is “historical” to the Evangelists and so could accept the Gospel accounts as “history”.  But in the generations of Christians following the apostles, the truth of the Nativity narrative which was most essentially focused on was “who is Jesus Christ?”  What was seen as the historical fact and of greatest importance is that Jesus is God incarnate.  As Roman Catholic scholar  Luigi Gambero writes:

“…We must recognize that the Church was less interested in the historical modalities of Christ’s birth than in the mystery of his Incarnation, which was one of the principal objectives of the apostolic kerygma [teaching, message] from the beginning. The ancient Christians held beyond a doubt both the divine origin of the person of Christ and his perfect humanity; but they likewise held that his actions would be incomprehensible if reduced to a scheme of purely human categories.” ( Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p 25)

 

 

The Gospel Narrative and Us

The Epistle reading for the Sunday of All Saints is Hebrews 11:32-12:2.  In it we are being given a narrative in which to understand the heroic accomplishments as well as the suffering and martyrdoms of God’s chosen people.  The author of Hebrews is telling us that the Old Testament story is not complete – at least not apart from us!  Their story continues beyond their time and flows into our time and incorporates us into the narrative.

5512468401_a1e7080270

Here is the text of the Epistle for All Saints:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.    

24029135936_60c1cdfdc9

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

The text is presenting these men and women of Hebrew history in a very particular light – creating a narrative about them, their heroics, their hope and vision even in the face of suffering. AND by saying they were not made perfect apart from us, invites us to join that narrative, and make it our own and carry it forward.  We are woven into their story, and they become a living part of our lives.  This is of course important in helping us continue to be faithful in our day; for like these our spiritual ancestors we find that we too are looking forward to a future fulfillment of God’s plan.  The saints of the Old Testament were looking forward to the day of Christ’s coming, and we are awaiting the fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven, so we continue to look to an eschaton not yet realized.

The Saints of the Old Testament are part of a narrative that stretches from their day right through our current century.  Their story makes no sense apart from our own.  Our current story is part of a narrative that stretches back to the beginning of humanity and reaches into the Kingdom of God which is to come.  Thus what we experience in a life time is but a portion of the much longer narrative of God’s creation.  Our experience is a glimpse of the narrative, but not the entire picture.  We always have to keep that in mind when we struggle with life in a given moment, on a given day, or through a lifetime.  As long as our life might be (even if we live to a Methuselahian age – nearly a millennium!), our life is but a small portion of the narrative of creation – a paragraph in a chapter in a book in a library.

There are always many narratives running through our our minds and hearts.  These narratives exist on different levels, with varying degrees of influence, which enter our thinking at different periods of our lives.  Some are meta-narratives, involving many people – being American for example is such a narrative which teaches us certain hopes and dreams and a way to interpret the world.   Some narratives are given to us through family or genetic identity – being Slavic-American or Latino, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks.  Other narratives are quite personal – I’m lovable, talented, or unwanted. Narratives may in fact not represent a true vision of reality, but they do shape our experience of reality and of how we constitute reality. We may come to believe along the way that “nobody likes me” – that may be far from reality, but it colors our experience of reality and does then come to effect how we constitute reality. Such narratives may be true or false, real or imagined, good or bad – and we are not always aware of them, nor of how they influence us.   It is possible to become aware of them (takes great mindfulness!) and we can reject some of them and replace them with other narratives – thus conversion, repentance, forgiveness are all possible. We can change the narratives guiding the way we see the world – the way we constitute reality.

While there are always several narratives running through our minds and hearts, we can also choose to embrace a meta-narrative which can come to override or interpret our many internal narratives. Or sometimes the competing narratives in our brains run into conflict and cause cognitive dissonance – which sometimes we choose to live with, and sometimes becomes so uncomfortable that we change narratives.

Sometimes we cannot find a meta-narrative which makes sense of all the other narratives or of a particular narrative. That can cause us to seek out that meta-narrative, to seek for some truth to help us deal with all else that we think, feel, believe, experience. The seeking itself can become the meta-narrative which guides us. We realize there is mystery, that searching and seeking may not find answers, but only help us frame questions.

8484036032_305e9038f4

Some meta-narratives help us gain insight into ourselves, and into reality itself.  How we understand ourselves as humans or as Christians are really meta-narratives which help us cope with life and constitute reality.

For me, the Orthodox Christian meta-narrative is very attractive, but I realize that it is sometimes in competition with other powerful narratives – the American meta-narrative for example which gives us certain myths about America which can be powerfully attractive and wonderful but which are in direct opposition to the Gospel narrative.  Some people even blend these competing narratives, blurring the distinctions and assuming they are the same narrative.

Meta-narratives in the world are always changing, but sometimes they change faster and we become more aware of the narratives or the changes that are occurring in them.  Right now in the world several meta-narratives are in the process of change.  Islam actually is constituted by several competing narratives that are literally at war with each other and the rest of the world.    America’s meta-narrative is in the process of changing as the world itself changes.  Brexit, terrorism, nationalism, exceptionalism, China, etc, are all changing the world’s narratives.  Some find these changes terrifying and they want to go back to a time when they felt safer – so they try to grasp onto a world that is passing away.  They are not really grasping reality, but just the meta-narrative they embraced as true or which comforted them and made sense of the world.  Politicians try to feed the meta-narratives they believe are most alluring to people.  Like the narratives themselves, what the politicians say may not be reality, but they resonate with the voice already at work in people’s minds.

5121808348_fe33d230fc

The Apotheosis of George Washington

For us as Christians, we have a meta-narrative that is always focused to the eschaton – drawing us forward to the Kingdom of God.  The world’s meta-narratives are ever changing, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  This Gospel meta-narrative is supposed to simultaneously strengthen us, comfort us, inspire us, challenge us, give us hope and make sense of the world around us.

For the form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. (1 Corinthians 7:31-32)

Yet I am writing you a new commandment, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.  (1 John 2:8)

4263487239_b86a7aa613

The River From Eden Yields the Four Gospels

“The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.  And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  . . .  Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.  And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;’but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Genesis 2:8-10, 15-17)

When I read Genesis 2, I do find Source Theory to be helpful in understanding the various currents of thoughts that make up the chapter.  Basically this theory in Biblical Scholarship says that some of the books of the Bible or chapters within a book show signs of having been written by different authors and then were placed together by an editor at some point in history.  It still is inspired Scripture and we receive the text as it is even if we can analyze it into its various parts.

So Genesis 2:8-10 begins the narration of the Garden which God planted in Eden (as we see in the opening text of this blog).  This narration flows perfectly from vs. 10, continuing in vs 15-17 as can be seen above.   Between vs. 10 and 15 verses 11-14 seem to completely disrupt the narrative with no direct connection to verses 8-10 or 15-17.     If you remove verses 11-14, you see verse 15 flows seamlessly from verse 10.  This fact is accounted for by Source theory:  vs 11-14 are in fact from a different hand/narrative but have been placed into the text and so now form our Scriptures.   Here are the verses 11-14:

“Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads.  The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.  And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there.  The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one which goes around the whole land of Cush.  The name of the third river is Hiddekel; it is the one which goes toward the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates.” (Genesis 2:11-14)

f

Perhaps the point of verses 11-14 is to give some geographical connection between Eden and earth occupied by those ancients who composed and edited the text.  In any case they don’t add to the narrative and in some ways defy a spiritual interpretation.  The Orthodox Church however makes very interesting use of those verses in a Holy Friday Matins hymn.

“From Your live-bearing side, O Christ, a fountain flows forth as from Eden, giving drink to Your Church as to a living Paradise.  From there it divided to become the four rivers of the Gospels, watering the world, gladdening creation, and teaching the nations to worship Your Kingdom in Faith.”  

In the above Holy Friday hymn, Genesis 2:11-14 and the river flowing from Paradise is connected to the wound made in Christ’s side when he hung dead upon the cross.  According to John 19:34, blood and water flowed from the side of Christ when He was pierced with the spear.  That Gospel verse is interpreted in the hymn in the light of Genesis 2:11-14.

In Genesis 2, the narrative of Adam in Paradise (vs. 8-10, 15-17) is interrupted by unexpected mention of this flowing river which originates in Eden and becomes the source of 4 other rivers (vs 11-14).  Such river bifurcation is fairly rare in nature but where it exists sometimes waters and forms an entire delta region, a fertile crescent as it were.   The life-giving nature of these deltas – giving birth to a rich abundance of wildlife is used in the imagery of the hymn above.  But now in the hymn, Christ’s pierced side, like the Garden of Paradise, becomes the source of the life-giving river which in turn is the riverhead of the four rivers which are the Gospels watering the world.  The fourfold Gospels flow from the side of Christ bringing Good News to all nations.  The imagery is rich indeed and makes a very creative use of what might otherwise be seen as an odd anomaly interrupting the flow of Scripture.  The flow of the river from the Garden of Eden which is the riverhead of 4 other rivers helps us appreciate  the depth of the Gospel verse mentioning the flow of blood from the side of the crucified Christ.