Holy Week 2007: Matins of Holy Thursday

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In the past I have pointed out some of the temptations that accompany wonderful liturgical cycle of Holy Week. One of these temptations is to limit the temporal scope of this cycle to the past.  When confinement to the past becomes the only point of reference the services we celebrate are reduced to high drama which ultimately have no real existential impact on our lives personally and corporately as the Church.  These services are not a re-enactment of events which cannot be repeated.

It is easy for us to look to the past.  It is easy for us to sing and hear about the infidelity of “treacherous” Judas.  Certainly, the historical past permeates these and all the services of the Church.  But the past is not and must not be our only point of reference. The liturgical cycle of the Church is the means by which we enter and participate in the great acts of God which impact our lives here and now and offer us a foretaste of that which is to be fulfilled in the future.

As some of you know, one of my favorite lines in this Matins service comes from the ninth ode of the canon: “Come o faithful, let us enjoy the Master’s hospitality, the banquet of immortality.”  Last year I spoke about this verse by focusing primarily on how the Master’s hospitality is a reality that beckons us now in the present. Tonight I want to draw our attention the term faithful.  Why are we called faithful? What constitutes our fidelity to the Master?

With the inclusion of this Matins service there are three themes that confront each of us as members of the living body of Christ. The first theme is vigilance.  As members of Christ’s body and therefore as members of the Church we are a people who are to be awake and waiting for the Lord’s coming again.  The concept of waiting is fundamental in the life of the Christian.  Anticipating and celebrating in the present what is to be fulfilled in the future is a disposition of Christian life that has to a large extent been ignored precisely because the great works of God have been relegated to the past. The Lord is coming again to judge the living and the dead. Being vigilant is being ready for the unknown day and hour.  Vigilance is seeking to know and do the will of God.

This leads to the second theme of stripping away all hypocrisy. Last year I spoke about this theme at some length.  A hypocrite is an actor.  From the perspective of the biblical texts complemented and often expounded upon by the Church’s hymnody, the hypocrite pretends to be a faithful, loving, obedient and dedicated disciple of the Master.  Here our point of reference is not only the past. What we have heard, what we have chanted and read point also to present and therefore to ourselves. If we are to be faithful and loving disciples of the Master then we are to cease being hypocrites. All the horrible camouflage which disguises and aids us in pretending to be disciples must be stripped away.  Only when we acknowledge our own hypocrisy can we begin to repent and recover our true identity based on a living relationship with the Master.  By taking off the mask of the actor we are able to become less so Christ may become more. We are then able to offer hospitality to the Master who desires to rest in our hearts, in our minds – in every fiber of our existence.

Having said all this there still remain two basic questions to be asked which in turn will confront us with the third theme. What compels us to be vigilant?  What compels us to put off hypocrisy? Entering into the feast of Great and Holy Thursday we celebrate the instituting of the new and everlasting covenant which is made possible – which is dependent upon the new and eternal commandment to love.  If we are to be numbered among the faithful and therefore vigilant and free of hypocrisy then we must strive to obey the law of love.

For many non-Orthodox Christians the Thursday of Holy Week is referred to as Maundy Thursday.  The name is a corruption of the Latin Mandatum Novum.  In drawing his disciples into the new covenant the Master offers them and us a new commandment.  We are to love as he loves.  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13:34-35) We watch and anticipate with pure and unashamed faces the coming of the one who loves us and who commands us to love one another.  Indeed this is how we love the one who loves us first. This is how we love the one who loves us from all eternity. To be in communion with the Master and each other is possible only through love which compels us to be awake and stripped of all hypocrisy.

In the mystery of the Church we are bound here and now to what occurred once and for all in the past.  Here and now we are given the new commandment. Here and now the Master offers us hospitality that surpasses all reason and understanding.  Here and now we rejoice in the Master’s bridal chamber basking in his divine uncreated light as we make ready for his glorious coming again. Amen.

Father Robert M. Arida