Monday, April 18, 2022

An Interpretation of the Hymnography of Matins on Holy Monday


By Dr. Michael Koutsos

Introduction

The combination of the parable of the "withered fig tree" and "the all-comely Joseph" may seem out of place at first, but it is not. The combination is harmonious, one complements the other, the fruitlessness of the fig tree is complemented by the fruitfulness of Joseph. I will explain

The primary destiny of the fig tree, like all other trees, is its fruitfulness. Everything else is secondary, such as giving us leaves for shade or wood for burning. The fig tree with its fruitlessness does not perform the basic purpose for which it was created. This also applies to man. Fruitfulness, ie creativity and productivity, is for man the first and basic reason for his existence. The hymn writer, of course, likens the barren fig tree to the barren synagogue of the Jews and urges us to avoid the barren fig tree, because as they throw dry and unproductive branches of trees into the fire, so they will throw us into the fire of hell, if we are fruitless. In other words, "Christ imagines the Synagogue of the Jews as a fig tree devoid of spiritual fruit, so He curses it and in turn it withers." Therefore, let us avoid this suffering and let us bring forth the fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit, which is both a desired goal and a criterion for our examination.

How does the story of Joseph relate to the barren fig tree? When the Ishmaelites brought Joseph to Egypt, he was bought by Potiphar, who was the official and leader of Pharaoh's bodyguard. Joseph won the favor of his master and he made him caretaker of his house. The Lord blessed the house, the possessions and the estates of Potiphar, because of Joseph. Joseph had a handsome figure and a beautiful face. But because he did not obey the erotic moods of Potiphar's wife, she slandered him to her husband. Potiphar listened to his wife and ordered that Joseph be arrested and put in prison (Genesis 39:1-20). Joseph was not only handsome in body but also in soul. This is shown by the purity he showed towards the erotic moods of Potiphar's wife, by his honesty and merit in managing Pharaoh's property, by the forgiveness towards his brothers who sold him as a slave in Egypt, by the help he gave to his brothers and from the many good things he did to the Egyptians. His fruitfulness is obvious. It is a shining example for all people, which is why it is projected by the Church at the beginning of Holy Week in contrast to the fruitlessness of the fig tree.

Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Fearing a similar sentence to that of the fruitless fig tree,
brethren, let us bring forth fruits
worthy of repentance to Christ,
Who bestows on us the great mercy.


Interpretation

The fruits of a fruit tree are the main reason for its existence. If it does not bear fruit, the tree is cut down and burned. This is what Christ said in another case about dry climates, now he says it about the overflowing fig tree but it is not fruitful. The large and cool leaves only provide shade, but the fig tree is not planted for shade but for the fruit.

Man is also a fruit tree, which is why he must bear fruit. He is not like a simple tree but a creative man, who has a mind and hands and can do many things. This is self-evident, but this is not the reason why he ordered the fig tree to wither. He wanted to teach that man must be productive, creative and have the fruits of the Holy Spirit. If he does not have these fruits, man can have a beautiful appearance, to give the impression to others that he is great, but man is judged by his works and actions. The fruits of men are their good works, with which they will go to Heaven and be saved, otherwise they will go to hell and be destroyed. Holy Week gives the opportunity and the possibility of the reorganization of man, of self-criticism and productive activity.

Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The serpent, finding the Egyptian woman
to be a second Eve through the words she spoke,
hastened through flattery to cause Joseph to fall.
But Joseph abandoned his garment, and thus he fled from sin.
And though he was naked, he was unashamed,
like Adam, the first man, was before he disobeyed.


Interpretation

The scene is repeated: Potiphar's wife becomes the second Eve, who fell victim to the Dragon, who is none other than the Devil. So this woman becomes an instrument of the Devil and tries with flattering words to seduce a man, the all-comely Joseph, into sin. The beauty of Joseph in face and stature becomes a lure that the Devil uses to seduce the woman and she seduces Joseph. Joseph, however, was upright and honorable with his master, Potiphar, and did not succumb to her sinful proposals. Potiphar's wife tried to "supplant", to insult Joseph, but he went out naked, because his wife took his clothes. Joseph's decision was firm and he preferred the nakedness of the body to the nakedness of the soul. This physical nakedness resembles the nakedness of the first-created before their disobedience, where their eye was not evil and they were not ashamed to be naked. Immediately after the disobedience they sewed fig leaves and put them on their bodies, because they began to see each other wickedly and sinfully. Therefore it was not nudity but the wicked look they acquired after the disobedience that led them to sin. Joseph preferred the nakedness of the body in order to avoid sin. Of course he paid dearly for this, that is, with imprisonment after the slander of the woman against him, but this did not bother him.

First Tone
The revered Passion on this day,
dawns on the world as a light of salvation;
for Christ, of His goodness, draws near to His sufferings.
He who holds all things in His hand,
condescends to be raised up on the Cross,
that He may save mankind.


Interpretation

The hymn writer emphasizes the "revered Passion" at the beginning of the week of the Passion, because these are the central themes of the week. "Septa" has the meaning of both the revered and the sacred, which is why the Passion of Christ is called "septa". However, apart from revered, they are also characterized as saving, connecting them with the light of Christ's resurrection. "Rises" has a relation apart from the announcement of the coming of light to the World and is also a prelude to Holy Week. And it is not only us who are in a hurry to rejoice in the light of the Resurrection but Christ is also in a hurry to suffer the Passions for the salvation of the world. This haste of Christ signifies his great love for his creatures, the lost sheep. So he will suffer without being worth it, because he is characterized by infinite goodness. And it is of course a great wonder how the one who keeps the whole world in his handful admits to be hanged like a criminal on the Cross. But it does this to save man.

Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The day radiates with the first fruits of the Passion of the Lord...

Interpretation
 
We are at the beginning of the first fruits, as the troparion says, of the Week of the Passion, which in the previous troparion was characterized as "septa", that is, revered and sacred. The present day, that is, Holy Monday, marks the beginning of the services of Holy Week. But it impresses us that the present day radiates, that is, that we too should wear radiant colors instead of wearing black, because we have before us lamentation, the Passion of Christ. But this is not the case with Christian things. The Orthodox Christian may be in black this week but he is joyful, he lives the joyful-mourning. And of course he mourns the Passion of Christ, but he knows that these will pass and after the Crucifixion the Resurrection will follow. This was and is the path of Christ, who arrives at the Resurrection, the victory through the Crucifixion, through sorrow. We are called to follow this path. To know that there is no difficulty that we cannot overcome with the help of Christ. Our God the Father, "in heaven", expects us to shed the weight of sins, to become light and to rise from the earth to heaven, like the Virgin Mary, who is described as a "hollow cloud", because she was freed from the weight of every sin and is close to her Son and her God. This is confirmed by the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Thessalonians, this is what we want to happen to us as well: "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:17).

... Come, therefore, O feast-loving friends,
let us meet, and greet it with hymns;
for the Creator comes, condescending to the Cross;
to questioning and to lashings, judged by Pilate.
Also smitten on the head by a servant,
He endures all to save mankind...


Interpretation

In this atmosphere, strangely festive, the hymn writer moves, when he invites us, who love to celebrate these events, the unpleasant but at the same time pleasant, and to greet the Bridegroom Christ, with the ecclesiastical songs of this Holy Week, so solemn and thoughtful. We are called to precede Christ not with heavy branches but with chants, a Christ who does not come as He "who makes the clouds his chariot, who walks upon the wings of the wind," but as a humble man who is going to suffer the torments, the cross, the examination, the slap on the cheek by one of His slaves. And all this, to save man. The Judge will be judged by the judged, the Creator by His creation, and He will be condemned. He suffers everything, He tries all the ways to bring us on the right path and to be saved.

... For this, let us cry aloud:
O Philanthropic Christ our God,
grant remission of sins to those,
who venerate in faith Your immaculate Passion.


Interpretation

The hymnographer invites us believers, who faithfully venerate the revered and immaculate Passion of the Lord, to cry out and implore the Philanthropic Christ to grant us the remission of sins and to come to the Resurrection pure and clean, as the circumstances require. But let us have the courage, because "On the Cross you tore up the record of our sins, O Lord" (troparion of Great Friday). By his Crucifixion, Christ tore the debt of our sins and freed us from our sins, for he is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, redeemed us from the curse of the law, and restored his fallen image, extending on the Cross your immaculate hands."

The Praises. Idiomela.
First Tone.

As the Lord was going to His voluntary Passion,
He was saying to His Apostles on the way:
"Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem,
and the Son of Man shall be delivered up,
as it is written of Him..."


Interpretation

1. "As the Lord was going to His voluntary Passion." The Lord comes voluntarily, which does not mean that He does not have the consent of the other two persons of the Holy Trinity. After all, it is the Son of God who became the Son of man that undertakes the mission of carrying out the Plan of God for the salvation of man. This plan foresaw the Crucifixion of Christ as man and his Resurrection as God. As a human being He suffered the Passion, which was voluntary and so we are talking about a Divine Passion and a Divine Drama and not about a human tragedy. The difference is huge. Tragedy brings destruction, it brings death and despair. Drama does not have these features. Drama is the fluctuation of human emotions. The man who lives a drama knows many mental fluctuations, he looks like the stormy sea with many waves, one of which takes him high to the zenith and one takes him low to the nadir. Christ as a man experienced these fluctuations, for example the feeling of anger against the merchants of Solomon's Temple, the grief over the death of His friend Lazarus, but the strongest was on the Mount of Olives, where he begged God to let the bitterness cup of death to pass, and of course on the Cross, when His disciples abandoned him. But Christ as a man experienced the greatest joy when he was resurrected as God, to resurrect the entire human race.

2. "He was saying to His Apostles on the way: 'Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be delivered up, as it is written of Him.'" This is not the first time Christ has spoken to the Apostles on the road about what was to happen. And on the road to Emmaus, approaching Luke and Cleopas, he explained to them without understanding the events of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord according to the prophecies. The hymn writer emphasizes the same now, talking about "as it is written of Him", as he notes. The path to Jerusalem is uphill, because Jerusalem was built on a hill, but it is a victorious path. It began as triumphant with the palms of the branches during His reception, continued as a martyrdom with its tradition of Crucifixion and ended again triumphant with the Resurrection.

We are called to do this course as well.

... Come, therefore, and let us accompany Him,
with purified minds, and let us be crucified with Him,
and for His sake mortify the pleasures of this life,
that we may also live with Him, and hear Him declaring:...


Interpretation

In order to accompany Christ we must also keep our bodies clean, like the Jews by God's command to receive the Ten Commandments, and our hearts clean, as David emphasizes in the 50th Psalm: "Create in me a clean heart, O God," and our minds, which is fed by the senses, which is why they must be under the "guard" of vigilance, as Nikodemos the Hagiorite writes in his work "Guarding of the Five Senses". Coexistence requires the crucifixion of our old man and the death of the members of the body from the passions. The Apostle Paul is very clear on this subject: "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5). The death of pleasure is a conscious choice between pain versus pleasure. This brings us closer to Christ, to talk to him and give us all the meaning of this struggle.

... "No longer do I go to the earthly Jerusalem to suffer,
but I go to My Father, and your Father;
to My God and your God. And I will raise you up
with Me to the upper Jerusalem, in the Kingdom of Heaven."


Interpretation

Jerusalem after the resurrection of the Lord became a holy city, and also because there was the Temple of Solomon, but mainly because there the Lord was crucified and resurrected. Jerusalem now acquires spiritual dimensions, it is not the earthly Jerusalem but the upper Jerusalem that is identified with the Church of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ does not ascend to earthly Jerusalem but to the upper Jerusalem near His Father and our Father and His God and our God and will raise us up to welcome us in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the end of this arduous journey, which has difficulties and sorrows but also joys.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.
 
 
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