Tears of Repentance

 “O most holy Lady Theotokos, the light of my darkened soul, my hope, my protection, my refuge, my rest, and my joy: …grant me tears of repentance…

A Prayer to the Theotokos

“And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment… And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”

Luke 7:37-38, 50

“But the woman not having yet received the Word (for she was still a sinner), honoured the Lord with what she thought the most precious thing in her possession—the ointment; and with the ornament of her person, with her hair, she wiped off the superfluous ointment, while she expended on the Lord tears of repentance: wherefore her sins are forgiven.”

– Clement of Alexandria

“…if all the rest have no faith, will God curse all the rest? that is, the population of the whole earth, except about two hermits in the desert, and in His well-known mercy will He not forgive one of them? And so I’m persuaded that though I may once have doubted I shall be forgiven if I shed tears of repentance.”

– Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov – “Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

“God washes away sins by the tears of repentance.”

– Leo the Great

“Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD.”

  • 2 Kings 20:5

 “My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God.”

  • Job 16:20

“Hearken unto my prayer, O Lord, and unto my supplication; give ear unto my tears”.

  • Psalms 38:15

“My tears have been my bread by day and night, whilst it is said to me daily: Where is thy God?”

  • Psalms 41:3

“They that sow with tears shall reap in rejoicing.”

  • Psa 125:5

“And who can now fail to understand that the holy prophet said for our instruction: ‘Every night will I wash my couch and water my bed with my tears’    For if you take it literally for his bed, he shows that such abundance of tears should be shed as to wash the bed and water it with tears, the couch of him who is praying, for weeping has to do with the present, rewards with the future, since it is said: ‘Blessed are ye that weep, for ye shall laugh;’    or if we take the word of the prophet as applied to our bodies, we must wash away the offences of the body with tears of penitence.”

– St. Ambrose of Milan

“For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.

– Rev. 7:17

Being A Friend of God

God is the creator of the entire universe and all of us, by Christ, who is the Word of God (Eph. 3:19, John 1:1).  The relationship of the created to the Creator, as was known throughout the ancient world before Christ, was one of awe, respect, worship, fear and submission.    If one looks at the way gods were portrayed in the ancient world, we see mainly gods manipulating humans to the liking of the gods, as in the Iliad by the Greek poet Homer.  We may see the gods bestowing favor to humans or even, in rare instance,  inviting a human (or half-human and half-god) to their dinner banquet, as is the case of Tentalus, in the Greek myths.  To my knowledge, we do not see a god leave heaven and condescend to be with man in order to be in intimate friendship with him.   This only fully happened in the religious accounts of man in the gospels of the New Testament.

We get a premonition of this direction in Genesis in the Garden of Eden where God is described to be “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8), or when Abraham meets and hosts three angels in human form and one of the them turns out the be the “the Lord” (Gen. 18-19).  Jesus Christ did that in a timeless way and this message was a surprise to the Greek world.  The question that was asked by the Greeks is: “why would a god leave the comforts of their heavenly abode to be with man walking in the dirt of the earth and suffering the daily grind of life”.  This was so puzzling that it seemed to lack wisdom to the Greeks.  St. Paul pointed this out by writing “we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness…” (I Cor. 1:23).  Christ showed unfathomable humility to do this:  “But [Christ] made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7).

Therefore it comes as a an even greater upset to the understanding of the world of the divine that  the Creator of the Universe not only condescended to man to live with him but called on men to become His friend.  This was foreshadowed with particular individuals in the Old Testament.  First, Abraham was in an intimate relationship with God to the point of haggling with God about how many righteous people could be reduced in a city before God would act to destroy it.  Abraham argued God down from 50 to 45 to 40 to 30 to 20 to 10! (Gen. 18:23-32).  In that intimacy with God, Abraham was viewed by God as His friend:  “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend” (Isaiah 41:8, II Chron. 20:7, James 2:23). Similarly, Moses the great prophet of Israel was considered such:  “And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaks unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11).

The friendship to which God calls men to partake is unlike earthly friendships.  It requires a deeper relationship with the Creator who made the nature of man:  “You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14).   “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (vs. 15).  This sets up a strong contrast between this friendship and the opposite ways of the world:  “You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Let us partake of the friendship that God offers us through obedience to His will, for only in this will we come to know the true nature of friendship with God and man.

The Holy Prophet Isaiah

“I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me!” (Isaiah 1:2) quoted a father against his unruly sons in the country of Israel. Unfortunately, the King James translation above does not do justice to the beautiful poetry of the Holy Prophet Isaiah. The meter and rhythm of the words and their rhyme as quoted in the ancient Hebrew of Isaiah  is not matched by anything in English. The words sounded more like “Ba-nim Gi-dal-ti Ve-romam-ti, Ve-hem Pash-oo Bi!” (syllables in bold receive an accent) and they had the effect of stopping the ear of those of us that heard him.  That father would then go on to quote the rest of the poetic words out of memory and those that heard him would be mesmerized by the words of Isaiah recited live. He had memorized them out of the synagogue lectionary because the words were as haunting and piercing as they were to those that heard them 2800 years ago.

The Prophet Isaiah the son of Amos lived in the latter half of the 8th century B.C. and is presumed to have died early in the 7th. He was called to prophetic service for over 60 years during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Singularly, he is one of the most important prophets to Judaism (ancient and present) and Christianity, and even influenced music and literature up to our age including significant portions of Handel’s Messiah. Overall, there are at least 71 passages in the New Testament in which the book of Isaiah is either quoted, cited or paraphrased. Except for the book of Psalms, no other Old Testament book is quoted or referred to more times in the New Testament. Jesus even began his ministry with a quote from the prophet (Luke 4:16-20). Both Jewish and Christian tradition report him as having been martyred by being sawn in half with a wooden saw which may possibly be the reference of Heb. 11:37. As such, Saint Isaiah is counted among one of the earliest martyrs.

The English transliterated name Isaiah was originally pronounced Ye-sha-ya-hu in Hebrew and means “salvation (is) of the Lord”. In the Greek Old Testament it was transliterated as Esaias which is the name used in the New Testament. His name has significance in relation to the Hebrew name Ye-ho-shu-a (Joshua in English, or Jesus in Greek) which means “the Lord is salvation”. The two names, our Savior’s and Isaiah’s, have exactly the same root words of “Lord” and “salvation”, only transposed. Thus Isaiah’s name was highly prophetic of his role in uttering key prophetic insights concerning the Messiah, as well as of the heavy use made of his book in the New Testament which is about the salvation of the Lord.

The Fathers of the Church agreed that Isaiah was the greatest of the literary Prophets. Isaiah’s poetry, descriptive, lyric, or elegiac is unsurpassed by any other writer of the Old Testament. This was partially recognized by the imagery of the book. But since its poetic impact was partially lost in translation it was not until the 19th century, when there was a growth in appreciation and study of Hebrew poetry, that we now have a deeper understanding of his masterful use of language. The Holy Spirit used Isaiah’s learned abilities to give us writings of uncommon elevation and majesty. He was probably attached to the royal court and was thus educated with a masterful use of the language as well as knowledge the political and moral circumstances of the nation. His language was adapted with care to the occasions and his audiences going from severe austerity to motherly tenderness.

More importantly is the content of the book, some of which may be due to his prophetic school rather than singularly from his pen. Isaiah’s book contains both moral and prophetic warnings to Israel for straying from God, as well as messages of hope and love for the deliverance of the future. He clearly enunciated God’s high expectations of Israel. Israel was to be holy to God and an example to the gentile nations of God’s deliverance, benevolence, and wisdom. However it also becomes clear that Israel did not fulfill that task. Thus in the book of Isaiah there is the rise of a description of the servant of God. That description poetically shifts back and forth from the reference to Israel who had failed as God’s servant to a unique individual who would fulfill the task that was not carried out by Israel. When one reads carefully, one comes to see that this unique individual has unusual qualities, even pointing to divine ones. Suddenly this unique individual becomes a suffering servant, one who suffers for the whole world and bears their burdens and sins. Who could this suffering servant be? The Jewish people said that the servant must be Israel but it is clear from the message that Israel had failed the task. When the gospel came along, the first Jewish Christians perceived the reference of Isaiah and even preached it to the gentiles (Acts 8:26-35). This insight about his writings and many more like it were expanded by the church Fathers.

Isaiah’s book is thus far more than a simple prediction of the future. It is a book of God’s judgment, of the care necessary to give to the poor and downtrodden, of God’s mercy and of God’s love and forbearance for his people as well as God’s promise to restore them in the end with his salvation.

Isaiah also touches the liturgy of the church in important ways. One of the most important comes through his original vision of heaven (Isaiah 6). In this vision Isaiah sees God on a throne which is covered by six-winged Seraphim. Isaiah hears the Seraphim continuously praising God with words that he transcribes and that would eventually end up in St. John Chrysostom’s liturgy as the Trisagion Hymn: “Holy, Holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory”. (For particular reasons, rather than translate “of hosts”, the Greek Bible transliterated the Hebrew word “Sabaoth”, which was transliterated again into the English liturgy).

Thus the Holy Prophet Isaiah, for his unique and poetic contribution as God’s prophet, as one who first heard the Trisagion in a heavenly vision, as one who prophesied of the coming of the Messiah and as one who was martyred in the service of God, is honored by the church on May 9.