Yahweh my God, if I ever
soiled my hands with fraud,
repaid a friend evil for good,
spared a man who wronged me,
then let the enemy hound me down and catch me…
(Psalm 7: 3-4 Jerusalem Bible)
This is another prayer for deliverance from personal enemies. But the verse above could be troubling. “Spared a man who wronged me.” Wait a minute, you might say, is this about righteous retaliation? Is retaliation for wrongs done against me a good and godly act? Is “sparing” my wrongdoer unrighteous and ungodly? In fact, most versions—including the Greek—don’t use this apparently harsh rendering of the Hebrew. But the note in the Jerusalem Bible at this point is worth reading.
The law of tallio, cf. Exodus 21:25, required that good be rendered for good, evil for evil. The text must not be watered down as in the versions, “if I requited with evil the man who wronged me,” “or robbed my persecutor;” the morality of the gospel times has yet to come, Matthew 5:38f.
Exodus 21:23-25 says, “If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”
In contrast, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:38 f):
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In reading the Psalms or any of the Old Testament, we reinterpret everything we encounter in the light of Christ’s teaching. As we say in Great Lent at the Presanctified Liturgy, “the light of Christ illumines all.”
The Assembly of Bishops
Metropolitan Tikhon and the OCA’s bishops are in Chicago this week for the meeting of the Assembly of Bishops. The Assembly website has posted what I think is a must see video of Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware).
In less than thirty minutes Metropolitan Kallistos, being interviewed by Father Josiah Trenham, shares his thoughts on the role of bishops’ assemblies, the meaning of canonical anomalies, and the relevance of Church canons today. Since canons are meant to be concrete applications of dogmatic theology to particular situations in history it is natural that their relevance can change in the varying circumstances of time and place. One example of this concerns praying with other Christians.
I would say that the rules, which are very severe, on relations with those whom we call “heretics” and “schismatics” are not applicable today when Christians in all sincerity are seeking unity, and that we can therefore exercise leniency. Though we cannot have communion with them, we can sometimes pray with them. So I would say the situation has altered since the days of the Early Church.
Not all Orthodox think that this is the correct view. But this shows the complication of applying the canons to very varied situations. In general we Orthodox do have a consensus about how the canons are to be applied, but there are lots of small differences. And perhaps that is inevitable because circumstances differ not only at different times in history, but in different places at the same time.
So let us remember that canons are necessary, they are part of the pastoral life of the Church, but the Church does not depend on law, it depends on love. “Let us love one another,” as we say in the Divine Liturgy.
The biggest “canonical anomaly” is having many jurisdictions in one place. From that perspective, every Orthodox bishop outside the traditional Orthodox homelands is “uncanonical.” To correct this he says that the ultimate goal of every Assembly of Bishops, whether here in North America or in Britain, should be to create a local, united and autocephalous Orthodox Church. This will take time, and therefore requires patience. Yet we need to have impatience too if we are to resist the temptation to inertia.