WE WORSHIP YOUR PASSION, O CHRIST
Embedded within the Holy Thursday evening service during Holy Week is the paradoxical hymn, "We worship Your Passion, O Christ." At the heart of this hymn is the acknowledgment that God is willingly taking on, in a fully human way, the greatest of all human tragedy and suffering, the reality of betrayal, violence, and brutal death, as well as the transient experience of hopelessness and separation from God. In doing this, God "tricks" death and the devil into opening the gates of Hades to receive the crucified Lord Jesus. It is then that God's ultimate action and message of hope reveals itself, with the Lord Jesus Christ going on a rampage of love and freedom, releasing all who were captive to death and the devil and returning them to loving communion with God. Just as the above hymn ends with the call, "Show us also Your glorious Resurrection," the Good News (Evangelion = Gospel = Good News) of this reality in the immediacy of everyday life is the following: There is no human experience, no version of suffering, no bodily or spiritual condition that is outside God's loving, healing reach. This reality is embodied liturgically in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, which is the death and resurrection of the human person into a new life as a Christian.
LORD JESUS CHRIST, HAVE MERCY ON ME
The Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me," has a special place as a way of experiencing and understanding the healing effects of living within a relationship with God. This is so because the Jesus Prayer focuses upon the reality that human beings are created as beings of depth, with a heart, soul, and spirit, or an inner life that goes beyond what one observes on the surface.
In order to understand the deep, healing meaning of this prayer, it is important to appreciate what constitutes the call for mercy. Often, a request or prayer for mercy conjures up images of small, sinful, cowering Christians begging a powerful and distant God to forestall punishment and destruction. This image significantly misses the mark of the true meaning of mercy from an Orthodox Christian perspective. The Greek word for mercy is eleison, which comes from the root word, elaion, meaning olive or olive oil. This is no accident. The uses for olive oil in biblical times give an excellent perspective into the deeper meaning of the prayer, or the connection between mercy and the healing that comes in the midst of suffering.
For example, olive oil was used for medicinal purposes in ancient times. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, when the stranger was left beaten and dying by the side of the road, the Good Samaritan cleaned his wounds with wine and olive oil. A second use of olive oil was as a source of sustenance and nourishment. It was then, as it is now, a healthy food. A third use of olive oil was to provide fuel to generate light. Finally, olive oil was used as to anoint honored guests, as well as to anoint royalty as part of their enthronement. The healing and anointing are brought to life liturgically through the Sacraments of Holy Unction and Holy Chrismation.
Far from being a call for release from punishment, the Jesus Prayer is a call for healing. When a human being cries out to his or her Creator for mercy, it is comparable to saying Lord, I am suffering and injured. Bathe my wounds with Your love so that I can be a vessel of that love. Feed me with Your love so that I can become a source of sustenance to others. Shine Your light of mercy on me and my path so that I don't lose my way into the passions of greed, selfishness, exploitation, and destructiveness. Anoint me as Your son or daughter, so that I can remember who I am.
The Eastern Orthodox Church is a vessel designed to direct its faithful members to experiences of healing connection with the Creator of all things, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through a combination of loving relationships, sacramental worship and practice, and personal, disciplined prayer and spiritual exercise, the human person is guided toward the transformation of his or her God-given talents and power, in order to create and relate. This increased life of creativity and loving relationality then brings the human person more and more into a life that resonates with the purpose of life, from an Orthodox Christian perspective. That purpose is to join oneself in heart, mind, soul, word, and deed with the loving and healing presence of God.