To Forgive And To Atone: The Way To Pascha (Orthodox Churches)

Days of Atonement

(photo: the martyred city of Idlib)


On the eve of New Month Day (Rosh Chodeshראש חודש), the Jews celebrate a service called “Yom Kippur katanיום כיפור קטן – minor day of Atonement”. With regards to Kislev 5769, this day will happen on Thursday 27th of November 2008. The Moon will reach 11 chelakim-חלקים/parts at 11 am. Rabbinic calendar considers the month was about to start and the 30th of Shvat is readily “rosh chodeshראש חודש – new month/moon birth”.

Different things could be discussed with regards to this minor Day of Atonement. It is basically a fasting day. It starts before the birthing of the New Moon. This “re-appearance” of the moon inaugurates a new month in the Jewish tradition. In the present, the Jewish calendar is only based on a lunar cycle system. The sun shines over the whole earth during a period of 12-13 or less hours. The sun illuminates all the planet. It remains visible and never “disappears”, contrary to the moon. Indeed, the moon revolves around the earth in more than 29 days. Intriguingly, the moon only reflects the light of the sun on earth, which creates this impression of birth, growth and disappearance of the small planet. The constant reappearance of the moon became a sign, for the Jews, of God’s fidelity and eternal faithfulness towards humankind and the Jews in their difficult journey through history.

Yom Kippurיום כ(י)פור – Day of Atonement is a unique day on which God can pardon each person, provided that humans are able to ask for forgiveness. it also presupposes that human beings are able to pardon in truth and accept the words of the penitents.There is more: Yom Kippur is a day of full brightness. It is white as a very clear and wonderfully shining in the sky of Jerusalem and in particular in the Middle-East. It is indeed a joyous feast, full of hope and reconciliation between people that may disagree, come to argue and fight, make war. They may not reach any agreement for a while – sometimes quite a long period. It means that “atonement beyn ish lechavro – from a soul to a fellow person – is on hold, on stand by. It is not a time for faking good relationships. It is a time for all the parties involved to make up their minds. A time of real spiritual effort. There is no way to continue hurting, injuring each other for all kinds of so-called evident or irrational reasons.

The white clothes are worn on Yom Kippur mark that, after sorrow and sins, transgressions and misconducts, God’s brightness enlightens and elucidates the darkest and often very pitiful aspects of our lives. White clothes also exemplify that the survivors come back from the great temptation of being cut from God’s project and perilous wanderings. Drug-addicted, drunkards are truly submitted to some trips that space out their lives and conscience (Apocalypse 7:14). There is more: narcotics, drugs, lies, theft, corruption, insults, slander, gossip are not limited to the big bad wolves hooligans and misfits. People may show very bright in our society and be totally corrupt and living trash. This is not really a judgmental statement. Human nature is broken and always needs repair. The point is to show loving-kindness and trust that God redeems or has the capacity to help humankind in their search for full cleansing.

Interestingly, we live in a system of “self-reflection”, as if every human being could not look at himself by his own capacities and, e.g. needs a mirror. We are in the process of mirroring. In Hebrew, a “face” is a plural: “panim/פנים” because we have two “faces”, one is frontal and the other back-sided. It is thus impossible to see them as a full entity. It always appears like a twofold whole. Strangely enough, Yiddish has a Hebrew/German plural form: “punimer – פנימער “.

The sun is much bigger than the moon and was created at the same time according to the Scripture to bring light towards or against the “choshechחושך – darkness”. Paul of Tarsus has a very traditional saying: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror… at present, I know partially; then in the end I shall know fully, as I am fully known (by God). So faith, hope, love remain, but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

On Yom Kippur, the scapegoat was sent in the Gey Hinnom/גי הינום – the valley of the Gehenna (which slopes down from Jerusalem toward Bethlehem as a sacrifice for the sins). The sacrifice that used to be in the Temple for Rosh Chodesh / New Month was also a he-goat (Hullin 60b). The explanation is curious: the moon is a smaller planet and indeed, on that day, a goat was offered as prescribed for the pardon of the sins. The Kabbalah school of Safed developed a fast, in the 16th century, with confession of sins. Strangely, this sacrifice was accompanied by a “flagellation”. It is not permitted to fast on New Month Day, thus, the fast was observed on the day before.

At present, the ritual mainly consists in the recitation of various penitential psalms. It starts, on the ve of New Moon with a blessing “chodesh mevarchin – חודש מברכין = bless the month” followed by the redundantly recitation of the 13 Middot-מידות/Attributes of Love (“The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing His kindness for a thousand generations and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin” (Shemot/Ex. 34:6-7). A request is also pronounced asking for healing and renewal: “Hashivenu HaShem aleinu venashuvahהשיבינו ה’ עלינו ונשובה – come back to us, Lord, and we shall be renewed, pardoned” / “chadesh yameinu kekedemחדש ימינו כקדם = renew our days as in the days of old”. This may be the most challenging part of our slow-to-move and slow-to-believe spiritual life. We are slow, uncertain, unwilling to think that God does renew all things and human beings every day. Then the proclamation: “HaShem hu Eloqeinu/ה’ הוא אלהינו – The Lord is our God” which is said 7 times as on Yom Kippur (8 times) and by the time of our passing away.

Indeed, the appealing part of the minor Day of Atonement is that Israel dug out a new slant for the Jewish people and all the nations of the world. It bears witness to Divine fidelity and constant care. The month is a special, limited period of a cyclic birthing up to fullness, then slow daily sliding down to “see you soon again” disappearance.

Each month, the moon mirrors, the sun, thus renewing our earth then seemingly goes on a leave. It is a very natural method that is very likely to self-analyzing or introspection. There is much of “psycho-analytic inquiry” in such a physical and astronomic process launched by God at the very beginning of creation.

Usually, Jews know about confession in some Christian Churches (e.g.: Eastern Orthodox and Catholics). We often don’t know or feign to ignore that, in the Temple, people used to confess their wrongdoings or give thanks orally for God’s wonders in their lives. And that rabbis hear oral confessions without any sacramental consequence or capacity to pardon.

Maimonides gives a good example of some formula that is still found somehow in the pattern of the “Ma’avor Yabok/מעבור יבוק – Passing the Yabok (a long accompanying prayer of a person who is passing away)”: “Anna HaShem chatati/אנא ה’ חטאתי, I have intentionally sinned, I have sinned out of lust and emotion, and I have sinned unintentionally. I have done and I regret it, and I am ashamed of my deeds, and I shall never return to such a deed.”

The Christian Orthodox texts are very similar to the lists of sins printed in italics and, as the Roman Latin rite starts by “sin by speech – dibbur/בדיבור”. Speech, words often carry a lot of rational/irrational, conscious or uncontrolled faults, mistakes, defects, trespasses, guilts and sins summed up in the “לשון הרעה – evil tongue-Lashon haraah” mental process.It always requires care and healing. Internet shows to be as real life: people tend to wipe out and remove the others by ignoring them with much arrogance. This has nothing to do with the power of a positive silence that the Chofetz Chayim loved in the “שמירת לשון – keep your tongue (speechless = silent)”.

Now, Judaism proposes to read a confession of sins at least three times a day. It is a very insightful series of verbs in the past tense and alphabetical order. “Viduiוידוי – confession” as a prayer for pardon (Yoma 87b) refers “to point out, make known, acknowledge” (Pessahim 87b) as a duty, on Yom Kippur, to be accomplished by the High Priest and any Jew. The text of the Vidui is very difficult to translate into any tongue.

It starts with a statement that is also widely unknown, i.e. that Jews do recognize to be sinners: “Our God and God of our forefathers… we are not so brazen and stubborn as to say… that we are righteous and have not sinned (chatanuחטאנו) – indeed we and our forefathers have sinned. How? In the alphabetic order are mentioned the following transgressions and faults: “ashamnuאשמנו”… striking the left side of the chest with the right hand/fist (introduced for long centuries into the main Christian rites) – guilt, betrayal, robbery, slander, (mental and physical) perversion, wickedness, ill-mindedness, will, (mental and physical) violence, false accusation, evil, scorn, persecution, stubbornness, deceit, forgery, corruption, abomination, leading others astray. Confession also deals with awareness or absence of consciousness, if not of conscience. Human speech, ideas, thoughts, acts are shaken or twisted with many “parasitic ideas = Yiddish: tsiges/ציגעס” that are beyond reasonable or balanced control.

The above list echoes the worst possible transgressions that harm, destroy our societies worldwide. Just rotten to the bottom. We are driven by confusion, distorted actions, crooked mentality, and decisions. Murders are scheduled everywhere as always. Per se, nothing really new. The new aspect of the matter is that these can match with those and then those may turn to others while developing their own niche that, supposedly, would be the best for themselves, their profit. They can kill. and killing a soul, a person proceeds of a simple matter of taking a place , not even try to fight for a person to survive. Some may think they are big intellectual whizzes. Ideas come and go, on a planetarian and swift way. Others would trap a man, a woman, just to assassinate, not even because their brains work and can build anything. There are huge breaches that annihilate the ability to transmit normal, regular historic and cultural, religious knowledge and experience. At times, it appears to be twisted and misleading.

This year 5780/2020 is special because of those who enter the period of heavy fasting. The Holy Communion is possibly reduced or has to be handled with much prudence because of a virus. The virus may kill. It may be cured. It swings along with the air and the places. It is a source of confusion. The flu or not the flu. But it stops economics. It frightens “clusters” and cities, regions. It isolates. I obliges to change social habits.

Most of all, the Christians are called to be prudent when they want to communicate to the Body and Blood of the Resurrected. But as for now, it does not change the way people and faithful, clerics exclude or include each other. The question is to act with humanity and more than that: to reach out to a state of divine-human(e) identification by the proposed exploit to walk through the Forty Days of Great Lent and fast.

The Christian Orthodox tradition underscores that the Great Fast (Lenten Fast – Velikii post/Великий пост) of 40 days starts joyously fasting and praying during this period that leads to the “Kalo Passkha/καλο πασχα – Good Easter”. The service is intense and profound. After the readings, the clergy and the faithful face each other, kneel down and ask for forgiveness as Jesus said “Therefore, if you bring your offer to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar and go first be reconciled with your brother” (Matthew 5:23-24), which is reminded all through the Liturgy: “Pardon and release of our sins (we ask to the Lord)”.

The essential Christian prayer “Our Father Who art in Heaven” follows the Kippur pattern: firstly, to pardon the others in order to receive God’s forgiveness (Matthew 6:9-14).

This service is indeed very close to the specific order of the prayers said on the Sunday of Atonement/Forgiveness, certainly rooted in Yom Kippur. It often coincides with the new month Adar that is dedicated to long hours of studying the Scriptures, the life and death of Moses who supposedly was born and died on the same day of 7th of Adar according to the Jewish calendar.

The Eastern Orthodox believers will focus on this atonement as paving the way to the Resurrection confessed by the Church. Peter-Kaipha had asked Jesus how many times one should pardon? Seven times? Jesus said: “Not seven, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21). This corresponds to the measure/middah-מידה (= measure, attributes of loving-kindness, full offering measure in the Temple). Basically, it tracks back to the sign of Cain (Gen. 4:24) granted by God after Cain had murdered his brother Abel. This sign protected him and his descent, i.e. all of us, as on a monthly basis clearance.

We often go through very special days. Incredibly irrational nights and days, made of faults, defects, misunderstanding. It may seem at times that faith is reduced to neigh because we swim in huge difficulties. Pardon consists of wiping out hell and also in trusting that God changes our lives and makes it new and meaningful. It sounds sometimes as coming out of the blue moon… In the East, others would opine that it comes out of the green cheeses).

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

First published on November 20/7, 2008 – 22 Cheshvan 5769 – כ”ב דחשון תשס”ט

Addendum from a previous note with regards to the Orthodox Nativity Lent and the “ad-ventus period”:

Paul of Tarsus recalls that Jesus was born “under the Law” (Galatians 4:4). “Babe Jesus” was firstly exposed in Saint Francis of Assisi’s crib (there is a wonderful Ethiopian icon showing Mary breastfeeding her child). At least, the baby indeed looked like anyone of us. The Prophet said: “How welcome on the mountain are the footsteps of the herald (mevasserמבשר) announcing good (tov) announcing salvation/victory (yeshu’ahישועה), telling Zion: Your God is King!”(Isaiah 52:7). Gospel means “Good news, tidings, from O. Norse “Gudsspjall”: Good or rather God’s good upgrading in time. Gk. “evangelion-ευαγγελιον” (Good messenger/herald; cf. “angel”), Lat. “ad-nuntiatio” (announcing) and allows to consider the conception of the child on March 25 (Annunciation) and his birth nine months later, i.e. on December 25.

Still it would be relevant to consider Jesus’ birth according to a Jewish time-schedule. True, he never stepped down, during his life, from the Jewish Law and its Commandments (Matthew 5:18) as they were in force at his time. On January 1st (01/14, Julian calendar), the Church of Jerusalem, as all the Christian Orthodox – celebrate the “britברית” – circumcision (hagia peritomia-αγια περιτομια) of Jesus, showing a regular breach with paganism that wanted to abolish this basic commandment.

It should be noted that one feast, Sukkot (Feast of the Booths), disappeared when the Church cycles were created. The Eastern Church celebrates X-Mas (Mass of X – Christ, i.e. Nativity) at the end of the 30-31st week after Pentecost, thus focusing on the giving of the Holy Spirit. The Western Churches proclaim a time of “Ad-ventus” or “advent – coming”. The joy of the hallowed night (Germ. Weihnachten) often veils that the point is to expect the second coming of Messiah Jesus in glory. The move toward future beyond recurring feast is an essential feature of Christian and Jewish Feasts.

We might have some encrypted date of birth in various sequences of the Gospel. “In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah” (Luke 1:5). We know that this means he served in August as provided for his priestly division. Considering the time of birth of John the Baptist – six months earlier than Jesus (Luke 1:21.26.56), we must add ca. 15 months from that service in August to eventually determine Jesus’ birth by the eschatological or end of time feast of Sukkot.

The fascinating aspect consists in considering that “rooted in and grounded in love, we may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth… and be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

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