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Sixth Sunday of Repentance

The Sixth Sunday of Repentance

Basilica Hymn
Bless the Lord, O my soul
Turn, O my soul, to your rest
Turn from evil and do good
Stop your feet from wandering and your throat from evil
Cease henceforth, O foul-mannered one, and be not a trap for others. Recall that condemnation is destined for the wicked, for adulterers and for the impious. O you who have defiled yourself with evils: consider that tortuous world that does not pass away, to which you are inviting your soul and your body, for you will go there and inherit a darkness whose fire never fades. Repent and beg, that perhaps he may forgive your wrongdoings in his mercies, and you will be saved from the vehemence of such torture; and implore God, that he may take away the weakness of your thoughts, and have mercy on you.

The Mysterious Woman

The penitential nature of the season of “Summer” becomes quite clear at even the most cursory glance at the Basilica Hymns of the season. The first Sunday, the conclusion of the previous season, praises the apostles, but then, Sunday by Sunday, repentance from sin becomes the focus of the season, as if following the order of events recorded in the Gospel: the apostles preached, and the world repented of its sin. The second Sunday discussed how little profit there is in this life; the third called to mind the end of this life and the Bridegroom locking us out of his banquet; the fourth discussed the terror of remembering past sins; the fifth discussed the symbols of death and resurrection in nature; the sixth personified evil and death as twin partners, both vying for our destruction.

The final Sunday of the season of Summer summarizes the focus of the season in a manner so direct that it is at first hard to see. No more symbols are used, nor are the words polite. It is the dialogue of a person who is simply sick of himself:

Cease henceforth, O foul-mannered one, and be not a trap for others. Recall that condemnation is destined for the wicked, for adulterers and for the impious.

The linguistic problem in this phrase, and throughout the hymn, is the use of the feminine throughout, something that does not show up in an English translation. Literally, the second phrase would be translated, “O foul-mannered woman,” but this would be misleading, for this hymn does not address any particular female. The classical world gives us some hint, since in all classical languages, including Aramaic, the word for “soul” was feminine, and in Christian literature, a dialogue between a person and his soul is a common reality. But it is not so simple here.

The brilliance of the Aramaic language is in its connection of ideas: the noun “kathawa” (writer) means nothing more than the one who performs the verb “kthaw” (to write), and the word “kthawa” (book) means nothing more than the product of the same verb. The close connection of concepts and the subtlety of their distinction allows for directness of thought and expression, but it also brings challenges. For example, the challenge in our hymn is that the word “nawsha” means both “soul” and “self,” and it is used in both senses in various parts of the hymn:

O you who have defiled yourself with evils: consider that tortuous world that does not pass away, to which you are inviting your soul and your body, for you will go there and inherit a darkness whose fire never fades.

It is strange to discuss “the soul of a soul,” but that is what appears to be happening here (“…inviting your soul…”), unless we go beyond the ordinary classical conception of the dialogue with the soul.

The Self and the Soul

The solution to our mystery, the identity of this mysterious woman, is that she is the “self” of the speaker. This “self” is the one warned not to become “a trap for others,” and the others seem to be the soul and the body, both of which are invited, through sin, to the unending torture. Understood thus, the hymn becomes a tender imploring between a human being and himself:

Repent and beg, that perhaps he may forgive your wrongdoings in his mercies, and you will be saved from the vehemence of such torture;

Finally the mind becomes the focal point, as both the spring of thoughts and the battleground of temptation. The petition is for strength to be given on this spiritual plane, that the battle within the self may be won:

and implore God, that he may take away the weakness of your thoughts, and have mercy on you.