Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | February 5, 2010

Thinking ‘Bout That Geisha Sunday Again

In the Western Rite, Pre-Lent begans with Septuagesima last Sunday. House Blessings ended, and the Alleluia went the way of the Re-Dodo. Since the presumption of the Re-Dodo is that it will resurrect Phoenix-like from extinction once it’s spirit figures out the scheduling, we’re thankful to God and our Holy Fathers and Mothers for scheduling the Alleluia’s reliable return on Pascha. Happens every year… so far.

Of interest to some outside the W-Rite is the way in which we transition from Epiphany through pre-Lent and Lent and prepare for the Paschal season. In a sense, the homily of St. John Chrysostom read at every Orthodox Church on Pascha is a direct response to the text of the Gospel read in the W-Rite’s Septuagesima Sunday (Matthew 20:1-16), the Parable of the Vineyard.  This way, as Fr. Nicholas pointed out in his homily, the beginning and the end are so well marked as bookends that it  seems difficult to construe as simple coincidence… though any look at the history of the lectionary suggests that’ this may be precisely what it is. But if indeed it is intentional, this may constitute a little noted gift to those Orthodox worshipping in the Western Rite, and afford at least one reason for why the W-Rite fits more properly within the Orthodox Church rather than continuing its long separation… and that incidentally is its purpose within Orthodoxy… no matter what else one hears.

And as a side note, while there are many arguments over the W-Rite among “us” ranging from  suggestions for a “more proper” rite, damnations for its “errors” or its “failure to prevent heresy” (as if the East never experienced heresy!), its inclusion of a whole host of other deficiencies centering chiefly on its inability to convey the Orthodox ethos, and its virtues as well that make it “more natural for western persons”… I have to say simply “perhaps”. Fact is that everyone’s entitled to their own opinions. Mine is simply that few critics seem to follow Fr. John Romanides’s note that the West remained Orthodox until the people changed and changed and changed through invasions one after another.  And where the West may have failed to properly inculcate the people of these changes with an Orthodox understanding, it might fairly be said that the degree of difficulty had been multiplied considerably. That the  core constituency declined but still looked the part should be no more troubling than a state of affairs where in many ways the same failure to inculcate a diverse population ultimately led to near complete the conquest by Islam and now threatens to exterminate the remnants. But moving on without adieu, what matters more than any ritual, lectionary, prayers or worship is the Orthodox understanding of the presence of God abiding in His people as they in turn abide in Him.

Leaving the historical arguments aside, between the approved and utilized variant W-Rite liturgies out there, the most striking is the  ROCOR addition of something very close to the Great Litany in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom to the  Rite  of St. Gregory  while the Antiochians added the “I Confess and I Believe”. Each also has an Anglican litugry, and ROCOR has something they call a Sarum Liturgy… which just opens a can of worms we won’t visit. But interestingly in my view is that BOTH approve of the basic liturgy of the Roman Catholic church with some additions… only they can’t agree which. I’d take both if it were left to me, but it’s not. On the other hand, given that subsequent to parting with the Church, the West’s errors added chiefly a disagreement on the nature of the Eucharist, the Antiochian addition seems more pointed to me. But that’s purely the opinion of one layperson.

Got that? Good! Glad that’s settled. ROTFL.

Okay, then turning back to the context of the reading, there’s something else I’m sure the Fathers would have noticed, but the short-and-skinny versions we see don’t seem to dwell on. Nothing too new here for most slobbering Orthonuts… but let’s go there anyway. Start with the  common complaint that the lately arrived workers are over-paid relative to the early birds and the usual comeback that the early birds agreed to the wage they received, and that’s that. There’s something of the matter of God’s justice versus ours, the same wages for all, y’know… the whole equity thing. Fine and good… it’s there and it’s important.

But as a manager… as an employer… we also have the context of a perishable commodity: grapes, and the importance of harvesting them at precisely the right time. We’re not just talking about getting “some” and coming back tomorrow… but gathering the whole crop. There is a tradition of leaving some for the wandering poor… but this isn’t that story. Here, the Lord is compelled and justified in paying a premium to secure additional labor to get the job done when he finds the originally secured resources aren’t enough. It’s no surprise either that he’s more than a little perturbed at finding additional (unhired) laborers just standing around as if nothing’s going on. Yet hourly day-laborers like these… when most of the day is already in the can… well… today most would already have gone home. By the time they’d travel to the site, set-up and got to working  they’d be right on top of quitting time… and earn only a smidgen. So if a penny’s a day’s wages, we’re talking about a wage that would be less than one… less than a single integer in a non-digital world… so of course you’ll pay everyone the same. And yes it’s a premium for some,  but that’s within your discretion… so even in this case where the  individual contribution’s of the late-hired laborers is small, collectively their aggregate addition puts the effort over the top, gets the job done, and make all the difference.

In a big way, this underscores the importance of time, and the preciousness of the present moment. This has a lot of ramifications, but in the context of the harvest… not just of lives and the moments we have with each other, but the harvest of souls which seems to be the context. Might wonder that of course it would be that conversion and metanoia are time sensitive in the horticulture of the spiritual growing season. And bestowal of a blessing or the inspiration of grace reaches everyone at precisely the right time… the time that enables their increase by hook or by crook, by their own way and in their own time, but sometime… the time of one and all..  and increases the harvested fruit by one.

There’s also the notion that with grapes there are many potential uses for the crop. At the risk of being trite, the grape garnishes salads, gets eaten on its own, or is turned into jelly, jam or juice… even wine. They serve both man and beast… and as well support the highest marriage of nature and husbandry in the happy circumstance  of eucharistic wine… and serving as the blood of Christ, the food of the Eucharist. And given that most of this is dealt with pretty extensively elsewhere, I’d add only that the thought of the resurrection after the picking is indeed something akin to wine production where the harvested fruit lies dormant for long periods before reaching a level of perfection. Perhaps this corresponds to the many stages by which we find that at death we remain incomplete, still aging, still “finishing”  – even after bottling in many cases.

And so at Septuagesima Sunday there is much to look forward to… only it’s a long swallow from here.


  1. I really like your take on the Laborers in the Vineyard. Both we and everyone around us are perishable commodities but are redeemable for some good purpose in the Kingdom, and the best purpose is fulfilled when we are crushed underfoot and put away for a few years. It is only then that we can “make glad the heart of man”.

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