She loved much

We continue our healing journey and Bible Study on the women Christ encountered.

Let us read Luke 7:36-50 with a fresh mind and an open heart to see what Good News is being proclaimed to us. What verse stood out to you? How does it apply to your current situation? What is Christ inviting you to do? 

This woman was on the road to repentance. She was seeking forgiveness presumably for sexual sin and desired healing. In her humility, she dared not approach Christ directly. She stood behind him and anointed not his head, but his feet. She anointed them with myrrh and tears. She kissed his feet and wiped them with her hair.

It is so powerful to see this woman’s healing as the scene takes place. A woman who has not had the best relationship with men and has so many sexual wounds is now being transformed by genuine repentance and divine forgiveness. She touches and kisses Christ and lets her tears mingle with the myrrh anointing his feet.

Simon the Pharisee is in utter disbelief. He is not able to look beyond the external in order to realize the magnificence of what is happening in this woman’s heart. Without repentance there is no forgiveness. Because Simon neither recognized nor acknowledged his own sinfulness, he could not repent nor receive forgiveness. On the other hand, the woman recognized and acknowledged her many sins, and, because she had truly repented, she was forgiven and was filled with great love.

There came a point when the woman could no longer go on living the way she was living. Instead of entering into a depression and losing hope, she sought out healing. It was not until she encountered Christ, the Incarnate God, that she was able to purge and shed genuine tears of repentance. She realized that it was not just her situation that needed to change, but her very heart, mind, body, and soul. “It was this more perfect repentance that allowed her to be healed and to love with a transformed love that was no longer destructive but life-giving.” [1]

Whatever our experience has been in the realm of sexuality, there is healing. Furthermore, not only does Christ offer us healing but also gives us the grace to forgive. God does not want us to hold unto destructive relationships. He wants to transform our relationships and grant us life-giving love. 

I want to invite you to step deeper into this scene by listening to the Hymn of Kassiani (The Hymn of the Fallen Woman) (the lyrics are below) and learn the backstory of an unrequited love that led to the writing of this song.

O Lord God, the woman who had fallen into many sins, having perceived Thy divinity received the rank of ointment-bearer, offering Thee spices before Thy burial wailing and crying: “Woe is me, for the love of adultery and sin hath given me a dark and lightless night; accept the fountains of my tears O Thou Who drawest the waters of the sea by the clouds incline Thou to the sigh of my heart O Thou Who didst bend the heavens by Thine inapprehensible condescension; I will kiss Thy pure feet and I will wipe them with my tresses. I will kiss Thy feet Whose tread when it fell on the ears of Eve in Paradise dismayed her so that she did hide herself because of fear. Who then shall examine the multitude of my sin and the depth of Thy judgment? Wherefore, O my Saviour and the Deliverer of my soul turn not away from Thy handmaiden O Thou of boundless mercy.

This hymn, sang during Holy Week in the Eastern Church, has a very neat backstory [2]. Emperor Theophilus fell in love with Kassiani, an exceptionally beautiful, equally intelligent, and outspoken woman, at first sight. She would have been the future Empress had his pride not gotten in the way. As he passed her during the arranged line up of potential brides, he said to her: “It is through a woman that Adam fell.” Kassiani, not too delighted by this misogynistic retort, responded: “But it was through a woman that he was led back into paradise.” This remark stung his pride and so Theophilus moved on the woman standing next to Kassiani and married Theodora instead. Kassiani became an abbess, poet, composer, and hymnographer.

Tradition holds that the elderly Theophilus, still in love with Kassiani, wished to see her one last time before dying. Kassiani was alone in her cell writing this now famous hymn when she heard a large commotion outside. Realizing it was the imperial retinue, she hid in her closet and left the unfinished hymn on her desk. Kassiani was also still in love with the Emperor, but she did not want to break her monastic vow. Theophilus found her cell and entered it alone. Regretting the moment of pride in which he rejected such a beautiful and intellectual woman, he cried. Then, noticing the papers on her desk, he read the hymn. Before he left the cell, he added the lines “those very feet whose sound Eve heard at the dusk in Paradise and hid herself in fear.” After the Emperor left, Kassiani returned to her desk and finished the hymn.

“Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

Glory be to Jesus Christ!

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[1] See Bonnie A. Michal

[2] Irene Archos (see the full article at greekamericangirl.com) shares this reflection on the hymn: “The hymn is beautiful because it speaks of the dual nature of womankind–how one [woman], Eve, could with her wiles damn mankind to hell, and yet, another [woman], the Most Holy Theotokos, could bring salvation back into the world. The powerful metaphor behind the line Theophilos composed for the Hymn echoes of the deep relationship between a woman full of pride coming to a reckoning with her Lord. At the very same moment Kassiani was hiding in her closet, [she] witnessed the Emperor’s repentance over not making the proper choice.  How ironic, when he was ready to listen to her, she was silent; and yet when she had something [true] to say, he shunned her.  A meditation on this Hymn reveals the complexities between the sexes, the power of speaking the truth and risking offending someone’s pride, and how devastating pride is in matters of the heart.  Had he put his pride aside, Theophilos would have married the brilliant and beautiful woman worthy of being his soulmate.  Although these two unrequited lovers have lost the chance at a fruitful union in their lives, yet we still can marvel at the beauty of this extraordinary spiritual poem and be raised to the heights of mystical union, which is what Holy Week is about anyway–to love, to become One with the Lord.”

 

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