Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
Root of Jesse, who stand as a sign for the people, kings stand silent in your presence, whom the nations will worship: come to set us free, put it off no longer.
It is tempting to read this as some sort of political rallying cry, but the O Antiphons come from a time when kings were already Christian and – like the laity at Mass – they all did, indeed, stand silent before the Lord. But what, then is the meaning? Sticking with my reading of “living the faith”, to put it simply, let us read “kings” to be “the passions”.
Orthodoxy has a complicated set of teachings about “the passions”. It doesn’t mean “I have a passion for art” or “violin is my passion”. It means something that runs us: an addiction; although we may not think of pride or boredom as addictions. In Orthodoxy these things function exactly the same way that drugs or alcohol can function at a 12 step meeting. This is why, their secularism aside, 12 Step programs sound so very Christian: one’s addiction is not just a habit to kick, it has become controlling in one’s life. It has become king.
I can think of quite a few kings in our modern world, sex comes to mind, of course, but there are many other kings as well: pride, vainglory, anger, arrogance, that special sense of injury that arises when one is forced to relate to someone that is perceived as “lesser than”.
Jesus, before whom the kings stand in silence – if only that were True in one’s own life as in the hymn.
Who are the kings of your life? Mindful that the question I’m living with this Advent is how would I live if I could convince myself that all this were actually true… what parts of my life would stand silent before Jesus? How?
The answer is in the text, but we have to go deeper into Orthodox personal psychology first: as I understand it (from confession and from listening to great speakers like Mtr Kallistos) the Passions combine to create a false self. Engaging in them kills the soul while, at the same time, creates this false soul. Sex may be a broken part of one’s life, but it doesn’t “kill” the way murder or anger does. What it does do is prevents one from being the person God intended. That’s not to say that God didn’t “make me gay”, I don’t know the answer to how one gets to be gay. But it does say that, perhaps, in Christian humility, a Gay person might find that his or her choices for sexual expression that don’t add up to the ideal set forth in Holy Tradition are causing more harm than good – no matter how “natural” they are. The sense that they are doing something “good” in the world is a false sense according to Orthodoxy. These actions feed something that is not really the person’s soul: in fact they are killing it and, most likely, killing others a little bit at a time. In Orthodoxy, this false-self needs to be killed off, the “slavery to my own reasonings” as it is called is what kills me. The answer to how is in the text…
Jesus is the Root of Jesse, but he is also the root of my being. As the Scripture says, I am crucified with Christ and yet I live: yet not I but Christ who liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God. And, again, this mortal must put on immortality. And also, all who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. It’s not enough to say, “I am a Christian.” One must, in fact, become Christ: kill off the false self, and let real life – Christ, the life of the world – rise from the divine root though one’s being and shine out into the world.
I pray he puts it off no longer.