Eastern OrthodoxPoetry

Clean Week

For Orthodox Christians, Great Lent began just a little over a week ago. We begin Lent with a service called Forgiveness Vespers, during which we go around and ask each individual for forgiveness for all of our offenses. After this joyful and cathartic service, we call the next week Clean Week. The poems below for Clean Week were inspired by the Lenten Triodion readings for each day, which can be found here: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/prayers/triodion/triodion.html

Forgiveness Sunday

I was born in a garden, not so much like a cabbage
or a petunia, but more like a tar-baby, red clay
made soft by being new and manhandled until
I was hollow enough to hold the moist breath of
life that made me a God-man instead of neither
of those things, and tasked with growing more
of the same from the same soil and breath

But instead I cheated with a snake in the grass
and had to leave the garden to grow elsewhere,
and then I killed my brother, hurt a man to my
wounding, spoke in tongues, divided the earth
from which I had been made and held my breath
until the whole world turned blue, and when it
finally came up for air, I couldn’t find my way back

I’ve heard Eden is still there, as I’ve walked through
cathedrals of time and space, where the image I
defaced is whole and in dominion and worshiped;
And I’ve learned at long last that there is a place
prepared for me there if only I can find it, but
until I have been called, I don’t know where to go.
But wait: I hear the breath of God say, I forgive

Clean Monday

Today the tortuous journey begins
A burning torture such as I have not known
An agony of defeat, everything in pain
Since I got up off my knees and face
And started walking, if a single step
Can be considered progress forward

And it turns out the pains of Hell are
The pain of one beginning to move
After a lifelong lifelessness, the
Burn of muscles newly stretched
And joints that are divided and open
Every nerve begging for a full stop

But I know there are two ways for
The pain to go away to stay:
One is to lay back down and die,
The other is to just keep walking.
And I hear the pains of death are
Easier when you suffer them alive

Clean Tuesday

I came up to Jerusalem to celebrate the high feast
Ascending the hill of the Lord with songs
Gaining the whole world but losing my soul
And so I can someday get to where I belong
I’m leaving the promised land to go back to Eden

I feasted on the offerings I brought for my sins
I drank of the wine I poured out to the Lord
But I must leave my offering if I want to be whole
I’ll get there if I’m not turned back by the sword
I’m leaving pleasure to go back to Paradise

I gave up the burnt offerings and ate only fruit
To know myself I walked in the cool of the day
Talked with a snake and ate fruit that I stole
And now I know there is only one way:
I’m leaving the tree to come to the cross

Clean Wednesday

I chose to eat the crabapples of sin
And it left my soul puckered up
And ready for the kiss of death
And so I kiss the wood of the cross

The tree of the cross brings forth flowers
And I blossom when I am nailed to it
Loosed from bonds of wickedness
Raised to heaven on the wood of the cross

I hang on the cross between two thieves
One blasphemed and dwells in Hades
One blasphemed and dwells in Paradise
And I dwell on the wood of the cross

Clean Thursday

I fell like lightning from heaven
But never touched the earth
I was open and naked to all

The rising Sun shone on me
Dispelling all my darkness
And covering me with glory

I am filled with emptiness
And emptied of all my self
And I am become all fire

Clean Friday

At the Place of the Skull you turned your face to me and said
This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise

At the Place of the Skull you crucified the flesh for my sake and
Put flesh back upon my dry lifeless bones

At the Place of the Skull you crushed the skull of my enemy and
Placed upon my head the crown of immortality

Clean Saturday

We worship the express icon of the inexpressible God hung on high
And the icon of Christ martyred in imitation of his witness to the world
May that same image be restored in me through abstinence by their prayers

Kenneth O'Shaughnessy

Kenneth O'Shaughnessy

A Northerner by upbringing, Kenneth has lived in the South since his (first) college days. After returning to college, he began to do more than just dabble with writing, and has self-published a children's picture book, a middle-reader's book, and several collections of poetry. Baptized in the Roman Catholic church, raised in the fundamentalist Baptist church, and having spent time in the Reformed Baptist church, Kenneth settled down in the Eastern Orthodox church in 2006.

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