Address to the Monks (Chapter 72 of the Book of Lamentation of St. Gregory of Narek)

 

Unique among the ninety-five prayers or chapters that comprise the Book of Lamentation, chapter 72 is addressed to Gregory’s fellow monks. He compares his words to food that he serves to his monks and that provide them with advice on how properly to confess their sins. Monastics are especially prone to the sin of pride and vainglory; living in a cloistered environment and constituting a “spiritual elite,” they may consider themselves superior to other Christians in their piety. Gregory warns the monks against becoming like the Pharisee of Luke 18:9-14, as one of his brother monks who boasted of not sinning did. Genuine contrition requires the acknowledgment that none is as sinful as I.

[1] Now I speak to you,
The assembly of monks,
Disciples of the cloisters,
You who are armed with the
Bare flesh of your hands,0
In hope and expectation
Of the Lord’s unending bounty.
To you I present this table,
A seasoned refection of words.
Accept this offering of confession
To build up your souls’ salvation.
Recognize through this the defeat of my flesh,
Remember the prophetic and apostolic words
Received by us for our instruction,
That no flesh should glory before God, 1
That no one is righteous, no, not even one. 2
Do not forget the Lord’s precept
That even in fulfilling a commandment,
You regard yourself an unprofitable servant 3
Do not let yourself become the deceiver’s prey,
Be mindful of the scripture: his foods are choice. 4
For I too, who feed you this deficient, partial fruit,
Testifying about my soul through my willing censure,
The guilt of myriad incurable sins,
Beginning with the first father
To the last of his descendants,
Confirmed through voluntary transgression,
Take upon myself the entirety of culpable evil.

[2] I heard someone say he was not guilty;
I was not pleased by this inappropriate speech
To Him before whom no earthly flesh is justified, 5
“I have never committed adultery,
Neither have I ever fornicated,
Nor tasted any of the mortal flavors of this world.”
But he was no different in his iniquity.
May God grant him forgiveness for this.
Even if what he had written were true,
He did not walk but stumbled
When he spoke Zechariah’s unbecoming words
Before the people of Israel:
“Blessed be the Lord, for I have grown rich,” 6
A foreshadowing of the Pharisee’s voice. 7

[3] As for myself, I have surrendered myself 8
To the judgment of the knowing God,
Who places on his scale
My mind’s invisible passions
In order to impose on me
The sentence that is most just.

I will not put on appearances before the Seer,
Nor will I pretend before the Searcher,
Nor lie to the One who regards deeds not even done,
Nor through some fanciful fraud draw near the great One.

I will not hide my profligate evil in an apparent good,
Nor conceal my weaknesses in an image of good will,
Neither will I revel in exotic finery,
Nor deck myself with another’s splendor,
Nor accommodate myself to an attire of disfigured charm.

No one is as sinful as I,
None as lawless nor impious,
None as unjust nor maleficent,
None as deceived nor deviant,
None as deranged nor corrupt,
None as soiled, ashamed, none so condemned,
I alone and no one else,
I am all this, and the sins of all are in me.

Not the gentiles, for they did not know,
Not the Jews, for they were blinded,
Neither the ignorant nor the vulgar,
For they were foolish, lacking wisdom.

[4] I was named a doctor
But to my soul I am an accuser.
“Rabbi, rabbi” was I called 9
Yet I usurped the praise due God.

I was attested to be good, 10
But I am an heir to misery.

I was proclaimed holy by men,
But before God am unclean.

I was professed as righteous,
But am in all things impious.

I was celebrated in the praises of men,
But will be mocked at the tribunal of Christ.

From the font I was called “Awake,”
And yet I sleep in death’s slumber;

On the day of salvation, I was named “Watcher,”
But I shut my eyes to vigilance. 11

Here is the judgment,
Here the reproach,
Here the new rebuke,
Here the old condemnation
Here the shame of my face,
Here the embarrassment of souls,
Here the inquest of least things,
Here the weighing of the greatest.

[5] But You alone, Lord God,
Compassionate, devoid of malice, forbearing,
Consider these caustic injuries
Self-spoken of my sinful soul
At the last judgment, on that terrible day.
May I never hear them from you, merciful One,
For I have instead written them about myself.
Now lift up and take away the guard of my law of guilt,
For my soul’s longing is to be tied to you,
Remove my blame of shame, my disgrace, 12
Cover with your right hand’s might
The ugly appearance of my body’s nakedness,
Come near and give me rest 13
From the violent torment of my sins’ burdens,
Arrange for me an end to my steps
In my ascent toward the life of your goodness.
Remember me in your mercy 14
So that after death there may be true life.
Blessed are You in heaven and lauded on earth,
Praised always by all forever and ever.
Amen.

0. Gregory compares monastics to soldiers, but unlike worldly soldiers who are covered in arms and armor, the monastics have only their bare hands folded in prayer as their weapon.Yet through the grace of God these bare hands and pious souls are mightier than any worldly army.
1. 1 Cor 1:29
2. Rom 3:10
3. Lk 17:10
4. Hab 1:16
5. Ps 143:2
6. Zch 11:5
7. Lk 18:11-12
8. Rom 14:10
9. Mt 23:7-10. Gregory here refers to his being granted the title վարդապետ, a unique position in the Armenian Church bestowed normally on monks who have earned some intellectual distinction. But modern readers may find his words almost prophetic since the Catholic Church in 2015 proclaimed Gregory one of the thirty-six Doctors of the Church.
10.Mk 10:18; Lk 18:18
11.Here Gregory plays on the meaning of his name: γρηγορικός, “awake, watchful.” This passage implies that monks in Armenia at this time did not take new names when making their vows or when ordained. The absence of this custom in the tenth century is noted in other sources.
12.Ps 118:39; Lk 18:18
13.Cf. Mt 11:28; Lk 18:18
14.Cf. Lk 23:42; Lk 18:18