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Leeds Minster Good Friday 7 April  7.00pm


What is it like to be truly sorry? And what is it like to be forgiven?

Big questions but ones which we ponder in this season of Lent. It is part and parcel of our human nature that we hurt each other, but saying sorry can at times seem impossibly hard, or, by contrast, come far too easily. Yet doing so, even just tacitly, is usually the best way to start the healing process and enable forgiveness and reconciliation to begin.

This insight lies right at the heart of the Christian way of life and shapes our spirituality, particularly through Lent. We prepare for the Easter joy of celebrating God’s love and forgiveness with a period of sustained and honest focus on our shortcomings. And we hope that from this comes a greater awareness of our need for that love and forgiveness.

But how does it feel to be sorry? These days we tend not to show these sorts of emotion. In our Western culture, saying sorry is often seen as a sign of weakness. And maybe what really matters is not how we feel, but whether we change our behaviour instead, make a new start, put things right?

What is Penthos?

In the earliest days of the Christian church in Syria and the Middle East feelings mattered, and were not suppressed. Weeping openly for your sins, whether as an individual or together as a community, was seen as a gift, the gift of tears. It was called penthos, a Greek word meaning ‘joy-bearing grief’.

Penthos teaches that, by grieving, intensely, about the things they have done wrong, those who so mourn for their sins come through their grief to the joy of knowing God’s forgiveness, and to reconciliation and a closer relationship with God and their fellow humans. The ‘sinful woman’ in Luke’s Gospel (Ch 7), who washed Jesus’s feet with her tears and was forgiven, embodies penthos. The idea became central to the Eastern Orthodox Church’s teaching about salvation.

Donatello's Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene by (Italian, 1386–1466)

photo: (Jastrow, own picture) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Penthos today

So what can penthos teach us today? The world is currently torn apart by conflict, inequality and injustice as humankind acts out its nature. Elements of the leadership of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Russia seem complicit in a war of aggression, with penthos apparently forgotten. Nearer home, our society seems unable to recognise Jesus in the strangers seeking refuge with us, or even in each other as Social Media distorts and dehumanises us. The reconciliation that God offers can seem distant.

Our Lenten reflections, which encompass all this, culminate when we reach Good Friday, and the full impact of our shortcomings is laid bare, together with God’s extraordinary response. Penthos reminds us that it is OK to weep and grieve for the state of the world and our part in that, and also that God’s forgiveness is there for those who desire it and are able to accept it.

A chance to reflect

Here at the Minster there will be an opportunity, open to everyone, to reflect and meditate on penitence, forgiveness and reconciliation in today’s world as St Peter’s Singers present words and music created by two of their members on the theme of penthos.

Penthos – a new Requiem is the fruit of a collaboration between poet-theologian Hannah Stone and composer Matthew Oglesby. Combining her expert knowledge of penthos and her acclaimed gift for poetry, Hannah has created a visionary text following the form of the Western Requiem Mass, which Matthew has embraced and enriched with the most sublime music, music which speaks to – and affirms – our deepest human longings for God’s forgiveness.

This will be the second presentation of this work (postponed from 2020 because of Covid). Its relevance to world affairs was acknowledged at the first performance by a collection in support of Leeds-based refugee charities. If anything this is heightened by the war in Ukraine – with both countries so important in the history of the Eastern Orthodox church – and further by the continuing failure in this country to seek and find a humane resolution to the refugee crisis.

So it will represent an opportunity – enriched by the music and our shared life and purpose – to gather together the thoughts and reflections of our Lenten meditations and prayers, and to celebrate God’s love. And between them the words and music may help us find answers to some of our questions. We do hope you will join us.

Hannah Stone and Matthew Oglesby
Matthew Oglesby and Hannah Stone

photo:Shelly Mantovani

Find out more about Penthos

St Peter’s Singers