Archive for January, 2009

Can I have a declinable participle, please?

One of the major constituents of the initial massive overhead required in learning ancient Greek is the participle. Participles are extremely important in ancient Greek; where possible, it seems, it’s preferable to a finite verb. Because they decline and agree in gender, number, and case with what they modify, participles seem complicated compared to English; on the other hand, this reduces the ambiguity that can exist in English with participles, a la “I saw the dog running down the street.” Is it “I” or “the dog” which is running down the street in that sentence? In ancient Greek, however, there would be no confusion — the participle would either be in the nominative case, meaning it would agree with the subject “I”, or it would be in the accusative case, meaning it would agree with the direct object of the main verb “saw”, “the dog”. In English, having lost most of our inflection, we depend on word order and proximity, as well as context, to tell us grammatical function, so the only real way to distinguish whether it’s I or the dog running down the street is to change the sentence to “Running down the street, I saw the dog,” which unfortunately seems a little stilted and artificial. “I saw the dog while running down the street” is a little better, but it seems to imply the imperfect periphrastic “while I was running down the street,” which starts to edge away from a pure use of a participle.

Modern Greek’s participles, it turns out, do not decline. This means there isn’t as much to learn at the outset, but it also means that the ambiguity you have in English exists in Modern Greek:

Είδα τον Πέτρο πηγαίνοντας στο σπίτι μου -> I saw Peter going to my house. (Not clear if it’s the subject, “I”, or the object, “Peter”, going to my house.)

As opposed to ancient Greek, where you can do this:

Εἴδον/Ἔβλεπα τὸν Πέτρον βαίνοντα εἰς τὸν οἴκον μου. Here, the participle βαίνοντα is in the accusative case, making it clear that it’s Peter going to my house. Also, because of the inflection, you can manipulate the word order in all kinds of ways and have it make sense regardless:

Εἴδον/Ἔβλεπα τὸν Πέτρον τὸν βαίνοντα εἰς τὸν οἴκον μου. Literally, “I saw Peter, the one going into my house.”

Εἴδον/Ἔβλεπα τὸν βαίνοντα εἰς τὸν οἴκον μου Πέτρον. Literally, “I saw the going-into-my-house Peter.”

But then you can also do this:

Εἴδον/Ἔβλεπα τὸν Πέτρον βαίνων εἰς τὸν οἴκον μου. Here, the participle βαίνων is in the nominative case, making it clear that it agrees with the unexpressed subject “I” (unexpressed since the -ον/-α ending of the verb already makes it clear that we’re in the first person).

All of this is to say — here’s to inflected languages. Pay now or pay later.


The poorly-named The Great Doxologies in the Eight Modes

I didn’t notice it until I was having to enter track names manually (Manuel-ly?) in iTunes, but anybody want to look at the track list and tell me why this CD is poorly named?

The Saint Ambrose Prayer Book

Thanks to Fr. Benjamin Johnson over at Western Orthodoxy, I learned of The Saint Ambrose Prayer Book a week and a half ago or so. Much of the formation I had as an Episcopalian which led me down an Anglo-Catholic path was thanks to The Saint Augustine Prayer Book, and while I’ve not had the nagging, unfulfilled yearning for that aesthetic that some ex-Anglicans have, I do have to give credit where it is due to the Anglicans who taught me about Apostolic Succession, the Sacraments, and the Real Presence, among other things. Thus, the idea an Orthodox devotional manual after the fashion of the St. Augustine at the very least got my attention.

It arrived yesterday, and while I’ll keep my comments brief, it’s presented really nicely. It is compact, practical, easy to read, the catechetical information is very useful, and the renderings of the prayers and liturgical texts are beautiful and elegant. It is clearly a conscious Orthodox re-think of the St. Augustine, to the extent that it is organized in a nearly identical fashion, many of the images used are similar, the typeface is pretty darn close to being the same, and even the Forewords are word-for-word identical in places. I found myself wondering at times if the text of the St. Augustine had been entered into a word processor and then simply updated where it was determined was necessary. As a result, it feels very much like seeing an old friend wearing brand new clothes.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, by the way; I’m no authority one way or the other on the implementation of the Western Rite and have never seen it in action, but I do think that, insofar as it is an attempt to reclaim historically Orthodox liturgies for modern practice, it could be a good thing. I have no way of knowing if it is or isn’t in its present manifestation.

My main complaint is, as with many Orthodox publishing projects, the copy-editing could have used at least one more pass, and some of the typos are a bit embarrassing, given how nice the rest of the book is. The Foreword somehow manages to be a “Forward”, and there are a number of places where “principle” manages to sneak in for “principal”. If you’re talking about a primary reason, folks, use the word “principal” and do so on “principle.” Follow me? There are also errors like being referred to page 188 for the Six Penitential Psalms, only to have nothing of the kind be within ten pages of 188. One hopes these things can get cleared up in a second edition.

I’ll have more to say once I’ve spent more time with it, but I’d recommend it, at least at this point, partcularly to somebody who comes from a background like mine. You’ll remember some of the good things about Anglican practice that helped you to relate to Orthodoxy better when you started down that path.

When people who are supposed to know what they’re talking about, well, don’t

About a week and a half ago, I attended a lecture by a visiting scholar. I’m going to be intentionally vague about the details, mostly out of professional courtesy, and also because, not being certain exactly what happened, I feel I need to assume that there’s an honest mistake that occurred, one for which it is not my place to pillory anybody publicly.

Anyway, the lecture was fascinating. In the Q&A portion of the talk, I asked a question which was, perhaps, somewhat outside of the scope of the talk, but certainly relevant regardless. The visiting scholar gave a great answer, providing a patristic quote which really piqued my interest, and I walked away really impressed and with what seemed to be a potential avenue of research.

The trouble: I’ve been unable to verify that the quote actually exists anyplace. An initial perusal of some references when I got home yielded nothing. I e-mailed the visiting scholar and asked where the quote came from; this person replied saying that it had been encountered while dissertating (twelve years ago), and gave the name of an article that they thought might be where they encountered it. If I couldn’t find it there, this person suggested checking looking at a particular work in the PG, but didn’t know where exactly it might be.

I was able to look at the article yesterday. The reference isn’t there. There’s a section which discusses a part of the work in the PG that seems like it might be a likely place to look for the quote in question, but the article itself doesn’t have it. (Frustratingly, the article — published in 1992 — does make reference to a forthcoming critical edition of the work we’re talking about, but it seems to have never actually been published, sixteen years later.)

I e-mailed the visiting scholar again, saying that it wasn’t in that article, and that I’ll check the PG to see if it’s there, and the answer was, pretty simply, “Sorry I couldn’t be more help! Let me know what you find!”

I don’t mind checking the PG; that’s good Greek practice for me anyway. Still, something about this seems fishy. It’s possible that my question was one this person wasn’t expecting, and they just tossed out the first thing they thought they remembered. It happens. The subsequent wild goose chase for a quote which I’m now wondering if it even exists, however, is bothering me. It’s okay if I asked something that was outside this person’s field of expertise; no biggie. If that’s the case, though, their attempt to improvise an answer has, for me anyway, made me question my impression of the rest of their presentation.

A similar incident, and here I don’t mind naming names because the event was far more public with the audio being widely available online, occurred at Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’ talk at the Fellowship of Ss. Alban and Sergius Conference. As I reported months ago, he told a very touching story about Fr. John Meyendorff’s response to the papal encyclical Ut Unum Sint — “[W]ith tears in his eyes, [Fr. John Meyendorff] said, ‘This is the great tragedy. For a thousand years… we have been waiting for a pope to say what John Paul says in Ut Unum Sint. The great tragedy is that we have not found any way to respond.'” You can listen to him saying that for yourself right here. It’s at the 27:13 mark.

Here’s the problem — there is no way it could have happened. Ut Unum Sint was promulgated in 1995. Fr. John Meyendorff died in 1992. Unless Meyendorff was privy to a very, very, very early draft, Fr. Neuhaus was quite mistaken.

I asked a couple of people about this, and got a not terribly satisfying answer — something to the effect that he probably had a senior moment and tossed in the first name he could remember. I suppose I could see that if it were in the question and answer portion, but it wasn’t — it was in the prepared and read portion of his session.

I don’t know what happened. Maybe he really did mean somebody else. I certainly don’t mean to disrespect the departed, so I’m not trying to imply that Fr. Neuhaus knowingly pulled a fast one — but you can listen to the talk for yourself, and then go look up the dates for yourself. It’s a pretty big error, an error I’ve not heard anybody else address, and it seems like it would be important to address, given that it was clearly intended to have a lot of resonance with the location and theme of the conference.

It’s a pretty obvious point, but an important one — sometimes the people who should know what they’re talking about, don’t. It happens to everybody, even them. Don’t let bedazzlement get in the way of fact-checking.

AGAIN, again — postcript

My Divine Liturgy in English review generated a letter to the AGAIN editor over a not-unexpected issue — that of the use of “Holy Strong” in the Trisagion. Here are the highlights:

I’m uneasy with regards to the language [Cappella Romana] would institute. Changing the music is one thing; changing the language it’s written in is another thing entirely.

It’s important we don’t discard and/or replace the words that stir mind and soul, just to smooth some inconvenient bumps that have come about with the coupling of the Byzantine chants to English. If the truth be told, there’s a strong benefit inherent in the older English words. Simply because it takes an act of self will to use them, just like enter our church buildings leaving the physical world for the spiritual. The uncommon older words in our worship allow for the erecting of a similar barrier for the mind allowing separation from the offal baggage of our degenerate common day to day language. It’s a mistake to replace the word mighty with the word strong; to do so is to lose the Divine Authority inspired by the first in exchange for the wrongly elevated physical insinuation of the second.

Whatever the history regarding these two words, as well [as] the translations that have brought us to this point, the fact is the word strong is no longer capable of instilling the divine contemplation needed to lift the mind from the physical to reflect on the mystery of the spiritual. Our modern English speaking society throughout the world has mitigated this awe inspiring word by making an idol of strength.

Mighty, another word that carries much the same thoughts as the word strong once did, is currently used in the Liturgy. It has been for the most part spared the jaded attention of our society. Retaining its potency it bears well its burden, conveying the authority, the astonishment, the respect required of us. It commands us to humility, and as much as our puny minds can attempt, to contemplate and reverence the trenchant* power of our triune God.

If people don’t understand the meaning of such words, we should follow the example of our early church fathers that developed though God given inspiration the Divine Liturgy and a system of enlightening the ignorant, and educate them.

So when we think of our risen Lord seated at the right hand of the Father, do we want to glimpse him in the Divine Authority of his Majesty, or as…a glorified strongman?

Holy God. Holy Mighty. Holy Immortal; have mercy on us.

Phillip, your brother in Christ

* Keen, Sharp, vigorous, intensely perceptive, Penetrating, clear-cut, Distinct

My response:

Dear Phillip,

Thank you for your reflections on the translation of the Trisagion as sung by Cappella Romana. I am agreed wholeheartedly that it is a mistake to replace or discard words capriciously. What might help clarify things for you is that Cappella Romana followed the official translation of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira; that is to say, Dr. Lingas and co. did not write their own translation or change words as they saw fit. Archimandrite Ephrem Lash, neither an amateur nor a shrinking violet when it comes to the matter of rendering biblical or liturgical  texts into English, was the chief architect of the Thyateira translation, and he has a detailed essay regarding the proper translation of the Trisagion, found here:

In any event, the two most salient points might be:

  1. The Greek word “ischyros” is translated as “strong” virtually every other place it is used, and in other liturgical languages (such as Slavonic) the equivalent of “strong” is employed rather than “mighty”; “krataios” is the word which better corresponds to “mighty,” as in “Pantokrator” – “All-Mighty” being how that is often rendered in English.
  2. Translating “ischyros” as “mighty” in the translation of the Trisagion, ironically enough, appears to date back to the 1772 translation of Dr. John King, a Protestant. The earliest known English translation, that of Dr. John Covel in 1722, uses “strong.”

I hope this helps!

In Christ,

Richard Barrett

No denying it’s a sensitive matter; this is a tricky instance where a translation of a prayer, regardless of its relative merits, has taken on a life of its own beyond that of its source. The 20th century certainly demonstrated that you mess with the language in which people pray at your own risk. On the other hand, Phillip makes the excellent point that in such cases an effort should be made to educate the people, and I think Fr. Ephrem’s essay does that quite well. The other side of that bargain is just that the people need to be willing to not refuse the instruction out of hand.

For my own part, I’ll note that I don’t consider myself my own authority on Greek, particularly not where these kinds of issues are concerned. I’ve been there for Fr. Ephrem Lash sight-translating a Gospel reading from Greek during a Liturgy without realizing he wasn’t reading from an English version until I was told later, so if he says “Holy Strong” is what the prayer actually says and means, I don’t think I have too much of a basis to disagree with him.

AGAIN, again

In case you’re interested, the current issue of AGAIN just came out (Winter 2009), and my article “Prepare for Joy: An Orthodox Christian Look at Being Engaged” is included amongst its pages. Alas, the Conciliar Press website continues to show Summer 2008 as the latest issue, so I have nothing to which I might link, but what I at least think I can do is post the draft I initially submitted. It was changed enough in the editorial process that I think I can do that without it being a problem for anybody, and if you have the issue sitting in front of you, you might get a peek behind the curtain of how it works – things which are suggested, changes that are made, additions which are inserted, bits taken out, and so on.

I hope it’s of interest; it’s something I haven’t seen discussed very much, and to be frank, many of the premarital materials the various jurisdictions publish are awful. Not that this is intended to be a definitive resource, but hopefully it at least can get a conversation started.

Matthew, my godson, was at my house one evening, lamenting some issues he and Erin, his significant other of two years, along with whom he had just been baptized into the Orthodox Christian faith, were having. The two of them had started talking about marriage within a few months of beginning their relationship, and Matthew, by this point, had bought the engagement ring a year previous — but the step of actually getting engaged had not yet been taken.

“We’re reaching the point where it feels awkward to be still introducing each other as ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend,'” he sighed to me as my wife Megan and I were doing dishes.

I had wondered when they would start feeling this way. I simply looked at him and said, “Yes.”

“Which, I suppose, means I need to get my act in gear and propose sometime soon.”

“Yes,” I said, having thought exactly this for months.

Matthew’s face brightened a bit. “I suppose I could do it tonight…”


“In fact,” he said, now beaming with the possibilities, “I could do it right now!”


Off he went, taking two of our crystal champagne flutes on his way out. An hour and a half later, we were admiring the ring now in its proper place on Erin’s hand and toasting them; they’re set to be crowned unto each other late summer of 2009.

So — now what? Okay, have a fun year, guys. Enjoy the planning and anticipation, but don’t enjoy the anticipation too much, if you know what I mean. Other than that — see you at the service.

Surely there’s more that we can tell Matthew and Erin than that??? Megan and I discovered for ourselves when we were engaged that there’s definitely a lot of advice out there of varying quality — but what does Orthodox Christianity have to tell a newly-baptized and newly-engaged young couple which will be substantively different from what they would find in a secular self-help book, and which will be uniquely Orthodox?

The trouble is that engagement itself doesn’t fit neatly into a particular category from an Orthodox Christian standpoint. Yes, it is true that the betrothal service used to be the Church’s formal acknowledgment of an engagement and was served well in advance of the order of crowning itself. Still, Fr. John Meyendorff’s Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975) emphasizes that engagement as it is known today cannot be understood as the same as betrothal; betrothal “is the marriage contract as the Church understands it [for it] involves not only the bridal pair, but God Himself” (Meyendorff, 33, emphasis mine). Meyendorff notes that that in Byzantine society, a betrothal could only be broken by divorce — thus, “lacking only the ultimate sacramental fulfilment”, the betrothal service came to be celebrated with the crowning, rather than in advance.

So what can we say about this modern in-between state of engagement, clearly more than dating or courtship but still less than betrothal, that will be useful and practical for those moving through this particular harbor?

Fr. Peter A. Chamberas’ excellent book, This Is A Great Mystery: Christian Marriage in the Orthodox Church (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Metropolis of Boston, 2003) encourages engagement to be treated as a time for “substantive preparation” so that the couple not “miss altogether the awesome day of their visitation by the grace of God” (Chamberas, 8). By the time the wedding itself comes about, he writes, the couple’s “heart and mind must already be transformed and committed to the real nature and ultimate purpose of Christian Marriage, seeking fullness of life and salvation in God.” In other words, the primary purpose of engagement, as neither-here-nor-there as it may seem from a sacramental standpoint, is to prepare the man and woman for one of the ways through which they will be working out their salvation with fear and trembling. That’s a lot more than just picking out flowers and a cake, isn’t it?

Fine — but what does that mean, exactly?

The text of the betrothal and crowning services provides helpful illumination on this point; they are, as Fr. Chamberas eloquently describes, “the primary and most appropriate educational resource for informing and preparing the spouses for their married life as active members of the Church” (ibid., 22). Fr. Meyendorff agrees, exhorting “all couples intending to get married [to] make a point of reading the entire service carefully in advance…for the sake of conscious and prayerful participation” (Meyendorff, 35-6).

With that in mind, there are several observations about engagement one can make from the liturgical texts. In the services themselves, the couple takes no vows, but they are instead merely asked by the priest, “Have you a good, free, and unconstrained will and a firm intention to take unto yourself [as a spouse] this [person] whom you see here before you?” Fr. Chamberas writes, “This mutual, free and sincere agreement for Marriage is…an absolute necessary presupposition for the Sacrament to be performed” (Chamberas, 50), and Fr. Meyendorff sees it as a “useful way of emphasizing their personal commitment and active participation” (Meyendorff, 35). Thus, we might understand engagement as a period of discernment during which the couple prepares to be asked that very question, so that, to quote Fr. Chamberas again, they may offer “their sincere pledge of love and faithfulness…like the bread and wine in the Divine Liturgy, to be blessed and transformed” (Chamberas, 50). There are tools which the Church offers in aid of this process; the place for the couple to start is to begin premarital counseling with the priest who will marry them. These sessions will be, among other things, a source of specific advice regarding how to develop good spiritual habits from the outset, such as praying together, for example.

Given that marriage is a Mystery of the Church, however, this mystical transformation impacts not only the man and the woman being married but the entire community, just as the bread and wine must be distributed to the community of the faithful after being consecrated. This is reflected in the fact that the betrothal service begins with a Great Litany, a liturgical exchange in which the priest asks the assembly for prayers for the couple, and the people (the laos in the Greek Euchologion), the members of the community, affirm these petitions. This suggests that the period of engagement is not just a period of preparation and discernment between the man and woman, but also between the two of them and the community of the Church who will be asked to bless their union. “It is to the Church that the couple has come to be married,” observes Fr. Chamberas, “[and] it is the whole Church that prays [for them]… [T]he engaged couple…are making a mutual pledge before God and the congregation, not only to share their life but also to graft it upon the Tree of Life in the Church” (Chamberas, 51). Fr. John McGuckin, in his book The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture (Blackwell Publishing, 2008), paints the vivid picture of “their mutual love and joy [functioning] to others (as well as themselves) as a living icon of the burning love Christ has for his church” (McGuckin, 311). In the absence of a liturgical means by which the engagement can be recognized, a simple, practical way that the man and woman to be married might begin to engage their community in this way is to ask to be added to the list of those prayed for at the altar. This way, the entire congregation is praying for them week in, week out during the course of their engagement.

Much more can be said about the betrothal service, but I will conclude with the final observation that all of the petitions made on behalf of the man and woman suggest very strongly that the Church believes that they need them. In other words, the engagement may also be seen as preparation for the inevitable tough times to come and learning to work through them. If you think planning the reception seating chart was tough, just wait.

Which brings us to the crowning service. The very use of crowns and related imagery suggest martyrdom; not in the sense of suffering being an unavoidable element of the Christian marriage, but in the sense that within the marriage, as in every other element of the Christian life, the victory in Christ — that for which the martyr’s crown is bestowed — is achieved through humility and death to oneself in seeking to serve Christ in the other person. This is made explicit in the epistle reading — “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:20). Fr. McGuckin points out that what St. Paul is exhorting the husband and wife to do in this oft-misunderstood passage is “to outdo one another in putting their own self at the service of the other” (McGuckin, 311). From this standpoint, the engaged couple needs to prepare themselves to be able to accept the crown with all that it entails. Fr. Chamberas again: “[T]heir crowns must remind them always, not of a mere symbolical ritual, but the very condition which makes their Marriage a Christian Marriage. By being crowned in the name of the Holy Trinity…the couple are challenged to see that real glory and honor are to be found in their joyful self-offering and service to each other” (Chamberas, 75).

A final observation is that the crowning service, in the final prayer before the actual bestowing of crowns, provides the engaged couple with a very clear outline of what is normative in the Christian marriage: “Unite them, O Lord, to have oneness of mind. Crown them in marriage to be one flesh. Grant them the fruit of their bodies and procreation of blessed children. Grant also, O Lord, that their life together may be blameless and without reproach.”

This, ultimately, is what the engaged couple needs to be working towards — oneness of mind. One flesh. Yes, children, if God wills. A life blameless and without reproach. It’s not necessarily a life of material wealth and happiness and unconcerned bliss — but the fruit of the time spent preparing in the frustratingly neither-here-nor-there state that is engagement is, as Fr. Chamberas puts it, “a real expression of their entrance into the Kingdom of God… the beginning of their own familiar kingdom, which is destined to be a small reflection of the true Kingdom” (Chamberas, 75).

What the engaged man and woman must remember is that the Christian life may not always promise happiness — but “the key issue…is the presence of joy,” Fr. McGuckin writes. “And joy is wholly a spiritual phenomenon that cannot be counterfeited” (McGuckin, 317). Christian marriage is not the exercise of two people merely pursuing in parallel individual ease or the ephemera of “being happy,” in other words; such things may happen, but they are to be in the service of mutual joy, which is sacrificial, selfless, and seeking Christ.

So, to Matt, Erin, and all other engaged couples who may be reading this: prepare for saying yes. Prepare your church community and your family to say “Amen.” Prepare for martyrdom. Prepare to be one, to be blameless, to be parents. Prepare to fail at most or all of this at least some of the time (and thus prepare, maybe, to go to confession a little more frequently).

But nonetheless, above all — prepare for joy.

One new recording and one that’s just new to me

One nice thing about listening to Ancient Faith Music is that it can bring to my attention recordings of international origin of which I would otherwise have had no knowledge. A terrific example is My Soul, Rise Up! put out by a self-described “ensemble of folklore spiritual music” called The Svetilen Ensemble. Last week I turned on AFM and heard this joyful, full-throated, not careful, and stunning singing, and I had to know where it came from. Yesterday the CD arrived, and the whole thing is pretty much exactly like the excerpt I heard. It’s not all liturgical music; some of the pieces are folk part-songs (called kanty, so far as I can tell — somebody can correct me if I’m wrong) on Christian themes but which are paraliturgical. One thing the recording really does right is that it recognizes the link between folk culture and liturgical singing, and it emphasizes that folk culture shares a lot of common elements across national boundaries. Many of the kanty sound like American Sacred Harp hymns which just happen to not be in English, for example. Anyway — time does not permit a full review at this time, but this is a recording well worth a listen. Some excerpts may be found at the link provided above.

A brand-new recording is The Great Doxologies in the Eight Modes by the Mount Lebanon Choir. Now that we have a couple of decent (and up) recordings of the Divine Liturgy in English, the ensembles active in this kind of thing are going to start looking for other things to record, so here we are. The Great Doxologies is good for the reasons the Mt. Lebanon Choir’s The Divine Liturgy of the Holy Orthodox Church of Antioch is good and kinda, er, quirky for the reasons their Divine Liturgy is quirky. You’ve got authentic chants by people who know what they’re doing, with a high level of musicianship all around, to say nothing of Old Country legitimacy. This also has the extra value of being the only recording of its kind in English so far. On the other hand, the English diction, while better than a recording of me chanting in Arabic would be, is clearly not at a native level. This is okay with me, but it will make it a tough sell with some of the folks whom this recording is intended to help win over to Byzantine chant. Additionally, as with The Divine Liturgy, it sounds like an organ is used to shore up the ison (although an organist is not credited in the notes), and that just sounds not quite right. Still, where the matter of good recordings of Byzantine chant in English is concerned, more is more, I think, and hopefully all of these efforts combined will bear good fruit down the road.

If anybody’s taking requests, I’d love to see some festal Vespers or Matins recordings. “O Lord I have cried” in all eight modes, maybe. A recording of Holy Week music, of course, would also be a great thing, as would the Great Supplicatory Canon. Perhaps also examples of how some of the offices like Small Compline, First Hour, etc. can be sung if desired.

Maybe we need a few more ensembles specializing in doing this stuff well, too. More is more where this is concerned, as I said.

All Saints gets a facelift


And after, or at least in progress — this was as of this last Saturday evening:

All of my pictures can be found here. All of the lampadas and icons still needed to be hung as of Sunday, the moveable wall is going to be painted to fit this overall scheme, the flourescent lights are going to go away, and there is still some lettering yet to go on the walls — but we’re getting there.

Just a pinch of incense

I am categorically not interested in the things for which V. Gene Robinson generally receives media attention. I am far more interested when somebody who bears the title of a Christian bishop says things like this:

Bishop Robinson said he had been reading inaugural prayers through history and was “horrified” at how “specifically and aggressively Christian they were.”

“I am very clear,” he said, “that this will not be a Christian prayer, and I won’t be quoting Scripture or anything like that. The texts that I hold as sacred are not sacred texts for all Americans, and I want all people to feel that this is their prayer.”

Bishop Robinson said he might address the prayer to “the God of our many understandings,” language that he said he learned from the 12-step program he attended for his alcohol addiction.

The issue here is no more and no less that if he, as one who bears the title of a Christian bishop — that is, a successor to an apostle, a transmitter of the apostolic faith, the very faith witnessed to and died for publicly by the same people he is in theory supposed to succeed — does not believe that the inauguration should have a “specifically” Christian prayer, then it is his responsibility to stand down from the event. Period. He does not get to have it both ways. Christians, those who believe Christ is God in the flesh, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, do not have the option of praying “To Whom It May Concern” for purposes of playing nice with civil functions.

The martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 155 A. D.) is useful here:

And there the chief of the police, Herod, and his father, Nicetas, met [Polycarp] and transferred him to their carriage, and tried to persuade him, as they sat beside him, saying, “What harm is there to say `Lord Caesar,’ and to offer incense and all that sort of thing, and to save yourself?”

At first he did not answer them. But when they persisted, he said, “I am not going to do what you advise me.”

Then when they failed to persuade him, they uttered dire threats and made him get out with such speed that in dismounting from the carriage he bruised his shin. But without turning around, as though nothing had happened, he proceeded swiftly, and was led into the arena, there being such a tumult in the arena that no one could be heard. But as Polycarp was entering the arena, a voice from heaven came to him, saying, “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man. No one saw the one speaking, but those of our people who were present heard the voice.

[…] But the proconsul was insistent and said: “Take the oath, and I shall release you. Curse Christ.”

Polycarp said: “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

This old man was strong, played the man, refused to offer incense, refused to bow the knee to civil religion. Was he being too “specifically and aggressively Christian” for the comfort of V. Gene Robinson, I wonder?

By contrast, a man who bears the title of a Christian bishop is elbowing to be first in line to offer his own pinch of incense. He’s falling all over himself to do exactly what Polycarp (and, incidentally, Rick Warren, whatever else I may think of him) refused to do — be something other than what he is for purposes of better fitting into a civil function.

I say again: if he thinks being “specifically Christian” has no place at the inauguration, fine. Then he should stand aside and let somebody else take his place — somebody who, unlike him, makes no claims to be “specifically Christian”. Of course, this seems like a very unlikely course of action.

How did Christianity change the world again, all those centuries ago?

However it happened, there’s no way it could possibly work today. Just no way.

“The image of Christ according to Theodore the Studite” by Fr. John Meyendorff (part 2 of 2)

I didn’t intend for it to take me over five months to translate the second half of this, but here we are. I have a nice long French article to read for a course this semester (70 pages or so, I think), so finishing this particular project seemed like a prudent refresher.

By the way, I don’t claim perfection by any means, and there were some passages here that had me tearing my hair out for a couple of hours. If there are any portions where you’re scratching your head thinking, “There’s no way that’s what the French says,” let me know and maybe you can help. I’d post a pdf of the original for comparison purposes, but I’m uncertain of the propriety of doing so.

Anyway, here’s part one if you want to remind yourself where our intrepid heroes were back in August. And now, finally, part two:

It is with Theodore Studite that one finds a constructive synthesis of these arguments and a truly creative solution of the problem of veneration of images.

Theodore notices first of all that the Chalcedonian and post-Chalcedonian Christology do not solely consider in Christ the existence of two natures, but also a hypostasis or “person”[1]: it is the doctrine of the hypostatic union which makes possible the image of the God-man. “Any picture,” he writes, “is a picture of a hypostasis and not of a nature”[2].

The humanity of Christ itself, per Theodore, is an individual humanity. This point was not always apparent with certain Byzantine authors of the sixth and seventh centuries who considered foremost Christ as the Word, having only human “characteristics.” With Theodore, the concept of the humanity of Christ is far more concrete:

Christ was not simply an ordinary man (ψιλὸς ἄνθρωπος) (he writes); and it is not orthodox either to say that he had accepted an individual among men (τόν τινα τῶν ἀνθρώπων), but the unity, the totality of the nature (human): it is necessary to say, however, that this whole nature was contemplated in an individual manner (ἐν ἀτόμῳ) – for otherwise how could it have been seen? –, in a manner which made it visible and circumscribable… which allowed him to eat and drink…[3]

Resolutely Aristotelian, Theodore refutes the position of the Iconoclasts whereby the humanity of Christ would have been “indescribable” (ἀχαρακτήριστος), because it was “man in general” (καθόλου ἄνθρωπος) as “New Adam.” In Christ, the humanity was not an “ideal” humanity. An ideal humanity is not, moreover, an abstraction; to deny to Christ a concrete and individual humanity therefore amounts to regarding him only as God. “The humanity [of Christ],” he wrote, “does not exist as it does in Peter and Paul”; if human nature was not a reality contemplated “intellectually,” the experience of Thomas, placing his finger in the wound of Jesus, would have been impossible.

The very name of Jesus makes him distinct, through his hypostatic natures, compared with other men.[4]

“An undescribable Christ would also be Incorporeal: and yet, Isaiah (VIII, 3) designates him as a male being (ἄρσην τεχθείς) and only the shapes of the body make man and woman distinct”[5].

Fully individualized in the human plan, the unique Person of Jesus was, however, no other than the pre-existing hypostasis of the Word, Son of God. The post-Chalcedonian Christological system is, in effect, inconceivable if one does not admit the real difference between the concepts of “nature” (or “essence”) and “hypostasis.” If the term “hypostasis” designates a simple “internal relationship” with the divine nature, in the Thomist sense, it would be inconceivable to say, as Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Fifth [Ecumenical] Council (553) did, that “the Word suffered in the flesh”: this expression necessarily meant that the divine nature itself was subdued in the Passion. And yet, the “Theopaschite” formulae, as well as the term Theotokos applied to Mary, became to Byzantium, in the fifth and sixth centuries, a criterion of orthodoxy: one could and should say that the Word truly suffered and that Mary had been truly Mother of God, not that the Divine nature, common to the Father, Son, and the Spirit, had been given birth to by a woman or would be dead in the human way, but because the hypostasis of the Word became fully the center, the source, [and] the conscience of the human life of Jesus. The hypostasis, [that is,] personal existence, is not therefore defined by the “nature” which it “hypostasizes,” but it is that [hypostasis], on the contrary, which gives existence to each “individual nature.” Thus, the humanity of Jesus was able to be fully “human” without having a human hypostasis: the post-Chalcedonian christology means thus a totally personalist concept of the hypostasis[6]. This concept sets up the keystone of the iconology of Theodore.

The image is, for him, distinct, concerning the essence, compared with its Prototype. Whose essence is made the image of Christ – [be it] wood, colors [or] mosaic – is in effect different from the [essence] of the Model. But, concerning the hypostasis, the image and the model are not as one[7]. The icon of Christ is thus the image of the very hypostasis of the Word incarnate – the hypostasis of the Logos in his human existence – without being, in any way, an image of the indescribable and invisible Divinity.

It is thus as Theodore comments on the Byzantine tradition of writing on the cruciform nimbus surrounding the face of Christ the letters ὤν which are the Greek translation of the holy Tetragrammaton of the Hebrews, YHWH (cf. Ex. III, 14): Jesus is truly the personal God of the Bible, he appeared in the flesh, made visible through the authentically human traits of the Son of Mary[8]. It is thus impossible, according to Theodore the Studite, to write on the icons of Christ such impersonal terms as “Divinity,” “Lordship” or “Royalty”, which indicate the divine nature, common to the Father, Son, and the Spirit: only the inscription ὁ ὤν, “the one who is,” and not ὀντότης, “the being,” are suitable for the image of the Person of the Word incarnate[9].


* *

These few brief remarks do not in any way pretend to be an analysis of the Christological problem in its entirety, in the manner which it has put itself in Byzantium during the period of the Iconoclast dispute. The mind of Theodore would deserve for itself a whole monograph. Our aim, in this collection devoted to a Master who contributed so much to making understandable the problems of Byzantine art, and in particular that of the Iconoclast period, was solely to bring attention to the importance of the personality of Theodore in the purely theological development of iconology. He is known above all as one of the grand lawmakers of Eastern monasticism, as a hymnographer, as a man of action, as a personal enemy of Iconoclast emperors, and also of all those who, like the patriach Nicephorus, were tending to adopt in the life of the Church and the State a politics of “economy”; the abbot of Studium merits also our attention as a rigorous theologian. It is not only his zeal for the faith and his contempt for compromise which made to triumph the party of Iconodules in Byzantium, but also the decisive contribution which he achieved in making to a properly doctrinal problem, posed by the veneration of images.

New York. John Meyendorff.

[1] Two authors have briefly noticed the originality of Theodore on this exact point: N. Grossu, Prepodobny Theodor Studit, Kiev, 1907, p. 204, and V. Grumel, “L’iconologie de saint Théodore Studite,” in Échos d’Orient, XX, 1921, p. 258.

[2] Antirrh. III, col. 405 A.

[3] Antirrh. I, col. 332 D-333 A.

[4] Antirrh. III, col. 396 C-397 A.

[5] Ibid., col. 409 C.

[6] On this concept of hypostasis see in particular V. Lossky, Théologie Mystique de L’Église d’Orient, Paris, Aubier, 1944, pp. 52-53.

[7] Διαφορότης οὐκ ἐπὶ τῆς ποστάσεως, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὸν τῆς οὐσίας λόγον, Ep. 212, P.G., 99, col. 1640; cf. also Antirrh. III, 1, 34, col. 405.

[8] Antirrh. III, col. 400 D-401.

[9] Lettre à Nancratius, II, 67, col. 1296 AB; cf. also Antirrh. III, col. 420 D.

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