Posts Tagged 'Finals Week Sucks'

The Final hours of Bright Week

All Saints on Pascha just before Agape VespersMeshiha qam! Bashrira qam!*

So, I find it more than a little ironic that, having opened the doors of the iconostasis for Bright Week, tonight will have been my first time in the nave since Agape Vespers, and the doors will be closed fifteen minutes or so after I get there.

On the other hand, since Bright Week did double duty as Finals Week, I’m not really sure it could have been any other way, at least not this year.

I had two finals this week; Latin and Syriac. Latin was relatively easy; I’ve commented before that studying a language like Latin, one is the beneficiary of all kinds of useful pedagogical editions of things with helpful features like half of the page being a glossary and 75% of the words being glossed. With Syriac, as I have commented before, one, well, isn’t.

Going into the Syriac final, we were all rather panicked; we read three longish texts — The Gospel of Mark chap. 14 through the end, The Doctrine of Addai, and the Life of Ephraim — with just an impossible amount of vocabulary being contained therein. (And make no mistake: at least at this stage of the game, until we get to texts that don’t have vowel-pointing, it’s the vocabulary that’s the killer. Syriac grammar is actually remarkably uncomplicated, at least so far.)  We studied one of the passages from the Life of Ephraim that we thought might be on the exam the evening before, got it down pretty well, and we all felt a bit better. The next morning, the professor handed out the exams and just said, “Do what you can.” Of course, the three passages that actually wound staring up at us from the page were nothing from any of those three texts which I had actually spent any particular time mastering. As my Syriac co-sufferer Diane acknowledged, “There were a lot of made-up words and grammatically-appropriate blanks in my translation.” Um, yeah.

Nonetheless, the school year is over, and as soon as grades were posted yesterday morning (not to mention no e-mails having arrived from my Syriac professor asking, “You know, have you ever considered a direction change? Like, say, becoming a shepherd?”), I felt a great weight lift from my shoulders. I survived the school year, something that at points felt unlikely for a whole host of reasons. Between classes being over (at least for six weeks) and settling into the new job, I am getting to truly decompress a bit for the first time in perhaps a year and a half — certainly since before I broke my ankle last February, one way or the other. We’ll see if I know what to do with myself.

(By the way, Iron Man rocks. Hard.)

* Just to prove I learned something in Syriac — “Meshiha” is “Christ”, being a passive pe’al participle used attributively in the singular masculine emphatic (from the root mshah, “to anoint”), therefore carrying the meaning “anointed one”; “qam” is the 3rd person masculine singular pe’al perfect form of the verb which means “to stand”; “ba-” is a preposition meaning “in”; and “shrira” is “truth”. So — “Christ stood/arose/got up!” “In truth He arose!” Isn’t this fun? Next year I’ll do it in Coptic.

Christus resurrexit! Vere resurrexit!

 In Old English: “Crist aras! Crist sodhlice aras!”

In Modern English: “Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!”

In Modern South Central Indiana English: “Christ done riz! Sho’ ’nuff!”

I have a fairly long blog post or two in me, as well as notes for Lesson 3 of Hansen & Quinn, but it’s still going to have to wait until after this week. Last week being Holy Week and this week being Finals Week… yeah. Next week.

Brief updates, however (with explanations to come):

  • Lazarus Saturday saw the reception of six into the Orthodox Christian faith at All Saints; four by Baptism, two by Chrismation. Two of those baptized were my wife’s and my new godchildren, Matthew and Erin. Theirs is a good story, and the morning (not to mention the subsequent Holy Week) was a beautiful welcoming home (as it were) for them. I have pictures and I’ll post some eventually.
  • I started a new job on Monday of Holy Week. The new job is a Very, Very, Very Good Thing; truly, a major blessing. That said, I don’t ever recommend starting a new job during Holy Week. I also don’t recommend Finals Week being Bright Week, and I particularly don’t recommend having a Latin final at 10:15am on Bright Monday, but sometimes there’s little we can do about these things in a fallen world.
  • My mother was with us for most of Holy Week (starting with Unction on Wednesday evening) and Pascha. She survived, and would like to come back and do it again… someday.
  • I’ve decided to take the Reading French for Graduate Students course this summer. I’d like to refresh my French, particularly now that I’ve had a couple of years of Latin and Greek and actually understand some of the grammatical concepts and could actually explain to somebody what a subjunctive is.

Okay. More later.

“It’s common knowledge that Christmas and its customs have nothing to do with the Bible” (updated)

reportcard.jpgSo, the good news is that for all of my handwringing about Greek this semester, it wound up being more of a bright spot on my transcript than I would have thought. It’s still a variety of “B” rather than a variety of “A”, but it’s a better variety than I figured possible, and it’s certainly not a variety of “C”. I’m still probably going to try to sit in on third semester Greek again next fall as a refresher (since, because of scheduling issues, I can’t take the fourth semester until next year), but the unmitigated disaster I was convinced was inevitable on Wednesday afternoon appears to have been nonetheless avoided.

unchristmas.gifThere’s an article in the Associated Press about Protestants who don’t celebrate Christmas (hat tip: Dr. Philip Blosser), and it provides an interesting overview of the history of Christmas celebrations in the United States. In a nutshell, Protestant America was at best uncomfortable with and at worst hostile towards Christmas until the 19th century, when it shifted towards being more of a secular, family holiday and less of a religious observance associated with Catholics. In other words, it was largely because it took on commercial aspects (at least according to this piece) that its liturgical trappings were tolerated. Still, despite this “domestication,” certain Protestant groups retain the objection into our own time:

Christians like the United Church of God reject the holiday [because they] say divine instruction, rather than culture and society, should determine whether the holiday is appropriate.

“It’s common knowledge that Christmas and its customs have nothing to do with the Bible,” said Clyde Kilough, president of the United Church of God, which has branches all over the world. “The theological question is quite simple: Is it acceptable to God for humans to choose to worship him by adopting paganism’s most popular celebrations and calling them Christian?”

I have to say, there’s a part of me that has absolutely no problem with this attitude. What reason do Christians who reject the liturgical calendar as a whole have to keep Christmas as an observance? Aren’t they trying to have it both ways? Here’s the follow-up question, though—do these same groups reject Easter? If not, why not? It seems to me they’d have to, to stay consistent.

Here’s what is, for me, the money quote:

[T]he mainline Protestant churches have learned to accommodate Christmas. But the change came from the pews rather than the pulpit.

Christmas benefited from a 19th century “domestication of religion,” said University of Texas history professor Penne Restad, in which faith and family were intertwined in a complementary set of values and beliefs.

Christmas became acceptable as a family-centered holiday, Restad said, once it lost its overtly religious significance.

At the same time, aspects of the holiday like decorated trees and gift-giving became status symbols for an aspirant middle class. When Christmas began its march toward dominance among holidays, it was because of a change in the culture, not theology.

“In America, the saying is that the minister follows the people, the people don’t follow the minister,” Restad said. “This was more of a sociological change than a religious one. The home and the marketplace had more sway than the church (emphasis mine).”

The minister follows the people, the people don’t follow the minister. The home and the marketplace had more sway than the church. That’s a mouthful, folks, and one that strikes me as bearing some real consideration.

All that said, I have to say I’d love for the guys at Get Religion to offer their thoughts on this story; I’m sure there’s a lot here I’m missing.

UPDATE: Fr. Stephen Freeman has some words which are directly applicable to the matter at hand:

…[T]radition is not only normal – it is inevitable… We cannot, without great violence, declare that there will be no traditions. This has been sought through the centuries by various iconoclast regimes (Puritans come to mind the easiest). But they never completely succeed. Today, the descendants of Puritans will seek Christmas trees whether they believe in God or not. The tradition is stronger even than the belief. But the tradition wasn’t given in order to destroy the belief, but to live it out.

End-of-Finals-Week miscellany

In a nutshell: Greek not so good, Syriac very good.

cursivegkms-640w.gifGreek this semester (my third) has been a war over a particular person getting to make a particular point, fought in such a way so that it is those in the classroom who have been the collateral damage, and the final was very much a final salvo. I’m being deliberately vague for a lot of reasons; suffice it to say I did the work, put in my time, and learned a lot, but it is questionable how much of a high point it will wind up being on my transcript. Oh well; it happens.curetoniansyriac-640w.gif

By contrast, I handed in my Syriac final feeling quite chipper, on the other hand, and I felt quite justified in my chipperness when I saw the posted grade this morning.

Now I get to spend the break reviewing Latin for next semester. Opto, optare, optavi, optatus. Sum, esse, fui, futurus. Femina, feminae, feminae, feminam, femina

Dr. Liccione has an essay entitled “Freedom, evolution, and original sin” which he posted yesterday. It’s the kind of thing which, when I read it, makes me think things along the lines of, “You know, maybe things could be worked out between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy within my lifetime…” I’m not qualified to engage the post on any kind of a theological or doctrinal level, but I do want to point out a few things.

Kecharitomene is an interesting word in Greek. If my Greek teacher were to ask me to give its syntax on a test, I would say that it is a feminine singular participle, perfect tense to show completed aspect, passive voice, in the vocative case, agreeing in gender, number, and case with the unexpressed subject (being the Virgin Mary), and it is being used attributively.

What in the world does all of that mean?

A participle as a verbal adjective; in English we end participles with “-ing” and then use them in conjunction with the verb “to be” to express various tenses periphrastically. If I say, “I am walking,” “am” is the finite verb and “walking” is the participle–it’s attributing the characteristic “walking” to me rather than expressing it directly as a finite verb, whereas a single finite verb in Greek, “baino,” says all of that on its own—the “o” ending indicates that it’s first-person singular, so the subject is already implied, and it in the present tense, so it doesn’t need the helper verb “to be.” In Greek, you would use the participle perhaps to express a parallel thought to the main idea of the sentence (e.g., in “The turkey being cooked, we will now eat dinner”, “being cooked” would be expressed as a participle), often to indicate a present state before an action is taken (my Greek teacher likes to use the example that instead of “Take the money and run,” Plato would say, “Taking the money, run!”), and also to attribute verbal characteristics to people. Think of the movie “The Running Man,” and you’ve got the idea. Kecharitomene is an example of this last use—the verb is being applied to the Virgin Mary as an attribute, and therefore is singular and feminine, since in Greek adjectives must agree with what they modify in gender, number (singular/plural, as in “I/we”), and case. This is direct address, and that case is called “vocative.”

Participles, while not being finite verbs, have tenses like finite verbs; we usually think of tenses as expressing time, but Greek (at least how my teacher taught us) is a little more granular, expressing both time and aspect, aspect being the state in which the action is being performed. There is simple aspect, which means that the action is done once; progressive or repeated aspect, which means that it occurs continuously or over and over, and completed aspect, which means that the action is, well, done to completion. “I am walking” is present time, progressive or repeated aspect. “I was walking” is past time, progressive/repeated aspect. “I walked to the store” is past time, simple aspect. “I have walked home” is present time, completed aspect. And so on. Kecharitomene is in the perfect tense, which indicates present time, completed aspect. One thing about Greek, though, is that participles, if they communicate time at all (outside of the indicative mood, tenses lose connotation of absolute time and only have to do with aspect) communicate time relative to the main verb. “Chaire, Kecharitomene!” being a greeting (“Chaire” is the imperative form of the verb which means “rejoice,” used idiomatically in Greek to mean “Hello”), there’s not really a main verb, so an argument can be made that we can’t really say anything about the time in which this action was performed, only that it is done to completion.

There are two grammatical voices in English, active and passive. In the active voice, the subject performs the action of the verb; “I throw the ball.” In the passive voice, the subject receives the action of the verb; “I am thrown the ball.” Greek has both of these as well (plus a middle voice, where the action is performed reflexively or causatively or there’s some other special meaning being communicated). Kecharitomene is passive, which means the Virgin Mary has received the action of the verb; somebody else has performed the action (presumably, God).

Having now explained the syntax, the base meaning of the verb conjugated as Kecharitomene is “endow with grace.”

Therefore, if we were to try to incorporate every last nuance of the above into a literal English translation of “Chaire, Kecharitomene”, it would come out to “Hello, woman completely endowed with grace (don’t know when that happened, it’s just the way it is)!”

Doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, does it? Regardless, Dr. Liccione’s summary of the implications is worth a glance:

[The Virgin Mary’s state of being kecharitomene] is sola gratia: a direct product of divine power divinizing. And it is itself but the most proximate effect of…the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of that divine person who is Mary’s Son, a process in which we are all destined to participate, thus becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

Amen! Others can hash it out further.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is an interesting figure, even to the Orthodox; Fr. Seraphim Rose was quite critical of him, and others (such as Fr. John Meyendorff, I believe) evidently thought he hit the nail on the head. I’ve never read any of his works myself, but I don’t claim to have any particular interest in the creation vs. evolution issue. If we are to understand time as a part of creation, and if we are to understand the Fall as having corrupted all of creation, then presumably time was part of what was corrupted, as well as how we perceive it. For all I know (and I wasn’t there), the Genesis account is exactly and literally what happened, but we’re on the wrong side of the event to be able to see empirical evidence of it. I don’t know, and it frankly is irrelevant to me, having no bearing on the personal struggle to become a partaker of the Divine Nature. Maybe that’s a shortsighted point of view, but there we are.

Moving on…

I’m still stewing deep in thought about my Greek class. I can’t really go into a lot of details because the players would easily identifiable, and I don’t want to go there. What I will say is that after the first year of Greek (assuming use of a introductory textbook like Hansen & Quinn, which appears to be the closest the Greek world has to a standard like Wheelock’s is for Latin), I can imagine a very compelling case being made for Religious Studies departments having a second-year sequence running parallel to a Classical Studies department’s sequence. For example, this semester, we spent roughly three-fourths of the term on Plato’s Ion, and the last three or four weeks on the New Testament. That’s all well and good for classicists, but let’s just say that there wasn’t a lot of love left over for anything written Anno Domini, and I believe I would have ultimately benefited more from the ratio having been reversed, particularly since the fourth semester, as taught here, is radio station WHMR, all Homer, all the time.

It also occurs to me that one thing from which my beloved Hansen & Quinn textbook could benefit, faithful and constant companion, friend, and projectile over the last year as it has been, would be something of a supporting library along the lines of what’s available for Wheelock’s. It’s also quite amusing, looking back at the sentences I slaved over for hours in September 2006; if anyone would like an exact count of how many ways Homer can send the brothers into the battle in the country on the road with books, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do.

OK. Enough for now. Finals week is over, Deo gratias, the syntax of “deo” being that it’s an indirect object “to/for” dative, and in the singular number you decline that deus, dei, deo, deum, deo…

Finals week

It’s finals week, and I don’t mind telling you, I’m having a hard time of it. I only have two—Greek on Wednesday, Syriac on Thursday—but I still find myself struggling quite a bit this week to get into the swing of things. For various reasons, it’s been a stressful semester on several levels, I’ve been walking around with this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach since August, and I just want to have it all be over.

Well, let’s be honest. A stressful semester? Try a stressful year, one of the hardest of my life. I’m just ready, in all respects, to put 2007 to bed and be done with it.

Friday cannot come soon enough.


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