Posts Tagged 'publishing'

An itinerary and a couple of labors of love

I’ve got three things to pass along, and I suppose I should relate them in order of interest from least to greatest. Otherwise, you’ll just read the first item and skip the rest.

First — I’m going to be mildly peripatetic in the coming months. 9-12 February I will be in New Jersey to participate in the Georges Florovsky Patristic Symposium, and then 12-15 February I will be in Boston to spend a few days at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. 2-4 March I will be in Emmaus, PA to give a presentation on church music as part of a Lenten retreat at St. Paul Orthodox Church. Then, looking ahead a bit farther, 24-26 May I will be participating in the North American Patristics Society (NAPS) annual meeting in Chicago. I realize that maybe I’m up to three regular readers (counting my parakeet), but if you happen to be anywhere near any of those places when I’m there, by all means let me know. I had the odd experience at the Antiochian Sacred Music Institute last summer of meeting a couple of people who said upon meeting me, “Oh! I read your blog,” and then I also met this gentleman at the Byzantine Studies conference this last October (although neither of us realized whom the other was until after we were both back home). Anyway, I won’t look at you funny or hiss at you if you introduce yourself, promise.

Second — my first peer-reviewed article, “Sensory Experience and the Women Martyrs of Najran”, has been accepted by The Journal of Early Christian Studies. It’s been an interesting road with this project; five years ago, during my initial year of being a non-matriculated continuing student, I took my first graduate seminar, a course on the Middle East in late antiquity, taught by the professor who would later become my advisor. It was my first exposure to scholars like Peter Brown and Susan Ashbrook Harvey and so on, and was a significant broadening of my horizons. The student makeup of the class was very telling; it was a History course that had no History students in it but rather three Religious Studies kids and me.

Anyway, among other things, we read Sebastian Brock and Susan Ashbrook Harvey’s translation of the section of the Second Letter of Simeon of Beth-Arsham that deals with the martyrdoms of the women during the Himyarites’ sack of Najran, and the in-class discussion sparked something for me. Other students were focused on the gory nature of the martyrdom details for their own sake — I specifically remember one person commenting, “I never understood the connection people draw between martyrdom and sadomasochism before now” — but it was clear to me that there was something else governing how those details were conveyed, namely shared liturgical experience. I raised this point, and I still remember the look that I got as clear as day. Needless to say, it didn’t get a lot of traction in class, but when paper topics had to be proposed, I mentioned it to the professor as a possibility. “I can almost guarantee you I won’t buy your argument,” he said. “You’ll have to go a long way for me to see it as at all legitimate.” Well, that’s a challenge, now isn’t it? I wrote the paper, making what I saw as explicit as I could and relating it to known liturgical practices as clearly as I was able. I presented an overview in class, and the professor was quiet for a moment. “You know,” he said, “not only am I convinced, but now I can’t see it any other way. Good for you.”

Later, as I was applying for IU’s Religious Studies graduate program, the paper was used as my writing sample. At the same time, I was alerted to one of the big religious studies journals doing a themed issue on religious violence; I figured, hey, what the heck, if it gets in it can only help the application, and I sent them the paper. I also submitted it to Dorushe, a graduate conference on Syriac studies that was being held at Notre Dame. Well, the outcome of the Religious Studies application was detailed, if somewhat obscurely, here; as far as the paper went, it got into Dorushe, but the response from the journal was a little more ambivalent. The answer was ultimately no, but they included the reviewers’ comments, and said that if I were to revise it they would be willing to look at it again (while making it clear that this was not a “revise and resubmit”). Since at that point I didn’t think I was going to have the chance to go to grad school, publication didn’t really matter anymore, and I shoved the paper and the comments sheet in a drawer. The Dorushe experience was a little weird in some ways (maybe due more to some heightened self-consciousness on my part than anything), but I met some interesting people, and Sidney Griffith, at least, liked the paper, saying, “The way you lay it out, it’s obvious.”

After actually getting in to grad school, I thought to myself a number of times, I should go back and look at those reviewers’ comments, and finally last June I spent a few days thoroughly reworking the paper. I transferred it from Word to Scrivener, I restructured it following the reviewers’ suggestions, and did what was nearly a page one-rewrite so that it reflected better what my scholarly voice (to the extent that I might pretentiously assert the existence of such a thing) actually sounds like these days. Part of this involved reducing block quotes of secondary literature (a bad habit of which I was cured by the wonderful Prof. Sarah Bassett over in Art History, who in the three years that she’s been here has really proven herself to be one of the great, if somewhat unsung, reasons to study Late Antiquity at Indiana University) down to footnotes and paraphrases, and it also involved an overall refinement of the writing style. Don’t worry, I’m still wordy as hell, but I’ve tried to make the wordiness a little more elegant. Also, there’s some additional literature on the Najran incident that’s come out in the intervening five years, and I had to make sure that all got referenced properly. Anyway, once it was done, I opted to not go back to the original publication, instead sending it off to The Journal of Early Christian Studies. In September, I got a note back from the editor telling me that the reviewers’ recommendation was “revise and resubmit”, saying that this was good news and if I took the feedback seriously, there was no reason I couldn’t have a publishable article. By November the revision was re-submitted, and I got word back this last Tuesday that it was in. Now, I have some style adjustments to make before it’s totally done, but at this stage of the game it looks like it will be appearing in the Spring 2013 issue.

So, that first seminar five years ago got me my advisor, my overall area of interest (the interaction of liturgy and history), and my first published article. (Although, while the Najran paper is related conceptually and methodologically to where I think my dissertation is going, it looks like a paper I wrote for a class I took the previous semester, fall of 2006, served as a first stab at the actual dissertation topic. I’ll have more to say after NAPS, I think.) It’s been the gift that’s kept on giving, to say the least.

Okay, on to the final, and most interesting, bit of news.

Third — on or around 26 June 2012, assuming all goes well and without incident, there will be another Barrett on the earth. Yes, be afraid, my genes are propagating, insanity, puns, tendencies towards a prolix approach of oversharing, and all. Thankfully, this child will also be carrying the genes of Flesh of My Flesh, and those characteristics involve practicality, common sense, order, and normality. (To say nothing of great beauty and brilliance.)

We had intended for the last couple of years that we would start trying once Megan got back from Germany, and we were told to prepare for it taking awhile. Well, apparently not. By the beginning of November we at least knew informally, and then our first OB appointment was Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, which confirmed matters and indicated we were nine weeks along. We spent most of the drive to our Thanksgiving destination on the phone with my mother and then Megan’s mother and stepmother; my mom got the first call, since she’s the one parent who doesn’t have any grandchildren already, and she burst into tears immediately.

We’ve been telling friends and family ever since, but a couple of things made it desirable that we wait a bit before making it “Facebook public”, as it were. Anyway, here we are, and I suppose it will be a source of reflection in the coming months/years/etc. If you’re on Facebook and want to be kept more or less up-to-date, you can join the group “Fans of Baby Barrett“; there’s not a lot to tell at this point except that we’re choosing to not find out whether it’s a boy or a girl. We’ve got some name ideas, yes, but it’s hardly practical to openly discuss those when you don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, so I’m not going to go there except to say that there are some “legacy names”, as it were, that might make sense, and you know that we’re going to be getting one of these. We’ll see.

By the way, if you happen to be having a baby in or around Bloomington, Indiana, I really can’t recommend Bloomington Area Birth Services (AKA “BABS”) enough. We’re doing their eight-week birthing class (cue Bill Cosby: “Natural childbirth… intellectuals go to class to study how to do this”), and while, I must admit, it’s a little more of the NPR-listening “educated class” culture than I really expected, it’s a lot of excellent information that’s provided very sensitively and accessibly. I kind of surprise myself with my own reactions to some things; it should really be no surprise that “birth culture” a) exists b) is hyper-feminized, but I find a certain kind of stereotypical “maleness” emerging in how I’m processing some of the information, and it is very much out of character for me. It’s probably mostly a reflexive reaction to the explicit hyper-feminization of what’s being presented, which probably has everything to do with me and nothing to do with them, because they really are terrific at what they do. I’m just really not used to what they do. Anyway, I’ll have more to say about this as time goes on, I think.

So, there’s the news. Two different kinds of babies, I guess. There’s a third kind of baby on the way that I hope to be able to talk about more in depth soon, but it’s an outgrowth of some of the musical efforts I’ve had going here the last couple of years. For now, follow this, and I’ll be able to tell all in the next month or so, I think.

Prayers for all of these babies, please, and prayers most of all for Flesh of My Flesh. She’s got to carry our child in her womb and write a dissertation.

Announcement: debut issue of Journal of American Orthodox Church History

The Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas (SOCHA) has published the first issue of its journal, the Journal of American Orthodox Church History. It looks like SOCHA has set this up as a peer-reviewed electronic journal (although I’m told that they are toying with the possibility of a print edition for academic libraries), with scholarly articles, source translations, and book reviews in each issue. It will be published annually on the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother God, 15 August. Issues are $10 apiece, which I would suggest is more than reasonable for an academic journal. The table of contents for the first issue, a summary of submission guidelines, and a brief statement of purpose for the Journal by SOCHA Executive Director Fr. Oliver Herbel, may be found here.

This seems like a great effort to support, both by buying issues as they come out, by citing articles that get published, and by submitting articles of publishable quality. I intend to do all three as I am able; please consider doing the same.

All Saints in the Herald-Times

Bloomington’s local paper, The Herald-Times, ran a piece on All Saints for their religion page in today’s edition. If you’re a subscriber, you can find it here; otherwise, it’s posted over at Orthodox Hoosiers.

The story here is this — last weekend was our annual pastoral visit from His Grace Bp. MARK (about which more a bit later), and we realized somewhat at the last minute that it might be a good event to try to publicize to the greater community, particularly since he was giving a post-Vespers talk about ministry in a college town. Parish council chair Jeff Weber had called the paper, and they told him they’d be happy to run whatever we sent them as long as it was 400 words or less and we got it to them by noon Wednesday. Somebody had taken a shot at writing a really short press release, and while it wasn’t bad as an event announcement, I knew from my own experience getting press releases to the Herald-Times that what had been written wasn’t going to fly. So, Tuesday night, in consultation with Fr. Peter and parish council chair Jeff Weber, I wrote a press release for Bp. MARK’s visit as well as a short, rather general feature article about All Saints and Orthodoxy in Bloomington. With Fr. Peter’s and Jeff’s suggestions and tweaks, we got them over to the paper at 11:59am Wednesday.

And on Saturday, we opened the paper and saw nary a word of what we had sent them.

This last Thursday, Fr. Peter left me a voicemail, saying that he had talked to the appropriate editor at the Herald-Times, and they had been very apologetic, saying that somebody had been out of town, wires got crossed, etc., they would run what we sent them this weekend modifying for past tense, and that they looked forward to covering All Saints more in the future.

So, today, the feature article was there, and true to their word, they printed the whole thing, changing only the applicable verb tenses relating to the episcopal visit.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well; we’re hoping that cultivating a bit more of a relationship with the Herald-Times will help raise awareness of All Saints in the community, so there will hopefully be more of these in the near future.

Spring break at last: in which the author returns from blogslackdom

The end of January and beginning of February were crazy because I was catching up on work after the extracurricular activities I had going on in the second half of January, and then the first week of February I also had to prepare for a workshop I was helping with at St. Nicholas Church in the Urbana-Champaign area. Megan was flattened with the flu that week as well, but I seemed to be okay.

As I was driving to Champaign Friday night, I started to feel a little tickle in my throat. When I woke up Saturday morning, I could only pray that I would make it through the day. I did, sure enough, but as soon as Vespers was over and it was time for me to head home, it was as though a metric ton of unfinished brick was dropped on my head.

I got home, went to sleep, and woke up long enough Sunday morning to croak voicelessly at Megan, “I don’t think I’m going anywhere today, let along singing anything.” (Actually, it came out more like “CHHHHccckkkkAAAAAAAaaaaHHHHHhaaaaaeeeeeeeeecccccchhhhhiiiiiick”, but she got the point.) I then proceeded to not leave my house until the following Friday.

Let me tell you, losing an entire week when you’re in grad school suh-HUCKS. I was out of commission enough that I really couldn’t do anything productive, so come Saturday, when I actually felt like I had some life in me, I really did have the entirety of the previous week as well as the coming week to prepare in order to catch up.

And, as can happen, I missed something.

As I sat down in my seminar on democracy in Ancient Greece on my first Tuesday back after being sick, the professor said, “…and today we’re going to hear from Richard on whether or not the generalship in Athens was a democratic institution…” and my heart jumped out through my throat. I had managed to miss an entire presentation. Had I written it down? Yes. I just didn’t catch it when I was reviewing what I needed to do post-illness. In four years of taking graduate courses, I had never just not done something; of course, this particular professor didn’t know that. That said, he wasn’t a jerk about it, and it will be made up somehow, but this is somebody who will probably be on my committee and this isn’t exactly the kind of impression I like to make on people. Since it was a faculty member in my home department, I thought it probably would be a good idea to drop my advisor a line, saying, “Just because I’d rather you hear this from me…” This appears to have been a good call; he wrote back saying, glad you told me, don’t let it happen again, produce at your usual level from here, and this should fall under the category of “no harm, no foul.”

Thus, I had to make sure I was on my best behavior, and how, for my next presentation, which was this last Tuesday. That involved reading German, French, and Greek; this was my first shot at actually reading academic German, which is tougher than it looks. However, I managed to misread the syllabus for this particular assignment in a way that worked in my favor; I understood the reading to be a 15 page German article or a 15 page French article, and then one way or the other a 50 page French chapter of a book. Still, as I was wrapping up the German piece, I realized that the “or” was rather ambiguously placed, and I asked the professor for clarification. “Oh, good Lord, I didn’t imagine that somebody would be able to read both German and French,” he told me. “Tell you what — read the shorter French piece along with the German and I’ll be happy.” So that’s what I did.

In addition to that, I’ve also had two book reviews to write for another class, and we also took a long-delayed trip to Arizona last month to see my dad and stepmom for a few days.

Oh yeah, and it’s Lent.

I haven’t had time to exercise in the last six weeks, let alone blog. Yesterday was my last day of classes before Spring Break; I promptly came home and hopped on the treadmill. (And yes, today, I’m sore as hell. Heading back to the treadmill as soon as I wrap up this post.)

I’ll say it again: losing an entire week in grad school sucks. It really has taken me this whole month to catch up, and Spring Break really could not have come soon enough in terms of giving me a much-needed breather.

I need to wrap this up for now so that I can go exercise before Akathist, but one update I’ll give for now: Pascha at the Singing School has hit an interesting phase of development. I had been waiting until John finished all of the illustrations before sending it anywhere, but I looked at the submission guidelines for one of the publishers I’ve always envisioned as being ideal, and found that it wasn’t necessary to have them all done before sending them a proposal. So, I went ahead and fired off a book proposal, and two hours later got an invitation to send them the manuscript and sample illustrations.

Two and a half weeks after sending it to them, I got an answer.

It wasn’t “no,” but neither was it an unqualified “yes.”

Essentially, what they said was positive but that they would want to see certain revisions before they considered it any further. Once I’ve made those revisions, we’ll go from there. And, in all truthfulness, the feedback they had was all legitimate and useful. So, one of my goals over the break is to rework the manuscript based on their suggestions. My assumption is that they wouldn’t have bothered with this level of feedback if they didn’t think it would be worth their time; rejection slips are usually what one sees, not thoughtful suggestions. So, I’m taking this as a positive, and we’ll see what happens there.

More later.

Richard Barrett, poet

About this time last year there were a couple of moments that struck some kind of a chord with me and got scribbled down in something vaguely resembling verse form. I figured that I might as well see if anybody else thought they were any good, and submitted them to a particular publication with which I was familiar. They said no thanks, but I thought it was worth a second try. The second publication liked one of them enough (with one minor revision) to run it, and it looks like it will be coming out within the next month or two.

My poem “Moments in a Suddenly Fasting Kitchen” will be published in the Winter 2010 (36:3) issue of A Time of Singing: A Magazine of Christian Poetry. I get a contributor’s copy, but if anybody else would like one, please let me know before 19 December so I can get additional copies at contributor prices ($3.33 apiece if I buy them in multiples of three, as opposed to regular cover price of $6).

Strange how things work out sometimes — I never thought that “published poet” would be words that one could apply to me. There still is the one that Lora (Zill, the editor) did not use, plus a couple of others I’ve jotted down here and there, so maybe this could be more than just a one-time fluke, who knows.

The upsides of collaborating

I really haven’t looked much, if at all, at Pascha at the Singing School since finishing the first draft back around New Years. There were some typos Megan pointed out that I fixed. There was the moment back in February where I thought to myself, “Hey, you know what the Chapel needs? A chandelier!” only to go back and realize that I had already, in fact, put a chandelier right there for all to see. There was the person who read it who very politely said nothing; somehow I managed to get out of them that a particular term was too close to a term used in a similar context in another book for their comfort. When I showed them my real-world source for the term I had used, indicating that I had not, in fact, plagiarized anybody and that the similarity was entirely coincidental, they loosened up and said some more useful things. (I am now getting around the uncomfortable similarity problem by using a different word that incorporates sound changes my wife worked out — and actually, I think I’m better off this way for a few reasons, some obvious, some not so much.)

Save these couple of minor details, I’ve really just let the manuscript sit in a drawer (well, okay, I’ve let it sit on my hard drive) for the last six months — but the time has perhaps come to see what the next step is.

See, I was finally able to sit down with the guy I’ve been trying to convince to draw some pencil sketches for it. I kinda had to wait for him to finish pesky things like his Masters degree. He’s done now, though, and he’s read the first draft. Happily, he also gets the first draft, and had some perceptive comments that indicated he understands what I’ve tried to do, and is interested in seeing how things might play out (both with the bigger story of which it is theoretically a part, and with the more immediate matter of trying to find an audience for this little window I’ve opened).

The thing is, for me, I’d hate to work with anybody on something like this and just say, “Here, draw this part, and this part, and this part.” I know I wouldn’t find that too terribly much fun to work on, and since John is actually a Real Artist and stuff (to say nothing of an iconographer who is maturing disturbingly quickly), I can’t imagine he would, either. I actually want him to be a co-creator, I suppose — somebody who engages the words on the page and maybe brings something to light in his illustrations that makes me think, “Oh, of course, John’s absolutely right, and that’s something that should be in the text, too”, even if maybe it’s a detail I don’t wind up using until down the road a piece. You know, the kind of thing that can only make the final product better in the long run. To that end, I’ve given him a number of details about the backstory of Pascha at the Singing School so that he can understand just what is actually happening in certain spots. J. Michael Straczynski is fond of drawing a distinction, with respect to certain moments in Babylon 5 that don’t get explained until much later, between knowing what happens and knowing what it means that something happens. I need John to be in on both.

Yes, I suppose it probably creates more work for me — but I think probably the submission draft will be far more cohesive in the long run for having a collaborator to force me to do it, so I can’t really say I see a downside.

With any luck, I may be able to send this out before the end of the year. Maybe I shouldn’t be in a rush to get my first rejection slip on this project, but there we go.

Unanticipated interest

I’m taking most of this week off. Megan’s grandmother on her father’s side passed away last Thursday — memory eternal, Frances — and while we’re not traveling for her funeral, it was evident that it would be beneficial for me to spend a few days at home. Plus, I have some vacation time I need to use or lose, and our friend Benjamin Czarnota has been here for a visit.

The other positive, if not exactly enjoyable, thing has been using the time to make use of my insurance benefits while I still have them. So, Monday, I got an eye exam — dilation makes me intensely irritable, by the way, because I can’t bloody read, but the upshot is that my prescription hasn’t changed — Tuesday I got a dental checkup and cleaning, and then, this morning, as a result of yesterday’s dental checkup, I got a root canal. For a variety of reasons, this was not entirely unexpected — let me simply say that delaying having one’s wisdom teeth removed by five years can have far-reaching consequences, and I do not recommend it as a course of action.

I am hopeful that tomorrow might not randomly involve invasive surgery.

Anyway, something very unexpectedly cool that happened today is that, after four years of talking about the whole choir schools thing and having people not get it and/or otherwise ignore me, the publication of the piece in AGAIN has generated interest from a rather unanticipated source. I got a phone call from the church today saying that such-and-such person from such-and-such entity had read my article, really liked it, and wanted to do an interview about the ideas I was discussing. I called this person back, we had a lovely chat, and it looks like this is going to happen in a couple of weeks.

Now, similar interest in a different piece has come from a different-but-similar source before, but this is different in that what’s been asked for is an interview rather than a reading, and the entity in question is taking responsibility for the recording and editing themselves. (Since I didn’t say anything else about that recording, I’ll say now that after posting the file to the FTP site specified, I never heard from the people in question again. I’m reasonably certain that what happened is that probably the quality I was able to achieve at home wasn’t up to snuff, which is not anything I take personally, but this particular institution not having the wherewithal to make its own recording arrangements is something that’s going to rather severely limit its potential contributors. Oh well). Anyway, I’m still not going to go into too many details until it’s a done deal and I know exactly what’s going to happen and when, but it’s still a rather exciting development, and we’ll see if it’s actually meant to be.

AGAIN, again, and again

The latest issue of AGAIN was in my mailbox when I stumbled up my steps at 2:00 Tuesday morning. Fr. Michael Gillis was once again kind enough to include a couple of pieces from me, both an edited-down version of my review of Cappella Romana’s recording of Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ, as well as my choir schools essay, somewhat revised and updated. Plus, the letter to the editor regarding the use of “Holy Strong” in the Trisagion was run, as well as a slightly edited version of my response.

This has been a nice, fruitful run of luck, and while I don’t have anything further for Fr. Michael to try to make readable at the moment, perhaps I will after my trip to Greece. At any rate, I very much appreciate his being willing to work with a writer like me. It has been a blessing, and perhaps his willingness to run my trifles will open some doors down the road — time will tell.

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: http://www.anastasis.org.uk/THE%20TRISAGION02.pdf

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…”

“Yes.”

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

“Yes.”

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.


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