Saturday, February 17, 2018

Doing Akathists at Home

There is only one akathist that is appointed to be done in the services of the Church, and that is the akathist of the Mother of God, which is done on the 5th Saturday of Lent. However, there are many akathists that have been written for private use. Russians in particular love them.

One big advantage that they have is that you can do a substantial service for various commemorations, and you don't have to worry too much about how to go about putting them together.

But how do you do an akathist at home? There are more elaborate ways to do it, and simpler ways. You can combine an Akathist with a canon, or several canons. In fact, as part of preparation for communion clergy (and many pious laity) will do three canons and an akathist. The least complicated way to follow that practice is to get the text all laid out, rather than put them together on the fly. Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, publishes a booklet for this purpose. You can also find that text laid out in their Horologion.

For the complicated order of service for doing an Akathist at home, you can find the outline in the back of the Jordanville Prayer Book, or here. However, a simple way to do an akathist is simply to take the rule of St. Pachomius, and instead of doing the Jesus Prayer 100 times, do the akathist you wish to do at that point.

Not all akathists can be sung using this melody, but most akathists are written following the pattern of the akathist of the Mother of God, and so you can use the same melodies that are done for those too.

The common way that this is done in Russian practice can be heard in this video:

There are many akathists that are available online, but there are two volumes of them published by Jordanville:
Book of Akathists Volume I: To Our Saviour, the Mother of God and Various Saints
Book of Akathists Volume II: To Our Saviour, the Holy Spirit, the Mother of God, and Various Saints
These volumes also have music in the back that works for most of the akathists that are contained in them.

Akathists are especially useful if you are unable to attend services for a feast or the commemoration of a saint, either because of distance, or maybe because your parish has no services for a particular commemoration. There are many akathists that have not been translated into English, and many are being translated all of the time... and new ones are also being composed, and so if you look hard enough, you likely can find an akathist for most major commemorations, and if there isn't one out now, there may be one in the future.

See Also:

Stump the Priest: Holy Week Without a Parish

Stump the Priest: How do you Pray for the Non-Orthodox?

Akathists and Canons Online

Friday, February 09, 2018

Stump the Priest: Communion and Celiac Disease

Question: "What should a person with Celiac Disease do about receiving Communion?"

The answer to this question is very similar to a previous question with regard to concerns about the spread of germs by receiving communion (See: Stump the Priest: Communion and Germs). It does come down to whether we really believe what we say we believe about the Eucharist.

We cannot use gluten free flour to make the bread that we use for Holy Communion, and a person should be communed with both the Body and the Blood of Christ. Reviewing comments from Orthodox people who suffer from this disease, the comments generally suggest that they receive communion normally, and have no problems as a result.

I had someone who raised this issue with me, and because they were concerned about it, I made a point of giving them only a small portion of the Body. But as time went on, they eventually said not to worry about it any more, and never reported having any issues as a result.

Update: Also of interest is the following scientific study that concludes that a daily gluten intake of  less than 10 mg is unlikely to cause significant problems to those suffering from celiac disease, even in extreme cases:

Systematic review: tolerable amount of gluten for people with coeliac disease

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Suggested Lenten Reading

Lent seems like a long time at the beginning, but it can pass you by quickly, if you don't make a point of putting forth the effort to pray more, attend more of the services, and to read more. One should set goals that are not overly ambitious, because often when we try to do too much, we end up doing very little. It is better to set realistic goals, try to stick with them, and hit the ground running.

When it comes to spiritual reading, there are many options. Each Lent, you should select a couple of things you will especially focus on reading, cut out some of the things you waste time on, and devote that time to some reading that will feed your soul.

Here are some of the most traditional options:

  1. The Scriptures, especially the books of Genesis, Proverbs, Isaiah (which are read in the Lectionary Readings of Lent), the Psalter, and the Gospels: In the services of Lent and Holy Week the reading of these books are appointed to be read (almost all of Genesis, Proverbs, and Isaiah; the Psalter is read twice each week during Lent; and all four Gospels (read in their entirety during Holy Week). Most people probably would have a hard time reading them all, in a given Lent, but you could at least aim to read some of them.
  2. The Ladder of Divine Ascent, by St. John Climacus, which is appointed to be read during the Lenten services by the Typikon. 
  3. The Lausiac History of St. Palladius (the lives of the Desert Fathers), which is also appointed to be read during the Lenten Services.
There are also many other spiritual classic which make for good Lenten reading:
  1. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.
  2. The Conferences, by St. John Cassian.
  3. The Arena, by St. Ignatii (Brianchaninov). This is one of the best all around books on the spiritual life available in English, and is a text that is worth reading, and re-reading.
  4. My Life in Christ, by St. John of Kronstadt.
  5. The Life of St. Anthony the Great, by St. Athanasius the Great.
Then there are more options that are well worth reading:
  1. Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, by Fr. Alexander Schmemann. A great guide to the meaning of the services of Great Lent.
  2. Psalm 118: A Commentary, by St. Theophan the Recluse. This Psalm is one of the most important of the Psalms, and it will be chanted at all of our funerals. We should try to learn the lessons of this Psalm while we still have time to apply them.
  3. Season of Repentance: Lenten Homilies of St. John of Kronstadt.
  4. The Four Gospel, by Archbishop Averky. 
  5. The Field: Cultivating Salvation, by St. Ignatii (Brianchaninov).
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but if you are looking for something that will be edifying, you won't go wrong with any of them.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Stump the Priest: Leavened Bread

Question: "Why do Orthodox Christians use leavened bread for the Eucharist?"

The biggest reason, and the one that is the most indisputable, is that this is how we have always done it.

Furthermore, when we read the accounts of the Mystical Supper (or "Last Supper"), there is nothing in the description itself to indicate that the meal was a Passover meal. And most importantly, the bread that is used in this meal is referred to in Greek simply as "artos" (ἄρτος), which refers to leavened bread; rather than "azymos" (ἄζυμος), which refers to unleavened bread.

There are different possible explanations. One is that the Passover actually began the next day, on Holy Friday evening, following the day on which the Passover lambs were slain (Friday, during the day) -- both the type (the sacrificial lambs) and the antitype (Christ Himself, the Lamb of God).

Dom Gregory Dix makes a very compelling case that this meal was actually not a Passover Meal, but a Chaburah Meal (see The Shape of the Liturgy, New Edition, New York: Continuum, 2005), p. 50ff). And interestingly,  the "Agape Meal" we find in Jude 1:12, clearly has the Chaburah Meal as its background (Richard Bauckham, Word Biblical Commentary: Jude - 2 Peter, ol. 50 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1983), p. 84f). And so this meal is very likely what the Lord observed, perhaps on the eve of the day the lambs were sacrificed, which was the day prior to Passover itself, which began that evening (Friday evening).

If this was a Passover meal, in some sense, it is also possible that the Lord simply broke with the usual patterns, and used leavened bread, though that seems to me a less likely explanation.

Why leavened bread? St. Symeon of Thessalonika addressed this question, in his commentary on the Divine Liturgy:
"And the bread is leavened, because it is in a sense living on account of the leaven, and it is truly complete, for it witnesses that the human nature which the Word of God assumed was fully complete. He became flesh without being altered, and having assumed human nature, He has a rational and intellectual soul. And he is complete God and complete man, so that He might refashion me completely.
And there are three ingredients in it, because of the three parts of the soul, and in honor of the Trinity: 1) wheat flour with leaven which represents the soul, 2) water which represents baptism, and 3) salt which signifies the mind and teaching of the Word. He said to His disciples, "You are the salt of the earth," that is, the teachers. And "Have salt in yourselves," representing knowledge and love at the same time, because He who is incarnate is one of the Trinity. The bread is cooked in fire, because He, being God, was wholly united to us, and He gave us a share of His power and His energy; or rather all of Him was wholly united to our whole original state" (St. Symeon of Thessalonika: The Liturgical Commentaries, trans. Steven Hawkes-Teeples, (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2011), pp. 187-189).
Fr. John Peck has a very good answer to this question that I would recommend for further reading:
Eucharistic Bread: Leavened or Unleavened?
George R. A. Aquaro also has a good article on this question:
Leavened versus Unleavened Bread: What's the difference?

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Hart Idiosyncratic Version

David Bentley Hart Jumping the Shark

David Bentley Hart is usually referred to as an "Orthodox theologian." While he is undoubtedly a highly intelligent and well educated man, he is not an "Orthodox theologian" in any traditional sense. He qualifies as a theologian in a purely academic sense; however, his theology is hardly Orthodox. He feels free to pick and choose which Ecumenical Councils he personally accepts, to hold views that the Church formally condemns, and I have not heard or read anything that he has said that would demonstrate that his conversion to Orthodoxy has had any discernible impact on his theology. He still speaks and writes like a somewhat eccentric Anglican who has own opinions about the Faith, and feels free to take or leave any particular teachings or traditions of the Church. In fact, were he a more conservative Anglican, he would more often come down on the Orthodox side of many of the controversial issues that he has taken a vocal position on [For specific examples of what I mean, see: The Strange Theology of David Bentley Hart].

DBH's recently published translation of the New Testament (entitled "The New Testament: A Translation," but which I will refer to hereafter as the "Hart Idiosyncratic Version," or "HIV" for short) would have been vastly improved, in fact, if he had taken a few cues from his Anglican forebears. Here are some of the more important instructions King James issued to the translators that produced the King James Version:
"The names of the prophets and the holy writers, with the other names in the text, to be retained, as near as may be, accordingly as they are vulgarly used."
Which means that you should stick with the form of the names in English that are most commonly used, and thus you would not end up with a New Testament book entitled in his version "The Letter of Judas". You would stick with Jude, though you might note in a footnote or introduction that the names "Jude," "Judas," and "Judah," are all variant forms of the same name.
"The old ecclesiastical words to be kept, as the word church, not to be translated congregation."
You should keep the terms that the Church has been using, and so ekklesia should be translated as "Church," and not as "congregation" or "assembly," and so you would not end up with such monstrosities as:
"And to you I also say, You are Peter [Rock], and upon this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of Hades shall have no power against it" (Matthew 16:18 HIV).
Now DBH argues that his readers should read the text as the early Church would read it, and so read the word "ekklesia" as a common word with no preconceived significance. But for some reason, he sticks with words like "baptism," and"baptize," which he could just as easily have translated as "immersion," and "immerse," and so he could have ended the Gospel of Matthew with a command to go and immerse all nations (Matthew 28:19). Why the difference? These are the whims you are in for when you read a translation from a single translator, who has his own axes to grind.

His axe grinding is particularly in evidence whenever the text touches on the question of eternal damnation, which he denies, in favor of the universalist heresy long condemned by the Church. And so he has the parable of the sheep and the goats ending with:
"And these shall go to the chastening of that Age, but the just to the life of that Age" (Matthew 25:46 HIV).
There is not a single commentary by a Father of the Church that would support translating this passage in this manner, nor is there a single major English translation that has translated it this way. For more on that, I would recommend Fr. Lawrence Farley's reviews of the HIV, here:
 And here is a particularly important rule King James laid out:
" When any word hath divers significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most eminent fathers, being agreeable to the propriety of the place and the analogies of faith."
So in other words, when a word, or a phrase could be translated in more than one way, just in terms of the rules of Greek grammar and the meaning of the words in question, we should translate them in a way that is consistent with how they were understood by the most important Church Fathers. A good example of this in action is in the case of John 5:39. DBH (and in this instance, most modern translations) translate this as saying something along the lines of "You search the Scriptures..." Which would have Christ simply acknowledging that the Pharisees were already doing this. The King James Version, however, translates this verse as a command: "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." Both are possible translations of the Greek. So why did the KJV translate it this way? Because that is how the most important Fathers of the Church understood it. There are a great many other errors that DBH could have avoided had he taken this approach, but we will talk about more examples shortly.

Another important aspect of the rules laid out by King James for his translators was that he established that they should do their translations in 6 teams, composed of a total of 47 scholars, with 3 general editors. And when there was an issue of disagreement, there was a system for resolving it, which often resulted in margin notes that presented the minority opinion, when consensus was not finally achieved. This resulted in not only the most beautiful English translation that has ever been done, but translations driven by individual pet peeves were weeded out, while in the HIV, pet peeves shape the entire text. This is also why every major translation has followed a similar model ever since.

DBH claims that committee translations are flawed because in such committees of scholars
"...novel approaches to the text are generally the first to perish, and only the tried and trusted survive" (HIV, p. xiv). 
And he says that like novelty is a good thing, and the tried and trusted are bad. In fact, the Fathers of the Church used the term "novelty" as a synonym for heresy. As the saying goes, "All that's old might not be gold, but if it's new, it can't be true." That's not true of technology, but when it comes to the revealed truths of the Christian Faith in general, and to the Scriptures in particular, it is certainly true.

DBH is so sure that only he has properly understood the New Testament that he asserted in an interview:
"The first thing I would say to anyone who doesn't read Greek is don't buy or read any modern translation... in English. None of them is any good" (Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast, episode 103, July 13, 2017, beginning at about the 3:00 mark).
And this advice narrows the options quite a bit, because obviously those who don't know Greek can only read the New Testament in translation, and apparently this leaves them only with the HIV as a viable option.

An Acid Test

In DBH's opinion, here is the primary problem with committee translations:
"And this can result in the exclusion not only of extravagantly conjectural readings, but often of the most straightforwardly literal as well. (A sort of "acid test" for me is Judas [or Jude] 1:19, a verse whose meaning is startlingly clear in the Greek but which no collaborative translation I know of translates in any but the vaguest and most periphrastic manner.)" (HIV, p. xiv).
DBH elaborated on what he thinks Jude 1:19 really means in an interview he did with the Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast:
"Now, every good scholar knows what... what... I mean, this is a reference to a distinction... we don't understand the distinction fully, because it's... you know... all of the early schools of Christian thought shared it in one form or another, both Orthodox or heterodox, or what we would call "Gnostics" now, but there was a distinction between the "psychical" and the "pneumatical"... between "psychics" and "pneumatics." Now, in Paul it seems... and he uses these terms too, but they get hidden from view in those translations, but you assume that the "pneumatics" are those who have been formed by, instructed by, filled by the Holy Spirit in a special way, and so therefore their spirits are now alive in God. But it's also a distinction in... you know... ranks, in a sense, or in degrees of spiritual attainment, and what the letter of Jude, or Judas, as I translate it in my translation, is that they're... you know... "psychical" men, who really... and... In every translation I can think of... that I consulted, in modern translations... Spirit then becomes the Holy Spirit -- which it clearly isn't in the original, or at least not in any straight forward way. And "psychical" is translated as... you know... as things like "men of sensual proclivity"... or "men who live according to the flesh" -- all the things it's not actually saying... it's a distinction... they know what it means. These sorts of small divergences become catastrophic at various places in the text... they alter the meaning" (Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast, episode 103, July 13, 2017, beginning at about the 4:38 mark).
So since he has declared this verse to be his acid test, I propose we apply this acid test to his own translation. And note that he begins by suggesting that all scholars -- at least all good scholars -- agree with him on this. And what he is asserting is that all early Christian groups had two levels of membership, psychics and pneumatics, but then says that this is a distinction we don't really understand, and so apparently the real meaning is lost to the Church. But as we will see, it is in fact only the Gnostic and Proto-Gnostic groups that made the kind of distinction (of a two tiered membership) that he is suggesting here.

Here is how DBH translates the text:
"These are those who cause divisions, psychical men, not possessing spirit" (Judas 19 HIV).
And he provides the following footnote to his odd, and not particularly illuminating choice of words here:
"Despite its long history of often vague and misleading translations, this verse clearly invokes the distinction between psyche and pneuma (soul and spirit) as principles of life, and between "psychics" and "pneumatics" as categories of persons. There is most definitely no reference here to the Holy Spirit: given the construction of the sentence, the absence of the definite article alone makes this certain; and the reasoning of the sentence makes it all the more so" (HIV, p. 495).
First off, just looking at the text itself here. Does it seem likely that if St. Jude saw "psychical men" as a legitimate class of members in the Church, that he would make such a sweeping statement about people of that class causing divisions in the Church? Furthermore if you look at the context of this verse in the entire epistle, it is clear that these "psychical men" are apostates to be shunned, not simply lower men on the totem pole.

And while he asserts that all good scholars agree with his understanding of the meaning of these two terms (psychikoi and pneumatikoi), and so would understand how they are functioning in this text, apparently every Greek scholar who worked on every major translation of the Bible is not a good scholar, because they clearly did not understand the absence of the definite article in this instance to mean that it cannot possibly be referring to the Holy Spirit. Obviously, how definite articles may work in one language will not always correspond with how they work in another, and I think that the many centuries of Greek scholars who have worked on translations of this passage knew Greek at least as well as DBH does.

In DBH's postscript he elaborates further on this verse:
"Precisely how Jude or his readers would have understood this distinction ["psychics" and "pneumatics"] is uncertain, but it is there in the text all the same. Today we tend to think that such divisions among persons, or even among Christians within the church, were among the more exotic eccentricities of the para-Christian or "gnostic" movements of the second century and after. But, even if the word "gnostic is useful as a general designation for groups outside of the ecclesial maintstream, their language on this matter was in continuity with language used by early Christians of just about every stripe. Jude may not have conceived of such a distinction as some sort of ontological division between different kinds of human beings, but he certainly did see it as a division between different states of sanctification or "spiritual" progress, and he may well have believed that "spirit" is a special property acquired by progressive sanctification. (And, frankly, we cannot be certain that all the so-called gnostics saw the matter much differently.) (HIV, p. 562f). 
I could go on with quoting his comments, but suffice it to say that he continues to make the case that early Christian thought and gnostic thought were far closer than the Church has acknowledged, and that St. Jude is not distinguishing between immoral heretics and Christians, but between different levels of sanctification among Christians within the Church.

Let's look at what a very prominent New Testament scholar, Richard Bauckham (also an Anglican), has to say in his commentary on the Epistle of St. Jude, verse 19:
"ψυχικοί, Πνεῦμα μὴ ἔχοντες, "who follow mere natural instincts, and do not possess the Spirit." ψυχικός (pertaining to ψυχή, "soul" or "life" is used in 1 Cor 2:14; 15:44, in a contrast with πνευματικός (pertaining to πνεῦμα, the Spirit"): it refers to merely physical life, the life of this world, without the eschatological gift of the Holy Spirit. In Jas 3:15 (the only other NT occurrence) ψυχικός has a similar but even more sharply negative sense: the God-given wisdom "from above" is contrasted with the wisdom that is "earthly unspiritual, devilish" (ἐπίγειος, ψυχική, δαιμονιώδης).
Although Paul's use of πνευματικός and ψυχικός in 1 Cor 2:14-15 is widely, though not universally, regarded as echoing the terminology of his opponents at Corinth, no fully convincing source for this terminology has yet been demonstrated. The second-century gnostic use of πνευματικός and ψυχικός (B. A. Pearson, The Pneumatikos-Psychikos Terminology in 1 Corinthians [SBLDS 12; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1973] chap. 6) derives from their exegesis of Paul (Pagels, Paul, 59, 163-64).
Hellenistic-Jewish Wisdom theology is a more promising source (Pearson, Pneumatikos-Psychikos), but not only is the terminology πνευματικός and ψυχικός itself unattested; there is not even a regular anthropological distinction between πνεῦμα ("spirit") as the higher element and ψυχή ("soul") as the lower element in man (R. A. Horsley, "Pneumatikos vs. Psychikos," HTR 69 [1976] 270-73, criticizing Pearson). Although some Hellenistic anthropology did distinguish the ψυχή ("soul") as a lower element from the νοῦς ("mind") as the higher element, the devaluation of ψυχή  ("soul") by comparison with πνεῦμα ("spirit") must result from the early Christian belief in the Spirit not as a constituent of human nature, but as the gift of God to the believer.
Since the background to Paul's use of πνευματικός and ψυχικός is so uncertain, we cannot draw firm conclusions as to Jude's relationship to it: whether that Jude borrowed the term ψυχικός from Paul, or that Jude's opponents borrowed it from Paul, or that Jude's opponents shared it with Paul's opponents. It is safer to interpret Jude's words in their own context.
Clearly Πνεῦμα μὴ ἔχοντες (not possessing the Spirit") explains ψυχικοί: the false teachers do not posses the Spirit of God, but live purely at the level of the natural, earthly life. As most commentators recognize, it is likely that Jude here contradicts his opponents' claim to possess the Spirit. Probably they connected this claim with their visionary experiences and the revelations they received in their visions (v 8). The Spirit of prophetic inspiration inspired them, and as men of the Spirit they claimed to be free from moral restraint and superior to moral judgments. Jude's denial of this claim rests on their immoral behavior, which shows that they cannot be led by the Spirit of God, but merely "follow their own desires for ungodliness" (v 18). Such people are merely ψυχικοί, devoid of the Spirit. Whether ψυχικοί was the false teachers' own term for other Christians, who did not share their charismatic experience and moral freedom, is less certain. It is possible that Jude turns the tables on them in this way, but equally possible that ψυχικοί is simply his own judgment on them" (Word Biblical Commentary: Jude - 2 Peter, vol. 50 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1983), p. 106f).
St. Bede, an Orthodox Englishman who predated Baukham by twelve centuries, had this to say about this verse:
"The condemned separate themselves this way from the lot of the righteous, they are physical, that is they follow the cravings of their own soul, because they have not deserved to have the Spirit of unity by which the Church is gathered together, by which it is made spiritual. Therefore they spread apart, because they do not have the glue of charity" (Bede the Venerable: Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, trans. Dom David Hurst O.S.B., Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publication, 1985), p. 250f).
You have less detail here, but an entirely compatible interpretation with Richard Baukham.

St. Augustine has this to say:
"The enemy of unity has no share in God's love. Those who are outside the church do not have the Holy Spirit, and this verse is written of them (Letters 185:50, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, Gerald Bray, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 200) p. 256).
And let's look at what several Greek speaking Fathers (who knew Greek far better than DBH) had to say about this passage:
"These are people who separate believers from one another, under the influence of their own unbelief. They cannot distinguish between holy things on the one hand and dogs on the other (St. Clement of Alexandria, Adumbrations, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, Gerald Bray, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 200) p. 256).
"The Nestorians are sensual men, not having the Spirit, because they divide the one Christ and Son and Lord into two sons... For they pretend to confess one Christ and Son and say that his person is one, but by dividing him into two separate hypostases they completely sweep away the doctrine of the mystery (St, Cyril of Alexandria, Letters 50, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, Gerald Bray, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 200) p. 257).
 "Here we see yet another crime which these awful heretics have committed. Not only are they perishing themselves; they have raided the church and taken people away from it, which means that they have taken them outside of the faith into their own assemblies, which are dens of thieves. Such people behave as as if they were animals according to the pattern of the world and the demands of their instincts" (Oecumenius, Commentary on Jude, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, Gerald Bray, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 200) p. 257).
It is rather obvious that none of these fathers read Jude 19 as DBH does. None of them think St,. Jude is speaking merely of different levels of sanctification within the Church,but rather of people who are heretics, who live according to the flesh, and who are outside of the Church, not having the Holy Spirit.

Obscuring the Text for the Sake of Political Correctness

In 1 Corinthians 6:9, there are two types of people (among several others) that St. Paul tells us will not inherit the Kingdom of God: the malakoi and the arsenokoitai... and so knowing who these types of people actually are is a rather crucial point. DBH translates these two types of people as "feckless sensualists" and "men who couple with catamites". These translations sounds rather "vague and periphrastic" to me.

With regard to his translation of malakoi, he provides a footnote which says:
"A man who is malakos is either "soft" -- in any number of opprobrious senses: self-indulgent, dainty, cowardly, luxuriant, morally or physically week -- or "gentle" -- in various largely benign senses: delicate, mild, congenial. Some translators of the New Testament take it here to mean the passive partner in male homoerotic acts, but that is an unwarranted supposition" (HIV, p. 327).
DBH is simply wrong here. Let me cite Anthony C. Thiselton's highly respected commentary on 1 Corinthians:
"[Robin] Scroggs allows [in his book The New Testament and Homosexuality] that while μαλακός may mean unmanly in general terms, more characteristically it is used of "the youth who consciously imitated feminine styles and ways." This all too readily slips into "passive homosexual activity" whether for pleasure or for pay.  From the classical period to Philo extreme distaste is expressed in Greek and hellenistic literature for the effeminate male who uses cosmetics and the coiffuring of the hair, for which Philo sometimes uses the term ανδρόγυνος, male-female (e.g. De Specialibus Legibus 3.37). These Issues lie behind the astonishing array of English translations in our versions.
In general there is broad (but not unanimous) agreement that μαλακοὶ in 1 Cor 6:9-10 denotes "the passive... partner... in male homosexual relations" (Barrett), but whereas Scrogg argues that it refers to the call boy who prostitutes his services to an older male, usually for pay, many others tend to regard the evidence for restricting the term to pederasty linked with male prostitution as at best indecisive and at worst unconvincing. Scroggs depends for his view on the background of pederastic practices in Graeco-Roman society (whether voluntary, or for payment) and the impact of this culture for the pejorative reactions in hellenistic Judaism (especially Philo)"  (The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns Publishing Company, 2000) p. 448f).
Robert Gagnon's book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, (which was endorsed by both Brevard Childs and Bruce Metzger (certainly among the most influential scholars in their fields (Old Testament and New Testament, respectively)), after discussing the conclusions of other scholars on this word, says this:
"In my own reading, the meaning of malakoi in 1 Cor 6:9 probably lies somewhere in between "only prostituting passive homosexuals" and "effeminate heterosexual and homosexual males." Because the word has a broad range of meaning in Greek literature, what it specifically means for any given writer will vary. However, here, Paul places this vice alongside a list of offenses that lead to exclusion from the kingdom. This suggests he refers to an offense more serious than simply a "limp wrist" (contra Martin).... Immoral sexual intercourse, then, would appear to be an identifying mark of the malakoi. Furthermore, the epithet "soft" itself suggests males playing the female role in sexual intercourse with other males" (The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), p. 307f, he discusses the term extensively, especially in pp. 306 -312).
And so there is more than a little bit of warrant for understanding this term to be in reference to feminizing males engaged in homosexual acts, the debate is more a matter of the exact context and circumstances in which this group of people engaged in such behavior, but the general idea is fairly clear.

With regard to his translation of arsenokotai, DBH provides a footnote which says:
"Precisely what an aresenokoites is has long been a matter of speculation and argument. Literally, it means a man who "beds" -- that is "couples with" -- "males." But there is no evidence of its use before Paul's text. There is one known instance in the sixth century AD of penance being prescribed for a man who commits arsenokoiteia upon his wife (sodomy, presumably), but that does not tell us with certainty how the word was used in the first century (if indeed it was used by anyone before Paul). It would not mean "homosexual" in the modern sense of a person of a specific erotic disposition, for the simple reason that the ancient world possessed no comparable concept of a specifically homoerotic sexual identity; it would refer to a particular sexual behavior, but we cannot say exactly which one. The Clementine Vulgate interprets the word arsenokoitai as referring to paedophiles; and a great many versions of the New Testament interpret it as meaning "sodomites." My guess at the proper connotation of the word is based simply upon the reality that in the first century the most common and readily available form of male homoerotic sexual activity was a master's or patron's exploitation of young male slaves" (HIV, p. 327f).
DBH translates this word with the phrase "men who couple with catamites" Now "catamite" is not a word you run across every day, but it means "a boy kept for homosexual sex." If that were the real meaning of the term, there is a perfectly good English word for men who have sex with boys, and that would be "pederast," but that would raise the question of why St. Paul did not use the Greek word that "pederast" comes from (παιδεραστής), because if that was what he meant, that would have been the logical word to use. As DBH points out, the term arsenokotai has no prior non-Christian or non-Jewish usage, and it is clear that word was coined from the Septuagint text of Leviticus 18:22 ("καὶ μετὰ ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικός· βδέλυγμα γάρ ἐστιν." "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination"). This term is paralleled in a phrase from rabbinic literature: "mishkav zakur" ("lying with a male"), which is "the term most often used to describe male homosexuality" (Scroggs, p. 107f, quoted in Thiselton, p. 450). Robert Gagnon also discusses this term extensively, in pages 312-336 of his book.

Neither of these words are mysterious. The Greek speaking Church has used them since the time of St. Paul, and there is no real doubt about them. If the words were mysterious, the Greek Fathers that comment on this passage would have felt a need to explain what they thought they meant, but I have not seen any that did not assume the meanings of these words to be obvious.

Note also that DBH is using what Gagnon calls "the new knowledge argument," which is that the people of St. Paul's time did not understand homosexuality to be what we understand it to be now. This is a common argument made by homosexual apologists, but in the following video, Robert Gagnon takes that argument apart, in great detail:

For more on this issue, I would recommend Robert Gagnon's book, as the most thorough treatment of the subject available in print.

So in short, while DBH claims that his translation presents us with the unvarnished meaning of the text, here, for some reason, who goes to great lengths to obscure and explain away the clear meaning of the text.

Holy Ground

One could write several volumes on all the problems with this translation, but rather than to continue to cite examples of bad translations, I will simply close with the observation that DBH shows no signs of an appreciation of the holy ground that he is trespassing on here. If you listen to his entire interview on the Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast (Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast, episode 103, July 13, 2017), you will hear him speak of the bad writing of the New Testament authors -- a judgment made in comparison with classical Greek usage. This is an entirely anti-Orthodox way of approaching the text of Scripture.

We should consider for a moment what we believe about the inspiration of Scripture. We believe that God inspired the Scriptures, but we do not believe that he dictated them to the human authors, but rather that the Holy Spirit spoke through them, and used their own dialect and manner of speaking to convey divine Truth. And so if God had inspired a Louisiana Cajun to write Holy Scripture, we would not expect Thurston Howell III's voice or style to be the result, but rather that we would have a text written in the Cajun dialect of the author. Likewise, God spoke through Jewish apostles who spoke Greek in a Semitic dialect, and so we should not expect to read Homer... we should expect a text written in the dialect of these Jewish authors. and unless you are an elitist, you should not assume local dialects are somehow inferior to more common or more standard dialects in any case. In fact, we should expect that the God who "hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree" (Luke 1:52) might prefer Louisiana Cajuns and Jewish fisherman over many of the more sophisticated alternatives.

Now in terms of translation, the Church has translated these texts into elevated forms of the languages they have been translated into, but so long as these translations faithfully convey the meaning of the text, there is no violence to Truth in doing so. This is in fact a way of showing reverence for the text. I would suggest that using elevated translations is the best way possible to substitute for the experience of reading the very words of the Apostles as they actually wrote them, and hearing their voices in a more direct way -- a privilege reserved for those able to read it without translation.

You never hear any of the Fathers denigrating the texts of Scripture, or mocking their style. They may sometimes note the simplicity in the style of some authors, but not in a way that is disrespectful, because it is the rich truth of Scripture that is conveyed that is important,  not how close various authors may or may not have come to writing in classical Greek or the style of Homer.


So to sum things up, save your money, and do not buy this text, or encourage anyone else to do so. In fact, I would not have bought a copy myself, just based on what I had seen from previous reviews, however, someone sent me a free copy, and asked me to write a review. So having fulfilled my obligations to the donor, I will now place this text next to my Jehovah's Witness Bible, and probably not use it again, unless the sudden need for a door stop should come upon me.

Update: Someone drew my attention to this howler of a translation:
"And we have the still firmer prophetic word of which you do well to take heed, as to a lamp shining in a dreary place, till day should dawn and Phosphoros arise in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19 HIV).
As Bauckham points out, "as a substantive φωσφορος [phosphoros] normally refers to the morning star, Venus (TDNT  9,312); Spicq, Lexicographie 954), which accompanied the first glimmerings of dawn and could therefore be thought of as introducing daylight into the world" (Word Biblical Commentary: Jude - 2 Peter, vol. 50 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1983), p. 225). Bauckham goes on to point out that most commentators agree that there is an allusion to Numbers 24:17 ("there shall come a Star out of Jacob"), which was understood as a Messianic prophesy by Jews and Christians alike.

As DBH translates it, what is fairly clear in just about any other translation, is obscured, and conjures images of phosphorus grenades, rather than what the word is actually intended to convey.

For more information, see:

An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible

The New Testament in the strange words of David Bentley Hart, a review by N.T. Wright (an Anglican Bishop who is also an actual Biblical Scholar of some note)

Friday, December 22, 2017

Interracial Marriage and the Orthodox Faith

There is a small network of white nationalists who have affiliated themselves with the Orthodox Church, but continue to promote their racist views, rather than to repent of them, as they should. Unfortunately, the internet provides them with a platform. Matthew Raphael Johnson (MRJ) is somewhat of a guru for many in this group, and he posted an article about interracial marriage that I have seen these people use to argue against interracial marriage.

MRJ is a defrocked priest, formerly of the already dodgy Old Calendarist "Milan Synod." He was apparently defrocked by them because even they did not wish to be associated with his views on race. I am not sure if he has gone into some other vagante jurisdiction or not.

In his essay, "Interracial Marriage and Church Doctrine," he at least begins by acknowledging that he hasn't a leg to stand on in terms of Church doctrine or the canons:
"Interracial marriage is not a sin, its just wrong, irrational and destructive. Only a marriage of two faiths is a sin. By itself, though, race is not a theological issue, at least at the present moment. I disagree with my Identity friends on this one – no one is saved by their race. The fathers never mention it, nor do the canons. It is not a theological issue because these definitions have changed so radically. “Race” was not a separate category, abstracted from all else. There were certainly “races,” but these were not scientific categories in our modern sense. They were rather collections of common traits from culture to language to climate."
So why is it "just wrong"?
"The Israelites condemned race mixing most certainly, but they did not have the modern conception of race in mind. Race was intrinsically connected with faith, adherence to the law, family life and the underlying culture that a group of people had built together. It remains true that often, the reason for condemning such a marriage is that they are foreign, not necessarily that they believe differently. Race -- in isolation -- did not exist. Only the modern world takes important areas of human life such as economics or theology and treats them as separate from ethnicity or family." 
So here he attempts to make a Biblical argument, but the problem with this argument is that if he were consistent, he would have to be opposed to a German marrying an Italian.

The issue with "foreign" wives was their faith, not their race. In fact, these foreign wives were mostly indistinguishable in terms of racial appearance. Canaanites not only were outwardly the same, but they spoke a language which was not very different from Hebrew. The only reason why marriage with such people was an issue was because of their paganism. And in fact, in the genealogy of Christ you find a Canaanite (Rahab) and a Moabite (Ruth) who are both ancestors of Christ -- both from pagan peoples, but who nevertheless embraced the Israelite faith.

Furthermore, he has the problem of the Prophet Moses' black wife, which he attempts to dismiss:
"It is occasionally argued that Moses married an “Ethiopian.” This would therefore be an example of racial mixing blessed by God. The problems with this are at many levels. To assume that Cush was racially identical today as it was thousands and thousands of years ago might be acceptable for a university professor, but not for a rational person. Ethiopians are not “black,” but Semitic. Portraits of ancient rulers there show light skin. Modern textbooks have deliberately darkened them. The Greek saints, including St. Frumentios, that converted the nation did not require a translator. Cushites spoke Greek. They were not black."
This is an amazingly ignorant argument. First off, there is no question that we are talking about an Ethiopian woman here. While I have encountered some who have made the baseless argument that the Hebrew word "Cush," which is translated as "Ethiopian, refers to someone from the Hindu-Kush mountains, the Septuagint translates this unequivocally as "Ethiopian":
"Καὶ ἐλάλησεν Μαριαμ καὶ Ααρων κατὰ Μωυσῆ ἕνεκεν τῆς γυναικὸς τῆς Αἰθιοπίσσης, ἣν ἔλαβεν Μωυσῆς, ὅτι γυναῖκα Αἰθιόπισσαν ἔλαβεν" (Numbers 12:1). 
No serious Biblical scholar doubts that this is speaking of an Ethiopian woman. There are no translations of any note that translate it differently. Ethiopians have always been known to be black, and this obvious difference in skin color was proverbial in ancient Israel, as is evident in the prophecy of Jeremiah:
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil" (Jeremiah 13:23 KJV).
"εἰ ἀλλάξεται Αἰθίοψ τὸ δέρμα αὐτοῦ καὶ πάρδαλις τὰ ποικίλματα αὐτῆς, καὶ ὑμεῖς δυνήσεσθε εὖ ποιῆσαι μεμαθηκότες τὰ κακά" (Jeremiah 13:23 LXX). 
"If the Ethiopian shall change his skin, or the leopardess her spots, then shall ye be able to do good, having learnt evil" (Jeremiah 13:23, Brenton translation of the LXX). 
The point of this verse is that an Ethiopian cannot change his skin, nor can a leopard change his spots, and likewise the people of Judah who had become accustomed to doing evil were not going to change either. But this statement would have no meaning if Ethiopians were not known to have a color of skin that was different than that of the Jews.

An Icon St. Moses the Ethiopian, from a Monastery Church in Macedonia

Also, in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, there are a number of sayings about St. Moses the Ethiopian that speak of him as being black. For example, when St. Moses was ordained, and a white sticharion was placed on him, the Archbishop said to him "See, Abba Moses, now you are entirely white." And then, wanting to test St. Moses's humility (and it should be understood that such tests are a constant theme in these sayings, and these tests often took some extreme forms), the same Archbishop instructed the other priests to abuse him: "When Abba Moses comes into the sanctuary, drive him out, and go with him to hear what he says." And so, we are told:
"...the old man came in and they covered him with abuse, and drove him out, saying, "Outside, black man! Going out, he said to himself, "They have acted rightly concerning you, for your skin is as black as ashes. You are not a man, so why should you be allowed to meet men?"" (Benedicta Ward, translator, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1975, 1984 revised edition), p. 139). 
And this story is recorded, not because there was any desire to denigrate his skin color, but to praise his sanctity, because he did not become angry or feel himself unjustly treated; but rather, as a pious monk should do, he responded with the utmost humility, even in the face of such an extreme temptation.

So no, there really isn't any basis for the claim that Ethiopians were not black in ancient times. And consequently, unless we are prepared to condemn the Prophet Moses -- and the Scriptures, for that matter, since it is not Moses who is condemned for marrying an Ethiopian, but his brother and sister for criticizing him for marrying her -- we have have to conclude that there is no Biblical basis for objecting to interracial marriage.

MRJ also asserts that while the Church does not object to interracial marriage, he would not perform such a marriage as a matter of "cultural survival":
"Religious mixing is condemned by the church. As a priest, I would never marry a couple where one is not Orthodox. As a matter of cultural survival, I also would not marry a mixed couple racially either. This is often connected with race, since the Orthodox church is almost exclusively white. In theory, a white-Asian match might work out, since there are two high IQ people and Asian civilizations are both great and ancient. Yet, with all that a marriage entails, why bring this added dimension into it? Battles between the in-laws are guaranteed. There are too many natural, psychological barriers against it. If you married a Christian Asian woman, even one totally Americanized, you know her parents would be against it far more than yours would be, since its only whites that are asked to mix. Nevertheless, a whole European blood line would be obliterated in any racially mixed marriage." 
First off, when he says that it is "only whites that are asked to mix," who does he think that white people who enter into interracial marriages are marrying? Obviously not other white people. Secondly, as someone who is a white man who married a Chinese woman, I know from experience that what he says is just not so. The only parent that expressed any racial reservations about my marriage was my own mother, who told me that I should consider that my children would look funny. After she saw how beautiful both of my daughters turned out to be, she admitted that she was wrong. Neither of my wife's parents had any objections about my race. When I asked for permission to marry my wife, my future father-in-law's only concern was my ability to support my wife... which given that I was then a college student with a part time job in a bookstore, was not an outrageous concern. Fortunately for me, my future mother-in-law argued on my behalf, and my father-in-law consented. And neither of my parents ever had an unpleasant word with my wife's parents. Matters were probably helped in that regard by my mother and father-in-laws limited English. And, by the way, my wife and I will have been married for 30 years this coming May, and so it is working out very well in our case.

Now when you have a marriage involving two people from very different cultures, there are going to be some challenges, to be sure. And so, for example, I would not recommend a white person marry a Chinese if they didn't like Chinese food, or had no appreciation for their culture. But that is really a separate issue, because in America, for example, you have many people of different ethnic backgrounds who have grown up in this country, and so those kinds of cultural differences would not be that big of a deal. In fact, I would argue that culturally, a white man from Alabama marrying a white woman from New York City is going to have a lot more of a cultural divide than a white Southern Baptist man would ever have with a black Missionary Baptist wife. So cultural differences are one question. Racial differences are another altogether, and are only skin deep. And if it was good for the Prophet Moses, it's good enough for me (to quote an old Gospel song).

And when he says "a whole European blood line would be obliterated in any racially mixed marriage," he might as well argue that you should only marry cousins, because if you marry anyone who is not a relative, you are mixing your gene pool with another gene pool. Personally, I think keeping your gene pool shallow is not a good idea.

Using DNA testing, I discovered that my male line goes back to a Syrian man who was likely a Roman Soldier in Scotland, nearly two thousand years ago. And then I discovered that my maternal line, which I assumed was purely Irish actually goes back to a Viking woman who settled in Ireland probably about a thousand years ago. Neither line was obliterated, but there was a lot of mixing and matching that brought Syrian and Viking DNA  together in me, and I suspect that this is true of a lot more people than are aware of it.

In his sermon on Mars Hill, St. Paul affirmed two important truths relative to this issue:
"And hath made of one blood all nations of men" (Acts 17:26).
" certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring (Acts 17:28).
We all have a common human nature, with the same ultimate set of parents, and so we are all one human family, and God is our maker, and we are all His offspring, created in His image. Failure to recognize that image in others because of their skin color is not Christian.

Now, some try to argue that racial differences, like differences between men and women remain, even though we are all one in Christ. However, sexual differences predate the fall, while national divisions are a direct result of the fall, and a result that was reversed in Pentecost, as we sing in the Kontakion of that feast:
"Once, when He descended and confounded the tongues, the Most High divided the nations [at the Tower of Babel]; and when He divided the tongues of fire, He called all men into unity [at Pentecost]; and with one accord we glorify the All-Holy Spirit."
And so while the Church continues to maintain distinctions between men and women, and this is reflected in the canons of the Church -- there are no similar distinctions in terms of race, color, or national origin.

MRJ also seems to think that white people will ultimately be forced to marry non-whites:
"Thus, if whites resist their own destruction, they will be forced to marry non-whites"
Let me just say for the record that I don't think anyone should be forced to marry anyone that they do not wish to marry. However, we live in a country that has always had people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Even in the earliest colonial period you had whites who had brought black slaves with them, and had Indians as neighbors. There has never been a day when this was a whites only country. And it has also always been the case that people who are around others of the opposite sex fall in love, and often this crosses the lines of color.

In the famous case of  Loving v. Virginia, which brought about the end of laws against interracial marriage (which existed in some, but not all of the states at that time), you had a white man who had married a woman who was both black and American Indian. And as her attorneys argued, under the law of Virginia at that time, there was literally no one she could have married without breaking the law. So what does MRJ suggest that people with mixed ethnic backgrounds do in his universe? Should they all just become monastics, or should they be forced to find someone who has the same ethnic mix that they have, before he would grant his consent to their being married?

If there was any basis in our faith for objecting to interracial marriage, we would have canons and traditions that forbade it. But as MRJ noted from the start of his essay, there are no such canons or traditions. Perhaps we ought not think we know better than the Church on such matters.

Update:  In the Orthodox wedding service, on two occasions, the example of the Patriarch Joseph's wedding with the Egyptian Asenath is invoked. For example:
"...bless them, O Lord our God, as Thou didst bless Joseph and Asenath..."
Obviously, since this is mentioned in every wedding, and we pray that every marriage will be bless as was such a marriage as this, it would have to be considered normative. And not only did God bless this marriage -- two tribes came from it, and one of them (Ephraim) became the largest of all the tribes of Israel.

For More Information, see:

Moses' Black Wife

The Sin and Heresy of Racial Separatism

A Pilgrim's Podvig (wherein I speak about how my wife and I came to be married)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Stump the Priest: Mistranslation of the Lord's Prayer?

Question: "Is Pope Francis correct when he says that the clause in the Lord's Prayer, "and lead us not into temptation..." is a mistranslations?"

The Catholic News Agency summarized what the Pope's contention was:
"The Pope said that the words “non ci indurre in tentazione” – “Do not lead us into temptation,” in the English version – are not correct, because, he said, God does not actively lead us into temptation.

The Pope also praised a new translation operated by the French Bishops’ conference.

The new French translation is “et ne nous laisse pas entrer in tentationI” – “let us not enter into temptation.” It replaces the previous translation “ne nous soumets pas à la tentation” – “do not submit us to temptation” (Analysis: What is the context of Pope Francis’ words on the Lord’s Prayer? 12-11-2017).
This portion of the Lord's prayer is found in Matthew 6:13 and Luke 11:4, and the Greek text is identical in both cases:

If we put a literal English translation beneath the text of the Greek, you can see how the Greek text is structured:
καὶ  μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς   πειρασμόν
and not lead            us     into temptation
The Young's Literal Translation translates it as:
"And mayest Thou not lead us to temptation..."
So there is really no case to be made that "Lead us not into temptation" is a bad translation. What the Pope is suggesting is a very interpretative translation, but one which has little basis in the text itself. The issue is whether God might actively lead us into a time of "temptation" or "testing", or whether He might only passively allow this to happen.

We know that God does not tempt us in the sense of trying to entice us to sin (James 1:13). But might God lead us into a time of testing, which even involves temptation? We know this happened in the case of Christ Himself:
"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil" (Matthew 4:1).
Some argue, based on what they suppose the original Aramaic form of the prayer to have been, that the translation should be rendered in the more passive sense praised by Pope Francis, but John Nolland, in his commentary on Luke rejects this line of reasoning:
"There is finally no linguistic justification for avoiding attribution to God of the trail in view. A Semitic original may have been ambiguous, but it has been taken in the Greek language tradition represented by our Gospel writers in a quite unambiguous way. In the Exodus setting and beyond, God is often said to put his People to the test (Exod 16:4; 20:20; Deut 8:2, 16; 13:4; 33:8; Judg 2:22)" (Word Biblical Commentary: Luke 9:21-18:34, vol. 35b (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993), p. 618).
And if the Greek text is a translation of the Aramaic original, especially since both St. Matthew and St. Luke render it in exactly the same way, what would be the basis for not following their translation as closely as possible when translating the text into English or any other language?

Here is how the text is translated in several major English translations:
"And lead us not into temptation..." King James Version
"And lead us not into temptation..." Revised Standard Version
"And do not lead us into temptation..." New American Standard Bible
"And lead us not into temptation..." New International Version
"And do not bring us to the time of trial..." [and then it has a footnote: "Or us into temptation") New Revised Standard Version
"And lead us not into temptation..." English Standard Version
So the Pope is simply wrong, yet again.

For More Information:

The Lord's Prayer, Part 5 (Matthew 6:13), by Fr. John Whiteford

Homilies on the Lord's Prayer

Pope Francis, The Lord’s Prayer, and Bible Translation, by Daniel B. Wallace

Friday, December 08, 2017

Stump the Priest: The Twelve Days of Christmas

Question: "How are the 12 days of the Nativity Feast numbered? Does it start on the Feast itself or the next day? Is the last day of the feast the 12th Day?"

The twelve days of Christmas begin on the feast, and end on the eve of Theophany. The idea of zero as a number is not an ancient one, and so the feast itself is not day zero, but day one, of the twelve days.

In one sense, you could say Christmas is one day, the day of the feast. But then we especially celebrate the next two days, and so in another sense you could speak of three days of Christmas. But then the feast of Christmas actually is celebrated for 7 days, from December 25th through December 31st (which on the civil calendar falls on January 7th through January 13th). December 31st is the Apodosis of the feast (or the Leave-taking of the feast). In more ancient times, the Apodosis of Christmas was actually celebrated with the feast of the Circumcision of the Lord (January 1st o.s. / January 14th n.s.), but when the feast of St. Basil was combined with it, the Apodosis was moved up one day (Archbishop Job (Getcha), The Typikon Decoded, (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 2012), p 136). Beginning on January 2nd o.s. / January 15th n.s., we begin to celebrate the forefeast of Theophany. So the last of the 12 days of Christmas is the eve of Theophany (the last day of the forefeast).

In the priest's service book (sluzhebnik), it says in the menologion for December 25th:
"Three-day feast, and all [foods] allowed. Likewise, a twelve day dispensation for all [foods]...."
But as with many Orthodox rubrics, there is always a "but..." We dispense with the fast for twelve days, but since the twelfth day is the eve of Theophany, we don't dispense with it entirely on that day -- it is a day on which wine and oil may be consumed, but otherwise a fast day.

In very ancient times, Theophany was actually the combined celebration of the the Nativity of Christ and His Baptism. The practice of celebrating the Nativity on December 25th developed in the western part of the Church, and then spread to the east. And so, Theophany and Christmas are closely linked, and in a certain cense, Theophany is a continuation of the Feast of the Nativity, and we celebrate Theophany for eight days. I have seen Russian Christmas stars that have an icon of the Nativity on one side, and an Icon of Theophany on the other. And so on your Christmas tree, you would simply flip the star on the feast of the Theophany.

However, in another sense, you could even say we celebrate Christmas for 40 days, because on the 40th day, we mark the feast of the Meeting of the Lord  (February 2nd o.s. / February 15th n.s.) -- on which day Christ was brought into the temple, and met by St. Symeon and the Prophetess Anna.

So, as is often the case with the Orthodox Faith, there are more than one answers to the question that are all correct, but none of which tell the whole story exhaustively.

For More Information:

Stump the Priest: The Nativity Fast and Christmas Parties

Stump the Priest: Is Christmas Pagan?

Stump the Priest: Fasting on the Eves of the Nativity and Theophany

Why the Russian Orthodox Church Celebrates Christmas on January 7th

Wikipedia: Twelfth Night (Holiday)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Stump the Priest: Censing at Home

Question: "What is the appropriate way for laypeople to use incense in prayer?"

Historically, it has probably been exceptional for a laymen to use incense at home, because of the expense involved, and so it should not be thought that this is essential, but it certainly is permissible.

A laymen would only use a hand censer – not a swinging censer like the clergy typically use.

When a person censes with a hand censer, the censer is held in the right hand, and the sign of the cross is made with the censer over whatever he is censing.  Then the censer is placed in the left hand, and he makes the sign of the cross and bows… unless he is censing other people, in which case he makes the sign of the cross with the censer only, and then bows to the people without signing himself.

If you are doing morning or evening prayers, you could cense before the beginning of the prayer, though some do this at the end.

It is a nice touch to have a Cross and Gospel in your icon corner. This is where your censing would begin and end. You could just cense the icons in the icon corner, but if you wanted to, you could cense the whole room you are praying in, or other rooms too, if you wish.

There is more on the practical questions of how to use a censer if you are doing other reader services, at home or in a Church (in the absence of a priest) in "Practical Questions On How To Do Reader Services."

On a practical note, in addition to a good hand censer, you will want to have a pair of tongs to light the coals – though chopsticks work even better, if you know how to use them. Chopsticks also have the added benefit of allowing you to place pieces of incense exactly where you want them.

Update: I came across an article, which has the following comments on the use of a hand censer, which probably at least reflects pious Greek custom:

"Earlier we mentioned the hand censer as part of the icon corner. This hand censer is used in the home on eves of feasts, Saturday evenings, the beginnings of lenten periods, on the eves of name's days of the family, on the eve of the patron of the family church, and on other occasions. Some Orthodox families use the hand censer each evening at family prayer, but the minimum use of it is for the above-mentioned occasions.
The offering of incense to God is a practice which dates back to the time of Moses when God gave commands as to how to burn it.
You shall make an altar to burn incense upon ... And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps in the evening, he shall burn it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations. You shall offer no unholy incense thereon (Ex. 30:1, 7-9).
The burning of incense as an offering to God will continue even to the end of the world, as revealed by God to St. John.
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God (Rev. 8:3- 5).
Because of the command and revelation of God regarding the offering of incense, the Church uses incense as an acceptable offering in its Divine Services. Since the parish church uses incense, so should the family church use incense as an offering pleasing to God. On Saturday evenings, on the eves of feasts and the other already-mentioned occasions, the house is "blessed" with incense. The head of the household carries the hand censer with burning incense throughout the entire dwelling (basement and attic included) and makes the sign of the Cross on the four walls of each room and over the beds. Some Orthodox have the custom of saying with each sign of the Cross thus made: "This room (or bed) is blessed by the sign of the Holy Cross." The person censing is accompanied by all members of the household chanting "Holy God...," the troparion of the feast or Sunday or other appropriate ode, and bearing icons or candles. The procession begins at the icon corner, proceeds through the entire dwelling, and returns to the icon corner.
The hand censer, charcoal (for burning the incense) and the incense may be purchased at some parish churches or from monastic communities such as Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Brookline, Massachusetts 02146). The parish priest or deacon would be happy to show parishioners how to light the charcoal and offer incense.
The charcoal and incense ashes should not be discarded in the garbage, but should be put along the foundation of the building, buried in the ground or put in some other appropriate place where no one will step on them.
Feast days are celebrated by Orthodox families as special and joyous occasions. These days are not regarded as normal days and for this reason Orthodox homes often are decorated especially for the feast. The decorating of the home and icon corner can be a project for the parents together with the children. The decorations themselves, the decorating, and the blessing of the house with the hand censer, all place emphasis on the specialness and the importance of the feast. These are not to be surpassed by any secular celebrations at home, for after all, the Orthodox home is a family church and God is at the center of its existence. There is nothing so empty as a Christmas celebrated, as many westerners do, so that the house decorations, the meal, the gifts, or the family get-together are the center and reason for the celebration. In other words, Christ has been made alien to the celebration" (Marriage and the Christian Home, by Fr. Michael B. Henning <>).
I also found the following:
"For country folk the farming cycle is closely connected with the Church Year, indicating when to sow certain crops, etc. There are various blessings of crops and produce, of cattle and the like, so that everything is related to God. Even townsfolk keep up such traditions as eating homemade pastry birds on the feast of the Forty Holy Martyrs (9th / 22nd March), taking care that only the most essential work is done on St Elias' day, blessing the house with holy water on the first day of every month, and censing each day with a home-censer and incense. Whenever possible, Orthodox people try to attend church not only on Sundays, but for the main feasts, even keeping children off school for this" (The Orthodox Way of Life, by a Nun Abroad, From The Shepherd, Vol. XVII, No. 3 (December 1996), pp. 4-8 <>).
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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Stump the Priest: The Creed and the Trinity

An Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine, accompanied by the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325), holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.

Question: "Why is there no mention of the Trinity in the Nicene Creed? As I understand, it was written by a Synod of bishops in order to corral and direct the young Church's thinking. Why then no mention of the Trinity? Is/was the Trinity less important than the other tenets laid out in the Credo?"

The Nicene Creed was not a new composition, but rather a refinement of previous baptismal creeds that had been in use since Apostolic times. The first known use of the term "Trinity" come from about 180 a.d. from St. Theophilus of Antioch. It is possible that the word was actually used prior to that time, but the fact that it was not used in the baptismal creeds would suggest that these creeds predate the term. It should be noted, however, that the term was used to describe a belief that was already present.

The Apostles' Creed, as it is commonly known now, has changed a bit since the time of the Apostles, but it gives us some idea of what earlier creeds were like:
"I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen."
In the catechetical lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem who find the baptismal creed that was used in Jerusalem at that time:
"We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, very God, by whom all things were made; who appeared in the flesh, and became man of the Virgin and the Holy Ghost; was crucified and was buried; rose on the third day; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and will come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead; of whose kingdom there shall be no end. And in one Holy Spirit, the Comforter, who spake in the Prophets. And in one baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; and in one holy Catholic Church; and in the resurrection of the flesh, and in life everlasting." 
If you compare these creeds, you find they follow a similar outline, which suggests that they have a common origin. At the Council of Nicea (the First Ecumenical Council), the big debate was about the proposed addition of one word to the creed: "homoousia," which means "of one [or the same] essence". Thus affirming that Christ is not some other being, but truly God in every respect. There were those who argued instead for the term "homoiousia," which has only one iota added to it, but that one iota of difference changes the meaning of the word to "of similar essence". There were also those who argued against both additions because by this time the older form of the Creed had been long in use, and this word was not found in Scripture, and did not have much of a history otherwise in the Tradition of the Church. However the insertion of this word expressed the faith of the Church that Christ was truly God, and not some created demigod, and so this is what the Council of Nicea affirmed.

But there is always a reluctance to change things that are so important in the life of the Church, and so the fact that the Nicene Creed used words to clearly reflect Trinitarian theology in response to the teachings of the Arians (who asserted that there was a time which Christ did not exist, and that he was a creature, and not truly God) was sufficient. And if you consider where you would have inserted the word "Trinity" to the Creed, it would have had to have been in the first line, but that was one line that no one disputed. Also, one could affirm the use of the term "Trinity" and yet still deny that Christ was fully God, and coexistent with the Father. The Creed, however, clarifies what we mean in precise terms.

The Creed of Nicea was further refined at the Second Ecumenical Council (the First Council of Constantinople), because there were then heretics who likewise disputed whether the Holy Spirit was really a distinct person of the Trinity, and so additional wording was added to the Creed to affirm that He in fact is. And so it was these two councils that provide us with what we now know as the Nicene Creed, which we use, not only at baptisms, but at every Liturgy, in in our daily prayers.