Friday, January 05, 2007

Good Fruit from a Previous Feast Day Post

A reader, Richard, posted this comment on "One of These Things is Just Like the Other." I've posted it below in case you missed it:

Thought you might be interested to know that this blog posting inspired a research paper for a grad course in Christian History 500-1500, just completed tonight. What I discovered regarding the origins of the common use of this troparion/antiphon was very interesting. Short version is that the Latin is commonly asserted to be an translation/adaption of the Greek; I didn't find any evidence of this. In fact, I found that it's highly unlikely a Marian liturgical text of Eastern origin would survive in the West for this particular feast. Also, while it currently assigned to tone 4 in Byzantine use, 10th and 11th century Byzantine manuscripts show it assigned to tone 1--which is what the Latin version always has been.

And so on. Interesting stuff.

Richard, I'm pleased this blog proved thought-provoking (which is about the kindest things ever said about this blog — as well as one of the rarest). :) I'm happy it piqued your curiosity. I'd be honored to receive a copy. I'd also be intrigued if you could post your conclusions, or if you would be amenable, I'd post the paper in its entirety here.

Thanks; this made my day.


The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Christmas)

On this day, of the year 5501 of the world, as calculated by our glorious church, we celebrate the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God in the Flesh from the virgin St. Mary. Through the Divine plan of God and His foreknowledge, Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a general census in all the Roman Empire. For that reason, Joseph rose, and the virgin with him, and went from the city of Nazareth to "Bethlehem" to be counted in the census there because he was from the tribe of Judah, from the house of David. Bethlehem was the city of David. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the Virgin gave birth to her first born child and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and put him in a manger, for they did not have a place for them in the inn.

Now there were, in the same country, shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all the people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger." Suddenly there was, with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." And they came with haste and found the Babe, Mary, Joseph, and Salomi. The place was shining with light. Now when they had seen him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this child. Then they worshipped the child and they returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen. (Luke 2:1-20)
On this day, the prophecies about the birth of the Lord from a chaste virgin had been fulfilled. Isaiah the prophet said, "Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and shall call His Name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14)

Ezekiel the prophet also said about this wonderful mystery, "And the Lord said to me, 'This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it, therefore it shall be shut."' (Ezekiel 44:2)

About this child, Daniel the prophet said, "I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and the Kingdom that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His Kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed." (Daniel 7:13-14)

Jeremiah the prophet said, "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that I will raise to David a Branch of Righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgement and righteousness in the earth. In His days, Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His Name by which He will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness." (Jeremiah 23:5-6) We must therefore now direct our minds toward the manger of Bethlehem, where the Son of God was lying in it in the flesh at the time of His birth, contemplating in silence and reverence worthy of the mystery of the incarnation of God, and His birth in a manger for our salvation. Knowing that He teaches us through this mystery to despise the world and all the vain things in it, and that He urges us to be humble and to love our neighbor seeking his own good, and that we should live in virtue and holiness according to the Christian ethics; not ignoring the great dignity that has been granted to us by this Divine Incarnation.

Since we have kept this fast before the Advent, and have arrived at this glorious feast, we should receive it with purity and every good thing. We should extend our hand to comfort the weak, to help the poor, and to be instruments of peace and reconciliation among the people, taking our Lord Who has made an eternal peace by His Incarnation as our example. We should ask God in supplications to have compassion upon us and to forgive our sins, and to bless our gatherings, and to keep the life of His Holiness Pope ... , Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, to keep his pontificate for many years with the joy, peace and the safety of the church, and the advancement of his people in virtue. May God grant us many returns of this feast, filled with the blessings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Who came for our salvation.

To Him be the Glory and Honor forever. Amen.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

The 10th Day of Christmas

I write these words on the tenth day of Christmas: January 4, 2007. The "12 Days of Christmas," of course, refer to the period between Christmas and Epiphany. As an example of how far we are removed from a traditional Christian culture, in a Western Rite nation:
  • The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which the world deems "the Christmas season," would revert to Advent. A Western Rite culture would treat this as a time of preparation, fasting, and heightened spiritual exertion focused on the coming Nativity of the Second Person of the Trinity in the flesh, as well as the eschatalogical consummation of human history at His second coming.
  • Christmas celebrations would not commence until Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and continue apace until Epiphany. Today, the stores fill with plastic reindeer and the radio plays Bing Crosby seasonal standards before Thanksgiving. Both are trashed by December 26 like a decayed Christmas tree. As we again leaven the culture, pre-celebration of Christmas and other holidays would end. Christmas carols would not flood the airwaves until Christmas Day and, in recognition of the "12 Days of Christmas," continue unbroken until Epiphany. (Perhaps the radio could instead play the Great O antiphons and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" during this period.)
  • Originally one holiday with Christmas, Epiphany and Christmas developed into separate observances in the West marking the birth of Christ and the visit of the Magi. (In the Byzantine East, the Christmas Gospel lesson is the visit of the Magi, whereas "Theophany" recalls Christ's baptism in the Jordan River.) In time, the Holy Spirit caused the Western Church to conclude that such observances in the sacred Life of our Redeemer were too hallowed to be contained by one day. Thus, were Christmas and Epiphany sundered. However, they are two sides of the same Incarnational coin, different refractions of the Mystery of Jesus' corporeality. Epiphany became the "book end" of the Nativity season. As the other half of Christmas, Epiphany would be a federal holiday.
These are but a few measures of how things might be different in a Western Rite Orthodox America. Needless to say, there are many others noted by Christians of all backgrounds — and there are far more pressing areas in need of regeneration — but the fact that these details are not even on the radar demonstrates how far American culture has plummeted.


I'm Putting on my Top Hat....

You Are 64% Gentleman

You are definitely a gentleman. You're very considerate and you have excellent manners.
Occasionally, you slip and do something foolish... but usually no one notices!

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Monday, January 01, 2007

A Celtic Orthodox New Year's Blessing

God, bless to me the new day,
never vouchsafed to me before;
it is to bless Thine own presence
Thou hast given me this time, O God.

Bless to my eye,
may my eye bless all it sees;
I will bless my neighbor,
may my neighbor bless me.

God, give me a clean heart,
let me not from sight of Thine eye;
bless to me my family,
and bless to me my means.

Ancient Celtic Prayers collected by Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912), published in Carmina Gadelica (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1992). These are prayers, hymns, and incantations collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in the 18th century. (Slightly modified.)

(Hat tip: Monasticism.)


Sunday, December 31, 2006

What, Me Do Missionary Work?

An important assessment from Fr. Thurman's blog:
I know that disaffected Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Evangelicals will come to the open doors of my parish if they honestly want to inquire about the Faith of the Apostles that is the Orthodox Church—what about all of those folks doing something else on Sunday morning that have no relationship with Christ whatsoever?...

My concern: Why do we Orthodox never talk about the unchurched in our mission strategy? Why are we not concerned with those over 50% of Americans who never even darken the door of any church, let alone an Orthodox parish?
There does seem to be an enormous focus in some quarters on doing "missionary" work that essentially consists of transferring believing Christians from one church body to the Church Body. Due to my ecclesiology, I'm not terribly troubled by that: I believe the Orthodox Church is the true (and only) Church, and those seeking the fulness of Christianity will only find it within Her. However, this is not the same as conversion of non-believers. Ironically, evangelicals enter Orthodoxy; then when non-believers come to them, they must give them...evangelical resources (More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell, or Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ)! Here is a situation which should be remedied by those interested in doing missionary work.

I have a nit to pick with the post, though:
If other Christians are looking for the truth of Orthodoxy, they will find it and it is accessible to them. (Everything can be found in the standard books, web sites, or calling the local Orthodox parish.)
This is, of course, assuming the average American has any idea what Orthodoxy is or why he should be looking for it. He does not. And we're all, unfortunately, aware of situations in which calling the local Orthodox parish is the last thing a spiritually vibrant inquirer should do. There is much work to be done. However, Orthodox "missionaries" seem to have only taken up one portion of the work.