29 March 2012

Saint Paul says you should not dare to say that you are assuredly, unconditionally, and eternally saved!

The Epistle of Saint Paul to the Philippians 2:12 says, "Therefore beloved, even as ye always obeyed, not in my presence only, but now much rather in mine absence, be working out your own salvation with fear and trembling;" and in 3:10-14 he also says, "if by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead. Not that I already received, or already have been perfected; but I pursue, if I might also apprehend that for which I also was apprehended by the Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forth to those things which are before. I pursue toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

The First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 9:27 says "I fear, lest by any means, after I have preached to others, I myself should become unapproved." and in 10:12 he also says "The one who thinketh he standeth, let him take heed least he should fall."

14 March 2012

Great and Holy Week in the Orthodox Christian Churches

In the Orthodox Church, Great Lent ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday, though the faithful will continue fasting until Pascha (Easter). The day before Palm Sunday is called Lazarus Saturday and commemorates the resurrection of Lazarus. On Lazarus Saturday wine and oil are allowed (and, in the Russian tradition, caviar). Palm Sunday is considered one of the Great Feasts of the Lord, and is celebrated with fish, wine and oil. Because it is a Great Feast of the Lord, the normal Resurrectional elements of the Sunday All Night Vigil are omitted; however, these resurrectional elements are inserted into the Lazarus Saturday service with its theme of anticipating the Resurrection of Jesus.

Holy Week is referred to as "Great and Holy Week". Orthros (Matins) services for each day are held on the preceding evening. Thus, the Matins service of Great Monday is sung on Palm Sunday evening, and so on. This permits more of the faithful to attend, and shows that during Holy Week the times are out of joint—Matins ends up being served in the evening, and in some places Vespers is served in the morning.

Fasting during Great and Holy Week is very strict. Dairy products and meat products are strictly forbidden. On most days, no alcoholic beverages are permitted and no oil is used in the cooking. Friday and Saturday are observed as strict fast days, meaning that nothing should be eaten on those days. However, fasting is always adjusted to the needs of the individual, and those who are very young, ill or elderly are not expected to fast as strictly. Those who are able to, may receive the blessing of their spiritual father to observe an even stricter fast, whereby they eat only two meals that week: one on Wednesday night and one after Divine Liturgy on Thursday.

In Eastern Orthodoxy the day begins at sunset, so the first service of each day is Vespers, at which stichera are chanted commemorating the theme of the day.

The Orthros services of Palm Sunday through Tuesday evenings are often referred to as the "Bridegroom Prayer", because of their theme of Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church, a theme expressed in the troparion that is solemnly chanted during them. On these days, an icon of the "Bridegroom" is placed on an analogion in the center of the temple, portraying Jesus wearing the purple robe of mockery and crowned with a crown of thorns (see Instruments of the Passion). The same theme is repeated in the exapostilarion, a hymn which occurs near the end of the service. These services follow much the same pattern as services on weekdays of Great Lent. The services are so laid out that the entire Psalter (with the exception of Kathisma XVII) is chanted on the first three days of Holy Week. The canon that is chanted on these days is a "Triode", i.e., composed of three odes instead of the usual nine odes (the canon of Holy and Great Tuesday is a "Diode", having only two odes).

Towards the end of the Tuesday evening Bridegroom service (Orthros for Great and Holy Wednesday), the Hymn of Kassiani is sung. The hymn, (written in the 9th century by Kassiani the Nun) tells of the woman who washed Christ's feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee. (Luke 7:36-50) Much of the hymn is written from the perspective of the sinful woman:
O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins, sensing Your Divinity, takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer. With lamentations she brings you myrrh in anticipation of your entombment. "Woe to me!" she cries, "for me night has become a frenzy of licentiousness, a dark and moonless love of sin. Receive the fountain of my tears, O You who gathers into clouds the waters of the sea. Incline unto me, unto the sighings of my heart, O You who bowed the heavens by your ineffable condescension. I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and dry them again with the tresses of my hair; those very feet at whose sound Eve hid herself from in fear when she heard You walking in Paradise in the twilight of the day. As for the multitude of my sins and the depths of Your judgments, who can search them out, O Savior of souls, my Savior? Do not disdain me Your handmaiden, O You who are boundless in mercy."
The Byzantine musical composition expresses the poetry so strongly that it leaves many people in a state of prayerful tears. The Hymn can last upwards of 25 minutes and is liturgically and musically a highpoint of the entire year.

On Great and Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is celebrated, at which the faithful may receive Holy Communion from the reserved Holy Mysteries. This service combines Vespers with a Communion Service. Each of these services has a reading from the Gospel which sets forth the theme for the day.

In many churches a service of Anointing (Holy Unction) is held on Wednesday evening, following the Presanctified Liturgy. This is in commemoration of the anointing of Jesus, and a preparation of the faithful to enter with Christ into his death and Resurrection. Those who wish to receive Holy Communion on Great and Holy Thursday, are encouraged to receive the Holy Mystery of Unction.

Orthros of Great and Holy Thursday does not follow the format of Great Lent (with the singular exception of chanting Alleluia in place of God is the Lord), but is celebrated as outside Lent, having a complete canon. Also, beginning at this service there will be no more reading of the psalter for the rest of Holy Week, with the exception of kathisma XVII at Orthros of Great and Holy Saturday.
Divine Liturgy of the Last Supper is held on the morning of Great and Holy Thursday, combining Vespers with the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great. There is a custom among some churches to place a simple white linnen cloth over the Holy Table (altar) for this Liturgy, reminiscent of the Last Supper. In cathedrals and monasteries it is customary for the bishop or hegumen (abbot) to celebrate the Washing of Feet. When it is necessary for an autocephalous church to consecrate more chrysm the primate of that church will consecrate it at this Liturgy.

Great and Holy Thursday is the only day during Holy Week when those observing the strict tradition will eat a cooked meal, though they will not do so until after the dismissal of the Liturgy. At this meal wine and oil are permitted, but the faithful still abstain from meat and dairy products.

Matins of Great and Holy Friday is celebrated on the evening of Holy Thursday. During this service, twelve Matins Gospels are chanted, from which this service derives its name of "Matins of the Twelve Gospels". These Gospel lessons recount in chronological order the events from the Last Supper though the Crucifixion and burial of Jesus. At one point, when we reach the first Gospel which speaks of the Crucifixion, there is a custom for the priest to bring out a large cross with an icon the crucified Christ attached to it, and places it in the center of the nave for all the faithful to venerate. This cross will remain in the center of the church until the bringing out of the plashchanitza the next evening.

On Great and Holy Friday morning the Royal Hours are served. These are a solemn celebration of the Little Hours with added hymns and readings.

Vespers of Great and Holy Friday (Vespers of the Deposition from the Cross) is held in the morning or early afternoon of Great and Holy Friday. The figure of Christ is taken down from the Cross, and a richly-embroidered cloth icon called the Epitaphios (Church Slavonic: Plashchanitza) depicting Christ prepared for burial is laid in a "Tomb" decorated with flowers. At the end of the service all come forward to venerate the Epitaphios.

Compline of Great and Holy Friday contains a Canon of Lamentations of the Theotokos (Mother of God).

Matins of Great and Holy Saturday is held on Friday evening. The service is known as the "Orthros of Lamentations at the Tomb", because the majority of the service is composed of the clergy and faithful gathered around the tomb, chanting the "Lamentations" interspersed between the verses of Kathisma XVII (Psalm 118. At a certain point the priest sprinkles the tomb with rose petals and rose water. Near the end of the service, the Epitaphios is carried in a candlelit procession around the outside of the church as the faithful sing the Trisagion.
Vespers joined to the Divine Liturgy is served on Great and Holy Saturday morning. This is the Proti Anastasi (First Resurrection) service, commemorating the Harrowing of Hell. Just before the reading of the Gospel, the hangings and vestments and changed from dark lenten colors to white, and the entire mood of the service changes from mouring to joy. However, the faithful do not yet greet one another with the Paschal kiss, since the Resurrection has not yet been announced to the living.

If there are catechumens who are prepared for baptism they will usually be baptized and chrismated following the Liturgy of Great and Holy Saturday.

People receiving the Holy Light at Easter from Father Diogenis at St George Greek Orthodox Church Adelaide.

On Saturday night, the Paschal Vigil begins around 11:00 pm with the chanting of the Midnight Office. Afterwards, all of the lighting in the church is extinguished and all remain in silence and darkness until the stroke of midnight. Then, the priest lights a single candle from the eternal flame on the altar (which is never extinguished). The light is spread from person to person until everyone holds a lighted candle. Then a procession takes place circling around the outside of the church, recreating the journey of the Myrrh Bearers as they journeyed to the Tomb of Jesus on the first Easter morning. The procession stops in front of the closed doors of the church. The opening of these doors symbolized the "rolling away of the stone" from the tomb by the angel, and all enter the church joyfully singing the Troparion of Pascha. Paschal Orthros begins with an Ektenia (litany) and the chanting of the Paschal Canon. One of the highpoints is the sharing of the paschal kiss and the reading of the Hieratikon (Catechetical Homily of John Chrysostom) by the priest. The Divine Liturgy follows, and every Orthodox Christian is encouraged to confess and receive Holy Communion on this holiest day of the year. A breakfast usually follows, sometimes lasting till dawn. Slavs bring Easter baskets filled with eggs, meat, butter, and cheese—foods from which the faithful have abstained during Great Lent -- to be blessed by the priest which are then taken back home to be shared by family and friends with joy.

On the afternoon of Easter Day, a joyful service called "Agape Vespers" is celebrated During this service the Great Prokeimenon is chanted and a lesson from the Gospel (John 20:19-25) is read in as many different languages as possible, accompanied by the joyful ringing of bells.

12 March 2012

Who were the 4 Evangelists?

In Christian tradition the Four Evangelists are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the authors attributed with the creation of the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament that bear the following titles:

  1. Gospel according to Matthew
  2. Gospel according to Mark
  3. Gospel according to Luke
  4. Gospel according to John

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in the same sequence. Convention has traditionally held the authors to have been two of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, John and Matthew, and two were "apostolic men," on the 70 disciples, Mark and Luke:

  1. Matthew – a former tax collector who was called by Jesus to be one of the Twelve Apostles,
  2. Mark – a follower of Peter and so an "apostolic man",
  3. Luke – a doctor who wrote what is now the book of Luke to a friend Theophilus. Also believed to have written the book of Acts (or Acts of the Apostles) and a close friend of Paul of Tarsus,
  4. John – a disciple of Jesus and possibly the youngest of his Twelve Apostles.

They are called evangelists, a word meaning people who proclaim good news, because their books aim to tell the good news of Jesus.

In iconography the evangelists often appear in Evangelist portraits derived from classical tradition, and are also frequently represented by the following symbols, which originate from the four "living creatures" that draw the throne-chariot of God, the Merkabah, in the vision in the Book of Ezekiel (Chapter 1) reflected in the Book of Revelation (4.6-9ff), though neither source links the creatures to the Evangelists. They are normally, but not invariably, all shown with wings like angels. The meanings accruing to the symbols were fully expressed by Rabanus Maurus, who set out three layers of meaning for the beasts, as representing firstly the Evangelists, secondly the nature of Christ, and thirdly the virtues required of a Christian for salvation:

  1. Saint  Matthew the Evangelist, the author of the first gospel account is symbolized by a winged man, or angel. Matthew's gospel starts with Jesus' genealogy from Abraham; it represents Jesus' Incarnation, and so Christ's human nature. This signifies that Christians should use their reason for salvation.
  2. Saint  Mark the Evangelist, the author of the second gospel account is symbolized by a winged lion – a figure of courage and monarchy. Mark has John the Baptist preaching "like a lion roaring" at the beginning of his Gospel. It also represents Jesus' Resurrection (because lions were believed to sleep with open eyes, a comparison with Christ in the tomb), and Christ as king. This signifies that Christians should be courageous on the path of salvation.
  3. Saint  Luke the Evangelist, the author of the third gospel account (and the Acts of the Apostles) is symbolized by a winged ox or bull – a figure of sacrifice, service and strength. Luke's account begins with the duties of Zacharias in the temple; it represents Jesus' sacrifice in His Passion and Crucifixion, as well as Christ being High priest (this also represents Mary's obedience). The ox signifies that Christians should be prepared to sacrifice themselves in following Christ.
  4. Saint John the Evangelist, the author of the fourth gospel account is symbolized by an eagle – a figure of the sky, and believed to be able to look straight into the sun. John starts with an eternal overview of Jesus the Logos and goes on to describe many things with a "higher" level than the other three (synoptic) gospels; it represents Jesus' Ascension, and Christ's divine nature. This represents that Christians should look on eternity without flinching as they journey towards their goal of union with God.

Each of the symbols is depicted with wings following the biblical sources first in Ezekiel 1-2, and in Revelation. The symbols are shown with, or in place of, the Evangelists in early medieval Gospel Books, and are the usual accompaniment to Christ in Majesty when portrayed during the same period, reflecting the vision in Revelations. They were presented as one of the most common motifs found on church portals and apses, as well as many other locations. When surrounding Christ, the figure of the man is usually at top left – above Christ's right hand, with the lion above Christ's left arm. Underneath the man is the ox and underneath the lion is the eagle. This both reflects the medieval idea of the order of "nobility" of nature of the beasts (man, lion, ox, eagle) and the text of Ezekiel 1:10. All four evangelists are all Jesus's disciples.

11 March 2012

Who were the 12 Apostles?

The Canonical gospels give the names of the Twelve. According to the list occurring in each of the three Synoptic Gospels, [Mk 3:13-19] [Mt 10:1-4] [Lk 6:12-16] the Twelve some of whom chose to follow Jesus, and some who were called by Jesus, near the beginning of his ministry, those "whom he also named apostles", were, according to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew:

  1. Simon Peter: Renamed by Jesus to Peter (meaning rock), his original name was Simon bar Jonah;[Mk 3:16] was a fisherman from the Bethsaida "of Galilee"[Jn 1:44], cf. Jn 12:21. Also known as Simon bar Jochanan (Aram.), Cephas (Aram.).
  2. Andrew: The brother of Simon/Peter, a Bethsaida fisherman, and a former disciple of John the Baptist.
  3. James, son of Zebedee: The brother of John.
  4. John: The brother of James. Jesus named both of them Bo-aner'ges, which means "sons of thunder'.'"[Mk 3:17]
  5. Philip: From the Bethsaida of Galilee[Jn 1:44] [12:21]
  6. Bartholomew, son of Talemai; usually identified with Nathanael, who is mentioned in Jn 1:45-51.
  7. Matthew: The tax collector. Mt 9:9-10, Mk 2:14-15 and Lu 5:27-29 indicate that Matthew was also known as Levi.[18]
  8. Thomas: Judas Thomas Didymus - Aramaic T'oma' = twin, and Greek Didymos = twin. Doubting Thomas.
  9. James, son of Alphaeus: Generally identified with "James the Less", and also identified by Roman Catholics with "James the Just".
  10. Thaddeus: In some manuscripts of Matthew, the name "Lebbaeus" occurs in this place. Thaddeus is traditionally identified with Jude; see below.
  11. Simon the Zealot: Some have identified him with Simeon of Jerusalem.
  12. Judas Iscariot: The disciple who later betrayed Jesus.[Mk 3:19] The name Iscariot may refer to the Judaean towns of Kerioth or to the sicarii (Jewish nationalist insurrectionists), or to Issachar. Also referred to as "Judas, the son of Simon."[Jn 6:71] [13:26] He was replaced by Matthias as an apostle shortly after Jesus' resurrection.

After Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ and then in guilt committed suicide before Christ's resurrection (in one Gospel account), the apostles numbered eleven. When Jesus had been taken up from them, in preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit that he had promised them, Peter advised the brethren:
Judas, who was guide to those who took Jesus... For he was numbered with us, and received his portion in this ministry... For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his habitation be made desolate, Let no one dwell therein', and, 'Let another take his office'... So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us, must become with us a witness to his resurrection.
—Acts 1:15-26
So, between the ascension of Christ and the day of Pentecost, the remaining apostles elected a twelfth apostle by casting lots, a traditional Israelite way to determine the Will of God. (Proverbs 16:33) The lot fell upon Matthias.

This is one of several verses used by the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox Churches in support of the teaching of Apostolic Succession.

Paul of Tarsus, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, appears to give the first historical reference to the twelve apostles:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
—1Corinthians 15:3-8
Christian tradition has generally passed down that all but one were martyred, with John surviving into old age. Only the death of James, son of Zebedee is described in the New Testament, and the details of the other deaths are the subject of pious legends of varying authenticity. In some cases there is near unanimity in the tradition, and in other cases, there are widely varying and inconsistent accounts.

Judas Iscariot, originally one of the Twelve, died during Jesus' trial. Matthew 27:5 says that he hanged himself, and Acts 1:18 says that he fell, burst open, and his "bowels gushed out." Matthias was elected to take his place as one of the Twelve.

According to Christian tradition, the 12 Apostls died in the following ways:

  • Peter, crucified upside-down in Rome c. AD 64.
  • James, son of Zebedee was beheaded in AD 44, first of the Twelve to die (since the addition of Matthias)
  • John, son of Zebedee, no biblical record of death, he is believed to have died of natural causes due to old age. 
  • Andrew, Peter's brother, was crucified upon aX-shaped cross.
  • Philip was crucified in AD 54.
  • Bartholomew (also known as Nathaniel) was flayed alive (skinned) and then beheaded; some sources locate his death at Derbend on the Caspian Sea.
  • Matthew killed by an axe in AD 60.
  • Thomas was killed by a spear in Mylapore, Madras, India in AD 72.
  • James, son of Alphaeus, stoned at age 90 then clubbed to death.
  • Jude was crucified.
  • Simon the Zealot was crucified in AD 74.
  • Judas Iscariot, according to Matthew, hanged himself after betraying Jesus. In Acts, he is described as falling in a field and bursting open. He decayed on the tree resulting in a bloating with gas and a weakening of the skin. Then when he was let down from the tree he burst open upon impact.
  • Matthias, Judas' replacement, was stoned and beheaded.

10 March 2012

Why Orthodox Christians Prefer the Septuagint

All told, there are some 300 textual differences between the Masoretic and the Septuagint texts, some of them important and some of them insignificant. These articles will explain why Orthodox Christians prefer the Septuagint, despite some admittedly beautiful and eloquent passages found in the Masoretic text. The articles by Metropolitan Ephraim were originally published on the internet in the Spring of 2009, and they appear here in a slightly edited and augmented form.

In the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach, it says:
“Honor the physician with the honour due unto him for the uses ye may have of him: for the Lord created him….The skill of the physician shall lift up his head, and in the sight of great men he shall be in admiration. The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth, and he that is wise will not abhor them…. And the Lord hath given men skill, that He might be honored in His marvelous works. With such doth [the physician] heal men, and taketh away their pains. Of such doth the apothecary make a confection; and of his works there is no end; and from him is peace over all the earth” (Wisdom of Sirach 38:1-8).
When I was a little boy of about seven or eight years of age back in California, one of my playmates [who was Protestant] asked me if I wanted to come over to his house that night for a Bible class. Since my mother often read me Bible stories, and I liked them, I was very much inclined to go to my friend’s house that evening. But first, I had to get Mom’s permission. Faster than it can be told, I ran home to get Mom’s okay. She listened as I recounted my buddy’s invitation, and she could see that I was obviously excited about it. Then she nodded her head in a negative way, and said, “No, I don’t think so. You see, son, they don’t use the same Bible we do.”

“Awww, nuts! Come on, Ma! It’ll be okay!” I persisted. “No, I don’tthink it will be okay. I’ll buy you a book with some Bible stories,” she concluded, firmly holding her ground.

I stomped out the back door, sulking and thinking to myself, “She only said that they don’t have the same Bible we do because she doesn’t want me to go to the Bible class.”

But Mom was right.

She was a simple woman. She had not had much of an education, but she was sharp as a tack [she had to be: she had given birth to seven male rapscallions, and it was only by expending desperate and superhuman efforts that she was able to prevent two of them, especially, from disrupting the entire neighborhood. She used to tell me, “If you had been a jackass when you were young, you would have died from the beatings you got!”]

However, to return to the main thrust of our story.

She was right, of course, about the non-Orthodox having a different Bible. By the word “different,” she could have meant two things: 1] the actual books in the non-Orthodox Scriptures are different from those that we have in our Scriptures [true]; or 2] the Protestants and Roman Catholics interpret the books of the Holy Scripture differently than we do [also true].

The quotation that was used at the beginning of this article is a case in point. The Wisdom of Sirach [or Ecclesiasticus] is not found in the Protestant Bible, and the Roman Catholics call it “deuterocanonical,” [whatever that is]. The odd thing, however, is that, in our Saviour’s time, the Jewish people honored these texts as “Holy Scripture.” Proof of this are the many quotations from these holy books that can be found in the New Testament.

Furthermore, if the Protestants had not rejected so many books of the Holy Scriptures, there might well have never arisen among them such strange nineteenth century sects as the so-called Christian Scientists, who, as we know, reject the use of human medicine—often with disastrous results.

After all, as clear as a bell, the Wisdom of Sirach teaches us: “Honor the physician with the honour due unto him for the uses yemay have of him: for the Lord created him….”

There are other valuable teachings in these holy books, as well. For example, there is one prophetic text that, in less than fifty words, sums up the entire purpose of the Incarnation of the Son of God. In one sentence, in fact, it answers the question: why did God become man? This wonderful text is in the book, the Wisdom of Solomon, and in the clearest possible terms it tells us:
While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her swift course, Thine almighty Word leaped out of Heaven out of Thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war, into the midst of a land of destruction. (Wisdom of Solomon, 18:14-15)
We do, indeed, have a very different Bible from our non-Orthodox Christian friends.

Thanks, Mom.

"Isn't that what Adolph Hitler did to Holland in World War II?"

This, indeed, is the sort of reaction you might expect to get if you were speaking to someone about the "neutralization of the Netherworld." He really wouldn't know what you were talking about. On the other hand, if you were to refer to it as the "Harrowing of Hell," people might or might not understand. Orthodox Christians know it as the "Descent into Hades." Most "Bible-believing" Americans nowadays, however, even those living in theso-called Bible Belt, would probably look at you quizzically if you were to mention it despite the fact that it is cited in the Holy Scriptures (I Peter 3:18-20).

Indeed, this is what happened on one occasion at our monastery in Boston. Perhaps thirty or so years ago, a Protestant minister and his wife were visiting the monastery and I was assigned to give them "the tour." We had seen the workshops, the refectory, the chapel and finally came to the area where the icons were on display, and I was telling the couple that the monastery was self-supporting. "One of the ways we support our monasteryis by producing and selling these icons," I explained to them. They knew about the traditional use of the holy icons in the Orthodox Church, so they were somewhat familiar with what they were seeing. Since it was the Paschal season, the icon of the Descent into Hades was in a prominent place of honor on the analogion and, therefore, caught the eye of the minister's wife. "Oh, what is that icon?" she asked. "That depicts our Saviour's Descent into Hades," I responded.

"What's that all about?" she asked, incredulously.

Embarrassed by his wife's reaction, the minister glanced at me nervously, and then back at his wife, and said, "Why yes, dear. You know about that, of course. It's mentioned in one of the Epistles of Peter."

Ah! If looks could kill, the minister would have been charged with homicide! Talk about awkward moments.

It became obvious that the teaching about our Saviour's descent to Sheol, the place of the dead, is not a prominent feature in Protestant Sunday schools.

Yet, as we mentioned above, it is clearly cited in the New Testament:

For Christ also hath once suffered for our sins. He, the just, suffered for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. In the body, He was put to death; in the spirit, He was brought to life. And in the spirit He went and preached to the spirits that were imprisoned, who formerly had not obeyed…. (I Peter 3:18-20)
Furthermore, this event is also clearly prophesied in the Old Testament. In the Church's services, one prominent element is the "Polyeleos" of Matins. One portion of the Polyeleos is a selection of verses from the Psalms of the Prophet David appropriate for each major feast. For the Feast of Thomas Sunday, the Resurrection of Christ is the major event being celebrated, of course, and these are some of the Psalmic verses that we hear in the Polyeleos:
As for them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
Fettered with beggary and iron.
They cried unto the Lord in their affliction.
And out of their distresses He saved them.
And He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death.
For He shattered the gates of brass.
And brake the bars of iron.
And He delivered them from their corruption.
And their bonds He brake asunder.
To hear the groaning of them that be in fetters.
To loose the sons of the slain.
"He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death." All these Old Testament verses refer to our Savior, "the fierce Man of war" spoken of in the Wisdom of Solomon, who "leaped out of Heaven" into a "land of destruction" to redeem mankind and lead the captive souls in Hades "out of darkness and the shadow of death."

In the Book of Job, God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind and asks him:
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? tell me now, if thou hast knowledge, who set the measures of it, if thou knowest? Or who stretched a line upon it? Or did I order the morning light in thy time?Or didst thou take clay of the earth, and form a living creature, and set it with the power of speech upon theearth? And do the gates of death open to thee for fear; and did the gate-keepers of Hades quake when they saw thee? (Job 38:4-16)
The text is vivid and striking.

But there is a problem here: this last portion of the quotation from the Book of Job is quite different in the Protestant text. In the Revised Standard Version, for example, it reads as follows: "Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?" Very different indeed, and not much of a "prophecy" of the actual event. One might say that, as a prophecy of our Saviour's descent into and destruction of Sheol, it has all the vigor and verve of an overcooked noodle.

In the first section "Honor the Physician," I recounted how my mother would not allow me to attend my playmate's Protestant Bible class when I was a youngster in California. The reason she gave me for not allowing me to go was that "the Protestants had a different Bible" than we did. At the time, I thought she was just trying to find an excuse for not letting me go to the Bible class. But, as I wrote in that article, it turned out that she was right, and I came to understand this as I learned more about our Orthodox Christian faith. I wrote also in that article that there were two differences between our Holy Scriptures and the Scriptures that the Protestants use: 1) the books that we have in our Holy Scriptures are different, and 2) the interpretations that the Protestants give are different from the interpretations of the Church Fathers.

However, it turns out, there is also a third difference.

Even within the books that we share in common with the non-Orthodox, the texts are different, as we can see, for example, in the above mentionedquotation from the Book of Job. One of the major reasons for these differences is that the Orthodox Church uses the Septuagint text of the Old Testament [see below], which was also the text used by the holy Apostles in the time of our Saviour.

The subject of the Descent into Hades--the "neutralization of the Netherworld"--is of vital importance. The implications of that event in Christ's work of salvation has been sorely underestimated in the West; but that is a subject that will require yet another article. So, stay tuned.

What many people do not realize is that, as long as we can determine, there have been variants in the Scriptural texts as they have come down to us. Our readers will note that we have pointed out that the texts of the Old Testament that the Protestants and Roman Catholics use today are different from the Septuagint text that the Orthodox Church has used since the time of our Savior. Why?

Some history may be useful here. By royal decree, the Septuagint text was prepared in the third century before Christ in Alexandria Egypt by the best Jewish scholars of the day.* At the time, Alexandria was the greatest center of learning in the known world, and its library was famous for its completeness and the valuable manuscripts it contained. The Septuagint translation was an occasion of great celebration, and a special day was set aside to commemorate this event in the Jewish community, which, for the most part, no longer spoke Hebrew, especially in the diaspora. (In Palestine the Jews spoke only Aramaic.) Now, with the Septuagint translation, the rabbis could instruct their people again easily in a language most of them spoke (Greek), but, in addition, they could make their faith more readily accessible to the pagan world around them. Consequently, the Septuagint was held in great esteem, and in the time of our Saviour, it was in wide use inthe Jewish community (as the many quotations from it in the New Testament testify). What is also noteworthy is that Philo, one of the greatest Jewish scholars of antiquity, was also one of the foremost apologists for the Jewish religion among the pagans. Through the many tracts he wrote (all of them based on the Septuagint text), he led many thousands of pagans to convert to the Jewish faith. Yet, Philo, a contemporary of our Saviour, could not speak Hebrew. He knew only Greek.

With the appearance of Christianity, however, things began to change. The many thousands of pagans who formerly had converted to Judaism now began turning to the Christian faith. In addition, thousands of Jews also converted to Christianity. Through the work of the holy Apostles, the evangélion, the "good news" of our Saviour and His triumph over mankind's last enemy--death--began spreading like wildfire throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond. Furthermore, the Apostles were armed with proofs: the Old Testament prophecies that foretold of our Saviour's coming. Thanks to the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, those prophecies were in a language almost everyone could understand.

In the meantime, the whole Jewish world was shaken with a terrible catastrophe — the fall and complete destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70 by the Roman legions. This event, prophesied by our Savior, caused utter consternation in the Jewish community, because, not only had the political center of the country vanished amidst inhuman atrocities and barbarity, but the Temple itself was gone! Literally, no stone was left upon a stone; the very center and heart of the Jewish faith had been ruthlessly cut out by the Romans, and even the Jewish priesthood was exterminated. The few shreds left of the city's population were banished and the Jews began a long exile.

In an attempt to restore some order out of this total devastation, around A. D. 90 or 100 a prestigious school of rabbis in the city of Jamnia (or Jabneh), which is some thirteen miles south of Jaffa, constituted a new Sanhedrin and discussed and determined the canon of the Old Testament. In view of the fact that the Septuagint was being used so extensively (and effectively) by the "new faith" (Christianity) in winning many thousands of converts from paganism and from the Jewish people themselves, it was resolved by the rabbinical school to condemn the Septuagint text and forbid its use among the Jews. The day which had been formerly been set aside as a day of celebration commemorating the translation of the Septuagint was now declared a day of mourning. Philo's valuable tracts in defense of the Jewish faith were renounced as well, since they were based on the Septuagint translation.

The Old Testament text used today by non-Orthodox Christians is the Masoretic text, which was prepared by Jewish scholars in the centuries after Christ. When they picked among the many variant texts to prepare their own version of the Old Testament, these Jewish scholars, as might be readily understood, had an already decided bias against any Scriptural variant that might lend itself to a Christian interpretation. As the centuries passed, those variant texts not used by the rabbis fell by the wayside, or were usually destroyed, and thus, about a millennium after Christ, these scholars finally arrived at what is now known as the Masoretic text.

With the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in the middle of the twentieth century, however, the numerous ancient variants in the Hebrew sacred texts came to light again, and, in many cases, the Septuagint text proved to reflect the original Hebrew text better than the text that has come down to us in the later Masoretic version.

Also, many ancient Hebrew words cannot be understood or even pronounced any longer. They can be translated and understood only with the help of the Septuagint. Thanks to the Dead Sea scrolls, the Septuagint text is now held in far greater esteem among non-Orthodox scholars than it was even a few years ago. The Septuagint text may have its own problems, but it represents an ancient and authentic Hebrew tradition. For centuries, it was beloved and celebrated by the Jewish people, and that is one of the reasons why it was, and still is, espoused and revered by the Christian Church.

We have written that the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament represents an ancient and authentic Hebrew tradition. Due to the fact that there were variances in the Hebrew texts, the textual tradition that theSeptuagint translation presents often differs widely from the Masoretic Hebrew text of today.

But there are also some surprises.

In very ancient times, it seems some anonymous rabbis felt that they needed to take some liberties with the sacred texts, mostly —it appears– out of embarrassment. For example, in the Book of Judges, we are told that the children of Dan fell into idolatry (Judges 18:30-31). This is what the Septuagint says:
And the children of Dan set up the graven image for themselves; and Jonathan, the son of Gerson [Gershom], the son of Manasses, he and his son were priests to the tribe of Dan till the time of the carrying away of the nation [literally: the land]. And they set up for themselves the graven image which Michaias [Micah] made, all the days that the House of God was in Selom [Shiloh].
This, essentially, is what the Masoretic says also. The only problem here is that Gerson [Gershom] was not the son of Manasses. He was the son of the Prophet Moses! How embarrassing! The grandson of Israel’s most prominent prophet fell into idolatry! This is what author Charles D. Provan (Christian News, May 7, 2007) writes:
…The rabbis themselves wrote that they deliberately changed some 10 passages [of the Old Testament]. Among the most definite [changes] is Judges 18:30 where the rabbis admit they changed the text from Moses to Manasseh in order to protect Moses!*
The teachers of Israel felt this fall on the part of the Prophet’s grandson would cast reproach on the reputation of the great Moses, so they changed the name. The translators of the Septuagint inherited this variant in the text they were given, and so they faithfully rendered this ancient rabbinical redaction into Greek.

So, two cheers to the translators of the Septuagint for their fidelity to the text they received.

In the Gospel of St. Matthew, we read the following prophetic passage:
And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, and take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON. (Matt. 2:12-15)
Many Protestants believe that this prophecy is found in the Old Testament book of the Prophet Hosea (chap. 11, verse 1). But this cannot be true. Why? If you read the Hosea passage in its entirety, you realize that this particular passage is speaking about God’s disobedient son, the nation of Israel. This cannot be said of our Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

There is only one Old Testament passage that clearly fulfills all the qualifications for being the prophecy that the Gospel of St. Matthew is referring to. That is Numbers 24:2-9, in the Septuagint text:

And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and sees Israel encamped by their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him. And he took up his parable and said: Balaam says to the sons of Beor, the man who sees truly says, He who hears the oracle of the Mighty One speaks, who saw a vision of God in sleep; his eyes were opened: How goodly are thy habitations, Jacob, and thy tents, Israel! As shady groves, and as gardens by a river, and as tents which God pitched, and as cedars by the waters. There shall come a man out of his seed, and he shall rule over many nations; and the kingdom of God shall be exalted, and his kingdom shall be increased. God led him out of Egypt; he has as it were the glory of a unicorn: he shall consume the nations of his enemies, and he shall drain their marrow, and with his darts he shall shoot through the enemy. He lay down, he rested as a lion, and as a young lion; who has stirred him up? They that bless thee are blessed, and they that curse thee are cursed.

Scholar Charles Provan writes, “…Though the sojourn [in Egypt] may be obtained in the Masoretic text, yet it is much easier to derive it from the Greek version. Indeed, that Numbers 24 is a Messianic prophecy is so obvious that it jumps off the page, as does the Egyptian sojourn of the Messiah.”

And also:

“Notice also that one name [of our Saviour] in the New Testament is The Lion from the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5). Though there are Messianic prophecies in which it is stated that Christ would come from the Tribe of Judah, I am aware of none which refer directly to Christ as a Lion, except the Numbers 24 prophecy of Balaam. This is obtainable from the Masoretic text, but is unavoidable in Greek.”

Two and a half cheers for the Septuagint text!

As C. Provan points out, “There are differences….between the Septuagint Old Testament and the Old Testament of the Rabbinic Jews [the Masoretic text]. To make matters worse, many Christians now suppose that since the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, the Hebrew Bible kept by the Rabbinic Jews is, in fact, the ‘original Hebrew’. In fact, it is not the original Hebrew, and it is not too old either. You see, the rabbis had very particular orders concerning the copying of the Old Testament. Among their rules is the command that all old, used copies of the Old Testament are to be destroyed. Hence, the oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Old Testament dates to about 1100 A. D. The Greek Old Testament is very much older than that.”

Some of the differences that we find between the Septuagint and Masoretic texts are the following:

In the Gospel of St. Luke, in the genealogy of Christ, in chapter three, verses 36 and 37, there are two Cainans mentioned. The Septuagint Greek Old Testament also mentions two Cainans in Genesis 10:24. The Hebrew Masoretic text, however, mentions only one.

When the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in the middle of the last century, the Hebrew text of some two thousand years ago was examined, and that text —like the text of the New Testament and the Septuagint— had two Cainans! What happened?

C. Provan tells us the following: “According to ancient Jewish literature, the second Cainan was involved in the reintroduction of astrology into the post-flood world. By eliminating the second Cainan [from the genealogies], Noah’s great grandson is eliminated as a problem since he was esteemed a great sinner.” That is how the second Cainan disappeared from the genealogy of the Masoretic text! Does this remind us of the Soviet method of air-brushing the “enemies of the people” from old photographs? Apparently, some rabbis who worked on the Masoretic text felt they had even more divine authority than God!

Then, there is Acts 7:14. There, the God-inspired St. Stephen the First Martyr, “filled with Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:54), tells us that all the members of the Patriarch Jacob’s family were seventy-five in number. The Septuagint text also says “seventy-five“. But the Masoretic Hebrew text in Genesis 46:27 says “seventy.” Who is correct? If we check the Dead Sea scrolls, we find that they confirm what the Septuagint and the New Testament say: “seventy-five”!

Three cheers for the Septuagint text!

Psalm 144 (Ps. 145 in the Masoretic text) is an “acrostic Psalm” in Hebrew, that is, each of its verses begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. But there is a problem in today’s Hebrew Masoretic text. The verse that should begin with the Hebrew letter “N” is missing.

At the same time, people have noted that in the Greek version of the Book of Psalms (i.e. the Septuagint text), there is an “extra” verse where the missing letter “N” should be in the Hebrew text. By “reverse translating” this verse from the Greek back into Hebrew, the verse begins with the missing letter “N”!! Furthermore, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, the ancient Hebrew text of the Psalms had the verse exactly where the Septuagint had it.

In the Septuagint, the so-called “extra” verse is:
Faithful is the Lord in all His words, and holy in all His works (Ps. 144:14)
In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the so-called “missing” Hebrew verse says:
Faithful is God in His words, And gracious in all His deeds.
A twenty-one gun salute for the Septuagint!!

The Jewish people love the feast of Hanukkah. It is their answer to Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

But there is a little problem here. The Feast of Hanukkah is nowhere tobe found in the present-day Hebrew Scriptures. Oy! Well, where can we find it? You guessed it: It is based on an oral tradition which, in turn, is based on an incident found only in the Greek Septuagint text!!! — the First Book of Maccabees (4:36-59).

Yes, the feast that is one of the most beloved for the Jewish people today is based on a text found only in the sacred Scriptures of the Orthodox Christians, the New Israel.

Happy Hanukkah to all!

As we know, around Christmas time, popular magazines like Time and Newsweek will go out of their way to publish articles that take potshots at Christianity. Inevitably, the magazines will find some liberal Protestant professor who is willing to attack anything that smacks of Christianity, and one of their favorite targets is the virgin birth.

This is what the Old Testament says:

Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel. (Esaias 7:14)
In connection with this biblical text, I recall an incident that was described to me some years ago by a student attending theology classes at Harvard University. When the Old Testament professor--who claimed to be Christian--came to the above–mentioned scriptural text, he went to considerable length to demonstrate that the Hebrew text did not really say “virgin,” but “young woman.” At this point, to his chagrin, a young Jewish woman stood up in the classroom and said to him, “I’m sorry, but you are very wrong. Many Jews believe that the Messiah is to be born of a virgin. Proof of this is that when Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek--the well-known Septuagint version--they used the Greek word Parthénos, which can only mean ‘virgin,’ not ‘young woman.’” And with that, she sat down, while the professor hastily changed the subject.

Glory to God in the Highest for the Septuagint!

As I have mentioned elsewhere, the Jewish people had a very great love for the Septuagint for centuries. Why? Because they had forgotten Hebrew and spoke only Greek or Aramaic. Consequently, the Septuagint translation was the only way they could understand their Holy Scriptures. The other advantage was that the Septuagint became the cause for thousands of pagans to convert to Judaism.

Philo, a contemporary of our Saviour, was one of Judaism’s greatest apologists and defenders. Through the many tracts that he wrote, many converted to Judaism. Yet, as we known, Philo knew no Hebrew and based all his texts on the Septuagint.

But with the appearance of Christianity, all those pagan converts and thousands of the Jews themselves began to turn to and espouse the Christian Faith. In view of the fact that the Septuagint was so effective in the hands of the Apostles, this caused a sharp and desperate reaction among the leaders of the Jewish religion, and they renounced the Septuagint. What had formerly been a day of celebration for them was turned into a day of mourning and grief. Even Philo’s valuable tracts were all renounced.

Essentially, in their desperation, the teachers of Israel reverted to a text (the Hebrew Bible) which only they, the rabbis, could read and understand, but which was incomprehensible to virtually all of their people.

Yet, as writer Alexander Zvielli points out (Jerusalem Post, June, 2009, p. 37) both Philo (known more fully as Philo Judaicus of Alexandria, c. 20 B. C.–A. D. 50) and Josephus Flavius (A. D. 38–A. D. 100) respected the Septuagint highly. In fact, the popularity of the Septuagint in the ancient Jewish community and the Hellenistic world is undeniable.

Zvielli writes: “Although some modern scholars claim that the Letter of Aristeas (which describes how the Septuagint was translated), is an imaginative composition written for the sole purpose of presenting the Jewish people, Jerusalem and Judea in a favorable light, The Letter presents us with a contemporary record and a valuable window into the past. It is written with the personal knowledge of an eye-witness, Aristeas, an officer at the court of the Egyptian emperor Ptolemy Philadelphus (285–247 B.C.), who addresses his brother Philocrates, and we are informed in the Letter that Ptolemy discovered that there were no translations of the Jewish Law in his world-famous library of Alexandria and, consequently, he demanded that Eleazar, the High Priest of Jerusalem, send him skilled translators to rectify the situation.

“Eleazar found this request ‘contrary to nature,’ and hesitated to comply, but since Judea was under Ptolemy’s rule, he had no choice.“

Accordingly, seventy-two (hence, ‘Septuagint’ -- from the Latin for ‘seventy’) hand-picked Judean scribes left for Alexandria, where their translating skills in both Hebrew and Greek, as well as their general knowledge, was tested by the king himself. The sages answered many difficult questions, and took special care to explain to the king some Jewish customs, such as circumcision and the dietary laws, which were often ridiculed in pagan Hellenistic society.

“Ptolemy was highly satisfied with this knowledgeable team, and hosted it lavishly on the Island of Pharos, off the Alexandrian coast where the famous lighthouse stood. The Law was soon translated, precious gifts were exchanged, the translators returned home, and Ptolemy released all Jewish prisoners of war he held.

“In his Life of Moses (vii:41-2), Philo writes that an annual festival was still held at Pharos in his day to celebrate the translation of the Septuagint. He witnessed a joyous festival, in which not only Jews, but a great number of ‘persons of other nations sailed across the bay to honor the placed where the first light of interpretation shone forth, and to thank God for that ancient piece of beneficence…. And after the prayers and the giving of thanks, some of them pitched their tents on the shore, and some of them lay down without any tents in the open air on the sand of the shone, and feasted with their relations and friends, thinking the shore at that time a more beautiful abode than the furniture of the king’s palace.’”

Two thousand, three hundred years after its appearance, the Septuagint is still the most unbiased record of God’s revelation to His people. And that is why we, the new Israel, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostle Church, still cherish it.

The text that follows has been prepared by Father Arsenius, monk, of Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, MA.

If you are Orthodox you need more than a mere list of books. The translation of the books in question must be made from the authentic text of those books. The translations "made from the original Hebrew" which Protestant preachers are always waving about in the air and thumping, are, alas! not what they claim to be. When the last Jewish editors of the present Hebrew text finished revising it, (which was over 1000 years after Christ) they demanded that all copies of Hebrew scripture which varied from their own be completely destroyed on pain of death if the owner of any such copies failed to comply. This demand was carried out so faithfully from Toledo in Spain to Babylon in Mesopotamia (an enormous area, if you look at your map) that until the finding of the so-called "Dead Sea Scrolls" only one earlier copy of the older Hebrew text had ever been recovered (the celebrated "Cairo Genizeh" copy.)

To put it simply: The original Hebrew of the sacred text no longer exists as a whole in any available form. Perhaps it is buried, one way or another, part here, part there, among the mass of fragmentary materials we call the Dead Sea Scrolls, or in other archaeological finds still to be made, but capable editors have not yet sorted out all this material. And capable editors are hard to find.

But all is not lost. God never leaves His people unprovided for. In the famous Greek translation made for the great Library of Alexandria by command of the king of Egypt about 290 B.C. (we call this translation the Septuagint for "the Seventy" --actually, 72-- learned Jewish scholars who did the work, they being specially chosen for their spiritual wisdom and for their linguistic skills by the High Priest at Jerusalem) we find the original text fully preserved and faithfully rendered into a language at once more exact and intelligible, as the ancient Jews themselves were delighted to recognize, than is the Ancient Hebrew. Indeed, God Himself prophesies, and therefore has Himself overseen the making of, the Septuagint translation. In the Book of the Prophet Sophonias (3.9; Zephaniah 3:9), He explicitly says, "For then will I change for the peoples my language for their generations, that they may all call upon the Name of the Lord, to serve him under one yoke." The one yoke, of course, is Christ’s (see Matt. 11.29.)

Look this up in your trusty King James or Revised Standard (or whatever) version (Zephaniah 3.9). There, you will find something quite different. But then, ALL modern English versions have been made on the basis of the latest Masoretic revision of the Hebrew, a text which dates, as we have said, over 1000 years AFTER the Crucifixion of Our Divine Saviour.

But here is the list:

The Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses:

  • Genesis: the Birth of the World
  • Exodus: the Way out of Egypt
  • Leviticus
  • Numbers
  • Deuteronomy: a Recapitulation of the Law

  • Jesus the son of Navê (Often called Joshua)
  • Judges
  • Ruth
  • Of the Kingdoms, four books

[N.B. The title "Kings" should not be used by the Orthodox. It is a deliberately deceptive label, originally chosen by the Masoretes to further their own hidden agenda. By intermeddling the usurping rulers of "Israel" with the legitimate Kings of Juda and setting them both on the same level, the Masoretes hoped to confuse the reader as to the pedigree of the Messiah and the legitimacy of the kingdom of "Israel." For the Masoretes were determined that the ten tribes that made up the kingdom of "Israel"--though these tribes had cut themselves off completely from Juda and were become zealous idolaters-- should nevertheless be regarded as a congregation of true-blue, loyal, sterling Jews. According to the testimony of the Prophets as given in the Septuagint, the Lord God of Israel deems otherwise.]

  • Paralipómena, two books

[N.B. The ancient (and until the Protestant Reformation, only) name of these books, "Paralipómena," means "Matters kept in reverent silence, Sacred mysteries not to be divulged to the profane." The books themselves, rich in theôría, are largely dismissed by modern Protestants, who refer to them as "Chronicles," and rarely read them. The vaguely indefinite name "Chronicles" has no place in Biblical tradition: it was given to these books by the German reformer Luther, is used only by Protestants and those of like mind, and ought not to be employed by the Orthodox. According to Luther, these books are the "lost" books --e.g., "the book of Jasher" (see Joshua 10.13, & c.)-- referred to here and there in the Masoretic text. They clearly are nothing of the sort, as anyone with half a brain can see, nor is the term "chronicle" at all applicable to them (consult any good dictionary).]

The Minor Prophets

  • Osêe [pronounced O-see-eh]
  • Amos
  • Michæas
  • Joel
  • Abdias
  • Jonas
  • Nahum
  • Abbacum
  • Sophonias
  • Aggæas
  • Zacharias
  • Malachias

The Major Prophets

  • Esaïas
  • Jeremias
  • Baruch
  • Lamentations
  • The Epistle of Jeremy
  • Ezechiel
  • Daniel
  • Esther
  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Of Esdras the Priest, two books
  • Of the Maccabees, four books
  • The Psalter (plus the additional early psalm of David, not numbered with the 150)
  • Job
  • Proverbs
  • Ecclesiastes
  • The Song of Songs
  • The Wisdom of Solomon
  • The Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach
  • The Psalms of Solomon

We have written about the differences between today’s Masoretic text of the Old Testament and the ancient Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. Actually, since the Septuagint translation was finished about 290 years before Christ, and the contemporary Hebrew Masoretic text was only completed a millennium after Christ, the Septuagint version is almost 1,300 years older than the current Masoretic edition!

The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in the middle of the last century, sometimes favor the Septuagint text and sometimes the Masoretic text. As far as the Septuagint is concerned, it is important to remember that it was done by scholars of the Jewish faith almost 300 years before Christ. So it cannot possibly be argued that it has a pro-Christian bias. In the case of the Masoretic text, however, it was done in the centuries after Christ, so there are always suspicions about an anti-Christian bias in the choice of the variant Hebrew texts that were picked in order to create the Masoretic edition. These suspicions are especially strong when passages in the Septuagint which lend themselves readily to a Christian interpretation are substantially different, or even disappear entirely, in the Masoretic text.

But, the truth be told, and to be fair, there are passages in the Masoretic text that really are very beautiful and more eloquent than the Septuagint version. And, the fact of the matter is that the Septuagint is, after all, a translation of the Hebrew text. As we know, every translation from one language into another is, in reality, an interpretation. Every language has words whose full range of nuances and implications cannot possibly be translated accurately into another language.

This is especially true when we are talking about God’s language. What language does God speak? Well, it would be helpful for us to know, first of all, that God speaks in a very ancient language. This language is known by the name “Uncreated Divine Grace.” This language does not translate well into our Semitic or Indo-European languages, or, for that fact, into any man made language. Many fine men and women have thrown up their hands in despair trying to translate God’s language (and yet, oddly, children sometimes have no problem at all understanding it). Furthermore, nobody can duplicate the sounds of God’s language; it seems to have no vowels or consonants that human beings can articulate.

In the article, “Rationalism and Fundamentalism,” we quoted whatsome Saints of the Church had to say about conveying God’s language into ours.

In his work, The Hexaemeron, St. Basil the Great says the following:
It must be well understood that when we speak of the voice, of the word, of the command of God, this divine language does not mean to us a sound which escapes from the organs of speech, a collision of air struck by the tongue; it is a simple sign of the will of God, and, if we give it the form of an order, it is only the better to impress the souls whom we instruct. (Hexaemeron II: 7)
St. Gregory of Nyssa, on his part, has this to say:
….human speech finds it impossible to express the reality which transcends all thought and all concept; and he who obstinately tries to express it in words, unconsciously offends God. (Commentary on Ecclesiastes, Homily 7)
And, again, he writes:
Lifted out of himself by the Spirit, (the Prophet David) glimpsed in that blessed ecstasy God’s infinity and incomprehensible beauty. He saw as much as a mere mortal can see, leaving the covering of the flesh, and by thought alone entering into the divine vision of that immaterial and spiritual realm. And though yearning to say something which would do justice to his vision, he can only cry out (in words that all can echo after him): I said in mine ecstasy, every man is a liar (Psalm 115:2). And this I take to mean that anyone who attempts to portray that ineffable Light in language is truly a liar — not because of any abhorrence of the truth, but merely because of the infirmity of his explanation. (From the Homily on Virginity)
What does all this have to do with the Septuagint and the Masoretictexts? Simply this: as feeble attempts to translate God’s language into our man-made languages, both versions fall short. Each one has its own strong points, and its weak points, but neither one can adequately convey the revelation of God’s ineffable grace into our earth-bound languages. As for the differences between the Greek and Hebrew texts —except for the fact that there was some open tampering with the Old Testament texts in the Masoretic — both versions, with certain qualifications, might often simply represent different textual traditions of the Hebrew Old Testament.

Having in mind what the Saints of the Church have said about the limitations of our human languages in dealing with divine revelation (see above), it is no surprise that Orthodox Christians do not get bent out of shape, as Roman Catholic or Protestant textual critics seem to do, about textual differences and variations in the Holy Scriptures.

However, the reason why Orthodox Christians prefer the Septuagint is simply because it represents an ancient, authentic and unbiased text of the Old Testament, translated and embraced by the Jewish people themselves for almost 400 years. Since we hold ourselves to be the New Israel, we feel pretty strongly about upholding this tradition of the God of our Fathers. Amen. So be it.

09 March 2012

Holy Week 2012

On Saturday, April 7, Orthodox Christians will begin observing the most solemn of Days leading up to the celebration of Pascha on April 15: Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday and Holy Week. These nine days are specifically set aside – consecrated – by the Church to commemorate the final and decisive events in the Lord’s earthly life. Traditionally, during this time, Christians make an effort to “lay aside all earthly cares,” in order to devote themselves to contemplating the central Mysteries of our Faith: the Cross, the Tomb and the Resurrection of Christ. So significant is this period that some have stressed that during Holy Week “time seems to stand still or earthly life ceases for the faithful, as they go up with the Lord to Jerusalem” (Fr. Thomas Hopko). May we all look upon the days ahead as sacred, dedicated to our Lord.

Lazarus Saturday & Palm Sunday (April 7 & 8):
These two days form a double feast, anticipating the joy of Pascha. At the grave of His friend Lazarus, Christ encounters “the last enemy,” death (1 Cor. 15:26). By raising Lazarus, Christ foreshadows His own decisive victory over death, and the universal resurrection granted to all mankind.

Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, “riding on the colt of an ass,” in fulfillment of a prophecy from Zechariah (9:9). On this occasion our Lord allows the people to greet Him as a Ruler, the only time during His earthly ministry when this occurs. Christ is indeed the King of Israel, but He comes to reveal and open to mankind His Heavenly Kingdom. We hold branches of palms and pussy willows of our own on Palm Sunday, greeting Christ as the Lord and Master of our lives.

Great & Holy Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday (April 9-11):
Having just experienced a foretaste of Pascha we now enter the darkness of Holy Week. The first three days stress the End Times, the Judgment, and the continual need for vigilance. They point to the fact that when the world condemned its Maker, it condemned itself, “Now is the judgment of this world” (John 12:31). They remind us that the world’s rejection of Christ reflects our own rejection of Him, inasmuch as we sin and accept the worldview of those who shouted, “Away with Him, crucify Him!” Central to the services for these days are the Gospel readings, and the hymns which comment on these lessons. Among the chief hymns are the Exapostilarion, “Thy Bridal Chamber, I see adorned….,” and the following troparion sung during Matins as the Church is being censed:
“Behold! The Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching: and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death, and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself, crying: “Holy! Holy! Holy! art Thou, O our God. Through the Theotokos, have mercy on us!” (Troparion)
Great & Holy Thursday (April 12):
During the Matins Service or the Service of the 12 Passion Gospels on Holy Thursday night we “accompany Christ, step by step, from the time of His last discourse with His disciples to His being laid in a new tomb by Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus. Each of the 12 Gospel sections read during the evening service involves us in a new scene: the arrest of Jesus; His trial; the threefold denial of St. Peter; the scourging and the mockings by the soldiers; the carrying of the Cross; the Crucifixion; the opposing fates of the two thieves; the loving tenderness of the moment when Jesus commits His Mother to the care of His faithful disciple, John; and the Lord’s final yielding up of the spirit and burial” (Fr. Paul Lazor). The liturgical hymnography for that night comments on the Gospel readings and gives the response of the Church to these events in the life of Christ. During this service the faithful hold lit candles during the Gospel lessons while kneeling, and in large parishes Church bells are rung before each reading: once for the first reading, twice for the second, and so on.

Great & Holy Friday (April 13):
On the one hand, this is the most solemn of days, the day of Christ’s Passion, His Death and Burial. On this day the Church invites us, as we kneel before the tomb of Christ, to realize the awful reality and power of sin and evil in “this world,” and in our own lives as well. It is this power that led ultimately to “the sin of all sins, the crime of all crimes” the total rejection and murder of God Himself (Fr. Alexander Schmemann).

On the other hand, the Church affirms that this day of evil is also the day of redemption. “The death of Christ is revealed to us as a saving death, an offering of love” (Fr. Alexander Schmemann). Holy Friday is the beginning of the Lord’s Pascha, for the One Who is raised, is the One Who is crucified for us and for our salvation. “By death Christ tramples down death…” Thus the tomb of Christ, placed in the center of the Church, is lavishly adorned with flowers, for from the tomb comes life.

 The afternoon service is often referred to as “Burial Vespers.” During its celebration the final events in the life of Christ are brought to mind through the scripture readings and the hymnography. At the conclusion of Vespers the faithful kneel and the choir sings, in a very slow manner, the troparia for the day which speak of Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus burying the Body of Jesus; and the angel’s announcement to the Myrrhbearing Women that, “Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.” As these words are heard the clergy and servers make a procession around the tomb with the “winding sheet” on which is an icon of the crucified Lord. This winding sheet is placed on top of the tomb and venerated by the faithful.

On Friday night a Matins service is celebrated during which the people sing hymns and lamentations in front of Christ’s tomb. We hear about how, “hell trembles while Life lies in the tomb, giving life to those who lie dead in the tombs.” We also begin to hear announcements and foreshadowings of the Resurrection in both the scripture readings and hymns. In fact, the Alleluia verses chanted after the Epistle reading are the same Resurrectional verses from Psalm 68 chanted by the clergy on Pascha night: “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered, let those who hate Him flee from before His face..” (etc.)

Great & Holy Saturday (April 14):
On the morning of this day,  we will celebrate the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil. This service “inaugurates the Paschal celebration… On ‘Lord I Call Upon Thee’ certain Sunday Resurrection hymns are sung, followed by special verses for Holy Saturday which stress the Death of Christ as the descent into Hades, the region of death, for its destruction.

A pivotal point of the service occurs after the Entrance, when fifteen Old Testament lessons are read, all centered on the promise of the Resurrection, all glorifying the ultimate Victory of God…The epistle lesson is that which is read at Baptisms (Romans 6:3-11), referring to Christ’s Death and Resurrection as the source of the death in us of the “old man,” and the resurrection of the new man, whose life is in the Risen Lord (Here we must remember that Pascha has always been the most traditional time for Baptisms of catechumens). During the verses immediately after the epistle reading the dark Lenten vestments and altar coverings are put aside and the clergy vest in their brightest robes. An announcement of the Resurrection is then read from the last chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel. The Liturgy of St. Basil continues in this white and joyful light, revealing the Tomb of Christ as the Life-giving Tomb, introducing us into the ultimate reality of Christ’s Resurrection, communicating His life to us…” (Fr. Schmemann).

Pascha (April 15):
The Main Resurrection service will begin on Saturday night. This particular service is actually comprised of three services, celebrated together, one after another: Nocturnes, Matins and the Divine Liturgy. The entire service ends around 2:30 am on Sunday morning and is followed by the Agape Meal, at which we enjoy fellowship and partake of many non-lenten foods.

Special features of the Midnight Service include: Nocturnes (11:30 pm to 12:00 midnight) celebrated in total darkness with only one light for the choir, followed by a triple procession around the outside of the Church, a Resurrection Gospel reading and the first announcement of, “Christ is Risen!” The Paschal Matins then begins during which the Church is brightly lit and the faithful sing of Christ’s Resurrection in a very joyous manner. Near the end of Matins the Paschal Catechetical Sermon of St. John Chrysostom is read. During the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom the Gospel from the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel is chanted in several languages, symbolic of the universal character of the Christian Faith. Immediately after the service food for the Agape Meal is blessed, as well as Easter baskets full of non-fasting foods.

On Sunday afternoon, April 15, we return to the Church to celebrate Resurrection Vespers during which we hear a Gospel reading and more hymns of Christ’s Resurrection. A continuation of the Agape Meal will be enjoyed after Vespers.

Bright Week (April 16-21):
The week immediately after Pascha is an extended celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection. Although we enjoy a 40 day Paschal season, the services of Bright Week are uniquely joyous, reflecting the specific tone and spirit of Pascha night. Divine Liturgies and Vespers celebrated during this time are very similar to those of April 15. There is, as well, no fasting during Bright Week. We look forward to celebrating Pascha with all of our Church members and friends. Once again, we encourage everyone to set aside the days ahead as sacred, dedicated to our Lord.

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

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