Saturday, August 13, 2011

Media Preys on People's Ignorance

LINK: Scholars seek to correct 'mistakes' in Bible - World News

A dull-looking chart projected on the wall of a university office in Jerusalem displayed a revelation that would startle many readers of the Old Testament: The sacred text that people revered in the past was not the same one we study today.

The "problems" that Matti Friedman highlights pertain to those who have followed Jewish scholarship after it reformed itself in direct opposition to Christianity around AD 100. (Generally, that would be the Protestant and Humanist societies.) Protestant translations of the Old Testament (OT) draw upon the Hebrew text preserved by the Jews that did not become Christian. The text they use is only 1000 years old; the books of the OT are at least three times that age. This text is called the Masoretic Text (MT).

The MT adopted the longer version of Jeremiah. Some minor words are different (that is, the meaning isn't changed by their variation) - that isn't a strike against them. They also added vowels (Hebrew didn't originally have vowels), which in some cases has changed the meaning of words.

How do we know the meaning of words were changed? The Greek-speaking Jews scattered around the Mediterranean at the time of Christ used a well-established Greek translation of the OT Hebrew, which is called the Septuagint (LXX). The Hebrew used in this translation is over 1000 years older than the MT, but this Hebrew text is not available anymore. Only the LXX is. The LXX not only shows what the Bible says, but it also shows how the old Hebrew text read and was understood.

The LXX had the shorter (and it seems original) text of Jerermiah. The Greek is a more specific language than Hebrew in some important cases. The LXX is what was used by the Apostles, on whom the Church is founded (Eph. 2:20), and quoted from throughout the New Testament (NT). The LXX is the basis of the Latin Vulgate used in the West by the Roman Catholics, and it remains the basis for translation of the OT in the Orthodox Church.

Thus the "missing part" from Malachi (3:5) alluded to in the article was never missing from the LXX.

Thus the differences in Jeremiah was never an issue, because the original was the one chosen for the LXX. (Scholars who favor the MT may suggest that the LXX chose a shortened, not original, text. Some have suggested that Jeremiah published two versions. It is known that some writings were published in succeeding editions by a prophet after he received new prophecies to be published. Rather than publish them separately they were put on a single scroll under the prophet's name.

The claim that a prophecy was added after the fact is ambiguously asserted. Either the author is referring to a prophecy missing from the longer version of Jeremiah in one of its manuscripts - which then is not a problem if you've only used the shorter version of Jeremiah like in the LXX - or he's claiming that it happened in a different book. In that case one would need to show an earlier manuscript without the prophecy and a later one with the prophecy; this doesn't exist.

Usually this conclusion - that something is added in after the fact - is arrived at by a "scholar" who looks at a text and decides that more than one person wrote it, even though there exists NO TEXTS that demonstrate this theory as fact. This is known as Higher Criticism, and is the generally accepted set of pre-judgments utilized in institutions of higher learning against Scripture. So when a journalist claims an unspecified prophecy in the Bible is written after the fact, it is by default an untrustworthy statement, having no textual evidence to back it up. When a "scholar" makes a claim like this, he has always been found to be assuming something he cannot prove.

Either way, the article writer is asserting that a prophecy was added after the fact, but he is not saying if that's his take or the Jews' who are presenting evidence, thus leaving the reader to assume that's just what he was told by "authorities," though that might not be the case. Which prophecy?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Phase One: Complete

I was assigned a paper on Apostolic Succession by my priest. It is ready for his inspection. Pending approval I will condense it into something readable by the laity.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A thought about a friend

My friend, Lutheran Pastor Bradley Ketchum in Audubon, Iowa, announced recently that he has finally moved his congregation to having weekly Communion on Sundays. For the past six years (egads, I can remember when he started) he has had it available every Wednesday. His plan has been to take his time, in order to help his congregation get used to something that was very foreign to them.

Of course, in the Orthodox Church, the thought of coming together on Sunday for Liturgy without communion is the exception - usually necessitated by the absence of a priest. Lutherans in western Iowa, though, are of a 20th century Protestant persuasion. I remember as a pastor in SW Iowa that there were members present who remembered when communion was celebrated four times a year, the Lutheran minimum (if there is such a thing). Of course, four times a year was supposed to be the minimum for reception, not celebration. Anyway, Communion in that part of the country was seen by these farming families as a very precious and serious thing. It was something special, and so as not to treat it improperly it was taken not so often. When it was received the whole community would anticipate it together, and come with the most devout temperament.

Now, I said above that it was unthinkable in the Orthodox Church for the people to assemble at a Liturgy where there is not the Eucharist. However, that does not mean that everyone receives the Eucharist. A similar feeling has been at work among Orthodox people for a long time (if you think you know how long, leave a comment). However, preparation is more structured than in the Lutheran congregations. Not only must one be baptized and chrismated (i.e. confirmed), but one must be recently confessed of his sins. That means one must have made use of the Sacrament of Repentance. Also, it is the custom to have fasted from midnight the previous night (cases of necessity aside). It is only recently in Orthodox history that more frequent reception of the Eucharist by the majority of the people has begun to return.

I say return, because in the early Church - and I mean early - it was expected that all members of the community would be present for the Eucharist. It was exceptional not to receive the Eucharist with the rest of the members of Christ's Body on Sunday. Those who could not be in attendance due to sickness were found by the Deacons, who brought them the Eucharist.

There is a common movement at work among Christians to return to the best practices possible, to more serious devotion. I think that the condition of the world around us, as acrimonious as it is toward conservative Christians - and especially Orthodox and Roman Catholics - is helping Christians to push back and to reach for Christ more earnestly. The divide is happening: liberalism is taking over where it can in the congregations. Some are making their stand where they are, and the refugees of the whole ordeal are fleeing to the historic churches of the East and Rome, not out of resignation but conviction and determination.

I think the best thing any church like my friend Pastor Ketchum's can do is run to the Eucharist. We will set aside here any question of sacramental validity and leave it to Christ for now, because each community can only reach so far at once, can only handle so much at one time. The Eucharist is the source of our unity, because it is Christ in our midst, and it is the wellspring of our unity with God. Baptism, Chrismation, and Eucharist all belong together, with the Eucharist repeated but never depleted, for it is the Sacrifice of Golgotha present apart from time, in which we are all gathered, presented, redeemed, and united in the Trinity. (Not that the Father was sacrificed, but only the Son who unites us with the Father through the Holy Spirit.) The Eucharist is present apart from time, but also is the summation of time, and binds us in the Eschaton that we all wait to see. (Eschaton: the Last Day when Christ returns and His reign.)

I think the best thing is to gather around the Eucharist. We must be present in Christ's Sacrifice as participants, and we must therefore become living sacrifices, little christs, and the salt of the earth. If we just begin with the Eucharist in our preaching, then we can set the stage of human hearts. How is the stage dressed? With the expectation of the kingdom that is coming, and is now already in our hearts, and is simultaneously lived in heaven with the worship described in the Scriptures and practiced in the Church's Eucharistic Liturgy publicly on earth. This is important, that the coming kingdom is what we live now within, though outwardly we are in the world (not of the world).

This is why we are sojourners, like Abraham was, waiting for a better home. This is why we fast from food and pleasures at set times, to remind us that our life is not in these things, but in the age to come - the age that comes to us in the Eucharist and will come upon all when Christ returns. This is why we love and endeavor to love as Christ teaches (not as the world teaches), because we are free to love. Christ frees us to love. Even if (according to the world) we loose everything trying to love, we have lost nothing, for we have the everlasting Christ and the everlasting kingdom for our everlasting possession. I think this is the hardest thing every day, to believe this and find ways to do it.

I'm so glad my friend's congregation will be gathering around the Eucharist every week. That's the best thing for them. The object of their faith will be set before them every Sunday. Of course I wish they were Orthodox, but I still am so glad that in six years they made it this far into the good things their own confession has to offer. I hope that this Eucharist will open their eyes even more to the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ in their midst, the eschatological kingdom that has no end.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

To be Prosphora

Romans 15:15-16,
Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister [λειτουργόv] of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering [ἱερουργounta] the gospel of God, that the offering [προσφορά] of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

From Strong's Dictionary and Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon:

λειτουργός -
  1. a public minister, a servant of the state
  2. a minister, servant
    - so of military labourers
    - of the temple
        + of one busied with holy things
        + of a priest
  3. of the servants of a king

ἱερουργέω -
  1. to minister in the manner of a priest, minister in priestly service
    - of those who defend the sanctity of the law by undergoing a violent death
    - of the preaching of the gospel

προσφορά -
  1. the act of offering, a bringing to
  2. that which is offered, a gift, a present. In the NT a sacrifice, whether bloody or not: offering for sin, expiatory offering

These are key words which lose their force in translation. I have posted some years in the past about this text, but now it is showing its usefulness in a project I am working on, so I repeat it here.

λειτουργός is best contextualized by the sacrificial language St. Paul is using here, thus rendering the meaning a servant of the temple busied with holy things. Further added to the context is St. Paul's use of the word ἱερουργέω, which has at it's core ἱερόν meaning temple, and is naturally connected to ἱερός meaning sacred in relation to God and ἱερωσύνη meaning priest, which is different from διακονός (a servant minister). The word προσφορά used by St. Paul here is also used of Christ's self-offering in Hebrews 10:10.

Though Protestant commentaries often see no logical connection between St. Paul's words and regular ecclesiastical life, and thus deem this passage figurative, the connection is not figurative for those living within a traditional ecclesiology conditioned by the patristic witness. St. Paul is setting his apostolic work in the context of the eschatological kingdom, which now is centered explicitly in the throne room of heaven, from which the Church on earth lives from in communion with the Trinity. He is a servant of the temple, the one made without hands in the heavens. His priestly work is carried out on earth, for Christ has given to him to gather the Gentiles into the Church, that they may be united in the Passover of Jesus Christ.

But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. [Galatians 6:14-15]

This incorporation into the new creation finds its locus in the Eucharistic offering and partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ. From this center the entire life of the Christian is to be transformed into a living sacrifice, as St. Paul says in Romans 12:1 with similar liturgical overtones. This transformation comes not by magic, or by God overrunning passive animals with His power, but by free (i.e. uncoerced) participation in the Life that the Gospel provides and directs. So Christ institutes salvation, the Spirit constitutes salvation in us, and we are called to realize what God has done in us on the existential level.

So this passage is not an allegory but a direct representation of the Apostolic ministry in the reality of the Church. This priestly work continues in the Church through the Apostles' successors, the bishops assisted by those who serve with them in the three-fold ministry. It also depends on us to receive this priestly work in such a way that we are not hearers only but doers of the work, that is, members of the Royal Priesthood who offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God, doing the work given to us in the Gospels.

In the Byzantine Eucharistic Liturgy the bread that is offered is called prosphora, the same term used by St. Paul here and in Hebrews. It is the bread that is offered together with the wine as the Eucharistic sacrifice instituted by Christ and carried out by the Apostles. It is prepared with many prayers beforehand, offered to God, and received as gifts Eucharistized and changed by the Holy Spirit - the Body and Blood of Christ. The remaining prosphora that was not included in the Eucharistic offering at all is divided up, blessed (similar to the nature of holy water), and distributed after the Communion.

We are to become like this bread, and this bread is a symbol of the Body of Christ (in both senses, which is one and the same anyways). It is made with holy water, just as we are baptized into Christ's death. It is imprinted with a seal, just as we are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Chrismation. It gives of itself, through the priest's instrumentation, with prayers for the salvation of many people and the whole Church entire. We are to give of ourselves to our neighbor, both in prayer and of our substance, drawing upon our trust in God to overcome our fears. It is presented to God in holiness. We are to present ourselves to God, both in the Liturgy at the Eucharist, and also in life through the love we have for others. It becomes Christ. We do not become Christ Himself, but we become participants in Him. We are to be like prosphora.

Christ help us to labor in love as wise and faithful servants, and may He cleanse us of all wickedness and laziness in His mercy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Do Not Count Out the Invisible

St. Matthew 17:14-18: And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”
Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.

It is common for people to believe that because we can cure physical problems with physical science that therefore it is superstition to believe maladies are caused by demons. This logic does not hold. Man was made a unity of body and soul. The soul was not created first, but the body. God formed the body from the dust, and then He breathed into him the breath of life. Likewise Christ did not raise from the dead as only a soul, but with His body. He will return again in glory and raise all the dead in their bodies, some departing to condemnation and some to eternal life.

So it is not that physical cures prove an absence of spiritual causes, but that physical cures simply have an effect. Doctors provide a great service, and their talent is God-given.

Sirach 38:1-4: Honour a physician with the honour due unto him for the uses which ye may have of him: for the Lord hath created him. For of the most High cometh healing, and he shall receive honour of the king. 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.

But when Christ comes He heals spiritually. Many times demons are cast out, for they are the culprit at work. Perhaps the boy in this pericope would have been helped by anti-epileptic medication, perhaps not. Likewise, not every epileptic is necessarily demon-possessed or demon-afflicted. But either way the affliction points us toward Christ, who heals with a spiritual power, which is His creative power that has effect over the body because it is from this power that the body comes.

Often we pray for healing. Sometimes it doesn't happen as quick as we like, or at all. We might say to ourselves what Christ said, "O faithless and perverse generation!" It's okay to accuse ourselves so that we may recognize our faults, weaknesses, and limitations - and see ourselves as we are and as God knows us to be. But it is also better to see in the praying and waiting and struggling (we ought to struggle forward if we are going to bother praying, but with attention paid to the direction God is leading) the goodness of God. If He does not answer, then it may just be that our Good God has left us with something we don't like but that is good for us.

We must remember to believe that Christ is good. He is vigilant and faithful. He knows when to test us, when to push us, and when it's the right time to answer our pleas. We see in the Gospels that He is good, and we see that sometimes He seems to put us off (like the woman He called a little dog or Lazarus when he was sick) only to lead us into a state of being better for us than where we were.

The disciples had been given authority over the demons, but it seems they did not believe, and thus the demon was not cast out. Later when they were clothed with power on Pentecost even St. Peter's shadow was effectual for help. We are granted to have communion with Christ and to call on Him and all of heaven to come to our aid. With all the variety of ways that Christ can come to our aid, and the variety of ways we might respond to any delay or unexpectedness, one thing is for certain: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and always. He is faithful, even if we are not. He has power over all things, and all things are under His feet - physical and spiritual. As St. Paul says in Ephesians 1:15-23,

Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Excerpt from a Paper

I am working on a project, a basic paper on Apostolic Succession. Here's a portion from the introductory section:

Yet when we speak of Apostolic Succession we speak of more than just valid episcopal consecration or historical continuity. We are saying something about our ecclesiology, and we are speaking from our ecclesiology. We can envision the Church at the time of the Apostles through Scripture and recorded history. We can likewise envision the Church today just by looking around us. Apostolic Succession speaks to the reality that the Church of the Apostles and the Church of today is the one, same, and only Church of Jesus Christ. There is not that Church and this Church, but only The Church as it says in the Creed, “and in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” The term Apostolic Succession indicates those particulars that identify how or in what way the Church of the Apostles is the same Church that exists today, the one holy Orthodox Catholic Church of Jesus Christ, the Church of which our Lord declared, “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18).

The term Apostolic Succession does not denote only a chronological following after the Apostles, but it also indicates the continuous action of becoming co-inheritors with them in Jesus Christ. We follow after them in sequence, but only to become concurrent participants with them in the Paschal mystery of the kingdom of heaven. This means the term Apostolic Succession hints at the Church’s ongoing relationship with (not just to) the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, and thus with our Lord Jesus Himself. St. John the Theologian writes in his first epistle,

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. [1:1-3]

This is only a snippet. I hope to have it done by the end of the week, but I'm not sure I write that fast.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I read an interesting article on the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the article Fr. John Hainsworth is quoted as saying,
To argue against Mary's perpetual virginity is to suggest something else that is greatly implausible, not to say unthinkable: that neither Mary nor her protector, Joseph, would have deemed it inappropriate to have sexual relations after the birth of God in the flesh. Leaving aside for a moment the complete uniqueness of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, recall that it was the practice for devout Jews in the ancient world to refrain from sexual activity following any great manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

An early first-century popular rabbinical tradition (first recorded by Philo, 20 BC-AD 50) notes that Moses "separated himself" from his wife Zipporah when he returned from his encounter with God in the burning bush. Another rabbinical tradition, concerning the choosing of the elders of Israel in Numbers 7, relates that after God had worked among them, one man exclaimed, "Woe to the wives of these men!" (Hainsworth 2004).

I can remember that in my Lutheran days the mere off-handed mention of the perpetual virginity of Mary (i.e. semper virgo) would spark the longest and most tireless debate between interested Lutheran parties. Thus the topic will always hold a certain glimmering interest for me.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Future is Now

Imagine if Christ had already returned in glory, the scenes of judgment have come and gone, and the reign of Christ was seen all around us. Imagine if this is where you were right now. This future is the Christian's invisible present, for the kingdom of heaven is within you (Lk 17:21). In this we gather in the Lord's Supper, and from this we live under the cross in the world, which is perishing and passing away.

Our New Bishop

The Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest has been without an (Auxiliary) Bishop for nearly a year now. This summer in convention a new bishop was elected to fill the vacancy, our own priest Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Anthony Michaels. It's not a big surprise, and we of all people (i.e. his parishioners) can see the wisdom in choosing him. We're only sorry he has to leave us! I am glad, though, that our new Bishop will be someone as caring as Fr. Anthony. God grant him many years!