The Making of a Thai Paschal Troparion

This is the making of a paschal troparion, the hymn “Christ is risen from the dead…”, in the Thai language and from the Thai culture. For obvious reasons—my wife is Thai and the whole family is highly affected by our ties to Thai culture—we have closely watched the progress of the Orthodox Church in Thailand. If there had been a paschal troparion in Thai, we would have been using it in our house years ago. But instead, every year, we bemoan the lack of a Thai troparion and talk about how wonderful it would be to have one. It is a small consolation that we have a Chinese paschal troparion that we love, one that feels Chinese, and thus a little bit closer to our Asian home. And then, a Thai troparion appeared. A few weeks ago, my wife showed me a Facebook post with a Thai paschal troparion, sung by Matushka Ksenia , wife of a Russian priest serving a parish in Thailand. (In that video, he is singing the isan, the drone note, but it is my understanding that she wrote the troparion.) Jus

Making a Start with Our Cross

Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Christ is showing us the way of a Christian. It is helpful to back up a few verses from today's passage to realize the context in which Christ said these words. He had just given the first indications of how he would die: that he would suffer, be rejected by his own people, and killed. Hearing these words, St. Peter rebuked him, privately. Then Christ, turning and seeing the other disciples, openly rebuked these statements from Peter. And it's not because Peter spoke against him, but because Peter was speaking against this core understanding of what it is to live the Christian life. Christ had to suffer. And if we will follow him, we, too, will suffer. The apostles, not long after his death, quite literally followed after him, being beaten, just like him: and it says they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name . In our current situation, this is quite unlikely for m

How to Pray for Ukraine

Ukraine's top Church leader, Metropolitan Onufriy, not only called on his people to pray, but gave them a prayer rule. It is short and simple, and he asked them to pray it at least once a day. Pray Psalm 90 (91) with twelve prostrations or bows.  "He who dwells in the help of the most high shall abide in the shelter of heaven's God."... Bishop Daniel of Santa Rosa (California), who spoke to one of the Ukrainian bishops in the past few days, suggested we all join them in their prayer rule, as well as fasting for them. All these events are happening just on the verge of Great Lent, and with such a disruption of daily life, Ukrainians will not be able to fast as they normally would. So, this is an opportunity to take up our brother's burden and carry it for him. And if you want to pray more specifically for the situation in Ukraine, you could either add some of the psalms below or occasionally  use them instead of Psalm 90, above. Below, you will see the "Peace

The Dos and Don'ts of the Last Judgment

  In the gospel passage today, on the Sunday of the Last Judgment, our Lord relates what the Last Judgment will be like: as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats . Clearly, the Church prescribes this focus on the Last Judgment right before Lent to help aid us on the path toward repentance. But when we think of repentance, we often think of a list of “don’ts”. That is, we have done some of the don’ts , and need to repent . In my training as a teacher, it was highly suggested that I not have a sign of class rules full of don’ts: No talking. No eating. I nstead of telling the students what not to do, I was encouraged to tell them what behavior was expected: Please be respectful when others are talking. Water is allowed in the classroom, but eating needs to be in the cafeteria only. As a result, student behavior was less rebellious and more cooperative. In the same way, instead of thinking of a list of don’ts for the Christian life, w hat would be our list of dos ? In fact, t h

Jesus Links Baptism and the Cross

In one of St. John Chrysostom’s homilies, speaking of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in the third chapter of John’s gospel, he made a connection I had never thought of. He notices a mention of two great “benefactions” in this passage, Baptism and the Cross, and he understands their mention so close together to be significant. There is a clear reference to Baptism when Christ says to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” And then, the Cross is very intentionally referenced just a few verses later when he says, “just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, thus it is necessary that the Son of Man be lifted up.” In his homily, Chrysostom mentions where Paul also sets these two together when writing to the Corinthians: “Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Of course, just mentioning these two together, in and of itself, is not terribly significant, but

Christ and His Mother's Inside Conversation

Often, when reading the Scriptures, we see a story or a phrase that raises a question mark in our minds, something that just does not quite make sense, likely because we live in such a different cultural and historical context. In John 2:4, at the wedding at Cana, Christ says to his mother: “What concern is this to us?” I just came across this verse in a version which was slightly different than what I remembered, and the difference in wording caught my attention, making me wonder how this was expressed in Greek. So, I looked up the Greek, and it is incredibly brief: Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί. My rudimentary Greek brain sees only this: “What to me and to you?” I looked up several other English translations to try to check and see if there is a consensus or an understanding of those words that might not be known to me: What have I to do with thee?  What is that to you and to Me? What have I to do with thee?  What concern is this to us?  Why do you involve me?  What concern is that to you and to m

Did Christ Dwell Among or In Us?

One day last year, during a dogmatics class, the verse in St. John’s Prologue where he says Christ came and dwelt among us came up conversation. I forget why it came up, but what caught my attention was the little preposition: εν (“en”). That is what is normally translated as ‘among’ in most English translations, but to my knowledge it had more of the meaning of the English word ‘in’. ‘Among’ and ‘in’ have two very different meanings in my mind. Orthodox theology is very clear about God taking on human nature and deifying it. ‘Among’ sounds more like God coming, living alongside us, maybe the same place and same time, but still as something other than us. But I only have a feel for these words in English; what I really wondered was what the feel of the Greek word εν is in Greek, that is, to a native Greek speaker. When we were discussing this, Bishop Alexis happened to be right down the hall, and he spent more than twenty years living and breathing the services, the Scriptures, and the

Chiasmus in the Prologue of John's Gospel

The "Prologue" of the Gospel of John employs a chiastic structure. Indeed, biblical writers of the Old and New Testaments used this structure to help lead our attention to their main point. The only problem is that we moderns are almost completely unacquainted with "chiasmus". "Chiasmus" is named for the Greek letter X (chi). To help explain, here is an example from 1John 4:7-8 (an example borrowed from the The Shape of Biblical Language by John Breck): A: for love  is of God ,    B: and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.    B': The one who does not love does not know God, A': for God  is love. A and A' relate to each other, and B and B' relate to each other. If there were more phrases, the order would be something like A, B, C, D, E, D', C', B', A', working toward the center and then working back out from it, with similarities in D and D', the C and C', and so on. Maybe you can see why the X is us

One Concept for Paul and Two Words in English

Whole theologies have been formed and rampant misunderstandings have deeply entrenched, all on account of this one little Greek word: δικαι- [dikai-]. In Greek, this one root word forms the verbs, nouns, and all other parts of speech, which are then later translated into various words in English: justification, justice, justify, to judge, righteousness, the righteous ones, upright. Our understanding of St. Paul will increase dramatically simply by finding a way to read him with his original word choice, not using two words in English for one concept for St. Paul. In the passages below, all from Romans, every time St. Paul chooses a word built on that Greek root, it will be replaced with “DIKAI”, instead of using an English word, so we do not fill in our English nuance of the word; any lowercase additions on the front or end of DIKAI are to indicate the verb tense or a prefix. I have found it quite beneficial to understanding St. Paul's meaning. [Commentary in red. In verse 4, Paul

A Homily for Us Hypocrites

“Hypocrite”, Jesus says. That’s a hard word. It is so easy, when reading the gospels, to see that hard word spoken to others, and so hard to hear it as a word to us. We, too, are hypocrites. The hypocrites in this lesson (Luke 13:10-17) followed all the rules, but missed spirit of the Law. We, in the midst of the fast, focus on the fasting rules. Maybe we follow them and maybe we don’t, but, still, our focus during the fast is on the rules. So easily, we lose sight of why we are fasting. Fasting is exercise. Like the athlete who disciplines himself, who diligently shows up everyday, who pushes himself: in the same way, we show up. We exercise. And better than that, these are more than random rules the Church has passed down to us; this training regimen is time-tested and proven. Do this...and you will find eternal life. Fasting is exercise. Fasting also... acquires the Holy Spirit . St. Seraphim of Sarov explains this when he says, "Prayer, fasting, vigil, and all other Christian