Showing posts from November, 2019

Thanksgiving amid Suffering

Earlier this week, when in the choir, I noticed the word "thanksgiving" pop up in one of the hymns. Now, that probably is not terribly rare, for it seems somewhat likely to hear a word like "thanksgiving" appear in Christian hymnography from time to time, but being the week of Thanksgiving, it caught my attention. It was during the Vespers and Matins services for the Great-martyr James of Persia on Tuesday night. I just learned that he is also called the  Great-martyr James the Sawn-Asunder , if that clarifies what might make him a great martyr. Thou hast astonished all by thy terrifying torments and the valor of thine endurance, O much suffering one, most wondrously uttering prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord as each of thy members was severed from thy body. Wherefore, receiving a crown amid thy suffering, thou hast ascended to the throne of Christ God, the King of heaven. Entreat Him, O James, that He save our souls.  This is not at all to put a damper on T

The Early Church Throws Us a Curve Ball

Having taken St. Ignatius of Antioch as my patron saint, my mind immediately goes to him when looking for answers about what the early Church was like. St. Ignatius Theophoros was a bishop in the city of Antioch, likely consecrated a bishop by St. Paul, and most definitely a disciple of St. John the Apostle and Gospel-writer. So, here we have a direct disciple of one of the Twelve, who speaks very emphatically about the office of bishop and some of the bishop's responsibilities. In St. Ignatius’s Epistle to the Smyrneans, he says: See that ye all follow the bishop , even as Christ Jesus does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles. Do ye also reverence the deacons , as those that carry out [through their office] the appointment of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist , which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, the

Clement the First Writer after the Apostles

Today is St. Clement's day. Clement was an early pope of Rome and a beautiful saint it the church. This is just a quick aside from a series of history-related posts to pitch the idea of learning a little more about St. Clement of Rome and gaining the spiritual benefit therefrom. The Life of St. Clement , that is, a short biographical sketch that would take no more than five minutes to read, is a great start to learn about him and be inspired by his life. I could also recommend reading St. Clement's letters to the Corinthians , and since he was martyred in the year 101, are some of the earliest Christian writings we have after the Apostles and very much have the feel of the pastoral epistles of St. Paul. St. Clement is considered one of the "Apostolic Fathers", along with my own beloved St. Ignatius, who will be appearing tomorrow in the continuation of the history posts. So, this is not too much of an aside, after all. And interestingly, they even repose together:

Hold to What We Have Been Taught

Why should we study the history of the Church? Is it just a matter of gaining knowledge about what happened and when? Isn’t history simply a collection of facts? Or could we actually gain spiritual benefit from studying Church history? There is one additional matter to tend to before we launch out in search of answers to those questions. If I have noticed nothing else in my limited study of history, it is this: it is easy, even accidentally, to latch on to a particular situation out of context and to understand it in a faulty way, especially when I have an underlying motive in mind. Therefore, lest I inadvertently use some parcel of knowledge to prove a particular point, I strive to not only present the facts, but also to continually ask the question of what brought that about. At least, I will try to remember to ask myself. As a history professor back in college tended to remind us, “History makes no sharp turns.” The Apostles did not suddenly set up the Church as we see it today

The Visit of a Myrrh-Streaming Icon

Yesterday evening, we received an e-mail from the seminary to inform us that we were going to have a surprise visit from a myrrh-streaming icon. Not too far away, in Taylor, Pennsylvania, an otherwise normal, local Orthodox Church is home to a miraculous icon, the Kardiotissa Icon of the Mother of God. As the caretaker entered the monastery church this evening, it only took seconds to begin to smell the fragrance coming from the icon. She was first taken up to the royal doors, received by the abbot, and returned to a stand in the middle of the church. At first glance, I could not quite figure out why the image looked so strange, but that was made quite clear when the caretaker later opened up the glass front to the case. The inside of the glass was covered with a liquid, which was slowly running downward toward the bottom of the wooden case, which had a special compartment full of cotton gauze, to catch the myrrh. As the singing and prayers of the service continued, the caretaker

What Psalter Is in Your Prayer Book

I do not know who else out there struggles with this one, but wouldn't it be a beautiful world to have the same version of the Psalms used in our personal prayer books, as in the many Psalms read in church, and as in the innumerable uses of Psalms throughout the services? Such consistency would, that much more easily, bring those hymns to our lips throughout the day. We would accidentally memorize large chunks of the Psalter. And what unspeakable aid would that provide to our path toward union with Christ? But alas! How many versions of the Psalter are out there? I don't know. Even of something much more limited like the Septuagint Old Testament, there are still way too many. One of the most widely used Psalters in Orthodox churches, at least in my experience, is the Holy Transfiguration Monastery (HTM) Psalter . It is a beautiful, poetic rendering of the Psalms from the Septuagint (or "LXX"). That is what I am used to. It is used in the HTM prayer book and the Jo

The Trinity in the New Testament

In Doctrines, our beloved professor has been slowly walking us through the first three or four centuries of Christianity, primarily tracking with how the Church Fathers talked about the Trinity. It would be lovely if we could just stick with the Scriptures, but it did not take long for misunderstandings of the truth (that is the nicest way I can think to put it) to spring up that could still bend the specific words of Scripture to allow for a very unhealthy view of the Trinity. Wow...I am struggling with getting to this one small point I have, because it seems that almost any way I ease into this discussion, I feel the gravitational pull of so many weighty issues tugging on me. But worry not: I will use my thrusters to make the necessary adjustments to stay on course toward our mission...Trinity in the New Testament. One day in class, Dr. Boosalis, our professor, asked us what trinitarian references we could think of in the New Testament. You have 2 Corinthians 13:14, "the gra

Barely Even Related to the Old Prayer Book

On the topic of the "St. Tikhon's prayer book", I have a quick message for those of you out there that struggled with the old prayer book, the thin, paper-back, black prayer book. The new Orthodox Christian Prayers  prayer book is barely even related. Initially, when I first heard that the monastery was working on a new prayer book, I assumed it was going to be an update of the old one. It is not. The only similarity is that they both has St. Tikhon's written inside the front cover. Besides that, they are only similar in the way that any Orthodox prayer book will be similar. My wife preferred the old prayer book, so that is what we used as a family. The English teacher in me had a really hard time with the typos and mistakes; I literally had to come up with coping mechanisms (little marks in the margin, just to tell myself to expect an error of some sort) to not be distracted from praying...because I do not need any more distractions. Prayer is hard enough as it i

Themes of Each Day of the Week in Orthodoxy

I thought I knew what or who was commemorated on each day of the week. Many prayer books, including the first one I used, had them listed. I thought that was that. This week, however, I was caught by surprise with an interesting gap in my knowledge. Even if your prayer book does not specifically state such, still the troparion of the day of the week will make it fairly clear that Monday is for the angels, Tuesday for St. John the Baptist, Wednesday for the Cross, Thursday for the Apostles, Friday for the Cross, Saturday for all saints, and Sunday is the Lord's Day commemorating the resurrection. But then, I noticed a few inconsistencies in that simple scheme: Thursday also mentions St. Nicholas, who is not an apostle. And then, also, I have seen references to Wednesday and Friday both being for Cross and the Theotokos. And then I went to Liturgics this week...

Insight into the Lord's Prayer

In Greek class, we start our classes reading the Lord's Prayer (or the "Our Father") in Greek. Just reading it and hearing it out loud made me realize something. Now, this may be in Greek, but I promise, you do not need to understand any Greek to understand this. Look at the opening phrases of the Lord's prayer in Greek: Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς· ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου· ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου· γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου,  ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς· Look after the first line, "Our Father who art in heaven". Do you see the first word in the next three lines? See how the ending is the same: -- τω? Well, that means those three words are all doing the same thing in the sentence. Those three words are "hallowing", "coming", and "coming about / becoming". And notice, also, how the ends of those three lines are also all similar? See the  σου? That is "Thy" or "Your". If those three phrases are put toget