Archive for December, 2007

As you might suspect, this isn’t exactly what it sounds like.

If the old Catholic Encyclopedia had their history right a century ago – for instance, their pieces about Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany – then besides Pascha, the earliest big Christian feast was around January 6.

(I’m not a professional historian, but ISTM the CE catalogs alot of fascinating historical data, including about the Early Church. They have a potentially-misleading Rome-centrism, they buy into alot of the early-PC “pagan influences” theories about certain practices in Christianity, and they really don’t understand alot of the Orthodoxy, Eastern or Western, about which they report. But often from their ‘bricks’ an Orthodox might be able to build a more reasonable picture of aspects of the past than the CE itself does. Even I try.)

It seems Jan. 6 (on whatever calendar) commemorated the many manifestations of Christ’s “glory” or Divinity, from His Nativity to His Transfiguration, including not only His revelation to the Magi but also miracles during His ministry – healings, the changing of water to wine at Cana, feedings of thousands, the raising of Lazarus, etc. The CE doesn’t have a truly satisfactory reason as to the choice of this date. As they indicate, this date went by many related names, such as Theophany, Epiphany, Manifestation, Apparition, Day of Light, etc. Interestingly, this multifaceted Feastday is still echoed in the Latin Liturgy of the Hours – in particular the Benedictus and Magnificat Antiphons on the day itself, as I experienced as a teenager studying for the Latin priesthood and religious life.

(In Orthodox liturgy as in Judaism and many other ancient cultures, every day begins with Vespers [Evening Prayer] the night before, and ends at the beginning of Vespers that evening. But in the Latin Church, only Sundays and major feastdays begin the night before, and paradoxically, they continue through the ‘evening of,’ so they have two Vespers services, First and Second Vespers [or Evening Prayer I and II]. Several Latin services of the hours include Gospel Canticles, ie, hymns/poetry from the New Testament. Morning Prayer – what English-speaking Orthodox call Matins or Orthros – includes the Benedictus or Canticle of Zechariah from the Gospel of St. Luke 1: 68-79, and Evening Prayer includes the Magnificat or Canticle of Mary from Luke 1: 46-55. The Benedictus and Magnificat Antiphons are recited or chanted before and after these Canticles, IOW, twice each service. And feastdays have antiphons that talk about the feast being commemorated.)

This is even though, as is well known, the Latins came to emphasize Christ’s first revelation to non-Jews, the Magi, shortly after His birth, over all other aspects of the Jan. 6 feast. Also, the name Epiphany ‘stuck’ in the West as its official designation, from Greek meaning a manifestation, although it is also well-known in Spanish as Dia de los Reyes, the Day of the [Three] Kings, and in English as Little Christmas, the end of the twelve-day Christmas celebration of Christ’s Nativity which begins December 25. (Although in recent years some local Latin Churches have been allowed by Rome to move Epiphany to a nearby Sunday, for many it remains a huge feast on whatever day of the week it falls.)

The CE says Christians in Rome tended to go along with the local Solstice-time celebration of the Sun (god)’s birthday, and so their leaders decided to make it, for them, a celebration of the birth according to the flesh of the Sun of Justice, the Dawn from on high, the one and only Lord, Jesus Christ. And the idea spread East, although Orthodox services for Dec. 25 include both the Lord’s birth and the visit of the Magi. “Christmas” of course is the name for the Dec. 25 feast in English, meaning “Christ Mass” or Liturgy; similarly, churches or cathedrals dedicated to Christ and called “Christ Church” in the English-speaking world generally mark their patronal feastday on Christmas, and Greek men named Christos, their nameday. Many other languages continue to call it Nativity: Spanish Navidad, Italian Natale, etc. The main Greek word is Gennesis, which can mean begetting or birth (‘generation’), which – I could be corrected on this – I believe is why in Orthodoxy we often see it referred to in full as “the Nativity of Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ According to the Flesh,” to distinguish it from His begetting by God the Father from all eternity, even though I don’t believe the word nativity could ever be mistaken by English-speakers for anything other than His birth according to the flesh.

Meanwhile the East came to emphasize the Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan among the older multiple Jan. 6 manifestations, and the name Theophany generally stuck, Greek for the revelation of God, although sometimes Orthodox call it Epiphany. The West came to mark a separate Feast of the Baptism of the Lord shortly after Jan. 6. Theophany is considered a huge feast in Orthodoxy, while the Lord’s Baptism is not, in Latinism, though as already noted, Epiphany in much of Latinism still is. This causes some confusion for Latins, who believe that for the Orthodox the Magi are extremely important, because Latins associate the Magi with Jan. 6, Orthodox Theophany. Ironically, if you don’t get to an Orthodox parish for the services held before the actual Divine Liturgy of the Eucharist, the only Gospel you’ll hear at Nativity IS the Magi Gospel, since the birth narrative comes earlier in the day’s schedule of multiple services.

Speaking of holiday excess, as the CE notes – see under “Popular merry-making”! – it’s always been a complaint of some Christians about other Christians at this time of year, even in ancient times! One thing I didn’t know is that Latin Advent, the period currently set-off by the four Sundays before Dec. 25, used to have a fasting practice, though like the Orthodox Nativity Fast or Philipovka (because it starts November 15 after the feast of St. Philip the Apostle), not as strict as the Great Fast/Lent. Though in some times and places Advent began at the Fall Equinox, in September! And once, because of the 12 Days of Christmas’ partying getting out of hand, a further fast was imposed then! The thing is, Orthodox “feasting” is advised not to become a license for overindulgence and debauchery, enslavement to the passions we’ve just spent an entire season working to free ourselves more from. But Latin Advent now is limited to a liturgical season, with service prayers and readings emphasizing waiting for the Lord’s coming(s) into the world and people’s hearts and lives – much more developed in that sense than Orthodox practice, although Orthodox hymns in church occasionally evoke preparation for Nativity. Western Advent is a fall/winter Lent without the fasting. Orthodox sometimes call their fast the Advent Fast.

How Orthodox handle near and dear Heterodox “feasting” during their Advent is often an issue and a question, especially for recent converts to jurisdictions that try to maintain something of the traditional Orthodox Fast for the full 40 days, throughout U.S. Thanksgiving Day (for New Calendar Orthodox), workplace and organization (pre)Christmas parties, etc. But I recall that for thousands of years for most Christians and their forebears, that is, north of the Tropics, this period has fallen between Fall harvest and Spring planting, an agricultural down-time often used for extra cultural and social activities, including packing-on calories and body-fat together for the long, cold winter. “Old habits die hard!”

Then there’s the shopping-madness. “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” says the Lord, according to St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. But of course, amid would-be recipients’ expressed demands, our pressure on ourselves in their regard, and the rage of traffic, parking lots, and store aisles, it doesn’t necessarily feel blessed in the preparation! Sorry, I don’t have any new solutions for that one!

Christ is Born for us! Glorify Him!

I know this post is completely out-of-season, but I just came across information here that Pascha planners might want to consider (in the paragraph just above “PECULIAR CUSTOMS OF EASTER TIME”). In some Orthodox settings during Pascha-tide Liturgies I’ve heard them include the Greeting and Response – “Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!” – in different languages, including Latin – “Christus resurrexit! Vere resurrexit!”

However, according to the old Catholic Encyclopedia, briefly, in imitation of the East, Rome had its own version of the Greeting and Response, directly from Luke 24:34: “Surrexit Dominus vere! Et apparuit Simoni! The Lord has truly risen! He has appeared to Simon!” Maybe they did this variation because of Rome’s emphasis on St. Peter. Anyway, so here we have an actual ‘Latin Orthodox’ traditional Paschal Greeting.

I also note under “Peculiar Custom” Number 8 that according to the CE, Pascha blessing of food wasn’t just random like the West blesses any and all animals on its feast of Francis of Assisi in October – it was getting your priest’s blessing, so to speak, to resume eating the foods fasted from, even though of course the Great Fast/Lent rules officially ended at Pascha. If they’re right, there was no need to include in your Pascha basket at church things not covered by the Fast, like, I dunno, coffee, sugar candies, etc. Although the CE doesn’t touch on the feast immediately afterward at church! 😉

No, I don’t mean two icons linked side-by-side with a hinge to stand on your mantelpiece, although that’s very nice!

These Diptychs (misspelled on the actual PDF linked from this page!) play an important role in Church history, but most (canonical) Orthodox never actually see or hear them, because they’re only part of Liturgies served by a Patriarch or other Autocephalous Primate … and even then, of course, mostly in languages they don’t speak, such as Koine Greek, Church Slavonic, or Old Arabic, although if you have any familiarity with Modern Greek, a Slavic language, or Modern Arabic, you may be able to ‘decode’ what you’re hearing if present … especially if you know to expect it when it comes around.

I’ve been present at a number of Liturgies served by The OCA’s Metropolitans THEODOSIUS and HERMAN in recent years (at St. Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania), and it’s always neat to hear such evocation of the whole Orthodox Church, in person as it were. IIRC the Diptychs actually come up at least twice during a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy served by a Patriarch or Autocephalous Primate. Usually I’ve heard them chanted by the Primate himself, read from a large book held by a deacon in front of the Holy Doors in the middle of the iconostasis. But at the 2002 St. Tikhon’s Monastery Pilgrimage HDL on Memorial Day (Monday), at least once they were chanted by the deacon and echoed by the choir, I believe in the form listed on the PDF, ie, with the words “Many Years” at the end of each one. That was majestic!

A year ago when the Pope of Rome visited Istanbul, the Liturgy with Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW on TV included the Diptychs also, but not in a form I could follow well with my year of Protestant seminary Greek!

‘Diptych politics’? (aka “poli(dip)tychs”):

  • First of all, this is what various accounts mean when they talk about “commemorating;” actually it’s praying for each other by name, as you can see on the PDF … a version of what every priest or Auxiliary Bishop does when he prays for his Ruling Hierarch (and sometimes also his jurisdictional primate or Patriarch, and any other Bishops who may be present at that Liturgy) by name … or every Ruling Hierarch, his primate/Patriarch, etc. In the Diptychs, Patriarchs and Autocephalous Primates pray for others with whom they consider themselves in communion, representing other Local Churches with whom they consider themselves in communion. They also delete them when they consider themselves not in communion with them, as Rome and Constantinople did after the mutual excommunications in 1054, as Moscow did with C’ople for a while in the 1990s during their dispute over jurisdiction in Estonia, and as C’ople did with Greece briefly a couple years ago over Greece’s administration of C’ople’s churches in the “New Lands,” in the north of that country.
  • Conspicuous by his absence from Patriarch Bartholomew’s Diptychs last year would’ve been OCA Metr. Herman, not recognized as an Autocephalous Primate by Constantinople, but as merely a Bishop within the Patriarchate of Moscow, the OCA’s original mission-sending Church (and hence “canonical” in C’ople’s eyes since its recognition in 1990, after the OCA and MP reconciled in 1970). I noted when Herman visited Bartholomew in 2003, that for reasons never specified by the OCA, the two never served services together as I would expect; instead, they “attended” a couple services together, and Herman “received Holy Communion” at one, at the closed seminary on Halki Island, presumably with a small worshiping congregation … although I would expect an Orthodox Bishop even ‘merely attending’ a service to be commemorated by the cleric serving it, as I have witnessed many times at St. Tikhon’s with Liturgies served by priests in the presence of different Bishops non-serving. I wonder how they handled that?
  • On the PDF, it seems the OCA commemorates Bartholomew as “His Holiness,” to my knowledge following the usage of Moscow, and not “His All-Holiness” according to the usage of the Greeks under Constantinople’s jurisdiction.
  • Some of the names on the PDF are Anglicized, others are not, and some AFAIK do not lend themselves to Anglicization (Christodoulos, Anastasios).
  • Since the Primate of Georgia in the Caucasus actually has two titles, Catholicos and Patriarch, I’ve seen him referred to elsewhere as “His Holiness and Beatitude,” or vice-versa, but the PDF just uses Holiness. (Georgia seems to have deleted the brief English version of its website.)
  • Sometimes hearing the Diptychs is like stuff “torn from today’s headlines,” such as when I witnessed Herman having deleted the just-deposed Patriarch Irenaios of Jerusalem in 2005. (Temporary administrators or locum tenentes of vacant patriarchal or primatial Sees apparently aren’t commemorated.)
  • Since the century-old Catholic Encyclopedia doesn’t mention this kind of diptych usage, it seems that the Popes of Rome hadn’t done it in many centuries, not even with Eastern Catholic full patriarchs in communion with them, ie, Maronite, Melkite, Syrian, Armenian, and Coptic. I’m not certain about today though.
  • Sometimes non-canonical groups claim to be in communion with Orthodoxy, and some even commemorate Bartholomew in their own services. But the proof is in whether they are commemorated *by* recognizable Orthodoxy, whether directly by the name of their “primate,” or indirectly through the name of the recognizable Patriarch or Autocephalous Primate who acknowledges them as part of his Local Church. If not, they are not considered any part of recognizable Orthodoxy *by* recognizable Orthodoxy.** This is why the ultimate question to ask a group is Who is your Ruling Hierarch? or Who is his Patriarch or Autocephalous Primate? If they’re not listed on the PDF, they are not considered any part of the recognizable Orthodox Church.**
    • (**–Normally, that is! In cases of hopefully temporary deletion as above, get back to them – or someone else – after a little while to see if there’s any ‘clarification’ of the situation, if you can’t find a more reliable, ‘safe’ jurisdiction near you. Of course, C’ople considered Bulgaria in schism from the 1870s till the 1940s [though Russia did not], and Russia for a century and a half after it rejected the Union of Florence as noted above. Sometimes The Truth is a matter of process in Orthodoxy, not always cut-and-dried instant ‘black-and-white’ answers. I’m no spiritual father, monk, priest, or Bishop, so consult around with reliable sources, and basically just Do Your Best. Consider the traditional rule of journalism: Check every story with at least two sources! BTW, this isn’t what one famous writer once called “ecclesiology of subordination” or words to that effect, like asking “Who are you ‘under’?” as in “under C’ople” or “under Moscow” or “under Romania” or whatever – though it’s often still expressed that way. I think that talk comes from the expression “under a bishop’s omophorion,” that is to say, his authority or archpastorship or leadership. Usually it comes down to a Church overseas, or a Patriarch overseas, as if not all [big-C] Churches are equal but some are “under” others, or as if Patriarchs do anything that significant on their own authority without their Synods. But a real Orthodox parish is a subdivision of a bishopric with a Ruling Hierarch, and all bishoprics – dioceses, metropolises, etc. – are part of a larger Local Church; canonical Orthodoxy has no stand-alone parishes or dioceses! This is all you’re asking. The Ruling Hierarch embodies his diocese; the Patriarch or Autocephalous Primate embodies his cluster of dioceses … and through the Diptychs all are ‘represented.’
      • A further problem, if you don’t consult widely or rightly enough, is exemplified by the fact that I don’t see a whole lot of discussion on the WWW [apart from here] about why or how certain Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches consider The OCA “canonical but not autocephalous.” I once had a Web discussion with someone I thought was well-informed, who seemed genuinely surprised to learn that the OCA “traces its orders to Russia” or words to that effect – as though he’d thought they were some start-up ‘Internet jurisdiction’ or something. But others, particularly some older cradle Orthodox, simply seem not ‘updated’ on the OCA’s recognition by C’ople et al. since 1990.
      • Yet again, some groups claim past or even ongoing relationships of various kinds with canonical jurisdictions or bishops, “concelebration” or their “orders recognized,” or that their priests or bishops even provided vacation relief for a canonical jurisdiction’s priests, etc. I don’t have any explanation for any of this – that’s Bishops’ responsibility – except to say Play It Safe.)