Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Stump the Priest: A Mercy of Peace

Golgotha (inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher)

Question: "I have heard it argued that the phrase in the Liturgy "A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise" is both nonsensical and a corruption of an earlier text. Is this correct, and if not, what does the phrase mean?"

It is true that there are some textual issues related to this text. There are are number of manuscripts that read "Mercy, peace, a sacrifice of praise," and some argue that this reading makes more sense. However, in an article by Robert Taft on the subject, the oldest text that is cited, is text of the commentary on the Divine Liturgy by St. Germanus of Constantinople, and it has the reading just as we use it today (Textual Problems in the Diaconal Admonition before the Anaphora in the Byzantine Tradition (Orientalia Christiana Periodica, 49 (1983) 345; St. Germanus of Constantinople, On the Divine Liturgy. Trans. [with Greek parallel text] Paul Meyendorff (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1984), p. 90f.), This variant also made its way into the pre-Nikonian Slavonic texts, though since the Nikonian reforms, the mainstream Slavonic texts have followed the standard reading.

The fact that the standard text is criticized as being a more difficult reading is actually an argument in favor of its authenticity. One of the basic principles of textual criticism is that (all things being equal) the harder reading is more likely to be original, and a smoother reading is more likely the result of a later correction. If such a "harder reading" were found only in an isolated manuscript here or there, one could perhaps make the case that it was the result of some error in copying -- but not when such a reading is the predominant reading.

In any case, whether it was the original reading or not, it is the accepted reading that the Church has embraced. That being the case, suggesting that the text is "nonsensical" reflects both a lack of humility and piety. If the Church has embraced it, it cannot be nonsensical. It may be that it is hard to understand, or that one might not understand it; however, just because a person does not understand what it means, this does not mean that it is incapable of being understood. After all, this is not a line from some obscure text that few would have ever encountered, or would have encountered infrequently. This is a line from the most prominent part of the most prominent service of the Church, which is served almost every day of the year. Consequently, it is unfathomable that such a text could have gained such wide acceptance in the Church had it truly been nonsensical.

Some try to argue that the text, at least as it stands in English, is ungrammatical, because "mercy" is an uncountable noun, and so cannot be used with the indefinite article ("a"). However, if you look up the word "mercy" in Merriam Webster's dictionary online, one of the examples of how the word is used is "it was a mercy they found her before she froze." Countless examples of this could be cited from the great works of English literature... and so it is simply not true that this construction is ungrammatical.

As for what this means, keep in mind that this line follows the words of the deacon: "Let us stand well, let us stand with fear, let us attend, that we may offer the holy oblation in peace." And so, in context, we see that this line is referring to the holy oblation.

Fr. Thomas Hopko provides a concise explanation of what this means:
"The Holy Oblation is Christ, the Son of God who has become the Son of Man in order to offer himself to his Father for the life of the world. In his own person Jesus is the perfect peace offering which alone brings God’s reconciling mercy. This is undoubtedly the meaning of the expression a mercy of peace, which has been a source of confusion for people over the years in all liturgical languages.
In addition to being the perfect peace offering, Jesus is also the only adequate sacrifice of praise which men can offer to God. There is nothing comparable in men to the graciousness of God. There is nothing with which men can worthily thank and praise the Creator. This is so even if men would not be sinners. Thus God himself provides men with their own most perfect sacrifice of praise. The Son of God becomes genuinely human so that human persons could have one of their own nature sufficiently adequate to the holiness and graciousness of God. Again this is Christ, the sacrifice of praise" (The Orthodox Faith, Volume II - Worship: The Divine Liturgy, Eucharistic Canon: Anaphora, January 26th, 2016<http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-divine-liturgy/eucharistic-canon-anaphora> Emphasis in the original).
See also:

A Mercy of Peace, a Sacrifice of Praise, by the Very Rev. John Abdalah

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Stump the Priest: "Against me is Thine anger made strong"

Question: "How do we understand Psalm 87[88]:7 ["Against me is Thine anger made strong, and all Thy billows hast Thou brought upon me"] that we do in the Six Psalms of Matins? This Psalm is about Christ, yes? And if so, how do we understand that in regards to Him?"

I am sure that there are patristic commentaries that I do not have access to, but of those that I do, it seems most of the Fathers do interpret this Psalm as referring to Christ, but of those who do. This would include St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and Cassiodorus. Of these fathers, only St. Augustine and Cassiodorus comment on this specific verse, at least so far as I have seen. Cassiodorus used St. Augustine's commentary when writing his own, and so it is not an entirely independent witness on this.

Blessed Theodoret also comments on this verse, but he interprets this Psalm as referring to the Jews in the Babylonian Captivity. Since there are often multiple levels of meanings to any given passage, Blessed Theodoret's interpretation is not mutually exclusive with those Fathers who see this in reference to Christ.

But here is what St. Augustine says about this passage, which is interesting to me primarily because of what he does not say:

""Thy indignation lieth hard upon Me" (ver. 7), or, as other copies have it, "Thy anger;" or, as others, "Thy fury:" the Greek word θυμὸς having undergone different interpretations. For where the Greek copies have ὀργὴ, no translator hesitated to express it by the Latin ira; but where the word is θυμὸς, most object to rendering it by ira, although many of the authors of the best Latin style, in their translations from Greek philosophy, have thus rendered the word in Latin. But I shall not discuss this matter further: only if I also were to suggest another term, I should think "indignation" more tolerable than "fury," this word in Latin not being applied to persons in their senses. What then does this mean, "Thy indignation lieth hard upon Me," except the belief of those, who knew not the Lord of Glory? who imagined that the anger of God was not merely roused, but lay hard upon Him, whom they dared to bring to death, and not only death, but that kind, which they regarded as the most execrable of all, namely, the death of the Cross: whence saith the Apostle, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth upon a tree [Galatians 3:13]" (Exposition on the Psalms, Psalm 87).

Likewise, Cassiodorus says of this verse "This was the belief of those permitted to prevail for their own destruction, that through God's anger Jesus Christ had confronted the hazards of the of the passion" (Explanation of the Psalms, Vol. 2, trans. P. G. Walsh, (New York: Paulist Press,1991), p. 345).

What is interesting here to me is that if St. Augustine or Cassiodorus believed that at the crucifixion, the wrath of God the Father was poured out on the Son, this would have been a perfect occasion for him to expound upon it, but instead he says if this verse that this verse only alludes to the false opinion of those who rejected Christ. This goes to show that this distortion of the doctrine of the Atonement was unknown to these Fathers.

For more information, see:

Stump the Priest: The Atonement

Stump the Priest: Allegorical Interpretations of Scripture?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Stump the Priest: Thy Life Hanging Before Thee

Question: "In Deuteronomy 28:66-67, Moses talks about fearing the day and night. What all is going on there? I know verse 66 is quoted in the hymns for the Exaltation as Christ our Life hanging before our eyes but I don't understand the rest of the verse."

Here is a literal translation of that text:
"And thy life will be hanging before thee, and thou shalt fear day and night, and thou wilt not believe in thy life. In the morning thou shalt say, Would it were evening! and in the evening thou shalt say, Would it were morning! for the fear of thine heart with which thou shalt fear, and for the sights of thine eyes which thou shalt see."
To properly understand this text you have to keep in mind that there are different levels of meaning to the Scriptures, and also keep in mind the context of the passage. So before we discuss how this speaks of Christ, let's talk about the literal meaning of this passage in its context.

This passage falls within the context of a book in which the terms of the Old Covenant are recapitulated, and in this section (Chapters 27 to 28), the Prophet Moses states the blessings for those who obey the terms of the Covenant, and then the curses. At the beginning of chapter 28, we have the blessings for those who obey:
"And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God. Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store. Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out. The Lord shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways. The Lord shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. The Lord shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways. And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the Lord; and they shall be afraid of thee. And the Lord shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers to give thee. The Lord shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow. And the Lord shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the Lord thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them: And thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them" (Deuteronomy 28:1-14).
Then beginning at verse 15, the curses for those who disobey the covenant begin, and that section continues on through verse 68... and so the curses are almost four times the length of the blessings. Here are just some examples of them:
"But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field. Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store. Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out. The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me.... And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron. The Lord shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed. The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies: thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them: and shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.... Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her: thou shalt build an house, and thou shalt not dwell therein: thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof. Thine ox shall be slain before thine eyes, and thou shalt not eat thereof: thine ass shall be violently taken away from before thy face, and shall not be restored to thee: thy sheep shall be given unto thine enemies, and thou shalt have none to rescue them. Thy sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people, and thine eyes shall look, and fail with longing for them all the day long; and there shall be no might in thine hand.... And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations whither the Lord shall lead thee..." (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).
And so in context, the literal sense of verses 66-67 is that those who do not abide by the terms of the covenant with be in a constant state of anxiety. When it says their lives will be hanging before them, it means that their lives will be in constant jeopardy. They will have no respite, either by night or day, and they will never have confidence that will survive.

It is unlikely that prior to Christ's crucifixion anyone would have read this passage as applying to the Messiah. However, this was seen by the early Church as hidden prophecy of the crucifixion, and of the unbelief of those Jews who rejected Christ. The connection between this sense of the text and the literal sense is that it applies to those who have not fulfilled the Covenant in both instances, but only in retrospect could this passage been seen in the light of the Cross.

In the early Church there is some evidence that their were documents in circulation that consisted of citations from the Old Testament that demonstrated that Jesus was the Messiah, and if that is true, this passage was likely a standard part of such apologetic documents. Here are some examples of how this text was used:

St. Irenaeus (who reposed in 202 a.d.):
"And again, he indicates that He who from the beginning founded and created them, the Word, who also redeems and vivifies us in the last times, is shown as hanging on the tree, and they will not believe on Him. For he says, “And thy life shall be hanging before thine eyes, and thou wilt not believe thy life” (Against Heresies 4:10:2).
"For the Creator of the world is truly the Word of God: and this is our Lord, who in the last times was made man, existing in this world, and who in an invisible manner contains all things created, and is inherent in the entire creation, since the Word of God governs and arranges all things; and therefore He came to His own in a visible manner, and was made flesh, and hung upon the tree, that He might sum up all things in Himself. And His own peculiar people did not receive Him, as Moses declared this very thing among the people: "And thy life shall be hanging before thine eyes, and thou wilt not believe thy life." Those therefore who did not receive Him did not receive life. "But to as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God"" [John 1:12] (Against Heresies 5:18:3).
Tertullian (who reposed in 240 a.d.):
"Now the mystery of this “sign” was in various ways predicted; (a “sign”) in which the foundation of life was forelaid for mankind; (a “sign”) in which the Jews were not to believe: just as Moses beforetime kept on announcing in Exodus, saying, “Ye shall be ejected from the land into which ye shall enter; and in those nations ye shall not be able to rest:  and there shall be instability of the print of thy foot: and God shall give thee a wearying heart, and a pining soul, and failing eyes, that they see not: and thy life shall hang on the tree before thine eyes; and thou shalt not trust thy life” (An Answer to the Jews, 11).
St. Cyprian of Carthage (who was martyred in 258 a.d.) cites this passage as one of the many passages that prophesied that the Jews would crucify Christ (Three Books of Testimonies Against the Jews 2:20).

St. Athanasius the Great (who reposed in 373 a.d.):
"But, perhaps, having heard the prophecy of His death, you ask to learn also what is set forth concerning the Cross. For not even this is passed over: it is displayed by the holy men with great plainness. For first Moses predicts it, and that with a loud voice, when he says: “Ye shall see your Life hanging before your eyes, and shall not believe” (On the Incarnation 35:1-2).
And in the services, as mentioned in the question, when the Cross is brought out for veneration on the Exaltation, one of the stichera that we sing is:
"O God, the words of Moses Thy prophet have been fulfilled, who said: "Ye shall see your life hanging before your eyes!" Today the Cross is exalted, and the world is freed from deception. Today the resurrection of Christ is renewed, and the ends of the earth rejoice, offering to Thee a hymn on cymbals, like David, and saying: "Thou hast wrought salvation in the midst of the earth, O God: the Cross and resurrection! For their sake Thou hast saved us, O Good One Who lovest mankind! O Almighty Lord, glory be to Thee!""
As for the specific question of how the phrase "and thou shalt fear day and night" would apply to the crucifixion, I have not seen anything in the Fathers that attempts to apply it directly to that, and so I would personally see this as being in reference to the literal sense of the text. I think that what is going on here is sort of a prophetic wink from God. The Holy Spirit inspired Moses to speak these words in such a way that they would have a double meaning, and this evidently was a compelling argument when trying to convince Jews to accept that Jesus was the Messiah, judging by how frequently we find the argument made.

See Also:

Stump the Priest: Allegorical Interpretations of Scripture?

Friday, January 08, 2016

Stump the Priest: Because of the Angels

Question: "In 1 Corinthians 11:10, when St Paul talks about women wearing head coverings "because of the angels," what does he mean by that? I have my ideas but I don't wanna trust my ideas." 

We have already covered the question of women covering their heads in a previous article, but this question was not specifically addressed in that article.

The King James Version provides a very literal translation of the verse in question:

"For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels."

Before we get to what it means that a woman should cover her head "because of the angels" we should first consider what it means for a woman to have "power" on her head. Most modern translations follow the interpretation found in the King James Version's margin notes, and add some words that are not explicitly in the original in order to provide a clearer meaning:

"For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels" (NKJV).

This is consistent with the interpretation of St. John Chrysostom. And what this means specifically is that it is a symbol that the woman is under the authority of her husband.

So why should a woman wear a head covering "because of the angels"? There are three interpretations of this.

1. Tertullian interpreted this to refer to angels being tempted by the daughters of men, but this interpretation hinges on his interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4, which was rejected by most of the Fathers of the Church (See: Stump the Priest: Giants in the Bible?).

2. St. Cyril of Alexandria interpreted this to mean that the angels are offended by women who are disobedient, and show disregard for this practice:

3. Blessed Theodoret interprets this to mean that women who disregard this practice offend the guardian angels of the men who might be distracted in prayer by their lack of modesty; and their own guardian angels as well:

"By authority he referred to the covering, as it is to say, Let he show her subjection by covering herself, and not least for the sake of the angels, who are set over human beings and entrusted with their care. Likewise also in acts, "It is not he, but his angel" [Acts 12:15]; and the Lord, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones who believe in me: Amen I say to you, their angels continually look upon the face of my Father in heaven" [Matthew 18:10] ( (Blessed Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul, Vol. 1, trans. Robert Charles Hill, (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001), p. 205).

The interpretations of St. Cyril and Blessed Theodoret are by no means mutually exclusive, and I think together, they make the best sense of this verse.

See also:

Stump the Priest: Head Coverings

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Stump the Priest: Did the Early Church Venerate Icons?

An Iconoclast removing an icon of Christ

Question: "Isn't the fact that there were controversies over icons well into the 9th century proof that the early Church did not venerate icons?"

There were indeed controversies at various times, most notably the Iconoclastic controversies of the 8th and 9th centuries, but these controversies were primarily focused on the question of whether one could have icons at all. Even the iconoclasts did not object to the veneration of the Cross, or other holy objects. Their problem with icons was that they considered them inherently objectionable, regardless of whether they were being venerated or not. In fact, there was never any movement of Christians that accepted iconography, but rejected their veneration, prior to the Protestant Reformation.

It is a matter of fact, only 30 years prior to the first iconoclastic controversy, icons were not a controversial issue, as is shown by the the fact that the Quinisext Council issued a canon about the content of certain icons, that shows no hint of the making of icons being a matter of any controversy:
"In some of the paintings of the venerable Icons, a lamb is inscribed as being shown or pointed at by the Forerunner's finger, which was taken to be a type of grace, suggesting beforehand through the law the true lamb to us Christ our God.  Therefore, eagerly embracing the old types and shadows as symbols of the truth and preindications handed down to the Church, we prefer the grace, and accept it as the truth in fulfillment of the law.   Since, therefore, that which is perfect even though it be but painted is imprinted in the faces of all, the Lamb who taketh away the sin of the world Christ our God, with respect to His human character, we decree that henceforth he shall be inscribed even in the Icons instead of the ancient lamb: through Him being enabled to comprehend the reason for the humiliation of the God Logos, and in memory of His life in the flesh and of His passion and of His soterial death being led by the hand, as it were, and of the redemption of the world which thence accrues" (Canon LXXXII of the Quinisext Council).
And it is also a fact that archaeological evidence shows the ubiquity of Christian iconography going back to the catacombs. Clearly those who objected to iconography were outside of the Christian mainstream. What made icons controversial in the 8th and 9th centuries was the rise of Islam, and the desire of the iconoclastic emperors to bring those who had converted to Islam back into the Christian fold -- and icons were seen as an obstacle to this. It is also not coincidental that the iconoclastic emperors all came from parts of the empire in which Islam had made significant inroads.

Furthermore, a closer look at the texts of Scripture show that the Israelites had extensive iconography in both the Tabernacle and then later in the Temple. You find images of cherubim:
When you add all these references together, it is clear that there were Icons everywhere you turned in Israelite worship.

But some will object: "Isn't bowing before an icon and kissing it forbidden by the Second Commandment?" The issue with respect to the 2nd commandment is what does the word translated "graven images" mean? If it simply means carved images, then the images in the temple would be in violation of this Commandment. Our best guide, however, to what Hebrew words mean, is what they meant to Hebrews -- and when the Hebrews translated the Bible into Greek, they translated this word simply as "eidoloi", i.e. "idols." Furthermore the Hebrew word pesel is never used in reference to any of the images in the temple. So clearly the reference here is to pagan images rather than images in general.

Let's look at what the Second Commandment actually says:
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image (i.e. idol), or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor shalt thou serve (worship) them..." (Exodus 20:4-5).
Now, if we take this as a reference to images of any kind, then clearly the cherubim in the Temple violate this command. If we limit this as applying only to idols, no contradiction exists. Furthermore, if this applies to all images -- then even the picture on a driver's license violates it, and is an idol. So either every Protestant with a driver's license is an idolater, or Icons are not idols.

Leaving aside, for the moment, the meaning of "graven images" lets simply look at what this text actually says about them.  You shall not make x,  you shall not bow to x, you shall not worship x.  If x = image, then the  Temple itself violates this Commandment.  If x = idol and not all images, then this verse contradicts neither the Icons in the Temple, nor Orthodox Icons.

Abraham bowed himself before the people of Hebron (Genesis 23:7, 12); Joseph’s brothers bowed before him (Genesis 42:6; 43:26, 28); and many other examples could be cited that show that bowing was an expression of respect, and bowing to idols is only objectionable because the object in question is in fact an idol, an image of a false deity. And kissing holy things is a very common act of devotion among Jews to this day (see: Kissing: An Act of Religious Devotion, by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin (From To Pray as a Jew: A Guide to the Prayer book and the Synagogue Service, (New York: Basic Books [Harper Collins], 1980), p.43f).

There is no reason we should assume that the early Christians would not likewise have bowed before and kissed holy things, like their Jewish forefathers. And icons of saints or Biblical scenes would have been given the same veneration that the texts of Scripture were given.

For more information see:

The Icon FAQ: Answers to common questions about icons (this article is especially important, and has extensive hyperlinks to other articles relevant to this question).

Stump the Priest: The Veneration of the Cross

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Answering Atheists

I recently gave a lecture at the St. Herman's youth conference in Albany, New York on the subject of Answering Atheists. At Archbishop Gabriel's request, I first spoke briefly about how I became Orthodox.

You can listen to the lecture by clicking here.

You can read a more detailed account of my conversion by clicking here.

You can also read an article that I mentioned about the question of the violence of the Old Testament by clicking here.

You can read about the 2013 Finnish study on Atheists by clicking here.

You can read St. John Chrysostom's "A Treatise to Prove that No One Can Harm the Man Who Does Not Injure Himself," by clicking here.

Here is a speech by Dinesh D'Souza, entitled "How Do I Know God Exists?" which covers some of the same ground, but makes some very compelling arguments:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Did St. Mark "Blunder"?

Note: While I disagree with Fr. Gregory Hallam on the issues I will address in this article, I appreciate the fact that he produces the podcasts that he does, which are generally very informative. 

Is it correct that St. Mark "blundered" in the writing of his Gospel? There is no reason why we should conclude that he did, and you will never find any Father of the Church making any such suggestion. However, this is what Fr. Gregory Hallam stated recently in his E-Quip lecture series, in a lecture about St. Mark's Gospel [beginning at about the 16 minute mark of the recording]:

“…Indeed we must admit, [that St. Mark] sometime got the sequence of events and geographical details in the Gospel incorrect…. In Mark 5:1 Jesus exorcises the Gerasene demoniac  -- however, Gerasa is 30 miles south east… south southeast of the lake in question, that is of course what is now known as Galilee. That’s a pretty big jump for those pigs. OK? There is also no 30 mile long embankment running down from Gerasa  to the lake to accommodate this onward rush. St. Matthew recognizes St. Mark’s blunder in handling this material, and tries to correct “Gerasa” to “Gadara,” from which we get, of course, the Gadarene swine, but Gadara is still 6 miles from the lake, so it’s hardly a very satisfactory solution. We could say that these are minor matters, and indeed they are. But we could list many others in Mark’s Gospel  where  he gets geographical or indeed cultural details wrong, concerning Judaism of the time, and the rights of women or otherwise to divorce, he gets wrong. So… you know… this reminds us that these are the writings of ordinary men who were attempting faithfully to present what Jesus said and did, but they’re not verbally inerrant – and I am sorry if that offends some people who are listening to this on Ancient Faith Ministries, but research it yourself. Find out about these geographical lapses and these cultural lapses in Mark’s Gospel, and let that minister to you as you think how we can still call this the word of God and accept human fallibility its compilation. Because that is a fact, you can’t just argue around it, and try and translate “Gerasa” or “Gadara” in different ways. Geography is Geography.

First off, there is a textual issue with these passages that Fr. Gregory does not address here. Fr. Gregory is assuming the accuracy of the readings found in the Nestle-Aland/United Bible Societies critical editions of the Greek New Testament, which are based on assumptions that are Protestant in origin (namely, that there was an earlier pure version of the Greek New Testament that was later corrupted, and has to be rediscovered and reconstructed, as opposed to accepting the text as the Church has actually preserved it). According to those texts, this is how the Synoptic Gospels describe this place in question:

Mark 5:1: "the country of the Gerasenes..."

Matthew 8:28: "the country of the Gadarenes..."

Luke 8:26: "the country of the Gerasenes..."

It should be noted that the readings in Mark and Matthew are rated "C" in the United Bible Societies text, and the reading is Luke is rated a "D." In that text an "A" reading is one that the editors are very sure of, "B" is less sure, "C" is more questionable, and "D" is the lowest rating that they give to a reading that they adopt in their text.

In the vast majority of Greek manuscripts -- and in the texts which the Church has universally received -- the names of this place that are found in the Synoptic Gospels are as follows:

Mark 5:1: "the country of the Gadarenes..."

Matthew 8:28: "the country of the Gergesenes..."

Luke 8:26: "the country of the Gadarenes..."

The evidence for these readings are very strong, though there is some support for "Gergesenes" in Mark 5:1. But in any case, any way you slice it, we have at least two names in the Gospels for this place. It should be noted that in none of these readings do we find it speaking of a city directly associated with these names, but rather it speaks of "the country of...", which is a very general description of the place. The Tradition of the Church tells us exactly where this miracle took place -- the present day Kursi, or Kersa, which was known in ancient times as "Gergesa," which is on the eastern shore of the sea of Galilee. This place fits the narrative perfectly. And yet this place was probably not well known, and so it is described as being in the region of the Gadaranes (i.e. the district of Gadara -- which was the chief city of the area at that time, and would have been generally better known).

The textual variations are most likely due to the fact that you had two place names found in the Synoptic Gospels, and some scribes attempted to harmonize them. But does this mean that at least one of these names is wrong? No. This area was a pagan area, and so there were no doubt Greek names for the locations in this area, but Aramaic speaking Jews would have used some variation of those names.

I live in Spring, Texas (which is also where my parish is), but Spring is actually not an incorporated city, and so is really governed by Harris County, though Houston is the city that dominates Harris County, and the City of Houston has some extra-territorial jurisdiction over this area (as I discovered much to my irritation during the permitting process for the construction of our current Church building). When people ask me where I live, depending on how much time I have to explain, and whether or not I think they have any idea of the local geography, I sometimes will tell them that I live in Houston, simply because most people don't know where Spring, Texas is, and it is in fact part of the Metropolitan Houston area. So I could say that I live in Spring, Texas, or Houston, or Harris County, and yet all three statements would be true -- and this is true without mixing in the question of variations on place names due to the transmission of those names through different languages.

The following video deals with this question at about the 50 minute mark:

If you watch this video from the beginning, you will see that it addresses some other claims of geographical errors in the Gospel of Mark, and does so very handily.

Fr. Gregory alludes to another claim, made by Bart Ehrman, that the Gospel of Mark is in error, when it says in Mark 7:3 that the Jews would not eat with unwashed hands. The video above addresses that claim just after the 20 minute mark, and it points out that this claim is baseless, and that there is ample extra-biblical evidence of this being the common practice of the Jews of that period.

Furthermore, Fr. Gregory references the claim that St. Mark erred in Mark 10:12, by speaking of women divorcing their husbands. It is argued that Jewish law made no provision for a woman to divorce her husband, and so therefore, St. Mark clearly didn't know what he was talking about here. However, this ignores the rather notorious example of Herodias, who divorced her first husband in order to marry Herod, her brother-in-law. That this happened is recorded not only by the Gospels, but also by the Jewish historian Josephus. The above video addresses this question about the 24 minute mark.

So it is not simply a matter of fact that St. Mark erred in his Gospel. Geography is geography, but when you are talking about the names of places in a region that has experienced more than a few cultural upheavals in the past 2000 years, it is not simply a matter of getting out a map and proving that St. Mark made an error. In fact, on closer inspection, the geography of St. Mark's Gospel is very accurate, and provides a great deal of evidence of its traditional origins as an account written by St. Mark but based on the recollections of St. Peter.

For example, here is a lecture by Dr. Richard Bauckham: "Mark's Geography and the origin of Mark's Gospel":

Here addresses the question of the story of the Demoniac in Mark 5 beginning at just before the 30 minute mark. He assumes that the reading of "Gerasenes" is correct, but provides a very plausible explanation for how that name would not refer to the city of Gerasa, as Fr. Gregory assumes, but to the region of the eastern shore of the sea of Galilee. The entire lecture is well worth listening to.

Regardless of how one decides the textual issues I mentioned, there is no reason why an Orthodox Christian needs to conclude that the Gospels are in error. The Tradition of the Church clearly teaches us that the Scriptures are without error.* When we see something in Scripture that seems problematic, we may or may not always know how to definitively resolve the question of how to explain the problem, but the faith of the Church is that the Scripture is without error, and it is contrary to that Faith to make assertions to the contrary.

*For those who assert that the Orthodox Church does not affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, I refer you to the quotations from the Fathers in the article on inerrancy below, and challenge anyone to produce a single instance of a Church Father that asserted that there were any real errors in Scripture.

For More Information:

The Inerrancy of Scripture, by Fr. John Whiteford

I would also recommend Dr. Richard Bauckham's lecture "The Authenticity of the Apostolic Eyewitness in the New Testament":

Update: Just today there is news of new archeological evidence in support of Kursi as the location of the miracle in Mark 5: Archaeologists Find Hebrew Letters Engraved on Tablet at Jesus Miracle Site.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Stump the Priest: The Nativity Fast and Christmas Parties

Question: "Now that the Christmas season has begun — in our secular society called the “holiday season” — there are parties held at workplaces. But we are fasting, and the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity does not comes until December 25/January 7. How would you counsel Orthodox Christians on this subject?"

In the past 50 years, American culture has gone from the older practice of putting up Christmas decorations on Christmas eve, and then celebrating Christmas on the actual day (albeit New Calendar), and continuing that celebration through either New Year's day, or Epiphany (what we usually call Theophany) on January 6th. This is evident from the older classic Christmas movies, such as "It's a Wonderful Life," "The Bishop's Wife," and even the Charlie Brown Christmas Special (the next time you watch these movies, pay attention to when the Christmas Trees are being decorated). Of course during the period leading up to Christmas there has always been a great deal of anticipation and preparation. However, most Americans now begin celebrating Christmas in earnest after Thanksgiving, and the weeks and days prior to Christmas consist of one Christmas party after another. Then on Christmas day, people are taking down their decorations, you see Christmas Trees on the curb waiting to be carted off to the dump, you cease hearing Christmas music on the radio usually by noon at the latest, and the time leading up to Christmas is observed in a manner that is completely opposed to the traditional order of things. The forty days prior to Christmas period is supposed to be a time of prayer and fasting. It is not as strict of a fast as Great Lent, but it is certainly not supposed to be the marathon of gluttony that it has become in the popular culture. For those of us on the Old Calendar, this made even more difficult by the fact that our fast continues until it is broken on January 7th, according to the civil calendar (which is December 25th on the Old Calendar). 

So how should Orthodox Christians deal with this situation? We have family, friends, and co-workers that regularly invite us to participate in these parties, but how are we to keep the fast and prepare properly for the celebration of the Nativity of Christ? Obviously, we should make the effort to keep the fast, but how one goes about it is a question of wisdom, and so let me lay out how I approach it, keeping in mind that there are other ways that one could approach some of these issues.

We have a few priorities as Christians that sometimes have to be weighed against one another:

1. Fasting is an important spiritual discipline. The Church calls on us to fast corporately at certain times of the year, and this is one of those times (Matthew 9:15; Canon 69 of the Holy Apostles)

2. We should not make a show of our fasting, nor should we going around with a sour look on our faces, complaining about how hard it is to keep the fast (Matthew 6:16-18).

3. Fasting is not an end in and of itself, but a means to an end. There are some (rare) circumstances in which it is better to break the fast than to be lacking in love for others. There are also some circumstances in which breaking the fast might be necessary for some other reason (e.g., ill-health, or extreme circumstances such as those serving in the military, and unable to fast due to the demands of their duty, etc).

If it happens to be a fast day, and some non-Orthodox loved one surprises you with a special meal that they went to great pains to prepare and they did not know it was a day that you should not eat most of what they have fixed, this would probably be one of those rare instances in which it would be better to break the fast than to hurt them by insisting on keeping the fast. However, one should not make a point of visiting as many non-Orthodox family and friends as you can during the fasts, and then using charity as an excuse to regularly break the fast. 

Furthermore, while it is true that we should not make a show of our fasting, if you are in regular contact with family or friends who are not Orthodox, I think it is a practical necessity to let them know that there are many times during the year when you cannot eat certain kinds of foods. You don't need to make a big deal about it. You certainly shouldn't demand other people accommodate you, and prepare special meals for you, but if you are going to keep the fasts, you will have to gently let them know that this is how things are with you. Especially in recent times, the idea that people have special diets is not uncommon.

If you are asked why you are not eating certain kinds of foods by people you really do not know, it is probably better to simply say that you are on a special diet (which is certainly true during the fasts), or to just say, "I can't eat that." Most people who don't know you, will probably not probe further. However, if they do, just answer the questions they ask without making a bigger deal about it than necessary. You should just not go out of your way to inform people you are fasting, when there is no need for them to know.

If you work around non-Orthodox people, on a regular basis, I think it is likewise practically impossible to keep the fasts without eventually letting them know about it. Especially during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is often a steady flow of non-lenten food that is brought to the office. The intentions of those who bring these foods are friendly, but you can gently refuse these things with a smile and good humor, without offending anyone. 

If there is an office party during a fast, you don't want to draw any more attention to yourself than is necessary, and you should not ask anyone else to plan such things to accommodate you, but you can be sociable and participate in these meals by looking for what is available that is lenten (usually, there are at least some vegetables, and maybe some chips and salsa (fairly standard fare in Texas, at least). You can also make a point of bringing something yourself that is lenten.

And when the fast finally does come to an end, you can then invite non-Orthodox friends and family to come and join you in celebrating the feast. For example, most parishes have some sort of a Christmas party (a "Yolka") on the Sunday after Christmas. This is a great opportunity to invite such people to visit your Church and join in the fun. Maybe you could also bring some donuts to work on the first day after Christmas that you are back on the job, and offer them to your coworkers, for a change. It is important to fast, but it is also important that we joyfully celebrate the feasts, and if we want others to be attracted to our faith, we should make sure that we do not leave them with the impression that we just fast a lot, but that we also know how to enter into the joy of our feasts at the end of those fasts.

See also:

Don’t Pre-Celebrate Christmas!, by Fr. Andrew George

The Two Wings of Prayer (audio), by Fr. John Whiteford

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Stump the Priest: Assurance of Salvation

Question: "Often in Protestant circles and Bible studies one will reference 1 John 5:13, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life." This is a verse that they claim as a basis for having complete assurance of their salvation. What is the Orthodox teaching on this passage?"

The question here is what does it mean to know that you have eternal life? Do we have to know that there is nothing we could possibly do to lose our salvation in order to know that we have eternal life?

This sort of thinking is something that has emerged from a strange Protestant mix of Arminianism and Calvinism. Calvinism teaches that God has decreed before all eternity who will be saved and who will be damned, and so obviously, if you are among the elect, there is nothing you could possibly do to become unelected. But a Calvinist would say that those who are elect will show the fruits of their election at some point before they die, and begin to live like Christians. Arminians, on the other hand deny that God determines who will be saved, and that the offer of salvation is open to everyone, and that furthermore, one can fall away from God and lose their salvation. Most Baptists are partially Calvinistic and partially Arminian -- they believe that salvation is open to all, but that once who are saved, you cannot lose your salvation. You could "steal a horse and ride it into heaven." And for those who have bought into this perspective, the idea of eternal security is something they believe in very strongly. And in fact, they seem to have a hard time understanding how anyone could have any confidence in their salvation if they did not have the absolute assurance that they could not possibly lose their salvation.

I have known my wife since I was 17, and we have been married for more than 27 years. I feel very secure in our relationship, but I am quite certain that there are things I could do to destroy that relationship. I am not in fear of that happening, however, because I have no intention of doing any of those things. So I know that my wife loves me, but I also respect her, and make sure that I treat her with love and respect so as to maintain that relationship. Our relationship with God is similar. We know God loves us, but we also know that if we turn our back on Him, we will not remain in a right relationship with Him. All we need to do, however, is to not do that.

St. Nicholas Cabasilas explains how we are saved in our cooperation with God this way:

"There is an element which derives from God, and another which derives from our own zeal. The one is entirely His work, the other involves striving on our part. However, the latter is our contribution only to the extent that we submit to His grace and do not surrender the treasure nor extinguish the torch when it has been lighted. By this I mean that we contribute nothing which is either hostile to the life or produces death. It is to this that all human good and every virtue leads, that no one should draw the sword against himself, nor flee from happiness, nor toss the crowns of victory from off his head" (The Life in Christ, trans. by Carmino J. DeCatanzaro, (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), pp. 48-49).

Countless passages of Scripture could be cited to demonstrate that it is possible for us to lose our salvation, but the following words of the Prophet Ezekiel are a fairly clear example:

"The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die" (Ezekiel 18:20-24).

Friday, November 27, 2015

Stump the Priest: The Sin of Sodom

Lot and his family fleeing Sodom

Question: "Doesn't Ezekiel 16:49 make it clear that the sin of Sodom was inhospitality rather than homosexuality?"

Actually, no, it doesn't. Here is what Ezekiel 16:49 says:

"Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

Which if that was all that the Bible had to say on the subject, would provide some basis for the assumption behind this question. However, let's look at the very next verse:

"And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good" (Ezekiel 16:50).

The word "abomination" in Hebrew is "tô‛êbah," which was discussed in some detail in a previous article (Stump the Priest: Shrimp and Homosexuality). In every other case in the book of Ezekiel in which the singular of tô‛êbah is used, it is in reference to sexual immorality (Ezekiel 22:11; 33:26). Clearly, the abomination that is refereed to here is that of sexual immorality in general, and homosexuality in particular. This is how the famous medieval Jewish commentator Rashi understood that text as well (see Robert Gagnon, Why We Know That the Story of Sodom Indicts Homosexual Practice Per Se). Likewise, the Jewish philosopher Philo, who was a contemporary of Christ, understood the sin of Sodom to be homosexuality (Abraham 133-141).

Furthermore, the Epistle of St. Jude makes it clear that the sins of Sodom included sexual immorality chiefly among them:

"...as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude 7).

Commenting on this passage Oecumenius says:

"The unnatural lust in which the Sodomites indulged was homosexuality..." (Commentary on Jude, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, Gerald Bray, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2000) p. 251).

St. John Chrysostom likewise connects the sin of homosexuality with the condemnation of Sodom in his homily on Romans 1:26-27.

The sin of Sodom was not that they were rude to strangers. They were sexually perverse, and this led them to the attempted rape of the two angels that visited Lot in Sodom. This sexual perversity is not merely incidental to this story. Dr. Robert Gagnon spells out the reasons for this in great detail in the following video:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Stump the Priest: Singing the Psalms

Question: "I heard you mention a way to memorize the psalms with singing, and I wondered if you elaborate on that?"

Singing is a very effective tool for memorization and instruction in general. I have posted previously about how Handel's Messiah can be useful in helping one to memorize Scripture, and in the hymns of the Church we sign verses from the Psalms, such as in Prokimena, and we also sing entire Psalms. By singing the Psalms, you can make memorizing them much easier then simply memorizing them as texts, and singing the Psalms is itself a spiritually edifying endeavor that the Apostles repeatedly encourages us to engage in (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; James 5:13).

Here are some practical tips on how to go about this.

First of all, it is important to use a consistent translation. I prefer the "Boston" Psalter, for the reasons laid out in my article on Translations.

I have found it especially helpful to learn to sing songs in Byzantine chant, and there are several CDs out there that use the Boston Psalter translation. Here are two CDs I would recommend for this purpose. The second CD is not exclusively Psalms or Prokimena, but it does contain them:

O Give Thanks Unto the Lord (Hymns from the Psalter, Chanted in English by the Monks of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery)

The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom (Set of 2 CDs -- Contains the choral responses from the Doxology in Matins to the end of Liturgy. Chanted by the sisters of Holy Nativity Convent in Byzantine chant)

You can also get a CD of the Boston Psalter being read:


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

2016 St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar, now ready for order

You can now place your orders for the 2016 St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar. In addition to providing liturgical rubrics based on the Jordanville Calendar (Troitskij Pravoslavnij Russkij Kalendar), the calendar also includes a liturgical color chart. The cost is $31.95 Bookstore discounts are available based on the quantity ordered. The Calendar can also be ordered in PDF format. The printed calendar should be shipping by approximately December 21st. The PDF version will be available close to the 7th of December. To order, and for more information, see: http://www.stinnocentpress.com/products/liturgical_calendar.html

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review: The Four Gospels: Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament, Volume 1

The Four Gospels: Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament, Volume 1
by Archbishop Averky (Taushev)

This text was written by Archbishop Averky for use at Holy Trinity Seminary, and has been used to train seminarians there ever since. But now, with the publication of the text in English translation, this indispensable text is available to the English speaking Orthodox world.

This text has some similarities to the text "The Life and Times of Jesus, the Messiah" in that it covers the contexts of the Gospels, chronologically, and shows how the four Gospels complement one another. But this text also provides a window for English speakers on pre-revolutionary Russian Biblical scholarship, and also brings the commentaries of the Fathers to bear on the subject. Archbishop Averky shows a familiarity with Protestant biblical scholarship, as well.

One could read the commentary cover to cover simply to gain a better understanding of the Gospels, but it also can be used as the starting point for the study of any given passage of the Gospels. Particularly when studying the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), looking at parallel passages can provide deeper insights into a passage. This text helps connect those parallels, and helps one understand how these parallels should be understood together, through the perspective of Holy Tradition.

It is a text that would benefit any pious laymen, but which should be a go to reference for Orthodox clergy. I look forward to seeing the subsequent volumes in this series published as well.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Stump the Priest: Women Singing in the Church

The Daughters of St. Philip

Question: "What does St Paul mean when he says "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law" (1 Corinthians 14:34)? Does this mean that women cannot direct or sing in the choir?"

Interpreting this passage is complicated by the fact that it is in the context of a discussion of how speaking in tongues and prophecy were to be handled during the services of the Church, and yet because of the abuse of these practices by those who were suffering from spiritual delusion, the Church ceased to allow such things to be done in the context of the services altogether. Furthermore, because women who claimed to have the gift of prophecy were very prominent in the Montanist heresy (which began in the second century), in many of the comments about this passage you find in the Fathers, they are using it polemically. And so it may be that polemics led some to take the view that this passage means that women should refrain not only from speaking in prophecy or singing audibly in the Church, but even from praying audibly. However, this view was not unanimously held.

St. Paul said earlier in the same epistle: "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven" (1 Corinthians 11:5), and here he makes no suggestion that they should not pray or prophesy in Church... only that they should not do so without their heads uncovered. St. John Chrysostom points out:

"For there were, as I said, both men who prophesied and women who had this gift at that time, as the daughters of Philip, (Acts 21:9) as others before them and after them: concerning whom also the prophet spake of old: “your sons shall prophesy, and your daughters shall see visions” (c.f. Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17 -- from Homily 26 on 1 Corinthians).

In his 37th homily on 1 Corinthians (which covers 14:34), he says that the prohibition is directed against women speaking "idly," or "inconsiderately" (i.e. out of the proper order discussed earlier in chapter 14), but he does not suggest that the statement prohibits women who had the gift of prophecy from prophesying in Church.

The context of chapter 14 is about the proper order that should prevail when people either spoke in tongues or prophesied... and there is a previous instance in which St. Paul speaks of keeping silence:

"If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God (1 Corinthians 14:27-8).

Clearly in this case, St. Paul is not making an absolute ban on such a person speaking in Church -- he is only forbidding him to speak in tongues if there is no one to interpret (in which case no one else would receive any edification). And so the silence is with regard to speaking out of good order.

Then St. Paul again speaks of keeping silent:

"Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:29-33).

When it speaks of letting the others judge, this suggests that after a person would prophesy, others would comment on it -- most likely this would have been done by those who had charge of the Church (certainly an Apostle, if present, and the local bishop, presbyters, and deacons). Probably some would ask questions about what was said. It is in both of these respects that St. Paul is telling women to keep silence, and if they had questions to ask their husbands about it later -- but this meant keeping silence with regard to these specific things. And St. John Chrysostom's comments about refraining from idle talk were certainly also applicable here.

Of course, in our context, we would not allow either a man or a women to speak in tongues or prophesy in the context of a service, but the point is that the statement that women should keep silence was not an absolute prohibition against women praying audibly or singing.

St. Ephrem the Syrian actually formed women choirs in Edessa (see "Spoken Words, Voiced Silence: Biblical Women in Syriac Tradition, by Susan Ashbrook Harvey). According to Fr. Robert Taft (a noted historian of Eastern Liturgics), there was also a woman's choir in the Hagia Sophia (Interview of Sister Vassa Larin, "Orthodoxy is not a Religion of Fear").

There are also long standing traditions of congregational singing, such as among the Carpatho-Russians, which obviously included women in the singing. And those who have grown up in that context will tell you that this was one of the most powerful aspects of parish life.

Furthermore, women have been singing in mixed choirs and even directing choirs in the Russian Church for a very long time now, and saints, such as St. John of Shanghai have not only raised no objections to it, but have blessed it to be so. So while one may make a case against women singing on the basis of the comments of some Fathers, the fact that the Church has allowed it, and that this has been without any controversy, and with the blessing of many saints should restrain anyone from making dogmatic arguments against the practice.

It is also a fact that without women singers and choir directors, many parishes would be hard pressed to pull off a decent service, and so even if you could make the argument that in an ideal world, choirs would consist of only tonsured male readers, the problem remains that we do not live in such an ideal world, and have to use the resources that we have. St. Paul's concern in his first epistle to the Corinthians was that "all things be done decently, and in good order" (1 Corinthians 14:40). If our interpretation of his admonitions leads us to the opposite effect, then I would suggest this means we are misreading him on some level.

When a baby girl is baptized, she is Churched. And in that service, the priest brings her into the middle of the Church and says "In the midst of the church shall she sing praises unto Thee" (c.f. Psalm 21[22]:22). It is hard to imagine why we would say this if we did not intend that it should actually happen.


Since this article was originally posted, someone referred me to "Female Deacons in the Byzantine Church," by Valerie A. Karras, which provides further information about the women choir in the Hagia Sophia, but also about similar choirs in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (more properly, the Church of the Resurrection) in Jerusalem, and the Cathedral in Thessaloniki. I would take issue with the title of this article, because a Deaconess was not a female form of Deacon, but a very different office, but the article contains good information on the subject women choirs.

For More Information:

On Montanism: See Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, 5:16.

On Montanus: See the Dictionary of Christian Biography, s.v. "Montanus".