Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Stump the Priest: The Meaning of "Alleluia" and the Blessing of a Priest

Hallelujah in Hebrew

This is a two question post....

Question 1: "What does "Alleluia" mean? I often heard that it means "Praise the Lord" as a Protestant. I've noticed that we always say this word to God, with one exception: the 13th Kontakion of the Akathist Hymn, where we cry to the Theotokos "Alleluia Alleluia Alleluia!" How are we to understand this since we know that we do not offer worship (latreia) but only the relative veneration of honor (dulia) and bowing down (proskynesis), to the saints? Are we simply saying to Her, "Praise the Lord!"?"

The word "Alleluia" is the slightly Hellenized form of the Hebrew word "Hallelujah," which is the second person plural, imperative of the verb praise "Hallel" joined to the word "Yah," the short form of "Yahweh," the name of God, which is usually translated into English as "LORD." So it is a summons to praise the Lord. Often in the Psalms, we call upon various groups to "Praise the Lord". For example, the Polyeleos begins with "Praise ye the name of the Lord; O ye servants, praise the Lord. Ye that stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God, Praise ye the Lord, for the Lord is good; chant unto His name, for it is good" (Psalm 134[135]:1-3). Psalm 148 likewise begins: "Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the highest. Praise Him, all ye His angels; praise Him, all ye His hosts. Praise Him, O sun and moon; praise Him, all ye stars and light. Praise Him, ye heavens of heavens, and thou water that art above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord" (Psalm 148:1-5). And so yes, as the living temple that gave birth to God the Word, were are in that hymn calling on her to join us in praising the Lord.

Question 2: "Why do Priests, when blessing the faithful, make the cross "backwards" (i.e. from left to right.)? I am looking specifically for the HISTORY of this practice. Are there any ancient churches where the Priests make make the cross over the faithful in the opposite direction (viz. right to left)?"

The priest makes the sign of the cross over people when he is blessing them in the same direction that they would (at least if Orthodox) make it over themselves. From the priests perspective, he makes the last movement from his own left to right, but from the perspective of the person who is receiving the blessing, he is making it from their right to their left, just as they bless themselves. Even though Roman Catholic's bless themselves in the opposite direction, Roman Catholic priest give the blessing in the same direction. There may be some group that does it differently, but I am not aware of any.

A laymen can bless in the same way, when blessing his food, or blessing his children... the only difference being that he holds his fingers, just as he does when making the sign of the Cross. And when blessing his child, normally he would actually touch his fingers to the child, just as the child would when blessing himself.