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 the 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 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 they 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 there 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 her 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