Category Archives: To Ponder

An onomash quote 1

Before we begin what is the question at the end.

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Putting Christian men in their place

During past reflections on Psalm 1 and other topics, I notice the use of masculine imagery and masculine pronouns. I am not opposed to this as such, but I often wonder if men–even Orthodox Christian men–see the preponderance of male and masculine imagery as a place of special privilege within the Kingdom of God and the Orthodox Church.

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The accusation is often laid against the Church that she is an archaic boys club; that the system and hierarchy in place preclude all female involvement outside of the potluck dinner, the meditation garden, and the choir; that the feminine is looked down upon while the masculine and macho are celebrated to an extreme degree. (All one has to do is look to the iteration of Fight Church to see the extreme spectrum of this broken worldview.) Rightly so, I fear. We Christians too often use the Bible as a weapon–not against sin, but against each other. We Orthodox use the Holy Canons of our church as cannons to be used in the offensive against perceived threats. In this, I fear, we have lost not only our proper view of women but a sacred view of men.

Both Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition discuss with great reverence the good creation of God in creating Man male and female. Both, we are told, were created in His image; both were created for each other; and together they become a living icon of both the Trinitarian relationship and the mystical union between Christ and His Church. Our hymnography uses masculine language to describe women and feminine adjectives to describe men, and none of this is considered wrong nor obscene nor emasculation, nor chauvinistic. Yet we are confronted time and again by men and women whose misunderstanding of their God ordained roles leads them to lash out, belittle, and degrade others based on sex and gender. Increasingly, we buy into the Uni-sex heresy which denies the difference between sexes so much as to make them interchangeable! Both of these responses do undue violence to the Body and call evil what God calls good.

We have so misunderstood and misinterpreted the roles of women in the Church that the roles of men are often miscast as the oppressor or the do-anything-you-want frat brothers of Holy Orthodoxy. Instead of casting the priesthood and holy orders in the light of special significance and limited occupancy, some men see it as their right to pass through the Doors of the iconostasis simply because they are male. Others are quick to point out that “women can’t do that” without taking into consideration that those same forbidden areas are forbidden to the majority of men in the church as well. It is time, as Jodie said, for both Men and Women to be in their proper place.

What does this discussion of Orthodox Anthropology, sexism, and sex roles mean to you, your parish, your church experience?

Page Divider for Author Bios

Caleb (Edward) Shoemaker is a teacher of Latin and Bible in Upstate New York. He has a degree in Biblical Languages from Gordon-Conwell Theological Institute in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He is kept busy raising four beautiful children with his wife Amelia. Check out their Etsy shop Embroidered Ameilia specializing in Pascha blanket patterns for the American Orthodox.

The Lord’s Prayer part six: debts and debtors

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Matthew 6:12

I went to a little Roman Catholic elementary school, at Mass every morning I heard “forgive us our tresspasses…” In our family’s Orthodox church we sang “forgive us our debts…” Very confusing for a child like me. I remember citing it as a major difference between the Roman and the Orthodox churches – along with the sign of the cross – in conversation with one of the Marion sisters in the principal’s office. I was around ten. Of course as I grew it became clear that the debts/trespass issue had nothing to do with denomination and everything to do with what translation used. Many Orthodox ask the Father to forgive their trespasses. Everytime I would hear tresspasses used I would always wonder “why the difference?” and more importantly “which is correct?” Somewhere along the line I discovered the interlinear bible. An interlinear bible has the Greek and in our case English side by side word by word. It turns out the Greek word ὀφειλήματα, often translated as trespasses, means debt or more specifically “that which is owed.”

In Scripture everything has meaning.  The Rabbis say that even the empty spaces have meaning. Word choices have meaning. Let us then assume that Jesus used the word “debts” for a reason and examine that more closely. Debts is a rather narrow word, a financial term.   It means that which is owed, money borrowed, wages to be paid, obligation. A “debtor” is under bond to do a task. There are many places in Scripture that employ financial language when referring to spiritual matters; I would like to highlight just three. The first is from Luke’s Gospel and is the counterpart to Matthew 6:12

“And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.”

Luke 11:4

 

Here the word “sins”, in greek ἁμαρτάνω, literally means to miss the mark and is different than debts (ὀφειλήματα.) Bearing Luke’s word choice in mind let’s meditate on the forgiveness of debts in the famed Romans 3 our second selection.

“For there is no distinction;  since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.”

Romans 3:22-26 (emphasis added)

The redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) language here is often connected with paying the debt of someone else; often someone who has been made a slave to the creditor.

In financial language, Jesus bought our debt (talk about toxic assets) and then forgave it. We are redeemed, but that is only our Savior’s part – the part we could never accomplish. We must work out our salvation. We must forgive others. In the “Our Father” we are predicating our forgiveness on how we forgive others. This is deeply civic. As icons of the triune Godhead we are communal and that communion is only possible in Love (cf. Cor 13:4-8). Our model for Love is Jesus Christ – The Redeemer – the one who payed the debt once and for all; the one who forgives our debts as we forgive our debtors. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” is not merely a quid pro quo, akin to “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land” (Isiah 1:19-20), Matthew 6:12 is deeply soteriological, speaking directly to the Orthodox Theology of Salvation known as Soteriology. We are to “be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat 5:48) 

Let’s end with one final pericope from the Gospel according to Matthew. One of the “Kingdom” parables we are all perhaps familiar with it is about a servant who owed ten thousand talents to his Lord. The servant couldn’t pay so the Lord ordered the man imprisoned and family and land be sold to pay the debt. Interestingly enough the servant “fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’” He does not ask forgiveness, but an extension. “And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” The parable doesn’t stop there. Right after he is forgiven runs into a fellow servant who owes him money.

 “and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:23-35

Page Divider for Author BiosI am a reader in a small Orthodox Christian parish on the edge of the prairie. I am married and have three children. The emergency room is my day job, at night I play mostly traditional American music on the banjo, guitar, mandolin etc. I am a PK and so is my spouse. Also an avid reader and book collector.

Blessed Is The Son of Man: Reflections on Psalm 1

Below is the first of what hopefully will be many discussions on Psalm 1. Please feel encouraged to participate by commenting on this topic either here on the blog or our FB page.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Psalm 1:1-3

The image here of a tree stands out for many reasons, but first it is important to point out that the man being referred to in this Psalm is Christ. He is blessed. He is the Law and upon the Law does He unceasingly mediate, much like we are called to do in our prayers.

He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers. What is a tree, but a strong foundation which gives us refuge and brings forth nourishment so that we may live? What is a tree, but that which reaches up to the heavens, much like the columns of a church, symbolizing that Heaven and Earth are joined together here and now?

And His fruit shall be made known. When shall it be made known? How does the Tradition of the Church show us that this is so? What is the fruit spoken of here?

theophany

Let’s examine the Theophany icon. Christ’s nature becomes known to us when the Holy Spirit descends (and later at Transfiguration, a voice from the Heavens declares “Behold my Son.”) Look at Christ, standing upright in the water, which is eternally blessed. He is strong and firm. He is solid in His foundation and soon to be the One who will give us our daily bread as nourishment for both body and soul. He is our refuge, as we become His fruits through His teachings. He is the True Vine and we are the branches. If we remain in Him, we will bear much fruit, to the glory of the Father (see John 15: 1-8).

We too can become blessed. The Psalmist shows us that just as blessedness can be attained by doing deeds, it can also be achieved by what we do not do. For by not walking, standing, or sitting (all things which we simply must do throughout the course of the day) with the ungodly and those who would scorn righteousness, we can begin our life-giving journey with Christ. We can be members of the life-giving tree. Let us therefore remain steadfast in prayer and in meditating upon the Scriptures, so that we may be firmly planted in Christ.

The Lord’s Prayer part five: Supersubstantial bread

imageGive us this day our supersubstantial bread.

 -Matthew 6:11 Douay Rheims

The word is epiousios (ἐπιούσιος) in Greek – translated daily in most English bibles- and I find it fascinating, possibly telling, and even a bit confusing.

At a youth conference in Boston when in my teens I met a seminary student from Holy Cross. During a conversation about translating from Greek he mentioned the word epiousios and how it doesn’t exactly mean daily in reference to bread. I don’t remember much of the rest of our conversation save this, and it has stuck with me since. The seminarian said: “The word (epiousios) is not found anywhere except  in the Gospels. I think Jesus made the word up.” As it turns out this is a popular belief; in fact the great Origen thought that the authors of Matthew and Luke made it up.

So what is this word? Msgr. Charles Pope writes: “[Epiousios] seems to be a compound word from epi+ousios. Now epi means over, above, beyond, in addition to, or some similar superlative. Ousious refers to the substance of something. Hence, to put these words together we have something amounting to supersubstantial, or super-essential.”

Is there a noetic or spiritual component to this? Is it about more than bodily nourishment?

Some of the Fathers take epiousios to mean simply daily. In his commentary on Matthew St. John Chrysostom writes:

Grace1918photographEnstrom But mark, I pray thee, how even in things that are bodily, that which is spiritual abounds. For it is neither for riches, nor for delicate living, nor for costly raiment, nor for any other such thing, but for bread only, that He hath commanded us to make our prayer. And for “daily bread,” so as not to “take thought for the morrow.” Because of this He added, “daily bread,” that is, bread for one day.

And not even with this expression is He satisfied, but adds another too afterwards, saying, “Give us this day;” so that we may not, beyond this, wear ourselves out with the care of the following day.

We’ve already dug into this reading of “daily bread” in part four, so let’s focus on supersubstantial. St. Jerome says:

 Jerome_01The word used by the Hebrews to denote supersubstantial bread is maar. I found that it means “for tomorrow” so that the meaning here is “give us this day our bread for tomorrow” that is, for the future.” (Commentary on Matthew 1.6.11)

For the future as in tomorrow would seem to contradict Mat. 6:34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”  However, we might take Lukes rendering of the phrase (Luke 11:3) which adds “each day” from which we could infer that we are asking the Father to care for us all the days of our lives.

I find St. Jerometo be a good resource for this because his translation of the Bible (the Vulgate) gives us two renderings of epiousios – one as daily and one as supersubstantial. When I asked my friend John Pepino, professor of Latin at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary why this is he put it this way, “it looks like St. Jerome was hedging his bets translating one as daily and one as supersubstantial.” He shrugs with a grin “we don’t know.”

In the same commentary St. Jerome writes:

We can also understand supersubstantial bread in another sense as bread that is above all substances and surpasses all creatures(ibid). “

What if this “bread for the future” is eschatological in nature? The bread of the Kingdom? The super-essential body of Christ, the bread above all and surpassing all? The Eucharistic connotations are hard to ignore.

The Kingdom is certainly likened to a feast in Scripture (Isaiah 25:6; Matthew 8:11; 22:1-10; Luke 13:29; 14:15-24; Rev.19:6-9) When we assemble as the Body of Christ for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy we are gathering in the Kingdom. All divine services begin “Blessed is the Kingdom…” What do we do in the Kingdom? We feast!

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St. Cyprian of Carthage in Treatise IV “On The Lord’s Prayer” writes:

As the prayer goes forward, we ask and say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And this may be understood both spiritually and literally, because either way of understanding it is rich in divine usefulness to our salvation.  For Christ is the bread of life; and this bread does not belong to all men, but it is ours. And according as we say, “Our Father,” because He is the Father of those who understand and believe; so also we call it “our bread,” because Christ is the bread of those who are in union with His body.

He goes on to dwell on the literal aspects of “daily bread” as well quoting Proverbs 10:3 he writes “For daily bread cannot be wanting to the righteous man, since it is written, ‘The Lord will not slay the soul of the righteous by hunger.’” He also reminds us of Matthew 6:34. St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Mystogigical Catechesis certainly sees “daily bread” as the Eucharist writing:

“Our common bread is not supersubstantial (ἐπιούσιος): but this Holy Bread is supersubstantial, that is, appointed for the substance of the soul. This Bread goeth not into the belly and is not cast out into the draught, but is distributed into thy whole system for the benefit of body and soul.”

61. Icon Jesus in chalice of life

I take great delight in the layers of Truth found in the Holy Scriptures. I like to think of the double meaning in “daily/supersubstantial bread” is not unlike the union of flesh and spirit that is man. We are not pure material nor are we pure spirit like the angels. Christ quoting Deuteronomy said “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Mat.4:4) Here he is not denying that we live by eating, but reminding us that our life is more than flesh and blood. Pondering this saying further will reveal an icon of the Eucharist. Christ is the Word of the Father and we have our life in Him.

They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

– John 6:30-35

The Lord’s Prayer part four: Daily Bread in translation

imageGive us this day our daily bread. -Matthew 6:11

This is perhaps my favorite element in the Lord’s Prayer. It is such a telling phrase – earthy, carnal, and simple. And that’s just the English translation! Before we delve into the Greek – that is for the next To Ponder called “Part five: Supersubstantial bread” focused on the word ἐπιούσιον (epiousios) – I would like to ponder the English translation by itself, how we hear and speak this petition daily. What can we learn of God and ourselves from this simple request:

“Give us this day our daily bread”

Blessing bread in the lity service
Blessing bread in the lity service

Until now the Lord’s Prayer has focused on the Father and how we should relate to Him. Now we turn in our prayer to ourselves and our needs. Interestingly it is care for the body that is the subject of our first personal request. I am reminded of the second creation account in Genesis:

“then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

We are a whole being. We are both flesh and spirit. Carnal and noetic. Both are created good “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” Gen1:31 The Lord cares for our spiritual and our physical well-being. This of course is evidenced by the Incarnation of God the Son and completed by His Resurrection. In a simpler way we see this care for the body and also this temporal life in this simple petition “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Palestinian women making bread
Palestinian women making bread

Why bread? Agriculture -and by extension bread- is one of the main contenders along with religion for the reason we stopped our nomadic life in favor of a settled life. It seems natural to understand bread not only as bread, but as a symbol of sustenance because bread is inextricably  linked with civilization – with our way of life. I am reminded of the old proverb “bread is the staff of life.” Why daily? Perhaps it is a reference to the mana narrative in Exodus 16:4-21. Each day the Israelites gathered mana. They neither had too little nor too much. If, concerned about food for the next day they kept extra mana it “bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them.” (Ex16:20) This is such a marvelous reminder to trust in God each day; ever aware that God is the giver and sustainer of life.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:25-26

The Lord’s Prayer part three: Kingdom and Will

Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

-Matthew 6:10

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

– Opening for all Divine services in the Orthodox Church

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We are people of the Kingdom. We have a Lord, a Kyrios, a King. One Godhead in three persons: God the Father God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We are part of His Kingdom. Indeed the Kingdom is within us! “For behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Luke 17:20-21

For an interesting meditation on the idea of the Kingdom being “in our midst” and “within us” see my To Ponder on the word ἐντός.

Christ-PantokratorWhen we gather as church or when we pray alone in our closet we must make present the Kingdom of God. “Thy Kingdom come” is a petition for just this. It is a request to be a subject in the Kingdom – to be in the Kingdom of heaven here on earth and actualize it within our hearts.

This petition also has an eschatological character. In the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, speaking of Christ we say “He shall come again with Glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” We are also looking forward to resurrection – to life eternal in the Kingdom.

Naturally coupled with our desire for the Kingdom is a desire for the will of God to be done. “Thy will be done.” Here we are placing ourselves personally in the Kingdom by aligning our will with the will of the Father. “Father…not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42) Christ the perfect man reveals in himself this perfect union of our will with the will of the Father.

“For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:40

Brothers and sisters let us always desire the Kingdom of Heaven, perfectly submitting our will to the will of the Father in the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.