Feast Of The Metropolis/Ecumenism

Today the Metropolis of Boston celebrated its feast day – St. Andrew is our patron saint.  There was vespers last night and orthros and liturgy this morning at the Metropolis in the Cathedral chapel.  Customarily the Roman Catholic bishop attends and has often preached in years past.  This year Bishop Arthur Kennedy was there representing Cardinal O’Malley.  Rev. Laura Everett was also in attendance – she is the new Executive Director of the Mass. Council of Churches.  This is a picture of them with Metropolitan Methodios at the reception after vespers:

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November 30th, 2011 by Fr. Greg

More On Maltese

The intrepid Sal Ferriera has hooked me up with some good follow-up links on the issue of what language was spoken when St. Paul landed in Malta – check them out here and here (obrigado, Sal!).

The common wisdom is that Arabic, as spread during the onset of Islam, only displaced other Semitic languages but never really dislodged non-Semitic tongues.  Makes sense, but I would argue it never totally displaced the Semitic languages either.  People in Iraq and Morocco do not, for example, speak Central Arabian Arabic.  They largely speak their original language with a thick Arabic veneer.  When Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ movie came out some years back I went to see it with a group from the seminary, and I was curious if my Levantine school chums would be able to understand the Aramaic spoken in the movie.  Despite the European pronunciation from the characters, they did indeed understand most of what was spoken.  Levantine Arabic is pretty much Aramaic (more properly Assyrian) with a huge influence of Arabic proper.

Using this model it is quite likely that the original Phoenician tongue on Malta has survived and developed through the years and absorbed vocabulary and influences from other languages.  I imagine Paul would have either spoken Aramaic with his Punic interlocutors and eventually come to an understanding, or he would have had a strained, very formal conversation in biblical Hebrew and hopefully both parties would figure it out.

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November 29th, 2011 by Fr. Greg

Woden’s Day

The latest issue of Sofia – our monthly ‘zine – came out today.  Copies should be arriving in the mail soon, and they are available in the narthex.  The website will have the December issue up at the beginning of the month.  Here is an excerpt from my article (the Santa picture I reference can be found here):

American Christmas largely developed through the popular reception of the writings of Washington Irving and Charles Dickens.  Traditions like Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and yule logs are largely German or Germanic in origin, and were popularized by those writers.  Even before their time, the many German- and Dutch-speaking enclaves in the Colonies and early America celebrated with these traditions.  Santa Claus is a combination of St. Nicholas and Father Christmas, a religious figure with pagan origins going back to the Anglo-Saxon god Woden, the equivalent to the Norse god Odin and the source of the word Wednesday (Woden’s Day).  Santa Claus today appears rather cartoonish, with his red suit and boots and hat, but if you look at depictions of him going back a few centuries you can see the evolution from his religious roots.  The attached illustration of Father Christmas from the late 17th century could almost have been copied from an Orthodox icon of St. Nicholas.  The name Santa Claus itself comes from the saint, and he was known for his generosity and gift-giving.  Forget the elves and North Pole stuff; Santa Claus is a modern depiction of our saint and offers us a teaching tool as we return to the religious roots of Christmas.

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November 28th, 2011 by Fr. Greg

Spirits Of The Dead

The other day I mentioned Lee Habeeb in a post and pointed out that he was a UVa grad (School of Law, actually).  Well, I occasionally put up poetry from Edgar Allan Poe here, and I would be remiss not point out that Poe attended the University of Virginia for a brief period, although things did not end well for him there.  It is Sunday night and I don’t have much in the tank for blogging, so let me leave you in his capable hands:

Thy soul shall find itself alone
‘Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone —
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy:
Be silent in that solitude
Which is not loneliness — for then
The spirits of the dead who stood
In life before thee are again
In death around thee — and their will
Shall then overshadow thee: be still.

For the night — tho’ clear — shall frown —
And the stars shall look not down,
From their high thrones in the Heaven,
With light like Hope to mortals given —
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever :

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish —
Now are visions ne’er to vanish —
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more — like dew-drop from the grass:

The breeze — the breath of God — is still —
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy — shadowy — yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token —
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries! —

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November 27th, 2011 by Fr. Greg

Paul, Malta And Language

I have been participating in the Preachers Institute “read the New Testament in the 40 days leading up to Christmas” project.  It is quite enjoyable and edifying.  I tend to concentrate my scripture readings on the Old Testament, so this exercise has provided me with a refresher course on parts of the NT that I do not read very often.  In finishing up Acts the other day, I came across the episode where Paul gets shipwrecked on Malta.  Maltese, famously, is the only Semitic language written in the Latin script, but modern Maltese took form after the Arabs conquered the island during a later wave of Muslim conquest.  So what language was spoken on Malta when Paul landed there?  Phoenician of some sort?  Latin?  Does anyone know?  I imagine Paul would have been able to adapt to whatever Semitic tongue that may have been spoken there, and could certainly communicate in Greek and Latin (he was a Roman citizen).  What was proto-Maltese?

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November 26th, 2011 by Fr. Greg

Peanuts And The Gospel

This is a very cool article by Lee Habeeb (UVa grad!) on A Charlie Brown Christmas and how this beloved program almost never happened.  It is an interesting story, but the most surprising thing for me was that the (I imagine) typically square and unadventurous TV execs and sponsors were scared that Linus’s recitation of a passage from the gospel of Luke was going to be controversial and a disaster.  I first saw the show in the late ’70s as a little kid, and I recognized even then that there was something old-fashioned about Snoopy and the gang, and that the program was very different than much of the other kids fare on TV.  I always figured the Christian message was something from the past – who would have thought that it was controversial in 1965? I understand things were changing at that point but I would have thought the networks would not be swept up in the cultural change until well after that.

One of the reasons that I think Mad Men (which I thoroughly enjoy watching) gets so much buzz is because it depicts a 1960s that has largely been forgotten.  The ’60s in popular mythology conjure up Woodstock, hippies, protests, colorful art and music, and other such things.  Mad Men captures the early and mid-60s and indeed what much of mainstream America was like in the late ’60s.  Woodstock was one thing, but take a look at baseball cards from 1970 (which feature photos from the year before).  Not an afro or long hairdo in sight.

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November 25th, 2011 by Fr. Greg

Annual Thanksgiving Rant

A good friend of mine always had an interesting perspective on American holidays.  He was Turkish and grew up in Turkey and other countries but went to an American school, so when he came here he could blend in easily (he spoke English without an accent) and I always found his observations on American stuff to be fresh and insightful.  He always appreciated Thanksgiving above our other holidays.  Christmas was way too commercial and Easter was fun but not of much significance to him religiously, but Thanksgiving was a time to be with our group of friends – an adopted family in America, as it were.

I held this view until recently.  Last year I talked about how it seems that Thanksgiving has turned into an excuse for gluttony.  This is actually an acceptable part of the culture of Thanksgiving; if you watch the news or read news websites there are features on how to deal with eating too much turkey or whatever on the holiday.  I am not trying to be a wet blanket here, and yes, I will probably overdo it a bit today – in our case there are tons of appetizers where we go – but by the time dinner rolls around I am full and usually eat almost nothing at the formal sit-down part of the day.  Gluttony is the only one of the seven deadly sins that we always dance around – you have to eat, after all – so every meal is a potential opportunity for gluttony.  Thanksgiving almost sanctions it.

This year’s rant is more about the holiday’s place in our culture and how it is has lost much of its bite.  Thanksgiving has been secularized just like other holidays (and keep in mind I am a defender of Santa and the Easter bunny, so I am not a no-fun, super strict person).  I have heard the phrase “give thanks” many, many times in the lead up to today.  Give thanks to whom?  This key part is missing, as is any acknowledgment of the Almighty in reference to the day.  So, in addition to my suggestion that we don’t overdo it on the food front, I have to add – please remember to whom we are giving thanks, and be sure to think about this and give voice to it.  Happy Thanksgiving to all, and more later…

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November 24th, 2011 by Fr. Greg