Deja Vu All Over Again

It looks like I should have read ahead – today’s assignment is “Reading the Scriptures”.  I got into this yesterday, so let me take a different approach.  It is best to know scripture well in your own language, so you can make connections and put it all together.  When you are ready to take it to the next level, then it is time to learn Hebrew and Biblical Greek, followed by Syriac/Assyrian and Arabic (to help with the Hebrew).  I recommend these awesome books:

-Lambdin’s or Weingreen’s books on learning Hebrew – you can find them easily on Amazon.  They both take different approaches, so find the one that is right for you.  They are designed for self-study, as are all of the books here.

-For Classical Arabic and Syriac, get the intro books by Wheeler Thackston.  Thackston is great because he teaches without vowel markers, so there is no need to wean yourself off of them as your grasp on the languages develops.  Answer keys are also available.

-For Greek, Machen is the classic text.  I recommend Croy’s primer.  It is nauseatingly PC in its presentation but is an easy way to start out with Biblical Greek.

When I was at Holy Cross we used the Paine book on NT Greek (and it was a catastrophe) although the book store sold the Croy text as well.  We used Lambdin for Hebrew and Thackston for Syriac.  While at St. Vlad’s I had to adject to Weingreen for Hebrew, and I now prefer that text.

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November 30th, 2014 by Fr. Greg

Day 15: Ignorance

We are tasked today with blogging about ignorance, and based on the quotes selected by Fr. Peck I think we are encouraged to talk about ignorance of scripture.  This is a _huge_ problem in the Orthodox world at the lay and clerical levels.  Among clergy, there is a tendency to overemphasize the Church Fathers to the detriment of scripture, even though the Fathers were by and large interpreting scripture.  Shouldn’t we know our source material?  If you search online – I will not link to it – there is a book on patristic wisdom that is subtitled “The Bible of Orthodox Spirituality” – and that is not a joke! There is also an ignorance of Hebrew – in my large graduating class from seminary only a couple of us knew Hebrew.  Knowing Hebrew and other semitic languages gives you amazing insights into the original thinking of the scriptural writers.

On the lay level the main problem is lack of interest or, more likely, lack of time for reading the Bible.  And those of us who grew up in the Church largely did not grow up in a Bible-reading culture the way a Baptist, say, would have.  Yet until recently knowledge of scripture was the mark of a sophisticated and intelligent person, regardless of how devout he was.  Muslims – again, no matter how devout – know their scripture. Admittedly, the Qur’an is even shorter than our New Testament, but still…We need to read the Bible!

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November 30th, 2014 by Fr. Greg

Less Is More

Friday’s assignment – Black Friday’s assignment – in our blogging exercise is “less is more”.  I am psyched to write about this because I had the best Black Friday of my life, and my friends and I had more fun than anyone else in the Worcester area.  We continued a tradition, or perhaps established one is the better phrasing, since this is the second year of doing this – we played rugby at high noon at Crompton Park in Worcester.  The twist this year was there was snow on the ground.  It was quite cold, but last year was colder and the ground was wet – miserable stuff.  We were fortified with hot chocolate and other beverages.  After the game we went over to The Nines on Milbury St. for chili and fellowship.  Below is a picture of me running with the ball.  How does this fit into the less is more theme?  Well, we did spend money at the bar, but rather than shopping and going crazy we had a great time together.


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November 29th, 2014 by Fr. Greg

A Prayer Of Thanksgiving

Fr. Dimitri Moraitis, Fr. Dean’s successor in Worcester and  a good friend of mine, posted this Thanksgiving prayer on Facebook:

A Prayer for your Thanksgiving Table
O Lord of all creation: Be blessed for the earth and all it holds, for the seas and all their riches, and for the heavens and all that fills them. Be blessed for the mountains and valleys, for the lakes and rivers and streams, for the forests, deserts, and plains and all that inhabit them. In relishing the blessings of this day, we are well aware of the way you have dealt with us at all times. Your mercy is so abundant and your love for us is so great that, although we were spiritually dead in our disobedience, you brought us to life through your Christ. Therefore, Master, enable us to reflect on this mystery throughout the coming day, calling to mind all you have done for us, that we may reap the benefits of the day, while enjoying the company of those we love.

For you deserve all glory, honor, and worship, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen

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November 27th, 2014 by Fr. Greg


Almsgiving is a crucial part of our faith and one that I fear we Orthodox forget about sometimes.  The holidays offer us a good chance to help people out – giving away turkeys at Thanksgiving, doing coat drives at Christmas – but the reality is that there is need year round.  One of my favorite examples of almsgiving is something our Philoptochos did last year.  The ladies brought in a classical music trio to perform in our hall and had various local charities bring people – mostly those living in shelters – to come and enjoy the show.  The idea is that people going through tough times don’t get to do stuff like this and are too busy trying to survive.  But music and art are good for the soul and should not be neglected.

The word alms comes, ultimately, from the Greek eleemosyni, which means mercy.

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November 27th, 2014 by Fr. Greg


Let’s stay with the Near Eastern languages theme for another day.  Today’s assignment in the blogging exercise is dogs.  Dogs are not highly regarded as domestic animals in the Near East because they are considered unclean, as Fr. Peck’s article illustrates.  In Arabic, the name for dog is kalb (think of the Hebrew name Caleb – Joshua’s fellow spy – which also means dog and is from the same root).  The word for heart is qalb, with the only difference being the voiceless uvular plosive at the beginning rather than the k sound that we now in English.  The qaf sound is difficult to do without practice, so if you are learning Arabic and want to call someone “my heart” or whatever, be careful – substituting k for qaf makes it into an insult!

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November 25th, 2014 by Fr. Greg

Starting A Fire

The English word fire has the same root as the Greek word pyr (as in pyromaniac).  The voiceless bilabial stop of the Greek easily becomes the aspirated version of the same in English.  The root is the same in many of the Indo-European languages.  Things are a little different in the semitic world.  The Assyrian and Arabic words for fire are nura and nar, respectively, and obviously share the same root (remember it is only the consonants that matter when doing this).  They have the connotation of light rather than heat (think of a funeral pyre in English, which is about the burning rather than the light).  This makes sense from languages that come from warm regions – the light of the fire was more important than the heat.  Although the desert can be quite cold at night, it is a relief from the scorching sun of the day; this is why the moon was considered a major deity in the Near East in ancient times.  The province in Afghanistan once known as Kafiristan – land of the unbelievers – became Nuristan – land of light – once the people there became Muslims in the late 19th century – they were “enlightened” from their “pagan” – really Hindu beliefs.  In reality they were forcibly converted to Islam.  They are similar to the Kalash and others in the area who have held out against Islam and maintain their ancient cultures while under intense pressure to convert. They are also Indo-European in origin and have features that would not make them look out of place in a Greek village.

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November 24th, 2014 by Fr. Greg