Day 18: Staff

Today’s topic follows yesterday’s nicely, because the staff has historically had two connotations – an instrument of support, like a shepherd’s staff, and an instrument of punishment.  Cirlot suggests that the staff “exemplifies an elementary principle of symbolism: the correlation and interchangeability of the material and spiritual aspects of a given situation”.  Tonight I will be at St. Nicholas in Clinton for their annual vespers service.  His Eminence will be there so I will get a chance to see his staff or crozier.  The top of his staff has a cross on top of two serpents facing each other.  This represents both Moses’s bronze serpent and the triumph of the cross over the serpent of Eden.  Most importantly, the staff never goes beyond the altar table, because the powers of the Metropolitan (and indeed any of us) end right there – Christ takes over from that point.

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December 5th, 2014 by Fr. Greg

John Barleycorn Must Die

Fr. Peck has another fun topic for us to blog about – Bread or Beer.  Bread is pretty much non-existent in my life these days, and beer is reserved for drinking during our Tuesday night gigs and the ceremonial beer during a typical Patriots beat-down.  Below is the awesome John Barleycorn, a traditional tune that Steve Winwood started recording for a solo album that turned into a Traffic reunion.  The lyrics contain the British folk story take of barley being raised, harvested and made into alcohol.

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November 19th, 2014 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


Once in a while in scripture there is an intersection between Greek mythology and the Old or New Testament writings.  The one that immediately springs to mind is Japheth, one of Noah’s sons.  I imagine his name comes from Iapetus of Greek myth – his story is here.  A more obvious connection is in Matthew 3:9b, where John the Baptist says “For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”  The quote contains a pun if you were to translate it into Hebrew – banim – sons – and ‘banim – stones.  In Greek the pun is not obvious – lithon and tekna – but in the myth of Deucalion’s Flood Deucalion throws stones that became men, with laas and laos being nearly the same word.   Jim Morrison, a devotee of esoteric knowledge and myth, used elements shared with these stories in his song The Soft Parade: “Catacombs, nursery bones, winter women growing stones, carrying babies to the river.”

Was there a myth floating around the eastern Mediterranean/Near East back in the day associating children and stones?  I have not come across anything similar in Assyrian or Egyptian mythology but I have only scraped the surface.  Any feedback here is appreciated.  Incidentally, I would at times clash with classmates at the seminary who thought it inappropriate to make connections between scripture and mythology or other religious traditions.  S.H. Hooke puts it nicely in Middle Eastern Mythology:

“To say, as we have done, that the gospel writers used the forms and language of myth to describe the events which had taken place before their eyes, is not to deny the reality of these events, but to affirm that they belonged to an order of reality transcending human modes of expression; belonging, indeed, to what Berdiaev has called ‘metahistory’. “

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January 19th, 2011 by Fr. Greg