The History of Salvation in The Russian Primary Chronicle, Part 4

What follows is the fourth and final installment of my transcription of the full text of the “redemptive-historical” discourse delivered before St Vladimir, according to the Russian Primary Chronicle, by the Constantinopolitan scholar-envoy. For a discussion of the apologetic importance of this discourse, see my earlier post, The Conversion of St Vladimir and Orthodox Apologetics. The section transcribed below narrates the redemptive Christ-event (including the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost), then moves to a theological exposition of the need for Baptism, and closes with an unambiguous exhortation to conversion based on the anticipation of the Last Judgement. As usual, brackets reflect editorial changes to the printed text.

Then Vladimir inquired, “When was this fulfilled? Has it happened or is it yet to occur?” The scholar answered him and said:

“All was accomplished when God was incarnate. For as I said before, when the Jews killed the prophets and their kings transgressed against the law, he gave them over to destruction, and they were led into captivity in Assyria because of their sins. They labored there seventy years. Then they returned to their native land, but had no king. Thus the high priests ruled over them until the time of the foreigner Herod, who reigned over them. During his reign, in the year 5500, the Angel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth to the Virgin Mary, of the tribe of David. He said unto her, ‘Rejoice, thou who art [blessed], the Lord is with thee.’ In consequence of the this Annunciation, she conceived the Word of God in her womb, and bore a son, and called his name Jesus.

“Now behold, wise men came from the east, saying, ‘Where is he who is born king of the Jews?’ For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And having called together the scribes and the elders of the people, he asked of them where the Christ should be born. They made reply ‘In Bethlehem of the Jews.’ When Herod heard these words, he gave command to slay all the children under two years of age. So his soldiers went forth and killed the children. But in her fear, Mary hid the Child, and Joseph, together with Mary, took the Child and fled into Egypt, where they remained until the death of Herod. In Egypt, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, saying, ‘Arise, take the Child and his mother, and return to the land of Israel.’

“When he thus returned, he settled in Nazareth. After the Child grew up, and had reached the age of thirty years, he began to form miracles, and to preach the kingdom of God. He chose twelve followers whom he called disciples, and he began to work great marvels; to raise the dead, to cleanse lepers, to heal the lame, to give sight to the blind, and to perform many miracles, even as the prophets had foretold concerning him, saying, ‘He healed our sicknesses and cured our diseases’ (Is., liii, 4). He was baptized by John in the Jordan, showing regeneration to mankind. When he was baptized, behold, the heavens were opened, and the Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, and a voice said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’

“He sent out his disciples to preach the kingdom of God and repentance for the remission of sins. Desirous of fulfilling the prophecy, he began to preach how the Son of Man should suffer, be crucified, and rise again on the third day. While he was teaching in the Temple, the high priests and the scribes, inspired by hatred, set out to kill him, and after taking him captive, they led him before Pilate, the governor. When Pilate discovered that they had arrested him without charge, he desired to release him, but they said, ‘If you release this man, you cannot be a friend of Caesar.’ Pilate then commanded that they should crucify him. So they led him to the Place of the Skull and crucified him there. And darkness was over all the earth from the sixth hour until the night, and at the ninth hour, Jesus gave up the ghost. The veil of the Temple was rent in twain, and many dead arose, whom he bade depart to Paradise.

“When they took him from the Cross, they laid him in a tomb, and the Jews sealed the tomb with a seal, and stationed guards there, saying, ‘Perhaps his disciples will steal him away.’ Then, upon the third day, he arose, and having arisen from the dead, he appeared to his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go among all the nations, and teach the peoples baptism in the name of the Father and [of] the Son and [of] the Holy Ghost.’ He remained with them forty days, appearing to them after the resurrection. When the forty days had elapsed, he bade them go to the Mount of Olives, and there he appeared to them and blessed them, saying, ‘Remain in the city of Jerusalem until I send the promise of my Father.’ Having thus spoken, he ascended into heaven. They worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem, where they gathered together in the Temple. When fifty days were passed, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. After they had received the promise of the Holy Spirit, they separated throughout the world, teaching and baptizing with water.”

Then Vladimir said, “Wherefore was he born of a woman, and crucified on the tree, and baptized with water?” The scholar answered:

“Since the human race first sinned through woman, when the devil misled Adam through the agency of Eve so that he was deprived of Paradise, God for this reason avenged himself on the devil. Because of the first woman, victory fell to the devil’s lot, for it was through woman that Adam fell from Paradise. God suffered pain upon the tree in order that the devil might be conquered by the tree, and that the righteous might taste the tree of life. As to the regeneration by water: since in the time of Noah, when sin multiplied among men, God brought the flood upon the earth and drowned mankind with its waters, God said, ‘Inasmuch as I destroyed mankind with water because of their sins, I will now wash away the sins of man once more through the regeneration by water.’ For the Jewish people were cleansed by the sea from the evil custom of the Egyptians, since water was in the beginning the primary element. For it is said ‘The Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.’ Thus men are now baptized with water and the Spirit.

“The first transfiguration was accomplished by means of water, as Gideon performed it. For when the angel came to him and bade him attack the Midianites, he laid a fleece upon the ground and to test God, Gideon said, ‘Let there be dew on the whole earth, but let the fleece remain dry.’ And it was so. This miracle signifies that the Gentiles were formerly dry, while the Jews were wet, and how afterward there was dew, that is, among the Gentiles, while dryness prevailed among the Jews. For the prophets had foretold that regeneration should be accomplished by means of water.

“Now that the apostles have taught men throughout the world to believe in God, we Greeks have inherited their teaching, and the world believes therein. God hath appointed a day, in which he shall come from heaven to judge both the quick and the dead, and to render to each according to his deeds; to the righteous, the kingdom of heaven and ineffable beauty, bliss without end, and eternal life; but to sinners, the torments of hell and a worm that sleeps not, and of their torments there shall be no end. Such shall be the penalties for those who do not believe in our Lord Jesus Christ. The unbaptized shall be tormented with fire.”

As he spoke thus, he exhibited to Vladimir a canvas on which was depicted the Judgment Day of the Lord, and showed him, on the right, the righteous going to their bliss in Paradise, and on the left, the sinners on their way to torment. Then Vladimir sighed and said, “[Blessed] are they upon the right, but woe to those upon the left!” The scholar replied, “If you desire to take your place on the right with the just, then accept baptism!” Vladimir took this counsel to heart, saying, “I shall wait yet a little longer,” for he wished to inquire about all the faiths. Vladimir then gave the scholar many gifts, and dismissed him with great honor.

S.H. Cross and O.P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (eds.), The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text [Cambridge: The Mediaeval Academy of America, 1953], pages 107-110.


BYU’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative

So, when did Brigham Young University become a distinguished publisher of ancient and medieval Jewish, Christian and Islamic texts? Someone help me, because this obviously happened while I was looking away.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (METI) at BYU has undertaken the preparation and publication of truly splendid bilingual editions of such things as the medical works of Maimonides, several works of medieval Islamic philosophy, and a number of Syriac Christian texts. Of particular interest to Yours Truly is a volume of select poems by St Ephrem the Syrian edited by Sebastian Brock and George Kiraz, and whose contents are arranged “according to [St Ephrem’s] concept of salvation history”:

Ephrem the Syrian is the most important poet and theologian of the Syriac Christian tradition. His numerous hymns, homilies, and commentaries were highly influential for later generations, and his poetry continues to be broadly used in the liturgies of Syrian Christian churches. This new translation of twenty poems, the only edition of Ephrem that features a text in vocalized serto script with a facing translation, offers a broad and varied introduction to Ephrem’s work. Arranged according to his concept of salvation history, this book will allow readers to further explore his poetry in both its original language and in a contemporary English translation.

Here is the table of contents:

General Introduction
Text 1: On Reading the Paradise Narrative (Par. 5)
Text 2: On Human Language about God (Fid. 31)
Text 3: The Symbols Depicted by Noah in the Ark (Fid. 49)
Text 4: The Paradox of Mary’s Birthgiving (Nat. 11)
Text 5: Mary’s Invitation to Everyone (Nat. 17)
Text 6: Mary and Eve as the World’s Tow Eyes (Eccl. 37)
Text 7: Christ as Light in Mary and in the Jordan (Eccl. 36)
Text 8: The Paradoxes of the Incarnation (Res. 1)
Text 9: On the Fall (Ieiun. 3)
Text 10: Eyes that are Blind and Eyes that are Opened (Ieiun. 6)
Text 11: The Two Lambs Compared (Azym. 3)
Text 12: Christ, the New Passover Lamb (Cruc. 2)
Text 13: Satan’s Complaint (Nis. 41)
Text 14: A Disputation between Death and Satan (Nis. 53)
Text 15: Joy at the Resurrection (Res. 2)
Text 16: Oil and Its Symbols (Virg. 7)
Text 17: The Mysteries of the Eucharist (Fid. 10)
Text 18: The Eucharistic Marriage Feast (Fid. 14)
Text 19: Nisibis under Siege in Comparison with Noah’s Ark (Nis. 1)
Text 20: The Pearl and Its Symbolism (Fid. 82)
Appendix 1: Main Editions and English Translations of Ephrem’s Works
Appendix 2: Index of Qale Employed in the Present Collection
Index of Scripture Citations
Index of Names

Amazing! The book may be purchased from the University of Chicago Press, who distributes this title for BYU, as well as from Amazon. Other titles from the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative may be purchased directly from the BYU bookstore.

[UPDATE: Those interested in all things Syriac should note that the METI resource page for Eastern Christian texts offers a 31-page introduction to Syriac studies by Sebastian Brock.]

[UPDATE II: Check out the BYU/CUA Syriac Studies Reference Library, a digital collection of “rare and out-of-print titles that are of vital importance for Syriac studies.” H/T: Trevor.]

Blog Day 2008

For reasons which I fail to comprehend, the Irreverend Mr Ker has tagged me to participate in Blog Day 2008, which as far as I can tell is nothing but a wicked ploy to inflict a meme on every single blogger on the planet. While it is clear that the intent behind this gimmick is thoroughly evil, it so happens that there are a few blogs that I have been meaning to recommend to the masses, and I will therefore take this opportunity to do so. (Take that, vile schemers!) Here are my choices:

  • Manuel Rojas’ Estudios bíblicos. Manuel, a Baptist pastor and seminary professor in Perú, authors the only Spanish-language Biblioblog of which I’m aware. His posts usually address questions of exegetical method, and one hopes that his careful and well thought out approach to these matters will one day become commonplace in Latin American evangelical Christianity. Besides, he shares my boundless admiration for the infallible Moisés Silva; is he not, then, one of the enlightened?
  • Sr Macrina Walker’s A Vow of Conversation. Sister Macrina, a Cistercian monastic in the Netherlands, authors what is perhaps the finest theological blog I have had the pleasure to read. If you are not yet acquainted with it (and I can’t imagine that this is true of very many people!), I encourage you to stop reading The Voice of Stefan altogether and dedicate your time and undivided attention to it. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Charles Wiese’s The Lamb on the Altar. My friend and former co-worker Charles, a confessional Lutheran, has recently started a blog in which he seeks to understand the significance of the (eucharistic) centrality of “the Lamb who was slain” for the whole of theology and of life. Even when I disagree with his take on one subject or another, I never fail to be personally challenged by Charles’ insistent pointing to the Lamb of God at the center of all things.
  • Bob and Bill Mounce, Support Ministry. I’m listing this because I was not aware before this week that the Mounces had a blog. Their posts usually focus on simple exegetical issues and insights, and seem directed to students and pastors wondering how to relate the skills they learned in their biblical languages and exegesis courses to ministry.

Very well then, I have done my part! Any and all wishing to take part of the Blog Day 2008 festivities may do so by posting a list of 5 new blogs which they find interesting. Oh, and don’t forget to link to the Blog Day 2008 Technorati tag!

A Song for My 30th Birthday

I feel a bit uneasy to break with what feels by now like a well-established tradition, but I have not chosen a song by the great Paul Simon as this year’s Song for My Birthday. Instead, I have chosen one of my all-time favorite songs, one that calls us to hold on to the people of our lives. As someone inspired by the Augustinian vision of friendship, and to whom the society of his friends has meant nearly as much as it did to St Augustine, I celebrate on my 30th birthday a lifetime of making friends and holding on to them. Yes, in the end, I know who will still be there.

Needless to say, I shall not tolerate the mockery of the odious philistines who fail to grasp even the most basic meaning of this wondrous song. And if MMMBop ruined the 90s for you, well, I guess that’s just too bad!

Many thanks to all for the birthday greetings and good wishes. The Irreverend Mr Ker sent me a lovely lingapotamus mug as a gift, for which I am most thankful. I’ll upload a picture as soon as I have access to a camera. Also, Dan, Yvette, and an as yet anonymous third person have kindly gifted me with books from my Amazon Wish List. To them I am profoundly grateful. Although two of these three books have already been delivered, I have not yet seen them, since they were shipped to Michigan, where I will be moving at the end of September. So, I’m looking forward to reading them about a month from now! (And of course, if you felt inclined to soothe the sorrows of my old age but thought you had missed your chance, this means that you still have a few more weeks to exercise your munificence!)

Once again, thanks to one and all.

Previous Songs for My Birthday:

History, Theology, and Exegesis

Recent posts by Phil Snider, Phil Sumpter, and Nick Norelli raise a number of important questions on the issue of moving from historical(-critical) approaches to theological approaches in Biblical interpretation. Asking such questions is both useful and necessary, because as Christopher Seitz has rightly said, “the area calling out for greatest clarity, at least in the guild of biblical scholarship, is just what is meant by the turn to theological interpretation1. I’m afraid that, as is so often the case, a number of those currently heading in that direction are doing so more on account of faddism than anything else.

In working through some of these questions, I have found the following paper by Adela Yarbro Collins to be most helpful in that it aids the reader to think methodically through a veritable maze of options:

Apocalypticism and New Testament Theology
(Presidential Address delivered to the New England Region
of the Society of Biblical Literature, 22 April 2005.)

In her conclusion, the divine Adela states:

“Theological warrants should never be used to justify historical claims. Those, however, who aim at a theological interpretation need not, and probably should not, begin with the results of historical analysis of the texts. What is needed is a wholistic approach that construes the text in terms of the interpreter’s philosophical and theological premises or in terms of whatever conceptual framework takes the place of such premises. Theological interpretations that avoid contradicting the results of historical study, however, are likely to be more persuasive than those that do.”

Working one’s way up to this last paragraph is enormously satisfying, and I wholeheartedly recommend this piece to all interested in exploring the intersection of historical study and theological interpretation.

Every bit as demanding as Collins’ paper (and therefore also every bit as satisfying) is Richard Muller’s discussion under the headings “History, Canon and Criticism,” “The Old Testament,” “The New Testament,” and “Biblical Theology” in chapter 2 of his masterful book, The Study of Theology: From Biblical Interpretation to Contemporary Formulation (Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation 7; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), pages 62-96. There is much more to unpack in these 34 pages by a “dabbler at best” (p. 17) in Old and New Testament studies than in far more ambitious works by specialist in those fields. [N.B.: Muller’s book is also available in the very sensibly priced one-volume edition of this series: Moisés Silva (ed.), Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996).]

Happy reading!

1 Christopher R. Seitz, “The Canonical Approach and Biblical Interpretation,” in Craig G. Bartholomew et al. (eds.), Canon and Biblical Interpretation, Scripture and Hermeneutics Series, vol. 7 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 104.

Calvin, Exegesis, and Thelogy: A Silvanic Approach

According to Jim West, Stephen R. Holmes suggests in what appears to be a most interesting article that those wishing to find the center of Calvin’s thought would be well advised to look for it primarily in his commentaries rather than in the celebrated Institutes, often the only text to which people turn in that quest. That is some good advice as far as it goes, and to the extent that folks neglect Calvin’s commentaries, I agree with Jim’s further suggestion that they should set aside the Institutes and pick those up instead. I worry, however, that if taken beyond its proper corrective use, this bit of advice would only reverse the error, and encourage folks to focus on the commentaries and neglect the Institutes! Instead, it must always be kept in mind that there is a truly symbiotic relationship between Calvin’s exegesis and his theology, and that in their interplay, they demonstrably enriched each other over the course of the Reformer’s career. No one has made this point better than the infallible Moisés Silva himself:

“The first edition of the Institutes was published when Calvin was a very young man, and the subsequent revisions and expansions reflect both his growing knowledge of historical theology (references to the Fathers and medieval theologians increase sharply in each subsequent edition) and his greater attention to exegetical work. No one is likely to argue that these two sides of his work were independent of each otheras though he forgot about his theology when he exegeted (and that is why his commentaries are good!), or did not pay attention to the Bible when he did theology (and that is why the Institutes are so bad!). My own thesis is that both his exegesis and his theology are superb precisely because they are related” (page 303).

And in a footnote to this last sentence, he goes on to say:

“Calvin himself saw his two projects as complementary. In his introductory statement to the Institutes (‘John Calvin to the Reader‘), he tells us that his aim in this work was to help ‘candidates in sacred theology’ grasp ‘the sum of religion in all its parts’ and thus guide them in the study of Scripture. Such a compendium would make it possible for him, when writing his commentaries, to avoid long doctrinal discussions. In his view, the proper use of the commentaries presupposed that the student was ‘armed with a knowledge of the present work, as a necessary tool’ (4-5)” (page 303).

Indeed, as Silva had already noted in the introduction to this chapter, “one must recognize that during the course of two decades, Calvin’s theological thought guided his exegesis, while his exegesis kept contributing to his theology,” since, after all, “[t]he first edition of the Institutes appeared in 1536 and the last one in 1559, and during those two decades most of the commentaries were produced” (page 295).

These quotations come from Silva’s wonderful article “The Case for Calvinistic Hermeneutics,” chapter 18 of Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning, revised and expanded edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007). I note with great delight that in this new edition, the essay includes a meaty seven-page postcript that further elaborates on the topics discussed in its original form “in the light of the history of interpretation, and in connection with a related issue, namely, the New Testament use of the Old Testament” (page 312). Splendid!

The History of Salvation in The Russian Primary Chronicle, Part 3

What follows is the third of four installments in which I will transcribe the full text of the “redemptive-historical” discourse delivered before St Vladimir, according to the Russian Primary Chronicle, by the Constantinopolitan scholar-envoy. For a discussion of the apologetic importance of this discourse, see my earlier post, The Conversion of St Vladimir and Orthodox Apologetics. The section transcribed below covers the judges, kings and prophets of Israel, and expounds theologically on the themes of messianism in the Old Testament and (rather crassly) supersessionism before the text moves on to the discussion of the “Christ-event.” As is usual, brackets mark all editorial changes to the printed text. It is fundamental to note that a good number of the texts represented as biblical quotations below (particularly in the earlier part of the text) are not strictly such, but are by-and-large periphrastic pastiches that often incorporate non-biblical interpretive material. The biblical references given after them, then, do not imply that these are exact quotations, but rather identify on which passages the author (or perhaps more precisely his source, the Slavonic Paleya) depended to redact his text. The question of the exactness of the quotations is further complicated by the fact that the translators appear to have used the 1901 American Standard Version for biblical quotations, adapting it in places to agree with the Slavonic. It would have been much preferable if they had simply translated the Slavonic itself, which would have allowed the reader to compare the text in the Chronicle with the LXX.

“Then Joshua, son of Nun, assumed the leadership. He entered the Promised Land, destroyed the Canaanites, and settled the children of Israel there in their stead. Then, when Joshua died, Judah was judge in his place. There were fourteen other judges. But in their time the people forgot God, who had led them out of Egypt, and they began to serve devils. Then God was wroth, and delivered them over to the violence of the Gentiles. But when they repented, he had mercy upon them. When he had freed them, they returned nevertheless to the worship of devils.

“Next, Eli the priest was judge, and after him, Samuel the prophet. The people said to Samuel, ‘Give us a king.’ Then the Lord was angered against Israel, and set Saul over them as king. But Saul would not walk in the law of the Lord, so the Lord chose David, and appointed him King over Israel. Now David found favor with God, and to him God swore that a God should be born of his lineage. Thus David began to prophe[s]y concerning the incarnation of God, saying, ‘I bore thee from my loins before the morning star’ (Ps., [cx], 3). He prophesied for forty years, and then died. After him, his son Solomon uttered prophecy. It was he who built a temple to God, and called it the Holy of Holies. He was a wise man, but in the end he fell from grace. He too reigned for forty years and then died. After him reigned his son Rehoboam, and in his day the kingdom was divided into two parts, since the Jews lived partly in Jerusalem, and the other portion in Samaria.

“In Samaria reigned Rehoboam, son of Solomon, who made two golden calves, one of which he set up in Bethel on the hill, and the other in Dan, saying, ‘These are your gods, [O] Israel.’ So the people worshiped them and and forgot God. Likewise in Jerusalem they forgot God, and began to worship Baal, called the god of war, who is Ares, and they forgot the God of their fathers. Then God began to send them prophets, and the prophets rebuked them for their iniquities, but when they were rebuked by the prophets, they killed them. Then God was wroth against Israel, and said, “I shall cast you from me, I shall call other peoples to serve. If they sin, I will not remember their iniquities.

“So the Lord sent his prophets, saying to them, ‘Prophe[s]y of the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles.’ Hosea was thus the first to prophesy, saying, ‘I will cause the kingdom of the house of Israel to cease, I will break the bow of Israel, and I will no more have compassion on the house of Israel. But I will cast them off and reject them, saith the Lord, and they shall be wanderers among the nations’ (Hos. i, 4-6; ix, 17). And Jeremiah said, ‘If Samuel and Moses arise, I will not have mercy on them’ (Jer., xv, 1). Further, Jeremiah said, ‘Thus saith the Lord: “I have sworn by my great name that my name shall no more be mentioned henceforth by the lips of the Jews”‘ (Jer., xiv, 26). Likewise Ezekiel said, ‘Thus saith the Lord [God]: “I will scatter thee and the whole remnant of thee to all the winds, for that thou hast defiled my sanctuaries with thine abominations, I will reject thee and have no mercy upon thee”‘ (Ezek., v, 10-11).

“Malachi said, ‘I have no pleasure in you, saith [the Lord]. From the east to the west my name shall be glorified among the Gentiles. In every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering, for great is my name among the Gentiles. Wherefore I will deliver you into exile and to the scorn of all nations’ (Mal. i, 10-11; ii, 9). The great Isaiah said, ‘Thus saith the Lord: “I will stretch out my hand against thee, I will destroy thee and scatter thee, and restore thee no more”‘ (Is., i, 25). And further, ‘I have hated your feasts and your new moons; your Sabbaths I will not accept’ (Is. i, 13-14). Amos the prophet said, ‘Hear the word of the Lord: “I will bring mourning upon you; the house of Israel was fallen and was not quick to arise”‘ (Amos, v, 1-2). Malachi said ‘Thus saith the Lord: “I will send upon you a curse, and will curse your blessing; I will destroy it, and it shall not be among you”‘ (Mal., ii, 2).

“Many prophesied of their rejection, and to such prophets God gave his commandment to foretell the calling of other nations in their stead. Thus Isaiah called upon them, saying, ‘Law shall go forth from me, and my judgment is the light of nations. My justice approaches quickly; it shall go forth and in my arm shall the Gentiles hope’ (Is., li, 4-6). Jeremiah said, ‘Thus saith the Lord: “I will establish a new covenant for the house of Judah. I will give laws for their understanding, and write upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be my people”‘ (Jer., xxi, 31-34). Isaiah said, ‘The old things are passed away, but I declare the new. Before their appearance, it has been revealed unto you. Sing unto the Lord a new song. Those who serve me shall be called by a new name, which shall be blessed throughout all the earth. My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’ (Is., xlii, 9-10; lvi, 5-7). Likewise Isaiah said, ‘The Lord will show his right arm before all nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see salvation from our God’ (Is., liii, 10). And David said, ‘Praise the Lord, all the nations, praise him, all ye people’ (Ps., cxviii, 1).

“Since God so loved his new people, he promised to descend among them himself, and to appear as a man in the flesh, and to suffer for the sin of Adam. Thus men began to prophesy concerning the incarnation of God. First David said, ‘The Lord said unto my Lord: “Sit upon my right, until I shall set thine enemies as a footstool for thy feet”‘ (Ps. [cx], 1). And again, ‘The Lord said unto me: “Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee”‘ (Ps., ii, 7). And Isaiah said, ‘No ambassador nor messenger, but God himself shall come to save us’ (Is., lxiii, 9). And again, ‘A child is born to us in whose arm there is authority, and he shall be called the great counsellor of the angels. Great is his might, and of his peace there is no end’ (Is., ix, 6). And again, ‘Behold, a maiden shall conceive in the womb, and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel’ (Is., vii, 14). Micah said, ‘Thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, art scarcely to be of slight account among the thousand of Jews. For out of thee shall come forth a ruler to be prince in Israel, and his going forth is from everlasting. Therefore he will scatter them till the time when the mother travails, and the rest of his brethren return to the sons of Israel’ (Mic., x, 2-3). Jeremiah thus said, ‘This is our God, and no other shall be compared with him[.] He has found all the way of wisdom, he has given it to Jacob his servant. Then he appeared on earth and lived among men’ (Baruch, iii, 35-38). And again, ‘Man exists. But who shall know how God exists or how man dies? (Jer., xvii, 9). Zachariah said, ‘They have not heeded my son, and I will not give ear to them, said the Lord’ (Zach., vii, 13). Hosea said, ‘Thus saith the Lord: “My flesh is from them”‘ (Hos., ix, 12).

“Prophe[c]ies were likewise uttered also concerning his passion. Thus Isaiah said, ‘Woe to their souls! For they have counselled evil counsel, saying, “Let us kill the just man”‘ (Is., iii, 9-10). Likewise he said, ‘Thus saith the Lord: “I will not resist them nor speak against them. I offered my back to wounds and my countenance to blows, and I turned my face not away from shame and from spitting”‘ (Is., i, 5-6). Jeremiah said, ‘Come, let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof, and cut him off from the land of living’ (Jer., xii, 19). Moses said of his crucifixion, ‘Thy life shall hang in doubt before the tree’ (Deut., xxviii, 66). David said, ‘Why are the nations stirred up’ (Ps., ii, 1). And Isaiah said, ‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter’ (Is., liii, 7). And Esdras said, ‘Blessed be the Lord: he stretched out his hands and saved Jerusalem’ (?)[.] They spoke also of the resurrection. David said, ‘Rise up, [O] Lord, judge the lands for thou shalt inherit all the nations’ (Ps., lxxxii, 8). And likewise, ‘Them the Lord awaked as one out of sleep’ (Ps., lxxviii, 65) and also ‘Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered’ (Ps., lxviii, 1). Likewise, ‘Arise, [O Lord]; [O] God, lift up thy hand’ (Ps., x, 12). Isaiah said, ‘Ye who walk into the land and the shadow of death, upon you shall shine the light’ (Is., ix, 2). And Zachariah said, ‘In the blood of thy covenant thou hast freed the captives from the waterless pit’ (Zach., ix, 11). Many things were prophesied concerning him, all of which have been fulfilled.

S.H. Cross and O.P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (eds.), The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text [Cambridge: The Mediaeval Academy of America, 1953], pages 104-107.

The Horrible Weight of Time, and Its Cure (With Apologies to Baudelaire)

I wish to make it known that yesterday afternoon I received a package in the mail which effectively signals the beginning of the end.

And what was this package, you ask? Well, my gentle snowflakes, it was a kind gift from the Irreverend Mr Ker on the occasion of my upcoming 30th birthday. Since I am not allowed to open the package until my dies natalis, August 29, I’m afraid that I cannot yet comment on the excellencies of this much-appreciated lingagift; I can tell you, however, that receiving it brought home with particular force that I am less than a week and a half away from the end of my 20s. O woe! O sorrow! Alas, true indeed are the words of the Psalmist:

“The days of a mortal are as grass;
he blossoms like a wild flower in the meadow:
a wind passes over him, and he is gone,
and his place knows him no more.”
(Psalm 103:15-16, REB)

I can sense, O reader, your earnest sympathy for my birthday predicament, and I thank you for it. “But surely,” you say, “there is something that I can do, isn’t there, which will help soothe your exceeding great grief!” And as a matter of fact, there is. I was formerly loath to speak of such things in public, but I have been persuaded by my friend and confidant Nick Norelli to overcome my reservations and speak boldly. It is, then, with parrēsia that I share with you all the indubitable cure for my heart’s sorrows:

Yes, dear ones: it is there that you can find a smooth balm (or two) for my grieving heart, and a sure way to concretize your laudable altruistic yearnings. Once again, I’m deeply grateful to your tender heart for your interest in my wretched plight. And remember: O woe! O sorrow!

How Liturgy Reads the Bible: The Old Testament on the Transfiguration of Christ

On this day, August 6 (O. S.), we celebrate with great joy the bright Feast of the Transfiguration. (For a sublime exposition of the meaning of this Feast, see this sermon by St Gregory Palamas.) Great Feasts such as this always afford us a sterling opportunity to have a good look at the fabric of liturgical exegesis, which is lavishly displayed throughout the festivities. It occurred to me yesterday during Vespers, however, that one of the chief ways in which we are exposed to the Church’s way of reading Scripture is by the simple use of Old Testament texts, without immediate commentary, in festal contexts. For instance, at Vespers, three lessons from the Old Testament are read on feasts of a certain rank; at Liturgy, feasts of the Lord feature three entrance antiphons made up of Psalm verses and a refrain. These texts are thus placed in a new context, and the events of the feast with which they are paired cast new light upon them, even as they illumine the feasted events with perspectives from other events in salvation history. Ultimately, that becomes the matrix within which liturgical poetry and patristic commentary develop. With that in mind, I offer below my hero Father Ephrem Lash’s translation of the Church’s text of the Old Testament lessons read last night during Vespers (spelling modified in a few instances), along with St Theophanes the Greek’s breathtaking icon of the Transfiguration, hoping that the juxtaposition will provide a taste (albeit a very small one) of the most basic way in which the Church reads her Scriptures.

6th. The Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

67. The Reading is from Exodus.

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tables of stone, the law and the commandments, which I have written for their instruction.’ When Moses had arisen, he and Jesus, who attended him, went up onto the mountain of God. And he said to the elders, ‘Wait here for us, until we come back to you again; and, see, Aaron and Or are with you; if anyone has a dispute, let them go to them.’ Then Moses went up onto the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of God came down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the seventh day the Lord called Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the children of Israel. And Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. And he was there on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

68. The Reading is from Exodus.
[33:11-23; 34:4-6.8]

The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as one speaks to one’s friend. Then he would return to the camp; but the young servant, Jesus, son of Navi, did not leave the tent. Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you say to me, “Bring up this people”; but you have not shown me whom you will send with me. Yet you have said to me, “I know you above all others, and you have also found favour in my sight.” Now if I have found favour in your sight, show yourself to me, so that I may see you and find favour in your sight, that I may know that this great nation is your people.‘ And the Lord said to him, ‘I myself will go before you, and I will give you rest.’ And he said to him, ‘If you will not go with us yourself, do not carry me up from here. For how shall it be truly known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be glorified, I and your people, more than all the nations.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘For you I will do this word that you have spoken; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you above all others.’ Moses said, ‘Show me your own glory.’ And he said, ‘I will pass by you in my glory, and will proclaim before you my name, “The Lord”; and I will be have mercy on those on whom I will have mercy, and will have pity on those on whom I will have pity.’ And he said, ‘You cannot see my face; for no human shall see my face and live.’ And the Lord said, ‘See, there is a place by me; stand on the rock. And while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen by you.’ So Moses rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him. The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, ‘The Lord. The Lord passed before his face, and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, God compassionate and merciful, slow to anger, and full of mercy and true’. And Moses quickly bowed to the earth, and worshipped the Lord.

69. The Reading is from Third Book of Reigns.

And Elias heard and was afraid; he arose and fled for his life, and came to Beersheba, in the land of Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly someone touched him and said to him, ‘Arise and eat and drink, for you have a long journey.’ Elias looked, and there at his head was a cake of flour and a jar of water. He arose, ate and drank, and slept again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat and drink, for you have a long journey.’ He arose, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to mount Horeb. There he entered a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And behold, the Lord will pass by.’ And a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire the sound of a gentle breeze. And when Elias heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood by the cave. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return to your way and you will come to the desert way of Damascus; and you shall anoint Eliseus son of Shaphat as prophet in your place.’

“Thou hast put on praise and majesty; who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment.” (Psalm 103:1-2, LXX)

The Tao of Stefan (Or, How They Get Here)

I apologize, my gentle snowflakes, for the slow pace of posts during this unexpectedly hectic week. Today I have been enjoying a brief respite before the onset of the weekend, however, and it occurred to me that perhaps I should borrow a page from Nick Norelli’s playbook and address two of the questions that, according to SiteMeter, have recently brought the unsuspecting to The Voice of Stefan.

1) Astute in Alexandria (VA, USA) asks: “What is the meaning of Stefan?”

The name Stefan is derived from the Greek στέφανος (stephanos), meaning crown or wreath. The standard lexicon of Classical Greek, Liddell and Scott, suggests that this noun is derived from the verb στέφω (stephō), which means basically to surround; listed under both headings are a number of instances of this strict sense. However, the more frequently used meaning of the verb (which is quite an ancient one; cfr. Autenrieth’s Homeric Dictionary) is to crown, or else one of its related metaphorical meanings. The same is true of the noun. (Not, of course, that the meaning to surround is unrelated to the meaning to crown: a wreath or crown, after all, encircles one’s head!) Further, the standard Greek lexicon of the New Testament, Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich, notes that this noun is already attested as a proper name at least as far back as the extant works of the Greek orator Andocides (d. 390 BC; cfr. his Περὶ τῶν μυστηρίον 1.18), and that its use was quite widespread in Greek antiquity.

The name Στέφανος has acquired varied forms as it has made the pilgrimage from language to language: English has Stephen, Spanish Esteban, Italian Stefano, the Slavic languages Стефан (Stefan), etc. How the French ended up with Étienne is one of the Great Mysteries of the Ages. Also, in certain Slavic languages one can find variants such as Степан (Stepan) and Стеван (Stevan). Regardless of the fascinating phonetic changes that each successive variant exhibits, they are all one and the same name.


1.- For some reason, people insist on writing my name “Estaban” instead of “Esteban.” This was only a rare occurrence in former times, but instances of this transgression have dramatically increased in frequency in recent months. Of course, this is a bit bewildering to me, since “estaban” is the third person plural (and in Latin American Spanish, also the second person plural!), imperfect preterit of the verb estar (to be/to be at), and I always try to read it like that for a split second, before I realize it’s a misspelling of my name.

2.- As I have noted elsewhere, while I much prefer the Spanish form of my name, I always answer to Stefan for the benefit of the Spanish-impaired–Anglo and Slavic alike!

3.- Placing a proparoxytone accent on Esteban, as many English-speakers are wont to do, makes it sound like you’re attempting to seduce the patrón of a South American hacienda. The correct stress falls, of course, on the second-to-last syllable.

2) Researcher in Richmond (VA, USA) asks: “Who was Esteban in the Bible?”

St Stephen, described in the Bible as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, was one of the first seven deacons of the Christian Church and also the very first Christian martyr. The account of both his diaconate and his martyrdom may be found in chapters 6 and 7 of the Acts of the Apostles. It is to that extended passage, then, that interested readers should turn to learn the details of the life, ministry, and death of St Stephen.

It should be noted that although no less an authority than St John Chrysostom was of the opinion that the Seven of Acts 6 were not, in fact, deacons, the broad consensus of patristic and liturgical exegesis understands that they were, and so the iconographic tradition of the Church depicts St Stephen wearing an orarion (i.e., a deacon’s stole) and holding a censer, both of which are typical of the deacon’s liturgical ministry.

Acclaimed as protomartyr and protodeacon, St Stephen is feasted by the Orthodox Church on December 27 (Jan. 9, N. S.), and on this very day, August 2 (Aug. 15, N. S.).