On Beginnings and Changes

John 1

I have been thinking about beginnings quite a bit of late. Earlier this summer it occurred to me that the first post on The Voice of Stefan (which, as readers will recall, is the erstwhile name of Bouncing into Graceland) was published on 13 July 2007, now just over a decade ago. This blog was an attempt to communicate and interact with others, both professionals and amateurs, who I had found were blogging prolifically about the Bible and theology—a possibility which, given my relative geographical and academic isolation at the time, was enormously compelling to me. By my birthday on 29 August following I was actively engaged in the sorts of stimulating conversations that were characteristic of the “golden age” of Biblioblogdom, then in full swing. The much lamented Google Reader, an invaluable tool since obtusely terminated by its witless curators, made it possible to keep track of multiple conversations across dozens of independent blogs the world over, and enabled the creation of academic partnerships and warm personal friendships that, in many cases (and certainly in mine), continue even to this day. If I may be permitted an overwrought nostalgic musing, thinking back on those heady days brings to mind Wordsworth’s oft-quoted lines: “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, / But to be young was very heaven!”

At the other end of the decade mark, much has changed. Biblioblogdom, as it once was, has ceased to exist. Which isn’t to say that no one is blogging about the Bible and theology—far from it! (Witness the monthly Biblical Studies Carnival, ongoing since 2006, and hosted this month by our old friend Jason Gardner.) But the community, with its vigorous exchanges across all levels so often chronicled in “round-ups,” seems to have disintegrated in favor of a more autonomous approach. While this is doubtless a cause for regret, there is also a certain freedom in it: it is frankly impossible to keep up with 200 or more posts a day, let alone to participate meaningfully in that many conversations, and less still to produce contributions that will keep the entire community engaged. The conventional wisdom these days is that, in the age of Twitter, no one reads blogs any more. I’m not sure that’s quite true, but perhaps this perception signals that the conditions are right to venture out once again, even if only occasionally.

On a more personal note, my life is also fundamentally different than it was in 2007. I am now 39 years old, and have lived in Michigan for 9 out of the past 10 years. More significantly, I have become a husband and a father (of one, with another on the way!). Moreover, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I have managed to acquire a graduate degree in theology along the way; after that, I was ordained a deacon and then a presbyter in the Orthodox Church. All of these changes have necessarily reshaped, or perhaps refocused, my interests: I still spend a great deal of my time thinking about the Bible, its translation and interpretation, and its patristic and liturgical reception, but I also think a lot more about liturgy as such, pastoral theology, and homiletics these days. I hope that means that whatever I post here will be broadened, but not impoverished.

This blog has never been strictly academic, and it has never been an “Orthodox blog” (for, as I have noted in the past, I have never seen a blog being baptized, chrismated, or communed). It certainly will never be an “ecclesiastical blog.” What it ever was, and I hope it will remain, is a means for conversation with others about matters of lively mutual interest. Come, then, and let us sit awhile from time to time.

In closing, kindly allow me to note two things, one pertaining to things that change and the other to things that are ever the same.

As the more observant among you, my gentle snowflakes, will have noticed, yesterday’s fervorino (a word, incidentally, that a total of 17 people knew or used before the accession of the Pope of Rome Mr Francis to his See) for the Beginning of the Indiction was posted according to the New (i.e., “Revised Julian”) Calendar. Our friend Macrina Walker stated, in shock, that surely my blog had been “hacked by some Papist-loving, climate-change believing, Phanarotist new calendarist.” But no, alas: after having spent nearly the entirety of my adult life on the Old (i.e., “Ecclesiastical Julian”) Calendar, my family and I officially went to the New Calendar on 15 November 2013. That means that, as of 2 September 2017, we have been on the New Calendar for 1,388 days. For more on this, see the Twitter hashtag #thenewcalendarislikeabaddreamthatneverends. Here I will only echo the sentiments of my dear friend, the admirably learned deacon Fr Aaron Taylor, who in response to a most interesting article telling the story of the epicenter of the Gregorian calendar reform, exclaimed in a fit of ardent zeal: “Tear it down! Down with the pope and his atheist astronomers!”

With that said, and in spite of the notice of such disconcerting changes, I would like to make something abundantly clear to one and all: it remains the solemn Chief Burden of this blog to spread the knowledge of the infallibility of the great Moisés Silva throughout the land.

The Beginning of the Indiction


The first day of September is a day of beginnings.

In the United States, certainly, early September has something of this ring of beginnings: the school year typically starts in or around its first week, and Labor Day marks the unofficial beginning of the fall season, which inexplicably also carries with it a categorical prohibition thenceforth to wear white.  Yet these things lack the fastidious punctiliarity of saying that September 1, precisely and specifically, is day of beginnings.

Now I have no doubt that, even without any personal ecclesiastical reason, the more inquisitive and learned among you, my gentle snowflakes, are well aware that the first day of September marks the beginning of the Ecclesiastical New Year of the Eastern Church. The calendar calls it “The Beginning of the Indiction” (Ἀρχή τῆς Ἰνδίκτου), by reference to the name of the 15-year Roman tax cycle (Lat. Indictio) that later came to designate (in the calendrical conventions of both East and West) each of the years during that period individually. Needless to say, this beginning is marked with great pomp and ceremony even to the present day: thus earlier this morning, 30 Bishops in all joined His All-holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople the New Rome, in signing the Patriarchal Proclamation of the Indiction for 7526 Anno Mundi. On this day, the Church asks her Lord to “bless the crown of the year with [his] goodness” (Apolytikion of the Feast; cf. Psalm 64:12, LXX). We also hear at Vespers a sobering reading selected from Leviticus 26, which together with Deuteronomy 28 makes up the great seat of covenantal blessings and curses in the Pentateuch, filled with references to the seasons, weather, agriculture, farming, and all of the business of the year—but also, of course, to obedience and disobedience to the “Fashioner of all creation, who fix[es] times and seasons by [his] own authority” (Apolytikion; cf. Acts 1:7). We do all of these things, of course, because we hope to make a good beginning.

Yet this is not all. Also at Vespers we hear a reading from Isaiah 61, which at the Divine Liturgy we hear repeated at the Gospel from the lips of Our Lord Jesus Christ himself:

“At that time, Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as was his custom, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And he was given the book of the prophet Isaiah, and when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’

Then he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ So all bore witness to him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.”
(St Luke 4:16-22)

And so on this first day of September, “the Beginning of the Indiction which is the Ecclesiastical New Year,” of all possible beginnings we are presented with the beginning of the public ministry of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in which he proclaims the arrival of “the acceptable year of the Lord” that is fulfilled in him. On this day of beginnings, then, we have the Gospel, the Good News, preached to us. And how we need it!

As we all know from bitter experience, we are fickle creatures who oscillate between obedience and disobedience—between the good we want but do not do and the evil we do not want but do, as St Paul once put it (cf. Romans 7:19). And so, when we fail, we at once sense the need for a new beginning, for a new day on which we will start again with a clean slate and renewed resolve. But we also know, of course, that gyms empty out by the end of January, that diets that start on Monday are abandoned by the end of the week, and that most of our other good intentions seldom outlast our best made plans. Yet here is the thing: this is not a reason for despair. There is nothing magical or mystical about the beginning of the week, or the month, or the year (even an ecclesiastical one!), convenient and necessary milestones though they may be. What matters in the end is that every day, every hour, every moment, we are living in this acceptable year of the Lord in which he has preached the Gospel to us, so that whenever we fail, we can at once turn to him and start anew. So, thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ! (cf. Romans 7:25) Pleading with the Corinthians, St Paul draws on the Good News of Isaiah to make this very point, which I now plead with you to take to heart as together we make this new beginning:

“For [God] says:

‘At the acceptable time I have heard you,
and I have helped you on the day of salvation.’

Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
(2 Corinthians 6:2, cf. Isaiah 49:8, LXX)

On Reading the Scriptures, Revisited

St Melania the Younger, from the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000)

In the life of St Melania the Younger (c. AD 383-439, commemorated Dec. 31), we read that in addition to her time spent in prayer and the Divine Services, the copying of Greek and Latin manuscripts (her “principal employment,” we are told, at which she excelled), caring for the poor and other charitable endeavors, and the systematic reading of patristic and spiritual works, the Saint also assigned some hours daily “to the reading of the Holy Scriptures, which she read through from beginning to end four times during the year.”1 Since the feast of St Melania occurs on the last day of our Civil Year, her admirable example can be to us both a reminder and an encouragement to take up anew the reading of the Holy Scriptures with every New Year.

Of course, I have previously had occasion to address the subject of daily Bible reading in two well-received posts, which I now commend to the attention of any interested readers:

In these posts, I have attempted to explain why it might be beneficial to begin a program of systematic Scriptural reading with the Gospel and the Psalter, which are the backbone of the Church’s liturgical use and experience of the Bible, and offered suggestions on how to move from that beginning to a full-fledged reading program that incorporates the entire Scriptural canon. To these things I should now like to add a few short suggestions, later to be followed by a rather more substantial update on the various posts entitled “On Englishing the Church’s Bible” and the like, which update is now happily necessary.

In the first place, I might bring up the bugaboo of attrition: the obvious reason behind the multitude of Bible reading plans that make the rounds at the beginning of every year, and also the central concern of my above-linked posts. Needless to say, even the best designed plan cannot be considered an infallible remedy to the twin maladies of impatience and burnout. It is often the case that those who start small can become impatient at the slow rate of their progress, just as those who attempt too much tend to collapse under the burden of a reading program for which they are not ready. Moreover, even those who manage to proceed apace might eventually succumb to despondency in view of that rather long term of completion of any Bible reading program—anywhere from one, to two, or even three years. In all of these cases, attrition is ultimately due to untempered overeagerness. Of course, we all know (perhaps even from bitter experience) that people tend to start new projects with a great deal of enthusiasm, the intensity of which might noticeably fluctuate until it effectively fizzles out. It seems, then, that it should be possible to harness that initial impetus and apply it to a much shorter and more focused goal, which would then give way to the slower plan, incrementally augmented, as described in my previous posts. With this in mind, I should like to recommend The Daily Walk Bible NLT: 31 Days with Jesus, available for free as a Kindle book from Amazon, and in other formats through the publisher. This resource, equipped with short thematic introductions and outlines, simply walks you through the four Gospels in canonical order over the course of 31 days. You don’t like the New Living Translation, you say? Don’t let that become an excuse: simply download the free resource and follow their plan using the translation of your choice. With distressing regularity, the search for the “perfect Bible” merely functions as a thinly veiled device to grant us permission to avoid reading Scripture altogether. And if the pace becomes too accelerated, say, by the third week or so, there is no reason to quit: at that point, one may simply reduce the length of the daily readings from the Gospels to three, two, or even the one daily chapter proposed in my first post.

A second suggestion concerns the reading of the Psalter, which I indicated earlier could be done at the rate of a single stasis (i.e., roughly three Psalms) per day. However, I am pleased to share an appealing alternative: the “Greek Psalms in a Year” initiative, spearheaded by one Russell Beatty, that gets off the ground today. Modeled after our friend Abram K-J’s celebrated “Greek Isaiah in a Year” program for 2012, it aims to complete the reading of the entire Greek Psalter at the rate of roughly 4-6 verses per day. Abram has posted the reading plan, as well as many other resources for reading the Psalms in Greek (including links to a couple of dedicated discussion forums). It occurs to me that even those who are innocent of Greek might benefit from this reading plan: if one stasis a day becomes overwhelming after a while, one might well slow down the pace by taking in these small portions instead of ceasing to read altogether. It is, again, better to continue to read consistently at least a little bit than to give up entirely.

Finally, I should like to share with one and all the excellent Bible reading plan devised by Dr Mary Healy, Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and author of The Gospel of Mark in the superb Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series from Baker Academic. It will be noted that this plan has remarkable similarities with the final plan I have proposed here and elsewhere, as it starts out with readings from the Gospels, the Psalms, and then the rest of the Bible. However, it does not repeat the Gospels and the Psalms, so that the rest of the New Testament is read after the former, and the rest of the poetical and wisdom books are read after the latter. The daily divisions are very well thought out and are sensitive to the composition and structure of the various books, as one would expect from a world-class biblical scholar of whose deep immersion in the contents of Scripture the bards will sing one day. I can’t think of any reasons not use Dr Healy’s program of lectio continua, provided that after the Gospels run out in June 13, one should read at least the appointed Gospel reading for the day as printed in most ecclesiastical calendars. This is hardly an onerous addition, since there are fewer readings in Dr Healy’s program than in the full-fledged program proposed in my second post. Yet this rather minimal addition helps to keep the reading of the Holy Gospel a daily activity central to the Christian life.

The day is not yet over. There is still time to pick up, right now, the Holy Scriptures. Give the Gospels a read over 31 days. Or read one chapter of the Gospels and a stasis of the Psalms, or else Psalm 1 in Greek. Or read according to a yet more developed plan—whether Dr Healy’s, or the one proposed here, or even from one of the handful of truly excellent daily reading Bibles one can still find out there. Whatever plan you choose as better suited to your temperament, take up and read, and be patient and faithful. The rewards, as the remarkable life of the great St Melania reminds us, are abundantly ours both in this world and in the world to come.


1. Mariano Cardinal Rampolla del Tindaro, The Life of St Melania, translated by E. Leahy and edited by Herbert Thurston, SJ (London: Burnes and Oates and New York: Benzinger Bros., 1908), page 105.

Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church (Review)

9780310514879Bell, James Stuart, with Patrick J. Kelly.

Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013. Hardcover. $24.99.

Amazon | Kindle Store | Audiobook

With thanks to Zondervan for the review copy.

The Fathers, I’m afraid, remain an unknown quantity to many, and perhaps most, devout churchgoers. This isn’t only true of Evangelical Protestants, but even of Orthodox and Catholics, who lay claim to patristic theology and spirituality as their own inheritance, and ostensibly consider such an inheritance to be both foundational and authoritative. Part of the problem, of course, is that the body of existing patristic literature is so extensive as to send even the most determined new reader into fits of debilitating fatigue. Moreover, those who might survive a first encounter with a bibliographical listing of patristic works, even only in translation, go on to face various other obstacles: the translation might be so archaic as to be incomprehensible; a deficit in historical and/or theological background might render the basic argument of even a short work inscrutable; and so on. And then there’s the open secret that many people just don’t know how to undertake a serious reading of literary classics, let alone a philosophical or theological treatise. Or, perhaps more distressingly, they’re simply not interested in ever undertaking any such reading.

And yet the Fathers ought to be read, as the introduction to this little book rightly pleads. The Fathers are our forebears in the Faith, and we owe them filial respect. They are authentic teachers and witnesses, the champions of Christian doctrine,  who through their struggles, and sometimes even through the shedding of their own blood, handed down to us the deposit of Faith. They teach us to read Scripture anew, and they are sure guides in the path of virtue, in which they exercised themselves. So clearly, again, the Fathers ought to be read. What isn’t so clear is that our average churchgoer must read, e.g., St Ephrem the Syrian with the goal to understand the meter of his Syriac poetry, or St Basil the Great with a view to mastering the multiple facets of his argument for the divinity of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, there ought to be a place for a devotional reading of the Fathers, unencumbered by the business of critical introductions and apparatuses, and with a view to spiritual edification—and, needless to say, this isn’t only true for our average churchgoer, but for initiates of patristic study as well. It is here that Awakening Faith lends us a hand.

The book features 366 page-long selections from early Christian writers from 1st to the 9th centuries. Occasionally a longer reading or narrative will be split into two sections (or, exceptionally in the case of the Martyrdom of St Cyprian, the Conversion of St Augustine, and St John Cassian’s instruction on covetousness, three). The idea isn’t new, of course, and it has a quite respectable pedigree, arguably reaching back to the Byzantine and Medieval catenae and florilegia. The execution of this particular volume, however, is very much in the style of daily devotionals known to Evangelical Protestants: each numbered daily reading is provided with a thematic classification, a title, and a short Scripture quotation to frame the selection. These added editorial aids do feature from time to time some instances of vocabulary more familiar to Evangelicals than to the rest of us (“evangelism,” “plan of salvation,” “witness and testify,” “the lost,” together with the charming warning in the introduction not to be alarmed by the occasional reference to the “Apocrypha”). This does not at all detract from the value of the chosen texts themselves, which to me seem to have been well selected on the whole. I do note that, as is often the case in projects of this nature, “Church Fathers” seems to be understood as basically synonymous with “early Christian writer.” Yet, at least as far as we Orthodox are concerned, not every ancient writer is thereby a Father: certainly, St Theodore the Studite is a Father in a way that Theodore of Mopsuestia can never be. That said, as far as I can tell, no reading in this volume is problematic from the point of view of the consensio patrum, and I appreciate the broader exposure to early Christian literature in both prose and verse that the selections afford. The selections themselves have been edited for syntax and vocabulary, and the editors have laudably resisted the temptation dumb down the texts to the point of banality. Instead, the selections are given in elegant contemporary English. They read quite well, and command one’s full attention.

There is a full listing of all of the early Christian writers featured in the book, from St Ambrose of Milan to St Zeno of Verona, which provides brief bibliographical notes on each author together with a list of their numbered selections as given in the devotional. These notes are succinct and very well done; I do regret the recurring use of the jarring “Antiochean” for “Antiochene” in them, and hope that future editions of this book (of which I hope there shall be many) will correct this. Perhaps the most disconcerting omission in this publication is the lack of citations for each of the chosen selections. Once or twice I have wished to follow up on a reading, and have had to expend considerable effort to find the source. I should like to encourage either the editors or the publisher to make the list of sources available online to those who wish to have it. Surely this is but a minor chore in our age of electronic dissemination.

Another desideratum would be an index of the topics assigned to each of the readings (“Father and Spirit,” “Jesus Christ,” “Holy Days,” “The Bible,” “Holiness,” and so on). With such a tool in hand, one could proceed to navigate this book in one of three ways:

1) In numerical order, from 1-366;
2) In alphabetical or chronological order, by author; or
3) Thematically, by assigned subject.

Each method would only improve and enrich the reading exercise in new ways.

In spite of these minor imperfections, I am very pleased with Awakening Faith, and look forward to using it daily for my own enrichment and edification, as I have been doing in recent weeks. I warmly recommend this devotional to one and all.

The Tale of the Partridge Manuscript

“In 1936 Professor Norman Nash, a colleague of Dr. [William H. P.] Hatch [at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts], was explaining to the junior class in New Testament Studies that scholars for some time had been struck by the curious construction of the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. He indicated that he had come to feel that the doxology appearing in Romans 16:25-27 was originally to be found between verses 13 and 14 of the fifteenth chapter. Nash acknowledged that there was no manuscript evidence that supported his theory, but he concluded, ‘Who knows what archaeologists may one day turn up?’

“Following the class, Barrett Tyler and Reamer Kline talked further about their professor’s wistful comment. Between the two of them, they formed a plan to provide what Nash was hoping would some day turn up. At one of the stationery shops on Harvard Square they obtained a sheet of high-grade parchment. After returning to their room in Lawrence Hall they proceeded to ‘age’ their purchase in a solution of coffee grounds and strong tea. Following repeated boilings and soakings the desired coloration was achieved and the now antiqued parchment was placed under the dormitory doormat, where the traffic of students’ feet would give the sheet a still more aged appearance.

“By practicing with a broad-nib pen, Kline copied on ordinary paper the style of Greek script from photostats of various New Testament Greek manuscripts. Finally he chose the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus as his model. This is written in uncial letters, the capital letters of the Greek alphabet, and therefore the easiest ancient style to imitate. Beginning with Romans chapter 15, as precisely as possible Kline copied the text of Vaticanus until he came to verse 14. There he inserted the ‘missing’ doxology and continued on to the end of the page.

“Next it was necessary to bring the ‘Kline-Taylor manuscript’ to the attention of the New Testament scholars. A letter was written on stationery from the Hotel Essex near South Station in Boston and sent to Professor Nash. It read as follows:

April 27, 1936

Dear Professor Nash,

Enclosed you will find a manuscript which I bought during a recent trip to Egypt. I happened to be staying in Cairo and visited my friend Howard Lowell. While I was showing him various curios collected during the trip he became particularly interested in this manuscript.

I called your house this morning but you were out. I am leaving for Portland on business but will stop on my way back. I would appreciate any information you might give me concerning this manuscript as to whether it might be of value. Looking forward to meeting you, I remain very truly yours,

Wilfred J. Partridge

229 Greenwood Boulevard
Evanston, Illinois

“The letter and the manuscript arrived in the office of Professor Nash two days later. Being a cautious man by nature, Nash was skeptical but intrigued. It had the feel of an ancient manuscript, and important discoveries have occasionally happened unexpectedly. At any rate, he was certain that his colleague, Will Hatch, an internationally recognized authority on uncial manuscripts, could give an authoritative opinion concerning the authenticity and value of the fragment.

“The style of the script was clearly similar to other fourth-century specimens. After consultation with Professor Gulick of Harvard it seemed that the manuscript warranted serious consideration. The unexpected location of the doxology stimulated additional attention, and a technical opinion was requested from the Fogg Museum. The Fogg specialists asked for permission to scrape off a bit of ink for chemical analysis. Apart from such an analysis, they could render only a tentative opinion that the ink appeared to be of a variety common to many ancient manuscripts.

“Nash and Hatch agreed that chemical analysis was called for, but were reluctant to go ahead with it without first receiving permission from the owner of the document. Unfortunately, Mr. Partridge of Evanston, Illinois, had not returned from his business trip and consequently was unavailable.

“The Episcopal Theological School is a small community and interest in the Partridge Fragment began to spread. At this point Tyler and Kline began to have second thoughts. Their ‘fragment’ had been taken seriously and academic reputations were at stake. Their own academic future could be in some jeopardy.

“A few days later, a postcard arrived at Professor Nash’s office with a Cambridge postmark and dated April 30. It contained an adapted quotation from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ and was signed by the missing Wilfred J. Partridge. It read,

‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of manuscripts and sealing wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—.’

“The following day, the two students appeared in Nash’s office and revealed the entire story to him. An unamused Professor Hatch was informed as gently as possible, and the ‘Partridge Fragment’ was retrieved from the Fogg Museum.

“Tyler and Kline were graduated in 1938 and were subsequently ordained in the Episcopal Church. Kline went on to become president of Bard College at Annandale-on-Hudson, and Tyler became a military chaplain. Professor Hatch never quite got over his sense of professional embarrassment, and the Partridge Fragment was rarely mentioned in his presence.

“Ten years later, in 1948, a magnificent stained glass window was dedicated at Episcopal Theological School in memory of Barrett Tyler, who had been killed in the service of his country during World War II. The circular window depicts scenes from Pilgrim’s Progress and contains an inconspicuous memento recollecting the hoax of the Wilfred Partridge manuscript. The central panel shows Bunyan’s Christian, at whose feet stands the figure of a partridge, firmly grasping a cord from which dangles a rolled scroll!

“Following the ceremony of dedication of the window Hatch was heard to say that he could not recall the mention of a bird in Bunyan’s classic allegory. Whether anyone ventured to explain to him the reason for its presence in the window must remain unknown.”

Bruce Manning Metzger, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997), pp. 133-6. (Incidentally, the late Professor Metzger’s delightful memoir is chock-full of stories of scholarly lore, and should be read by all.)

[The header image of the partridge and the above reproduction of the panel in which it appears are both details from the Barrett Langdon Tyler Memorial Window at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They are taken from Ralph Adam Fine’s beautiful photograph of the same, and are used here by his kind permission. Mr Fine is a talented photographer and all-around nice fellow, and his work may be sampled, among other places, on his Flickr page.]

On Englishing the Bible of the Orthodox Church: Further Updates and Reflections


While moderating my queue of unapproved comments, I was delighted to find a note from Michael Asser, whose fine KJV-LXX Psalter and Old Testament I have mentioned in the past. He writes:

I’m very glad to inform you that Archbishop Mark of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain (ROCOR) has blessed my ‘King James Septuagint’ (an adaptation of the OT of the King James Bible to the Greek Septuagint), and it is expected that it will be published by September 2013 by the St Innocent Press of Middlebury, Indiana.

This is very good news indeed. As I have noted before, the full text of his excellent KJV-LXX Old Testament is already available online at the Orthodox England website. It appears that the published volume will comprise the entirety of the material on that pageincluding, one hopes, the substantial Slavonic appendix. Needless to say, I enthusiastically look forward to the release of the printed edition, and congratulate the indefatigable translator on finding a suitable publisher for this invaluable work. Beyond this, allow me only to restate a wish I have expressed before:

I have read somewhere that Mr Asser has tentatively started to work on the KJV’s Gospel of St Matthew in order to bring it into conformity with the 1904 Patriarchal Greek New Testament. While he has not committed himself to a full-fledged New Testament project, I, for one, hope that he does carry out a full revision of the KJV New Testament to supplement his KJV-LXX Old Testament. In this way we would have, at long last, an accurate and stylistically consistent English edition of the entire Church’s Bible suitable for use at the Divine Services.


Most Orthodox readers of bibliophile proclivities are no doubt already aware of the publication of A Psalter for Prayer, edited by David James (Jordanville: Holy Trinity, 2011). This project was several decades in the making, and at least a couple of editions, under such names as The Augmented Psalter and The Russian Orthodox Psalter, had been previously released electronically. This is a remarkable book, which includes not only a revision of the Coverdale Psalter (the one given, as is well known, in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer), but also an admirably full compilation of the devotional and catechetical materials often printed in Church Slavonic Psalters. I understand that in some places this new Psalter has already come to replace that old staple, The Psalter According to the Seventy (Brookline: Holy Transfiguration, 1974). Having never been an Anglican, I lack the attachment to the words of the Coverdale Psalter that others seem to have; however, I can certainly attest to their verve and beauty, since I privately used Coverdale for a long stretch as a substitute for the HTM Psalter (my distaste for which I have never exactly kept a secret).

A Psalter for Prayer retails for $44, but in a most unusual development in the marketing of Orthodox liturgical publications, the book can be purchased from Amazon for a mere $28.69, while a Kindle edition (!) sells for $12.99. Interested parties would do well to promptly take advantage of this.


Some might worry that the publication of Michael Asser’s KJV-LXX and David James’ A Psalter for Prayer within a couple of years of each other will needlessly cause them to be in direct competition: after all, both of these books seek to find a place in the private and public prayer life of Orthodox who use “hieratic English.” I rather doubt that this will be the case, if only because the books have different, and in fact complementary, goals. It might well be desirable to use the same Psalter liturgically that one uses in private reading, and this is the rationale behind such publications as the CTS New Catholic Bible, which prints the text of the Jerusalem Bible together with the Grail Psalms as used in the official Roman Catholic lectionary for the UK. Still, the use of different Psalters for liturgy and private reading need not be at all disruptive, as witnesses the long coexistence of the Authorized Version and Prayer Book Psalters, on which our publications are respectively based.


The need for a suitable liturgical Psalter in contemporary English has occupied my thoughts of late. There is, of course, The Septuagint Psalms by José de Vinck and Leonidas Contos (Allendale: Alleluia, 1993), which is certainly not without its charm, but in my judgment is gravely lacking in matters of editing, accuracy, and style. There is also The Psalter According to the Seventy (Westport: WORDsmith, 2001), published under the auspices of the OCA Archdiocese of Canada, but now out of print and nearly impossible to find. In spite of my best efforts, I have regrettably never had a chance to examine this volume. I understand, however, that a second edition is in the works and hopefully will appear at some point before the Parousia. Better by far than Contos and de Vinck is the Kathisma Psalter with Canticles (Otego: Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery, n.d.). As I have said many times before, while not perfect, this is a lovely and clear translation, and eminently suitable for reading and singing. It is truly a pity that it is not more widely known and used.

I should note that in his recent Prayer Book of the Early Christians (Brewster: Paraclete, 2012; also available in a Kindle edition!), Fr John McGuckin intriguingly uses the Grail Psalms, lightly emended for this purpose. Now I am aware of the many merits of the Grail Psalms and can certainly sympathize with, and even admire, this decision. It occurs to me, however, that Fr Lazarus Moore’s Psalter, at once laconic and lyrical, shares many of these merits and has yet other advantages. Could we not, with a little bit of effort, produce a revised contemporary text of this wonderful Psalter instead?

“The Voice of Stefan” is now “Bouncing into Graceland”

Greetings, my gentle snowflakes! I realize that it has been a long time indeed since we last met, but be anxious no more: for I have returned.

The first order of business is to inform as many of you as have heroically withstood with the merciless passing of the seasons that this blog’s name and look have changed. Allow me to introduce you, then, to Bouncing into Graceland.

As long time readers might recall, not only has this blog featured the above “Graceland” header image from its inception in 2007, but for as long as it was hosted on Blogger it also carried a subtitle taken from the homonymous song by the great Paul Simon:

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Whoa, so this is what she means
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland

These are surely some of the greatest American lyrics of all time, and the Graceland sign with the upwards arrow was specifically chosen to match them. “The Voice of Stefan” (which, incidentally, I first used for my short-lived Vox journal in 2006) was only meant to be a provisional name until I found something more satisfactory; however, I then started to blog in earnest, and the provisional name stayed almost by default. So the new name really isn’t new, after all, but in fact picks up on a theme that has been present here from the beginning. But more on that later, when I finish that one post I started to write back in 2008 (!).

Of course, those of you who also read Nick Norelli’s blog were already aware of the name change. As noted in his announcement, Nick did provide a number of suggested alternate names at my request, and he even listed some of them. I feel, however, that he left out of his partial list some of his better suggestions, which I therefore now share with you for your edification.

  • “Maybe, something like, ‘Radical Orthodoxy, Only Less Radical.'”
  • “Anything with some interesting foreign letters in it would be cool. Something like a Spanish Ñ or a Norwegian Ø in the title would be awesome.”
  • “If you wanna go something more classic how about ‘Irenaeus is Awesome’ or ‘Machen Kills Liberals’? Both have a nice ring to them.”
  • “‘Garfunkled’ could be cool. You could end every post by saying, ‘You’ve just been Garfunkled.'”

The first two are just fun. “Garfunkled” would have made for a splendid name (and catch phrase!), and indeed one with precedent in the Paul Simon oeuvre:

I been mothered, fathered, aunt and uncled
Roy Halleed and Art Garfunkled
I just discovered somebody’s tapped my phone

However, naming my blog after Art Garfunkel probably would have haunted for the rest of my days.

I must admit that I very nearly went with “Machen Kills Liberals.” I even envisioned an image of Machen holding a copy of Christianity and Liberalism, with the words “This Machine Kills Liberals” etched around the border (after the model of Woody Guthrie’s “This Machine Kills Fascists” guitar). This would have been spectacular. I ultimately passed on it, but only with deep regret.

In the end, I decided that my traveling companions would be poorboys and pilgrims with families along the wayso, my gentle snowflakes, welcome to Bouncing into Graceland. I hope you’ll be my traveling companions too, and that we all will be received there.

Sundays with Silva: The Problem of Overinterpretation

“It is approximately the year 2790. The most powerful nation on earth occupies a large territory in Central Africa, and its citizens speak Swahili. The United States and other English-speaking countries have long ceased to exist, and much of the literature prior to 2012 (the year of the Great Conflagration) is not extant. Some archaeologists digging in the western regions of North America discover a short but well-preserved text that can confidently be dated to the last quarter of the twentieth century. It reads thus:

“Marilyn, tired of her glamorous image, embarked on a new project. She would now cultivate her mind, sharpen her verbal skills, pay attention to standards of etiquette. Most important of all, she would devote herself to charitable causes. Accordingly, she offered her services at the local hospital, which needed volunteers to cheer up terminal patients, many of whom had been in considerable pain for a long time. The weeks flew by. One day she was sitting at the cafeteria when her supervisor approached her and said, ‘I didn’t see you yesterday. What were you doing?’ ‘I painted my apartment; it was my day off,’ she responded.

“The archaeologists know just enough English to realize that this fragment is a major literary find that deserves closer inspection, so they rush the piece to one of the finest philologists in their home country. This scholar dedicates his next sabbatical to a thorough study of the text and decides to publish an exegetical commentary on it, as follows:

“We are unable to determine whether this text is an excerpt from a novel or from a historical biography. Almost surely, however, it was produced in a religious context, as is evident from the use of such words as devoted, offered, charitable. In any case, this passage illustrates the literary power of twentieth-century English, a language full of metaphors. The verb embarked calls to mind an ocean liner leaving for an adventuresome cruise, while cultivate possibly alerts the reader to Marilyn’s botanical interests. In those days North Americans compared time to a birdprobably the eaglethat flies.

“The author of this piece, moreover, makes clever use of word associations. For example, the term glamorous is etymologically related to grammar, a concept no doubt reflected in the comment about Marilyn’s ‘verbal skills.’ Consider also the subtleties implied by the statement that ‘her supervisor approached her.’ The verb approach has a rich usage. It my indicate similar appearance or condition (this painting approaches the quality of a Picasso); it may have a sexual innuendo (the rapist approached his victim); it may reflect subservience (he approached his boss for a raise). The cognate noun can be used in contexts of engineering (e.g. access to a bridge), sports (of a golf stroke following the drive from the tee), and even war (a trench that protects troops besieging a fortress).

“Society in the twentieth century is greatly illuminated by this text. The word patient (from patience, meaning ‘endurance’) indicates that sick people then underwent a great deal of suffering: they endured not only the affliction of their physical illness, but also the mediocre skills of their medical doctors, and even (to judge from other contemporary documents) the burden of increasing financial costs.

A few syntactical notes may be of interest to language students. The preposition of had different uses: casual (tired of), superlative (most important of all), and partitive (many of whom). The simple past tense had several aoristic functions: embarked clearly implies determination, while offered suggests Marilyn’s once-for-all, definitive intention. Quite noticeable is the tense variation at the end of the text. The supervisor in his question uses the imperfect tense, ‘were doing,’ perhaps suggesting monotony, slowness, or even laziness. Offended, Marilyn retorts with a punctiliar and emphatic aorist, ‘I painted.’

“Readers of Bible commentaries, as well as listeners of sermons, will recognize that my caricature is only mildly outrageous. What is wrong with such a commentary? It is not precisely that the ‘facts’ are wrong (though even these are expressed in a way that misleads the reader). Nor is it sufficient to say that our imaginary scholar has taken things too far. There is a more fundamental error here: a misconception of how language normally works.

“Our familiarity with the English language helps us see quite clearly that any ‘exegesis’ such as the one I have just made up is, in the first place, and overinterpretation of the passage. Except perhaps in certain poetic contexts, we do not use words and grammatical functions as suggested by those comments. Of course, none of usnot even the finest scholarcan acquire the same familiarity with biblical Hebrew and New Testament Greek that we have with our native, living tongue. Consequently, it is a littler easier to read alien concepts into an ancient text and sound quite scholarly as we do it. And if the text in question was written by a great classical author, we are even more readily disposed to assume that it contains great richness of meaning.

“The problem intensifies when we deal with Scripture. Surely and inspired text must be full of meaning: we can hardly think that so much as a single word in the Bible is insignificant or dispensable. True enough. But we must never forget that God has spoken to us in the language of the people. Much of what passes for biblical interpretation, whether in books or sermons, implies that God has used an artificial, coded, or even esoteric language. Ironically, not a few examples of ‘grammatico-historical exegesis’ suggest that the Bible is as distant from common believers as it was assumed by the proponents of the allegorical method. We must recall this basic principle: the richness and divine origin of the biblical message are not compromised by the naturalness and simplicity of the form in which God has chosen to communicate to us.

“In addition to overinterpreting the passage, however, our whimsical commentary above is deficient at a more important level: it contributes virtually nothing to the reader’s understanding of what the passage actually says! A simple translation into twenty-eighth-century Swahili would have conveyed far more accurately and efficiently the point of the text. Similarly, clear English versions of the Bible communicate to the modern reader the main (and therefore most important) point of any passage without recourse to obscure points of grammar.

“Preachers who make appeals to ‘the original’ may in some cases help their readers obtain a better insight into Scripture. More often than not, however such appeals serve one of two functions: (1) they merely furnish illustrations to heighten interest to that hearers think they have a better understanding of the passage (cf. the comment on embark above); (2) they provide the occasion to make a point that has little do to with the passage (cf. the comment on patient).”

Moisés Silva, “God, Language and Scripture: Reading the Bible in the Light of General Linguistics” in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation: Six Volumes in One, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), pages 199-201.

The NIV and the Messiah in the Old Testament

I expect that most of my readers are aware by now of the recent resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention on the NIV 2011. In this document, the SBC expressed its “disappointment” with what they term an “inaccurate translation of God’s inspired Scripture,” requesting that LifeWay Christian Resources (an agency of the SBC) “not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores” and further resolving that Convention could not “commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.” The Baptist Press News blog comments that this was “a surprising and dramatic move,” further noting that “[t]he Resolutions Committee had asked messengers not to consider the resolution.”

This hastily presented document and the politically engineered process that led to its approval stands in stark contrast to the careful, balanced, and genuinely helpful supplemental report that the Translation Evaluation Committee of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has prepared for its own convention later this month. The indefatigable Rod Decker already directed our attention to this document nearly two months ago, and I am a bit surprised that his notice has failed to elicit further discussion of the report’s contents. I encourage anyone interested in English Bible translations in general, and the NIV in particular, to acquaint themselves with the supplemental report and the various other supporting documents available on the WELS website.

The Translation Evaluation Committee, who were impeccably thorough in the fulfillment of their mandate, sat down for an extended discussion with Douglas Moo, Chair of the NIV’s Committee on Bible Translation. This meeting is described in some detail in pages 7-9 of the report. I was intrigued to learn the following, from page 8:

Regarding the understanding of messianic prophecy, Moo said that all of the members of the committee believe that the Old Testament has predictive prophecy that finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. He suggested that the majority of the committee follows the Walter Kaiser “line of fulfillment” approach.

In a footnote, the report further elaborates:

Walter Kaiser accepts the existence of direct, messianic predictions in the Old Testament. But he also emphasizes that, in many cases, one shouldn’t have to choose if a particular prophecy is fulfilled in the immediate situation of the psalmist, or later in salvation history, or in Christ and the church. It can be fulfilled in all of them, even though it may be ultimately fulfilled in Christ. A prophetic passage’s unity of meaning consists in the fact that from the original “seed” meaning, the core idea grew in content over time as God’s promise-plan unfolded. See: Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Messiah in the Old Testament, Zondervan, 1995, pp. 23-31.

These comments piqued my interest for at least a couple of reasons. For one, Kaiser’s views on these and related matters are often dismissed as naïve, particularly by younger Evangelicals who claim a certain degree of hermeneutical sophistication. There may be some truth to that assessment, of course, but Kaiser is not a rube and his views are not an oddity. In fact his views remain extraordinarily influential, to the extent that a majority of a select group of the best and brightest in Evangelical biblical scholarship are said here to operate within his single-meaning, “epangelical” approach to the interpretation of messianic prophecy. Secondly, this bit of information constitutes a rare insight into the minds of the translators, and it might suggest to informed readers how to properly evaluate disputed renderings in the NIV when they touch on this vexed subject.

Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: The Importance of Thoughts (Part 3 of 4)

The following is the third in a series of four guest posts from Father Alexis Trader, a priestmonk and spiritual father of Karakallou Monastery on the Holy Mountain, and author of In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord: An Orthodox Interpretation of the Gifts of the Spirit (Salisbury: Regina Orthodox Press, 2002). Fr Alexis has recently released a new book, and it is about this new book that he writes below. (The first, second, and fourth posts either have been or will be posted elsewhere; please see the posting schedule at the end of this post.)


The Importance of the Thoughts: Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron
Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds

So, what’s the book about? In a word, thoughts. The New Testament and the Church Fathers both recognize that a person’s spiritual state is a reflection of the thoughts harbored in the heart. Research in cognitive therapy has verified that psychological states of depression, anxiety, and anger are largely a function of the evaluative thoughts that individuals have about their current situation. Obviously, there is something very similar and something very different going on here. What are the similarities? What are the differences? And what does all this mean?

To tease out these issues, I decided to approach the subject in two ways or through two lenses, one panoramic and the other close-up. First, I looked at the Christian conception of the world as the foundation from which Christian views on the thoughts make sense and the scientific worldview as the basis for cognitive therapeutic positions on the mental life. Of course, huge differences surfaced rather quickly in this examination, but what is far more interesting is the existence of perhaps unexpected similarities with patristic approaches in certain philosophical currents at the heart of the scientific method and intrinsic to cognitive therapy. The details can be found in Chapter Two: “Worlds Apart: Myth, Method, and Metaphysics.” Originally, the table of contents listed the subheadings. I’ll list them now to give the reader a bird’s eye view of what is covered in that section:

1. Beholding the World in the Light of the Christian Narrative

A. The World in the Beginning: Creation ex nihilo and the in Image of God

B. A Fallen Humanity and a Fallen World: the Ancestral Sin

C. The World’s Salvation: Christ’s Wondrous Work

D. Divine Revelation to the World and the Orthodox Christian Worldview

2. Explicit Method and Implicit Metaphysics: Underpinnings of the Worldview of Modern Science

A. Novum Organum: Empiricism, Rationalism, and Atomism

B. Metaphysics Concealed: Naturalism, Positivism, and Materialism

C. Method or Metaphysics? Evolutionary Theory and Related Philosophies

D. A Pragmatic Postscript: As Long as it Works

3. Seeking a Common World Between Divergent Worldviews

4. Slaying the Serpent to Rescue the Remedy

I would say more, but this post is not intended to be a spoiler.

Second, I decided to look at how Aaron Beck’s cognitive theory defines thought, emotion, behavior, and their relationship to one another in normal human functioning, in psychopathology, and in recovery. That’s a fascinating subject in its own right, but I wanted to go further. I wanted to see how the Church Fathers would look at these psychological subjects. At times, the Fathers speak quite directly to issues raised by cognitive therapy. At other times, their responses are more indirect. But the Fathers are always relevant! This exploration, which makes up the second third of the book, brings a lot of fascinating issues to the fore. In this post, I’ll just note four major themes. First of all, patristic and cognitive views on how our emotions are affected by the way we interpret our situation converge in the following passage by Epictetus that is cited with approval by both Church Fathers and cognitive therapists: “It is not things themselves that disturb men, but their judgments about these things…. When, therefore, we are hindered or disturbed, or grieved, let us never blame anyone but ourselves, that means our own judgments.” Second, cognitive theory refers to deeper beliefs about danger, pain, helplessness, and lovability that are primitive in terms of being developed during childhood or similar to the reactions of animals under threat. These deeper beliefs seem to be related to the patristic notion of the passions that the Fathers see as both childish and brutish. That explains the subheading: “Of Beasts and Babes” in Chapter Three. Third, cognitive thinking errors such as making a mountain out of a molehill and the patristic bad thoughts such as gluttony are related in intriguing ways that suggest how cognitive therapy can be useful for pastors asked to explain why a bad thought is bad from a psychological perspective and for therapists looking for some moral direction when giving advice to Christian patients. Finally, I explore the deceptively similar issues of selfishness and egocentricity, which are so crucial in matters concerning sin and psychopathology. Knowledge of when a person is acting for selfish motives verses egocentric reasons turns out to be quite important for spiritual fathers and therapists, so they can determine whether a given problem with which they are dealing is primarily psychological, spiritual or both. In the next blog post, I will write a bit about the themes in the third half of the book in which I consider what cognitive theory looks like in practice, what goes on in a therapy session, and what techniques are used to modify thought, behavior, and emotion.


The book, published by Peter Lang, is readily available for purchase from Amazon. Those unfamiliar with academic presses that cater to the “library market” will doubtless find the book rather expensive; yet the publisher has suggested that if the hardcover copies sell well in the immediate future, a less expensive paperback may well be on its way. I would therefore fervently encourage those who wish to read the book, but presently find it outside their budget, to approach their local college or public library about the possibility of purchasing it. Also, perhaps groups of five people could agree to purchase a copy as a donation for their parish library, or even as a gift for their pastor.

For the rest of this series of blog posts, follow the links below:

Post #1 – March 22nd at John Sanidopulos’ Mystagogy
Post #2 – March 25th at Fr Jonathan Tobias’ Second Terrace
Post #4 – March 31st at Kevin Edgecomb’s Biblicalia

Also, extended excerpts from the book are available at the following locations:


Chapter 9