In this guest post Fr. Jeffrey reflects on the recent Clergy Retreat for the Eparchy of Saskatoon. He relates this deep theological reflection to our current human problems of equality so that we might fully understand the meaning of our humanity in the light of Christ, the Lover of Mankind.
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You will be reassured to know that the clergy of our Eparchy of Saskatoon are in good hands with regard to on-going spiritual development. Times being what they are, as they say, for 2020 we had one of those modern-times retreats, a get-together via Zoom. Fr. Peter Babej from the Eparchy of Edmonton presented a series on the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, based on Matthew 5: “Blessed…”
Along with the content, the manner in which he researched his topic reminded me of principles I had learned in university. For example, when possible, discover the original definitions of words from the context of the original language. Already in my first year at the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto I was introduced to the common attitude of study that you can move from secondary sources to primary sources. The reasons included that you yourself might be able to contribute something to the topic, and occasionally even find a mistake in commonly accepted translations or opinions.
I had this experience recently with an English translation of a phrase from the “Akathist Hymn to Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ісусе, Ти вбрання весільне” “O Jesus, garment of joy…” The dispute is over “garment of joy” or rather “wedding garment,” which the Ukrainian suggests. In that context, aspects of our Lord’s life and death, and further, the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, take on aspects of a wedding and a wedding banquet. Dr. Brant Pitre, for example, has a talk about the “Divine Bridegroom Messiah.” The prayer from the Akathist takes on an entirely fresh meaning as a reference to the “spousal love of Christ for each and everyone of us” to quote Dr. Pitre. Openness to new life that is a characteristic of marriage is an attitude that “takes flesh” in many ways during this lifetime, and also represents the hope and promise of eternal life.
I was thinking of the Divine Liturgy as a wedding banquet recently because here in Wynyard our parish volunteers not only wanted to designate the areas in the nave of the church where people would be asked to sit, they also wanted undertake the task with some flair and artistry. The ribbons they taped around the sitting area reminded me of a wedding ceremony, even if the practical reasons were to follow government guidelines and risk reduction.
I was reminded of something my brother, Bernard, used to tell me and his other younger brothers about work on our family farm as teenagers: don’t just do something, but show a little dignity and self-esteem in your work. One memory is from a day when we had returned to our farmyard after fixing fences. We had wooden posts on a trailer that we unloaded up against the trees beside the fuel tanks, those classic ones on a tower so that gravity could be used to one’s advantage when fueling vehicles and tractors. From the house he looked out a window and said, “maybe go back and re-arrange that pile. Just because we’re the only ones who will probably see it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a bit of higher standards for our work.” That was good lesson for me on the idea of not only doing practical work but tending to an intangible measure as well.
One of the studies, so to speak, that Fr. Peter took us through from the Beatitudes was on the meaning of the word, “meek.” He explained the Greek word and the implication of strength in “meekness” that has been lost or at least weakened in common contemporary usage. Self-control is a strength and a fundamental characteristic of meekness. The explanation caught my attention because of something else I remember from university: in a sociology class we were told that that self-control, or as they called it, delayed gratification, was really a middle-class concept that the lower classes or presumably non-Europeans, could not be expected to learn or be held to as a standard.
The statement betrayed the ideology of class warfare, which of course is a very popular but also very disappointing ideology, based essentially as it is on violence, especially when the Christian alternative, following St. Paul, is that we find our equality in our humanity and in Christ. “For God shows no partiality,” we read in the Epistle for the Second Sunday After Pentecost. Being a new creation in Christ, children and heirs, is very liberating in its humanism and human equality.
It is for such reasons that Patriarch Joseph Slipyi had a principle of translation that he hoped we would never lose, namely that in the translation of Христос Чоловіколюбець. The concept is expressed by Christ in his self-identity as “Son of Man.” Patriarch Slipyi hoped to retain the translation, Christ, the Lover of Mankind. It opens an expansive world in defence of the principle of human exceptionalism among all that is created in the universe, and equality within humanity.
Like other schools of translation in which the translator is not an editor, a commentator, or revisionist, Patriarch Joseph translated for “accuracy and faithfulness of the translation with our church Slavonic text.” He then explained the following: “Free translation is sometimes subjective and not always trustworthy. The text of holy Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and free translation, which is often really just an explanation, does not contain this gift.”
Dear Faithful, continue to be faithful. As an attestation of the physical and spiritual nature of our human nature, self-control is ultimately a fruit of the Holy Spirit, which evokes gratitude and humility even within those most victorious in developing and controlling their natural strengths and potentials. The list, as described by St. Paul is as follows: charity, (meaning love of God, self, and neighbour), joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”
And from the Feast of Christ, the Lover of Mankind, we have this prayer:
“Mother of the heavenly Bridegroom! The King of the universe has arranged a wedding for his Son and your Son, uniting him for all eternity with his holy Church. In answer to your prayers He came down from heaven. He transformed the austere water of the Old Testament into the glorious wine of the new grace. Ask for this wine on our behalf, that our hearts may glow with love to our heavenly Bridegroom!” (Vespers, Christ the Lover of Mankind)