THE LAST Weekend was #SpringinSF at it’s finest: not too hot, yet warm and sunny with a slight breeze. It was warm enough not to require a jacket until nearly 9 and that just meant that nighttime was cool enough to sleep! Saturday I was out and about long enough to “get some color” on my wintery pallor. Out walking with a friend we did a bit over 20km as we nerded out about Bible and Ecclesiology.
Being thankful that God has blessed me to live here, to serve the poor, to stand by his Altar, to be his son. The scudding clouds in the sky today remind me of the wolfpacks that form the melody of the Kyrie in Paul Winter’s Missa Gaia. So here’s a playlistof the whole thing. Having been lucky enough to see this live at Mass at St John the Divine in NYC in the 80s, this music is the core of celebration for me. (My friend, T, says “Whew this is Spirit of V2 as heck.”)
BY WAY Of method: selected verses from Psalm 88 (BCP ’79 translation – a personal fave) interspersed with the refrain from Psalm 136. Language was ironed out to be in the third person to match the refrain. Not all the verses of Ps 88 are used, just the ones that match my current #mood. The reader is referred to Romans 8:28. Cribbing on the Psalms is either poetry or meditation. This Psalm is used for Friday’s Night Prayer. Its final line is haunting but today felt like a good day to claim it as my own.
By day and night I cry to the LORD, my God, my Savior. – For his love endures for ever. Let my prayer enter into his presence; – For his love endures for ever. He will incline his ear to my lamentation. – For his love endures for ever. I am full of trouble; and my life is at the brink of the grave. – For his love endures for ever. I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; – For his love endures for ever. I have become like one who has no strength; – For his love endures for ever. Lost among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, – For his love endures for ever. He has laid me in the depths of the Pit, in dark places, and in the abyss. – For his love endures for ever. His anger weighs upon me heavily, and all his great waves overwhelm me. – For his love endures for ever. He has put my friends far from me; – For his love endures for ever. He has made me to be abhorred by them; – For his love endures for ever. I am in prison and cannot get free. – For his love endures for ever. My sight has failed me because of trouble; – For his love endures for ever. I have stretched out my hands to the LORD and called upon him daily – For his love endures for ever. I cry to the LORD for help; in the morning my prayer comes before him. – For his love endures for ever. Why has the LORD rejected me? – For his love endures for ever. Why have he hidden his face from me? – For his love endures for ever. Ever since my youth, I have been wretched and at the point of death; – For his love endures for ever. I have borne his terrors with a troubled mind. – For his love endures for ever. His blazing anger has swept over me; – For his love endures for ever. His terrors have destroyed me; – For his love endures for ever. They surround me all day long like a flood; – For his love endures for ever. They encompass me on every side. – For his love endures for ever. My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me – For his love endures for ever. Darkness is my only companion. – For his love endures for ever.
AN EMERGING PATTERN seems to indicate that more-common sins are ways to cope or deal with situations: like alcohol is used to numb the brain, so are other things. If “I don’t want to think about this just now” there are distractions with which to numb the pain.
Those brain-numbing pain solutions are sins. Yes, addictions are less culpable than open revolt, but still, they are sins. It seems the sin is not in the action (although the action is sinful) but rather in the rejection of God.
For the actual thing–not-thought-about is not whatever was the trigger, but rather the deep, abiding love God has for his sons and daughters. We reject the possibility of thinking about – of resting in – this love. We don’t want to be reminded of it. We push it away. Resting in this love was what the trigger distracted us from. It’s what the on-going sin distracts us from.
So, for example, if you’ve had a bad day at work and you don’t want to come home to whatever that might mean, instead go to visit what we called a “package store” when I was growing up, and having acquired some products, you go sit on the lake and watch the stars come out as your forget your job and your spouse and kids… the unspoken thing you forgot – in the middle of the bad day – is God’s love. Meditating on that could have addressed the bad day at work and addressed (or avoided) everything else. All that followed was an unfolding of that first action of forgetfulness.
I posit that the initial forgetfulness is willful. We don’t want to fully live into being loved that much. It’s a threat to our self-indebtedness. That love demands a full and total response and sometimes, you want to hold back just a little, to forget to give everything so there’s a little something just in case it’s needed later.
Every sin – even the “little” ones that happen without thought or planning (“voluntary and involuntary, known and unknown” we say in the Byzantine rite) – is predicated on stepping out of that relationship, on holding that relationship at bay.
It’s safer if we don’t fall into that Love. It demands everything.
And having stepped out of the line of fire, even briefly, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re safe now, over here. That this is normal. This distance is a good thing. We push away our only hope and then wonder that we fall further.
MEDITATING on the material in previous posts has moved some updates into my brain. I have tended to add “update: some stuff” to the posts, but I think that doesn’t get the updated material out to readers by email. Going forward I will do update posts like this one and add an update link to the earlier posts.
Further Thoughts on Personhood
To follow up on the post about personhood and communion. It’s still essential to avoid the trap into which Zizioulas falls, namely to seem to say that if you’re outside the Church you’re not a person. But if personhood is the same as communion (or somehow one carries the other) how can that be avoided?
I think perhaps a solution could be found in breathing with both lungs.
Aquinas insists that everything that is is participating in God’s beingness. So, to follow Zizi, everyone is, already, participating in communion even without realizing it. The Holy Spirit is “everywhere present and filling all things”. Yes, on earth and in our timeline, the fullest realization of this communion is in the Eucharistic Mystery in the Church… But God is not bound by our timeline: the church is the sacrament of universal salvation and so (pace Aslan, et al) no one is denied personhood. Because they exist: they are loved by God into being, into communion.
There’s always (on this side of glory) room to grow. We’re not even finished in heaven but move, then, “from strength to strength”.
The post on calendars and Pascha mentioned a culture clash. I did not clarify it. It’s a clash because the Roman Calendar + Metonic Cycle did not fix the problem of a “real” year with no Pascha or with two Paschas. We can see this now.
As I mentioned the next Pascha is five weeks after Easter, on 5 May. That means there are 12 months with only the Pascha from this year (6 April 2023) but the following Pascha is on 20 April 2025, meaning that there are two Paschas in the 12 months beginning 1 May 2024. I count from the day following so, as Pascha was on 16 April this year, there are no Paschas at all in the 365 days that follow.
So the current Julian calendar has the same problem – as does the Gregorian calendar. So the “two Pascha/no Pascha” issue is a red herring. So, also, the move from the “aviv” calendar to the “fixed” calendar in 358 AD.
At issue was, exactly, being dependent on the Jewish community for the information. It might be possible to read other motives into it – Christian Antisemitism is a real issue – but I think it can best be understood as an answer to the very modern questions, “Can we do this in-house somehow? Do we have to outsource it?”
YOUR HOST HAS Been volunteering in a Byzantine Catholic Parish that uses the Julian Paschalion and the Julian Calendar as well. Thus this week is Holy Week, with Pascha today, 16 April. In the US, for most Byzantine Catholics, last week was Holy Week so we’re really a Unicorn here. This has raised questions among parishioners and Latin rite friends about how Orthodox Pascha is calculated. Surprisingly it’s also allowed voice to be given to that same pious legend about the paschalion told among the Orthodox so let me deal with that first: the legend that Orthodox Easter must come after the Jewish Passover is simply untrue. It’s also something that was condemned in the first Council of Nicea.
Pascha and Pesach
In the 1st two centuries of the Christian Era there were two ways to date Easter: among some communities that were predominantly Jewish, the Resurrection was always celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Nisan – ניסן – no matter what day of the week it was. In fact, the entire paschal cycle of Death and Burial and Resurrection seems to have been commemorated in a community meal much like the Passover Seder on that night (beginning at Sunset the night before). Some have suggested that the Peri Pascha of St Melitos of Saedis is the “Passover Hagada” of that community. Still linked with 14 Nisan, communities that were mostly of Gentiles celebrated on the Sunday following that date.
These two traditions functioned side by side peaceably. It seems strange to us now, used to Easter always being Sunday, but it’s no different from Christmas which we celebrate on the 25th no matter what day of the week it is.
However, the Jewish calendar is a hybrid solar-lunar calendar. Its months are based entirely on the lunar cycle and this cycle does not match with the solar cycle at all. Prior to 358 AD, there was a tradition of looking for grain ripening to decide when it was time for Passover. When the barley reached a certain degree of ripeness (called, “aviv”) then the next full moon would be Passover. If the barley was not ripe enough at the end of the usual time, then a second month was inserted! This gets complicated – is it only barley in Israel? If the weather is bad, can we use the barley elsewhere to time it? How do we get news to the ever-widening diaspora of the Jewish People that Passover is coming? The Jewish community, with a nudge from Hillel II, instituted a fixed calendar in 358 AD it was not one-and-done though. It was a process of evolution and adoption. The lunar and solar cycles take 19 years or so to return to exactly the same place. To account for this the Jewish calendar, every once in a while, inserts a “leap month” which brings things closer to alignment as needed – but this is not based on barley, only on solar-to-lunar timing. This constant tinkering, common to all hybrid calendars, is the source of the problem that follows.
Imagine being a Christian at this time, waiting to hear from the local synagogue that Passover was this month on the full moon. Then you’d need to get ready for Easter as well.
At some point, it was evident to the Gentile communities that using the Jewish calendar to calculate the feast occasionally gives rise to some solar years (where solar = the “real” years) without a feast in the “real” twelve months. (I use this language to show the culture clash only – and that’s what it was: a culture clash.) What should we do if using the Jewish Calendar gives us one “real” twelve-month year with no Easter? Or one “real” year with two Easters? These two traditions stayed in communion, both produced saints and were included in the patristic commentary that gave us the scriptural canon and the oral traditions of the Church. But then the Jewish community began adopting a new calendar. What now?
Among all the questions of Christological Orthodoxy at the first Council of the Church was the question of Easter. It seemed good to the gathered bishops that the entire Church should celebrate this one feast together on the same day. It was not only decided to only use the Roman calendar (entirely on the solar or “real” year) but it was actually forbidden to use the Jewish Calendar in the calculation at all. This deals with the pious legend I mentioned earlier: Easter does not have to come after the Jewish Passover. The 14th Day of Nisan does not enter into the calculation at all.
Nicea set the feast of Easter to be always a Sunday. It was set to be the First Sunday after the First Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox. There were still a couple of problems.
The first problem with this calculation is solar. Unlike the Winter Solstice (on the shortest day) or the Summer Solstice (longest day), the Equinox is not very self-evident. Nearer to the equator (where most of the Church was located) even the Solstices are not very evident for most of the days are nearly the same length. Thus all these solar events are pegged to calendar dates that we still use: they are all on the 21st of a month: 21 December, 21 March, 21 June, and 21 September. We use these dates now even though we understand by virtue of more-recent astronomy that the actual equinoxes or solstices can vary slightly, moving back and forth from the 20th through to the 22nd of each month. Thus Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after 21 March.
The second problem is lunar: when is the full moon? Early on the calculation of the full moon was assigned to the Patriarchate of Alexandria. It was universally recognized that they had the best astronomical resources. So a letter from the Patriarch announced which lunation would include the all-important full moon for the Christian feast. Then each local church would set the date of their celebration even in communities – Egypt or India for example – that used a different calendar. It had been recognized in the Greek world (long before Rome took over) that the moon moved in a very predictable cycle of 19 years. This was known as the Metonic cycle. This means that the dates of the full moon can be predicted well in advance. Lists of these dates were published. Everyone could do their own calendar now.
If you know the date of the moon, you only need to know the Sunday date and thus Easter can always be known. So, very early on complex tables were produced allowing one (anyone who was literate, that is) to look up a year and see exactly when Easter would be. Easter Tables are still published in prayerbooks. It’s a nerdy thing to use. They note the date of the Full Moon (called the Paschal Moon, even though it has nothing to do with Nisan) and a series of letters note the days of the week.
So it was decided to use the 21st of March as a set date and to use the Metonic Tables as set dates. This was to be easier than observational astronomy which could be complicated by weather, etc.
All of these dates were calculated on the Roman calendar which – at the time of Nicea – was the calendar produced by Julius Cesar! It was done by the best astronomers of his day. Everything worked well in the Church with this system for nearly 1100 years.
Why the Julian Calendar keeps slipping
The Julian Calendar had a year of 365 days exactly. Every four years without exception a day was added to February making the fourth year 366 days long. The problem is that the need for a “leap day” is not exactly every 4 years. Thus, over a thousand years or so, the Julian calendar was slipping out of alignment with the actual solar cycle. In fact, it had already slipped a bit even by the time of Nicea: culturally, the solstices and equinoxes were celebrated on the 25th of the month even though everyone “knew” they were “really” on the 21st. That Nicea used the 21st instead of the 25th shows that they were all about using the current science.
Right now the Julian Calendar has slipped 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar.
Here’s the reason that we have the issue of two Easters:
Orthodox Easter is still the first Sunday after the first full moon after 21 March. But what the Julian calendar calls March 21st is, for the Gregorian calendar, April 4th. That’s the solar problem.
The lunar problem is a bit more subtle. The observable full moon – the astronomical full moon – is not used. Rather it’s the one predicted by the Metonic Cycle. When Pope Gregory corrected the Solar Calendar he made one more change: he recalculated the tables for the Metonic Cycle, bringing them more in line with observable reality at his time. Thus Gregorian Easter is based on two dates somewhat closer to what they claim – the equinox and the full moon. The Orthodox response was “the Pope has no power to tell us what to do.” They kept their calendar AND they kept their Metonic tables so even on years when the predicted full moon is after the 4th of April – as in 2023 – there is a difference of a week or two between Easter and Pascha. Next year, the Gregorian Full Moon is before the 4th, so the Julian folks have to use the next lunar cycle and thus Pascha is 5 weeks after Easter!
Frankly, my dear Scarlet…
Nicea had a good idea: all Christians everywhere should celebrate the Feast of Feasts on the same day. Using the best science of the day the council made some choices. But the rule was we should all be on the same day.
I would love to get back to that, even if it means using a calendar that’s 14 days behind.
EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE my WordPress stats will indicate a very old post (today, from 2015) and I’ll discover that I’m not thinking anything new to me – but rather that I’ve been chewing on the same cud for most of the last 25 years. The whole recent string starting with mists and ending in the most recent post about personhood seems to have been on my mind continually since 2002, at least. Ongoing discussion of how self-identification relates to personhood is also of an equally-long standing. I’m finding, now (literally, this morning) that both of those themes relate to something called personalism. I’m not quite sure what that means, but I know it was Pope St John Paul’s school of philosophy. So I need to keep digging there. Since that school speaks of our relationship to, with, and in God it may also have something to do with my third theme: the incarnation, time, the eucharist, and salvation. It’s here we’ll stay just now.
Pope Benedict XVI said, “Every time the Mass is celebrated, every time Christ makes himself sacramentally present in his Church, the work of our salvation is accomplished.” (13 Sep 2008 Source, ret’vd 12 Apr 23). This phrase is currently in a prayer used on the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, quoting from both Lumen Gentium and Sacrosanctum Concilium and previously it was the Secret prayer for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost. How is it possible that each time the Mass is offered our salvation is carried out? The Latin is “opus nostrae redeptionis exercetur” where “exercetur” is variously rendered as “wrought” or “carried out” or even “exercised”.
Meditating and chewing on this, it seems that in some way, though the grace of mediation, the Church is granted to not “time travel to the cross” at Mass, but rather the reverse: Each Mass is the first mass. Each Mass is not just the result of our Lord’s work on the Cross. It is our Lord’s work on the Cross.
In the incarnation the Second Hypostasis of the Trinity, the Divine Son, took upon himself a human nature, uniting it fully to his pre-eternal divine nature. In what way, then, does the God-Man experience time? Is it possible to say that in the Divine-Human Hypostasis there is also a union of Kairos and Chronos? Is there a way in which the Son moves through time while still being in eternity? The prayers of Pascha from the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom seem to say this, “In the tomb with the body, in hell with the soul as God, in paradise with the thief and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit, You fill all things, O boundless Christ.” So is there a Chronostasis, if you will, making all things the God-Man has done eternally present? The eternal actions of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Glorious Second Coming are all commemorated in the Divine Liturgy, even though the latter – for us – has not yet happened. However, for God, it is also eternally present.
Thoughts in development.
Update after 3 hours: a friend reminded me that St Ephraim the Syrian thought it possible that the entire Garden of Eden story occurred outside of time and that our parents only began to experience Kronos after the Fall. I’ve never been a fan of that theological pattern because it seems to make the whole thing too mythological. However if Kronos and Kairos overlap and diverge exactly at the Fall the implications of this post are even stronger. It would be sensible, then, that someone experiencing both Kairos and Kronos in his person would be required to make Atonement, uniting the times again.
METROPOLITAN JOHN ZIZIOULAS (Memory Eternal!) has this great line in Being as Communion, “to be and to be in communion are the same thing”. It’s not an exact quote. I pulled it out and wrapped it into my final presentation to be graduated from CIIS in 2002. The argument continues – as I understood it – that since it is in Christ, and more specifically in His Church, that we find the fullest expression of communion, it is there, in the Church, that a Human Being can come into his fullest beingness. I wasn’t too far off, actually, despite being a new convert to Orthodoxy at that time (I entered the Church only a couple of months earlier). Reading a blurb for a book about his theology, I find:
Zizioulas has argued that the Church Fathers represent a profound account of freedom and community that represents a radical challenge to modern accounts of the person. Zizioulas uses the work of the Fathers to make an important distinction between the person, who is defined by a community, and the individual who defines himself in isolation from others, and who sees community as a threat to his freedom. Zizioulas argues that God is the origin of freedom and community, and that the Christian Church is the place in which the person and freedom come into being.
I’ve been on this for a while, especially since COVID. This all came back into my brain recently over some really amazing margaritas with a friend who said that this was the exact reason he rejected Zizioulas. And then, one day later, listening to the audio version of The Orthodox Way, I heard Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (Memory Eternal!) say the same thing in another way:
First, a “person” is not the same as an “individual”. Isolated, self-dependent, none of us is an authentic person but merely an individual, a bare unit as recorded in a census. Egocentricity is the death of true personhood. [p. 28] He [the Holy Spirit] transforms individuals into persons. [p. 95] Ignorance and sin are characteristic of isolated individuals. Only in the unity of the Church do we find the defects overcome. Man finds his true self in the Church alone: not in the helplessness of spiritual isolation but in the strength of his communion with his brothers and with his Saviour. [p. 108]
This is stated by King David in the Psalms (Ps 49:20): “a man with honor without understanding is like the beasts that perish.” To sin is to forego understanding, to become like a beast – to step away from our humanity into which God always calls us deeper, to become more of what we are, not less.
Then finally yesterday, on a phone call with one of my brother Knights, I commented that so many Christians are terrified of preaching the Gospel. What caused the Church to go from 12 guys to thousands in Jerusalem in only a few months? They spread city to city – and not always by the “official routes” of the Apostles. What was happening that carried this message even faster than feet?
We take it for granted now, but Christianity carried personhood as we understand it, out from the Jewish teachings where it begins in Genesis 1 with the image and likeness of God to the rest of the world. It was possible to enter into full, personal, salvific communion with the God who made everything and yet wanted you – fully, personally, you – to be his Son or Daughter by adoption and grace. This came to you no matter who you were – Jew, Greek, Scythian, Barbarian, Slave, Free, Man or Woman. You mattered: not just data as a census number or a member of a social hierarchy invented to keep the same hierarchy in place. You were a real, loved, person who could enter into loving relationships with other real persons on an equal footing. And those relationships would last forever – because the one relationship that made them possible between you and God would last forever as well.
This Gospel swept the world and changed the world. We come into the modern world thinking of persons exactly as the Church has taught, “endowed by their creator”. Ironically, the idea that “you are important in God” has been turned into “I am God” and, lo: we’re all data points again. We are turned into isolated individuals who live in perpetual fear that our personal self-definition will be shattered by someone using the wrong pronouns for us. Metropolitan Kallistos is right to call this “self-dependent”. We might add to that, “self-debted”. When I am subtracted, I will be no more. If I am not around to make me, I won’t be made.
A beast that perishes.
We are afraid of a Gospel that demands a full change of thinking, a full rejection of the disorder that the world calls “normal”. There is no way, apart from God, to know who you are. Rejection of even the possibility of that truth makes for meaninglessness and lived nihilism.
Eternal life is possible. Lived in unchanging truth; turning away from the foolish idea that you define yourself, that you are making yourself. Let God make you. Let others love you as he is making you – not because of what you have or what you can do or what you can imagine but because you are the very icon of God. Become the You God made you to be – in the body God gave you used according not to your feelings but to the owner’s manual… Enter into communion with God and others who seek him. “Become who God made you to be and you will set the world on fire” (St Catherine) and “the Glory of God is a living human being” (St Ignatius).
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