faith


A few more words on the arrangement of the Bible readings in the Pascha services: Monday covers creation and the fall. Tuesday, one hour had two straight chapters from Genesis on the Flood and the Covenant with Noah. Wednesday’s readings cover the exodus from Egypt (pointing forwards to the ultimate exodus in which Jesus, the second Moses, delivered his people from the spiritual land of Egypt, ie bondage to sin). Thursday, the Copts connect the Last Supper, which is in fact a beginning of the New Covenant, with the Abrahamic covenant, and consider the story of Isaac’s substitute at length. Intermixed are readings from Proverbs and the Wisdom of Sirach (the Copts accept the core books of the Apocrypha, but not as many I think as the Catholics do) describing the beauties of Wisdom (which is a figure for Christ), and the blessings offered to men who follow her.

Some of the psalms for today (which are complicated to look up because the Copts use a system of numbering which sometimes matches the KJV, and sometimes doesn’t, and I haven’t figured out the trick yet):

. . . That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.    Ps. 51:4
(Which becomes full of meaning when one considers Paul’s use of it in Romans 3, to demonstrate that God’s righteousness stands firm, regardless of men’s sins, and goes on to show God’s glory in Christ’s death, wherein he demonstrates his own righteousness in judging sin, and also as sufficient to provide remission of sins for believers.)

For lo, thine enemies make a tumult; and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.
They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.    Ps. 83:2-3
(This is read in conjunction with John’s account of Judas Iscariot murmuring against Mary anointing Jesus’ feet.)

Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are vexed.
My soul is also sore vexed; but thou, O Lord, how long?
. . . And hide not thy face from thy servant, for I am in trouble; hear me speedily.         Ps. 6:2-3, 69:17

Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man; preserve me from the violent man,
Which imagine mischiefs in their heart; continually are they gathered together for war.   Ps. 140:1-2

Besides the prophecies of judgment, there are many beautiful promises of restoration read; and Isaiah is one of the most wonderful books in the Bible; which is all my excuse for quoting it here:

Therefore thus saith the Lord God: Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation; he that believeth shall not make haste.
And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand. . .
Bread corn is bruised; because he will not [for]ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen. This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.     from Is. 28:16-29

Lastly, yesterday my mother pointed out to me this truly wonderful summary, to be read after the passage in Matthew 23 where Jesus tells his disciples that of all the beautiful buildings of the temple in Jerusalem, not one stone will be left upon another:

“When the disciples heard the prophecy of the Savior, they showed him the temple, the venerated stones, and the sanctuaries. He responded to them, saying, There will not be two stones together. Verily this happened forty years after the ascension of our Lord. The Romans came, devastated the city, and demolished the temple, which remains thus to this day. One million and two hundred thousand Jewish men were killed by the sword. They were castigated by God’s wrath, and his damnation covered their faces.”

Thus we conclude that the Copts are actually preterist and postmillenial in their eschatology (as can be seen further by the Messianic promises from Isaiah being read together with the parables of the kingdom of heaven, and the prophecy in Daniel of the Ancient of Days being associated with Christ’s death and resurrection, and in general all the Messianic psalms, concerning both his humiliation and his exaltation, being brought together in this week); they have not worked this out in detail, and the people generally are uninformed on the subject. But those of us who have wandered into the heady pastures of Reformed postmillenial thought rejoice to see that the Copts are on the right track here as well. (In case you can’t tell, I will be happy to exposit on this at length if anybody asks. Or email me at my new address, on-the-dotted-line at hot mail dot com.)

This is the Pascha doxology. Every hour it is sung after the prophecy has been read, and before the psalm and gospel. The second stanza has a phrase added to it every day; this is the complete form, which is sung on Friday. It is repeated twelve times, antiphonally between the sides of the church, the pace and language (fast, slow, Arabic, Coptic, English) to be determined by the senior deacon. (All of these Pascha services, except for the memorial liturgy on Thursday, are prayed in the nave of the church, staying outside the sanctuary behind the iconostasis, and outside the deacons’ usual benches on the platform right in front of the iconostasis, in commemoration that our entrance into the Holy of Holies was only opened by Christ’s death, which is remembered on Friday.)

Kyrie eleison.
Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings, and the majesty forever, Amen:
                  O Emmanuel our God and our King.
Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings, and the majesty forever, Amen:
                  O my Lord Jesus Christ, my good Savior:
                  The Lord is my strength and my praise,
                   and has become my salvation.
Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings, and the majesty forever. Amen.

 Every hour has a prophetic reading, which ranges from the Old Testament stories of Creation and the establishment of the covenant with Abraham, to the covenant lawsuit passages in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, and the others, where God describes the sins of his people and the punishment they deserve, but also often speaks of the coming days when he will finally take their sins away, and they will be indeed a pure bride.

After the doxology, the psalm is sung first, very slowly (in the Coptic chants, the sadder the occasion the slower the chant – except for the great high feast day of Easter itself, when the chant gets slower than ever!) in Coptic by one of the deacons. When I was young and irreverent, I once timed that one vowel in this chant could last for 40 seconds; and Coptic has lots of vowels. Now I consider the time better spent in meditating on the verse, or in learning the Coptic letters and words. Here are some of the Psalm readings from yesterday and today; it is wonderful to see how many of the Psalms become Messianic when considered in this context:

He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be moved.
In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God.
         Ps. 62:6-7

Consider and hear me, O Lord my God; lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death. . .
But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.
        Ps. 13:3, 6

The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought; he maketh the devices of the people of none effect.
The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
         Ps. 33:10-11

Plead my cause, and deliver me; quicken me according to thy word.
Salvation is far from the wicked, for they seek not thy statutes.
         Ps. 119:154-155

He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me, for they were too strong for me. . .
He delivereth me from mine enemies: yea, thou liftest me up above those that rise up against me; thou hast delivered me from the violent man.
         Ps. 18:17, 48

Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
O my God, I trust in thee; let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me.
Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed; let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.
        Ps. 25:1-3

Then the Psalm and Gospel are read together, either in English or Arabic, still chanted, but in a much more efficient “reading” tone. The gospel readings are arranged so that everything between the entrance to Jerusalem and the Last Supper is read during Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. During these days, there is only one gospel reading per hour. These include the rebukes of the Pharisees, the last questions posed to Jesus and his authoritative answers (the source of John the Baptist’s authority, the tribute to Caesar, the resurrection of the dead brothers and their wife, the greatest commandment, and David’s calling his Son Lord), and the description of the last days [of Jerusalem, by my interpretation].

This is the concluding hymn, sung antiphonally between the north and south sides of the church, at the end of the morning prayers and of the evening prayers all week.

O King of peace, bestow thy peace upon us; make firm thy peace upon us; and forgive us our sins.
Kyrie eleison.

Disperse the enemies of the church, and fortify her stronghold, that she may not be shaken forever.
Kyrie eleison.

Emmanuel our God is now in our midst, with the glory of His Father and the Holy Spirit.
Kyrie eleison.

May He bless us, and purify our hearts, and heal the sickness of our souls and bodies.
Kyrie eleison.

We worship thee, O Christ, together with thy good Father and the Holy Spirit, for thou wast crucified, and saved us.
We cry out saying, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified on the cross, trample down Satan under our feet.
Kyrie eleison.

The is the response between the priest and the people said at the end of every canonical prayer hour (for convenience, all the day prayers are said in the morning, and all the evening prayers in the evening; the Copts are pragmatic, and recognize the necessity of going to work sometimes) before and after the exposition, a short summary of the Gospel reading for the hour.

In the name of the Trinity,
one in essence,
the Father and the Son
and the Holy Spirit:

O true light,
which enlightens
every man
who comes into the world:

Christ our Savior
has come and has born suffering,
that through His Passion
He may save us.

Let us glorify Him
and exalt His name,
for He has done us mercy
according to His great mercy.

I’ll throw in some more obscure Western hymns, too. This one was written by Venantius Honorius Fortunatus in 569 (he’s the author of one of the best Christmas songs ever, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”), matched in the 1940 Episcopal hymnal with the tune Vexilla Regis, of Plainsong derivation.

The royal banners forward go,
The cross shines forth in mystic glow
Where he, as man, who gave man breath,
Now bows beneath the yoke of death.

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old;
How God the nation’s King should be,
For God is reigning from the tree.

O tree of beauty, tree most fair,
Ordained those holy limbs to bear;
Gone is thy shame, each crimson’d bough
Proclaims the King of glory now.

Blest tree, whose chosen branches bore
The wealth that did the world restore,
The price of humankind to pay,
And spoil the spoiler of his prey.

To thee, eternal Three in One,
Let homage meet by all be done.
As by the cross thou dost restore,
So rule and guide us evermore.

Most of my memories of Christmas are shaped by Western traditions – carols, Christmas trees, decorations. But Easter I have primarily experienced through the Pascha (Passover) week rituals of the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Church. I think Christmas is a one-day event, and easily lends itself to feasting and celebration, so even cultures as bare of tradition and ritual as American evangelicalism can do Christmas pretty decently. But Easter is different. Properly understood, it’s the culmination of forty days (or fifty, for the Copts) of fasting and preparation, and a week of reliving the last hours of Jesus’ life. It is the central event of Christendom, and indeed of all human history. One week dedicated to meditating on the events is not too much to spare. So, I’m going to post here some of the readings and hymns from the Coptic prayers of Pascha week. (If my internet connection improves tomorrow, I might be able to find the online recordings of the chants. You have to bear in mind that the Copts chant everything; if you’ve heard some Muslim prayers, it’s a similar musical style, but different, because we came first. ;)

(Flipping through the prayer book, so saturated with incense that it fills the room even now:)

The doxologies of Palm Sunday, sung before each Scripture reading (Hebrews, 1 Peter, Acts, and each of the Gospel accounts), accompanied by cymbals and triangle (and you have to picture the church decorated with woven palm leaves, and the children making camels and pyramids out of palm leaves, and the ladies wearing palm leaf crosses, and the priest’s usual inlaid cross replaced with an elaborate palm leaf creation):

He who sits upon the Cherubim, on the throne of his glory, sat upon a colt, and entered Jerusalem.

Hosanna in the highest. This is the King of Israel. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord of Hosts.

Alleluia. Alleluia. Jesus Christ the Son of God entered into Jerusalem. Alleluia. Alleluia.

Sing aloud unto God our strength; make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob. Take a psalm, and bring the timbrel, the pleasant harp with psaltery. Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.    Psalm 81:1-3

Hosanna in the highest. This is the King of Israel. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord of Hosts.

Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion; and to thee shall the vow be performed. O thou that hearest prayer, to thee shall all flesh come.    Psalm 65:1-2

He who sits above the Cherubim today appeared in Jerusalem, riding on a colt with great glory, and multitudes of angels surrounding Him.

The crowds spread garments on the road, and cut branches from the trees, shouting and singing: Hosanna to the Son of David.

For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? . . .

For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with the blood of others, for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the ages hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself:

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment, so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.    Hebrews 9:13-14, 24-28

Today these sayings have been fulfilled, as told in the prophets and proverbs, as Zechariah prophesied about our Lord Jesus Christ.

And the Fraction Prayer, which changes for the different occasions in the church year:

O Lord, our Lord, as a wonder your name became upon the whole earth, for the greatness of your splendor is exalted above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings you have prepared praise. Prepare also, O Lord, our souls for praising You, singing to You, blessing You, serving You, worshipping You, glorifying You, giving thanks to You every day and every hour; that we may confess to You and cry out to You, O Holy Father who are in heaven: Our Father, which art in heaven. . .

(And I’ll just throw this out for the sake of some Protestants who think the Orthodox believe in salvation by works, and aren’t true Christians: read these things, read through their prayer books, and try to tell me that again. The whole Liturgy and Agbeya (prayers of the hours) are basically just verses rearranged as prayers.)

In my spare time reading today, I came across a good deal of controversy in conservative circles about Dinesh D’Souza’s new book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left And Its Responsibility For 9/11, in which he argues that 9/11 happened because Muslims were justifiably outraged by the social liberalism which the US is spreading around the world. Judging by reviews, D’Souza suggests that American conservatives/traditionalists ought to form an alliance with Muslims and other traditionalist societies against the forces of liberalism, thus solving both the war on terror and the cultural war at the same time.

Like most of the conservative commentators, I’m rather stunned by this concept, but for different reasons. I’ll refer to Stanley Kurtz’s analysis at National Review Online as an example. He says,

“D’Souza tries to clear a path for an alliance of Muslim and Christian traditionalists by sympathetically explaining key differences between the two religions: ‘Unlike many Christians, who have multiple identities only one of which is that they happen to be Christian, Muslims typically regard their religion as central to both private and public identity, and consider all other affiliations as secondary or derivative.’ Good point. The lesson D’Souza seeks to draw here is that Christians ought to tolerate the somewhat broader religious boundaries of their sincerely traditionalist brethren in the Middle East. Yet doesn’t the tendency to subordinate all public and private identities to Islam suggest a reason why Islam and modernity are in tension to begin with?”

The problem is, D’Souza has drawn a strong dilemma, and Kurtz chooses the wrong horn of the dilemma. The answer is not, if we want liberty we have to separate private and public, religious and secular spheres. The answer is, we need the right religion, one which teaches conversion by persuasion, not violence, one which upholds individual rights rather than subordinating everything to a totalitarian religious leader (eg Iranian ayatollahs).

As long as we try to interact with Muslims by trying to persuade them that they can separate their religion from their daily activities and choices, we are bound to fail. Not only that, but as long as the American church continues to grasp at this rag of an excuse for incomplete obedience to Christ, we will continue to deserve the shame of abortion and sodomy flung like filth across our land.

True Christianity is not one among multiple identities. It should be the overwhelming, all-encompassing identity which subsumes all others. Only then will life have true meaning, instead of being “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (For an eloquent and earthshaking statement of this old-new philosophy, see Peter Leithart’s new book, Against Christianity.) I am not a Christian on Sunday, and a medical student Monday-Friday, and a twenty-something girl on Saturday. I am a Christian, always, because the whole universe, and every minute of every day, belongs to my Lord Jesus, and everything I do ought to be subordinate to that. (Not saying it is, but that’s my failing, not my desire.)

This is the only true answer to Islam. We cannot fight a world-encompassing way of life and thought which centers every aspect of society around a false god by politely requesting its adherents to withdraw into a 1-in-7 mentality, thus matching the surrender of modern Christianity. The only response which is on the same level, which in the end will be stronger, is one which acknowledges that religion truly drives culture, politics, economics, and private life, and then gets down to living the true religion in that way.

Today was perfect (apart from a long and nerve-racking drive in on icy roads). Nothing much happened, and the attendings didn’t try to teach very much. Enough residents were gone to clinic that I got my own computer, and got to sit and knit and read medical blogs and Federal Vision websites. (This very esoteric tempest in the teapot of conservative Reformed theology is very confusing to me; I’m just concluding that I like what they say, when I come across a clearer exposition of their beliefs, and am surprised and horrified all over again; it’s like climbing into a cold pool very slowly.)

Somehow our family volunteered itself to sing a song in church sometime soon. This will be quite an innovation for our conservative Presbyterian church, which barely tolerates non-psalmodic hymnody and piano accompaniment. We’re going to sing a psalm, a capella, so that should be ok. Trick is, I don’t know how to sing. It’s really not fair that I love music, especially vocal music, and am completely incapable of carrying a tune. I can’t even tell whether my voice and the piano are matching, or not; let alone whether I’m in harmony with the rest of the family, when we haven’t got a piano. I think the tunes sound better when the intervals are slightly diminished, and a few sharps and flats are added, but the rest of the family disagrees. We’re negotiating a truce, where they will sing as loudly as I wish I could, and I will keep quiet in the background. This is where having lots of children in the family really helps.

I took a little notice of domestic events, and listened to Sean Hannity on the way home:
– How is it possible to convict Border Patrol agents for patrolling the border? This is one of the most tragic travesties of justice I’ve heard about in recent days.
– What makes Congress think that it has the authority to pass a resolution telling the President how to run the war? They should either withdraw funding, and be responsible for the consequences, or run for the job of Commander-in-chief and see if they can get a mandate, or else be quiet. Right now most of the senators are just dogs in the manger, trying to have their cake and eat it too: the pleasure and fame of grandstanding, without any actual responsibility.
– Speaking of usurping authority: Gov. Rick Perry’s unilateral decision to require the Gardasil vaccine for schoolgirls is objectionable on so many levels, as it tramples on the jurisdiction of both the legislature and parents. HPV is not in the same category as measles and diphtheria, which can be transmitted between very small children, and without any knowledge or choice on the part of the carrier or the recipient. HPV is primarily transmitted as the result of specific actions of individuals with some capacity to choose (however ill-exercised). You don’t require herd immunity for it. And in any case, some public discussion ought to be allowed.
– All the presidential candidates are very interesting characters, and this should be an exciting election season. But I’m not sure I can sustain interest, let alone passion, over a two-year long campaign. And I’m an ex-political junkie. I hate to think what the attitude of the general population is going to be by the time November 2008 gets here.
– Much as I object to his politics and her politics and character, the prospect of the first (potential) black or female president is fascinating. Somebody should push Condi Rice into the ring, and then we could do both at once, and I could even vote for her.
– The global warming police are coming out in force. On which subject see this eloquent speech by Michael Crichton, whose book State of Fear does a good job of combining thriller plotting with good science (and footnotes).

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