Earthly, Sensual, Devilish: Mistaking worldly ambition for heavenly inspiration

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” (James 3:14-15 KJV)

Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_Christ_Taken_Prisoner_(detail)_-_WGA06795

Detail from ‘Christ Taken Prisoner‘ by Duccio di Buoninsegna

 

The Christian community in North America was recently disturbed by the news that the accused attacker on a Californian synagogue that left one dead was a member of a conservative Christian denomination. Furthermore, the attacker allegedly left a manifesto on the reasons for the attack that quoted from the Bible. This was the second time that scripture had been used to justify a murderous attack on a synagogue in less than a year. The way both attackers used Bible verses in their self-published manifestos suggests influence by kinist heresy and Christian Identity ideology.

Christians should be horrified. The Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, warned the Church of Jesus Christ, in his letter to the Roman believers, that rather than considering ourselves better than those who rejected our Lord, to “be not highminded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.” Yet, the history of anti-Semitism being identified with politically powerful Christianity extends for well over a millennia, and includes such injustices and atrocities as the Edict of Expulsion in England, the Spanish Inquisition, and the pogroms of Tsarist Russia. Since the time of the early Church, Christians who use violence for earthly power and influence have ignored the words of Jesus to Peter, after Peter had hacked off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”  One of the earliest examples of this earthly, sensual, and devilish ambition of worldly Christians is found in the account of Cyril, bishop of Alexandria from 412 to 444 A.D. The early Christian historian, Socrates Scholasticus (c.380-439), records Cyril’s rise to power:

Shortly afterwards Theophilus bishop of Alexandria having fallen into a lethargic state, died on the 15th of October, in the ninth consulate of Honorius, and the fifth of Theodosius. A great contest immediately arose about the appointment of a successor, some seeking to place Timothy the archdeacon in the episcopal chair; and others desiring Cyril, who was a nephew of Theophilus. A tumult having arisen on this account among the people, Abundantius, the commander of the troops in Egypt, took sides with Timothy. [Yet the partisans of Cyril triumphed.] Whereupon on the third day after the death of Theophilus, Cyril came into possession of the episcopate, with greater power than Theophilus had ever exercised. For from that time the bishopric of Alexandria went beyond the limits of its sacerdotal functions, and assumed the administration of secular matters.’

“My kingdom,” Jesus said to Pilate, “is not of this world.” Yet Bishop Cyril wanted his rule to extend beyond the Church, and his ambition had devastating consequences. Socrates Scholasticus goes on to recount how Cyril’s mounting ambition in a secular city provoked sectarian riots between Jews and Christians.

About this same time it happened that the Jewish inhabitants were driven out of Alexandria by Cyril the bishop on the following account…

‘In consequence of the Jews being disengaged from business on the Sabbath, and spending their time, not in hearing the Law, but in theatrical amusements, dancers usually collect great crowds on that day, and disorder is almost invariably produced. And although this was in some degree controlled by the governor of Alexandria, nevertheless the Jews continued opposing these measures. And although they are always hostile toward the Christians they were roused to still greater opposition against them on account of the dancers. When therefore Orestes the prefect was publishing an edict—for so they are accustomed to call public notices—in the theatre for the regulation of the shows, some of the bishop Cyril’s party were present to learn the nature of the orders about to be issued. There was among them a certain Hierax, a teacher of the rudimental branches of literature, and one who was a very enthusiastic listener of the bishop Cyril’s sermons, and made himself conspicuous by his forwardness in applauding. When the Jews observed this person in the theatre, they immediately cried out that he had come there for no other purpose than to excite sedition among the people. Now Orestes had long regarded with jealousy the growing power of the bishops, because they encroached on the jurisdiction of the authorities appointed by the emperor, especially as Cyril wished to set spies over his proceedings; he therefore ordered Hierax to be seized, and publicly subjected him to the torture in the theatre.

‘Cyril, on being informed of this, sent for the principal Jews, and threatened them with the utmost severities unless they desisted from their molestation of the Christians. The Jewish populace on hearing these menaces, instead of suppressing their violence, only became more furious, and were led to form conspiracies for the destruction of the Christians; one of these was of so desperate a character as to cause their entire expulsion from Alexandria; this I shall now describe. Having agreed that each one of them should wear a ring on his finger made of the bark of a palm branch, for the sake of mutual recognition, they determined to make a nightly attack on the Christians. They therefore sent persons into the streets to raise an outcry that the church named after Alexander was on fire. Thus many Christians on hearing this ran out, some from one direction and some from another, in great anxiety to save their church. The Jews immediately fell upon and slew them; readily distinguishing each other by their rings. At daybreak the authors of this atrocity could not be concealed: and Cyril, accompanied by an immense crowd of people, going to their synagogues—for so they call their house of prayer—took them away from them, and drove the Jews out of the city, permitting the multitude to plunder their goods. Thus the Jews who had inhabited the city from the time of Alexander the Macedonian were expelled from it, stripped of all they possessed, and dispersed some in one direction and some in another…

‘But Orestes the governor of Alexandria was filled with great indignation at these transactions, and was excessively grieved that a city of such magnitude should have been suddenly bereft of so large a portion of its population; he therefore at once communicated the whole affair to the emperor. Cyril also wrote to him, describing the outrageous conduct of the Jews; and in the meanwhile sent persons to Orestes who should mediate concerning a reconciliation: for this the people had urged him to do. And when Orestes refused to listen to friendly advances, Cyril extended toward him the book of gospels, believing that respect for religion would induce him to lay aside his resentment. When, however, even this had no pacific effect on the prefect, but he persisted in implacable hostility against the bishop, the following event afterwards occurred.’

The account appears to resemble the riots in Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus that Luke chronicles in the Acts of the Apostles. But, unlike the book of Acts, the riots in Scholasticus’ account were not triggered by preaching the Gospel, but by the challenge of the bishopric of Cyril to the secular power of Orestes. Furthermore, Cyril and his followers, instead of following the Apostle Paul’s example of glorying in persecution, turned the entire Jewish population of Alexandria into refugees. Cyril’s attempt to bribe Orestes to turn a blind eye to the plight of the Jews by giving him a copy of the Gospels is deeply ironic. As the account indicates, the unrest triggered by Cyril’s ambition did not stop there.

Some of the monks inhabiting the mountains of Nitria, of a very fiery disposition, whom Theophilus some time before had unjustly armed against Dioscorus and his brethren, being again transported with an ardent zeal, resolved to fight in behalf of Cyril. About five hundred of them therefore quitting their monasteries, came into the city; and meeting the prefect in his chariot, they called him a pagan idolater, and applied to him many other abusive epithets. He supposing this to be a snare laid for him by Cyril, exclaimed that he was a Christian, and had been baptized by Atticus the bishop at Constantinople. As they gave but little heed to his protestations, and a certain one of them named Ammonius threw a stone at Orestes which struck him on the head and covered him with the blood that flowed from the wound, all the guards with a few exceptions fled, plunging into the crowd, some in one direction and some in another, fearing to be stoned to death. Meanwhile the populace of Alexandria ran to the rescue of the governor, and put the rest of the monks to flight; but having secured Ammonius they delivered him up to the prefect. He immediately put him publicly to the torture, which was inflicted with such severity that he died under the effects of it: and not long after he gave an account to the emperors of what had taken place. Cyril also on the other hand forwarded his statement of the matter to the emperor: and causing the body of Ammonius to be deposited in a certain church, he gave him the new appellation of Thaumasius, ordering him to be enrolled among the martyrs, and eulogizing his magnanimity in church as that of one who had fallen in a conflict in defence of piety. But the more sober-minded, although Christians, did not accept Cyril’s prejudiced estimate of him; for they well knew that he had suffered the punishment due to his rashness, and that he had not lost his life under the torture because he would not deny Christ. And Cyril himself being conscious of this, suffered the recollection of the circumstance to be gradually obliterated by silence. But the animosity between Cyril and Orestes did not by any means subside at this point, but was kindled afresh by an occurrence similar to the preceding.’

The fate of Ammonius, while violent, recalls the warning of Peter, as a mature Apostle, in his first epistle, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.” Clearly, not all Alexandrian Christians had so far forgotten these words of Scripture to follow Cyril in his ploy. But, as the historian indicates, the abominable struggle for political power between Orestes and Cyril took a sickening turn.

There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not unfrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in coming to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.

‘Yet even she fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Cæsareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them. This affair brought not the least opprobrium, not only upon Cyril, but also upon the whole Alexandrian church. And surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort. This happened in the month of March during Lent, in the fourth year of Cyril’s episcopate, under the tenth consulate of Honorius, and the sixth of Theodosius.’

Socrates Scholasticus, who was a contemporary of Cyril, notes the date when this atrocity, the unspeakably brutal death of an innocent woman at the hands of a Christian mob, took place. The fact that this occurred during the fast of Lent, when Christians were to be in preparation for commemorating the death and resurrection of their Lord, shows how far the political struggles for power had removed the Alexandrian Church from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This post began with a quote from the epistle of James, the Lord’s brother, warning against mistaking worldly wisdom for heavenly inspiration. It seems appropriate to end with another quote from James:

‘From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Sources:
The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds)A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathes of the Christ Church, 2nd series (Volume 2). Retrieved from https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Nicene_and_Post-Nicene_Fathers:_Series_II/Volume_II/Socrates 
Quotes from the Bible in the KJV translation. Illustration accessed from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Cathedral_(Siena)_-_Maest%C3%A0_-_Capture_of_Christ.
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Paschal Troparion: Kristos anesti – Christ is risen

It is the tradition in Orthodox churches to repeat this ancient hymn in as many languages as possible on Paschal Sunday. It is sung in the clip in Arabic and Greek:

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν

Christ is risen from the dead,

المسيح قام من بين الأموات

(Al-Masīḥu qāma min bayni ‘l-amwāt)

 

θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας

Trampling down death by death,
ووطئ الموت بالموت

(Wa-waṭiˀa ‘l-mawta bi’l-mawt)

 

καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι ζωὴν χαρισάμενος

And upon those in the tombs, bestowing life
ووهب الحياة للذين في القبور

(Wa-wahaba ‘l-ḥayāta li’l-ladhīna fī ‘l-qubūr)

Text & translations from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paschal_troparion. The author does not own contents of the video clip but uses it under YouTube’s terms of service.

Easter – O Filii et Filiae

This carol of the Resurrection is thought to have been written by the Franciscan Jean Tisserand in the late 1400s. It relates two details from the the account of the Resurrection, the women speaking to the angel at the empty tomb, as related in the Gospel of Matthew, and the doubting of Thomas, as related in the Gospel of John.

 O sons and daughters of the King, 
whom heavenly hosts in glory sing, 
today the grave has lost its sting. 
Alleluia! 

That Easter morn at break of day, 
the faithful women went their way 
to seek the tomb where Jesus lay. 
Alleluia! 

An angel clad in white they see, 
who sat and spoke unto the three, 
“Your Lord has gone to Galilee.” 
Alleluia! 

At night the apostles met in fear; 
among them came their Master dear 
and said, “My peace be with you here.” 
Alleluia! 

When Thomas first the tidings heard 
that some had seen the risen Lord, 
he doubted the disciples’ word. 
Lord, have mercy!

“My pierced side, O Thomas, see, 
and look upon my hands, my feet; 
not faithless but believing be.” 
Alleluia!

No longer Thomas then denied; 
he saw the feet, the hands, the side. 
“You are my Lord and God!” he cried. 
Alleluia! 

How blest are they who have not seen 
and yet whose faith has constant been, 
for they eternal life shall win. 
Alleluia! 

On this most holy day of days, 
our hearts and voices, Lord, we raise 
To Thee in jubilee and praise, 
Alleluia!

Sources: Text translated by J.M Neale & retrieved from hymnary.org. The author of the blog does not own the embedded video but uses it under YouTube’s Terms of Service.

 

Good Friday – They stripped me of my garments

Technically, this Byzantine hymn is to be sung for Holy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. Nevertheless, the events it describes, using text from Matthew 27:28-29 and Psalm 2:9, happened on the day that Christ died.

Ἐξέδυσάν με τὰ ἱμάτιά μου

They took my garments

καὶ ἐνέδυσάν με χλαμῦδα κοκκίνην.

and placed a scarlet robe about me.

Ἔθηκαν ἐπί τὴν κεφαλήν μου στέφανον ἐξ ἀκανθῶν

They fixed on my head a crown of thorns

καὶ ἐπί τὴν δεξιάν μου χείραν ἔδωκαν κάλαμον

and gave into my right hand a reed

ἴνα συντρίψω αὐτούς ὡς σκεύη κεραμέως.

for I will break them as a potter’s vessel.

Sources: Greek text from media description, translation by the author.
The author of the blog does not own the embedded video, using it under section 6.C of YouTube Terms of Service
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Taxation & Christianity

When Justin Martyr wrote his appeal to the Emperor Antoninus Pius and the Roman Senate sometime between 138 and 161 A.D., it was illegal to be a Christian in the Roman Empire. Justin’s First Apology was a plea that Christians be judged, not on the basis of their religious convictions, but by their actions. Among the many arguments he put forward for Christians not being an enemy to the Pax Romana was this paragraph:

And everywhere we, more readily than all men, endeavour to pay to those appointed by you the taxes both ordinary and extraordinary, as we have been taught by Him; for at that time some came to Him and asked Him, if one ought to pay tribute to Cæsar; and He answered, “Tell me, whose image does this coin bear?” And they said, “Cæsar’s;” And again He answered them, “Render therefore to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Whence to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment. But if you pay no regard to our prayers and frank explanations, we shall suffer no loss, since we believe (or rather, indeed, are persuaded) that every man will suffer punishment in eternal fire according to the merit of his deed, and will render account according to the power he has received from God, as Christ intimated when He said, “To whom God has given more, of him shall more be required.”

Sources: Background and text from Justin Martyr’s First Apology, translated by Marcus Dods, retrieved from the open source Ante-Nicene Christian Library on Wikisource.org.

Sticheron of the Ninth Hour – Epiphany

This Sticheron of the 9th hour is sung, here in Arabic in a Syrian Orthodox church, for the Nativity in churches which follow the Byzantine rite. Nevertheless, since the Eastern Orthodox Christmas celebration is on January 7 and since the text mentions the Magi and the Theophany, it seems appropriate for the celebration of Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas. Epiphany is a dual celebration, remembering not only the coming of the Magi to worship the Christ Child but also the baptism of Jesus Christ, and is also called Theophany. The name conveys what is being celebrated, the manifestation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, both by the Magi worshipping Him and presenting gifts to Him, and by the heavens opening after His baptism with the Spirit of God descending in the form of a dove and the voice of God the Father saying, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The historical records of the observance of Epiphany in the Church go back even further than the observances of the Nativity, and new Christians were baptized on Epiphany, with Advent being a time of fasting and preparation for baptism.

Today is born of the Virgin Him Who holdeth all creation in the hollow of His hand.
He Whose essence is untouchable is wrapped in swaddling clothes as a babe.
The God Who from of old established the heavens lieth in a manger.
He Who showered the people with manna in the wilderness feedeth on milk from the breasts.
And the bridegroom of the Church calleth the Magi, and the Son of the Virgin accepteth gifts from them.
We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ.
Show us also Thy divine Theophany!

Sources: Text translation from Antiochian.org. History from Christianity.com & Britannica.com. The author of the blog does not own the embedded video, using it under section 6.C of YouTube Terms of Service.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – Christmas Day

When Charles Wesley’s beloved Christmas hymn was published in 1739 in Hymns and Sacred Poems, it was titled ‘Hymn for Christmas Day’. The opening lines read: “Hark, how all the welkin rings, Glory to the King of Kings.” The word welkin is an Old English word for sky or heaven. It was evangelist George Whitefield who changed the opening line to the one we all know and sing, in his Collection in 1753.

Hark! the Herald Angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King;
Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
God and Sinners reconciled.
Joyful all ye Nations rise,
Join the Triumphs of the Skies,
With th’ angelic Host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Christ by highest Heaven ador’d,
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in Time behold him come,
Offspring of a Virgin’s Womb;
Veil’d in Flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail th’ Incarnate Deity!
Pleas’d as Man with men t’ appear,
Jesus, our Immanuel here.

Hail the Heav’n born Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Son of Righteousness!
Light and Life to all he brings,
Ris’n with Healing in his Wings;
Mild he lays his Glory by,
Born, that Man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of Earth;
Born to give them second Birth.

Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble Home;
Rise, the Woman’s conq’ring seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent’s Head;
Adam’s Likeness now efface,
Stamp thine Image in its Place;
Second Adam from above,
Re-instate us in thy Love.

Sources: Text & history from Hymnary.org. The author of the blog does not own the embedded video, using it under section 6.C of YouTube Terms of Service.