The Exaltation of the Precious and Life-creating Cross

Come, ye faithful, and let us venerate the life-giving Wood, on which Christ, the King of Glory, stretched out His hands of His own will.

Photo: Leanne Parrott Photography

Photo: Leanne Parrott Photography

To the ancient blessedness He raised us up, whom the enemy had before despoiled through pleasure, making us exiles far from God.

Come, ye faithful, and let us venerate the Wood, through which we have been counted worthy to crush the heads of our invincible enemies.

Come, ye kindred of the nations, and let us honor in hymns the Cross of the Lord.

Hail, O Cross, complete redemption of fallen Adam.

With Thee as their boast, our faithful kings laid low by thy might the people of Ishmael.

We Christians kiss thee now with awe, and glorifying God who was nailed upon thee, we cry: O Lord, who on the Cross was crucified, have mercy upon us, for Thou art good and lovest mankind.


Hymnography from the stichera for the veneration of the Cross, emphases added.

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The Nativity of the Theotokos

Homily for the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, September 8

Let us rejoice today as we celebrate this first major feast of the new ecclesiastical year. Today begins the economy of our salvation; the barrenness of our nature is loosed, for the barren woman gives birth to the one who will bear God; the Gate-facing-East of the mystical temple comes into being, through which the Lord God himself will enter as the Great High Priest, yet leaving the gate closed; the book of the Word of Life is opened, confirming the preaching of the prophets; and the bridal chamber appears, in whom divine and human are united into one.

Nativity of the Virgin (Theotokos), Church of the Virgin Hodegetria, Patriarchate of Pec, Serbia (Image: BLAGO Archives)

Nativity of the Virgin (Theotokos), Church of the Virgin Hodegetria, Patriarchate of Pec, Serbia (Image: BLAGO Archives)

Today really is the beginning, and also the end, or perhaps rather the end and the beginning together: the end of shadows and promises, and the revelation of reality and truth; the end of the old covenant, and the beginning of the new; the end of the old creation, and the inauguration of the new.

Today the period of the Law concludes, and a new era of grace dawns. The beautiful hymnography that we have been singing last night and this morning depicts for us, in a multitude of ways–so many ways, in fact, that it is hard to comprehend–how all the things spoken of in the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in the Theotokos, revealing to us a deeper and more profound mystery than we had previously imagined.

The prophecies have given way to their fulfillment, the types to the realities, the letter to the Spirit: She is the Gate of Paradise, the Burning Bush, the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple of Life.

As so, the old covenant gives way to the new. What was enacted on earth in times long past today becomes a spiritual reality in the present, bringing to an end the shadow–sacrifices in the Temple, propitiating deities–so that we might offer the only sacrifice acceptable to God, and ourselves become living temples of God, dwelling in his paradise, nourished by the Tree of Life.

The old covenant has passed, and so too has the long history of the old creation that culminates in the birth of the Virgin–this creation and its history has come to an end; the new creation is inaugurated, not a new work, but one which recreates the old.

Of old we were fashioned from virgin earth, molded by the hand of God and receiving the breath of the Lord. Now God prepares virgin soil anew, not from elsewhere, for then Christ would not be human, would not be our Savior, our creator and our redeemer.

He takes virgin earth from our own stock, as it were, from our own flesh, and it is from this virgin earth, the body of the Virgin, by the power of the Spirit, that the Word of God will fashion for himself a body in which to appear, revealing to us true divinity and true humanity–in one, together–united in the bridal chamber of the womb.

Our minds were turned to our bodies, caught fast in material things, and so the Word comes to us in bodily form, to grab our attention, and for this he must prepare for himself new virgin earth.

Our minds were turned to the earth, preferring the dust from which we were taken rather than the things of heaven, and so setting ourselves on a course which could only lead back to that dust…to death.

In the period of the old creation, the events of the old covenant–the Law and the Prophets–could not of themselves rectify us, restore us to our former life, put an end to the death that was at work in our earth; and so the Word took that earth to himself, and by offering himself to death, turned death inside out, so that now it becomes the means of life.

Taking earth to himself, he gilds the mud that we are with divinity, adorning us such that the King himself desire our beauty. This is the goal for which the whole of creation has been groaning in travail: the revelation of the children of God in their glorious liberty. It is the inauguration of this new creation that we now celebrate, for today there comes into being the one through whom it is possible.

Nativity of the Virgin (Theotokos), Gracanica Monastery, Serbia (Image: BLAGO Archives)

Nativity of the Virgin (Theotokos), Gracanica Monastery, Serbia (Image: BLAGO Archives)

The hymns for this day in fact speak of the Virgin as being preordained to this role, fore-ordained to usher in the new creation.

Here, really, is the heart of the mystery: for God could not have revealed himself upon earth, in this way–divinity and humanity united in one person, one face–he could not have done this without earth that could respond to him freely and positively.

The original creation, the old creation, was created by divine fiat–let there be! It was merely passive.

But the realization of the divine purpose for creation depends upon the human fiat–let it be! “Let it be to me according to your word!” It depends upon there being earth ready and willing to be taken and fashioned by the hands of God.

As we look back now at the old covenant, fulfilled in the Theotokos born today, and at the old creation, now ready to be refashioned into a new creation , we can perhaps see that the whole economy turns upon the earth, for the human being, said an early father, is earth that suffers (Epistle of Barnabas 6.9).

What had seemed its frailty, that it is nothing but dust and will return to the dust, is in fact its strength–the earthen vessels containing heavenly power–when it holds itself open, ready to be fashioned, to bear the fingerprints of its Creator.

Today the virgin is born, the temple through which the High Priest enters the world,

The virgin is born, in whose womb divinity and humanity come together,

The virgin is born, and all creation is renewed, for the economy of salvation begins.

Let us sing the praises of the Virgin, then, and offer thanksgiving to God–let it indeed be!


cross_stands__52149.1406224506.300.300Published in The Cross Stands While the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year, by The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr.


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Restoring the Western Rite

Organist and seminarian Ian Abodeely (Jocelyn Mathewes, Studio Mathewes Photography)

Organist and seminarian Ian Abodeely (Jocelyn Mathewes, Studio Mathewes Photography)

I was the house organist and music coordinator for the [2014 Western Rite Vicariate] Conference. I had the responsibility of organizing and leading the music for all of the services, including providing preludes and postludes. We had the organ works of Bach, Dupre, Vaughn Williams, Charpentier, Purcell, Byrd, and others. The services were sung using the traditional Gregorian modes.

We sat “in choir” and chanted the psalms antiphonally during the Daily Office, and experienced the waves of chant that it produces. This manner of prayer is so calming and centering that I often wish we did something similar in the Byzantine Rite. 

Bishop John gives the Final Blessing at Solemn High Mass, Feast of the Transfiguration

Bishop John gives the Final Blessing at Solemn High Mass, Feast of the Transfiguration

We had Lauds, followed by Mass every morning and Vespers in the evening. We alternated the two rites used in the Vicariate: the St. Gregory (Roman Rite) and the St. Tikhon Rite (English Use). So some mornings we had Lauds, others we had Morning Prayer. Some evenings we had Vespers, and others we had Evensong. But all of our days were rooted in the celebration of the Mass. Our first full day was the Feast of the Transfiguration which we celebrated with a Solemn High Mass, with Bishop John Abdalah (SVOTS ’84)  presiding from the throne. The light and wonder of the feast certainly flowed through the entirety of the conference and made our time of fellowship and prayer that much richer. The conference had many wonderful speakers, including our own Fr. Chad Hatfield, who spoke on the ascetical tradition of the Church as a way of evangelism. 

L to R: Fr. Edward Hughes, Bp. John Abdalah, Fr. Chad Hatfield, Ian Abodeely

L to R: Fr. Edward Hughes, Bp. John Abdalah, Fr. Chad Hatfield, Ian Abodeely

I was born and raised in the Antiochian Archdiocese, attending a Byzantine Rite parish. I fell in love with Byzantine Chant at an early age, and with my musical training as an organist I had a deep appreciation for the sacred music of the West. It wasn’t until college that I became acquainted with the Western Rite of our Archdiocese, under the tutelage of The Very. Rev. Edward Hughes (SVOTS ’80), who had been appointed Vicar General of the Western Rite Vicariate, in addition to serving as pastor of my home parish. I had always been interested in the liturgy and liturgical practice, so this was a great opportunity to put together my musical training and my love for the Liturgy.

My appointment as organist and choir director at St. Stephen Orthodox Church in Springfield, MA in 2009 provided another opportunity for study and entering more deeply into the liturgical life of the Western Rite. It was there that I learned to pray in a new way, one that encourages silence not just in one’s private prayers, but in the liturgy itself. It was very difficult at first, but over time I’ve grown to love and treasure the Western Rite. 

Many people are confused as to why a “cradle” like me would be involved with the Western Rite, and I don’t really have an answer as to what drew me to it, but I have seen the Holy Spirit at work in these parishes, and I believe God has restored to the Orthodox Church a rite that is most important to our evangelism. It has been said that the Western Rite forces us to think about what being Orthodox really means, and helps us remember that it is faith in Jesus Christ and the teachings of his Church that unite us, not just the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

I can only encourage all Orthodox Christians to “come and see” and experience the Western Rite for themselves. It took me a while to get used to praying in a different way, so I’d encourage more than one visit. It is so different from our Byzantine Rite that it does take time to get used to and to enter into, but it is so very worth the effort.

In the first week of August, 2014, third-year seminarian Ian Abodeely attended the biennial, pan-Orthodox conference of the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (AOCANA). The Vicariate oversees parishes and missions within the Archdiocese that worship according to traditional Western Christian liturgical forms. Ian recorded these reflections at the close of the conference. This reflection originally appeared in “Seminarians Speak” on the website of St. Vladimir’s Seminary.

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Reflections on Trip to Hogar of San Miguel del Lago, Guatemala

Fr. Philip at the HogarThe news is full of stories about impoverished children from Central America making the dangerous trek across Mexico to Texas, Arizona, and California.  Less noteworthy for the media was the journey of nine Orthodox Christians from Texas, California, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, and Ohio to the Children’s Residence or “Hogar”  of San Miguel del Lago in Guatemala in July 2014.  Groups of “missionaries” like ourselves arrive monthly to assist the nuns and staff in caring for Guatemalan children whose parents cannot take care of them.  Yes, we were of some help to the children with the extra attention our group provided, especially through games, arts and crafts, and by taking them swimming and to a few other activities.  We also did yard work and a few other chores, but for me it was primarily a most blessed retreat for several reasons.

First, we displaced ourselves simply by traveling to the Hogar, which is both a home for children and a women’s monastery.  We rose early for prayers and went to bed not long after it was dark each night.  Evening prayers occurred right before dinner in the common dining room.  At the tables designated for visiting missionaries, we ate three times each day the same simple, satisfying food as the nuns, staff, and kids.  We became so used to standing for prayer before and after meals that a few members of our group jumped up quickly when I rose slightly to reach the peanut butter near the end of breakfast one day.  (It was like a scene from a monastic reality show!) In so many ways, we left the busyness and worries of our usual schedules behind—even WiFi was scarce.  In ways small and large, our lives were reoriented for several days around a schedule shaped by the needs of the children and the routines of a monastic community.  In this context, our group bonded quickly with one another as we entered into a different style of life.

Second, we did not really know in advance what we would be doing from one day to the next.  We had a general idea of the schedule, but the particulars of yard work and activities with the kids (ranging from swimming to arts and crafts and spontaneous play sessions) evolved from day to day in light of what pressing needs arose in the community.  As someone normally addicted to a routine, I found it both a challenge and blessing simply to go with the flow.  “The Spirit blows where He wills” and it was good for our group of busy, goal-oriented Americans to accept that we were not in charge of the schedule.  We learned not to measure a day by what we accomplished, but simply to be grateful for the opportunity to pray and be present with children whose stories are so different from our own.  The experience reminded me of caring for own daughters when they were small, for good days then had little to do with achieving pre-established goals.  They had much more to do with simply with being there.

Madre Ines (who holds an honorary doctorate from SVOTS), Fr Philip LeMasters (SVOTS Board Member), Fr Chad Hatfield (SVOTS Chancellor/CEO), & grandson Ryan Hatfield

Madre Ines (who holds an honorary doctorate from SVOTS), Fr. Philip LeMasters (SVOTS Board Member), Fr. Chad Hatfield (SVOTS Chancellor/CEO), & grandson Ryan Hatfield

Third, the services reminded us that the language in which we pray is irrelevant.  With only one fluent Spanish speaker on our team, most of us did not follow every prayer word for word.  But that did not hinder our worship, for we all knew the familiar gestures, smells, and patterns of the daily services.  The highest form of prayer is without words anyway.  Since I am certainly not there yet, the simple words of the Jesus Prayer helped to still my wandering mind more than once.  Speaking of language, a bit of practice enabled me to intone a few litanies in apparently understandable Spanish.  The first Sunday I served by myself, but my good friend Fr. Chad Hatfield of St. Vladimir’s Seminary presided at the Divine Liturgy on our second Sunday in Guatemala.  As he said afterwards, “For two gringos serving in Guatemala, we did pretty well.”  As in previous liturgies in Greece, Romania, and Syria, I was reminded of the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit overcame linguistic boundaries.

Fourth, we dressed and worked differently than we usually do at home and not according to our own will.  As visitors to any monastic community know, modesty is the watchword.  And with boys and girls who are expected always to dress modestly, missionaries must set a good example and not become stumbling blocks.  So in warm weather that usually calls for shorts and sandals in the US, we wore long pants and tennis shoes.  With the exception of time spent doing yard work, I wore my cassock and sometimes a clerical hat.  Being hot natured to begin with, I did not mind the cold showers as a way of cooling off. (One day I took three!)  Since I make my living as a professor and do as little yard work as possible at home, it was a change of pace to cut grass on a hill with a non-motorized push mower and to spend a few hours pulling weeds.  But the spiritual benefits of manual labor and of restraining our own desires about summer clothing just a bit for the sake of others were undoubtedly positive dimensions of our experience.  Thank God for circumstances where our own preferences do not always prevail.

Yes, it was a mission trip.  According to the nuns, our group did its job very well.  But as with all things done for the Kingdom, we cannot calculate the results with precision, at least not in this life.  That is up to God, not us.  What we can do is simply to be thankful for a wonderful retreat in a community of children who, despite their poverty and broken family backgrounds, are blessed by the care of holy nuns and staff members in ways that made us all stand back and give thanks.  At the end of the day, they were the missionaries to us. Thank God!

Posted with permission from our Trustee, Fr. Philip LeMasters, from his blog, Eastern Christian Insights [emphases added]. Fr. Philip led an OCMC Youth Work Team to the Hogar Rafael Ayau Orphanage in July, 2014.

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The transcendent

Written by Fr. Lev Gillet, also known as “A Monk of the Eastern Church,” In Thy Presence is a book of short spiritual reflections on the presence of Christ. As in the case of the quotation below, these reflections are sometimes imagined as words spoken from our Lord to the believer.

“My child, I shall not leave thee in peace. I want to teach thee to transcend.

Take pleasure in all harmonious beauty. It is good. But thou must learn how to tear thyself away from it, so that what is sublime in it can be seen.

Do not blaspheme against intelligence, for I am both the origin and the summit of Thought. But I do not want thee chained forever to the tedious discipline of reasoning. I wish to give thee vision.

Hold to obedience and piety, qualities so many people make mock of these days. But I do not want thee to doze off into a comfortable morality or piety. I wish to inspire thee to sacrifice.

Thou dost realise the distance which lies between thy God and thyself. And it is right that thou shouldst. But be careful not to calculate that distance in order to keep to it strictly, adopting the stance that requires least effort.

My child, I wish to reveal to thee, day by day, God become man; thy Lord Love taking flesh, taking thy flesh.

It is in assuming human nature, without any confusion, it is in becoming one of us without ever ceasing to be Himself that limitless Love supremely shatters all limits.”

Excerpt from In Thy Presence by Lev Gillet, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977, p. 39, emphases added.


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His Grace John (Abdalah) (SVOTS ’78)

His Grace John (Abdalah)

His Grace John (Abdalah)

I am a relatively new bishop, having served happily as a pastor for 33 years before being elevated to the episcopacy. I still have the honor of glimpsing into the intimate dynamic between people and God, as they approach me with pastoral issues—perhaps even more deeply, in my new role—and I regard this as a blessed benefit of being a “chief pastor.” It is awesome to witness people responding to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.


Other “perks” in my new ministry are the great respect and attention afforded me, but these are also the most difficult things to get used to! People open doors for me and carry my suitcase, and lead me from place to place. They do it all with such reverence that it is hard to complain, though it makes me feel a little too elevated; admittedly, though, perhaps it is necessary, since I have had nightmares about forgetting where I am supposed to be on any given Sunday!


All this is forgotten, however, when I encounter my flock, the sheep given to me. My first favorite moment with a parish community is when I have the opportunity to ordain a deacon or priest from among them. My second favorite moment occurs when I am recognized as a beloved father, and not just a hierarch. Such a moment happened recently while I was preaching in a parish: a 4-year old escaped his parents’ arms, ran up to me, and slapped me a high five. Now, that, to me, brothers and sisters, was heaven.


Bishop John is the current Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Worcester and New England, The Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. He is also the editor of WORD Magazine. His Grace was married to Khouriya Joanne (+2008) for 30 years, and has three grown children. 

Watch Bishop John on “The Arabic Hour,” discussing the effects of the current war in Syria on Orthodox Christians.

This profile first appeared in our FY2013 Annual Report, The SVS Vine.

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Translation as a Means of Grace

I taught medieval history at Wichita State University, KS, and I am a translator. When I get stuck in a stubborn paragraph, I say a short Latin prayer to the Holy Spirit: “Veni, Sancte Spiritus; et emitte coelitus lucis tuae radium. Veni, pater pauperum; veni, dator munerum; veni, lumen cordium.” “Come, Holy Spirit, and send a ray of your heavenly light. Come, Father of the poor. Come, Giver of gifts, Come, Light of the hearts.”

Dr. Gythiel (seated right) receiving his honorary doctorate from St. Vladimir's Seminary.

Dr. Gythiel (seated right) receiving his honorary doctorate from St. Vladimir’s Seminary.

In this article, I will first deal briefly with my own life, and then with one key aspect of patristic theology that continues to attract me. After discussing the practice of translation, I will answer questions that may arise. I was a tenured member of the faculty, but my life lacked a sense of direction. And then, mindful of the words of Socrates (c. 469-399 B.C.E.) in Plato’s Apology that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” I concluded that I had not really used the gift God had given me, that of languages. I had studied ten. Instead of going to church on Sundays, I listened to classical music, or read poetry by the German poets Rilke or Hölderlin. Then, unexpectedly, a former student invited me to Pascha at St George Orthodox Church. I converted to Orthodoxy in 1981.

I translate books out of a deep respect for Tradition. I know that various definitions may be given of that venerable word “Tradition,” but the one I like best is offered by the fifth-century French monk Vincent of Lérins in his renowned Commonitorium (c. 434). Using Latin, the language of his day, Vincent writes: “Id teneamus quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.” In translation, “We use the greatest care to hold what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” (Documents of the Christian Church, ed. by H. Bettenson [1963] 84).

A concept that is essential in understanding Orthodoxy is that of “the heart.” Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-394) wrote: “God is promised to the vision of those whose heart has been purified. But No man hath seen God at any time, as says the great John…[God] is the slippery, steep rock that affords no basis for our thoughts” (Ancient Christian Writers 18 [1954] 143, translated by Hilda Graef). And thus, God cannot be “understood” by the mind, though He can be understood by the heart, and be loved. In the text, On the Soul and the Resurrection, Macrina, Gregory’s sister, states admirably, “hé de gnósis agapé ginetai,” “knowledge becomes love” (The Fathers of the Church [1967] 240, translated by Virginia W. Callahan). Another possible translation might be “Love itself becomes knowledge”— “Amor ipse fit cognitio,” as was said in the Latin Middle Ages. There is an intellectual knowledge, and there is also knowledge as an experience of God in the heart, by grace.

Eastern spirituality appeals to the heart. We learn about “guarding of the heart” (in Greek, phulaké kardias; in Latin, custodia cordis), vigilance or watchfulness of the heart (népsis), purity of the heart (in Latin, puritas cordis), and kardiognésis (Greek for knowledge of the heart). In Scripture, the heart (lev, in Hebrew) is the point of contact between God and the human being. It gives stability to the successive, fleeting moments of life. In Orthodox Spirituality (1994), Bishop Hierotheos succinctly states that “the heart is the place . . . wherein God is revealed” (35). And to repeat what Tomaš Špidlík says in volume two of The Spirituality of the Christian East (2005, Cistercian Studies Series 206), while commenting on Theophan the Recluse’s view of the degree of kinship between the human being and God (srodstvo, as Theophan says), “To be attentive to the voice of this ‘connaturality’ is to perceive the divine mysteries . . . as they enter our lives. The heart then becomes a wellspring of revelation” (258).

Moving away from the heart, let us now deal with “the head,” and the more technical aspects of translation. And thus, we ask, “exactly, what is translation?” It is not a mechanical act, like pouring wine from one bottle into another; nor is it a “reproduction” (in French, un calque). Rather, it is the process by which the original text, conventionally called “the Source Text,” is rewritten into its “dynamic equivalent” (the “Target Text”). This means that the crux of the translation process consists in writing a new version that shows fidelity (in German, Sinntreue) to the original. A good translator, then, does not render word for word (in Latin, verbum de verbo) but always meaning for meaning (sensus pro sensu), as St Jerome (c. 340­420), the patron saint of translators, stated. Finding the correct meaning is a major task performed by the human translator, not by a machine. The unit of translation is always the paragraph, not the individual line.

One may ask, “What, then, is a translator?” Someone who rewrites “a book-in-itself” as “a book-for-others. Translators provide an important service to the reader—that of removing barriers. Translators make bridges. Translators work in the spaces between languages, and in so doing, provide a new perspective, a new way of thinking across language barriers.

If someone were to say, “I recently read that ‘a translation is an interpretation’”—would you agree? I might add that before making the translation, the translator performs an interpretive reading of the original text. Like everything we do, including the gestures we make, reading, almost by definition, involves “interpretation.” The translator does a great deal of research into the significance of certain words at a given historical period and in a certain cultural or religious ambiance (the German word is Umwelt, “the surrounding world”). What we should remember, then, is that a theological translation must always be faithful to the original. As stated earlier, this is the requirement of fidelity, of Sinntreue (Zingetrouwheid, in Dutch). A translator interacts with words, but he must always follow the road traveled by the author, just as the latter should follow the direction indicated by Scripture, the Church Fathers, and by Christ. The direction is always to the East: “Ex Oriente lux. Light comes from the East.” To conclude, then, a translator is not free to “recreate the original,” or distort the basic text by his own interpretation. If he does, he deserves the reproach of the Italian play on words, Traddutore-Traditore (“Translator-Traitor”).

The reader may wonder, “Are you working on something currently?” At present, in view of a translation, I am rereading a key work by the French Jesuit Jean Cardinal Daniélou (1905-1974), who defended his doctoral dissertation on Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-394) at the Sorbonne, Paris, in 1943. Together with Völker, the German scholar, Daniélou launched a Gregory of Nyssa renaissance in Europe in the 1950s, with the publication of a series of articles in scholarly Journals. He views Gregory as the real founder of mystical theology, defined as “a sensing of God in the soul.” The title of Daniélou’s study is Platonisme et théologie mystique. La doctrine spirituelle de saint Grégoire de Nysse (Aubier [1944] 326 pages). In translation, Platonism and Mystical Theology. The Spiritual Doctrine of Saint Gregory of Nyssa. This is an important work. In Ancient Christian Writers number 18 (New York [l954]), Hilda C. Graef, the translator, states that “It is only in recent times that Gregory of Nyssa has been rediscovered as an ascetical and mystical writer of the highest importance, witness the brilliant study which Père Daniélou devoted to this side of his work” (6). My translation will hopefully be the only truly comprehensive work available in English on all aspects of Gregory’s mystical theology. Is this arrogance? No, because of the warning given by Bernardus Silvestris (eleventh century) that the translator is only “a dwarf sitting on the shoulder of the giant.”

Someone may ask, “Is there a certain author’s work that you particularly enjoyed translating?” I would reply by mentioning, if I may, not one but two authors, the first being Tomaš Špidlik (1919-2010), a Jesuit Cardinal of the Roman Church, and professor of Eastern Patristics in Rome. I never met him, though I briefly corresponded with him. He knew Eastern theology superbly well; he was the star student of his professor, Irénée Hausherr, from Brussels, Belgium, a pioneer in the teaching of Eastern spirituality at the Pontifical Institute of Oriental studies in Rome. I translated two of Špidlik’s works: The Spirituality of the Christian East, Volume One (1986) and Volume Two (2005). We remember that an excerpt from Špidlik’s book, The Art of Purifying the Heart is found on pages 26-27 of the Spring 2011 issue of Jacob’s Well. Špidlik viewed the Church, not in terms of a historically false Roman triumphalism (“We are the true church”), but as part of the tradition of the universal, undivided Church, the mystical body, an extension of the body of Christ. He liked the word tserkovnost’, a word that is hard to translate, “a sense of Church, the desire and the will to live with and in her” (The Spirituality, vol. one, 157). Every author has his favorite vocabulary. Špidlik was very fond of using the term mysticism. There is, he stated, “the mysticism of the Church,” “the mysticism of light,” “the mysticism of events,” and the “mysticism of the heart.” (Index, The Spirituality, vol. two, 500).

The second author I enjoyed translating is Paul Evdokimov (1901-1970), a Russian lay theologian, who may be viewed as the real bridge between East and West. Born in 1901, in St Petersburg, Evdokimov first went to military school, and in 1918, attended the Academy of theology in Kiev. After the Revolution, his family settled in Paris in 1923, where he studied at the Sorbonne. In 1942, he completed his doctorate at the University of Aix­en-Provence with a dissertation on Dostoevsky. He obtained a second Doctorate in theology from the St Sergius Institute, in Paris, in 1965. Together with figures such as Nicholas Afanasiev, Sergius Bulgakov, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, and others, Evdokimov belongs to the group of émigré scholars in Paris who created what is often called “the Russian theological Renaissance.” Today, this important movement is being studied more and more, as is evidenced by the Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology (2008). I translated three of Evdokimov’s books: Le sacrament de l’amour. The Sacrament of Love (SVS Press, 1985), La femme et le salut du monde. Woman and the Salvation of the World. A Christian Anthropology of the Charisms of Women  (SVS Press, 1994), and his almost monumental Orthodoxie. Orthodoxy: the Transformed Cosmos, which is in press by Eighth Day Books in Wichita, KS.

Finally, one may wonder, “Why write translations at all?” Here is the answer: we translate because translations help raise the level of historical literacy among the readers. Also, we translate because of our love of words and of rhetoric or structure. As the heirs of Plato and Homer, most Church Fathers, educated in the classical tradition, wrote well. That is, they said simple things simply and complex things clearly.

God’s grace was revealed to me in the form of two presses for which I would translate books: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press in Crestwood, NY, and Cistercian Publications, then at Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo, MI. I am deeply aware that God’s grace has been at work in my life as a professor and translator, and for this I bow my head in gratitude. I also know that my life does not yet form a complete unity, and that this will be an ongoing struggle until my death.

The thirteen books I have translated were written in French or German by great scholars: Irénée Hausherr and his Czech student, Tomaš Špidlík, both of whom taught Eastern spirituality in Rome; the Russians Boris Bobrinskoy, Paul Evdokimov, Bishop Krivochéine, and Leonid Ouspensky; Placide Deseille, a French Cistercian monk first at Bellefontaine and later at Aubazine in south-central France. In l977, he and his community joined the Orthodox Church on Mount Athos; and Gabriel Bunge, the Benedictine specialist on Evagrius of Pontus (343-399), who has recently been received into the Orthodox Church, in Russia. I worked with Fr John Meyendorff, the renowned Orthodox Church historian, in the sense that I translated several books which Fr Meyendorff had recommended to the Board of Publications at St Vladimir’s Seminary. Also, together with Professor and now Fr John Erickson, I edited Meyendorff’s book, Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions: The Church 450-680 A.D. (SVS Press [1989]), a work which Jaroslav Pelikan, then at Yale University, described as “a remarkable achievement.”

Why, then, are the books written by these giants of learning and holiness so important? Because they clarify the Tradition of the Fathers, and in this context, we can never emphasize too strongly that Western or Latin-speaking Christendom originated from the Greek Tradition, as a branch grows from a tree. The tree came first. Also, translators are very conscious of the fact that what they do is part of the always needed “return to the sources” (in French, ressourcement). We know what these sources of grace are: Scripture and the Patristic Testimony. The main virtue a translator should cultivate is that of obedience: to Christ (2 Cor 10:5), to the mind (in Greek, nous) is illumined by the Holy Tradition, and especially the mind of the Fathers. Spirit. Hence the crucial importance of the words of It cannot be denied that translators help to make prayer from the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: patristic theology relevant to our modern world.

As second author (in Latin, auctor secundus),the translator is an earthly channel of God’s grace, ­linking one culture, religious or social, to another. The discipline required by translation, and the grace linked to the transmission of texts have created a certain unity in my life. And I know that some of my translations have helped certain readers find the grace of God in the center of the soul, their heart, where God meets the human being. It is well worth repeating that, while reading a text, one may become conscious of the grace of God.

Translators open new worlds of ideas, and yet,in the end, both the believer and the translator must, like Timothy (1 Tim 6:20), “guard the deposit.” This too is a work of grace, to be performed not only by the hierarchy—bishops, priests, deacons, monks and nuns—but by believers the world over.

The words the French author, Georges Bernanos (1888-1948), wrote in one of his novels, “Tout est grâce. Everything is grace,” apply in particular to the slow, painstaking work of translation. But we can perform this labor of love because our sluggish mind (in Greek, nous) is illumined by the Holy Spirit. Hence the crucial importance of the words of prayer from the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: “Enlighten the eyes of our hearts with your truth.”

Professor Anthony Gythiel was born in Belgium, and lost part of his family (mother, grandmother) to Nazi bombardment as the War broke out. He lived in Flanders, almost on the French border, on the way to Dunkirk, in Northern France and then lost everything in the revolution of June 1960, in Zaire, Africa, the former Belgian Congo, now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he worked as a Catholic missionary. Coming to the United States he obtained the MA and then the PhD in 1971 in medieval comparative studies from the University of Detroit. He married, became an American citizen in 1968, and was tenured in the English department at Wichita State University, in KS; received various Teaching Awards (four altogether), and in 1993 became of Full Professor in the Department of History. He converted to Orthodoxy in 1981. On May 21, 2008, he received an Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from St Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood, NY, for his translation work.   

Reprinted from Jacob’s Well, Winter 2012, with permission by the Editor.

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