Monday, 23 October 2017

‘And grant that the word
declared by you may
be proclaimed by me’

Jarveys outside Saint Mary’s Church offering tours of the Lakes of Killarney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Today in the Calendar of the Church we celebrate Saint James, the Brother of the Lord [23 October].

I spent most of the day in Killarney, Co Kerry, working with clergy and laity of the diocese at a training day on communications. The two other facilitators today were the Diocesan Communications Office, the Revd Michael Cavanagh, who is Priest-in-Charge of the Kenmare Group of Parishes, and Joc Sanders, the editor of the diocesan magazine, Newslink.

We held our workshops in the parish centre beside Saint Mary’s Church of Ireland parish church in the centre of Killarney, and the priests and readers who took part came from throughout the diocese, from across the diocese, working in parishes in Kerry, Tipperary, Limerick and Clare.

The area outside the church is the main waiting area for jarveys offering tourists horse-drawn tours of the Lakes of Killarney, and it is interesting that even at the end of October Killarney is a busy centre for tourism.

We began the day’s work with prayer and a Bible reading, including the Collect of the Day in the Book of Common Prayer (2004) of the Church of Ireland, adapted from An Anglican Prayer Book (1989) of the Church of Southern Africa:

Lord God of peace:
Grant that after the example of your servant,
James the brother of our Lord,
your Church may give itself continually to prayer
and to the reconciliation of all
who are caught up in hatred or enmity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


But as we worked through the day, I thought these words from the priest’s own prayer in the Liturgy of Saint James were appropriate for the topic of communications in the Church that we were working with:

And grant that without condemnation
the word that has been declared by you
may be proclaimed by me to the people in Christ Jesus our Lord.


The ancient Liturgy of Saint James, sometimes called the Liturgy of Jerusalem, originates in the Church of Jerusalem and is the oldest complete liturgy still in use in the East. It was once thought to have been the work of Saint James, but it probably dates from Saint Cyril of Jerusalem ca 347 and was later amplified.

Until recently, it was rarely celebrated beyond Jerusalem or the island of Zakynthos, apart from the Feast Day of Saint James (23 October) and the Sunday after Christmas. But today this Liturgy is celebrated in an increasing number of Orthodox churches.

It was first translated into English by the Revd John Mason Neale (1818-1866) and the Dublin-born Revd Richard Frederick Littledale (1833-1890) in their Translations of the Primitive Liturgies (1859).

Before the Liturgy is served, the priest prays:

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
the one, simple and undivided Trinity,
that unites and sanctifies us through itself,
and brings peace to our lives,
now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.


He then prays on his own behalf:

Defiled as I am by many sins,
do not utterly reject me, Master, Lord, our God.
For see, I draw near to this divine and heavenly mystery,
not as though I were worthy, but, looking to your goodness,
I raise my voice to you,
God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
For I have sinned against heaven and before you,
and I am not worthy to lift up my eyes
to this your sacred and spiritual Table,
on which your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
is mystically set forth as a sacrifice by me,
a sinner stained by every defilement.

Therefore I bring you this supplication,
that your Spirit, the Advocate, may be sent down to me,
strengthening and preparing me for this ministry.
And grant that without condemnation
the word that has been declared by you
may be proclaimed by me to the people in Christ Jesus our Lord,
with whom you are blessed,
together with your all-holy, good, life-giving and consubstantial Spirit,
now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.


In the Liturgy of Saint James, the priest introduces the words of peace, or the Kiss of Peace, in a low voice:

God and Master of all, lover of humankind,
make us, unworthy though we are,
worthy of this hour,
so that, cleansed of all deceit and hypocrisy,
we may be united to one another by the bond of peace and love,
confirmed by the sanctification of your divine knowledge
through your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
with whom you are blessed,
together with your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit,
now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Deacon: Let us stand with awe. In peace let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: For you are a God of peace, mercy, compassion and love for humankind,
with your only-begotten Son and your all-holy Spirit,
now and for ever, and to the ages of ages.

People: Amen.

Priest: Peace to all.

People: And to your spirit.

Deacon: Let us greet one another with a holy kiss.

The Post-Communion Prayer for this day in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland was written by the late Brian Mayne:

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
we thank you that after your resurrection you appeared to James,
and endowed him with gifts of leadership for your Church.
May we, who have known you now in the breaking of the bread,
be people of prayer and reconciliation.
We ask it for your love’s sake. Amen.

Readings:

Isaiah 49: 1-6; Psalm 1; Acts 15: 12-22; Mark 3: 31-35.

Sunset at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick, after returning from Killarney this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Can the translator be
a traitor when it comes
to New Testament
references to Liturgy?

Serving the Divine Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Church in Platanes, near Rathymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

In the past week or two, I have been talking to the editors of a new book I have contributed to about my chapter and about their plans for a publication date.

The book is about the tradition and practice of preaching in the Church of Ireland, and my chapter looks at the link between preaching and liturgy. The central point of my argument is that word and sacrament should never be disconnected; in other words, we should never have a liturgical celebration without also ‘breaking the word’; and similarly, we should never have a service that emphasises the word without also breaking the bread.’

Traditionally, Anglicanism has seen the signs of the visible Church in the preaching of the word and the celebration of the Sacraments. How can we be the Church, how can the Church be visible, if do we not celebrate and administer the Eucharist with the same regularity that we read and preach the Gospel?

The chapter for this book is written and edited, and has already gone to the printers. But a recent discussion on a social media platform drew my attention to another relevant place in the New Testament that I might have considered as I developed the main points in my paper.

Christ the King of Kings and Great High Priest … an icon in the old parish church in Piskopiano in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In the Acts of the Apostles, the ordination of Saul and Barnabas takes place within a liturgical context and setting. The Greek text reads:

Λειτουργούντων δὲ αὐτῶν τῷ κυρίῳ καὶ νηστευόντων εἶπεν τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον, Ἀφορίσατε δή μοι τὸν Βαρναβᾶν καὶ Σαῦλον εἰς τὸ ἔργον ὃ προσκέκλημαι αὐτούς (Acts 13: 2).

But how the text has been translated into English in many modern editions of the New Testament shows a surprising anti-liturgical bias of the translators, particularly the translators of versions popular throughout evangelical circles.

The translation of this verse in New Revised Standard Version Anglicised (NRSVA), the version I use most often, says:

While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’

The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) renders it in the same way, with a slight difference in spelling:

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’

The New International Version (NIV) is similar:

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’

The same verse in the English Revised Version reads:

And as they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

The King James Version (KJV) says:

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

A modernised version, the New King James Version (NKJV), reads:

As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’

The American King James Version varies slightly:

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

The New Living Translation says:

One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.’

The English Standard Version reads:

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’

The Berean Study Bible renders this verse:

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’

A similar translation, the Berean Literal Bible, says:

Now as they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart then to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’

The New American Standard Bible has:

While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’

The Holman Christian Standard Bible says:

As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them to.’

The International Standard Version reads:

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me to do the work for which I called them.’

The New English Translation (NET) Bible gives us:

While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’

The New Heart English Bible has:

As they served the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Separate Barnabas and Saul for me, for the work to which I have called them.’

The translation that calls itself ‘God’s Word Translation’ reads:

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me. I want them to do the work for which I called them.’

The American Standard Version provides:

And as they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

The New American Standard (1977) offers:

And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’

The Jubilee Bible (2000) prefers:

As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work unto which I have called them.

The Douay-Rheims Bible gives us:

And as they were ministering to the Lord, and fasting, the Holy Ghost said to them: Separate me Saul and Barnabas, for the work whereunto I have taken them.

The New Jerusalem Bible translates the same verse as:

One day while they were offering worship to the Lord and keeping a fast, the Holy Spirit said, ‘I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them.’

Webster’s Bible Translation reads:

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate for me Barnabas and Saul, for the work to which I have called them.

The Weymouth New Testament gives us:

While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me, now at once, Barnabas and Saul, for the work to which I have called them.’

And finally, the World English Bible reads:

As they served the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Separate Barnabas and Saul for me, for the work to which I have called them.’

Christ and the Communion of the Apostles … a modern icon

Some of these versions claim that they are standard or literal, so the reader who does not read Greek might expect standard and literal translations. In their enthusiasm to promote their own particular piety, some of them capitalise certain words, while others, in an effort to show their consistency with tradition, for example, prefer Holy Ghost to Holy Spirit.

But we might expect literal translations from translators in a tradition that says Scripture ought to shape our beliefs, and not allow our beliefs to shape how we read scripture, to provide careful, accurate and faithful translations of the original text.

A major variation in these versions is where they refer to ‘worshiping the Lord and fasting,’ ‘offering worship to the Lord and keeping a fast,’ ‘serving the Lord and fasting’ or ‘ministering to the Lord, and fasting.’ The translations vary slightly in the words, but three consistent variations predominate: worshipping, serving or ministering to the Lord.

The one word that they do not use or hint at is ‘liturgy.’ Yet this is the precisely the literal meaning of the very first word in this verse, λειτουργούντων, is that they were serving the liturgy or performing liturgical acts.

There is an Italian phrase that says Traduttore, traditore, literally ‘Translator, traitor,’ or ‘the translator is a traitor.’ It has been traced to irate Italians who felt that many French-language translations of Dante betrayed either the beauty or the accuracy of his writings.

This happens in every translation, particularly of poetry, drama and humour. Do we translate poetry literally, or try to maintain the style, rhythm and emotion of the original verse?

In the case of Acts 13: 2, however, there is no attempt to maintain the original meaning and intention of the text, which says that it was within the context of the regular liturgy of the Apostolic Church that Saul and Barnabas were ordained.

Preparing for the Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In a recent conversation with an Anglican bishop outside the Church of Ireland, we shared an interesting discussion about the way translations of the Eucharistic and liturgical references in the New Testament are often reduced to the ‘lowest common denominator’ rather than the ‘highest common factor.’

Scott Hahn (The Lamb’s Supper) is prominent among a group of scholars who read the Book of Revelation as a key to understanding the mysteries of the Eucharist, and in that conversation I referred to the translation of one particular passage in the Book of Revelation in the NRSV.

That passage in the original Greek reads:

καὶ οἱ εἴκοσι τέσσαρες πρεσβύτεροι [οἱ] ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ καθήμενοι ἐπὶ τοὺς θρόνους αὐτῶν ἔπεσαν ἐπὶ τὰ πρόσωπα αὐτῶν καὶ προσεκύνησαν τῷ θεῷ λέγοντες,
Εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι, κύριε ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ.

The NRSV translates it:

Then the twenty-four elders who sit on the thrones before God fell on their faces and worshipped God, singing:

‘We give thanks [to you], Lord God Almighty [Pantrocrator] ...’
(Revelation 11: 16-17).

Christ the Great High Priest … an icon in the parish church in Piskopiano in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The translations force a particular sacramental and sacredotal interpretation that remains ambiguous in the original Greek.

But a Greek-speaker would naturally might translate πρεσβύτερος in verse 16 as priest rather than elder and Εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι not merely as ‘We give thanks [to you],’ but with its Eucharistic emphasis. In the Liturgy in the Orthodox Church, the word θρόνος (thronos, throne) is often the word used for the altar. Earlier references to the Lamb on the Throne remind me that the portion of bread on the altar that is known as the Lamb (Ἀμνός Amnos) is the portion that is consecrated at the Liturgy, and from which both the clergy and the laity receive Holy Communion.

Preparing the liturgical bread for the Eucharist early on Sunday morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Turning to Acts 13: 2, many evangelical commentators try to justify and defend a non-literal translation that conforms their own churchmanship in which liturgy and sacrament are often downplayed.

The verb leitourgein is commonly used, both in the Septuagint or Greek Old Testament and in the Greek New Testament in references to the ritual service of the priests and Levites in the Temple (see Luke 1: 23; Hebrews 8: 6, 9: 21). In Hebrews 1: 14, the corresponding adjective is used to distinguish the ministry of worship from that of service to people. When the Apostle Paul uses these words in reference himself, he does so in connection with the idea of a liturgical and priestly sacrifice or oblation (see Romans 15: 16).

Later in the Church, these words were connected specially with the celebration of the Eucharist or the Liturgy of the Church.

Yet, one evangelical commentary makes the sweeping claim: ‘It would, perhaps, be too much to say that the word necessarily conveys that meaning here.’

It is breath-taking to read evangelical commentaries that say that Scripture need not necessarily be red literally when it suits dismissive evangelical attitudes to the Liturgy. Yet, the same people insist on their own literal and narrow readings of passages that they insist relate to the current debates in the churches about human sexuality.

One evangelical commentary goes so far as to suggest that instead of the liturgy of the church this passage is referring to ‘spiritual songs.’

I thought evangelicals, of all people, would allow the word of scripture to speak for itself, and would seek to present the word of God, as they see it, in a way that is as faithful as possible to the original text. To relativise one passage in the New Testament is to leave all passages of scripture open to the same approach; to force one’s own emphasis and doctrine on one passage of Scripture is to ensure that doctrine shapes scripture rather than allowing scripture to shape doctrine.

The liturgical meaning and intention of these passages in Acts and Revelation are deliberately deprived of their original meaning. I might then ask, why then do so many evangelicals not read and interpret other passages in the New Testament with the same hermeneutical approach?

The word liturgy is still used in Greek to mean service, including service to the public, and every Greek understands its plain meaning. So, the phrase Ωρες λειτουργιας in a shop window simply means ‘the hours of serving the public’ or ‘Opening Hours.’

The Bible-reading public deserves to be served by the translations rather than forced into a theological strait-jacket by translators with a particular agenda or antipathy.

The sign reading Ωρες λειτουργιας in a hairdresser’s shop window in Platanes near Rethymnon tells the public of the hours of service or opening hours (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)