September 27, 2007
It is probably well for me to be a little more conscientious about the sort of things I present on this blog for public consumption. Because Bekkos is not well known, and no English translation of him has hitherto been published, I must assume that many readers will have been confused and frustrated by my last posting, which presented a series of propositions about an author they cannot have read. I apologize; as mentioned earlier, the original purpose of this blog was largely a selfish one: I had hoped it might serve as a cure for the torpor that had settled in upon me in the writing process, as I try to finish a book about him and get on with my own life; inevitably, therefore, much of what is posted to this blog may appear to others as scattered observations in search of connecting threads, bits of a book that has not yet been written. Anyway, I don’t like making large, sweeping assertions while providing no basis upon which to judge them. So it seems to me fitting that, if I am going to write about Bekkos on this blog, I should give readers a certain exposure to his own voice. Here, then, are the opening two paragraphs of his book, On the Union and Peace of the Churches of Old and New Rome, in a translation I hope eventually to publish. I don’t intend to post the entire book to the internet, since I would like to see it published in the old-fashioned way, in the form of a physical book. But a small sampling here and there is not out of order. Here, then, making his first public appearance in many years, is John Bekkos:
* * *
1. The Savior’s complete truthfulness in all things allows even me, giving this prologue, to say: the Lord spoke right to the point when he said in the Gospels, “Search the scriptures” (John 5:39). For, although this divine saying has perhaps been voiced by many others over the years, who applied it to the needs of their own times, never has it been as relevant as it is now. And that this and nothing else is most apt for the present matter (in speaking of which I have been led to borrow my opening song from the storage chest of the Gospels), the matter itself will show, when our discourse has disrobed to wrestle with the arguments that concern it. Now, the matter about which we have been moved to speak is called this, the union of the Churches. Which Churches? That of the older Rome, and that of our new Rome. Although, because of their former division, I was torn apart, I rejoice and delight over their present union. Nevertheless, contemplating this division, I cry, utterly at a loss: Oh where will I find a fountain of tears, so that I may weep, even if inadequately and not in proportion to the magnitude of the sickness, nevertheless that I may weep over the thick darkness that, from this, has overtaken our whole society, this estrangement of our allotted portion which, because of this thing, has overspread the Roman terrain, not only by a cutting off of temporal sovereignty, which has been mutilated by a loss of cities and lands, far-flung islands, and whole peoples; but also, more seriously, by a loss extending to matters of religion — if indeed Mohammed and Mahomet represent a loss of religious faith, while they revel inside our sacred shrines, and there (O God, what defilement!) perform their bacchic frenzies, where formerly the great mystery of the Christian mysteries was celebrated. For that the evil of this schism has brought about our ruin even to this extent, the long duration of our miseries clearly demonstrates, not only to us who suffer these things, but to all nations throughout the world. And if anyone should desire some other way to gauge the force of this incredible evil, let him only consider how much I am afflicted merely by remembering these things. For, although I have another object in this introductory discourse, namely, to speak of ecclesiastical peace, and to argue before both those of the present day and those of future generations how rightly the desolating schism of the Churches was set aside by us and God-beloved unity and peace were admitted in its place, I have nevertheless deferred these matters, since I was reminded of the evils that have taken hold of us from the division, and I began by weaving together misfortunes and lamentation. And if the urgency of the subject did not have prior claims on us, perhaps we would have roused the whole creation to united sorrow by giving a detailed account of the evils that have befallen Christianity from the division of the Churches. But, as the incredible force of this evil will be apparent from the things that remain to be said, let us go on to treat of those things that more directly relate to our subject matter.
2. Now, because of the very urgent need for us to take up these matters which we earlier proposed, we here declare that our principal object in this treatise is to demonstrate that the schism was introduced into the Churches without justification, that it was not for solid ecclesiastical reasons or commendable causes that peoples and clergy, pastors and priests have been sundered, but through a certain petty variance of sound which actually does not impair orthodox belief, but which, all the same, has been taken on both sides to imply a difference of faith. In view of this object of the treatise, I would like now to summarize its whole contents; it has two parts. In the first part are set forth methodically all the written statements in which ancient writers on the doctrine of the Trinity clearly express the view that the Holy Spirit exists from the substance of the Father and the Son, which is what the Church of the Romans acknowledges when it asserts that he proceeds from both; in the second part arguments will be given, God willing, to show that the agenda of the instigators of the schism, and their latter-day followers’ pursuit of similar objectives, lack valid grounds for so great a calamity as this deadly schism of the Churches. For, were we to demonstrate, by citations, that the Church of Rome has not erred in any point of religion, that would suffice to uphold the claim that its detractors are not speaking rightly; and, conversely, by a single demonstration that the partisans of schism have, in support of the schism, argued fallaciously, it would be made known that the Church of Rome has not erred at all in matters of faith. But since we have Truth’s great bounty to rely upon in our zeal to refute falsehood, we shall prepare ourselves for a two-fold wrestling match: after first going through, as God may grant, the former kind of evidence, that is, employing written testimonies in support of the Roman Church’s soundness in matters of faith, we will, in the second part, lay out the rest, namely, a refutation of those things which have been said and written by those who, at various times, have waged argumentative warfare against the Roman Church.
September 24, 2007
• Bekkos is a better reader of the fathers than some interpreters, both modern and medieval, have given him credit for: he is not a mere “anthologist,” nor can he be easily dismissed as someone who “fails to detect the deeper movement of the fathers’ thought.” Nor was he a “latinophron”: he did not read Latin, and his thinking was based entirely upon the Eastern fathers. Bekkos supplies a great deal of evidence to show that, for many centuries prior to the schism, there was a widespread body of opinion amongst Greek-speaking Christians that the Son plays an essential mediating role in the Holy Spirit’s eternal procession from the Father, a mediating role signified by the fathers in various ways, sometimes with the preposition “through,” but also, at times, with the preposition “from.” It may be that Bekkos infers from this evidence a more complete unanimity among the fathers on the subject of the Holy Spirit’s procession than the evidence warrants; but he at least shows that the opposite claim is untenable, viz., the claim that there was a universal agreement in the early Church that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone.
• Bekkos’s theological effort represents a restatement of the pneumatology of St. Cyril, St. Athanasius, St. Epiphanius, and, in general, of the strict homoousian or “Old Nicene” tradition, while relying, at some crucial points, upon St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nyssa. In particular, Bekkos argues for the continuing significance of the original wording of the Nicene Creed, with its statement that the Son is “from the substance of the Father”; fathers like Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria employed this same kind of language to speak of the Holy Spirit’s being from the substance of the Father and the Son, and Bekkos sees the Latin tradition as meaning precisely that.
• There is reason to think that the text Bekkos cites of Basil, Adversus Eunomium III.1 is genuine (in spite of the rejection of this reading by the Sources Chrétiennes edition). It has been rejected, in part, because it has been assumed to refer to the later filioque controversy; I think its language about the Spirit’s ontological dependence on the Son is, if anything, Origenistic, and could well derive from an early treatise of Basil’s, written at a time when he had close ties with homoiousians. More generally, I am convinced that, in many of the cases where Bekkos gives readings of patristic texts that differ from what is found in modern editions, he has actually preserved the original text. His work can open up new interpretations of the fathers’ thought.
• The explicit claim that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally and hypostatically from the Father alone has a history. It seems to have originated in the late fourth century in the school of Diodore of Tarsus, as part of this school’s opposition to the thought of Apollinarius of Laodicea. In his trinitarian thought, Apollinarius was largely a faithful interpreter of the thought of St. Athanasius; both of them stressed that, in the incarnation, it is the eternal Son who is the one subject of Christ’s actions, and Christ’s giving of the Spirit in time is a temporal manifestation of an eternal breathing forth of the Spirit by or from the Son. The school of Diodore, and the Antiochene school generally, stressed instead the differentiation between the divine and the human in Christ; these theologians tended to interpret Christ’s breathing forth of the Spirit upon the disciples as an imparting, not of the Spirit’s person, but of temporal, spiritual gifts, since they saw the opposite notion, that the human Christ imparts a divine person, as involving a confusion of Christ’s divinity and humanity; by contrast, Athanasius, Apollinarius, and Cyril (and probably Epiphanius) all teach that Christ’s breathing imparts the Spirit himself, not just spiritual gifts; it is a single breathing by the one divine-human Son. This christological background, I am coming to think, is an essential Greek context behind the later Greek/Latin filioque controversy. Although Photius accepts fathers like Epiphanius and Cyril as part of holy tradition, he reads them exclusively with Antiochene spectacles. Bekkos, by contrast, takes the Alexandrian fathers as a key to his understanding of Greek patristic tradition as a whole, and a key to understanding the compatibility of Greek and Latin theology.
• The evidence of what the Cappadocian fathers thought regarding the Holy Spirit’s hypostatic origination is ambiguous, and in many instances complicated by the existence of textual variants, some of them very old. My guess is that the Cappadocian fathers’ thinking, on this issue, developed over time, in response to the ecclesiastical situation, and that this development accounts for some of the textual variants. The Cappadocians were ecumenists, who sought to preserve an ecclesiastical unity amongst the warring factions of the East, and between East and West. They recognized that language is an imperfect medium, that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between words and things, and that theological disagreements are sometimes merely verbal. They tended to represent doctrinal disagreements between Eastern and Western Christians in this light, and Bekkos, in this respect, follows them faithfully. There are some some texts which seem to indicate that Gregory of Nyssa, at least, saw the Holy Spirit to proceed hypostatically from the Father alone, and essentially from the Father and the Son. I am not sure what that formulation means. Nevertheless, the presence of such texts seems to have convinced Gregory of Cyprus that Bekkos’s reading of the fathers was not the full story, and he used it as a basis for repudiating the union.
• The popes who succeeded Gregory X, and especially Martin IV, bear at least as large a share of responsibility for the union’s failure as do any of the Greeks. There were political pressures on both sides for rejecting the union: on the Greek side, from the monks, who sought greater control over the Byzantine Church; on the side of the West, from Charles of Anjou, who did not want a religious peace to stand in the way of his acquiring the Byzantine Empire for himself. Both sides eventually capitulated to these pressures; it is worth noting that Rome capitulated first.
• Bekkos’s pneumatology was officially rejected by the Orthodox Church at the Council of Blachernae in 1285. Although Blachernae was hardly an ecumenical council, and its decision (largely forgotten at the time) was not deemed sufficiently authoritative to dissuade the Eastern delegates at Florence from accepting union with the Latin Church, it was later reaffirmed, and its pneumatological teaching, i.e., the pneumatology of Gregory of Cyprus, has come to be regarded as the definitive Orthodox teaching on the procession of the Holy Spirit. In recent years, Catholic ecumenism has bent over backwards to represent this teaching as full of ecumenical possibilities. I would like to think that those representations were true. But some reality check is surely necessary. Gregory of Cyprus did not advance his theory as a opening of a door to the West, but as a closing of one. He began by supporting the union of the Churches, and ended up condemning the Latins as heretics; Bekkos’s development went in the opposite direction. It is hard to see how the Cypriot’s teaching, which holds that any language about the Holy Spirit proceeding eternally through or from the Son refers necessarily to an eternal manifestation, what the Palamites would later call an “energetic procession,” and has no bearing whatsoever on the question of the Spirit’s hypostatic origin, can be squared with the traditional teaching of the Latin West, of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas; it is to reinterpret the West, retrospectively, as never having been part of the Church to begin with. Bekkos, by contrast, sees the Western teaching as a kind of local variant of a view widely represented in the Eastern fathers, particularly among the Alexandrians although not exclusively so, that holds that the Spirit’s hypostatic existence from the Father is mediated by the Son in a way that is eternal, substantial, and necessary. My own view is that Bekkos is an honest man, and a legitimate heir to an Eastern eirenic tradition that includes such men as St. Maximus and the Cappadocians. His writings are necessary reading for Christians trying to understand how the Church came to be divided. He does not sell out Byzantium, or view the Church primarily in terms of subordination and one-directional submission; he presupposes the fundamental equality of Eastern and Western traditions, based on the oneness of believers in Christ. He provides an essential antidote for a certain myopic Eastern self-understanding, for an all-too-prevalent anti-Latin reading of Greek patristic tradition, and that is why I am translating him.
September 11, 2007
In my previous posting, I made the curious assertion that, in America, “everyone has the right to exist, no one has the right to ask religious questions.” Some of my readers may well wonder what I meant by this. Perhaps I was not entirely sure myself when I asserted it. On consideration, however, it seems to me that what I meant was something like this: the ability to ask questions is not a foregone conclusion, nor are all questions possible under all circumstances; the kinds of questions one asks when sitting in a library or alone on a beach are generally not the kinds of questions one asks when standing at a checkout counter or walking through a mall. My claim is that America, in its culture, encourages certain kinds of questions and discourages certain others. It is very fond of questions that can be answered by assigning a monetary value. It is uncomfortable with questions that are not at all expressible in terms of material consumption.
One of these questions that defy material analysis is the question of the holy. For most of us most of the time, the holy has ceased to be a question at all; it is drowned out by the noise of the culture, like a still, small voice in a thumping discotheque. Our freedom to ask the question remains, but it is an increasingly abstract freedom, like the freedom of non-millionaires to run for president. At one point in the distant past, people in America were not allowed to buy and sell on a certain day of the week; that restriction was meant to allow for a space in which other freedoms might take root, like the freedom to ask the question of the holy. In a concrete, practical sense, we have traded that one freedom for the other.
For myself, I am sorry that that occurred; I think it was a poor exchange. It was one small step in the direction of that consumerist monoculture in which we now live and which we seek to promote globally, a culture in which what is consumed is not only things, but people.
St. Augustine long ago recognized that freedom is a very peculiar thing: all of us are in some sense free to choose; most of us, nevertheless, make bad choices much of the time. For Augustine, the fact that we make these bad choices indicates that we are less free than we think we are; although technically free to choose, we are, in practice, enslaved, driven by the weight our desires, by our habits of consuming and being consumed. This kind of consumerism, he says, is really the opposite of freedom. Religious language designates this condition as “sin,” a radical missing of the mark of life; and it is a state from which we cannot escape on our own strength: we need to be liberated.
Our fundamental right to ask religious questions is based, in the final analysis, upon God’s right to ask questions of us. Where societies or persons fail to respect that divine right, they become totalitarian and begin to die from within, however much “choice” they ostentatiously flaunt. In any case, I would like to prove my own previous statement wrong, by exercising in this blog the right to ask religious questions.
P.S. May the souls of those who perished six years ago in the attack upon this country rest in peace.
September 8, 2007
De unione ecclesiarum, meaning “On the Union of the Churches,” is the title of one of John Bekkos’s theological writings. It is actually an abbreviated Latin translation of a full title which, in the original Greek, goes like this: Περι της ενωσεως και ειρηνης των της παλαιας και νεας Ρωμης εκκλησιων, “On the Union and Peace of the Churches of Old and New Rome.” John Bekkos wrote this work, in all likelihood, shortly after the beginning of his patriarchate, i.e., sometime during the years 1275 or 1276 (though internal evidence leads me to think that he added some sections to it after this). This was during the time of the “Union of Lyons”: Bekkos wrote this work in defense of an ecclesiastical union between the Greek and Latin Churches which had just taken place, which he hoped would bring an end to the schism of the Churches which had already lasted some two hundred years, a schism which, in Bekkos’s view, lacked genuine theological grounds and had been the occasion of the ruin of his people.
As it happens, the Union of Lyons did not last for more than eight years. Bekkos was condemned by local synods at Constantinople in the years 1283 and 1285, defrocked, excommunicated, and died in prison in the year 1297 (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarch_John_XI_of_Constantinople). Another attempt to heal the schism of the Churches, at the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-39), also failed: although some Eastern Christians accepted that union, the majority rejected it, and continue to do so. The division of the Churches, which in Bekkos’s day had lasted already two hundred years, is now closing in upon a millennium. And, although with God all things are possible, anyone who thinks that this division of the Churches is near to a commonly acceptable solution must be accounted exceedingly naive.
So why a blog titled “De unione ecclesiarum”? If it is not the view of the author of this blog that a union between the Churches is imminent, what good does it do?
Like many things to be found on the blogosphere, this blog arises out of somewhat self-serving purposes. It is, in part, an attempt by its author to get some writing done on a book he is struggling to finish; it is also an attempt by the same author to address issues which have been troubling him for many years. The question of the division of the Churches is, obviously, not only an historical question, but a question of discerning Jesus’ presence and will here and now. The weight of a thousand years of hatred, violence, and misunderstanding can easily deform the soul, making it cynical and slothful, preventing it from seeking truth, from acknowledging truth where it sees it, and from acting upon the truth that it knows. The author of this blog recognizes these deformations in himself. He is not always certain of the solution to historical and theological questions; he is quite certain that cynicism and the breeding of contempt are a bad response. This blog has been begun in the hope that it might make cynicism and contempt a little less prevalent, in himself and others.
Bekkos is not widely known. But Bekkos was the first person in the Greek-speaking world to give a concerted theological response to the problem of the schism, and his analysis of the theological problems, and the rejection of that analysis by men like Gregory of Cyprus, still largely sets the terms in which theological dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics takes place. To put it in other terms: Bekkos is the first and most important Greek critic of the doctrine of the ninth-century Patriarch Photius, who was himself, in turn, the first and most important Greek critic of Latin trinitarian doctrine. Photius thinks that the Latin filioque, the doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, is positively heretical; Bekkos thinks that Photius has misread the Greek fathers, and promoted his criticisms of Latin doctrine for his own personal reasons. It was Photius’s criticisms of the filioque that provided the arsenal for virtually all later Orthodox polemics against Latin trinitarian doctrine, and still does. It was Bekkos’s counterarguments that persuaded at least some people, at the Council of Florence, that the Latin doctrine was orthodox, i.e., compatible with what the Greek fathers themselves taught about the Holy Trinity. Thus, Bekkos is indirectly a major cause why today there exist Eastern-rite Catholics, i.e., Christians who worship with essentially the same liturgical forms as the Orthodox but are in communion with the see of Rome.
It is not the purpose of this blog to try to unravel all the tangled historical problems that enter into what the Orthodox call the “problem of Uniatism,” a formulation which Eastern Catholics object to vigorously since it implies the illegitimacy of their own ecclesial being. As is often the case with religious antagonisms, questions of theological truth, in the matter of the schism, become translated into practical questions of this or that people’s right to exist. In America, we have arrived at a happy solution to religious antagonism: everyone has the right to exist, no one has the right to take religious questions seriously. In other places and times, this happy solution has not prevailed, and disputes over this or that people’s right to exist very frequently have ended in this or that people being liquidated. The history of Orthodox-Catholic relations has been marked by this unhappy dynamic. The Orthodox see Eastern Catholics (rather as a bull sees a waving red flag) as a visible sign of Rome’s denial of their own ecclesial being; Eastern Catholics, as mentioned, see Orthodox rantings about “Uniatism” in quite the same way. Each side has a long historical catalogue of atrocities to which it can point, some from not so very long ago. On both sides, the cultivation of these resentments is widely employed as a tried-and-true method for ensuring social cohesion.
There was already a catalogue of atrocities at the time John Bekkos was writing, and he was vividly aware of them. Nevertheless, he tried to look beyond them, and see what was the theological core of the problem. This blog is being written upon the premise that John Bekkos’s theological investigations into the causes of the schism are still worth examining today. And, while it is certainly true that we have learned some things in the past 700 years, it may well be that we have also forgotten some things of real importance, and that Bekkos can help remind us of some of them.
September 6, 2007
The animals who surround us
know more about us than
we give them credit for.
On the porch on which
I do most of my work
these days, there is
a cricket. He had been
making music for many days,
cheerily, in the knowledge that,
try though I might, I couldn’t
see him. The exact location of the
sound seemed to elude me:
when I stood by the doorpost where
it seemed to be coming from, it
drifted, as though it might be coming
from outside, although it clearly wasn’t.
One night earlier this week, about
3 in the morning, I saw him.
I had gotten up from a slothful sleep,
lying on a couch with a blanket over me;
the sound from the back porch was particularly
clear. I turned on the light, and there he was:
a small black thing, about a centimeter long,
perched on the lintel of the closet door;
he seemed to have some insect morsel on which
he was feasting. It surprised me
how small he was, to be producing
so much sound. I stood there
looking at him from a distance,
not moving. He continued chirping a few
moments, then stopped, apparently aware
that he was being watched. I went
and used the bathroom; he remained
silent. Since then he has, as it were,
imbibed from me a neurosis:
when he hears my footsteps at the other end
of the house, he goes silent;
when I am quiet for awhile,
he sings again, sometimes frantically,
at all events more nervously
than he had done before.
I’m sorry to have darkened his horizons
in this way, but what else can I do?
I live here too,
and I have my own large creatures
to worry about.
September 5, 2007
“The name of John Bekkos, hero to Henry Chadwick and ecumenists everywhere and Michael VIII’s patriarch, remains a curse in the mouths of many Greek Orthodox.” Daniel Larison, “Understanding Is Half The Battle” [http://larison.org/2006/12/02/understanding-is-half-the-battle/].
I am Greek Orthodox, and the name of John Bekkos is not a curse in my mouth.
It is true that Bekkos’s name is a curse in the mouth of many Orthodox, who follow in this the many Orthodox in whose mouths his name was a curse in the thirteenth century. What does that prove about Bekkos’s views being right or wrong? Since when is mob hatred a criterion for theological truth? If Bekkos’s writings persuaded some people of sound intelligence and clear conscience like Bessarion and Isidore of Kiev that the Latins were not heretics, it is because he presented patristic arguments which they found convincing. How many of the Orthodox for whom Bekkos’s name is a curse have ever examined his arguments?
“The reason why many Orthodox, especially Traditionalist Orthodox, tend to look down on ecumenist efforts is typically because these efforts are almost always bound to be just this kind of “false” ecumenism that pretends the differences are minor, semantic or culturally constructed and therefore of no deeper significance when they are anything but minor, semantic or the product of cultural misunderstanding.”
There is a thick begging of the question here. The claim that the differences between the Churches are “anything but minor, semantic or the product of cultural misunderstanding” is presented by Larison as a fundamental presupposition of faith, and a prerequisite for any genuine discussion between Orthodox and other Christians. Thus, any examination of evidence that might tend to cast doubt upon that claim is automatically ruled out as a “false ecumenism.” If evidence comes to light that suggests that the Cappadocians and other Greek fathers were not as far from Augustine in their thinking as the advocates of Orthodox exclusivity maintain, we are expected to throw that evidence out, it seems, so as not to be “false ecumenists.” If St. Gregory the Theologian, writing in the fourth century about division between Christians of East and West, said that “the pretext is the Trinity, but the reality is faithless hate” (poem 2.1.13, v.161; PG 37.1240), we must hold it as a point of faith that this observation has absolutely no applicability to our current millennial division, which St. Gregory already foresaw with foreboding because of its disastrous consequences for Christianity.
My own claim is that Bekkos is an honest man and a remarkably perceptive student of the Church Fathers, from whom we have yet much to learn. As a Christian, I find it a mark of stupidity to hold someone’s name as a curse in my mouth when I don’t know what he’s saying. If Bekkos is a hero to Henry Chadwick, it is to Chadwick’s credit and a mark of his competence as a church historian.
September 1, 2007
Today marks the beginning of the Byzantine ecclesiastical year, and the beginning of the year 7516 according to the Byzantine civil calendar (New Style, i.e., reckoning dates according the calendar reform of Pope Gregory XIII). The Byzantine calendar, like the Jewish one, reckons the year from the creation of the world, calculated from the internal chronology of the Bible; however, it calculates this date a little differently: whereas the Jewish calendar bases itself upon the Massoretic text of the Bible, and supposes a creation in the year 3761 B.C., the Byzantine calendar is based upon the Septuagint, and supposes a creation in 5509 B.C. This difference is partly due to a different account, in the two versions, of the generations from Shem to Abraham in chapter 11 of Genesis; in the Septuagint version, people lived longer.
According to Hans Lietzmann (Zeitrechnung der römischen Kaiserzeit, des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit für die Jahre 1-2000 nach Christus [Berlin 1946], p. 6), this numbering of years from the creation of the world came into use in the Byzantine Empire in the seventh century; in Russia, it remained in use until 1700.
The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity (Oxford 1999), p. 110, says:
“The opening of the ecclesiastical year on 1 September, feast of Symeon Stylites, date of the indiction, and now in the Ecumenical Patriarchate the Day of the Environment, is often seen as emphasizing the role of the Theotokos in the salvation of the world: the Nativity of the Mother of God on 8 September, and her Dormition on 15 August, come at opposite ends of the year.”
Note: Today also marks the beginning of a fifteen-year indiction-cycle. On the indictions, Lietzmann, op. cit., p. 7, says:
“Die Indiktion gibt an, welche Stelle das Jahr in dem 15jährigen Zyklus der byzantinischen Steuerveranlagung einnahm: doch wird nur die Zähl des Jahres, nicht aber die Nummer des Zykles mitgeteilt. Die Indiktionen sind 297 von Diokletian eingeführt und von da ab dauernd in Gebrauch auf griechischen Urkunden und in der Literatur: auch das Abendland hat diese Art der Datierung für Urkunden früh übernommen und daurernd beibehalten, derart daß die Indiktion (= „Römerzinszahl“) auch heute noch in den Kalendern für jedes Jahr angemerkt wird. Die allgemein üblich (Kontantinopeler) Rechnung beginnt das Indiktionsjahr mit dem byzantinischen Neujahr am 1. September….”
The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity, p. 256, notes that the year 2008 begins a new Indiction. However, it should be borne in mind that the ecclesiastical year 2008 begins today, September 1, 2007.
Happy New Year.
* * *
A hymn from the Menaion:
Ο πασης δημιουργος της κτισεως, ο καιρους και χρονους εν τη ιδια εξουσια θεμενος, ευλογησον τον στεφανον του ενιαυτου της χρηστοτητος σου, Κυριε, φυλαττων εν ειρηνη τους βασιλεις και την πολιν σου, πρεσβειαις της Θεοτοκου, και σωσον ημας.
O Maker of the whole creation, who hast appointed times and seasons by Thine own authority, of Thine own goodness bless the crown of the year, Lord, preserving in peace the emperors and Thy city, through the intercessions of the Theotokos, and save us.
September 1, 2007
John Bekkos was a patriarch,
a patriarch, they say.
He lived in Constantinople,
a place so far away.
He kept his mind in good repair,
but it made him lots of foes,
so they sent him to Bithynia
where the cold north wind still blows.
John Bekkos was a righteous man:
he helped those who were weak.
But the Emperor got tired of it,
and he wouldn’t let him speak.
And later, when the times had changed
and Bekkos lost his job,
the soldiers led him out before
an angry, howling mob.
John Bekkos hated phoniness;
he found it hard to take
when people made a case for war
with reasons that were fake.
He tried to argue peace between
the Latins and the Greeks,
but the people wanted none of it,
and the stinking case still reeks.
John Bekkos spent his final years
in prison by the sea,
high up in a tower
in the fort St. Gregory.
He wrote his books by candlelight
till his eyes began to fail,
then, seven hundred years ago,
John Bekkos died in jail.
Sometimes I get to wondering
what makes this world go round,
and if there’s any reason
for the evils that abound.
I think about the man whose hands
to a solid cross were nailed,
and I think about John Bekkos
in his cold and windy jail.