03 February 2015

Synaxis of Sts. Simeon and Anna

Total emersion into the Eastern Liturgy has been much more enlightening than all my reading and “dabbling” in Eastern Christian spirituality over the last 20+ years. Only once did I reply “в річці Йордані!” to “Христос Рождається!” (“Christ is born! in the Jordan!”) during the octave of Theophany. I got “Слава навіки!” happening pretty good this last summer, so now I’ve got to work on saying “Слава Ісусу Христу!” right off the bat. (I almost tried saying it to some guys on the street speaking what I thought was a slavic language (I later noticed they had Russian flags on their coats), but I chickened out. I think they were part of a hockey team.)

I think today was the first time in 21 years that I didn’t have my throat blessed. There may have been one other day, but I was quite sick that year, so I don’t remember if I was able to celebrate Mass for the Feast of St. Blaise. Rather than St. Blaise, today I celebrated the Synaxis of Sts. Simeon and Anna. The word synaxis (Greek: σύναξις) can mean a few different things, but in this context it is referring to the liturgical celebration of the saints involved in the primary celebration for the major feast on the preceding day. For example, the day after the Nativity of Christ (i.e. Christmas) is the Synaxis of the Theotokos (i.e. the Mother of God). This seems to explain why the West celebrates St. Stephen on December 26th, while the East celebrates him on the 27th. Although, I celebrated St. Stephen on both days this last December plus the Synaxis of the Theotokos. (I also had a lot of fun looking into various aspects of the song Good King Wenceslas after Liturgy on the 27th.) I am trying to cut down on my multiple use of liturgical calendars; thus, I didn’t get my throat blessed today. However, I would like to tell you (particularly any westerners) about something I learned today. But first, I have to give some background to this story.

21 years ago, I was a little more than a month away from my first anniversary as a fully initiated Catholic. Just a few months after my entrance into the Church, I landed my first professional job, which just happened to be two blocks from my cathedral. Thus, I was able to assist at daily Mass every day before work. When I worked overtime, I’d assist at a second Mass, go out for supper, then head back to the office to work. That first full Lent as a Catholic involved serving at the altar every weekday as the Mass was moved from the morning to noon throughout Lent, so the two other men that served at the altar in the morning were not available. I began learning to serve at the altar a few months after beginning to daily assist at Mass here. I also learned things such as to use the term assist at Mass rather than go to Mass or attend Mass (“No Father. Ludwig is serving today.” “Ahh... What I mean by ‘assisting at mass’ is…”) One of the priests, Msgr. Allen Reynolds of blessed memory (I never learned of his first name until his funeral), taught me the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”), which is an integral part of the eremitic tradition of prayer known as Hesychasm. Thus, it was a priest in the Roman Catholic Cathedral that gave me my first real introduction to Eastern Christian spirituality. But 21 years ago on the Feast of St. Blaise was my first introduction to feastdays with unique traditions; in this case, the blessing of throats with candles blessed the previous day during Candlemas (i.e. the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple). It was Fr. Lorenz Maier of blessed memory (I’m not sure if this is a technical term, but my memories were sure blessed by these men who have now left χρόνος) who celebrated the morning Mass at the Basilica that day.
Fr. Lorenz entered seminary later in life as a widower

It was those five years of daily Mass at this basilica cathedral that the liturgical calendar became a very important part of my prayer life. A number of years later, this was deepened when I learned how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours in my formation as a Secular Franciscan, particularly when I got my four volume set with the Franciscan supplement so that I could pray everything in the Office of Readings. Praying at least four of the liturgical hours everyday, and usually one to three of the additional Daytime hours, increased my love for the liturgical calendar, as it also did my love for the Psalms. This love was further deepened when I learned to chant the hours. The three gospel canticles were of particular importance, one of which is the Canticle of Simeon during Compline (Night Prayer).

My devotion to St. Simeon began while carpooling with my father-in-law a few years before I began my Franciscan formation. We used to pray the Rosary during the drive in the morning, and I began augmenting our reflection with a Rosary booklet (which I’ve since lost through unhappy circumstances). These reflections were quite instrumental in my training as a theologian (“If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” — Evagrius of Pontus), but it was the reflection involving Simeon (Romans don’t seem to put an “St.” in front of his name) for the Joyful Mysteries that was most significant to me due to my Marian conversion to the Faith.

This would all seem to make the Synaxis of Sts. Simeon and Anna rather significant for me, but I got a bit of a surprise, which increased this significance, as I drove to the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral today. Aside from learning that leaving 5 minutes later than usual will not necessarily give me 10 minutes rather than 15 minutes to pray before liturgy, but sometimes make me 5 minutes late for liturgy due to heavy traffic, I learned a bit of background on St. Simeon as I listened to the Saint of the Day podcast on Ancient Faith Radio.

One thing that I’ve always appreciated about the East is the fuller picture of our tradition and history. Often I’ve heard a Roman Catholic priest include some interesting information in a homily and cite some source from the 11th to 13th century. Sometimes they connect this source to the crusade responsible for obtaining this information, but not too often do they cite the Eastern source for this information from the 5th, 4th, or even earlier centuries. It seems some Latin priests are quite leery of (perhaps even hostile to) such sources as the Protevangelium of St. James, which is wildly used in the East. Although this 2nd century text is not directly referenced in Eastern Liturgical texts other than referring to St. Joseph as “Old,” it is the primary source for the western Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which dates back to the 9th century, and the eastern Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple, which dates back to the 6th century, as well as the names of Mary’s parents, Sts. Anna and Joachim. I do prefer apocryphal texts that have been widely used by a large portion of the Church long before the Great Schism rather than visions or locutions that have been declared as “worthy of belief” by part of the Church after the schism. I put particular importance on such apocryphal texts when they are the source of information in liturgical texts or even liturgical feasts themselves. Lex orandi, lex credendi would suggest that these texts are recording non-biblical tradition from the first century that wasn’t recorded until the 2nd to 5th century. After all, it was lex orandi, lex credendi that was the major factor in determining what texts belonged in the New Testament Canon. As well, there are different types of apocrypha, some are considered orthodox, while some are considered heterodox or heretical. It was only after Protestantism that some lumped them all together as unimportant.

Here is a summary about St. Simeon from Orthodox Wiki:

The Righteous Simeon was one of the seventy scholars who came to Alexandria to translate the Holy Scriptures into Greek. The completed work was called “The Septuagint,” and is the version of the Old Testament used by the Orthodox Church.

St. Simeon was translating a book of the Prophet Isaiah, and read the words: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a Son” (Is 7:14). He thought that “virgin” was inaccurate, and he wanted to correct the text to read “woman.” At that moment an angel appeared to him and held back his hand saying, “You shall see these words fulfilled. You shall not die until you behold Christ the Lord born of a pure and spotless Virgin” Tradition says he died at the great age of 360.

The priest at Liturgy today mentioned most of this information in his homily today, just as was mentioned on the Saint of the Day podcast, but neither mentioned that “he died at the great age of 360.” Before reading this, I was wondering if he actually “translated” the text or just edited the text. If he died around the age of 360, he would have been old enough to be one of the translators of the Septuagint. But this raises another question: What did the original Hebrew say?

I was under the impression that the original Hebrew is ambiguous and that it could be translated as maiden or virgin, but this story suggests no such ambiguity. The ambiguity would suggest that St. Matthew was quoting the Septuagint, which is a good point in explaining the Protestant error in removing books from the Old Testament. However, if the original Hebrew was not ambiguous, this is an even better point as the Hebrew that Protestants base there Old Testament canon and translation on do not reflect the lost original Hebrew, which was maintained in the Septuagint. Please note that when I say “original Hebrew,” I am not referring to the actual written text, but how that text was understood by the Jews in the time of Jesus and before.

No wonder Patriarch Jeremias II wrote the following to a Lutheran delegation of scholars in his third reply: “Go your own way, and do not write any more on doctrinal matters; and if you do write, then write only for friendship’s sake.” This delegation of Lutheran scholars came from Tubingen in 1573 with a Greek translation of the Augsburg Confession. These scholars from Tubingen didn’t stand much chance of changing the belief of Greek Christians with even more ancient Christian tradition than the Latin Christians these scholars were rebelling against.