Found in translation

Now on the sixth day:
bulls eight, rams two

– Numbers 29:29
Everett Fox translation

Sounds like a National Football League forecast, apart from the improbability of the score itself. Besides, it’s set for a Saturday, not Sunday.

Still I was amused when that line popped out at me from the page.

Now, for a little perspective, here’s how Robert Alter renders the text:

And on the sixth day eight bulls, two rams, and fourteen unblemished yearling lambs.

It’s all part of a series of proscribed daily sacrificial burnt offerings.

Any Chicago or Los Angeles fans out there?

Joyously, then

From a wonderful book by Czeslaw Milosz, poet: “To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.” And, he quotes from Renee le Senne: “For me the principal proof of the existence of God is the joy I experience any time I think that God is.” Quoting from Milosz: “To wait for faith in order to pray is to put the cart before the horse. Our way leads from the physical to the spiritual.” And himself: “My friend Father J.S. did not believe in God. But he believed God, the revelation of God, and he always stressed the difference.”

A definitely wrong spirit of Christmas

As they pulled up at home after a jaunt to the grocery, another car scuttled out the other end of their driveway.

They didn’t recognize the vehicle or the figures who had hopped in a split-second earlier, but the action certainly was suspicious.

Then they found one Christmas wreath on the ground beside the barn and another, still hanging on the white clapboards, with its wires quite bent.

Yes, two people were trying to steal the Christmas wreaths from the siding!

Kinda puts a damper on that “goodwill to men,” doesn’t it? Though the phrase is, more accurately, “to men of good will.”

We’re still baffled that some people have so little conscience that they’ll resort to this, but maybe they’re desperate to veil themselves in images foreign to their real nature.

Um, look around, though, and it’s far more universal than I want to think.

This points toward the hard work of changing hearts and actions – literally, repentance – that the life of Jesus embodies.

Well, I won’t go off on that sermon just now. But we are still saddened by the audacity of ill will.

Ten special diets

These days it seems everyone’s on a restricted diet.

Here are ten of them.

  1. Kosher. This means the historic Jewish restrictions. You know, no ham. But that’s just for starters. And even the plates must be blessed.
  2. Halal. The Muslim equivalent of dietary laws. By the way, Ramadan still sounds like cheating. I mean, what’s the hardship of refraining during the day if you can eat like a pig, uh, beast all night?
  3. Eastern Orthodox fasting.  Food’s allowed, but the options are highly limited. No olive oil, for instance, and no meat. It can be tricky.
  4. Caffeine-free. The Mormon church recently lifted this restriction from carbonated drinks, though it still holds for hot coffee or tea. Some other disciplines, including yogis, also ban it.
  5. Vegan. Or its less restrictive vegetarian alternatives.
  6. Gluten-free or lactose-free or peanut-free. Based on a medical diagnosis, OK?
  7. Healthy Heart. A little broader, largely to reduce cholesterol levels.
  8. Weight-loss. Oh, my, these are endless and ever so trendy.
  9. Alcohol-free. Sometimes as a religious tenet, sometimes as a consequence of addiction.
  10. Hindu. No beef. Those cows are sacred … and sources of milk.

Are you observing any dietary restrictions?

Ten ways the Eastern Orthodox differ from other Christians

The world’s second-largest Christian body, with 250 million members, is officially known as the Orthodox Catholic Church. It shared communion with Roman Catholics until the schism of 1054.

Here are ten ways it varies from its Western counterparts.

  1. Unlike the Roman Catholic denomination, the Orthodox operate as a communion of autocephalous churches, each governed by a bishop (often known as a metropolitan). In practice, these often have a national or regional identity, such as Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox.
  2. Metropolitans, rather than the pope, are the head of each of the self-governing churches, and together they form the Holy Synod. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognized as the first among equals.
  3. Advent and Christmas. Advent is longer and Christmas isn’t celebrated until January 7.
  4. Lent and Pascha. The liturgical calendar differs from those used in Western Christianity, with Easter (Pascha, the Greek preferred term) typically being aligned to Passover. Great Lent is longer, too. The Feast of the Assumption and Pentecost are holy days nearly equal to Pascha.
  5. The Theotokos. The Virgin Mary, Mother of God, is venerated and central in the liturgical worship. More nuanced, too, than in Roman Catholicism.
  6. Greek, rather than Latin, as the basis of its Scriptures and theological discourse. It’s a language more suited to nuance and philosophy, so I’m told.
  7. The priests may marry (unlike Roman Catholicism) but the bishops cannot (unlike Protestants).
  8. Sensuous richness. Incense, bells, chanting appeal to the nose and ears. An abundance of iconography, especially, surrounds the eyes.
  9. The iconostasis. An elaborately decorated wall stands between the altar and the congregation. It has three doors – the angel doors, to either side, and the blessed door in the center. The priest passes repeatedly through the central door, which is left open during the service, while the deacon or others may use the side doors, as required.
  10. You show up for the Sunday service – the Divine Liturgy – you’re likely to think you’re late. The priest, deacon, and psalmists have already been celebrating the Orthos for an hour, sometimes alone, in preparation.

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AS AN ASIDE: In 978, Vladimir the Great sent emissaries to study four religions in neighboring regions – Judaism, Islam, Latin Rite (Catholic), and Eastern Rite (Orthodox). Reputedly, he rejected Judaism as lacking power, since it had lost Jerusalem. Islam, because it banned alcohol. Latin Rite because of the political power of its pope. But Eastern Rite, with the sumptuousness of its liturgy in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, won him over. As they wrote, “We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth.” And thus, the Russian Orthodox church was born.

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Admittedly, this is a superficial overview. I’m hoping for a lot of clarification from more knowledgeable readers.