Sunday, October 5, 2014


Sóson Kýrie ton laón Sou
Kai evlóghison tin klironomían Sou
Níkas tis vasiléfsi katá varváron dhoroúmenos
Kai to son filáton dhía tu Stavroú Sou politévma

Save, O Lord, your people
And bless Your inheritance
Grant victory to the princes
Against the barbarians
And protect Your commonwealth
By Your Cross

‘Contemporary’ translations of this, one of my favorite Greek hymns, the hymn of the Holy Cross, changes ‘the princes’ to ‘the faithful’, ‘the barbarians’ to ‘the adversaries of the faith’, and ‘Your commonwealth’ to ‘Your people’. There is actually another entirely different wording altogether which was pushed on my local parish for four years by the then ‘proistámenos’ who has now been removed and is no longer a presbyter in the Church. Thankfully, we're back to using the version of the hymn quoted above, and sometimes we even sing the correct translation, but there is still a tendency to sing the modern paraphrase. It all depends on who's leading the choir. I sing only in Greek anyway.

Like the Word of God, I believe our ancient Greek hymns should not be politically or culturally updated, but translated as they are. Better yet, people could, if they wanted to, enter into the real meaning of the Word of God and the hymns if they tried to understand Greek, but I won't push this. To each what his heart desires.

Back to the topic, barbarians.

An Orthodox priest, Fr Gregory Jensen (OCA) recently wrote,

According to the PEW survey, the majority of Orthodox laity agree that abortion and gay marriage should be legal. It may surprise you, then, that the problem isn’t Schaeffer – it’s us; specifically, it’s the clergy. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, we clergy are not effectively communicating the moral tradition of the Church to the laity. Or, if we are, the laity aren’t listening—which would imply that the clergy are willing to tolerate the laity ignoring the Gospel.

We see the same prevalence of pro-choice, pro-gay marriage positions among Orthodox politicians. This kind of a consistent pattern of belief does not just happen. As in the Catholic Church, we see in the Orthodox Church evidence of a significant pastoral failing. This appears to be more than just a widespread lack of sound moral education for the faithful. It appears to be an embrace of, or at least resignation to, the influence of secularism in our parishes.

This is a very serious problem. This isn’t a debate about the practices of potentially faithful followers—as can be the case when addressing, say, Old Calendar or New Calendar, or the issue of women wearing headscarves, or whether priests should have beards and wear cassocks, or whether we have pews or not, or whether to use an organ to lead the choir. This goes much deeper—to the heart of Christian discipleship. It seems that we have simply lost sight of the beauty and power of Christian virtue; perhaps worse, it seems that
we have given over leadership to moral barbarians.

I know that sounds like a harsh judgment, but what else can one call it? A barbarian isn’t a bad person. A barbarian isn’t likely to love his wife and children any less than you or I. He isn’t necessarily an atheist or polytheist. In fact, many barbarians believed—and believe—in Christ, though for the same reason that they believed in the old gods: to secure power for their people.

John Courtney Murray writes in his introduction to The Civilization of the Pluralist Society that “the barbarian need not appear in bearskins with a club in hand.” Instead he…
…may wear a Brooks Brothers suit and carry a ball-point pen with which to write his advertising copy. In fact, even beneath the academic gown there may lurk a child of the wilderness, untutored in the high tradition of civility, who goes busily and happily about his work, a domesticated and law-abiding man, engaged in the construction of a philosophy to put an end to all philosophy, and thus put an end to the possibility of a vital consensus and to civility itself.

In Murray’s view, the perennial “work of the barbarian” is “to undermine rational standards of judgment, to corrupt the inherited intuitive wisdom by which the people have always lived.” He does this not “by spreading new beliefs” but…

…by creating a climate of doubt and bewilderment in which clarity about the larger aims of life is dimmed and the self-confidence of the people is destroyed, so that finally what you have is the impotent nihilism of the “generation of the third eye,” now presently appearing on our university campuses. [This was written in 1958!] (One is, I take it, on the brink of impotence and nihilism when one begins to be aware of one’s own awareness of what one is doing, saying, thinking. This is the paralysis of all serious thought; it is likewise the destruction of all the spontaneities of love.)

In the modern world, then, “the barbarian is the man who makes open and explicit rejection of the traditional role of reason and logic in human affairs. He is the man who reduces all spiritual and moral questions to the test of practical results or to an analysis of language or to decision in terms of individual subjective feeling.” By these criteria, it seems that we live in an increasingly barbarian world—even in our own parishes.

Yes, save, O Lord, your people and bless Your inheritance.
Grant victory to the princes against the barbarians and protect Your commonwealth by Your Cross.

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