3 March OS 2016 – First Wednesday of Great Lent, Holy Martyrs Eutropios, Cleonicus and Basiliskos
On the weekdays of Great Lent, we do not read from the New Testament at weekday services, but rather from the Old Testament. There is a reading at the Sixth Hour from the Prophet Esaias (Isaiah), and there are two readings daily at Vespers, from Genesis and from Proverbs. In the inspired words of Esaias, we hear the Lord’s call to repentance and the prophecies of the saving Passion of the Savior. In Genesis, we hear of God’s creation of the world, man’s fall into sin and the need for a Savior, and the Lord’s providential preparation of His people for the Savior’s coming. From Proverbs, we learn the wisdom of a Godly life. A perfect reading program for Lent, according to the Church’s divine wisdom and motherly care for us!
Which Old Testament translation into English should we read? For the New Testament, one can confidently turn to the Authorized Version (the King James), which is translated from the received Byzantine text and only needs to be “tweaked” a little bit here and there to be conducive to an Orthodox understanding. But the King James Old Testament is translated not from the Church’s 2200-year-old canonical, trustworthy (indeed, inspired) Old Testament – the Greek translation called the Septuagint (the “LXX”), which is the version quoted by Jesus Christ Himself in the Gospels – but from a consciously anti-Christian, rabbinical edition from the Middle Ages called the Masoretic text. There are many places – and certain key places – in which these two texts vary quite a bit, and it would be better to steer clear of the AV/KJV and in fact almost all the usual English translations, which are nearly all from the Masoretic text, and stick with the Septuagint.
So…assuming one cannot read the Greek of the Septuagint (though if you want to learn, please let me know!), what English translations are available? The “old reliable” of English-speaking Orthodox till recently has always been Sir Lancelot Brenton’s 19th century translation, which you can find on Amazon as an actual, real-live-book-you-can-hug for under twenty dollars, and in a Kindle version for as little as two dollars. I am an old Brenton man myself, but lately I have been switching to Michael Asser’s new translation. Mr. Asser is an Orthodox Christian and approaches the translation with Orthodox sensibilities. Old Sir Lancelot was an English gentleman of vague religious convictions who did his translation for personal enjoyment. (If you do read Greek, however, keep your Brenton handy, because, unlike the Asser, it has the original in the margins). The only place I can find any of the Asser OT in hard copy is a psalter from CTOS (Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies). The entire text, however, is available online at http://orthodoxengland.org.uk/zot.htm. I recommend reading the introductory material at this link as well, for an explanation of what the Septuagint is and why it is important. This is a worthy study project for Great Lent, to go along with our spiritual reading!
Today’s reading from Proverbs is chapter two in its entirety (Proverbs 2: 1-22). St. Theophan the Recluse selects verses 3 – 5 for his daily commentary. (By the way, the English translation of Thoughts for Each Day of the Year always quotes the OT from the Brenton LXX translation).
“Thou shalt call to wisdom, and utter thy voice for understanding; and if you shalt seek it as silver, and search diligently for it as for treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God (Prov. 2:3-5).” The root of a God-pleasing life is fear of the Lord. When it comes, then, as a creative force, it will re-structure everything within you and re-create in you a beautiful order – a spiritual cosmos. How can you acquire the fear of God? It is in you, only it is smothered. Resurrect it. Give voice to your mind, and open your heart to accept the influence of truth. Until now, your mind was not given a voice; it was enslaved, and did not dare to speak sensibly. Let it now speak. It will begin to speak about God’s omnipotence, which upholds you and could abandon you at any instant; about God’s omnipresence and omniscience, which sees everything within you and is angered with you for all that is bad within you; about God’s justice, which is ready to punish you now, but is restrained until the [foreordained] time by His mercy; about death, which at every instant is ready to catch you and give you over to judgment and retribution. Listen and bring your heart to a feeling of these truths. Awaken this feeling – and the fear of God will come together with it. This is the dawn of life. Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 55-56.
This is an amazing passage from Theophan the Recluse. It lays out a very simple way to start Lent by going back to the starting point of spiritual life: the fear of the Lord, which includes, 1. awareness that God is God and we are His creatures; 2. that our sins separate us from God and make us liable to His judgment, and 3. that His mercy awaits our repentance. As St. Theophan says, all this is already inside of us (he is writing for baptized and spiritually sensitive Orthodox Christians, the kind of people who used to read him “hot off the press” when he was writing in the 19th century, not for hardened types opposed to the Church’s teaching). But it gets smothered by our worldly concerns, distractions, and falling into a worldly mindset through our weakness and lack of dedication. So we just have to put all this junk aside and let our mind speak to us once again, and the heart will follow. This is how we bring the heart to a feeling of these truths – not by trying to manipulate our feelings, which is useless and misleading, but by focusing the mind on the great truths of our Faith. The heart will follow the mind spontaneously, if we are persistent, both because 1. the Lord will give us the grace of understanding, heartfelt feeling, and true repentance, and 2. this is how the mind and heart work according to their nature, as created by God.
Let us then, simply ask the Lord to remind us of these basic truths, humble ourselves, and “…walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, for the days are evil (Ephesians 5: 15-16).” He loves this prayer, and He will give us His grace to have a good Lent in which we really repent and turn to Him with all our hearts.