Wednesday, October 22, 2014

~Εἰρήνη and Σιώπα, Day #2~

~Εἰρήνη and Σιώπα~

Although school usually gets in the way, today I actually went to bible study at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church. The discussion was on the Gospel of Mark, specifically the fourth chapter. At the end, after Christ speaks about the parable of the mustard seed, the famous “calming of the seas” scene occurs. . .

There arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he (Christ) was in the hinder part of the ship, 
asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, 
Master, carest thou not that we perish?

And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, 
“Peace, be still.” 
And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. . .
(Mark 4:37-9)

In Greek, “Peace, be still” is “Σιώπα, πεφίμωσο (Siopa, pephimoso).” Siopa, as seen above, is translated as “peace.” And, yes, that is one translation of it. However, another more accurate translation of the word is “silence” or “hush.” It comes from a verb σιωπάω (siopao) which means “to be quiet, remain silent; to be calm, not agitated.”  It indicates a conscious or unconscious state of rest or peace. 

In essence, the command “Siopa!” means, “do not be restless!” The word itself defines peace apophatically—for what it is not. Peace is not restless.

Throughout the Bible, but especially throughout St. John Chrysostom’s liturgy, another word frequently repeats itself: “Εἰρήνη (Eereni)” or “Peace.” In comparison to Siopa, Eereni defines peace cataphatically—for what it is: “quietness and rest.”

It appears constantly throughout the petitions and litanies which the priest or deacon read before the Gospel during the Liturgy of the Catechumens. During this time, peace is a request. Either the priests or the priests and the congregation ask for peace. 

That is, until the Gospel. At the Gospel, everyone in the congregation stands and the priest says, “Wisdom! Arise! Let us hear the holy Gospel. Peace be to all!” This is one of the first times that eereni is no longer a supplication. It is a gift. It is here that the priest or deacon turns toward the congregation and says, “Εἰρήνη πᾶσι! Peace be to all!”

Why is this significant? It takes place directly before the Liturgy of the Faithful. 

And why is that placement significant? Because of Mark 4! 

(This is an old diagram I used for notes while studying Church architecture quite a few years back…) 

The area where the congregation sits is often called, in architectural and in theological terms, the “nave.” Coming from the latin word for “navis” or “ship,” a nave is simply the main body of a ship. Or, in the case of the Church, the area where the main body of Christ—the congregation—stays during liturgy. Many have said this terminology originated from how the architecture, especially the arch or roof, of the main body of the church resembled the stern and keel of a ship. 

Now if a three year old-boy heard such a thing, he would immediately say, “So the Church is like a ship!” And, us older people would chuckle and say, “It’s not that simple.”  The truth is, neither the three year-old or the adult is entirely right. It is a paradox. It is both that simple and not that simple.

When the disciples, fearing for their lives, woke Christ, He went out of the chamber in which He was sleeping and onto the dock, instructing the raging sea of Galilee to be silent, quiet, calm, and at rest. However, the real restlessness was not in the sea. It was in the hearts of the disciples. His purpose is twofold and one in the same. He meant to bring peace, but to both the sea and to the disciples. 

Similarly, when the priest, as an icon of Christ, turns toward the people before the Gospel and says, “Εἰρήνη πᾶσι! Peace be with you all!” he is doing as Christ did. He is bestowing peace upon the sea of the congregation and calming the rocking ship or, in this case, the tumultuous nave. He is calling for silence, peace, quietness, restfulness and contemplation of the work ahead. The congregation—about to embark into the Liturgy of the Faithful—is asked to lay aside the storms of their lives, all their “earthly cares.” 

“Liturgia” literally means the work of the people. However, work cannot be done when the people are in chaos, when a storm is brewing. When you come to Church, to liturgy, remember that you are safely in the nave and you are no longer in the storm.

Breadcrumb #2: Be at peace. 

(A big thanks to my amazing mother, Priscilla, who held an extensive discussion with me about this on the way back home from Bible study!) 

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