Saturday, April 30, 2016

Adventures in Translation: The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom

In a few hours I will go to Church for our Paschal Liturgy. It starts at 11:30 PM, we will proclaim "Christ is Risen," we will eventually finish Divine Liturgy by around 3:00 AM and we will then go down to the basement for the blessing of Easter Baskets and the "Breaking of the Fast."

I am a sincere and serious Eastern Orthodox Christian. I go to Church every Sunday because I can't imagine plodding through the week without the Eucharist.

But regarding fasting, I take my Lord at his word when he says that those who fast publicly (i.e., do so such that everyone knows they are doing it) "have already received their reward" (Matt 6:16).

And lest anyone think that Gospel Text is not important to Orthodoxy, that verse of Matthew is within the Gospel proclaimed on the Sunday before Lent begins.

Sadly, many of my coreligionists fastidiously maintain a strict fast throughout Lent, and publicly discuss it, apparently having not listened to the Gospel on that Sunday before Lent. I actually know Orthodox Christians who maintain the fast, but don't go to Church on Sunday!

I don't fast. And, by the way, if I do fast, what better way would there be to not be publicly fasting than to openly state that I do not?

But I'm serious, I don't fast.

I would hold in esteem anyone who fasts, intending it to be a sacrifice unto God, and who follows the precepts of Jesus in Matthew 6 and fasts in secret only before God.

All this is why I so deeply appreciate the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom that is proclaimed in every Orthodox Church of the World during the Paschal Liturgy.

In this Homily, I hear the following words proclaimed:

"You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you."

As I continue my preparations for Liturgy tonight--I've dyed the eggs, I've made a wonderful dish of bacon-infused chicken thighs to share with the community, I wondered what the original Greek behind that line of the Homily might be.

I was particularly interested in the original Greek for the word disregarded.  It is a startlingly word, given the invitation to then feast alongside those who fasted.

I found the original Greek. It simply states:

νηστεύσαντες καὶ μὴ νηστεύσαντες εὐφράνθητε σήμερον
Those fasting and those not fasting, rejoice today

In other words, the word disregarded is not in the original Greek at all!

This word was apparently introduced by a translator who, unhappy that St. John Chrysostom would allow those who didn't fast to join the Feast, decided to infuse the Homily with a back-handed judgement that the Saint himself never actually spoke.

Regarding fasting, there are exactly two kinds of people--those who do and those who don't. St. John Chrysostom, addresses the two kinds of people descriptively, and then, without judgement, invites both to the Feast. 

Pray for us, St. John Chrysostom. 



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