Thursday, March 30, 2017

George Lamsa Lecture and Radio Programs online

Over the last two days, I have been listening to lectures and radio broadcasts of George Lamsa, the Assyrian Bible translator.  John H. Boone, a social-media friend of mine, and the director of the Aramaic Bible Center of Southeast Texas, has painstakingly digitized reel-to-reel recordings of Dr. Lamsa and  posted them on Soundcloud. . I thank John for his devotion and hard work.

These lectures and broadcasts are very interesting and enjoyable.

Dr. George Lamsa was an Assyrian who was born in Iran, and was raised in the Nestorian Church and taught by their priests.  Lamsa translated the entire Bible from the Peshitta, the Aramaic Text. His translation is formally known as the Holy Bible from the Ancient Eastern Text, and less formally as the LAMSA Bible. Lamsa also wrote several commentaries and devotional books.

The Lamsa Bible has been my favorite as of late, and my daily Reading Bible. The Peshitta is the standard Syriac Bible for churches in the Syriac tradition: the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Maronites, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.. These Christians claim the original Scriptures were written in Aramaic and given to the Church by the Apostles:.

"With reference to your letter concerning Lamsa's translation of the Aramaic Bible, and the originality of the Peshitta text, as the Patriarch and Head of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church of the East, we wish to state, that the Church of the East received the scriptures from the hands of the blessed Apostles themselves in the Aramaic original, the language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and that the Peshitta is the text of the Church of the East which has come down from the Biblical times without any change or revision."   -  Mar Eshai Shimun, Catholicos Patriarch of the Church of the East

Dr. Lamsa's devout personality is very evident in these broadcasts.

He elevates the words of Christ over the words of St. Paul, he says “Christ is my Savior,” and that Paul is “a man” and is wrong about some things (women in particular, he disagrees with Paul that women should “remain silent”).

He mentions that Unity Church is publishing some of his materials. He seems to have been popular in the Mind Science Churches.

He mentions certain discrepancies between the Aramaic text and the Masoretic texts. One I found very interesting is that God is not angry; Lamsa cites Psalm 7.11 from the Aramaic, “yea, He [God] is not angry every day,” vs the Masoretic text “God is angry with the wicked every day."

Dr. Lamsa seems to have a problem with faith alone, at least the way American Protestants express it. He goes on a tangent criticizing American Protestant understanding of believing in Christ. He says that all the Protestants tell him “you just believe in Christ, you don’t have to do anything,” and he says, “we have to act on our faith in Christ.” He seems to hear the Protestants as saying that we don’t do anything. I agree with Dr. Lamsa. I do not believe we can "earn" our salvation, but faith calls for commitment, for even the "devils believe, and tremble."

He praises the Anglicans and Episcopalians for his formal and Western education, both in Iran when he was a boy, where the Archbishop of Canterbury had a school, and later on at Virginia Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church.

Dr. Lamsa is very much a mystic; he says instead of seminaries, we should have schools for prophets and mystics. He believes that Moses and Abraham really saw and spoke with God.

I have recently read Dr. Lamsa's biography and his book on the history of the Assyrian Christians. I greatly enjoy his translation of the Scriptures. He is a spiritual giant. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Haile Selassie on Spreading the Gospel

“The love shown by our God to mankind should constrain all of us who are followers and disciples of Christ, to do all in our power to see to it that the message of salvation is carried to those of our fellows for whom Christ our Savior was sacrificed but who have not had the benefit of hearing the good news.” 

- His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I

Health Care Reform in Light of Orthodox Theology and the Sanctity of the Human Body

As this country debates health care reform, I cannot help but turn to Orthodox theology for some answers. Orthodox theology is pretty much synonymous with Patristic theology. For an Orthodox Christian, salvation is holistic, involving Body and Soul. It is organic. God does not save the soul only, but the Body as well, and all Creation. To separate the soul from body is to hold to a decidedly non-Christian form of dualism. In the Eucharistic prayers of the Byzantine Liturgy, it is affirmed that the Holy Eucharist is for “the healing of both soul and body.”

From the standpoint of Orthodox theology, Christianity is a materialistic religion, in the best sense. Matter is not abhorred or downplayed. St. John Damascene, writing in reference to the Holy Images (Icons), has this to say about matter:

"I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God."
St. John Damascene

This reverence of matter of course extends to the human body. God does enjoin us to value human needs, the human body. We do not preach in the Byzantine Church only the salvation of the soul, apart from the salvation of Creation, matter, our very bodies. These things are connected, the spiritual and material, "Thy immortal Spirit is in all things," wrote the author of the Wisdom of Solomon (Wisdom 12:1).

St. Paul expresses this in his first letter to the Corinthians: "know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? and ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body." - 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. 

We can see this holistic, organic view of salvation expressed very succinctly and sublimely by St. Ignatios of Antioch. A disciple of St. John the Apostle, and consecrated the Third Bishop of the See of Antioch by St. Peter himself, he is an important witness to Apostolic doctrine. The quote below is from St. Ignatios' letter to the Smyrneans:
St. Ignatios of Antioch

Consider those who hold heretical opinions with regard to the grace of Jesus Christ which hath come unto us, how opposite they are to the mind of God. They have no care for love, nor concerning the widow, nor concerning the orphan, nor concerning the afflicted, nor concerning him who is bound or loosed, nor concerning him who is hungry or thirsty. They refrain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father of his goodness raised up.

See how St. Ignatios makes the connection between the needs of the human body with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ? It is not surprising that St. Ignatios taught this doctrine, for he certainly received it from the Apostles. It makes sense that Ignatios is connected with St. John, whose gospel stresses the Incarnational and Sacramental aspects of salvation.
St. John the Theologian

St. John himself taught: "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen." - 1 John 4:20

Love cannot be spiritualized away, it must be concrete. Love addresses real needs, real suffering. The heretics that St. Ignatios inveighed against were likely the Docetists, who did not believe Jesus really suffered, but only appeared to have a body, and only appeared to suffer. They did not care for the oppressed and poor, and denied the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. You can see that a consistent sacramental and incarnational theology reverences the human body, and cares for human suffering; and how, on the other hand, a theology that is not sacramental and incarnational in character falls short on caring for human need.

St. John Chrysostom, writing in the 4th century put it this way: “Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk only then to neglect him outside where he suffers cold and nakedness. He who said: ‘This is my body’ is the same One who said...‘Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me.’”

Mother Theresa of Calcutta
Mother Theresa made this connection in her ministry. Visitors asked her how her and her 
sisters could face every day the suffering on the streets of Calcutta. She said it was their devotion to the Holy Eucharist that strengthened them for service to the poor, and helped them to see Christ in the poor and suffering:

In the Mass we have Jesus in the appearance of bread, while in the slums we see Christ and touch him in the broken bodies, in the abandoned children...Our lives are woven with Jesus in the Eucharist. In Holy Communion we have Christ under the appearance of bread; in our work we find him under the appearance of flesh and blood. It is the same Christ. ‘I was hungry, I was naked, I was sick, I was homeless.’”
With this sacramental, incarnational understanding, how can we tolerate people dying from lack of health care? Some will object, "That is not the government's job?" Says who, may I ask? The Holy Bible? The Holy Fathers of the Church? Christian values should be reflected both in our private and public lives, if we claim a Christian heritage. Our laws and policies should reflect our values. We should be willing to use private charity, private business, and yes, government and tax resources to make sure our fellow citizens have their needs met. We are all in this together. Individualism is not a Christian value. The Christian societies of the Byzantine Empire and Kievan Rus' used tax monies to serve the common good.

The lives of the holy, Orthodox Christian kings and queens record that they performed charitable works -- aiding the poor, the hungry, and the needy; and building churches, schools, and hospitals -- using, to finance this work, money that was in part tax-derived. So too, we who live in nations with democratic political systems where we influence government policy, urge that similar policies be followed, so that government resources will be utilitized to promote the general welfare of the populace, and of the world in which they live.
- From the Facebook Group, Progressive Orthodox Christianity

Yes, private charity should be brought to bear on the health care crisis; but we as Christians, if we are guided by Doctrine of Christ, cannot help but be moved by the plight of the sick and uninsured- surely we cannot bear the needless suffering and death that occurs for those without health care! Shouldn't we seek to create a society in which we care for human needs and suffering, and in which we honor the human body, which is the Temple of God? Shouldn't our values be reflected in society?

My dear friends, if we believe Christ is in the poor and oppressed, the sick and the suffering, we should want to honor Him in them; we should venerate His presence in them. This is a question of values, at a momentous time in our society- how can we claim to honor the Body of Christ, and yet stand by why our brothers and sisters slip away?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Following the Law to Avoid Temptation - Readings from James and Sirach

Below are texts from James 1.12-16 and Sirach 15.11-20.


The passage in James is another example of an allusion by Jacob (James) the brother of Our Lord, to the Book of Sirach. In this passage, Jacob warns his readers, probably Jewish Christians, that they bear responsibility for falling into sin. We cannot blame the Lord for our failings. Rather, it is our own desire that causes us to sin and to suffer whatever consequences result from it.

In the Book of Sirach, there is a more complete teaching on this issue. The writer of Sirach teaches us that we have a choice to sin or to follow the law. This is against notions that we do not have a free will. Orthodox teaching is that we do in fact have a free will.

The Book of Sirach is also called, Ecclesiasticus, “Church’s Book,” because it was used extensively in the Catechesis and liturgy of the Church. This is example of the continuity between the Church and Judaism, for the teaching of Sirach is expounding the Torah and it’s Wisdom. The writer of Sirach, and other books of the Hebrew Bible, saw the Torah as the bearing the Wisdom of God (Hagia Sophia). The Church continued this tradition by maintaining the Hebrew Bible as her Scriptures. The teaching of Torah, in turn, is expressed in the commandments.

St. Paul teaches us this continuity in the teaching between Israel and the Church.

Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” - Romans 3.31

So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.” - Romans 7.12

“...from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

  • 2 Timothy 3.15-17

In the passage from 2 Timothy, St. Paul states the Scripture is “profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” Remember he is only speaking of the Hebrew Bible here, not the Newer Testament. The word Torah means, “instruction.”

It is our choice to follow the commandments of God. Our Lord Eyesus Kristos taught us in His sermon on the mount, “"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”  - Matthew 5.17-19 RSV

Some Christians will object that we cannot keep the commandments, and that we have no free will. But the Prophets promise us that the Ruach Ha’ Kodesh (Hebrew), the Menfes Kidus (Ahmraric), the Holy Spirit, indeed will enable us to keep the commandments of God: “...I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” - Ezekiel 36.27 RSV

Later on in his epistle, Jacob will teach us, "What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” - James 4.1-3 RSV

The indulging of our desires not only bring misery to ourselves, but to those around us, and the source of wars.

His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie teaches us that "If we lived by the laws he gave us and were worthy of being called Christian, peace would have reigned on this earth." - Haile Selassie I (December 25, 1937)


Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

- James 1.12-16 RSV

Do not say, "Because of the Lord I left the right way";
for he will not do what he hates.
Do not say, "It was he who led me astray";
for he had no need of a sinful man.
The Lord hates all abominations,
and they are not loved by those who fear him.
It was he who created man in the beginning,
and he left him in the power of his own inclination.
If you will, you can keep the commandments,
and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.
He has placed before you fire and water:
stretch out your hand for whichever you wish.
Before a man are life and death,
and whichever he chooses will be given to him.
For great is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is mighty in power and sees everything;
his eyes are on those who fear him,
and he knows every deed of man.
He has not commanded anyone to be ungodly,
and he has not given anyone permission to sin.

- Sirach 15.11-20 RSV