Happy and Blessed New Year 1726 AM (Age of Martyrs)…

It is believed that the ancient Egyptians were the first to arrange a calendar, the Alexandrian Calendar; this became the Julian calendar when it was adopted in the west under Julius Caesar.nile

The original Calendar was organised by astronomy which was considerably accurate and was developed to aid in agriculture.

The calendar we use is derived from a Catholic Pope Gregory of the 16th century, known the Gregorian calendar.  The western calendar was based not on the stars but on the cycle of the sun.

The Julian Calendar Day is made up of six hours, as we see in our Agpeya prayer book.

Friday marked the first day of the Coptic Year of 1726 am. 

In the year 284 AD, a very wicked emperor of Rome named Diocletian led a campaign of terror aimed at stamping out Christianity, wherein genocide was unleashed against the Church of God and so began the great persecution of Christians throughout the known world.

In memory of the honour of the blood of martyrs, we began our calendar at this point.  Consider that the Fathers of the Church never did anything without reason, and this date is no exception.  It is a call to remind us that true Christianity involves taking up one’s cross and denying self.  For some, this led to martyrdom.  Prior to the New Year we celebrated the feast of the martyrdom of St John the baptist, whose own sacrifice for pointing to the truth of the coming Kingdom of the Messiah was continued on in the life of the Church by the Apostles, when, like Christ, they were prepared to lay down their lives because of the great love they had in Christ, as well as their confidence in him.

Consider the witness of the confessors as well.  We mentioned already the apostles who were all except for one martyred. 

IgnatiusWatching some sports like football finals we see passions run high and the competitors give there all in their chosen sport.  The crowd’s passion too is caught up with the immense pressure on the players, and some thousands of people have their lives intertwined with the hopes and dreams of the players and the fellow supporters.  Spectators curse opposition players and referees, and cheer on their own favourite players as if their life depended on it.  Unfortunately, for some people, this is the extent of their lives.  Yet, consider for a moment what it was like in the Ancient Roman Empire.  They too held games, although we know that a great many of them were far more bloodthirsty than our modern sports.  Consider to the Coliseum of Rome.  The ground itself to the very grains of sand is hallowed by the shedding of Christian blood in the most awful of circumstances.  Imagine what they went through, the fear, the pain, the emotions considering their loved ones, and yet with boldness and great love for Christ they gave all for their love of Christ.  Some modern groups think it wrong to honour them, let me say it is wrong to not honour them!  For who could be more Christlike than one who gave up their lifeblood for His sake, just as He poured out His blood for the salvation of the world?

Some people think we worship the saints.  This is a misconception and misunderstanding of the way we act as Christians.  We believe wholeheartedly our family as the body of Christ extends beyond the grave into life eternal, and those holy ones who are part of the mystical body intercede for us before the throne of God.  St Augustine answered critics in his day about this very topic as follows…

Chapter 27.—Concerning the Nature of the Honor Which the Christians Pay to Their Martyrs.

But, nevertheless, we do not build temples, and ordain priests, rites, and sacrifices for these same martyrs; for they are not our gods, but their God is our God.  Certainly we honour their reliquaries, as the memorials of holy men of God who strove for the truth even to the death of their bodies that the true religion might be made known, and false and fictitious religions exposed.  For if there were some before them who thought that these religions were really false and fictitious, they were afraid to give expression to their convictions.  But who ever heard a priest of the faithful, standing at an altar built for the honor and worship of God over the holy body of some martyr, say in the prayers, I offer to thee a sacrifice, O Peter, or O Paul, or O Cyprian? for it is to God that sacrifices are offered at their tombs,—the God who made them both men and martyrs, and associated them with holy angels in celestial honor; and the reason why we pay such honors to their memory is, that by so doing we may both give thanks to the true God for their victories, and, by recalling them afresh to remembrance, may stir opolycarp martyrdomurselves up to imitate them by seeking to obtain like crowns and palms, calling to our help that same God on whom they called. 

Celebration for the commemoration of martyrs in the early Church usually took place at their graves. So the ancient church of Smyrna annually commemorated its bishop St. Polycarp (a disciple of St John the Beloved apostle and evangelist) and valued his bones more than gold and gems, though with the express distinction: “Christ we worship as the Son of God; the martyrs we love and honor as disciples and successors of the Lord, on account of their insurpassable love to their King and Master, as also, we wish Kosheh2to be their companions and fellow disciples.”

The history of martyrdom does not however end in the early Christian centuries.  To this very day the Coptic Church finds blessed and holy martyrs amongst its ranks when Christians are called to die for their love of Christ and receive the eternal crown of martyrdom…

Perhaps this year we can increase our reading of the lives of the Holy Martyrs, Confessors and Anchorites of the Church and our resolve to follow their example in our own lives… 

The Authority of the Septuagint in the Ancient Church as Recorded by St Augustine

septuagintThe Septuagint was first translation from the Hebrew Old Testament to the Greek language, the Bible used by the first Christians and proves the existence of all the Old books before 300 BC.  Some 1200 + years later some of the books were rejected by protestants as not divinely inspired.  This is in contradiction to the words of St Augustine of Hippo who expounds the sacred nature of the translation.  (See psite of council of carthageicture of original fragment to right)

In the Orthodox Church we accept the complete canon of Scripture affirmed at The African Synod of Hippo, in 393, approved the New Testament, as it stands today, together with the Septuagint books, a decision that was repeated by Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. These councils were under the authority of St Augustine, who considered the Canon a closed issue as handed down from the Fathers of the Early Church…(Site of the council of Carthage seen left)                                                                                                                                            

 

                St-Takla-org_Coptic-Saints_Saint-Augustine-01                   

ST AUGUSTINE – THE CITY OF GOD

By What Dispensation of God’s Providence the Sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament Were Translated Out of Hebrew into Greek, that They Might Be Made Known to All the Nations.

One of the Ptolemies, kings of Egypt, desired to know and have these sacred books.  For after Alexander of Macedon, who is also styled the Great, had by his most wonderful, but by no means enduring power, subdued the whole of Asia, yea, almost the whole world, partly by force of arms, partly by terror, and, among other kingdoms of the East, had entered and obtained Judea also, on his death his generals did not peaceably divide that most ample kingdom among them for a possession, but rather dissipated it, wasting all things by wars. 

Then Egypt began to have the Ptolemies as her kings.  The first of them, the son of Lagus, carried many captive out of Judea into Egypt.  But another Ptolemy, called Philadelphus, who succeeded him, permitted all whom he had brought under the yoke to return free; and more than that, sent kingly gifts to the temple of God, and begged Eleazar, who was the high priest, to give him the Scriptures, which he had heard by report were truly divine, and therefore greatly desired to have in that most noble library he had made. 

When the high priest had sent them to him in Hebrew, he afterwards demanded interpreters of him, and there were given him seventy-two, out of each of the twelve tribes six men, most learned in both languages, to wit, the Hebrew and Greek and their translation is now by custom called the Septuagint.  It is reported, indeed, that there was an agreement in their words so wonderful, stupendous, and plainly divine, that when they had sat at this work, each one apart (for so it pleased Ptolemy to test their fidelity), they differed from each other in no word which had the same meaning and force, or, in the order of the words; but, as if the translators had been one, so what all had translated was one, because in very deed the one Spirit had been in them all. 

And they received so wonderful a gift of God, in order that the authority of these Scriptures might be commended not as human but divine, as indeed it was, for the benefit of the nations who should at some time believe, as we now see them doing.

 LXX-V747-6r the group of elders with Andreas and Aristeas of Alexandria giving a letter to Eleazar, the High Priest

Above - 11th Century depiction of the group of elders with Andreas and Aristeas 
of Alexandria giving a letter to Eleazar, 
the High Priest (seated right on a cushioned throne). 
In the lower pane an attendant stands by Ptolemy with shield and lance. 
Ptolemy receives the letter from Andreas and Aristeas, 
who are accompanied by Jewish envoys.

 

Of the Authority of the Septuagint Translation, Which, Saving the Honor of the Hebrew Original, is to Be Preferred to All Translations.

For while there were other interpreters who translated these sacred oracles out of the Hebrew tongue into Greek, as Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, and also that translation which, as the name of the author is unknown, is quoted as the fifth edition, yet the Church has received this Septuagint translation just as if it were the only one; and it has been used by the Greek Christian people, most of whom are not aware that there is any other.  From this translation there has also been made a translation in the Latin tongue, which the Latin churches use. 

Our times, however, have enjoyed the advantage of the presbyter Jerome, a man most learned, and skilled in all three languages, who translated these same Scriptures into the Latin speech, not from the Greek, but from the Hebrew.   But although the Jews acknowledge this very learned labor of his to be faithful, while they contend that the Septuagint translators have erred in many places, still the churches of Christ judge that no one should be preferred to the authority of so many men, chosen for this very great work by Eleazar, who was then high priest; for even if there had not appeared in them one spirit, without doubt divine, and the seventy learned men had, after the manner of men, compared together the words of their translation, that what pleased them all might stand, no single translator ought to be preferred to them; but since so great a sign of divinity has appeared in them, certainly, if any other translator of their Scriptures from the Hebrew into any other tongue is faithful, in that case he agrees with these seventy translators, and if he is not found to agree with them, then we ought to believe that the prophetic gift is with them. 

For the same Spirit who was in the prophets when they spoke these things was also in the seventy men when they translated them, so that assuredly they could also say something else, just as if the prophet himself had said both, because it would be the same Spirit who said both; and could say the same thing differently, so that, although the words were not the same, yet the same meaning should shine forth to those of good understanding; and could omit or add something, so that even by this it might be shown that there was in that work not human bondage, which the translator owed to the words, but rather divine power, which filled and ruled the mind of the translator.  Some, however, have thought that the Greek copies of the Septuagint version should be emended from the Hebrew copies; yet they did not dare to take away what the Hebrew lacked and the Septuagint had, but only added what was found in the Hebrew copies and was lacking in the Septuagint, and noted them by placing at the beginning of the verses certain marks in the form of stars which they call asterisks. 

And those things which the Hebrew copies have not, but the Septuagint have, they have in like manner marked at the beginning of the verses by horizontal spit-shaped marks like those by which we denote ounces; and many copies having these marks  are circulated even in Latin.  But we cannot, without inspecting both kinds of copies, find out those things which are neither omitted nor added, but expressed differently, whether they yield another meaning not in itself unsuitable, or can be shown to explain the same meaning in another way.  If, then, as it behoves us, we behold nothing else in these Scriptures than what the Spirit of God has spoken through men, if anything is in the Hebrew copies and is not in the version of the Seventy, the Spirit of God did not choose to say it through them, but only through the prophets. 

But whatever is in the Septuagint and not in the Hebrew copies, the same Spirit chose rather to say through the latter, thus showing that both were prophets.  For in that manner He spoke as He chose, some things through Isaiah, some through Jeremiah, some through several prophets, or else the same thing through this prophet and through that.  Further, whatever is found in both editions, that one and the same Spirit willed to say through both, but so as that the former preceded in prophesying, and the latter followed in prophetically interpreting them; because, as the one Spirit of peace was in the former when they spoke true and concordant words, so the selfsame one Spirit hath appeared in the latter, when, without mutual conference they yet interpreted all things as if with one mouth.

Six out of each of the twelve tribes of Israel before Ptolemy to 
translate the Scriptures into Greek - 11th Century manuscript

LXX-translators of the LXX