A “mercy” or an “offering” of peace? – PART II

A “mercy” or an “offering” of peace? – PART II

There wasn’t supposed to be a follow up to our post “A ‘mercy’ or an ‘offering’ of peace?”, but circumstances made it mandatory. After I turned the text over to my son Tony (thanks to whom these articles are published, including everything else on our website – it’s all his work/ministry) I checked to see if there was anything new on the subject. There was. After all, the post was a republishing of a section of our book, published in 2008. And then we had the comments to our post that we needed to address. Here is our continuation on the topic.

To begin with, we became aware of a newer publication—a 17-page study by the Very Rev. Dr. Jack Khalil, titled “A Textual-Critical Study and Interpretation of the Liturgical Response ‘ἔλεον εἰρήνης, θυσίαν αἰνέσεως’” published in 2011.1 The author settles with the reading, “mercy of peace, sacrifice of praise,” but provides some additional useful information.

One of Khalil’s contributions is that he establishes that ἔλεον and θυσίαν together can be a second accusative to προσφέρειν (offer), in addition to τὴν ἁγίαν ἀναφοράν, which is the first accusative, thus answering Fr. Justin’s question.2 He sees both expressions as parallel and, amazingly, he turns to Lev. 7:13.15, as I had done, to make the point that both of these expressions denote two distinct types of biblical sacrifice.3

It is important to expand on this subject. The Old Testament has over 40 references to oil offerings: offerings of cakes and wafers, mentioned in Lev. 7:12, and offerings of grain, bread and fine flower, all mixed with oil, as well as of offerings of oil by itself (Lev. 14:10). Burned offerings and grain offerings are the two types mentioned together in about 30 times in Numbers as well in other OT books (Judges 13:19, 1 Kings 8:64, Ez. 45:17, Hosea 9:4, and Amos 5:22). The author of another study I came across points out that “There is a close correspondence between the Burnt Offering and the Grain Offering, because the two offerings are often carried out together.”4

Another contribution of Khalil is that he establishes that “praise” in Hebrew means thanksgiving, a very important detail. This is why we see that the English translations from the Masoretic text render it as “thanksgiving,” not “praise.” Thus to the Hebrew sacrifice it directly counters the Christian sacrifice, which is purely one of “thansksgiving” (εὐχαριστία) to God.

Unfortunately, it did not occur to the author (nor to those who went over his text) that what he renders as “mercy,” which in Greek would be ἔλεος, in the objective case is the same as in the nominative – it is ἔλεος, and not ἔλεον! After establishing that “mercy” has to be in the objective case - and I agree with him (about the objective case) - instead of arriving as a consequence at ἔλαιον he settles for ἔλεος, which cannot stand, thus he is left with all the problems still unsolved. Pity.

Nevertheless Khalil, like Fr. Calivas whom we quoted in our text, also mentions that in two manuscripts he found the textus receptus: “Ἔλεον (Ἔλαιον) εἰρήνης, θυσίαν αἰνέσεως” = mss. Vaticanus Gr. 1970 (13th century) and Parisinus Gr. 2509 (15th century).

Archbishop Vasily (Krivoshein), whom we quoted in our previous article, knew his Greek and knew that it could not have been “mercy,” calling it a case of “orthographic confusion.” That is why he stated, “It is almost a certainty that the form ἔλαιον (oil) is the original and primary one.” (More about Krivoshein at the end.) Also keep in mind that in order to speed up the copying, the scribes wrote through dictation. So, when they heard e-l-e-o-N they could write it either as ἔλεον or ἔλαιον. No difference in the pronunciation. However one thing is certain: it could not mean “mercy”, because they would have heard e-le-o-S, the objective case of mercy. No one who knows Greek would make that mistake, let alone perpetuate it.

An important witness

Now I would like to turn our attention to a very important witness, quoted, or rather misquoted in my article (and of course in the book itself), and that is St. Germanos of Constantinople. Our citation from his Ecclesiastical History and Mystical Contemplation (Ἱστορία Ἐκκλησιαστικὴ καὶ Μυστικὴ Θεωρία) was based on the original text and translation provided by Paul Meyendorff, in his book, St Germanus of Constantinople, On the Divine Liturgy.5 Relying on this text and not checking the original text elsewhere, and, in addition, not reading carefully Meyendorff’s introductory comments were two fatal mistakes on my part. I’ll explain.

In his Introduction (p. 11) Meyendorff states that the original text he chose is based on the Greek text of Germanos’s commentary as “reconstructed” by N. Borgia.6 In Note 8 he states that the Latin text (which was written about a century after the original) is also “reconstructed.” The Ecclesiastical History was probably written between 730 and 733, when St. Germanos died. As we noted above, the original Greek text is based on manuscripts dating several centuries later.

Meyendorff’s mentor, Robert Taft, had already penned a paper,7 which consisted of a revised version of a lecture he had delivered in 1979. In it he bemoans that, “we do not even have a translation of Germanos” (p. 46) and furthermore declares that, “The text in Migne (PG, 98) is hopelessly corrupt, and the authenticity of the commentary was rarely affirmed until the restoration of Borgia and, most recently, the masterful study of Bornert.”8

Thus Meyendorff, under the guidance of Taft, followed the “masterful study” mentioned above, reading, “A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise”! (p. 56) No comment, and no attempt to explain what sense this difficult expression might make, nor does he provide any explanation for accepting the “restoration” of the “hopelessly corrupt” Migne text.

Let us now look at the maligned Migne text of Germanos’s comments, and specifically at the expression under study. This what we read (omitting his inserted comments, as he quotes the text):

Ὁ διάκονος· “Στῶμεν καλῶς, στῶμεν μετὰ φόβου… Πρόσχωμεν τῇ ἁγίᾳ ἀναφορᾷ… ἐν εἰρήνῃ προσφέροντες…”

Ὁ λαὸς… “ἔλαιον εἰρήνης, θυσίαν αἰνέσεως” (PG 98:428 C)

that is,

Deacon: “Let us stand well; let us stand with fear. Let us turn our attention to the holy Anaphora, offering in peace…”

People: “…an oil (offering) of peace, a sacrifice of praise.’”9

Meyendorff’s “reconstructed” version is:

Deacon: “Let us stand aright, let us stand in fear, let us offer in peace…

People: …a mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.” [ellipses are mine]

Missing completely is what is found in every “standard” rendering, “Let us offer the holy Anaphora”! And what is truly perplexing is that no mention whatsoever is made in his introduction, passing over silently this universally accepted phrase (shown, of course, in the Migne text).

But let us return to the celebrated reply of the people to the Deacon’s call. The people with their reply seal the Deacon’s invitation to prepare themselves to offer their sacrifice to God, to which they reply, completing the sentence, by offering what? Not the double offerings of the past, the animal sacrifices and oil offerings that often accompanied them, but the new Christian offerings: instead of oil offerings now they offer peace; instead of animal sacrifices they offer praise to God. Perfect sense.

We have this type of completion by the people of the Deacon’s call before the Symbol of Faith, when the Deacon invites the people, “Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess…” taken over by the people, crying, “…Father, Son and Holy Spirit…” Similarly, when during the Anaphora the celebrant prays, thanking God for accepting the Liturgy from his hands and not from the Angels who stand around “singing…the triumphal hymn…”, the people complete the prayer, singing the “Thrice Holy Hymn”: “Holy, Holy, Holy…” Another case comes after the elevation of the holy Gifts, with the singing of the people, “We praise You, we bless You…”, although others interpret it as an independent hymn.

St. Germanos text in Latin

Τhere is additional confirmation of the correctness of the Germanos text in its translation into Latin, which was made in 869-870 by Anastasios Bibliothecarios. Here it is, as displayed by Migne. There is no reason to render it into English, because it is precisely the same we used from Greek (except for “honeste” for “καλῶς”).

Diaconus: “Stemus honeste, stemus cum timore… Attendamus sanctae oblationi… In pace offerentes…”

Populus: “Oleum pacis, sacrificium laudis.”

But Meyendorff, following the same scholars, argues that the Latin text is also compromised with “interpolations,”10 which may be true in other sections of the commentary, but not with the passages under consideration, where we find a perfect correspondence between the two texts.

This text corroborates and consolidates my position that the reading I support is the correct one, because it is based on historical documents and it is the living tradition of the Church, not based on conjectures and hypotheses.

A stronger affirmation

We close with a stronger affirmation of our proposed text, coming from Archbishop Vasili (Krivoshein) († 1985). In our previous post we’ve quoted the following segment from his study11 in a different translation. His text continues with an additional sentence, which is very pertinent to our subject and elucidates further the expression under consideration and, we must add, corroborates our argument. After spending 22 years in St. Panteleimon Monastery in Mount Athos he witnessed that the Greeks continued to use ἔλαιον, and, in addition, he adds that by doing so “they remained faithful to the biblical text,” by which, we conjecture, he refers to the same biblical text we have used. This is what he adds:

It is important to note that among the Greeks, this “spiritualized” variant did not last; they remained faithful to the Biblical text while for Russians, the “mercy of peace” variant became one of the high points of the Liturgy for many people, and many great composers wrote settings for it, which increased its appeal for people who come to church to hear beautiful singing.

His brief study on the differences between Greek and Russian practices should serve as an answer to anyone interested in the subject.

  1. In the extensive bibliography contained in his Curriculum Vitae he lists this study as included in the book, Holy Scripture and the Ancient Word: Festschrift for Professor Ioannis Galanis, P. Pournaras publ. Thessalonica, 2011, which means that it was written sometime before the date of the book’s publication.
  2. “The first question, I think, to ask, when we have a phrase with two accusative nouns modified each by a noun in the genitive is this: why are they accusative. To put it another way, ‘What verb governs these accusatives?’” (https://orthodoxwitness.org/a-mercy-or-an-offering-of-peace)
  3. Useful is the entry, “Thank offering” in Wikipedia: “The thank offering (Hebrew: תֹּודָה, pronounced Todah) or sacrifice of thanksgiving (Hebrew zevakh hatodah זֶבַח הַתֹּודָה) was an optional offering under the Law of Moses. [1] This is also termed the ‘thanksgiving offering.’ [2]If he offer it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour, fried. ( Lev 7:12 KJV)

    The Hebrew noun todah ‘thanksgiving’ is derived from the Hiphil of the verb yadah (יָדָה) ‘to praise.’”

  4. “The Grain Offering was often an adjunct of another offering (cf. Exod. 29:38-46; Lev. 23:9ff.; Num. 6:13ff.; 7:13, 19, etc.; 8:8; 15:1-9). The 28th and 29th chapters of the Book of Numbers most dramatically demonstrate the association between the Grain and the other offerings. The Grain Offering was instructed by God to follow the Burnt Offering (Num. 28, cf. also Josh. 22:23, 29; Judg. 13:19, 23).” (bible.org)
  5. The Greek Text with Translation, Introduction and Commentary (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York 1984). The original and the translation he used are also found online.
  6. Nilo Borgia, “La Ἐξήγησις di S. Germano e la versione Latina di Anastasio Bibliotecario,” Roma e l’Oriente 2 (1911).
  7. The Liturgy of the Great Church: An Initial Synthesis of Structure and Interpretation on the Eve of Iconoclasm, Robert Taft, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 34/35 (1980/1981), pp. 45-75.
  8. R. Bornert, [Father René Bornert, O.S.B.] “Les commentaries byzantins de la divine liturgie du VIIe au XVe siècle” (=Archives de l’Orient chrétien 9) (Paris: Institut français d'études byzantines,, 1966 130-145.
  9. This reading is also supported by ΚΟΣΜΟΣ, the scientific journal of the Department of Pastoral and Social Theology of the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Greece.
  10. p. 12.
  11. Archbishop Vasily (Krivoshein), Some liturgical differences between Greek and Russian divine services and their significance (p. 646 in the original Russian). We use here the translation by Fr. Alvian Smirensky.

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