Tips for Visitors to a Divine Liturgy

April 30, 2010

I’ve written earlier how I was moved to start blogging after becoming a reader of a blog by another revert to the Orthodox Church by the name of Mark, who fell asleep in the Lord this past January. There’s a lot of good information up at his blog still worth reading. This, I believe, is one of his best articles.

H/T: Central Pennsylvania Orthodox

Ah, so you’re going to a Byzantine liturgy. In the spirit of Frederica Mathewes-Green’s 12 Things I Wish I’d Known (with which I cannot, alas, compete), here are a few things that will make your visit more fruitful, and perhaps, a bit less uncomfortable.

What you’ll experience is utterly unlike anything you’ve encountered, and in not one, but many ways. I was completely befuddled the first time I attended a Divine Liturgy (partly because every syllable was Greek, but only partly). I want to make your experience a bit less stressful.

"Let my prayer be incense before you; my uplifted hands an evening sacrifice." Psalm 141:2

Incense!

There is no such thing as a Byzantine service without incense. Not just a little incense as the Romans use (on the rare occasions there is incense at all), but a lot of incense. Clouds of incense. Literally. You will be censed multiple times. Every icon in the church will be censed multiple times. Incense, incense, incense. Incense during Matins. Incense during Vespers. Incense during the Divine Liturgy. Incense, incense, incense, and more incense. If it bothers you, you’d best rethink going.

Shoes!

The first thing you need to know is this: No matter how ratty they may be, wear your most comfortable shoes. Don’t dress like a slob, but nobody cares what shoes you wear, and the reason is, as Mrs. Mathewes-Green so wittingly put it, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus.”

In the Orthodox tradition, the faithful stand up for nearly the entire service. Really. In some Orthodox churches, there won’t even be any chairs, except a few scattered at the edges of the room for those who need them. Expect variation in practice: some churches, especially those that bought already-existing church buildings, will have well-used pews. In any case, if you find the amount of standing too challenging you’re welcome to take a seat. No one minds or probably even notices. Long-term standing gets easier with practice.

What she does not tell you in this section (although she does address it) is that our services last for hours. Literally. Matins lasts a bit over an hour, longer if you’re attending a parish where people go to Confession on Sunday mornings (we usually go to Confession on Saturday evenings after Great Vespers, and during Great Lent, before the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on Wednesday and Friday evenings), and Divine Liturgy will last a good hour and a half, and probably a bit longer, substantially longer if you’re attending on a Sunday during Great Lent when we use the Divine Liturgy of St Basil the Great. If you go at the beginning of Matins, you will be there for three hours, maybe a bit longer. (If it makes any difference, the Divine Liturgy begins when the priest chants, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and unto ages of ages” and the lights are turned on.)

If the church has pews and your feet are giving out, feel free to sit. If there are no pews in the church (my parish has no pews), there will be folding chairs, usually stacked against the walls. So if you go into the church and see those folding chairs, you may want to stand near the wall so you can grab one should you need it.

Because pews are a relatively recent Western innovation (most of those gothic cathedrals in Europe have no pews, or had them installed long after the cathedral was built) and never developed in the East, we have no pan-Orthodox rule on when you may sit, other than during the homily.

Kingdom of Heaven

Byzantine worship is wholly theocentric. When we step over the threshold into the church, we leave this world behind us. The church represents the Kingdom of Heaven, so you are literally surrounded by icons, icons of Christ, icons of the Theotokos (the Mother of God), icons of the saints.

We love litanies, but we have no “customized” litanies as the Roman Catholics do (that may be one of those things that was never even mentioned in Vatican II, but slipped in). You will never hear the priest or deacon praying for “social justice” or whatever the currently popular euphemism for world Marxist government may be. Our feelings are irrelevant in church. We are there to worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

To worship with us is to experience the timeless. There is a permeating, inescapable sense of ancient tradition, one that upon my initial encouter, left me shaken. We also rely far more on the Old Testament than do Western Christian traditions, not only for liturgical sources, but vestments and church architecture. There is nothing “modern” about Byzantine worship.

Why is everybody moving around?

Western and Eastern church behavior are wholly different. The church will list the times for Matins (Orthros) and the Divine Liturgy out front, which makes them seem like two distinct services, and they are, but one runs right into the other, with no break. So if you arrive at 10:20 for the Divine Liturgy at 10:30, you will not walk into a quiet church of people waiting for the liturgy to begin, but a church well into worship, somewhere toward the end of Matins.

This makes Westerners uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t. The faithful trickle in, starting before Matins to after the Divine Liturgy begins. Nobody will think you got there late.

Ah, the trickling in. After you arrive, you will notice that some people are standing and worshipping while those who come in are bowing, crossing themselves, lighting candles and placing them before icons, crossing themselves, bowing, and so forth as they go from icon to icon throughout the church, all while the worship service is going on. This is the way it’s done, and typically, those icons and stands of candles are up at the front of the church and not in the rear. As we enter the church, we perform our private devotions, and eventually, as you will see, we join the congregation in worship. The Western equivalent is how Roman Catholics will genuflect then kneel and pray, even when they arrive late, so it really is the same thing, but it does seem unsettling to many Western Christians. The general rule, by the way, is this: If the priest or deacon is in the nave, on this side of the iconostasis, do not go forward to venerate the icons; instead, wait until the priest and deacon are in the sanctuary, behind the iconostasis.

By the way, genuflection is unknown in Eastern Christianity. We cross ourselves or do metanias when we enter the church, or when we cross the center of the church, as Roman Catholics genuflect and cross themselves, and for the same reasons (you can’t see the tabernacle because it’s behind the iconostasis, but it’s there). But we don’t genuflect, not even during Great Lent, and that leads us to our next topic.

One thing that should relieve Protestants

We don’t kneel. Usually.

During Great Lent, however, we do prostrations, not as the Roman Catholics do them at ordinations, lie fully face down, but just as the Muslims do (where do you think Mohammed got it?) We kneel, place our hands down on the floor and touch our forehead to the floor between them. Feel no pressure to follow along. If you want to do something, feel free to bow or kneel.

Actually, I wouldn’t advise that you visit during the first week of Great Lent, at least not when we are chanting the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete. We do prostrations and immediately return to our feet approximately 120 times during one service, and it’s quite a workout. Your thighs will shake from weakess at the end. We do full prostrations during the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on Wednesdays and Fridays during Great Lent, but we stay down, and it’s not strenuous.

If you attend a Divine Liturgy on a weekday (except for the period between Pascha and Pentecost), we do full prostrations during the Lord’s Prayer, after the Epiklesis (“Again we offer unto Thee this reasonable and bloodless worship, and we ask Thee, and pray Thee, and supplicate Thee: Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered. And make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ. Amen. And that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ. Amen. Making the change by the Holy Spirit. Amen, Amen, Amen”)  and during the Communion Prayer (“I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God …”)

What do I do?

Protestants always wonder what they should do at a Roman Catholic Mass, and the same ten times over at an Orthodox liturgy. Roman Catholics also wonder what they should do at an Orthodox or Eastern Rite liturgy. Relax. Assuming you’re in the United States, if you look around, you will notice that people aren’t doing the same things at the same times, something Roman Catholics find unsettling.

Different traditions have developed similar, but slightly different customs, and except in larger cities where there are large enough ethnic communities to support several churches, American parishes tend to be pan-ethnic, and therefore, pan-tradition. Those from a Greek Orthodox background won’t necessarily be doing exactly the same thing at the same time as those from a Carpatho-Russian background, and they in turn won’t necessarily be doing the same thing at the same time as those from a Russian background, and so it goes.

If you’re a stickler, we cross ourselves from right to left (push, not pull), often three times (although that differs from tradition to tradition), and always with the thumb and first two fingers touching (for the Three Persons of the Trinity), and the two remaining fingers touching the palm (for the Two Natures of Christ, touching the palm to represent Christ descending to Earth). Nobody, however, is going to inspect to make sure your fingers are in the right places. Again, relax. We cross ourselves far, far more than do Roman Catholics.

If you’re Roman Catholic or Anglican and you cross yourself from left to right, nobody cares, and chances are nobody will even notice. Uniformity just doesn’t exist in Byzantine Christianity as it does in the West. We are glad to have you worship with us, no matter what your background, and nobody is there to catch you doing something “wrong.” If you choose to stand and just take it in, that’s fine. If you want to participate as best you can, that’s fine, too, as long as you know beforehand that not all parishes have service books (most do, but not all). In my experience, most Orthodox service books aren’t as complete as they could be, often using abbreviations (I suspect they are more for visiting Orthodox from different traditions because we all use different translations, more than you). If it’s only your first or second time, I would suggest that instead of trying to follow along, you listen and pray (more about that below).

What is this, a gym?

Byzantine worship is more “physical” than Western liturgical traditions. In addition to crossing ourselves many, many times, and the full prostrations mentioned above, we perform bows and the metania.

The metania is when we cross ourselves, then bow at the waist and let our right hand drop so that our fingers brush the ground, then rise. Metanias are more frequent in Russian custom than Greek (remember the discussion about differing customs): Those from a Byzantine tradition church (Greek and Antiochian Orthodox) will typically cross themselves before reverencing an icon, while those from a Slavic tradition church (OCA, ROCOR, Carpatho-Russian, Ukranian, etc.) will typically perform the metania, two before reverencing the icon, and one after, or even perform full prostrations, but even that isn’t entirely uniform, and there are differences within those two broad groups. One place, however, where the metania is near universal is during the call to worship, and is performed at every verse:

+O come let us worship God our King!
+O come let us worship and fall down before Christ our King and our God!
+O Come let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself our King and our God!

The metania is also done at the Trisagion (“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us”), at every recitation of “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, glory to Thee, O God,” and “Blessed art Thou O Lord, teach me Thy statutes.” It is also done on Sundays when a full prostration would be done on a weekday Liturgy, such as during the Lord’s Prayer, the Epiklesis, and the Communion Prayer.

We bow (incline our heads and bend forward) when we are censed, when we are blessed by the priest, and when the priest bows to us asking our forgiveness. Like Roman Catholics, we cross ourselves at every mention of the Three Persons of the Trinity. One place where we do not cross ourselves is when the priest makes the Sign of the Cross over us.

That filioque clause!

If you’re Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Lutheran, that is, a Westerner who is familiar with the Nicene Creed, you absolutely need to know this: We say “who proceeds from the Father,” and emphatically not, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The “and the Son” is the filioque clause (Latin for “and the Son”), inserted hundreds of years after the First Nicene Council, and is a particular bone of contention between East and West. Or perhaps I should say the West doesn’t consider it an issue, but the East takes it very seriously. To make it even more confusing, some Eastern Rite churches (all in communion with Rome) insert it, while others do not. No Orthodox church, however, inserts it, so if you say it, you’ll be the only person in the church saying it (our parish chants the Creed).

If it makes you feel any better, because different traditions use different translations, even we are tripped up from time to time (just not on that one little clause). I still fall into the translation used by my home Antiochian parish and “goof” in my OCA parish here. No big deal.

While we’re on those things that you could be saying all by yourself accidentally, like Roman Catholics, we pray the Lord’s Prayer only up to the Doxology, which the priest chants alone. Debts, debtors, trespasses, trespass against us? It depends on the parish and what translation they use.

Music?

Byzantine Christianity has no hymnology as it developed in the West; there aren’t even Christmas carols on Christmas. We do have hymns, but specific hymns appear at specific places, that is, they are prescribed by the Church, and cannot be “chosen” by the choir director.

In most parishes, everything is chanted. Different parishes have different musical traditions, and different levels of participation. Greek and Antiochian churches (Byzantine tradition) typically say the Creed and Lord’s Prayer, while OCA, Carpatho-Russian, ROCOR, and other Slavic tradition churches chant them, but there are exceptions. If you go to a Slavic church (that includes the OCA), there will surely be a choir, and the polyphonic music will sound familiar to your Western ears. If you go to a Greek church, there may only be a chanter or two, and the chant will sound exotic (even more so if you go to an Antiochian parish that uses Syrian chant). In my OCA parish, Slavic, but still a typical Heinz 57 American parish, you hear chanters and Byzantine chant during Matins up to the very end, The Great Doxology, when the choir takes over, and the music becomes (mostly) Slavic.

Because Slavic chant is so accessible to Western ears, it has spread beyond Slavic parishes, and in an American parish, even in an Antiochian parish, you’re likely to encounter it.

Although there are a few Orthodox churches that introduced organs, instrumental music is a Western innovation. Expect everything to be a cappella.

Holy Communion

If you aren’t Orthodox, please do not approach for Holy Communion. If you are Orthodox, but unknown to the priest, please do not approach for Holy Communion (then, if you’re Orthodox, you already know that).

Eastern Christianity has no “impersonal” Sacraments, as have developed in the West. We have no confessionals, but confess next to the priest at the front of the church (yes, in front of everybody else). A chanter will be chanting the Psalms during confessions, so nothing is overheard. When we commune, the priest addresses us by our Christian name, “The servant/handmaiden of God, NAME” as he does when he absolves us. Holy Communion is intensely personal, and contrasts starkly with the “assembly line” Eucharist in large, Western churches.

Eastern priests, whether Orthodox or Eastern Rite, are guardians of the Chalice. Roman Catholic priests are, at least traditionally, but because of the huge sizes of parishes and the impersonal nature of the Sacrament, cannot fulfill that role as Eastern priests do. If you go to Holy Communion and the priest has no idea who you are, he is likely to bless you, and allow you to kiss the foot of the Chalice, but is very unlikely to give you Holy Communion. That’s why at the beginning I said not to go to Holy Communion in a strange parish without speaking first to the priest.

You may be startled to see parents with infants in their arms in the line, and even more startled to see that the priest communes the infants. We practice full-immersion infant baptism, and immediately after baptism, the child is chrismated (confirmed). All baptized and chrismated Orthodox (or in the case of Eastern Rite, Catholics) may commune, including infants, and baptism is a child’s First Communion.

If you are Roman Catholic and attending an Eastern Rite liturgy, you may commune, but please introduce yourself to the priest first, and if you’ve never communed in a Byzantine church before, do your homework first. It is definitely very different from communing in a Roman Catholic parish.

We tend to commune less frequently than Western Christians, although people are communing more frequently than they used to, largely due to the large number of converts from Western Christian traditions (in our parish on any given Sunday, I’d approximate that about half commune). Still, not communing is less likely to make you feel “left out” than it might in a Roman Catholic or Anglican service.

Let us complete our prayer unto the Lord . . .

The end is near? Don’t you believe it! The liturgy will continue about fifteen minutes after Holy Communion, longer in a Greek parish where the custom is for the homily to be at the end, rather than after the Gospel. At the end, we go to the front to kiss the cross (on the feet of Christ) and take the priest’s blessing, and you will notice people taking a bit of bread. This is the antidoron, not the Body of Christ (although it is blessed, and is cut from the same loaf), and everyone is welcome to a piece of blessed bread. If you are uncomfortable and do not want to approach the priest at the end, that’s fine, and you may find that the person standing next to you brings you back a piece of bread. Just know that you are as welcome as anyone to receive the priest’s blessing and take a piece of bread.

We use leavened bread to symbolize the risen Christ.

The end, especially for Protestants

Like the Roman Catholics, we never developed the practice of the priest standing at the door greeting people as they left (although I do think it’s an excellent custom, and at the end, the priest will often speak briefly to each parishioner). Because we fast from sundown on Saturday until Holy Communion (or are supposed to), many parishes meet somewhere near, often in the basement or a parish hall, and break the fast after the liturgy, or at least have their first coffee of the day (better get in line as soon as you get there, because the coffee goes fast). Many Protestants do the same. Please feel free to join us. And I’m not directing the invitation especially to Protestants. That referred to the clergyman greeting people as they left the church.

Lex orandi, lex credendi

Literally, “The law of prayer [is the] law of belief,” loosely translated, it means “As we pray, so we believe.” It is, if anything, even more fundamentally true of Byzantine worship than even Roman Catholic or Anglican (although the same principle applies there). When we worship, we are expressing the fullness of our faith.

There are thousands of Orthodox theologians, from the Church Fathers to Fathers Lossky and Schmemman, and if you’re curious, you could spend the rest of your life reading treatises on theology. But here’s the thing: You don’t have to.

Instead of focusing on all of the strangeness and difference going on around you, listen. Pay close attention to what is being chanted. You can worship with us without bowing and crossing yourself constantly by listening and praying with us. And if you listen, you don’t have to ask us what we believe. You are hearing it.

And please come back!

Example of translation differences. The communion prayer from the Divine Liturgy.

Antiochian:
OCA:
I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. And I believe that this is truly Thine own immaculate Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Wherefore I pray Thee, have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance; and make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thine immaculate Mysteries, unto remission of my sins and unto life everlasting. Amen I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. I believe also that this is truly Thine own pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Therefore I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance. And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of my sins, and unto life everlasting. Amen.
Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant, for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom. Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord in Thy Kingdom. Amen.
Not unto judgment nor unto condemnation be my partaking of Thy Holy Mysteries, O Lord, but unto the healing of soul and body. May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body. Amen.

Bless the Lord, O My Soul!

April 29, 2010

Psalm 103 as sung at at All-Night Vigil, in Church Slavonic:


Do the Old Testament Saints Receive a Heavenly Reward?

April 28, 2010

People often ask me how to respond to the Jehovah’s Witness’ teaching that only 144,000 go to heaven. One way is to point out that Jesus said many Old Testament prophets would be in the heavenly kingdom:

Do the Old Testament Saints Receive a Heavenly Reward?

An examination of Watchtower interpretation

One of the unique teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses is their insistence that a total of only 144,000 people will enter the heavenly kingdom. Basing their interpretation on certain passages in the book of Revelation, they also teach that those who served God in pre-Christian times do not receive a heavenly reward. Instead, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Old Testament saints will inherit everlasting life in a “new earth.” The hope of 99 per cent of the 7.3 million Jehovah’s Witnesses today is not heavenly, but to also be in this new earth with these Old Testament servants of God.

This post will focus on this single issue: What about those who served God before the time of Christ? Do they have the hope of heaven? What do the Scriptures say?

Many Christians refer to Jesus’ words to a Gentile centurion who believed:

“But I tell you that many from eastern parts and western parts will come and recline at the table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens; whereas the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the darkness outside. There is where their weeping and gnashing of their teeth will be.” (Matthew 8:11,12)

On a different occasion, Jesus referred to this same scene when replying to the question, “Lord are those who are being saved few?” (Luke 13:23) As part of his reply, he again mentions the Jewish Patriarchs as part of the kingdom:

“There is where your weeping and the gnashing of your teeth will be, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown outside. Furthermore, people will come from eastern parts and western, and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:28,29)

Are there any reasons not to accept Jesus’ words at face value?

Figurative Patriarchs?

The Watch Tower Society teaches that  Jesus’ mention of the Jewish patriarchs in the heavenly kingdom is to be understood figuratively. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob become symbols of those who inhabit heaven. Pointing to Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice Isaac as foreshadowing Calvary, they say “Abraham” here stands for Jehovah God and “Isaac” stands for His Son, Jesus Christ. “Jacob” was the patriarch who was renamed “Israel,” so the Watch Tower Society says “Jacob” here stands for “spiritual Israel,” their “144,000 heavenly class.”

The March 15, 1990 Watchtower, page 31, restates this interpretation:

“But the little flock of spirit-begotten humans receiving that reward could be compared to Jacob reclining at a table in heaven with Jehovah (the Greater Abraham) and his Son (pictured by Isaac).”

The Watch Tower publication The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived gives a similar interpretation in chapter 36: “An Army Officer’s Great Faith.” It says:

“Abraham, Isaac and Jacob represent God’s Kingdom arrangement. Thus Jesus is relating how Gentiles will be welcomed to recline at the heavenly table, as it were, ‘in the kingdom of the heavens.’”

There are a few problems with the Watch Tower Society’s explanation of Jesus’ words.

If Abraham (Jehovah), Isaac (Jesus) and Jacob (the 144,000) are the only ones supposed to inhabit heaven, then who are the “many from eastern parts and western parts” who “reclining at the table with” them in the heavenly kingdom? (Matthew 8:11)

In context, Jesus was commending the Gentile centurion’s faith by stating that many Gentiles would be in the heavenly kingdom, while the “sons of the kingdom” (the religious leaders of Jesus’ day) would not make it into the kingdom.  Adding these “many from the East and West” to “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” would be many more humans in heaven than just 144,000!

In addition, the Watchtower interpretation would destroy the irony implied in Jesus’ words. If you take his words at face value, Jesus is saying that Gentile believers are going to be with the Jewish Patriarchs in heaven instead of the contemporary Jewish religious leaders. Those would be shocking words to his listeners!

Greater problems are encountered with Jesus’ words from St. Luke. He again speaks of “people from eastern parts and western, and from north and south” reclining “at the table in the kingdom.” However, Jesus adds another group besides the famous Jewish Patriarchs: “…when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown outside.”

If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are figurative, who do “all the prophets” represent?

It is apparent this heavenly scene includes the men and women of the great “hall of faith” in Hebrews chapter 11. Undoubtedly, Jesus was saying that all the great personages in the Old Testament were going to be joined by Gentile believers in the heavenly kingdom.

St. Paul said of these men and women of faith:

“These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents in the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been remembering that land they came from, they would have had opportunity to return. But they now aspire to a better land—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16; compare Hebrews 11:8-10;  Hebrews 12:22, 23 and 13:14.)

In conclusion: the Watch Tower Society’s interpretation of these passages ignores the context and also leaves unexplained the other participants of the heavenly banquet: “those from east and west” and “all the prophets.”

The icon for Christ's resurrection shows Christ raising Old Testament personages from Hades demonstrating Christ's triumph over Death

Some Objections Considered:

But, John 3:13 says “no man has ascended into heaven”!

Jesus was not contradicting what he said at Matthew 8:11 and Luke 13:28, 29. His description of the Jewish Patriarchs in heaven is future, for he said: “many will come and recline…”

According to Matthew 11:11 John the Baptist will not be in the heavenly kingdom.

Jesus’ words here are:

“Among those born of women there has not been raised up a greater than John the Baptist; but a person that is a lesser one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is.” (Matthew 11:11)

Notice that Jesus is speaking in the present tense. He is not speaking of John the Baptist’s final position. He is speaking about blessings that those who joined themselves to Jesus enjoyed.

While Scripture often refers to the Kingdom as a future event, it is also spoken of as a present reality. (Compare Colossians 1:13 where it says God has “transferred” [past tense] Christians into the Kingdom. See also Matthew 12:28; Mark 10:15; Luke 17:20, 21.)

John himself explained that others would have greater blessings, identifying himself as the friend of Christ the bridegroom:

I am not the Messiah. I have been sent as his forerunner. It is the bridegroom who marries the bride. The bridegroom’s friend, who stands by and listens to him, is overjoyed at hearing the bridegroom’s voice. This is my joy and now it is complete. He must grow greater; I must become less. (John 3:28-30)

Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom. John the Baptist had no part in that, except to introduce Jesus. So those who were following Jesus (and thus be in the Kingdom) would be greater (more privileged) than John, who preceded and prepared the way for Jesus. This verse says nothing about John the Baptist’s final destiny.

But, why can people who lived before Christ get to go to heaven when the ransom price had not been paid?

The Death of Christ is both an event in time and eternal. Revelation 13:8 speaks of “the Lamb who was slaughtered from the founding of the world.” Christ’s death happened once in time but its meaning for mankind is timeless. From man’s perspective he died nearly 2,000 years ago but from the heavenly perspective it’s an eternal event. That is why St. Paul could compare Abraham’s being made righteous (justified) with the justification of the first-century Christians.  (Galatians 3:7-9) If God wants to reward the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets with heavenly life, who are we to disagree?

Doesn’t Revelation 7:4-8 limit the number going to heaven to 144,000?

Jehovah’s Witnesses use those verses to limit the number going to heaven to 144,000. There are two chapters in the book of Revelation which mention the number 144,000. The first is Revelation chapter 7. Strictly speaking, there is no “vision” of the 144,000 in that chapter. John “heard” the number of those being “sealed,” 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. The first few verses of Revelation chapter 7 indicate these 144,000 are being “sealed” before destructive winds (symbolizing a time of trouble.) In the next few verses (Revelation 7:9-17), John “saw” an unnumbered “great crowd,” which is said to be “before the throne,” in verse 9, having survived a “great tribulation.”

The Watch Tower Society insists the number 144,000 is literal but at the same time they say the numbers 12 and 12,000 (12,000 from 12 tribes) are figurative. Christians have traditionally interpreted all these numbers as symbolic. Later on in the book of Revelation we see the numbers again symbolically used: “12,000 furlongs” and “144 cubits.” (Revelation 21:16, 17)

The number 144,000 which John heard in the first part of Revelation chapter 7 is the spiritual Israel of God being “sealed” here on earth before what is called a great tribulation.  Before the tribulation they are symbolized as the new spiritual Israel. After the tribulation they are seen in glory as an unnumbered multitude from all nations. (Compare Revelation 5:5, 6 where John hears of the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” and then turns and sees the “Lamb who has been slain.”)

Revelation 14:3 mentions the 144,000 again and places them “before the throne” just as the “great crowd” of Revelation chapter 7 are “before the throne.”  Revelation 19:1 speaks of  the “great crowd” as being in heaven.

What about the “new earth”? Who’s going to be on the “new earth”?

Scripture is very plain that there will be both a new heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21:1-4) The fact that Jesus placed the Jewish Patriarchs and prophets in the heavenly kingdom does not contradict this fact.

The Bible is also clear there is only “one hope” for Christians (Ephesians 4:4).  The latter part of Revelation symbolically describes what is called “the final state,” a future time where God will fill the earth with His divine presence.

This is symbolically described as the New Jerusalem descending from heaven to the earth. (Revelation 21:1-4; Revelation 22:1-3) In this “final state” all the redeemed are shown as having access to the New Jerusalem. Those who are outside the City are said to be cursed:

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.” (Revelation 22:14, 15)

So you are either in or you’re out—and if you’re out you’re lost.

Jesus prayed that those who would believe through the preaching of the Apostles would be with him:

“I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their message….I desire those you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they shall see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the world’s foundation.” (John 17:20, 24)

The hope of the Christian is to be with Jesus Christ wherever he is!

For further reading:

Is Your Hope Bible-Based? Questions and Reflections for Jehovah’s Witnesses

Christ is Risen From the Dead!

The Orthodox Faith by Fr. Thomas Hopko. Included is this description of the “final state”:

Following the Scriptures, Orthodox Christians believe in the goodness of the human body and of all material and physical creation. Thus, in its faith in resurrection and eternal life, the Orthodox Church looks not to some “other world” for salvation, but to this very world so loved by God, resurrected and glorified by Him, tilled with His own divine presence….When the Kingdom of God fills all creation, all things will be made new. This world will again be that paradise for which it was originally created. This is the Orthodox doctrine of the final fate of man and his universe.


Divine Liturgy from Montreal

April 27, 2010

For you Francophones — but there’s some English (and Arabic, too!)

Part of the focus of this blog is information about Orthodoxy in French, so here is a documentary highlighting the Divine Liturgy from St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

If you only speak English, hang in there. The introduction is exclusively French, but once the Liturgy begins (about 5 minutes in) that changes. This is a tri-lingual parish. Actually, there’s also a smattering of Greek also:


The Repeated Invocations

April 25, 2010

My first exposure to the Divine Liturgy was a rather abbreviated version, minus many of the traditional litanies. Later, I started attending a Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic parish that celebrated a somewhat fuller version of the Liturgy. I well remember when our parish was to have Fr. Peter Knowles, a Russian Byzantine Catholic monk of blessed memory from Australia, celebrate the Divine Liturgy in Old Church Slavonic. Fr. Peter, a wonderful priest, prayed the WHOLE liturgy in Slavonic. Our cantors, who had been pining to sing Slavonic for many years, were taken aback by all the litanies he included. To be honest, so was I.

It was actually some comments by Pope John Paul II that helped me re-think my resistance to litanies.

Within this framework, liturgical prayer in the East shows a great aptitude for involving the human person in his or her totality: the mystery is sung in the loftiness of its content, but also in the warmth of the sentiments it awakens in the heart of redeemed humanity. In the sacred act, even bodiliness is summoned to praise, and beauty, which in the East is one of the best loved names expressing the divine harmony and the model of humanity transfigured, appears everywhere: in the shape of the church, in the sounds, in the colors, in the lights, in the scents. The lengthy duration of the celebrations, the repeated invocations, everything expresses gradual identification with the mystery celebrated with one’s whole person. Thus the prayer of the Church already becomes participation in the heavenly liturgy, an anticipation of the final beatitude.

Still, I was locked into the “church should not last more than an hour” syndrome. As I’d visit various other parishes, some Eastern Catholic and some Orthodox, I’d see a variety of practices regarding taking litanies. Some take less than others. Generally speaking, Orthodox Liturgies (and litanies) were on the longer side. Whenever I’d encounter the “repeated invocations,” I’d chafe. I remember once being at a Sunday Liturgy at Holy Resurrection Byzantine Catholic Monastery (when it was near Barstow, California) and looking at my watch to check on how long Liturgy had been going on. I’d have similar anxiety visiting most Orthodox parishes.

Even though I struggled with the idea of a longer service, I was dismayed with some of the revisions of the Divine Liturgy in the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church. While some of the revisions have merit, the spirit of abbreviation permeates the Ruthenian Revised Divine Liturgy. The revisers mandated some litanies to be truncated or eliminated — they cannot even be sung by a parish that has a greater tolerance for a longer Liturgy. The “Little Litany” (integral in all Byzantine Orthodox celebrations) has almost disappeared from the liturgical life of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church. Beyond that, some litanies are made optional which often means in the parish setting they fall into disuse. (One of my greater concerns with Byzantine Catholic abbreviations is the use of pre-cut prosphora in many parishes, which saves a lot of time for the priest before Liturgy but destroys the rich symbolism of the one communion loaf. But, that’s a story I’ll save for a future post.)

When I began attending Liturgy at an Orthodox parish this past September, I had to deal with a longer service. Our parish’s Divine Liturgy goes about 75-85  minutes, depending on the homily. We also include the Litany of the Catechumens and conclude with the Prayers of  Thanksgiving after Communion (most stay for that, but some go set up the coffee hour then).

Initially, this required an adjustment on my part. On a recent Sunday, however, the wisdom of the repeated invocations was made plain to me. Perhaps I’m mellowing in my old age. Or, maybe I’m beginning to understand what John Paul was getting at in the passage cited above. In the morning rush to get to Liturgy, I had arrived just minutes before the service began. I venerated the festal icons, I lit my candles and settled in my place just as Father began “Blessed is the Kingdom…” This day, however, the “repeated invocations” made sense:

I needed that time to center myself into the mystery being celebrated and the call to prayer.

As I heard and sang response to what is called the “Little Litany”:

Priest: In peace let us again pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: Help us, save us, have mercy upon us, and protect us, O God, by Your grace.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commit ourselves and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.

People: To You, O Lord.

I no longer chafed. I understood what Jason Barker at Ancient Faith Radio said about such litanies: “rather than being redundant they instead serve a wonderful purpose: drawing us closer to God, and to each other.”

This “repeated invocation” from the Little Litany sums up the essence of what I consider true spirituality:

It’s not me. It’s God and His grace.

We also remember and honor the Theotokos, and with all the saints we “commit ourselves and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.”

That’s enough for this sinner.


Fr. Touze and Roman Miopia

April 25, 2010

I blogged on  Fr. Touze’s unfortunate remarks a few weeks ago. I plan on addressing this in more detail in the near future but wanted to share these thought-provoking comments by Fr. Titus Fulcher:

Fr. Touze and Roman Miopia

By Fr. Titus Fulcher

H/T: Byzantine Ramblings

From Rorate Caeli and also Josephus at Byzantine, Texas comes the most astounding interview from Zenit to be published in decades. The piece in question is an interview entitled “Married Priests Will Always Be an Exception: Interview With Theologian on the Foundations of Celibacy“. Before reading my comments, I would urge you to read the entire interview. Below are highlights only.

ROME, MARCH 9, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Married priests are an exception and the Church is increasingly convinced that they must remain so, according to a spiritual theology professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

Father Laurent Touze explained the foundations of priestly celibacy when he spoke at a two-day conference held last week at Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. The conference, “Priestly Celibacy: Theology and Life,” was sponsored by the Congregation for the Clergy as an event for the Year for Priests.

ZENIT: Why, then, are exceptions made?

Father Touze: Historically because there has been a manipulation of texts and I believe a bad translation that the Eastern Church, which has separated from Rome and has recognized that what they had declared contrary to tradition, could be accepted. In this connection there truly are some exceptions. The Church discovered that she had the possibility of admitting exceptions but that these should be understood as such. Respectably, as the Second Vatican Council stressed, there are very holy married priests in the Eastern Catholic Churches who have contributed much to the history of the Church and to the faith in times of persecution, but they are truly exceptions and must be understood as such.

To this should be added the quote from Fr Touze noted at Overheard in the Sacristy,

Prof. Laurent Touze – Pontifical University of the Holy Cross
“During the time of the early Church all priests, deacons and bishops had to practice celibacy from the minute they were ordained.”

It is obvious that Father Professor Touze is a terminal victim of scholasticitis. This disease, widespread for centuries in the West and recently thought to be in decline, begins with a defective understanding of “original sin” as an ontological state of being passed on through procreation. Rather than explicitly respecting the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church that the effect of original sin is death, and thus endemic to humanity, scholasticitis views Original Sin as a guilt passed on via the very act of sexual intercourse – even between spouses – and thus somewhat sinful and thus to be avoided. Hence the movement in the West towards a celibate clergy historically had as much to do ensuring the ‘purity’ of the celebrant at the Liturgy as the commonly referenced prevention of property disputes raised by the progeny of the presbyterate.

Through the miopia of scolaticitis the in persona christi view of the priest at Mass confuses the role of the priest as the president of the community (an essential part in Greek of the etymology of the term “presbyter”), with a somewhat magical ontological identification of the priest with our Lord offering Himself for the life of the world. This is clearly seen in the scholastic obsession that the recitation of the “Words of Institution” are the the identifiable moment and necessary element to confect the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This accounts for the absence of the Epiklesis in the Roman Canon. (Check the nicely informative article at Wikipedia on Epiclesis.)

On this count alone, Rome has had significant difficulties in recent years when accepting into communion various ancient Churches of the East whose Liturgy never featured the Words of Institution at all. Indeed, it has led to elaborate and imaginative explanations as to how these ancient rites claiming Apostolic origin, could still be found valid in the scholasticized context without the essential ingredient.

The Byzantine Tradition has always held the original position on both the Eucharist and the question of clerical celibacy. Regarding the Eucharist, it is the Epiklesis – the calling down of the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ – that effects the change in substance. In this view, the priest or bishop acts as president or overseer of the gathered Church, with the spiritual authority and power to effectively call on the Holy Spirit for this change, the spiritual authority being guaranteed by the Apostolic Sucession of the bishop and adherence to the Gospel Tradition handed down from the Apostles.

As the result of Original Sin (or more precisely Ancestral Sin) is the corruption and death now rampant in creation, Holy Baptism and Chrismation make each Christian capable of achieving repentant growth in the Likeness of God, and Ordination grants the permission through orthodox teaching and Tradition in the Apostolic Succession for the cleric to lead the people in the Eucharistic celebration. That is the extent of the liturgia – the public work, the work of the people – in the participation of clergy and laity in the Divine Liturgy. It is the Holy Spirit who brings Christ to us through our thanksgiving and anamnesis (remembering) His Self-offering for us to God the Father. Therefore, purity from sexual intercourse is not such a central necessity as the Scholastictic Roman doctrine would have us believe.

True, married clergy abstain from sexual relations with their wives on the eve of the weekly celebration of the Divine Mysteries. However, this is part of the fasting and preparation for the reception of the supreme and highest Gift of God to humanity in the Body and Blood of Christ, not because sexual intercourse compromises the purity of the celebrant and therefore risks the efficacy of the Holy Body and Blood..

In the 2005 Extraordinary Synod on the Eucharist, held at the Vatican, the conflict between the Byzantine historic Tradition and understanding of the Eucharist and priestly celibacy versus the Roman Scolasticitis saw a brief and reportedly heated exchange between Melkite Patriarch Gregory III Laham and Italian Cardinal Angelo Schola of Venice. As noted by Amy Welborn, amongst many at the time, reported:

According to priests who briefed reporters on the synod proceedings in several languages on Tuesday, the debate produced a coarse exchange late Monday between Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, the general relator of the synod, and Melkite Patriarch Gregoire III Laham.

“Celibacy has no theological foundation” in the priesthood, Laham said, responding to an opening speech by Scola that cited “profound theological motives” for not allowing married men to enter the priesthood.

“In the Eastern Church married priests are admitted,” Laham said, adding that “marriage is a symbol of union between Christ and the church.”

Responding to Laham, Scola asserted that “in the Latin church theological reasons exist” for maintaining the policy on celibacy. He did not elaborate on those reasons. He then added, “The synod is a place to explore the Mystery, not to give directions on its use.”

In reality, the Cardinal knew he didn’t have a theological foundation to stand on. The history of the issue of clerical celibacy can be easily traced by anyone who wants to take the time to review the history of the canons, starting with the complete collection in the Rudder and equally reviewing the various canons in the West up through the time clerical celibacy was universally invoked.

Foolish comments like those of Father Professor Touze are an embarrassment and irresponsible. Such views will not only reduce any forward movement towards reconciliation with the Orthodox, but will reinforce the sense of estrangement felt by Eastern Catholics who repeatedly have to argue for their own Tradition’s ‘rights’ in the Church.

Let us pray that Fr Touze and those like him retire to happy and peaceful pursuits, like moth collecting.


When Prophecy Fails — The 1975 Fiasco Viewed from Inside Bethel

April 23, 2010

Watchtower publications teach that those who reject the message preached by Jehovah's Witnesses will be destroyed at Armageddon

This is the third article in this series:

Part 1 Part 2

The excitement for the 6,000 year chronology ending in 1975 and the idea that Armageddon, followed by the Millennium, would begin about then captured the hopes and visions of almost all Witnesses. Viewed 35 years later, it is incredulous that so many of us put our lives on hold for such a non-event as 1975 turned out to be. I explained in the first part of this series how the date was introduced to Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1966 with the publication of the book Life Everlasting — In Freedom of the Sons of God. When nothing happened in 1975, Watchtower leaders were ready with an explanation. The July 11, 1977 issue of  Time magazine contained an interview with Frederick W. Franz (who had been Vice-President of the Watchtower Society during the build up of the excitement for 1975). It accurately explains how the disappointment was first explained:

By 1968, the sect’s magazine, Awake!, was proclaiming a new date for Armageddon: “Today we have the evidence required, all of it. And it is overwhelming! All the many, many parts of the great sign of the ‘last days’ are here, together with verifying Bible chronology.” That complex chronology ran like this: Adam was created in the autumn of 4026 B.C., which meant that 6,000 years of human existence would end in late 1975. The 6,000 years would be followed by the Millennium, 1,000 years of “Sabbathlike rest,” just as God rested after six days of Creation and established the Sabbath.

Asked about 1975, Franz now says that the 6,000-year chronology is correct, but the seventh day of Creation did not begin until Eve was created. Thus the date for the End has to be extended by the amount of time between the advent of Adam and of Eve—an interval not yet revealed (previous Witness publications had stated that Adam and Eve were created in the same year).

It’s comical to the point of absurd now to think of it, but this interval between the time of the creation of Adam and Eve became a big deal for us. It was used by Watchtower leaders as a way to hold onto the 6,000 year chronology and an imminent Armageddon, while allowing some “wiggle room” as the months and years ebbed by after 1975. (Nowadays, there is little mention of the 6,000 year chronology in Watchtower publications, let alone concern about the passage of time between Adam and Eve’s creation. I doubt any JWs really believe Adam was alone in the Garden of Eden for over 35 years before he met Eve!)

We started hearing about the “Adam and Eve” problem in early 1975. Early that year, Watchtower president Nathan H. Knorr and Vice-President Fred Franz did a series of lectures to Witnesses around the world. Fred Franz’s lecture was simply entitled “What is the Significance of 1975?” and was delivered in several cities to Witnesses in special assemblies.  While he broached the Adam-Eve gap in his lectures, he remained very upbeat about Armageddon’s nearness. His nephew, Raymond Franz (who later left the religion), describes his uncle’s speech in his masterful memoir Crisis of Conscience:

In his talk, the vice president spoke of 1975 as a “year of great possibilities, tremendous probabilities.” He told his audience that, according to the Hebrew calendar, they were “already in the fifth lunar month of 1975,” with less than seven lunar months remaining. He emphasized several times that the Hebrew year would close with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, on September 5, 1975. Acknowledging that much would have to happen in that short time if the final windup was to come by then, he went on to talk about the possibility of a year or so difference due to some lapse of time between Adam’s creation and Eve’s creation. He made reference to the failure of expectations in 1914 and 1925 and quoted [Joseph F.] Rutherford’s remark, “I made an ass of myself.” He said that the organization had learned not to make “very bold, extreme predictions.” Toward the close, he urged his listeners not to take an improper view, however, and assume that the coming destruction could be “years away,” and focus their attention on other matters, such as getting married and raising families, building up a fine business venture or spending years at college in some engineering course. (page 249)

The Towers Hotel was bought in 1975 to house more Bethel workers at Watchtower headquarters

Even if we weren’t making plans for our own future, the Watchtower Society was thoroughly busy with its own plans. In early 1975 the Watchtower Society bought the Towers Hotel at 25 Clark St., which about doubled the living space for the Bethel family.  A massive remodeling of the Towers building was begun that year with volunteer Witness labor and it was connected to the other Watchtower residence buildings on Columbia Heights via a tunnel under 86 Willow St. There were several non-Witness tenants who had been living in the Towers on a long-term basis who found themselves pressured to move out of the building to make way for future Bethelites who would come to help publish warnings about a near Armageddon and the upcoming Millennium. Their sad story is documented in Barbara Grizzuti Harrison’s Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pp. 136-138.

There had been, of course, some cautionary statements in Watchtower publications about the year 1975. Those were well known. About 1974, some specific back-pedaling about 1975 began. I took part in a District Convention presentation in 1974 in Pullman, Washington which cautioned Witnesses not to be dogmatic about 1975. But, those of us who took the religion seriously had no doubts regarding the essential concepts of  the 6,000 year chronology. Not one of my friends believed we’d be here in 2010, looking back 35 years and this old world still rockin’.

At the factory, when we started making the 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, we joked that its army-green cover was actually “Armageddon green.” The Bethel family first heard Vice President Fred Franz’s explanation of the “Adam and Eve” gap in March of 1975 at a lecture he gave for the graduation ceremonies for the Gilead missionary school. His lecture incorporated the points he had made earlier in his global tour mentioned above. As much as I believed in the 6,000 year chronology we then espoused, I thought Fred Franz’s lecture was “over the top.” He pinpointed September 5, 1975 as the exact end of the 6,000 years from Adam’s creation. I thought of all the uncertainties there had to be to begin with in biblical chronology, let alone determining the exact date of Adam’s creation. I remember I had laughed when I first heard of how Anglican Archbishop Ussher had determined that Adam was created on a Sunday, the early evening preceding October 23, 4004 BC. Here, Fred Franz was trying to do the same thing but using his chronology.  At least he wasn’t specific about the time of day! There were other Bethelites similarly troubled. A good friend of mine, borrowing from a line in the song “Maria” from The Sound of Music quipped: “Freddy makes me laugh.” The May 1, 1975 Watchtower reported on Fred Franz’s lecture:

Another speaker, F. W. Franz, the Society’s vice- president, forcefully impressed on the audience the urgency of the Christian preaching work. He stressed that, according to dependable Bible chronology, 6,000 years of human history will end this coming September according to the lunar calendar. This coincides with a time when “the human species [is] about to starve itself to death,” as well as its being faced with poisoning by pollution and destruction by nuclear weapons. Franz added: “There’s no basis for believing that mankind, faced with what it now faces, can exist for the seventh thousand-year period” under the present system of things.

Does this mean that we know exactly when God will destroy this old system and establish a new one? Franz showed that we do not, for we do not know how short was the time interval between Adam’s creation and the creation of Eve, at which point God’s rest day of seven thousand years began. (Heb. 4:3,4) But, he pointed out, “we should not think that this year of 1975 is of no significance to us,” for the Bible proves that Jehovah is “the greatest chronologist” and “we have the anchor date, 1914, marking the end of the Gentile Times.” So, he continued, “we are filled with anticipation for the near future, for our generation.”

This new uncertainty about the 1975 prediction was quickly noticed by the press. John Dart’s article,  “Jehovah’s Witnesses Backing Away from 1975 Forecast,” published by the Los Angeles Times, was picked up by several newspapers throughout the country. As can be imagined, Witnesses were poked fun at, such as this piece by an editorial writer for the Spokane, Washington Spokesman-Review, entitled “First the Good News”. A couple of the jabs:

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to the Los Angeles Times, once again last week postponed the end of the world. The stock market promptly plummeted 17 points….Reports were vigorously denied that the postponement had been caused by pressure from the television networks, who feared the event would conflict with Monday Night Football….Unfortunately, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have not publicly rescheduled the event. But the trial run has served to prepare the nation’s media.

Later, as September 5, 1975 passed by unnoticed by the world, newspapers carried articles from news services such as  “End of the World Delayed Again” , published September 21, 1975 in the Boca Raton News.

Many of us realized, though, that this “Adam-Eve” gap was nothing new. The February 1, 1955 Watchtower (pp. 93-95) had made the same points about this gap. In 1963, the Watchtower Society specifically referred to the unknown time between Adam and Eve’s creation on page 286 of All Scripture is Inspired of God and Beneficial. Referring to the 4026 B.C.E. date for Adam’s creation, that book asked:

Of what significance is this today? It means that by the fall of 1963 mankind has dwelt upon this earth 5,988 years. Does this mean, then, that by 1963 we had progressed 5,988 years into the ‘day’ on which Jehovah ‘has been resting from all his work’? (Gen. 2:3) No, for the creation of Adam does not correspond with the beginning of Jehovah’s rest day. Following Adam’s creation, and still within the sixth creative day, Jehovah appears to have been forming further animal and bird creations. Also, he had Adam name the animals, which would take some time, and he proceeded to create Eve. (Gen. 2:18-22; see also NW, 1953 Ed., footnote on Vs. 19) Whatever time elapsed between Adam’s creation and the end of the ‘sixth day’ must be subtracted from the 5,988 years in order to give the actual length of time from the beginning of the ‘seventh day’ until now. It does no good to use Bible chronology for speculating on dates that are still future in the stream of time.

We had begun “speculating on dates that are still future in the stream of time” 3 years later! Soon after, in 1968, a couple of years after the first mention of 1975 in Witness publications, the Watchtower Society changed any doubt about such a gap, stating that Adam and Eve were created in the same year — 4026 B.C.E. — and the difference between Adam and Eve’s creation was greatly minimized:

Thus, Adam’s naming of the animals and his realizing that he needed a counterpart would have occupied only a brief time after his creation. Since it was also Jehovah’s purpose for man to multiply and fill the earth, it is logical that he would create Eve soon after Adam, perhaps just a few weeks or months later in the same year, 4026 B.C.E. After her creation, God’s rest day, the seventh period,immediately followed. Therefore, God’s seventh day and the time man has been on earth apparently run parallel. To calculate where man is in the stream of time relative to God’s seventh day of 7,000 years, we need to determine how long a time has elapsed from the year of Adam and Eve’s creation in 4026 B.C.E. From the autumn of that year to the autumn of 1 B.C.E., there would be 4,025 years. From the autumn of 1 B.C.E. to the autumn of 1 C.E. is one year (there was no zero year). From the autumn of 1 C.E. to the autumn of 1967 is a total of 1,966 years. Adding 4,025 and 1 and 1,966, we get 5,992 years from the autumn of 4026 B.C.E. to the autumn of 1967. Thus, eight years remain to account for a full 6,000 years of the seventh day. Eight years from the autumn of 1967 would bring us to the autumn of 1975, fully 6,000 years into God’s seventh day, his rest day. (Watchtower May 1, 1968 p. 271)

Are we to assume from this study that the battle of Armageddon will be all over by the autumn of 1975, and the long-looked-for thousand-year reign of Christ will begin by then? Possibly, but we wait to see how closely the seventh thousand-year period of man’s existence coincides with the Sabbath-like thousand-year reign of Christ….It may involve only a difference of weeks or months, not years. (Watchtower, Aug. 15, 1968, p. 499)

Dropping uncertainties about biblical chronology and proclaiming 1975 as the end of 6,000 years of God’s “rest day” to be soon followed by the Millennium had helped to generate a tangible excitement about the nearness of Armageddon and had nearly doubled the number of Witnesses. Record numbers were being baptized and we were working day and night at the factory in Brooklyn to supply Witness evangelists with literature to distribute door-to-door. We were riding an emotional high of excitement full of confidence in our prophetic expectations. However, as the 6,000 year chronology became questionable, things began to unravel. I suppressed my dismay that we’d gone from an uncertainty about the significance of the 6,000 year chronology (the 1955 and 1963 statements) to certainty (the 1975 predictions based on Adam and Eve being created in the same year), back to uncertainty (the recycled ‘we don’t know when Eve was created, so our chronology is not exact’).

As the year 1975 progressed with no End in sight, suppressed doubts began to surface among many other Witnesses also. Was the End really so imminent? Many of us had said that the exact timing of the End was not important. We had dedicated our lives to Jehovah and we would continue in His Organization regardless. Still, we had made life choices based upon the Watchtower Society’s 1975 chronology. Some of us had passed up higher education. Others had missed business opportunities or used up assets because “the time left was short.” Some Witnesses had deferred marriage or having children. We clung to the idea that our chronology was only off due to the uncertainty between the timing of Adam and Eve’s creation. Maybe Armageddon would come next year. But, several of us Bethel brothers realized also that if the End was decades or more away, we would need to consider how to support a family after our four year Bethel commitment was over. Living in the present world became a reality that had to be faced. Without specialized training or education after high school would many of us be left with low-paying, menial-type jobs?

Next: Leaving Bethel (under preparation)

For further reading on the 1975 prediction:

M. James Penton’s Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pp. 91-101, esp. note 11 on p. 357.

1975 Quotes from JWFacts

1975 and the Watchtower Society

“Time In Which We Are Now Interested” (Lecture given in early 1975 by Fred Franz discussing its significance)

Answers to Questions about the “Last Days” (the Watchtower Society’s current explanation about 1975 — audio and text from the 2009 District Convention)

Reading Recommendations re: Jehovah’s Witnesses

My resignation letter from Jehovah’s Witnesses (1980)


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