Time to Live


How long? How short. So live each day the daily way, trusting in God above (Matt 6:11, 6:34).

Forgive, forget; release your debts (Matt 6:12), living in step with the Helper (Gal 5:22–26).

The Clock of Life
(Robert H. Smith)

The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.

To lose one’s wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one’s health is more,
To lose one’s soul is such a loss
That no man can restore.

The present only is our own,
So live, love, toil with a will,
Place no faith in “Tomorrow”
For the clock may then be still.


Not Burning Up—Being Purified

Feeling out of sorts? Stressed? Stretched to the limit?

You may be under fire. The Refiner’s fire. Not to be burned up, but to be purified.

The Silversmith
(Author unknown)

The woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver.

As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot then she thought again about the verse that says: “He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver” (Malachi 3:3). She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.

The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?”

He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s easy –when I see my image in it.”

If today you are feeling the heat of the fire, remember that God has His eye on you and will keep watching you until He sees His image in you.

Da Pacem, Domine (Give Peace, O Lord)

[This is a slight revision of a post from 3 years ago.]

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt had been commissioned to compose a work to be premiered at a peace concert in Barcelona on July 1, 2004. The piece, “Da Pacem Domine” (Give Peace, O Lord), was begun two days after the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings, in memoriam. It has been performed in Spain every year since.

The text of “Da Pacem Domine” has its origins as an antiphon circa 6th or 7th century (though, as the liner notes to Pärt’s 2005 release Lamentate and the 2009 In Principio state, this piece is based on 9th century Gregorian antiphon), a Christian hymn sourced from 2 Kings 20:19, 2 Chronicles 20:12,15 and Psalm 72:6-7. Prior to Pärt’s adaptation, it was apparently last used in Roman hymnals (and perhaps in the Church of England) in the late 1800s.

The vlogger below set this prayer of peace—as sung by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir & Paul Hillier—against a backdrop of soberingly haunting black and white war-themed images:

Da pacem, Domine,
in diebus nostris,
quia non est alius
qui pugnet pro nobis
nisi tu, Deus noster

Give peace, O Lord,
in our time,
for there is no other
who fights for us
but you, our God

Yet I offer this more broadly. To all in need of peace for any or a variety of reasons, may the Prince of Peace grant it to you faster than you can say “amen”.

Vengeance Is Not for Us, Rejoicing Is.

As the times grow ever more, uh, ‘challenging’, take time to reflect. Like medicine for the soul, reading and reflecting upon the Psalms can have a calming effect. It can be cathartic. I’m sure it was for David as he was writing at least some of his.

The Psalm for today is 58, one of David’s.1 Bear in mind “Sons of Men” here refers to kings, rulers, etc.

58:1 So you truly speak righteousness?

You judge properly, ‘Sons of Men’?

2 For even in your heart you practice lawlessness on the earth;

with your hands you weave unrighteousness.

3 Estranged are sinners from the womb,

astray from birth, they utter falsehoods,

4 their venom as that of a snake,

like a deaf cobra also plugging up its ears,

5 which hears not the sound of the charmer

or enticements invoked with skill.

6 God shall crush their teeth in their mouth;

The teeth of the ‘lions’, the Lord shall shatter.

7 They shall dissipate as water passing through.

He shall stretch His bow until they grow faint.

8 Like wax melted, they shall be taken away:

Fire rains upon them, and they cannot see the sun.

9 Before you fathom your thorns, the thorny bush as living,

as in wrath, it shall swallow you up.

10 The righteous shall rejoice upon seeing vengeance on the ungodly.

He shall wash his hands in the bloodshed of the sinful.

11 Then a man shall say, “Truly there is fruit for the righteous!

Truly there is a God judging them on the earth!”


1 Translated from the Septuagint/LXX 57. The main differences from the Masoretic Text (MT) are in verses 7b–9.

“By Your Pharmakeia Were All the Nations Misled”, Part II

[See Part I]

In the first part of this investigation we looked at the uses of pharmakeia, pharmakon, and pharmakos in the NT. The intent was and is to try to determine a more precise meaning for pharmakeia in our subject verse, Revelation 18:23:

18:21 Then a mighty angel lifted up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “In similar fashion, with violence shall Babylon the megalopolis be thrown, and she shall never be found again! 22 The sound of singing harpists and of musicians, flautists, trumpeters shall never be heard in you again. And never shall any kind of craftsman of any trade be found in you again. Noise from a mill shall never be heard in you again. 23 Lamplight shall never shine in you again. And the voice of bridegroom and bride shall never be heard in you again. For your merchants were the distinguished persons of the earth, because by your pharmakeia were all the nations/peoples misled. 24 And in her, blood of prophets and holy ones/saints was found, and all those who had been slain upon the earth.”

Below is a more expansive look at the use of pharmakeia. We will survey literature contemporaneous with the NT era. Later we will view material in the Greek Old Testament (OT), known as the Septuagint, aka LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, ca. 200 BC). And we will also look at synonyms of the pharma– nouns for comparison.

What It Does Not Mean

Sometimes determining what a word does not mean can aid in determining what it does mean. Immense help in this sort of investigation comes from Louw & Nida’s (L&N) Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains (2nd ed.).8 Rather than sorting alphabetically, this lexicon categorizes terms by definitions, synonyms grouped together. Under the broad category Religious Activities (category 53) is the subdomain Magic (53.96–53.101), which includes the pharma- nouns. Within these definitions is the following crucial note:

Pharmakeia and the variant pharmakon (as in Re 9:21) differ from the preceding terms (53.96–53.99) in that the focus is upon the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells.9

In other words, 53.100 (both pharmakeia and pharmakon), as well as 53.101 (pharmakos) include ‘focus upon certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells’. Conversely, the words correlating to 53.96, 97, 98, and 99 do not focus upon potions, drugs and casting spells.

The L&N lexicon appears to differ from Danker’s in this comment about potions and drugs. Or does it? Following is the L&N definition for pharmakeia and pharmakon (53.100): the use of magic, often involving drugs and the casting of spells upon people—‘to practice magic, to cast spells upon, to engage in sorcery, magic, sorcery.’10 If we take the “often” in the definition here and reconcile it with “the focus is upon” in the above note, we might understand this to mean that the pharma– nouns often, though not exclusively, refer to “the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells”. Therefore, many times they do, but sometimes they don’t. This, then, would not contradict Danker’s definition: ‘manipulation through incantations, spells, substances, or combinations thereof’, sorcery, magic.11

Now we shall investigate the synonyms to the pharma– nouns—those that do not focus upon using potions or drugs and casting spells (53.96–53.99).

The first synonym is the verb mageuō and its noun form mageia (53.96): to practice magic, presumably by invoking supernatural powers—‘to practice magic, to employ witchcraft, magic.’12 Both forms are found introducing the account of Simon, known as Simon Magus, in Acts 8:

Acts 8:9 A particular man named Simon was formerly in the city practicing mageuō and amazing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great. 10 All, from the least to the greatest, began paying attention to him, exclaiming, “This one is the power of God called ‘Great’!”  11 And they continued paying attention to him, because of the long time he had amazed them with mageia.

Next is the noun form for the practitioner of the above, magos: (53.97): one who practices magic and witchcraft—‘magician.’13 The account of Elymas Bar-Jesus contains two occurrences in reference to him:

Acts 13:6 After traveling through the whole island up to Paphos, they found a certain man, a magos, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. He [Paulus] summoned Barnabas and Paul, wanting to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas, the magos—for this interprets his name14—began opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul from the faith.

(Read the rest of the account to see how Paul handles Elymas’ attempt at deception!)

The next synonym is baskainō (53.98): to bewitch a person, frequently by the use of the evil eye with evil intent—‘to bewitch, to practice magic on’ . . . Baskainō differs from mageuō ‘to practice magic’ (53.96) in that the former [baskainō] involves the use of so-called ‘black magic’.15 The sole NT occurrence of this word is used by the Apostle Paul in response to the Galatian ekklēsia upon learning they began Mosaic Law observance. It seems possible, if not probable, Paul is being a bit sarcastic and hyperbolic here, not literalistic:

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who baskainō you!

The final synonym for analysis here is periergos (53.99): the use of magic based on superstition—‘magic, witchcraft’.16 The only usage in the NT is in reference to those who burned their occult works after accepting Christ:

Acts 19:19 Many of those who practiced periergos gathered their books and burned them in front of everybody.

From this investigation we see that there are a number of synonyms to the pharma– nouns in the NT that do not encode ‘potions or drugs and the casting of spells’ as part of their definitions. And baskainō encodes ‘black magic’ as part of its definition, while mageuō/mageia/magos does not. And since the definitions of the pharma– nouns do not include ‘black magic’ in either Danker or L&N, we might assume these do not encode it either.

Venturing Outside the NT

These distinctions will prove useful as we survey extra-Biblical works written by those commonly known as the Apostolic Fathers (AF). The writers of these works are believed to have had contact with the first century Biblical Apostles. The works span part of the first and into the second centuries AD, all roughly contemporaneous with the NT era.

Since we are now venturing outside the NT, it would be prudent to provide more suitable definitions. These are found in the BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. One must be judicious in using this resource, however, for, as the title indicates, it includes ‘other early Christian literature’. Moreover, besides including definitions for the AF, it also contains definitions for “Selected Apocrypha”, the OT (LXX), “Intertestamental/Pseudepigraphical Literature”, “Inscriptions”, “Papyri/Parchments and Ostraca”, and “Writers and Writings of Antiquity”.17 Therefore, one must be careful not to apply a definition that is appropriate for an earlier work/period to the NT era (this could be anachronistic18). With that clarified, here are the relevant definitions (transliterated):19

mageia, a rite or rites ordinarily using incantations designed to influence/control transcendent powers, magic20

This definition is much like L&N above. Though it includes “incantations”, these are not spells cast upon others; these are, like L&N states, ‘to invoke supernatural powers’.

pharmakeia, sorcery, magic21

pharmakeus, maker of potions, magician22

pharmakeu, to make potions, practice magic23

pharmakon, Primarily ‘a drug’, ordinarily contexts indicate whether salubrious or noxious. 1. a harmful drug, poison 2. a drug used as a controlling medium, magic potion, charm 3. a healing remedy, medicineremedy, drug24

pharmakos, 1. one skilled in arcane uses of herbs or drugs, probably poisoner 2. one who does extraordinary things through occult means, sorcerer, magician25

Most of the above aligns with Danker (see previous segment). However, note the increased focus on making potions/drugs (-keus/-keuō/-kon/-kos). Taken all together, it seems like “magic” here primarily involves making potions/drugs. Yet, there must be some distinction between “magic” in the pharma– words and “magic” in mageia. We must keep this in mind as we go along.

Four occurrences of mageia or mageuō are found in the AF, and three of these are in contexts which also include pharmakeia or its verb form pharmakeuō. The first one we will look at is the one excluding any of the pharma– words. This is found in Ignatius of Antioch’s epistle to the Ephesians:

Ign. Eph. 19:3 Consequently, all mageia and every kind of bondage began to loosen, the ignorance of evil began to disappear, the old kingdom began to be abolished—being destroyed by the appearing of God in human form, Who brought newness of eternal life—only when what had been finished by God began to be received.

Next we will look at two selections from Didachē (Greek: Δίδαχή, literally “teaching”), typically dated to the first century (or early second).26 Both include forms of pharmakeia and mageia side-by-side in a list of prohibitions/vices. This fact of occurring side-by-side, of course, implies a clear distinction between the two.

Did. 2:1 The second commandment of this teaching is: 2 You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery [moicheuō], you shall not molest children [paidophthoreō], you shall not commit sexual immorality [porneuō], you shall not steal, you shall not mageuō, you shall not pharmakeuō, you shall not murder a child by miscarriage [i.e., abortion] or kill the born [i.e. infanticide], you shall not covet your neighbor’s possessions.

Take careful note as to how the above is grouped. Three sexual sins are listed in a row (one against children), abortion and infanticide are listed one after the other, and in between these two groupings are mageuō and pharmakeuō one next to the other. Each of the three groupings contains similarly-themed terms, but each term within each grouping is individually distinct, different in nuance.

Did. 5:1 But the path of death is this: First of all, it is evil and entirely cursed—murders, adulteries, inordinate lusts, sexual immoralities, thefts, idolatries, mageia, pharmakeia, extortions, false testimonies, hypocrisies . . .

The above is not grouped quite as well as the other selection from Didachē. However, once again, mageia is right next to pharmakeia. Below is the final occurrence of the two terms together, side-by-side. This is from the Epistle of Barnabas, and it is quite similar to the immediately preceding selection:

Barn. 20:1 But the path of the black one is crooked and entirely cursed, for it is a path of eternal death with punishment, in which is the destroying of all the souls—idolatry, audacity, exaltation of power, hypocrisy, duplicity, adultery, murder, extortion, arrogance, transgression, deceit, malice, stubbornness, pharmakeia, mageia, greed, lack of the fear of God.

There are two passages containing pharmakon, which also, helpfully, include adjectives to assist in defining them. This eliminates the necessity of providing any further context. The first is from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians (6:2): thanasimos pharmakon, “deadly poison/potion”, or “deadly drug”. The next one is from Papias of Hierapolis (3:9): dēlētērios pharmakon, “destructive poison/potion”, “harmful drug”.

Two more passages contain pharmakon. The first one we shall investigate is again from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians:

Ign. Eph. 20:2 . . . that you come together in one faith and one Jesus Christ—Who according to the flesh is from the lineage of David, Who is son of man and Son of God—in order that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the pharmakon of immortality [athanasia], the antidote against dying, but rather to live everlastingly in Jesus Christ.27

Clearly, the term means “medicine” in the above. The word for “immortality” (athanasia) is the same word Paul uses in 1Cor 15:53–54 to refer to our spiritual (non-flesh and blood) bodies we receive at “the last trumpet” (1Cor 15:52).28

The final pharmakon appears in The Shepherd of Hermas, in which the term occurs twice and in context with two occurrences of pharmakos, as well:

Shep. 17:6 (3.9.6) Look, therefore, you who exult in your riches, lest those in need groan, and their groaning rise up to the Lord, and you be excluded, with your goods outside the gate of the tower. 7 (3.9.7) Now, therefore, I say to you, those leading the ekklēsia and in the exalted chairs, do not be like the pharmakos[pl]. For the pharmakos[pl] indeed take up their pharmakon[pl] in wooden boxes, but you [take up] your pharmakon and its poison [ios] into your heart.

The context defines the terms. The pharmakos (plural pharmakoi) make substances, pharmakon (plural), and we can infer that these are poisonous. The leaders, those in the exalted seats, are like the pharmakos in that they also carry poison (not in literal ‘wooden boxes’, but, figuratively, in their exalted chairs) but they take it into their own hearts. The Shepherd is using plays on words here (“to exult”, “rise up”, “exalted”, “take up”).

Tentative Findings

From our investigation of synonyms in the NT and in Christian-themed works contemporary (or nearly contemporary) with the NT, in conjunction with our more expansive survey of pharma- words in these extra-Biblical works, we can arrive at some tentative findings. Comparing the pharma- terms with these synonyms has helped to better define both the pharma- terms and the mag- terms. Though it would be intellectually dishonest to completely take these findings and impose them onto our subject verse (Rev 18:23), it seems we have enough data to come a tentative conclusion: pharmakeia is more likely than not to include “potions” or “drugs” in its definition—understood as carrying negative connotations, of course (not “remedies” or “medicines”).

The next part, the conclusion will survey the LXX, which will include both the Greek OT and works known as the apocrypha (or deuterocanon [literally, “second canon”] in some traditions).


8 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988, 1989) Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 4.4.

9 This is under 53.100 pharmakeia, p 545. Greek transliterated.

10 L&N, p 545, bold added.

11 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 370.

12 L&N, p 545.

13 L&N, p 545. Note that this same term is used for the Three Wise Men in Matthew 2. L&N categorizes this usage under Understanding: Capacity for Understanding, with the following definition: a person noted for unusual capacity of understanding based upon astrology (such persons were regarded as combining both secular and religious aspects of knowledge and understanding) . . . (p 385).

14 From the ISBE (S. F. Hunter, “Bar-Jesus”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Gen Ed., 1st ed. [1915] prepared by Accordance/Oak Tree Software, Inc. Version 2.5): “Elymas is said to be the interpretation of his name (Acts 13:8). It is the Greek transliteration of an Aramaic or Arabic word equivalent to Greek μάγος [magos]. From Arabic ‘alama, ‘to know’ is derived ʾalı̄m, ‘a wise’ or ‘learned man’” (paragraph 7611).

15 L&N, p 545, bold added. Since there is some uncertainty as to its nuance and application here, the editors also place this word under Moral and Ethical Qualities and Related Behaviors: Mislead, Lead Astray, Deceive (88.159): to deceive a person by devious or crafty means, with the possibility of a religious connotation in view of the literal meaning ‘to bewitch’ . . . It is also possible that baskainō in Ga 3:1 is to be understood in the sense of bewitching by means of black magic . . . (L&N, p 760). Nonetheless, I take Paul’s words as hyperbole, sarcasm, not literal.

16 L&N, p 545.

17 BDAG, pp xxxi–li. Many thanks once again to the late Rodney Decker for providing a learning shortcut: BDAG (scroll down to second post “BDAG” dated October 10, 2012, then scroll further down to hyperlink “A Basic Introduction to BDAG” to open a PowerPoint.

18 Words may change over time, with nuances added or subtracted.

19 Of the other synonyms in the NT, none proved to help in our analysis here. Periergos occurs only one time, but there the connotation is “meddling” or “curious”. As to baskainō, it appears more often and in two other (noun and adjective) forms, but none of these appeared to mean “bewitched” in some black magic sense; the terms connote “begrudge” or “envy”.

20 BDAG, p 608.

21 BDAG, p 1049.

22 BDAG, p 1050.

23 BDAG, p 1050.

24 BDAG, p 1050.

25 BDAG, p 1050.

26 The work as we have it today appears to be a composite, seemingly redacted over the course of time. The ISBE (J. R. Michaels, “Apostolic Fathers”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, G. W. Bromiley Gen. Ed., Rev. Ed., [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979]) states: “Total agreement is seldom possible as to which forms are primitive and which are later adaptations. Therefore, it is difficult to speak about dates, but the compilation of purportedly apostolic material under the name of the apostles as a group [ED: complete title is The Lord’s Teaching through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations] indicates the apostles are already figures of the past. This together with the apparent use of Matthew’s Gospel tends to suggest a date of composition in the 2nd cent., though many specific elements . . . may well go back to the apostolic age and even perhaps to the early days of the Jerusalem church” (p 207).

27 This text is used to support the “real presence” doctrine, but one must understand Ignatius through his strong use of metaphorical expression. See the White Horse blog for explanation of how Ignatius is not teaching the “real presence” (much less Transubstantiation): Eating Ignatius.

28 Note also that athanasia (noun) is the opposite (the prefix a negating it) of thanasimos (adjective) in the selection from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians just above.


This post is an attempt at reflecting the myriad emotions presently troubling me about a variety of things. Thus, it will likely come across just as disjointed as my mix of inner turmoil and yet vague sense of optimism. The process of writing this will probably prove to be cathartic.

I am continually dismayed by individuals making various assertions with misplaced confidence. And the blows coming from within and without in attempts (successful, sadly) at a divide and conquer strategy at unprecedented scale is completely missed by many of the distracted masses. Too many are enslaved by their own minds, imprisoned by the limited information they intake. They place outsized trust in their self-constricted list of myopic sources. Others completely tune out via the various electronic distractions available to them, oblivious to it all.

I am continually amazed at the amount of smart and seemingly intelligent individuals waylaid by apparent cognitive dissonance. In an enlightening vlog published 9 months ago, I found this exemplifying and yet clarifying comment (by Paul Hopper):

Many years ago, on a trip to Bucharest [the capital city of Romania], my wife and I visited her family’s cemetery, which happens to also be where Nicolae & Elena Ceausescu are buried. I was stunned to see a group of older Romanians holding a vigil, lighting candles and still mourning at the grave of this notorious, murderous tyrant. When I asked my wife—who was at the revolution in ’89—why anyone would feel sorry for this dead despot, she said that the older generation were so conditioned to be controlled by the state that they didn’t know how to live any other way. Just like the metaphor of the totalitarian womb in this video, it’s the illusion of security and safety. Sadly, she now sees the U.S. falling into the same communist mindset that she experienced growing up in Eastern Europe.

I am reminded of a work by Ukrainian neoclassical composer Valentin Silvestrov. Devastated by the death of his wife, companion, and supporter of 30 years, he wrote “Requiem for Larissa” in memoriam.

Time in Valentin Silvestrov’s music is a black lake. The water barely moves; the past refuses to slide away; and the slow, irregular stirrings of an oar remain in place. Nothing is lost here. A melody, which will rarely extend through more than five or six notes, will have each of those notes sounding on, sustained by other voices or instruments, creating a lasting aura.1

At times I feel as though I’m situated on this black lake—time seemingly standing still yet moving ever so slowly, almost imperceptibly—its eerie blackness enveloping me. It seems both distressing and calming simultaneously.

Within Silvestrov’s “Requiem” is an excerpt from Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s “The Dream”. From the Wikipedia entry on Taras Shevchenko:

Dogged by terrible misfortune in love and life, the poet died seven days before the 1861 emancipation of serfs was announced. His works and life are revered by Ukrainians throughout the world and his impact on Ukrainian literature is immense.

Below is the English-rendered text of the excerpted poem:

Farewell, O world! Farewell, O earth!
Thou dismal, dreary land!
I’ll hide my torments, fierce and keen,
Within a cloud-bank bland

Then to thyself, my own Ukraine,
A widow sad and weak,
shall come flying from the clouds
And with thee I shall speak;

From our communion, soft and low
My heart shall gain some cheer;
At midnight shall my soul come down
In dewdrops cool and clear2

This post is purposefully a bit vague and yet non-purposefully a bit scattered, reflective of my emotions and the overarching opacity permeating Western society as a whole. But to be absolutely clear, I’m not suggesting any sort of reactive call to action. My hope is that individuals become aware of the myriad machinations being perpetuated upon the populace and refuse to engage in them. Divided, we fall.

We must have compassion for those caught up. Leave the door open for open discussion. Leave the door open to preach the Gospel message. The time is short.

I will end on a less somber note. Listen to master oudist Anouar Brahem (and his assembled band) describe “The Astounding Eyes of Rita” in a live recording in Bucharest, Romania:


1 Paul Griffiths, Time Was, from the liner notes of Valentin Silvestrov Requiem for Larissa, ECM New Series 1778, (© 2004 ECM Records GmbH), p 2.

2 Taras Shevchenko, excerpted from “The Dream”, in The Poetical Works of Taras Shevchenko, translated from the Ukrainian by C. H. Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964), as cited from the liner notes of Silvestrov Requiem, p 23.

A Plea for Repentance

Following is one of Alfred Schnittke’s Psalms of Repentance (# VII). These psalms are adaptations of 15th century poems, commemorating the millennial anniversary of Christianity in Russia (in 1988). Appropriately, the words are translated from the Russian to King James English:1

Oh my soul, why art thou unafraid
of the dead in their graves
of the bare and terrible bones?
Where is the prince and where the ruler?
Where the rich and where the poor?
Where is loveliness of countenance?
Where the rhetoric of wisdom?
Where are the proud, where those who lust for fame?
Where are those who boast to others
of their gold and pearls?
Where is pride, where is love?
Where are the greedy?
Where is the seat of true justice
that giveth the guilty no rest?
Where is the ruler, where the slave?
Is everything not equal:
dust and earth and stinking dirt?
O my soul, why dost thou not tremble in dread?
Why art though not afraid
of the terrible judgments
and everlasting torments?
O wretched soul!
Remember how attentively thou didst obey
The words of the earthly czar,
A merry-making man,
but didst not heed the commandments
of thy heavenly Creator.
Thou livest in sin,
not revering but mocking
the teachings of Scripture.
O my soul!
Weep, cry out to Christ:
“Jesus save me!
Deliver me…”—answer the prayers of the saints—
“…from torments bitter and eternal.”


1 English translation by Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart © ECM Records (though with slight emendation in the addition of quotes and ellipses in the final three lines), as taken from Alfred Schnittke Psalms of Repentance, ECM New Series 1583, 1999 ECM Records GmbH. See also Alfred Schnittke: Psalms of Repentance (ECM New Series 1583).

Getting Lost in the “Translating”

In the written word, we all know that some things can be misunderstood. Misinterpreted. Subtle cues and clues can be overlooked. Puns can be missed. Intended plays-on-words can be taken too narrowly—one-dimensionally—thereby losing their force. And, etc.

I suspect this happened in my last post “Translating Sorrow”. The word “translating” is multivalent, with a few different nuances. I intentionally played on those nuances. From dictionary.com are the following definitions for translate:

1) to turn from one language into another or from a foreign language into one’s own: to translate Spanish.

2) to change the form, condition, nature, etc., of; transform; convert: to translate wishes into deeds.

3) to explain in terms that can be more easily understood; interpret.

4) to bear, carry, or move from one place, position, etc., to another; transfer.

The first definition was clearly used in the translation of the Polish subtitle of Górecki’s work. Yet the second was intended in my reference to Psalm 30:5, both at the beginning of the first section (Weeping may spend the night…) and the end of it (Weeping may spend the night, but with the morning: joy [Psalm 30:5; cf. Luke 24:1-10; John 20:10-18]).

The cue was in its bookending—its opening and closing of the section. A further clue was the added Luke and John references in the parentheses. Both these sections of Scripture refer to the disciples’ post-Crucifixion distress and their subsequent post-Resurrection joy—mirroring Psalm 30:5. That is, their sorrow was ‘translated’ into joy.

Further, the text of “Holy Cross Lament” depicts Mary’s sorrow at the Crucifixion. Of course, we all know that this temporary distress was alleviated at Jesus’ Resurrection. Hence, again, my inclusion of the Luke and John references next to Psalm 30:5.

In the Giya Kancheli section, the composer’s persistent sorrow was ‘translated’ into his music, exemplifying 2 above. Later, he apparently yielded to some optimism following his friends’ rescuing him from the brink of death. This represents definition 4 above. Moreover, this literally life-altering event may have moved Kancheli (I opined this, in hope) from his seeming indifference to his Christian heritage to a (re)affirmation of Christian faith. Assuming so, once again definition 4 would apply here.

Lots of ‘translations’ in one post!

Translating Sorrow

Psalm 30:5: Weeping may spend the night…

Sorrow. Sometimes I perceive it in the eyes that look through me at the store. Sometimes I see it in the aging man’s eyes peering back at me in the mirror. Sometimes it seems all-pervasive.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that of late I’ve been drawn to neo-Classical composers who have works in this vein.

Henryk Górecki

Already familiar with Polish composer Henryk Górecki, I decided to try the Nonesuch Records 1992 release of Symphony #3, aka Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. Stricken, I played it over and over for a time. Unbeknownst to me, the disc somehow became popular the year it came out, eventually selling over a million copies—well above typical Classical sales levels.

The symphony consists of three movements, each a different song. The text of the first is taken from a 15th century Polish prayer as from the point of view of Mary, mother of Jesus, called “Holy Cross Lament”:

My son, my chosen and beloved
Share your wounds with your mother
And because, dear son, I have always carried you in my heart,
And always served you faithfully,
Speak to your mother, to make her happy,
Although you are already leaving me, my cherished hope.1

The subject of the third movement is similar to the first in that it is from the perspective of a mother and about her son. In this one, using text from a Polish folk song, the mother knows her son is dead but cannot find his body. Despite this, she finds some solace.

Between these two is the shortest of the three, both in terms of text and music, this one themed opposite of the others. An 18 year old Polish girl, in poetry to Mary, pleads with her to not weep for her. The words were inscribed on a basement wall in what was then Gestapo headquarters in Zakopane, Poland. The young woman, identifying herself as Helena Wanda Blażusiakówna, dates the start of her imprisonment as 26 September, 1944.

In native Polish the subtitle of this three movement symphony is Symfonia pieśni żałosnych. The English rendering (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) inadequately captures its rich multivalence. According to the liner notes,

[t]he subtitle . . . has suffered much in translation. Pieśni is simply ‘songs’; but the qualifying Żałosnych is archaic, and more comprehensive than its modern English, German, or French equivalents. It comprises not only the wordless ‘songs’ of the opening double basses and monastic lament, but also the prayer and exhortation (“Do not weep”) of the Zakopane graffito, and the lullaby, both elegiac and redemptive, of the final folk song.

The final three verses of the folk song exhibit acceptance and hope:

Perhaps the poor child lies in a rough ditch
And instead he could have been lying in his warm bed

Oh, sing for him God’s little song-birds
Since his mother cannot find him

And, you, God’s little flowers, may you blossom all around
So that my son may sleep happily2

Weeping may spend the night, but with the morning: joy (Psalm 30:5; cf. Luke 24:1-10; John 20:10-18).

Giya Kancheli

Forget writing music like Giya Kancheli’s, I’d be ecstatic if I could write prose the way he does. The introduction to his Piano Quartet in l’istesso tempo (1998) can nearly serve as a preface to his oeuvre following his 1991 emigration from his native homeland of Georgia (post-dissolution of the Soviet Union):

Again and again we witness with deep regret how, despite the obvious improvements of the civilized world, our planet is still torn apart by bloodshed and conflicts. And no artistic creation can withstand the destructive force that so easily rejects the fragile process of progress.

Taking everything that goes on around me very much to heart, I try to express my own mental state in music. In essence, I write for myself without harboring any illusions that—as Dostoevsky put it—‘beauty will save the world’.

So my music is sad, rather than joyful, and the coloring of my personality means it is not at all destined to find a wide audience. One won’t find any calls here to struggle, to equality, to the bright future. Rather, one will find bitter sorrow over the imperfection of a society that cannot draw lessons from the most terrible historical examples.

I express my thoughts in an extremely simple musical language. I’d like to believe that listeners will not be left cold by my music, and will not identify its deliberate simplicity with what I think is the most dangerous feeling: indifference.3

Yes; it’s been said that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference.

Yet Kancheli exhibits seeming indifference to his own region’s religious tradition. For his composition Time…and again he slices a verse from Paul’s letter to the Galatians out of context, applying these words to the contents of this work:

Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not (1:20).4

In the notes to another release, a writer observes that “[u]nlike Pärt and Górecki, Kancheli makes no direct appeal to Christian doctrine”, but is inspired by ‘the widely understood feeling of religiousness which is manifest in all music dearest to [his] heart.’5

In verbiage accompanying the 2004 release Diplipito is a review of Kancheli’s Valse, Boston written by John von Rhein from Chicago Tribune: “…Nobody conjures troubled landscapes in sound like Kancheli. He has given [us] a bleak, very Eastern view of modern existence, but the effect is cleansing.”6 I think that’s the essence of why Kancheli writes: catharsis. I know that’s what I derive from most of his works.

The title piece (Diplipito) of the release referenced just above appropriates a line from Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky: “My work of silence, my mute creation…” For the part of the countertenor, Kancheli’s score is marked simply: “Meaningless words from a Georgian epic.”7 Is Kancheli playing us here? Is a clue found in the dedication to the companion piece Valse, Boston: “To my wife, with whom I’ve never danced.”?8 Or should these works be understood alongside his others of the time, such that the former expresses the inexpressible with wordless utterances, while the latter states the sad truth that he’d never danced with his wife? I suppose dancing seems a needless luxury when one feels such persistent, crushing sorrow.

Yet the 2015 release Chiaroscuro sees a turn in outlook. The meaning inherent in the title of the title track is the juxtaposition of light and shade—contrasts. This piece is paired with Twilight, an apparent self-reference to his advanced years. In his notes on Twilight, Kancheli observes from his desk a pair of poplar trees. They change with the seasons from spring, to summer, to fall, and then winter, in which the bare branches reveal, “a perspective reaching into infinity…”9 This functions as a metaphor for life:

After being seriously ill, I now associate the wonders of nature with human life. Up to a certain point we do not pay attention to problems with our health. And then, suddenly, comes a moment of serious trial, when life—to speak metaphorically—hangs by a hair. It’s only a combination of circumstances that allows us to return and continue it—temporarily, alas, in comparison to my poplars.10

He dedicated Twilight to Julia Mironova-Khoperiya and Sergie Mironov:

The Lord has given them a rare goodness that cannot be expressed in words. I don’t know whether I could even partially depict it in my music. I am infinitely grateful to fate for the fact that these two people were beside me at the critical moment, and literally brought me back to life…and to my poplars.11

We are never more alive when trials and tribulations subside.

Kancheli passed away 2 October, 2019. I’d like to think he (re)embraced the Christian faith—that he embraced Christ—before his passing.

In homage to the composer, I direct you to this version of Chiaroscuro:


1 English translation by Krystyna Carter, ©1992 Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers, Ltd (unpaginated).
2 Ibid.
3 Text here is an amalgamation and a slight adaptation of the liner notes from ECM New Series 1767, In l’istesso tempo, 2005, pp 17-18 (as translated by Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart) and the liner notes from ECM New Series 2442, Chiaroscuro, 2015, pp 4-5 (translation uncredited).
4 As from ECM New Series 1767, In l’istesso tempo, 2005, p 2 (and p 21).
5 Wilfrid Miller’s notes to Vom Winde beweint, ECM New Series 1471, 1992 (unpaginated).
6 Taken from ECM Records’ description for ECM New Series 1773, 2004. (The bracketed “us” replaces “as” in the text, which I take as a typographical error.)
7 As translated by Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart in the liner notes to ECM New Series 1773, p 14 (see immediately preceding note).
8 ECM New Series 1773, p 2.
9 Taken from ECM New Series 2442, p 7 (no translator credit).
10 Ibid.
11 ECM New Series 2442, p 16.

Providing Christian Witness

Some may think battle lines have only recently been drawn. But the battle began long ago. Paul provided instructions on how to wage this war in his letter to the saints in Ephesus, the Ephesians. Of course, his instructions are for the entire Church age.

In the face of threatening opposition, we don’t wield a sword to slice off Malchus’ ear (John 18:10; Matt 26:51). Jesus soundly rebuked Peter for doing so (John 18:11; Matt 26:52). This foolish act prompted Jesus to heal the man’s ear in response (Luke 22:51). We are to clutch a very different kind of ‘sword’.

The way we are to do battle is difficult, yet relatively easy. We stand. And pray. We put on the armor of God and stand firm (Eph 6:13). For our battle is not against earthly flesh and blood, it is against dark spiritual forces (Eph 6:12).

6:14 Therefore, stand: your waist belted in truth, adorned with the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and your feet equipped for the gospel of peace 16 —in everything taking up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the evil one’s flaming arrows. 17 And grasp the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. 18 With every prayer and request, pray in the Spirit at all times, in this keeping alert, in all perseverance and petition for all the saints.

We clothe ourselves in Divine armor (Eph 6:11). Then we stand for truth and righteousness, ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. We do this while holding onto our faith in Christ in order to ward off the devil’s attacks. We latch onto our salvation and the Word of God. And we persevere in prayer for all the saints.

We stand. We pray. These are the defensive and offensive weapons we must use in this spiritual warfare. And they are all we need.

The ‘easy’ part is doing this through the Spirit (consider Moses parting the Red Sea). The hard part is submitting to the Spirit and staying submitted.

In this we provide testimony for Christ. And this testimony may result in earthly martyrdom for some. It certainly has over the past two millennia.

In fact, there is one Greek word for testimony, witness, and martyr. It is martyria (also martyrion), and closely related is martys (or martyros). The first noun refers to the testimony provided, the second to the person providing the testimony. Also, there are associated verb forms (martyreō, martyromai). Both a noun form and a verb are used in John 1:7:

This man [John the Baptizer] came as a witness (martyria), to testify (martyreō) about the Light

In Acts 22:20, Paul identifies Stephen posthumously as Jesus’ witness, by using the other noun form martys (cf. Rev 2:13; 17:6). He was recounting the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60):

And when the blood of Stephen your witness (martys) was being shed, I myself was standing there, even approving of his death, guarding the coats of those who were executing him.

Though some English versions translate the Greek martys here as martyr, this may be a bit anachronistic; that is, it may have been a bit later that the term was understood as martyr in the sense we know it today. Nonetheless, Stephen’s witness (Acts 6:8—7:60) lives on in Scripture. It was his testimony (Acts 6:8—7:53) that led to him being the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:54-60). His martyrdom surely provided more notoriety for his witness. And observe what Stephen himself witnessed during his martyrdom: He saw “the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). How glorious!

Are you prepared to be such a witness, such a martyr (martys), if necessary?

Can I get a witness?

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