There has been a lot of excitement this December regarding an astronomical phenomenon known as a great conjunction. This great conjunction, also known as a planetary conjunction, is an alignment of Jupiter and Saturn with Earth that is visible in our night sky. A great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn last came this close in the night sky nearly eight hundred years ago. However, this year for a few days beginning on December 21st (which also just so happens to be the winter solstice), these two planets aligned so closely that they could appear as a single point of bright light in the night sky. Because this year’s great conjunction occurs so near the date of Christmas, some have referred to this great conjunction as a “Christmas Star.”
Anyone familiar with the narratives about Christ’s birth is aware that a star led certain magi to the newborn Jesus—details that are found only in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 2:1-12 versus Luke 2:1-21). Was this star that appeared at Jesus’s birth a great conjunction, or was it some other kind of astronomical occurrence such as a supernova or comet? A close look at Matthew’s birth narrative indicates that the star seen by the magi cannot be reconciled easily with any natural, astronomical occurrence. First of all, it is by observing this star’s rising in the sky that the magi gain the knowledge that they must find “the newborn King of the Jews” (2:2) in Jerusalem where they travel from their distant “Eastern lands” (2:1). Moreover, this same star later leads them accurately from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, at which point the star finally stops above the house of Mary and Joseph where the newborn Jesus is to be found (2:9-11).
In Orthodox icons of Jesus’s empty tomb and resurrection, it is common to see Mary the mother of Jesus depicted as one of the myrrhbearing women. A related theme, although perhaps depicted less frequently in icons, is that the Virgin Mary saw the risen Jesus outside the tomb. Indeed, some Orthodox Christians today insist that Mary the mother of Jesus not only saw the risen Jesus outside the tomb, but that she was the first to see him there. Where did these traditions about Mary at the empty tomb originate, and are they corroborated by evidence from the four canonical gospels?
It is probable that these traditions about Mary the mother of Jesus at the tomb originated from the Diatessaron (attributed to Tatian c. 160-180), a harmony of the four gospels widely used by churches in Syria until the 5th century. Because the four gospels contain differences as well as contradictions that are difficult to reconcile, the Diatessaron selectively combines material from the four gospels to create a single, cohesive gospel. In the Diatessaron, the identities of Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus seem to have been fused intentionally so that Mary the mother of Jesus—rather than Mary Magdalene as in John 20:1-18—can be understood as going to the tomb alone, where she saw the risen Jesus. One possible motivation for this fusion of Mary Magdalene with Mary the mother of Jesus may have stemmed from a desire to counter certain Gnostic groups that emphasized a special love Jesus had for Mary Magdalene. Nevertheless, the presence of Jesus’s mother at the tomb and her encounter with the risen Jesus also became elements in some apocryphal and Gnostic writings from the 2nd-4th centuries.
This essay was originally published in 2017. It has been updated for 2021.
A common misperception among Orthodox Christians is that Orthodox Easter (i.e. Pascha) often occurs so much later than Western Christian Easter because the Orthodox Church abides by the rules for calculating the date of Pascha issued by the 1st Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in AD 325. Another element of this misperception is the belief that the Orthodox Church must wait for Passover to be celebrated by the Jewish community before Pascha may occur. Despite these views being held by so many Orthodox Christians, as well as being promoted in popular essays written by some Orthodox priests, they are inaccurate. The reason why Orthodox Pascha frequently occurs so much later than Easter celebrated by Roman Catholics and Protestants is neither because the Orthodox Church follows the Paschal formula of Nicaea, nor is it because the Western Churches fail to adhere this formula. It is also not because the Orthodox Church must wait for the Jewish celebration of Passover. Rather, Orthodox Pascha frequently occurs later than Western Easter because the Orthodox Church uses inaccurate scientific calculations that rely on the inaccurate Julian Calendar to determine the date of Pascha for each year. Some background information is necessary to help explain precisely what the problems are.
For a little more than a decade, a new translation of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed recited in the Divine Liturgy has been implemented in the parishes of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA). The desire to use a uniform translation of the Creed is commendable and long overdue.
The new GOA translation of the Creed was issued in 2005 and it is very similar to the one in the widely used “red liturgy book” entitled, The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1985). The “red liturgy book” was a collaborative effort by the faculties of Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and it is a little unclear why the GOA felt the need to alter what was an already excellent translation of the Creed.
Among the changes in the new translation of the Creed, the one that is most noticeable and has received the most attention is the GOA’s translation, “for us men and for our salvation” over and against the former Hellenic College-Holy Cross translation, “for us and for our salvation.”
This change to the word “men” is unjustifiable and, quite simply, a mistake. Continue Reading…