“Unto Ages of Ages”

TempleThe final exclamation which concludes many Orthodox liturgical prayers is “…unto ages of ages. Amen.”  We get so used to hearing that phrase that we probably don’t even consider where it comes from and why it is in our prayers.  David Instone-Brewer in his book TRADITIONS OF THE RABBIS FROM THE ERA OF THE NEW TESTAMENT examines many aspects of Jewish practice from the time of Christ and he points out that a feud had emerged between Sadducees and Pharisees about how properly to conclude a blessing in the Temple.  There apparently were different practices for ending a Temple prayer:  “Amen” was one traditional ending but also at one time the response was “Blessed be the name of his glorious kingdom forever.”  The Sadducees did not believe in an afterlife and so interpreted “forever” to mean until this age ended, since there is only this age but nothing beyond this age.  The Pharisees then changed the ending of the prayer to “for ever and ever” (= “unto ages of ages”) because then it referred to both this age and the age to come (which the Sadducees didn’t believe  in).  It was an effort to force the Sadducees to have to pray for the age to come.

Christianity which follows the beliefs of the Pharisees regarding the afterlife, the resurrection and the world to come kept the phrase “unto ages of ages. Amen” as part of their prayer to affirm belief in the afterlife and the Kingdom which is to come.   The split between the Pharisees and the Sadducees is mentioned in Acts 23:6-9 where St. Paul, himself a Pharisee, takes advantage of the disagreement to turn the two Jewish sects against each other (see also Matthew 22:23-33).  The phrase “unto ages of ages” occurs in the New Testament in Matthew 6:13 (in some ancient Greek manuscripts), Romans 1:25 and Galatians 1:5, Ephesians 3:21, 1 Timothy 1:17, Hebrews 13:21, 1 Peter 4:11 and frequently in the book of Revelation just to name some occurrences.

Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World

Five years or so ago, when I was teaching at the University of Dayton, a colleague in the Religious Studies Department asked me to compose an essay on the Orthodox Church to be included in an introduction to religion textbook which was to be entitled World Religions in Dialogue .   The project eventually was abandoned, and my essay on Eastern Orthodoxy was returned to me to do with as I wished.   I’ve decided to convert it into a blog series, and publish it as such.   It was intended to be a general introduction to the Orthodox Christian faith in a book that had an ecumenical bent to it.   This is my original draft as the project never got to the stage of editing or asking me to rewrite text.

Map of Israel 1000BC

History – Beginnings

            The Middle East has through history been a crossroads for many varied cultures and kingdoms.   It has been the grounds for much cross pollination of thought and belief.  Two thousand years ago a new religious movement began in the Middle East which fertilized by a cross pollination of culture and language blossomed into one of the world’s major religions.   This nascent movement came to be known in history as Christianity.    This new religion began as a movement within Judaism itself but quickly jumped cultures and rapidly evolved and adapted to a Greek milieu which surrounded the Judaism of Palestine.

            Judaism of two thousand years ago was itself in the process of change.  The religion which was centered in and identified with the Temple in Jerusalem and with the written Torah, had itself been adapting the culture changes brought about by the changing fortunes of history and kingdoms.   Judaism had a long standing relationship with the cultures and religions of the Syrians, Babylonians, Persians and Egyptians.   But all of these lands had come under the influence of the Greeks as Alexander the Great (4th Century BCE) conquered all of these territories in rapid succession causing a Greek cultural influence to be spread throughout the region.   Not all forms of Judaism resisted the influx of Greek culture to the same extent, though religiously some of Judaism tried to limit the effects of Greek thinking on its own practices.  However, in the centuries following the invasion of Alexander the Great, the Jews themselves translated their scriptures, the Tanakh, into the Greek language giving the world the Septuagint and an international access to the wisdom, beliefs and revelation of Judaism.    The Septuagint  became accepted by Jews as an authoritative version of their own scriptures for Jews as well as for Gentiles.   It’s appearance on the world scene occurred as Judaism was beginning to expand beyond Jerusalem and Palestine through the rabbinic synagogues which made Judaism accessible where ever Jews settled.   Coupled with the Greek language Septuagint which opened its faith to the world, Judaism was beginning to be a world religion, not limited by geography, language or ethnicity.     The prophets of Israel and the Messianic form of Judaism furthered the notion that Judaism had a message for the world.

Next:  Orthodoxy in the World: Beginnings