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The Winter Pascha: Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season Paperback – December 31, 1984
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About the Author
Fr Thomas Hopko was educated at St Vladimir s Seminary, Duquense University and Fordham University. He has served as a parish priest and as the Assistant Professor of Dogmatic Theology at St Vladimir s Seminary. A member of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, he has wide experience in ecumenical relations and has lectured widely in parishes and on college campuses across North America.
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The number 40 reflects not only the total meditations contained in Hopko's 183-page text, but also 40 days assigned by the Orthodox Church to prepare for the Feast of Christ's Nativity according to the Flesh (called Christmas among western Christians--25 December or 07 January in Orthodox calendars). For example, in the year 2009, Orthodox "Nativity Fast" began on 15 November (new calendar), and ends after the strict Fast of 24 December--the 40th day. However, the comparison stops there. Hopko's goal is to meditate on the entire season of Winter Pascha and not the preparatory 40-day Fast alone.
Readers from many Christian liturgical traditions will find their own ways to this book, which is now 25 years old. I have heard praises from readers with limited knowledge of the Orthodox understanding of the Winter Pascha. However, they tell me that readers outside of Eastern Orthodox traditions need a bit more guidance to note contextual hooks on which the author hangs ideas like work clothes. Therefore, I hasten to add another clarification--a "hook," if you will.
There is no precise equivalent for the season of Advent among Orthodox Christians. Differentiating Advent from Orthodox practice, Advent varies in duration of days each year. Readers with an Advent mindset can avoid misunderstanding Hopko's meditations by not attributing parallels between Advent and Winter Pascha.
Hopko defines Winter Pascha in the first meditation (chapter) [9-11], which bears the same name. The term Winter Pascha was coined by Father Alexander Schmemann, who preceded Hopko as Dean of St. Vladmiri's Orthodox Seminary in Yonkers, NY. However, the idea of Winter Pascha, as Hopko reflects , comes from ancient liturgical sources called the Typikon (spelling variant replaces the letter "k" with a "c;" the Greek source for "type"). Schmemann coined the term mid-20th Century.
The Typikon sets a rule or pattern of comparable liturgical observances around the Resurrection (Pascha) and the Nativity of Christ. Hopko notes the Typikon's conscious pattern , by which ancient sources exercised intent to unite these major Feasts in a permanent bond of rubrics. The Typikon provides the principal source to conclude that Easter and Christmas mirror the other among Orthodox Christians by disclosing many apparent similarities, whereas Advent and the Winter Pascha resemble distant cousins in a clan.
Hopko makes a couple assumptions that I would like to state. First, the Typikon provides `but one' example among high-liturgical Christians that combines Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition in a practice called "What we pray is what we believe." Second, Hopko assumes that Orthodox Christians, in liturgical practice if not also elsewhere, do not pray like their distant cousins in the Christian clan.
Differences in how and what the clan prays become evident in Hopko's meditation, "The Conception of Mary" [41-4]. "On the ninth of December the Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of the conception of the Virgin Mary by her parents Joachim and Anna" . Ostensibly, the same feast of Mary's conception appears in the Roman Catholic calendar on December 8th , where it is called the Immaculate Conception. Looks can be deceiving, however.
Hopko briefly entertains profound differences between eastern and western doctrines about the Mother of God [cf. fn.3, 42]. In particular, he notes the Orthodox perspective, which maintains that every human being at birth is sinless. Therefore, Joachim and Anna conceived the Mother of God without the necessity of God interrupting a transmittal of sin to the child. However, as joyfully acclaimed in Orthodox liturgy on December 9th, God made Anna's barren womb fertile, just as God made the womb of Sarah fertile centuries earlier:
"Today the great mystery of all eternity,
Whose depths angels and men cannot perceive,
Appears in the barren womb of Anna.
Mary, the Maiden of God, is prepared to be the dwelling
Place of the eternal King
Who will renew human nature" .
Included in Hopko's meditations about the Winter Pascha are 40 days of preparation [9-98 passim], the Eve of the Feast and Feast of the Nativity [99-130], followed by twelve liturgical days that culminate in the Feast of the "Theophany" (Epiphany: 131-61] and sequential liturgical dates that the Church assigns to culminate seasonal "after-feasts" [162-83].
Hopko composes these meditations in simple language. With few exceptions, they may be read silently or aloud because Hopko employs idioms that are common to North American English. For example, alternate reading the following passage about St. Herman of Alaska (12/25 or 13/26 December) with and without verbalizing:
"Herman came to America with the first group of missionaries. He alone survived,..." .
Or you might alternate using another passage: "This is the message of Christmas. There is a new Adam. There is a restored image of God. It is the restored image of the Image Himself, God's Son and Word, Jesus Christ" ..."In Him all people can be human" [author's emphasis, 83].
I was curious as to what some of the protocols and traditions are, so someone at my church suggested Fr. Hopko's book, and so far I am enjoying it very much. Mind you, there's not a lot on practical observances, but there's plenty to feed the soul and intellect, and that is just as, if actually not MORE important in my view. The book is written in a way that's very simple for those new to the faith to understand, and I feel it would appeal even to people who are not Eastern Orthodox but who may be looking for an "alternative" to the commercialized and secularized stuff out there that passes for Christmas in the modern world.
So far my favorite chapter is the one on St. Herman of Alaska, but if you ask me, the chapter that EVERYONE should read is Chapter 17. Why? Because Fr. Hopko has some very interesting...and quite honest and pointed...things to say re: people's choosing to adopt negative attitudes towards the Christmas "holiday" season. Things that apply to both the religious and secular aspects of the season.
Now that Advent is here, it's time to stop listening to music & read a good book of Theology to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Unlike "The Lenten Spring" which starts at the 40 day Great Fast & ends at the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, "The Winter Pascha" is suppose to start at Christmas & ends 40 days later on January 2 with the feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple, when the baby Jesus was lifted up by St. Symeon; at least this is what the 1st chapter states. Being a member of the Antiochian Orthodox I know a little about my fellow Orthodox Christians in the OCA & that in California they follow the New Julian calendar, while those in Alaska follow the Old Julian calendar. Does that mean the book should be started on December 25 with the New Julian calendar & January 7 with the Old Julian calendar? Does 40 days later in the Old Julian calendar also end with the feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple? Especially when Great Lent comes early ever so often? When I look at the Lent/Pascha dates, the Old Julian calendar makes it in by a few days. Somehow the book is unclear when to start because in the back cover it states: "Thus Father Thomas Hopko begins the first of forty meditations for the season of Advent, Christmas & Epiphany, ending with the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple on the fortieth day after Christ's birth." 40 meditations at one meditation a day is 40 days. Advent itself is 40 days before Christmas; therefore the beginning of Advent to the Meeting of the Lord in the temple is 80 days away with Christmas in the middle. Then in the 2nd chapter Fr. Thomas Hopko explains about the Advent season with the "Fast of Philip". The conclusion seems to be that there is no basic starting day for this book, but it's a good book to read some mediations during the Christmas season, no matter when you start. Some of the mediations are: St. Andrew, St. Nicholas, St. Herman, the conception of Mary, the genealogy of Jesus, Christ restoring the Image, The two comings of Christ, God is with us, the circumcision of the Lord, the Lord's Epiphany in the Jordan, the manifestation of the Trinity, the meeting of the Lord in the temple, as well as many others which Fr. Thomas Hopko intermixes many scripture passages with liturgical readings with his fine poetic writing.
This year I started the book around Thanksgiving, but ended up matching the days of December with the chapter numbers. On the New Julian calendar December 25 I reach the 25 chapter of the book which was titled "God with Us". Therefore following the New Jukian dates do match the book chapters. Chapter 29 is about "The Blood of the Martyrs" which starts the day after to the 3rd day after Christmas with the death of St. Stephen & ends the death of the innocent children slain by King Herod. Therefore some chapters can take several days of mediation.
I wish there was an introduction to clarify when the book should be read to match the days of the church readings as did his other book "The Lenten Spring". A rating of "5" for writing style, but a rating of "3" for the lack of clarity balances out to a "4" for a good buy to mediate about the Christmas season.
Have yourself a Winter Pascha.