A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Sci-Fi Connection

In Odd Corners of the World

Like, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, etc., you can find various sorts of ceremonies.  For example, on another blog was a comment that Fundamentalists don't seem to realize the Orthodox Church exists.  Dan Brown, for example, in his potboilers pulls up every fundamentalist or gnostic trope he can lay his hands on, claiming "the Vatican" made it all up.  Never mind that a lot of the stuff supposedly made up was not only prior to the Roman Pope setting up on Vatican Hill, but was prior to the Pope becoming Last One Standing (as the various ancient patriarchates split off or were immersed in the muslim tide.)  The Orthodox Churches maintain most of the same beliefs as the Roman one.  There are some distinctions, but actually rather few in theology.  That's why the split is called a schism, not a heresy.  It is entirely possible that the ancient See of Constantinople will be extinguished in the near future.  It is under muslim rule.  Turkey is secular, but they are secular muslims.  Consequently, there has been no authorized seminary in operation in Turkey for many years.  Further, a secular law states that the Patriarch of Constantinople must be a Turkish citizen.  Add the two together, and there is no possible successor to Bartholomew I.  When that happens, the Patriarch of Moscow will assert his primacy among the Orthodox prelates; but the non-Russian Orthodox may not care for that. 

But there are other Churches beyond even the Orthodox.  Unlike the Roman/Orthodox split, these Churches were formally declared heretical by Ecumenical Councils.  If the Roman Pontiff and the Ecumenical Patriarch are "brothers", then these churches are "cousins."  However, there has been a sense in recent times that the ancient arguments were really arguments about Greek grammar. 


In any case, the first of these Churches is the Coptic Church.  Technically, "Coptic" means "Egyptian" and comes from the Arabic adoption of Aegyptos (hard gamma).  There are branches in Ethiopia and a few other places.  The head of this Church is the Pope of Alexandria, "Successor of St. Mark."  Recently, Mark Shea linked to a YouTube video of the celebration of the Coptic Mass, sung in English.  Except that some things were in a different order, the whole was remarkably similar to a Roman Mass of the sort once called Solemn High Mass.  The first segment can be found here: with links to the other segments. 

They recite the Nicene Creed because the split occurred long after the Council of Nicaea.  In fact, you will note on one of the segments that the president invokes "the nnn at Nicaea, the nnnn at Constantinople, the nnn at Ephesus."  But he does not invoke the Council of Chalcedon.  That is when the split took place.  They do more readings than the Roman Church, and include non-canonical readings, such as from the lives of the saints.  A post at a site called OrthoCath by an Eastern Catholic says about a visit to a Coptic Church in the company of an Orthodox friend:
We both decided to visit a Coptic parish and the priest, noticing two English-speaking visitors, decided to do most of the Liturgy in English for our benefit. At a certain point, a commemoration was made for “St. Dioscorus,” who I remembered was the Patriarch of Alexandria condemned at the Council of Chalcedon. I turned to my Eastern Orthodox friend and asked: “So these people are not in communion with the Eastern Orthodox?” “No,” he replied, “we’re working on it, however.” .... The realization hit me, from a liturgical perspective, that the Liturgy I was observing was historically quite significant. The separation between the Coptic Orthodox and the Western and Eastern Orthodox Churches was bitter and complete. What the Coptic Orthodox preserved in their liturgical tradition would give evidence of what was a “lowest common denominator” of belief when compared with the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

Another odd thing: note that the choir is often standing with their arms crossed.  This struck me as somewhat casual.  Then I remembered ancient Egyptian tomb paintings.  That stance, which is one of respect, was being assumed by Egyptians long before there was much of anything else in the world. 

Copts, by the way, object to the term "monophysite."  It does not represent their actual beliefs, they say.  More argument over Greek grammar? 

For comparison, here is the Ethiopian Coptic mass, in Ge'ez:

Which is harder to follow and appears quite different in form. It starts about 1 minute in.


The Alexandrian Church stood shoulder to shoulder with the Constantinopolitan and Roman Churches at the earlier Council of Ephesus when "Nestorianism" was condemned.  (In fact, at Chalcedon, they were accusing the Orthodox of being too Nestorian....)  These teachings were favored by the ancient See of Antioch and can be found in the Syriac Church and its branches in Armenia, Iraq, and India, although I think they are less uniform than the Coptic Churches, much less so than the Orthodox, and very much less so than the Roman.  They are sometimes called the Ancient Church of the East, the Oriental Church, etc.  The situation is complicated by the fact that the Pope of Antioch no longer exists.  The ancient See was expunged by Baybars when he sacked Antioch in the most horrific massacre of the crusading era. A new line of "Antiochene" patriarchs was started, but there is a Roman and an Orthodox as well as a Syriac/Jacobite patriarch.  [There was another patriarchate at Seleucia, in Iraq for the Persian Empire.] 

Growing curious, I looked for an example of a "Nestorian" mass.  (They don't like to be called Nestorians.)  Some years back, the Roman Pope (Paul VI) and the Assyrian Katholikos of the East issued a joint statement of agreement on a range of issues.  (Similar meetings have been held between the other pairs of Churches.)  I could not find one in English, but here are

1. An Antiochene Mass sung in Syriac (modern Aramaic) in Jerusalem.  Syriac is similar to Arabic and is descended from the language spoken in Palestine before the Arabs showed up: 

2. An Antiochene mass sung in Malayalam, the liturgical language in India:

3. A Catholic Antiochene mass sung in Malayalam.  This is called the Malankarese Rite in the Catholic Church.  (The Roman Rite is the largest rite, but it is not the only one.)  The Church in India was proverbially founded by St. Thomas, and there is a basilica in old Madras (now Chennai) built over his tomb.  They also hold an English language novo ordo Mass; but the service before it is either in Malayalam or in Tamil -- how would I know the difference? -- and I used to listen in while I was waiting.  It was much like this one:

The Dravidian languages of south India are very musical to begin with. 

The Sci Fi Connection

When constructing an alien or futuristic society, don't forget that they would have a history, and their customs and ceremonies would not be uniform across the board.  Even if they look and sound alike to an Earthling -- and to many here, the Coptic and Syriac masses may have seemed pretty similar -- they will not seem so to the people whose customs they are.  On the galactic scale, a planet may be a small thing; but i t is large enough to embrace a multitude of nations and cultures.

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