Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Sacramentary of Sarapion and Apocalypticism

            Throughout this selection from the Sacramentary of Sarapion a particular world view appears, one in which the direct intervention of God and the supernatural order in general is assumed. The assumption of potential divine intervention may be seen when analyzing a handful of the prayers included in our selection. The prayer for the imprisoned does not ask for God to comfort the imprisoned, rather, it explicitly seeks God’s liberating action. Similarly, the prayer for poor sees the potential for God to circumvent the reality of poverty and deliver the poor to improved socio-economic circumstance. These prayers do not so much counting on pious patience in face of adversity as they assume God’s power to free his people, the same power recounted in the book of Exodus, exists and persists into our contemporary circumstances. Similarly, the prayers for the healing of the sick assume the same divine potency; God has the ability to superimpose his will for human health over and against human sickness.
            Such a worldview necessarily raises questions regarding the divine will. Indeed, the prayers avail themselves to divine will. Regardless how much God’s ability to obviate the conditions of the natural world, such miraculous action, in the most radical sense of the concept, rests solely upon God’s willingness so to do.
            In order to appreciate the worldview embedded in these prayers one must come to appreciate the type of intervention or miraculous event desired by the prayers themselves. By and large, these prayers do not anticipate a belabored human mediation of the divine – they expect a fairly direct encounter with the Deity in human events. In short, the prayers are at times apocalyptic in the biblical sense. This argumentation can be maintained upon analyzing two parts of the text of the Sacramentary of Sarapion already mentioned above.
            The first part in which the Sacramentary of Sarapion demonstrates an underlying apocalyptic theology is, I believe, at the conclusion of the first prayer for the people, “Let them be numbered with the heavenly ones, let them be counted with the angels, and let them become fully  elect and holy.” This prayer demonstrates thematic affinity with Revelation chapter four, wherein the elders of the Church are “transfigured” into the angelic hosts surrounding the throne of God,

“At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne! And he who sat there appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads. From the throne issue flashes of lightening and voices and peals of thunder, and before the throne burn seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God; and before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"

A second portion of the Sacramentary of Sarapion that may exhibit the same underlying apocalypticism is at the laying on of hands of the sick. The language at first recalls exorcism but proceeds to evoke Jesus’ miracles raising the dead. For space considerations, I will include scriptural passages detailing Jesus’ miracles among the recently deceased to get a sense of the vocabulary. A chart by Felix Just, SJ may be referred to at the bottom of the page for a reference to Jesus’ exorcism ministry.[1]

“As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large crowd from the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Youngman, I say to you, arise." And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.” (Luke 7:12-15)

“While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?" But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, "Tal'itha cu'mi"; which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise." And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.” (Mark 5:35-43)

Both instances in the New Testament, exorcism and raising the dead, evoke the apocalyptic in so far as Jesus is presented as conquering the ancient agents of chaos behind certain human events alluded to in the Hebrew Scriptures.[2] The two prayers cited from the Sacramentary of Sarapion demonstrate a perception of reality that believes in absolute divine power and the ability of the supernatural to penetrate into the natural world. The miracles contained in Scripture are not restricted to the sacred page. The Sacramentary of Sarapion presumes that the same divine power recorded in sacred scripture could be made manifest now.

Jesus is tempted/tested in the desert by the Devil/Satan
Mark 1:12-13
Matt 4:1-11
Luke 4:1-13
Unclean Spirit/Demon in Synagogue at Capernaum
Mark 1:23-28
Luke 4:33-37
Jesus casts out a demon that made a man dumb (mute)
Matt 9:32-33
Matt 12:22-23
Luke 11:14
Beelzebul Controversy: What power does Jesus use?
Mark 3:22-30
Matt 9:34
Matt 12:24-30
Luke 11:15-23
Gerasene/Gadarene Demoniac possessed by "Legion"
Mark 5:1-20
Matt 8:28-34
Luke 8:26-39
Syro-Phoenician Woman's Daughter
Mark 7:24-30
Matt 15:21-28
Boy with an Epileptic Spirit
Mark 9:14-29
Matt 17:14-21
Luke 9:37-43a

[2] I am indebted to the work of Christopher Frechette, SJ, for his thesis on the subject. 

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