Friday, January 16, 2009

the word "passion"

Hello Father,

Just a little question that's had me curious for some time now. I was
wondering what (if any) the distinction is between passions in general (the
ones to be eliminated), and the Passion that refers to the week leading up
to Easter. -- Are these two concepts / terms at all related? Is it just a
coincidence in translation, or are they actually the same word meaning the
same thing?



Hello Carl,

The earliest Christian uses of the words translated as "passion" come from
scripture. The first English translations together with the evolution of
meaning in modern English is where some confusion arises. There are
certainly much more qualified linguistic scholars than me, so please take my
brief answer as a beginning and feel free to correct any mistakes I may have
made. Meditation and prayer on this has given me some insight and
understanding as well, so I am grateful for your inquiry.

"Passion" is only used three times in the King James Version of the New
Testament, the first and most widely read English translation. I found this
surprising, since it is often used in translations of the Fathers and
Saints. It is used only once to signify the historic ordeal of Christ's
crucifixion (Acts 1:3). The other two, to indicate intense interest (Acts
14:15 and James 5:17). Neither deal directly with the sinful "passions"
that are "to be eliminated" as you mentioned in your questions. Looking to
the original Greek reveals that these are two different words.

In the first case, Acts 1::3, the Greek in "pascho" - literally "to suffer,
to endure, to experience intensely." "Pascho" is actually translated "to
suffer" or "to endure" in the King James Version in over 30 other instances!
"Pascho" (Holy Pascha) is the word for Easter and Passover as well.

In the other two cases, the NT Greek is "homoiopathes" (lit. homoi=same;
pathes=suffering/ache) connoting intense interest. To clarify the meaning
and use of "pathes," I looked up similar NT Greek words and their English
translations in scripture. In Acts 26:23, "pathetos" is translated as "able
to suffer." In over a dozen Epistle verses, "pathema" is translated as
"suffering" or "affliction" (see especially 2 Corinthians 1:5, 6 and 7).
Finally, "pathos" is translated (in the Greek word's only NT appearance - 1
Thessalonians 4:5) as "lust." "Hedone" (lit. pleasing sweetness) and
"epithumia" (lit. desire) are the more common Greek words translated as
"lust" in the New Testament.

The passions that we speak of in modern English as sins and human failing
are closer to this last idea of "pathos," "hedone" and "epithumia." In many
ways our understanding of passion comes from the evolution of modern romance
- where emotional pleasure and pain have been the angst and the crescendo of
drama. I can imagine this passion with an over-acted Shakespearian English
- "Alas, woe is me!"

Indeed, this last is insight into the nature of the passion we work to
discard in our spiritual development. This "ache" and "suffering" is
completely of the self - separate from God - alone in the world, desperately
clinging to the opinion of others or the opinion of that special one person
where we have placed our intense interest or to that object of our intense
interest. For many nominal Christians in the modern secular world, this may
be the closest to a crucifixion that may ever be experienced - the
separation from the object of infatuation, romantic love. There are good
social and biological reasons why young people "fall in love"
or "lust" or "passion" and - as anyone who has had a childhood crush will
have to admit - the object of this intense interest is elevated above all

Christ taught us that we can overcome anything that may separate us from
God. The simplest way to be separated from God is to place something, e.g.
another person, between you and God. In the Gospels, we are reminded to
love God with all our minds, all our hearts and all our souls. Often, in
romantic terminology and pop songs, this is the passionate way to love the
person of our affection. We are also given the message that we should give
"our hearts" to another. St. Paul reminds us that the pain, ache and
suffering of separation from God is the price for sin. So, we must work in
our spiritual development to purify our lives from the manifold sins of this
world. This is difficult, even more so in our modern secular capitalistic

Certainly, there are other tangents to be explored and deeper insight to be
gained. I was taught when confronted with mystery, accept the Truth even if
I cannot comprehend it, pray for understanding, and, perhaps, God will
reveal it as a light in the darkness. Unworthy as I am, I am grateful for
the few revelations God has granted me.

Please pray for me and the ministry set before me, that I may be a better
servant of Christ and all in His Church.

O Lord, Jesus Christ, restore us to the homeland we long for; keep far from
us all evils and divers (lowly) temptations; help us endure in the day of
our passion (pascho) and save us from our passions (pathos); this we ask of
Thee, together with the Father and Living Holy Spirit. Amen.

your servant,

Fr. John-Brian
"We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power
may be of God, and not us." IICor4:7

1 comment:

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