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Malankara Version (Alpha)



By the Rev. Fr. Dale A. Johnson, dt. October 9th, 1991 Lodi, New Jersey, (with minor adaptations).

A lectionary is a cycle of biblical readings for the church year. In the Syriac Orthodox Church these readings are for a calendar year beginning with the Qudosh `Idto (Sanctification of the Church) that falls on the eighth Sunday before Christmas. Both the Old and the New Testament books are read, including the apocrypha, except the books of Revelation, Song of Solomon, and I and II Maccabees. The lectionary guides the faithful through the rhythm of seasons providing relevant readings from the scripture that provide spiritual nourishment for the soul.

Scripture readings are assigned for Sundays and feast days, for each day of Lent and the Holy Weeks, for raising people to various offices of the Church, for the blessing of Holy Oil and various services such as baptisms and funerals. Generally, three Old Testament lessons, a selection from the prophets, and three readings from the New Testament are prescribed for each Sunday and Feast day. The New Testament readings include a reading from Acts, another from the Catholic Epistles or the Pauline Epistles, and a third reading from one of the Gospels. During Christmas and Easter a fourth lesson is added for the evening service. The readings reach a climax as we approach the glorious week of the Crucifixion. Through Lent lessons are recited twice a day except Saturdays. During the Passion Week readings are assigned for each of the major prayer hours.

The earliest evidence of a lectionary system may be the Gospels themselves. M.D. Goulder has suggested that the construction of Matthew follows the Jewish cycle of Torah readings.1

"A Gospel is not a literary genre at all, the study of Matthew reveals: it is a liturgical genre. A Gospel is a lectionary book, a series of 'Gospels' used in the worship week by week in lectio continua. Such a conclusion is in every way consonant with the view of the evangelist... He officiated, week by week, year by year, at worship that was Jewish in root and mainly Jewish in branch. He expounded Jewish readings with Christian traditions in the Jewish manner: and as the Jews read the Law by lectio continua round the year."

While some debate this thesis, few doubt that the first Christians used a Jewish lectionary cycle of readings either for one or three years. But the need to include the Gospel stories of Jesus into the life and consciousness of the Jewish-Christian community was a powerful force that may have culminated in the creation of a Gospel Harmony. Known in the western world as the Diatesseron, it may have been an attempt to solve the lectionary crisis and put the life of Jesus into one continuous narrative divided into 55 chapters. This nearly coincides with the numbers of weeks in the year plus a few extra for Christmas and Easter. The problem with this thesis is the disagreement over the dating of the Diatesseron. Some place its creation in the second century while others insist that it is clearly a late fourth or fifth century document.

Even if we dismiss the evidence of the the early dating of the Diatesseron as evidence of the earliest lectionary system, the year 411 A.D. is without question the date of the a calendar system upon which the lections are ordered (British Museum ms. 12150). The arrangement of the scripture lessons as we know them today with few modifications was arranged by Daniel, a monk of the Monastery of Beth Batin and his disciple Benjamin, Bishop of Edessa. The latter was assisted by the monk Isaac, an industrious pupil of the Bishop. It is believed that Daniel used lessons from the Diatesseron and Peshitto readings from the four Gospels.

By the year 1000 A.D. Patriarch Athanasius IV of Antioch collected and classified most known lectionaries, almost all of which were products of the work of Daniel and Issac. But there were differences between lectionaries at this time, as a Maphrianian, or an eastern tradition influence, was developing. The traditions of Antioch, Edessa, the monasteries of Qennesrin and Melitene influenced the lectionaries used in Syriac Othodox churches today that trace their culture to the Middle East. A divergent lectionary system developed in the East influenced by the traditions of Seleucia, Ctesiphon, and Takrit. Influences of this "eastern" type of lectionary system can be detected from the service books created by Maphryono Denha III of Harran (912-932 A.D.) and Basilius IV of Tikrit (d. 1069 A.D.) The Eastern tradition was also brought to India by the Syriac Orthodox fathers who came to India from the Maphrianate of the East (beginning with Maphryono Mor Baselius Yaldo).

The readings begin in the evening according to semitic fashion. In the West we measure the day with the technological help of the clock and socially determined moments. Midnight is the beginning of the day in the West. In the East the day begins with the setting of the sun. For example, Wednesday begins with the sunset of the previous evening - Tuesday evening. Thus when we read the Bible or follow the cycle of lectionary time we measure time in another way. We begin our day not in the blackness of the night but in the dim golden glow of early evening; not to the sound of a metal chime but to the whispers of the divine wind in our souls. Thus, we move through the night to the morning with Gospel reading.

Our Sunday morning readings offer us a symphony of selected readings from the beginning of the Scriptures to a Gospel crecendo where we gaze with rapture upon the face of our Lord. The readings of the lectionary are not just for bishops, priests and deacons, but for the entire membership of the church. Every Christian should read the lessons for the day. What better preparation for the Divine Liturgy than to read and meditate upon the lessons before attending worship services. God has revealed himself by tradition, authority, experience, and perhaps best of all through the Holy Scriptures. We can understand God's revelation, the Holy Scriptures, through the power of the Holy Spirit and by the guidance of interpretation of church theologians and teachers. The best reasons for reading the Scriptures are found in the Holy Word itself:

"All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living so that a person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed."



1 Goulder, M.D., Midrash and Lection in Matthew, The Speaker's Lectures in Biblical Studies 1969-71, London, SPCK, 1974. Goulder writes, "The theory I wish to propose is a lectionary theory: that is, that the Gospel was developed liturgically, and was intended to be used liturgically; and that its order it liturgically significant, in that it follows the lections of the Jewish year. Matthew, I believe, wrote his Gospel to be read in church round the year; he took the Jewish Festal Year, and the pattern of lections prescribed therefore, as his base; and it is possible for us to descry from ms. evidence for which feast, and for which the Sabboth/Sunday, and even on occasion for which service, any particular verses were intended. Such claims do not err on the side of modesty, but I hope to show that the nature of the evidence is so exact and so cogent that no other conclusion is possible. Such a theory not merely accounts for the general structure of the Gospel, and makes many of the details within the individual pericope significant, within that structure: it also provides a credible Sitz-im-Leben for the Gospel as a genre, born of a long quest. "p.172 Moosa, Matti I., trans., Kitab Al-Lu'Lu' Al Manthur Fi Tarikh Al-Ulum Wa Al-Adas Al-Syryaniya, by Ignatius Aphram Barsoum, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch of All the East, rendered into English with Introduction and partial annotations by Matti I. Moosa, 1965. Unpublished dissertation. First published as Histoire Des Sciences Et De La Litterature Syriaque, 1933. p.82 ibid., pp.102-103.

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