Catechetical, Liturgical, and Biblical Implications of the Hoosoyo in Contemporary Maronite Tradition


Written by Fr. Anthony Salim, Pastor of  St. Joseph Maronite Church, Olean, NY and author of Captivated by your Teachings

Captivated by your TeachingsWhen Professor Miller asked me to consider presenting a paper at this symposium, he told me that he wanted to have a living witness to the ideas in the papers of the other presenters. I genuinely think that the current liturgical tradition of the Maronite Church fits the bill. Thus, the purpose of this paper will be to demonstrate how a central liturgical form of the Antiochene West Syriac Tradition, namely the hoosoyo, has come to be understood as a both an effective catechetical tool on passing on the Faith and a source for Maronite interpretation of the Bible.

BACKGROUND

As background to understanding this topic one must consider the effect that the Second Vatican Council had on the development of the Maronite Church’s liturgical tradition. This is particularly true of the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy, or Qoorbono “Service of the Holy Mysteries”; but it also applies to the texts of the sacramental Mysteries, such as Baptism-Chrismation, Holy Crowning, etc. In a word, the Council sent shockwaves throughout the Maronite world.

It is well known that before the Council, among the whole panoply of the Eastern Catholic Churches, the Maronite Church was one of the most highly latinized. In hindsight we now realize that the presence of Western Church customs in Maronite life was not only imposed from without but, as difficult as it is to admit, history shows that it was often welcomed from within this Church.

Another change the Council initiated regarded the ecclesiological perspective of the Eastern Churches collectively. Previous to the Council Eastern Catholic groups were for the most part seen as merely adapted, so-called “Rites” of the Latin Church. As strange as it sounds today, Eastern Catholics were said to “belong” to these various Eastern Rites, as if it were possible somehow to belong to a ritual prayer, such as the Rite of Holy Anointing or the Rite of Blessing of Water on Theophany. In fact, this was the terminology of many of the documents preceding the Council. Indeed, one still finds an ambivalent use of the term rite in the “Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches” of the Council; and, regrettably, among both clergy and laity of the Eastern Churches.

In the intervening years between the end of the Council (1965) and today, important changes have taken place. Today a substantial number of Maronites have begun to recognize themselves as members of one of 21 Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Apostolic See of Rome, and of course Rome with them. Maronites are not members of a so-called “Rite.” Rather, like all other Catholic Churches, the Maronite Church uses rites in liturgical worship, or claims that it developed out of a wider liturgical Rite, or Tradition. The Maronite Church understands that the mother liturgical Tradition or Rite that it follows is that of the West-Antiochene Syriac Tradition, with considerable influence from the theological and spiritual patrimony of the Syriac Church of the East, particularly in its liturgical hymnody, as exemplified by the great Teachers Ephrem, Aphrahat and James of Serug, to name a few.

This conversion from a pre-Vatican II mentality to its current state has not come easy. Latinizations do not die easily, especially when accommodated for so many centuries. Here in the United States, where the members of Eastern Catholic Churches live in the wider context of dominant Latin Catholicism, discovering and particularly maintaining one’s Eastern heritage is challenging. Nor is the conversion by any means complete. Resistance to change from what is known and comfortable is still a reality for the Maronite Church, as for other Eastern Communities.

Yet, there is in fact no turning back. The authentic liturgical renewal that took root first in the United States in the 1970s is now also taking hold in Lebanon, Patriarchal See of the Maronite Church, as the current revised ordo of the Qoorbono manifests. With the firm understanding that liturgy is the true fount of Eastern Church life, other areas of Maronite life, such as catechesis and biblical studies, have also undergone a renaissance. The stage has been set with some background investigation. We turn now to a closer look at the hoosoyo and its possibilities. We shall see that this central prayer places an essential part in Syriac-Maronite self-understanding.

THE HOOSOYO IN CURRENT MARONITE LITURGICAL PRACTICE

What is the hoosoyo? In his introduction to the Lectionary of the Syriac Maronite Church (Diocese of St. Maron, USA, 1976) Fr. Joseph Amar describes the hoosoyo thus:

The Hoosoyo is a form of prayer proper to the Syriac Church of Antioch, and, apart from the readings, it constitutes the largest single element of the pre-anaphoral liturgy.

A simple Hoosoyo is comprised of a Proemion . . . and a Sedro. The Proemion is a stylized introductory formula which extols the attributes of God, particularly those which relate to the specific celebration being observed. It is a prayer in praise of God for His goodness toward His people.

The purpose of the Proemion is to prepare for the Sedro, a Syriac word that means “series.” The Sedro petitions God to act again on behalf of the specific needs of His Church. In light of God’s great deeds in the past, the Sedro asks Him to once again accord His help and mercy to the Church, which stands in need.

The Sedro frequently employs an operative word or phrase whose purpose it is to call attention to the specific needs which are now being put before God. Some terms which are used most often are: . . . “Consequently,” . . . “And so,” . . . “Because of this,” . . . “And now. . . .”

The Sedro is the forerunner of the diaconal petitions of the type chanted during the breaking of the bread. These petitions, known alternately as the katholiq . . . , “The Universal Intercession,” or as broudiqi . . . , from the Latin praedicare, conclude with “Amen.”

In the interruption of these petitions by a response, one may see a likely explanation of the origins of the litanies in use by the Byzantine Church.

In addition to the Proemion and Sedro, the Hoosoyo may also include one or more of the following elements:

  • a Qolo . . . , or “melody” usually made up of four short strophes chanted antiphonally and always in verse.
  • an ‘Etro . . . , or “prayer of incense” in prose.
  • a Houtomo . . . , or “concluding formula” in prose.

The term Hoosoyo which is applied to this major section of the pre-anaphora is itself highly significant. The word is used in the Peshitto Old Testament to translate the Hebrew kapporet . . . , the name applied to the solid gold lid which covered the Ark of the Covenant. The cherubim which surmounted the Ark were constructed in such a way so that their wings would overshadow this “Mercy Seat” or Hoosoyo.

When light was admitted to the chamber which housed the Ark, the Hoosoyo was framed by the shadow of the outstretched wings. The Hoosoyo was the meeting place of God and man, “For it is there that I shall come to meet you from above the Hoosoyo” (Ex. 25: 22).

In its origins, then, the Hoosoyo is the place where God converses with His people. Moses beheld the glory of Yahweh above the Hoosoyo and the priests stood in front of the Ark to sprinkle the Hoosoyo with blood on the Day of Atonement.

Among Christian Semites who worship in the “true Meeting Tent which the Lord, and not any man, set up” (Heb. 8:2), the Hoosoyo is no longer a tangible locus, but rather becomes the prayer which sums up God’s wondrous deeds toward mankind. The Hoosoyo is not longer a place of meeting, but the dialogue which takes place at the meeting. It is the recounting of God’s gifts from of old in order to secure them for the present.

The petitions of the Hoosoyo are prayed “through Your Christ” Who is the point of encounter between God and man. And the meeting is irrevocable, for “He entered the sanctuary once and for all, taking with Him, not the blood of goats and calves, but His own blood, having won an eternal propitiation” (Heb. 9:12).

FUNCTIONS OF THE HOOSOYO

As Amar demonstrates here, the Hoosoyo performs several important functions. However, he focuses on the liturgical (and historical). In reflecting upon the liturgical tradition, especially the hoosoyo, in the years after the reform was initiated, other equally important functions of the hoosoyo emerged from the reflection. Indeed, as with the entire liturgical tradition as recovered (and still being recovered), the hoosoyo itself began to appear as a treasure chest of spiritual riches. It is these other functions that tie this paper to the scope of the other presentations of this Symposium. These other functions include: catechesis, biblical interpretation, and spirituality, especially liturgical and personal prayer. Let us look briefly at each of these.

CATECHESIS

Eastern Tradition in general acknowledges that liturgy in all its forms lies at the heart of all that it is and does: lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi atque agendi. Knowledge of the Mysteries of God and of the Church is to be found in the wisdom and insight of prayer, especially liturgical prayer. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the catechesis of the faithful springs out of a profound understanding of the way one worships. Long before catechisms were conceived, the truths of the faith were experienced in the chanting of the Divine Mysteries. Icons, or prayers in color and form, followed the rhythms of the liturgical year as understood by each Tradition of the Church and the Particular Churches that emanated from those Traditions.

Beginning in the mid-1970s catechetical leaders in the Maronite Church of the United States began to see the need for a systematic way to introduce the faithful to the understanding of the Catholic Faith in an authentic way. It was seen clearly that it was inappropriate to continue to use texts produced by the Latin Church, for these could not represent the vision of the Syriac-Maronite Church emerging from the renewal. Where to turn? They turned to the only proper source they knew: the Qoorbono and the 1976 version of the Lectionary produced by Fr. Amar. It should be noted that this was an early stage of development. Even the Maronite Patriarchal Liturgical Commission in Lebanon had not yet produced a usable lectionary for common, Patriarchate-wide use.

Central to this search were the many hoosoyos now revealed for use in the Maronite Church in the United States. As Amar maintained (previously quoted), we discovered that A simple Hoosoyo is comprised of a Proemion . . . and a Sedro. The Proemion is a stylized introductory formula which extols the attributes of God, particularly those which relate to the specific celebration being observed (italic mine). It is a prayer in praise of God for His goodness toward His people.

From this succinct observation in the italicized phrase above there came the realization that Maronites could think with the rhythm and flow of the liturgical year. This was something virtually not previously done in recent centuries in any effective way, strange as that may seem to some, either in the Motherland, Lebanon, or the Expansion, (i.e. the communities outside of the Motherland). The exception was in monastic life. However, the problem here, of course, as in all the Eastern Churches, is the relation of monastic life to the more historically recent phenomenon of contemporary eparchial organization. In other words, how does liturgical awareness, as well as everything that flows from it, filter into ordinary Maronite life?

From this realization came the possibility of building a catechetical program in a parish based on the liturgical year and the doctrinal truths revealed in the prayers of each Sunday celebration. The realization was at the same revolutionary and fully traditional.

A CATECHETICAL ILLUSTRATION

A good illustration of this may be found in the hoosoyo for the pre-Christmas Sunday Commemoration of the Announcement to Mary. The Proemion, Sedro and ‘Etro of that hoosoyo follow:

Proemion (the Celebrant burns incense and chants):

May we be worthy to praise and confess the God of earth and sky
the Creator, the Sustainer, the Life-Giver.
In his love and foreknowledge
he decided to return to the heirs of Adam
and pitch his tent in their midst.
Prophets, apostles, and teacher came before him
in order to create a well-disposed people.
Finally, the “Man of God,” Gabriel,
came and revealed his imminent coming.
To the God of this holy dispensation
we offer praise and thanksgiving,
now and for ever.

Cong: Amen.

Sedro (the Celebrant continues):

The Virgin Mary received the angel messenger
with fear and amazement.
“Peace be with you, Mary.
The Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among all women.”
Mary answered, “Never have I heard such a greeting.
Who are you; who is your Lord, and why have you come?”
“I am Gabriel. My name means ‘God’s Strong One,’
And I have come to tell you
That you will bear a son
by the overshadowing of God’s own Holy Spirit.”
Mary was overtaken with wonder and astonishment.
Fear seized and doubt filled her mind.
“Good sir, I am but a girl.
Do not speak to me this way,
for I have never known man nor am I married.”
The angel said, Mary, the power of God’s Spirit is now upon you.
Your Son is the long-awaited hope of the Prophets.
He dwells in eternal realms,
and fiery ranks of angels accompany him,
for he is the flaming Word of God,
a searing fire, a white, hot coal.
Mary said, “I am a mortal creature.
Surely I will be consumed by God’s all-consuming fire.
How fearful is this moment!
How my breath leaves me for fear!
How humble am I, and how overcome
That such a thing should come to pass!”
Now, O Lord, we are seized with amazement,
And, like Mary, we do not understand.
With her we draw back, blinded by your eternal flame,
scorched by its touch and overcome by its power.
We know only to offer incense
as a fitting response to so great a Word
who this day makes his presence among us.
We hide behind clouds of perfumed smoke,
and dare not even glimpse the power
that now descends over our altar.
Purge us with your living flame, O God.
Treat us as wayward children
and not as hostile enemies.
And we will praise you,
now and for ever.

Cong: Amen.

(Note: the Qolo (Hymn) is not printed out here. It speaks of Mary as our mother and a reliable intercessor to Jesus, who saves us)

‘Etro (the Celebrant concludes):

O Cloud, who dropped dew upon creation
and scattered fragrance on all people;
O Pure One, from whose womb erupted?
the Living Fountain to quench their thirst
and to cleanse them from all their sins,
bestow on us, on this memorial of your announcement,
the sweet dew of generous blessings,
and may the faithful departed find rest
on your feast day and for ever.

Cong: Amen.

This prayer is a treasure chest of riches for catechesis and spirituality. The first thing that strikes the worshiper is that it is nearly biblically literal. The dialog between the angel and Mary is in fact a feature of the Gospel passage. So we see immediately how tied to the biblical Word the Tradition is. It is easy to see that the hoosoyo is interpreting the passage correctly.

However, as Sebastian Brock points out, beyond the “correct” interpretation of a passage from Scripture, many deeper spiritual interpretations are possible.

A passage of Scripture is capable of only one correct interpretation at a time; such a restriction, however, does not apply to spiritual interpretation: in that case, the more lucid and luminous the inner eye of faith is, the more spiritual interpretations it will be capable of discovering. As Ephrem points out, it would be very boring if a passage of Scripture had only one spiritual meaning . . . (The Bible in the Syriac Tradition, pp. 59-60)

In other words, the Scriptures are very rich indeed. Syriac Tradition is never afraid to find many spiritual interpretations; indeed, the spirit and expressions of the Syriac Churches often go further into the life of the Gospel character.

The Maronite Church here is no exception, and this hoosoyo illustrates this well. Here we see the real concern, even fear, of Mary at the momentous news being brought to her by the angel-messenger. Not only can she not fathom that she is pregnant. She realizes with growing anxiety that if indeed it is true, then the One she bears inside her, God’s eternal Flame, “a white, hot coal,” may totally consume her. Yet, just as the Burning Bush, in which Moses discovers the Presence of YHWH-Adonai, is not consumed, so neither is Mary. The angel encourages her to accept this miracle with joy and faith. Mary’s acceptance of this leads to her expressing her fiat to this proposal by God.

This Syriac “going deeper” is expressed in this sedro in the form of a sooghito, or dialog, that is intended to drive home the point in a dramatic way. Ephrem, for one, was fond of creating such dialogs, and several survive.

What this means for catechesis is that innate within the Tradition are skits, or little plays, that, if adapted, can be used effectively to teach students many things. Children love to do skits; and as any catechist knows, if the children are involved, so will their families and guardians. By extension, a whole parish community at worship might even be evangelized through such simple, yet traditional, catechetical means.

Doctrine is also learned. In this hoosoyo, for example, there are many Christian teachings. The most obvious is the Incarnation: the “White, Hot Coal” is no one less than the Word of God-Made-Flesh. In describing Who is in Mary’s womb in this way, Mary in the Gospel story, and by extension the teaching and believing Church, realizes that the Divine Son is the? “Light from Light” from the (later formulated) Nicene Creed.

This revelation has occurred throughout “salvation history,” first to the Jews, then to the Christian Church. This is the meaning of the repetition of the word prophet(s). And since it is done by a design by God in loving-kindness, we are taught the doctrine of Divine Providence.

Another theme is Revelation. The angel may be a metaphoric or symbolic figure in the story and the Tradition of the Church; but clearly what is meant by the angel’s presence and challenge is God’s speaking to humanity in the person of Mary.

Mary’s ultimate response is nothing other than discipleship: “Let it happen” is nothing less than I will submit to and follow God’s Plan for me and others.

Virtues are expressed as well: trust, faith, courage, and others. Of note is the encouragement not to fear. In this we see the Johannine truth: “Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).

All of this basic teaching is framed in the most intimate and poignant way in this hoosoyo. Yet, because all of this is encapsulated in this special prayer form, repeated yearly on this Sunday, the possibility of impacting the minds and hearts of the hearers is great. Teachers and preachers have a powerful tool for the Gospel in the Hoosoyo.

Catechetical progress was made rather quickly after that. An initial series for the elementary level entitled, Faith of the Mountain, was published by St. Maron Publications. It is currently in its first revision and mandated for use in all Maronite parishes in the US two eparchies. A series by the same name for the secondary level was also published (St. Maron Publications). Finally, an attempt was made to address the critical need for adult catechetical formation. The result was a “resource book” by myself entitled, Captivated by Your Teachings: a Resource Book for Adult Maronite Catholics, now in its second printing (See Bibliography). Clearly, the hunger for rediscovering the reinterpreted Tradition is great among adults inside and outside the US Maronite Community, as the number of parish adult faith formation programs is increasing. (Incidentally, the title of this text comes from Morning Prayer [Safro] for Thursday in the Season of Pentecost.) All of these works, particularly the last, are intentionally liturgy-based, and draw much of their spirit and content from the hoosoyos.

BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION

In addition to the Maronite lectionary the hoosoyo itself reveals much about how this Church interprets the Bible. The pattern of the lectionary and the liturgical year already betrays a deep consciousness of how the Bible is to be interpreted in the life of the Christian community at large; in Catholic life in general with its varied Traditions; and in Maronite life in particular. Eugene LaVerdiere was quite correct in demonstrating this in his seminal book, The New Testament in the Life of the Church: Evangelization, Prayer, Catechetics, Homiletics (See Bibliography).

For example, when one looks at the pattern of miracle stories in the Maronite Sunday Gospel Cycle for Great Lent, one finds a brilliant preparation for celebration of the Resurrection, and one that is quite different from the lectionaries of the other Catholic Churches. In this cycle, all the miracles (of body and soul) are signs leading to the Great Feast. In this sense the use of signs is very Johannine. The cycle begins with the miracle at Cana in Galilee. Jesus sets the stage for his own Easter transformation by a miracle of transformation. In the “end,” i.e., the Resurrection, he himself is transformed by the same divine power that informs his earthly life, enabling him to do the miracles expressed in the Gospel stories of Lent. Further, the symbolism is carried further, for just as water is changed into wine, in the Eucharist wine is changed into Christ’s own Blood, for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of the world. This is a fine example of how the patterning of the lectionary interprets the New Testament for deeper insight.

The Liturgy of the Word (synaxis) of each of these Lenten Sundays presents a hoosoyo particular to each celebration. It comments on it and draws worshipers into its enchanting and mystical sphere of spiritual influence, while inviting the hearers to make the Bible passage a real part of one’s spiritual life. With reflection and study, after the Sunday worship experience, this is possible.

The Cana story leads to a further consideration of exegetical possibilities. In seeing the transformation of water into wine, then wine into the blood of Jesus, we move into the realm of typology. Cana wine, centerpiece of an earthly wedding feast foreshadows (that is, is the anti-type) of the New Wine drunk in the Church’s Liturgy and the wine that Jesus promises to offer in the Kingdom (Mt 26:29).

While the Antiochene Fathers, especially Theodore of Mopsuestia, were conservative in their use of typology, in them it is not absent. The Syriac Teachers such as Ephrem, however, used typology much more. Since Maronite liturgical tradition partakes of both the Antiochene and the Syriac Traditions (they are of course not mutually exclusive), the question arises as whether Maronite liturgical tradition partakes in typology, and, if so, how much. If the answer is that the use of typology is considerable, then it may confidently be said that Maronite liturgical Tradition truly reveals its Syriac-Antiochene roots.

Clearly, anyone who prays the Divine of the Maronite Church will see that Old Testament examples that speak to New Testament fulfillment abound. In fact, it is really quite impossible to pray the Office—and by extension the Qoorbono—fruitfully without a basic knowledge of the figures, places and themes of Old Testament salvation history. The following discussion of Joseph’s dream can enlighten.

AN ILLUSTRATION OF TYPOLOGY

The time of preparation for the Feast of the Nativity in the Maronite Church is known as the “Season of the Glorious Birth of the Lord.” It is also known as the season of “Happy Announcements” (Syriac: soboorey). The Gospels of this season center on the people, such as Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Forerunner, Mary, and Joseph, and of course Jesus himself, who played key roles in the drama of salvation and their rather special circumstances.

The fifth Gospel of this Announcement Cycle is that of the Dream of Joseph. In it, Joseph ponders his very real dilemma about his betrothed one Mary being pregnant without his help. God’s revelation, described as an angel of the Lord, informs this righteous man that this is God’s doing, that trust in God is what is needed, as it was for Job and for countless others before Joseph (and will be for countless others after him). The complete hoosoyo (proemion, sedro, 2 alternate qolay and ‘etro) for this feast follows:

Proemion (the Celebrant chants):

May we be worthy to praise, confess, and glorify
The glorious Son, who sent the angel Gabriel to righteous Joseph;
the eternal Light, who dwelt in the womb of the pure virgin;
Christ, the good One, to whom are due glory and honor on this feast
and all the days of our lives, and for ever.

The congregation responds: Amen.

Sedro (The Celebrant continues:):

Is there any lofty place like yours,
O honorable and righteous Joseph?
You served the Lord and his mother
and were their constant companion both day and night.
You carried on your arm the One who carries the whole world,
and you supported the One who supports all people.
You spoke with the eternal Word,
and you were the guardian of his mother, the blessed Virgin,
betrothed to you in purity.
O mystery of Jacob realized!
O true and perfect dream come true!
How blessed are you among the saints!
For this reason, we cry out and say:
Hail to you, O blessed angel,
who accompanied the Savior
and defended him from all misfortune!
Hail to you, O virgin who cared for the Virgin,
the daughter of the Father
and the spouse of the Holy Spirit!
Hail to you, O luminous star in the heavenly Church!
You guide her children along the right path.
O innocent and righteous Joseph,
We now petition you with the clouds of incense that
we raise:
Intercede for us with the Lord
whom you served throughout your life.
Implore him to watch over us in this world
and to keep us from the misfortune of soul and body.
And we will glorify the life-giving Holy Trinity,
now and for ever.

Cong: Amen.

Qolo (Hymn) A:

I- Wake up, Joseph!
Do not be doubtful of this conception,
for the conceiving Mary remains Virgin,
Yet she is the Mother of the Son of God
and his living Word.

II- You will foster the One before whose fire
the angels cover their faces.
Mary is the image of his holy of holies,
and you are the serving pontiff.

All: Receive our prayer
as a pleasing fragrance,
and offer it to the King of kings.
By the confidence you enjoy with her,
may we sinners obtain his reconciliation.

OR Qolo B:

I- Righteous Joseph has become the father of the family.
Behold, the mother of the family is a spotless virgin!
The words of Isaiah are accomplished.
God is with us!

II- Blessed Joseph is seized with wonder.
How amazing are the ways of God!
Mary, his spouse, is virgin and mother.
God is with us!

I- And pure Mary, what can she say?
The power of God rests upon her, and she is amazed.
She is virgin and mother.
God is with us!

II- O blessed Joseph, how can we respond?
Amazement robs us of our words.
Teach us your love for God and show us his mystery.
God is with us!

‘Etro

O blessed Fragrance who has filled the whole universe,
You have removed doubt from Joseph’s heart
And have confirmed the pregnancy of Mary.
Accept our incense and grant peace to our souls
And rest to our dead.
We will glorify you,
now and for ever.

Cong: Amen.

In this sedro we note the line: “O true and perfect dream come true.” Its deep and rich meaning is veiled by its utter simplicity. In fact, without proper reflection this meaning may be lost. However, sufficient reflection will reveal a wonderful richness. Let me explain.

In the line quote above, “O true and perfect dream come true,” a casual reading might suggest that the text has been adapted in such way as to make it relevant to today’s sensibilities. In colloquial terms we might say that it produces the kind of “warm fuzzies” and bland romance of TV soaps, as if Jesus were the proper stuff of greeting cards. However, the exact opposite is true.

When one considers the general purpose of pre-Christmas season and the meaning of the Nativity itself, one is reminded of the great work of salvation the Word of God accomplished in assuming our humanity. Against this backdrop we must interpret Joseph’s dilemma and the real solution Jesus’ Birth provides him (and us).

To understand how Jesus is the “true and perfect dream come true,” we must turn to another Joseph, in the Old Testament, who, like Joseph of Nazareth, is a dreamer. The answer, of course, is Joseph, son of Jacob, rejected by jealous brothers and, saved, is promoted to preeminence in the court of Egypt (Gn 37; 39-40; 50). In this beloved and familiar story we note that Joseph is able to save his brothers, who have come to him out of desperation and hunger. By his control of the grain supply of Egypt he is able to send food with his brothers back to his fatherland and to save the family.

In the New Testament story, another Joseph will perform a saving act for his family. With his baby’s life threatened by Herod (as the Gospel recounts), Joseph must do something. He has been assured of God’s intervention in a previous dream; now God intervenes again, telling him to flee into Egypt with his wife and child where they will be safe until it time to return home. The Evangelist then recounts that this is just what happened.

The typology seems very clear. There are two Josephs. They both dream. The dreaming isn’t merely the result of an overactive subconscious, but rather the precise mode that God uses to effect his saving will. People are saved. In fact, it is helpful to reflect upon how Joseph of Nazareth saves the Savior. Parenthetically, with his penchant for juxtaposing opposites—i.e., using the literary device of paradox—one might expect to find in some memra somewhere a verse by Ephrem speaking of Joseph saving the Savior. Lastly, could one not link up the fact that it is grain that saved the Old Testament family with him who is saved by Joseph, namely Jesus the Bread of Life? It is possible that there are more details that could be compared in these two Joseph stories, but to do so might border on allegory. And, as we all know, the Antiochenes were only too ready to leave that to the Alexandrians.

The point of this example is to show that rather than fluff, this verse from the hoosoyo shows us a fundamental truth about salvation. God’s work in the dreams of Pharaoh’s Joseph comes true in the most powerful way in Jesus, the fulfillment of the deepest yearnings of humanity. At least, this is what this liturgical text is trying to convey to Maronite worshipers in the 5th Sunday of the Announcement Cycle.

NOT JOSEPH’S DILEMMA, BUT OURS

At this point it must be noted that a substantial problem in Maronite life is about to occur. The newly published, unified and revised lectionary for the Universal Maronite Patriarchate is about to be promulgated throughout the Maronite Patriarchate. This new lectionary does not contain Old Testament pericopes! Rather, it consists almost exclusively of the writings of Paul, and occasionally from the Acts of the Apostles (Season of Resurrection). The reasoning, we are told, is that the Old Testament Readings for the day are to be found in the Divine Office; that when the Office is prayed, people will experience the Old Testament. As noted above, the reality is that people outside monasteries do not regularly pray the Divine Office. The end result, of course, is that unless the average Maronite parishioner gains knowledge of the Old Testament in some way other than the Divine Office, such as Bible study, this potentially fulfilling experience of the drama of salvation history will be lost, not to mention a fuller appreciation of the typology built right into the liturgical texts themselves. Petitions on behalf of this issue have been made from the eparchs of the United States to the Patriarchal Liturgical Commission. However, in order to “rescue” the Old Testament for the Maronite Church these efforts must pay off. The Commission, and ultimately the Patriarch himself, will have to judge the validity of the contention of this paper, however it is communicated to them, and help to resolve the dilemma.

THE HOOSOYO AS PRAYER

As pointed out from the outset, and despite the foregoing academic considerations of its catechetical and exegetical functions, the hoosoyo is above all prayer. As such, its first aim is to lead the worshiper to enter into the formal and official prayer life of the Maronite Church. From an Eastern Church perspective it can be said that prayer encourages the worshiper to enter more deeply into the Sacred Mysteries of the Church, even to experience a mystical participation in the heavenly life of the Trinity.

Church Tradition in general recognizes four basic types of prayer: 1) adoration and praise; 2) petition; 3) intercession; and 4) thanksgiving. While each type addresses the different and individual moments of our spiritual journey, taken together, these four types of prayer knit the fabric of our efforts to communicate with the Source of Life and all Being.

These four types of prayer can take on a personal dimension when done as private prayer (note Mt 6:5-6), as we praise and thank our God; ask for our needs to be addressed; and as we pray for others. As well, they can take on a public dimension when, for example, we gather for worship, e.g., at the Divine Liturgy or the sacramental Mysteries or the Divine Office. Although, of course, the hoosoyo forms an essential part of private recitation, as, for example, when the Office is not chanted chorally; the hoosoyo is in fact meant primarily to be a public prayer, the prayer of worship, and it very often does this admirably.

If we look again at the hoosoyo for the Feast of Revelation to Joseph, we can see how these elements (italicized in the prayer) are expressed. A brief selection from the hoosoyo (previously quoted in full) illustrates:

(Proemion)

May we be worthy to praise, confess, and glorify
the glorious Son …, to whom are due glory and honor
on this feast and all the days of our lives, and
for ever.

Cong:Amen.

(Sedro)

…O innocent and righteous Joseph,
we now petition you with the clouds of incense
that we raise:
Intercede for us with the Lord
whom you served throughout your life.
Implore him to watch over us in this world
and to keep us from the misfortune of soul and body.
And we will glorify the life-giving Holy Trinity,
now and for ever.

Cong: Amen.

At least three elements—praise, petition, and intercession—are explicitly stated here. However, there can be no doubt that the final statement about glorifying God is a result of the heart that is thankful and full of faith.

CONCLUSION

The huge dilemma about the forthcoming lectionary notwithstanding, the truth remains: In Maronite liturgical tradition, the prayer form known as the hoosoyo is the bearer and source—biblical, catechetical , and spiritual—of this Church’s authentic heritage as an Eastern and Syriac Church.


A Select Bibliography

Beggiani, Seely J.. Introduction to Eastern Christian Spirituality: the Syriac Tradition. Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 1991.

Brock, Sebastian. The Luminous Eye: the Spiritual World Vision of St. Ephrem the Syrian. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1985.

______. The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life. Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1987.

Greer, Rowan. Theodore of Mopsuestia: Exegete and Theologian. Westminster: The Faith Press, 1961.

Hall, Christopher A., Ed. Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

John Paul II. Orientale Lumen. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995.

LaVerdiere, Eugene. The New Testament in the Life of the Church: Evangelization, Prayer, Catechetics, Homiletics. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1980.

McCarthy, Carmel, RSM, Trans. Saint Ephrem’s Commentary on Tatian’s Diatesseron. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

McVey, Kathleen, Ed. Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns. In The Classics of Western Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1989.

Murray, Robert. Symbols of Church and Kingdom: a Study in Early Syriac Tradition. London: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

Oden, Thomas C., Gen. Ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

Salim, Anthony J. Captivated by Your Teachings: a Resource Book for Adult Maronite Catholics. Tucson, AZ: E. T. Nedder Publications, 2002.

______. Homily Helps for the American Lectionary of the Syriac-Maronite Church of Antioch. Flint, MI: Full- returning Word Publications, 1987.

Trigg, Joseph W. Biblical Interpretation. In Message of the Fathers of the Church, #9. Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1988, especially pp. 31-38 and Chapter III (The Antiochene and Syriac Tradition).

Zaharopoulos, Dmitri Z. Theodore of Mopsuestia on the Bible: a Study of His Old Testament Exegesis. New York: Paulist Press, 1989.

Zayek, Francis M. Mary, Cedar of Our Catholic Faith. Detroit: Diocese of St. Maron, 1975.


Fr. Anthony J. Salim is the author of Captivated by Your Teachings: a Resource Book for Adult Maronite Catholics. You may contact him at salim48@aol.com

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