“UNDER PONTIUS PILATE”

Friday, August 4, 2017

“…And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate (ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου, при Понтийстем Пилате), and suffered and was buried…” (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed)

 

Besides the “Virgin Mary,” Pontius Pilate is the only human being mentioned in the Creed. Why? In order to underscore the importance of historical time, namely, the time “under Pontius Pilate,” when he was the Roman governor in Judea. When we profess our belief in Christ being crucified for us “under Pontius Pilate,” we are saying that we believe this happened in history, in real time, and not in some kind of myth or fairy tale.

 

So, when I embrace Orthodox faith, professing the Creed from my heart, I am also embracing the difficult fact that the Church exists within something called “time.” And that means change, because “time” is a measure of change. I mean, we don’t experience the passage of “time” other than by noticing that something “changes,” even if it is only the blink of an eye, or a new feeling or thought. And this phenomenon of “change,” often an unpredictable one, within Church History, is very challenging to us, I think. Because as Orthodox Christians we tend to prefer a sort of safe-and-secure vision of our Tradition as being unchangeable. Nonetheless, it isn’t. The very text of our Creed, in its official, Slavonic translation, reflects a minor-yet-awkward “change” of meaning, in the above-quoted passage, because of human error: The phrase, “under Pontius Pilate,” is falsely translated into the Slavonic as “при Понтийстем Пилате,” which means “under Pilate of Pontus,” – rather than the correct “under Pontius Pilate.” This grammatical error creates no “dogmatic” problems, of course, but it is inaccurate nonetheless. And I’m not bothered by it, particularly. My point is, this grammatical error reflects, in a small way, how we are susceptible both to change and error, in our historical, human existence as Church. And yet we can, and do, live peacably with that. At least I haven’t heard of any campaign to correct the grammatical error in our Slavonic version of the Creed.

 

What practical lesson do I take away from this, for my church-life today? The simple acceptance of the fact that things can change, and do change, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse, in our earthly existence as Church. And that’s OK. Because we have One, as Head of the Church, Who entered into our history, and made Himself susceptible to its changeability, in its ups and downs, even unto being “crucified” and “buried.” So today let me not be afraid of change, however it confronts me personally, or us communally, as Church, but walk through it on the cross-carrying journey, as Christ did. Glory be to Him.

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