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The Problem of Chronology.


With the 5th chapter of the book of Genesis is connected the problem of the Biblical chronology. It is well known that in Byzantium and in Russia, before the rule of Peter the Great they counted years "since the creation of the world," not beginning with the Navity of Christ. Such chronology is accepted in the contemporary church calendars, though it is more and more subjected to criticism, for it is known that our earth appeared several billions of years ago.

We can give two answers for solving this problem. First: what exactly should we take for the date of "the creation of the world"? On the words of prophet Moses, Ap. Peter and the greatest church interpreter of the Holy Scripture St. Basil the Great, the époque of the world’s creation should be understood as very prolonged periods, for as the 7th day, which finished the course of the 6 days of creation, the Church calls the entire, lasting at present period, till the end of the world, when to change the 7th day there will come the 8th day, without a night, which will be infinite.

Consequently, when did the 6th day finish and when did the 7th day start? According to the sense of the corresponding narration of the book of Genesis we can say: then, when the creation of the man in the present spirit-bearing state was over. But when this moment took part in the historical process, we do not know. It is important to note here that none of the historical testimonies about the religious life of the man, anything like writings, steps beyond the limits of what it is said in the Bible.

Secondly, the unchangeable word of God, the holy Bible, does not give any chronological schemes to us. It gives only the years of lives of the Patriarchs — the descendents of Adam till the Flood and then after the Flood till Abraham. Calculating these years, some pious monk of the Middle Ages, Dionysius Exiguus (the same, who calculated the year of the Navity of Christ), had counted the years since the Creation of the World, and this era, exclusively in the terms of its convenience, was accepted in Byzantium, and borrowed from Byzantium by Russia.

Though if we look attentively at the Biblical text, we shall see that it does not give the precise chronology. In reality, what does the Bible say? "And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, and after his image; and called his name Seth: And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters: And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years." And like this it is said about every descendant of Adam: the years of their lives are given, before the birth of the mentioned children and after it.

But the matter is in the fact that the Biblical expression "X. the son of Y." and "Y. begat X." do not always mean that this X. was his son directly. In the Old Testament we see that about almost all the kings of Judea it is said "he did as David, his son," or "he did not do as David, his father." And in the New Testament Christ the Savior is called the son of David, Son of Abraham and Son of Adam. In the pedigree of the Lord, given by Ap. Mathew, we see that when the Evangelist says: "And Ozias begat Joatham," then he omits 4 generations (compare math. 1:9 and 4 Kings chap. 11 and 15, and 1 Kings 3:10).

Consequently, when the Bible says that Y. Has son X., we should understand that X is the direct descendent of Y, and how many generations are between them — it cannot be asserted. Ozias begat Joatham, but between them they have four generations! Christ the Savior is the son of Davis, but between them there are around 30 generations, Christ the Savior is the son of Abraham, but they have almost 50 generations in between, Christ the Savior is the Son of Adam, but between them is a huge, impossible to count even approximately, multitude of generations. But only one thing is immutable and absolutely authentic for us: if someone is called in the Holy Bible the son of X., then he is his direct descendant. Christ the Savior is the son of David, son of Abraham, son of Adam, for He is their direct descendant. This is what is asserted and emphasized by the Holy Scripture, because it is exactly what we need to know, to see in Christ the authentic Savior of the world, proclaimed to the first people by God.

Thus, the calculations concerning chronology are not the aim of the Bible. This, like all the scientific or historical researches, the Lord leaves to the people, who feel the calling to do such laborious but non-essential for salvation occupations.

In order to understand why such chronology was convenient for Byzantium, one needs to recall that Byzantium was a cultural and political heiress both of Rome and eastern monarchies, and before the Byzantium chronologists there was a hard to resolve task: for their historical labors they needed to combine the various methods of chronology: the Roman — from the foundation of Rome, the Greek — concerning the Olympiads, and besides the Hellenic-Syrian Era of Seleucids (since 312 AD, look, chap. 1, Mac.) and the most compound calendar systems — the Alexandrian and Babylonian.

The religious motives even then dictated the preference of the era of the Navity of Christ. According to the church understanding, since the time of the Coming of Christ into the world, He Alone really, in the full meaning of the word, reigns and rules, and the terrestrial kings only rule temporarily. "The One is the King and Lord," says about the Savior the church chant. "Christ is our King" — exclaimed holy martyrs, denying subduing to the terrestrial kings-tormentors. That was why it was so natural for the Christian consciousness in the countries, where the chronology was according to the number of years of rule of this or that leader, to enter the chronology according to the years of rule of Christ the Lord — since the day of His Navity.

But in practice, for the Byzantine historians the era of the Navity of Christ was not convenient, for the Navity of Christ was then a very proximate date. Narrating the story of Alexander of Macedonia, of ancient Rome, Pompeii, Caesar, it was needed to tell the year before the Navity of Christ. This inconvenience can be felt by us, but for us it is rather diminished by the fact that the date of the Navity of Christ now is rather far from us in time, and this inconvenience becomes notable only while narrating the history of the centuries, close to it.

Due to all these reasons, the calculated by Dionysius Exiguus era, since the creation of the world was willingly accepted by the Byzantine historians and taken from them by the state. Though very often in the Byzantine documents we find both the dates: since the creation of the world, and starting with the Navity of Christ.

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