Glossary

page of dictionaryWords marked with an asterisk in the daily posts are defined here.

Apostolic Fathers—Leaders in the early church (mainly bishops) who were disciples of the Apostles. Theirs are the earliest postbiblical Christian writings now extant.

Athos, Mount—A mountainous peninsula in Greece, home to some 20 men’s monasteries. It is considered the heart of Orthodox world monasticism, and women are not permitted on the mountain (a matter of some controversy).

Autocephaly/Autocephalous—In Orthodoxy, refers to self-rule of a national or regional church (i.e., not under the authority of some other church; see Exarch).

Beati—Plural of Beatus*.

Beatify—To pronounce (someone) a Beatus*.

Beatus—See Blessed.

Bede—Important English monk and saint (seventh/eighth century) who wrote an important ecclesiastical history of the English people (called, imaginatively, Ecclesiastical History of the English People). His accuracy has been questioned, but by gosh he’s important.

Benefice—In Catholicism, an office, such as that of a bishop or canon, with a guaranteed income. (See also sinecure.)

Blessed—In Catholicism, a person who has been beatified*, but not glorified (officially recognized as a saint). The penultimate step in the multistep process of being recognized as a saint. Many blesseds go on to become saints; some do not and remain blesseds. Also called beati (singular: beatus). Except Augustine (Aug 28), who although a saint is often called “the Blessed Augustine.” Don’t ask me why.

Bollandists—An association of mostly-Jesuit scholars, philologists, historians, and similar ne’erdowells whose job it is to determine which pre-Congregation* saints to keep on the calendar and which to toss out.

Canon—In Catholicism, a priest attached to a cathedral.

Cenobitic, cenobitism—Communal monasticism, in which monastics live together, work together, pray together, eat together, etc. What we usually think of when we think of a monastery.

Confessor—In Orthodoxy, a person who suffered persecution, torture, etc. for Christ without dying thereof. In Catholicism, a priest authorized to hear confession and pronounce absolution.

Congregation for the Causes of Saints—A (Catholic) group created in 1588 to deal with canonizing saints, beatifying beati*, etc. Saints recognized as such before the Congregation are referred to as (try to guess!). . .pre-Congregation (did you get it? be honest).

Desert Fathers—An austere group of men and women [sic] who took to the deserts of Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine in the fourth century (et seq.) to seek God as hermits, monastics, etc.

Double Monastery—Monastery with both monks and nuns, usually in separate but adjacent facilities, and headed by a common abbot or abbess.

Exarch—The head of a national/regional Orthodox church under the purview of the Patriarch of some other church (e.g. in much of the nineteenth century, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was under the Patriarch of Moscow, and ruled by an exarch).

Fool for Christ—In Orthodoxy, a devout beggar who wears odd clothes, acts oddly, and often says things to the rich and powerful that most people fear to say out loud.

Friar—A male member of a mendicant* order*.

Friary—A monastery of friars*. (I’ll bet you could have figured that out without looking it up, if you had thought a little bit about it.)

Fourteen Holy Helpers—A set of saints whose intercessions were especially sought by medieval western Europeans. Comprises: Acacius of Byzantium (Apr 17), Greatmartyr Barbara (Dec 4), Blaise (Feb 3), Catherine of Alexandria (Nov 24), Christopher (May 9), Cyriacus the Martyr, Denis of Paris (Oct 9), Erasmus (Elmo) (Jun 2), Eustace (Sep 20), George (Apr 23), Giles, Marina (Margaret) of Antioch (Jul 17), Pantaleon/Pantaleimon (Jul 27), and Vitus (Jun 15).

Great Feasts—In Orthodoxy, the following twelve feasts: Nativity of the Theotokos (Sep 8), Exaltation of the Cross (Sep 14), Entrance of the Theotokos (Nov 21), Nativity of Christ (Christmas, Dec 25), Theophany (Jan 6), Presentation of Our Lord (Feb 2), Annunciation (Mar 25), Entrance into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday—one week before Pascha), Ascension (40 days after Pascha), Pentecost (50 days after Pascha), Transfiguration (Aug 6), Dormition of the Theotokos (Aug 15). Pascha, the Feast of Feasts, is not one of the twelve.

Hegumen—See Igumen.

Hesychasm—A mystical tradition involving certain prayers and practices, centered on the Prayer of the Heart*.

Hieromartyr—Martyr who is a priest.

Hieromonk—Monk who is a priest.

Holy Island—Modern name for the island of Lindisfarne*.

Holy Mountain—Athos*.

Igumen—Abbot or abbess.

Infant(e)—A child of the reigning monarch of Spain who is not the heir apparent.

Iona—Island monastery off the western coast of Scotland founded by Columba (Jun 9) and primarily populated by Irish monks.

Lavra—A type of monastery consisting of a cluster of caves or cells for hermits, with a church (and sometimes refectory) serving them all.

Lindisfarne—Island off the northeast coast of England, the monastery it once housed, and the diocese once ruled therefrom. Ultimately the see moved to York, and the monastery was destroyed by the Vikings. The island is still there, and is called “Holy Island.”

Mendicant—Refers to orders* which pay the bills by (begging for) charity (rather than investing, renting out their farmland to sharecroppers, making goods for sale, playing the numbers, etc.).

Molieben—An Orthodox prayer service in honor of Christ or one of the saints.

Omiphoron—Scarf-like vestment that symbolizes the bishop’s office. See Pallium.

Order—An organization, usually monastic, often devoted to a particular cause and following a particular rule of life. Examples include Jesuits, Franciscans, and Dominicans. Far more common in Catholicism than in Orthodoxy.

Pallium—Latin for Omophorion*, although its use in the Catholic west is not as widespread as in the Orthodox east.

Passion Bearer—In Orthodoxy, a saint who is not a martyr because they did not die for their faith per se, but who faced death in a Christlike manner.

Philokalia—A collection of (mostly patristic) writings on contemplative prayer and hesychasm*, especially treating on the Prayer of the Heart*.

Prayer of the Heart—The prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” especially as combined with certain practices (e.g. breathing patterns) in the hesychastic* tradition. The chief subject of the Philokalia*.

Prosphora or Prosfora—In Orthodoxy, the bread used for the Eucharist. It is made of white flour, salt, yeast, and water, and special prayers accompany its preparation.

Religion/Religious—In the Catholic church, this refers to people in monastic orders. Opposite of Secular*.

Scetis—Valley in Egypt where the skete* system of monasticism was developed.

Secular—In Catholicism, this means basically “outside the monastery” and can refer to work done by nuns in the world (such as teaching), people not attached to a monastery such as parish priests, etc. Opposite of Religious*.

Sinecure—In Catholicism, a benefice* that involved no actual duties.

Skete—A collection of somewhat isolated monks (hermits) who meet regularly for services. Nowadays sometimes used for a very small monastery.

Staretz—In some Russian monasteries, an elder monk or hieromonk who acts as a spiritual guide for monks and sometimes for non-monks as well.

Synaxis—In Orthodoxy, a feast that “gathers together” in some way. One type of synaxis is a feast of many people, such as the Synaxis of the 70 Apostles. Another type is a feast that celebrates or commemorates one or more of the major players on the previous day’s feast; especially on the day after a Great Feast*. Thus, the Synaxis of John the Baptist is on the day after Theophany, the Synaxis of the Theotokos* is the day after Christmas, etc.

Tertiary—Member of a Third Order*.

Theotokos—A title of Mary, Jesus’ mum. It means “birthgiver of God.”

Third Order— A group of non-monastics who follow some of the rules of a Catholic order* and do things with/for it.

Toll Houses—In Orthodoxy, a sometime popular metaphor (or is it?!) for the post-this-life judgment, in which the soul after death passes through a number of tollhouses corresponding to various sins, at each of which one is accused by the demons and defended by the angels of that particular sin—if one makes it through all of them, one passes Go, and collects $200. Kidding. One enters the heavenly realm. The existence of Toll Houses is a matter of some controversy, and many think the doctrine is a heresy.

Tsarevich—Heir to the throne of Russia. Compare to the Dauphin of France.

Unmercinary—A doctor who provides medical care free of charge.

Whitby—Abbey in Northumbria (originally called Streonshalh, and I for one am glad they changed it), at which in 664 a synod or council was held to determine when Easter would be celebrated in the diocese of Lindisfarne* (among other things). The synod chose the newer “Roman” method, promulgated by the Pope and spread through England by the Anglo-Saxons and others of that ilk, over the older “Celtic” method. The decision was as much political as ecclesiological, and was taken by many to be symbolic of the conquest of the British Isles by the Anglo-Saxons, displacing the native Celtic peoples and their customs.

Word—A pithy, koanlike saying a desert father gave to a disciple or visitor to meditate on