Title: Maranatha and the Origins of the Epicleses in the Syriac Acts of Thomas Revisited
Authors: Khomych, Taras # ×
Issue Date: 22-Sep-2008
Conference: Symposium Syriacum edition:10 location:Granada (Spain) date:22-24 September 2008
Abstract: This presentation addresses the much debated problem of origins of Eucharistic epicleses. Although the word epiclesis can in general refer to any invocation, as a liturgical term it acquires a technical meaning, referring to a specific form of prayer which asks God the Father to send the Holy Spirit in order to consecrate the Eucharistic elements. This pattern that emerges from the major Greek eucharistic liturgies, however, seems to be of a comparatively late period of the development of epicleses, becoming more or less customary only in the fifth century CE. Earlier forms of epicleses consisted of less complex invocations of the Divine. One of its most primitive examples emerges first in the context of the earliest Syrian initiatory rites, more specifically in the Acts of Thomas 50, which consists of a series of invocations beginning with the imperative “come” directed to Christ and/or His Spirit. This text appears in virtually all discussions surrounding the question of the development of Eucharistic epicleses. Within this field of research the question of origin(s) of these invocations has been the subject of many scholarly debates. One theory, which receives an increasingly strong, albeit not unanimous, scholarly support associates the beginnings of the above mentioned invocations with the ritual exclamation maranatha of Didache 10.6. Proponents of this view connect Acts of Thomas 50 and Didache 10.6, suggesting that the latter passage employs the expression maranatha as invocation, inviting Christ to come and act in the ritual.
Although there are some disagreements between the supporters of this theory, they tend to concur in the following two points: (1) one of the earliest available texts of a Eucharistic epiclesis may be found in Acts of Thomas 50, which contains a series of invocations, each one beginning with the imperative “come” and directed to Christ and/or His Spirit; (2) the roots of this form of prayer are to be found in the expression maranatha as exemplified by Didache 10.6. In this context, maranatha emerges as a pristine form of Eucharistic epiclesis.
My proposal is to test this hypothesis by comparing the meaning and function of the two liturgical pieces, maranatha and the epikleses, within their respective contexts.
From linguistic point of view, the interpretation presented above may be acceptable. Maranatha is a short sentence, consisting of two Aramaic words, the noun arm “lord” and the verb ata “to come”, and it is possible to interpret this Aramaic expression as an invocation of Christ to come and act in the ritual here and now. In this sense, this passage of the Didache would have similar function to the Eucharistic epiclesis in the Acts of Thomas. There exist, however, two other, philologically equally well placed, possibilities for interpreting this phrase, namely as
(1) an eschatologically coloured petition “Lord, come”; and
(2) a confession “our Lord has come” (into this world).
More precise meaning of the term should thus be determined from the particular context in which it appears. In this investigation, I challenge the above presented view of Didache 10.6 and the theory, which rests on this interpretation, in two points.
First of all, my research demonstrates that in contradistinction to the present time orientation in the epiclesis of the Acts of Thomas, maranatha of the Didache refers clearly to the future eschatological event and should be understood as a petition for the eschatological coming of the Lord.
Secondly, contrary to a clear Christological emphasis in the epiclesis of the Acts, maranatha has no Christological connotation. The interpretation of maranatha as a call of Jesus is based on a theory that this Aramaic expression is a witness to the faith of the earliest Jesus followers, who confessed Jesus as the Lord and prayed to Him. While this interpretation may be supported by the evidence from some biblical sources, it is in fact at odds with the context of the Didache, which presents a nascent Christology. Maranatha in Didache 10.6 lacks any Christological dimension. Rather it refers to the final appearance of the Lord God in the eschaton.
To sum up, contrary to the currently dominant opinion, according to which the roots of the Eucharistic epiclesis in Acts of Thomas 50 can be traced back to the call maranatha in the Didache, my investigation shows that these two liturgical expressions have different meanings and different functions within their respective ritual contexts, and hence there is hardly any connection between them. In view of this, Didache 10.6 cannot be used as an evidence for an epicletic function of maranatha.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Research Unit of History of Church and Theology
× corresponding author
# (joint) last author

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