Word in Language (17): Christ the Son of God

After the bread that is destined to become the body of Christ during the Orthodox Liturgy has been cut from the loaves that have been baked for this purpose, the bread that is left over from the loaves is divided into small pieces, blessed by the priest and distributed to the people after the service. This bread is known as antidoron in Greek, meaning ‘instead of the gift’. It is used by those who have received communion to help wash down any remaining traces of the body and blood of Christ, so that they do not remain in the mouth, and is received by those who have not received communion as a substitute – ‘instead of the gift’. One of the subdeacon’s duties is to cut this bread into small pieces so that it can be distributed by the priest.


I serve as a subdeacon in the Orthodox Church, and I often think of this unconsecrated bread as being similar to words, cut from the body of Christ and waiting to be sanctified or not by their use. That is, the words we bandy about in conversation or in writing are small fragments of the Word of God and contain the potential to be used in a sanctifying way, if our intentions are good and our mind is set on God.


It is as if the priest is distributing words to the people, who will then leave the church and go out into the street and use those words in what is hopefully a beneficial way. It is only an image.


But I would like to suggest that words, just like the environment, bear the imprint of the Creator and refer to him. My book Stones Of Ithaca contains numerous examples of stones from the beaches of the Greek island of Ithaca that seem to depict Christian symbols and scenes. Language is the same, and why should we be surprised? Isn’t Christ the Word of God, the Logos? Isn’t it logical, therefore, that he should be present in words? Or that words should speak of him?


I would like to suggest that this is so and we can find proof in language that Christ is the Son of God (and that Mary is his Mother). God is one essence and three hypostases (that is, three persons) – three in ONE. I would like to show how language confirms Christ as the Son.


Let us start with the progression that we saw in the previous two articles, AIO, the progression of the Greek alphabet and of human life. A represents the Creation (described in the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis); I represents the Fall (described in the third chapter of Genesis), the era we live in; and O represents repentance, becoming aware of our sins and turning back to God, the aim of our life on earth.


In the Book of Revelation, at the other end of the Bible, Christ describes himself as ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (Rev 22:13). This is one of his names – Alpha and Omega – and can be written A+O. Now it is curious that the three ways of escaping from the selfish demands of the ego, of moving away from the line that represents the ego in English (I), involve:


– making reference to a third point, God, and forming a triangle (Δ);

– deleting the I and forming a cross (†);

– treating the letter I as a number (1) in order to count down to zero (0).


That is, A+O. Christ’s own name, revealed in the Book of Revelation, indicates to us the path that we must follow. I don’t think any human could have invented this; it must be something contained in language itself.


We saw that A+O is found in the middle conjunction, ‘and’, because if we write ‘and’ using capital letters, we get AND or A ’N’ O. The reverse of AND is DNA, which implies that it is in our make-up to make this progression and to turn to God, away from the ego. Note how GOD and EGO are only a step apart in the alphabet (alphabetical pair d-e).


If we apply this progression AIO to the name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14, AM, we find that AM becomes I’M becomes OM. I take this last word to be a reference to the Holy Trinity: O3, or three in One. But one of the ways of making word connections is by the addition of letters, and one of the most commonly added letters is h. So another way of moving away from the self-centred demands of the ego that we find in I’M is, instead of making the progression AIO, simply to add h to I’M, which gives us HIM. I understand this to be a reference to Christ. He takes us out of ourselves – actually, in many ways it is the reverse movement: he returns us to ourselves. We turn to HIM and in the act of worship we sing a HYMN (the coincidence between these two homophones HIM and HYMN is found also in LORD and LAUD).


In Matthew 20:28, Christ says to his disciples that the Son of Man – Christ himself – came ‘not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a RANSOM for many’. Again, I think we can find proof for this in language, because if we ignore the first letter of RANSOM (r), we find that the rest of the word contains the name of God in Exodus, AM, and SON. Of course, the letters are jumbled up; spiritual knowledge is always hidden in some way. But it is not difficult to make out. I think the word RANSOM wishes to confirm what the Word is saying, and to confirm who he is: the Son of God.


We find another connection to the name of God in Exodus in John 14:6, where Christ says, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’ If we write the name of God in Exodus I AM and turn the letter M upside down, we will see a clear similarity between I AM and ‘law’ – the law of the Old Testament, which found its spiritual fulfilment in Christ – and between I AM and ‘way’ (y is the semi-vowel that corresponds to i): I AM – law – way. Language confirms what Christ is saying. This is why he goes on in the same verse to say, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’ He is the way to I AM.


We find further proof of this connection between the name of God in Exodus and Christ in the appellation that John the Baptist gives Christ when he sees him approach in John 1:29: Lamb. The word ‘lamb’ (and note that the final letter, b, is silent) contains ‘I am’.


So in ‘way’ and ‘lamb’ we find two clear indications that Christ is the Son of God. Again, I would point out that no human could have invented these words so that they would reproduce the name of God in Exodus, I AM. This has to have come from God, to be ingrained in language, just as we saw AM in the name given to the first human, ADAM (both words contain the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet: AO, or AW if we write omega according to Greek usage).


In Orthodox tradition, all appearances of God in the Old Testament are by the Logos, so it is Christ who interacts with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eve and it is Christ who appears to Moses at the burning bush. For this reason, the Greek Septuagint translation of the name of God in Exodus – O WN – is included in icons of Christ, in the beams of the Cross inside the halo around his head. Search for an icon of Christ Pantocrator, and you will see what I mean.


O WN actually means ‘the being’. That is how the name of God, AM/I AM, is translated into Greek. O WN spells three words in English – OWN, WON and NOW – and it is easy to see the relevance of these words to Christ: he claims us as his own; he has won; he is with us now (Emmanuel).


By rotating the W, we can connect O WN to the number ONE, and I think this is because in his Incarnation, becoming visible to us, Christ represents – follows the will of – the Holy Trinity, three in ONE.


We have seen how these three letters O WN can be written O WH, which spells the question words WHO and HOW. Christ is the answer to both these questions, which we can only ask when we have made the progression AIO. That is, we have gone from asking WHAT in Creation (What is this creature? What should I call it?) to asking WHY (Why should I do this? Why should I believe you?) in the Fall to asking WHO/HOW in a state of repentance. We count down from the ego and realize that the answer we should be seeking is a person, and if you want a person to be the answer to the question you are asking, then the correct question is WHO? This was Pontius Pilate’s mistake when he was standing in front of that very person and asked him, ‘What is truth?’ Truth, he failed to understand, is not a thing, it is a person. The irony of this situation is staggering.


Now WHO sounds the same as HU, which is the root in Sanskrit of our word ‘God’. To show that Christ is the Son of God, the fulfilment of the Old Testament law and prophets, we see that WHO (O WH) is a progression from WHY, which contains the letters of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton: YHWH. And finally if we combine WHO with another name of God in the Old Testament, EL, we find that the two names together spell WHOLE. With the coming of Christ in human form, his birth, teaching, crucifixion, descent into hell and resurrection, we are made WHOLE. We are given that possibility, for our broken form, human nature, to receive wholeness, to return to God. That possibility was not available to us under the Old Law.


In the addition of letters, one of the most commonly added letters is h. Remembering the correlation in phonetics and in the alphabet between v and w, we will then see that WHOLE contains LOVE. It is love that makes us whole, that enables us to enter into relationship. Relationship is intrinsic to the Holy Trinity (there are three persons), and so it is intrinsic to us as well, because we are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26).


LOVE, by the addition of the same letter h, can be found in OTHER (phonetic pair l-r, alphabetical pair t-v). Love necessarily involves the other, unless all you are going to do is love yourself. I don’t think we are meant to do this. True love – true healing – involves relationship. I am healed by others, by letting them into my life and by revealing myself to them. I have a family, I was lost without them, but that same love – that same self-affirmation (as opposed to the self-destruction brought about by sin) – can be found with a complete stranger if our gaze is at once directed towards each other and towards him (the third point I talked about with reference to the triangle). OTHER is connected to the Greek word for ‘God’, THEOS (alphabetical pair r-s), and this is the meaning of Christ’s saying, ‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Mt 25:40), but we have lost this meaning. Very often we see our neighbour as a threat to our peace, we turn away from them or eyeball them with aggression. Our lives are separate – we have no common reference. It is a common reference that brings peace.


And LOVE is connected with another word in language, which again goes some way to proving that Christ is God. If we apply the phonetic pairs l-r and v-w and the alphabetical pair d-e to LOVE, we find WORD. We read in 1 John 4:8 that ‘God is love’ – Christ is the Word, and WORD is connected to LOVE, which seems to confirm this.


In the beginning, God the Father created the world through the Son on the basis of the Holy Spirit. Again, we will find confirmation in language because WORLD is a combination of LORD and WORD. We find WORD not only in LOVE, but in the WORLD we inhabit. We also find him in the SUN that illuminates our lives and enables us to grow crops, that is to survive, because there is a clear correlation between SON and SUN. It is the Son who enables us to eat. I am not saying that the Sun is Christ himself, but there is clearly a connection between the two words, which implies a scientific connection as well.


We find confirmation of this connection SON-SUN if we apply the phonetic pair b-p to LAMB, which gives us LAMP. Christ says as much in John 8:12: ‘I am the light of the world.’ Language confirms it. His name confirms it, because CHRIST contains LIGHT (phonetic pairs g-k and l-r, addition of s).


He also enables us to breathe. When we discussed the Trinity as three in ONE, we saw that God the Father is no one (O1), God the Son is oxygen (O2) and God the Holy Spirit is ozone (O3). The Holy Spirit is commonly likened to a wind (a word, by the way, that contains the first four numbers – 0, 1, 2 and 3 – if we rotate two of the letters in WIND) – that is, breath, which is represented in language by the letter h. If we combine this letter for the Holy Spirit, H, and the chemical symbol for oxygen, O2, we get water: H2O. Christ also enables us to drink.


The two chemical symbols combined, O2 and O3, can be found in MOON (again, we need to rotate the letters to get the numbers 2 and 3), so it seems that Christ reflects his own light and enables us to see at night.


Language, and the environment that surrounds us, are permeated by Christ. Look around you, and you will see a million crosses. The Cross is like a stile – it enables us to cross over to the other side, to escape our own isolation, to walk over the line, to make a bridge that will carry us where we want to go. Language will help us. Once we enlist its support, it will provide the content of our prayers – at least until we no longer need words. Language, in this sense, is repetitive. It can be boring, but we are rubbing away the hard outer casing of our hearts, so that we can enter there and find God’s kingdom.


In the end, perhaps the name alone will suffice, coupled with an expression of assent. There is one city in the world that is claimed by the Abrahamic religions: Jerusalem. It was here that Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection took place, and it was not far from here, in Bethlehem, that he was born. This is where Christ taught in the temple when he was only a child and sweated tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his ultimate sacrifice on the Cross.


Take the word JERUSALEM and apply the alphabetical pairs l-m, m-n and r-s. That is, take the letters l, m and r in JERUSALEM and advance one step in the alphabet. What two words do you get? This, for me, is proof that Christ is who he says he is.


Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

Word in Language (16): AIO (1)

In the previous article, we looked at the progression of human life – which is also the progression of the Greek alphabet – from A to I to O. A represents the letter of Creation, when AM created AN, a countable noun, a separate being, one that can have free will – that is to say, A MAN – whose name was ADAM. I is the letter of the Fall, of the era we live in, in which we are subject to our selfish impulses and seem to view one another as a source of profit instead of someone we should serve. I am reminded of two monks who tried to have an argument. One said, ‘Let’s quarrel.’ The other replied, ‘OK then.’ The first took hold of an object and declared, ‘This object is mine. I am going to take it.’ The other rejoined, ‘Please do,’ and that was the end of the argument. When we cede our will to another’s, there is no cause for a quarrel. O is the letter of repentance – we count down from the ego, I, to God, O, or to put it another way we open our spiritual eyes (our spiritual Is) and see that we ourselves are limited, the world is not going to fill us (or it is only going to do so temporarily) and the source of true life is God. This change of vision can be the result of a spiritual experience. In my case, it was, but this was after I had got down on my knees and called to God (if he truly existed) for assistance. I had realized my limits, but God did not invade my privacy, he waited for me to call him. I do think we have to take the first step. This happened when I was thirty-three and, without my knowing, it was Maundy Thursday when I called, and Easter Sunday when God answered.


All the examples I gave in the previous article of the progression AIO were between words: for example, AM-I’M-OM (NO ONE) or AMEN-MINE-NEMO/OMEN. I would like now to look at examples of this progression inside words, but I would like first to sound a note of warning. In all my study of word connections, which has occupied the last sixteen years, this is where my knowledge is most limited. I only see ‘through a glass, darkly’. I perceive that this progression exists inside words in the English language, but it is much wider than I am able to comprehend, and I think there is more to it. I shall try simply to make my case, and the reader will come to their own conclusions.


First of all, we must consider the alternatives. Inside words, the I of AIO may be written in the form of the corresponding semi-vowels j and y, or as lower-case l (which to all intents and purposes is identical to capital I):


I: j, y, l


Secondly, we have already seen the close resemblance between the capital letters O, D and G (the word GOD can thus be said to comprise three circles). We have also replaced the O of AIO with the corresponding Greek letter W (which is how lower-case omega is written in Greek), so we could expect to find the letter O written using these other letters:


O: d, g, w


Starting with AIO, then, we see the progression AIO in words like AID and DAY. The former reminds me of Orthodox prayers to the Virgin Mary, in which we ask her to ‘come to our aid’. The latter reminds me of the creation of the Day in the first chapter of Genesis, when God said, ‘Let there be light’ (Gen 1:3-5). It was as if he laid down the progression AIO right at the very beginning.


But there is a very curious example, which is IAO, an early Greek form of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, YHWH. This early Greek form of the name Yahweh clearly contains the progression AIO.


If we repeat one of the letters, we find it in GLAD. This reminds me of the first verse of Psalm 122, ‘I was glad when they said unto me’, set so wonderfully to music by Sir Hubert Parry. Again if we repeat a letter, we will find the progression in LADY and, with the Greek way of writing omega, in MAID, two common appellations for the Virgin Mary.


It is in OAK, that most majestic of trees, if we take a step in the alphabet (k-l), and might also be found in trees like ELM and WILLOW (in the first, the Greek letter W  has been rotated to produce E and M; all three letters closely resemble the number 3) without the presence of A.


We can find it in the name of key figures in the Old Testament such as King DAVID (addition of v), who wrote the psalms, and in the name of contemporary saints such as PAISIOS (addition of p and s), perhaps the most beloved contemporary Greek saint, who has been compared to St Anthony of Egypt (it is in ANTHONY as well, but we will get to that in a moment).


If I replace O with W (AIW), then the most obvious example is the name of God in Exodus 3:14, I AM. This name contains the progression from A to I to O (W), and so do the key words that are connected to it: LAW and WAY, the law being that of the Old Testament and ‘way’ referring to Christ, the law in person, who said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’ (Jn 14:6).


The name ‘I am’ is found in ‘lamb’ (John the Baptist famously called Christ the Lamb of God, and this is confirmed by language), but it is also found in words like ‘lame’ (what we are without God), ‘male’ (the creation of Adam) and ‘mammal’ (the creation of animals). The LAMB took upon himself the BLAME for our sins and acted like a BALM. He opened his PALM (phonetic pair b-p) in an act of self-giving, and I think this is why the crowds outside Jerusalem laid palms on the road when he came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. PALM is in PSALM (addition of s), during the reciting of which we place ourselves in God’s hands.


Do you begin to see how AIO (AIW) is present everywhere? It is in another Sanskrit word, MAYA (derived from the Sanskrit word MA, meaning ‘create’), which is defined in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the power by which the universe becomes manifest’. It is in words that relate to other religions: DALAI LAMA, the Tibetan spiritual leader, or how about the Easter Island statues, which are known as MOAI and are erected on platforms called AHU (here we must take a step in the alphabet, h-i, and swap one back vowel for another, o-u)? It is also in Greek mythology – for example, the god APOLLO (addition of p) – and in Eastern practices such as YOGA and AIKIDO. What I have found is that it is much more prevalent than we might think, but I cannot say exactly why this is.


Let us now draw a line through the I and make a cross: †. The cross is best represented in the alphabet by the letter ‘t’ (also by ‘f’, ‘r’ and ‘x’):


†: t, f, r, x


If we delete the ego in the progression AIO, which is what we are called to do when we turn to God in repentance – Sophrony’s ‘love to the point of self-hatred’ – we now have A†O. This progression is clearly found in the word TAO, ‘the absolute being or principle underlying the universe; ultimate reality’ according to the SOED. It is also found in PLATO (addition of p), the most famous ancient philosopher, and also, I might say, in ARISTOTLE. These two thinkers are well known for their philosophical systems, and most modern philosophy is based on what they wrote. So again it seems to me that certain key names or words contain this progression.


Let us now keep the cross and substitute O with W: A†W. Now it becomes really interesting because these three symbols are clearly present in ATOM, once thought to be the ultimate particle of matter (oh, and MATTER clearly contains the same progression). ATOM is connected to ATONE (again the same progression, here we have applied the phonetic pair m-n with the addition of final e), so the atonement brought about by Christ’s voluntary sacrifice on the Cross was obviously meant to affect our very being. It is language that confirms this.


We find the same progression with the cross, A†W, in WAIT, which is connected to FAITH by the phonetic pair f-v/w, addition of h. There is a lesson here, and it seems to me to be saying we must wait and have faith, even when we are suffering, even when the odds appear to be stacked against us, even when we can scarcely breathe or cannot see the wood for the trees. Wait, have faith.


We have one more step to make. Having introduced the cross in place of the letter I, we must now complete the paradox and replace the cross with a plus-sign: A+O (the meaning of Christ’s injunction to lose our life for his sake in order to find it). A plus-sign is best represented in the alphabet by the letter ‘n’ (think of rock ’n’ roll) and we have seen that this letter is closely associated with ‘h’:


+: n, h


A+O represents the three ways of escaping the ego and spells Alpha and Omega. Indeed it is contained in the middle conjunction – AND (A ’N’ O) – the reverse of which is DNA, so as with ATOM this progression seems to form part of our make-up. Replacing O with W, we find it in AMINO ACID, the building block of protein. Just as these compounds were discovered by placing samples under microscopes, so we can place language under the microscope and unveil its make-up, its message to us.


I will give just a few more examples. How about the Hebrew name of God ADONAI? Or the only righteous man found on earth before the Flood, NOAH? They contain the same progression, A+O. It is also in HALO, an indication that someone has followed this blessed path of repentance (isn’t it also in PATH?). It is in SAINT – without the O, but with the plus-sign and the cross following the I in quick succession, as if the word SAINT was mapping out the path for us to follow.


It is in the names of two places intimately connected with Orthodoxy: ATHOS in Greece, the spiritual heartland of Orthodoxy, and IONA in Scotland, from where the Irish monk AIDAN set out to evangelize Northumbria under King OSWALD. All these names clearly contain the progression AIO.


And now we come to the last connection. We have taken the progression AIO, replaced the O with the Greek letter W – AIW – deleted the I and formed a cross – A†O (A†W) – and finally turned the cross into a plus-sign: A+O (A+W).


If we replace the plus-sign in this final progression with the corresponding letter in the alphabet, ‘n’ – A ’N’ W – what word do we get? To whom is this message in language addressed? For whom was the world created? Who is it that was made in the image and likeness of God? Who is it that is endowed with reason, so that he might observe the destruction wrought by the Fall, wrought by his own selfish impulses, his wish to accommodate himself? Who is it that is called – by Christ! – to restore his own image by the grace of God and to become a god by adoption (isn’t AIO in that word as well)?


It is MAN, the fruit of this progression, who contains the progression in himself.


Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

Word in Language (15): AIO (0)

Ideally, human life, like the Greek alphabet, should be a progression from the letter A to the letter I to the letter O: AIO.


A represents the act of creation described in chapters 1-2 of the Book of Genesis, in the beginning, when God created the world. It is the first letter of both the Greek and Latin alphabets, so it represents the first act in the history of time, the first thing we have to write about.


We already saw that the name God reveals to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14 is AM (in this word we see both the A and the O – the latter written W, like the Greek letter omega – because God stands outside time, of which he is the beginning and the end). AM created AN, the indefinite article, the article that is used for countable nouns, for nouns that we can see and draw a line around, that we can separate from ourselves and give free will. AM and AN combine to give A MAN, whose name was Adam.


ADAM also contains the name of God in Exodus 3:14 – AM – as well as both ways of writing the final letter of the Greek alphabet: O/W (D closely resembles O, M is an upturned W). It is as if the new Adam is already present in the old. These two ways of writing the last letter of the Greek alphabet, O/W, can be used to describe the Holy Trinity: O3, or 3 in One. Adam is not a chance name assigned to the first human, it has the imprint of God stamped all over it.


ADAM in reverse reads MADE, just as EARTH in reverse reads THREE (because it was created on day three and is the third planet in order of increasing distance from the Sun). Adam was made by God, who shaped him from the dust of the ground and breathed the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of life, into him.


Adam’s task was not to create all the creatures, it was to name them – that is, to translate – and we see this purpose accorded to Adam in the reverse of MAN, which is NAME (with addition of final e, very common in word connections).


Now NAME, if we rearrange the letters, spells MEAN and AMEN. When we name someone or something, we give them meaning. We acquiesce in the process of God’s creation, we accept our role in the same, and say AMEN.


But, in chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve were tempted to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. See how EVE is already taking us away from the letter A and towards the letter I. If we apply the physical pair (pair of letters that look alike) v-y to EVE, we get EYE, and EYE sounds the same as the letter I (which, if we rotate it by ninety degrees, represents a closed eye).


We can see this progression away from the letter A towards the letter I in the name of the garden where Adam and Eve lived, EDEN, which is connected to ADAM by the phonetic pair m-n and the pair of vowels a-e.


With the Fall, described in chapter 3 of Genesis, we have turned our attention away from God and towards ourselves. The Fall corresponds to time. It is the era we live in, the timeline drawn by a teacher of English on a whiteboard, the letter I, when despite being surrounded by all of God’s goodness – the earth and all it contains – we think we can do very well without him (despite the fact we could not even breathe without him).


So, instead of calling on God, AM, we start to say I’M. Instead of saying AMEN to God’s commandments, we lay claim to our surroundings and say MINE. We have made the progression from A to I. This means that, while our physical eyes may be open, our spiritual eyes are closed: I.


Put three of these Is together, and you get the word ‘ill’, a triple ego if you like. We are spiritually sick because we have detached ourselves from the source of all goodness, the Holy Trinity. If you don’t believe me, look at what happens if we make the progression from A to I to I: we get the word ‘ail’. But God in his ineffable mercy always offers us a way out, because if we add breath to the start of this word and slightly alter the vowels, ‘ail’ gives rise to ‘heal’.


We saw in the article Alpha and Omega that one of the ways to escape the ego, I, is to treat it as a number, 1, and to count down to 0. This can be likened to opening our spiritual eyes: I to O. We turn our hearts to God in repentance, we realize we cannot live without him, or at least our life is ultimately without meaning if we do not live in, for and with him. This is the purpose of human life – to realize our need. There is nothing wrong with this. We sink to the bottom of the overturned pyramid, to use St Sophrony of Essex’s image, we descend into the hell of uncertainty and emerge the other side, strengthened and joyful.


Now, instead of saying I’M, we say OM, but I do not mean the mantra, I mean the Holy Trinity: O3. We redirect our sight away from ourselves to the centre of all being.


We saw in the article Chemistry that God the Father can be written O1, or no one. OM is connected to NO by the phonetic pair m-n, and ONE is NO in reverse with the addition of final e. So when we turn away from the I with all its hereditary fears and selfish demands, instead of saying I’M, we call on NO ONE, as we were meant to do because we are human.


The name of God is spread throughout language – language is insisting, albeit unobtrusively, that salvation for ourselves lies in calling upon God, but it must be a question of free will, a freely taken decision. We are given all the time in the world to make this step.


Instead of saying MINE, we say NEMO, which is the Latin word for NO ONE, or OMEN, a sign for the future, perhaps.


We make the progression from A to I to O, the progression of human life, which involves committing a mistake (or many mistakes) and then owning up to it.






Now perhaps I have just made this all up. Well, not exactly. We also saw this same progression from A to I to O (AIO) in the question words WHAT – WHY – WHO.


‘What?’ is the question word of Creation: what is this creature? What will you call it?


‘Why?’ is the mantra of modern society, of the Fall: why should I do this? Why should I believe you? (‘Why?’ simply indicates a lack of obedience.)


The real and only valid question is ‘Who?’ (or ‘How?’, it makes no difference), and the answer is Jesus Christ. We see this progression in the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, YHWH, which corresponds to WHY, and in the Greek Septuagint translation of the name of God in Exodus 3:14, O WN (or O WH), found in icons of Christ Pantocrator, which spells WHO and HOW. We have made the progression, we have gone from the letter of the law to the spirit of the law, to the law in human form.




Another example. The name of God in Exodus 3:14 is I AM, which gives us ‘law’ if we apply the physical pairs i-l and m-w (one letter is an extension or a reversal of the other). We associate LAW with the Old Testament, a set of rules which must be blindly followed, even to the detriment of people (for example, not healing on the Sabbath). This LAW, as we all know, can be a WALL. It protects us, but it also stands as an obstacle, especially when it is the letter of the law – and not the spirit – that is being applied.


If we make the progression from A to I, from LAW we get WILL: we apply our own will. We don’t obey the commandments to love the Lord our God with all our being and to love our neighbour as ourself. We seek our own will, we place ourselves – our profit, our comfort, our status – above the other and pursue our own self-interest. We have gone from the PROPHETS of the Old Testament to an obsession with PROFITS, as if the purpose of human life was solely to make money. It is not. The purpose of human life is to turn to God and, in God’s love, to show concern for our neighbour. That is to restore God’s image in us, to become properly human. We see many examples of this transformation in our everyday lives.


The Church Fathers, including St Sophrony, are always talking about God’s self-emptying (or kenotic) love. We imitate this love, taking ourselves – the I – out of the equation, opening our arms, making space for the other. We humble ourselves (St Sophrony goes so far as to speak of self-hatred). And what is the position of humility? It is LOW. We give space to the other, we ALLOW them. Instead of saying WILL, we say WON’T.




Language is clearly indicating to us the path of repentance for those who wish to follow the example of Christ. I don’t know how to make it any clearer than this, but I will give just a few more examples. Note that all these examples of the progression AIO are between words. There are also examples of the same progression inside words, and we will see some of those in the next article.


Here is one of my favourite examples. In the Garden of Eden, there was no competition: DRAW. The ethos of our modern society, with its competition and counting up from the number 1, is to WIN. But Christ came along and told us to LOSE our life for his sake in order to gain it (Mt 10:39). Look at the vowels, and you will see the progression of repentance.




Losing, as we have seen, can be a frightening experience because it looks as if we are condemning ourselves to self-extinction, but I have likened this to the process of translation, where in order for a text to appear in another language, it must first disappear in the mind of the translator. This, for me, is what death is. It is a matter of having faith in the Translator.


Another favourite example. The SWAN may be taken as a symbol of purity. Certainly, it is very white. On the contrary, SWINE are a symbol of filth, the filth the Prodigal Son found himself literally rolling in when he was reduced to feeding his neighbour’s swine after he had wasted his father’s inheritance. What word will take us to the O of repentance? It is said that no one flake is ever the same. It falls out of the sky and alights on our nose. When we step in it, it soon becomes slush, or it can become frozen and cause us to slip, but newly fallen it transforms the landscape, turning it white again, forming a blanket under which Nature has a chance to rewind. I am talking about SNOW, of course.




And one last example. The creature I most associate with the depths of history is WHALE, this creature that swims the world’s oceans and seems to have been doing so ever since the beginning of time. It is a creature I associate with the Creation, primordial and wise. What word do I get if I make the progression from A to I? WHILE, which corresponds to the process of time, time which has been spread out like a carpet for us to walk on while we make up our minds. And if I count down from the ego and make the progression from I to O? I become WHOLE, a combination of the Old Testament name of God, El, and O WH.




We already saw other examples of the progression from the I of the Fall to the O of redemption: LIVE-LOVE, SIN-SON and CHRIST-CROSS.


Language is urging us not to count up, not to make out that we are the owners of everything in existence. We are not. We are here to act as vehicles of love, to become sons, children of God, to lose our life for Christ’s sake on the Cross in order that we might receive everlasting joy in the resurrection.


Language confirms this. The Greek alphabet does the same, it provides the example. We may associate this with Eastern spirituality (for me, that is Orthodoxy) or with kenotic love and spontaneity, which doesn’t count the cost. There is another example, however, and I’m afraid it is provided by the Latin alphabet, which may be taken to signify a greater reliance on reason. Reason always counts the cost.


And that is because the Latin alphabet, instead of counting down from I to O, as the Greek alphabet does, counts up: from I to Z. This means that you have taken everything that was created, A, and used it for yourself.


Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

Word in Language (13): Hate

Hate is the opposite of love, it is the dark side of love. All the shoots we have put out in order to communicate with our neighbour, in order to interlink our life to theirs, we begin to withdraw, to take away, to withdraw our favours. And at the same time, our sight, which was focused on those we love, begins to wander, we begin to entertain temptations, even though we know that they will destroy us, so hate engenders self-destruction.


If hate engenders self-destruction, it is a form of death. We are slowly but surely heading towards death, but not death as a portal of life, not DIE so that I can BE, as we saw in a previous article. This is death with no continuation. This is THE END of the film (these two words are beautifully connected: phonetic pair d-t, physical pair – pairs of letters that are an extension or a reversal of one another – h-n). This is the death of the popular imagination, where there is no continuation or, if there is, we don’t want to know about it.


So hate is a negation of God, because if we deny the existence of heaven, we deny the existence of God; if we deny the possibility of good (in ourselves quite apart from anyone else), we again deny the existence of the GOD who is GOOD. Do you see how language, the Word, wishes to teach us? GOD is GOOD, but the DEVIL is EVIL. If you look up these pairs of words in a dictionary and search for the etymology, you will find that their roots – horizontal, over time – are different. Not so in a vertical understanding of language. They are very close for a reason.


So hate makes us first withdraw into ourselves, reject contact with those who are close to us, and then seek to scatter ourselves further afield, to disintegrate, in what may be a call for attention or a means of revenge or a wish for self-annihilation.


But there is always the call of God, the call of our conscience, if we can only overcome the barrier of our ego, of our pride. PRIDE is in DESPAIR, and it is despair that robs us of our willingness and strength, as Saint Porphyrios points out in the book of his life and sayings Wounded by Love (p. 98).


Hate leads us to despair, while love gives us hope, hope of a better future. This is why HOPE is connected to OPEN (that same physical pair I talked about earlier, h-n). Hope keeps us open to the other, to their love, which is calling us, just as a dog hears the call of its owner. Hope keeps us open, but of course this means we can be wounded – the Wounded by Love of the book title.


Dark thoughts explore our mind. They can be a little frightening, these thoughts, even overwhelming. Where do they come from? Are they really ours? Well, given that the whole theme of my writing is that we are translators, not authors, and things pass through us, I am inclined to believe that thoughts also do not start with us. What belongs to us is our reaction, the choices we make, whether we choose to ignore these thoughts, to exercise self-control, to seek the good, or to enact the thoughts, to give free rein to our baser instincts. Does this really mean that no thoughts belong to us, only our reaction does? I am inclined to believe so, and thoughts are like language, roots travelling underground, in the subsoil of our minds.


In which case, we should be able to take a dark thought and simply make it good, turn it around, do the opposite, embrace the one we want to hate. This will hurt, though. It will hurt in that place we have opened up in order to embrace the other, in order to apologize, in order to see it from the other’s point of view, in order really to lessen our own importance in the grand scheme of things. Will anything really happen if I let go of my hatred? Will the world collapse if I forget to maintain my resentment? No, the world will carry on as normal, and I might even feel a little relieved – also a little sore perhaps – the hatred like a mole popping up its head from time to time, breaking the soil, trying to remind me of its existence, trying to draw me down again into the dirt of non-existence.


These thoughts, I let them go. They are nothing. Thoughts are insubstantial, a monk once told me. They have no substance. If they have no substance, they have no reality beyond the reality I choose to give them, even if it doesn’t feel that way when they assault me and seem to control me, not the other way around.


Perhaps I just stop thinking. THINK, after all, is connected to NIGHT by the phonetic pair g-k. It may be over-rated. It may be better just to WAIT. What word connections can I find for WAIT? Well, DAY is in there (phonetic pair d-t, addition of w). So is FAITH (f-v/w, addition of h). Isn’t the meaning of FAITH to WAIT? Maybe God doesn’t expect me to achieve something every day, to justify my existence all the time. After all, he has the bigger picture. He envelops time. Time is an envelope, and he sticks it down, says when it is finished. Perhaps he will put it in the post, send it to the outer reaches, open it later on, while we are all busy or asleep, and see what it is that everybody did with the time allotted to them. Take out the letter of our actions, intentions, good deeds. The desert fathers say that God always sees the intentions behind our actions, our motivations. What is it we are trying to achieve? Are we just trying to get his attention? To call him down, to force him to intersect with our lives because the horizontality of living got too much, too boring, too monotonous, the street, the cars, the coffee, the cake, get up, work, eat, sleep. So much going in and out of ourselves. Things passing by. Ourselves sometimes ineffectual, unprepared, unable to influence events. WAIT, whispered FAITH. Look at me. I am here.


Christ, I am in the night of hatred. Will you love me even down here? Will you see a speck of goodness in me that is worth saving? Is my breath anything to you? Of course, it is. You gave it to me. You are the Word. My breath is yours and the Holy Spirit’s. I beg of you, hold me. Deliver me. See how DELIVER contains DEVIL. Our Father, which art in the heavens…


DEVIL in reverse reads LIVED. Past tense.


DEATH with the letters rearranged spells HATED. Past tense.


There is no future in either of these. If we apply the phonetic pair d-t, we will see that HATE is connected to HEAD. DEATH contains both of them. Perhaps thinking, calculation, is not the way. But where does that leave us?


It leaves us in the moment. In the moment, there is no time. It is the only place where we can escape time. The moment is, in effect, the nullification of time. We are not controlled by past memories or future fears. We simply place ourselves in the O of repentance, the star in the night sky, the pinprick of existence.


A star is not light coming from a long way away. A star is a window, an invitation, a ladder of ascent. It is where the threads of our garments do not meet, where the air passes through, it is the interstice, it is the light, it is the way we slip through the net. It is a hole in the fabric.


Even the flame of a match banishes the night. ‘Flame’ contains ‘I am’, the name of God in Exodus 3:14. It enables us to make a hole in the line of time. We use the flame as a nib, a bubble, a leaf, and begin to write.


Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

Word in Language (6): Chemistry

God is no one, just as he is nowhere. NO is the result of the progression from the name of God in Exodus 3:14 – AM – through the selfish I’M to OM if we apply the progression AIO that we studied in the last article. OM is famous as a mantra, but I actually understand it to refer to the Holy Trinity if we rotate the final letter, m, and make it into a number, 3: O3.


This is because God, who is often represented by the eternal figure O, is made up of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If we then apply the phonetic pair m-n to OM, we get NO, the reverse of which, with the addition of final e, is ONE: NO ONE. This is why I can say that God is no one, just as he is NOWHERE, which we take to mean that he is nowhere to be seen, but which also has the meaning NOW HERE.


If God is no one, the translator is no man. He does not exist, he is ignored, he is paid little or late or not at all, his name is often omitted (sometimes deliberately) from the texts that he has translated lest we realize that what we are holding is not original. Yes, but everything we are holding is not original, only God is original, and we cannot hold him.


The translator does not believe in the line that separates people and things. So what does he do? He goes to live on this line that he does not believe in and, like a tireless spider working in the night, he stitches the line, criss-crossing it until it is healed.


The translator is no man. He lives in no man’s land, between the opposing forces who have laid claim to the land. He doesn’t lay claim to the land, he spends his time endeavouring to stop the fighting, he raises his arms, he puts himself in the firing line, just as Christ did on the Cross. Christ is God, but he also became a translator when he assumed our human nature. By living on the line, which is how time is represented, the translator acknowledges the line, yes, but his attention is placed on the space underneath, the whiteboard, which represents eternity and without which a timeline cannot be drawn. That is to say that time cannot exist without eternity because otherwise there is nowhere to draw it.


God is no one – O1 – but in chemistry the subscript 1 is not normally included, so we can say that God is O. We see this in the Greek word for ‘God’, which is theos. In modern Greek, the final s is often omitted, as it is in the vocative case, when we call someone’s name. If we omit the final s of theos, we get THEO and, if we introduce a space, just as we did with NOWHERE-NOW HERE, we get THE O. God is ‘the O’.


The word ‘God’ itself is made up of three Os: G O D. All three letters resemble a circle. And here is a remarkable discovery, because if we add the letter W to the beginning, as we did in the previous article with HOLE-WHOLE, we find the word WOOD. WOOD is made up of three Os, with the number 3 representing the Holy Trinity at the beginning. The relevance of WOOD to Christianity is obvious, I think.


In fact, in an earlier article, we talked of the connection between TREE and THREE (addition of breath or h) and how a simple child’s drawing of a tree will show a trunk and two branches, which can be likened to the Father (the trunk), the Son (begotten of the Father) and the Holy Spirit (which proceeds from the Father). In this analogy, we see the incorrectness of affirming in the Creed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, as is done in Western Churches – this would make the Holy Spirit a sub-branch of the Son, which it is not, and would make the drawing a little lopsided. The Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father, as is correctly stated in the Orthodox Creed. All three share the same essence (in this analogy, that is WOOD).


Church Fathers sought an adequate analogy for the Holy Trinity. St Spyridon, whose relics are in Corfu Town, at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325 is said to have demonstrated how one can be three by taking a potsherd or a brick and squeezing it. As he did so, fire rose into the sky, water dripped down to the ground and only clay was left in his hand. Thus he demonstrated how the three constituent elements – fire, water, clay – could be one, and one could be three.


St Gregory the Theologian, at the end of his famous Fifth Theological Oration, likens the Trinity to an eye, a fountain and a river, but is ultimately dissatisfied with the analogy. St John of Damascus, in his Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (I.8), likens the Trinity to three suns ‘cleaving to each other without separation and giving out light mingled and conjoined into one’.


But I wonder if language has something to teach us about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which is said to be three in one. Three in one.


How can there possibly be three in one? We will have a better idea if we write ‘three in ONE’. Do you see how the only number that ONE does not contain is itself: 1? It contains 0, 2 (on its back) and 3 (back to front), but it does not contain the number, 1, that relates to the ego. This is because, as I have already mentioned, the subscript 1 is omitted in chemistry.


In this analogy of the number ONE containing the three numbers 0, 2 and 3, God the Father is O(1) – or no one; God the Son is O2, the chemical formula for oxygen, what we breathe; and God the Holy Spirit is O3, the chemical formula for ozone, the layer that protects us from the Sun’s heat.


So the Holy Trinity is literally three in ONE: O(1), O2, O3.


We may also notice that these three letters – ONE – resemble the letters that appear in icons of Christ Pantocrator – O WN – the Greek Septuagint translation of the name of God in Exodus 3:14, I AM. We only have to rotate one letter.


This is normal, we should expect it, because Christ does nothing without the cooperation and agreement of the other two persons in the Trinity, the Father and the Holy Spirit. They are one.


We may also notice the correspondence between SON and SUN. Christ is not only the Word that we speak, not only the oxygen that we breathe, he is the light that fills our world and enables us to live. You might think that I am making this up. One of the phonetic pairs – pairs of consonants that are pronounced in a similar way in the mouth – is b-p. There is a similar correlation between LAMB and LAMP. And if we observe that the c in Christ is pronounced k and apply the phonetic pairs g-k and l-r, we will find that LIGHT is in CHRIST – just as CHILD is (phonetic pair d-t) – with the addition of the letter s.


It is St John the Baptist who, seeing Christ approach, declares him to be the ‘Lamb of God’ (Jn 1:29). We have already seen how he is the confirmation of the Old Testament when he declares, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’ (Jn 14:6), because WAY is I AM.


Here is further proof that Jesus Christ is who he declares himself to be, because if we take the name of God in Exodus – ‘I am’ – and join the two words together, we get ‘lamb’ (I have changed capital I into lower-case l, the two are practically identical; the final b of lamb is silent). The word ‘lamb’ is the logical continuation of ‘I am’.


Language is genetically encoded. It contains information about God, about human life, about the environment. It is a question of putting it under the microscope and obeying a simple set of rules (the seven phonetic pairs, changing letters according to their position in the alphabet or their appearance). That is all, but most people, if I talk about this, give me a nervous look and start to edge away. If I talked about etymology, the academic science of the evolution of words over time, they would nod sagely and feel themselves to be on safe ground. But etymology will teach us far less about God and the meaning of life than word connections. It is just a question of belief, because faith in Christ cleanses our spiritual vision. In Orthodoxy, great emphasis is placed on vision, as it is on deification, the process of becoming gods by grace through the acquisition of humility and the alignment of our will with God’s.


SON-SUN, LAMB-LAMP, CHRIST-LIGHT. Christ warms us by day and reflects his light at night. How so? If God the Son is O2 and God the Holy Spirit is O3, then we can see that they combine to make the MOON (2 on its back, 3 on its front). The Holy Spirit is often likened to breath. Christ breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples in John 20:22 – he is able to do this not because the Holy Spirit proceeds from him, it does not, but because he is the Word and breath forms part of speech. The letter for breath is H. If we combine this symbol for the Holy Spirit with the symbol for Christ, O2, we get H2O, the chemical formula for water. I would say that the MOON and water (H2O) are – literally – a combination of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Without God, we have no life – we will not breathe, eat or drink, language shows us this – but so often we choose to ignore him.


We seek fulfilment in other ways, often in earthly ways. We may not even acknowledge the spiritual side of things. And yet language has one last thing left to teach us – language, which is made up of breadcrumbs, fragments of the Word. We have come across six of the seven phonetic pairs, pairs of consonants pronounced in a similar way in the mouth, one of which is m-n. We have seen that it is common to add the letter h in word connections. The letter h represents breath. When we add h, we are literally inflating the word a little, like a balloon, so it will take flight.


If we apply the phonetic pair m-n, addition of h, to ONE, what word do we get?


HOME. The Trinity – ONE – takes us home. All that searching in different directions, and the answer was right before us. God is NO ONE. He is NOW HERE. All we have to do is open our mouths, shuffle our feet a little, bow our heads – and breathe.


Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

Word in Language (5): WHOLE

We saw in the previous article that the letters O WN in icons of Christ Pantocrator refer to the verse Exodus 3:14, in which God meets Moses at the burning bush and reveals his name to him:


God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”’ (NRSV)


O WN is the Greek Septuagint translation. It literally means ‘the being’, but in English translations of the Bible the name of God is rendered I AM.


I live in Bulgaria. Here, I have seen these Greek letters, O WN, written O WH, possibly because the letter N is written H in Cyrillic. These two letters are closely connected – in effect, the crossbar between the two parallel lines has simply been straightened, H could be a stylized version of N. If we make them lower case, h is simply an extension of n. We find this a lot in word connections – letters that have been extended: h-n, i-l, v-y.


But there is another reason for introducing the letter H, and that is because ‘the being’ in Greek has a rough breathing: ὁ ὢν. Do you see that little c atop the letter o (which is the definite article, ‘the’)? This little cup or cap atop the letter o represents the sound h in Greek (though it is ignored in modern Greek pronunciation, which I think is a shame). So actually the correct transcription would be HO WN.


Let us look at the alternative spelling, O WH. It is remarkable that as O WN spelled OWN, WON and NOW, so these three letters spell WHO and HOW.


The answer to both questions is Christ.


WHO? The answer is I AM (the English translation of the name of God in Exodus 3:14).


HOW? Christ gives us the answer to this question when in John 14:6 he says, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’ WAY is I AM written with the semi-vowel y (and the m turned upside down).


So the answer to life’s most important question is contained in language. WHO and HOW. In the act of creation (related in the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis), the question word was WHAT: what is this creature, what will you call it? Today we are in the habit of selfishly asking WHY. WHY corresponds to the demands of the ego, that is I. In WHAT to WHY, there has been a progression from the first letter of the alphabet – A – to I.


But it is the wrong question. The right question, the only one that will give us an answer, is WHO. When we ask this question, we get the answer: I AM.


In this way, we make the progression from the letter of creation – A – to the ego – I – to O. We count down. The Greek alphabet makes this progression because the last letter in the Greek alphabet is Omega. The Latin alphabet, which we might equate with a more rationalistic, legalistic way of thinking, does not make this progression. It counts up – from I to Z (or 1 to 2).


If we write the correct progression AIO but replace the final letter o with the Greek way of writing Omega, w, that is AIW, we find we are back to I AM. AIO (AIW) is the progression of human life, but the Latin alphabet makes the fatal mistake of counting up: AIZ. Once you start counting up, there is no end. You will never reach an answer (and all the time the answer was right behind you, but you have to have humility, you have to turn around, you have to count down, from I to O).


AIZ is an act of hubris, AIO is an act of humility. But what do we teach our children in school? We teach them to count from 1, not 0 – starting with the ego, I, not with God, O.


I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that this then affects our whole way of thinking: we see everything from our own point of view, in terms of ownership, instead of seeing things as God would have us see them, in terms of service. It is a real wrench to change our way of thinking, but this is what we should be teaching our children. To take a step back, not to affirm the ego (don’t worry, as soon as we lose ourselves, Christ has promised us we will find ourselves again, just as in the act of translation, where the text must disappear momentarily before it reappears in another language).


So we make the progression from WHY to WHO. This progression from I to O is found in other word connections. We make the progression from I to O in LIVE to LOVE, for example, instead of turning LIVE around, perverting it, and getting EVIL. That is the choice that is open to us in this life. Another example of the progression from I to O is SIN to SON. We stop sinning, or at least we try to, and become children of God. Even CHRIST made this progression when he submitted to death on the CROSS for our sakes. He counted down (look at the vowels), albeit he is God already, to show us the way. He deleted the I and turned it into a Cross, †, which is also a plus-sign, +. We saw this in the article Alpha and Omega.


But the answer only became available with the Incarnation of Christ, that is with the New Testament. The New Testament fulfils the Old. The Old is not enough – it contains the law and the prophets, that is it looks forward to the coming of Christ in human form. We know this because perhaps the most famous name of God in the Old Testament is the Tetragrammaton, YHWH (which is normally transcribed Yahweh). YHWH corresponds to the question word WHY. It has not made the progression to O WH (WHO).


Another name of God in the Old Testament is EL. We find this name at the end of the names of archangels, such as Michael and Gabriel. And what happens when we combine this name of God in the Old Testament, EL, with the name of Christ, O WH. What word do we get?




Christ makes us whole.


We like to think of ourselves as isolated beings, with parapets around us protecting us from unwanted intrusions, but the fact is we are peppered with holes. They are called pores. Actually they are what permits our skin to breathe, they are necessary.


But on a metaphysical level, we feel we have a hole when we are not fulfilled and we might try all kinds of ways, all kinds of substances, to block up this hole – we might seek comfort in drink, in drugs, in anything that takes our mind off the gaping hole at the centre of our lives.


Only the Holy Trinity will do this, will supply the answer. The Holy Trinity can be linked with the number 3. When we add the number 3 to HOLE (and rotate the number 3 so that it becomes the letter W), we get WHOLE. WHOLE is HOLE with God (3) at the beginning.


And once we have made that change, once we have repented, a miracle takes place. Because what word is contained in WHOLE that is not in HOLE?


Word connections sometimes involve the addition of a letter, most commonly h (the letter that represents breath). The letters v and w are closely connected – they are next to each other in the alphabet, and their pronunciation can be confused (think of Latin and German).


If we make these changes – v-w, addition of h – to WHOLE, what word do we get? LOVE.


WHOLE is a combination of EL and O WH – the New Testament fulfils the Old.


It is a combination of our HOLE and the Holy Trinity, represented by the number 3 (or the letter W).


And it contains LOVE, which is what happens when we take the ego, I, and count down to O.


All of this – all this message – is contained in language, in the words we use every day, but we have no idea. We study language horizontally, in terms of history. We don’t study language spiritually, apart from time. That is why I compare language to the environment. We look on them both two-dimensionally, as put there for our own use, but they reflect their Maker. The environment reflects the Creator, who created it in the first two chapters of Genesis, and gave us the creatures to translate (that is, to name). Language reflects the Word, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. For all we know, the words we use are fragments of him – breadcrumbs.


But to perceive this, we need God at the centre of our lives, not ourselves. We need to open our spiritual Is so that they become Os.


O is simply an I that has been opened. An eye that sees for the first time, a progression we all need to make in this life.


Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

Word in Language (4): Christ the Translator

But we prefer to own things. We prefer to draw a line and say ‘this is mine’. We are authors. And yet this is not true. Things pass through us, they do not begin with us. Air, food, words, experiences, even the gift of life, pass through us. We take what we need (meaning) and in the process we give meaning.


We are translators. Just as a translator allows the text to pass through him in order to translate it into another language, so the things of this world pass through us. But meaning is a two-way process. It is not only the text that passes through the translator, but the translator who passes through the text. He also is changed by the experience. He acquires meaning himself.


So it is with the things of this world – they pass through us, but we also pass through them. Money passes through our hands, for example, but we also pass through a house. Neither of them remains with us, we will leave them both behind. So neither truly belongs to us. What belongs to us, I think, is our reaction, how we use the things with which we are entrusted, how we react to situations. Our reaction – the destiny of our souls – is our belonging.


So is there nothing else we can truly be said to OWN? Well, I think there is, but it is not a thing, he is a person. And the process of meaning is the same.


If you have ever seen an icon of Christ Pantocrator, you might have noticed that inside the halo, in the beams of the Cross, are three letters: O WN. These are Greek letters and represent the Greek Septuagint translation of a verse from the Old Testament (perhaps the most important verse in the whole of the Old Testament, in my opinion): Exodus 3:14.


In Exodus 3:14, God meets Moses at the burning bush and replies to Moses’ question who he should say has sent him to the people of Israel to free them from the Egyptian overlords:


God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”’ (NRSV)


In Greek, this text reads:


καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Θεὸς πρὸς Μωυσῆν λέγων· ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν. καὶ εἶπεν· οὕτως ἐρεῖς τοῖς υἱοῖς ᾿Ισραήλ· ὁ ὢν ἀπέσταλκέ με πρὸς ὑμᾶς. (LXX)


I have underlined the names of God in the Greek text: ‘I am who I am’ (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν) and ‘I am’ (ὁ ὢν).


O WN (ὁ ὢν) literally means ‘the being’. It is sometimes translated ‘the One Who is’. In reference to this appearance of God before Moses, when he revealed to him his name, these three letters are included in icons of Christ, because according to Orthodox tradition all appearances of God in the Old Testament are by the Logos, the Word of God, that is Christ.


But this has meaning in English because those same three letters spell OWN. We could be said to ‘own’ Christ inasmuch as we form part of his body in the Church. He is ours. But ownership in Christian terms is not about exerting control, it is about expressing love. In the same way, he could be said to ‘own’ us. He gives himself to us in the Eucharist; we give ourselves to him unconditionally. It is a two-way process.


OWN in English spells another two words: WON and NOW. Christ’s is the victory; with his Resurrection he has conquered death. The end of the world has yet to come (this is for another reason), but the victory is assured, even if it seems at certain points in our lives that the opposite is true. NOW because Christ is with us now. How does the illuminating Gospel of Matthew end? ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ His presence with us is permanent.


This, for me, is the meaning of ownership: to own Christ and to be owned by him. It is not to fight over portions of the earth. It is not to draw lines (supine egos) on the ground, around our property (which one day will not be ours). It is to give ourselves unconditionally. The giving the other way round (by Christ) has already been done, and that is the meaning of time: to turn meaning into a two-way process, to make it mutual.


The destiny of our souls depends on our reaction, our acceptance or not of Christ, our clinging to the letter of the law or its spirit, its deeper meaning, its greater good. This is ownership: to react with love or anger, to claim for ourselves or for the other, to cling to self-preservation (a futile task) or to lose our life in order to find it. This is why, having found the pearl, the merchant went and sold all that he had in order to buy it.


But there is something else – something that points to Christ as the Messiah, the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophets. The name of God in Exodus 3:14 is translated into English as ‘I am’. I think the whole of existence is contained in these three letters. First of all, we should note that ‘am’ contains the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Alpha and Omega (AW, do not worry that the m has been turned upside down). This name is found for the first time in Revelation 1:8:


‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. (NRSV)


The expression ‘Alpha and Omega’ is contained in the verb ‘am’ – God could have just said ‘am’, and it would have been sufficient.


Also interesting is the fact that ‘am’ in reverse gives us the Sanskrit word ma, which means ‘create’. This is because God is the Creator, it is with him that things begin (not with us).


And finally the name revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14 and reproduced in icons of Christ, ‘I am’, gives us two other words in English. The first of these is ‘law’. I think you can see this – a capital I and a lower-case l are practically identical; again, I have turned the m upside down (this is very common in language). ‘Law’ refers to the Old Testament – the law that Moses brought down from Mt Sinai on the tablets, the Ten Commandments, about worshipping the Lord your God and honouring your father and mother.


But this law is only a preparation for the law in person, that is Jesus Christ. Of itself, it does not give life, it does not conquer death – only Christ can do this.


And we see this when we make the progression from ‘I am’ to ‘law’ to another word in English: ‘way’ (y is the semi-vowel that corresponds to i).


In John 14:6, Christ says to Thomas:


I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (NRSV)


Note how both ‘way’ and ‘Alpha and Omega’ are preceded by the pronoun and verb ‘I am’. It is as if Christ is extrapolating them, is drawing out their meaning. He is, in effect, teaching us to be translators.


Christ came down to earth for two reasons: one is to translate for us the meaning of life, and he does this using Braille (writing for the spiritually blind, that is us). His form of BRAILLE is the PARABLE (another phonetic pair is b-p).


The other reason has to do with the second part of that verse from the Gospel of John, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me’, because not only did Christ come to translate for us the meaning of life (which is to believe in him), he also assumed our human nature (we are translators) so that he could later translate us into eternal life. You cannot do this if you are only an author. You must be a translator as well (the two natures of Christ, as defined at the Council of Chalcedon).


At the end of our lives, when we reach the end of our translation, of acquiring and giving meaning, we will become the word that best defines us, and that word will be spoken by Christ into eternal life. He will translate us. This is why translation is not inferior, it is not second-rate, it is not dog-eared like a book from the library, it is the essence of human life.


The fact that we see translation in a negative way is a reflection on ourselves, not on translation. Our wish to be authors – superior, first-rate and brand-new – reflects our desire to hold on to our lives at all costs. It responds to the instinct of self-preservation. But in the end we will be required to let the Word pass through us – and to pass through him – if we want to inherit eternal life.


Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

Word in Language (1): Countable and Uncountable Nouns

The basic unit of language is a noun. Nouns refer to people or things – nurse, firefighter, book, table. They may also be concepts, things that we cannot visualize, but that affect our behaviour – right, wrong, inflation, jealousy.


This difference between nouns referring to people and things that we can see and nouns referring to concepts we can only attempt to describe is very important. When it’s someone or something that I can point out and say, ‘That is a nurse,’ or, ‘That is a book,’ then the noun is preceded by the indefinite article a or an – a nurse, a book. This is because the person or thing exists in the world around me, I can draw the noun or indicate it with my finger, it is in front of me. When it’s a concept, we have no way of pointing it out, of saying, ‘There it is!’ And for that reason what each of us understands by the concept may be different. Concepts are not preceded by the indefinite article, unless we are talking about a specific example. Right and wrong are concepts. A right or a wrong would be a specific example that was done to me on a particular occasion (in a way, I am beginning to visualize the concept and to point it out, which is why I use the article).


I am interested here in nouns that we can visualize – people and things – because the fact that I can visualize the noun, I can see it with my own two eyes, means it is somehow separate from me, or at least I consider it to be somehow separate. If I refer to a book, for example, it is a book on the shelf or a book on the table. I am standing in the room and pointing to it. I may even pick it up. But I can put it down again and walk away. So it is separate.


We might say that I can draw a line around it. Let us look at the example of light. Light as a concept is uncircumscribable, I cannot draw a line around it. In a sense, it can contain me, but I cannot contain it. But if I talk about a light (with the indefinite article before it), then I have contained light in a bulb or a torch, for example. The expression ‘Give me a light’ refers to a single light emanating from a matchstick, not the concept of light – I am not asking you to illuminate my world, just to provide me with an example of fire that will burn out eventually.


This difference between light as a concept and an example of light (a bulb, a torch, a matchstick) is the difference between an uncountable noun (the concept) and a countable noun (an example of that concept). Countable nouns can have a line drawn around them, they can be made separate from ourselves, they have a beginning and an end. Uncountable nouns – the concept at least – are eternal.


But let us turn our vision to ourselves. We are countable nouns. We come into existence. We are born of our mothers – a bundle of flesh that emerges from the womb. You can draw a line around this and say, ‘That is a child.’ Countable nouns, by definition, can be counted. We can count the children in a family or in a class. Each child sits on a chair at a desk. The chairs and desks can also be counted. They can be separated one from another, or piled into a stack.


I would like to suggest that this is what God did in creation – he created separate beings, Adam and Eve, separate creatures, trees and plants, each one of which was an example of that particular species. He created countable nouns, nouns that could have a line drawn around them, as in a child’s drawing. A man, a woman, an oak, a leopard… a word (because he created the world by speaking). All separated off from himself, endowed with its own specific qualities and characteristics. We ourselves imitate this process – when we speak, we emit words, separate beings that once spoken cannot be retrieved.


And he endowed us with free will. In fact, I would go so far as to say he created separate beings, countable nouns, precisely with that purpose, so that they would have free will, because if a human or a rabbit was part of him, it would not be able to function independently (within the limits of its species) and so would resemble a machine.


So, in the case of God, I would say this separation into countable nouns had a noble purpose, a purpose which he has given us to proceed (we create our own children, animals produce their own offspring, trees produce seeds).


If I could just refer to language, the name of God that he reveals to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14 is I AM WHO I AM, which we can shorten to I AM, or simply AM. One of the seven phonetic pairs – pairs of consonants that are pronounced in the same part of the mouth – is m-n. If we apply this pair to AM, we get AN, the indefinite article, and together they give A MAN. This is just a coincidence.


So man (I am talking about the concept here, not a particular individual) has been given the ability to create separate beings, just as God did. We can create a child, a light. We can build a house. We can write a book. But what we cannot do is create a concept. We cannot create a new species (we can create hybrids). And we cannot create light.


That is, we can use the ingredients, the things that are already provided for us, and transform them into something else, but we cannot provide the ingredients. Put simply, this means that we are translators – we take what is given to us and we transform it into something else. We are not authors.


And if we are not authors, because nothing begins with us, nothing proceeds from us, things pass through us, then this means that the concept of ownership is flawed. Things do not belong to us. Or rather only our response to them does, the way we choose to use them, and this is what constitutes our free will.


I think this difference between countable and uncountable nouns is very important because at one point I would like not to have a beginning and an end, I would like to be immortal, but to do that I must participate in a concept – God – that is uncountable, who is capable of creating new ingredients. I cannot do this on my own. I cannot make myself uncountable. Only God can do this by allowing us to participate in his energies.


And secondly it is our claim to ownership that gives rise to the system of capitalism, whereby we take the products that have been (freely) given to us and package them in order to sell them at a cost. This turning concepts such as flour or oil, metal or wood, into something sellable involves making them countable (otherwise how can I transport them, and how can I charge you for them?). So I create a bag of flour, a barrel of oil, a car or a table. I use the concepts that were put there by God, I transform them (because this is my purpose: to translate), but then I sell them, and as soon as I sell them, I must draw a line around them in the form of packaging. It is the waste product of this process that causes our environment so many problems. It is, in effect, the waste product of our own definition.


When we treat the other as a source of profit, we have distorted God’s purpose. God gave us the other, a separate being, as a source of joy, to learn how to love (not to learn economics).


One final word connection. The Greek word for ‘God’ is THEOS. We saw in the previous article on the Coronavirus that LOVE is connected to OTHER. If we take a step in the alphabet, r-s, we will see that OTHER is connected to THEOS. So the other is God. When we see them as part of ourselves, we participate in them, the dividing lines are broken down and we become separate, but also one.


Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com