Prayer Circles in Early Christianity



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Aaron Snyders lecture at the 2008 SANE Symposium

thank you I want to just thank the ancient Near Eastern Studies for giving me this opportunity to present on such a great topic I'm a civil engineer and I don't always get this opportunity and I tend to study this a lot and something that I am passionate a lot about today what I wanted to do is my kind of my purpose or what I want to accomplish is show you that there was an early Christian prayer circle but more importantly show you what was the significance why was it that they did early Christian prayer circles and so I hope that all of us can gain something and especially as we'll see in a minute that this is really as significant in the sense that it shows us it's symbols or signs of Jesus Christ and that's something I think that's very important I hope that we can for those of us who are here who are members build our testimonies and faith in Jesus Christ so what I want to do is start out with the first account that we have on the early Christian prayer circle this occurs at the Last Supper before Christ's will go to Gethsemane and this comes to us from the Acts of John which is a text written in about the second century and as we as we read this there's a few things I want to point out and we'll just expound there in bold so this is what it says before he Christ was seized by wicked men and by the wicked serpent of the Jewish authorities he called us all together and said before I am given over to those men let us sing a hymn to the Father and so go forth ready to face whatsoever lies ahead then he commanded us to form a circle taking hold of each other's hand and he himself taking up a position in the middle puttered pay attention to me then he began at him saying and then Christ will continue to repeat several things in his prayer we won't go over those today but after each statement this group will say Amen to show that they're in agreeance with now what I want to show is I've kind of drawn more or less what's going on with these prayer circles interesting enough if you look at Matthew chapter 26 verse 30 it talks about how they sung a hymn before Christ went to Gethsemane and we noticed that here in the previous example that the acts of John a hymn was sung and so this is kind of evidence that this apocryphal writing is perhaps true but I'll leave that up to you to decide and as we see here the prayer circle is formed in a ring someone in the middle is usually there symbolic is usually the high priest or someone who leads the prayer circle in the case that we'll see it's Jesus Christ specifically it's a symbol of Christ that the one in the middle and they form a ring and sometimes there's an altar in this prayer circle and sometimes there's not it just depends on which account you're given and where they are and each prayer circle is always a little bit different and you'll see different counts as we go throughout this presentation and so what I want to do is cover three symbolic nature's of the prayer circle why they're performed and there's more of these but I'm just going to do three today I believe that the prayer circle is a form of a compass symbolic of a compass also symbolic of the crucifixion as well as the church becoming the body of Christ so we're going to start with a compass I'll give you two accounts here to show that there's a definite reason that they're in a circle and that they're aligned to the four directions of the cosmos north south east and west this is from the second you apostles and their wives form a circle around Christ who leads them in secret ordinances of salvation and then here it starts all the Apostles clothed in their garments placing foot to foot made a circle facing the four directions of the cosmos okay that is one account another one from pista Sophia this is written about 250 to 300 AD and I've taken quotes from the whole passage disciples are gathered around him Thomas Andrew James and Simeon the Canaanite were in the West in their faces turned toward the east and Philip and Bartholomew were in the south turned towards the north and the rest of the disciples and the women disciples stood back of Jesus but Jesus stood at the altar and Jesus made invocation with this prayer saying hear me my father father of all fatherhood and Jesus made invocation turning himself towards the four corners of the world with his disciples who were all clad in linen garments so we have this circle that's formed they're aligned in a certain order a certain way they're usually dressed in some type of garments or some type of clothing probably white linen and there's someone in the middle offers this prayer so why is it then that they're in this arrangement what does it have to do with a compass well if we think back in the ancient world the compasses are much different back then than they are today they're not this little magnetic thing that you can hold in your hand they're more complicated and so I just want to get the idea of what a compass is and what it does a compass back in the ancient days would have been stars also compasses would have been used to form circles and things in the construction of buildings and roads and we see here this is a star how is it called a star trail and this is basically what they do is they they take a camera and they leave the shutter speed open for several several seconds or sometimes hours and it shows are at trails the stars kind of their path or origin as you can see there's a star there in the middle it's not very clear on this one but I have another slide that would be the North Star and it's the North Star that's in the middle that everything revolves and turns around that gives direction it gives meaning to everything and if we think about measurements back in the ancient days as they're constructing roads or even a building for that matter that there has to be a source of origin to take any type of measurement in order to build anything there must be a cornerstone or there must be something to take a measurement from so what do we learn from this that all directions begin from an origin or point and that Christ is that origin and direction in the creation and we have a quote here from John 1:3 through 4 but because of Jesus Christ there was a creation we could look at dnc 88 as another reference that all things come about because of him without him there's nothing and so as we look at the early Christian prayer circle here's another one this is from an Australian Observatory notice that there's something in the middle the North Star well in the early Christian prayer circle there's someone that would represent Christ something that doesn't change something that doesn't alter and they stand there in the middle sometimes with an altar sometimes without and we have a circle that's formed and all of them take their positions in a in the cup for cosmic direction something else that I should note we'll see later is that this sometimes this prayer circle was in motion it actually was a kind of a dance and a song and we can see that that this could be symbolic of a cosmic revolution around an item notice that the Sun everything revolves around the Sun and our at least in this solar system and so it is with the moon revolves around the earth but there's a point or something that's in the middle that's the focus and we see that Jesus Christ here once again is in the middle now there's another meaning here of a compass this come this text comes from an older form of the prayer circle given to us by clement of rome in the 7th century and this is what he says as leader the bishop stands in the middle the men and women are assigned their places north south east west around him then i'll give each other the sign of peace soviets again we see an older form probably about 600 years later this was being performed after the death of christ and so once again what what is another thing here that could be we could learn well where else do we see an alignment of people in the for cosmic directions we see it specifically in numbers chapter 2 and in numbers chapter 2 we have the tabernacle which is in the middle and the twelve tribes of Israel are gathered around it some are assigned the north some others found the south the east and the west and you can read all of that at numbers chapter 2 and then the tabernacle is there in the middle and everyone turns their faces toward the tabernacle let's look at artist friend issuing of this you can see that the 12 tribes of Israel are gathered around the tabernacle facing once again turned towards the middle of the where the tabernacle is the tabernacle the outside of it was a red a red velvet color of a red cloth and I think that would be symbolic of an altar in the tabernacle there was a place of sacrifice it was a place of progression and all of them are turned toward it and I have a picture here this is just I wanted to show you an original copy of this idea you'll have the twelve tribes gathered around Moses here this is in reference to when he smoked the rock and then the waters came forth revelation and this is kind of a clear drawing of it and what I want to point out is notice the hands and really throughout history hands raised above the head is a sign of prayer a sign of supplication we'll talk more about what what that's really a symbol of but notice they're all gathered around a circle around someone in the center of the high priest and as we read in Hebrews 3 verse 1 Christ is the great high priest but his representative would be the prophet in this case Moses and notice it's interesting Moses also has an interesting gesture with his hands but all of them are gathered around with the idea of a my opinion to pray and we can see that the tabernacle would once again be the middle and we see the for cosmic directions north south east and west and that revelation is flowing from the tabernacle to the people I really like this idea their backs are to the world and when they send her and focus their lives on Christ he gives them direction on how to proceed and this is kind of a little message that I came up with that all who turned their backs to the world and live a life centered on Christ obtained their original bearings who they are and where they can go and then they receive direction how to proceed that it's a once again that as you trust in the Lord you don't trust in man and you Center your life your Center your prayer on his will and who he is and what he'd have you do that you get all you get direction in your life and it goes in the way that it ought to be now proceeding we're going to go with the crucifixion how is the prayer circle a symbol of the crucifixion and this is there's two accounts here this is from an academic journal who did a study on the prayer circle I'm actually quoting from nibblies book Mormon and early Christianity this is what they say they the Apostles form a prayer circle and Mary standing before them raised her hands to heaven and begin to call upon the father in an unknown language then we have the ode of Solomon I extended my hands and hallowed my Lord the expansion of my hands is his sign and my extension is the upright cross that was lifted up on the way of the righteous one the idea of the extended hands in the air is common in the prayer circle and as we see here in the ode of Solomon it's assembled the crucifixion how is that well looking at nibblies temple in cosmos he pulls a drawing from the third century papyri and they're not sure whether this is Christ or if this is just a regular person but the idea of the uplifted hands and the reason why it's a symbol Christ is just as Christ was crucified with his hands raised above his head so we as individuals must crucify the natural man and that's the next point I have some scriptures here from Romans this is Romans 6 verse 6 through 8 knowing this that our old man is crucified with him that the body of sin might be destroyed that henceforth we should not serve sin for he that is dead is freed from sin now if we be dead with Christ we believe we shall also live with him another one from Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore brethren by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice holy acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service so the idea here is that just as Christ pierced his flesh as nails were driven into his hands and he was raised up on a christ so we must pierce our flesh pierced the natural man and become even as he is become a saint this is another quote from the Cyril of Jerusalem 350 ad just once again supporting this idea of the crucifixion Oh strange and paradoxical thing we did not die in reality after having been actually crucified rather it was an imitation by token Christ really received the nails and his blameless hands and feet and suffered pain while I without any pain or struggle by his sharing of suffering the pain enjoy the fruits of salvation so Cyril say saying look I wasn't actually crucified but rather this was a symbol a symbol that I was to do in a sense the same thing and a token or remembrance of what he did for me and I just really like that passage there and there's other references to this that we won't go into for time sake but you'll see the same idea and they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts Galatians 5:24 I love what Paul says here in Galatians 6:17 for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus and then finally in Philippians 120 mile beneath I in my body whether it be by life or by death to other scholars have commented on the what it means to have your hands raised above your head and this is what Leclerc says quoting nibbly again he's quoting likert what h lecoeur calls the Magnificent gesture of raising both hands high above the head with those in the prayer circle began their prayer was as he notes a natural gesture of both supplication and submission I think there's a great quote in the Bible dictionary under prayer that I'm sure all of us at least most of us are familiar with that the idea is that when we pray we're to align our will to his will and sometimes we have to submit that it's interesting that throughout time in war at least from what I understand if you're going to surrender you raise both hands above the head and that's kind of a simple that you're giving up that giving up but you're surrendering so it is that we must surrender our will to the will of Christ John a to Venus said there is a symbol in raising the hands in prayer the gesture exposes to God both the breasts and the palms of the petitioner to show that they are clean and pure you think about it from an aerial view what's going on is you're showing your hands are clean and your and you have a clean heart essentially we can look at Psalms that talks about who can enter the house of the Lord but he left clean hands into pure heart we can see that the same thing is being taught with the hands extended over the head all right the final thing and the final symbol is becoming the body of Christ you know Pulver did a study on this he was an ancient scholar and he said this is how he he entitled this this this prayer circle is he called it the round dance in the crucifixion I'd mentioned earlier that this prayer circle is sometimes in motion it really depends on who was doing it and where it was performed and in this case it was in motion the one that he was setting and this is what he said he said as leader the bishop stands in the middle the men and women are assigned their places north south east and west around him then I'll give each other the sign of peace next when absolute silence is established the deacon says let your hearts be to heaven if anyone has ill feelings let him be reconciled so we see that in this prayer circle it had there had to be a form of unity all right that if you weren't united with these people if you had ill feelings it seems that you couldn't participate why is that important to the body of Christ well Paul and first Corinthians 12 verses 26 through 27 it has the same idea that there should be no schism in the body but that the members suffer with it or one member be honored all the members rejoice with it now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular and then another one hear from Paul wherefore I Paul and made a minister who now rejoice in my sufferings for you and he sufferings for you and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body sake which is the church so as we talked about we've looked at earlier accounts they were gathered together and they held hands and some accounts once again showing that unity and I believe that as you get as someone experiences a trial or heartache that you're there holding their hand to bear them up this idea of unity and oneness common suffering among the body of Christ that their strength and numbers now another symbol of symbolic nature is is the actual dancing the movement around the person in the middle when this was done this will read this account from clement of alexandria 2nd century come to our mysteries and you shall dance with the angels around the unbegotten and eternal one and only true God while logo sub god sings along with us so this is the account that the person in the middle again is symbolic of Jesus Christ God maybe even the Father I don't know but it's symbolic of that divine nature and there's this idea of something moving around it what is it a symbol of my opinion well for those of us who have tried to dance know that they requires some rhythm right some patterns some discipline some of us aren't so skilled in that I have experience with that but if you're going around someone it requires rhythm it requires discipline practice and I think what's being taught here is that with the union of different gifts different heights different people come with different things to the church and when you put those together and everyone works in harmony you can orchestrate the kingdom of God you can make it progress farther once again that there's strength and those around you this is from qasr el juez fragment and this was actually discovered I think in 1966 in Egypt right before they built the dam on the Nile River the owl because huazi or I can't remember how to say it but I'm sure all of you are familiar most of you anyways they found this fragment before that the dam was built before it was flooded and interesting enough is that it makes reference to a prayer circle we made a circle and surrounded him and said gather to me oh holy members of my body and when I recite to him you say Amen so once again that in this prayer circle sometimes the things that were said the group would just say Amen after a statement sometimes they'd actually repeat it and really once again depends who what the count says and there's there's difference in variances on different texts but the idea here is that your prayer is reflecting the persons in the middle or hopefully Christ I want to end with one scripture and this is comes from second Corinthians four verses eight through 12 and I hope it summarizes what I'm trying to say we are troubled on every side yet not distressed we are perplexed but not in despair persecuted but not forsaken cast down but not destroyed always bearing about in the body of the dying of the Lord Jesus that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body for we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus sake that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh so then death worketh in US but life in you that all of us here are to become like Christ is and that we are to kill or crucify the natural men I just want to just end with just my testimony that I know that Jesus is the Savior that everything comes because of him and as we go through the symposiums this afternoon and this morning but you'll see evidence is of Christ in all of these presentations but I do know that he was the son of God and that he was lifted up on the cross for us that because he suffered we can we can live again and that is my testimony name of Jesus Christ amen

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