08 July 2014

Atheists United

As I was driving to church this morning, I noticed on a truck in front of me as I a was few blocks from the cathedral, a fish with feet, one of which held a wrench, and the word “evolve” in the body. I often wonder if the persons that have such things on their vehicles have any idea what the meaning of the fish is. I know from experience that the vast majority of Christians don’t seem to have any idea.

The Greek word for fish is ἰχθύς or ΙΧΘΥΣ (ichthus) and the early Christians used it as an acronym as follows:

Ι - Ἰησοῦς (Iesous): “Jesus”
Χ - Χρειστὸς (Chreistos): “Christ”
Θ - Θεοῦ (Theou): “God’s” (the possessive of Θεóς (Theos): “God”)
Υ - Υἱὸς (Huios): “Son”
Σ - Σωτήρ (Soter): “Saviour”

The “sign of the fish” is an acronym that stands for “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour.” (It sound better in English if we say, “Son of God.”) There are a number of reasons the Greek word for fish was used. St. Augustine tells us that the generating sentence of the acronym has 27 letters (i.e. 3 × 3 × 3), which was a indication of power. As well, there are many references to fish and fishing in the Gospels. Most notably was the fact that the first Apostles of Jesus were fishermen and were called with the words, “I will make you fishers of men.”According to St. Jerome, the 153 fish they caught after the resurrection at the end of the Gospel of St. John is the number of fish listed in Oppian’s Halieutica, and symbolized that they would catch all the races of men in the world. However, it is the two simple intersecting arcs that make up the fish symbol that had a very important practical use for the early Christians.

At that time it was illegal to be a Christian. There was a number of reasons for this hatred of Christians, but one of the main reasons was that Christianity entailed an act of treason. For the most part, you could belong to whatever religion you wanted to in the Roman Empire. However, you had to offer sacrifice to the “gods” of the state so that they would be appeased and Rome would have peace and prosperity. Not that big of a deal for most religions at that time, but for Christians, it was a denial of the One True God.

To make sure everyone was fulfilling their civic duty, they were given a “receipt,” if you will, when they offered this sacrifice. They could not do business without proof of the state required sacrifice, which would present a problem, particularly in trying to buy things like food. Of course, if you were buying food from a Christian, there would be no problem. But, you didn’t always know who you were buying from.

This is where the fish symbol came in. When you went to a merchant, you would trace an arc in the dust on the ground with your foot. If the merchant traced another arc with his foot to complete the sign when he came to help you, you knew you were safe. If not, you would politely take your business elsewhere.

What would happen if a Christian was caught? He was killed. At various times, different methods were used. Crucifixion was used a lot at first. Being thrown to the lions and wild beasts was always good for entertaining the masses. One particular ruler liked to cover Christians in oil, suspend them in cages, and light them on fire to illuminate his dinner parties. There was lots of fun ways to kill Christians back then.

Given the practical use of the “sign of the fish,” it is not only a symbol of Christ, it is a symbol of religious persecution and martyrdom.

Some people get quite upset when they see the “evolve” or “Darwin” fish with feet, but perhaps we should, as Jesus tells us, “Turn the other cheek.” This means a bit more than most people think.

In ancient times, if someone struck you on the cheek, they did it with the back of their hand without looking at you. If you have them strike you on the other cheek, they would then have to bring their hand back and strike you with the palm, which would cause them to turn and look at you.

Given the history of the “sign of the fish,” turning the other cheek would mean humbly asking, “Would you like to kill me as well?”

Dying for the Faith is not something of ancient history. It has been said that there are more martyrs of the 20th century than any other century of the Church. The particular cathedral I was driving to for Divine Liturgy this morning was the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral. It has been said that it is practically a miracle that there were any Ukrainian Catholics left alive after the persecutions of the atheistic socialists. The numbers rival the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

So, I saw a symbol used by atheists to mock the persecution and murder of Christians this morning as I was on my way to celebrate the gift of life and love with a people that had been persecuted and murdered in very recent times by atheists.