Gospel reading in the Church: the Turgama

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In many of the traditional churches, there is a reading before the congregation from one of the four Gospels every Sunday. The earliest reference to this practice was from the second century and the Gospel reading was called the "Memoirs of the Apostles" (Justin Martyr 100 A.D.-165 A.D. From the "First Apology") . This reading was as long as time permitted, was a consecutive reading through the Gospels, the reading itself was considered a "bearer of Christ" - that is, Christ was somehow present to the Congregation in a special way at the time of the reading, which was about Him. Often, as time went on, special honor was given to the Gospel, which was really honor to Christ Himself, by presenting to Christ, or to the bearer of Christ, the Gospel, the honor and the homage, reserved for the Caesar himself, or his imperial delegates. And so the Christians who refused to offer incense to Caesar and thus put their lives at jeapordy, would readily walk in procession before the Gospel where it was brought in the midst of the Congregation, for there was where Christ would be found, and they would cense the upheld Book of the Gospel before and after its reading. That was understood as honor to the One the Gospel spoke of. Likwise, lighted candles were in the procession and then on either side of the Gospel, as if Christ were the Emperor himself, or one of his delegates. This was to say that Christ was Lord and not Caesar. At a later stage, these two candles would represent, the two natures, human and divine, of the Son of God. But this was later on.

In the reading of the Gospel, one was not to take notes, study, have a critical attitude, but be obedient and believing. It was believed that Christ present in His re-presentation given in the reading of the Gospel of Him gave grace to the congregation in a special sense. A type of exorcism was also performed upon seekers and inquirers into Christ. The bishop would just read the Gospels before them, and the demons would flee. Then, however long it would take, they were brought for baptism and their first taste of the Eucharist of His body and blood.

Prior to the actual reading, sometimes in the procession itself, a proclamation was read to the people, usually by the deacon. This proclamation was a sort of "heads up" or exhortation to be truly listening and receiving the message of the Gospel, a type of "Hear O Israel", so that faith and readiness to obey would be mixed in with the Word of the Gospel. This proclamation was called in the Aramaic language churches "the Turgame", or the Interpretation. Turgame had two basic meanings - "Interpretation" and "translation". The Aramaic churches understood and used it as Interpretation, but not the interpretation of a word or a sentence, but an interpretation of life, a perspective on life. The Turgame of the Gospel was four-fold - Matthew being the Life of Christ as understood or presented as the Messiah of Israel, Mark concentrating on the chronology and deeds of that Life, Luke, that Life's touch, breaking the boundaries as it reached those who were not Jews, and John, as that Life pulsating and speaking to one resting on His breast.

Note: This understanding of Turgame as Interpretation in the sense of Perspective on life has it's parallel in the Hebrew cognate of Aramaic in the word "Pesher" = "interpretation" (Dead Sea Scrolls and rabbinics), "Parshanut" = the activity of interpreting. It's nearest approximation in Modern Hebrew, is "Mashma'ut" = "meaning" in the totality or "significance".

The following is the Turgame to the Gospel still used in the Aramaic Church, the Church of the East, and at least one present English language Church which has Aramaic understanding of the faith, the Evangelical Apostolic Church of North America (Syro-Chaldean):

O ye who believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, come and listen to the words that cure the body and give life to the soul.

The Son of God became a man among men, and with His command loosened the sin that had taken hold of man.

The treasure of the Spirit opens before you this discourse, and this book is full of life and blessings.

The devils run away and the demons proceed forth with dread and fear when they hear these lif-giving tidings.

This is the gate through which a man may enter into the kingdom and this is the way which is all clear of stumbling bocks.

This is the speech that if the living treat with contempt wil die, this is the voice that if the dead hear, they come to life.

This is the light, this is the truth, this is the life of Him concerning whom it speaks, it is He the Judge of the dead and the living.

It is necessary that you should know that all people through Him shall be saved, believe and be assured that all sins through Him shall be remitted.

The sower went out that, instead of seed, he may sow the Word, instead of the ground, he may offer to Him the hearts.

Life, blessedness, compassion and mercy is His Word; hope and life unto the dead is His voice.

Blessed is he who believes in Him and confirms His word, for if he is dead, he shall live, and if he is living, he shall not die in his sins.

The only begotten of God came into the world, and above nature and contrary to custom, He shone forth from the Virgin.

The sick He cured, the lepers He made clean, the devils He drove out, and death He vanquished. He died, He came to life, He rose and into Heaven He ascended.

The Spirit He sent upon the Apostles and made them wise, and unto the four corners to preach the Gospel He sent them.

And now, St. [Mathew or Mark or Luke or John] is interpreting the things he saw and heard, Therefore, whoever has ears to hear, let him hear

See also