Sunday, February 25, 2018

Four Reasons Behind the Blog's Name

There's always more to a name.

Anamnesis (ἀνάμνησις in Greek) is a Biblical concept for “remembrance” and can mean “realize” or “re-actualize." This type of remembering lets us experience something in the present that has either already happened or that hasn't even happened yet. 

Before I go on, here's the pronunciation guide!
Anamnesis: "ah-NOM-nee-sees" with the accent on "nom," which rhymes with "Tom"

So here are four reasons why I've chosen to name this blog Ancestral Anamnesis.

1. Scripture & Liturgy
Anamnesis shows up in the New Testament in a few places, but primarily in the recounting of Jesus' institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper (what the Orthodox call the Mystical Supper). "Do this in remembrance of me," Jesus tells His disciples (Luke 22:19). St. Paul quotes the Lord here in his first letter to the Church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

Every Sunday service (Divine Liturgy) held in the Orthodox Church contains this anamnesis. Immediately after the priest reads these words of Jesus, he says: 
"Remembering, therefore, this saving commandment and all that has been done for our sake: the Cross, the tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand, and the second and glorious coming."
(Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

Here's how the anamnesis is phrased in another liturgy of the Orthodox Church:
"Do this in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this Bread and drink this Cup, you proclaim my death, and you confess my resurrection. Therefore, Master, we also, remembering His saving passion and life giving cross, His three day burial and resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and enthronement at Your right hand, God and Father, and His glorious and awesome second coming."
(Liturgy of St. Basil the Great)

This isn't a simple kind of remembering something that has already happened. During the Liturgy, we remember a historic event, yes, but we also make that event present in the here and now. We participate in that moment and the Lord is made present as we offer the bread and wine which becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. But this remembering also reaches into the future. We remember "His glorious and awesome second coming" even though it hasn't happened yet. 

2. Feast Days
On special feast days, we commemorate events not as past events but as something happening now. I am particularly struck by two hymns in particular: one from Holy Friday, the other from Christmas Eve.

"Today, He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon a Tree." (Antiphon 15 for Holy Friday)

"Today is born of a virgin He who holds the whole creation in His hand. He whose essence none can touch is bound in swaddling clothes as a mortal man. God, who in the beginning fashioned the heavens, lies in a manger. He who rained manna on His people in the wilderness is fed on milk from His mother’s breast." (From Ninth Hour of Christmas Eve)

In our church services, I don't just remember the past; I encounter the past in the present.

3. Memorials
In the Orthodox Church, we believe not only in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day, but also in our eventual resurrection from the dead at His second coming. His resurrection destroyed the power that death had over us. Additionally, we believe that "all those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27). And since we don't accept the idea that the Lord's Body can be broken and divided, those who have passed on are not dead - they are alive in Christ. 

So we pray for our departed loved ones. As a Church, we assemble and pray for those who have passed away on the 40 day memorial, one year memorial, and three year memorial. We even have four days designated as "Saturday of Souls" where we have memorials for all of our loved ones who have passed away.

The climax of the service is our singing of the hymn, "May their memory be eternal!" We aren't asking only that people will remember our loved ones, but that they will forever be remembered in the mind of God. You can learn more about this idea here. This is to say, the Orthodox Church is particularly concerned about all of its members - those living in this life, and those who have passed on. But if we're called to pray for them, wouldn't it be a good idea to know who they are first?

4. Genealogy and Anamnesis
When I am researching a person for genealogical purposes, I really get to know them. I am invited into truly intimate moments in their lives: births, deaths, sicknesses, unemployment, marriage. I get to know them as they move through their own unique experiences. I may have no genetic connection to a person, but in my genealogical research I have an encounter with them. I remember them even though I never knew them in this life. 

How many of us can identify with being the family expert of our family story? We may never have met our great-grandparents but suddenly we're able to tell our parents all about their lives because we have encountered them through genealogy. 

Though these people lived in the past, by remembering them, we can encounter them today. 


For me, studying family history isn't just about names and dates. It's an encounter with real people who lived and loved, with hopes and dreams, saints and sinners alike. 

I hope you'll continue this journey with me as we encounter ancestors together, by remembering the past made present.

1 comment:

  1. I think you summarized how many family historians/genealogists feel! The connection is strong - it really is an "encounter" with the people who came before us.


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