Any guesses on what this object is?
When our tour guide, Nah-ne (on the left), asked us that question, I drew a big old blank:
Nothing. Nada. No idea! But intrigued!
Write in the comments below what came to your mind when you saw the picture. This will be fun!
Clue #1 – We were in Greece visiting a Convent (Nunnery).
After many blank stares and wild guesses, Nah-ne, gave us a clue …
Clue #2 – “You strike it with a wooden mallet.”
OK … Still Nothing!
We, very churched Christians, many steeped in religious practices from birth, couldn’t come up with an acceptable answer. She seemed surprised and a bit disgusted, Greeks are quite expressive (love it)… we religious people (eye roll)!
“It’s a SEMANTRON,”she said.
Ok, we had never heard this word. We looked at her with googly eyes. Reading our faces, she realized there were “NO lights on”. We understood less than before! Sorry!
“They struck the SEMANTRON with a wooden mallet to call people to worship,” she explained. “Like an ancient church bell. The Priests would strike the wood and it would summon the town to come.”
Then she asked (brave soul), “Why did they want people to come?”
We thought the answer was obvious … “To Worship!!” we said, with lots of enthusiasm. We knew this answer.
NOPE … WRONG!
She repeated, “Why do Priests want people to come to church?”
We all stared at each other. Surely, the answer was obvious and all the hours of sermons, seminary, and Beth Moore Bible Studies had prepared us for this… dig deep!
Ooonnnnnnk! Negative! False!!
Ok, we were missing something here. I think she got a little annoyed with us; no where near the target with every answer hurled out. We should know this, right? Several Pastors were in the bunch!
“NO!!!” she said, “to pray for their salvation!”
“That’s why you go to church, to pray for your salvation.
The Priests want all saved, but the people have to come pray. Over and over.”
AHA!… The quandary was theological/doctrinal.
The Greek Orthodox believe no one knows for sure if they will enter heaven, till they die. So, they continually pray for salvation during life. Over and over!
She told us it is equivalent to church bells before metal was available. The SEMANTRON progressed to chimes and then to poured church bells. They still use some old wooden style in Orthodox places.
The concept of saving people, by bell ringing, somehow got lost way back in translation from ancient practices to modern American Christianity!
Being raised in the 20th/21st century, I thought they rang church bells to signify time (like a clock), to remind people it was time for church, or to celebrate (like after a wedding). Most church bells have long been hushed by noise ordinances and disgruntled church neighbors.
I recall a former church having bells that rang at noon, six pm, and Sunday at 11am, the start of worship. They were on timers and electronic. At one time, someone rang them by hand. They’ve been silent for years … people complained. I thought they were beautiful, but not everyone did. Remember when every church had a bell tower?
Bringing the Greek Orthodox understanding to 21st century
SEMANTRON/bells were rung as an “Outreach Tool”!
It was a way the church could remind the whole community that they needed saved, their souls needed prayed for: “Don’t forget about your eternity”, “Now is the time”, “Don’t put it off”, “You need prayer/God”, “Come be saved.”
This could be the exact reason 20th century American church-neighbors hated the bells! It never occurred to me before. The sound of those bells going off every day, brought a tad of conviction about what the church stood for; their relationship with God. They just didn’t want to hear it any longer.
(I realize, I am merging a lot of things here, that’s how my brain works. I’m not saying it’s fact, just food for thought.)
Nah-ne told us the history of the SEMANTRON in the Greek Orthodox church.
Ancient tradition says that Noah invented it: It’s what he used to call the animals onto the ark. Striking the wood and them responding, by entering the ark, was the only way for the animals to be saved. Which translates to the priest using the same method to call his people to salvation.
I found this explanation:
According to the story, God told Noah: “Make for yourself a bell of box-wood, which is not liable to corruption, three cubits long and one and a half wide, and also a mallet from the same wood. Strike this instrument three separate times every day: once in the morning to summon the animals to the ark, once at midday to call them to dinner, and once in the evening to invite them to rest.” (Not found in scripture.)
The Syriacs strike their semantra when the liturgy is about to begin and when it is time to summon the people to public prayer. Their tradition also links the sound of the wood to the wood of the Garden of Eden that caused Adam to fall when he plucked its fruit, and to nailing the wood of the cross of Jesus Christ, come to atone for Adam’s transgression. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantron)
Whoever thought a piece of wood and mallet or bells could be an
early Christian Church Outreach Tool!!
Guess it should have dawned on me …
a Wooden Cross, Hammer, and Struck Nails …
the Ultimate Outreach Salvation Tools!!
Whew … what a lesson!
Church bells will never ring the same!
I thought, the SEMANTRON couldn’t possibly be heard very far, but I was mistaken, especially given elevation. Here is a video of one being played.
I, Now, Know,
Feel free to share with a friend(s).
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