Over 3,000 pilgrims from Greece and Russia visited the ancient Monastery of Panagia Soumela in Trebizond, Turkey on the occasion of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. For years Greek natives of Trebizond that were exiled in the 20th century have requested an annual Divine Liturgy at the most sacred shrine of their homeland, now turned into a museum by the Turks. An outdoor prayer service was attempted but was soon interrupted by the Director of the Trebizond Museum, Nilgun Yilmazer, who tried to stop the prayer saying, "Soumela is not a place open to prayer." Disrespectfully she grabbed the candle lit before the sacred icon of Panagia Soumela and in Turkish cited Turkish law against such a service to be held saying, "“According to Turkish law, you are not allowed to perform a religious ceremony here”. In retaliation the Greeks chanted the Dismissal Hymn of the Feast of the Dormition as well as the hymn "Ti Ypermacho" (To You the Champion Leader), and then maybe went a bit too far in singing the Greek National Anthem. Yet it is a shame that both Greece and Russia allow Muslims to build their Mosques there while Orthodox cannot even say prayers at their ancient holy shrines in Turkey. It's an insult. The incident was captured on video and is shown above and in the news reports below.
More can be read at these links:
- Trabzon Official Takes Wind Out of Tourists' Rites
- Between Heaven and Earth: The Monastery of Panagia Soumela
- And four Greek news reports are here, here, here and here.
Below are various Greek TV news reports about the incident at Panagia Soumela:
And here is a Turkish news report:
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
[Yet another celebrity reveals the perils of growing up in a false form of christianity and the psychological damage that comes with it. Because of its total reconstruction of the understanding of sin and the passions, every form of false christianity tends to usually have an extreme view of sex by either tarnishing it as bad or reactively exalting it as holy. The first often leads youth to rebellion and atheism while the latter leads to delusion. The more balanced Orthodox approach of treating sex as a blessing from God that ought to be respected and properly used and should not be over-indulged in even within the marriage context alone allows for proper psychological health in these issues. - J.S.]
Megan Fox Needed Help Getting Over Sex Demons
August 24, 2009
Transformers star Megan Fox has had therapy to help her get over the sex demons that have tormented her since she was young. Megan, 23, blames her insecurities and attitude to sex on her religious upbringing.
She told British newspaper the Daily Star Sunday: "I was raised Pentecostal, which is one of the most extreme denominations of Christianity that exists. Everything is evil and wrong and will send you to hell." She added: "So I had lots of talks about how sex was evil, sex was bad." Megan, who recently posed as a nun to promote her film How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, openly rebelled as she questioned the beliefs she was taught at her religious school in Florida. She said: "I fought against everything I was ever taught or told and that just created more of a monster when I was a teenager." She added: "I don't ever feel sexy in small clothes. I always feel really insecure. I don't like wearing make-up." Her role in the new film Jennifer's Body, which hits UK cinemas on November 6 [September 18th in the U.S.], has helped to increase her confidence. In the movie Megan plays a man-eating teenager who is possessed by a sex-mad spirit. She said: "I get to exercise my demons through her. She has really deep, unfriendly insecurities which I can relate to."
Today's news pretty much shows that no one can really accuse Greece of being two-faced and hypocritical. It has been reported that Greece rejected the help of Skopia in its battle against the wild fires which continue to rage uncontrollably in the Athens area among other small pockets. It is believed that Skopia does not really care to help the Greek people due to the controversies between the two nations, but only has political motivations. In essence, Greece does not want to support the cause of its rival by having them pose as more humanitarian. On the other hand, Greece has whole-heartedly accepted the help of every other nation, even that of Turkey.
A blessed hagiorite monk, Elder Augustine the Russian (1882-1965), was very much virtuous, very much humble and very much a combatant. Once the devil appeared in his cell as a frightening dog. With fire coming from his mouth he rushed upon the elder to choke him, because, as the devil told him, he was being burnt by his prayers. Elder Augustine seized him and threw him against the wall and shouted: “Wicked devil, why do you war against God’s creatures?" The devil, being frightened by the unexpected reception, became invisible. Afterwards however the most good and most simple elder had remorse because...he assaulted the devil!!
The elder agonizingly awaited until daylight to go to his confessor to confess his “sin”. Indeed once it was daylight he went to Provata (a one and half hour distance from his cell) where his confessor was located and he confessed. “My confessor was very acquiescent,” the elder recounted later, “and he did not assign me with any penance, but he said I may receive Communion. I, for my joy, prayed with my prayer rope the whole night, and afterwards went to the Divine Liturgy and communed. When the priest was putting the holy spoon in my mouth, I saw the parts of the Holy Communion as a piece of meat and blood! I chewed it so as to swallow. Above all I felt a great exaltation so that I was not able to bear it. Sweet tears ran from my eyes and my head shone as a lamp. I left quickly so that the fathers might not see me, and the prayers of thanksgiving for the Divine Communion I read alone in my cell...”
Monday, August 24, 2009
Blessed Christians, a large number of churches neither preserve nor strengthen our faith as much as they should if those who believe in God aren't enlightened by both the Old and New Testaments. Our faith wasn't established by ignorant saints, but by wise and educated saints who interpreted the holy Scriptures accurately and who enlightened us sufficiently by inspired teachings.
The Church of St. Kosmas Aitolos in Northern Epirus, where the New Martyr and Apostle of Greece was martyred.
Today, however, because of the dreadful state in which we find ourselves due to our sins, such wise and virtuous men, who can preserve unaffected our Orthodox brethren, are absent or at least extremely rare. For how can our nation be preserved without harm in its religion and freedom when the sacred clergy is disastrously ignorant of the meaning of the holy Scriptures, which are the light and foundation of the faith? When a shepherd doesn't know which grass is nourishing for his flock, he can't cure it's possible passions; he can't guard them from the wild beasts and thieves. How can that flock be preserved for very long? So, my children of Parga, to safeguard your faith and the freedom of your homeland, take care to establish without fail a Greek School in which your children will learn all that you are ignorant of.
Pskov Diocese Pronounces Anathema on Journalist
August 18, 2009
The Diocesan Council of the Pskov Diocese has decided to excommunicate journalist Oleg Dementyev from the Church.
Such a radical decision was made "due to a continuous heinous slander and satanical lies against the resident nuns of the Spaso-Yeleazarov Monastery, and, in particular, abbess Yelisaveta (Belyayeva)," the Diocese said in a statement on its website.
"By trampling on the honor and dignity of our country's citizens, the society that he is part of, by his heinous slander Oleg Dementyev dared to tarnish the good memory of our ancestors who were cloistered in the Spaso-Yeleazarov Monastery during the pre-revolution period," the statement said.
The monastery filed a slander lawsuit with the Pskov town court of arbitration. On April 14, 2009 the court found Dementyev guilty. The court ruled that the information published by the journalist in the media, tarnishing the reputation of the Spaso-Yeleazarov Monastery and its residents, was untrue.
The Church was criticizing Dementyev's article titled "A Wasp Nest Under the Golden Domes" published in the January 14-20, 2008 issue of the Pskovsky Rubezh newspaper and the Pravda newspaper issue N5 of 2008. The article accused sisters at the monastery of smoking and drinking in their robes.
The anathema decision was made under the "Foundations of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church," which says, in particular, that the head of any particular diocese can inflict a canonical punishment on a person "who blasphemes under God's name, uses other forms of blasphemy, and systematically and deliberately misrepresents the ecclesiastical life and knowingly defames the Church and its servants."
A person who has been anathematized may not participate in the church's Sacraments, is not entitled to burial rituals or to be buried at an Orthodox cemetery after his death.
Domentyev told Reuters: “There is no question that corruption has appeared at the monastery.”
The Pskov Diocese statement can be read here: www.pskov-eparhia.ellink.ru.
He clearly has flat out stopped caring about how the Russian population views him. Gorbachev tried this, too, Medvezhyonok. It didn't really boost his popularity at all. Of course, Russians recently listed alcoholism as the biggest threat to the country (a bigger threat than NATO expansion). This could work. Good luck with this decision. I respect it.
According to Yahoo News, Medvedev intends to start a war on alcoholism. The facts: every Russian man, woman and child consumes the equivalent of 4.8 gallons (18 liters) of pure rubbing alcohol per year, according to the National Institute of Health. Real quick, how do any Russians make it past age 30? They must have super livers to consume that much alcohol.
About a million Russians die each year from alcohol - and smoking-related causes — between 600,000 and 700,000 of those deaths are attributed to drinking alone, Andrei Demin, of Russia’s Public Health Association, told Fox News.
“It’s threatening the future of the country,” he said.
The problem? Unlike other countries, Russia has refused to levy hefty taxes on cigarettes and alcohol to discourage drinking and smoking.
The resulting statistics are staggering:
- The average Russian drinks 50 bottles of vodka a year.
- A bottle of beer can be purchased on the street for less than the cost of a bottle of water.
- Twelve million of Russia’s 141 million residents have died over the past 15 years due to alcohol-and smoking-related causes.
- A pack of cigarettes can be purchased for about 30 cents.
- The average Russian male lives to be 60 years old, dying 15 years earlier than his American counterpart. Russian women die 13 years earlier than American women.
Although the country has launched a series of television commercials encouraging Russians to choose healthier lifestyles, many critics say this is of little benefit.
Anyway, Medvedev's plan: raise taxes on alcohol, toughen labeling laws and ban the sale of alcohol at kiosks and small stores, allowing only big retail outlets a safe distance from any schools, universities, or leisure centers to sell booze. The Duma is apparently on board. We'll see what happens when they reconvene in the fall.
Madonna's Bulgaria Concert Scheduled for August 29
Feb 11 2009
The Sophia Echo
Madonna's concert in Bulgaria will be held in Sofia on Saturday August 29 2009, Sofia Music Enterprises, a local promotion company, said on February 11.
The venue will be Vassil Levski National Stadium, with a start at 8pm. The most expensive tickets, for those seeking to stay inside the Golden Circle just metres from Madonna, will cost 200 leva. People satisfied to stand in front of the stage will pay 150 leva.
The cheapest tickets, in the pit, cost 100 leva. Seat prices will vary between 110, 135 and 165 leva depending on location.
Tickets will be sold from February 19 2009 at the National Palace of Culture (NDK) as well as at shops of Ticketpro, on ticketpro.bg and at the Euro-Bulgarian Cultural Centre, among other venues.
In the Black Sea city of Bourgas, tickets will be sold at the Sound Garden shop. In Veliko Turnovo, buy them at Medouza.
Madonna's first-ever concert in Bulgaria is part of her Sticky & Sweet Tour in Europe. She will reportedly arrive with a crew of 250 people, and enough equipment to make her concert the largest show that Bulgarian fans have ever seen.
Bulgaria Orthodox Priests Call for Madonna Concert Cancellation
August 18, 2009, Tuesday
Bulgarian Orthodox priests from the city of Plovdiv have called for the cancellation of the US super-star Madonna's concert in Bulgaria on August 29.
They state as a reason the fact that Madonna's performance is on the day on which the Bulgarian Orthodox Church reveres the memory of St John the Baptist.
"The Orthodox Christians fast on this day and the fast is stern - water and bread, abstaining from any worldly pleasures and merry-making", Father Emil Paralingov from St. Paraskeva Church in Plovdiv explained.
He believes the date of the concert should be changed and for this reason the Church needs to interfere, issuing a special statement.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has still not expressed an official opinion on the matter.
Madonna Asked To Reschedule Show by Bulgarian Priests
August 23, 2009
Bulgarian Orthodox priests have thrown another spanner into Madonna's blighted Sticky & Sweet tour. Just off the back of a Polish show during which scandalised Catholics rallied outside, the Bulgarian clerics have called for the cancellation of the megastar's concert in Sofia.
The concert at the Vasil Levski soccer stadium falls on the same day as a religious feast, prompting the priests' demand. It has not been an easy tour for Madonna. In Russia, she met with special requests for a St Petersburg concert that some wanted to take on a revolutionary tone, while in France two stage workers died in a freak accident ahead of her date in Marseille. Orthodox priests in Plovdiv, southern Bulgaria, asked her to reschedule the show from August 29, St John the Baptist day, when revelry is not allowed. Emil Paralingov, a priest, has urged the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to liaise with authorities on the issue. Madonna's concert in Warsaw coincided with the day Catholics celebrate the Virgin Mary's ascension to heaven.
Though reports are suggesting that the winds are dying down and the fires in Athens are slowing down, they are still raging uncontrollably and monasteries are narrowly escaping total destruction. Yesterday it was reported that the famous Monastery of Pendeli just escaped the flames when Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens arrived to oversee the prevention of its destruction. The video above shows nuns battling flames that are threatening the 10th century Pantokratoros Monastery outside of Athens, but this seems to have escaped further destruction as well. More can be read here about the fires at Pantokratoros. Today it is reported that one of Greece's most famous and sacred shrines, the Monastery of Saint Ephraim of Nea Makri, is also threatened. The nuns have been evacuated and they brought the relics with them, though this monastery also holds the tree upon which the Saint was martyred which obviously could not be moved. More about St. Ephraim's Monastery could be read here.
Let us keep Greece and its people in our prayers!
By Lisa Miller NEWSWEEK
Published Aug 15, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Aug 31, 2009
America is not a Christian nation. We are, it is true, a nation founded by Christians, and according to a 2008 survey, 76 percent of us continue to identify as Christian (still, that's the lowest percentage in American history). Of course, we are not a Hindu—or Muslim, or Jewish, or Wiccan—nation, either. A million-plus Hindus live in the United States, a fraction of the billion who live on Earth. But recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.
The Rig Veda, the most ancient Hindu scripture, says this: "Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names." A Hindu believes there are many paths to God. Jesus is one way, the Qur'an is another, yoga practice is a third. None is better than any other; all are equal. The most traditional, conservative Christians have not been taught to think like this. They learn in Sunday school that their religion is true, and others are false. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me."
Americans are no longer buying it. According to a 2008 Pew Forum survey, 65 percent of us believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life"—including 37 percent of white evangelicals, the group most likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone. Also, the number of people who seek spiritual truth outside church is growing. Thirty percent of Americans call themselves "spiritual, not religious," according to a 2009 NEWSWEEK Poll, up from 24 percent in 2005. Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University, has long framed the American propensity for "the divine-deli-cafeteria religion" as "very much in the spirit of Hinduism. You're not picking and choosing from different religions, because they're all the same," he says. "It isn't about orthodoxy. It's about whatever works. If going to yoga works, great—and if going to Catholic mass works, great. And if going to Catholic mass plus the yoga plus the Buddhist retreat works, that's great, too."
Then there's the question of what happens when you die. Christians traditionally believe that bodies and souls are sacred, that together they comprise the "self," and that at the end of time they will be reunited in the Resurrection. You need both, in other words, and you need them forever. Hindus believe no such thing. At death, the body burns on a pyre, while the spirit—where identity resides—escapes. In reincarnation, central to Hinduism, selves come back to earth again and again in different bodies. So here is another way in which Americans are becoming more Hindu: 24 percent of Americans say they believe in reincarnation, according to a 2008 Harris poll. So agnostic are we about the ultimate fates of our bodies that we're burning them—like Hindus—after death. More than a third of Americans now choose cremation, according to the Cremation Association of North America, up from 6 percent in 1975. "I do think the more spiritual role of religion tends to deemphasize some of the more starkly literal interpretations of the Resurrection," agrees Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion at Harvard. So let us all say "om."
German Catholics Return to the Russian Church the Icon Taken Away During World War II
August 17, 2009
The Kazan Icon of the Mother of God taken from Russia during the World War II was ceremonially returned to the Russian Orthodox Church last Sunday.
The revered icon was transferred after the Liturgy in the Church of Our Lady the Joy of All Who Sorrow in Bolshaya Ordynka Street. The honourable abbot of Munsterschwarzach Abbey, Germany, handed the icon to the Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk.
This is a copy of the famous Kazan Icon of the Mother of God gained in the 16th century which helped to free Moscow from Polish intervention.
The transferred icon was found by a German soldier Joseph Bertram in the ruins of Mtsenk, a town in the Oryol region. Bertram took the icon to Germany and eventually gave it over for safekeeping to a Benedictine abbey near Munster (Bavaria) and asked them to return the icon to Russia in the future.
While transferring the icon today, Abbot Fidelis Ruppert referred to it as "a symbol of repentance and reconciliation."
"Joseph Bertram came to this land as an enemy soldier. But he was a believer, and this icon became a binding thread between his belief in God and his belief in the Russian people," Abbot Ruppert said.
He asked forgiveness for the grief and suffering "inflicted by Germans on Russian people," and expressed hope that "the future of our nations will be peaceful and blessed" and that the spirit of "reconciliation, consent and love" will increasingly arise between Russians and Germans.
A Miracle of our Lady of Kazan During World War 2, Otherwise Known by Russians as the Great Patriotic War
In 1941, during World War II against Nazi Germany, the Virgin appeared to Metropolitan Ilya of the Antiochian Church, who prayed wholeheartedly for Russia. She instructed him to tell the Russians that they should carry the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan in a religious procession around the besieged city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Then, the Virgin said, they should serve a prayer service before the icon in Moscow. The Virgin said that the icon should stay with the Russian troops in Stalingrad, and later move with them to the Russian border. Leningrad did not surrender. Miraculously, Moscow was also saved.
During the Battle of Stalingrad, the icon was with the Russian army on the right bank of the Volga, and the Nazi troops could not cross the river. The Battle of Stalingrad began with a prayer service before the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan. Only when it was finished did the troops receive the order to attack. The Icon of the Virgin of Kazan was at the most important sectors of the front, and in the places where the troops were preparing for an offensive. It was like in the old times, when in response to earnest prayers, the Virgin instilled fear in enemies and drove them away. Even atheists told stories of the Virgin’s help to the Russian troops.
During the assault on Königsberg in 1944, the Soviet troops were in a critical situation. Suddenly, the soldiers saw their commander arrive with priests and an icon. Many made jokes, “Just wait, they will help us”! The commander silenced the jokers. He ordered everybody to line up and to take off their uniform caps. When the priests finished the prayer service, they moved to the frontline carrying the icon. The amazed soldiers watched them going straight forward, under intense Nazi fire. Suddenly, the Nazis stopped shooting. Then, the Russian troops received orders to attack on the ground and from the sea. Nazis died in the thousands. Nazi prisoners told the Russians that they saw the Virgin in the sky before the Russians began to attack, the whole of the Nazi army saw Her, and their weapons would not fire.
True, the ideas of socialism brought many people together in the war against Nazi Germany. But in the case of Russia the Nazis’ obsession with the plan to wipe out this country as a nation turned the world war into a patriotic one. So it was natural that in a bid to overpower the enemy the nation turned to their imperial tradition and to Russian history. Orthodoxy was the Russian man’s main spiritual basis. Stalin just couldn’t fail to realize this, so it is a small wonder that he sought assistance from the Church during that dangerous period of time in this country’s history.
20,000 churches were opened during the war years. In spring 1942 the Soviet Government allowed Easter celebrations for the first time in many years. On September 4th, 1943 Stalin invited the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Kremlin to discuss the need for reviving religious life in the USSR and the speedy election of a Patriarch.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Juan Coderch is a Spaniard who recently set up a website dedicated to presenting world news in the ancient Greek language. As a professor of Greek and Latin in the University of Saint Andrews in the U.K., Dr. Coderch got his idea from viewing two websites that exist which present world news in the sister dead language of ancient Greek - Latin. His goal is to inspire his students to develope a deeper knowledge of the language from which western society emerged and breathe into it a new life. Previous attempts to do this was his translation of a Sherlock Holmes story in ancient Greek as well. For an interview (in Greek), read here. To read the news in ancient Greek and find out more about this project, visit here.
This seems to be a growing trend, especially since Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was translated by Andrew Wilson into ancient Greek about five years ago.
By DEMETRIS NELLAS, AP
ATHENS, Greece (Aug. 23) - A raging fire bore down on Athens' northern suburbs Sunday, prompting panicked residents to battle the flames with tree limbs and buckets, and police to order 10,000 people to evacuate one town immediately.
Frightened inhabitants of Agios Stefanos gathered in the town's main square in early afternoon as flames closed in on the town center and police with loudspeakers directed everyone to leave immediately on the main highway to Athens, 14 miles to the southwest.
Other residents tried desperately to save their homes with hoses, buckets and branches. Planes swooped low over the town to pour water on the flaming houses.
"I call on all residents to follow the instructions of the police as to where they will go," an emotional Agios Stefanos deputy mayor Panayiotis Bitakos told Skai TV. "We had been begging the authorities since early in the morning to send forces ... It is too late now. Too late."
By mid-afternoon, the town was empty save for a few volunteers who were aiding firefighters. Houses smoldered and burned-out cars littered the streets.
Planes and helicopters, which had suspended operations overnight, attacked the blaze again at dawn. But with gale-force winds propelling the flames, the fire spread unchecked. TV showed airplanes and helicopters dumping water on a forest outside Agios Stefanos — and the fire re-igniting moments after they left.
“The situation is tragic,” said Yiannis Sgouros, governor of the greater Athens area. “Fires are out of control on many fronts.”
The forests around Athens' northern suburbs have helped the fire leap to new areas.
"The pine cones are like projectiles — they cover long distances, too, and spread the fire around," said Avraam Pasipoularidis, mayor of the northern suburb of Drossia. "Everything around me is burning."
The fires ignited late Friday; by Sunday they were reported across an area more than 25 miles (40 kilometers) wide. They started in the mountains near the town of Marathon, from which the modern long-distance foot race takes its name. The army removed anti-aircraft missiles from a nearby military base as the flames approached.
Municipal officials said the fire was threatening the archaeological site of Rhamnus, home to two 2,500-year-old temples.
A state of emergency was declared Saturday in greater Athens: These are the most destructive fires in Greece since blazes killed more than 70 people in 2007.
Residents fled on foot, by motorbike and in cars, amid blackouts and cuts in the water supply. No casualties had been reported as of early Sunday afternoon.
TV stations broadcast frantic calls for help from people of different areas, with many complaining that no firefighting equipment had reached them.
A resident of Drossia pleaded with TV station Mega for help, saying far was within 45 yards (40 meters) of his home and he had no water with which to fight it.
Authorities evacuated two large children's hospitals, as well as campsites and homes in villages and outlying suburbs threatened by blazes that scattered ash across Athens. The flames also approached a large monastery on Mt. Penteli.
Officials said help was on the way.
"There are 14 planes — with two of these coming from Italy — and nine helicopters fighting the fire, alongside hundreds of firefighters, volunteers and soldiers," fire brigade spokesman Yiannis Kapakis told reporters.
"These will soon be joined by two planes from France and a helicopter from Cyprus. Cyprus will also send four fire engines and 60 firefighters," he added.
Elsewhere in Greece, serious fires were reported on the islands of Evia and Skyros in the Aegean Sea and Zakynthos in the west. Another large fire that started Saturday in the town of Plataea, 40 miles northwest of Athens, was spreading unchecked in western Attica.
A total of 83 fires have broken out across Greece since 6 a.m. Saturday, fire brigade spokesman Kapakis said.
Associated Press Writer Derek Gatopoulos contributed to this report.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Monday, 10 August 2009
Is human behaviour really based on the survival strategies of our Pleistocene ancestors?
Well, the stone hatchet is certainly poised over our iconic cavemen. A recent Scientific American podcast admits as much, and without the narrator throwing a panic attack either.
Why this? Why now? And why such equinamity?
Secular materialist thinkers have as deep a desire as anyone to understand the wellsprings of human nature. But they are much more restricted in where they can look. From the very beginning of the organized "human evolution" movement, starting with Darwin's publication of The Descent of Man, they have mined random findings from evolution for deep truths about human nature.
The first try was Social Darwinism. It is best remembered as an attempt to co-opt science to justify existing policies such as colonialism and ruthless exploitation of labour - policies earlier developed for reasons unrelated to evolution. Such policies fell by the wayside during the 20th century, of course, but sociobiology blossomed in the 1970s. Sociobiologists tried to show, using insect colonies as the key model, that the human behaviour that puzzled them - such as altruism toward strangers - was governed in reality by "selfish genes" that seek to replicate themselves. Sociobiology never came up with convincing explanations of puzzling human behaviour and soon became embroiled in controversies over alleged racism.
Later a broader movement emerged - Evolutionary Psychology (EP) - which scours the waterfront for human behaviours that can be traced to the survival strategies of our Pleistocene ancestors (1.8 million to about 10,000 years ago), that are now assumed to be encoded in our genes through natural selection. Thus our brains enact programs whose true nature we do not understand. But the evolutionary psychologist does.
This encoded behaviour can be shopping, voting, or tipping at restaurants.
It can also be: Why children don't like vegetables (nothing to do with young 'uns preference for sweet things); why hungry men prefer plump women (not just because they probably know where the kitchen is); why we have color vision (mainly to detect blushing); why we are sexually jealous (not fear of abandonment, but "sperm competition"); why toddlers are Neanderthals (not just immature); why we don't stick to our goals (evolution gave us a kludge brain); why women prefer men with stubble (except for those who don't); why gossip is good for you (despite wrecked relationships); why moral behaviour is based on primitive disgust (not rational evaluation); why music exists (to "spot the savannah with little Pavarottis"); why art exists (to recapture that lost savannah); why art exists (to spread selfish genes); why altruism is really a form of sexual display; why altruism is really just selfishness; why a child must have a selfish motive for saving her sister's life; why right and wrong don't really make sense; why we don't eat grandma (because she might babysit the kids); why we don't (usually) hurt ourselves to hurt others; why we can't help behaving badly (it is programmed into our genes); oh, and religion is a sort of replicator or "meme" in our brains; and we believe in God because he is a supernatural cheat detector; or else we believe in God because belief is and is not adaptive at the same time; also, we believe in God because we have a genetic predisposition to communicate unverifiable information.
There is a dark side too. Our Stone Age ancestors are deputized to explain, as Sharon Begley observes in Newsweek, why we rape, kill and sleep around.
Now, if this all sounds like the kvetching and venting in the "Relationships" section of your local newspaper - shallow truths, at best, never deep ones - that point was certainly not lost on thoughtful scientists and philosophers. But they were not sure what to do. Some, like neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran, tried parody, as in "Why Do Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?". But when a discipline is grounded in a speculative assumption (that behaviour that might have helped our Pleistocene ancestors survive is now embedded in our genes and therefore expressed unconsciously in our brains), the pace of speculation is hard to control, and the discipline becomes difficult to parody.
Some, like agnostic, common-sense philosophers David Stove and Jerry Fodor assailed EP's simplistic and counterintuitive assertions about human nature. Social scientists such as Steven and Hilary Rose, editors of the anthology Alas, Poor Darwin, weighed in on its counterfactual assumptions about human behavior. But most such efforts sank without a trace under the tide of popular delight in explanations that absolve bad or foolish behaviour with no need for repentance or amendment of life. And common sense objections were always met by the triumphant declaration that the current speculation was "based on the science of evolution." So, as Sharon Begley points out in Newsweek,
"From its inception, evolutionary psychology had warned that behaviors that were evolutionarily advantageous 100,000 years ago (a sweet tooth, say) might be bad for survival today (causing obesity and thence infertility), so there was no point in measuring whether that trait makes people more evolutionarily fit today. Even if it doesn't, evolutionary psychologists argue, the trait might have been adaptive long ago and therefore still be our genetic legacy. An unfortunate one, perhaps, but still our legacy. Short of a time machine, the hypothesis was impossible to disprove. Game, set and match to evo psych."
But scientists and scholars were also troubled by evolutionary psychology's lack of science-based economy of explanation, conventionally called Occam's Razor: One thinks, for example, of the big bazooms theory of human evolution, according to which men prefer women with big breasts because their ample bosoms make their fertility easier to ascertain. That is, not for the same reasons as those same men prefer big cars, big steaks, or full mugs of beer.
No doubt there is an evolutionary explanation for why creatures with any mental capacity, whether it is pre-programmed or self-directed, prefer "more" rather than "less." However, one must look vastly deeper into evolution than the story of our own human race, to discover the origin of so very general a preference among life forms. Too often, as in this case, EP appeared to be searching for something to explain rather than shedding light on human behaviour.
But the key problem with EP only became apparent after neuroscientists and other thinkers had digested a key lesson from the Decade of the Brain in the 1990s. The brain does not consist of a series of linked modules; it is a restless sea in a semisolid state, constantly reorganizing itself, according to the focus of attention provided by the mind. Adaptation to one's environment is constant and normal. Echoes from the past are just that, dimly heard echoes, not prophecies of behavior.
A new discipline, that looks much more promising for interpreting human behavior, is Behavioral Ecology. Behavioral ecology does not assume that a given behavior is - or ever has been - always adaptive or not adaptive. It makes predictions only for specific ecologies. For example, is it better for a girl to marry very young or wait? To marry a wealthy old man or a vigorous, young one? To marry a cousin or an outsider to the clan? Obviously, knowledge of a specific human ecology is needed before one can attempt to answer such a question. And the only thing encoded in our genes is a general capacity to apprehend and adapt to our circumstances.
As to why we rape, kill, and sleep around? Sharon Begley insists that, "The fault, dear Darwin, lies not in our ancestors, but in ourselves." Or, put another way, if we create ecologies that reward a given behavior, we must deal with a lot more of it, whether we like it or not.
Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.
Sharon Begley offers a valuable summary of the issues. Also, an article on evolutionary psychologists' recent backpedalling.
David Brooks sums it up in the New York Times.
David Buller, once an advocate of evolutionary psychlogy, now offers serious critiques at Scientific American.
Greg Downey at Neuroanthropology weighs in against "memes" as the supposed replicators of our "selfish genes" in evolutionary psychology.
Early critic University of Chicago philosophy Professor Jerry Fodor of the "common sense" school explains his misgivings here, and also here.
Robert C. Richardson, Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology (MIT Press, 2007).
By Jayanti Tamm
Special to The Washington Post
August 10, 2009
At my local bookstore on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, 1960s nostalgia is in high gear. A display table is stacked high with pricey coffee table books, each with its own variation on psychedelic rainbow lettering, each claiming to reveal the untold story of the "peace and music" festival. I understand the lucrative business of selling those hazy memories — the Woodstock museum, Cherry Garcia ice cream, even the new movie "Taking Woodstock." I just can't buy into it.
It's not because, as a Gen-Xer, I feel slighted that I missed out on all the fun. It's because for me and many other children of the flower children, our rose-colored glasses are not just slightly tinted, but darkly tainted.
Along with the iconic music and fashion came myriad new religions and a foolish rush to embrace peddlers of spiritual snake oil. A flood of swamis, yogis and self-proclaimed enlightened beings preyed on hippies who were disillusioned by mainstream religion and in search of an alternative path.
By the time the mud had dried at Woodstock, Swami Prabhupada had created the Hare Krishnas and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon had founded the Unification Church — the Moonies. Communes and ashrams sprouted across America. In the 1960s, the decade now mythic for its anti-conformity, flocks of people conformed to the dictates of self-proclaimed prophets.
In 1968, the Beatles sat at the feet of the Maharishi. Consciousness-raising went mainstream. Reciting Sanskrit chants, wearing japa beads and finding a guru became chic. Everyone who was anyone read "I Am That" and "Autobiography of a Yogi." Many free spirits obediently changed their names, dropped out of college and abandoned their families. Ironically, their wild-child rebellion landed them in rigidly structured cults that controlled their lives — and those of their children. For many, that life eventually grew old. They retired their mantras and moved on. But for others, my parents included, the intrigue never faded.
Like the Beatles, my hippie parents met their guru in 1968. Sri Chinmoy, based in New York, promised them enlightenment — if they obeyed his dictates. All they had to do was surrender their lives to him. To my trusting and vulnerable mother, and to my eccentric and contemplative father, the offer sounded like a bargain.
Arriving in the United States in 1964, Sri Chinmoy had vast ambitions. He aimed to infiltrate the United Nations, win a Nobel Prize and gain a worldwide following. His disciples were to lead austere, celibate lives, devoting themselves and their financial resources entirely to his mission. In 1970 when my mother became pregnant — a clear breach of the rules — the guru saved face by divining me as his chosen soul.
I was raised in the ashram of this man who declared himself an incarnation of God. Before I could walk, my parents dressed me in a sari and took me on their recruiting trips. Instead of acting in school plays and playing soccer, I distributed leaflets proclaiming the guru's divinity from parade floats that wound through city streets. I spent summers scrubbing the cages of the zoo housed in the basement of the guru's Queens home.
When Chinmoy wanted to attract more media attention, he staged elaborate weightlifting feats, hoisting elephants, helicopters and even Nelson Mandela and Mikhail Gorbachev — a smoke-and-mirrors spectacle I never understood. How could lifting elephants illuminate and ultimately transform the world? When I was a teenager, the guru's strict rules banning all contact and relationships with the "outside" world provoked questions and longings for everything he forbade — college, career and family. When he told me to neglect the mind and forever remain in the heart "like a 7-year-old," I finally realized that he was a narcissistic charlatan, shamelessly exploiting the faithful.
At 25, older than my parents had been when they renounced the world to serve the guru, I was formally banished, losing all my connections to the community I'd known since birth. Fortunately, I was young enough to forge a life on my own terms.
For years, I have struggled with the reckless decision of some in my parents' generation to entrust their present and future to those who claimed to be spiritually enlightened. Cultural historians today portray the '60s as a unique time. I hope they are right. That is, I hope that the cast of corrupt opportunists — gurus, prophets and messiahs — who profited from others' naive belief is indeed a unique '60s phenomenon, safely encapsulated in those glossy anniversary books.
Tamm, an English professor at Ocean County (N.J.) College, is the author of "Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult."
13 August 2009
In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins writes that God is “the most unpleasant character in all fiction … a misogynist, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” The last time a literary character was described in such despicable terms was probably Charles Dickens’s description of Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge!” writes Dickens, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” I’ll let you decide which character is worse.
Let’s lay aside for the moment that Dawkins considers God fictional, that is to say (in Dawkins’s words) “almost certainly does not exist.” (even that betrays some slight doubt on Dawkins’s part). The real issue for Dawkins and many of his fellow ‘New Atheists’ (NA’s) such as Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and the like, is that humans have had a nasty tendancy to commit many acts of evil over the centuries in the name of this fictional God. As the NA’s see it, if we could only rid the world of this fiction called God and its handmaiden, Religion, then the the Golden Age of Atheism will lead the world to a Scientific Utopia, where Science and Reason rule the Mind and all humanity is rid of these childhood fantasies about God, Church, Religion and the like. In short we’ll grow up. At least, that is the upshot of most of the lectures, books, articles and blog posts coming from the NA’s and their ilk.
Unfortunately for the NA’s, there’s a huge hitch in their thinking, and it just isn’t going to go away no matter how much clever rhetoric they toss at it. That hitch is the age old Problem of Evil (PoE). According to the NA’s, if only we could rid humans of the false beliefs in this or that god or gods and/or this or that religion, then all the evils committed by humans in the name of those gods and/or religions would go away, too. Thus, Dawkins, Harris and the other NA’s mince no words in describing their disdain for anything that smacks of the supernatural. What the NA’s don’t seem to realize is that they are admitting that real evil exists, even if the God or gods in whose name(s) the evil is committed does not.
The upshot of taking evil to be real, even if the God(s) behind aren’t, is that evil still needs to be explained. For the NA’s, the only possible explanation for any behavior, evil or otherwise is evolution. Thus, for all their ranting against religion(s) and god(s), they really ought to be ranting against evolution itself. But appealing to evolution doesn’t help their case much.
On the NA’s worldview, all events in time and space are the end result of the blind, purposeless forces of matter and energy evolving over eons of time through chance and/or necessity. That’s it. There simply are no other causal forces at work. That means that all human behaviors, good or evil, are also the end result of this same chain of evolution. We might claim we were motivated to do good or evil by our belief in some diety or religion, but the truth of the matter (on the NA’s worldview), is that evolution made us do it.
For all their complaints against religion(s) and dieties, the NA’s have no basis, rooted in evolution, to judge any act as good or evil, simply because evolution has not produced any objective standard by which to measure such things. Sure, humans might do things that NA’s (or others) don’t like, may even hate, but that doesn’t really make them evil (or good…depending on your point of view). Dawkins judgement that if the God of the Old Testament Scripture were real He’d be evil is thus not based on any objective standard, but is itself the result of the same evolutionary processes. For all the caterwauling from the NA’s against religion, they really ought to be complaining about evolution itself!
by Monk Moses the Athonite
August 3, 2009
Through the internet I was sent some news which made an impression on me which I am making available to you with some short comments. Are we [Greeks] more progressive and free than the Russians?
Because in today's Russia the following occurred: Patriarch Kiril of Moscow met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
In this meeting the Patriarch declared that the work of the Church is a continuous offering that is positive and good for the people and the community, which eventually benefits both the Church and the State.
The Prime Minister said that the relationship between the Church and the State are very good these past few years.
The Russian Patriarch continued that the relationship between Church and State and civil community is indeed very well developed, but harder work is needed for greater development.
Very good work is being done among the chaplains of the Russian army. There are Divine Liturgies, lectures and Confessions being done.
There are currently 650 priests in 530 army churches. All the chaplains receive support from those in command.
The Minister of Culture in Russia, Mr. Aleksandr Sokolov, declared to reporters that he thinks the time has come to teach "an introduction to Orthodox Culture" in schools as a part of training, saying that in many vicinities of Russia there is little accumulated experience on this subject.
In the past a Greek bishop visited Moscow and was asked by the agonized Minister of Education in Russia if it is true that the Greek government prefers to abolish religious lessons in the schools.
Now we hear that our Greek schools will offer classes in sexual education and Yoga. What else are we going to hear?
During a recent visit to Moscow by an Athonite abbot there was a meeting with the President of Russia, Mr. Dmitri Medvedev, and he was assured of the deep respect the president has towards the Church.
When meeting with the students of the Theological Academy of Petersburg, he spoke of this, saying: "I must confess that your president astonished me. We spoke for a while. And I saw a man who loves his nation, and loves the Church and clergy."
During my visits to Russia for two gatherings, twenty and thirty years ago, I noticed a religious rebirth, the rebuilding of new churches, the restoration of old monasteries and churches, a conscious reception by the young in the Mysteries of the Church, and so forth.
I'm not saying that all in Russia is roses and perfect. I'm not saying that problems don't exist.
We do not agree with the profane view and beyond inappropriate idea of a Third Rome. Constantinople is not a Second Rome, but the New Rome. But in Russia there is respect and there is sincere discussion on the true light of Orthodoxy.
In Russia they are building and in Greece they are demolishing. Greece is more progressive and modern. They want to abolish lessons in religion, prayer in schools, and the separation of Church and State. To de-sanctify everything. For freedom to not respect or honor anything. To shame all the clergy and monks. To bring down the Holy Mountain. To disrespect the Church. It's a shame that for the mistakes of a select few, that laws, authorities, personages, traditions, and ancient values will be levelled.
Friday, August 21, 2009
It must be emphasized that a theology that is not the result of purification, that is, of ‘praxis’, is demonic. According to St. Maximus, “knowledge without praxis is the demons' theology”.
St. Thalassios, who had the same perspective, wrote that when man’s nous begins with simple faith, it “will eventually attain a theology that transcends the nous and that is characterized by unremitting faith of the highest type and the vision of the invisible”. Theology is beyond logic, it is a revelation of God to man, and the Fathers define it as theoria. Here too theology is chiefly vision of God. In another place the same Saint wrote that genuine love gives birth to spiritual knowledge, and “this is succeeded by the desire of all desires: the grace of theology”.
St. Diadochos of Photiki [teaches that] theology is the greatest gift offered to man by the Holy Spirit…. Therefore knowledge of God “comes through prayer, deep stillness and complete detachment, while wisdom comes through humble meditation on Holy Scripture and, above all, through grace given by God”. The gift of theology is a work of the Holy Spirit but in cooperation with man, since the Holy Spirit does not actualize in man a spiritual knowledge of the mysteries “apart from that faculty in him which naturally searches out such knowledge”.
…All these things show that theology is properly the fruit of man’s healing and not a rational discipline. Therefore in the Orthodox Patristic tradition theology is linked and identified with the spiritual father, and the spiritual father is the theologian par excellence – that is to say, the one who experiences the things of God and so can lead his spiritual children unerringly.
Father John Romanides writes: “The true Orthodox theologian is the one who has direct knowledge of some of God’s energies through illumination or knows them more through vision. Or he knows them indirectly through the prophets, apostles and saints or through scripture, the writings of the Fathers and the decisions and acts of their Ecumenical and Local Councils.
"Theology is not abstract knowedge or practice, like logic, mathematics, astronomy and chemistry, but on the contrary, it has a polemical character like logistics and medicine. The former is concerned with matters of defense and attack through bodily drill and strategies for the deployment of weapons, fortifications and defensive and offensive schemes, while the latter is fighting against mental and physical illnesses for the sake of health and the means of restoring health."
Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Theology as a Therapeutic Science, pp. 33-36.
Superman Meets Jabbar the Powerful in New Comic Series
July 19 2009
CTV.ca News Staff
Superman and Wonder Woman will soon be fighting injustice alongside the likes of Jabbar the Powerful and Noora the Light in a new comic series, which combines the superhero powers of the Justice League of America with The 99, a group of Islamic crime fighters.
The 99 was created in 2003 by psychologist Naif Al-Mutawa during what he calls a time of heightened mistrust of Islam in the post-9-11 world.
The comic series made its debut in 2006 to widespread acclaim for the 99 heroes, who are based on the 99 attributes of Allah in the Qur'an, such as generosity, wisdom and mercy.
"Comic books have historically been used to go after injustices that exist in the world," Al-Mutawa told CTV's Canada AM this week.
"I don't think it's a coincidence that Superman and Batman were created by Jewish teenagers and young adults during the height of anti-Semitism and that The 99 was created at the height of Islamophobia. A lot of times, culture speaks for the impossible situations that people exist in, and I think The 99's creation in '03 coming out of 9-11 is not a coincidence."
According to Al-Mutawa, while the characters are based on the Islamic faith, they do not openly practice their religion in the storylines, much like superheroes Spiderman and Batman, who themselves evoke Judeo-Christian traditions.
Superman, for example, is sent to Earth in a pod, just as Moses travelled the Nile in a pod-like basket, Al-Mutawa said.
"Just like the prophets in the Bible, the superheroes have parents missing. Superman's parents die in Krypton, Batman's die when he's six, Spiderman is raised by his aunt and uncle," Al-Mutawa said.
"And also, like the prophets who get their message from above by a messenger -- from God through Gabriel -- Peter Parker is taking a photograph of Manhattan when the spider comes in from above, not below, but above, and gives him his message through a bite."
Details of the new series are scarce -- DC Comics only issued a brief announcement about the collaboration in a July 2 entry on one of its official blogs.
But it will likely spark widespread interest, as The 99 is immensely popular across the Islamic world.
The superheroes hail from 99 different countries, including Canada, and are almost evenly split between males and females.
The backstory begins with 99 gemstones that embody each of Allah's 99 characteristics, which have been scattered around the world.
As each gem is found by a "worthy" recipient, he or she gains special powers.
While the series is steeped in Islamic tradition, Al-Mutawa told the magazine Egypt Today in 2007 that its appeal lies in the fact that it embraces values that are important to all human beings, regardless of religion.
"(The 99) is Islamic only because it's not Judeo-Christian," he said. "It's about basic human values; it doesn't matter if you're Muslim or not."
By Rhys Blakely
August 20, 2009
Mumbai, India - They are fighting for truth, justice and the Islamic way and are heading for your living room — prepare to say salaam to the world’s first Muslim superheroes.
Despite the ample wrongs waiting to be righted across the Middle East, Superman, Spider-Man and Batman mainly fight evil in America. When the East has featured as a setting for superhero antics — as in the recent film Iron Man — it has tended to be as a source of villainy.
That is about to change, courtesy of The 99, a Sharia-compliant version of the X-Men that has taken the Arab world by storm and has its sights set on the West.
The franchise, which was created as a cartoon strip three years ago to counter the effects of jihadist agitprop on Muslim minds, is poised to make its debut on British television this year. An animated series is being produced by Endemol, the Dutch company that made Big Brother internationally ubiquitous. Its mission: to instil old-fashioned Islamic values in Christian, Jewish and atheist children.
The story follows a group of preternaturally gifted Muslims: The 99, each with a superpower that mirrors one of the 99 attributes of Allah.
The cast includes Jabbar, a Saudi Arabian Hulk-type figure with an improbable physique, and Darr the Afflicter, a paraplegic American who can manipulate nerve endings with his mind to trigger pain. There is also a character in a burka — Batina the Hidden.
The resulting franchise — a blend of fact, classic “kapow”-style action and Dan Brown-esque hokum — has proved a hit from Morocco to Indonesia and was branded recently one of the top 20 trends sweeping the world by Forbes magazine.
Beneath the rollicking storylines, however, there is a serious subtext. The man behind The 99 is Dr Naif al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti who was a clinical psychologist previously.
Dr al-Mutawa said that the idea came to him while he was riding in a black cab in London from Edgware Road to Harrods, but its seed was sown years before when he worked at the survivors of political torture unit in Bellevue Hospital, New York. Many of the young men he treated were Iraqis who had fled after being tortured under Saddam Hussein’s regime.
“It hit me that the stories I was hearing were from men who grew up believing that their leader, Saddam, was a hero, a role model — only to one day be tortured by him,” Dr al-Mutawa said. “I decided the Arab world needed better role models.”
The conviction was reinforced by children’s literature that was circulating in the Middle East. When Dr al-Mutawa visited potential financial backers he took a newspaper article that described the popularity in Nablus, a city under the rule of the Palestinian National Authority, of a sticker book known as the Intifada Album.
It depicted weeping Palestinian mothers, Israeli tanks and wounded children. Captions included: “Let me die a martyr, my glorious homeland is calling.”
The book’s creator, a Hamas supporter who had sold 40,000 albums and 12 million stickers in four months, brushed off accusations that he was inciting hatred, saying: “There is no escaping the everyday reality of the intifada.”
Dr al-Mutawa, a father of five boys, disagreed. “This is not what I envisage for my children,” he said.
The 99 has faced resistance in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where it was only passed by the country’s censors when it gained financing from an Islamic bank with a Sharia board. There will never be 99 characters because it is forbidden to depict all of Allah’s attributes.
Despite its Islamic basis Dr al-Mutawa said that The 99 has universal appeal. He said: “It is based on attributes such as generosity and mercy. These are not things that Islam has a monopoly over.”
Thursday, August 20, 2009
August 17, 2009
RIA Novosti continues its six part investigation into Russian sects and fringe beliefs with a look at self-proclaimed messiah Grigory Grabovoi, jailed on fraud charges in 2008.
Dressed in an anonymous dark suit and tie of the type favoured by harassed office workers the world over, the slightly nervous middle-aged man frowns and turns on his computer's camera.
He clears his throat, wipes an expression that could be interpreted as anything from nerves to boredom off his face and begins to speak.
"I, Grigory Grabovoi, born on November 14, 1963 in the Bogara village of the Kirov District in the Chimkent Region of Kazakhstan announce that, er, I, Grigory Grabovoi, am the second coming of Jesus Christ."
The clip, easy to find on the Internet, is comical and in some ways a little sad. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the name, Grabovoi seems like a most unsuccessful and unlikely would-be messiah, severely lacking in charisma and guru-appeal.
However, this self-proclaimed leader of men is at the centre of one of the most bizarre stories to have come out of modern Russia.
Although he had been in the resurrection business for some time, Grabovoi made the headlines all over Russia in 2005 after allegedly promising to bring back to life, for some $1,500 a corpse, the 186 children killed when Chechen separatists seized school number one in Beslan, an incident often referred to as Russia's 9/11.
Media reports claimed that the "Second Coming" and his political organization - the very Clockwork Orange sounding "Drugg" - regularly held "healing sessions" in Moscow with members of the Mothers of Beslan, a group formed by bereaved parents from the tragic North Caucasus town.
"I believe in this miracle and I know that it will come about," one of the group's founding members, Susanna Dudiyeva, told a gathering of Grabovoi's followers in the Cosmos hotel in north Moscow. "My maternal instinct tells me this, my maternal faith."
"I want my child back, and I will believe in anything to get him," Zalina Guburova, who lost her 9-year-old son in the attack, told Russia's NTV.
Public outrage, whipped up by both the broadsheets and the tabloids, grew and Grabovoi was eventually arrested in 2006 after a sting operation carried out by Moscow journalist Vladimir Vorsobin, from the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily.
Vorsobin appealed to Grabovoi to resurrect his fictional step-brother, whose "photograph" was complied from different images by the paper's art department.
After Vorsobin had handed over the cash, he was informed that his "step-brother" had been resurrected and was leading a happy life somewhere near St. Petersburg.
Grabovoi was subsequently detained and, after the paper appealed for other people who had been conned to come forward, eventually charged and jailed on 11 charges of fraud in July 2008. His 11-year sentence was later cut to eight on appeal.
I met Vladimir Vorsobin this summer in central Moscow. It was over three years since he had become involved in the Grabovoi case, yet the details were still fresh in his mind.
"Before I started, I spoke to lawyers who told me that it was impossible to convict Grabovoi. He had, they said, everything covered legally so that nothing could be traced back to him. On top of this, he was guarded by some guys who used to work in the ninth."
"The KGB unit responsible for protecting the Soviet leadership."
Undeterred by Grabovoi's impressive defenses, Vladimir set about laying a trap.
"I went to see them, and asked them to resurrect my non-existent brother. They told me it was possible and would cost 1000 euros. They had an office in the centre, a secretary, a bookkeeping department, as well as stamps, documents, the lot. They even gave me a receipt! I went to pay the money at a branch of Sberbank [a Russian state-run bank]."
"After that, they gave me a plan of action. I had to go to the Cosmos hotel in north Moscow one evening, around 11 pm. There were around 40-50 people there, including some of the Mothers of Beslan. You can imagine the turnover - 50 people at 1000 euros, once or twice a week. They had minimal expenses as well. They just took a room, and saw everyone there."
"Anyway," Vladimir went on, "I had to sit there until morning. I was like, 'look, maybe I can go home and come home later.' 'No' they told me, 'you are being helped even as you sit here.'"
Vladimir stayed on until the crack of dawn, and, as the sun came up over the nearby rocket-shaped monument to Soviet cosmonauts, he was finally ushered in to see Grabovoi. The guru, the journalist recalled, looked shattered, "but then again, he had been resurrecting people all night."
"I switched on my Dictaphone and said "I want someone resurrected.'" 'Ok, it's done,' Grabovoi replied, without even glancing at me. 'He's living to the south of St. Petersburg.'"
Even though Vladimir had gone to the hotel with the intention of setting Grabovoi up, he still felt cheated ("1000 euros for two minutes!") and asked the Second Coming if he could have a chat as well.
"How can you do all this? Are you God?" he asked, getting in the big question first.
"Yes, I am Lord God."
"Do you know everything?"
"Yes, I see everything."
"Nice one," Vladimir said, and left.
Had he perhaps been worried that Grabovoi's followers might take revenge?
"At first, yes, I was freaked out," he confessed. "But then, you know, I realised that the rank and file who follow Grabovoi's teachings, they are basically kind at heart. They are all very educated, but like a lot of people in Russia they are looking for something. You know, we banished God in the Soviet era and now people need something more."
During my research into why some of the Mothers of Beslan trusted so completely in Grabovoi, I came across a book published by Drugg for the use of its members at seminars. Modestly titled, Resurrection And Eternal Life Is Our Reality From Henceforth!, the bible-sized tome contains pages and pages of documents confirming Grabovoi's "powers".
Given the Russians' Soviet-inherited respect for paperwork and official stamps, an examination of some of the documents made it slightly easier to understand exactly why so many people were taken in. Flicking through the pages, the names of the organisations and officials willing to testify caused me to do a double-take.
Some of the more impressive highlights were the Russian Space Flight centre officials who stated that Grabovoi's performances in tests designed to evaluate his powers proved that "psychics should be used to prevent and correct errors in aviation and space systems" and a contract with Uzbek National airlines to protect flights carrying the Uzbek president. Professors at Rostov State University (in Russia's south) also had no qualms about verifying Grabovoi's paranormal abilities.
"You have to remember when these documents were signed and stamped. We are talking about the late 1990s," Roman Shleinov, head of the investigation department at the Novaya Gazeta paper, told me. "Things were extremely tough financially back then in Russia. It wouldn't have cost much to buy this kind of proof."
"The Russian Space flight centre stuff doesn't really surprise me," Roman went on. "But when you see a professor at a state university testify that Grabovoi could influence events at a sub-molecular level..." He shook his head.
But what about their professional reputations? Did they not care that by lending some official credence to Grabovoi's bizarre claims they risked destroying their professional standing?
"They didn't give a damn about that!" Roman said. "Who knew what tomorrow would bring? Better to get paid today."
While the Grabovoi affair may seem like a one-off aberration, the meeting of the complex nature of Russian politics and the country's fondness for the supernatural, the concept of the physical resurrection of the dead through science has strong roots in Russian 19th and 20th century history.
Nikolai Fedorov, 1828-1903, was a Moscow-based ascetic philosopher who, despite not publishing anything in his lifetime, was cited by both Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky as a major influence. Fedorov, who preferred to disseminate his ideas orally, was convinced that the resurrection of the dead was scientifically possible, and that it was also humanity's moral duty to undertake this task. Mankind, the celibate thinker maintained, was the tool nature had chosen to resolve its greatest flaw, i.e. death.
While it would be easy to dismiss Fedorov as at best a well-meaning eccentric, his ideas continued to thrive after his death, and were taken up by a number of respected figures in Soviet society. One of the most notable people to take an interest in the philosopher's work was Maxim Gorky, the Order of Lenin-winning writer who reportedly had the ear of Stalin.
"We shall all rise from the dead," Gorky stated in his "On Knowledge." In a state where God had been exiled, it goes without saying that Gorky was not speaking of the Christian promise of eternal life.
Fedorov was also the inspiration for the 1920's Biocosmists-Immortalists, a pro-Bolshevik group that aimed to extend the October 1917 Revolution into the realms of time and space, and who claimed that humanity had two basic rights - the right to immortality and to unimpeded movement throughout the universe. "Dead of all countries, unite!" proclaimed a 1920 manifesto released by the group, whose members included high-up Soviet scientists and philosophers.
An official Soviet manifesto released the year before Lenin's death in 1924 had declared with typical revolutionary fervor that, "Mankind will be eternal!" After Lenin's death, the Biocosmists-Immortalists also published a statement in the state-run Izvestiya newspaper that consoled the bereaved nation with the thought that the workers of the world "would not be reconciled" with the passing away of the father of the Revolution and would not rest until he was resurrected in all his glory.
The Soviet-era slogan "Lenin lived, Lenin Lives, Lenin Will Live!" suddenly takes on quite a different meaning.
Representatives of Grabovoi's Drugg organization declined to be interviewed for this article.
Legal theorists and opponents of same-sex marriage routinely (and rightly) make the argument that the legalization of homosexual marriage will, inevitably, lead to the legalization of polygamy. Once marriage is redefined to allow for same-sex unions, any determination to maintain legal prohibitions against polygamy will be seen as merely arbitrary. At the same time, once strictures against adultery were eliminated in the culture and in the wall, something essentially like polygamy was inevitable.
The article in Newsweek, written by Jessica Bennett, presents polyamory as a growing movement that now involves persons in the cultural mainstream. As the magazine reports: "Researchers are just beginning to study the phenomenon, but the few who do estimate that openly polyamorous families in the United States number more than half a million, with thriving contingents in nearly every major city."
The movement now claims a number of recognized books, logs, podcasts, and even an online magazine titled Loving More. According to Newsweek, actress Tilda Swinton and Carla Bruni, the First Lady of France, have emerged as prominent spokespersons for non-monogamy. As should be expected, the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University now features a "polyamory library."
Jessica Bennett suggests that the contemporary polyamory movement has roots in utopian movements of the 19th century:
"The notion of multiple-partner relationships is as old as the human race itself. But polyamorists trace the foundation of their movement to the utopian Oneida commune of upstate New York, founded in 1848 by Yale theologian John Humphrey Noyes. Noyes believed in a kind of communalism he hoped would fix relations between men and women; both genders had equal voice in community governance, and every man was considered to be married to every woman. But it wasn't until the late-1960s and 1970's "free love" movement that polyamory truly came into vogue; when books like Open Marriage topped best-seller lists and groups like the North American Swingers Club began experimenting with the concept. The term "polyamory," coined in the 1990s, popped up in both the Merriam-Webster and Oxford English dictionaries in 2006."
In one sense, the polyamorous defy easy categorization. The movement includes couples who openly and with full knowledge of each other engage in sexual relationships with others. Some are involved in group sex and others experimented with bisexuality. The Newsweek article introduces readers to a new vocabulary. The most revealing word is "polyfidelitous" - which means that the multiple partners keep sexual activity within their own self-identified cluster.
Interestingly, Bennett observes that the movement "has a decidedly feminist bent." If men can have multiple wives or female partners, then, the logic goes, women must have the same in order to achieve "gender equality." Bennett quotes Allena Gabosch, director of an organization known as the "Center for Sex Positive Culture," suggesting that polyamory sounds scary to people because "it shakes up their worldview." But, she insists, polyamory might well be "more natural than we think."
Perhaps the best way to understand this new movement is to understand it as a natural consequence of subverting marriage. We have largely normalized adultery, serialized marriage, separated marriage from reproduction and childbearing, and accepted divorce as a mechanism for liberation. Once this happens, boundary after boundary falls as sexual regulation virtually disappears among those defined as "consenting adults."
The ultimate sign of our moral confusion becomes evident when virtually no one appears ready to condemn polyamory as immoral. The only arguments mustered against this new movement focus on matters of practicality. Polyamory is certainly not new, but this new movement is yet another reminder that virtually all the fences are now down when it comes to sex and sexual relationships. What comes next?