Friday, October 30, 2009

Orthodoxy and Halloween: Separating Fact From Fiction



Orthodoxy and Halloween: 
Separating Fact From Fiction

By John Sanidopoulos

"Man should not be upset about the blasphemies of the devil, but only about his personal sins, and to hope in God's boundless mercy, for where hope in God is absent, the devil's tail is present."

- Elder Paisios the Athonite

Below are some quotes from various Orthodox Christian websites concerning the "satanic panic" over Halloween, though they all pretty much say the same thing and offer the same distorted information:

From the website of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist:

"Orthodox Christians cannot participate in this event at any level."

"Halloween has its roots in paganism, and it continues as a form of idolatry to worship Satan, the angel of death."

"The Orthodox Christian must understand that taking part in these practices at any level is an idolatrous betrayal of our God and our Holy Faith. For if we imitate the dead by dressing up in or wandering about in the dark, or by begging with them, then we have willfully sought fellowship with the dead, whose Lord is not a Celtic Samhain, but is Satan the Evil One, who stands against God. Further, if we submit to the dialogue of "trick-or-treat," our offering goes not to innocent children, but rather to Samhain, the Lord of Death whom they have come to serve as imitators of the dead, wandering in the darkness."

"The Halloween festival was the proper night for sorcery, fortune telling, divination, games of chance, and Satan worship and witchcraft in the later Middle Ages."


From the website OrthodoxChristian.info:


"Be warned: Halloween is not what it appears to be! Its seemingly innocent manifestations represent a memory of an ancient celebration deeply rooted in paganism and demonology and continues to be a form of idolatry in which Satan, the angel of death is worshipped."

"From an Orthodox Christian viewpoint, participation in these practices at any level is idolatrous, and a genuine betrayal of our God and our Holy Faith. To do so by dressing up and going out would be to wilfully seek fellowship with the 'dead' whose Lord is also known as Satan, the Evil One, who stands against God. Or, to participate by submission to the dialogue of 'trick or treat' is to make offering, not to innocent little children, but to the lord of Death, whom they unknowingly serve as proxy for the 'dead'."

"Even if Halloween was good, clean, innocent fun, to what benefit - spiritual, intellectual or otherwise - is this for a Christian?"


From the website Orthodox Christian Information Center:


"If we participate in the ritual activity of imitating the dead and wandering in the dark asking for treats or offering them to children, we then have willfully sought fellowship with the dead, whose Lord is not Samhain, but rather Satan. It is to Satan then that these treats are offered, not to children."

"Halloween undermines the very basis of the Church which was founded on the blood of martyrs who had refused, by giving up their lives, to partake in any form of idolatry."

"Holy Mother Church must take a firm stand in counteracting any such (pagan) events. Christ taught us that God is the judge in all our actions and beliefs and that we are either FOR GOD or AGAINST GOD. There is no neutral or middle of the road approach."



From the website AllSaintsOfAmerica.org:


"I believe that the issue of Halloween is an example of a more fundamental struggle between Orthodoxy and the secular spirit of our age."

"This must be our Orthodoxy, and to believe it and to witness it is to truly become a 'fool for Christ.' Never has it been more foolish than it is today to be an Orthodox witness in the secular world of today. It is for this witness then that we don't participate in Halloween."

"Halloween, as it is practiced, rejoices in the irrelevance of spiritual evil."



From the website FatherAlexander.org:


"It is that time of the year when the secular society in which we live is preparing for the festival of Halloween. Many do not know its spiritual roots and history, and why it contradicts the teachings of the Church."

"The Holy Fathers of the first millennium (a time when the Church was one and strictly Orthodox) counteracted this Celtic pagan feast by introducing the Feast of All Saints. It is from this that the term Halloween developed...The people who remained pagan and therefore anti-Christian reacted to the Church's attempt to supplant their festival by celebrating this evening with increased fervor."

"We also need to avoid any sort of Halloween party or celebration as well as decorations in our homes. If our children attend schools that hold such parties, no matter what the day, they must not participate."



Ok, I think you get the picture how many Orthodox Christians unfortunately view Halloween. What is unfortunate is that they base their beliefs on a bunch of distorted information that have no basis in fact. If it does, I challenge anyone to present the historical evidence that Halloween is indeed an ancient pagan festival that was celebrated by sacrifices of humans to Satan (Samhain) and honored demons with treats. And these are only a few of the many distortions popularized in the "christian" tracts of fundamentalists and of multimillionaire publisher Jack Chick.

This smear campaign against Halloween, in which it has been scapegoated among Christians as the ultimate manifestation of secularism and satanism in contemporary culture, only goes back to farely recent modern times when certain Christian groups resorted to any fanciful tale to counter the emerging counter-culture of the 60's and 70's that was corrupting the youth. Christian leaders since then have clutched us in a guilt trip ever since about a holiday which prior to this extreme reaction was indeed harmless for the most part like any other holiday and had no connection with satanic rituals. It was a cultural festival which, though mischievous at times, really posed no threat to society until we were forced to believe that it did.

Personal Testimony

The fact is that I also once opposed Halloween for religious reasons, being convinced by fundamentalist literature that it was the "devil's holiday", a conspiracy of Neopagans and Satanists to corrupt our youth. Later when I researched the background of the holiday I came to different conclusions. I realized in the impurity and evil of my egotistical heart I was choosing a much easier enemy to fight rather than the much more difficult enemy within, the enemy of my ego which easily saw scandal elsewhere rather than in the impurity and scandal within my own heart and mind.

As a child born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays like the majority of American youth. It was a fun and innocent time to watch Halloween specials on TV like It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and maybe play with my fright-meter with some mild horror films, to carve pumpkins and eat the toasted seeds, to order an extra batch of Scholastic books in school dealing with stories of the holiday, to dress up like a favorite cartoon or pop culture character, to have a Halloween party at school with candy, to color pictures of witches and vampires and ghosts which are a part of the folk-lore surrounding the holiday taming children's deep-seated fears of them, to go trick or treating around the neighborhood giving us the one chance in the year to actually meet our neighbors and receive a friendly gesture of candy, and when we got home we would eat our candy after they were carefully checked by parents. I was a child of the 1980's, so the initial signs of fear about the holiday which started in the 1960's were beginning to spread at the time also. Rumors were circulating that razor blades were being placed in apples and poison in candy by evil neighbors trying to harm us. Of course, none of these reports were actually traced to actuality and this was the first myth I was exposed to about Halloween that had no basis in reality. When people realized that such crimes were never reported, they still checked "just in case", since now the media gave crazy people an idea of how to get media coverage by harming a child on Halloween. In fact, this is exactly what the rumors did in a few not too serious cases. The innocence and fun was slowly but surely being lost.

As I entered my teenage years I continued to enjoy Halloween in mostly the same ways, but stopped trick or treating. I can remember a few years being a little mischievous on Halloween with my friends, but it was mainly within our own circle in which we would have egg and whip cream fights all in fun. I still very much loved the holiday and the atmosphere it brought to the autumn season, especially in the midst of a New England autumn with the reality of death surrounding us in nature. Being a child of many fears about the supernatural, this was a time in which those fears were dealt with in an entertaining and humorous way and it helped me think more deeply on supernatural issues as well.

Like most Greek youth in America of my time, my involvement in the Church was limited to certain Sundays and ecclesiastical holidays where I had served as an altar boy since the age of seven and of course attended Greek school twice a week for six years. Because I loved holidays such as Halloween (as well as Christmas and Easter), from a young age I wanted to learn the story behind them to celebrate them on a deeper level. This thirst for knowledge led me at a young age to contemplate deeper matters than most of my peers. In fact, the first time I opened my Bible was after watching the horror movie The Seventh Sign in 1988 which starred Demi Moore to fact-check apocalyptic events described in the film. I was twelve years old and this was one of my first Rated-R movies, but when I got home I looked anxiously in the Bible for the Book of Revelation and have hardly put my Bible down since.

My first in-depth research about the origins of Halloween stemmed from a bad grade in my seventh grade Social Studies class. I think I got a "B" on a test and since I wanted to maintain my "A" I had asked my teacher for some extra credit. Since it was a few weeks before Halloween my teacher recommended that I write a two-page paper on the origins of Halloween. I was actually excited about this assignment and began to study the origins. After reading through all the books dealing with the subject in my school library as well as articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica, I wrote my paper and received my "A". But this was also the first school assignment I ever had that I not only got excited for, but learned a great deal.

When I was about eighteen years old I was involved in the youth ministry of my diocese (now metropolis) and was asked to write a session teaching the youth about Halloween. By this time I was already exposed to the Protestant literature exposing the "dangers" of Halloween and was a bit conflicted on how to present all this contradictory information that in essence began to confuse me about the holiday. Even though I felt somewhat positive about the holiday, I felt obligated to react negatively lest the youth be infested by the "demonic allurements" of Halloween. Though I tried to be somewhat moderate in my approach, it was more on the negative side of moderate, and this caused the majority of youth to be skeptical of what I was teaching since they had not been exposed to my literature and saw no harm in the holiday. To them, all I was doing was depriving them of some innocent fun and candy and calling it "demonic". If I were in their position, I would be skeptical too, so I fully understood why they could not accept it.

The confusion I felt that day prompted me to do further research into the subject, because it seemed to me that all the negative reactions against Halloween were based on myths and propaganda. I felt like Halloween, like pop culture, was being used as a scapegoat among Christians to attribute the failure of our churches to the "demonic allurements" of society with a particular event or person, when in reality it was the shallowness and unreasonableness of the churches that in many ways were the cause of the real evils that Christians needed to fear and avoid. And when I did my research, I realized how much I had been lied to and regretted the lies I spread by focusing on problems that were not problems at all, and covering up instead the real problems.


Hyper-Religiosity and Halloween

When I hear Christians today condemning Halloween as a demonic holiday filled with pagan rituals and accusing all participators in the holiday of being in league with Satan, of whom no doubt they were also in their younger years, I'm immediately reminded of the hyper-religiosity and immaturity of the Jews of our Lord Jesus' time. Hyper-religiosity and immaturity are based on an improper fear that tends to rely on superstition and human tradition for dealing with issues affecting our everyday lives, and in return something good or even divine could be misinterpreted as being evil or demonic in origin. This is what Jesus spoke of when he accused the teachers of the Law of being blind guides leading the blind who close the doors to the Kingdom of Heaven on themselves and in turn not allowing anyone else to enter.

It seems as if it was in the nature of the Jews to follow the path of superstition and human tradition against the clear path of God's wisdom and commandments. Could this be why the children of Israel had a golden calf molded at the foot of Mount Sinai? Could this also be the reason why the people of Israel would continuously abandon God's ways and seek their own ways in resolving their issues throughout the Old Testament? Could these incidents also be the source for the extreme reactions of the Jews and teachers of the Law in Jesus' day who tended to add laws onto the Law and create superstitions to keep people in line lest God punish their wickedness?

A common extreme reaction of the hyper-religious teachers of the Law was to see the devil where he was not and to not see the devil where he was. This is why they accused Jesus Himself of being an agent of Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Such extreme hyper-religious reactions trickled down to the common uneducated folk as well, as we see among the disciples of Jesus in Matthew 14 when they saw Jesus walking towards them in their boat over the water, causing them to wonder if this was a ghost they were seeing, making them to, as the Gospel says, "cry out in fear". Fear, immaturity, hyper-religiosity, extremism, and distortion of facts all go hand in hand, as we are often taught not only throughout Holy Scripture, but within the writings of the Church Fathers as well.

The medieval West, especially after the Great Schism, also became a victim of this hyper-religiosity that springs from willful arrogant ignorance. We see this especially during the time of the Crusades and the Inquisition. The foundations of the United States are also based on such hyper-religiosity carried over from Europe, hence such events as the Salem Witch Trials and the need to separate the Church from the State. In fact, it is hyper-religiosity which is at the root of the secularism of our days and not pop-culture or Halloween. Pop-culture and such things as Halloween indeed can be reflective of secularism, but they are not the root of the evils of society as Christian leaders often claim.


The Origins of Halloween

I will not get into all the details about the origins of Halloween, lest I be accused of spreading satanic lies and propaganda myself. I encourage everyone to undertake their own honest research into the subject and judge for themselves what the true origins of the holiday are and separate fact from fiction. Consider this merely as a guide to help you think a bit deeper on the subject.

For example, when one reads all the ignorant propaganda regarding Halloween, the thought that comes into my mind are the various accusations the Roman government made against the early Christians. This is what Pliny had in mind in circa 110 AD when he calls Christianity a "superstition taken to extravagant lengths." Similarly, the Roman historian Tacitus called it "a deadly superstition," and the historian Suetonius called Christians "a class of persons given to a new and mischievous superstition." In this context, the word "superstition" has a slightly different connotation than it has today: for the Romans, it designated something foreign and different - in a negative sense. A religious belief was valid only insofar as it could be shown to be old and in line with ancient customs; new teachings were regarded with distrust. It is for this reason that the charge of "atheism" was brought against Christians, and almost every time disaster struck the Empire the accused were the Christians for displeasing the gods with their atheism. On a more social, practical level, Christians were distrusted in part because of the secret and misunderstood nature of their worship. Words like "love feast" and talk of "eating Christ's flesh" sounded understandably suspicious to the pagans, and Christians were thus suspected of cannibalism, incest, orgies, and all sorts of immorality.

Yes, these same pagan Romans who contrived these lies against Christians also contrived lies against their opponents to the north - among whom were the ancient Celts. The Roman historians note how a propaganda campaign went out against the Celts to basically demonize their enemies so as to conquer them in a war that became a campaign against "evil". Such demonization is even common today, so it should not surprise us that the Romans would do this against the Celts. Unfortunately, the propaganda which describes the "horrific rituals" of the Druids detailed in Halloween propaganda is only described by the Romans during their campaigns, and are so outrageous that they can hardly be seen as factual. Hence, there’s a distinct lack of historical or archaeological evidence that the ancient Druids ever sacrificed anyone, for example. The pumpkin also is a New World plant that never grew in Europe until modern times, so it couldn’t have been used to make jack-o-lanterns by the Druids. There’s zero evidence that the ancient Druids or their congregants ever dressed in identity-hiding costumes or engaged in ritualized begging at harvest time. The connections between these Druid practices and modern Halloween are based on early Roman sources, 19th century Celtic scholars who wanted to raise awareness of the Celts, and modern fundamentalist propaganda.

What we do know is that the dead were honored by the Celts, not as the fearsome dead, but as the living spirits of loved ones and of guardians who hold the root-wisdom of the tribe. The Druid rites, whatever they were, therefore, were concerned with making contact with the spirits of the departed, who were seen as sources of guidance and inspiration rather than as sources of dread. And of course, there was probably divinination and other pagan practices, but these were common in the world before the spread of Christianity and in no way can account for the condemnation outright of Halloween in our times. Before and after the arrival of Christianity, early November was when people in Western and Northern Europe finished the last of their harvesting, butchered their excess stock (so the surviving animals would have enough food to make it through the winter), and held great feasts. They invited their ancestors to join them, they decorated family graves, and told no doubt probably told ghost stories.


Regarding the horrific Samhain, according to the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, in an essay called "The Myth of Samhain: Celtic God of the Dead", both Neopagans and Christians have been wrong on this topic: “There is some evidence that there really was an obscure, little known character named Samain or Sawan who played a very minor role in Celtic mythology. He was a mortal whose main claim to fame was that Balor of the Evil Eye stole his magical cow. He is rarely mentioned in Celtic mythology; his existence is little known, even among Celtic historians.” However, “…there is/was no Celtic God of the Dead. The Great God Samhain appears to have been invented in the 18th century, as a God of the Dead before the ancient Celtic people and their religion were studied by historians and archaeologists.” Major dictionaries of Celtic languages don’t mention any “Samhain” deity either: McBain’s Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language says that “samhuinn” (the Scots Gaelic spelling) means “Hallow-tide” (or "sacred time"), and that it probably came from roots meaning “summer’s end”; with a possible derivation from the annual assembly at Tara every November 1st. MacFarlane’s School Gaelic Dictionary defines it simply as “Hallowtide”. In other words, what we find out is that Samhain was merely the Celtic New Year, just like September 1 was the Orthodox/Roman New Year.

The truth about trick or treating is a far cry from the horrific images “conjured” by fundamentalists. Rather than an ancient satanic plot to kill or corrupt children, the American tradition of trick or treating is mainly a modern custom invented by town councils, schoolboards and parents in the 1930's to keep their kids out of trouble. The great poisoned treats scare trotted out every year and exploited by Mr. Chick is, however, just another urban legend as noted above. Almost every actual example of booby-trapped Halloween treats has turned out to be a murder plot by a relative, not a malicious act by strangers.

According to Tad Tuleja’s essay, “Trick or Treat: Pre-Texts and Contexts”, in Jack Santino’s anthology, Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life, modern trick or treating (primarily children going door-to-door, begging for candy) began fairly recently, as a blend of several ancient and modern influences. At various times and places in the Middle Ages, customs developed of beggars, then children, asking for “soul cakes” on the Christian feast of All Souls Day on November 2nd. This was also known as "souling". Also in medieval times such begging took place door to door during the Christmas period, as is still done in contemporary Orthodox countries like Greece. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering or whining] like a beggar at Hallowmas." In 1605, Guy Fawkes’ abortive effort to blow up the British Parliament on November 5th, led to the creation of “Guy Fawkes Day,” celebrated by the burning of effigies of Fawkes in bonfires and children dressing in rags to beg for money for fireworks. As the decades rolled by, this became thoroughly entwined with Halloween celebrations and customs. Also in mid-nineteenth century New York, children called “ragamuffins” would dress in costumes and beg for pennies from adults on Thanksgiving Day. Vandalism began to spread also in nineteenth century America during the Thanksgiving season among young boys pulling pranks. With increased urbanization and poverty in the 1930’s, adults began casting about for ways to control the previously harmless but now increasingly expensive and dangerous vandalism of the “boys.” Towns and cities began organizing “safe” Halloween events, before the dangers of Thanksgiving arrived, and householders began giving out bribes to the neighborhood kids as a way to distract them away from their previous anarchy. The ragamuffins disappeared or switched their date to Halloween. However, there is no evidence that souling was ever practiced in North America, where trick or treating may have developed independent of any Irish or British antecedent. Ruth Edna Kelley, in her 1919 history of the holiday, The Book of Hallowe'en, makes no mention of ritual begging in the chapter "Hallowe'en in America." Kelley lived in Lynn, Massachusetts, a town with about 4,500 Irish immigrants, 1,900 English immigrants, and 700 Scottish immigrants in 1920. The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the twentieth century and the 1920's commonly show children, but do not depict trick or treating. Trick or treating does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930's, with the first U.S. appearances of the term in 1934. The term “trick or treat,” finally appeared in print around 1939!

When explaining these things to people, I'm often asked: “How can these evil things never happen if so many people preach that it does? Where would Christians get these ideas if they weren’t fact?” The short answer, of course, is that preachers are people and (1) all people make mistakes, (2) some people are ignorant, and (3) others just tell lies out of fear or something else. Of course, I'm not advocating on behalf of paganism when I say this, but just good ol' plain honesty. For all I know the Druids may have sacrificed children or did other horrific things, but this is not supported by any evidence and even if it did there is still no actual relationship between that and anything we do on Halloween, and for this reason the propaganda against Halloween and human reason is unsound and improper. If someone decides Halloween is inappropriate for them, there is no need to “bear false witness” (that is to say, tell lies) about Halloween, Neopagans, Satanists or indeed any other religious topic, in order to make a spiritual decision for him or herself, or their children — the only people for whom they may have the right to make that decision.


The Christianization of a Pagan Holiday Myth

There is also the myth that Christians condemned the pagan festivities of October 31 by replacing it with All Hallows Eve, the day before the Feast of All Saints in the West. It is often recorded that in 601 AD Pope Gregory I issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, the Pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshipped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued veneration. Though this is true, this edict is likely not the reason why November 1 became the Feast of All Saints in the West.

Both the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls evolved in the life of the Church independently of paganism and the then non-existent Halloween. Let us first address the Feast of All Saints. The exact origins of this celebration are uncertain, although, after the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313, a common commemoration of the Saints, especially the martyrs, appeared in various areas throughout the Church. For instance in the East, the city of Edessa celebrated this feast on May 13; the Syrians, on the Friday after Easter; and the city of Antioch, on the first Sunday after Pentecost. Both St. Ephraim (d. 373) and St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) attest to this feast day in their preaching. In the West, a commemoration for all the Saints also was celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost. The primary reason for establishing a common feast day was because of the desire to honor the great number of martyrs, especially during the persecution of Emperor Diocletion (284-305), the worst and most extensive of the persecutions. Quite simply, there were not enough days of the year for a feast day for each martyr and many of them died in groups. A common feast day for all Saints, therefore, seemed most appropriate.

In 609, the Emperor Phocas gave the Pantheon in Rome to Pope Boniface IV, who rededicated it on May 13 under the title St. Maria ad Martyres (or St. Mary and All Martyrs). Whether the Pope purposefully chose May 13 because of the date of the popular celebration already established in the East or whether this was just a happy coincidence is open to debate.


The designation of November 1 as the Feast of All Saints occurred over time. Pope Gregory III (731-741) dedicated an oratory in the original St. Peter's Basilica in honor of all the Saints on November 1, and this date then became the official date for the celebration of the Feast of All Saints in Rome. St. Bede (d. 735) recorded the celebration of All Saints Day on November 1 in England, and such a celebration also existed in Salzburg, Austria. Ado of Vienne (d. 875) recounted how Pope Gregory IV asked King Louis the Pious (778-840) to proclaim November 1 as All Saints Day throughout the Frankish Empire. Sacramentaries of the ninth and tenth centuries also placed the Feast of All Saints on the liturgical calendar on November 1.

According to an early Church historian, John Beleth (d. 1165), Pope Gregory IV (827-844) officially declared November 1 the Feast of All Saints, transferring it from May 13. However, Sicard of Cremona (d. 1215) recorded that Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) finally suppressed May 13 and mandated November 1 as the date to celebrate the Feast of All Saints. In all, we find the Papal Church establishing a liturgical feast day in honor of the Saints independent of any pagan influence. Particular ethnic groups developed their own lore, which was merged with the celebration. For this reason, little ones (and some big ones) still dress in a variety of costumes and pretend for the evening to be ghosts, witches, vampires, monsters, ninjas, pirates and so on, without any thought of paganism - because there is no pagan influence on or modern Halloween. Nevertheless, All Saints Day clearly arose from a genuine Christian devotion independent of paganism.


Conclusion

I wonder today if my interest in Halloween and the macabre stems from my New England roots. After all, New England gave us the master's of American gothic and horror literature like Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorn, H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, among others. Our history in New England is deeply rooted in the folk-lore of Europe, as is evidenced in the Salem and Boston witch trials and the tales of "true" vampire legends in Rhode Island and Maine. Our tales of the paranormal are unlike anywhere else in the United States, and everywhere you go you are surrounded by these legends. Though these are all things that interest me and have made me proud to be a New Englander, I think my love for Halloween stems a bit deeper. Demons, evil, death, fear, vice, pain and suffering do exist and are a part of human existence. As Christians we have the weapons and the answers to overcome these and they go hand in hand with the hope which our faith brings us. Apart from this reality, I don't think I would enjoy Halloween as much. It is the connection between faith and fear that is even behind all the great classic monster stories we hear about on Halloween, like Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Headless Horseman, and so on, and in these romanticized gothic tales vice is always spoken against and demoted while virtue and selflessness is promoted.

As an Orthodox Christian, I do not want to come out as a proponent of Halloween since it is not an Orthodox feast I feel the need to defend. The reason I am trying to bring some awareness of the truth about Halloween is because as an Orthodox Christian I believe it is my duty to speak the truth and expose error in a spirit of love and concern, especially when other Orthodox pastors and people are spreading these lies out of ignorance. Halloween is a part of our society and especially of our children's lives, and an answer from an Orthodox Christian perspective is needed. It does not help our Christian witness in the world to distort information to make our message sound better. In fact, it does just the opposite and I believe those capable of discovering the truth will be judged for disseminating lies which are unfounded. We have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power and truth to be above propagating errors. It is the proclamation of the truth which brings freedom and respect, and a pure heart which makes all things pure.

Ukrainian President Calls For Orthodox Unification


Yuschenko to Call on Ukrainians to Form Single Orthodox Church in Ukraine

Interfax
10/28/2009

Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko will address Ukrainians soon asking them to support the formation of a single Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

He said this at a meeting of the all-Ukrainian council of churches and religious organizations in Kyiv on Wednesday.

"I intend to call on the Ukrainian people to support this process," the president said, adding that he will soon make such an address to the nation.

According to Yuschenko, the public should be aware of the dialog that has started among the church organizations about the creation of a single Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and the country's citizens should participate in this process.

The president asked the heads of other churches and religious organizations to support this process.

There are currently three branches of the Orthodox church in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate is the only one recognized by the world orthodox community. In addition, Ukraine has the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

Lutherans Embrace Gay Marriage


Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox Churches ’Sad’ That Lutherans Embrace Marriage Equality

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Oct 28, 2009
Edge Boston

Catholic and Orthodox representatives have given voice to their "sadness" that Lutheran gay and lesbian families are being treated with equality by their faith.

Anti-gay religious Web site LifeSiteNews reported that Swedish representatives of the other faiths released a joint statement saying that they were cast into "sadness" by "the decision by the synod of the Church of Sweden" to extend official recognition to same-sex families by making it church policy to bless their unions.

The church had already been blessing same-sex unions for some time, but the Synod’s vote made the church’s welcoming stance official and allowed those unions to be viewed as marriages within the church.

By contrast, the statement from the Catholics and Orthodox read, "In our churches and communities, we will not unite homosexual couples since it is in complete contradiction with the tradition of the church and our vision of creation," the LifeSiteNews article reported.

The statement went on to lambast Sweden’s Lutheran church, saying that the decision to embrace gay and lesbian families "is a swing away not only from Christian tradition but also from the point of view on the nature of marriage which is typical of all religions."

The statement went on to warn that, "this decision of the Church of Sweden widens the gap" between the faiths.

Some conservative Lutherans voices similar opprobrium. The article quoted Bishop Hans Stiglund, who said, "In my way of looking at it marriage is defined as a relation between man and woman with no room for a relation between partners of the same sex."

Although he supported the outcome, Lutheran Archbishop Anders Wejryd expressed understanding for those who did not, saying, "For my part, the right decision was taken, but I can empathize with the many who believe this has gone too fast."

As reported Oct. 22 at EDGE, the measure originated in June with a petition from the governing board of the Church of Sweden, and was approved by the Lutheran Synod, with a majority 176 votes out of the 249 voting members. The vote took place just three days after the thirtieth anniversary of the removal of homosexuality from the list of pathologies in Sweden.

The decision also follows in the wake of marriage equality being granted to gay and lesbian Swedish families by the Swedish government. The new law took effect last May.

Swedish GLBT leader Åsa Regnér, who heads the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, said, "The Synod’s decision takes a stance in favor of an inclusive view of people. Regardless of whether one is religious or not, this affects the entire social climate and the view of people’s equal value."

Pastors opposed to performing marriages for same-sex couples may opt out.

The Future of Abstinence


It's been a mainstay of sex ed for more than a decade. Now, as the Obama administration cuts off federal funding, the movement scrambles for money, determined to continue its mission.

By Sarah Kliff Newsweek Web Exclusive

Oct 27, 2009

For as long as anyone can remember, McLennan County has been abstinence country. Nestled in the heart of Bible-Belt Texas, it's the kind of place where the local newspaper prints "In God We Trust" on the front page of every edition. "We're a very conservative community," says Jan Hungate, an assistant superintendent for the West Independent School District. So when the McLennan County Collaborative Abstinence Program (MCCAP) came to her a little more than a decade ago, offering an abstinence-only sex education program, she says, "It was the answer to our prayers. It was exactly the way we wanted to go." For years, each school was responsible for developing their own curriculum. Armed with the federal government's new abstinence-only grants, MCCAP offered to do the heavy lifting for free. They taught kids proper dating behavior, encouraged female students to think about their wedding days and why their virginity would matter then. In 2006 MCCAP had a $1 million budget, all from government grants, which they used to educate 6,000 to 7,000 students.

Today, MCCAP struggles to reach half that number. Its $800,000 Community-Based Abstinence Education grant ran out in 2007 and was not renewed. Then, Obama's 2010 budget did not renew the Title V grant program, the other major source of abstinence-only funding, which MCCAP also used. In three years, their federal funding went from $1 million to zero. "It was a definite shock to go from everything we had ... down to the bare minimums," says MCCAP's executive director, Tracy Cousins. He joined the organization three years ago and had seven staff members serving students in 19 school districts. Now, it's just Cousins and his bookkeeper. With the money remaining from previous grants he hopes "to maybe [serve] 4 or 5 school districts."

Buoyed by $1.9 billion in government funding since 1997 ($1.5 billion of that federal money), abstinence-only education grew from a niche market to a booming industry, with hundreds of curriculums for teachers to choose from. But if the 2000s were abstinence's boom years, the next decade may well be its bust. With Obama's budget for 2010 dropping all abstinence-until-marriage funds from the federal budget, past grantees are left uncertain. Congress could restore funding; the Senate Finance Committee voted to do so, 12–11, last month. But the measure must still pass the full Congress, where chances are slim. So abstinence-only groups are left hoping private donors will step forward to at least partially fill the gap. "The open question is whether these organizations will continue to thrive when federal funding is no longer available," says Alesha Doan, author of The Politics of Virginity: Abstinence in Sex Education (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008). "What is the underlying support in society for this?"

Abstinence education came of age in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It began with the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, which dedicated an annual $50 million in Title V abstinence-education grants. The money had to be spent on programs that teach "abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children." When George W. Bush took office he created a new program: Community Based Abstinence Education, or CBAE, grants. While only states could take the Title V funds, CBAE grants went directly to community groups, including faith-based organizations. During the Bush administration, funding for abstinence education more than doubled, from $80 million in 2001 to $200 million in 2007, according to figures from the Congressional Budget Office.

In the beginning, the public-health community was open to the programs. The United States did, after all, have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. "There was open-mindedness then, that it might work" says John Santelli, of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. "Everyone is willing to give new ideas a trial period." By 1999, one study estimated a third of American students were receiving an abstinence-only education. But as funding grew, so did a body of research showing that abstinence didn't change the sexual behaviors of students; pregnancy and STD rates did not go down, the age of initial sexual activity did not go up. "Each evaluation came along ... and each showed it didn't work," says Santelli. The articles appeared in peer-reviewed journals, many in the Journal of Adolescent Health, and in government-commissioned reviews. In 2007, a federally funded study of four abstinence programs found its students no more likely to abstain than those in a comprehensive program. At the same time, comprehensive programs that discuss contraceptives and their use received better, although by no means perfect, marks. Researcher Doug Kirby's 2008 review of 48 studies of comprehensive curriculums found that two-thirds either reduced frequency of sex or number of sexual partners. By time Obama cut Title V abstinence-education funds from his budget, 25 states had already begun rejecting the money, 16 because they didn't agree ideologically or weren't seeing results, the others for administrative reasons.

There's no single reason abstinence-only education proved largely ineffective, researchers say. A major factor, to be sure, was the incomplete information it provided about contraceptives and their use. "The programs that have by far the strongest evidence that they have a positive impact … are those that give the message that not having sex is safest, but if you have sex always use condom and contraception," says Kirby. Message aside, the curriculums themselves were often found to be riddled with inaccuracies. Two major reviews of abstinence curriculums—one in 2004 from the House of Representatives' Committee on Government Reform, another by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund earlier this year—found unsourced and incorrect information about STDs, contraceptives, and the consequences of sexual activity. The Texas report, which collected data from over 96 percent of the state's school districts, found one curriculum teaching that condoms have "little to no benefit." (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes condoms as "highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV infection and reduce the risk of other STDs" when used consistently and correctly.) Another incorrect abstinence-only lessonused in the Baird Independent School District: "a young person who becomes sexually active at or before age 14 will contract an STD before graduating from high school. This is no longer the exception, but the rule." Religious influence was another problem for some abstinence-education programs; the American Civil Liberties Union mounted a number of lawsuits (some successful, some not) against abstinence-only curriculums in public schools and state-sponsored events that advanced a specific religious perspective.

Even without money or science to back them up, abstinence advocates are not quitting. "If the president's [budget] proposal is enacted similar to what he recommended, it will have a chilling effect on abstinence education across the country," says Leslee Unruh, director of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, a national association of abstinence-only organizations. In the past, the organization's monthly Webinars on fundraising seldom attracted more than 80 participants; now, they hold weekly sessions that draw hundreds. "We're in a race against time to keep these people in business," Unruh says. Some abstinence educators report initial success in private fundraising, like K.E.E.P. (Kids Eagerly Endorsing Purity), the biggest abstinence-education provider in Tulsa, Oklahoma. K.E.E.P. regularly received upwards of $100,000 in federal funds each year; so far, they've raised $40,000 privately towards next year's budget. "We're just going to have to work smarter, pace ourselves, be more aggressive," says executive director Mike Jestis. The vote by the Senate Finance Committee has also given some a reason to remain optimistic.

Even if Congress does restore Title V funding, experts on both sides of the issue expect the abstinence industry to shrink significantly. "If you're seeing increases in teen pregnancy rates, or sexually transmitted infections, you'll start evaluating what you've been using," says Doan, the Politics of Virginity author. That's what happened in Springfield School District 186 in 2007, where a funding shortage triggered a reassessment. For years, the district had received free abstinence curriculum from an Illinois-based abstinence-only group called Project Reality. But when the State Legislature cut funding for abstinence education, Project Reality could no longer distribute complimentary materials. Faced with the prospect of paying for a sex-ed curriculum, school board members decided to reevaluate their program. "That's how it initially came up and we felt like we didn't want to fund [abstinence], since it wasn't giving all the information," says Kathy Sanders, the district's director of research, testing and evaluation. In the end, they switched their middle schools to different health text book with a more comprehensive program. "We felt strongly that we need to let kids know what their options are," says Sanders. They're currently reviewing their abstinence-only high-school curriculum and will likely switch to comprehensive in the near future.

Some in the abstinence-only community are open to a compromise approach as the way to move forward, a sort of hybrid of abstinence and comprehensive sex education that would include the basics of contraception. "The bottom line for me is, if kids have sex, bad things can and often do happen," says Patricia Sulak director of Scott & White's Worth the Wait, an "abstinence-centered" program in Texas. "It's better if you delay the onset of sexual activity. But if you're not going to wait, you must do things to decrease your risk." This summer, the North Carolina Legislature approved a hybrid model, where students are taught that abstinence until marriage is the only surefire way to prevent pregnancy and STDs, but are also given information on contraceptives; parents can choose to opt out of either segment. Reverend Mark Creech, executive director of the state's Christian Action League, says it's a good compromise. "When it became apparent that we weren't going to be able to succeed [in providing just abstinence-only education], we shifted to try to preserve as much of the abstinence message as possible," he says. Planned Parenthood also supports the new program because of its increased scope.

But many of the abstinence advocates NEWSWEEK talked to thought such compromises were untenable, that they could not teach students to remain abstinent until marriage while demonstrating how to use condoms. "If the funding is for a different worldview, one that says you should give condoms to kids, that's not my belief system," says Unruh. "I think it's very harmful." She and others say it's a question of morals and values, which is not an area for compromise. "Our program indicates that sex is more than physical. It's emotional. There's a lot of different aspects," says Scott Phelps, who directs A&M Partnership, an Illinois-based provider of abstinence-only curriculums. The group has a federal grant that expires in 2013. "If I'm teaching all of that, and then I'm teaching contraception, what is contraception going to do for all those consequences? It would be sort of nonsensical."

Back in Texas, Cousins at MCCAP pondered the same the question: should he stick with the abstinence-only message and forgo federal dollars, or tweak the message a bit to get funding? In the end, he and his board of directors decided to remain abstinence only. "We're not at the point where we want to compromise our message," he says. "It's not only the belief of the organization, it's all of our personal beliefs. We believe the best approach [for students] is they should not engage in sexual activity." Cousins and his board are currently working on a fundraising plan, targeting local schools and private donors, something they've never done before. Hungate, the school administrator, would love to have MCCAP continue at her schools, but doesn't have the money. If federal dollars mandate instruction on contraceptives and their benefits, she's open to that. "It would be a conservative comprehensive program," she says, noting that her teachers won't "talk about bisexuality or hand out condoms." If it comes to that, Hangett knows she'll face resistance from some parents. "I'd have some people who will drill me, but I'd rather see my daughter practicing safe sex than die from AIDS."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Curb" Episode Urinates on Jesus to Make Him Weep


Larry David Blasted for 'Curb' Episode Where He Urinates on Jesus Painting

Comedian Larry David pushed the mocking of religion over the edge in latest episode of his HBO show, critics say.

FOXNews.com
October 28, 2009

Comedian Larry David is under attack from critics who say he pushed the mocking of religion and Christian belief in miracles over the edge in the latest episode of his HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, which the cable network defended as "playful."

On the show's most recent installment, which aired Sunday, David urinates on a painting of Jesus Christ, causing a woman to believe the painting depicts Jesus crying.

Deal Hudson, author and publisher of InsideCatholic.com, said he doesn't find any humor in the episode.

"I don't think it's funny," Hudson told Foxnews.com. "Why is it that people are allowed to publicly show that level of disrespect for Christian symbols? If the same thing was done to a symbol of any other religions -- Jewish or Muslim -- there'd be a huge outcry. It's simply not a level playing field."

Hudson said an apology from the show's producers and writing team should be issued.

"Somebody should [apologize]," Hudson said. "When is it going to stop? When is common sense going to dictate that people realize this willingness of artists to do to Christianity what they would never do to Judaism or Islam?"

In a statement to Foxnews.com, HBO downplayed the controversy.

"Anyone who follows Curb Your Enthusiasm knows that the show is full of parody and satire," the statement read. "Larry David makes fun of everyone, most especially himself. The humor is always playful and certainly never malicious."

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, also criticized the episode, saying David should "quit while he's ahead," and that the show is proof that the comedian's best years are behind him.


"Was Larry David always this crude? Would he think it's comedic if someone urinated on a picture of his mother?" Donohue said in a statement. "This might be fun to watch, but since HBO only likes to dump on Catholics (it was just a couple of weeks ago that Sarah Silverman insulted Catholics on 'Real Time with Bill Maher') and David is Jewish, we'll never know."

During Sunday's episode, David, who created, wrote and produced "Seinfeld," visits a bathroom in his assistant's home and splatters urine on a picture of Jesus. Instead of wiping it off, David leaves the restroom. Minutes later, David's assistant enters the bathroom and concludes that Jesus is crying. She then summons her mother to the bathroom, where both women kneel in prayer.

"When David and Jerry Seinfeld (playing himself) are asked if they ever experienced a miracle, David answers, 'every erection is a miracle,' Donohue's statement continued. "That's what passes for creativity these days."

The episode, "The Bare Midriff," primarily revolves around David's assistant and her belly-revealing attire. According to the show's Web site, a "new pill" increased David's urine flow, leading to the "misunderstanding about a miraculously weeping Jesus."

HBO promoted the controversial scene on the show's site, complete with a "squirm-o-meter" that ranked the urine incident ahead of David's confronting his assistant about her exposed midriff.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why We Celebrate OHI (OXI) Day in Greek Orthodoxy: The Virgin Mary and World War 2


On the Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos or Agia Skepi (October 28) we implore the defense and assistance of the Queen of Heaven, "Remember us in your prayers, O Lady Virgin Mother of God, that we not perish by the increase of our sins. Protect us from every evil and from grievous woes, for in you do we hope, and venerating the Feast of your Protection, we magnify you."

Though celebrated outside of Greece on October 1, the Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos was transferred to October 28th after World War 2 with the annual commemoration of Ohi Day. This was done to commemorate the great help and protection of the Theotokos to the Greek nation throughout its history, and especially during World War II during which many miracles are reported.

It was precisely on August 15, 1940, off the eastern coast of Greece near the Aegean island of Tinos, an island especially dedicated to the Holy Virgin more than any other, that a great tragedy struck. As thousands upon thousands of pilgrims were celebrating the joyous Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, the crew of a Greek light cruiser called Elli was also participating in the festivities off shore. Suddenly the ship was torpedoed and sunk by an Italian submarine. The wharf of Tinos was also torpedoed amongst the festivities. This initiated the beginning of Greece’s involvement in World War II.

Greece officially entered the war on October 28, 1940. This is celebrated annually as Ohi Day (No Day) commemorating dictator Ioannis Metaxas’ (1936-1941) refusal of the Italian ultimatum. The ultimatum demanded of Greece to allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy certain unspecified "strategic locations" or otherwise face war. Most scholars today say the actual reply was not “οχη” or “no”, but the French "Alors, c'est la guerre" ("Then it is war"). Upon his declaration it is reported that thousands of Greeks stormed the streets and began shouting "Ohi" to the Italian ultimatum. On April 6, 1941, Hitler attacked Greece for the first time and united his German forces with those of the Italians.

The relationship between the Theotokos and the modern Greek nation stems back to the Roman Empire, but was revived in modern times during the Greek Revolution of 1821. For this reason, in Athens on the 25th of March in 1838, when the first official celebration of the Greek Revolution took place, by a decree of King Otto it was determined that the 25th of March would be celebrated as the day of National Regeneration, although the Revolution had started a few days earlier. In fact, the choice of this particular date shows the importance and the major role that Christianity played in the lives of Greek people, as the “time” that the Greek Revolution broke out was also considered the “time” for religious elation. As the poem by Popi Matsouka – Zachari from Arta titled "The Message of 25th March" indicates:

Panagia and Freedom
Two sacred words
Two words with a meaning
That fills our hearts
With thrill and awe.
The Mother of all people
Universal Mother
And cherished Freedom
The dream of all people
With a heavenly glow, they shed light on
Two visions, two unfading ideas
…Come! Fighters
Don’t ever stop,
They are both yours:
The MOTHER and FREEDOM
And the hearts of all of us are with you!


The role of faith in the Virgin Mary in Greece is also outstanding during World War 2. Her role was catalytic not only because she constituted the basis of the people’s faith, but also because, with her miraculous interventions, she proved to have been the greatest ally of the Greek army.

Of course, miracles and apparitions were reported in many regions of Greece during the war, but at the front, at the Greek – Albanian borders and on Pindus, the Virgin Mary was the protector and the leader of those who fought for their country under difficult circumstances. Their faith was so strong that they could see her encouraging them and “covering” them protectively, while they were fighting on the snowy mountains of Pindus and Albania.

The account given by Vassiliki Bouris,[1] niece of Spyridon Houliaras, who fought at the borders, is characteristic. According to her, Spyridon Houliaras used to narrate incidents of the war to his relatives before he died. The one that affected him the most, however, was a miracle of the Virgin Mary. While the soldiers were fighting under really adverse conditions, the Panagia appeared in front of them and as a protector “covered” them with her mantle and led them towards their enemy, ready to confront them.

This miracle is also corroborated by the accounts of other soldiers of that time who fought on the mountains of Pindus. At the front, Greek soldiers saw the same vision everywhere: at nights, they could see a tall, slim female figure walking with her kerchief resting on her shoulders. For the soldiers she was none other than the Virgin Mary, the defender and general of the Greeks.

Tasos Rigopoulos, a soldier in 1940, reported from the front in Albania:

"My brother Niko. I’m writing from an eagle’s nest 400 metres higher than the top of Parnitha. Everything around me is snow white. The reason I’m writing is not to tell you about the charm of snow-covered Morova and all its wild greatness. My purpose is to share with you what I’ve experienced, what I saw with my own eyes; something that I’m afraid you won’t believe if you hear it from others. A few moments before dashing against the blockhouses of Morova we saw a tall woman dressed in black standing still some 13 metres away. The guard yelled: 'Identify yourself'. There was no answer. He yelled angrily once more. At that moment, as if struck by electricity, we all whispered: 'The Panagia!'. She hurled herself at the enemy as if she had eagle wings. We followed her. We could constantly sense the bravery she was transmitting to us. We fought hard for a whole week until we finally took the Ivan-Morova blockhouses. […] She was always dashing forth. And when, victorious at last, we were advancing to defenseless Koritsa, our Great Defender turned into steam, smooth smoke, and vanished into thin air."

On the mountain ridge of Ronteni, the soldiers of the 51st independent battalion, under the commands of Major Petrakis also witnessed a miracle. From the 22nd of January and on, every evening at half past nine the enemy’s heavy artillery commenced fire against the battalion and the road that was used by transport vehicles. There was a lot of nervousness and heavy casualties. The daring scouts were unable to locate the enemy’s artillery. Apparently, the enemy was changing its position every evening. The situation was really desperate. It was an evening in February when the enemy artillery was heard firing once again. “Panagia, help us, save us!”, shouted the Major spontaneously. Suddenly, a bright cloud came into sight from a distance, something like a halo was formed and the image of the Theotokos appeared. She started bending towards the ground and stopped right over a ravine. Everybody in the battalion shivered as they witnessed the miracle. “A miracle, a miracle!”, they shouted and they prayed and made the sign of the cross. Immediately, they sent a message to the Greek artillery, the Greek canons fired, and right after that there was a silence. The Greek bombs had achieved a perfect strike.

No matter how faith is expressed during war, it is certain that it offers assistance to the soldier who is tested. And the image of the protector makes him hopeful and optimistic. …People from Arta, fighting at the front, were afraid neither of mortars nor of enemy bullets, as long as they had the image of the Panagia in front of them…”. Yiannis Tsarouchis, after having painted “The Virgin of Victory” on the cap of a box of herring, having in mind a badly painted picture of the Virgin that was going around the camp, was on his way to the commander of the battalion in order to present his work. The painting had already acquired a fame of being miraculous and on his way to the commander some soldiers from Arta “being in a state of religious excitement, demanded that the miraculous icon spend at least one night at their camp. All the soldiers were shouting: 'The Virgin, the Virgin. Leave it here for one night'. Suddenly, the alarm sounded. […] We lied down, according to the orders we had. None of the soldiers from Arta did the same. 'Hey! Comrade! How can you be scared when you hold the Virgin in your hands?', one said”.

It was also characteristic that on the military identification cards, right next to the personal details, there was a picture of the Panagia. And just moments before they attacked, they would pray, shouting “Panagia mou!” (my Virgin!) three times, and dash forth.[2]

N. Dramountianos explains the following miraculous occurrence which he witnessed during the war of 1940:

"Our company received an order to overtake and gain elevated ground for a bridge. We set up a bulwark within the cliffs. As soon as we were ready, a thick snow began to fall. It fell continuously over two nights and reached as much as two meters in certain areas. We were blockaded from the commissariat. We each had food in our sacks to last us a day. Due to the hunger and cold we did not have a sense "for tomorrow" so we devoured it all.

"From then on a martyrdom ensued. We erased our thirst through the snow, but our hunger was enraging. We became skeletal. Our morale continued to flourish, but nature has its boundaries. Some submitted. The same end awaited us all 'for faith and country'.

"Than an inspiration from our captain gave us the miracle! Out of his breast pocket he took out a paper icon of the Panagia, he placed it in the high place, and invited us around him: 'My brave young men!' he said. 'In this crucial circumstance only a miracle can save us. Kneel down, entreat the Panagia, the mother of the God-man, to help us!' We fell to our knees, lifted our hands, and entreated fervently. We did not have time to stand before we heard bells ringing. We thought this strange and grabbed our weapons. We took our place 'with purpose'.

"Not a minute passed and we saw an enormous mule approaching fully loaded. We sprang up! An animal without a driver to be passing through the mountain, with at least a meter of snow is absolutely not natural. Our Lady Theotokos drove him. All together we thanked her chanting quietly, though whole-heartedly, 'Ti Ypermaho' (To you, the Champion Leader) as well as other hymns. The animal had on him an entire commissary of food: kouramanes (coarse army bread), cheeses, preserves, cognac and other things.

"I endured many and unimaginable hardships in the war. But this remains unforgettable, because there was no way out. A way out was given however by the Panagia."


The importance of the Virgin Mary’s miraculous interventions was acknowledged by the Greek state right after the end of the Second World War. For this reason, the celebration of Agia Skepi, which in 626 A.D., by the Virgin's miraculous intervention, saved Constantinople from the Avaroi (Turkish-Mongolian Nomads), which was officially established to be celebrated on October 1st, was transferred in 1952 to the 28th of October to remind them of her miraculous intervention during the most difficult period for the Greek people.

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1. An oral account given by Vasiliki Bouri, resident of Lepiana in Arta, to Heleni Mpalaska on 3/11/2007.

2. An account of a fighter of the Resistance which was presented in a special programme of the TV channel SKAI on 28 October 2007.



A man recounts his experience of the Virgin Mary's assistance in World War 2


Greeks in World War 2

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Madness of the World


"Is it true, my friends, that there are many more insane persons in our day than ever before? Why? Because of the very powerful effect of the passions, it seems to me... A soul too sensitive to the pleasures of passions also feels sharply the pain they cause. In such a soul paradise and hell are neighbors. Ecstasy is followed by either despair or melancholy, each of which so often opens the door... to the madhouse."

Nikolay Karamzin, “The Letters of a Russian Traveler”

"But isn’t the exalted state of a poet, or an inventor, closer to what is called insanity than insanity is to an ordinary animal-like stupidity? Isn’t what we call common sense a highly elastic term, a term used by an ordinary person against a great man who is incomprehensible to him, and also by a man of genius to cover up his reasonings and not to frighten an ordinary person with them?"

Prince Vladimir Odoevsky, “Russian Nights”

"A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying: ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’"

St. Anthony the Great

"There is a way which seems right to man, but its end is the way of death."

King Solomon, Proverbs 14:12

"In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be we are."

Robert Louis Stevenson, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"

Stories of Simplicity by Elder Paisios the Hagiorite


A simple, child-like elder told me: "Monks in the past were simple men, guileless and with no evil; they were God's little lambs."

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There was an ascetic in Karoulia, the Holy Mountain's most austere desert, who had a little kitten to comfort him and to protect him from snakes and mice. One day a vulture was flying over and from the solitary sky spotted its prey, dived down, and snatched the kitten up in its claws.

The ascetic was upset and, not knowing what to do, immediately entered his chapel to lodge a complaint to the hermitage's saintly protector. He went up to the oil lamp hanging before the protector's icon and blew out the flame to emphasize the point he was going to make. He had always considered this saint his friend, so he told him about the sad incident and demanded his help. "Why, my saint, did you not protect the kitten?" he complained.

At that very moment he heard the kitten crying outside the door. It had been freed from the attacker's talons.

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An elder once told me a similar story about a monk who had gone to Karyes for some errand and had left the door of his cell open, trusting in the protection of St. Nicholas, its patron. When he returned he found that thieves had stripped the cell of everything. He then went to the church and with courage and in a friendly tone of voice said to St. Nicholas, "Why did you not protect the cell from robbers, my Saint? Starting today unless you reveal the robbers, I will not light your lampada (oil lamp)." And he did just as he had threatened.

A few days later the thieves were caught, an evidence of the elder's faith, confidence, and simplicity, as well as of St. Nicholas' real presence there. In fact, the robbers humbled themselves and repented, and returned everything they had taken to the elder.

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A very simple monk named Ermolaos lived in Great Lavra where his obedience was to herd the monastery's rams. He wore tattered clothes and carried his prayer rope in his hand always. He was completely guileless, with a primitive, innocent soul which was filled with divine grace. It is said that he once saw Panagia in Lavra walking around. He did not realize who she was and said, "What is a woman doing in Lavra?" One of the workmen was abusive to Ermolaos: he would swear at him and put him out in the snow, but the simple one endured all of it calmly and with kindness. It was the hermit Damaskinos from St. Basil's desert who told us many things about this Ermolaos.

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Although he is now bedridden, the simple elder Methodios still lives in St. Neilos' cell. This is his prayer: "Lord, on the day you take this poor one, place him among your servants. I do not expect to be among either bishops or priests, but just to get a spot in a corner."

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An elder said: "Prayer does not tire one but gives rest, the way a child feels in his mother's arms. If one were to observe some monks praying, he might think that they are like children. Indeed, seeing them making all kinds of motions, he might even think they had gone crazy. Some of them are like the little child who runs to his father, pulling his coat, and saying 'I don't know how, but you must do this for me . . . .'

From a certain perspective, such people as I am talking about could be seen as 'useless.' Why? Because they cannot work: their bodies become as if paralyzed, and their bones are stiffened like candles. They are unable to move. When God's love falls upon a person in abundance, it dissolves him.

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An elder said: "A natural simplicity becomes sanctification in a natural way. A simple but holy man, when he once had to take care of a poor sick person, went down to the seashore to the Church of the Ascension and lifted up his arms and prayed: 'My Holy Ascension, give me a little fish for my sick charge.' And what a miracle — a fish came into his hands! He cooked it and thanked God and the Holy Ascension.

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A simple holy man, lacking a certain sharpness of mind, might see a misled person as holy. A clever holy man, however, uses discernment to know if someone is misled. Having intelligence is a gift from God like bodily strength. We must use whatever gifts God gives us, for sanctification and salvation.

Those whom we see as being deprived (orphans, the crippled, the dull-witted, and so forth) — God helps them and graces them with gifts. God is just.

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In Karyes, Father Kyrillos had a monk in obedience, Hieromonk Pavlos, who celebrated the liturgy with great reverence. In particular, he would not reprimand anyone for his mistakes during the services. If he had to correct someone, he would do it by motioning to him very diserectly.

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The hermit father Philaretos from Karoulia was taken to Thessaloniki to appear in court, where he was unjustly accused of taking an ancient book which had been stolen by a tourist. He had no money to pay the fine.

"Either you pay, Father, or you go to jail," the judge said to him.

"I prefer to go to prison. I have no money. Besides this way, I will remember the eternal prison," he replied. When finally some of the faithful paid the fine, he said: "I have been freed from the earthly prison. I wonder if I will be set free from the eternal one ?"

Some asked him, "How was it in Thessaloniki, Elder Philaretos, how were the people?" He had not been there for fifty years, and he replied, "What can I say, Fathers? They were all rushing about for their salvation. I am the only negligent and lazy one."

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At one time Elder Artemios, very simple of soul and manners, was in Piraeus harbour for some business of the monastery. He was approached and invited by a prostitute to her house and he, being naive, accepted. "Praise be to God," he said, "that among this multitude of people a person was found to extend me hospitality."

The woman showed him to a room, gave him some food, and left. He began to pray using his prayer rope. Shortly after, the woman knocked at the door. But Artemios expected to hear "Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers" along with the knock, as is done on the Holy Mountain.

Since she continued to knock, he cried out "Say 'Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers.' Say it, or I am not going to open."

Because she did not say it, he figured it must be a demonic spirit at the door and kept on praying.

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I was once acquainted with two monks whose faces were a true picture of simplicity and forbearance. They had simple, unaffected souls with no evil or hypocrisy in them. They were lambs of Christ, meek and humble like Him. They were Elder A. from St. Anne's Skete and Elder P. from New Skete. They have since departed to the Lord.

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Ιn the recent past, in the Holy Mountain's capital of Karyes, had lived a very simple non-monastic, old man Giannis. He was called "the ancient" because he was always dressed in a very old-fashioned way and held in his right hand a shepherd's staff. One day he went to the Iosaphite fathers and said to Father B., "I would like you to make me a little icon of Panagia in a cloud and in white." That was the way he had seen her in a vision.

"We will make you one, old man Giannis, but it will cost you a lot," the monk said.

"You ask for a lot, but I will give you a little bit," the old man replied.

Another time he saw a wolf roaming around near Father Agathangelos' house. Giannis crossed himself and said, "My Panagia, save me from the wolf and I will bring you a container of oil." And indeed the next morning he brought oil to the icon of Axion Esti.

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In one of Xeropotamou's cells lived another simple but meek monk, elderly Antonios Tskoukas. A brother who was passing by one time met him and asked: "What are you doing, old man?"

"What else can I do but wait for Pascha?" he said.

"Pascha? It has past! We are now in Pentecost."

"Pentecost? When did it pass? I am still fasting. I haven't broken my fast yet," the elderly man said wondering, and with an unusually simple manner.

He was spending most of his time in Diako-Firfirin. He did not like it when any of the visitors were smoking in the courtyard of the Protaton. He would murmur, "Anyone who smokes is ungrateful. The Church does not need cigarettes. It needs incense, matches, and candles."

Scary Paranormal Games


We don't usually think of games when we consider the paranormal. The paranormal is something to be cautiously investigated, researched and taken seriously, not trifled with in something as frivolous as what we'd consider a "game."

We're not talking about the harmless games children play at Halloween or even the various paranormal-themed action and role-playing computer games available. We're talking about the games that are played in the dark of night that truly can be paranormal in nature and have unexpected, even terrifying results.

Games such as "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board," the Ouija board, "Bloody Mary" and spoon bending seem to be favorites of teenagers particularly. At parties, sleepovers and when the opportunity arises to sneak into an abandoned or rumored-to-be-haunted building, these games are very often played. Teens like them not only because they challenge the unknown, but also for the same reason they love horror and slasher movies - they like to be scared.

Adults and paranormal researchers usually discourage such games - particularly the Ouija and Bloody Mary - because of the negative psychological impact they can have on the participants. Whether the game players are merely scaring themselves or they really are tapping into negative realms, many researchers advise that these "games" are best left alone. And for that reason, we cannot recommend their practice. Light as a Feather and spoon bending are more harmless and may have a scientific basis, but some argue that any game that has elements of the unknown should be avoided.

SPOON BENDING

Psychic Uri Geller is most often credited with the phenomenon of spoon bending. While skeptics claim this feat is nothing more than magician's sleight of hand, others say that it is a psychic phenomenon that just about anyone can accomplish.

It's so easily done that spoon-bending parties have been held. On these occasions, the host brings a load of spoons and forks (forks are probably used more often than spoons because it's more dramatic to get the tines all twisted), usually bought cheap from a thrift store. The party goers are asked to choose a utensil they believe will bend, and sometime during the course of the event, most of the spoons and forks indeed do bend and twist, seemingly in defiance of all logic and the laws of physics.

In short, the method goes like this: Invite people to the party that you know and like. Create a relaxed atmosphere of fun and laughter. Ask each participant to choose a utensil that they believe "wants" to bend. (They don't all want to bend.) It's even suggested that you ask the fork, "Will you bend for me?" Then hold the fork vertically and shout, "Bend! Bend!" Rub it gently with your fingers.

If the utensil does not begin to bend, divert your attention. Focus your attention on something else. Some even say that this inattention to the utensil is vital in getting it to bend. When it succeeds, the fork or spoon will bend easily. Contrary to popular belief, the utensil will not just start twisting of its own accord (although this has happened on rare occasions). Rather, the utensil becomes so malleable that it is quite easily bent and twisted with the hands using almost no effort - as if it were made of the softest metal.

Although I've never had any luck with bending spoons or forks (I've always tried it alone and not at a festive party), some have been able to easily twist several forks into impossible shapes, as the photo on this page shows. If there is something to this phenomenon, it seems to be more of a natural one than supernatural.

LIGHT AS A FEATHER, STIFF AS A BOARD

This levitation game has been around for decades. I recall my wife telling me that she and her friends tried it at a teen party - and it worked.

The most common version of this "trick" requires at least five people. One person, the victim, lies relaxed on the floor with eyes closed. The other four participants surround her, one on each side, one at the head and one at the feet. Each of the participants places two fingers of each hand beneath the victim. With their eyes closed, they begin to chant, "Light as a feather… stiff as a board…" over and over. With just the slightest effort, the participants are able to raise the victim off the floor in what appears to be the defiance of gravity.

Does it work? In addition to my sister, I've heard from a number of other people who attest that it does. I have never witnessed it personally. Some contend that it can work with just three people, which would be even more astounding. There are also variations on this levitation trick involving a chair. If there is any truth to this, as freaky as it seems, I would again say there is more of a psychological explanation to this than anything. You can read more about HUMAN DIAMAGNETISM GRAVITY ANTENNA LEVITATION here.

BLOODY MARY

The conjuring of Bloody Mary has been a favorite way for teenagers, girls in particular, to scare themselves silly. The appearance of the Bloody Mary spirit has become the stuff of urban legend, yet many have testified that she really does appear.

Basically, the ritual goes like this: stand in a darkened or lightless room where there is a mirror. Stare into the mirror and chant "Bloody Mary" 13 times. The gruesome spirit of Bloody Mary will appear behind you in the mirror.

There are many variations on the ritual, any of which a brave teenage girl will try, usually on a dare. Sometimes a lighted candle is required in the dark room. You must chant the name three times, six times, nine times - even up to 100 times, depending on whom you ask. Another variation is that you must spin slowly in place while you chant Bloody Mary's name, glancing in the mirror with each turn.

An excellent article by Patty A. Wilson in the June 2005 issue of FATE magazine gives the complete history of the Bloody Mary legend, saying that the most likely origin is the life of Mary Stuart. Also known as Mary Queen of Scots in 16th century England, she was involved in many plots, intrigues and murder. She was executed in 1587, and it is her bloody corpse that appears in the mirror when beckoned.

Yet another tradition says that the evil spirit is none other than Satan's spouse. (I didn't even know he was seeing anyone!)

Although the biggest worry with Bloody Mary is that the participant will succeed in scaring herself into hysterics, we occasionally hear stories about people who really did see Bloody Mary in the mirror. Usually these tales come through a friend of a friend and are, of course, impossible to verify. Because of the ritualistic nature of this game and the invocation of a spirit in the process, this game could be more dangerous than the others in opening up the possibility to demonic manipulation.

OUIJA BOARD

The Ouija is undoubtedly the most well-known paranormal game in the world, mainly because it can be found in just about any mainstream toy store. It's the commercial version of the "talking board," which may date back centuries.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Ouija is a game board on which are printed the letters of the alphabet and the words "yes," "no" and "goodbye." Two players place their fingers lightly on a planchette or pointer, then ask questions. The pointer then seems to magically slide around the board, spelling out answers.

While some contend that the movement of the pointer is just the result of unconscious effort by the participants, or the "ideomotor effect," (see the article, "Ouija: How Does It Work?"), members of various religious groups are joined by many paranormal researchers in warning that the Ouija may indeed be opening a door to the spirit realm. Dark and sinister forces, they say, can enter our dimension through this door, sometimes with chillingly negative consequences. (See below "Tales of the Ouija" for some of these experiences.)

Because of this possible negative impact, many researchers advise that the Ouija should not be used under any circumstances. From a Christian perspective, it clearly encourages occultic activity that could open the door to demonic manipultion.

TALES OF THE OUIJA

The Ouija Board continues to be a source of fascination, experimentation and concern among paranormal researchers and the general population. Most stories of the experementors are of a negative or frightening nature, though others are neutral or benign.

Those who experiment with the board often claim to contact spirits, some of who divulge their names. The identity of these spirits is usually impossible to verify. Once in a while, a spirit claims to be a well-known or historical figure – or even the devil himself. Such was John M.’s experience.

“When I was about 11 or 12 years old in the late 1960s,” John says, “I had a friend who claimed that he had a Ouija board where sometimes the planchette [the board’s heart-shaped indicator] would move about on its own if he left the board out at night. Naturally, I was skeptical, having never seen a Ouija board that did much of anything. As kind of a joke, I told him to bring it over one summer afternoon and we'd try it. Sure enough, as we started asking it questions, the planchette would move about very rapidly and provide answers, or sometimes it would just point to yes or no. Since the movement was so fast for the pressure I was applying to the planchette, I was convinced my friend was moving it himself, but every time I asked, he denied it. Nevertheless, we were having fun and continued to ask questions.

“At some point I finally asked, "Who are you?" and the board spelled out S-A-T-A-N. I just looked at my friend and laughed, now even more convinced that he was the one doing the spelling. So then I asked, "What's your last name?" and the board spelled out R-A-S-P-U-T-I-N, which meant nothing to me, but I wrote it down. After we were done, I looked up Rasputin in the encyclopedia and was stunned to see that a man by that name lived in late 19th century Russia, and was feared because of his supposed occult powers. Knowing my friend, his age, and his level of intellect, I became convinced right then and there that the Ouija was for real and that my friend had not spelled that name out.”

Even if the Ouija is capable of contacting the spirit world, is it likely that the spirit of Rasputin would speak to two teenage American boys? Or was some other entity just playing a scary trick?

The Ouija Strikes Back

On rare occasions, use of the Ouija has triggered physical manifestations and psychokinetic activity. Darryl D. claims that he and his friends were assaulted by something during a Ouija session.

“When I was about 14 or 15 years old, I had a Ouija,” Darryl says. “My friends and I would gather in a basement at my friend Doug's house. We would turn the lights off, light some candles and sit around an old table that was in the house when his grandpa lived there. (His grandpa committed suicide in the kitchen.)

“One night when we where using the Ouija, a gust of wind came out of nowhere and blew out all of the candles.

“Another time, some girls came over to Doug’s house and we started using the Ouija. We started to see strange shadows walking around the basement... and then it happened: the candles went out and we all heard this horrible scream. After we got the lights turned on, we noticed that one of the girls, who was sitting on a couch watching us, had blood coming from the back of her neck. The necklace she was wearing had been ripped from her neck and was laying on the floor about 10 feet from where she was sitting. She had two small charms on it; we found one inside of a small crawlspace under the stairs and the other was outside laying on the concrete in front of the back door. I have not used this Ouija since this happened.”

I think anyone who experienced this would also put the Ouija safely away.

The Ouija Gamble

If, as it is claimed by some, that the Ouija can contact beings from unknown planes of existence, couldn’t they perhaps give us information about winning the lottery or some other lucky numbers? Undoubtedly, this has been attempted many times. Clift S. says he tried it.

“Back in 1969, I was living in Tacoma, Washington, managing an apartment house,” Clift tells us. “One night I used the Ouija board to see what I could find out. I didn't know what spirit I would get, if any. After awhile, it started to move, so I asked who it was, and the pointer spelled out DAD. It scared me.

“I never messed with it again until 1971 when my brother came to Tacoma to live. I was betting on horse races, so his daughter, who had a Ouija board, suggested we should see if we could find out the numbers of the horses who would win the first two races at Portland Meadows racetrack. So my niece and I used the Ouija, and it said the numbers would be 2 and 6 in the first two races.

“My brother, his wife, my niece and I drove to Portland to play these numbers in the daily double. Well, the horses came in 6 and 2 in the first two races – just the reverse of what the board said.

“I don't know if my niece has the board anymore, but I do believe you shouldn't use the board because it will either cause you harm... or make you do foolish things like we did.”

The Ouija gave Clift the right answers, but not in a way that was useful to him. Was this the act of a prankster spirit?

Ouija Answer

The board isn’t always a prankster. There are many cases in which the Ouija provides real, verifiable information that is not known by the participants. Andrea’s experience is a compelling one.

“Two friends and I were talking about Ouija boards, and whether or not we believed in them. The two friends were firm believers in the board and its powers, but I was skeptical. Having a Ouija board myself, yet never using it, I decided to bring it to our next gathering and give it a try.

“At my friend's apartment we turned down the lights, lit a candle and went to work. Within a minute the planchette started to move. One friend asked if there was a spirit that wished to communicate with us. The planchette went to the word YES. Starting to think there was something to this, I had a question for this spirit. I had a brother my family lost touch with over two years ago. I asked if the ghost knew where he was. It answered YES. It spelled out quite clearly a street name in British Columbia, Canada.

“After finishing our session with the board and thanking the spirit, I searched the Net and found out there was one listing for this street in B.C. within the Fraser Valley, between Vancouver and the U.S. boarder. Upon searching the city's phone book listings under my brother's last name – there he was, plain as day. Having a very unusual last name, I knew it was him instantly. I tried the number, and it was his voice on the other line! I was stunned.

“Maybe there is something to Ouija. I don't know. The two friends knew I had a brother, but never met him. They also did not know my maiden name in order ‘fix’ the board's answer. I have no explanation except that I guess spirits do exist.”

Ouija Growling

The reason many paranormal investigators advise against using the Ouija is that they believe it can open doors to realms that should remain closed. Ken M.’s cousin and friends learned this lesson the hard way.

“This happened on a hot August night in 1971 in the town of Lodi, California,” says Ken. “Some people are more successful at conjuring up spirits than others with a Ouija board. Carol, my cousin who swears by the story, had quite a history of contacting both benevolent and malevolent spirits.

“On this particular night, Carol and her friend were at Carol's house with their boyfriends. Soon after they began, the planchette took on a life of its own and told them there was a robbery in progress at a nearby McDonalds. Everyone was quite skeptical. Then the Ouija went on to describe the vehicle driven by the culprits: a station wagon, and that it was urgent. "Help, please help!" it spelled out.

“The men decided that the situation was too good to pass up, and just before they left, they told the women to not open any doors except for them. They drove off leaving the women with one shotgun and a box of shells. As their headlights pulled out of the driveway, Carol and her friend were terrified by a loud growling noise coming from the back door. Terrified, they braved enough energy to venture back to the door and were greeted by a loud scratching noise. As soon as they heard this, they scrambled back to where the shotgun lay and pumped shells into the chamber.

“As they got the shot gun loaded, a knock was heard at the door. Carol pulled the drape back and was relieved to find her boyfriend and his friend standing there. Full of terror, they let them in. They told the men what they had just encountered and what they had just heard at the back door. Still skeptical, the men went to the back door to investigate.

“They found the door was shut but when they opened it, they found long deep scratches along the door frame. Carol told me that she and her friend threw away the Ouija board that night.”

Did the Ouija give false information just to get the men out of the house so it could terrorize the women? Scarier still, what would the women have encountered had they opened that back door?

Conclusion

These are only a few of many verified tales concerning these scary paranormal games. Like any of these games, I have never tried them myself and do not plan to, though I have heard stories from trusted friends and family members that testify to the fright and unease of all the above "games". Because of this they should not be played with, as questionable phenomena could bring negativity or evil in ones life unknowingly. In the case of the Ouija especially, there are many reported cases of demonic possession resulting from its use. If this doesn't convince you to avoid it, then I don't know what will.

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