Saturday, January 9, 2010
Near the traditional spot where David slew Goliath, a piece of pottery was found with writing on it. It dates from the time of David and Solomon, making it one of the earliest inscriptions in Israel ever found in situ.
News media caught wind of this in late October 2008 (see BBC News and National Geographic) and wondered if it will provide proof that King David really existed. David has been under attack – not by Goliath or Philistines, but by minimalists who have claimed the Bible stories about him are mere legends. The site where the pottery shard was discovered was apparently a fortress overlooking the Valley of Elah. Called by the modern name Khirbet Qeiyafa, it might have been the Ephis Dammim mentioned in II Samuel 17:1. See Arutz Sheva for picture of the ostracon and the discovery site.
Finally, some news from the ancient Hebrew pottery inscription that was found in 2008. The inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa, dating from the time of David and Solomon, has been deciphered and announced on Yahoo News, PhysOrg, and EurekAlert, which has a copy of the script and the translation. Science Daily posted a more extensive report on Jan 8.
Prof. Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa, who deciphered the inscription, explained its significance: “It indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research.” This evidence appears to debunk the minimalist interpretation of Biblical history that asserts there was no kingdom of David and Solomon. EurekAlert said, “This stands opposed to the dating of the composition of the Bible in current research, which would not have recognized the possibility that the Bible or parts of it could have been written during this ancient period.” Even more significant inferences can be drawn, according to the EurekAlert article:
"Prof. Galil also notes that the inscription was discovered in a provincial town in Judea. He explains that if there were scribes in the periphery, it can be assumed that those inhabiting the central region and Jerusalem were even more proficient writers. 'It can now be maintained that it was highly reasonable that during the 10th century BCE, during the reign of King David, there were scribes in Israel who were able to write literary texts and complex historiographies such as the books of Judges and Samuel.' He adds that the complexity of the text discovered in Khirbet Qeiyafa, along with the impressive fortifications revealed at the site, refute the claims denying the existence of the Kingdom of Israel at that time."
The text of the inscription relates to the care for the disadvantaged in society. The inscription is not drawn verbatim from any Biblical passage, but sounds similar to those that express concern for widows, orphans, and the poor. The English translation is, “you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord]. Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow]. Judge the orph[an] [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant; plead for the po[or and] the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king. Protect the po[or and] the slave; [supp]ort the stranger.” This expresses a moral tone right out of the Bible. And could “the king” be King David?
JANUARY 7, 2010
The Wall Street Journal
The world ignores the persecution of Christians in the Muslim world.
In Egypt, seven Coptic Christians were murdered yesterday by a Muslim gunman as they filed out of a midnight mass in the southern town of Nag Hamadi. In Pakistan, more than 100 Christian homes were ransacked by a Muslim mob last July in the village of Bahmaniwala. In Iraq that same month, seven Christian churches were bombed in Baghdad and Mosul in the space of three days.
Such atrocities—and there are scores of other examples—are grim reminders that when it comes to persecution, few groups have suffered as grievously as Christians in Muslim lands. Fewer still have suffered with such little attention paid. Now a new report from the non-profit ministry, Open Doors USA, shines a light on the scale of oppression.
In its annual World Watch List, Open Doors ranks eight Muslim countries among the 10 worst persecutors of Christians. The other two, North Korea (which tops the list) and Laos, are communist states. Of the 50 countries on the list, 35 are majority Muslim.
Take Iran, which this year ranks as the world's second-worst persecutor of Christians. Open Doors reports that in 2009 the Islamic Republic arrested 85 Christians, many of whom were also mistreated in prison. In 2008, some 50 Christians were arrested and one Christian couple was beaten to death by security officials. At least part of the reason for the mistreatment appears to be the result of Muslim conversions to Christianity: Apostasy carries a mandatory death sentence in Iran.
In Saudi Arabia (No. 3), all non-Muslim public worship is forbidden. The state forbids the building of any type of non-Muslim house of worship, and Christian expatriates in the kingdom must practice their faith in private. The same goes in the Maldives, where the report notes that all citizens must be Muslim; "the handful of indigenous Christians are forced to believe in complete secrecy." Similarly in Mauritania, conversion to Christianity or any other religions is formally punishable by death.
Little wonder, then, that once-thriving Christian communities in the Muslim world have now largely voted with their feet by fleeing to safer havens, often in Europe or the United States. That's true even in religiously important communities such as Bethlehem, where the Christian majority has largely fled since the arrival in the 1990s of Yasser Arafat's repressive government and the ascendancy of Islamist groups such as Hamas. By contrast, Christians practice their religion freely and openly in Israel, just a few miles distant.
It might seem natural that at least some attention would be paid in the West to the plight of these Christians. Instead, attention seems endlessly focused on "Islamophobia," not least at the U.N.'s misnamed Human Rights Council. In November, much of Europe went berserk over the Swiss referendum to ban the construction of minarets (though not of mosques). But the West's tolerance for its large Muslim populations stands in sharp contrast to the Muslim world's bigotry and persecution of its own religious minorities. That's a fact that ought to be borne in mind the next time Westerners berate themselves about their own supposed "intolerance."
It is a common practice for Orthodox to bless water not only in church on Theophany, but to go to their nearest local body of water or even well and bless those waters also. The blessing is normally done twice: once on the Eve of the Feast — usually at a Baptismal font inside the church — and then again on the day of the feast, outdoors at a body of water. Following the Divine Liturgy, the clergy and people go in a Crucession (procession with the Cross) to the nearest body of water, be it a beach, harbor, quay, river, lake, swimming pool, water depot, etc. (ideally, it should be a body of "living water"). At the end of the ceremony the priest will bless the waters. In the Greek practice, he does this by casting a cross into the water. If swimming is feasible on the spot, any number of volunteers may try to recover the cross. The person who gets the cross first swims back and returns it to the priest, who then delivers a special blessing to the swimmer and their household. Certain such ceremonies have achieved particular prominence, such as the one held annually at Tarpon Springs, Florida. In Russia, where the winters are severe, a hole will be cut into the ice so that the waters may be blessed. In such conditions, the cross is not cast into the water, but is held securely by the priest and dipped three times into the water. The water that is blessed on this day is known as "Theophany Water" and is taken home by the faithful, and used with prayer as a blessing. People will not only bless themselves and their homes by sprinkling with Theophany Water, but will also drink it. The Orthodox Church teaches that Theophany Water differs from regular holy water in that with Theophany Water, the very nature of the water is changed and becomes incorrupt, a miracle attested to as early as St. John Chrysostom (Homily on Christian Baptism in P.G., XLIX, 363).
Most of these articles are in Greek, but are accompanied with pictures.
Theophany in the United States, Canada and Australia
Theophany in Tarpon Springs, Florida (16-year-old finds Cross in less than 20 seconds) and here and a very good amateur documentary here
Theophany in Zakynthos (with a video of the ceremony and where the waters seemed too rough for a Cross throwing)
Theophany in Cyprus (with Archbishop Chrysostom at the waters of Agia Napa)
Theophany at the Phanar in Constantinople and the Cross throwing in the Golden Horn (which was banned by the Turks for many years but restored into pratice 8 years ago)...more here
Theophany in Peraias, Athens (Greece) with Archbishop Hieronymos
Theophany in Harare, Zimbabwe (Greek school children dived in a pool)
Theophany in Nauplion, Greece
Theophany in Kavala, Greece
Theophany in Northern Epirus (in the waters of the Holy Forty where 44 men drowned in 1946, with a sermon delivered in Greek and Albanian)
Theophany in Trikala, Greece (where a mother of 6 children retrieved the Cross)
Theophany in Alexandria, Egypt (where Patriarch Theodoros is the only Patriarch that has been able to convince the Egyptian government to allow for the Cross throwing ceremony to take place in public for the past five years)
Theophany in Evros, Greece (at Lake Didimytikhon)
Theophany in Austria (which in the 300 year history of Orthodoxy in Austria, the Cross throwing ceremony has taken place for the past 4 years in a row in the waters of the Danube in Vienna)
Theophany in Ghana, West Africa (in the village of Breman and in the waters of Ayesu, with many children taking part)
Theophany in Tenedo and Smyrna (This ceremony was last celebrated on the island of Tenedo in 1923 prior to the Greek-Turkish population exchange. The Cross was retrieved by a doctor who came in an inflated boat from Athens.)
Theophany in Italy (where the Cross throwing ceremony took place in Venice, Milan, Rome, Florence, Brindisi [where the Metropolitan served] and Trieste)
Theophany in Tirana, Albania (where a 16 yeaar old girl retrieved the Cross ahead of a dozen boys, and she is the first reported girl to take part in the ceremony in Albania)
Theophany in Munich (where the Cross throwing ceremony was celebrated by Metropolitan Augustine of Germany for the first time in Bavarian history and received wide media coverage)
Theophany in Hong Kong (where both Old Calendar Christmas and New Calendar Theophany were celebrated on the same day)
Debate On Religious Symbols Intensifies
January 9, 2010
The public debate about whether crucifixes and religious icons should be displayed in Greece’s classrooms is set to intensify after it was revealed yesterday that the country’s Ombudsman received several complaints about infringement of religious freedoms.
Four sets of parents have asked for religious symbols to be removed from their children’s classrooms and one pupil has filed a complaint about her school making her attend religious education classes.
The issue of whether crosses and icons should be hung in schools, as well as other public service offices, has been a subject of discussion since last December when the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the presence of crucifixes in classrooms was a breach of human rights after hearing a case brought by a mother from Italy.
“We believe that the European Court of Human Rights ruling on the removal of religious symbols from Italian schools must also be applied by Greece,” said Panayote Dimitras, spokesman for the Greek Helsinki Monitor human rights watchdog.
The possible implications of the ECHR decision for Greece prompted the Greek Orthodox Church to immediately declare its opposition to any effort to remove religious symbols from public buildings. However, Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis admitted at the time that Greece could not ignore the court’s ruling if it stands.
The complaints filed with the Ombudsman could also end up at the ECHR and are certain to stoke debate in Greece. “Religious symbols are part of our country’s cultural heritage, which cannot be shaped by legislation,” said theologian Stavros Yiagazoglou. “In a democratic country, we must respect the rights of minorities but of the majority as well.”
Bloody Xmas: The Aftermath
Tension Rises in Egypt After Violence at Coptic Funeral
More Clashes, Arrests After Copt Deaths
Muslims, Christians Set Homes Ablaze in Egypt
See also: Coptic Christmas Massacre In Egypt
Friday, January 8, 2010
By Mr. Athanasios Rakovalis
Around 1992 rumours circulated that a great war will start, in which Greece would be embroiled, because during that time two paschal feasts would coincide, as prophesied by Saint Cosmas the Aitolian. Two important feasts, namely Easter and the Annunciation, did in fact coincide then, and this was considered by some as the interpretation of the Saint's prophecy. The rumours were also embellished with other details.... On the Holy Mountain (monks and laity) would pass on the rumours with some hesitation and reservation, while others found themselves in a state of alarm and would then spread the rumours as a certain fact, while others would refuse to listen to any of this and considered all these to be simply foolishness. The facts justified the latter.
Just before 2004 the rumour circulated that the Olympic Games in Athens would not take place because war would break out. Once again, these three categories of people reappeared. Some in fact began to hoard groceries.... Once again, rumours proved to be false. These are two of several other rumours of a smaller extent that reached my ears.
What is happening?... There are certain problematic and complex-ridden Christians (monks, priests and lay people) who have "a combination of piety and paranoia", as Elder Paisios would quip; who would pretend to be charismatic while they are not; who move along the boundaries of mental illness and deception; who seek the admiration and respect of the crowds, which is why they spread those rumours, even if subconsciously they know that this game has an expiration date. Are they being mocked by vainglory? Can they not perceive the immense damage they are causing to the Church and to the weak in faith?
Alongside them is also a category of people who delight in listening and believing such rumours, without examining the validity of the source that spreads them, without screening the information, without putting simple logic to work. Obviously such rumours create a spiritual arousal that pleases them, renders their life more exciting and even fills certain psychological voids. Where else could such immature behaviour originate from? This was how I used to explain matters for several years.
Before Christmas of 2008 another rumour had circulated, of an exceptionally urgent nature. It said that war would break out in less than a month, during January 2009. They advised the people to hoard food and some money, in order to confront the difficult situation that would be created and would last between three to six months. They attributed the rumours to certain lay people but also to clergy. This time they even named the source. It was the Elder Ephraim from America. Because the Elder was well known and respected and had significant authority, the rumours spread greatly, throughout Greece. They even reached the point of circulating on the internet. Many people conformed to the instructions. Luckily there were also those who were not carried away by the prevailing atmosphere. The days passed and nothing happened. Two or three months later, the Elder Ephraim greatly surprised, issued a communiqué from the States and declared that he had never said such things. Had someone (we wonder who?) over-inflated and misinterpreted his words, or, even worse, begun this without cause? The name of Father Ephraim had been slurred on a broad scale.
What had happened? All those people who had attached importance to the name of Elder Ephraim now felt deceived and ridiculed. The merchants had profited from the naivete of the Christians, the authority of the Elder had received a severe blow, and the faith of the weak in the Church and the Saints was shaken. And the enemies of the Church had rejoiced, for - according to them - the naivete and the complex of Christians who believe in Saints and charismatic elders and their prophecies, had been triumphantly proven. The enemies of the Church and the devil were the ones who had clearly profited.
Father Ephraim had founded 17 monasteries in the United States, which are inhabited by people of every race in the world. He is the one who had brought the Orthodox, Hagiorite monastic spirit to the American continent. He enjoys immense respect among the Orthodox of America. The devil and certain people hate him and are opposed to his work. Couldn't all this be an orchestrated, underhanded war against him, but also against the charismatic Saints and in the final analysis against the Church of Christ?
During the exact same period, yet another scenario was being playing out, which concerned the Elder Paisios and was correlated to the scenario that they were trying to attribute to Fr. Ephraim.
It is a fact that the Elder Paisios had said that God will bring about the interests of the powers that be, in such a way that at the end the City (Constantinople) will be returned to us. They will fight among themselves and in the end they will agree to a compromise: "The City, neither we nor you will take it; we shall give it to the Greeks". These words I have also heard with my own ears and I know he had also said them to many others. In fact he had told a certain young man who visited him for the first time, "You will enter the City as a standard-bearer". It turned out that the young man was an officer of the Greek army. This story we have known about for many years and is absolutely true.
Fifteen years after the repose of the elder I heard this same story embellished with certain details which I had heard for the first time, and none of the Elder's closer students whom I had asked were aware of them either. This fact puzzled me greatly. "How is it that those close to Father Paisios did not know about them but others did?"
The details that remained closer to the true core of the story are the following: a) The name of the officer and b) that he was to retire in the spring of 2009. This immediately provided a dramatic specification, inasmuch as this prophecy had to be fulfilled during the Spring that had just passed. During the same period a ridiculous story had begun to circulate, about three letters which were supposedly written by Fr. Paisios and were entrusted to an unknown person with the instruction to deliver them so many years after his repose, to the President of Russia, the Greek Prime Minister and to the head of the Greek army. This too was extemely puzzling: for such an important topic, how was it that none of the acquaintances of the Elder knew anything? Who are those unknowns who had circulated this ridiculous and provocative story about the letters? What role were they playing? What was their objective? This had been combined with the alleged Fr. Ephraim scenario and both were circulated widely on the internet, causing many pious but naive people who had faith in the two elders to get sidetracked. Unfortunately, there were a number of Christians who had plenty of piety mixed with a small dose of faultiness, who reproduced these suspicious stories with an excess of levity, naivety and zeal.
Spring came and went, the officer retired from active duty, war did not break out, nor was the City handed over to us. Thus, with the help of those details that held true to the core of Elder Paisios' prophecies, they succeeded in presenting him as a liar and untrustworthy in the eyes of the people who do not know the situation up close. They seem to be purposely trying to damage the authority and the influence that the Elder Paisios has with Orthodox Christians.
From the method and manner of their propagation, and from the fact that they succeeded in spreading lies so widely, could we perhaps conclude that we are dealing here with something planned and well organized? If we consider how all these things are taking place at a time when the Church is systematically being attacked, and that there is a constantly evolving political de-Christianization of Greek society, one can surmise that all these are a part of a broader plan processed by mercenary psychologists, professional slanderers, mercenary manipulators of public opinion, agents who exploit the foolishness and the problematic personalities of certain Christians, to damage the authority of the Saints and of the Church.
Let us stand with fear and attention. Let us not allow ourselves naivety and foolishness. Let us become "prudent like serpents" and "pure like doves", because, as the blessed saintly Elder Paisios used to say - "we are living in the time of the Antichrist, and we sleep with our shoes on".
Source: Parakatathiki (Heritage), Issue: Aug-July 2009.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
The Baptism of Jesus Christ: Uncovering Bethany beyond the Jordan
A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY THROUGH AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL DETECTIVE STORY
A DOCUMENTARY FILM
An archaeological-detective story uncovering the pieces of the ancient mystery of where Christ was baptized. Christians around the world know Bethlehem where Jesus was born, and Jerusalem where Jesus died and was resurrected, but no one knows the location of his baptism. This being one of the three holiest places of Christianity.
Where was he baptized? Why was the site lost? How was it discovered and what was found there? The remarkable story of how the actual location of Jesus’ baptism had disappeared from human memory, lost in time for almost 1000 years; And the fascinating story of its rediscovery and the ongoing excavations taking place there. Only 5% of the area has been dug until today. Who knows what else lies beneath this place and what it could reveal about Jesus Christ and the birth of Christianity.
The 53 minute documentary is concerned with the recent discovery of the baptism site of Jesus Christ in an area known as ‘Wadi al-Kharrar’ on the east bank of the river Jordan, the “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” of the Gospels. A complex of unique churches, baptismal pools and monasteries are amongst the important discoveries uncovered so far. The area, since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, was a military zone and heavily mined making it impossible of access. However in 1994 after Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty, archaeologists begun their excavations...
See more @ http://www.tenthousandfilms.com/
Orthodox Churches Keep Christ at Center of Christmas
By Cecilia Baress
January 7, 2010
Thirteen days after Dec. 25, Orthodox churches that follow the Julian calendar celebrate Christmas today - minus the distractions of the secular holiday season.
"It's kind of a time when you can actually sit down and understand what's happening in the mystery of the feast," said the Rev. Don Valasek of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Scranton.
Celebrations of the Feast of the Nativity began Wednesday with vespers, he said, and will last several days past the actual feast day with services honoring the mother of God and the saints.
With no Santa and no sales, people can focus solely on the birth of Christ. It is a time when anticipation gives way to fulfillment, said the Rev. John Sorochka of St. John's Russian Orthodox Church in Mayfield.
"When it comes to the Nativity, we prepare differently than the Western world does," he said.
The preparation includes 40 days of strict fasting - no dairy, meat or eggs - which ends when members receive communion during Divine Liturgy today, he said.
"We are fasting and intensifying our spiritual life in anticipation of the birth of Christ," he said.
The liturgy also will culminate their physical preparations, including extra choir practices and church decorating. The whole atmosphere is one of change, as priests don white vestments instead of the red frocks they wore during Advent.
"Everything is completely turned upside down compared to last week," he said.
Families gathered for holy supper on Wednesday, the eve of the Feast of the Nativity, where 12 dishes were served in honor of the 12 apostles. Hay was placed underneath the tablecloth to represent the manger, and a candle at the center of the table represented Christ, the light of the world.
They will celebrate for eight days, enjoying the things they sacrificed during Advent, he said. Carolers will spread cheer door to door, visiting parishioners' homes.
Some Orthodox churches have abandoned the original Julian calendar for a revised version, which fixes Christmas on Dec. 25.
It is a more practical solution, said the Rev. John Kowalczyk of St. Michael's Orthdox Church in Jermyn, whose parish is made up of many converts. He also sees it as an opportunity.
"We have a responsibility to put Christ back into Christmas, to make Christmas less secular," he said.
St. Nicholas' has kept to the Julian calendar, honoring the traditions of the elderly parishioners, Valasek said.
"We're doing the same thing, just 13 days later," he said.
This, not even the mountain beasts can endure.
The lion alleviates his hunger with the music of roaring,
And the tree rustles when the wind approaches
And, you do not rustle neither roar nor moan,
Neither your lament nor your song through the wilderness echoed!
Tell me, are you a man? What is your name?
Will you ever want to speak with someone?
Voice, voice, voice, I am the voice; but the Word of God, He is,
To the children of Israel, I was sent to cry out:
Repent, O people, behold, He comes,
Bring forth good fruit, each according to your strength.
Behold, behold He comes; O Wonder of Wonders,
In the midst of the water, from heaven, a hidden fire!
Behold, the Lamb of God, among the wolves, walks;
Wolves, your lupine temper, in the water, cleanse!
Thirty years of silence and fasting,
Of your body, what remains; except your voice?
Your withered body is but a shadow of your voice,
Which proclaims the news: Behold, God comes to us!
Your withered body, a reed; that Herod broke
But the voice continues, continues; no one to silence it.
Whose voice is that? From whom even the centuries tremble?
A hungry lion! No, No - a man of faith.
- St. Nikolai Velimirovich
The body of Saint John the Baptist was buried in the Samaritan city of Sebaste. The holy Evangelist Luke, who went preaching Christ in various cities and towns, came to Sebaste, where they gave him the right hand of the holy Prophet John, the very hand with which he had baptized the Savior. The Evangelist Luke took it with him to his native city of Antioch.
When the Muslims seized Antioch centuries later, a deacon named Job brought the holy hand of the Forerunner from Antioch to Chalcedon by order of Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 945-959). From there, on the eve of the Theophany of the Lord, it was transferred to Constantinople (956) and kept thereafter in the royal palace. St. Nikolai Velimirovich writes in his Prologue: "It is said that every year on the feast of the saint, the bishop brought the hand of St. John before the people. Sometimes the hand appeared open and other times the hand appeared clenched. In the first case it signified a fruitful and bountiful year and, in the second case, it meant a year of unfruitfulness and famine." Initially this miracle occurred annually on the 14th of September, which is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The hand would rise at times, flexing or clenching its fingers. Becaue it was believed to predict future happiness or misfortune, many sovereigns tried to possess it as a priceless treasure, especially Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 945-959) and his son the Emperor Romanos II (r. 959-963). This was one reason why the relic was kept in the imperial palace. The Synaxis of St. John took place in the Phorakion.*
In the year 1200, the Russian pilgrim Dobrynya, who later became St Anthony, Archbishop of Novgorod (February 10), saw the right hand of the Forerunner in the imperial palace. From the Lives of the Saints we learn that in the year 1263, during the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders, the emperor Baldwin gave one bone from the wrist of St John the Baptist to Ottonus de Cichon, who then gave it to a Cistercian abbey in France.
The right hand continued to be kept in Constantinople. And at the end of the fourteenth to the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, the holy relic was seen at Constantinople in the Peribleptos monastery by the Russian pilgrims Stephen of Novgorod, the deacon Ignatius, the cantor Alexander and the deacon Zosimus. When Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, sacred objects were gathered up at the the conqueror's orders and kept under lock in the Ottoman imperial treasury.
In the Lives of the Saints there is clear testimony that in the year 1484 the right hand of the Holy Forerunner was given away by the son of the Muslim sultan Bayazet to the Knights of Rhodes to gain their good will, since a dangerous rival for Bayazet, his own brother, had allied himself with them. A contemporary participant, the vice-chancellor of Rhodes, Wilhelm Gaorsan Gallo, also speaks of this event. The Knights of Rhodes, having established their base on the island of Malta (in the Mediterranean Sea), then transferred the sacred relic they had received to Malta.
When the Russian Tsar Paul I (1796-1801) became Grand Master of the Maltese Order in honor of the holy Prophet John, the right hand of the Baptist, part of the Life-Giving Cross and the Philermos Icon (October 12) of the Mother of God (from Mt Philermos on the island of Rhodes) were transferred in 1799 from the island of Malta to Russia [because of the Napoleonic threat], to the chapel at Gatchina (October 12). In the same year these sacred items were transferred into the church dedicated to the Icon of the Savior Not Made by Hands at the Winter Palace. A special service was composed for this Feast.
Portions of St. John's right hand, with which he baptised Jesus, is said to be in the possession of the Serbian Orthodox Cetinje Monastery in Montenegro, and also at the Romanian Skete of the Forerunner on Mount Athos as well. Another relic of his forearm is in a glass display case at the Seraglio (Topkapi Soray), which had been the palace of the Ottoman sultans in Constantinople following the Fall of the City.
It is not known how the portion of St. John's right hand came to be at Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos. What we do know is that somehow in the first years of the 19th century the advisor to Prussia in Constantinople, John Frangopoulos, was in possession of this relic and he adorned it with jewels. On 10 March 1802 it was brought (or returned) to Dionysiou Monastery through the efforts of its abbot, Joachim Agiostratiti. This event is commemorated annually by the Monastery on the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent with an all-night vigil.
*Saint John was exceedingly venerated at Constantinople, where he had thirty-six churches and monasteries dedicated to his memory, of which the most famous was the Studios; others were Lips, the Prodromos in Petra, and in Sphorakion, etc. The Monastery of Phoverou on the Asiatic Shore of the Bosporos was also dedicated to the Forerunner. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, s.v. "John the Baptist".
See also here, here, here, here, here and here for various miracles of the hand of St. John.
Top of Skull of St. John the Baptist, with his arm and left hand, in Topakapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey
Front of the skull of St. John the Baptist brought from Constantinople to Amiens, France
And many other small pieces of his skull are found throughout the world...
by St. Gregory Palamas
If the death of the saints is precious (Ps. 116:15) and the just are remembered with praise (Prov. 10:7), it is even more fitting for us to commemorate John, the highest summit of holy and righteous men, by extolling him. He leapt in the womb in anticipation of the Word of God who took flesh for our sake; he was His Forerunner and went before Him as His herald, and the Lord in turn proclaimed and bore witness that John was superior to all the prophets, saints and just men down through the ages. Everything about him surpasses human speech, and the only-begotten Son of God witnessed to him and honored him, and he has no need of any tribute from us. But this does not mean that we should keep silent and fail to honor with our words, as best we can, the one whom the Scriptures refer to as "the voice" of the sublime Word (Matt. 3:3; Isa. 40:3). On the contrary, the fact that he was proclaimed to be so great and witnessed to by Christ, the Lord of all, should move every tongue to sing his praises as much as it can. Not that we can add to his glory in any way - how could we? - but in order to pay our debt individually and together by recounting the wonders surrounding him and celebrating them in song.
The whole life of the greatest man born of woman was a supreme miracle. John was a prophet and much more than a prophet, even before he was born; and not only did his entire life transcend all wonders, but so did everything concerning him, both long before his lifetime and afterwards. The divine predictions of seers inspired by God described him as an angel rather than a man (Matt. 11:10; Exod. 23:20); Mal. 3:1), as a lampstand for the light (Jn. 5:35; Ps. 132:17), a divinely radiant star bringing in the morning (Jn. 1:8; 5:35), for he went before the Sun of Righteousness and was "the voice" of God's Word. What could be closer or more akin to God the Word than God's voice?
When the time for his conception drew near it was not a man but an angel who flew down from heaven and put an end to Zachariah's and Elizabeth's barrenness, promising that the couple who had been childless from their youth would bear a child in extreme old age. The birth of this son would, he foretold, cause much joy, as it would be for the salvation of all. "For he", said the angel, "shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias" (Lk. 1:15-17). For he shall be a virgin as Elijah was, and dwell in the desert more than he did; and he shall censure kings and queens who transgress. What puts him above Elijah, however, is that he shall be the Forerunner of God, for the Scripture says, "He shall go before Him".
Because Zacharias considered these things beyond belief, his tongue was tied. Since he did not want to announce voluntarily the child's mysterious conception, he proclaimed it against his will by being silent until he saw "the voice" of the Word coming into the light. Having been conceived with so many great promises, he was anointed as a prophet before being born and - marvellous to relate! - passed on this anointing to his mother. Like Isaiah, he was clothed in the "garment of salvation" and the "robe of righteousness" (Is. 61:10); like Elijah he anointed someone else to be a prophet in his place (1 Kgs. 19:16), and while still unborn he equalled and surpassed both prophets in their perfection, because he displayed these attributes in the presence of the Lord. Once an unborn babe's members have been formed, it can move, but does not yet have a voice, as it is not yet living in the air. When the Virgin, who was at that time carrying God within her, appeared, even though John was in the womb he did not fail to perceive God's presence and His dispensation, but extolled it, declaring the divinity through his mother's tongue (Lk. 1:42). He leapt and rejoiced within her as - what a miracle! - he received in the Holy Spirit the fullness of the age to come in his mother's womb.
Proclaiming beforehand the mystery of eternal life, the great Paul says, "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Cor. 15:44). That is to say, the body will be indwelt and motivated by the supernatural power of the divine Spirit in the age to come. In the same way, John was sown and shaped in his mother's womb as a natural body, but by the mysterious anointing of the Holy Spirit while he was within her, he was shown to be a spiritual body, who leapt and rejoiced in the Spirit and made his mother a prophetess. Through her tongue he blessed God with a loud voice and declared the Virgin who was with child to be the Mother of the Lord, and he addressed her unborn Babe as the fruit of her womb, proving that she was at the same time both pregnant and a virgin (Lk. 1:41-45).
John did not merely, in the words of the Scripture, choose the good before knowing evil (Is. 7:16), but while still unborn, before knowing the world, he surpassed it. Then once he was born he delighted and amazed everyone by reason of the miraculous events surrounding him, because, it says, "The hand of the Lord was with him" (Lk. 1:66), working wonders again as it had in earlier time. His father's mouth, which had been closed because he had not believed in the child's strange conception, was opened and filled with the Holy Spirit, and he prophesied, among other things, about this his son, saying, "And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto His people" (Lk. 1:76-77). Once this divine child, this living instrument of grace from his mother's womb, had been conceived, he was moved by grace to rejoice in the Holy Spirit. In the same way, after being born, he grew and waxed strong in the Spirit. As the world was unworthy of him, he dwelt continuously in desert places from his earliest years, leading a frugal life without cares or worldly concerns, a stranger to sadness, free from coarse passions and above base, material pleasure, which merely beguiles the body and its senses. He lived for God alone, beholding only God and making God his delight. It was as if he lived somewhere exalted above the earth. "And he was in the deserts", it says, "till the day of his shewing unto Israel" (Lk. 1:80).
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
At Least 7 Killed After Coptic Christmas Mass In Egypt
by The Associated Press
January 6, 2010
Three men in a car sprayed automatic gunfire into a crowd of churchgoers in southern Egyptian as they left a midnight Mass for Coptic Christmas, killing at least seven people in a drive-by shooting, the church bishop and security officials said.
Egypt's Interior Ministry said the attack Wednesday just before midnight was suspected as retaliation for the November rape of a Muslim girl by a Christian man in the same town. The statement said witnesses have identified the lead attacker.
The attack took place in the town of Nag Hamadi in Qena province, about 40 miles from the famous ancient ruins of Luxor. A local security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed that seven were dead and three seriously wounded.
Bishop Kirollos of the Nag Hamadi Diocese told The Associated Press six male churchgoers and one security guard were killed. He said he had left St. John's church just minutes before the attack.
"A driving car swerved near me, so I took the back door. By the time I shook hands with someone at the gate, I heard the mayhem, lots of machine gun shots," he said in a telephone interview. He said he saw five bodies lying on the ground when he first looked at the site of the shooting, about 600 yards where he was.
The bishop said he was concerned about violence on the eve of Coptic Christmas, which falls on Thursday, because of previous threats following the rape of the 12-year-old girl in November.
He got a message on his mobile phone saying: "It is your turn."
"I did nothing with it. My faithful were also receiving threats in the streets, some shouting at them: 'We will not let you have festivities,"' he said.
Because of the threats, he said he ended his Christmas Mass one hour early.
He said Muslim residents of Nag Hamadi and neighboring villages rioted for five days in November and torched and damaged Christian properties in the area after the rape.
"For days, I had expected something to happen on Christmas day," he said. The bishop said police have now asked him to stay at home for fear of further violence.
Qena is one of Egypt's poorest and most conservative areas.
Christians, mostly Coptic, account for about 10 percent of Egypt's predominantly Muslim population. As Islamic conservatism gains ground, Christians have increasingly complained about discrimination by the Muslim majority.
Clashes between Muslims and Christians are not uncommon in southern Egypt and in recent years have begun seeping into the capital. An Amnesty International report said sectarian attacks on the Coptic Christian community, comprising between 6 million and 8 million people in Egypt, increased in the year 2008. Sporadic clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims left eight people dead.
Vendetta killing is also common among southern Egyptians, and is usually over land or family disputes.
The bishop said he had an idea of who the attackers were, calling them "Muslim radicals."
"It is all religious now. This is a religious war about how they can finish off the Christians in Egypt," he said.
In the Jordan River, where the baptism of Christ took place, there exist a large species of fish of approximately three feet in length known as Sheatfish (Gr. Γουλιανοί) or Siluridae, a member of the Catfish family. These fish are characterized especially by their large head and six barbels which resemble cat's whiskers. They can be found in many rivers and lakes, however the Sheatfish in the Jordan bare one distinguishing characteristic that appears to have a supernatural origin.
On the head of the Sheatfish in the Jordan, if one removes the skin and observes the bone on the head, one can see a peculiar image measuring about a span. The image in the middle is in the shape of a man, on the left and right of the man there is a separation with the image of angels with wings, above the head of the man appears to be a dove with open wings, and on the two sides of the dove there appear flames coming down.
In other words, Orthodox faithful have proclaimed this strange occurrence a miracle because it depicts the baptism of Christ, and this phenomenon appears in no other fish of the same species anywhere in the world. This is exactly how the baptism of Christ is traditionally depicted in Orthodox iconography. Because the Jordan River flows into Lake Gennesaret, these fish appear there as well. Interestingly, because these fish are not kosher, Jewish fisherman do not handle or eat them but when caught they are thrown back into the Jordan.
Pious Christians consider it a great blessing to receive the skull of these Sheatfish from the Jordan River. It is a custom among them to color in with paint the image on the skull so as to make the image more clearly visible.
For another miracle of the Jordan River associated with Theophany, see here.
by St. John Chrysostom
We shall now say something about the present feast. Many celebrate the feastdays and know their designations, but the cause for which they were established they know not. Thus concerning this, that the present feast is called Theophany -- everyone knows; but what this is -- Theophany, and whether it be one thing or another, they know not. And this is shameful -- every year to celebrate the feastday and not know its reason.
First of all therefore, it is necessary to say that there is not one Theophany, but two: the one actual, which already has occurred, and the second in future, which will happen with glory at the end of the world. About this one and about the other you will hear today from Paul, who in conversing with Titus, speaks thus about the present: "The grace of God hath revealed itself, having saved all mankind, decreeing, that we reject iniquity and worldly desires, and dwell in the present age in prudence and in righteousness and piety" -- and about the future: "awaiting the blessed hope and glorious appearance of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Tit 2:11-13). And a prophet speaks thus about this latter: "the sun shalt turn to darkness, and the moon to blood at first, then shalt come the great and illuminating Day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31). Why is not that day, on which the Lord was born, considered Theophany -- but rather this day on which He was baptised? This present day it is, on which He was baptised and sanctified the nature of water. Because on this day all, having obtained the waters, do carry it home and keep it all year, since today the waters are sanctified; and an obvious phenomenon occurs: these waters in their essence do not spoil with the passage of time, but obtained today, for one whole year and often for two or three years, they remain unharmed and fresh, and afterwards for a long time do not stop being water, just as that obtained from the fountains.
Why then is this day called Theophany? Because Christ made Himself known to all -- not then when He was born -- but then when He was baptised. Until this time He was not known to the people. And that the people did not know Him, Who He was, listen about this to John the Baptist, who says: "Amidst you standeth, Him Whom ye know not of" (Jn.1:26). And is it surprising that others did not know Him, when even the Baptist did not know Him until that day? "And I -- said he -- knew Him not: but He that did send me to baptise with water, about This One did tell unto me: over Him that shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding upon Him, This One it is Who baptiseth in the Holy Spirit" (Jn. 1:33). Thus from this it is evident, that -- there are two Theophanies, and why Christ comes at baptism and on whichever baptism He comes, about this it is necessary to say: it is therefore necessary to know both the one and equally the other. And first it is necessary to speak your love about the latter, so that we might learn about the former. There was a Jewish baptism, which cleansed from bodily impurities, but not to remove sins. Thus, whoever committed adultery, or decided on thievery, or who did some other kind of misdeed, it did not free him from guilt. But whoever touched the bones of the dead, whoever tasted food forbidden by the law, whoever approached from contamination, whoever consorted with lepers -- that one washed, and until evening was impure, and then cleansed. "Let one wash his body in pure water -- it says in the Scriptures, -- and he will be unclean until evening, and then he will be clean" (Lev 15:5, 22:4). This was not truly of sins or impurities, but since the Jews lacked perfection, then God, accomplishing it by means of this greater piety, prepared them by their beginnings for a precise observance of important things.
Thus, Jewish cleansings did not free from sins, but only from bodily impurities. Not so with ours: it is far more sublime and it manifests a great grace, whereby it sets free from sin, it cleanses the spirit and bestows the gifts of the Spirit. And the baptism of John was far more sublime than the Jewish, but less so than ours: it was like a bridge between both baptisms, leading across itself from the first to the last. Wherefore John did not give guidance for observance of bodily purifications, but together with them he exhorted and advised to be converted from vice to good deeds and to trust in the hope of salvation and the accomplishing of good deeds, rather than in different washings and purifications by water. John did not say: wash your clothes, wash your body, and ye will be pure, but what? -- "bear ye fruits worthy of repentance" (Mt 3:8). Since it was more than of the Jews, but less than ours: the baptism of John did not impart the Holy Spirit and it did not grant forgiveness by grace: it gave the commandment to repent, but it was powerless to absolve sins. Wherefore John did also say: "I baptise you with water...That One however will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Mt 3:11). Obviously, he did not baptise with the Spirit. But what does this mean: "with the Holy Spirit and with fire?" Call to mind that day, on which for the Apostles "there appeared disparate tongues like fire, and sat over each one of them" (Acts 2:3). And that the baptism of John did not impart the Spirit and remission of sins is evident from the following: Paul "found certain disciples, and said to them: received ye the Holy Spirit since ye have believed? They said to him: but furthermore whether it be of the Holy Spirit, we shall hear. He said to them: into what were ye baptised? They answered: into the baptism of John. Paul then said: John indeed baptised with the baptism of repentance," -- repentance, but not remission of sins; for whom did he baptise? "Having proclaimed to the people, that they should believe in the One coming after him, namely, Christ Jesus. Having heard this, they were baptised in the Name of the Lord Jesus: and Paul laying his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them" (Acts 19:1-6). Do you see, how incomplete was the baptism of John? If the one were not incomplete, would then Paul have baptised them again, and placed his hands on them; having performed also the second, he shew the superiority of the apostolic Baptism and that the baptism of John was far less than his. Thus, from this we recognise the difference of the baptisms.
Now it is necessary to say, for whom was Christ baptised and by which baptism? Neither the former the Jewish, nor the last -- ours. Whence hath He need for remission of sins, how is this possible for Him, Who hath not any sins? "Of sin, -- it says in the Scriptures, -- worked He not, nor was there deceit found in His mouth" (1 Pet 2:22); and further, "who of you convicteth Me of Sin?" (Jn 8:46). And His flesh was privy to the Holy Spirit; how might this be possible, when it in the beginning was fashioned by the Holy Spirit? And so, if His flesh was privy to the Holy Spirit, and He was not subject to sins, then for whom was He baptised? But first of all it is necessary for us to recognise, by which baptism He was baptised, and then it will be clear for us. By which baptism indeed was He baptised? -- Not the Jewish, nor ours, nor John's. For whom, since thou from thine own aspect of baptism dost perceive, that He was baptised not by reason of sin and not having need of the gift of the Spirit; therefore, as we have demonstrated, this baptism was alien to the one and to the other. Hence it is evident, that He came to Jordan not for the forgiveness of sins and not for receiving the gifts of the Spirit. But so that some from those present then should not think, that He came for repentance like others, listen to how John precluded this. What he then spoke to the others then was: "Bear ye fruits worthy of repentance"; but listen what he said to Him: "I have need to be baptised of Thee, and Thou art come to me?" (Mt 3:8, 14). With these words he demonstrated, that Christ came to him not through that need with which people came, and that He was so far from the need to be baptised for this reason -- so much more sublime and perfectly purer than Baptism itself. For whom was He baptised, if this was done not for repentance, nor for the remission of sins, nor for receiving the gifts of the Spirit? Through the other two reasons, of which about the one the disciple speaks, and about the other He Himself spoke to John. Which reason of this baptism did John declare? Namely, that Christ should become known to the people, as Paul also mentions: "John therefore baptised with the baptism of repentance, so that through him they should believe on Him that cometh" (Acts 19:4); this was the consequence of the baptism. If John had gone to the home of each and, standing at the door, had spoken out for Christ and said: "He is the Son of God," such a testimony would have been suspicious, and this deed would have been extremely perplexing. So too, if he in advocating Christ had gone into the synagogues and witnessed to Him, this testimony of his might be suspiciously fabricated. But when all the people thronged out from all the cities to Jordan and remained on the banks of the river, and when He Himself came to be baptised and received the testimony of the Father by a voice from above and by the coming-upon of the Spirit in the form of a dove, then the testimony of John about Him was made beyond all questioning. And since he said: "and I knew Him not" (Jn 1:31), his testimony put forth is trustworthy. They were kindred after the flesh between themselves "wherefore Elizabeth, thy kinswoman, hath also conceived a son" -- said the Angel to Mary about the mother of John (Lk. 1: 36); if however the mothers were relatives, then obviously so also were the children. Thus, since they were kinsmen -- in order that it should not seem that John would testify concerning Christ because of kinship, the grace of the Spirit organised it such, that John spent all his early years in the wilderness, so that it should not seem that John had declared his testimony out of friendship or some similar reason. But John, as he was instructed of God, thus also announced about Him, wherein also he did say: "and I knew Him not." From whence didst thou find out? "He having sent me that sayeth to baptise with water, That One did tell me" What did He tell thee? "Over Him thou shalt see the Spirit descending, like to a dove, and abiding over Him, That One is baptised by the Holy Spirit" (Jn 1:32-33). Dost thou see, that the Holy Spirit did not descend as in a first time then coming down upon Him, but in order to point out that preached by His inspiration -- as though by a finger, it pointed Him out to all. For this reason He came to baptism.
And there is a second reason, about which He Himself spoke -- what exactly is it? When John said: "I have need to be baptised of Thee, and Thou art come to me?" -- He answered thus: "stay now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill every righteousness" (Mt 3:14-15). Dost thou see the meekness of the servant? Dost thou see the humility of the Master? What does He mean: "to fulfill every righteousness?" By righteousness is meant the fulfillment of all the commandments, as is said: "both were righteous, walking faultlessly in the commandments of the Lord" (Lk 1:6). Since fulfilling this righteousness was necessary for all people -- but no one of them kept it or fulfilled it -- Christ came then and fulfilled this righteousness.
And what righteousness is there, someone will say, in being baptised? Obedience for a prophet was righteous. As Christ was circumcised, offered sacrifice, kept the sabbath and observed the Jewish feasts, so also He added this remaining thing, that He was obedient to having been baptised by a prophet. It was the will of God then, that all should be baptised -- about which listen, as John speaks: "He having sent me to baptise with water" (Jn 1:33); so also Christ: "the publicans and the people do justify God, having been baptised with the baptism of John; the pharisees and the lawyers reject the counsel of God concerning themselves, not having been baptised by him" (Lk 7:29-30). Thus, if obedience to God constitutes righteousness, and God sent John to baptise the nation, then Christ has also fulfilled this along with all the other commandments.
Consider, that the commandments of the law is the main point of the two denarii: this -- debt, which our race has needed to pay; but we did not pay it, and we, falling under such an accusation, are embraced by death. Christ came, and finding us afflicted by it -- He paid the debt, fulfilled the necessary and seized from it those, who were not able to pay. Wherefore He does not say: "it is necessary for us to do this or that," but rather "to fulfill every righteousness." "It is for Me, being the Master, -- says He, -- proper to make payment for the needy." Such was the reason for His baptism -- wherefore they should see, that He had fulfilled all the law -- both this reason and also that, about which was spoken of before. Wherefore also the Spirit did descend as a dove: because where there is reconciliation with God -- there also is the dove. So also in the ark of Noah the dove did bring the branch of olive -- a sign of God's love of mankind and of the cessation of the flood. And now in the form of a dove, and not in a body -- this particularly deserves to be noted -- the Spirit descended, announcing the universal mercy of God and showing with it, that the spiritual man needs to be gentle, simple and innocent, as Christ also says: "Except ye be converted and become as children, ye shalt not enter into the Heavenly Kingdom" (Mt 18:3). But that ark, after the cessation of the flood, remained upon the earth; this ark, after the cessation of wrath, is taken to heaven, and now this Immaculate and Imperishable Body is situated at the right hand of the Father.
Having made mention about the Body of the Lord, I shall also say a little about this, and then the conclusion of the talk. Many now will approach the Holy Table on the occasion of the feast. But some approach not with trembling, but shoving, hitting others, blazing with anger, shouting, cursing, roughing it up with their fellows with great confusion. What, tell me, art thou troubled by, my fellow? What disturbeth thee? Do urgent affairs, for certain, summon thee? At this hour art thou particularly aware, that these affairs of thine that thou particularly rememberest, that thou art situated upon the earth, and dost thou think to mix about with people? But is it not with a soul of stone naturally to think, that in such a time thou stand upon the earth, and not exult with the Angels with whom to raise up victorious song to God? For this Christ also did describe us with eagles, saying: "where the corpse is, there are the eagles gathered" (Mt 24:28) -- so that we might have risen to heaven and soared to the heights, having ascended on the wings of the spirit; but we, like snakes, crawl upon the earth and eat dirt. Having been invited to supper, thou, although satiated before others, would not dare to leave before others while others are still reclining. But here, when the sacred doings are going on, thou at the very middle would pass by everything and leave? Is it for a worthy excuse? What excuse might it be? Judas, having communed that last evening on that final night, left hastily then as all the others were still reclining.
Here these also are in imitation of him, who leave before the final blessing! If he had not gone, then he would not have made the betrayal; if he did not leave his co-disciples, then he would not have perished; if he had not removed himself from the flock, then the wolf would not have seized and devoured him alone; if he had separated himself from the Pastor, then he would not have made himself the prey of wild beasts. Wherefore he (Judas) was with the Jews, and those (the apostles) went out with the Lord. Dost thou see, by what manner the final prayer after the offering of the sacrifice is accomplished? We should, beloved, stand forth for this, we should ponder this, fearful of the coming judgement for this. We should approach the Holy Sacrifice with great decorum, with proper piety, so as to merit us more of God's benevolence, to cleanse one's soul and to receive eternal blessings, of which may we all be worthy by the grace and love for mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, to with Whom the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, power, and worship now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Why do we bless houses (and almost anything else that we can sprinkle) with water?
Many years ago, when I was yet a deacon, I was visiting with some non-Orthodox friends who were inquirers into Orthodoxy (they sadly, never followed through with their interest - or even their promise to become Orthodox) and we were discussing this topic in the context of blessing their house. I look at it like this. This world, this creation, is in captivity; it is enemy held territory. The evil one, having enslaved all of creation at the fall, has laid claim to every nook and cranny of this earth. And for a while it looked as though he might be able to hold onto it. But then he reached too far and attempted to enslave the Master of All and to bind Life with the chains of death and his power was broken. But creation is still fallen, it is still contested land in the spiritual battle.
We, as Christians, are engaged in this struggle to reclaim fallen nature for the Kingdom of God. We often talk about this in terms of our own salvation, but the Church, addressing all of creation in a wholistic manner, also reaches out and reclaims a bit here and a bit there of creation in general. We do this in order that we might restore the usefulness of creation for working out our own salvation. Hence we bless anything that might help us in our salvation - and by blessing it we reclaim it for the Kingdom of God.
There are few things more vital to our lives than our homes. In our homes we pray, we work, we talk to others, we order our lives, we work out our marriages, etc. What more important place to reclaim for the Kingdom of God - or is it better to continue living in a place which is occupied by the enemy. For the most effective working out of our salvation, we must drive the enemy out of our homes, and keep him at bay by our prayers, our righteous life, and the annual sprinkling by Holy Water at Theophany.
On January 3, 2009 in the Church of Our Lady the Joy of All Who Sorrow on the Big Ordynka before the Divine Liturgy, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations Volokolamsky Archbishop Hilarion conducted a rite of reception into the Church. On this day, 31 people who had at one time fallen away from the Church were received into the Church.
The ancient tradition of reception into the Church was revived by the A.S. Khomyakov "rehabilitation center for victims of non-traditional religions, which operates at the Church of Our Lady the Joy of All Who Sorrow" in 1995. The rite of reception is held twice a year, and is conducted for people who, being baptized Orthodox, left for another faith -- those who were initiated and were given a new name, as for example, in the eastern cults; those who engaged in meditation, practiced mantric reading; practiced witchcraft or healing.
DECR Chairman congratulated those present to return to the Church of Christ, noting that people are tempted and fall into the false doctrine of the sect for various reasons, but more often just because of the weakness and cowardice. "Leaders of sects are looking for people who are weak and dependent, who can not take responsibility for their decisions. It was they who were victims of such cults. Sects are for people spiritually weak, and the Church - for the people spiritually strong" - testified Archbishop Hilarion.
Bishop stressed that the return to the Church of Christ testifies to the courage of those present, but first and foremost an act of Divine Providence.
Archbishop urged the faithful to thank God for deliverance from mistakes, to live by the Gospel law, follow the path of salvation, anywhere without displacing and without flinching, and pray to the Lord, "that he drove out of your mind the false and erroneous views that have inspired you to where you until recently stayed."
DECR Chairman reminded that Christ came to earth, "not only to teach people the truths of faith, teach them moral teachings, but primarily in order to establish His Church here."
"The Church is a spiritual home for all who wish to follow the Savior. Today, you came into this house and were united with Christ. Live so as to never lose sight of Christ, the righteousness of God. Read the Gospel, come to confession, receive the Holy Mysteries, participate in the other sacraments of the Church. Let the Church be your spiritual home, but the Lord helps on your way to salvation, the kingdom of heaven "- Bishop Hilarion called upon the audience.
Source with pictures
Iraq De-Judaizing Ezekiel's Tomb
by Hillel Fendel
Israel National News
(IsraelNN.com) Early reports that Iraq plans to retain the Jewish nature of the Tomb of the Prophet Ezekiel are apparently false. Sources in Baghdad say that the government plans to turn it into a mosque and erase all Jewish markings.
Iraq announced earlier this year that it would revamp the ancient burial site, which is located in Al-Kifl, a small town south of Baghdad. The U.S.-backed government announcement implied that its Jewish nature would continue to be emphasized.
Since then, however, reports have surfaced that the government is actually planning to build a mosque there, including removing the ancient Hebew inscriptions that adorn the site. Some reports say that all or some of the lines of Hebrew script have already been erased.
Ezekiel (Yechezkel, in Hebrew), lived in the sixth century BCE, having accompanied the exiled Judeans to Babylon. His prophecies include the Vision of the Dry Bones, as well as the future return of Jewish People to the Land of Israel even if they are not deserving (Chapter 36: 22-25). Thousands of Jews often visited the site of his tomb annually before Iraqi Jewry came to an abrupt end in the middle of the 20th century, and Moslems and Christians continue to visit it even today.
Shelomo Alfassa, Director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, reports that Islamic political parties have pressured the government to remove the Jewish inscriptions. He quotes the Iraqi news agency Ur News as reporting that the writing and ornamentations “are being (or have been) removed… under the pretext of restoring the site.”
Alfassa quotes sources to the effect that Iraq’s Antiquities and Heritage Authority “has been pressured by Islamists to historically cleanse all evidence of a Jewish connection to Iraq - a land where Jews had lived for over a thousand years before the advent of Islam.”
Four months ago, a German-based Iraqi journalist tipped off the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq in Israel (AJAII) that plans were afoot to build a mosque on the site of Ezekiel’s Tomb. AJAII asked Dr. Jabbar Jamal al-Din, a lecturer in Jewish Thought at Kufa University in Iraq, to investigate these reports – and he said that he believes them to be untrue.
Baghdad Sources: Room for Concern
Sources in Baghdad, however, feel otherwise. Prof. Shmuel Moreh - Israel Prize Laureate in Arabic Literature and Professor Emeritus at Hebrew University of Jerusalem - told Israel National News that he had received worrisome phone calls from non-Jewish friends in Baghdad. Prof. Moreh, who serves as the Chairman of the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq, said that the plans are to turn the holy site into a mosque, and “some told me that they are taking off the Hebrew inscriptions.”
Alfassa provides the following translation of the relevant report in Ur News: “The officials of the Department of Antiquities and Heritage say that their restoration programme will continue until 2011 and is designed to carry out essential maintenance and prevent the dome and roof from collapsing. But their hidden purpose, sources say, is the removal of features that emphasize a historical connection with the Jews who built the shrine and lived in the city for hundreds of years after the Babylonian exile.”
Though well over 100,000 Jews lived in Iraq a few decades ago, this number has now been decimated to no more than eight, Prof. Moreh said. “There are others,” he added, “but they barely know that they are Jews; in many cases, their parents did not tell them.”
Alfassa concludes: “Iraq - the Biblical Mesopotamia -is almost as rich in Jewish history as the Land of Israel. The tomb of the prophet Ezekiel dates back to the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BCE. It was there in Iraq that Abraham discovered monotheism, and it is where the prophets Ezra, Nehemiah, Nahum, Jonah and Daniel are all buried.”
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Published: January 5, 2010
The New York Times
Ihor Sevcenko, a leading scholar of Byzantine and Slavic history and literature who as a young man persuaded George Orwell to collaborate with him on a Ukrainian translation of “Animal Farm” for distribution to refugees, died at his home in Cambridge, Mass., on Dec. 26. He was 87.
The cause was bone cancer, said his daughter Catherine.
Mr. Sevcenko (pronounced EE-gore Shev-CHEN-ko) was unrivaled among Byzantinists for the breadth of his linguistic expertise and the variety of his interests.
Ukrainian by background and Polish by upbringing, he had command of a dozen Slavic and Western languages in their ancient, medieval and modern forms. His elegantly written essays dealt with, among other topics, late Byzantine intellectual life, early Slavic history and literature, Byzantine saints’ lives and epigraphy (inscriptions), and Byzantine-Slavic cultural relations.
Perhaps his most fascinating, if uncharacteristic, literary contribution came shortly after World War II, when he worked with Ukrainians stranded in camps in Germany for displaced persons.
In April 1946 he sent a letter to Orwell, asking his permission to translate “Animal Farm” into Ukrainian for distribution in the camps. The idea instantly appealed to Orwell, who not only refused to accept any royalties but later agreed to write a preface for the edition. It remains his most detailed, searching discussion of the book.
Ihor Ivanovic Sevcenko was born on Feb. 10, 1922, in the village of Radosc, not far from Warsaw. His parents were Ukrainian nationalists, and his father had served in the interior ministry of the short-lived independent Ukraine created after the Bolshevik revolution.
After graduating from the Adam Mickiewicz Gymnasium and Lyceum in Warsaw, where he began his studies of Greek, Latin and French, Mr. Sevcenko earned a doctorate in classical philology, ancient history and comparative linguistics from the Deutsche Karls-Universität in Prague in 1945, adding German and Czech to his store of languages.
It was on April 11, 1946, that he approached Orwell for the first time. “About the middle of February this year I had the opportunity to read ‘Animal Farm,’ ” he wrote. “I was immediately seized by the idea that a translation of the tale in Ukrainian would be of great value to my countrymen.”
Orwell agreed, and in the special preface he wrote for Mr. Sevcenko, he explained the intentions and political ideas behind “Animal Farm.” He also described the incident — the sight of a local farm boy whipping a horse — that gave him the idea of creating a fictional world in which oppressed animals rise up against their tormentors.
Orwell’s English version of the preface has been lost. It exists today as a retranslation from Mr. Sevcenko’s Ukrainian text.
Mr. Sevcenko, combining his father’s first name and his mother’s maiden name to form the pen name Ivan Cherniatyns’kyi, turned “Animal Farm” into “Kolhosp Tvaryn,” one of the first translations of the book into any foreign language. About 2,000 copies were distributed to Ukrainian readers. The remaining 1,500 copies, to Orwell’s disgust, were handed over by unwitting Americans to Soviet repatriation officers at the camps, who destroyed them immediately.
At the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium, Mr. Sevcenko pursued further studies in classical philology and Byzantinology and took part in the renowned seminar in Byzantine history presided over by the great Byzantinist Henri Grégoire. In 1949 he was awarded a doctorate in philosophy and letters.
That year he came to the United States and, after teaching ancient and Byzantine history at the University of California, Berkeley, accepted a post in the department of Slavic languages and literatures at the University of Michigan.
He taught from 1957 to 1965 at Columbia University, when he was named a senior scholar at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, a center of Byzantine studies in the United States.
In 1973 he joined the classics department at Harvard as the Dumbarton Oaks professor of Byzantine history and literature. He retired in 1992.
His three marriages, to Oksana Draj-Xmara, Margaret Bentley and the art historian Nancy Patterson, ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter Catherine, of Alexandria, Va., he is survived by another daughter, Elisabeth, of Brooklyn, and three grandchildren.
Mr. Sevcenko once wrote that historians fell into two categories: “the brightly colored butterfly flitting about over a flower bed” and “the crawling caterpillar whose worm’s-eye view covers the expanse of a single cabbage leaf.”
He was both, a restlessly inquisitive but painstaking scholar whose wide-ranging interests embraced the cultural resurgence of late Byzantium, the literary (as opposed to documentary) qualities of Byzantine saints’ lives, the editing of Byzantine texts, and the history and culture of Ukraine, which he addressed in the book “Ukraine Between East and West” (1996).
His essay collections include “Society and Intellectual Life in Late Byzantium” (1981), “Ideology, Letters and Culture in the Byzantine World” (1982) and “Byzantium and the Slavs in Letters and Culture” (1991). At his death he had completed, after 20 years, a critical edition and translation of “The Life of Emperor Basil I,” the only secular biography in Byzantine literature.
See also this obituary that appeared the day prior to this piece in The Harvard Gazette.