On a skull in the ossuary of the Romanian Skete Prodromos on Mount Athos one can read the following inscription in Romanian: "Ce sunt eu, vei fi şi tu. Ce eşti tu, am fost şi eu." (translation: What I am, you will be, too. What you are, I've been myself.), reminding the reader the ephemerality of his life and the constant need to think of his own death.
Monday, January 11, 2010
On a skull in the ossuary of the Romanian Skete Prodromos on Mount Athos one can read the following inscription in Romanian: "Ce sunt eu, vei fi şi tu. Ce eşti tu, am fost şi eu." (translation: What I am, you will be, too. What you are, I've been myself.), reminding the reader the ephemerality of his life and the constant need to think of his own death.
Origin of life? Scientists Rule Out 'Metabolism First' Theory
January 10, 2010
A new study has rejected the long-held theory that the origin of life stems from a system of self-catalytic molecules capable of experiencing Darwinian evolution without the need of RNA, DNA and their replication.
The research, led by Mauro Santos of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, has demonstrated through the analysis of what some researchers name "compound genomes", these chemical networks cannot be considered evolutionary units as they lose properties which are essential for evolution when they reach a critical size and greater level of complexity.
The scientific theories on the origin of life revolve around two main ideas: one focuses on genetics -- with RNA or DNA replication as an essential condition for Darwinian evolution to take place -- and the other on metabolism.
It is clear that both situations must have begun with simple organic molecules formed by prebiotic processes.
The point in which these two theories differ is that the replication of RNA or DNA molecules is a far too complex process which requires a correct combination of monomers within the polymers to produce a molecular chain resulting from the replication, say scientists.
Until now no plausible chemical explanation exists for how these processes occurred. In addition, defenders of the second theory argue that the processes needed for evolution to take place depend on primordial metabolism.
The researchers in this study nevertheless reveal that these systems are incapable of undergoing a Darwinian evolution. For the first time a rigorous analysis was carried out to study the supposed evolution of these molecular networks using a combination of numerical and analytical simulations and network analysis approximations.
Their research demonstrated that the dynamics of molecular compound populations which divide after having reached a critical size do not evolve, since during this process the compounds lose properties which are essential for Darwinian evolution.
The researchers concluded this fundamental limitation of "compound genomes" should lead to caution towards theories that set metabolism first as the origin as life, even though former metabolic systems could have offered a stable habitat in which primitive polymers such as RNA could have evolved.
They say that different prebiotic Earth scenarios can be considered. However, the basic property of life as a system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution began when genetic information was finally stored and transmitted such as occurs in nucleotide polymers (RNA and DNA).
Read more here
Israel Land Sales Threaten to Split Greek Orthodox Church
Inter Press Service
Monday, January 11, 2010
OCCUPIED RAMALLAH: Israel’s bid to keep occupied East Jerusalem under its sovereignty and prevent its incorporation into a future Palestinian state has been aided over the years by the Greek Orthodox Church.
The church’s sale of politically sensitive land in East Jerusalem under dubious circumstances and amidst charges of political blackmail have caused outrage amongst Greek Orthodox Palestinians and threatened to split the church.
In a bid to prevent Jerusalem’s division, Israel has accelerated its Judaization of East Jerusalem which, under international law, is part of the occupied Palestinian West Bank and which Palestinians wish to see become the capital of their future state.
Palestinians have been expelled from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers whose illegal settlement there has been politically and economically encouraged by Israel.
Apart from social restrictions Palestinians are regularly denied building permits and those who build anyway, due to chronic housing shortages, face destruction of their homes by the Jerusalem municipality.
The crisis within the Palestinian Greek Orthodox Church came to a head Wednesday, the Orthodox Christmas Eve, when Palestinian riot police had to escort the patriarch of the church, Theophilos, into Bethlehem’s Manger Square to attend celebrations.
Several hundred Palestinian protestors from the Council of Arab Orthodox Institutions and Organizations in Palestine, representing 19 groups, booed his arrival and waved placards that read: “The Holy Land is not for sale or lease.”
A private car belonging to Theophilos’ entourage blared out Christmas music to try and drown out the protestors. Earlier, bands had welcomed the arrival of the Coptic Christian and the Syrian Patriarchs with music but the musicians packed up and left in protest of Theophilos’ arrival.
Elias Isaid, leader of the Greek Orthodox Club of Beit Sahour, stated: “Today’s demonstration is the start of our action against the patriarch.’’ He warned that the patriarch could be declared persona non-grata in Bethlehem if legitimate grievances were not taken into consideration.
The Greek Orthodox Church is the biggest private owner of land in Jerusalem and owns most of the land in the occupied West Bank on which the Christian religious sites, including the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem – where Christians believe Jesus was born – are built.
Much of this land was donated to it by Orthodox Christian Palestinians in the late 1800s. Over the last few decades the church has increased land sales to the Israeli authorities or leased land to them for a period of 999 years.
This has enabled Israel to build a number of large illegal Israeli settlements in the East Jerusalem area and created a corridor with other occupied West Bank settlements, effectively cutting off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.
But the church’s land sales have come against a background of corruption allegations. Nicholas Papadimas, a previous church treasurer in Jerusalem, was behind some of the sales before he fled the country and was charged in Greece with stealing church funds in a separate case.
Theophilos, on being appointed the patriarch in 2005 – replacing his widely discredited predecessor Patriarch Ireneos – had promised to stop selling Palestinian land.
Ireneos was accused of being behind secret land deals with two international Jewish investor groups. An Israeli court ruled that his 2001 election was illegal as it was helped by a convicted drug trafficker who discredited his rivals by using homoerotic pictures.
But Israeli authorities have used the church’s corruption and financial difficulties to their political advantage and applied additional political pressure to ensure that the choice of patriarchs allows the continuation of Israel’s land acquisition policies.
According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, several years ago when Theophilos was awaiting Israeli recognition, the state demanded that the Greek Orthodox patriarchy conduct a census of all church property in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and give Israel the first right of refusal on property up for sale or lease.
Israel also demanded that some properties in the area of Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate “remain in the hands of the Israeli lessees.”
Theophilos’ lawyers were told Israel’s recognition of the patriarch was dependent on those clauses being met.
One of the church’s Jerusalem properties was purchased with the involvement of the Ateret Cohanim association, which is dedicated to buying Arab property in Jerusalem and settling Jews there.
Controversy surrounds the Ateret Cohanim organization. Friends of Ateret Cohanim, which is registered in the US as an educational entity, sends millions of dollars of tax-free donations to Israel every year for political purposes, particularly buying Palestinian property in occupied East Jerusalem.
Nearly 60 percent of Ateret Cohanim’s money, raised in the US, goes into buying Palestinian land and property in the occupied territories.
American tax law bans tax-exempt organizations from any involvement in politics or the promotion of political ideas.
Ateret Cohanim’s political agenda was not lost on Israel’s Peace Now (PN) organization. Last year, PN organized a protest against a tour of Jerusalem by pro-Israeli Republican candidate Mike Huckabee which was sponsored by Ateret Cohanim.
Huckabee’s reception party was held at the Al-Quds Shepherd Hotel which was expropriated from its Palestinian residents to build new housing units for Jewish settlers. The US State Department demanded that Ateret Cohanim cease its plans to build apartments on the site.
“We believe that these moves will only breed more anger and distrust among Arabs in the capital,” the State Department said.
More here and here
PATRIARCHAL AND SYNODIC PRAXIS OF THE PATRIACHATE OF JERUSALEM IN CLASSIFYING TO THE HAGIOLOGION OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH, THE NEW HIEROMARTYR SAINT FILOUMENOS, MEMBER OF THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE AND SUPERIOR OF THE SHRINE AT JACOB'S WELL.
50th Session / September 11, 2009
The Holy Church of Christ in Jerusalem, founded on the divine-flowing blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, poured on Golgotha for the remission of sins and for the salvation of human kind, bore martyrs in its bosom, whose blood was shed as an offering and reciprocation of gratitude and love to Christ, who was willingly Crucified for them, and Resurrected from the dead.
First of these martyrs is the ‘proto martyr' and archdeacon Stephanos who, like his Saviour, had his life taken while praying for those who stoned him (Acts 7:60). Following him was Saint Jacob, the son of Zevedeos and brother of Evangelist Ioannis, whom "Herod the King killed with a sword" (Act. 12:1-2). After him was Saint Jacob, the Lord's brother and first Archbishop of the Church of Jerusalem, who was thrown from the ledge of the Temple, by the deniers of the Lord, and died as a martyr, praying for his persecutors. In his footsteps, his relative and heir to the Throne, Bishop of Jerusalem Simeon, in the days of Emperor Traianos, was tortured and crucified in Pella of Jordan, at the age of a hundred and twenty.
The apostolic period of the Church of Jerusalem is dignified by these four glorious spiritual jewels, but not less than the post-apostolic period of the Church, which is dignified by the beheaded Jerusalemite martyr Prokopios, by the Gaza martyrs Timotheos, Agapios and Thekla, by the beheaded martyr Pamfilos the founder of the Library of Caesarea, by the beheaded Promos and Elias in Askalon, Paul of Imneia, and by others true and admirable who were mercilessly tortured and died in martyrdom under the ruthless persecution of Diocletianos, in almost every city in the Holy Land of which " time would fail us to tell"(Heb. 11:32).
In this august chorus of martyrs of the first centuries in the life of the Church, who refused to denounce Christ, are also those who were persecuted during the following centuries in the name of Christ, for the truth and integrity of our Orthodox faith, such as the Patriarch of Jerusalem Zacharias who was abducted to Persia with the Holy Cross, and the Fathers of Saint Sabas monastery, who were slaughtered by the Persians.
In this holy charter are included the monks of the Order of Spoudeai who strove and gave their souls in defending the Holy Shrines, the tangible testimonies and proof of the earthly presence of our Saviour Jesus Christ. These included the notable by virtue and holiness, Patriarch of Jerusalem Leondios and the ever memorable member of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre Archimandrite Filoumenos, Superior of the Holy Monastery of Jacob's Well, who lived in our times.
He originated from Orounta, of the saint-giving island of Cyprus and arrived in Jerusalem at a young age, having from his devout parents an education and admonition of the Lord. He was also a novice monk at the Holy Monastery of Stavrovouni. He studied at the Patriarchal School, where he was distinguished and praised for his diligence and good ethos. Graduating from the school, he was ordained a schema monk and was integrated into the Order of Spoudeai, the guardians of the Holy and Vivifying Sepulchre of our Lord Jesus Christ. As a monk, he showed righteous imitation of the Saints and of the God-bearing Fathers of the Church. He was punctual in the everyday reading of the prayers and Church services, demonstrated temperance, fasting and frugality. When called upon to the axiom of priesthood by the Mother of Churches and he accepting, he proved to be a true steward of the mysteries of Christ to his commissioning to various holy shrines and in serving the flock as a Superior of: the Holy Monastery of the Saint Apostles of Tiberias, Superior of the Holy Monastery of Archangel Michael in Jaffa, Superior of the Holy Monastery of the Archangels in Jerusalem, director of the dormitory of the Patriarchal School, Superior of the Holy Convent of Saint Theodosios the superior of the cenobic life, Superior of the Monastery of the Prophet Elias and responsible for rite of the church ceremonies at the Monastic Church of the Brotherhood of Saints Constantine and Helen, Superior of the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ramallah, and lastly as Superior of the Holy Monastery of Jacob's Well in Nablus of Samaria.
He served at this "Jacob's well" (John 4:6) "In spirit and truth" (John 4:23), fulfilling the verses of the Lord's spoken commandment, "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth," (John 4:24) and although often threatened by a heterodox fanatic visitor to abandon the shrine, he never did.
He was at the Chapel of Jacob's Well performing the regular Vesper service, on the afternoon of 16th/29th November of 1979, when due to the hatred of the devil who hates good, he was deviously and violently attacked by a vile man who, with an axe, opened a deep cut across his forehead, cut off the fingers of his right hand and upon escaping threw a grenade which ended the Father's life.
The fragments of the grenade and drops of his blood left traces and stigmata that are still visible to this day on the walls of the Chapel, as an eternal memory of his martyrdom, crowning his sacred life. His life and his death is a confession of faith, a confession of blood, at the place where the Lord revealed to the Samaritan woman who said to Him "I know that Messiah is coming, He who is called Christ" (John 4:25) by telling her "I who speak to you am he" (John 4:26). Through his martyrdom he became a co-martyr with Saint Fotini the Samaritan, her sons and sisters. The central church is named in honour of her while the southern chapel within the church is dedicated and named after Saint Filoumenos, wherein his sacred relics are present and are a source of strength and healing to the faithful devotees who honour him. He is also a co-martyr with Saint Ioustinos the Philosopher and Martyr, who originates from Nablus, and is honoured in the northern chapel within the church.
Since Saint Filoumenos' death and martyrdom and from signs of God testified by people, he was already established as a martyred saint in the conscience of many honourable members of the church. Today, after the completion of thirty years since the day of his martyrdom, based on the Synodic decision of Our Holy and Sacred Synod, we officially place in the Synaxarion, the celebration of this new hieromartyr on this day of his martyrdom, 16th/29th of November each year, to the benefit of the souls and to the glory of Our Holy Triune God.
Today we announce this sacred ecclesiastical event to the congregation of the Church of Zion, and the sister Orthodox Churches so that from now onwards, they eternally celebrate the memory of the new hieromartyr Filoumenos with the intercessions of whom we may find grace and mercy so that with one voice and one heart we offer glory and praise to the glorified Holy Triune, our God who is glorified in His Saints.
Holy City of Jerusalem, September 11th 2009.
THEOPHILOS III Patriarch of Jerusalem
Metropolitan of Caesarea Vasilios
Metropolitan of Ptolemais Palladios
Metropolitan of Capitolias Issychios
Metropolitan of Eleftheroupolis Christodoulos, Elder Dragouman
Metropolitan of Philadelphia Venedictos
Metropolitan of Avila Dorotheos
Archbishop of Mt. Tabor Methodios
Archimandrite Kelladion, Elder Kamarasis
Archimandrite Demetrios, Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod
Archbishop of Constantina Aristarchos, Elder Chief Secretary
— Geronda, what books should be read by those who are beginning their spiritual search?
— First, they should read the New Testament to learn the meaning of Christ, to be shaken up a little; later they can read the Old Testament. Do you know how hard it is when they have read nothing and yet they come to ask for help? It is like an elementary school child going to a university professor and saying, “Help me.” What can the professor tell him? “One plus one equals two”? Others, again, are not spiritually restless; they come and say, “Father, I have no problems and I am just fine; I only dropped by to see you.” Man can never say that he has no problems, no concerns; he will have something. The struggle for the spiritual life never ends. Or some people come and tell me, “Tell us spiritual things.” It is as if they went to the grocery store and said, “Give us some groceries.” The grocer is at a loss and needs to know what they need. They need to say, “I want so much sugar, so much rice, and so on, but they only say, ‘Give us groceries.’ “It is like going to the pharmacy and saying, “Give us medicines,” without first saying what their illness is, or whether or not they went to the doctor, and what he advised them to do. Go figure! You see, whoever is seriously concerned over his spiritual condition knows, more or less, what he is lacking, and once he seeks it, he benefits.
As a novice, when I read something I liked, I wrote it down so as not to forget it, and I would try to apply it to my life. I didn’t readjust to pass my time pleasantly. I had a spiritual restlessness and, when I could not understand something, I would ask for an explanation. I read relatively little, but I checked myself a great deal on what I read. “What point am I at? What must I do?” I would sit myself down and go through such a self-examination. I did not allow what I read to pass me by untaxed.
Today with so much reading people end up like tape recorders, filling up their cassettes with superfluous matters. According to Abba Isaac, however, Wisdom not based on righteous activity is a deposit of disgrace.  You see, many who are interested in sports read sports magazines and newspapers while they are sitting. They may be like the fatted calf, but they still marvel at the athletes. “Oh he is marvellous! He is great! Bravo!” But they don’t work up any sweat, and they don’t lose any pounds. They read and read about athletic events, and then they go and lie down; they gain nothing. They are satisfied with the pleasure of reading. Some worldly people read newspapers, others romantic literature or an adventure novel, still others watch a football game at the stadium and pass their time. The same thing is done by some people who read spiritual books. They may spend the whole night reading spiritual books with great intensity and be content. They take a spiritual book, sit comfortably, and begin reading. “Oh, I profited from that,” they say. It would be better to say, “I enjoyed myself, I spent my time pleasantly.” But this is not profit.
We profit when we understand what we read, when we censure ourselves and discipline ourselves by applying it: “What does this mean? Where do I stand in relation to this spiritual truth? What must I do now?” After all, the more we learn, the more responsibility we have to live up to what we have learned. I am not saying that we should not read so that we can plead ignorance and therefore be free of responsibility, for this is a cunning deception; I am saying that we should not read merely to pass our time pleasantly. The bad thing is that if someone reads a lot and has a strong memory, he may remember many things and may even talk a lot about what he has read, and thus deceive himself into thinking that he also personally observes the many things he reads. So he has created an illusion toward himself and others. So don’t be comforted by the thought that you read a lot. Instead, turn your attention to applying what you have read. Much reading alone will only educate you encyclopaedically. Isn’t that what they call it?
— Yes, Geronda.
— The goal, however, is to be transformed in a God-centred manner. I am not aiming to be a university professor where I would need to know many things. But if I ever need something from this worldly knowledge, I can easily learn it once I have acquired the God-centred knowledge. Do you see what I mean?
— When one has a distraction, is it beneficial to concentrate through study?
— Yes, one should read a little, something very demanding, in order to warm the soul. This keeps distractions and concerns under the lid, and the mind is transposed into a divine realm. Otherwise, the mind is diverted by whatever task is preoccupying it.
— Geronda, when someone is tired or upset, he usually wants to read something light and easy, a short story or a novel, perhaps, or something like that.
— Is there no spiritual book that is appropriate for such times? The purpose is not to forget one’s worry, but to be redeemed. Such light reading does not redeem. Novels, newspapers and television have no value in developing a spiritual life. Quite often even some religious periodicals are damaging to Christians, because they stir a foolish zealousness that leads to confusion. Take care. Do not read unnecessary things during your free time. Some reading matter is completely hollow, like a water-pumpkin; it is like looking in a haystack to find a kernel of wheat. Some people say, “Yes, but they relax me.” But how can they be relaxing, my good man, if they make you dizzy and cause your eyes to ache? It is better to rest by sleeping. You can learn much about a person’s spiritual state from what he reads. One who is very worldly will probably be reading indecent magazines. One who is less worldly will read less indecent magazines and newspapers. One who is religious will read religious periodicals, or contemporary religious books or patristic texts, and so on.
— Geronda, which spiritual books are the most helpful?
— The various patristic texts, which thank God are available by the thousands today, are very helpful. One can find whatever one needs and desires in these books. They are authentic spiritual nourishment and a sure guide on the spiritual path. However, in order to be of benefit to us, they have to be read with humility and prayer. Patristic texts reveal the inner spiritual condition of the soul, much as axial tomography reveals the inner structures of the body. Each sentence of the patristic texts contains a multitude of meanings, and each person can interpret them according to their own spiritual state of being. It is better to read the ancient text rather than a translation, because the translator interprets the original verse according to his own spirituality. In any case, in order to understand the writings of the Fathers one must constrain oneself, focus and live spiritually, for the spirit of the Fathers is perceived through and by the spirit only. Especially helpful are the Ascetical Homilies by Saint Isaac the Syrian, but they must be studied slowly so that they can be assimilated little by little as spiritual food. The Evergetinos is truly of great benefit, because it gives us insight into the Whole spirit of the Holy Fathers, it is helpful because it describes the struggles of the Fathers against each and every one of the passions, and, by learning how they worked on the spiritual life, the soul is greatly assisted. Also, the Synaxaria, the Lives of the Saints, are sacred history and very helpful, especially for young people, but they should not be read as stories.
We do not need great knowledge to be devout. If we concentrate and meditate on the few things we know, our heart will be spiritually embroidered. One may be profoundly affected by a single hymn, while another may feel nothing, even though he may know all the hymns by heart, as he has not entered into the spiritual reality. So, read the Fathers, even one or two lines a day. They are very strengthening vitamins for the soul.
From Spiritual Awakening, Vol. II in the Spiritual Counsels series by Elder Paisios of Mount Athos (Souroti, Thessaloniki, Greece: Holy Monastery "Evangelist John the Theologian", 2008), pp. 109-114.
How the early Christians explained Mark 10:21
It seems much of the world is in for a slow recovery from the economic malaise of the past few years. What Christians aim to see "fixed" are not the fine points of banking laws, executive salaries, mortgage-backed securities regulations, or bankruptcy protections. Certainly, such changes have their place. Yet the Christian perspective must be far more holistic, pushing beyond corporate and governmental structures to the dispositions of individual people towards wealth and towards the financial, environmental, educational, legal, and social needs of the poor.
Should I buy a new, high-definition TV? Is universal healthcare a right? Should I expand my business? From what manufacturers should I buy my clothing? From the Christian perspective, every aspect of stewardship—time, talents, and money—should carry a concern to restore socio-economic injustice. Fortunately, Christians today not only benefit from the voices of current leaders but also may take advantage of the wisdom of those Christians who in earlier times wrestled with many of these same questions. Early Christianity provides us with a wealth of resources to retrain our minds to think Christianly about wealth, poverty, and the desire to resolve economic disparities.
Case in point: In Mark 10:21 (and the parallel text in Luke 18:22), Jesus told a rich young man that he needed to "sell all that he possessed" in order to be one of his followers. This was as jarring to the early Christian readers as it sounds to us today. Was Jesus suggesting that a person can be too rich for heaven? Early Christians were divided about the question before a consensus emerged around a critique of superfluous wealth.
Renunciation vs. detachment
The natural reading of Mark 10:21 is that Jesus called for a lifestyle of renunciation, that is to say, a disavowal both of wealth and of one's access to wealth. During the second century, some Christian writings taught as much. The Epistle of Barnabas, for example, exhorted its readers, "Treat as common all things with your neighbor, and do not say things are 'one's own,' for if you are sharers in incorruptible things, how much more ought you to be sharers in corruptible things!" The command not to call things "one's own" is also found in Didache 4.8, a late first-or second-century document, although it is less clear in Didache that the author held strictly to a renunciation view.
Even in the second century, however, the matter was the subject of some debate. In Against Heresies, Irenaeus of Lyons accepted that property is morally neutral. Property itself is not to blame; rather, one's use of property should be scrutinized. In fact, the possession of property is not a right, since everything one currently has is the result of someone else's earlier labor. Thus, the property one acquires is always to be used for a morally good purpose. Irenaeus recalled how the Israelites took wealth from the Egyptians just prior to their exodus (cf. Ex 12:35), only later redeeming it when they used it to build their temple. "And we are proved to be righteous by whatsoever else we do well, redeeming, as it were, our property from strange hands." The implication of this argument for later Christians was that, just because you labored in a field for a planting and harvesting season, you do not have the right to declare that all that is harvested from the field is your own. All property is the result of someone else's earlier labor. Someone in an earlier time acquired the raw materials. People in earlier times designed the tools used in harvesting or tradecrafts. Land and any rain that falls upon it are a divine gift and not the product of human labor. Thus, property could never really be considered "private" because no one person could ever claim to have produced every part of it!
Irenaeus's arguments resonated in the third century. One of the bishops of Alexandria, Clement, articulated what we now call a detachment view of wealth and property in Who Is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved? Clement's text specifically addressed Jesus' teaching in Mark 10, and he applied a spiritual style of exegesis that had gained some currency in his day. A spiritual reading of the text was necessary, argued Clement, for Jesus would otherwise be requiring the renunciation of property in one text while requiring that we regularly share our resources with the poor in another text (cf. Matt 25).
"If no one had anything, what room would be left among men for giving? And how can this dogma fail to be found plainly opposed to and conflicting with many other excellent teachings of the Lord? … How could one give food to the hungry, and drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and shelter the houseless, for not doing which He threatens with fire and the outer darkness, if each man first divested himself of all these things?" (Clement, Who is the Rich Man that Shall be Saved 13)
Clement articulated a vision for wealth and property in which a person may freely possess what he or she needs or is useful to him or her, but must give all that is superfluous to the poor or otherwise needy. Clement therefore opened a more fruitful course of inquiry: how much is enough?
The rich and the merciless
Clement's critique of superfluous wealth became the standard interpretation of Mark 10:21 for later Christian preachers and theologians. Yet the renunciation view never fully disappeared. In the mid-fourth century, Epiphanius condemned adherents to a renunciation view in his Panarion. A fifth-century Pelagian text, "On Riches," insisted that only renunciation of property and wealth would ensure elimination of poverty for others. Even so, more and more of the ecclesiastical elite articulated the detachment view.
One of Clement's early successors in Alexandria, Peter, preached on the need for detachment from property in his sermon On Riches. Peter said two important things that were echoed in many later Christian texts. First, he argued that God makes a distinction between the rich person and the merciless rich person. The former liberally dispenses his superfluous wealth to the poor; the latter is consumed with thoughts of wealth and despises the needs of the poor. Only the merciful rich person has standing before God. Second, Peter argued that there is a direct connection between the giving of alms by a rich person and that person's fate after death. The distribution of alms to the poor is the starting point for those with greater financial means who wish to ensure that their wealth is not a hindrance to their relationship with God.
So Clement and then Peter set the stage for Christian teaching about Mark 10 that continued throughout late antiquity (and, arguably, continues in our own day). The mid-to late-fourth century theologian Gregory of Nazianzus preached a homily encouraging love for the poor, particularly those with serious health problems. He observed in his homily that inordinate affection for property was responsible for the strife between persons and between nations.
"Men squirrel away gold and silver and quantities of soft and superfluous clothes and glittering jewels and similar items that bear the stamp of war and dissension and of the first act of rebellion, and then in their folly arch their brows and refuse to show compassion towards the unfortunate among their kinsmen." (Gregory, Oration 14.25)
Love for the poor begins, in part, with the recognition that wealth and property truly belong only to God. Similarly, in his homily The Unjust Steward, Asterius of Amasea, a near contemporary of Gregory's, balanced a concern for the temporariness of property with each person's responsibility towards God. Everyone will be obliged one day to give an account before God of his or her use of wealth and property.
A test of virtue
Bridging the fourth and fifth centuries was the preaching career of John Chrysostom. In several homilies Chrysostom framed the wealth question this way: Wealth exists to test human virtue, and whether or not we are virtuous depends on the extent to which we willingly give of our possessions to the poor. In his Homilies on Matthew, he argued giving to the poor is, in fact, giving to them what was already theirs in the first place. God has simply entrusted the rich with the responsibility to dispense it. This is echoed in his Homilies on 2 Corinthians, in which he defined superfluous property as all things that go beyond what is needed to live healthfully and respectably.
"I require you to cut off superfluities and to desire a sufficiency alone. Now the boundary of sufficiency is the using those things which it is impossible to live without. No one keeps you from these nor forbids you your daily food. I say food, not feasting; raiment, not ornament …. [T]hat is superfluous which is more than we need." (John Chrysostom, Hom. 2 Cor 19.3-4)
He exhorted his hearers not to spend their money on unnecessary things, which are not really theirs at all—they ultimately belong to God and to his designated heirs, the poor. Furthermore, he taught that a gradual reduction in one's concern for the body will lead to a gradual reduction of one's acquisition of superfluous property and, correspondingly, a gradual increase in one's willingness to give alms.
Can you be too rich for heaven? According to the early Christians, the answer is most certainly yes. When they read Mark 10:21, they understood Jesus to be saying that superfluous wealth is a clear hindrance to a relationship with God. They appreciated the temporariness of wealth and property, which corresponds to the temporariness of human life on earth. They also recognized that God will require of the rich an account of how they managed that wealth for the benefit of the needy. Finally, the early Christians acknowledged that God intended all of creation to be for the benefit of all. They believed God intended for the rich and poor to share with one another—even if that was conceived in so simple terms as the rich sharing their superfluous wealth and the poor sharing their life of prayer and nearness to God.
Brian J. Matz is assistant professor of historical theology at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. He has doctoral degrees in both early Christian studies and social ethics. Dr. Matz was a research staff member with the Centre for Catholic Social Thought at the Catholic University of Leuven from 2005-2009.
For Further Reading
Charles Avila, Ownership: Early Christian Teaching (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1983)
Louis William Countryman, The Rich Christian in the Church of the Early Empire: Contradictions and Accomodations (New York: Edward Mellen Press, 1980)
Rainer Kampling, "'Have We Not Then Made a Heaven of Earth?' Rich and Poor in the Early Church," Concilium 22 (1986): 51-62.
John A. McGuckin, "The Vine and the Elm Tree: The Patristic Interpretation of Jesus' Teaching on Wealth," in The Church and Wealth: Papers Read at the 1986 Summer Meeting and the 1987 Winter Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, eds. W.J. Shiels and Diana Wood (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987)
Two recent scandals have emerged regarding the greed of certain clergy and monastics.
It was recently reported that on 5 August 2009 Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto issued a letter to all his clergy to stop "demanding tips" for their liturgical services such as any of the Holy Mysteries, funerals, etc. The Metropolitan issued his stern letter because it has reached such a point in Canada that some clergy have demanded tips from the faithful for just about anything they do. Noticing that this has bothered some of the faithful, he decided to take action and to forbid any clergyman from demanding tips for any service whatsoever. He explained that tips are a gift by the faithful for the priest's services on top of their slary, and should not be viewed as part of their salary. He has warned his clergy that if they are caught demanding tips in the future, he will take stern action against them. "Do you want to be liturgists and servants of the living God or idolaters?" he asks in his letter. "Do not lower your priesthood so much" he demanded. Metropolitan Sotirios also revealed that he never takes any tips and has refused even his salary since he turned 65.
It was also reported that on January 7th at 2:00AM a priestmonk from the Holy Monastery of Saint Panteleimon in Penteli was caught with pliers and a flashlight trying to get into the donation box of the church. Monks from the monastery saw what he was doing and called the police who took him in custody to the district attorney on charges of theft.
Romfea.gr has been doing an excellent job reporting these scandals in the hopes that shame would prevent such scandals from demoralizing the faithful.
January 7, 2010
Evolution News and Views
When Tiktaalik was reported in 2006, the media went Darwin-happy over the discovery of an alleged transitional fossil. BBC News announced, "Fossil animals found in Arctic Canada provide a snapshot of fish evolving into land animals." At MSNBC, Tiktaalik co-discoverer Ted Daeschler was quoted boasting that, "If one considers adaptation as a process of collecting tools to live in a new environment, the new finding offers 'a snapshot of the toolkit at this particular point in this evolutionary transition.” The article even postured Tiktaalik as an actual ancestor of tetrapods, stating: "Scientists have caught a fossil fish in the act of adapting toward a life on land, a discovery that sheds new light on one of the greatest transformations in the history of animals." But this week Tiktaalik’s status as an actual transitional fossil between fish and tetrapods has been called into question by the discovery of unambiguous footprints (with digits) of a full-tetrapod that were made about 20 million years before Tiktaalik. An article in Nature explains the havoc wreaked by these footprints:
"The fish–tetrapod transition was thus seemingly quite well documented. There was a consensus that the divergence between some elpistostegalians (such as Tiktaalik or Panderichthys) and tetrapods might have occurred during the Givetian, 391–385 Myr ago. Coeval with the earliest fossil tetrapods, trackways dating to the Late Devonian were evidence for their ability to walk or crawl on shores.
"Now, however, Niedźwiedzki et al. lob a grenade into that picture. They report the stunning discovery of tetrapod trackways with distinct digit imprints from Zachemie, Poland, that are unambiguously dated to the lowermost Eifelian (397 Myr ago). This site (an old quarry) has yielded a dozen trackways made by several individuals that ranged from about 0.5 to 2.5 metres in total length, and numerous isolated footprints found on fragments of scree. The tracks predate the oldest tetrapod skeletal remains by 18 Myr and, more surprisingly, the earliest elpistostegalian fishes by about 10 Myr."
(Philippe Janvier & Gaël Clément, "Muddy tetrapod origins," Nature Vol. 463:40-41 (January 7, 2010).)
The fossil tetrapod footprints indicate Tiktaalik came over 10 million years after the existence of the first known true tetrapod. Tiktaalik, of course, is not a tetrapod but a fish, and these footprints make it very difficult to presently argue that Tiktaalik is a transitional link between fish and tetrapods. It’s not a “snapshot of fish evolving into land animals,” because if this transition ever took place it seems to have occurred millions of years before Tiktaalik.
Tiktaalik's Place in the Fossil Record: A Failed Prediction of Evolution
Some, such as Tiktaalik co-discoverer Neil Shubin, have turned Tiktaalik's place in the fossil record into an argument neo-Darwinism. As Shubin said in PBS's Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial:
"What evolution enables us to do is to make specific predictions about what we should find in the fossil record. The prediction in this case is clear-cut. That is, if we go to rocks of the right age, and the rocks of the right type, we should find transitions between two great forms of life, between fish and amphibian. ...What we see when we look at the fossil record, at rocks of just the right age, is a creature like Tiktaalik."
The New York Times presaged Shubin's argument, first reporting on Tiktaalik that "the scientists concluded that Tiktaalik was an intermediate between the fishes Eusthenopteron and Panderichthys, which lived 385 million years ago, and early tetrapods. The known early tetrapods are Acanthostega and Ichthyostega, about 365 million years ago." But would neo-Darwinism have predicted true tetrapods from 397 million years ago? Definitely not: Janvier and Clément said it best: these tracks are "anachronistic." Tetrapod paleontologist Jenny Clack said the track discovery" blows the whole story out of the water." Or as a Nature news story put it, these tetrapod tracks are "more than 18 million years before tetrapods were thought to have evolved."
So where are the fish that turned into tetrapods? According to Nature, they must exist in the "'ghost range' — that is, a period of time during which members of the groups should have been present but for which no body fossils have yet been found." Shubin's arguments that these fossils confirm a "specific prediction" of evolution appear to have been wrong. (But don't expect a correction from PBS anytime soon.)
Lessons to be Learned
In 2007, Stan Guthrie discussed in Christianity Today about whether media hype on transitional forms should be believed. Saying he’s always “secretly identified with the apostle Thomas,” Guthrie wrote:
"Last year, however, came word of Tiktaalik roseae, which looks discomfitingly like those offensive 'Darwin fishes' on the cars of smug college professors. Giddy evolutionists immediately hailed the 375-million-year-old fossil as a 'missing link' between fish and land animals. 'It's a really amazing, remarkable intermediate fossil,' scientist Neil H. Shubin told The New York Times. 'It's like, holy cow.'
"So what's a Doubting Thomas to do? First, we need to remember that scientists have hailed 'missing links' before, only to be embarrassed when further evidence came out. The Discovery Institute, which supports Intelligent Design, noted that enthusiasm over this latest find is a backhanded admission by paleontologists that the fossil record has not been kind to Darwin's theory."
These are good words; unfortunately, Guthrie then goes on to quote and endorse theistic evolutionists such as Francis Collins who basically fully capitulate to the claims of neo-Darwinists without much sign of a willingness to doubt. Guthrie quotes Collins saying, "The evidence mounts every day to support the concept that we and all other organisms on this planet are descended from a common ancestor," and that "the theory of evolution is really no longer a theory in the sense of being untested. It is a theory in the sense of gravity. It is a fact." But yet we see the "facts" of neo-Darwinism constantly being revised. Last year alone:
*Archaeopteryx was challenged as an intermediate between dinosaurs and birds
*Theropod dinosaurs were challenged as the ancestors of birds
*Ardi was hyped as human ancestor based upon questionable evidence
*Ida was the "link" that went bust
2010 is only a few days old and already one of the newest icons of neo-Darwinism — Tiktaalik — is coming under heavy fire. Perhaps when it comes to neo-Darwinism, Collins and those who follow him would do better to insist on taking the approach of Doubting Thomas after all.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
A Homily About Contentment With That Which is Most Necessary To Us
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
"If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that." (I Timothy 6:8).
The apostles of God taught others that which they themselves fulfilled in their own lives. When they had food and clothing they were content. Even when it occurred that they had neither food nor clothing they were content. For their contentment did not emanate from the outside but emanated from within. Their contentment was not so cheap as the contentment of an animal, but costly, more costly and more rare. Internal contentment, the contentment of peace and love of God in the heart, that is the contentment of greater men, that was the apostolic contentment.
In great battles, generals are dressed and fed as ordinary soldiers and they do not seek contentment in food nor in clothes but in victory. Victory is the primary principle of contentment of those who battle. Brethren, Christians are constantly in battle, in battle for the victory of the spirit over the material, in battle for conquest of the higher over the lower, man over beast. Is it not, therefore, absurd to engage in battle and not to worry about victory but to concern oneself with external decorations and ornaments? Is it not foolish to give to one's enemies the marks of identification? Our invisible enemy [Satan] rejoices at our vanity and supports us in every vain thought. The invisible enemy occupies us with every possible unreasonable pettiness and idleness only to impose upon our minds the heavy forgetfulness relative to that for which we are here on earth. The invisible enemy [Satan] presents to us the worthless as important, the irrelevant as essential and that which is detrimental as beneficial only in order to achieve victory and to destroy us forever.
O Lord, Holy, Mighty and Immortal, Who created us from the mud and breathed a living soul into mud; do not allow, O Lord, that the mud overwhelm us! Help our spirit that it always be stronger than the earth.
Having finished the course with a Master's Degree, Hieromonk Theophan was assigned as temporary rector of the Kiev-Sofia Theological School. In the years that followed, he held various administrative and teaching positions in different seminaries and academies, but such scholarly work did not satisfy him and he petitioned to be discharged from academic service.
In 1859, he was consecrated Bishop for Tambov, where he established a Diocesan school for girls. During his stay in the Tambov, St Theophan came to love the isolated Vysha Hermitage. In the summer of 1863, he was transferred to Vladimir, where he served for three years. Here too, he opened a Diocesan school for girls. He often served in church, travelled much throughout the Diocese, preached constantly, restored churches, and wholeheartedly lived with his flock, sharing with them both joy and sorrow.
In 1866, Bishop Theophan petitioned to be relieved as Bishop of Vladimir and was appointed head of the Vysha Hermitage, and soon, at a new petition of his, he was freed even from this duty. It was difficult for Bishop Theophan in the midst of the world and those demands to which one must yield because of human corruption. This was one reason that induced him to leave his Diocese and retire into solitude. In addition, his unlimited goodness of heart, meekness as a dove's, his trust of people and indulgence of them-all this indicated that it was not for him to live amidst the irreconcilable quarrels of vain worldly life. It was very difficult for him to be a leader, especially in such an important position as that of Bishop. His trust could be abused; he could never give necessary reprimands. Besides this, he felt the call to devote all his energies to spiritual writing. As for himself personally, he wished to give up all his thoughts to God alone, Whom he loved absolutely. He desired that nothing might disturb the complete communion with God that was so dear to him, and so he left the world to be alone with God.
In reclusion, invisible to people, he became a public figure of enormous magnitude. He sought only the Kingdom of God, and his great significance for the world was added to him. The first six years the Bishop went to all services and to the early Liturgy. In church, he stood without moving, without leaning, with eyes closed to stop being distracted, and on feast days, he usually officiated.
Beginning in 1872 AD, however, he discontinued all intercourse with people except for the chief priest and his confessor. He went no longer to the monastery church, but built with his own hands in his chambers a small church dedicated to the Baptism of the Lord. For the first ten years, he served the Liturgy in this church every Sunday and feast day, and for the next eleven years everyday. He served completely alone, sometimes in silence, but sometimes singing.
He seemed to be no longer a man, but an angel with a childlike meekness and gentle ness. When people came to him on business, he said what was necessary and returned to prayer. He ate only enough so as not to ruin his health. Everything that he received he sent by mail to the poor, leaving himself only enough to buy necessary books. From his publications, which were quickly distributed, he received nothing, hoping only that they might be sold as cheaply as possible
In the rare moments when he was free from prayer, reading, or writing, he occupied himself with manual labour. He painted excellent icons and was skilled in woodcarving and the locksmith's trade. Every day Bishop Theophan received between 20 and 40 letters, and he answered them all. With extraordinary sensitivity he penetrated to the spiritual situation of the writer and warmly, clearly, and in detail replied to this confession of a distressed soul. In addition to this enormous flow of correspondence, the years of reclusion also produced a wealth of books. These include works on moral theology, such as "The Path to Salvation", "What the Spiritual Life is and How to Attune Oneself to it", commentaries on Holy Scripture, and translations, among which is to be found the spiritual classic "Unseen Warfare".
The life of Bishop Theophan passed unseen by the world, and death too came to him in solitude. Beginning January 1, 1891, there were several irregularities in his schedule. On the afternoon of January 6, his cell-attendant noticed that the Bishop was weak and looking into his room, he found the Bishop lying on the bed lifeless. His left arm rested on his breast and his right arm was folded as if for a Bishop's blessing. He had died on the very day of his most beloved Feast, to which his chapel was dedicated. The Saint's body remained in the small church in his cell for three days, and for three days it was in the Cathedral-and there was no corruption. When he was clothed in his Bishop's vestments, the face of the dead man was brightened by a joyful smile.
Everything was extremely simple in Bishop Theophan's cell. The walls were bare, the furniture old. There was a trunk with instruments for lathe-work, carpentry, bookbinding; photographic equipment, a bench for sawing, a joiner's bench, and numerous books written in Russian, Slavonic, Greek, French, German, and English. Among them were: a complete collection of the Holy Fathers; a theological encyclopaedia in French in 150 volumes, the works of the philosophers Hegel, Fichte, Jacobi, and others; works on natural history by Humboldt, Darwin, Fichte, and others. One calls to mind his words, "It is good to understand the structure of plants, of animals, especially of man, and the laws of life; in them is revealed the wisdom of God, which is great in everything".
The great Hierarch is hidden from us in body, but his spirit lives in the divinely wise printed works that he left. Archbishop Nicander of Vilna described Bishop Theophan as a universal Christian teacher, even though he did not speak; a public figure, though in reclusion; a preacher of the Church who was heard everywhere, even though in his last years he appeared in no Church See. A bright lamp of Christ's teaching for Orthodox people, even though he concealed himself from the people's gaze; possessing scarcely a sufficiency of earthly goods, yet enriching all with the spiritual wealth of his teaching. He sought after no temporal, earthly glory, yet glorified now by all those who have been inspired by his writings to follow this holy recluse on the path to salvation, a path that leads to constant prayer and the state of being alone in one's heart with God.
From Orthodox Word, July-August, 1966
"God abandons no one. For Him all are children. None are stepchildren. And the hard occasions and situations - all is sent for our benefit."
"Attention to that which transpires in the heart and proceeds from it - this is the chief activity of the proper Christian life."
"You must watch after yourself."
"Descend with your attention into the heart, stand there before the Lord and admit nothing sinful to enter there. In this is the entire activity of inner warfare."
"Mercilessness to oneself, readiness to perform any favor to others and the surrender of oneself entirely to the Lord with a prayerful abiding in Him - these are the creators of the spiritual life."
"You must kill egoism. If you don't kill it yourself, then the Lord, hammer-blow after hammer-blow, shall send various misfortunes, so as to crush this stone."
"Self-pleasing and self-pity testify that in the heart abides the ego, and not the Lord."
"Vain fussing about is not made up of many tasks, but of the manner in which they are carried out. When one is being carried out and hundreds jostle in your head. You must chase all those out, and carry out the one task, and do it with your hands at that, while with your mind abide in your place."
"A Christian without zeal is a poor Christian."
Apolytikion to St. Theophan
The truth of things hath revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, an icon of meekness, and a teacher of temperance. For this cause thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty, O Father and Hierarch Theophan. Intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.
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.