Sunday, February 28, 2010

Anthropomorphisms of God In Scripture


[Interestingly a report was released today in Science Daily titled "Does the Devil Really Wear Prada? The Psychology of Anthropomorphism and Dehumanization". With today being the feast of St. John Cassian, I thought I would provide his response, since this was an issue in his day known as the Anthropomorphite heresy. - J.S.]

St. John Cassian, Institutes, Book 8:

CHAPTER III: Of Those Things Which Are Spoken of God Anthropomorphically

FOR if when these things are said of God they are to be understood literally in a material gross signification, then also He sleeps, as it is said, "Arise, wherefore sleepest thou, O Lord?"[1] though it is elsewhere said of Him: "Behold he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep."[2] And He stands and sits, since He says, "Heaven is my seat, and earth the footstool for my feet:"[3] though He "measure out the heaven with his hand, and holdeth the earth in his fist."[4] And He is "drunken with wine" as it is said, "The Lord awoke like a sleeper, a mighty man, drunken with wine;"[5] He "who only hath immortality and dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto:"[6] not to say anything of the "ignorance" and "forgetfulness," of which we often find mention in Holy Scripture: nor lastly of the outline of His limbs, which are spoken of as arranged and ordered like a man's; e.g., the hair, head, nostrils, eyes, face, hands, arms, fingers, belly, and feet: if we are willing to take all of which according to the bare literal sense, we must think of God as in fashion with the outline of limbs, and a bodily form; which indeed is shocking even to speak of, and must be far from our thoughts.

CHAPTER IV: In What Sense We Should Understand the Passions and Human Arts Which are Ascribed to the Unchanging and Incorporeal God.

AND so as without horrible profanity these things cannot be understood literally of Him who is declared by the authority of Holy Scripture to be invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible, inestimable, simple, and uncompounded, so neither can the passion of anger and wrath be attributed to that unchangeable nature without fearful blasphemy. For we ought to see that the limbs signify the divine powers and boundless operations of God, which can only be represented to us by the familiar expression of limbs: by the mouth we should understand that His utterances are meant, which are of His mercy continually poured into the secret senses of the soul, or which He spoke among our fathers and the prophets: by the eyes we can understand the boundless character of His sight with which He sees and looks through all things, and so nothing is hidden from Him of what is done or can be done by us, or even thought. By the expression "hands," we understand His providence and work, by which He is the creator and author of all things; the arms are the emblems of His might and government, with which He upholds, rules and controls all things. And not to speak of other things, what else does the hoary hair of His head signify but the eternity and perpetuity of Deity, through which He is without any beginning, and before all times, and excels all creatures? So then also when we read of the anger or fury of the Lord, we should take it not according to an unworthy meaning of human passion, but in a sense worthy of God, who is free from all passion; so that by this we should understand that He is the judge and avenger of all the unjust things which are done in this world; and by reason of these terms and their meaning we should dread Him as the terrible rewarder of our deeds, and fear to do anything against His will. For human nature is wont to fear those whom it knows to be indignant, and is afraid of offending: as in the case of some most just judges, avenging wrath is usually feared by those who are tormented by some accusation of their conscience; not indeed that this passion exists in the minds of those who are going to judge with perfect equity, but that, while they so fear, the disposition of the judge towards them is that which is the precursor of a just and impartial execution of the law. And this, with whatever kindness and gentleness it may be conducted, is deemed by those who are justly to be punished to be the most savage wrath and vehement anger. It would be tedious and outside the scope of the present work were we to explain all the things which are spoken metaphorically of God in Holy Scripture, with human figures. Let it be enough for our present purpose, which is aimed against the sin of wrath, to have said this that no one may through ignorance draw down upon himself a cause of this evil and of eternal death, out of those Scriptures in which he should seek for saintliness and immortality as the remedies to bring life and salvation.

1. Ps. 43 [44]:23.

2. Ps. 120 [121]:4.

3. Isa. 46:1.

4. Isa. 40:12.

5. Ps. 77 [78]:65.

6. 1 Tim. 6:16.

"If Palamas Is A Saint, Then Let Him Drown Us"


Once in Thera (Santorini), on the day of the commemoration of Saint Gregory Palamas, which was the Second Sunday of the Great Fast, some Latins were sailing on a certain boat for recreation. They placed their children on a separate boat, who then began to clap their hands saying: "Anathema to Palamas! If Palamas is a Saint, then let him drown us." With such things were the little Franks blaspheming, and O the strange wonder, my brethren! O the Saintliness and the boldness before God of divine Gregory! At the same time as they were uttering their blasphemies, without a single disturbance of the waters, and in calm weather, the boat sunk together with all those who were in it. This happened for the blasphemy they uttered, saying: "If he is a Saint, let him drown us." And while the bodies of the blasphemers sunk in the ocean, their profane souls sunk into the eternal fires of hell, confirming the sainthood of divine Gregory.

- Nektarios, Patriarch of Jerusalem (1660-1669)

Saint Gregory Palamas and His Family


The Significance of Gregory Palamas for Orthodoxy


We can see quite clearly the great significance of his teaching for Orthodoxy on the important question of epistemology. When we say epistemology we mean the knowledge of God and, to be precise, we mean the way which we pursue in order to attain knowledge of God. The situation in St. Gregory's time was that Orthodoxy was being debased; it was becoming worldly and being changed into either pantheism or agnosticism. Pantheism believed and taught that God in his essence was to be found in all nature, and so when we look at nature we can acquire knowledge of God. Agnosticism believed and taught that it was utterly impossible for us to know God, just because He is God and man is limited, and therefore man was completely incapable of attaining a real knowledge of God.

In the face of this great danger St. Gregory Palamas developed the fundamental teaching of the Church concerning the great mystery of the indivisible distinction between the essence and energy of God. We must underline that this is not the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas alone, but of the Orthodox Church, and therefore this theology cannot be called Palamism. Many fathers have referred to the distinction between essence and energy. We find it in the Bible, in the first Apostolic Fathers, in the Cappadocian Fathers, and especially in Basil the Great and that great dogmatic theologian of the Church, St. John of Damascus. St. Gregory Palamas, with his outstanding theological ability, developed further this already existing teaching and put forward its practical consequences and dimensions.

It is very characteristic that this distinction began to be noted in discussions about the Holy Spirit. The Calabrian philosopher Barlaam maintained that we could not know just what the Holy Spirit is, especially His procession and His being sent by the Son. In the face of the danger of agnosticism St. Gregory Palamas taught that the actual procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father is a different thing from His being sent by the Son. Thus while we do not know the essence of the Holy Spirit, we do know His energy.

All spiritual life is a result and fruit of the energy of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the saint taught, we cannot participate in God's essence, but we can know and participate in His energies. As the great dogmatic theologian St. John of Damascus teaches, we can see His three unions: union in essence, of the Persons of the Holy Trinity; union in substance, in the Person of Christ between the divine and human natures; and union in energy, between God and man.

In this way St. Gregory preserves the true teaching of the Church. If in the time of Athanasios the Great, men doubted the divinity of Christ, in St. Gregory's time they had doubts about God's energies. They said that His energies are created. Therefore in the dismissal hymn of the saint we sing: "Illuminator of Orthodoxy, supporter and teacher of the Church, spiritual beauty of the monastics, irrefutable champion of the theologians...".

The common mind of the Church recognises St. Gregory Palamas, the Hagiorite saint, as a great Father of the Church, an Ecumenical teacher, and includes him with the Three Hierarchs and the three great theologians of the Church. The characterization of theologian which has been given to him, has made him an elect member of the company of the Holy Fathers. St. Gregory is truly "an invincible champion of the theologians".

But also synodically the Church has characterised him as an unerring father, teacher and theologian. The Synodal Tome of 1347 refers to this great Hagiorite saint, saying:

"But also if anyone else at all is ever caught either thinking or saying or writing against the said most worthy priestmonk Gregory Palamas and the monks with him, or rather against the holy theologians and this Church, we both vote against him for these things and put him under this condemnation, whether he be of the hierarchy or the laity. We have many times proclaimed most worthy this respected priestmonk Gregory Palamas and the monks agreeing with him. They neither write nor think anything that differs from the divine words, having examined them and understood them exactly. And they champion the divine words, or rather our common devotion and tradition in all ways, as is proper, defending them as in every respect higher than what not only they but also the Church of God and the former synodal volume regard as sophistries. And we also declare them to be very safe defenders of the Church and its faith, and its champions and helpers."

This synodal text highlights the three following truths which all Christians should recognise.

First, St. Gregory Palamas is characterised as a simple and safe teacher of the Church.

Second, the teaching of St. Gregory about the distinction of essence and energy, about man’s participation in the uncreated energy of God and about the hesychastic way of life is a teaching of the Church and a canon of godliness and life.

Third, anyone who denies and undervalues St. Gregory Palamas, as well as the hesychastic life which he lived and taught, is excommunicated from the Orthodox Church.

All these things show the great value of St. Gregory, but also the value of the Holy Mountain, with its hesychastic tradition, which is preserved to this day by the Hagiorite Fathers. This tradition of hesychasm is the greatest treasure of the Holy Mountain, a hope for the world and a true life for Christians.

Rejection of the Holy Mountain and the hesychastic tradition is in reality a denial of the Orthodox Tradition and a departure from the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church".

Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Light of Orthodoxy, pillar and teacher of the Church, adornment of monastics, invincible champion of theologians, O Gregory, wonderworker, boast of Thessalonica, herald of grace: ever pray that our souls be saved.

Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
With one accord, we praise you as the sacred and divine vessel of wisdom and clear trumpet of theology, O our righteous Father Gregory of divine speech. As a mind that stands now before the Primal Mind, do you ever guide aright and lead our mind to Him, that we all may cry: Hail, O herald of grace divine.


Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos of Naupaktos, Saint Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite, excerpts from Chs. 1 and 13.

"You Feed on Men's Flesh and Blood"

St. Nicholas of Pskov, the Fool for Christ (Feast Day - February 28)

Saint Nicholas lived as a "fool for Christ" in the town of Pskov during the reign of Tsar Ivan the Terrible and died on February 28, 1576 A.D.

"Fools for Christ" were distinguished by rare fearlessness. Blessed Nicholas ran throughout the streets of Pskov pretending insanity, rebuking the people for their hidden sins, and prophesying that which will befall them.

When Ivan the Terrible entered Pskov, the entire town was in fear and terror of the Terrible Tsar. As a welcome to the Tsar, bread and salt was placed in front of every home but the people did not appear. When the mayor of the town presented the Tsar with bread and salt on a tray before the church, the Tsar pushed the tray away and the bread and salt fell to the ground.

At that time, Blessed Nicholas appeared before the Tsar in a long shirt tied with a rope, hopping around on a cane as a child and then cried out: "Ivanuska, Ivanuska, eat bread and salt and not human blood." The soldiers rushed out to catch him but he fled and hid. The Tsar learning about this Blessed Nicholas, who and what he is, visited him in his scant living quarters.

It was the first week of the Honorable Fast [The First Week of Lent]. Upon hearing that the Tsar was coming to visit him, Nicholas found a piece of raw meat and when the Tsar entered his living quarters, he bowed and offered the meat to the Tsar. "Eat Ivanuska, eat!" Angrily, the Terrible Tsar replied: "I am a Christian and I do not eat meat during the Fast Season." Then the man of God quickly responded to him: "But you do even worse: you feed on men's flesh and blood, forgetting not only Lent but also God!" This lesson entered profoundly into the heart of Tsar Ivan and he, ashamed, immediately departed Pskov where he had intended to perpetrate a great massacre.

St. Nikolia Velimirovich, Prologue

Influence of the Russian Liturgy (1904)


Notes by G. Frederick Wright

In a journey across Asia three years ago, occupying several months, I was deeply impressed by the many evidences of the leavening power of Christianity throughout the Russian Empire. In Japan, one of the most successful and influential Christian missions is that of the Russian Church, under the leadership of Bishop Nicolai, at Tokyo. My first attendance upon a Russian church service was at Port Arthur, where I found myself crowding for standing room with an indiscriminate company of Cossacks of the rank and officers of every grade, including Admiral Alexieff, and hearing, as ever afterwards in the Russian service, the crying of infants in arms, who are regularly brought by their parents to the church service, to receive the communion. Later, while journeying upon the construction train which penetrated Manchuria, I spent some days in the company of a benevolent-hearted inferior church official who was collecting money for alms to be administered by the church. Everywhere his reception was most cordial by all classes.

In all the villages and cities of Siberia and Turkestan, the priest, with his family, evidently occupied a position of great respect and influence, and was looked to with unfailing confidence by the poorer classes for sympathy and help. Repeatedly fairs of the Red Cross Society were encountered, engaged in raising money to provide nurses and assistance, not only for the hospitals in the army, but for those which are erected at the prominent points frequented by emigrants and exiles. In all the post-houses throughout a fourteen-hundred-mile drive through Turkestan, copies of the New Testament, furnished by the Imperial Bible Society at St. Petersburg, and bearing the imprint of the British and Foreign Bible Society, were found in the waiting-rooms.

In the wilds of Transbaikalia, as well as in the deserts of Turkestan, penetrated by the railroad, cars were met, provided with priests, and singers, and all the paraphernalia necessary for a church service. At one place in Transbaikalia, where a church car was sidetracked for a few days to meet the wants of the locality, our train stopped long enough for such a service. The third and fourth-class passengers immediately surrounded it, and participated with the greatest reverence. In the larger churches in Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk, we encountered beautiful young women of good estate, conducting classes of untrained boys to the services, and watching over them with all the interest displayed by those connected with the " settlements " in our own country. In fact, everywhere we were surrounded by that indefinable atmosphere which we characterize as Christian civilization, and which is in as striking contrast with heathen civilization as light is with darkness.

In broader lines, also, the influence of this leavening power of Christianity is seen everywhere throughout the Empire. It was the Tsar of Russia who summoned the peace congress through which the Tribunal of the Hague was established. It was the Tsar of Russia who initiated, and pushed to completion, the emancipation of the serfs,?a work far greater and far more successfully accomplished than that of the emancipation of the slaves of America. Russia, indeed, is full of philanthropists and those engaged in promoting social reforms, of wliom Tolstoy is one of the most extreme and unpractical examples.

All this, and much more, can be said illustrating the leavening power of Christianity in the Empire, without abating our condemnation of the many great evils still inherent in the church polity and in the body politic. For, there can be no question that in some way the main facts of Christianity are held up before the Russian people of all classes, and that these facts have a most powerful, controlling force in the lives of the masses of the people.

The manner of the dissemination of this Christian truth is an interesting object of study. Preaching occupies but a small place in the Russian church services. Though the Bible is freely disseminated, the illiteracy of the people interferes with its general reading. But it is read extensively in the church service; while pictures of Bible scenes fairly cover the walls of the churches, and every one learns their meaning. Russian pilgrims to Palestine are far more numerous than from any other country, and are mostly from the peasant class. These make the rounds of the sacred places with apparent discrimination and intelligence. In the appropriate season of the year crowds of them may be found wending their way on foot from Jerusalem to the Jordan, to Bethlehem and Hebron, and to the well of Sychar. Dense crowds may be seen gathering about the sacred places, listening to addresses from well-informed guides with far more interest and with closer attention than is shown in a personally conducted Cook's tour of visitors. The information which these pilgrims, on their return, scatter throughout Russia, can hardly be overestimated.

But most prominent of all must be mentioned the liturgy of the Russian Church as it is artistically set to music by composers of the highest rank, and most effectively and beautifully rendered by trained choirs.

The favorite liturgy is that written by the "goldenmouthed" St. John Chrysostom, the most famous of the fathers of the Greek Church of the fourth century. This, like all the Russian church services, is translated into the language of the people. The dialect, indeed, is archaic, which has led many to suppose that it is unintelligible to the common people. The same might be said with some degree of truth concerning the English Prayer Book, though it is by no means so archaic as is the Russian liturgy. Still, in both cases, by reason of frequent repetition, the language evidently becomes comprehensible to all; so that it cannot be doubted that every peasant in the Empire becomes from his earliest years familiar with this noble embodiment of the great facts and doctrines of Christianity.

The mere reading of the words can but be a means of grace; while to have it given, as it is in all the Russian churches, by well-trained choirs in the effective setting of the music of the greatest masters, is impressive beyond expression, and is in striking contrast to the diluted sentimentalism characterizing so much of the popular Sunday-school music of America, and to the musical compositions which are current so largely in Protestant services, but which are adapted rather for the concert-hall than for worshiping congregations.

Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was the ranking genius among Russian musical composers of the last half century, and was scarcely inferior to any, except Wagner in Western Europe. His operas, symphonies, sonatas, and shorter pieces for the piano are everywhere popular among the highest class of musicians ; but it is not generally known that he devoted a considerable portion of his strength and genius to the perfecting of the Russian sacred music. Several volumes of Bortniansky's compositions, which are most widely used in the Russian Church, have been harmonized by him in accordance with modern ideas. One of his own principal works, also, is an original composition adapted to the entire liturgy.

I have stood in the Russian churches, great and small, in Siberia and Turkestan, and in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and have been not only entranced myself by this service, but filled with wonder and delight while seeing horny-handed peasants, with careworn faces, listening with streaming eyes to these profound, inspiring, comforting, and most beautiful conceptions of Christian truth as they were wafted to our ears upon the dignified, appropriate, and tender strains of music of the great Russian composer. Who could help being moved to better things as he is led thus to adore "the Maker of all things, who for us sinful men, and our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Spirit and the Virgin Mary; and became like unto men, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, but rose on the third day according to the Word, and ascended into heaven most high, and now sitteth on the right hand of God, and who shall come again to judge the quick and dead"! To see, as I often did in these services, men and women, both of low and of high estate, advance to kneel and kiss the gilded feet of the painting of the Man of sorrows, was to witness something far more than a mere formality.

Excerpts from The Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 61, pp 166-170 (January, 1904).

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Great Lent


Catechesis 59: On our Accomplishing the Days of the Fast Gently and Readily in the Hope of Life Without End

by St. Theodore the Studite

There is no indication of date for this Instruction, but since it comes between the ones for Friday of the 2nd Week of Lent and Wednesday of the 3rd, it is reasonable to allocate it to the 2nd Sunday.

Brethren and fathers, fasting is good if it possesses its own special characteristics, which are to be peaceable, meek, well-established, obedient, humble, sympathetic and all the other forms of virtue. But the devil hurries to suggest the opposite to fasters and to make them insolent, angry, bad-tempered, puffed up, so as to produce hurt more than gain. But let us not be ignorant of his plans, but continue our path peaceably, gently, meekly and steadfastly bearing with one another in love, knowing that this is what is acceptable to God; for though you bend your neck double like a hoop and smother yourself with sackcloth and ashes, if these qualities are lacking to you, you would not be well-pleasing to him. Because while fasting batters and wastes the body, it clears the soul and makes it flourish. "For as much as our outer nature is perishing," it says, "by so much the inner is being renewed day by day." And our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding weight of glory. So that looking at the recompense, let us bear the toils of virtue with long-suffering, giving thanks to the God and Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love. Do we not communicate each day of his immaculate body and blood?[1] What could be sweeter and more filled with enjoyment than this, since those who partake with a pure conscience will obtain eternal life? Do we not converse each day with the godly David and the other Holy Fathers through taking in the readings? What could bring greater consolation to the soul? Have we not broken off contact with the world and with our relatives according to the flesh? Again is anything more blessed or higher than this? For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things to Himself. And so, my brothers, let us rejoice and be glad as we repudiate every pleasure. "All flesh is grass, and all human glory like the flower of the grass." The grass withered and the flower faded, but the work of virtue endures for ever. "Is anyone among you suffering?" as the brother of God says, "Let him pray. Is anyone sad? Let him sing psalms." Is anyone tempted by evil passion? — since the tempter is always at work — let him endure patiently as he listens to the one who says, "Blessed is the one who endures temptation; for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him." "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them," said the Lord, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

1 This suggests that daily Communion was the norm for St Theodore’s monks. This would imply that during Lent the Liturgy of the Presanctified was celebrated every weekday, not just on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Source

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Novel Ascetic Feat of Saint Thalelaios the Cilician

St. Thalelaios the Cilician (Feast Day - February 27)

Brief Life of Saint Thalelaios

Saint Thalelaios lived during the fifth century. He was a native of Cilicia in Asia Minor, became a monk at the Monastery of Saint Savvas the Sanctified, and was ordained presbyter there. Later on, he moved to Syria, not far from the city of Habala, and he found a dilapidated pagan temple surrounded by graves, settling there in a tent. This place had a rough reputation, since the unclean spirits residing there frightened travelers and caused them much harm.

Here the monk lived, praying day and night in total solitude. The demons often assailed the Saint, trying to terrify him with sights and sounds. But by the power of God the Saint ultimately gained victory over the power of the Enemy, after which he was troubled no more. He then intensified his efforts even more: he built a barrel-like structure, so cramped that it was just possible to get into it, and only with effort was it possible to raise his head. He lived there for about ten years.

The Lord granted to the ascetic the gift of wonderworking, and his miracles helped him to enlighten the pagan inhabitants. With the help of the inhabitants he converted to Christianity, he demolished the pagan temple, building a church where there were daily services.

St Thalelaios died in old age in about the year 460. In the book titled Leimonarion (The Meadow), a composition of the Greek monk John Moschus (+ 622), St Thalelaios is mentioned: "Abba Thalelaios was a monk for sixty years and with tears never ceased saying, 'Brethren, God has given us this time for repentance, and we must seek after Him'" (Ch. 59).

The Barrel-like Structure of Saint Thalelaios

After the venerable Thalelaios emerged from his hut near the temple and defeated every demonic assault, he decided to enter the next level of ascetic struggle unique in Christian history. He took two wheels of two cubits in diameter and joined them with planks with bolts and nails. The wooden planks of this barrel-like cylinder were not thick and heavy, but slender and spaced apart. Thalelaios then drove three wooden poles into the ground, forming a kind of tripod. He joined the three poles at the top with other pieces of wood. From that point where they met at the top, he raised up the two-wheeled barrel-like structure and fastened it. As it swung, suspended in the air, Thalelaios crawled inside. We are not told the height above the ground the structure was placed, nor how he entered within. But when he was inside the airy cylinder, the interior height of which was no more than two cubits, he was compelled to take a sitting position. Since he was a rather large-boned man, he could not take his ease within that confined space. He certainly could not recline, nor could he even keep his neck straight. Thalelaios was ever seen in a sitting position, bent over, so that his forehead was pressed tightly against his knees.

Theodoret of Cyrus gives us an eye-witness account of this most astonishing ascetic feat in his History:

"When I beheld him, he had been already ten years in that position. I also observed that he was reaping the benefit of the divine Gospels, in which he was immersed. I then, out of a desire to learn and not from idle curiosity, asked him why he took up this novel contest of asceticism. He replied to me in the Greek tongue, since he was Cilician by birth and people, and said:

'Because I lay under many sins, I believe unshakably that I shall be liable to the penalties of which sinners have been forewarned by God. I, therefore, have contrived these moderate means of chastisement, in this present life, that I might lighten the burden of torments in the future life. Those punishments are worse, not only in quantity but also in quality, for they are involuntary and violent. Whatever is forced upon one without one's will is grievous, while that which is self-chosen without constraint, even if toilsome and sorrowful, is a lesser evil. For the labors of such a one are self-determined and voluntary. One does not feel compelled or lorded over. Therefore, if I may by these small afflictions lessen the great punishments that await me, assuredly it will be a great gain to me.'

"When I heard this explanation, I marveled not only at the venerable ascetic's sagacity and shrewdness, but also at the fact that he exceeded the customary ascetic contests laid down. He devised other struggles, greater ones, in which he knew exactly what he was doing and by which he encouraged and taught others."

The Baptism and Martyrdom of the Comedic Actor Gelasios

St. Gelasios the Actor (Feast Day - February 27)

Gelasios, of the village Mariamne near Damascus, was an actor. In a performance at Heliopolis of Syria, he played the part of a catechumen in a dramatized parody of the Christian's Mystery of Holy Baptism. As he was immersed in the waters, the audience laughed. Divine Grace, however, wrought a miracle, and Gelasios emerged from those waters transformed. As the play continued and he was garbed in the white gown of the newly-illumined, he declared before the crowd, "I am a Christian. When I was under those waters, I was awestruck by the glory that I beheld. I am now ready to be slain on behalf of Christ!" The rest of the cast, knowing that these lines were not in the script, were aghast. The audience soon understood that Gelasios was not jesting but instead meant every word of his public confession. Roused to fury, the audience came down upon Gelasios, who was still clad in white, and dragged him out of the theatre and stoned him. Christians who witnessed the stoning, afterward took up his precious relics and returned with them to their own country. A church was built over the martyrs tomb.

Sinners Are Without Reality and Without Mind


by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Whenever we are outside the Grace of God, we are outside of ourselves and, compared with our Grace-filled nature, we do not find ourselves in a better condition than an insane man in comparison to a so-called healthy man. Only a blessed man is a natural man, i.e., a man of higher and unspoiled nature, in which the Grace of God rules and governs.

St. Symeon the New Theologian says: "A lamp, even if it is filled with oil and possesses a wick, remains totally dark if it is not lighted with fire. So it is with the soul in appearance adorned with all virtues, if it does not have a light and the Grace of the Holy Spirit, it is extinguished and dark" (Homily 59). As the great apostle also says: "But by the Grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10).

However to be without grace means to be alienated from God and alienated from the reality of our own individual being. Our being, our personality, confirms our reality and receives its fullness only in the nearness of God and by God. That is why we must look at sinners as we look upon the sick: as weak shadows, without reality and without a mind.

Why Psychiatry Needs Therapy


A manual's draft reflects how diagnoses have grown foggier, drugs more ineffective

FEBRUARY 27, 2010
Wall Street Journal
By EDWARD SHORTER

To flip through the latest draft of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, in the works for seven years now, is to see the discipline's floundering writ large. Psychiatry seems to have lost its way in a forest of poorly verified diagnoses and ineffectual medications. Patients who seek psychiatric help today for mood disorders stand a good chance of being diagnosed with a disease that doesn't exist and treated with a medication little more effective than a placebo.

Psychopharmacology, or the treatment of the mind and brain with drugs, has come to dominate the field. The positive side is that many illnesses respond readily to medication. The negative side is that the pharmaceutical industry seeks the largest possible market for a given drug, and advertises huge diseases, such as major depression and schizophrenia, the scientific status of which makes insiders uneasy.

In the 1950s and '60s, when psychiatry was still under the influence of the European scientific tradition, reasonably accurate diagnoses still sat at center stage. If you felt blue, uneasy and generally jumpy, "nerves" was a common diagnosis. For the psychotherapeutically oriented psychiatrists of the day, "psychoneurosis" was the equivalent of nerves. There was no point in breaking these terms down: clinicians and patients alike understood "a case of nerves," or a "nervous breakdown."

Our psychopathological lingo today offers little improvement on these sturdy terms. A patient with the same symptoms today might be told he has "social anxiety disorder" or "seasonal affective disorder." The increased specificity is spurious. There is little risk of misdiagnosis, because the new disorders all respond to the same drugs, so in terms of treatment, the differentiation is meaningless and of benefit mainly to pharmaceutical companies that market drugs for these niches.

For those more seriously ill, contemplating suicide or pacing restlessly and saying "It's all my fault," melancholia was the diagnosis of choice. The term has been around for donkey's years.

All the serious disorders of mood were once lumped together technically as "manic-depressive illness"—and again, there was little point in differentiating, because medications such as lithium that worked for mania were also sometimes effective in forestalling renewed episodes of serious depression.

Psychopharmacology—the treatment of disorders of the mind and brain with drugs—was experiencing its first big push, and a host of effective new agents was marketed. The first blockbuster drug in psychiatry appeared in 1955 as Wallace Lab's Miltown, a "tranquilizer" of the dicarbamate class. The first of the "tricyclic antidepressants" (because of their chemical structure) was launched in the U.S. in 1959, called imipramine generically and Tofranil by brand name. It remains today the single most effective antidepressant on the market for the immediate treatment of serious depression.

In the 1960s an entirely different class of drugs appeared, the benzodiazepines, indicated for anxiety rather than depression. (But one keeps in mind that these indications are more marketing devices than scientific categories, because most depression entails anxiety and vice versa.) In the benzodiazepine class, Librium was launched for anxiety in 1960, Valium in 1963. Despite an undeserved reputation for addictiveness, the benzos remain today one of the most useful drug classes in the history of psychiatry. They are effective across the entire range of nervous illnesses. In one World Health Organization study in the early 1990s, a sample of family physicians world-wide prescribed benzos for 28% of their depressed patients, 31% of their anxious patients; the figures are virtually identical. In the 1950s and '60s physicians had available drugs that truly worked for diseases that actually existed.

And then the golden era came to an end. The 1978 article of British psychiatrist Malcolm Lader on the benzos as "the opium of the masses" would be a good landmark. The patents expired for the drugs of the 1950s and '60s, and the solid diagnoses were all erased from the classification in 1980 with the appearance of the third edition of the DSM series, called "DSM-III." It was largely the brainchild of Columbia University psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, an energetic and charismatic individual who had been schooled in psychometrics. But his energy and charisma nearly led psychiatry off a cliff.

Mr. Spitzer was discouraged with psychoanalysis, and wanted to come up with a new illness classification that would ditch all the old Freudian concepts such as "depressive neurosis" with their implication of "unconscious psychic conflicts." Mr. Spitzer and company wanted diagnoses based on observable symptoms rather than on speculation about the unconscious mind. So he, and members of the Task Force that the American Psychiatric Association designated, set out to devise a new list of diagnoses that correspond to natural disease entities.

Yet Mr. Spitzer ran smack against the politics of the American Psychiatric Association, still heavily influenced by the psychoanalysts. Mr. Spitzer proposed such diagnoses as "major depression" and "dysthymia," diagnoses that were themselves highly heterogeneous, lumping together a number of different kinds of depression. But the terms turned out to be politically acceptable.

So in DSM-III there was a lot of horse-trading. The biologically oriented young Turks got a depression diagnosis—major depression—that was divorced from what they considered the psychoanalytic mumbo-jumbo. And the waning but still substantial number of analysts got a diagnosis—dysthymia—that sounded like their beloved "neurotic depression," that had been the mainstay of psychoanalytic practice. Psychiatry ended up with two brand-new depression diagnoses with criteria so broad that huge numbers of people could qualify for them.

There was one more bow to psychoanalysis: DSM-III continued to make depression separate from anxiety (because the analysts thought anxiety the motor that drove everything). And in homage to several influential figures in European psychiatry, DSM-III brought in "bipolar disorder," a condition alternating between depression and mania thought separate from "major depression."

A word of explanation: The evidence is very strong that the depression of "major depression" and the depression of "bipolar disorder" are the same disease. Experienced clinicians know that in chronic depressive illness many patients will have an episode of mania or hypomania; it is implausible that such an event would change the patient's diagnosis completely from "major depression" to "bipolar disorder," given that they are classified as quite different illnesses.

These rather technical issues in the classification of disease had enormous ramifications in the real world. Bipolar disorder became divorced from unipolar disorder. And anxiety—the original indication for the benzos—became soft-pedaled because the benzos were thought, incorrectly, to be highly addictive, and anxiety became associated with addiction.

Major depression became the big new diagnosis in the 1980s and after, replacing "neurotic depression" and "melancholia," even though it combined melancholic illness and non-melancholic illness. This would be like incorporating tuberculosis and mumps into the same diagnosis, simply because they are both infectious diseases. As well, "bipolar disorder" began its relentless on-march, supposedly separate from plain old depression.

New drugs appeared to match the new diseases. In the late 1980s, the Prozac-type agents began to hit the market, the "SSRIs," or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa and Lexapro. They were supposedly effective by increasing the amount of serotonin available to the brain.

The SSRIs are effective for certain indications, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and for some patients with anxiety. But many people believe they're not often effective for serious depression, even though they fit wonderfully with the heterogeneous concept of "major depression." So, hand in hand, these antidepressants and major depression marched off together into the sunset. These were drugs that don't work for diseases that don't exist, as it were.

The latest draft of the DSM fixes none of the problems with the previous DSM series, and even creates some new ones.

A new problem is the extension of "schizophrenia" to a larger population, with "psychosis risk syndrome." Even if you aren't floridly psychotic with hallucinations and delusions, eccentric behavior can nonetheless awaken the suspicion that you might someday become psychotic. Let's say you have "disorganized speech." This would apply to about half of my students. Pour on the Seroquel for "psychosis risk syndrome"!

DSM-V accelerates the trend of making variants on the spectrum of everyday behavior into diseases: turning grief into depression, apprehension into anxiety, and boyishness into hyperactivity.

If there were specific treatments for these various niches, you could argue this is good diagnostics. But, as with other forms of anxiety-depression, the SSRIs are thought good for everything. Yet to market a given indication, such as social-anxiety disorder, it's necessary to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on registration trials to convince the FDA that your agent works for this disease that previously nobody had ever heard of.

DSM-V is not all bad news. It turns the jumble of developmental syndromes for children into a single group of "autism spectrum disorders," which makes sense because previously, with Asperger's as a separate disease, it was like trying to draw lines in a bucket of water. But the basic problems of the previous DSM series are left untouched.

Where is psychiatry headed? What the discipline badly needs is close attention to patients and their individual symptoms, in order to carve out the real diseases from the vast pool of symptoms that DSM keeps reshuffling into different "disorders." This kind of careful attention to what patients actually have is called "psychopathology," and its absence distinguishes American psychiatry from the European tradition. With DSM-V, American psychiatry is headed in exactly the opposite direction: defining ever-widening circles of the population as mentally ill with vague and undifferentiated diagnoses and treating them with powerful drugs.

—Edward Shorter is professor of the history of medicine and psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Toronto. His latest book, written with Max Fink, "Endocrine Psychiatry: Solving the Riddle of Melancholia," is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

The New Abnormal
A selection of new ailments in the planned manual.

1. Hoarding
This is defined as "persistent difficulty discarding or parting with personal possessions, even those of apparently useless or limited value, due to strong urges to save items."

2. Mixed Anxiety-Depression
"The patient has the symptoms of major depression…accompanied by anxious distress." The combination of depression and anxiety has been recognized clinically for years; only now does it make it into the handbook.

3. Binge Eating

This means eating "an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances," in addition to having "a sense of lack of control over eating."

4. Minor Neurocognitive Disorder
"Evidence of minor cognitive decline from a previous level of performance," a commonplace occurrence for anybody over 50.

5. Temper Dysregulation Disorder With Dysphoria
A new definition for all children with outbursts of temper. It is seen as a way to avoid using the term "bipolar."

Greek Orthodox Fasting Cleanses Body and Soul


Great Lent: The Greek Orthodox Tradition of Fasting Cleanses Both Body and Soul

The National Herald
February 21, 2010
by Georgia Kofinas

ATHENS - When I recently asked my elderly uncle in Athens how they celebrated “Kathara Deftera” (Pure, or Clean Monday) in the village in the early 1920’s, he told me that it was the day set aside for washing all the pots, pans and various utensils with soap and ash water to “purify” them from their use in cooking meat and dairy products. For the next six weeks, kitchen activities would be limited to preparing the frugal, yet nutritious Lenten meals to be shared by all the family members, young and old alike.

After the Second World War and the Depression, as Greece became more affluent and its inhabitants moved into the cities, the traditional Lenten dishes were seen as the “poor man’s food” and were readily removed from the repertoire of the urban kitchen. It was not until my co-author and I started gathering recipes for our Lenten cookbook, “The Festive Fast,” that we were able to find some of those long-forgotten recipes that had been stashed away in the memories of the older generations of family cooks. With the current trend of eating less meat and animal fat and more vegetables, fruit and olive oil, traditional Greek Lenten cuisine has recaptured its spot alongside many of today’s healthy diets.

Fasting as defined by the Church

Fasting, however, is not just a way of detoxifying our bodies and eating healthier foods. In the dictionary, fasting is defined as “abstinence from or reduction in the intake of certain foods”, but there is much more to it than just that. The religious practice of fasting in the Orthodox Church is a way of life, not merely something someone does periodically. Another explanation of fasting comes from a very well known 4th century church father, St. John Chrysostom who gives us the medicinal aspect of fasting while supporting the Orthodox belief that the body and soul are inseparable. He refers to fasting as the “mother of bodily health”, and says, “If you do not believe me, then ask the doctors about this and they will tell you better.” He then goes on to say, “Pains of the legs and headache and apoplexy and tuberculosis and water retention and inflammations and abscesses and many other countless illnesses come from luxurious diets and over-eating. When the body becomes sluggish and weak, the soul undergoes damage as well. This is because the activities of the soul are determined by the conditions of the body”. Chrysostom, which means “golden mouth” in Greek, was considered so because he had a sharp tongue and was to the point when he preached. He spared no one. Directing himself to women, he said: “Why do you destroy bodily vitality with fatty greasy foods? When you inflict your body with various illnesses, neither will you have a blossoming complexion nor will your health be in good condition and you will continuously be bent over with sluggishness and depression.”

The way we fast in the Orthodox Church is carried over from the Jewish ascetic tradition where meat symbolizes feast and celebration. In the eastern ascetic tradition, meat is associated with the arousal of passion and is thus abstained from during times of fasting. It also stems from the pagan practice of slaughtering an animal for sacrificial purposes. Thus, in many monasteries, there is no consumption of meat at all, even when not fasting. Fasting also entails abstinence from fish and dairy products although there are some fasting periods, such as the first four weeks before Christmas, which allow for the consumption of fish. Dairy products are not allowed, as they are by-products of the milk that comes from animals. Seafood (as opposed to fleshy fish) is allowed during most fasts as the flesh of seafood does not contain blood.

There are also two types of fasting - (1) ascetic fasting and (2) liturgical fasting. Ascetic fasting encompasses the four fasting periods of the liturgical calendar, where there is a drastic reduction of the intake of food and abstinence from certain foods. The Church, however, does not see fasting in a legalistic way; it is a means and not an end in the spiritual struggle of its faithful. One usually fasts according to the guidelines set up by the Church, but one should also seek the guidance of a spiritual father. Ascetic fasting is also practiced on Wednesdays and Fridays and, in the monastic tradition, on Mondays (the day dedicated to the Holy Angels). Liturgical fasting (also known as “xerophagia”) is practiced in anticipation of a great feast day and consists of only dry food; or in the case of preparing for Holy Communion, complete abstinence from any food or liquid.

The Lenten Cuisine

Since fasting involves over 180 days of the year, in a culture whose religion is a basic element of its foundation, it definitely has an impact on all aspects of life. And because Greece is a country whose cuisine is a rich expression of its traditions and customs, fasting has played an important role is shaping the way Greeks eat.

The basic ingredient in Lenten cuisine is undoubtedly olive oil, which is what gives the dishes their unique character and nutritional value. Specifically, there is a name for dishes cooked in olive oil - lathera. The name stems from the Modern Greek word for oil, lathi, and traditionally refers to vegetables and legumes cooked slowly on the stove top in a rich, olive oil-based sauce. Because of the duration of Great Lent and the change in season from winter to spring, lathera dishes can be prepared using a wide variety of ingredients. The colder days at the beginning of Lent will certainly include hearty soups and stews made with legumes such as beans, chickpeas or lentils. Spinach, wild greens, cauliflower and leeks are among the winter vegetables often combined with grains or legumes to create a complete meal. Early spring dishes abound with fresh artichokes, peas, broad beans, spring onions, dill and other herbs. Lathera dishes display the Greek preference for soft vegetables cooked slowly in such a way that the flavors meld and the dish acquires its characteristically rich oily texture. Another attribute of lathera is that these dishes can be served at room temperature or even cold, which means that they can be prepared from the day before they are served.

Seafood dishes are highly favored during Lent, especially those found in the cuisine of the seacoast areas. Octopus figures prominently on the Lenten table in dishes as simple as grilled octopus drizzled with a lemon-oil dressing, or as complicated as ground octopus combined with spices and herbs to make octopus fritters. Shrimp is preferred grilled when dining out, but family style dishes will feature shrimp in a tomato-based pilaf or in a sauce served over pasta. Squid is usually simply dusted in flour and fried, but specialties also include stewing it in a spicy tomato sauce or, even more popular, stuffing it with rice and herbs. Less popular, but certainly not to be overlooked, is the humble cuttlefish, which actually has more nutritive value than its fellow cephalopods. Because it is considerably fleshy (it has only one flat spinal cartilage) it is quite versatile and can be cooked in numerous ways. Flattened, it makes a great grilled cuttlefish “steak”, which may be served with a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Cut up, it goes into stews with spinach or other greens in either a lemony white sauce or a rich tomato sauce. It can even be stuffed with rice, herbs, and nuts and baked in a wine sauce.

Sweets are part of the Lenten cuisine, as hospitality and light entertaining for special occasions do not stop during this period. A nice lathero koulouraki (oil cookie) with a cup of Greek coffee serves as a perfect boost of energy for that mid-morning or afternoon slump. The base of all sweets is, of course, olive oil, which adds to the texture and moistness of cakes and sweet breads, gives cookies a nice crunch and offers a healthier way of frying such sweets as loukoumades (fried honey puffs) or tiganites (fritters). Because olive oil is also a natural preservative, sweets made with olive oil also last longer.

For those days when abstaining from olive oil, there are various sweets that can be made with tahini. Besides fulfilling the need for a quick boost of energy, tahini, which is made from pulverized sesame seeds, is rich in calcium and protein while containing absolutely no cholesterol.

To get a start on changing your dietary habits I suggest trying out the following recipes: (From: “The Festive Fast”, M. Kokkinou and G. Kofinas, Akritas Publications, Athens, Greece)

Stuffed Squid

3 1/2 lbs medium squid, defrosted

1 cup long grain rice

1 lb onions finely chopped

2 tbsp. fine bread crumbs

2 tbsp. pine nuts

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 ½ cups peeled chopped tomatoes

1 cup olive oil

½ cup dill weed and parsley finely chopped

Salt, pepper

1. Clean squid by removing head (with tentacles) and discarding thin membrane in the center. Wash bodies to remove any sand. Finely chop heads and set aside.

2. Parboil onions in a little water until it evaporates and add half of the oil. Saute for 1 minute and add chopped heads. Slowly pour in wine until liquid is deglazed.

3. Add rice, bread crumbs, dill and parsley, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Stir in well and remove from heat. Allow to cool.

4. Stuff bodies of squid loosely with mixture and close ends together with a toothpick. Set stuffed squid aside.

5. Heat remaining oil in wide skillet and add tomatoes. Simmer for about 2 minutes and arrange stuffed squid on top. Cover and simmer for about 1 – 1 ½ hours or until tender and sauce thickens.

6. Arrange in a platter and pour sauce over squid.

Orange Lenten Cake

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 cups sugar

½ cup light olive oil

½ cup brandy (Greek Metaxa is fine)

1 ½ cups orange juice

½ cup black or white raisins

½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1 tbsp. grated orange zest

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground clove

Powdered sugar for topping

1. Mix baking powder, soda, cinnamon and clove with flour.

2. Beat oil and sugar well and add brandy and orange juice. Slowly add in flour and, lastly, the walnuts, raisins and orange zest.

3. Pour batter into greased and floured baking pan (do not use tube or bundt pan).

4. Bake in pre-heated oven at 225? for about 45-60 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

5. Cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

Note: Lenten cakes are usually moister than other cakes and are not removed from cake form pans very easily. For this reason, we suggest using a baking pan and serving the cake from there.

Georgia Kofinas is a food writer, cookbook author and chef instructor at Alpine College, a hotel management and tourism school in Athens, Greece. Her culinary journeys have taken her to many regions of the Eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor.

Exotic Birds Play a Good Missionary Role


Ostrich Eggs Served to Pilgrims in Kaliningrad Nunnery

It is the fourth Russian monastery to raise African birds

Moscow, 27 February 2010, Interfax – Nuns of St. Elizabeth Nunnery in the village of Priozerye not far from Kaliningrad raise ostriches in a special ostrich farm.

Nuns believe exotic birds play a good missionary role, the Rossiysskaya Gazeta reports. Many secular people come to the nunnery to see the ostriches and then go to worship shrines, visit the church and light candles.

Besides, nuns paint ostrich eggs and sell them as souvenirs. When there is no Lent, nuns have eggs for breakfast. One egg is enough to feed eight people. Ostrich omelet is served to pilgrims as well.

Ostriches are raised in some other Russian monasteries, for example in Kamenno-Brodsky Holy Trinity Monastery in Vologda and in Svyatoozersky Monastery in Valday. St. Nicholas Monastery in Shartom, the Ivanovo Region, even gave an African ostrich to a local Zoo as a present.

Orthodox American Figure Skater Wins Olympic Gold Medal


Evan Lysacek is an American figure skater who recently became the first U.S. man to win the Olympic gold medal since Brian Boitano in 1988, shocking everyone — maybe even himself — by upsetting defending champion Yevgeny Plushenko on Thursday night. Plushenko came out of retirement with the sole purpose of making a little history of his own with a second straight gold medal.

He is a Greek Orthodox Christian who has stated that one of his most prized possessions is his Orthodox cross. He has stated: "I want to go to the Greek islands. I'm Greek Orthodox, so I've sat through countless church services in Greek. I need to experience it for real now." His Greek background comes through his mother's side.

Read more about his gold medal win here:
www.nbcolympics.com/news-features/news/newsid=429679.html

Read more about his Orthodox connections here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evan_Lysacek

Below is a picture of Evan with his three-bar Russian cross:


And here is the performance that won him the gold:

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Strange Church of St. Photini in Mantinea


Greece is full of strange churches. Some find beauty in the architecture of these churches, some just see architectural aberrations. For me they are an extraordinary experience.

Located 12 km from Tripoli in southern Greece, this church is of recent origin across from what is now known as Ancient Mantinea. The foundations were laid in 1969 and completed in 1973, though not opened till 1978. It is an architectural mixture of traditional Byzantine and Greco-Roman. The iconography and decor is classical. In other words, this church captures all the significant historical periods of the region bridging its historical and architectural history together.

Of course, this church is not without its controversy. To prevent a modern attempt of paganization of an Orthodox church, officials have stepped in and replaced many of the paintings with traditional iconography. This imposition is partial however.

There are also two neo-classical monuments which surround the church. The first is the Ηρώον (Heroes) to honor all those heroes who fought for Greek independence from the Turks, since it is in this region where the rebellion was initiated. The second is the Φρέαρ Ιακώβ (Fountain of Jacob) to recall the story of St. Photini's meeting with Jesus at Jacob's Well.

About St. Photini

Saint Photini was the Samaritan Woman who encountered Christ our Saviour at Jacob's Well (John 4:1-42). Afterwards she laboured in the spread of the Gospel in various places, and finally received the crown of martyrdom in Rome with her two sons and five sisters, during the persecutions under the Emperor Nero.








Saint John Kalphes the Neomartyr


The Holy New Martyr John Kalphes (the Apprentice) lived in a suburb of Constantinople, called Galata. He was a cabinetmaker by profession, and he had acquired great skill in his craft, so that important officials made use of his services. He was entrusted with the inner adornment of the sultan's palace.

St John Kalphes was distinguished for his Christian charity. He provided for orphans and those locked up in prison, and many turned to him for help. One time a certain dignitary asked St John to take on his nephew as an apprentice. He agreed, and the youth received an honorable position at court upon the completion of his apprenticeship.

Once, encountering his former teacher and benefactor, the apprentice asked St John what it says in the Christian books about their "prophet" Mohammed. St John did not want to answer his question, but because of the persistent demands of the youth, he declared the following:

"As you have asked me to say, I will tell you the truth. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the one and only true God. Mohammed, in whom you believe, was a mortal and uneducated man who did nothing good upon this earth, and did not perform a single miracle, unlike the other prophets of God that we, the Christians have. It is only you people who revere him as a prophet. In fact, he was a theomachist and with his fantasies and fanaticism attracted a simple and ignorant people, so that what was prophesied about him was fulfilled: that he 'would come to seduce the world.'"

The youth, devoted to Islam, reported to his fellow Moslems that the cabinetmaker had insulted Mohammed.

St John was brought to trial, where they demanded that he renounce Christ, but he bravely confessed his faith in Christ, saying: "I will not renounce my Sweetest Jesus; I believe in Him and worship Him, and confess Him to be true God and perfect Man."

After torture, they sent the holy martyr off to penal servitude with a fleet at the Black Sea, where he spent six months. Then, for the next three months they beat him in the prison. Seeing that they could not coerce him into submitting to their will, they beheaded him in the crowded city square in Ergat-Bazara, near the Bedestan (a covered bazaar) on February 26, 1575.

The suffering of the holy Martyr John Kalphes were recorded by Father Andrew, the Chief Steward (Megas Oikonomos) of the Patriarch of Constantinople, who communed him with the Holy Mysteries in prison.

Divine Liturgy Etiquette


St. John Chrysostom writes thusly against those who in church create a disturbance and who depart from church before the completion of the Divine Liturgy:

Some do not approach Holy Communion with trembling but with commotion, shoving one another, burning with anger, hollering, scolding, pushing their neighbor, full of disturbance. About this, I have often spoken and will not cease to speak about this. Do you not see the order of behavior at the pagan Olympic games when the Arranger passes through the arena with a wreath on his head, dressed in a lengthy garment, holding a staff in his hand and the Crier declares that there be silence and order? Is it not obscene that there, where the devil reigns, there is such silence, and here where Christ invites us to Himself there is such an uproar. At the arena, silence, and in church, uproar! On the sea, calm, and in the harbor, tempest!

When you are invited to a meal, you must not leave before the others, even though you are satisfied before the others, and here while the awesome Mystery of Christ is being celebrated, while the priestly functions are still continuing, you leave in the middle of it and exit? How can this be forgiven? How can this be justified? Judas, after receiving Communion at the Last Supper [Mystical Supper] that final night, departed quickly while the others remained at the table. Behold, whose example do they follow who hurry to depart before the final thanksgiving?

(Homily on the Feast of the Epiphany)

$1000 If You Name Your Child Muhammad


Chechnya Pays $1,000 to Babies Born on Prophet Muhammad's Birthday

February 27, 2010
Pravda

Residents of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, celebrate Prophet Muhammad’s birthday – the holiday known as Mawlid. Family couples, who became parents on February 27 at night, will be paid $1,000 from local authorities.

Happy parents will have to meet a number of requirements to be able to receive the bonus. They will have to give specific names to their children. A boy must be named in honor of the prophet – Muhammad. If it is a girl, parents will have to name her in honor of Prophet Muhammad’s mother (Aminat), wives (Aisha and Hadijat) or daughters (Fatima, Umm-Kulsum and Rukiyat).

Festivities in Grozny began in the evening of February 25 and continued throughout the whole night. Many foreign guests arrived in Chechnya to take part in celebrations. Grozny’s residents and guests enjoyed a laser show at night. Fireworks illuminated the sky above the city early in the morning, before the morning prayers began.

Low-income citizens receive financial and food help in all areas of Chechnya. Billboards and posters dedicated to the holiday are plastered all over the republic, Vesti.ru reports.

The earliest accounts for the observance of Mawlid can be found in eighth-century Mecca, when the house in which Muhammad was born was transformed into a place of prayer by Al-Khayzuran (mother of Harun al-Rashid, the fifth and most famous Abbasid caliph). The early celebrations included elements of Sufic influence, with animal sacrifices and torchlight processions along with public sermons and a feast. The celebrations occurred during the day, in contrast to modern day observances, with the ruler playing a key role in the ceremonies. Emphasis was given to the Ahl al-Bayt with presentation of sermons and recitations of the Qur'an. The event also featured the award of gifts to officials in order to bolster support for the ruling caliph.

Islamic scholars are divided on whether observing Mawlid is necessary or even permissible in Islam. Some see it as a praiseworthy event and positive development, while others say it is an improper innovation and forbid its celebration.

A number of Islamic scholars, such as Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki, Gibril Haddad, and Zaid Shakir, all subscribing to the Sufi movement, and Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the primary scholar of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, have given their approval for the observance of Mawlid. They cite hadith where Muhammad recommended fasting on Mondays, as that was the day he was born and also the day prophecy descended on him. They suggest that fasting on Mondays is also a way of commemorating Muhammad's birthday. However, there is division among them on the lawfulness of the methods of the celebrations. Most accept that it is praiseworthy as long as it is not against sharia (i.e. inappropriate mingling of the sexes, consuming forbidden food or drink such as alcohol, playing music etc).

Mawlid is celebrated in most Muslim countries, and in other countries where Muslims have a presence, such as India, Britain, and Canada. Saudi Arabia is the only Muslim country where Mawlid is not an official public holiday. Participation in the ritual celebration of popular Islamic holidays is seen as an expression of the Islamic revival.

Liberals and Atheists Smarter?


It's absolutely insane how so many scientists are funded to do some of the most ridiculous research. This particular study, which explores how evolution shaped intelligent people, is one such study. Read the report here from Science Daily.

One will notice that this study is filled with assumptions that are thrown into the research, thus making it a biased and bigoted study which "reputable" scientific sources are treating with mind-boggling seriousness.

"Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid." They make it sound so obvious as if it is beyond dispute. But they base their findings on IQ scores. Their studies showed that adolescent atheists and liberals had higher IQ scores than non-atheists and conservatives. But do IQ scores determine such factors? Of course not. IQ measures developed skills, not native intelligence. When one places this into consideration, it is of little wonder that liberals and atheists would have higher IQ scores "on average".

Another interesting study reported was that men who are monogamous are more intelligent than men who aren't. Again this is measured by IQ. This is "assumed" on the "fact" that men were polygynous in evolutionary history, while women were monogamous. But if women were monogamous, and they measure intelligence by not only IQ but also those who adopt "novel preferences" (again another assumption), then we must conclude that women who have multiple partners are more intelligent than women who are monogamous.

This is just more proof that evolutionary psychology is going downhill.

Read more here, here, here, and here.

A Biochemical Link Between Misery and Death?


Read the article about a possible genetic link between misery and death from Science Daily here.

Even if this were true, I wonder what scientists plan on doing with this information in the long run. Just something to ponder...

Sermon for the Friday of the Second Week of Great Lent


CATECHESIS 58 

On Harmony and Love and on Nobly Enduring the Toils of 
Virtue for Gaining the Kingdom of Heaven

By St. Theodore the Studite

Friday of the Second Week

Brethren and fathers, in my lowliness I rejoice over you, because you are walking in harmony, conducting yourselves peaceably and continuing the season of the fast with endurance. And this is for your salvation and for our hope; for peace and harmony are a considerable good in a community, already evils are kept far away: disorder and instability, contradiction and slander, disobedience and pride and any other wickedness that may exist! Such people in the first place find good for themselves, secondly they are set forth as an example of virtue to others, and thence they gain the greatest benefits. For as those who are causes of scandals inherit the "Woe", so those who incite to virtue inherit blessing. And never, brethren, let us fall away from the good state and the praiseworthy way of life, nor let us leave off loving God; for it is written, "You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole soul and your whole strength and your whole mind". One then who loves thus is not satiated, does not fall, is not overtaken by despondency;* rather he adds fire to fire, and sets enthusiasm alight with enthusiasm, disposing ascents of virtues in his heart and going from power to spiritual power; and this unremittingly. Do you not see how much those who toil according to the flesh toil for vain and perishable things? Do you not see how those who build ships here under your very eyes** pass the whole day in toil , not allowing themselves any relaxation whatsoever? For what? So that they may acquire a little gold, so that they may take home what they need for their families; while we, to become rich with the things of God, to reach the kingdom of heaven, to enjoy the everlasting good things, to escape the everlasting punishments, shall we not endure all things with all enthusiasm and energy, if it were necessary to shed our blood, to be entirely ready to do so for the Lord? Yes, my brothers, I ask you, let us stand nobly, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, persevering in prayer, attentive to our manual work, to psalmody, recitation, readings, that by such occupation we may keep a hold on the mind, dragging it away from being occupied with vanities; since idleness is the mother of wickedness, while work is the guardian of the mind. Not however through these being turned from our state, but placing even greater emphasis on obedience, good order, the repose of our neighbour, all the other things which bring about the salvation of our soul; besides all these praying also for our brothers who have been scattered here and there; for concerning them too, whom I cannot see before my eyes, it is an anguish for me how each one is coming through safely; but at any rate praying earnestly for my humble person, that a word may be given me when I open my mouth, and a life free from deformation; so that from either side both we and you may be saved, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen.

* The translators of the Philokalia use ‘listlessness’ for this well known monastic scourge, akedia. See Volume 1 pp. 88-91 for St John Cassian’s account, or Step 13 of The Ladder.

**  St Theodore and his monks were in exile at this time at the Monastery of Crescens on the narrow gulf of Nikomedia (the modern Izmit Körfezi) at the NE end of the Sea of Marmara.

Source

Greek Crisis Is More Spiritual Than Economic


To escape the present crisis we must return to the way of God, says Archbishop Hieronymos of Athens and All Greece. He further said that though we all talk of a crisis, if we pull back the curtain we will see our own faces.

"We are embarrassed to say that we have a crisis in our days and we say it is economical", said the Archbishop, emphasizing the fact that we are facing many crisis' today, though they all stem from a spiritual crisis.

On the topic of immigration and the role of the Church, he also responded to those who criticize the philanthropic ministry of the Church towards the immigrants, saying: "We did not bring the strangers, and it is not our role to get rid of them. But when they knock on our door we must give them a plate of food because that is what Christ told us to do." Relating this issue to the topic of the economic crisis, he said that we distance ourselves from God when we don't obey these commands of Christ.

Hieronymos concluded saying: "I am sure that when we understand these things, then we will be able to move past this crisis."

Source

Thursday, February 25, 2010

World's Oldest Joke Book (4th cent.)


The oldest joke book in existence, Philogelos, is a Roman book written about the 4th century AD around the time of Constantine the Great (in Greek). The book is mostly quips from two guys, Hierokles and Philagrios, about whom little is known.

Like modern comedy, Roman comedy at the time of Constantine was based on the fortunes and foibles of a gallery of stock characters: the drunk, the miser, the braggart, the sex-starved woman, as well as a classic type known as the Scholasticus, variously translated as "pedant," "absent-minded professor," or "egghead."

There's a great video here, in which Brit comedic legend Jim Bowen does ancient Roman material from Philogelos in a modern comedy club.

Examples:

- Scholasticus meeting a friend exclaims, "Why, I heard you were dead!" The other replies, "Well, I tell you that I'm alive". "Yes," persists Scholasticus, "but the man who told me so is more truthful than you!"

- A son says to his father, "Base man! Don't you see how you have wronged me? If you had never been born and stood in the way I should have come into all my grandfather's money."

- An Abderite saw a eunuch talking with a woman and asked him if she was his wife. When he replied that eunuchs can't have wives, the Abderite asked: "So is she your daughter?"

Ok, so these aren't exactly knee slappers to our modern ears. Some of the jokes are no longer understandable as funny because of differences in customs and lifestyle. For instance there's a lot of jokes about lettuce. Fourth century Romans loved lettuce jokes because they evidently were dirty jokes (???).

- An intellectual was eating dinner with his father. On the table was a large lettuce with many succulent shoots. The intellectual suggested: "Father, you eat the children; I'll take mother."

Well, maybe not much has really changed in 1600 years.

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