The King of Serbia, Milutin, had a jealous, scheming wife who turned him against his own son, Prince Stefan. Convinced of the prince's treachery, the king ordered him blinded. In great pain, Stefan finally fell asleep in the Church of St. Nicholas. While he slept, the saint appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Do not despair, beloved Stefan, your eyes are in the palm of my hand."
Greatly comforted, when Stefan awoke the pain was relieved and he began a life of prayer. The king, however, was not satisfied. He exiled Prince Stefan to Constantinople, where he was imprisoned in a monastery.
One night, after a hard day's work, Stefan dozed off during the evening liturgy honoring Saint Nicholas. As he slept, the saint appeared to him a second time, made the sign of the cross over Stefan's face, saying, "Noble prince, do you remember my words, 'your eyes are in the palm of my hand?' I am giving them back to you now." The saint touched Stefan's eyes and then vanished. When Stefan woke up, he could see! However, he kept this a secret, still wearing cloth bandages over his eyes, and pretending to be blind.
After five years, King Milutin died. Prince Stefan told how Saint Nicholas came and his sight returned. Then Stefan returned to Serbia and became king.1 While he was king, he founded Decani Monastery,2 with a monastery church dedicated to St. Nicholas. He also founded a leprosy hospital. In gratitude to Saint Nicholas, King Stefan sent a silver altar and great icon3 to the Saint Nicholas Basilica in Bari, Italy.
Saint Nicholas appeared to King Stefan a third and last time, saying "The Lord is calling you to him, Stefan—be ready to depart this life." Preparing for his death, the king gave his riches to the monastery and leprosy hospital. Soon after, his own son led an uprising and had King Stefan killed. He was buried at the Decani Monastery and made a saint by the Serbian Orthodox Church.
1. King Stephen Uroš III (known as Stephen Decani) ruled Serbia from 1321-1331. This hagiographical account was written at the Decani Monastery sometime around 1400.
2. Decani Monastery is still an important spiritual center. More information and pictures of the monastery.
3. King Stefan and his wife gave this enormous (44.5x73.5 inches) icon of Saint Nicholas with silver oklad to the Basilica di San Nicola, Bari, Italy. It is on the wall in St. Nicholas' crypt shrine.
Hymn of Praise: St. Stefan of Decani
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
On the Field of Sheep, the blind Stefan sleeps
And in a dream, endures misfortune without peace.
His body shivering, his eyes bloody,
Than such a life, death is surely better.
At that moment, in a dream a man appeared to him,
In heavenly glow, in heavenly glory.
"Nicholas I am, of Myra in Lycia," said he,
"And, one of those whom God chooses, you are.
Into my right hand, O Stefan, look,
Behold are your eyes, preserved in it!
Without eyes you are, the eyes are with me,
To you I will give them, when the Lord wants."
Five years passed and Stefan in darkness
A strong hope has, a strong faith has:
"To me, Nicholas will come once more,
With God's help; help me, he will."
Thus did Stefan, once think in the church,
And to the beloved saint, with tears, he prayed.
And while in the chair standing, in a dream, he fell,
But behold, St. Nicholas again to him came!
Two eyes of the king in his right palm:
"Behold," said he, "to you, O king the day dawned!
In the name of the Lord Who, to the blind, gives sight
Look and cry out: To God be glory!"
And the blind eyes, the saint touched
And darkness from the eyes as a curtain is drawn.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
The King of Serbia, Milutin, had a jealous, scheming wife who turned him against his own son, Prince Stefan. Convinced of the prince's treachery, the king ordered him blinded. In great pain, Stefan finally fell asleep in the Church of St. Nicholas. While he slept, the saint appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Do not despair, beloved Stefan, your eyes are in the palm of my hand."
Like the Pentateuch, Isaiah has also received significant scholarly scrutiny. This occurs because of its numerous prophecies about Israel, Babylon, and the Messiah.
The author is identified as Isaiah, son of Amoz (Isaiah 1:1: “The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.”). That pinpoints the writing to the period from 790 BC through 686 BC, at least 100 years before the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians and the resulting exile of 70 years. Isaiah extensively prophesied about this event as well as about God’s judgment on the Assyrians (who conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722, during Isaiah’s lifetime) and on the Babylonians.
Because liberal scholars are skeptical about anything that points to supernatural inspiration of the Bible, they have tried to explain the fulfilled prophecies in these books by re-dating them to after the events. The theory of Deutero-Isaiah (or Second Isaiah) emerged near the end of the eighteenth century. According to this theory, Isaiah himself wrote only the first 39 chapters, leaving one of his students to pen the second part (chapters 40-66) after the Babylonian captivity started (so, after 586 BC). This later date would explain explicit predictions of “Cyrus, King of Persia” in Isaiah 44:28-45:1.
The Deutero-Isaiah theory claims Isaiah chapters 40-55 contain no personal details of the prophet Isaiah, in strong contrast to Isaiah 1-39. The first section relates numerous stories of Isaiah, especially his dealings with kings and others in Jerusalem. The style and language of Isaiah 40–55 are said to be quite different from the earlier chapters (interestingly, an argument for similarity of styles is advanced by scholars who support one author for Isaiah). The assertion is, that specific references to Cyrus originated in the experiences of the exiles in Babylon. This last argument is supposedly the strongest, yet it seems more wish than fact! It claims the second part of the second part of Isaiah was written later because only a later date can explain the accuracy of the prophecy.
Many scholars rejects the Deutero-Isaiah theory. A long list of arguments includes the similarity of writing styles in both sections, the consistent use of the same words throughout, and the familiarity of author is with Palestine, but not Babylon. Jewish tradition uniformly ascribes the entire book to Isaiah. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain a complete scroll of Isaiah dated from the second century BC that indicates the book as one unit (the end of chapter 39 and the beginning of chapter 40 are in one continuous column of text). Evidently scribes who produced this scroll never doubted the singular unity of the book. Neither did the New Testament authors nor the early church, as quotations from both sections are attributed only to Isaiah.
Isaiah contains extensive and explicit prophecies about the coming of the Messiah as well as the life and crucifixion of Christ. Briefly these include: the reign of Christ in the kingdom (2:3–5), the virgin birth of Christ (7:14), the reign of Christ (9:2,7), His rule over the world (v. 4), Christ as a descendant of David (11:1,10), Christ to be filled with the Spirit (v. 2; 42:1), Christ to judge with righteousness (11:3–5; 42:1, 4), Christ to rule over the nations (11:10), Christ to be gentle to the weak (42:3), Christ to make possible the New Covenant (v. 6; 49:8), Christ to be a light to the Gentiles and to be worshiped by them (42:6; 49:6–7; 52:15), Christ to be rejected by Israel (49:7; 53:1–3), Christ to be obedient to God and subject to suffering (50:6; 53:7–8), Christ to be exalted (52:13; 53:12), Christ to restore Israel and judge the wicked (61:1–3).
Messianic prophecy is strong and important evidence for Jesus’ claims to be God. These prophecies cannot be ignored since Isaiah’s writings were completed many centuries before Jesus Christ was born. Remember, the Dead Sea Scrolls contained more than one complete scroll of this book composed well before the birth of Christ. And the book of Isaiah was included in the LXX translated at least 300 years earlier.
By Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens
Address to the University of Iasi - "Futurum" June 2003
Right Honorable Chancellor,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My very dear youths, our pride and hope,
I am deeply moved as I speak to you in your University today, in this town where, during the years of slavery, a Greek School flourished. At that time we spent together stony years, years of persecution and of death, years of suffering. Freedom remained hidden like embers smouldering in the souls of your forefathers, and of the Greeks who lived here with you and thanks to your hospitality. In those years learning was a rare good and the price to be paid for it was high, sometimes with persecution, sometimes even with one’s own life. Those years have left memories deeply engraved, as if by a penknife, on the marble of our hearts. May our address today be considered a homage to the memory of your forefathers, who wrapped the Greek School in the cocoon of their affection.
My dear ones,
In my address to the University of Craiova the other day I raised the issue: what do we mean by the assertion that Europe is a creation of Christianity. I showed, within the limited time span provided for a speech, that Christianity has contributed very significantly to the creation of the European, thanks to the fact that it offered him and her the identity of equal participant to a different kind of commonwealth, namely the respublica christiana, constituted by common faith, a shared perception of justice and common learning.
As a matter of fact, before Christianity, the term “Europe” denoted merely a geographical concept, it signified merely one specific region. At first, it was the name of an area of Greece, also known as Epirus . The first geographer, Hecataeus from Miletus used the term Europe to denote the region which extends from the embouchure of the river Danube to the Iberian peninsula.
The term Europe is found for the first time in a text by Sulpicius Severus of the 4th century AD, no longer as a geographical concept but as a unitary formation: after expressing his admiration for the ascetics of the East, the Roman chronicler adds that “our Europe too has found its place in the economy of salvation by means of its saints”.
However, more centuries had to go by before Christianity could triumph, more work needed to be done before Europe could be formed as a distinct entity. Around 950 AD, the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus speaks of Europe with the pride that one has when one speaks of one’s own homeland: “It is reasonable that Byzantium should be at the head of the land called Europe, given that it is a city both reigning over and surpassing the entire world”. And he adds confidently: “Indeed, I regard it as the head of Europe because Byzantium itself is the most beautiful and most honourable part of Thrace”.
There was therefore the growing realisation, during the Middle Ages, that Europe constituted not only an area but our home. Yet, in times of threat or of conflict, difference presents itself to us and our identity becomes evident. It is not at that moment that our identity comes into existence for the first time, as has been claimed, but rather that it presents itself in relief. This is how we can explain why Europe fully realised its particular essence only with the appearance of the threat of Islam.
Nowadays, it is claimed by certain thinkers and politicians, who strive to shake off the heritage of Christianity, that, in any case, identification of Christendom with the European spirit occurred, if at all, only in the Middle Ages, and that Europe, being a creation of the Renaissance, has nothing to do with Christendom. And yet, with the same confidence as that of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, whom we quoted earlier on, Pope Pius II remarks in 1458 that Islam “turns against Europe itself, which means against our homeland, against our own hearth”.
Let us be reminded at this point that the year 1458 was High Renaissance, and Pius II, before becoming a Pope, was one of the representative literati of that movement, Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini. In 1623, another characteristic representative of the Renaissance, Francis Bacon, used the expression “We Europeans” in his writings, and of course he must have felt that what he wrote was something which the people around him shared with him. Yet maybe no one else expressed this identity so well as the great cartographer Abraham Hortelius, who, in his “Geographic Encyclopedia”, noted in 1578, under the headword “Christian”: “For Christian, see European”. One cannot help wondering: if Hortelius’ 16th century is not the Renaissance, where are today’s antichristian members of the European Parliament striving to discover the Renaissance?
Needless to say, the European landscape was not an integral whole in which the Christian Church worked towards the goal of the entry of that whole into ― and its unification within ― her own ideal of a regime. Sadly, the European landscape was torn by deep seismic chasms. The Church, as a historic presence, could not always remain aloof or operate at a distance from public sentiment. She could not always keep herself out of the pressures of secular power. Particularly in Western Europe, the Church herself developed into a distinct authority, thus breeding a disastrous anti-ecclesiastical spirit. In this way, although she fought to create a society of solidarity, an ecumenical republic, where all nations would live in peace and security, the Church herself found herself scheming breaches or collaborating in their occurrence.
Every man and woman of the Church feels deep grief for everything that the Schism between Rome and the Orthodox Church has been causing for centuries now. I do not mean specifically the Schism of the year 1054. The Schism was there well before, and in a number of different ways. Its consequences, however, did not consist only in endless theological feuds or, as has been said, “disputes between priests”. The Schism brought disasters upon the peoples of Europe and still continues to traumatise them in their historic course. I do not think that up to this day there has been written a sincere and penetrating history of all the evils caused by the Schism to the Church, and to the life and culture of Europeans. Nevertheless, it is certain that, once this history is written, it will help us all realise how mortal a sin the Schism has been.
I shall not refer here to the ecclesiological aspects of the Schism. Instead I shall concentrate strictly on the subject of my talk, but let me just remind you that it was the Schism, both during its period of incubation and when, later on, it came out of the snake’s egg, which led to the pernicious division of Europe into Eastern and Western world, to the underestimation of and contempt for the one of these two worlds by the other, which, in turn, ended up in wars and disasters.
The division of Europe into two worlds began precisely with that gap between Byzantium and the West. The Westerners called themselves Europeans, as if the other peoples were not. However, the state, the head of which would always sign as “King and Emperor of the Romans”, was not designated by anyone as Byzantine, or Byzantine Empire, until only as late as 1562 by Hieronymus Wolf in Germany. And it was with great satisfaction that I noted the desideratum pointed out by an eminent historian of our days, namely that Byzantium should be reintegrated into the history of Europe. We must also acknowledge the fact that this state was the first Christian commonwealth of Europe, founded upon Roman law and Greek learning. In this sense, Byzantium was the founder of Christian Europe.
Within the framework of the Byzantine Empire, the Church was able to teach the ecumenical idea. Although invasions and settlements of peoples did occur within the empire, and despite the fact that massive displacements of populations from one region of the empire to another were not uncommon, we have no indication of ethnic strife: the Church treated all peoples with the same love, and took care of the integration of any newcomers.
But this could not be so in Western Europe. Being preoccupied with the acquisition of secular power, the Church of Rome was unable to teach the peoples the principle of peaceful mutual acceptance. Thus, already in the course of the early Middle Ages, the texts of the period make mention of the inextinguishable hatred between Italians and Germans, and particularly between Franks and Germans ― a hatred that caused many conflicts in the course of the centuries, before leading to the two World Wars.
The original Schism between the Orthodox Church and Rome was followed by others, of which the most serious was the breach between the Catholic South and the Protestant North. The religious wars which ensued caused new wounds to the body of Europe, and led to its inner division. It is significant that the Western European was abandoned by the Church, and as a result he turned the blessed love of one’s own homeland into ideology: Nationalism, this deadly enemy of the peoples of Europe, is an offspring of the Western world, an offspring of a Christian world which grew up without being taught the ecumenical spirit by the Church, along with the love of homeland.
It is a valuable lesson for us all, how, in the midst of war, groups of national resistance, in which Christians participated, set themselves the task not only of crushing Nazism, but also of surpassing the hatred between the peoples.
Accordingly, while the Resistance was fighting against the Germans, at the same time they were organising post-war Europe demanding its re-unification, so that even the German opponents could partake of it on an equal basis. Their demand was accepted by other personalities of the Resistance and led to the Declaration of the Resistance Convention of Geneva on May 20, 1944, in which anti-Nazi Germans participated as well. The courage of those people, their strength to struggle for freedom with no need for nationalist hatred, is a luminous example for us all. At this point I shall claim, if I may, in homage to their memory and in appreciation of their struggle for the freedom and dignity of their own compatriots and of all Europeans, that those people found themselves at the head of the quest for the Christian commonwealth.
In spite of the anathemas and the enmity, by the grace of the Lord, the great and catastrophic Schism never materialised to the fullest extent.
If the Church, in her historical dimension, had allowed herself to remain trapped in the Schism, then Europe, as a formation of the Church, would have ceased to exist.
It is impossible to know whether the hordes of barbarians would have become states or whether they would have remained what they still were by the time they were baptised or what they continued to be for centuries in Asia: that is, violent hordes, plagues of injustice and pillage, brave but inhuman. For Western Europe, the baptism of the Frankish leader Clovis, first barbarian king, in 496, was indeed a decisive development of historic significance. It was from that point onwards that the integration and europeanisation process began for the barbarians. For the Orthodox world things were different, since the Roman tradition adopted by Theodosius consisted in striking one’s enemies for as long as they fought, but also in integrating them in its world as soon as they would calm down.
If the Church in her historical aspect had remained trapped in the Schism, then Europe would have died even before being born. This is because the Church of Rome, despite her secular aspirations, did not cease to uphold the Corpus Juris Civilis, namely Justinian's Law, in the course of the centuries and to put it across as a model. By this means she succeeded in teaching the barbarians that the law is more important that the state, since the latter is founded upon the former, and that the law does not die when the sovereign dies, not even when the state dies. In brief, she succeeded in teaching the sovereigns that they could only contravene the law, but they could not fail to acknowledge it ― the sovereign was about to learn that going against the law counted as a sin even for him. In this way, the Church of Rome pushed the barbarians to establish “Christian States” after the model of the Roman Empire and to bow to the sovereignty of the rule of law.
If the Church in her historical dimension had remained trapped in the Schism, then Europe would have been given no breathing space, because communication between its two “worlds” would have been interrupted and hindered to an extent until then unseen by man. But communication was there. Greek was always regarded as the “lingua sacra”, knowledge of Greek was always a proof of sound education and the so-called “missa graeca” never ceased to be chanted in the West. There was a sufficient number of grammars of Greek. Greek manuscripts were collected by all important monasteries and great libraries. The educated of the Middle Ages had ways of communicating and collaborating with one another despite the Schism. As a result, Greek learning never ceased to be seen by the West too as a desired ― if not so common ― good. "Greek letters taught, even when they were absent", as an eminent master noted .
Yet may it be that Christianity, though the creator of Europe once, is now in the past? What does it have to offer to Europe today, now that there are no more barbarians, at least not in the historical sense of the term? What can it offer to this Europe which navigates by the stars of human rights and of the rule of law, and where education is compulsory up to a certain age and then open to all?
But the Church is to the world what the soul is to the body: she is the breath of life to it. She is the expression of God’s love and of His gift to man, the open and caring embrace of the Virgin Mary, the life of her members itself, their prayer in joy and in grief. As an institution, as an organisation, the Church expresses her ecumenical standing by covering the life of man in its entirety.
There is no social task which the Church undertakes because the state does not want to or cannot carry it out or because there are no other capable institutions. The Church constitutes by definition the very fact of our life in community. She cares for us because we have our own cares and we come to drop them off at her. The Church will not forfeit her social work, because we only think of going to church when we want to pray for someone or for something. The intervention of the Church is therefore our own warm breath on the frozen glass of necessity. As the troparion says, “the Church proved herself to be like a sky studded with many lights, which illuminated all the faithful”.
It is within the horizon of the Church that we raise this issue today. And we can see wherein the threat lies today.
Without Christianity, the United Europe will not become a society but a company. It will be unable to develop into anything more than a well-organised group of people, connected between them only with the frosty logic of the rights of the individual. In Christian society, human relations are governed by the wealth of the soul, and it is only when this latter has become exhausted that we resort to the law. In contrast, in a company the law stipulates the nature and the manner of the relations so that the whole may be maintained in order, so one is then left with the impression that one’s self develops as one thinks fit. I wonder, how much loneliness will be needed before we realise that the development of personality outside the blessed society is precisely what is described in the Parable of the Prodigal Son?
Without Christianity, the common framework of values, which we all share, will be abolished and replaced by the private sphere. Our ethics will no longer be able to determine human rights, but will be determined by them. I wonder, how much pain will be needed before we realise that the rights of man are not the way for man to live, that man lives if and only if he does service, that he is happy only when he gives and offers, because he too then becomes the recipient of an inexpressible gift, and therefore man’s greatest right is to waive his own rights, to be able to go constantly beyond them.
Without Christianity, spiritual life will be pointless, and will be identified with entertainment, with pleasure and with rest. I wonder, how much pain will be needed before we realise that a spiritual life which is not in constant contact with exercise is no real recreation but flabbiness and futile words? And what situation need we come to before we see that what should be a great offering and rejoicing of the spirit, has deteriorated into gratification? How far down need we fall before we open our eyes at last to see that, without devotion and sacredness, voluptuousness is affliction, and enjoyment is a deadly sword?
Without Christianity, man will turn into a producer and, by the same token, a victim of consumerism. I wonder, how much deprivation will be needed before we realise that, without days of fasting and abstinence from desires, man is tied to the chariot of the ever and deliberately growing needs? How many tears need be shed before we learn to see that, if man cannot feel the distinction between days of retirement and days of feast, then he will only enjoy himself like a pig in its own dirt?
Without Christianity, the United Europe will not be a civilisation but an enlarged marketplace. It will be nothing but a rearing farm of a greasy, grey shapeless mass.
Europe has been our vision. It is now up to us to create the United Europe, and not the united cowshed.
We do not ask that all Europeans be Christians. Religious tolerance is also our own request, not just a request of non-Christians. We do not ask that the Church should direct the State. The independence of the State from religion is also our own request.
What we do wish for is that the face of Europe be not lost; that we not wreck Europe by throwing it away into irrelevance through its civilisation, its languages, its traditions.
The Church does not ask for anything, she does not act like a corporation. The Church is anxious; the Church is praying. And I would like to share with you the prayer for Europe not to be deprived of our Christian future. I wish to share with you the prayer for our fight for the unification of Europe to turn out to be not a sin but a blessing.
The Lord Jesus was coming from the Temple on the Sabbath, when, while walking in the way, He saw the blind man mentioned in today's Gospel. This man had been born thus from his mother's womb, that is, he had been born without eyes (see Saint John Chrysostom, Homily LVI on Matthew; Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V:15; and the second Exorcism of Saint Basil the Great). When the disciples saw this, they asked their Teacher, "Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" They asked this because when the Lord had healed the paralytic at the Sheep's Pool, He had told him, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee" (John 5:14); so they wondered, if sickness was caused by sin, what sin could have been the cause of his being born without eyes. But the Lord answered that this was for the glory of God. Then the God-man spat on the ground and made clay with the spittle. He anointed the eyes of the blind man and said to him, "Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam." Siloam (which means "sent") was a well-known spring in Jerusalem used by the inhabitants for its waters, which flowed to the eastern side of the city and collected in a large pool called "the Pool of Siloam."
Therefore, the Saviour sent the blind man to this pool that he might wash his eyes, which had been anointed with the clay-not that the pool's water had such power, but that the faith and obedience of the one sent might be made manifest, and that the miracle might become more remarkable and known to all, and leave no room for doubt. Thus, the blind man believed in Jesus' words, obeyed His command, went and washed himself, and returned, no longer blind, but having eyes and seeing. This was the greatest miracle that our Lord had yet worked; as the man healed of his blindness himself testified, "Since time began, never was it heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind," although the Lord had already healed the blind eyes of many. Because he now had eyes, some even doubted that he was the same person (John 9:8-9); and it was still lively in their remembrance when Christ came to the tomb of Lazarus, for they said, "Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have caused that even this man should not have died?" Saint John Chrysostom gives a thorough and brilliant exposition of our Lord's meeting with the woman of Samaria, the healing of the paralytic, and the miracle of the blind man in his commentaries on the Gospel of Saint John.
To read a Patristic commentary on this Gospel passage, see St. Cyril of Alexandria here, and St. John Chrysostom here, here, here and here.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
I come to You, O Christ, as the man blind from birth. With the eyes of my soul blinded, I cry out to You in repentance, "You are the resplendent Light of those in darkness."
I've noticed that yesterday many people heard for the first time about the proposed Divine Liturgy to be celebrated at Hagia Sophia on Friday 17 September 2010. I heard about this a while ago and never really took it seriously, but I guess as the days draw near the inevitable will be attempted. Personally, the only reason I have not spoken about it is because I don't think it will happen. They have not received permission to conduct a Divine Liturgy there, and they most likely will not. The Prime Minister of Turkey has been (rudely) invited to attend, but the invitation makes no effort to cordially ask permission. Halki will have to be reopened before such a thing takes place, and I think such a move on the part of Chris Spirou and the International Congregation of Hagia Sophia is irresponsible as it could potentially damage much of the work the Ecumenical Patriarch has put into establishing a peaceful relationship with the Muslim population and the "secular" government. Without the blessing of the Ecumenical Patriarch such an action should not be conducted. It should be noted also that this is an international organization comprising many nations and religions, so the Divine Liturgy, as the invitation to the Prime Minister indicates, is meant to unite representatives of all religions in common worship. Let alone the fact that the feast on which Hagia Sophia celebrated its feast day was not that of St. Sophia and her three daughters (September 17), but on Mid-Pentecost when we celebrate Christ as the Wisdom of God. It will be interesting to see what happens, but Greeks have been hasty in trying to acquire Hagia Sophia in the past as well, and I refer to the time in the 1920's when Greek's almost temporarily accomplished their "Great Idea" by capturing territories in Asia Minor and Constantinople almost in their grasp, but lost it all for being a bit too hasty and cocky, leading to the Greek expulsion from Turkey. Could we see a new "Great Idea" being proposed too hastily that will inevitably fail? We will know shortly.
Read the news story here, here and here. A video can also be seen here from a few years back about the issue. And here is a song composed by Stamatis Spanoudakis about how Greeks will one day take back Constantinople and Hagia Sophia.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
By Minas Monir
April 18, 2010
When I was a child at primary school, I remember an important question that made me think deeply about who Christ is. I was sitting in the classroom when the teacher of History asked me," What do you say about Issa (an Arabic name for Jesus)?" I replied, "He is the Son of God." As could be expected of a pious Muslim woman, the answer perplexed her, so I said, "But he is a man." Although it was me who answered the question, I was not less perplexed than her! I returned home and told my mother about what had happened while she was washing dishes and preparing dinner. I said, "I think Christ can't be but a man. However, He is the Son of God because he was born miraculously and without a father." She said, "Christ is a true God, you should learn to confess that whenever you are asked about Him. Christ says, “Whoever disowns me before others I will disown before my Father in heaven (Matt 10:33)." I felt the weight of the question and the importance of reaching an answer. Is He a God or a man or something else?
I was raised in a Coptic family. The word Copt comes originally from the Greek word for Egypt, Aigyptos, and the word Copt merely meant Egyptian. After the Muslim conquest of Egypt in the 7th century and the subsequent transformation of Egypt to a Muslim majority country, the term Copt came to apply only to the minority of Egyptians who remained Christian. My family was not greatly involved in the religious life of the Coptic Church, largely because we lived in an Arab Gulf country at the time rather than Egypt. After my father passed away, we moved back to Egypt where we experienced a new and different religious atmosphere, being surrounded by Coptic churches. Christ was my main concern but the question remained unanswered.
Read the rest of the two part story here and here.
"The feast day of this great apostle and evangelist is celebrated on September 26. This day (May 8) commemorates the miracle which appeared at his grave. When John was over one hundred years old, he took seven of his disciples, went outside the town of Ephesus and ordered them to dig a grave in the form of a cross. After that, the elder went down into this grave and was buried. Later on, when the faithful opened John's grave, they did not find his body. On May 8 of every year, dust [also called 'manna'] is raised from his grave from which the sick are healed of various diseases." - St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Each year, for about a thousand years, from the grave of the holy Apostle John on May 8th, there came forth a fine ash-dust, which believers called "manna", and gathered it up after an All-Night Vigil and were healed of sicknesses by it. Therefore the Church celebrates the memory of the Apostle John the Theologian still on May 8 to commemorate this annual miracle, even though his main feast is on September 26.
Many pilgrims of medieval times made note of this extraordinary annual miracle. Both Augustine and Gregory of Tours make reference to it. Anglo-Saxon Willibald, later a bishop and a saint, visited Ephesus in 724 and marvelled at the miracle of the manna that bubbled from the tomb of the Apostle. Symeon Metaphrastes in the tenth century writes of the festival on May 8th being of such great magnitude that it seemed there were more people in attendance to take part in the miracle and receive a portion of its distribution than there were stars in the sky. For the unhappy Metropolitan George Tornikes (1155–56), the tomb with its inexhaustible dust was his sole consolation for having to live in what he considered a barbarous place with a dilapidated church.
Abbot Daniel, a Russian pilgrim of the early 12th century, visited the Basilica of St. John that was built over his tomb, and described the feast celebrated on May 8th as well as the shrines and relics surrounding the area:
"It is 60 versts from the isle of Chios to Ephesus; and at this latter place is seen the tomb of St. John the Evangelist. On the anniversary of his death, holy dust rises from this tomb, which believers gather as a remedy against every kind of disease; the garment which John wore is also here. Quite near is the cave in which rest the bodies of the Seven Sleepers who slept for 360 years, having fallen asleep in the reign of the Emperor Decius, and awakened in the time of the Emperor Theodosius. In this same cavern are the (remains of the) three hundred Holy Fathers and of St. Alexander; the tomb of Mary Magdalene is also here, as well as her head; and the holy Apostle Timothy, the disciple of St. Paul, reposes in his ancient coffin. In the old church the picture of the Holy Virgin is preserved; it was with this that the holy (fathers) refuted the heretic Nestorius. Here, too, one sees the Bath of Dioscorides, where St. John the Evangelist laboured with Prochorus in the house of Romana. We saw, also, the harbour, named the 'Marble Port', where St. John the Evangelist was cast up by the sea."
According to one author, the most elaborate description of the miracle dates to 1304 by Catalan Muntaner who arrived in a mercenary force:
"On Saint Stephen’s day, every year, at the hour of Vespers, it comes out of the tomb (which is four-cornered and stands at the foot of the altar and has a beautiful marble slab on the top, full twelve palms long and five broad), and in the middle of the slab there are nine very small holes, and out of these holes, as Vespers are being sung on St. Stephen’s day, (on which day the Vespers are of St. John), manna like sand comes out of each hole and rises a full palm high from the slab, as a jet of water rises up. And this manna issues out . . . and it lasts all night and then all Saint John’s day until sunset. There is so much of this manna, by the time the sun has set and it has ceased to issue out, that, altogether, there are of it full three cuarteras of Barcelona [about 120 quarts]. And this manna is marvelously good for many things; for instance he who drinks it when he feels fever coming on will never have fever again. Also, if a lady is in travail and cannot bring forth, if she drinks it with water or with wine, she will be delivered at once. And again, if there is a storm at sea and some of the manna is thrown in the sea three times in the name of the Holy Trinity and Our Lady Saint Mary and the Blessed Saint John the Evangelist, at once the storm ceases. And again, he who suffers from gall stones, and drinks it in the said names, recovers at once. And some of this manna is given to all pilgrims who come there; but it only appears once a year."
Regarding the Basilica of St. John the Theologian built by the Empror Justinian, originally it had been in a cruciform shape with six massive domes. More recently they have uncovered a baptistry and and a small chapel to the side. The tomb of the Apostle is today exposed to the elements, but originally it was located under the main central dome of the church. Unfortunately three relics which were still in the church during Ottoman times are now lost to us - a piece of the True Cross worn by the Apostle John around his neck, a garment of the Apostle made by the Theotokos, and most significantly for biblical scholarship today was the original manuscript of the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) which was authored by this apostle. Today the Basilica is in ruins.
The Repose of St. John the Theologian According to His Disciple Prochorus
My Pilgrimage To The Tomb of Saint John the Apostle In Ephesus
Apolytikion in the Second Tone
Beloved Apostle of Christ our God, hasten to deliver a people without defense. He who permitted you to recline upon His bosom, accepts you on bended knee before Him. Beseech Him, O Theologian, to dispel the persistent cloud of nations, asking for us peace and great mercy.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
Who can recount your greatness, O virgin, for miracles flow and healing springs forth from you. You intercede for our souls, as the Theologian and friend of Christ.
A monk complained to St. Arsenios the Great that while reading Holy Scripture he does not feel, neither the power of the words read nor gentleness in his heart.
To that the great saint replied to him: "My child, just read! I heard that the sorcerers of serpents, when they cast a spell upon the serpents, the sorcerers are uttering the words, which they themselves do not understand, but the serpents hearing the spoken words sense their power and become tamed. And so, with us, when we continually hold in our mouths the words of Holy Scripture, but even though we do not feel the power of the words, evil spirits tremble and flee for they are unable to endure the words of the Holy Spirit."
My child, just read! The Holy Spirit Who, through inspired men, wrote these divine words, will hear, will understand and will hasten to your assistance; and the demons will understand, will sense, and will flee from you. That is: He Whom you invoke for assistance will understand, and those whom you wish to drive away from yourself will understand. And both goals will be achieved.
- St. Nikolai Velimirovich
By: Dr. Jane M. deVyver
These few words ore offered to help people in general to have a better understanding of what Orthodox liturgical practices are supposed to convey and why. In particular, comments are directed towards Orthodox cantors, singers and choir directors to help guide them in accurately fulfilling their roles in Divine Services and to resist the contemporary spread of innovative liturgical practices that undermine the fullness of what Orthodox Worship should be all about.
Standing in Two Worlds
As soon as we step into an Orthodox church, we are stepping into another world — another realm. We are stepping out of our everyday world, into the eternal world — and we have the opportunity to experience a foretaste of God’s heavenly Kingdom. The architecture of an Orthodox church, its icons and the way in which its Divine Services are conducted should all convey the reality of this other heavenly realm and help us to participate in it and experience it. In an Orthodox church building, with its icons and Divine Services, we are standing in two worlds, with one foot in the temporal world and one foot in the eternal world. We are given the opportunity to transcend the sense of time of our daily lives in the temporal world, and to encounter the transfigured and redeemed time of the Heavenly Kingdom. St. Paul instructs us in several of his Epistles to “redeem the time.” There are many different meanings of this phrase, but one meaning is that in Orthodox Divine Services we can experience what we might call “redeemed time.”
Two Kinds of Time
In English, we are somewhat restricted in talking and thinking about time, partly due to the general lack of adequate words to express transcendent experience, and partly because we have just one word for ‘time’ — which generally refers to chronological, calendar time as measured by a clock. However, in the Greek language, with its inherent thought-patterns, the language in which the New Testament was written and the Eastern Fathers thought and wrote, there are two words for time. “Chronos” (as in ‘chronological’) is the Greek word for the earthly, temporal, measurable, clock time where we live our everyday lives. “Chronos” time and space are chief characteristics of God’s created world and therefore are not bad in themselves, but are to be redeemed, along with everything else in the fallen world. However, Greek (and some other languages) has a second word, (and therefore a second category of thought) for time — “kairos.” This refers to what we might describe as “Eternal” or “Divine time,” or “Transfigured time,” or “Redeemed time”— a realm wherein we step outside of and transcend the “clock” time of our everyday lives in the world. “Kairos” time is the realm of artistic creativity, wherein one “stands outside oneself,” and is caught up into another realm or level of existence. “Kairos” time is the present now time: “Today Christ is born! Today Christ is Risen! Today Christ is Baptized! This is the day of salvation! “Kairos” time is also the “fullness of time,” when the Eternal breaks into and penetrates our fallen earthly existence, transfiguring it and us, wherein we are granted the gift to temporarily catch a glimpse of standing in the Presence of God. This is the realm of what might be called “religious experience”—or having a “personal experience” of God; it is the present moment of repentance and conversion . We have stepped into “Kairos” time when we are “caught up” and don’t even notice the passage of “chronos” time.
“Kairos” is the transcendent time into which we are invited to enter and to experience in Orthodox Divine worship—the Divine time of this other world, this other realm. This is the “redeemed time” into which we are invited to enter when we step into an authentic Orthodox church temple. This is the “redeemed time” that we can experience in authentic Orthodox icons. This is the “redeemed time” in which we can participate during authentically-rendered Orthodox Divine Services. The degree to which the architecture, icons and liturgy can enable us to temporarily transcend this fallen temporal world and have a foretaste of heavenly worship in God’s Presence can vary enormously, but the extent to which the earthly worship reflects the heavenly worship is the most important. When the Divine Services are sung and chanted and prayed in a way that reflects heavenly worship, then even a mediocre physical church building, with mediocre icons, (or even when served in a hospital, nursing home, prison, home, or other setting outside a church building), can be transformed temporarily into the eternal Kingdom and where those present are invited to participate in the continuous worship of heaven. This is a totally awesome gift that we are offered!
Sometimes people can intuitively experience this sense of transcendence of time, space and place—the transcending of the temporal, everyday life of the ‘world’— without knowing just how to express in words the experience of standing with one foot in heaven and one foot on the earth. But on the other hand, sometimes the opposite might occur, for it is also very easy—and an enormous temptation that must be rigorously resisted—to bring the experiences of our daily, temporal life in the fallen world into the life of the Church and its Divine Services. We also can be tempted to bring with us the experience of both secular and heterodox music. Usually we do this without even being aware of what we are doing, because it is a unconscious expression of how we have been socialized in our lives in the culture around us. Let us reflect a bit about what this means in practice, to help us recognize it when it occurs.
Orthodox Worship Transports us into the Eternal Realm
Every Christian is called to “be in the world, but not of the world.” But this is a very difficult and life-long struggle, and is totally contradictory to everything that the culture around us teaches. But what exactly does it mean to be in the world but not of the world? One concise explanation of what this phrase means is that while we live our daily lives in the physical world around us, our values and priorities must be focused on God’s values and His priorities. That is—our hearts are to be committed to acquiring the treasures of God’s spiritual riches over all temporal, earthly wealth and power, and what the ‘world’ considers to be important. Participating in the “kairos” experience of Eternity in Orthodox worship can be a significant component of helping us not to be a part of the fallen world, while yet living in it. Our encounter with the Church, and its icons and liturgy is supposed to lift us up out of this world, and transport us temporarily into the heavenly, eternal realm, where the worship of God is continuous. But in order to have the opportunity for this to occur, we have to cooperate with the Lord in achieving this goal in a number of ways: in the way in which we design our Orthodox churches; in the way in which we paint our Orthodox icons; and most importantly, in the way in which we sing and chant the Divine Services. We must cooperate with God and have authentic Orthodox church architecture, authentic Orthodox icons, and authentic Orthodox Divine Services— authentic, precisely because they accurately reflect Orthodox Theology and Tradition.
Vital Principle: Orthodox Worship on Earth Is a Reflection of Divine Worship in Heaven
What steps can we take in our personal effort to cooperate with God in order to achieve these goals? To start with, we need to accept what is perhaps the most fundamental and vital principle of Orthodox liturgical theology, namely, that Divine Worship on earth is a reflection of Divine Worship in Heaven, and a foretaste of the fullness of Divine Worship that is to come. We proclaim this essential principle every time we sing the Cherubic Hymn in the Divine Liturgy: “Let us who mystically represent the cherubim, and who sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating Trinity, now lay aside all earthly cares. That we may receive the King of All, Who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts.” The meaning of these words is truly awesome and even mind-boggling—that we sinful and inadequate and frail human beings, are allowed to represent the cherubim, who are the angels, second in rank to the seraphim, who worship God continually before His Holy Throne and Altar.
The concept of earthly worship reflecting heavenly worship does not start with Christianity, but is received by Orthodox Christians from the Old Testament Jewish Tradition. God instructed Moses to create a Tabernacle modeled on the heavenly Tabernacle, and gave careful detailed instructions about how to make the Tabernacle, and how to do the liturgical rites to be performed in the Tabernacle, which are also modeled on those of heavenly worship. The Tabernacle of Moses, and its successor, the Temple in Jerusalem, are explicitly described by God to Moses as a correspondence between the invisible heavenly prototype and its visible counterpart on earth. The Church, which is the New Jerusalem and an image of God’s Heavenly Jerusalem, continues the Old Testament concept of the correspondence between the earthly temple and worship and their heavenly prototypes. In the New Testament, there are various descriptions of heavenly worship, especially in the Epistle to the Hebrews and in the Apocalypse or Revelation of St. John. This correspondence between the invisible heavenly prototype and the visible earthly expression is a vital characteristic of Christian architecture and worship from the earliest Christian centuries, and is a fundamental principle of Orthodox liturgical theology.
Orthodox Architecture and Icons Correspond to Heavenly Prototypes
Since our primary focus here is on liturgical practice, we will only very briefly cite a few examples of how this fundamental principle is expressed in Orthodox architecture and iconography. First, one very important example in Orthodox architecture is that the traditional Orthodox dome over a basically square, rather than rectangular space, is understood to be a reflection of the heavens over the earth, and symbolizes that the liturgical action that occurs beneath the dome is a reflection of the heavenly worship. (There are many other ways in which Orthodox church architecture symbolizes the heavenly realm and its continuous worship of the Holy Trinity, which we don’t have space to consider here. For further discussion, see: The Artistic Unity of the Russian Orthodox Church: Religion, Liturgy, Icons and Architecture, by Dr. Jane M. deVyver, M.Th., M.A., Ph.D.; St. Innocent/Firebird Videos, Audios & Books, Redford, MI; 1992; http://www.firebirdvideos.com/books/artistic.htm)
Second, in authentic Orthodox icons, which, in addition to the iconostasis, normally cover the walls and ceiling of the Orthodox temple, and reveal salvation history while making the invisible heavenly realm visible, also reflect the Orthodox experience of standing in two worlds at once. Authentic icons correspond to and reflect the vision of the transfigured, redeemed and Eternal Reality in a similar way as Divine Services do. Some of the techniques used to convey this reality are: not depicting the figures as we see things with our outer bodily eyes, but showing the bodies, nature, animals and buildings in a ‘stylized’ way, as seen with the inner, spiritual eyes. Another iconographic technique, which symbolizes that time and space are transcended in the Divine realm, is the use of what is called “reversed perspective.” This means that instead of trying to depict a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional surface by using “Renaissance perspective,” in which things in the background are shown to be smaller than things in the foreground, icons use what is called “reversed perspective,” where things in the foreground are smaller, and things in the background are larger. “Renaissance perspective” tries to imitate the world as seen with our human, temporal eyes, whereas “Reversed perspective” seeks to convey the Eternal, heavenly realm—Reality from God’s perspective, not from human perspective. (Again, there are many other iconographic techniques by which authentic icons reflect Orthodox theology that we don’t have space to discuss here. See again the above cited “Artistic Unity” book.)
Characteristics of Heavenly Worship
Let us now discuss the major thrust of this article, namely, the experience of time and eternity in Orthodox Divine worship. First, we must accept the Orthodox Church’s premise that what we do in our Divine Services is a reflection of Divine worship. Having accepted this premise, then let us ask— what are the characteristics of heavenly worship? Perhaps the most prominent elements of heavenly worship, as described especially in the Apocalypse/Revelation, is that the angels are in continuous prayer, continuously singing hymns, and falling down in worship. (There are other characteristics that won’t be discussed here, in order to maintain our focus on liturgical singing and chanting.)
How Orthodox Worship Corresponds to Heavenly Prototypes
How are these characteristics reflected in Orthodox worship? First of all, the numerous references in the Apocalypse/Revelation and in many of the Psalms of the angels singing, or worshipers being called to sing psalms and hymns, is reflected in the Orthodox Tradition of singing and chanting all Divine Services. A chanter “reads” hymns and prayers, but to “read” does not mean to speak-read, but to chant-read. (In other languages of the Orthodox world, the same word is used to refer to both chanting and singing, although in English we usually distinguish between the two.)
Second, another vital component of Orthodox worship is the experience of “time.” There are several liturgical practices characteristic of Orthodox worship which are intended to convey that what we are doing in Orthodox Divine Services is a reflection of Divine worship, wherein we participate in the continuous singing of the angels before God’s throne in heaven, and wherein we leave the temporal world and its “chronos” concept of earthly time, and enter into the “kairos” concept of transfigured and redeemed time. These liturgical practices, vital to the authentic celebration of Divine worship and to an accurate reflection of Orthodox theology, include:
1) Not sharply cutting off at the ends of phrases.
2) In general, singing and chanting “legato” (smoothly) and holding out the last syllable.
3) Overlapping between the singers, cantors, priests and deacons.
4) Not having “empty spaces,” where the singers or chanters stop before the next liturgical action starts, and there are silent “holes” in what should be the continuous flow of worship.
(5) Singing and chanting at an appropriate tempo that is neither too fast nor too slow, and at a volume that is neither shouting nor inaudible, (as is appropriate to what is being sung or chanted, the acoustics of the church, and size of the choir, etc.). Racing through hymns and responses and shouting at full-volume reflect the rat-race of our temporal world, not the peace of the heavenly realm.
(6) The texts and their theology are of primary importance to Orthodox liturgical practice, and basically “drive” the music. Therefore the words must be pronounced carefully with great attention to diction, so the words are understandable. If the tempo is too fast, clear diction disappears, and there are simply sounds, not words. Much of our magnificent Orthodox theology is contained in the beautiful poetry of the hymns of the Divine Services, which is lost if not sung and chanted in an understandable way (and of course, in an understandable language).
Recognizing the Contemporary Liturgical-Practice “Heresy”
When we fail to adhere to these basic elements of the liturgical practice of Orthodox Divine Worship, and allow our secular and worldly practices and mentality to creep in, we basically are participating in what can be called a modern-day heresy that gradually undermines and erodes the fundamental principle of liturgical theology, namely, that what we do in our Divine Services is a reflection of, and corresponds to, continuous heavenly Divine Worship. It is vital that we recognize this growing, insidious “heresy” for what it is and avoid it, and not protest against and reject our centuries of authentic Orthodox Tradition.
Since it is natural for us Orthodox to be influenced by our surrounding Protestant and secular culture, we might point out here that the very concept of earthly worship as corresponding to heavenly worship is totally absent in Protestantism. As a result, what is called “worship” easily becomes individualistic, self-centered and worldly, instead of God-centered—“what do I get out of it?” rather than, “how can I worship God more fully and more continuously?” What should be worship, then easily becomes “entertainment,” especially in the music dimension of church services, so that people will “enjoy” themselves. In contrast, only Orthodox call their church services “Divine Services,” reflecting on earth the experience of the continuous worship of God in Heaven. And only Orthodox call the Mass/Eucharist/Communion service the “Divine Liturgy.” Orthodox must guard against a “protesting” against Traditional Orthodox liturgical practice and introducing individualistic personal preferences, under the influence of secular culture and music practice, and Protestant “worship” ideology and practice which contradict Orthodox liturgical theology and practice. It is urgent and vital that we resist the temptation to insidiously secularize and protestantize our Orthodox Divine worship, and recall to mind that the word “Orthodox” means both “correct worship,” as well as “correct doctrine.”
It is vital that we understand the meaning of Orthodox Divine Services as Divine, not earthly and worldly Worship, so that choir directors, choir singers and chanters authentically fulfill their privileged and honored roles given to them to properly lead heavenly worship on earth. If we know why Orthodox do things a certain way, it helps us to resist the worldly influences and temptations to alter Orthodox liturgical practice to conform to what we have been socialized in our worldly lives to think is the “correct” way of doing things. To succumb to these worldly, secular, “protestantizing” temptations is to participate in this modern “heresy.”
Some Practical Ways to Avoid this Contemporary “Heresy”
What are some practical ways in which we can maintain our authentic Orthodox Liturgical Tradition and practice, and avoid the above-described creeping, insidious American “heresy”? Here are just a few examples, intended primarily for choirs and chanters, which is usually where the worldly practices sneak in.
(1) From the Western worldly perspective, no one should speak until the previous person has finished. For more than one person to speak at the same time is either rude, or hostile, as in arguing, and not considered “good order.” In Western Protestant and Roman Catholic liturgical practice, for example, it is virtually impossible to get a choir or minister/priest to sing/say their next part until the other one completely stops. In authentic Orthodox liturgical practice, however, in most cases, the choir, cantor, priest or deacon definitely should not stop until what comes next has started, especially in short back-and-forth exchanges, such as the Prokeimenon, etc. In Litanies/Ektenias, the choir’s responses of “Lord have mercy” etc., should be smooth and legato and not hurried or staccato, and definitely not abruptly cut off — in order to adequately convey the sense of the transfigured and non-hurried time of continuous heavenly worship.
Liturgical Tempo: Worldly vs. Redeemed TIme
(2) The struggle between worldly time versus redeemed time is perhaps nowhere more obvious than in the tempo at which the Divine Services are sung and chanted. Certainly, there are acceptable variations in tempos between parishes, priests, deacons, choir directors and chanters, and there is not just one way that is “correct.” But let us suggest a few basic principles that can be used as guidelines in singing and chanting to help our worship adequately convey the reality of standing in two worlds at once, and reflect on earth the continuous heavenly Divine Worship that is on-going before God’s Throne, in which we are called to participate, and to more fully experience the Eternal and Divine Presence in Orthodox Divine Worship, and to resist the temptation of singing everything “fast/faster/fastest” (similar to “loud/louder/loudest”).
(a) Some hymns should be sung faster or slower, determined by the words, the place in the Divine Service, the content or character of the Service, and the liturgical feast or season of the year—in general, more briskly for major joyful feasts, or services such as Weddings, more slowly during penitential seasons. Pascha Matins and Vespers, for example, should be brisk. If the words are akin to “Let us rejoice in the Lord!” the tempo would normally be more brisk than “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me!” Tempos are also likely to be tied to the choice of the musical settings of particular hymns that reflect the significance of the season, service or particular day. Panikhidas (or whatever the reader calls Memorial Services for the departed) and funerals should never be raced through, but sung reverently, so that the beautiful words can be grasped; so that life in the Divine Presence of the departed can be more fully evoked; and so that the soul of the departed can be better aided by our prayers to “dwell with the blessed.” In the Divine Liturgy, it is appropriate for the opening Three Antiphons to be sung somewhat briskly but not speeding. On the other hand, the Anaphora should always be sung very reverently and slowly, not only because it is the holiest part of the Divine Liturgy, during which the bread and wine are consecrated and transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, but also because it is at this place in the Divine Liturgy that we especially “represent the cherubim” and participate with “the thousands of archangels and hosts of angels, the Cherubim and Seraphim” in worship before God’s Throne, as they continually sing “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory! Hosanna in the Highest!” At the Epiclesis, during which we sing: “We Praise Thee. We bless Thee. We give thanks unto Thee, O Lord. And we pray unto Thee, O our God.” — this should always be sung slowly and reverently, and never to be rushed through, even if one is in a parish where the priest says the silent priestly prayers out-loud for the congregation to hear, after the choir finishes singing this hymn.
(b) Generally, no Service and no hymn or response should be sung so fast that it is like a race with a stop-watch to see how fast one can get through it. The contemporary American liturgical-practice “heresy” especially rears its ugly head in this regard not only in Panikhidas and all Services in general, but most especially in the singing of the responses in Litanies, which are increasingly rendered in rapid, staccato syllables, abruptly severed at the end. And, to cite another specific example, there is a spreading tendency to sing the magnificent Vespers hymn, “O Gladsome Light,” (especially the frequently-sung Dvoretsky setting) in a way that reflects the rat-race of the world and our everyday lives, instead of providing a glimpse into heavenly Light and eternal Glory. At the same time, of course, it is desirable to avoid singing hymns so inappropriately slowly that one might feel like dozing in between notes or syllables.
(c) Sometimes choir directors and singers think that in order to have energy in one’s singing it must be loud and fast, and that softer or slower equals lack of energy. This is not true. Trained vocal production, infused with a sincere spiritual understanding and concentration, can produce even greater energy and vitality in softer or slower hymns or phrases. On the other hand, singing inappropriately loudly can sound like an irreverent shouting match of ‘loud, louder and loudest,’ and singing too quickly can be devoid of energy and reverence, and can appear to be a race to see how fast one can “get through the service,” and go home.
(d) It is important to remember that singers and chanters are blessed with the extremely important role of leading the congregation in prayer and worship, and should receive proper training in order to fulfill their roles in the best way possible. The singing and chanting must be done in a manner that is understandable, audible and intelligible to the people, and an offering of praise to God, whether one or one hundred people are present, and always to be rendered in the most prayerful and reverent way possible. The chanter must never mumble unintelligibly as though to himself, but always keep in mind that he or she is praying before the throne of God. Nothing should be rushed; diction must be very distinct (especially final consonants, d’s and t’s in particular), with the words read accurately and meaningfully, and with pauses in the proper places so that the listener can understand and comprehend what is being chanted or sung. It is easy to give in to the temptation of racing through familiar prayers, especially the Trisagion (Holy God) Prayers that are so familiar; but then instead of praying the words, one simply mouths empty sounds, whose meaning is diminished and minimized for both the listener and the chanter. The chanter and singer should make every effort to chant and sing every prayer and Service (such as the Panikhida), no matter how familiar, as though it were for the first time. Similar as in singing, there are a variety of styles or ways of chanting that the same person might use at different times, according to what the texts are or their liturgical use. For example, the Psalms are chanted one way, major hymns another, the Epistle in yet another way, and the Holy Saturday Matins Prophecy of Ezekiel in a completely distinctive way.
Continuous Worship: Avoiding Empty Holes or Gaps
(3) As we already said, for Protestants and Roman Catholics (and of course, in secular music performance) there is no concept whatsoever of earthly worship corresponding to continuous, unending heavenly worship. As a natural consequence of this attitude, having “down-time” or “quiet-time” in church services is regarded as perfectly acceptable. The concept and practice of having “a moment of silence” to pray privately or to honor the departed is common, and this is perfectly acceptable in secular and heterodox settings. On the other hand, it is absolutely not acceptable in public Orthodox worship, and any “empty spaces” should be strictly avoided, because it disrupts the continuity and flow that should characterize Orthodox Divine worship. How can this concept be implemented in our own parishes? Here are a few practical suggestions.
(a) Singers should have the next thing to be sung or chanted ready immediately after the previous hymn is completed, so the choir director can give the pitches immediately, sometimes even before the priest/deacon or cantor has finished.
(b) Singers should learn the order of Divine Services, and pay attention to what is happening in the Service and always know what comes next and where it is.
(c) Choir directors should watch the liturgical action that is happening at the altar or elsewhere, so that the singing can be stretched out if necessary because the priest or deacon has not yet finished his part of the liturgical action. Here are a few examples of when this is most commonly necessary:
(i) when the choir is singing during the censing of the church/temple, such as during Psalm 104/103 at the beginning of Great Vespers, during the Magnification in Matins, or other time. The tempo of the singing must be adjusted to accommodate the size of the temple and how long it takes the priest or deacon to cense all around it, and might require a repetition of part of the hymn.
(ii) Another very important place that has to be closely watched is before the Great Entrance during the singing of the Cherubic Hymn or its replacement, including at the Presanctified Liturgy. Much of traditional Orthodox liturgical practice involves singing that “covers” liturgical action and prayers by the priest, such as during the singing of the Cherubic Hymn, so that there is a continual, unbroken flow. It is important that the choir should continue to sing until the door opens and the clergy are ready to process out for the Great Entrance (or already have processed out, according to local practice), and not to just stop when the hymn has been sung once, resulting in an empty hole in what should be a continuous liturgical flow; the tempo of the singing and possible repetition should be adjusted to accommodate the priest’s liturgical action. (In parishes where the procession comes out during the singing of the Cherubic Hymn and processes down the side aisle and back up the center aisle, of course the choir director is to coordinate with the priest, whose direction is always to be followed.)
(iii) A further place that has to be closely watched is at the end of the Cherubic Hymn, after the Great Entrance. Frequently the musical setting is short, and doesn’t “cover” the liturgical action if sung too fast. The priest has considerable liturgical action to do at this time—placing the Holy Gifts on the altar, holding the aer (large veil) around the censor and placing it over the Holy Gifts, and then censing the Holy Gifts, before he can begin the Litany of Supplication. If there is a deacon, he is holding the censor, and cannot come out to do the Litany until the censing is completed. Therefore the choir director must carefully watch what is happening at the altar at this point and conduct appropriately, usually by singing more slowly and “stretching out” the Alleluias, to avoid the disruption of the continuous liturgical flow of Divine Service by having an empty hole.
(iv) An additional place in the Divine Liturgy where there must be close coordination between the priest and choir, is during the Anaphora. There are considerable local variations in liturgical practice during the Anaphora but the basic principles of not being in a rush and not having empty holes should be maintained in accommodating the local practices and coordinating with the priest in charge.
In conclusion, we hope that these few words have been helpful in understanding why things are done in certain ways in Orthodox liturgical practice, and therefore to understand why it is so necessary to guard against the temptations to change Traditional liturgical practice (changes that at first might be barely perceptible), in order for it to conform more with what we experience around us in our everyday lives — that is, that it conforms more with the values and practices of the secular, temporal world, rather than reflecting and corresponding to Divine Reality and the opportunity to participate in the experience of standing in the Presence of the Eternal God in Orthodox Divine Worship.
(The author has a seminary M.Th. (Masters of Theology), M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, with many years of studying, teaching and writing on a wide variety of Orthodox subjects, including liturgical theology, and the history and meaning of icons and other Orthodox liturgical arts, as well as a lifetime of singing Divine Services, plus chanting and conducting.)
by Kevin Allen
I recently had a conversation with a dear Eastern Orthodox priest, whose twenty six year old son had left home the day before to live indefinitely at a Buddhist monastery. He was heart broken. His son was not a stranger to Eastern Orthodoxy or to its monastic tradition, having even spent two months on the holy mountain of Mt. Athos.
His son's journey is not an isolated event. Eastern religious traditions are a growing and competing force in American religious life. Buddhism is now the fourth-largest religious group in the United States, with 2.5 - 3 million adherents, approximately 800,000 of whom are American western "converts"? There are actually more Buddhists in America today than Eastern Orthodox Christians! The Dalai Lama (the leader of one of the Tibetan Buddhist sects) is one of the most recognized and admired people in the world and far better recognized than any Eastern Orthodox hierarch? Have you looked in the magazine section of Borders or Barnes and Noble lately? There are more publications with names like "Shambala Sun", "Buddhadharma", and "What is enlightenment?" on the shelves than Christian publications!
In addition to losing seekers to eastern spiritual traditions (many of them youth), eastern metaphysics has also seeped into our western cultural worldview without much notice. They are doing a better job (sadly) "evangelizing" our culture than we Eastern Orthodox Christians are!
The Lord Himself commands us clearly "that repentance and remission of sins (baptism) should be preached in His name to all nations" (Luke 24:47). Buddhists (of which there are many sects) and Hindus live among us in America in ever-growing numbers, in our college classrooms, on our soccer fields, and in our "health foods" stores - they are right in our own backyards! They are a rich, potential "mission field" for the Eastern Orthodox Church in the United States. Unfortunately with few exceptions, like the writings of Monk Damascene [Christensen] and Kyriakos S. Markides, we are not talking to this group at all.
As a former Hindu and disciple of a well-known guru, or spiritual teacher, I can tell you Orthodox Christianity shares more "common ground" with seekers of non-Christian spiritual traditions of the east than any other Christian confession! The truth is when Evangelical Protestants attempt to evangelize the eastern seeker they often do more harm than good, because their approach is western, rational, and doctrinal, with (generally) little understanding of the paradigms and spiritual language (or yearnings) of the seekers of these eastern faiths.
There are three "fundamental principles" that Buddhists and Hindus generally share in common:
1. A common "supra-natural" reality underlies and pervades the phenomenal world. This Supreme Reality isn't Personal, but Trans-personal. God or Ultimate Reality in these traditions is ultimately a pure consciousness without attributes.
2. The human soul is of the same essence with this divine reality. All human nature is divine at its core. Accordingly, Christ or Buddha isn't a savior, but becomes a paradigm of self-realization, the goal of all individuals.
3. Existence is in fundamental unity (monism). Creation isn't what it appears to the naked eye. It is in essence "illusion" and "unreal". There is one underlying ground of being (think "quantum field" in physics!) which unifies all beings and out of which and into which everything can be reduced.
What do these metaphysics have in common with our Eastern Orthodox Faith? Not much, on the surface. But in the eastern non-Christian spiritual traditions, knowledge is not primarily about the development of metaphysical doctrine or theology. This is one of the problems western Christians have communicating with them. Eastern religion is never theoretical or doctrinal. It's about the struggle for liberation from death and suffering through spiritual experience. This "existential-therapeutic-transformational" ethos is the first connection Eastern Orthodoxy has with these traditions, because Orthodoxy is essentially therapeutic and transformative in emphasis!
The second thing we agree on with Buddhists and Hindus is the fallen state of humanity. The goal of the Christian life according to the Church Fathers is to move from the "sub-natural" or "fallen state", to the "natural" or the "according to nature state" after the Image (of God), and ultimately to the "supra-natural" or "beyond nature" state, after the Likeness. According to the teaching of the holy Fathers the stages of the spiritual life are purification, illumination and deification. While we don't agree with Buddhists or Hindus on what "illumination" or "deification" means (because our metaphysics are different) we agree on the basic diagnosis of the fallen human condition. As I once said to a practicing Tibetan Buddhist: "We agree on the sickness (of the human condition). Where we disagree is on the cure".
Eastern Orthodoxy - especially the hesychasm (contemplative) tradition - teaches that true "spiritual knowledge" presupposes a "purified" and "awakened" nous (Greek), which is the "Inner 'I'" of the soul. The true Eastern Orthodox theologian isn't one who simply knows doctrine, but one "who knows God, or the inner essences or principles of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. " As a well-known Orthodox theologian explains, "When the nous is illuminated, it means that it is receiving the energy of God which illuminates it..." This idea resonates with eastern seekers who struggle to experience - through non-Christian ascesis and/or through occult methods - spiritual illumination. They just don't know this opportunity exists within a Christian context.
As part of their spiritual ascesis, Buddhist and Hindu dhamma (practice) emphasizes cessation of desire, which is necessary to quench the passions. Holy Tradition teaches apatheia, or detachment as a means of combating the fallen passions. Hindu and Buddhist meditation methods teach "stillness". The word hesychia in Holy Tradition - the root of the word for hesychasm - means "stillness"! We don't meditate using a mantra, but we pray the "Jesus Prayer". Buddhism, especially, teaches "mindfulness". Holy Tradition teaches "watchfulness" so we do not fall into temptation! Hindus and Buddhists understand it is not wise to live for the present life, but to struggle for the future one. We Orthodox agree! Americans who become Buddhist or Hindu are often fervent spiritual seekers, used to struggling with foreign languages (Sanskrit, Tibetan, Japanese) and cultures and pushing themselves outside of their "comfort zones". We converts to the Eastern Orthodox Church can relate! Some Buddhist and Hindu sects even have complex forms of "liturgy", including chant, prostration and veneration of icons! Tibetan Buddhism especially places high value on the lives of (their) ascetics, relics and "saints".
The main difference in spiritual experience is that what the eastern seeker recognizes as "spiritual illumination", achieved through deep contemplation, Holy Tradition calls "self contemplation". Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), who was experienced in yoga (which means 'union') before becoming a hesychast - monk and disciple of St. Silouan of the Holy Mountain wrote from personal experience, "All contemplation arrived at by this means is self-contemplation, not contemplation of God. In these circumstances we open up for ourselves created beauty, not First Being. And in all this there is no salvation for man."
Clement of Alexandria, two thousand years ago wrote that pre-Christian philosophers were often inspired by God, but he cautioned one to be careful what one took from them!
So we acknowledge the eastern seeker through his ascesis or contemplative methodologies may experience deep levels of created beauty, or created being (through self-contemplation), para-normal dimensions, or even the "quantum field" that modern physics has revealed! However, it is only in the Eastern Orthodox Church and through its deifying mysteries that the seeker will be introduced to the province of Uncreated Divine Life. It is only in the Orthodox Church that the eastern seeker will hear there is more to "salvation" than simply forgiveness of sins and justification before God. He will be led to participate in the Uncreated Energies of God, so that they "may be partakers of the divine nature" (II Peter 1:4). As a member of the Body of Christ he will join in the deifying process, and be increasingly transformed after the Likeness! Thankfully, deification is available to all who enter the Holy Orthodox Church, are baptized (which begins the deifying process) and partake of the holy mysteries. Deification is not just for monks, ascetics and the spiritual athletes on Mount Athos!
Eastern Orthodoxy has much to share with eastern spiritual seekers. Life and death hangs in the balance in this life, not the millions of lives eastern seekers think they have! As the Apostle Paul soberly reminds us, " ... it is appointed for men to die once but after this the judgment." (Heb. 9:27).
May God give us the vision to begin to share the "true light" of the Holy Orthodox Faith with seekers of the eastern spiritual traditions.
1. Makarian Homilies; Glossary of The Philokalia
2. Hierotheos Vlachos, Life after death; 1995; Birth of the Theotokos Monastery
3. On Prayer; Sophrony; pages 168-170
Kevin Allen, is a former Hindu practitioner before becoming an Eastern Orthodox Christian.
Friday, May 7, 2010
Continued from Part One
Reason One: The Insufficiency of All Skeptical Claims (Part 1)
“As someone withdrawing from the light does not in the least do harm to the light, but does very great harm to himself, becoming immersed in darkness, so also one accustomed to scorning the power of the Almighty does not in the least do harm to it [His power], but upon himself brings extreme harm.” - St. John Chrysostom
The witness and testimony of the Holy Light miracle lacks clarity and is compromised by witnesses polarized at the extreme ends of a spectrum from belief to disbelief. While there is a remarkable similarity in reports with regard to the miraculous properties of the Holy Light, the vast majority of sources attribute the phenomenon to deceit and trickery. It is these latter accounts that I will analyze here to determine their reliability and validity in the discussion of the facts of the Holy Light.
An Evaluation of Skepticism and Human Knowledge
A skeptic is one who doubts. The standard dictionary definition of a skeptic is quite revealing when it describes them as those who hold to “the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain and who have doubts concerning basic religious principles.” In fact, skepticism “...confidently challenges not merely religious or metaphysical knowledge but all knowledge claims that venture beyond immediate experience” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1997, 26:569). The key words here are “immediate experience.”
Translated into common parlance, this simply means that the skeptic is not prepared to accept anything that cannot be verified empirically (viz., via the scientific method). Paul Kurtz, well-known skeptic and former editor of The Humanist (official organ of the American Humanist Association), put it like this:
"To adopt such a scientific approach unreservedly is to accept as ultimate in all matters of fact and real existence the appeal to the evidence of experience alone; a court subordinate to no higher authority, to be overridden by no prejudice however comfortable" (“Scientific Humanism,” The Humanist Alternative, 1973, p. 109, emp. added).
Chet Raymo, in his book, Skeptics and True Believers, is forced to admit the following: "Skepticism offers only uncertainty and doubt.... Science cannot rule out heaven and hell because they are beyond the reach of empirical investigation" (1998, p. 5,77). Thus, in the end the skeptic does not say he cannot know that God exists. Rather, he says he doubts that God exists because He cannot be seen, felt, measured, weighed, or probed by the scientific method.
Thirty-four years before Chet Raymo wrote about “Skeptics and True Believers,” Harvard professor George G. Simpson wrote: “It is inherent in any definition of science that statements that cannot be checked by observation are not really saying anything....” (This View of Life, 1964, p. 769). Simply put, the point is this: If science cannot deal with something, that “something” either does not exist (worst-case scenario) or is completely unimportant (best-case scenario).
Welcome to the make-believe world of the skeptic in which science reigns supreme, and a cavalier attitude toward all things non-empirical rules the day.
But what about those concepts that, although non-empirical and therefore unobservable via the scientific method, nevertheless are recognized to exist, and are admitted to be of critical importance to the entire human race—concepts like love, sorrow, joy, altruism, etc.? Arlie Hoover accurately assessed the situation in which the skeptic finds himself in regard to the existence of such items when he wrote:
"Why does the scientific method reject subjective factors, emotions, feelings? Simply because it is not convenient! Because the method will not allow you to deal with the immense complexity of reality. The scientist, therefore, selects from the whole of experience only those elements that can be weighed, measured, numbered, or which lend themselves to mathematical treatment....
"This is a fallacy we call Reductionism. You commit the Reductive Fallacy when you select a portion of a complex entity and say the whole is merely that portion. You do this when you say things like: love is nothing but sex, man is just an animal, music is nothing but sound waves, art is nothing but color.... When it gets down to the real serious questions of life—origin, purpose, destiny, meaning, morality—science is silent....
"If science can’t handle morality, aesthetics, and religion that only proves that the scientific method was reductive in the first place. Sir Arthur Eddington once used a famous analogy to illustrate this reductionism. He told of a fisherman who concluded from his fishing experiences with a certain net that “no creature of the sea is less than two inches long.” Now this disturbed many of his colleagues and they demurred, pointing out that many sea creatures are under two inches and they just slipped through the two-inch holes in the net. But the ichthyologist was unmoved: 'What my net can’t catch ain’t fish, he pontificated, and then he scornfully accused his critics of having pre-scientific, medieval, metaphysical prejudices.
"Scientific reductionism or 'Scientism'— as it is often called — is similar to this fisherman with the special net. Since the strict empirical scientist can’t 'catch' or 'grasp' such qualitative things like freedom, morality, aesthetics, mind, and God, he concludes that they don’t exist. But they have just slipped through his net. They have been slipping through his net all the way from Democritus to B.F. Skinner to Carl Sagan" (“Starving the Spirit,” Firm Foundation, 98:6, January 1981, p. 6).
In speaking of Skepticism and its offspring of Humanism, Sir Julian Huxley wrote: “It will have nothing to do with absolutes, including absolute truth, absolute morality, absolute perfection and absolute authority” (Essays of a Humanist, 1964, pp. 73-74). To that list, one might add absolute joy, absolute love, absolute freedom, absolute peace, etc. The skeptic has paid a high price for his scientism — the rejection and abandonment of some of the human race’s most important, valuable, worthwhile, and cherished, concepts. Why? In order to be able to say: I doubt that God exists!
Beyond the empirical proof demanded of skeptics, there is also logic and the proofs of substantiation and conclusions based on valid premises. To arrive at truth, conclusions must be validated by the Principle of Sufficient Reason. According to Leibniz who formulated this Principle, “for any idea to be valid, there should be sufficient grounds [sufficient reason]; that is, a conclusion should have substantiation [or grounds] proceeding from propositions and assertions that have already been proven.”
Do the skeptics adhere to the Principle of Sufficient Reason in their skepticism over the validity of the Holy Light miracle? Is there any validity to their claims?
My own conviction to this question is that there is no sufficient validity to the skeptical claims of skeptics regarding the miracle of the Holy Light. This will be shown in various ways as I set forth my 10 Reasons Why I Believe the Holy Light Is a Miracle. Before I do so, however, my first reason is exclusively dedicated to ten points that show why the skeptical claims are completely insufficient in themselves.
1. Skepticism of the Holy Light is Associated With a Worldview
A worldview refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs through which an individual interprets the world and interacts with it. For example, a skeptic determines knowledge through empirical proof and thus has a Naturalist worldview that does not allow for explanations beyond the natural world. A Christian, a Muslim and a Jew have Theistic worldviews, allowing for an explanation of things beyond empirical and reasonable proof that is supernatural, but they interpret their theism and supernatural beliefs in different ways. There are even differences within particular beliefs that help determine how they view the world, as for instance in Christianity which is broken up into its various bodies and denominations, so that, for example, an Orthodox Christian may have a different worldview from a Catholic or Protestant Christian.
What we find with the skeptical claims throughout history trying to disprove the Holy Light is that the skeptics making their arguments always do so in light of their worldview. Even theistic skeptics have put aside the supernatural claims of Orthodox Christians mainly because it contradicted the worldview which defines them. Such an interpretation of evidence is not only biased but it commits the logical fallacy of circular reasoning, which is committed when a proposition which requires proof is assumed without proof. In this type of argument, a conclusion masquerades as a premise. An example of circular reasoning is: "The Holy Light is not a miracle because there are no such things as miracles", or "The Holy Light is a false miracle because only Islam has true miracles", etc. To put it simply, a circular argument is used as a mechanism to prevent an assertion from being challenged or questioned, or to "win" a debate by sending it round and round in circles.
When we trace the history of skepticism towards the Holy Light, we see exactly how the reality of such skepticism is in fact based on the clash of worldviews.
In April 637, the Arabs, after a long siege captured Jerusalem, which was surrendered by Patriarch Sophronius. Early sources after the ninth century indicate that Muslims generally believed in the miraculous nature of the Holy Light, being eye-witnesses of the event. If anything, at certain times they tried to prevent the ceremony of the Holy Light from taking place because it was converting so many Muslims to Christianity, though this was in vain. In the eleventh century we start to see reports of Muslims trying to undermine the miracle, but this was done to justify persecution of Christians. For the most part, for Muslims the miracle was undeniable and they gave many stories to give alternate explanations, but all without any substantial proof. And this was done because it contradicted their worldview.
During the Latin occupation of the twelfth century, we begin to receive accounts of the miracle of the Holy Light given from Western perspectives. As eye-witnesses of the event, again they could not deny what they observed. However on March 9, 1238 Pope Gregory the IX issued a Bull forbidding participation in the ceremony of the Holy Light with the Greeks on grounds that it was a fraud. It should be noted that this Bull was issued after never having observed the ceremony nor explaining what deceitful means were employed in obtaining the Holy Light. This condemnation in general ended any sympathetic Western reactions to the Holy Light. In 1524 Fra Francesco Suriano wrote a treatise on the Holy Land and in describing the Holy Light indicates why he refused to believe it: "The said fire, however, does not descend in truth...I think that the privation of such a grace is due to the sins and heresy of these nations." In other words, because the miraculous properties of the Holy Light didn't fit in their worldview (and political motivations as we will examine later on), the miracle must not be true.
It wasn't until 1696 when the English chaplain Henry Maundrell approached the ceremony of the Holy Light with a skepticism that became standard during the Renaissance and through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet Maundrell's purpose was to beforehand was to rid the ceremony of its "superstition" by describing it as a ceremony performed with a "pagan frenzy". With the rise of Humanism coupled with the condemnation of the Pope, the ceremony of the Holy Light was viewed with increasingly negative Western assessments not necessarily based on any evidence, but because the phenomenon clashed with their worldviews and tastes. Even Greek thinkers after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 and educated in the West slowly began to be skeptical of the supernatural character of the Holy Light, not based on personal experience, but it conformed to the prevailing attitude of the age of scientific realism and skepticism. Even many religious skeptics began to doubt, like Adamantios Koraes, because they believed that religion must be viewed through the "prism" of the scientific discoveries of their age. The miracle of the Holy Light, therefore, was an effrontery to one's systematic approach to religious phenomena.
All of these approaches persist in all the arguments against the miraculous nature of the Holy Light till this day in the twenty-first century and there is nothing new under the sun. All challenges to the authenticity of the miracle are based on nothing more than an opposing worldview. For some it is more of a critique of Orthodoxy that it is a critique of the Holy Light, while for others it is more of a critique of Christianity or God in general, or even such things as the exact location of the Holy Sepulchre (as Protestants later argued). I have yet to read an honest critique of the Holy Light given with an open mind to the possibility of its authenticity.
2. Contradictions Among Skeptics
When we examine the historical records of Muslims, Heterodox, Skeptics, and Non-Believers, one of the more interesting facts we find is that all of the challenges against the authenticity of the Holy Light contradict each other. In classical logic, a contradiction consists of a logical incompatibility between two or more propositions. In reference to the Holy Light, what we find among the skeptics is the contradictory "observations" which demonstrate how the "fraud" of the Orthodox clergy is pulled off to deceive the people. One finds similar contradictory theories among scholars today who deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Because there are so many accounts which try to explain naturalistically how the miracle occurs, and because there are contradictory problems with all of them due to their hearsay origins, I will narrow the critique to four Muslim critics of the Holy Light to give a sample of the contradictions found.
I. Krachkovsky was an Orientalist who wrote a piece in Russian titled "The Holy Fire According to the Story of al-Biruni and Other Muslim writers of the 10th-13th Centuries" (The Christian East, Petrograd, 1915) in which he provides the accounts of these Muslim writers concerning the Holy Light. From him the skeptics have used these sources to show that the Holy Light is a "fraud". What the skeptics fail or ignore to do however is read the commentary of the scholar who compiled them - I. Krachkovsky. He explains the contradictory nature of these accounts when he writes: "The very diversity of these accounts, and the way they contradict each other, indicate that here also it is hardly possible to expect a basis in fact." In other words, since the accounts which explain how the "fraud" takes place are contradictory, then the possibility these accounts are true are pretty much impossible.
Here are some samples of contradictions that I. Krachkovsky points out, which obviously cannot all be true, yet all the authors seem so sure of themselves that they have uncovered the "plot". Ibn al-Qalanisi (d. 1160), Yakut (d. 1229), al-Jawhari (d. 1242), and Mudjir ad-din (d. c. 1496) were four Muslim writers who attempted to explain naturally how the "fraudulent" Holy Light miracle took place. Yet what we find is that their "explanations" in fact contradict each other. Ibn al-Qalanisi and Mudjir ad-din, for example, say that a thin iron thread is attached to all the oil lamp wicks by which the "trickery" is performed, but Yakut and al-Jawhari say it was attached to only one oil lamp wick. Furthermore, according to Yakut, the thread is said to be simply lit by someone, yet according to al-Jawhari the wick bursts into a flame from a complex, hidden apparatus containing sulfur which is calculated to an exact time for it to light. Al-Jawhari even contradicts himself when he writes in the beginning of his account that all the Christians are participants in the conspiracy regarding this "sham" miracle, and yet at the end of the same account he reveals that the secret is only known to one monk who sets up the apparatus. These contradictions are just one of many problems with these accounts that we will further examine later.
It should also be noted that the elaborate and fanciful tales of the Muslims are not held by later critics and non-believers, thus discrediting them. The issue of deception performed by the Orthodox clergy and monks became much more simplistic and conspiratorial especially after the Latins were no longer allowed to participate in the ceremony. And whenever pilgrims from the West would visit the Holy Land having heard about the miracle, the Latins would make it a point to inform them that the miracle was "in fact" deceit on the part of the clergy, and gullibility coupled with superstitious naivete on the part of the believers. In light of this, one wonders where the real conspiracy was to be found, by the Orthodox or by the Latins trying to discredit the whole thing.
Thus are the accounts of Western authors fueled by the Latin's jealousy and intrigues, insisting without proof that the ceremony was a hoax. The contradictions this developed range from J. Doubdan writing in 1651 that the Patriarch uses a "flint" inside the tomb to ignite the flame, to Dr. Johann Nepomuk Sepp explaining in 1863 that the Patriarch "rubbed his hands with some kind of phosphorous-like substance" to ignite it. In the twentieth century the range of explanations go from the simplistic accusation of the Patriarch using "a cigarette lighter" by a pilgrim in 1988, to the more complex and ridiculous theory of Carl-Martin Edsman who wrote in 1955 that a light flashes inside the tomb when it is ignited by "spreading alcoholic spirit about the Tomb" (Bishop Auxentios of Photike, The Paschal Fire In Jerusalem, ch. 1). It seems that with all the contradictions of the critics, the only thing they agree on is that they are very sure of their opinions which are based on pure speculation and grounded in absolutely no facts.
Continued...Reason One: The Insuffiency of All Skeptical Claims (Part 2)