Fr. Themi: The Atheist Rocker Who Became an Orthodox Priest and Missionary In Africa
Orthodox Mission to Sierra Leone: The Wounded Lion
Support the Orthodox Mission to Sierra Leone
A letter from the mission below:
Over the past few months at our Waterloo "Mission for the Disabled", in Sierra Leone, hostility and problems have been brewing.
Even when Rev T was in Australia, simmering dissent was encouraged amongst the disabled.
The short story is, after building accommodation and helping hundreds of disabled, some of the persons demanded the properties reassigned into their names and for them to take control of the mission and its finances. (these persons were once rebel Leaders & Warlords during the War).
They were rallying and stirring the disabled population and causing mischief, even appealing to the local and international media.
Over the past few weeks, the committee members and I have advised Rev T to abandon the Waterloo Mission and leave it in the hands of the authorities.
But, the link below is a phone conversation (midnight his time) with Rev Themi where he describes that a miracle has happened.
This recording gives a rare insight of what type of man Rev T is; how he can laugh at all adversity, trust God with his life, walk by faith and it also gives us a glimpse of his great compassion for the poor and what he goes through in the natural course of his life as a missionary.
Listen online at pk4asl.VOX.com
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-AUSTRALIA online donation page
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Thursday, June 10, 2010
This interview took place in May 2001. Elder Theoklitos remembers certain incidents and conversations he had with Elder Paisios, which took place during their 30 year friendship on Mount Athos.
First Video - His Impressions of the Character of Elder Paisios and Topics of Conversations.
Second Video - The Last Days of Elder Paisios and His Fearlessness; On the Future of Greece; On Contemporary Saints; On the Demonology of the Desert (1)
Third Video - On the Demonology of the Desert (2); On the Antichrist
Fourth Video - On Conforming to the Likeness of God and Sainthood
Soon after the Congress in Athens, Fr. Florovky’s magnum opus was published in Russian: Puti russkago bogoslaviia, and only recently published in English as Ways of Russian Theology.9 In this book Florovsky has presented a brilliant historical and theological analysis of Russian theology as it went through a long process of successive westernization that gradually brought about a schism in the Russian soul. Florovsky traces this process as having its beginning in the fifteenth century, well before the formal westernization policy of Peter the Great was put into effect in the eighteenth century. By the end of the fifteenth century, many in the Russian lands began to perceive the West as something more real than the destroyed and conquered Byzantium. Consequently it was understandable for Russia to begin developing and strengthening her links with the West. The Latin world itself drew nearer to Russia, through central Europe, Ukraine and Poland, while the world of Christian Hellenism seemed in time more and more remote and virtually forgotten after the deep inroads of militant Islam into the Balkans. As an original and creative thinker, Florovsky struggled with this historical problem: Russia had taken over Eastern Christianity and the whole of Byzantine culture, and yet Orthodox Christianity there had failed to develop naturally and creatively on the basis of her Orthodox presuppositions. Russia somehow opted rather to accept more or less uncritically the influences of the West, and therefore to be successively misled and distorted first by Latin scholasticism and later by Protestant pietism and idealism.
Ways of Russian Theology, expectedly, proved to be very controversial among the émigré community of Paris. Reactions were polarized between those who praised the book and those who damned it. Florovsky had made quite clear where his sympathies lay, and there was no middle ground. Obviously the book contained a stern and uncompromising critique of Russia’s religious past, and this cut all too deeply into the prevailing atmosphere of exultant religious nationalism in the circles of Russian emigration. Nor was the book to the taste of the liberal and socialist émigré press. Nevertheless, even the scorching criticism of a Nicholas Berdiaev could not conceal the enormous erudition, the broad and extensive scholarship of Florovsky’s magnum opus.
Even though Florovsky enjoyed a close personal and professional relationship with Nicholas Berdiaev, especially through the discussion groups founded and headed by Berdiaev himself, which provided Florovsky his initial ecumenical experiences, their friendship gradually became strained and alienated. Unable to shed the notion of his radical intelligentsia days that all priests were obscurantists and reactionaries, Berdiaev first reacted very negatively to Florovsky’s ordination to the priesthood in 1932. Then the publication of Ways of Russian Theology, with its severe assessment of the twentieth-century Russian religious renaissance in which Berdiaev had played a leading role, added to the rift. While Berdiaev remained in Paris promoting the resurgence of Orthodox religious philosophy, Florovsky was now spending much more time in England trying to build bridges between the Orthodox and the Anglicans. Moreover, when Berdiaev was increasingly drawn toward an intellectual accommodation with Soviet Russia, Florovsky was mainly occupied with the Ecumenical Movement and the creation of the World Council of Churches, which became his major concern in the years ahead. While the friendship between these two intellectual giants was strained and distant through all of these developments, it was never really broken. Looking back, Florovsky remembered fondly the early years with Berdiaev, but steadfastly insisted that his religious philosophy was at times outrageously off the mark.
At the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute there had developed what became known in Orthodox circles as “Parisian Theology.” There were two different types of theological approach. One type had its roots in the tradition of Russian religious and philosophical thought of the nineteenth century, and was itself an offspring of the Western tradition, especially German Idealism. This was referred to as the Russian school, whose representatives, regardless of any mutual disagreements, attributed primary importance to the problems and ideas of contemporary religious thinking. Chief representative of this group was Bulgakov. On the opposite side, standing virtually alone, was Florovsky, who had chosen the sacred Tradition of the Church as the cornerstone for the Orthodox theological revival. He, as noted above, called for a return to the Fathers of the Church, to the sacred Hellenism which had been baptized and purified as an eternal and perennial category of historical Christian Orthodoxy. In other words, Florovsky called for a reevaluation of the Russian achievement in the light of the inheritance of Christian Hellenism, rather than an attempt to reevaluate the ancient Tradition of the undivided Church in the light of the modern Russian experience.
Consequently a bitter theological controversy arose over the so-called Sophiological teaching of Father Sergius Bulgakov, the dean of St. Sergius Institute, and Florovsky. This experience was perhaps the most painful of Florovsky’s public life, especially in view of the mutual respect and affection the two men enjoyed ever since they met in Prague in 1923. In relating his understanding of this controversy, Florovsky would emphasize how men like Bulgakov, Berdiaev, and others belonged to the generation responsible for the religious renaissance of the twentieth century, and their personal story involved a return to the rank of believers by way of rediscovering the Church. “They could never forget this renaissance, for them it was basic and decisive. Whereas for me this had no meaning, for I never knew a period when I was dissatisfied with the Church as the foundation and pillar of truth. For me Christian truth had always been in the Church.”10 Bulgakov and others were interested in perpetuating and expanding the Russian religious renaissance of the twentieth century. Florovsky on the other hand could not see himself beginning with a recent event which had no existential meaning for him and which was merely an accident in the long history of the Christian Church. In the end, it was Florovsky who was fully vindicated in his theological approach and whose influence became the abiding legacy in modern Orthodox theology.
The Church and the Churches
Florovsky’s first big ecumenical meeting was in Edinburgh, Scotland, in August of 1937, when the Second Conference of Faith and Order met to discuss “The Church of Christ: Ministry and Sacrament.” As chairman on the section on Ministry, Florovsky worked diligently with many other prominent members of the conference. On the subject of ministry in particular, being the most thorny of all the subjects discussed, there was no agreement reached by the participants. When an apparent verbal agreement between the Lutherans and the Presbyterians emerged on the doctrine of Grace, Florovsky bluntly pointed out that there cannot be any real agreement on doctrinal matters as long as Lutheranism and Calvinism continue to exist as such. In fact, he insisted, it is important and necessary to disclose openly the real divergences among Christians and to acknowledge differences in thought that seem irreconcilable. He believed that this was the only proper way to advance genuine ecumenical dialogue. From Edinburgh on, this bold drawing attention to the real depths of the problem of the separation of the Churches from the Church would become the Florovskian hallmark at ecumenical encounters. From his earliest involvement in the Ecumenical Movement, Florovsky challenged theologians and ecumenists alike “to get beyond the modern theological disputes, to recover the true ‘catholic mind,’ which would embrace the whole of the historical experience of the Church in its pilgrimage through the ages.” He had no illusions regarding the present situation of Christendom. Even though unity and the union of people in Christ is the very purpose of the Church, “yet, Christians are divided, Christendom is divided. The Christian world is in schism.” The first step in overcoming this absolute schism is to acknowledge it courageously and then to work arduously toward a creative recovery of the catholic mind of the early undivided Church.
One of the significant outcomes of the Edinburgh Conference was the consideration and approval of an earlier recommendation to review the whole Ecumenical Movement and to form a World Council of Churches. Fourteen leading persons were appointed to plan for a constitution of the new body, and Florovsky was one of them—charged with the responsibility of organizing the World Council of Churches. With his election to the Committee of Fourteen, Florovsky had come to the pinnacle of the Ecumenical Movement, a place he would retain for the next twenty-five years, working indefatigably to promote and achieve essential Christian unity.
From the Lives and Sayings of the Desert Fathers:
A certain anchorite, primarily out of ignorance, did not want to accept that the Holy Bread which is received in the Holy Eucharist is the true Body of Christ. When the elders of the Skete learned this, they called him to teach him the correct teaching of the Church regarding the Holy Eucharist. He however insisted on his delusion, and the fathers left him, but prayed for him that God would enlighten him with the truth.
One Sunday the anchorite attended the Divine Liturgy from within the Holy Altar of the Church of the Skete. At the moment when the priest took in his hands the offering bread for the Proskomide, the deluded monk was stunned to see an infant laying on top of the holy altar table. And when the priest began to dissect the Bread, an angel appeared holding a knife in his hands.
As the priest was dissecting the Bread, at the same time the angel dismembered the infant and poured His blood in the Holy Chalice. The anchorite was shocked. A little while later, when he went to commune, something happened to him even more fearful. He looked into the Holy Chalice and saw human flesh in human blood.
Upon seeing this, the deluded monk wept and confessed his delusion, praying to the Lord to cover the Holy Gifts with His grace so that he may take courage and approach to receive. He looked into the Holy Chalice and this time saw bread and wine, and he thanked God after receiving the Holy Gifts.
New National Holiday Irks Non-Orthodox Faiths
08 June 2010
By Alexandra Odynova
Russia will celebrate a new holiday next month under a decision backed by the Kremlin and Russian Orthodox Church that is stirring up decidedly unholy feelings among non-Orthodox Russians.
Christianization of Rus Day on July 28 won't be counted as a day off work, but it will be recognized on calendars as the country's ninth so-called "memorial holiday," which also includes Cosmonauts Day on April 12 and Constitution Day on Dec. 12.
The new holiday commemorates the baptism in 988 of Vladimir the Great, who accepted Christianity together with his family and the people of his state, Kievan Rus, the predecessor to the Russian Empire and whose capital was Kiev.
Now Protestant Christians and Muslims want their own holidays, too.
Konstantin Bendas, a senior official with the Russian Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith, said Christianization of Rus Day has created tensions between the Orthodox church and others faiths, which believe that they also deserve memorial holidays.
"The Protestants have a plan to set their holiday on Oct. 31," Bendas said, referring to the day in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of a Roman Catholic church and started the Reformation.
Lawmakers in predominantly Muslim Tatarstan are calling for Russia to celebrate the Day Islam Came to Russia on May 16, the date in 922 that Islam was officially approved as a state religion in the Middle Volga region.
Such a holiday would "contribute to an interfaith dialogue and strengthen the international authority of Russia," Tatarstan lawmakers said in a statement.
A spokesman for Tatarstan's parliament declined to comment on the initiative, saying it would be officially debated Wednesday.
Muslims comprise about 6 percent of the Russian population, while less than 1 percent is Protestant, Catholic, Jewish or Buddhist. In contrast, 60 percent to 70 percent of Russians consider themselves Orthodox, although few attend church regularly.
A senior Orthodox official said his church respected the other faiths but their holidays should not be recognized nationally like Christianization of Rus Day.
"Russia is an Orthodox state, and we should not be ashamed of declaring it," said Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Moscow Patriarchate's department for church and society affairs.
President Dmitry Medvedev signed a law establishing the new holiday on June 1, marking the latest manifestation of vibrant ties between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church and a chance for politicians to tout improved relations with Ukraine. The legislation was earlier approved by the State Duma and the Federation Council.
In Ukraine, the date was declared a state holiday in 2008, prompting the Russian Orthodox Church to seek a similar decision in Russia. The date is considered by the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches as the beginning of Christianity in the region.
Sergei Markov, deputy chairman of the State Duma's Social and Religious Organizations Committee, said the Duma backed the new holiday in recognition of warmer ties with Ukraine after the election of President Viktor Yanukovych in February.
"The main reason for the holiday is a vital improvement in relations with Ukraine. It's important now to have mutual dates," Markov told The Moscow Times.
"There are other mutual holidays already, like Victory Day, Women's Day and New Year's, but the more the better," he said.
An overwhelming 422 deputies approved the holiday in the 450-seat Duma in its third and final reading on May 21.
Chaplin, the Orthodox official, said the holiday promised to build closer ties between Russia and its predominantly Orthodox neighbors, Ukraine and Belarus. "Russia, Ukraine and Belarus have the same cultural roots that define people's lives," he said.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church said the church welcomed Russia's decision to celebrate the holiday as "an important event that unites brothers."
The holiday also puts Russia at the center of the Orthodox faith, an idea pushed by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, noted Roman Lunkin, director of the Religion and Law Institute.
In the end, though, ordinary Russians are unlikely to be terribly impressed with the new holiday — one of dozens that are officially recognized by the state and already crowd their calendars.
The country already celebrates eight public holidays, which offer days off work, including International Women's Day on March 8, Victory Day on May 9 and this weekend's Russia Day on June 12. In addition, there are more than 70 professional holidays, like Paratroopers Day on Aug. 2 and Police Day on Nov. 10. One of them falls on the same date as the new Christianization of Rus Day: Public Relations Day.
Prince Charles Blames World’s Ills On ‘Soulless Consumerism’ and Galileo
June 9, 2010
Ruth Gledhill and Ben Webster
The Prince of Wales has blamed a lack of belief in the soul for the world’s environmental problems, and said that the planet cannot sustain a population expected to reach 9 billion in 40 years.
He said he found it “baffling” that so many scientists professed a faith in God yet this had little bearing on the “damaging” way science was used to exploit the natural world.
The Prince pinned part of the blame on Galileo. Criticising the profit imperative behind much scientific research, he said: “This imbalance, where mechanistic thinking is so predominant, goes back at least to Galileo’s assertion that there is nothing in nature but quantity and motion.
“This is the view that continues to frame the general perception of the way the world works, and how we fit within the scheme of things.
“As a result, Nature has been completely objectified — ‘She’ has become an ‘it’ — and we are persuaded to concentrate on the material aspect of reality that fits within Galileo’s scheme.” The Prince said that he believed “green technology” alone could not resolve the world’s environmental problems. Instead, the West must do something about its “deep, inner crisis of the soul”.
Speaking at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies to mark its 25th anniversary, the Prince — who is patron of the centre — said that the West had been been “de-souled” by consumerism.
He said that the present approach to the environment was contrary to the teachings of all of the world’s sacred traditions. The desire for financial profit ignored the spiritual teachings.
“Over the years, I have pointed out again and again that our environmental problems cannot be solved simply by applying yet more and more of our brilliant green technology — important though it is.
“It is no good just fixing the pump and not the well,” he said. Talk of an “environmental crisis” or of a “financial crisis” was actually describing “the outward consequences of a deep, inner crisis of the soul”.
Focusing on population growth, he warned of “monumental problems” as numbers rose. “It would certainly help if the acceleration slowed down, but it would also help if the world reduced its desire to consume,” he said.
The claim that population growth is one of the greatest environmental problems was challenged last year in a study by the International Institute for Environment and Development. The London-based think-tank claimed that a population explosion in poor countries would contribute little to climate change, and was a dangerous distraction from the “main problem” of over-consumption in rich nations.
The world’s population has risen from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 6.8 billion. It is growing by 75 million a year, and is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050. Nine of the ten countries with the highest growth rates up to 2050 are in Africa.
See also: 'Follow the Islamic way to save the world,' Prince Charles urges environmentalists
Today, there seem to be many vested interests in scientific consensus. Universities and science associations often make use of the concept when explaining the importance of science in society and in making pronouncements on issues of public significance. Consensus is relevant to funding agencies, who focus their awards on science that appears to be building on an existing knowledge base. It is a factor in peer review, for it is much harder to get unorthodox ideas past the journal review processes. It influences the media: who is regarded as an 'expert' and who should not get exposure because of their unorthodox ideas. How refreshing, then, to find the Royal Institute of Philosophy offering some cautionary words in an editorial:
"One of the most striking aspects of Karl Popper's philosophy of science is his insistence that scientific consensus is sleep inducing, intellectually speaking. He did not actually put it quite like that. What he pointed out was that the most successful scientific theory ever devised turned out to be false, even though it had been treated as scientifically practically unquestionable for nigh on two centuries. Popper was thinking of Newton's theory, whose refutation (as Popper saw it) in 1917 was a key moment in his own intellectual life."
Popper "called for a clear demarcation between good science, in which theories are constantly challenged, and what he called "pseudo sciences" which couldn't be tested. His debunking of such ideologies led some to describe him as the "murderer of Freud and Marx". [Some of us think the name of Darwin should be added to this list]." (Source here)
Even more welcome are the two examples selected of modern-day scientific consensus: "critics of the theory of evolution and of the reality of climate change". Although the public has been assured time after time that the "science is settled" on these issues, the guardians of these consensus positions will not be pleased by these cautionary words, nor by the judgment offered that the critiques "are not all or entirely without weight".
"Popper's lesson is little heeded today. Critics of the theory of evolution and of the reality of climate change are not so much argued with as vilified, excluded and marginalised in polite scientific and even political circles. It is what one might expect from a very powerful institution, like the medieval Church, but not perhaps from one ostensibly committed to critical rationality and the pursuit of falsification. The criticisms which are made of the theory of evolution and of climate change, as these things are currently and consensually understood, are not all or entirely without weight."
It appears to me that the philosophers are not making a judgment on the science, but on the quality of the debate. There are real issues to discuss - the philosophers can recognise that. Furthermore, they are not impressed by the way the defenders of scientific consensus are treating the critiques: ad hominem arguments, straw man arguments, much handwaving, smokescreens and even a refusal to engage with the real issues. Even saying there should be a proper debate can be dangerous:
"We hope that saying that will not bring a heap of opprobrium on our heads. But even if the criticisms were off the wall, those who take Popper seriously may still occasionally catch a whiff of the falsifying rat behind the painted and perfumed consensus."
A recent example of the lack of real debate can be found in the reception of What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini. Here is Douglas Futuyma in Science (7 May 2010) in a review entitled: "Two critics without a clue".
"Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini show little familiarity with the vast literature on genetic variation, experimental analyses of natural selection, or other topics on which they philosophically expound. They are blithely agnostic about the causes of evolution and apparently uninterested in fostering any program of research. Because they are prominent in their own fields, some readers may suppose that they are authorities on evolution who have written a profound and important book. They aren't, and it isn't."
Another example is the ID prediction of functionality for Junk DNA, and the establishment Darwinists defence of Junk. An interesting report on some recent exchanges is by Jonathan Wells. This concludes:
"If one overlooks the nastiness, it is clear that there are some interesting issues in this debate. Conceptually, what does it mean to say that a segment of DNA has function? Empirically, what does the evidence show? One might think that professors Matheson, Hunt and Moran would address the conceptual issue calmly, rationally, and collegially. But they don't; instead, they stoop to misrepresentation and ridicule. And one might think that they would address the empirical issue by citing published scientific evidence. But they don't; instead, they simply proclaim themselves the only authorities on the subject."
What we are seeing is a warped science. Instead of championing empiricism and testing of hypotheses, the consensus scientists end up appealing to authority and treating the evidence lightly. They are making the same mistake as the Medieval Church.
Russia Church Wants End To Darwin School "Monopoly"
June 10, 2010
by Conor Humphries
The Russian Orthodox Church called Wednesday for an end to the "monopoly of Darwinism" in Russian schools, saying religious explanations of creation should be taught alongside evolution.
Liberals said they would fight efforts to include religious teaching in schools. Russia's dominant church has experienced a revival in recent years, worrying rights groups who say its power is undermining the country's secular constitution.
"The time has come for the monopoly of Darwinism and the deceptive idea that science in general contradicts religion. These ideas should be left in the past," senior Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion said at a lecture in Moscow.
"Darwin's theory remains a theory. This means it should be taught to children as one of several theories, but children should know of other theories too."
Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has proved divisive in the United States, where Protestant groups promote Creationism, the idea that God made the world as described in the Bible, and the "intelligent design" view positing an unnamed creator.
The atheist Soviet state, which collapsed in 1991, used Darwin to disprove religious teachings. The theory, which biologists say gives a verifiable explanation for how life forms develop through natural selection, now dominates in Russian schools as it does in science teaching in most countries.
Hilarion said the theory that one species could evolve into another had never been proved. Children "should know about the religious picture, the creation of the world, which is common to all the monotheistic religions," he said.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a veteran dissident, told Reuters Russian liberals would fight any attempt to introduce religious teaching into Russian classrooms, particularly in science.
"It's a dangerous idea and we will do all we can to stop it," she said. "We overcame Communism as the state ideology and certain forces want to replace it with Orthodox Christianity."
She said it was unlikely religious teaching would replace Darwin in the national curriculum, but it could find its way into some schools with enough pressure from the Church.
Hilarion heads the Church's external relations department. His lecture to Russian Foreign Ministry officials in Moscow was dedicated to fighting "fanatical secularism" of liberals hostile to religion, and called for dialogue with moderate secularists and cooperation with Catholics against common foes.
Orthodox Christianity is Russia's dominant religion and both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin regularly attend Orthodox services.
Russia also boasts several large religious minorities -- including around 20 million Muslims in a population of 141 million -- which have at times expressed concern about what they say is the privileged place of the Orthodox Church.
Medvedev on June 1 signed a law making July 28 a national holiday to mark the Church's founding with the baptism of Prince Vladimir in Kiev in 988. Muslim lawmakers have since asked for a national holiday to mark the arrival of Islam in Russia.
Hilarion said other faiths should not be worried as the baptism holiday was dedicated to all citizens due to the role of Vladimir's baptism in the foundation of the Russian state.
"It is difficult to even imagine Russia -- if there would even be a Russia ... if that choice had not been made," he said.
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
It is not the same to eat your meal with a blessing and to eat it without a blessing. Every meal is the table of God, which God Himself has set for us. This is why it is necessary as a householder to thank God and to beg for His blessings.
Blessed food is more tasty and more satisfying while unblessed food is untasty, unsatisfying and unhealthy. On one occasion, Emperor Theodosius the Younger went for a walk in the surroundings of Constantinople and seeing the hut of a monk stopped and visited. The elder asked the emperor if he would desire something to eat? "I do," answered the emperor. The elder brought bread, oil, salt and water before the emperor. The emperor ate and drank and then asked the monk: "Do you know who I am?" "God knows who you are," replied the monk. "I am Emperor Theodosius." The monk bowed down before the emperor silently. The emperor said to him: "I am an emperor and am born of an emperor but, believe me, never in my life have I eaten so tastily as I have today with you." "And do you know why?" answered the elder. "Because," he continued, "we monks always prepare our food with prayer and blessing; it is from that, that bitter food for us is transformed into tasty; with you, however, food is prepared with much labor and you do not seek a blessing (from God) and because of that tasty food becomes tasteless."
On The Road: Traveling Back in Time
60 Minutes' Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson Reflects on Meeting The Patriarch
Dec. 20, 2009
Written by 60 Minutes Associate Producer Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson.
Last May I had the privilege of traveling to Istanbul, Turkey. We were heading there to profile the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I. I didn't know very much about him. For one, I always assumed the heart of the Orthodox Church was in Athens, Greece. Finding out it was in Istanbul, Turkey was the beginning of my history lesson.
My knowledge of Greco-Turk relations was also very thin and so learning about the fragile position the Orthodox Church finds itself in, in a country that is 99 percent Muslim was also an eye opener. As with all stories done on "60 Minutes" the first step is research; some stories require more than others and this one involved 17 centuries worth of research! I knew that I was going to see Istanbul; Cappadocia in Eastern Turkey, the Sinai in Egypt and our trip would end in Jerusalem. Overall our story was about the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church and the position of Christianity in the part of the world where it all began.
Seeing Istanbul for the first time is like walking into a giant museum; not only is it a beautiful city, but you somehow get a sense that things happened there a very long time ago. Turkey in general is a beautiful country with lovely people and such a rich culture. So I constantly had to remind myself that our story was about a controversial issue in Turkey which had to do with a minority of people - Turks of Greek ancestry - whose presence had gone from a population of nearly 2 million in the early 1920s to only 4,000 today. The story was ultimately about discrimination and the lack of religious freedom on the part of the Turkish government. Our profile of His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was to be his first on a major American television network and his candor, calm and determination are qualities to be appreciated considering the risk he took in speaking with us.
A slight man in stature, his presence is that of greatness. My first encounter with him is one that I will never forget. I was filming some shots with my camera crew at the Phanar - the Church's headquarters in Istanbul - when someone from His All Holiness's office came to us stating that The Patriarch wanted to meet us right then and there. Because this meeting was not to happen until that evening, I didn’t feel I was appropriately dressed to meet him right then and there. We are so focused on people's perceptions of first impressions that I feared his first impression of me wouldn't have been so positive. I felt - and was - underdressed to meet such a person of his stature, but of course I couldn't exactly say 'no, I'd rather go back and change and meet him later.' So here I am feeling both nervous and shy, walking through these lovely corridors and through two doors.
I walk in and up from his desk Patriarch Bartholomew walks towards me, with his hand out to shake mine and as soon as I felt him, I simply begin to weep. Rarely have I felt someone exude so much goodness, and he just held my hand for what seemed to be a good, long while in the most reassuring way. I composed myself and was invited to sit down.
Someone brought in a treat called "Mastica" which was a sweet, white paste on a spoon in a glass of cold water. I watched as the others began licking their spoons, so I followed and as the Patriarch was licking his, I couldn't help but think that here we are, so relaxed and this man is fighting a battle of survival, the survival of his church. It was really quite surreal.
That evening we had dinner with His All Holiness and other members of The Church. He talked of his travels and his education at the Halki School of Theology, his family and his life. He spoke fondly of his parents and his siblings and growing up on his home island of Imvros. A lot of the conversation was also in French, a language he's more comfortable in than English. Bob Simon and I are lucky to speak it and that made The Patriarch feel more at ease.
After that dinner we were to catch a flight to Cappadocia in Eastern Turkey and His All Holiness was very keen to know what our experience would be there upon our return to Istanbul. He told us that seeing the small churches there would make us better understand why the heart of the Orthodox Church is in Turkey and despite what he feels are efforts on the part of Turkish officials to eventually squeeze the church out of Turkey, seeing Cappadocia would, to him, make us better understand why leaving that land is out of the question.
With barely enough time to rest after our arrival in Cappadocia, our adventure began at about 5:00 a.m. in a hot air balloon. It was my first time in one and my curiosity and excitement about what I was about to see completely overshadowed any fear I had of getting in a balloon. The landscape just took my breath away and yet I also felt as though I was on another planet, or on the set of a George Lucas film. Seeing these caves carved into the side of these stone mountains was something unimaginable. I wondered how the people who lived in these caves survived and yet the evidence is there that these places were lived in for what seemed to be a long time.
I was also surprised to see quite a number of pilgrims there, yet another eye opener that not everything only happens in The Holy Land. Hearing that most of the caves with were built in the late 4th to early 5th centuries and seeing these frescoes painted on their walls just simply rendered me speechless.
We headed back to Istanbul and thanks to our trip to Cappadocia we were better prepared for the formal interview with His All Holiness at the Halki School of Theology.
The Halki was shut down by the Turkish government back in 1971 according to a Turkish law that states that due to that country’s secular position, there can be no religious instruction. The Halki's closure is His All Holiness's greatest battle and he’s determined that in his lifetime the school will reopen because he feels that its closure threatens the future of his church. The school is on a lovely property located on an island called Heybeliada, part of the Princes Islands. We took a private boat to the island from Istanbul because I was told that when His All Holiness would take the regular ferry, many times he was ridiculed and even spat on by non-Christians. The school, built in 1844, is inhabited by about three monks who maintain the grounds with a handful of helpers. It is kept in immaculate condition, at the ready, in case the Turkish government gives permission to reopen its doors. Throughout our tour, His All Holiness showed us the empty dormitories, classrooms and library. By the time we sat down with him he summed up the Turkish government’s actions towards him and his church in one word: crucifixion. Aside from the sniffles heard in that room, one could hear a pin drop.
Following our stay in Turkey, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew also sent us the Saint Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai in Egypt. That was yet another trip back in time and yet so 21st century. Seeing Christian monks living side by side with Bedouins, in total harmony was also an eye opening experience. It was an issue of National Geographic coming to life! It was a very peaceful place and the monks were, for the most part distant, but some were also very friendly and excited to see other faces. Seeing the largest collection of icons, protected by these 25 men was just another mind-blowing experience. I couldn’t believe that I was sleeping in a place, at the foot of Mount Moses (its correct name, I’m told - NOT Mt. Sinai), where Moses came down with the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
The end of our trip took us to Jerusalem and I saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Via Dolorosa… All of those Sundays of my life in (Catholic) Church all came to life during this trip; all the references to gospels and apostles were all now real in front of me and simply put, I felt like one of the luckiest people on Earth. What a privilege it was and I will never forget it.
June 8, 2010
A unique Russian church will take the word of God to believers and non-believers alike as it floats down rivers in northeast Siberia, a Yakutsk administration spokesperson said on Tuesday.
The church will make its way down the Lena, Aldan and Viluy rivers in the Yakutsk Region.
"A Yakutsk Cossack regiment started the construction of the floating church, blessed by the Bishop Zosimus, two years ago," the spokesperson said.
"The church will be ready in the spring of 2011," he added.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
In the city of Kuibyshev there lived a family: a pious mother and her daughter Zoë. On the evening of New Years Eve (December 31) of 1956 Zoë invited seven of her girlfriends - and just as many young men - over for dinner and dancing. At that time it was the fast for Christmas* and Zoë’s mother begged her not to plan a dinner, but the daughter insisted on having things her way. That same evening her mother went to church to pray.
All those invited came over, except for Zoë’s fiancé who hadn’t arrived yet. His name was Nicholas. The young ladies and the boys got in pairs and Zoë was left alone. Not knowing what to do and without really thinking, she took down the icon of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker from the wall and said, “I’ll take this Nicholas and I’ll go dance with them,” not paying any attention to her friends, who advised her not to commit such a blasphemous act. “If God exists, let Him punish me,” she said. And so she started to dance, did two or three twirls, when all of sudden there was a fearful noise in the room, a whirlwind, and a blinding light flashed like lightening.
The former joy turned into fright. Everyone fled from the room scared. Only Zoë stood there motionless, with the icon of St. Nicholas stuck to her chest, petrified and frozen like marble. The doctors, who arrived quickly, were not able to bring her to her senses in spite of their attempts. The injection needles, which they tried to stick in her, bent and broke as they hit her marbleized body! They wanted to take her to the hospital, but were unable to move her from her spot. It was as if her feet were nailed to the floor. But her heart was beating! Zoë was alive. However, she was no longer able to eat or drink…
When her mother came back and saw what had happened, she fell unconscious and they took her to the hospital, which she didn’t leave from for a few days. Her faith in the compassion of God and her warm motherly prayers for the forgiveness of her unfortunate daughter, by the Grace of God, restored her vitality.
Zoë came to consciousness and with tears she sought forgiveness and help.
Zoë’s house was surrounded by a crowd of people for the first few days, faithful who came or, even yet, walked from afar: the curious, doctors, and spiritual personalities. But according to an order from the authorities, the house was quickly closed to visitors. There were always two policemen guarding the house, in alternating eight-hour shifts. Some of the guards’ hair turned white, even though they were still young (28-30), from the fright of hearing the terrifying cries that Zoë made every night.
Night after night her mother was next to her praying.
“Mama, pray! Pray, because I’m lost on account of my sins! Pray!” Zoë would cry out.
Because of all the things that were happening they even informed the Patriarch and asked him to pray for Zoë’s recovery. The Patriarch replied, “The one who is punishing her will also have mercy on her!”
From then on, among those who were allowed to visit Zoë were:
1. A professor of medicine of high prestige who came from Moscow. He had confirmed that her heart did not stop beating.
2. Priests, who the mother had invited in order to take St. Nicholas out of Zoë’s hands. But neither were they able to pull the icon away from Zoë’s petrified hands.
3. The Hieromonk Seraphim from the Glinsk desert, who had come to Kuibyshev for the feast of the Nativity, performed the Holy Water service and had blessed the icon. Afterwards he said, “Now we must wait for some sign at Pascha! If nothing happens, it means that the end of the world is drawing near!” showing by these words his deep faith in miracles.
4. The Metropolitan Nicholas, who also read the Paraklesis and said, “We must wait till Pascha for a new miracle,” repeating the saying of the pious hieromonk.
On the eve of the feast of the Annunciation (which that year fell on the Saturday of the third week of Great Lent) some genial elder approached the guards and asked them to allow him to see Zoë. But the police guards refused to allow it. The elder came again the following day, but neither did those guards allow him. The third time, on the day of the Annunciation, the guards allowed him in. They heard with how much compassion he spoke to Zoë as he entered, “Now then, did you get tired from standing?”
A little time passed and when the guards wanted to kick the elder out, he wasn’t to be found in the room…
Everyone was sure that it was Saint Nicholas himself. Thus, Zoë had stayed there standing for exactly 4 months (128 days) until Pascha, which that year had fallen on April 23 (May 6 on the New Calendar).
On the night of the Glorious Resurrection of Christ Zoë started to cry out especially loud: “Pray!”
The nightshift guards started to tremble and asked, “Why are you crying out so frightfully?” Pay attention to her answer. “How dreadful, the earth is burning! Pray! The whole world is lost because of its sins, pray!” From that moment Zoë was revived, her muscles started to become soft; she came back to life. They eventually put her on a mattress but she continued to cry out and call all to pray for the world which is lost because of its sins, for the earth which is burning because of its lawlessness.
“How did you stay living up till now? Who fed you?” they asked her. “Doves, doves fed me” was her answer. From this it was apparent that she had received mercy and forgiveness from the Right hand of the Lord Almighty. The Lord forgave Zoë’s sins, by the attendance of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, and because of her great tribulations and her standing for the duration of 128 days.
All of these events shocked the inhabitants of Kuibyshev and the surrounding areas. Many people again found their faith in God, having seen the miracles, hearing her screams and her entreaties for us to pray for the people who are lost on account of their sins. They returned to the Church with repentance. Those who didn’t wear a cross started to wear one, when at that time you might have paid with your life just for that. The return was so en masse that the churches didn’t have enough little crosses for everyone who sought one.
With fear and tears the people sought forgiveness for their sins, repeating Zoë’s words, “How dreadful, the earth is burning, we are lost because of our sins! Pray! The people are lost because of their lawlessness!”
On the third day of Pascha Zoë left for the Lord, since she had traveled the difficult road of standing for 128 days before the face of the Lord for the forgiveness of all of her sins. The Holy Spirit had preserved her life all of these days for the resurrection of her soul from the death of sin, just as in that eternal day to come it will resurrect her bodily for life everlasting; for that matter, just as her name itself means: Zoë.
Note (from the Russian original): In the Soviet press of that time period Zoë’s incident was brought up. Answering the letters that came to the management of a well-known newspaper, one haughty scientist claimed that the occurrence with Zoë is really not that incredible, but he declared that it is one form of muscular rigidity still unknown to science. This falsehood of such a hypothesis is apparent, seeing that: First, with rigidity such a petrified hardness of the skin does not occur, so much so that the doctors are not able to inject the sick. Second, a person infected by such a sickness can be moved from one place to another, while they were not able to move Zoë; she was standing up straight definitely much longer than average people can. Third, a sickness by itself does not return a person to God and does not bring revelations from Heaven. While in Zoë’s case, not only thousands found their faith again in God, but they showed their faith in deed, that is, they were baptized and lived morally. Not only did they believe that God exists, but they became Christians. From this it is clear that we are not talking about some simple illness, but about divine economy. He [God] truly makes fast the faith, to deliver people from their sins and from punishment because of them.
* In Russia the feasts follow the Old Calendar. The Christmas fast lasts from November 28 until January 6 of the following year.
Read also about Aleksandr Proshkin's film "The Miracle" based on the true events described in this article.
Hieromonk Seraphim from the Glinsk desert
Director: Aleksandr Proshkin
Writer: Yuri Arabov
Russia, 2009, 100 min.
Director Aleksandr Proshkin has built his reputation on the filming of literary adaptations, and The Miracle, based on a true story, is one of a piece, even though “all names and characters have been altered,” as we learn at the end of the film. The facts are these: in 1956 in Samara, Zoia Karnaukhova was celebrating New Years despite having been jilted by her lover. Wanting a partner, she picked up an icon of St. Nicholas and began to dance, only to freeze mid-turn. She remained immobile until Easter, standing 128 days before she revived, only to live out the rest of her life in an insane asylum. Needless to say, this event proved problematic for the atheist Soviet state, which primarily sought to silence the miracle by carefully controlling access to the affected girl. However, news travels quickly in a small town, and news such as that could not be contained, and an official party line had to be adopted and an appropriate scientific explanation found.
The film follows the facts, more or less, as Zoia is now Tat'iana (Maria Burova), and Samara is now Grechansk, a typically and predictably grimy industrial town at the back of beyond, which the inhabitants loathe as much as the visitors from Moscow. The film opens as Tat'iana prepares for her twenty-first birthday party, which she hopes her lover, Nikolai (Konstanin Khabenskii), will attend. In preparation, she removes all the icons from the house, leaving only St. Nicholas, in memory of her lover. When Nikolai does not appear at the party, Tat'iana grabs the saint’s icon as a stand-in, and promptly freezes, still holding the icon. As no Proshkin film would be complete without the bitter tears and wailing of an old peasant woman, Tat'iana’s mother (Olga Lapshina) loudly laments her daughter’s fate before she throws herself under a train.
While the miracle itself happens within the first fourteen minutes, the remainder of the film is structured around the responses of various people associated with the miracle, or who come into contact with it for one reason or another. Shortly after Tat'iana freezes, journalist Nikolai Artem'ev is dispatched to investigate. As it turns out, he is, in fact, the same Nikolai who stood up Tatiana at her party. Nikolai cuts a rather pathetic figure: a once talented poet, he now works for a newspaper writing articles about the production of dairy products and copes with his wife by womanizing. We see the intimacies of their daily life, both before and after his trip to Grechansk, which she resents, knowing he has another woman there. Upon arrival, Nikolai is introduced to Kondrashev (Sergei Makovetskii), the KGB officer in charge of Religious Affairs. Kondrashev leads Nikolai to “Tat'iana,” who has miraculously revived and is now in perfect health and able to laugh about her strange experience. Nikolai, however, has intimate knowledge of the girl herself and immediately spots the fake the state is trying to sell. Beginning to dig a little deeper, he enlists the aid of a buddy in the KGB to get him into the house where Tat'iana stands frozen, covered in cobwebs and mold. The sight is so shocking, Nikolai runs all the way home, falling back on science to help him make sense of what he has seen, finally concluding that it is a “major gross motor dysfunction with full sensory deprivation.” Nikolai’s humor and cynicism lent a certain energy to the film, and his departure slows the pace remarkably.
After the reaction of the journalist, comes the response of the local priest, Father Andrei (Viktor Shamirov). A solemn and intimidating family man, Father Andrei is under pressure from Kondrashev to denounce the recent event and state that it in no way constitutes a miracle, or his church will be closed and turned into a cinema. Realizing this is a battle he cannot win (despite the general cultural loosening of the Thaw, the Moscow patriarchate still answers directly to the state), Father Andrei capitulates. When confronted with the by now even more grotesque looking Tat'iana, his response is similar to that of Nikolai: to flee as far and as fast as possible.
In order to bring some kind of conclusion and drama to this otherwise slow and tepid tale, scriptwriter Iurii Arabov adds a completely fictional dues ex machina, in which Nikita Khrushchev (Aleksandr Potapov) himself descends from above (a forced emergency landing, but nevertheless…) to clear up this miracle business once and for all. Khrushchev brooks no nonsense with the priest and the archdeacon, who has also come to investigate the miracle, and takes a number of steps to wake the girl, one of which ultimately revives her. He seems to be the only one unaffected by the strange event.
The Miracle won the special jury prize at the Moscow International Film Festival 2009, and much of the writing about it, for better or for worse, has focused on the religious themes. Some locate the film in a series of other pro-Orthodox films, such as Pavel Lungin’s Tsar and The Island, while others see the message as more ambiguous: Father Andrei is one of the least palatable figures in a fairly unsympathetic ensemble. Although we are meant to understand that the title refers to Tat'iana’s freezing and unfreezing, the coda puts a different spin things as Tat'iana is elevated from whore to holy fool, a suffering innocent. Ultimately then, the film centers around the issue of faith: whether one believes or not, and whether one can believe when actually confronted with the inexplicable.
Aleksandr Proshkin (1940- ):
Aleksandr Proshkin was born in 1940 in Leningrad. After graduating from the acting department at the Leningrad State Institute of Theater, Music, and Film in 1961, and from the directing department at Gosteleradio in 1968, Proshkin worked as a director and editor of literary and dramatic programming for television. During this time, he was responsible for more than thirty television films and specials, of which the bio-pic Mikhailo Lomonosov catapulted him to fame in 1984. His 1988 film, Cold Summer of 1953, brought his first international attention. Although some of Proshkin’s latest films have been literary adaptations (The Captain’s Daughter, Doctor Zhivago, Live and Remember), Miracle is both an intriguing continuation of and deviation from this trend.
For the true story that inspired the movie, see here.
An interesting perspective on horror movies, most of which I share, that is worth a read.
by Brian Godawa (Nicene Council)
When one thinks of horror movies, the usual images conjured up in the mind are of nubile co-eds being lured to isolated locations for the purpose of having sex and then being murdered and carved up in ever innovative and disgusting new ways by a grotesque chimera or phantasm. Likewise, for thriller movies, images that stalk the mind are of innocent men or women being hunted by maniacal serial murderers as a relentless feast of fear and gore for the audience.
But this was not always so. And though these clichés have become the norm for many Hollywood horror and thriller films, they are not the only ones out there. In fact, in today’s postmodern society so saturated with relative morality, I would propose that the horror and thriller genres have the potential for being two of the most effective means of exposing the absolute – and I do mean absolute – evil of moral relativism. And they do it in at least two ways: 1) they reinforce the doctrine of man’s sin nature, and 2) they expose the consequences of the denial of evil.
This Body of Death
Ancient superstition exploited man’s fear of his dark side through vampires, werewolves, and myriads of other half-man/half-monsters. These freaks of nature or supernature embodied the cultured, educated man by day, and the unbridled beast by night. They express the biblical truth that evildoers do not come to the light, lest their deeds be exposed, and true evil is done by otherwise “normal” people who suppress the truth about themselves in unrighteousness.
The moralistic Victorian era provided western culture with a rich and lasting heritage of metaphors for the depraved side of human nature that requires restraint and elimination. And those metaphors have been resurrected in modern films with equally moral vision. Dracula symbolized the struggle of the repressed dark side and its eternal hunger which is explored with modern fervor in Interview with the Vampire. Dr. Jekyll fought to suppress the increasing inhumanity of his depraved alter ego, Mr. Hyde, just like “Jack” has to defeat his destructive inner self, Tyler, in Fight Club. Victor Frankenstein’s scientific hubris leads to a vengeful monster in the same way that the entrepreneurial conceit of scientists without moral restraint leads to the take over of Jurassic Park by unpredictable dinosaurs, or the greedy technology R&D of Cyberdyne Systems leads to the assassinations of the Terminator. The corrupted conscience of H.G. Wells’ invisible man getting away with crime is revisited in the more recent Hollow Man.
It could be argued that the modern serial killer has become the naturalistic incarnation of the otherwise preternatural horror monster. In some ways, the serial killer genre is an improvement on fantasy-oriented horror stories because this kind of evil really happens. And they refute what many other movies assume; the belief that human nature is basically good. What is more biblical, a fun kid’s animated fantasy like Shrek, that reveals inherent goodness suppressed by socially deviant behavior, or a scary thriller, like Primal Fear, that unveils inherent evil concealed by socially acceptable behavior?
Unfortunately, many modern horror movies have drifted from this moral focus into immoral exploitation. They have degenerated into gruesome bloodbaths of murder and mayhem with a nihilistic vision of the will to power. Jason, Michael, Freddy, Chucky, Pinhead, Leatherface, and their many successors all hunt down their prey with voyeuristic effect on the audience and are never ultimately defeated. And in the supernatural versions, God is at best a dualistic force of equal power with the devil. One of the few moral elements in these otherwise prurient gorefests is the fact that fornication is contextually linked with the negative consequences of death (one of the rules of horror movies is that the kids who have sex will surely die).
A powerful horror film that should be on every Christian movie lover’s “go rent” list is The Addiction. This 1995 black and white vampire film was written by Nicholas St. John and directed by Abel Ferrara. It’s an “arthouse” independent film that captures the moral spirit of the horror genre at its best. It is the story of Kathleen, a philosophy student at NYU, who gets bit by a vampire and descends into the dark shadows of bloodlust. The spiritual angle of this macabre story is that vampirism in the film is an obvious metaphor for human depravity. But that’s not all. The vampires are distinguished by their self-awareness, unlike those they prey upon. Kathleen bites her new friend, who then asks her if she is going to get “sick.” Kathleen answers, “No. No worse than you were before.” She adds to another, “Sure, it’s easy to spot in people like me. The cancer has grown obvious. But you’re as terminal as I am. You’re as addicted [to sin] as I am.” The only difference between the living and the undead is that the vampires are aware of their corruption, while the living are self-deceived in thinking they are not. Pure Romans 1 through 3 with a vengeance.
The vampires expound on the metaphysics and ontology of evil as well as the philosophical inadequacy of man’s worldviews to account for or even condemn that evil. In the scene described above, Kathleen’s friend is shocked at being bitten. She anxiously blurts out, “How could you do this? Doesn’t it affect you? How can you do this to me?” To which Kathleen sardonically replies, “It was your decision. Your friend Feuerbach said that all men counting stars are equivalent in every way to God. My indifference is not the concern here. It’s your astonishment that needs study.” This reversal is an apologetic argument against unbelief, par excellence. If God is dead, as the modern secular mindset proposes, and man is his own deity, creating his own morality, then why is anyone surprised when people create their own morality that justifies feasting on the life blood of others? Without God, there is no such thing as “evil.” Later in the movie, a vampire even quotes R.C. Sproul when complaining about our original sin nature: “R.C. Sproul said we’re not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. In more accessible terms, we’re not evil because of the evil we do, but we do evil because we are evil. Yeah. Now what choices do such people have? It’s not like we have any options.”
The Addiction is one of the most poignant artistic expressions of the epistemological self-consciousness that Christian apologist Cornelius Van Til wrote about. As the difference between sinner and saint expands, both become more aware of this antithesis, which results in an increase in social and historical hostility between the two camps. After Kathleen passes her graduate thesis examination, she and her epistemologically self-conscious vampires throw a party for her other college acquaintances. She shepherds them all into a room and announces with a taste of irony, “I’d like to share a little bit of what I’ve learned through these long hard years of study.” The vampires then proceed to feast upon their unsuspecting victims with a frenzy. It is the very godless philosophy taught in school that comes back to bite its teachers. Ideas do have consequences.
But the tale is not without redemption. After Kathleen gorges herself on the blood of others, she arrives at a point of total despair and finds God as the only salvation from her dark nature. She then stands by the grave of her “old self” and walks away in the light of freedom as we hear her voiceover, “To face what we are in the end. We stand before the light, and our true nature is revealed. Self revelation is annihilation of self.” When God resurrects the “living dead,” he kills the old sin nature and we become a new creation; A picture perfect expression of “dying to self.”
Modern culture has always considered the doctrine of Original Sin to be offensive. Many movies are more oriented toward promoting the inherent goodness of human nature as well as our ability to fix ourselves by getting in tune with that natural goodness. The scandal of some horror and thriller movies is that they can most effectively incarnate the sin nature of man and his constant unrighteous suppression of that truth beneath apparent normalcy in a way that makes it very difficult for postmoderns to ignore (Romans 1:17).
Consequences of Denial
Another way in which horror and thriller movies can communicate truth in today’s postmodern climate of relativism is in their simple but believable portrayal of real and undeniable evil. Showing the harmful results of a belief has been traditionally called via negativa, or the “way of the negative.” It is making an argument against a certain viewpoint by showing the negative conclusion to which it ultimately leads. This is likened to the biblical injunction to expose the “unfruitful deeds of darkness” by bringing to light such “shameful” things “done in secret” (Ephesians 5:11-13). In this case, the person who believes morality is relative and that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, simply has no moral or intellectual authority to argue against the soul-wrenching dramatic expressions of the most vile of human behaviors. Herein lies the moral force of displaying the worst of man’s inhumanity to man: When one watches the “gourmet” appetite of Hannibal the Cannibal in The Silence of the Lambs, or the murderous religious liturgies of John Doe in Seven, and Jack the Ripper in From Hell, no one can convincingly argue that such atrocities are not actually evil, but merely morally neutral behaviors that simply defy the social constructs of our culture. After all, if morality is truly relative, then one man’s serial killer is another man’s übermensch.
True, university professors and other fools trying to be consistent with their nihilistic philosophy will try to maintain such absurd consistency in order to accomplish their agendas of power, but their folly will be made known to all those whose hearts are not yet hardened, whose consciences are not yet seared. An example of this folly can be found in the movie, Seven. When John Doe, the killer played by Kevin Spacey in the movie, explains the moral rationale for his unspeakable crimes, he is, in one sense, philosophically correct! He tells the detectives: “I won't deny my own personal desire to turn each sin against the sinner. I only took their sins to logical conclusions.” When challenged by Detective Mills (played by Brad Pitt) that he killed innocent people, John Doe replies, “Innocent? Is that supposed to be funny? Look at the people I killed.” He rattles off the victims who embodied five of the seven deadly sins and concludes:
“Only in a world this sh**** could you even try to say these were innocent people and keep a straight face. That's the point. You see a deadly sin on almost every street corner, and in every home, literally. And we tolerate it. Because it's common, it seems trivial, and we tolerate, all day long, morning, noon and night.”
Even though the killer is wrong in claiming God’s authority behind his murders, he is unwittingly making what is called a presuppositional moral argument for the existence of God. That is, it illustrates the impossibility of the contrary to Christianity: Without God, there is no such thing as “evil.” When society negates the moral categories of evil defined as “sin” by God, then all sorts of evil will not only result in society, but there will be no moral authority to condemn such behaviors.
Nature and Nurture
Another aspect of the consequences of denying the existence of absolute morality is the downright foolishness that can be made of the theories that attempt to reinterpret evil in terms of environmental, psychological or sociological determinism. In addition to the basic goodness of man, another fallacious category of truth we have inherited from the Enlightenment is the ultimate authority of human autonomous reason. This view claims that only that which aligns with the canons of human logic is true. The problems of this world result from human ignorance. If we can only make people more rational, then they would become less savage in their behavior. Education is salvation. Goodness is associated with intellectual development. Since man is assumed to be basically good, then actual wickedness and cruelty cannot be strictly evil, but essentially irrational. Thus the prevalent usage of “insanity” in our legal culture in reference to heinous crimes. People just cannot accept that anyone can be truly evil, so we shift the blame onto something else: biology, society, upbringing, anything but our nature. The biblical truth of the matter is that evil springs forth from both nature and nurture, but the dominant hegemony of theories tend against nature because of its all too familiar connection to the Christian notion of Original Sin.
So here is the problem: Serial killers like Ted Bundy and Jack the Ripper and their fictional counterparts like Hannibal Lecter and John Doe are so utterly rational and intelligent that their very presence defies the notion of insanity as itself insane. Legally, insanity means the inability to know the difference between right and wrong. But the most obvious option never enters the minds of most Enlightenment-influenced modern thinkers: That people do know the difference between right and wrong whenever they engage in evil; the problem is, they simply don’t care. What many psychologists call sociopathic behavior is really the norm for the evil that men do, rather than the exception. Sinners know right from wrong, but they choose wrong anyway (Romans 1:18-21).
Modern society is utterly confounded by the extremes of evil done by some intelligent, cultured, even well-adjusted, members of society. This confusion is expressed with poignancy in the Jack the Ripper movie, From Hell. An investigating criminologist played by Johnny Depp, explains to an inspector that Jack the Ripper was probably an educated man with medical knowledge. The inspector replies with shocked incredulity that no rational or educated man could possibly engage in such barbaric behavior. His Enlightenment assumptions blind him to the fact that education does not make men good, but it can make men more efficient in their evil.
Author Thomas Harris reveals this inadequacy of humanistic science and psychology through Hannibal Lecter, when Lecter explains to Special Agent Clarice Starling, “You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviorism, Officer Starling. You’ve got everybody in moral dignity pants—nothing is ever anybody’s fault. Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand to say I’m evil?”
Horror and thriller movies are two powerful means of arguing against the moral relativism of our postmodern society. Not only do they tend to reinforce the doctrine of the basic evil nature in humanity, but they can personify profound arguments of the kind of destructive evil that results when society denies absolute morality. Of course, this is not to suggest that all horror movies are morally acceptable. In fact, I would argue that many of them have degenerated into immoral exaltation of sex, violence and death. And it would be vain to try to justify the unhealthy obsession that some people have with the dark side, especially in their movie viewing. Too much focus on the bad news will dilute the power that the Good News has on an individual. Too much fascination with the nature and effects of sin can impede one’s growth in salvation. So, the defense of horror and thriller movies in principle should not be misconstrued to be a justification for all horror and thriller movies in practice. It is the mature Christian who, because of practice, has his senses trained to discern good and evil in a fallen world. It is the mature Christian who, like the Apostle Paul, can expose himself to his culture and draw out the good from the bad in order to interact redemptively with that culture (Acts 17).
Brian Godawa is the screenwriter for the award-winning feature film, To End All Wars. Most recently, he adapted to film the best-selling novel The Visitation by author Frank Peretti for Ralph Winter (X-Men, Fantastic Four). Mr. Godawa’s articles on movies and philosophy have been published around the world. He has traveled around the United States teaching on movies and culture to colleges, churches and community groups. His book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (InterVarsity Press) is in its seventh printing. Mr. Godawa is a member of the Studio Task Force at Biola University; a founding member of Arts & Entertainment Ministries, LA; the Senior Fellow of Film for the Center for Cultural Leadership, CA; and on the advisory board of The Apologetics Group, Nashville, TN. His website, www.godawa.com, contains more of his cinematic, theological and philosophical musings.
1. It would have been even more biblical had the writer used the Ten Commandments rather than the medieval categories of “seven deadly sins.”
2. The fictional characters are just as exemplary as the non-fictional because they often reflect the very kinds of killers that actually do exist in our world.
3. Unfortunately, the movie adds the hint of a supernatural element to the Ripper’s character, which is also a shift of blame and therefore responsibility away from basic human nature.
4. Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988), p. 19. Unfortunately, this profound little piece of dialogue did not make it to the movie.
5. A good example of this exploitation is the heroic status that has been given to Hannibal Lecter. So much so, that the sequel, Hannibal, was written with the villain as hero, indeed as a Christ figure.
Cyril learned to overcome his prejudice against the memory of the great John Chrysostom (November 13). Theophilus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, and uncle of Cyril, was an antagonist of John, and presided in a council in judgment of him. Cyril thus found himself in a circle antagonistic to John Chrysostom, and involuntarily acquired a prejudice against him. Isidore of Pelusium (February 4) repeatedly wrote to Cyril and urged him to include the name of the great Father of the Church into the diptychs of the saints, but Cyril would not agree.
Once in a dream he saw a wondrous temple, in which the Mother of God was surrounded by a host of angels and saints, in whose number was John Chrysostom. When Cyril wanted to approach the All-Holy Lady and venerate her, John Chrysostom would not let him. The Theotokos asked John to forgive Cyril for having sinned against him through ignorance. Seeing that John hesitated, the Mother of God said, "Forgive him for my sake, since he has labored much for my honor, and has glorified me among the people calling me Theotokos." John answered, "By your intercession, Lady, I do forgive him," and then he embraced Cyril with love.
Cyril repented that he had maintained anger against the great saint of God. Having convened all the Egyptian bishops, he celebrated a solemn feast in honor of John Chrysostom.
Reflection by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
We sin if we consider it a duty to also hate those whom our relatives hate. This hatred passes on to us like a family sickness. In adopting the love of our relatives, we also adopt their hatreds. Sometimes even the great spiritual giants succumbed to that weakeness.
Patriarch Theophilus disliked St. John Chrysostom and remained his bitter enemy even until death. Saint Cyril, his kinsman and successor to the throne of Alexandria, inherited that hatred against Chrysostom the saint and, for a long time, bore this hatred within himself. In vain did Saint Isidore of Pelusium advise Cyril to change his opinion about Chrysostom and to enter his name in the Diptych of the Saints but Cyril could not change his evil will. Then the All-Holy Birth-giver of God, for whose glory and honor Cyril fought so much against Nestorius, appeared to Cyril in a vision with a multitude of angels and with John Chyrsostom in great glory. The Holy and All-Pure One begged Chrysostom to forgive Cyril. Then Chrysostom approached Cyril, they embraced and kissed one another. This vision completely changed the feelings of Cyril toward Chrysostom and Cyril repented with shame because he unreasonably hated Chrysostom. That is why to his death Cyril did everything in order to highly praise Chrysostom as a great saint of God.
Writing in today’s Apoyevmatini (Greek newspaper published in Istanbul), Nicholas Manginas reports that Ertuğrul Günay, Minister of Culture and Tourism, told Patriarch Bartholomew on Monday evening (7th June) that the government had approved the Patriarch’s request to celebrate the Liturgy at the Monastery of Soumela – now a museum - once a year on 15th August (the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God). Günay and the Patriarch were both attending a concert in the Hagia Eirene (Saint Irene's). An official document was received at the Patriarchate the following day confirming the decision.
According to Manginas, the Patriarchate was told that those attending the Liturgy will be required to pay particular attention to ensuring there is no damage to the monument, and particularly to the frescoes. Manginas also writes that the Mayor of Maçka (the nearest town to the monastery and the centre of the ilçe - sub-province – in which Soumela is situated) had visited Patriarch Bartholomew a few weeks ago and invited him to visit the town. The service on the 15th August will be the first time the Liturgy has been celebrated at the monastery since the exchange of populations.
In recent years, the Ecumenical Patriarch and other senior clergy have been celebrating the Liturgy in churches around Anatolia, usually on their patronal feasts. This has not yet happened at the Monastery at Soumela. Last August, a copy of the icon of the Panagia Soumela was brought to the region from the new Monastery of Panagia Soumela in western (Greek) Macedonia where the original icon from Soumela is now kept. A group of worshippers from Greece and from parts of the former Soviet Union attempted to hold a service at the monastery, but were prevented from doing so by the Director of the Museum. They were eventually asked to vacate the area. As a museum, the Soumela monastery is under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
(The concert which the Patriarch and the Minister were attending, part of this year’s Istanbul Music Festival, was a performance by the Borusan İstanbul Philharmonic Orchestra and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir of religious music by the Orthodox Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.)
Nicholas Manginas travels with Patriarch Bartholomew and regularly writes on and photographs his activities.
See also here and here.
Metropolitan Paul of Drama, who is the only hierarch in Greece with Pontic origins, was in tears when he heard the news for the upcoming Divine Liturgy. He called the event "an offering to the Christians of the Black Sea". Read more here.
Note: I do not agree with all the contents or agendas of these articles, but the essential mentality of the Protestants described is what I believe give Christians a bad name to the general public. And of course, these articles do not describe all American Protestants, but an influential segment.
1. Deliverance: The True Story Of a Gay Exorcism
Some Pentecostal Christians believe the deliverance rite can exorcise the demons that cause homosexuality. The truly shocking part is that God-fearing gays keep signing up for the traumatic ritual.
Read more here and here.
2. Religion and the Tea Party Movement
Tea Partiers are the Know-Nothings of today: latter-day Nativists who long for an imagined past of small government (with Medicare, to be sure), of Christian values, of heterosexual white people running the show and people of color knowing their place.
Read more here and here.
3. The Christian Fascists Are Growing Stronger
Tens of millions of Americans, lumped into a diffuse and fractious movement known as the Christian right, have begun to dismantle the intellectual and scientific rigor of the Enlightenment. They are creating a theocratic state based on “biblical law,” and shutting out all those they define as the enemy. This movement, veering closer and closer to traditional fascism, seeks to force a recalcitrant world to submit before an imperial America. It champions the eradication of social deviants, beginning with homosexuals, and moving on to immigrants, secular humanists, feminists, Jews, Muslims and those they dismiss as “nominal Christians”—meaning Christians who do not embrace their perverted and heretical interpretation of the Bible. Those who defy the mass movement are condemned as posing a threat to the health and hygiene of the country and the family. All will be purged.
Read more here and here.