October 30, 2009

Orthodoxy and Halloween: Separating Fact From Fiction

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Ukrainian President Calls For Orthodox Unification

Yuschenko to Call on Ukrainians to Form Single Orthodox Church in Ukraine


Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko will address Ukrainians soon asking them to support the formation of a single Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

He said this at a meeting of the all-Ukrainian council of churches and religious organizations in Kyiv on Wednesday.

"I intend to call on the Ukrainian people to support this process," the president said, adding that he will soon make such an address to the nation.

According to Yuschenko, the public should be aware of the dialog that has started among the church organizations about the creation of a single Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and the country's citizens should participate in this process.

The president asked the heads of other churches and religious organizations to support this process.

There are currently three branches of the Orthodox church in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate is the only one recognized by the world orthodox community. In addition, Ukraine has the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

Lutherans Embrace Gay Marriage

Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox Churches ’Sad’ That Lutherans Embrace Marriage Equality

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Oct 28, 2009
Edge Boston

Catholic and Orthodox representatives have given voice to their "sadness" that Lutheran gay and lesbian families are being treated with equality by their faith.

Anti-gay religious Web site LifeSiteNews reported that Swedish representatives of the other faiths released a joint statement saying that they were cast into "sadness" by "the decision by the synod of the Church of Sweden" to extend official recognition to same-sex families by making it church policy to bless their unions.

The church had already been blessing same-sex unions for some time, but the Synod’s vote made the church’s welcoming stance official and allowed those unions to be viewed as marriages within the church.

By contrast, the statement from the Catholics and Orthodox read, "In our churches and communities, we will not unite homosexual couples since it is in complete contradiction with the tradition of the church and our vision of creation," the LifeSiteNews article reported.

The statement went on to lambast Sweden’s Lutheran church, saying that the decision to embrace gay and lesbian families "is a swing away not only from Christian tradition but also from the point of view on the nature of marriage which is typical of all religions."

The statement went on to warn that, "this decision of the Church of Sweden widens the gap" between the faiths.

Some conservative Lutherans voices similar opprobrium. The article quoted Bishop Hans Stiglund, who said, "In my way of looking at it marriage is defined as a relation between man and woman with no room for a relation between partners of the same sex."

Although he supported the outcome, Lutheran Archbishop Anders Wejryd expressed understanding for those who did not, saying, "For my part, the right decision was taken, but I can empathize with the many who believe this has gone too fast."

As reported Oct. 22 at EDGE, the measure originated in June with a petition from the governing board of the Church of Sweden, and was approved by the Lutheran Synod, with a majority 176 votes out of the 249 voting members. The vote took place just three days after the thirtieth anniversary of the removal of homosexuality from the list of pathologies in Sweden.

The decision also follows in the wake of marriage equality being granted to gay and lesbian Swedish families by the Swedish government. The new law took effect last May.

Swedish GLBT leader Åsa Regnér, who heads the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, said, "The Synod’s decision takes a stance in favor of an inclusive view of people. Regardless of whether one is religious or not, this affects the entire social climate and the view of people’s equal value."

Pastors opposed to performing marriages for same-sex couples may opt out.

The Future of Abstinence

It's been a mainstay of sex ed for more than a decade. Now, as the Obama administration cuts off federal funding, the movement scrambles for money, determined to continue its mission.

By Sarah Kliff Newsweek Web Exclusive

Oct 27, 2009

For as long as anyone can remember, McLennan County has been abstinence country. Nestled in the heart of Bible-Belt Texas, it's the kind of place where the local newspaper prints "In God We Trust" on the front page of every edition. "We're a very conservative community," says Jan Hungate, an assistant superintendent for the West Independent School District. So when the McLennan County Collaborative Abstinence Program (MCCAP) came to her a little more than a decade ago, offering an abstinence-only sex education program, she says, "It was the answer to our prayers. It was exactly the way we wanted to go." For years, each school was responsible for developing their own curriculum. Armed with the federal government's new abstinence-only grants, MCCAP offered to do the heavy lifting for free. They taught kids proper dating behavior, encouraged female students to think about their wedding days and why their virginity would matter then. In 2006 MCCAP had a $1 million budget, all from government grants, which they used to educate 6,000 to 7,000 students.

Today, MCCAP struggles to reach half that number. Its $800,000 Community-Based Abstinence Education grant ran out in 2007 and was not renewed. Then, Obama's 2010 budget did not renew the Title V grant program, the other major source of abstinence-only funding, which MCCAP also used. In three years, their federal funding went from $1 million to zero. "It was a definite shock to go from everything we had ... down to the bare minimums," says MCCAP's executive director, Tracy Cousins. He joined the organization three years ago and had seven staff members serving students in 19 school districts. Now, it's just Cousins and his bookkeeper. With the money remaining from previous grants he hopes "to maybe [serve] 4 or 5 school districts."

Buoyed by $1.9 billion in government funding since 1997 ($1.5 billion of that federal money), abstinence-only education grew from a niche market to a booming industry, with hundreds of curriculums for teachers to choose from. But if the 2000s were abstinence's boom years, the next decade may well be its bust. With Obama's budget for 2010 dropping all abstinence-until-marriage funds from the federal budget, past grantees are left uncertain. Congress could restore funding; the Senate Finance Committee voted to do so, 12–11, last month. But the measure must still pass the full Congress, where chances are slim. So abstinence-only groups are left hoping private donors will step forward to at least partially fill the gap. "The open question is whether these organizations will continue to thrive when federal funding is no longer available," says Alesha Doan, author of The Politics of Virginity: Abstinence in Sex Education (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008). "What is the underlying support in society for this?"

Abstinence education came of age in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It began with the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, which dedicated an annual $50 million in Title V abstinence-education grants. The money had to be spent on programs that teach "abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children." When George W. Bush took office he created a new program: Community Based Abstinence Education, or CBAE, grants. While only states could take the Title V funds, CBAE grants went directly to community groups, including faith-based organizations. During the Bush administration, funding for abstinence education more than doubled, from $80 million in 2001 to $200 million in 2007, according to figures from the Congressional Budget Office.

In the beginning, the public-health community was open to the programs. The United States did, after all, have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. "There was open-mindedness then, that it might work" says John Santelli, of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. "Everyone is willing to give new ideas a trial period." By 1999, one study estimated a third of American students were receiving an abstinence-only education. But as funding grew, so did a body of research showing that abstinence didn't change the sexual behaviors of students; pregnancy and STD rates did not go down, the age of initial sexual activity did not go up. "Each evaluation came along ... and each showed it didn't work," says Santelli. The articles appeared in peer-reviewed journals, many in the Journal of Adolescent Health, and in government-commissioned reviews. In 2007, a federally funded study of four abstinence programs found its students no more likely to abstain than those in a comprehensive program. At the same time, comprehensive programs that discuss contraceptives and their use received better, although by no means perfect, marks. Researcher Doug Kirby's 2008 review of 48 studies of comprehensive curriculums found that two-thirds either reduced frequency of sex or number of sexual partners. By time Obama cut Title V abstinence-education funds from his budget, 25 states had already begun rejecting the money, 16 because they didn't agree ideologically or weren't seeing results, the others for administrative reasons.

There's no single reason abstinence-only education proved largely ineffective, researchers say. A major factor, to be sure, was the incomplete information it provided about contraceptives and their use. "The programs that have by far the strongest evidence that they have a positive impact … are those that give the message that not having sex is safest, but if you have sex always use condom and contraception," says Kirby. Message aside, the curriculums themselves were often found to be riddled with inaccuracies. Two major reviews of abstinence curriculums—one in 2004 from the House of Representatives' Committee on Government Reform, another by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund earlier this year—found unsourced and incorrect information about STDs, contraceptives, and the consequences of sexual activity. The Texas report, which collected data from over 96 percent of the state's school districts, found one curriculum teaching that condoms have "little to no benefit." (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes condoms as "highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV infection and reduce the risk of other STDs" when used consistently and correctly.) Another incorrect abstinence-only lessonused in the Baird Independent School District: "a young person who becomes sexually active at or before age 14 will contract an STD before graduating from high school. This is no longer the exception, but the rule." Religious influence was another problem for some abstinence-education programs; the American Civil Liberties Union mounted a number of lawsuits (some successful, some not) against abstinence-only curriculums in public schools and state-sponsored events that advanced a specific religious perspective.

Even without money or science to back them up, abstinence advocates are not quitting. "If the president's [budget] proposal is enacted similar to what he recommended, it will have a chilling effect on abstinence education across the country," says Leslee Unruh, director of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, a national association of abstinence-only organizations. In the past, the organization's monthly Webinars on fundraising seldom attracted more than 80 participants; now, they hold weekly sessions that draw hundreds. "We're in a race against time to keep these people in business," Unruh says. Some abstinence educators report initial success in private fundraising, like K.E.E.P. (Kids Eagerly Endorsing Purity), the biggest abstinence-education provider in Tulsa, Oklahoma. K.E.E.P. regularly received upwards of $100,000 in federal funds each year; so far, they've raised $40,000 privately towards next year's budget. "We're just going to have to work smarter, pace ourselves, be more aggressive," says executive director Mike Jestis. The vote by the Senate Finance Committee has also given some a reason to remain optimistic.

Even if Congress does restore Title V funding, experts on both sides of the issue expect the abstinence industry to shrink significantly. "If you're seeing increases in teen pregnancy rates, or sexually transmitted infections, you'll start evaluating what you've been using," says Doan, the Politics of Virginity author. That's what happened in Springfield School District 186 in 2007, where a funding shortage triggered a reassessment. For years, the district had received free abstinence curriculum from an Illinois-based abstinence-only group called Project Reality. But when the State Legislature cut funding for abstinence education, Project Reality could no longer distribute complimentary materials. Faced with the prospect of paying for a sex-ed curriculum, school board members decided to reevaluate their program. "That's how it initially came up and we felt like we didn't want to fund [abstinence], since it wasn't giving all the information," says Kathy Sanders, the district's director of research, testing and evaluation. In the end, they switched their middle schools to different health text book with a more comprehensive program. "We felt strongly that we need to let kids know what their options are," says Sanders. They're currently reviewing their abstinence-only high-school curriculum and will likely switch to comprehensive in the near future.

Some in the abstinence-only community are open to a compromise approach as the way to move forward, a sort of hybrid of abstinence and comprehensive sex education that would include the basics of contraception. "The bottom line for me is, if kids have sex, bad things can and often do happen," says Patricia Sulak director of Scott & White's Worth the Wait, an "abstinence-centered" program in Texas. "It's better if you delay the onset of sexual activity. But if you're not going to wait, you must do things to decrease your risk." This summer, the North Carolina Legislature approved a hybrid model, where students are taught that abstinence until marriage is the only surefire way to prevent pregnancy and STDs, but are also given information on contraceptives; parents can choose to opt out of either segment. Reverend Mark Creech, executive director of the state's Christian Action League, says it's a good compromise. "When it became apparent that we weren't going to be able to succeed [in providing just abstinence-only education], we shifted to try to preserve as much of the abstinence message as possible," he says. Planned Parenthood also supports the new program because of its increased scope.

But many of the abstinence advocates NEWSWEEK talked to thought such compromises were untenable, that they could not teach students to remain abstinent until marriage while demonstrating how to use condoms. "If the funding is for a different worldview, one that says you should give condoms to kids, that's not my belief system," says Unruh. "I think it's very harmful." She and others say it's a question of morals and values, which is not an area for compromise. "Our program indicates that sex is more than physical. It's emotional. There's a lot of different aspects," says Scott Phelps, who directs A&M Partnership, an Illinois-based provider of abstinence-only curriculums. The group has a federal grant that expires in 2013. "If I'm teaching all of that, and then I'm teaching contraception, what is contraception going to do for all those consequences? It would be sort of nonsensical."

Back in Texas, Cousins at MCCAP pondered the same the question: should he stick with the abstinence-only message and forgo federal dollars, or tweak the message a bit to get funding? In the end, he and his board of directors decided to remain abstinence only. "We're not at the point where we want to compromise our message," he says. "It's not only the belief of the organization, it's all of our personal beliefs. We believe the best approach [for students] is they should not engage in sexual activity." Cousins and his board are currently working on a fundraising plan, targeting local schools and private donors, something they've never done before. Hungate, the school administrator, would love to have MCCAP continue at her schools, but doesn't have the money. If federal dollars mandate instruction on contraceptives and their benefits, she's open to that. "It would be a conservative comprehensive program," she says, noting that her teachers won't "talk about bisexuality or hand out condoms." If it comes to that, Hangett knows she'll face resistance from some parents. "I'd have some people who will drill me, but I'd rather see my daughter practicing safe sex than die from AIDS."

October 28, 2009

Why We Celebrate OHI (OXI) Day in Greek Orthodoxy: The Virgin Mary and World War 2

By John Sanidopoulos

On the Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos, or Agia Skepi, on October 28th, we implore the defense and assistance of the Queen of Heaven: "Remember us in your prayers, O Lady Virgin Mother of God, that we not perish by the increase of our sins. Protect us from every evil and from grievous woes, for in you do we hope, and honoring the feast of your Protection, we magnify you."

Though celebrated outside of Greece on October 1st, the feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos was transferred to October 28th after World War 2 with the annual commemoration of Ohi Day (Oχη). This was done to commemorate the great help and protection of the Theotokos to the Greek nation throughout its history, and especially during World War 2 at which time many of her miracles were reported.

It was precisely on 15 August 1940, off the eastern coast of Greece near the Aegean island of Tinos, an island especially dedicated to the Holy Virgin more than any other, that a great tragedy struck. As thousands upon thousands of pilgrims were celebrating the solemn feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, the crew of a Greek light cruiser called Elli was also participating in the festivities off shore. Suddenly the ship was torpedoed and sunk by an Italian submarine. The wharf of Tinos was also torpedoed amongst the festivities. This initiated the beginning of Greece’s involvement in World War 2, it was their Pearl Harbor.

Greece officially entered the war on 28 October 1940. This is celebrated annually as Ohi Day ("Ohi" is translated as "No") commemorating dictator Ioannis Metaxas’ (1936-1941) refusal of the Italian ultimatum. The ultimatum demanded of Greece to allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy certain unspecified "strategic locations" or otherwise face war. Most scholars today say the actual reply was not “οχη” or “no”, but the French "Alors, c'est la guerre" ("Then it is war"). Upon his declaration it is reported that thousands of Greeks stormed the streets and began shouting "Ohi" to the Italian ultimatum. On 6 April 1941, Hitler attacked Greece for the first time and united his German forces with those of the Italians.

The relationship between the Theotokos and the modern Greek nation stems back to the Roman Empire, which was saved countless times at her intercessions, especially for Constantinople, a city which was dedicated to her since the fifth century. This was revived in modern times during the Greek Revolution of 1821. For this reason, in Athens on the 25th of March in 1838, when the first official celebration of the Greek Revolution took place, by a decree of King Otto it was determined that the 25th of March would be celebrated as the day of National Regeneration, although the Revolution had started a few days earlier. In fact, the choice of this particular date shows the importance and the major role that Virgin Mary played in the lives of Greek people, as the “time” that the Greek Revolution broke out was also considered the “time” for religious elation, for it is on this date that one of the greatest feasts of the ecclesiastical year is celebrated - the Annunciation to the Theotokos by the Archangel Gabriel. It is no coincidence that the two biggest holidays of Greece coincide with feasts dedicated to the Holy Virgin. As the poem by Popi Matsouka – Zachari from Arta titled "The Message of 25th March" indicates:

Panagia and Freedom
Two sacred words
Two words with a meaning
That fills our hearts
With thrill and awe.
The Mother of all people
Universal Mother
And cherished Freedom
The dream of all people
With a heavenly glow, they shed light on
Two visions, two unfading ideas
…Come! Fighters
Don’t ever stop,
They are both yours:
And the hearts of all of us are with you!

The role of faith in the Virgin Mary in Greece was also outstanding during World War 2. Her role was catalytic not only because she constituted the basis of the people’s faith, but also because, with her miraculous interventions, she proved to have been the greatest ally of the Greek army.

Of course, miracles and apparitions were reported in many regions of Greece during the war, but at the front, at the Greek – Albanian borders and on Pindus, the Virgin Mary was the protector and the leader of those who fought for their country under difficult circumstances. Their faith was so strong that they could see her encouraging them and “covering” them protectively, while they were fighting on the snowy mountains of Pindus and Albania.

The account given by Vassiliki Bouris,[1] niece of Spyridon Houliaras, who fought at the borders, is characteristic. According to her, Spyridon Houliaras used to narrate incidents of the war to his relatives before he died. The one that affected him the most, however, was a miracle of the Virgin Mary. While the soldiers were fighting under really adverse conditions, the Panagia appeared in front of them and as a protector “covered” them with her mantle and led them towards their enemy, ready to confront them.

This miracle is also corroborated by the accounts of other soldiers of that time who fought on the mountains of Pindus. At the front, Greek soldiers saw the same vision everywhere: at nights, they could see a tall, slim female figure walking with hermantle resting on her shoulders. For the soldiers she was none other than the Virgin Mary, the defender and general of the Greeks.

Tasos Rigopoulos, a soldier in 1940, reported from the front in Albania:

"My brother Niko. I’m writing from an eagle’s nest 400 meters higher than the top of Parnitha. Everything around me is snow white. The reason I’m writing is not to tell you about the charm of snow-covered Morova and all its wild greatness. My purpose is to share with you what I’ve experienced, what I saw with my own eyes; something that I’m afraid you won’t believe if you hear it from others. A few moments before dashing against the blockhouses of Morova we saw a tall woman dressed in black standing still some 13 meters away. The guard yelled: 'Identify yourself.' There was no answer. He yelled angrily once more. At that moment, as if struck by electricity, we all whispered: 'The Panagia!' She hurled herself at the enemy as if she had eagle wings. We followed her. We could constantly sense the bravery she was transmitting to us. We fought hard for a whole week until we finally took the Ivan-Morova blockhouses. […] She was always dashing forth. And when, victorious at last, we were advancing to defenseless Koritsa, our Great Defender turned into steam, smooth smoke, and vanished into thin air."

On the mountain ridge of Ronteni, the soldiers of the 51st independent battalion, under the commands of Major Petrakis also witnessed a miracle. From the 22nd of January and on, every evening at half past nine the enemy’s heavy artillery commenced fire against the battalion and the road that was used by transport vehicles. There was a lot of nervousness and heavy casualties. The daring scouts were unable to locate the enemy’s artillery. Apparently, the enemy was changing its position every evening. The situation was really desperate. It was an evening in February when the enemy artillery was heard firing once again. “Panagia, help us, save us!,” shouted the Major spontaneously. Suddenly, a bright cloud came into sight from a distance, something like a halo was formed and the image of the Theotokos appeared. She started bending towards the ground and stopped right over a ravine. Everybody in the battalion shivered as they witnessed the miracle. “A miracle, a miracle!,” they shouted and they prayed and made the sign of the cross. Immediately, they sent a message to the Greek artillery, the Greek canons fired, and right after that there was a silence. The Greek bombs had achieved a perfect strike.

"No matter how faith is expressed during war, it is certain that it offers assistance to the soldier who is tested. And the image of the protector makes him hopeful and optimistic. …People from Arta, fighting at the front, were afraid neither of mortars nor of enemy bullets, as long as they had the image of the Panagia in front of them.” Yiannis Tsarouchis, after having painted “The Virgin of Victory” on the cap of a box of herring, having in mind a badly painted picture of the Virgin that was going around the camp, was on his way to the commander of the battalion in order to present his work. The painting had already acquired a fame for being miraculous, and on his way to the commander some soldiers from Arta “being in a state of religious excitement, demanded that the miraculous icon spend at least one night at their camp. All the soldiers were shouting: 'The Virgin, the Virgin. Leave it here for one night.' Suddenly, the alarm sounded. […] We lied down, according to the orders we had. None of the soldiers from Arta did the same. 'Hey! Comrade! How can you be scared when you hold the Virgin in your hands?' one said. It was also characteristic that on the military identification cards, right next to the personal details, there was a picture of the Panagia. And just moments before they attacked, they would pray, shouting 'Panagia mou!' (my Virgin!) three times, and dash forth.[2]

N. Dramountianos explains the following miraculous occurrence which he witnessed during the war of 1940:

"Our company received an order to overtake and gain elevated ground for a bridge. We set up a bulwark within the cliffs. As soon as we were ready, a thick snow began to fall. It fell continuously over two nights and reached as much as two meters in certain areas. We were blockaded from the commissariat. We each had food in our sacks to last us a day. Due to the hunger and cold we did not have a sense 'for tomorrow' so we devoured it all.

From then on torment ensued. We rid our thirst through the snow, but our hunger was enraging. We became skeletal. Our morale continued to flourish, but nature has its boundaries. Some submitted. The same end awaited us all 'for faith and country.'

Than an inspiration from our captain gave us the miracle! Out of his breast pocket he took out a paper icon of the Panagia, he placed it in the high place, and invited us around him: 'My brave young men!' he said. 'In this crucial circumstance only a miracle can save us. Kneel down, entreat the Panagia, the Mother of the God-man, to help us!' We fell to our knees, lifted our hands, and entreated fervently. We did not have time to stand before we heard bells ringing. We thought this strange and grabbed our weapons. We took our place 'with purpose.'

Not a minute passed and we saw an enormous mule approaching fully loaded. We sprang up! An animal without a driver to be passing through the mountain, with at least a meter of snow is absolutely not natural. Our Lady Theotokos drove him. All together we thanked her by chanting quietly, though whole-heartedly, 'Ti Ypermaho' (To you the Champion Leader) as well as other hymns. The animal had on him an entire commissary of food: kouramanes (coarse army bread), cheeses, preserves, cognac and other things.

I endured many and unimaginable hardships in the war. But this remains unforgettable, because there was no way out. A way out was given however by the Panagia."

The importance of the Virgin Mary’s miraculous interventions was acknowledged by the Greek state right after the end of the Second World War. For this reason, the celebration of Agia Skepi, which in 626 A.D., by the Virgin's miraculous intervention, saved Constantinople from the Avaroi (Turkish-Mongolian Nomads), and which was officially established to be celebrated on October 1st centuries ago, was transferred in 1952 to the 28th of October to remind the people of Greece of her miraculous intervention during the most difficult period for the Greek people.


1. An oral account given by Vasiliki Bouri, resident of Lepiana in Arta, to Heleni Mpalaska on 3/11/2007.

2. An account of a fighter of the Resistance which was presented in a special programme of the TV channel SKAI on 28 October 2007.

See also: The Miracle of the Panagia Skripou in Orchomenos on September 10, 1943

October 27, 2009

The Madness of the World

"Is it true, my friends, that there are many more insane persons in our day than ever before? Why? Because of the very powerful effect of the passions, it seems to me... A soul too sensitive to the pleasures of passions also feels sharply the pain they cause. In such a soul paradise and hell are neighbors. Ecstasy is followed by either despair or melancholy, each of which so often opens the door... to the madhouse."

Nikolay Karamzin, “The Letters of a Russian Traveler”

"But isn’t the exalted state of a poet, or an inventor, closer to what is called insanity than insanity is to an ordinary animal-like stupidity? Isn’t what we call common sense a highly elastic term, a term used by an ordinary person against a great man who is incomprehensible to him, and also by a man of genius to cover up his reasonings and not to frighten an ordinary person with them?"

Prince Vladimir Odoevsky, “Russian Nights”

"A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying: ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’"

St. Anthony the Great

"There is a way which seems right to man, but its end is the way of death."

King Solomon, Proverbs 14:12

"In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be we are."

Robert Louis Stevenson, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"

Stories on the Value of Simplicity by Elder Paisios the Athonite

A simple, child-like elder told me: "Monks in the past were simple men, guileless and with no evil; they were God's little lambs."


There was an ascetic in Karoulia, the Holy Mountain's most austere desert, who had a little kitten to comfort him and to protect him from snakes and mice. One day a vulture was flying over and from the solitary sky spotted its prey, dived down, and snatched the kitten up in its claws.

The ascetic was upset and, not knowing what to do, immediately entered his chapel to lodge a complaint to the hermitage's saintly protector. He went up to the oil lamp hanging before the protector's icon and blew out the flame to emphasize the point he was going to make. He had always considered this saint his friend, so he told him about the sad incident and demanded his help. "Why, my saint, did you not protect the kitten?" he complained.

At that very moment he heard the kitten crying outside the door. It had been freed from the attacker's talons.


An elder once told me a similar story about a monk who had gone to Karyes for some errand and had left the door of his cell open, trusting in the protection of St. Nicholas, its patron. When he returned he found that thieves had stripped the cell of everything. He then went to the church and with courage and in a friendly tone of voice said to St. Nicholas, "Why did you not protect the cell from robbers, my Saint? Starting today unless you reveal the robbers, I will not light your lampada (oil lamp)." And he did just as he had threatened.

A few days later the thieves were caught, an evidence of the elder's faith, confidence, and simplicity, as well as of St. Nicholas' real presence there. In fact, the robbers humbled themselves and repented, and returned everything they had taken to the elder.


A very simple monk named Ermolaos lived in Great Lavra where his obedience was to herd the monastery's rams. He wore tattered clothes and carried his prayer rope in his hand always. He was completely guileless, with a primitive, innocent soul which was filled with divine grace. It is said that he once saw Panagia in Lavra walking around. He did not realize who she was and said, "What is a woman doing in Lavra?" One of the workmen was abusive to Ermolaos: he would swear at him and put him out in the snow, but the simple one endured all of it calmly and with kindness. It was the hermit Damaskinos from St. Basil's desert who told us many things about this Ermolaos.


Although he is now bedridden, the simple elder Methodios still lives in St. Neilos' cell. This is his prayer: "Lord, on the day you take this poor one, place him among your servants. I do not expect to be among either bishops or priests, but just to get a spot in a corner."


An elder said: "Prayer does not tire one but gives rest, the way a child feels in his mother's arms. If one were to observe some monks praying, he might think that they are like children. Indeed, seeing them making all kinds of motions, he might even think they had gone crazy. Some of them are like the little child who runs to his father, pulling his coat, and saying 'I don't know how, but you must do this for me . . . .'

From a certain perspective, such people as I am talking about could be seen as 'useless.' Why? Because they cannot work: their bodies become as if paralyzed, and their bones are stiffened like candles. They are unable to move. When God's love falls upon a person in abundance, it dissolves him.


An elder said: "A natural simplicity becomes sanctification in a natural way. A simple but holy man, when he once had to take care of a poor sick person, went down to the seashore to the Church of the Ascension and lifted up his arms and prayed: 'My Holy Ascension, give me a little fish for my sick charge.' And what a miracle — a fish came into his hands! He cooked it and thanked God and the Holy Ascension.


A simple holy man, lacking a certain sharpness of mind, might see a misled person as holy. A clever holy man, however, uses discernment to know if someone is misled. Having intelligence is a gift from God like bodily strength. We must use whatever gifts God gives us, for sanctification and salvation.

Those whom we see as being deprived (orphans, the crippled, the dull-witted, and so forth) — God helps them and graces them with gifts. God is just.


In Karyes, Father Kyrillos had a monk in obedience, Hieromonk Pavlos, who celebrated the liturgy with great reverence. In particular, he would not reprimand anyone for his mistakes during the services. If he had to correct someone, he would do it by motioning to him very diserectly.


The hermit father Philaretos from Karoulia was taken to Thessaloniki to appear in court, where he was unjustly accused of taking an ancient book which had been stolen by a tourist. He had no money to pay the fine.

"Either you pay, Father, or you go to jail," the judge said to him.

"I prefer to go to prison. I have no money. Besides this way, I will remember the eternal prison," he replied. When finally some of the faithful paid the fine, he said: "I have been freed from the earthly prison. I wonder if I will be set free from the eternal one ?"

Some asked him, "How was it in Thessaloniki, Elder Philaretos, how were the people?" He had not been there for fifty years, and he replied, "What can I say, Fathers? They were all rushing about for their salvation. I am the only negligent and lazy one."


At one time Elder Artemios, very simple of soul and manners, was in Piraeus harbour for some business of the monastery. He was approached and invited by a prostitute to her house and he, being naive, accepted. "Praise be to God," he said, "that among this multitude of people a person was found to extend me hospitality."

The woman showed him to a room, gave him some food, and left. He began to pray using his prayer rope. Shortly after, the woman knocked at the door. But Artemios expected to hear "Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers" along with the knock, as is done on the Holy Mountain.

Since she continued to knock, he cried out "Say 'Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers.' Say it, or I am not going to open."

Because she did not say it, he figured it must be a demonic spirit at the door and kept on praying.


I was once acquainted with two monks whose faces were a true picture of simplicity and forbearance. They had simple, unaffected souls with no evil or hypocrisy in them. They were lambs of Christ, meek and humble like Him. They were Elder A. from St. Anne's Skete and Elder P. from New Skete. They have since departed to the Lord.


Ιn the recent past, in the Holy Mountain's capital of Karyes, had lived a very simple non-monastic, old man Giannis. He was called "the ancient" because he was always dressed in a very old-fashioned way and held in his right hand a shepherd's staff. One day he went to the Iosaphite fathers and said to Father B., "I would like you to make me a little icon of Panagia in a cloud and in white." That was the way he had seen her in a vision.

"We will make you one, old man Giannis, but it will cost you a lot," the monk said.

"You ask for a lot, but I will give you a little bit," the old man replied.

Another time he saw a wolf roaming around near Father Agathangelos' house. Giannis crossed himself and said, "My Panagia, save me from the wolf and I will bring you a container of oil." And indeed the next morning he brought oil to the icon of Axion Esti.


In one of Xeropotamou's cells lived another simple but meek monk, elderly Antonios Tskoukas. A brother who was passing by one time met him and asked: "What are you doing, old man?"

"What else can I do but wait for Pascha?" he said.

"Pascha? It has past! We are now in Pentecost."

"Pentecost? When did it pass? I am still fasting. I haven't broken my fast yet," the elderly man said wondering, and with an unusually simple manner.

He was spending most of his time in Diako-Firfirin. He did not like it when any of the visitors were smoking in the courtyard of the Protaton. He would murmur, "Anyone who smokes is ungrateful. The Church does not need cigarettes. It needs incense, matches, and candles."

Scary Paranormal Games

We don't usually think of games when we consider the paranormal. The paranormal is something to be cautiously investigated, researched and taken seriously, not trifled with in something as frivolous as what we'd consider a "game."

We're not talking about the harmless games children play at Halloween or even the various paranormal-themed action and role-playing computer games available. We're talking about the games that are played in the dark of night that truly can be paranormal in nature and have unexpected, even terrifying results.

Games such as "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board," the Ouija board, "Bloody Mary" and spoon bending seem to be favorites of teenagers particularly. At parties, sleepovers and when the opportunity arises to sneak into an abandoned or rumored-to-be-haunted building, these games are very often played. Teens like them not only because they challenge the unknown, but also for the same reason they love horror and slasher movies - they like to be scared.

Adults and paranormal researchers usually discourage such games - particularly the Ouija and Bloody Mary - because of the negative psychological impact they can have on the participants. Whether the game players are merely scaring themselves or they really are tapping into negative realms, many researchers advise that these "games" are best left alone. And for that reason, we cannot recommend their practice. Light as a Feather and spoon bending are more harmless and may have a scientific basis, but some argue that any game that has elements of the unknown should be avoided.


Psychic Uri Geller is most often credited with the phenomenon of spoon bending. While skeptics claim this feat is nothing more than magician's sleight of hand, others say that it is a psychic phenomenon that just about anyone can accomplish.

It's so easily done that spoon-bending parties have been held. On these occasions, the host brings a load of spoons and forks (forks are probably used more often than spoons because it's more dramatic to get the tines all twisted), usually bought cheap from a thrift store. The party goers are asked to choose a utensil they believe will bend, and sometime during the course of the event, most of the spoons and forks indeed do bend and twist, seemingly in defiance of all logic and the laws of physics.

In short, the method goes like this: Invite people to the party that you know and like. Create a relaxed atmosphere of fun and laughter. Ask each participant to choose a utensil that they believe "wants" to bend. (They don't all want to bend.) It's even suggested that you ask the fork, "Will you bend for me?" Then hold the fork vertically and shout, "Bend! Bend!" Rub it gently with your fingers.

If the utensil does not begin to bend, divert your attention. Focus your attention on something else. Some even say that this inattention to the utensil is vital in getting it to bend. When it succeeds, the fork or spoon will bend easily. Contrary to popular belief, the utensil will not just start twisting of its own accord (although this has happened on rare occasions). Rather, the utensil becomes so malleable that it is quite easily bent and twisted with the hands using almost no effort - as if it were made of the softest metal.

Although I've never had any luck with bending spoons or forks (I've always tried it alone and not at a festive party), some have been able to easily twist several forks into impossible shapes, as the photo on this page shows. If there is something to this phenomenon, it seems to be more of a natural one than supernatural.


This levitation game has been around for decades. I recall my wife telling me that she and her friends tried it at a teen party - and it worked.

The most common version of this "trick" requires at least five people. One person, the victim, lies relaxed on the floor with eyes closed. The other four participants surround her, one on each side, one at the head and one at the feet. Each of the participants places two fingers of each hand beneath the victim. With their eyes closed, they begin to chant, "Light as a feather… stiff as a board…" over and over. With just the slightest effort, the participants are able to raise the victim off the floor in what appears to be the defiance of gravity.

Does it work? In addition to my sister, I've heard from a number of other people who attest that it does. I have never witnessed it personally. Some contend that it can work with just three people, which would be even more astounding. There are also variations on this levitation trick involving a chair. If there is any truth to this, as freaky as it seems, I would again say there is more of a psychological explanation to this than anything. You can read more about HUMAN DIAMAGNETISM GRAVITY ANTENNA LEVITATION here.


The conjuring of Bloody Mary has been a favorite way for teenagers, girls in particular, to scare themselves silly. The appearance of the Bloody Mary spirit has become the stuff of urban legend, yet many have testified that she really does appear.

Basically, the ritual goes like this: stand in a darkened or lightless room where there is a mirror. Stare into the mirror and chant "Bloody Mary" 13 times. The gruesome spirit of Bloody Mary will appear behind you in the mirror.

There are many variations on the ritual, any of which a brave teenage girl will try, usually on a dare. Sometimes a lighted candle is required in the dark room. You must chant the name three times, six times, nine times - even up to 100 times, depending on whom you ask. Another variation is that you must spin slowly in place while you chant Bloody Mary's name, glancing in the mirror with each turn.

An excellent article by Patty A. Wilson in the June 2005 issue of FATE magazine gives the complete history of the Bloody Mary legend, saying that the most likely origin is the life of Mary Stuart. Also known as Mary Queen of Scots in 16th century England, she was involved in many plots, intrigues and murder. She was executed in 1587, and it is her bloody corpse that appears in the mirror when beckoned.

Yet another tradition says that the evil spirit is none other than Satan's spouse. (I didn't even know he was seeing anyone!)

Although the biggest worry with Bloody Mary is that the participant will succeed in scaring herself into hysterics, we occasionally hear stories about people who really did see Bloody Mary in the mirror. Usually these tales come through a friend of a friend and are, of course, impossible to verify. Because of the ritualistic nature of this game and the invocation of a spirit in the process, this game could be more dangerous than the others in opening up the possibility to demonic manipulation.


The Ouija is undoubtedly the most well-known paranormal game in the world, mainly because it can be found in just about any mainstream toy store. It's the commercial version of the "talking board," which may date back centuries.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Ouija is a game board on which are printed the letters of the alphabet and the words "yes," "no" and "goodbye." Two players place their fingers lightly on a planchette or pointer, then ask questions. The pointer then seems to magically slide around the board, spelling out answers.

While some contend that the movement of the pointer is just the result of unconscious effort by the participants, or the "ideomotor effect," (see the article, "Ouija: How Does It Work?"), members of various religious groups are joined by many paranormal researchers in warning that the Ouija may indeed be opening a door to the spirit realm. Dark and sinister forces, they say, can enter our dimension through this door, sometimes with chillingly negative consequences. (See below "Tales of the Ouija" for some of these experiences.)

Because of this possible negative impact, many researchers advise that the Ouija should not be used under any circumstances. From a Christian perspective, it clearly encourages occultic activity that could open the door to demonic manipultion.


The Ouija Board continues to be a source of fascination, experimentation and concern among paranormal researchers and the general population. Most stories of the experementors are of a negative or frightening nature, though others are neutral or benign.

Those who experiment with the board often claim to contact spirits, some of who divulge their names. The identity of these spirits is usually impossible to verify. Once in a while, a spirit claims to be a well-known or historical figure – or even the devil himself. Such was John M.’s experience.

“When I was about 11 or 12 years old in the late 1960s,” John says, “I had a friend who claimed that he had a Ouija board where sometimes the planchette [the board’s heart-shaped indicator] would move about on its own if he left the board out at night. Naturally, I was skeptical, having never seen a Ouija board that did much of anything. As kind of a joke, I told him to bring it over one summer afternoon and we'd try it. Sure enough, as we started asking it questions, the planchette would move about very rapidly and provide answers, or sometimes it would just point to yes or no. Since the movement was so fast for the pressure I was applying to the planchette, I was convinced my friend was moving it himself, but every time I asked, he denied it. Nevertheless, we were having fun and continued to ask questions.

“At some point I finally asked, "Who are you?" and the board spelled out S-A-T-A-N. I just looked at my friend and laughed, now even more convinced that he was the one doing the spelling. So then I asked, "What's your last name?" and the board spelled out R-A-S-P-U-T-I-N, which meant nothing to me, but I wrote it down. After we were done, I looked up Rasputin in the encyclopedia and was stunned to see that a man by that name lived in late 19th century Russia, and was feared because of his supposed occult powers. Knowing my friend, his age, and his level of intellect, I became convinced right then and there that the Ouija was for real and that my friend had not spelled that name out.”

Even if the Ouija is capable of contacting the spirit world, is it likely that the spirit of Rasputin would speak to two teenage American boys? Or was some other entity just playing a scary trick?

The Ouija Strikes Back

On rare occasions, use of the Ouija has triggered physical manifestations and psychokinetic activity. Darryl D. claims that he and his friends were assaulted by something during a Ouija session.

“When I was about 14 or 15 years old, I had a Ouija,” Darryl says. “My friends and I would gather in a basement at my friend Doug's house. We would turn the lights off, light some candles and sit around an old table that was in the house when his grandpa lived there. (His grandpa committed suicide in the kitchen.)

“One night when we where using the Ouija, a gust of wind came out of nowhere and blew out all of the candles.

“Another time, some girls came over to Doug’s house and we started using the Ouija. We started to see strange shadows walking around the basement... and then it happened: the candles went out and we all heard this horrible scream. After we got the lights turned on, we noticed that one of the girls, who was sitting on a couch watching us, had blood coming from the back of her neck. The necklace she was wearing had been ripped from her neck and was laying on the floor about 10 feet from where she was sitting. She had two small charms on it; we found one inside of a small crawlspace under the stairs and the other was outside laying on the concrete in front of the back door. I have not used this Ouija since this happened.”

I think anyone who experienced this would also put the Ouija safely away.

The Ouija Gamble

If, as it is claimed by some, that the Ouija can contact beings from unknown planes of existence, couldn’t they perhaps give us information about winning the lottery or some other lucky numbers? Undoubtedly, this has been attempted many times. Clift S. says he tried it.

“Back in 1969, I was living in Tacoma, Washington, managing an apartment house,” Clift tells us. “One night I used the Ouija board to see what I could find out. I didn't know what spirit I would get, if any. After awhile, it started to move, so I asked who it was, and the pointer spelled out DAD. It scared me.

“I never messed with it again until 1971 when my brother came to Tacoma to live. I was betting on horse races, so his daughter, who had a Ouija board, suggested we should see if we could find out the numbers of the horses who would win the first two races at Portland Meadows racetrack. So my niece and I used the Ouija, and it said the numbers would be 2 and 6 in the first two races.

“My brother, his wife, my niece and I drove to Portland to play these numbers in the daily double. Well, the horses came in 6 and 2 in the first two races – just the reverse of what the board said.

“I don't know if my niece has the board anymore, but I do believe you shouldn't use the board because it will either cause you harm... or make you do foolish things like we did.”

The Ouija gave Clift the right answers, but not in a way that was useful to him. Was this the act of a prankster spirit?

Ouija Answer

The board isn’t always a prankster. There are many cases in which the Ouija provides real, verifiable information that is not known by the participants. Andrea’s experience is a compelling one.

“Two friends and I were talking about Ouija boards, and whether or not we believed in them. The two friends were firm believers in the board and its powers, but I was skeptical. Having a Ouija board myself, yet never using it, I decided to bring it to our next gathering and give it a try.

“At my friend's apartment we turned down the lights, lit a candle and went to work. Within a minute the planchette started to move. One friend asked if there was a spirit that wished to communicate with us. The planchette went to the word YES. Starting to think there was something to this, I had a question for this spirit. I had a brother my family lost touch with over two years ago. I asked if the ghost knew where he was. It answered YES. It spelled out quite clearly a street name in British Columbia, Canada.

“After finishing our session with the board and thanking the spirit, I searched the Net and found out there was one listing for this street in B.C. within the Fraser Valley, between Vancouver and the U.S. boarder. Upon searching the city's phone book listings under my brother's last name – there he was, plain as day. Having a very unusual last name, I knew it was him instantly. I tried the number, and it was his voice on the other line! I was stunned.

“Maybe there is something to Ouija. I don't know. The two friends knew I had a brother, but never met him. They also did not know my maiden name in order ‘fix’ the board's answer. I have no explanation except that I guess spirits do exist.”

Ouija Growling

The reason many paranormal investigators advise against using the Ouija is that they believe it can open doors to realms that should remain closed. Ken M.’s cousin and friends learned this lesson the hard way.

“This happened on a hot August night in 1971 in the town of Lodi, California,” says Ken. “Some people are more successful at conjuring up spirits than others with a Ouija board. Carol, my cousin who swears by the story, had quite a history of contacting both benevolent and malevolent spirits.

“On this particular night, Carol and her friend were at Carol's house with their boyfriends. Soon after they began, the planchette took on a life of its own and told them there was a robbery in progress at a nearby McDonalds. Everyone was quite skeptical. Then the Ouija went on to describe the vehicle driven by the culprits: a station wagon, and that it was urgent. "Help, please help!" it spelled out.

“The men decided that the situation was too good to pass up, and just before they left, they told the women to not open any doors except for them. They drove off leaving the women with one shotgun and a box of shells. As their headlights pulled out of the driveway, Carol and her friend were terrified by a loud growling noise coming from the back door. Terrified, they braved enough energy to venture back to the door and were greeted by a loud scratching noise. As soon as they heard this, they scrambled back to where the shotgun lay and pumped shells into the chamber.

“As they got the shot gun loaded, a knock was heard at the door. Carol pulled the drape back and was relieved to find her boyfriend and his friend standing there. Full of terror, they let them in. They told the men what they had just encountered and what they had just heard at the back door. Still skeptical, the men went to the back door to investigate.

“They found the door was shut but when they opened it, they found long deep scratches along the door frame. Carol told me that she and her friend threw away the Ouija board that night.”

Did the Ouija give false information just to get the men out of the house so it could terrorize the women? Scarier still, what would the women have encountered had they opened that back door?


These are only a few of many verified tales concerning these scary paranormal games. Like any of these games, I have never tried them myself and do not plan to, though I have heard stories from trusted friends and family members that testify to the fright and unease of all the above "games". Because of this they should not be played with, as questionable phenomena could bring negativity or evil in ones life unknowingly. In the case of the Ouija especially, there are many reported cases of demonic possession resulting from its use. If this doesn't convince you to avoid it, then I don't know what will.

October 26, 2009

The Russian Veneration of Saint Demetrios the Myrrhgusher

The Great Martyr Demetrios the Myrrh-gusher of Thessalonica was the son of a Roman proconsul in Thessalonica. Three centuries had elapsed and Roman paganism, spiritually shattered and defeated by the multitude of martyrs and confessors of the Savior, intensified its persecutions. The parents of St Demetrios were secretly Christians, and he was baptized and raised in the Christian Faith in a secret church in his father's home,

By the time Demetrios had reached maturity and his father had died, the emperor Galerius Maximian had ascended the throne (305). Maximian, confident in Demetrios' education as well as his administrative and military abilities, appointed him to his father's position as proconsul of the Thessalonica district. The main tasks of this young commander were to defend the city from barbarians and to eradicate Christianity. The emperor's policy regarding Christians was expressed simply, "Put to death anyone who calls on the name of Christ." The emperor did not suspect that by appointing Demetrius he had provided a way for him to lead many people to Christ.

Accepting the appointment, Demetrios returned to Thessalonica and immediately confessed and glorified our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of persecuting and executing Christians, he began to teach the Christian Faith openly to the inhabitants of the city and to overthrow pagan customs and idolatry. The compiler of his Life, St Simeon Metaphrastes (November 9), says that because of his teaching zeal he became "a second Apostle Paul" for Thessalonica, particularly since "the Apostle to the Gentiles" once founded at this city the first community of believers (1 Thess. and 2 Thess.).

The Lord also destined St Demetrios to follow the holy Apostle Paul as a martyr. When Maximian learned that the newly-appointed proconsul was a Christian, and that he had converted many Roman subjects to Christianity, the rage of the emperor know no bounds. Returning from a campaign in the Black Sea region, the emperor decided to lead his army through Thessalonica, determined to massacre the Christians.

Learning of this, St Demetrios ordered his faithful servant Lupus to distribute his wealth to the poor saying, "Distribute my earthly riches among them, for we shall seek heavenly riches for ourselves." He began to pray and fast, preparing himself for martyrdom.

When the emperor came into the city, he summoned Demetrios, who boldly confessed himself a Christian and denounced the falsehood and futility of Roman polytheism. Maximian gave orders to lock up the confessor in prison. An angel appeared to him, comforting and encouraging him.

Meanwhile the emperor amused himself by staging games in the circus. His champion was a German by the name of Lyaeos. He challenged Christians to wrestle with him on a platform built over the upturned spears of the victorious soldiers. A brave Christian named Nestor went to the prison to his advisor Demetrios and requested a blessing to fight the barbarian. With the blessing and prayers of Demetrius, Nestor prevailed over the fierce German and hurled him from the platform onto the spears of the soldiers, just as the murderous pagan would have done with the Christian. The enraged commander ordered the execution of the holy Martyr Nestor (October 27) and sent a guard to the prison to kill St Demetrios.

At dawn on October 26, 306 soldiers appeared in the saint's underground prison and ran him through with lances. His faithful servant, St Lupus, gathered up the blood-soaked garment of St Demetrios, and he took the imperial ring from his finger, a symbol of his high status, and dipped it in the blood. With the ring and other holy things sanctified by the blood of St Demetrios, St Lupus began to heal the infirm. The emperor issued orders to arrest and kill him.

The body of the holy Great Martyr Demetrios was cast out for wild animals to devour, but the Christians took it and secretly buried it in the earth.

During the reign of St Constantine (306-337), a church was built over the grave of St Demetrios. A hundred years later, during the construction of a majestic new church on the old spot, the incorrupt relics of the holy martyr were uncovered. Since the seventh century a miraculous flow of fragrant myrrh has been found beneath the crypt of the Great Martyr Demetrios, so he is called "the Myrrh-gusher."

Several times, those venerating the holy wonderworker tried to bring his holy relics, or a part of them, to Constantinople. Invariably, St Demetrios made it clear that he would not permit anyone to remove even a portion of his relics.

It is interesting that among the barbarians threatening the Romans, Slavs occupied an important place, in particular those settling upon the Thessalonian peninsula. Some even believe that the parents of St Demetrios were of Slavic descent. While advancing towards the city, pagan Slavs were repeatedly turned away by the apparition of a threatening radiant youth, going around on the walls and inspiring terror in the enemy soldiers. Perhaps this is why the name of St Demetrios was particularly venerated among the Slavic nations after they were enlightened by the Gospel. On the other hand, the Greeks dismiss the notion of St Demetrios being a Slavic saint.

The very first pages of the Russian Primary Chronicle, as foreordained by God, is bound up with the name of the holy Great Martyr Demetrios of Thessalonica. The Chronicle relates that when Oleg the Wise threatened the Greeks at Constantinople (907), the Greeks became terrified and said, "This is not Oleg, but rather St Demetrios sent upon us from God." Russian soldiers always believed that they were under the special protection of the holy Great Martyr Demetrios. Moreover, in the old Russian barracks the Great Martyr Demetrios was always depicted as Russian. Thus this image entered the soul of the Russian nation.

Church veneration of the holy Great Martyr Demetrios in Russia began shortly after the Baptism of Rus. Towards the beginning of the 1070s the Dimitriev monastery at Kiev, known afterwards as the Mikhailov-Zlatoverkh monastery, was founded, The monastery was built by the son of Yaroslav the Wise, Great Prince Izyaslav, Demetrios in Baptism (+ 1078). The mosaic icon of St Demetrios of Thessalonica from the cathedral of the Dimitriev monastery has been preserved up to the present day, and is in the Tretiakov gallery.

In the years 1194-1197 the Great Prince of Vladimir, Vsevolod III the Great-Nest (Demetrius in Baptism) "built at his court a beautiful church of the holy martyr Demetrios, and adorned it wondrously with icons and frescoes." The Dimitriev cathedral also reveals the embellishment of ancient Vladimir. The wonderworking icon of St Demetrios of Thessalonica from the cathedral iconostas is located even now in Moscow, at the Tretiakov gallery. It was painted on a piece of wood from the grave of the holy Great Martyr Demetrios, brought from Thessalonica to Vladimir in 1197.

One of the most precious depictions of the saint, a fresco on a column of the Vladimir Dormition cathedral, was painted by the holy Iconographer Andrew Rublev (July 4).

The family of St Alexander Nevsky (November 23 also venerated St Demetrios. St Alexander named his eldest son in honor of the holy Great Martyr. His younger son, Prince Daniel of Moscow (March 4), built a temple dedicated to the holy Great Martyr Demetrios in the 1280s. This was the first stone church in the Moscow Kremlin. Later in 1326, under Ivan Kalita, it was taken down and the Dormition cathedral was built in its place.

The memory of St Demetrios of Thessalonica is historically associated in Rus with the military, patriotism and the defense of the country. This is apparent by the saint's depiction on icons as a soldier in plumed armor, with a spear and sword in hand. There is a scroll (in later depictions) on which is written the prayer of St Demetrios for the salvation of the people of Thessalonica, "Lord, do not permit the city or the people perish. If You save the city and the people, I shall be saved with them. If they perish, I also perish with them."

In the particular spiritual experience of the Russian Church, veneration of the holy Great Martyr Demetrios of Thessalonica is closely linked with the memory of the defense of the nation and Church by the Great Prince of Moscow, Demetrios of the Don (May 19) . "An Account of the Life and Repose of the Great Prince Demetrios of the Don, Tsar of Russia," written in the year 1393, already regards the Great Prince as a saint, as also do other old Russian histories. Great Prince Demetrios was a spiritual son and disciple of St Alexis, Metropolitan of Moscow (February 12), and a disciple and associate of other great figures of prayer in the Russian Land: St Sergius of Radonezh (September 25), Demetrios of Priluki (February 11), St Theodore of Rostov (November 28). The Account states:

"He [Great Prince Demetrios] worried much about the churches of God, and he held the territory of the Russian land by his bravery: he conquered many enemies who had risen against us, and he protected his glorious city Moscow with wondrous walls. ...The land of Russia prospered during the years of his reign."

From the time of the building of the white-walled Kremlin (1366) by Great Prince Demetrios, Moscow was called "White-Stoned."

By the prayers of his Heavenly patron, the holy warrior Demetrios of Thessalonica, Great Prince Demetrios, in addition to his brilliant military victories, also gained the further prominence of Russia. He repelled the onslaught of the Lithuanian armies of Olgerd (1368, 1373), he routed the Tatar army of Begich at the River Vozha (1378), and he smashed the military might of all the Golden Horde at the Battle of Kulikovo Field on September 8, 1380 (the Feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos), set between the Rivers Don and Nepryadva. The Battle of Kulikovo, for which the nation calls him Demetrios of the Don, became the first Russian national deed, rallying the spiritual power of the Russian nation around Moscow. The "Zadonschina," an inspiring historic poem written by the priest Sophronius of Ryazem (1381) is devoted to this event.

Prince Demetrios of the Don was greatly devoted to the holy Great Martyr Demetrios. In 1380, on the eve of the Battle of Kulikovo, he solemnly transferred from Vladimir to Moscow the most holy object in the Vladimir Dimitriev cathedral: the icon of the Great Martyr Demetrios of Thessalonica, painted on a board from the grave of the saint. A chapel dedicated to the Great Martyr Demetrios was built at Moscow's Dormition Cathedral.

The St Demetrios Memorial Saturday was established for churchwide remembrance of the soldiers who fell in the Battle of Kulidovo. This memorial service was held for the first time at the Trinity-St Sergius monastery on October 20, 1380 by St Sergius of Radonezh, in the presence of Great Prince Demetrios of the Don. It is an annual remembrance of the heroes of the Battle of Kulikovo, among whom are the schemamonks Alexander (Peresvet) and Andrew (Oslyab).

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
The world has found in you a great champion in time of peril, as you emerged the victor in routing the barbarians. For as you brought to naught the boasts of Lyaios, imparting courage to Nestor in the stadium, in like manner, holy one, great Martyr Demetrios, invoke Christ God for us, that He may grant us His great mercy.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
God, who gave you invincible power and with care kept your city invulnerable, royally clothed the Church in purple with the streams of your blood, for you are her strength, O Demetrios.


Protestant Hardcore Band Has Video Influenced By Orthodox Monasticism

This video featuring the song "Danger: Wildman" is from the Protestant metal band known as The Devil Wears Prada. A source tells me that the band The Devil Wears Prada picked up literature from Death to the World at a Christian music festival, which may be the reason behind the influence. I think its sort of obvious.

October 25, 2009

The United States of Spooks and Spirits

By Daniel Stashower
Sunday, October 25, 2009
The Washington Post

THE HAUNTING OF AMERICA: From the Salem Witch Trials to Harry Houdini
By William J. Birnes and Joel Martin
Forge. 400 pp. Paperback, $14.99

OCCULT AMERICA: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation
By Mitch Horowitz
Bantam. 290 pp. $27

"And how do you explain this? A man's heart stops beating in a hospital and he sees a blinding light that doesn't frighten him, but fills him with an indescribable feeling of peace..."

If those words -- the come-on from an old Time-Life Books "Mysteries of the Unknown" commercial -- get your juices flowing, you're not alone. America's fascination with spiritualism, the belief in the possibility of communication with the spirits of the dead, dates back to colonial times. Though Ralph Waldo Emerson once disparaged these beliefs as the "rat hole of revelation," spiritualism and its allied branches of the occult, such as theosophy and other so-called "secret teachings," have always found a rich breeding ground on these shores. Our ancestors gathered around seance tables to listen for ghostly raps and phantom voices. These days we scratch the itch by turning on John Edward and the Psychic Friends Network.

Two new books -- one by Mitch Horowitz and the other from the writing team of William J. Birnes and Joel Martin -- attempt to explain our fascination with the occult and provide a sense of historical context. In "Occult America," Horowitz recalls how, at the age of 9, he purchased an astrological star scroll from a vending machine at his local diner. "Look what it says!" he announced to his family, as he read through a series of vague, horoscope-style predictions. His enthusiasm drew a deflating response from his grandfather: "Does it also say you're a sucker?" But Horowitz would not be put off. "While I didn't yet know the lines from Hamlet -- There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy -- I felt their meaning in my guts," he tells us. "Where did this stuff come from . . . and how did it reach Queens?"

It's a question well worth asking. Horowitz begins with a working definition of the occult as a movement that "encompassed a wide array of mystical philosophies and mythical lore, particularly the belief in an 'unseen world' whose forces act upon us and through us." He draws a careful distinction between the strivings of European occultists such as Aleister Crowley, who hoped to acquire superhuman knowledge and power, and their American counterparts, who "sought to remake mystical ideas as tools of public good and self-help."

To illustrate the point, Horowitz teases out fascinating stories of the "dreamers and planners who flourished along the Psychic Highway," such as Andrew Jackson Davis, the "Poughkeepsie Seer" who delivered lectures and even dictated books on metaphysical subjects while in a trance, or "magnetized" state, and Frank B. Robinson, a "Mail Order Messiah" who offered lessons in affirmative thinking under the headline "I Talked with God." In showing how the paths of these figures occasionally intersected with the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Horowitz argues that the influence of the occult extends beyond the seance room and into the mainstream of American thought.

Horowitz is at his best when he dips into some of the more homespun manifestations of psychic belief. A chapter called "Don't Try This at Home" explores the surprisingly convoluted history of the Ouija board -- a staple of generations of basement creep-outs -- on which spirit messages are spelled out by means of a heart-shaped pointer, or planchette. A Ouija board found its way into a Norman Rockwell painting, and when Parker Brothers began mass-producing a home version of the "Talking Board Set" in the 1960s, its success soon rivaled that of Monopoly. It's fascinating to be reminded that this beloved, if strange, parlor game began as a tool of American spiritualists who "yearned to make talking with the dead as natural as dinnertime conversation."

Ultimately, Horowitz seeks to demystify the occult, especially as expressed through modern New Age thinking, and present it as something more than "a softheaded jumble of spiritual-therapeutic remedies or bromides." Not every reader will agree, but all will be entertained.

"The Haunting of America" covers much of the same ground as "Occult America," but with a particular focus on ghostly apparitions and spirit contacts. Authors William J. Birnes (host of The History Channel's "UFO Hunters" program) and Joel Martin set an ambitious pace, kicking off with a lengthy introduction that touches on ancient Mesopotamia, the lost city of Atlantis and the riddle of the pyramids. They give a lively account of the Salem witch trials and the influential mediumship of the Fox sisters in Hydesville, N.Y., but many readers will find themselves wishing for a bit more in the way of healthy skepticism. Early on the authors pause to ask: "Did outer space visitors many millennia ago play a role here on Earth? Are they the 'gods' the ancients referred to in their writings?" If, like me, you greet such statements with a certain amount of eye-rolling, this book is not for you.

At the same time, Birnes and Martin appear to have been selective in their research. Although Harry Houdini's name appears in the title, none of the major biographies of the escape artist are listed in the book's 15-page bibliography, not even the cornerstone treatment by Pulitzer winner Kenneth Silverman. Instead, we find a picture book and a biography for young readers -- both of which are excellent, admittedly, but neither of which sits at the pinnacle of the available scholarship. The effect of these omissions is keenly felt as the authors explore Houdini's tempestuous friendship with Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, who famously embraced spiritualism in later life. As Birnes and Martin relate, the relationship between the two men reached a breaking point during an ill-fated seance in Atlantic City, when Conan Doyle's wife produced a highly suspect spirit message from Houdini's dead mother. In their retelling of the event, however, the "Christian allusions" in the message brought Houdini to such a pitch of anger that he "exploded in rage" and "unleashed a volley of insults": "She's Jewish, you imbecile, as am I!"

Well . . . that's not how I heard it. There have been dozens of accounts of this episode written over the years, and two books that focus exclusively on the relationship between the two men, but I don't recall seeing the "you imbecile" outburst in any of them. (Full disclosure: My own two books on Conan Doyle are cited in the bibliography.) In every version I've seen, Houdini keeps his composure in spite of his grave misgivings about the message, owing to his great respect for Conan Doyle. Only later, when the two men failed to reconcile their opposing views of what had transpired, did the friendship unravel. Am I making too much of a trifle? Perhaps, but as Sherlock Holmes once remarked, "There is nothing so important as trifles." Readers seeking a more balanced approach to psychic matters are directed to Horowitz. All others, keep watching the skies.

Daniel Stashower is the author of "Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle," and a co-editor of Conan Doyle's collected letters.

American Trends in Religion and Spirituality

Growing Number of Americans are 'Spiritual But Not Religious'

25th October, 2009

A new University of Chicago survey has revealed that religious institutions may be waning in the U.S, but private religious practices like prayer are actually on the rise.

The study author said that those twin trends suggest a growing number of people are "spiritual but not religious."

The report found that in addition to an increased number of people who pray, a growing number believe in the afterlife. When asked how they view God, the most common responses were the traditional images of father and judge.

Sociologists of religion say the rise in people who are spiritual but religiously uncommitted is prompting churches to repackage their services into more contemporary offerings with fresh, livelier music and less of the usual liturgies.

"Americans' attitudes toward religion are growing more complex. While fewer people identify with a particular religion, belief in God remains high," said study author Tom W. Smith, Director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

"When asked simply about belief in God, most people include a range of God images, from a personal God to believing in a 'higher power' or a 'spirit or life force,'" he added.

The study found that people who don't believe in a personal God but in a higher power of some kind rose from 5 percent in 1964 to 9 to 10 percent in recent surveys.

The report is based on data from the General Social Survey, the nation's longest, most scientifically reliable source of information on American attitudes and behaviours.

In the U.S., belief in God has ebbed over time from about 99 percent in the 1950s to about 92 percent at present. Certitude about God also has diminished, but the vast majority of Americans still express a strong and close connection to God.

The GSS has asked people for their images of God since 1984, and about half of the people have consistently referred to God as "father," while others used terms like "master" or "judge" to describe their idea of God. The number reporting God as "mother" has stayed at about 3 percent.

Although belief in God remains strong, the survey found that 22 percent of people said they had never attended a religious service, compared with 9 percent in 1972.

The trends toward reduced church attendance began in the mid-1980s, and by the mid-1990s, fewer people reported identifying with a particular religion.

In the most recent survey, 16 percent of people reported "none" when asked about their religious preference, a figure that stood at 5 to 8 percent in surveys taken between 1972 and 1991.

Daily prayer rose from 52 percent in the 1989-90 survey to 59 percent in the most recent survey. Belief in the afterlife also went up modestly, from 69 percent in 1973 to 73 percent in most recent surveys.

Self-Help Doesn't Help—And Often Hurts

The Wall Street Journal
OCTOBER 23, 2009

While many Americans are skeptical of the claims of the self-help industry, their attitude can be summed up as follows: "OK, we all know this is a silly and sometimes expensive exercise in navel-gazing. But really, where's the harm?"

Fewer people are asking that question since the grim news from Sedona, Ariz., on Oct. 8. This week, another death was announced, bringing the total to three fatalities and 18 hospitalizations resulting from a sweat-lodge ritual led by self-help guru James Arthur Ray. Authorities are investigating the deaths as homicides and have been interviewing the other participants at this $9,000-per-person retreat. Mr. Ray is best known for his cameo in the blockbuster DVD "The Secret," where he compared mankind's relationship with the universe to Aladdin and his lamp: Ask and you shall receive.

This is not the first time that self-help tactics have gone awry. In fact, this isn't even Mr. Ray's first brush with tragedy. This past July, Colleen Conaway leaped to her death during one of Mr. Ray's success seminars in San Diego, where attendees were subjected to the mind games that are routine in these events, which are all about stripping away the defenses and leaving people highly suggestible. This may involve everything from having them remove their clothes to forcing them to suffer the excruciating discomfort and debilitation of being locked in a crowded makeshift sauna for hours on end.

There have been other tragedies. In 2000, as part of a then-current fad in self-actualization, a pair of Colorado women wrapped 10-year-old Candace Newmaker in a blanket, pinned her down with their bodies, and bade her to fight her way out; they told her parents that this "rebirthing" would help the child shed her maladjustments and symbolically begin a new life. Instead, they ended her old one: Candace suffocated. At work in December 2005, 34-year-old Rebekah Lawrence stripped down, began screaming at coworkers, then jumped from a nearby window to her death. Investigators found no alcohol or drugs in her system. What was in her system was a $695 multiday course called The Turning Point, which she'd recently attended. Like many offerings from the land of personal growth, the course emphasized tapping into buried angst. The following year a Korean student, fresh from that same exercise, was found naked in his apartment, dead of self-inflicted stab wounds. In 2008, another young man took his life soon after a session with "seer" John of God. In the note the man left, he said he feared that John had channeled an evil spirit into him and suicide was the only way of keeping this evil from propagating.

We also have at least three known deaths due to "breatharianism," an Eastern concept that denies the human need for food or water. Add to this the many documented instances where sick people died after forgoing conventional treatment in favor of New Age nostrums—a path blazed several decades ago by actor Peter Sellers, who vowed to unclog his arteries via "psychic surgery." Mr. Sellers died of a massive coronary in 1980.

And yet even when people aren't dying, there is no missing the recklessness of this misbegotten realm. Self-help is not benign. The $11 billion industry can hurt you psychologically, it can hurt you financially and, as we see, it can hurt you physically. It can hurt your family and friends too.

Consider that today's increasingly popular "large group awareness training" (LGAT) incorporates tactics more commonly identified with psychological warfare. Facilitators bully attendees verbally and sometimes physically, call upon them to relive their worst experiences in humiliating detail in front of strangers, deprive them of sleep and even bathroom privileges—all in the name of self-actualization. In expert testimony in a 1992 lawsuit against the best-known of these LGATs, Landmark Forum (long a favored choice for corporate retreats), the clinical psychologist Margaret Singer observed that Forum "applies a number of powerful and psychologically disturbing, emotionally arousing and defense destabilizing techniques to large groups of people, in an intense, marathon-like period." How can this not have a catastrophic effect on people in a fragile emotional state—which is surely the case with a sizable contingent of those who seek out these "transformational" courses to begin with?

Other offerings, bracketed as "relationships therapy" or "assertiveness training," can wreak havoc on existing interpersonal bonds. Stories abound of couples whose marriages fell victim to gurus who celebrated promiscuity and "personal morality," or who chastised participants for their codependent (that is, caring and empathetic) ways.

Apologists argue that there are bad outcomes in any endeavor, that it's unfair to single out self-help when, say, conventional medicine kills thousands each year. The difference is that in medicine, practitioners share demonstrated expertise in methods that evolved over time and have been tested and retested for efficacy. A bad outcome in a field with proven benefits is unfortunate. A bad outcome in a field with little basis for existing in the first place is unforgivable. As noted psychologist Michael Hurd told me, "Gurus encourage these poor, already troubled souls to literally take leave of their senses, as if departing reason will somehow liberate you."

Meanwhile, the self-help industry continues to expand, with dozens of new gurus flooding the market each year, seeking their slice of the pie. Though modern self-help had its origins in works by classically trained psychiatrists like Eric ("Games People Play") Berne and his disciple Thomas ("I'm OK, You're OK") Harris, today's leading exponents have as much business trading in mental health as they do performing neurosurgery. They're snake-oil salesmen, pitching regimens that have never been validated.

For example, Mr. Ray draws on random elements of New Age and other psychobabble, hoping to make himself sound cosmically plugged-in. Here he is establishing his bona fides ina promotional video: "I've been initiated into three different Shamanic orders. I've studies in The Mystery Schools." Which is fitting, because when it all blows up in his face, he may well be the most mystified guy in the room. He probably never thought that far ahead.

The saddest part is that these activities—seen as fringe stuff back in the mid-'70s heyday of Werner Erhard—have gone mainstream. The movement's leaders hold court on Larry King and Oprah. Their books challenge Harry Potter's domination of best-seller lists. A funny thing: At least most people realize that Harry Potter's wizardry is fictional.

—Mr. Salerno is the author of "SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless." He blogs at www.shamblog.com.