Dear Readers: A long time supporter of the Mystagogy Resource Center has informed me that they would like to donate $3000 to help me continue the work of this ministry, but they will only do it as a matching donation, which means that this generous donation will only be made after you help me raise a total of $3000. If you can help make this happen, it will be greatly appreciated and it would be greatly helpful to me, as I have not done a fundraiser this year. If you enjoy the work done here and want to see more of it, please make whatever contribution you can through the DONATE link below. Thank you!
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October 31, 2012

True Orthodox Ghost Story #2: The Exorcism of the Haunted Cabin

By John Sanidopoulos

"...around their graves shadowy phantoms of the departed are often seen."

- St. Gregory of Nyssa ("On the Soul and the Resurrection")

According to my own many experiences, ghosts are real and hauntings are real. As for what the nature of these ghosts and hauntings are, it is uncertain and I believe each must be examined on a case by case basis. It may be possible, and it would seem most likely, that a demonic entity is behind it. However some arguments also offer up the possibility that it could be the soul of a person who has passed, whether in tragedy or not. Yet, one must not forget to allow for some healthy skepticism, since such matters usually end up being the figment of ones imagination, or an unexplained natural occurrence. Keeping this in mind, I offer the following true personal experience, that can be corroborated outside of my own personal testimony.

True Orthodox Ghost Story #1: A Demonic Attack

By John Sanidopoulos

"There is also a very general rumor. Many have verified it by their own experience and trustworthy persons have corroborated the experience others told, that sylvans and fauns, commonly called incubi, have often made wicked assaults upon women."

- St. Augustine of Hippo ("The City of God")

One summer day in 1991 I was in Athens sitting in my cousin Dimitra's house watching television with my pious grandmother, as she was cleaning the kitchen. Specifically we were watching a documentary on the miracle of the Holy Light of Jerusalem, with actual footage of the ceremony (rarely seen on tape before the days of the internet). When the Holy Light was seen to emerge from the Holy Sepulcher, it caught Dimitra's attention and she stopped cleaning. I could see her visibly moved by the event, and even a bit troubled, as if she had something to say but didn't know how to say it. Dimitra, though she believed in God, was not necessarily a very devout Christian. Troubled by her conscience, she asked me if she could tell me something that she had never revealed before to anyone else. Though I was only fifteen and she was in her early twenties, she felt like our grandmother and I were probably the only ones that would not think she was crazy for speaking about an event in her life that she could not explain and was truly a terrifying experience for her.

Dimitra proceeded to tell me about her experience that happened not too long before. Her daughter Vivian, who was no more than five at the time, loved icons. Her grandmother, my aunt, would buy her icons, and Vivian would take them and hang them on her bedroom wall. For some reason, this bothered Dimitra, so she took the icons down. Vivian however would put them back up, though again her mother would take them down. It came to the point that Dimitra did this enough times for her to yell at her daughter for hanging the icons in her room, and she took them and put them under Vivian's bed. This saddened Vivian, as the icons remained under her bed.

Soon after, Dimitra went back to Vivian's room to check up on her. When she entered the room, she noticed the lights flicker on and off. This happened a few times when she would go to check up on her daughter, giving her an uneasy feeling. As she went into her own bedroom, suddenly she heard a frightful noise, and then an invisible hand forced her to her bed. Terrified, she struggled to free herself, but couldn't. She tried to yell for help, but couldn't. Understanding this was some evil spirit, she began to anxiously pray the Lord's Prayer and to recite the Creed. When she prayed thus, the invisible force released itself, but if she stopped, the spirit would once again take hold. With anguish she continued to pray and recite the Creed, until finally the malignant spirit departed.

When she asked what we thought of this, we simply told her that this seemed to be a demonic attack for hiding Vivian's icons under her bed. When I asked her if she once again hung the icons, she responded that she did not. My advice then was for her to hang the icons and go to Confession, to make sure something like this would not happen again. Relieved that she was able to take the heavy load off her conscience, she accepted my advice.

As far as I know, she was never attacked again.

Halloween Safety Tips and Crime Myths

J.D. Valesco
October 28, 2012

Halloween is a time for fear and fright, but some common worries about the ghastly holiday may be overblown, experts say.

There are legitimate safety issues to consider on the holiday - pedestrian-vehicle accidents, fire hazards, dogs who get into chocolate.

But many of the scariest Halloween horror stories - poisoned candy, satanic sacrifices of pets, and rampant criminal activity - have little basis in reality.

Amanda Perez, a lecturer in American studies at Cal State Fullerton, calls those kind of myths and legends "Halloween sadism."

"It's this idea that bad things happen on Halloween," Perez said.

West Covina Police Chief Frank Wills said fear of holiday dangers seem to have resulted in fewer costumed kids roaming the streets in search of treats on Halloween.

"People lament that you used to see the residential streets bustling with children and you don't see that as much anymore," Wills said.

Poison and razors

Perhaps the most common cause of parental angst on Halloween is the prospect of a child being given candy laced with poison or drugs, or apples stuffed with razor blades.

The poisoned candy myth has its origins in a case that occurred in New York state in 1964, when a woman passed out ant poison, dog biscuits and steel wool to children she thought were too old to be trick or treating.

"She said she was doing it not to the kids, but to these older kids that were coming by for candy," Perez said. "This is when I think really a lot of the folklore about tainted candy got into circulation."

There have been incidents in which children have been killed or sickened by candy tainted with poison or drugs, but not by strangers, said Eileen Wallis, a Cal Poly Pomona history professor.

"That has happened a couple of times, but it's always been a relative," Wallis said. "It's always been a murder concealed as an accidental poisoning or a stranger poisoning."

The myth of poisoned candy was further cemented in people's minds by later unrelated events, Wallis said.

"I think a lot of it got tangled up with the Tylenol scare back in the `80s," Wallis said, referring to the 1982 murders of seven Chicago-area people through Tylenol that had been laced with cyanide. No one was ever convicted of the crime.

Incidents of apples containing razor blades have also occurred, but they were "pranks gone wrong," Wallis said.

Those pranks were between friends or siblings, not strangers, she said.

Rumors of temporary tattoos laced with LSD or PCP are variations on the same myth, Wallis said.

"We do know that powerful myths have a way of simply evolving over time," Wallis said. "It's like the old game of telephone."

These kind of myths are a natural outgrowth of a parents' desire to protect their children, Wallis said.

"It's about vulnerability and the vulnerability of children," Wallis said. "It's about letting your children go up to a stranger's house that you don't know."

Satanic sacrifices

Another persistent urban legend about Halloween is that pets, particularly black cats, will be captured by satanic cults and sacrificed if they are allowed outside.

Perez of Cal State Fullerton said it's a belief dating back to the celebration of Samhain by ancient Celts. The holiday marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.

As Christianity spread through Europe and found itself in conflict with the pagan beliefs of the Celts, rumors were spread of human sacrifices on Samhain. The idea that pets are being sacrificed for satanic rituals is the modern incarnation of the belief.

"I think in the popular imagination these things have gotten mixed up," Perez said.

Pay Brayer, president of the San Gabriel Valley Humane Society, said rumors of pet sacrifice don't match with what she's seen in her career.

"We haven't had any experience of anything happening to pets on Halloween," Brayer said.

Some people will point out the fact that many animal shelters refuse to adopt out black cats near Halloween as proof that satanic activities are real, but Wallis said there's a more mundane reason for such policies.

"People might adopt them as props. You want to have a cat for Halloween," Wallis said. "It's like when people adopt bunnies around Easter."

Satanists or not, Halloween does present some very real dangers for cats, Brayer said.

"Bad things happen to cats that are outside to begin with," Brayer said. "Most kids are good, but sometimes if the opportunity presents itself..."

Halloween is fraught with danger for dogs as well, Brayer said.

"The biggest danger to primarily dogs is chocolate, it's deadly to them," Brayer said.

And the hustle and bustle of trick-or-treaters can be unsettling for dogs, she said. People should treat the holiday like July 4 and keep their dogs secured for the night, she said.

"We see dogs that get out their yard because they're afraid," Brayer said. "Even the children of the family dressed in costume is going to be different. They may find it threatening."

Real dangers

Though some of the rumors of Halloween dangers are based more on fear than fact, there are important safety precautions to remember while out for the night, authorities said.

West Covina Police Chief Wills advised parents and motorists both to exercise caution. Trick-or-treaters should be given flashlights or dressed with reflective clothing, Wills said.

"Sometimes traffic collisions spike on Halloween," he said.

Pedestrian fatalities do increase significantly on Halloween, according to statistics compiled by the California Office of Traffic Safety. Statewide, an average of 3.4 pedestrians were killed each Halloween from 2006 and 2010. An average day sees 1.7 pedestrian deaths.

Injuries to pedestrians were much higher, averaging 56 each Halloween during the same period statewide. About 35 pedestrians are injured on an average day.

Calls to police departments also increase on Halloween. In 2011, the Pomona Police Department received 15 percent more calls on Halloween than it did on the same day the previous week. That figure was 9 percent for the Whittier police. But calls to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department only increased by 2 percent compared with the seven-day average leading up to the holiday.

But Wills said additional calls to law enforcement do not necessarily mean more crimes are occurring.

"One of the other myths is that there's more crime on Halloween - sometimes that's true, sometimes it's not," Wills said.

Calls to the Los Angeles County Fire Department also increase, but statistics were not available, said Inspector Tony Imbrenda.

"I suspect there is more fire activity on Halloween," Imbrenda said. "Jack-o-lanterns near drapes or other flammable materials are an issue."

Some fire department calls are for injuries related to costumes, he said. Imbrenda advised parents to ensure their children's costumes are flame-proof and said trailing items that can get caught on things should be avoided. Shoes should be comfortable and easy to walk in, he said.

"Be sensible about masks that don't restrict vision or breathing," Imbrenda said.

Trick-or-treaters should remember that there's "safety in numbers," said Irwindale Police Chief Dennis Smith.

"Make sure you go up to doors as a group and leave as a group," Smith said.

Never enter a home, even when invited in, Smith said.

Parents should give their trick-or-treating children a cell phone for the night, and have a set time when the children are expected home, he said.

Halloween safety tips

Don't trick or treat! alone. Walk in groups or with a trusted adult.

Use reflective tape on costumes and bags so drivers see children.

Carry a flashlight.

Eat only factory wrapped candy. Avoid eating homemade treats made by strangers.

Check all candy and edibles for tampering - tears, pinholes, discoloration.

Remove any choking hazards from goody bags of young children - gum, peanuts, hard candy, small toys.

Don't let children snack while trick-or-treating before parents have had a chance to inspect goody bags.

Test face makeup in a small area first to check for allergic reaction.

Don't wear decorative contact lenses unless they have been properly fitted by an eye-care professional. Doing otherwise can lead to eye injuries, including blindness.

Wear well-fitting costumes and shoes to avoid falling.

Consider makeup masks or masks with big eye holes instead of loose-fitting masks that could block vision.

Don't use sharp swords or knives as part of costumes.

Don't use realistic-looking firearms.

Wear flame resistant costumes and avoid walking near candles - look for the label Flame Resistant. If you make your costume, use flame-resistant fabrics such as polyester or nylon.

Enter homes only with a trusted adult and don't accept rides from strangers.

Walk on sidewalks where possible. Avoid walking in street. Take care crossing streets.

Do not take shortcuts through backyards or alleys.

People expecting trick-or-treaters should remove obstacles from lawns, steps and porches and keep candlelit jack-o'-lanterns away from children's costumes.

Make sure apples are thoroughly washed before use in bobbing for apples games.

Don't eat too much black licorice - if you are over 40 years old and consume multiple 2-ounce bags a day for at least two weeks, you could be at risk for heart arrhythmia.

Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Los Angeles Police Department.

October 30, 2012

Christians and Horror: Three Views

In 2011 the website Zombie Theology (no longer in existence) did a series on the three different views Christians generally have in regard to the horror genre. They were written by three different Christian authors who stated their case for each, providing an interesting and helpful exchange of opinions regarding this divisive topic. Below are the links to the original sources:

Christians and Horror

The Critique of Pure Horror

Jason Zinoman
July 16, 2011

WITH gruesome television series about vampires, werewolves, serial killers and zombies earning huge ratings, and a new cinematic bloodbath opening seemingly every week, the cultural appetite for horror raises a curious question: why do so many of us enjoy being disgusted and terrified?

The question has long puzzled parents and mystified spouses, but it has also increasingly engaged the attention of academics. Scholarship on the horror genre has grown so much over the last three decades that a peer-reviewed journal devoted to it, Horror Studies, was started last year. While much of the field’s research is sociological or cultural, focusing on what scary movies reveal about the time or place in which they were made, a small library of books and essays has also tried to explain the visceral appeal of shivers down your spine.

For horror studies the “It’s alive!” moment was the 1979 publication of “An Introduction to the American Horror Film,” an essay by the film critic Robin Wood. At a time when horror was treated by many as a second-class genre, Mr. Wood introduced the now-familiar idea, rooted in psychoanalytic theory, that scary movies provide a valuable window onto what our society “represses or oppresses.” The monster, he wrote, represents the marginalized, the sexually or politically subversive, the taboo: the 1931 film “Frankenstein” identified the creature with repressed homosexuality; the first zombie in the 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead” was a manifestation of family dysfunction.

Mr. Wood did not try to explain why such transgressive elements can be pleasurable, but other scholars borrowed his framework to do just that. In the 1986 article “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine,” Barbara Creed, a film professor at the University of Melbourne, located the appeal of horror’s blood and gore in a nostalgia for the uninhibited time in childhood before filth became taboo.

The 1987 essay “Her Body, Himself,” by Carol J. Clover of the University of California, Berkeley, argued that horror movies offer their teenage male viewers an illicit opportunity to revel in their feminine side. Contesting the claim that horror encourages a sadistic male gaze, Ms. Clover took a closer look at the low-budget exploitation film, in which typically all the female characters are murdered, save for the sole woman who struggles to survive and ultimately escape the villain. Classic examples include Jamie Lee Curtis’s role as Laurie Strode in “Halloween” and Marilyn Burns’s as Sally Hardesty in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.”

Ms. Clover argued that this was one of the few film genres that regularly asked male audiences to identify with a triumphant female protagonist. It gave teenage boys license to indulge a gender-bending fantasy that was, she wrote, “unapproved for adult males.”

While these scholars argued that horror taps into positive emotions that are otherwise repressed, other psychoanalytic theories saw horror in the opposite light: as a safe and cathartic way to deal with darker feelings. In his 1980 essay “The Aesthetics of Fright,” the critic Morris Dickstein described horror as a “routinized way of playing with death, like going on the roller coaster.”

But not all theories of horror have been psychoanalytic, trading on notions of repression and release. In 1990 the philosopher Noël Carroll, a staunch critic of the psychoanalytic approach, published “The Philosophy of Horror,” in which he proposed that the pleasure of horror movies is due not to whatever psychic substratum the monster represents, but rather to the peculiar curiosity it inspires.

The defining characteristic of the monster, Mr. Carroll argued, is that it’s hard to classify, categorically incomplete or contradictory, or just generally hard to understand. The monster in the “Frankenstein” series, for instance, is what Mr. Carroll called a “fusion figure,” made of spare parts, including different brains. The horror is rooted in the unknown, but this strangeness also sparks curiosity and fascination. Horror plots are often constructed to emphasize the mystery of the nature of the monster. Most of “The Exorcist,” for example, is taken up with the intricate detective work of a mother trying to figure out what is wrong with her daughter.

One virtue of Mr. Carroll’s theory is that it captures the paradoxical nature of horror’s allure: the very oddity that makes monsters repulsive is precisely what makes them attractive.

In today’s age of increasingly explicit cinematic violence, the scholarly focus has gravitated to the basic pleasures of gore. In “The Naked and the Undead,” Cynthia Freeland, a feminist critic who teaches philosophy at the University of Houston, argues that certain kinds of graphic violence are so skillfully theatrical that they evoke a “perverse sublime.” Their far-fetched extremity also gives the audience the distance needed to relish the bloodbaths. Ms. Freeland cites the ghoulishly over-the-top scenes in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” including a sparks-flying chain saw duel between the masked killer Leatherface and a vamping Dennis Hopper that, just to make things more interesting, adds a hatchet and grenade into the mix.

In an essay that will be published later this year in “The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film,” Adam Lowenstein, an associate professor in English and film studies at the University of Pittsburgh, also emphasizes the aesthetic of horror. For him, meticulous camerawork, pacing and artful splatter are a kind of carefully staged showmanship that the audience appreciates as pure performance. He calls it “spectacle horror.” When Laurie Strode discovers a trio of dead bodies in “Halloween” — one emerging swinging from a closet, another from a cabinet — it’s a highly staged sequence in which the director, John Carpenter, is “quite literally pulling the strings on this series of attractions,” Mr. Lowenstein writes.

What are we to make of all these theories? Now that horror is a standard feature of the mainstream cultural menu, the genre has increasingly become like any other where craft and beauty are drawing cards. But what will always distinguish horror is its unique capacity to make us tremble. And it’s unlikely that any single theory will ever entirely explain that appeal, for fear is as personal and subjective as beauty.

To be sure, the psychoanalytic approach, drawing as it does on feelings and impulses born early in childhood, captures something important; adults forget just how terrifying being a small child can be. But children also adapt quickly, and not all frights are unpleasant: peekaboo, after all, is one of the first games any child plays, and “Hansel and Gretel” introduces readers to cannibalism before inviting them to celebrate the burning of a witch.

If getting scared is one of our first pleasures, then maybe horror movies are just a reminder of how much fun we used to have.

Jason Zinoman, a frequent contributor to "The New York Times", is the author of “Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood and Invented Modern Horror.”

Vampires and Religion in Popular Culture

Vastly different worlds share similar symbolism.

JoAnne Viviano
October 28, 2012

Walk into Jess Peacock’s home, and you’ll think he’s ready to throw one heck of a Halloween party.

Dolls in coffins bookend other creatures on the mantel, a crematorium sign is on one wall, prop skulls and gargoyles lurk about, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter watches from a movie poster.

But the horror paraphernalia is no holiday collection; it represents both Peacock’s passion and his academic pursuits. The theology student examines the intersection of religion and vampires in popular culture. His scholarly materials include books on the undead, such as three copies of his “favorite novel of all time” — Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot.

“The vampire subgenre provides the unique opportunity, in some ways, to give symbolic flesh to theological concepts,” said Peacock, a graduate student at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio in Delaware who has presented his research in various venues and is writing a book. “A lot of people don’t know they’re talking about it or listening to it when they’re watching a movie or reading a book.”

Consider crosses, sacred ground, drinking blood and immortality.

The religious connotations stretch from pre-modern writings to the 21st century, where a new audience is entranced by the young-adult Twilight books and films and the True Blood HBO television series and books.

Vampires represent “sin, temptation, Satan and even God,” Peacock writes in his research, and the narrative “deals with issues of the soul, the hope for a life hereafter and the potential of forces beyond our control to deface that hope.”

That’s not to say that watching horror movies will make you embrace religion. Peacock says he doesn’t consider himself religious, and he has been watching vampires and other demons on the big screen since he was a child.

“It would be impossible to construct a coherent and sensible theological framework from which to develop any type of legitimate belief structure,” he writes. But the vampire, he adds, can be a “relevant and imaginative symbol” to spur conversation about heavy theological concepts generally reserved for churches and college campuses. Such topics might include the existence of evil in a world guided by a loving God; the fear and horror that come with awe of the divine; and liberation theology, which focuses on fighting oppression.

The vampire in American culture traces its root to pre-modern Slavic peasants and has morphed over the years to embody the changing fears and anxieties of society, said Dan Collins, an associate professor of Slavic languages at Ohio State University who teaches a course titled “Vampires, Monstrosity, and Evil: From Slavic Myth to Twilight.”

To those peasants, vampires represented the cosmic battle between good and evil, God and Satan, and were used to explain infant death, disease, loss of crops and cattle and other adversity, Collins said. In 1897, author Bram Stoker used Dracula to reflect the religious skepticism of his society and explore why harm comes to good people who develop into instruments of God to subdue the evil and restore justice.

Collins said the 20th century brought tormented, remorseful vampires whose evil natures were watered down and attributed to external hardships and psychological illnesses as society grappled to understand what made people do “evil” things. Think Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, which portrays Lestat and Louis as not evil but tormented. Now on the scene are the Twilight vampires, including the undead Edward, a golden boy who resists premarital sex and avoids drinking human blood. This theme reflects the fears and anxieties of the teenage girls to whom the series is marketed, Collins said.

“The vampire has become the shadow side, the dangerous side of the human psyche,” he said.

Peacock said the recent changes could reflect a shift from the vampire as an overtly religious figure to a more-secular one, perhaps as a similar change takes place across society.

Consider the film Dracula 2000, in which the Prince of Darkness is revealed to be none other than Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus Christ. (His death comes at the hands of a 21st century woman named Mary who works at a Virgin Megastore.)

Flash-forward about seven years: In the film 30 Days of Night, a woman cowers before a vampire, saying “Please, God. Please.” The villain asks, “God?” and after looking at the sky, shakes his head and declares, “No God.”

“The shift in theological tone is fascinating in and of itself,” Peacock said. “If there is a connection between a wane in religion and a wane in the vampire genre, that’s vastly fascinating."

Dostoevsky On Edgar Allan Poe

Excerpt from the Russian translation of the introduction to The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and The Devil in the Belfry titled:

Three Tales of Edgar Poe

By Fyodor M. Dostoevsky (Vremia, 1861)

Two or three stories by Edgar Poe have already been translated and published in Russian magazines. Here we present to our readers three more. What a strange, though enormously talented writer, that Edgar Poe! His work can hardly be labeled as purely fantastic, and in so far as it falls into this category, its fantasticalness is a merely external one, if one may say so. He admits, for instance, that an Egyptian mummy that had lain five thousand years in a pyramid, was recalled into life with the help of galvanism. Or he presumes that a dead man, again by means of galvanism, tells the state of his mind, and so on, and so on. Yet such an assumption alone does not make a story really fantastic. Poe merely supposes the outward possibility of an unnatural event, though he always demonstrates logically that possibility and does it sometimes even with astounding skill; and this premise once granted, he in all the rest proceeds quite realistically. In this he differs essentially from the fantastic as used for example by Hoffmann. The latter personifies the forces of Nature in images, introduces in his tales sorceresses and specters, and seeks his ideals in a far-off utterly unearthly world, and not only assumes this mysterious magical world as superior but seems to believe in its real existence. . . Not so Edgar Poe. Not fantastic should he be called but capricious. And how odd are the vagaries of his fancy and at the same time how audacious! He chooses as a rule the most extravagant reality, places his hero in a most extraordinary outward or psychological situation, and, then, describes the inner state of that person with marvelous acumen and amazing realism. Moreover, there exists one characteristic that is singularly peculiar to Poe and which distinguishes him from every other writer, and that is the vigor of his imagination. Not that his fancy exceeds that of all other poets, but his imagination is endowed with a quality which in such magnitude we have not met anywhere else, namely the power of details. Try, for instance, yourselves to realize in your mind anything that is very unusual or has never before occurred, and is only conceived as possible, and you will experience how vague and shadowy an image will appear before your inner eye. You will either grasp more or less general traits of the inward Image or you will concentrate upon the one or the other particular, fragmentary feature. Yet Edgar Poe presents the whole fancied picture or events in all its details with such stupendous plasticity that you cannot but believe in the reality or possibility of a fact which actually never has occurred and even never could happen. Thus he describes in one of his stories a voyage to the moon, and his narrative is so full and particular, hour by hour following the imagined travel, that you involuntarily succumb to the illusion of its reality. In the same way he once told in an American newspaper the story of a balloon that crossed the ocean from Europe to the New World, and his tale was so circumstantial, so accurate, so filled with unexpected, accidental happenings, in short was so realistic and truthful that at least for a couple of hours everybody was convinced of the reported fact and only later investigation proved it to be entirely invented. The same power of imagination, or rather combining power, characterizes his stories of the Purloined Letter, of the murder committed by an orangutan, of the discovered treasure, and so on.

Evidence of Torture in the Relics of St. Anastasia the Roman

During tonight's Vesper service for St. Anastasia the Roman, an esteemed friend (God keep him well) told me the following:

"Do you hear the troparion that says 'distortions of the body'? Well, when I went to Gregoriou Monastery on Mount Athos, I saw something that shocked me. The body is preserved with the skin and she is kept there almost entirely whole, except for her skull. As many of us went, we saw that the toes on her feet were turned and were in line with her leg! Her nerves were protruding here and there! And I said: 'What is going on here?' But later a monk explained to us, that when she was being tortured, they put her on a machine that warped her body like this!"

Let me add that this is evidence for those who think the persecution of Christians are fairy tales or overblown, and that the martyrs are mythical and non-existent persons.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

Hidden Reliquary Found in Constanta, Romania

A reliquary with relic fragments of ten saints was found in the belfry of the Holy Church of Saint Demetrios in the Romanian city of Constanta, as announced by the press office of the Holy Archdiocese of Romania.

The reliquary is accompanied by a document in Greek which has the signature of the lawyer of the Vatopaidi Skete of St. Demetrios, proving their authenticity. The date on which this was donated to the Romanian church is 18 April 1936.

In the words of the priest of the Holy Church of Saint Demetrios, Fr. Ilie Petre, someone hid the relics, probably in the 60's, to guard them against the communist authorities.

From the document the reliquary contains the relics of Saints Constantine and Helen, St. James the Iberian, St. Philemon the Apostle, St. Theodore the New Martyr, St. Modestos, Saint Barbara, the Holy Unmercenaries, St. Tryphon, St. Theoktisti, and an anonymous saint.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

October 29, 2012

How Christians Made Halloween A Satanic Holiday

By John Sanidopoulos

When it comes to religion, Halloween was always viewed as a Christian holy day. Beginning with the 1930's through till the 1950's, Halloween was regarded on a secular level as primarily an innocent children's holiday, and there was never a reason to think otherwise. Halloween festivities were mostly limited to school and family activities, and trick-or-treating became a nationwide custom to bring neighborhoods together after they were devastated with childish pranks during the time of the financial collapse of the 1930's. Even horror movies during this time were primarily moralistic gothic tales where good and evil were clearly delineated.

However, the 1960's would bring a new paranoia among American parents, and this was the fear of deranged adults who specifically sought to harm innocent trick-or-treaters. Urban myths through the help of the media began to circulate about razor blades hidden in apples and candy coated in rat poison. In the early 1970's, this fear would become combined with the beliefs of conservative fundamentalist Christians that Satanic cults roamed the country and plotted to kidnap and sacrifice children on Halloween night. In the wake of this, community safety standards were further stressed concerning the practice of trick-or-treat. In some areas, it was required that the children trick-or-treat during the daylight hours, before it got dark. In other areas, trick-or-treating became banned entirely.

It was during this time that fundamentalist Christian concerns about the Satanic implications of Halloween became popularly publicized and even believed in some communities, as demonstrated through the publications of such books as Mike Warnke's The Satan Seller. Even today it is still propagated by such people as the evangelical comic artist Jack Chick that Satanists like to hand out candy that has been poisoned or somehow made dangerous to children. It is also commonly believed among such people that Halloween, being the "high holy day" of Satanists, is the one night of the year that most animals and human children are horribly butchered as "offerings" to Satan. Fundamentalists will say that Satanic power is glorified through the masquerading as "evil" creatures or the decoration of homes, schools, businesses and churches with so-called "occult symbols" (e.g., skeletons, ghosts, Jack-O'Lanterns, etc.). It was claimed that: "Those who oppose Christ are known to organize on Halloween to observe satanic rituals, to cast spells, to oppose churches and families, to perform sacrilegious acts, and to even offer blood sacrifices to Satan." They began to base their opinions on the studies of cultural anthropologists of the 19th century who spoke of the ancient pagan Celts sacrificing children to the god Samhain on Halloween night. These studies have today been debunked.

When Anton LaVey (who did not believe in the existence of Satan) formed the Church of Satan in the 1960's to shock hypocritical Christians, he stipulated three holidays for his version of existential Satanism, the first organized religion to ever label itself Satanic. The first and most important was the Satanist's own birthday. The other two are Walpurgisnacht (April 30) and Halloween (October 31). Both dates were often considered "witch holidays" in popular culture by way of influence from Christian fundamentalists and thus were linked with Satanism. LaVey adopted Halloween less because of any inherent Satanic meaning in the date and more as a joke on those Christians who had superstitiously feared it.

The unfounded beliefs of Christian extremists were further perpetuated during the "Satanic Panic" of the 1980's, during which a number of hypnotized mental patients claimed to have been "ritually abused" as children by Satanists, and their respective psychiatrists actually believed them (apparently throwing out all their training in skepticism in favor of monetary advancement through sensationalism).

One particularly distressing example of this mentality is what happened in the town of Jamestown, New York in the year 1987. People in the town began to believe that a number of teenagers who had held a Halloween party in an abandoned warehouse were actually involved in a secretive Satanic cult, and that they had been sacrificing animals at the party. The religious community, outraged, began flooding the local newspaper with letters explaining their concern about the growth of "Satanic activity" in the area. The humane society began receiving phone call after phone call, each informing them of various dogs and cats that had supposedly been ritually slaughtered. People actually began to walk the streets of the town at night, ready to beat up any "Satanists" that were supposedly running around after sundown. The kids who had been at the Halloween party also received various threatening phone calls. After an extensive investigation, it was found that there was absolutely no Satanic cult running around in Jamestown, and that there indeed had never been. The teenagers in the abandoned warehouse were no more than kids with strange clothes and haircuts, and no evidence of any animal mutilation was ever found.

But despite the foolishness of fundamentalist Christian propaganda against Halloween, the holiday is still a highly popular event on many people's calendars. It has become a mostly secular holiday for the majority of people, to which there is not much more than dressing in costumes, eating candy and watching scary movies. Horror movies have indeed become an extremely important Halloween franchise, most especially since the release of John Carpenter's Halloween in 1978. The movie depicted a demon-like killer stalking an average American neighborhood on Halloween. The fact that this was the first movie associating Halloween with horror should be telling, even though the golden age of horror films were in the 1930's and 1940's. It simply exploited the paranoia and fears that began in the 1960's.

Read more at my Halloween Resource Page.

St. Anastasia the Roman and the Deadly Car Accident

Kosta, a young man and father of two young children, was returning from Athens to his home (a great distance) on September 11th 2002 by motorcycle. He had just arranged some work and returned tired. During the trip, the motorcycle overturned and he went flying and collided with a column. The trauma, as he himself relates, caused him to fracture ribs and pelvis, and the lower ends of five vertebrae of his spine. One of the fractures cut a vein, which led the physicians to diagnose him with a retroperitoneal hematoma due to the internal hemorrhage. This caused his doctors to throw up their hands, because this type of case does not lend itself to a surgical intervention. After 24-hours in intensive care, Kosta, exhausted from the loss of blood, was led to the operating room. “I was at death's door. I had lost three liters of blood, when the doctors decided to make an attempt at salvation. They operated on my stomach area, to not let me die, as they had told me later, without any medical attempt. The surgery was a failure, for they couldn't reach the necessary location, and simply, as they told me, they were waiting for me to die”, Kosta relates today emphatically, truly moved.

Curiously, however, while they were awaiting his fate, Kosta lived. “The vein closed on its own and the doctors up till today consider it a miracle”, he says. The young father remained in the hospital for ten days. Then he returned to his home for 15 days, after which time he returned to the hospital for another intervention, to clean the hematoma. On October 26th 2002, the feast of St. Demetrios the Great Martyr, he returned home, to his good wife and his two young girls. The improvement in his health, as he himself relates, was rapid. Until the sign, there was nothing that had made an impression on him.

On the morning of October 29th, he experienced a dream or vision that changed his life, and gave an answer to that which the doctors were all calling a miracle. He relates the following himself: “I saw a short very young girl, who was wearing a dark greyish robe and a head covering — like a scarf — on her head, come close to me. I couldn't, however, discern her face. Her presence emitted an indescribable fragrance. She was walking in a cruciform manner on top of a terrible snake, to which she was indifferent. I was also struck with the color of the sky and the unprecedented — bizarre — first light of the day. Before I could ask her who she was, she stopped 4-5 meters in front of me and said: 'I am St. Anastasia. I saved you.' Her manner was as if she had not done anything special, most likely that I not feel indebted to her action. With an especially challenging and skeptical manner I asked her: 'Why did you save me?' And she with her manner showed how she was simply following some command, as she replied: 'Because the Panagia asked me to.' As Kosta relates, during this discussion, the presence of St. Anastasia had created an atmosphere of indescribable sweetness.

Kosta awakened astonished from the dream-vision, and got up and called a friend of his who was a monk. He was literally startled by the morning telephone call. Kosta did not reveal his dream to the monk, but asked him simply: “Do you know of a St. Anastasia?” As he told us, he had heard of St. Anastasia the Deliverer-from-Potions, but had never called upon her. “Which St. Anastasia, the Roman who celebrates today?” replied the monk. The monk's reply further shocked Kosta. He avoided, however, to tell him anything from his dream.

A few days later, Kosta received a telephone call from a priest friend of his, who was pleased to learn of the progress of his recovery. During their discussion, he told him that when they meet, he would tell them about a dream of St. Anastasia the Roman, in order to answer some of his questions. The priest's insistence, however, caused Kosta to tell him what had happened. “Kosta, do you know where I am right now, and why I insisted on you telling me?” the priest asked him. And he continued without waiting for a response: “I am at the Holy Monastery of Gregoriou on the Holy Mountain, and in a short time we will venerate her Holy Relic that is found in the Monastery, along with other pilgrims.” Kosta was astonished a second time. “Do you understand the shock that I experienced?” he said.

Because of his work, Kosta visited Holy Churches and Monasteries nearly every day. Thus, in April of 2004, he recounted to a monk outside of the gate of his monastery in Loutraki, Corinth, his dream. During their discussion, a car passed by. The driver and his little girl were known to the monk. They greeted him and the monk told Kosta: “This man...Kosta has a vow to build a chapel in the area in honor of St. Anastasia the Roman. Because of this he named his girl Anastasia.”

All of this had literally strengthened Kosta's faith as unshakable, and also that of his family and friends. He himself is at the feast of St. Anastasia every year at the Monastery of Gregoriou and maintains a relationship with St. Anastasia in his daily prayer. It is certain that this acquaintance with St. Anastasia changed his whole life. Amid this relationship, he placed as his priority the will of Christ, and daily experiences the miracles of the Orthodox faith. Glory to God!

St. Anastasia the Roman and Gregoriou Monastery

By Archimandrite Cherubim Karambelas

Another protector of Gregoriou Monastery is the Holy Virgin-Martyr Anastasia the Roman, who in the third century was martyred by Decius with terrible tortures. Towards the west end of the outer courtyard there is a compunctionate church dedicated to her name. Many fragments of her holy relics have been preserved in the Monastery, including portions of her skin which have become fragrant with time. There is a special receptacle containing blood shed at the time of her martyrdom.

St. Anastasia especially cares for the health of the fathers, and for this reason they give her the name "Physician". It is no easy task to enumerate all the times when the monks were delivered from sickness by her miraculous power. There were period of time when the infirmarians of the Monastery had nothing at all to do, because anyone who fell sick had only to make a prostration before the relics of St. Anastasia, and he would be immediately healed.

Some time ago, we were visiting Gregoriou Monastery, and we walked up to the gardens. Below some large water reservoirs is the dwelling of the gardener. We met there the aged monk Fr. Hesychios, and his young assistant, a novice. Fr. Hesychios, who was cheerful, simple, and talkative, was very willing to talk to us about Fr. Athanasios, the Monastery, and their patron Saints.

"From the time I was a child," he told us among other things, "I suffered from hemorrhages from my nose. They plagued me for years. In 1935 - I was then thirty-eight years old - I had the obedience of cook. One day, I had a severe nose bleed. I had heard the other monks talking continually about St. Anastasia's cures, and I ran to the priest on duty and asked him to take out the right hand of the Saint, and with it made the sign of the cross over my nose. That was all there was to it. Forty whole years have passed since then and I've never once been bothered by nose bleeds. The healing that the Saint gave me was a 'perfect gift'."

Patron Saints! The more one thinks about this reality, the more one marvels. The good God has assigned to the various institutions of the Church "small gods", if that expression is permissible. How happy he must feel who is overshadowed by their strong wings! One must keep vigil and pray to maintain the best possible relationship with them.

From Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos, Vol. 1 (pp. 129-130).

How an Atheist Cancer Patient Came to Believe in God

By Antonios Tenedios (Skalohori, Mytilini, Greece)

Quite a few years ago the following real-life story took place. This story was told to me by my good friend, Fr. Demetrius, the parish priest of the St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church located at Sahtouri Street, Piraeus, Athens, Greece. I present this story to you just as it was narrated to me by Fr. Demetrius himself.

“One morning after the Divine Liturgy, I went to the Church office. A fifty year old man came in to talk to me. I did not know him neither had I ever seen him before in my Church. He spoke to me about a forty-two year old man who was admitted to the hospital in Piraeus, Athens, Greece. He was diagnosed with cancer. The disease had spread throughout his body and had metastasized into his brain. Following an examination, the doctors had told him that there nothing that could be done to save his life. He was taking large doses of medicine but they did not help him. This gentleman told me that the hospitalized man was a close relative of his. He requested that I go to the hospital as soon as possible in order to give him Holy Communion.

As requested, I went to the hospital to fulfill this obligation to administer Holy Communion to the sick man. As soon as I entered the patient’s room, it became apparent to me that he was in bad shape. It was further verified to me that the disease had spread to the brain and there was no chance of survival. His days were numbered. The patient was the only person in the room. The other bed was empty. At a certain point, the patient awakened from his coma and opened his eyes. He immediately saw me and with great difficulty told me the following story:

“My family admitted me to this hospital facility thirty-five days ago. An eighty year old man was already in the room that I was assigned to. This patient was suffering from bone cancer. He was suffering horrific pains. In spite of his pain, he would continuously pray: “Glory to you Oh God, Glory to you, Oh God” and this would be followed by a series of prayers. I was an atheist and I was hearing this for the first time in my life. I had never in my life stepped foot in a Church. This is why I became so startled when I observed that after saying his prayers he would calm down and sleep peacefully for two or three hours. But when he woke up again he would groan from unbearable pain. And then he continued to pray “Glory to You, Oh God!”

I was also groaning suffering from immense pain and yet he, in spite of his pain, continued to glorify God. But I, in my frustration from my pain blasphemed the name of Christ and His Holy Mother. The old man was actually thanking God for giving him cancer. Hearing him go on like this constantly and I, suffering my own pain, became upset with him. In addition to his constant praying, he would daily request to receive Holy Communion.

I, the filthy one, swore at him constantly. I would say to him “shut up, shut up finally! Can’t you see that the God that you glorify is torturing us severely with this cursed illness? What God? There is no God!” The old man would calmly hear me and reply: “He exists, my child, God does truly exist and He is a loving Father. Through the illness that He has given us, we are being cleansed of our many sins.” These replies of the old man made me angrier and I began once again to blaspheme both God and demons. I started yelling out and saying: “God does not exist! I don’t believe in anything; neither in God, His Heavenly Kingdom nor in the other world.”

Following this exchange between us, the old man would calmly reply: “Wait and you will see with your own eyes how the soul of a believing Christian is separated from his body. I am a sinner but the Grace of God will save me. Wait, you will see and believe!” He continued to glorify God and His Holy Mother. He would say a specific prayer that repeated the word “hail” for the Virgin Mary (taken from the Salutations of the Akathist Hymn). He also chanted the hymns “Oh Virgin, Birth-Giver of God” and “It is truly meet to bless you.”

At one point, he suddenly stopped praying and I heard him say: “Welcome, my guardian angel! I thank you for coming with such a resplendent party of angels to take my soul.” In great shock, I opened my eyes to see before me the heavenly host. The old man then made the sign of the Cross; crossed his arms on his chest and took his last breath. Suddenly the hospital room was filled with brilliant light that was brighter than ten suns. I, the unbeliever, the atheist, the materialist, saw this miracle with my own eyes. Then an extremely beautiful fragrance filled the room. I was dumbfounded by what I saw because I realized at that point that the old man was right all along.
I then called my parents and told them everything that I had witnessed and experienced. I angrily told them off because they had never spoken to me about the existence of God. I then invited my friends and relatives to come close to me and asked them to tell me everything about faith in God which I had never been taught by anyone. Dear Father, I now believe that God truly exists. This is why I am asking you to hear my confession and for you to give me Holy Communion.


October 28, 2012

Popular Christian Myths About Halloween

In the nineteenth century, cultural anthropologist Sir James Frazer studied the practices of the Northern Celtic people on Hallowmas (a term that has come to describe the three day period of October 31st or Halloween, November 1st or All Saints’ Day, and November 2nd or All Souls’ Day). He asserted that the traditions of Hallowmas were rooted in Samhain, and he claimed that the ancient pagan festival had been a day to honor the dead. Many cultural anthropologists after Frazer have repeated and exaggerated this claim ever since, and Protestant Fundamentalists have gone to extreme lengths based on these false studies and myths to distort and demonize Halloween.

Many Orthodox Christians are no better than these Protestant Fundamentalists. Always looking for scapegoats to ease their fears or calm their confusion, Orthodox extremists have more in common with Protestant Fundamentalists than with traditional Orthodoxy. Christians have demonized Halloween, mainly through the influence of Protestant Fundamentalists, and changed a day that was once dedicated in the West to all Christian saints and departed loved ones (with many healthy folk traditions as is common in all cultures) into a day of demons. After all, this is how Fundamentalist Protestants regard the saints of the Church, especially those of the Catholic Church.

In the video below are only a few of the many many myths being spread by anti-history demonizing Fundamentalists, which supports many things I have previously written about on the subject. The video covers the following myths:

Myth #1: Samhain - The Lord God of Death
Myth #2: Druids practiced Human Sacrifice
Myth #3: Halloween can be traced back to Samhain
Myth #4: Druid priests dressed in black
Myth #5: Black cats were considered to be reincarnated beings with the ability to divine their future.
Myth #6: Pagan Celtic origin of "Treat or Treating"

A Miracle of St. Nicholas the New in 1943

It was October of 1943. The Germans were determined to spread death before leaving Thebes, leaving the district of Tachi deserted. They had been informed that hidden ammunition was there which insurgents were going to use against them. This was true. In the area where the bell tower is today, a storage space was filled with weapons and ammunition. The Germans ordered everyone to gather outside the church, especially requesting a list of men 16 years old and over, and anyone not present was to be executed on the spot.

Across from the unfortunate inhabitants, the firing squad was ready for the signal to send a hot bullet through the skulls of hungry bodies. Screening was done everywhere: in homes, warehouses and even underground. They even checked the church for ammunition. It should be noted that the massacres of Distomo (June 1943) and Prodromou (August 1943) had already taken place by the Germans, and they were ready to do the same here.

The entrance of the room where the ammunition was hidden was shut with a wooden door, which opened and closed with the smallest blow from the wind, prolonging the agony of the hopeless men. They watched the bloodthirsty officer reach that spot two and three times, but neither military intuition nor human curiosity made him look through the door.

Soon after the Nazi's left empty-handed. Tears of emotion poured from the eyes of all. The people lit candles, knelt and prayed, thanking Saint Nicholas the New for preventing the German officer from identifying the cluster and saving them from certain death. If it wasn't for this miracle, the last Sunday of October would not be a celebration in Thebes as a miracle, but a commemoration of a massacre.

Church of Panagia Eleftherotria in Didymoteicho

Western Thrace, or simply Thrace, is a geographic and historical region of Greece, located between the Nestos and Evros rivers in the northeast of the country. The region had been under the rule of the Roman Empire until the Ottoman Empire conquered most of the region in the 14th century and ruled it till the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913.

During the First Balkan War, the Balkan League (Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro) fought against the Ottoman Empire and annexed most of its European territory, including Thrace. Western Thrace was occupied by Bulgarian troops who defeated the Ottoman army.

During the Second Balkan War in August 1913 Bulgaria was defeated, but gained Western Thrace under the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest.

In the following years, the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire) (with which Bulgaria had sided) lost World War I and as a result Western Thrace was withdrawn from Bulgaria under the terms of the 1919 Treaty of Neuilly. Western Thrace was under temporary management of the Entente (the Allies) led by French General Sharpe. In the second half of April 1920 during the San Remo conference of the prime ministers of the main allies of the Entente powers (except USA), Western Thrace was given to Greece. It officially became part of Greece in May of 1920.

Didymoteicho is a town located in Western Thrace, and to commemorate its liberation in 1920, a church was built that bears the name Panagia Eleftherotria (the Liberator). It celebrates its feast on October 28th.

October 27, 2012

Cosmic Horror vs. Holy Terror: Christians Can Find Value and Meaning in Scary Movies

Jason Morehead
October 15, 2012

The nights are getting longer, darker, and colder these days, making it the perfect time to pull out your favorite horror novel or scary movie and get the heebie-jeebies before bedtime. Probably not, though, if you’re a Christian. I would suspect that the “horror” genre is one of the most unpopular genres — literary, cinematic, or otherwise — for Christians, and understandably so. Many entries in the genre seem to do little else but revel in cruelty, sadism, and gore, e.g., the recent wave of “torture porn” films.

However, Christianity Today‘s Jonathan Ryan argues that it is possible for Christians to find value in the horror genre. He writes:

I find meaning—including biblical truths and theological implications—throughout much of the genre. My appreciation for meaning in scary stories finds its roots deep in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and his concept of “cosmic horror,” as well as in the works of Arthur Machen with his notion of “holy terror.” One is rife with despair, the other clings to hope. The contrast between the two results in a remarkable tension found in the history of horror.

Ryan surveys modern horror and finds most of it nihilistic, which he traces directly back to the influence of Lovecraft, who is best known for stories like The Call of Cthulhu and At the Mountains of Madness. Lovecraft’s worldview can be summed up thusly:

The human race will disappear. Other races of beings will appear and disappear in turn. The sky will become icy and void, pierced by the feeble light of half-dead stars. Everything will disappear. And what human beings do is just as free of sense as the free motion of elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, feelings? Pure ‘Victorian fictions.’ Only egotism exists.

This nihilism can be seen even in such recent movies as The Cabin in the Woods and Prometheus, though both films try to mask the horror at their core through different approaches. Ryan compares and contrasts this with Arthur Machen, an Anglican Christian who wrote horror stories containing many of the same ideas and storylines as Lovecraft’s works, but with a different perspective.

Machen felt despair could be avoided by seeing the good God who ruled over the world “behind the veil.” A person could experience holy terror like the prophet Isaiah felt when he stood before the throne of God—or, to bring it back to movies, like Indiana Jones showed in Raiders of the Lost Ark (telling Marion to respect the ark’s power by not looking at it when it was opened) and The Last Crusade (when, to reach the Holy Grail, he had to navigate a treacherous maze requiring him to kneel, to spell God’s holy name, and then take a literal “leap of faith”). Machen uses sacred terror to not only scare us, but to push us deeper to think about “unseen realities.” Through this sacred terror, he created stories richer and more terrifying than anything Lovecraft could conceive. As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again.”

If nothing else, the horror genre is one of the few genres that openly admits the presence of true evil. The challenge, however, that horror novels and movies often fail to overcome is portraying such evil without somehow celebrating or glamorizing it, or presenting it in an exploitative or titillating fashion. If you’re looking for some good cinematic scares for this spooky season that rise above mere exploitation, then I suggest looking at Arts & Faith’s “Top 25 Horror Films.” Some of the entries on the list may surprise you, but their portraits of evil have all been deemed worth considering and reflecting upon by the critics, writers, filmmakers, and fans in the Arts & Faith community.

But if you want to head into the theatre for a good scare this month, consider Sinister. Not only has the movie garnered pretty good reviews — it currently holds a “Fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes — but it was written and directed by Scott Derrickson, a Christian who has argued in the past that the horror genre is the perfect genre for Christians to be involved in, again because of its acknowledgment of evil’s existence in the world around us, and more important, in our own hearts.

Dark Awakenings: The Intersection Between Religion and Horror

Author, scholar, teacher, musician, and theologian Matt Cardin has compiled his new weird supernatural fiction and studies on the interplay between horror and religion in his new book, Dark Awakenings, which has been released by Mythos Books and available through Amazon.


From its earliest origins, the human religious impulse has been fundamentally bound up with an experience of primal horror. The German theologian Rudolf Otto located the origin of human religiosity in an ancient experience of "daemonic dread." American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft asserted that weird supernatural horror fiction arose from a fundamental human psychological pattern that is "coeval with the religious feeling and closely related to many aspects of it." The American psychologist William James wrote in his classic study The Varieties of Religious Experience that the "real core of the religious problem" lies in an overwhelming experience of cosmic horror born out of abject despair at life's incontrovertible hideousness.

In Dark Awakenings, author and scholar Matt Cardin explores this primal intersection between religion and horror in seven stories and three academic papers that pose a series of disturbing questions: What if the spiritual awakening coveted by so many religious seekers is in fact the ultimate doom? What if the object of religious longing might prove to be the very heart of horror? Could salvation, liberation, enlightenment then be achieved only by identifying with that apotheosis of metaphysical loathing?

This volume collects nearly all of Cardin's uncollected fiction, including his 2004 novella "The God of Foulness." It contains extensive revisions and expansions of his popular stories "Teeth" and "The Devil and One Lump," and features one previously unpublished story and two unpublished papers, the first exploring a possible spiritual use of George Romero's Living Dead films and the second offering a horrific reading of the biblical Book of Isaiah. At over 300 pages and nearly 120,000 words, it offers a substantial exploration of the religious implications of horror and the horrific implications of religion.

Read more here.

For an interview with Matt by Theofantastique on this subject and his essay “Gods and Monsters, Worms and Fire: A Horrific Reading of Isaiah”, read here.

The Postmodern Sacred

Emily McAvan’s interesting thesis, summarized in an issue of the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, has now been expanded in her recently published thesis The Postmodern Sacred: Popular Culture Spirituality in the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Urban Fantasy Genres. Below is an abstract of McAvan's earlier thesis along with a link, together with a description of her book:

By Emily McAvan
Division of Arts
Murdoch University

Journal of Religion and Popular Culture
Vol. 22(1)-Spring 2010


I argue that the return of the religious in contemporary culture has been in two forms: the rise of so-called fundamentalisms in the established faiths—Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, even Buddhist—and the rise of a New Age style spirituality that draws from aspects of those faiths even as it produces something distinctively different. I argue that this shift both produces postmodern media culture and is itself always already mediated through the realm of the fictional. Secular and profane are always entangled within one another, a constant and pervasive media presence that modulates the way that contemporary subjects experience themselves and their relationship to the spiritual. I use popular culture as an entry point, an entry point that can presume neither belief nor unbelief in its audiences, showing that it is “unreal” texts such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Matrix, The Passion of the Christ and Left Behind that we find religious symbols and ideas refracted through a postmodernist sensibility, with little regard for the demands of “real world” epistemology. I argue that it is in this interplay between traditional religions and New Age-ised spirituality in popular culture that the sacred truly finds itself in postmodernity.

And below is the description of her recent book The Postmodern Sacred:

From The Matrix and Harry Potter to Stargate SG:1 and The X-Files, recent science fiction and fantasy offerings both reflect and produce a sense of the religious. This thoughtful volume examines this pop-culture spirituality, or “postmodern sacred,” showing how consumers use the symbols contained in explicitly “unreal” texts to gain a second-hand experience of transcendence and belief. Topics include how media technologies like CGI have blurred the lines between real and unreal, the polytheisms of Buffy and Xena, the New Age Gnosticism of The DaVinci Code, the Islamic “Other” and science fiction’s response to 9/11, and the Christian Right and popular culture. Today’s pervasive, saturated media culture, this work shows, has utterly collapsed the sacred/profane binary, so that popular culture is not only powerfully shaped by the discourses of religion, but also shapes how the religious appears and is experienced in the contemporary world.

October 26, 2012

Who Is St. Demetrios Killing In His Icon?

By John Sanidopoulos

Contrary to popular tradition, St. Demetrios in his icon is NOT depicted as killing Lyaios the Gladiator, who was actually killed by St. Nestor. Rather, this icon is an allegory and depicts the killing of the Bulgarian Tsar Kaloyan, whose name means "John the Good", but whom the Greek-speaking Romans called "Skyloyan" or "John the Dog".

In 1202 Tsar Kaloyan united the Bulgarian Empire with the Papacy in order to return his Kingdom to the former glory of the First Bulgarian Kingdom. Pope Innocent III had promised the Tsar that if he united with the Papacy, he would crown him King and make the head of the Bulgarian Church an Archbishop (originally he wanted to be emperor and the head of the church a patriarch). Though he was later betrayed by the Latins after the Fourth Crusade and defeated them in Adrianople after becoming allies with the East Romans, the Eastern Romans later saw him as a threat. For this the Tsar mercilessly turned against his allies, and he took on the name "Romaioktonos" or "Romanslayer", a counter-derivative from Emperor Basil II's "Boulgaroktonos" or "Bulgarslayer".

Kaloyan's troops killed Boniface of Montferrat (4 September 1207), the Latin ruler of the Kingdom of Thessaloniki. Seeking to take advantage of that situation, Kaloyan advanced on the city and besieged it with a large force, but was murdered by his own Cuman commander Manastras at the beginning of October 1207. Some attribute this killing to St. Demetrios, the patron of Thessaloniki, but others say it was through Divine Providence through the prayers of St. Demetrios to protect his city.

The popular icon of St. Demetrios slaying Tsar Kaloyan probably dates to the 15th century from the Bulgarian Dragalevtsi Monastery or possibly Decani Monastery. He is depicted in the first next to the icon of St. Mercurius, who is similarly depicted killing Emperor Julian the Apostate for similar reasons (see photo below, with St. George above and the Theotokos in the center). Both rulers were killers of the Orthodox Christian population of the Roman Empire. Also, Kaloyan was seen to betray Orthodoxy when he was crowned by Pope Innocent III. St. Demetrios is very much loved by the Bulgarians and they honor him even more than one of their heroes/kings who turned against Orthodoxy. Some Bulgarian biographies even claim that St. Demetrios' father was from Bulgaria, so much did they love and honor him.