Defending the faith…

zaporozhian-cossacks-write-a-letter-to-the-turkish-sultan-by-ilya-repinExcerpt from Taras Bulba, Nikolai Gogol:

“Greetings! So, you believe in Christ?” the Ataman would ask.
“I do!”
“How about the Holy Trinity?”
“I do!”
“You go to church?”
“I do!”
“So let’s see you cross yourself!”
“Well then,” the Ataman would say, “go join one of the companies.”

And that was the end of the initiation ceremony. The whole Sech was of one faith and prepared to defend this faith to the last drop of blood, though it disregarded all fasting periods and temperance…..

Praying to God

d636a-jesus-commissionDoes God answer our prayers? It’s the age old question. While there are many answers the short one is: Yes, He does. Maybe not the way we were expecting Him to but He gives us not what we want but what’s good for us.

Even in the gospels Jesus answers prayers but not always the same way: He goes to Jairus’ house but get’s distracted; He heals the woman who was flowing blood for 12 years without even being asked; He answers the prayer of the Canaanite woman even though He puts her through quite an ordeal and yet to an outsider, a non-Jew, the centurion whose servant was ill the Lord simply said, Okay let’s go to your house. The point of the gospel stories is not whether God will answer our prayers or not but how He will do it or, more importantly, how much faith will we have in Him.

Then again there are different kinds of prayers. For the most part it’s from people who need something: the blind, or lame, or their children are sick, etc. One prayer I think that tends to go unnoticed is the one we find in Matthew’s Gospel (8:28-34) when Jesus goes to the region of the Gadarenes. After the whole ordeal of the demons and the pigs and the demon-possessed men we find one verse that sums up the people’s response to God’s mercy and kindness towards these poor men who were possessed: “Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they pleaded with Him to leave their region“.

The opening verse of the following chapter, “And Jesus stepped in a boat..” proves that God does, in fact, answer our prayers. But sometimes in our prayers what we really want is not that God help us, but that He leave us alone.

Relationships

51ggRTnoOxL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Taken from Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision by N.T. Wright

The word relationship in contemporary English is in any case far too slippery to be of any use at this point. The “relationality” of “righteousness” does not have to do with “getting to know someone personally”, as “relationship” implies to most people today, but rather with “how they are related to one another” (which might be true, say, of cousins who had never met and were even unaware of one another’s existence), “how they stand in relation to one another” (which might be true of parties in a lawsuit who did not know one another at all), or to what is “the status of their relationship”. And, once that is clear, it moves the language back where most people today place it: in a mixture, yet to be explored, of covenant and lawcourt.

Forefathers’ Day

H/T: (here)

The Legend of The Founding Founders
Sam Haselby

LONG BEFORE Americans embraced the tradition of the Founding Fathers, New Englanders honored their ancestors as pioneers of democracy and freedom and as the nation’s patriarchs. John Adams claimed that the “wisdom and benevolence of our forefathers’’ were unmatched, and “at the expense of their blood’’ they made an original contribution to world history: self-government. Town leaders in Plymouth inaugurated a holiday, Forefather’s Day, to commemorate Myles Standish, Isaac Allerton, William Brewster and other 17th-century Pilgrims, for making America the world’s “asylum of liberty.’’

Plymouth first celebrated Forefather’s Day in 1769, and still observes it every Dec. 21. Following the American Revolution, Massachusetts elites tried to make Forefather’s Day a national celebration and to make the pilgrims the national founders. The 1819 Forefather’s Day unfolded with a grandeur befitting the bicentennial of the pilgrims’ 1620 landing. Harvard President John Thornton Kirkland opened the commemoration with a prayer. It lasted 18 minutes. Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster, the great orator of his generation, gave the keynote address. Webster spoke — for more than two hours — on the unique role of New England in national history: “no portion of the country did more than the states of New England, to bring the revolutionary struggle to a successful issue,’’ he said.

Webster’s speech also captured the exclusivity that New England leaders often preferred to popularity. He spoke about classical political science and recited Cicero, in Latin, without translating. His coverage of popular themes began, and ended, with “popular violence,’’ which, he explained, was best prevented by the “natural influence belonging to property.’’ New England elites’ ambivalence about popularity has rarely endeared them to the rest of America and it did not help the cause of Forefather’s Day. Even in Massachusetts, the holiday was never popular.
While efforts to take Forefather’s Day national stalled, George Washington’s stature and popularity continued to grow. Washington was helped by his biographer Parson Weems, who had no qualms about popularity. Equal parts patriot propagandist, frontier preacher, and American Virgil, Parson Weems gave an idiosyncratic portrait of the first president, however. He depicted the genial, card-playing, fox-hunting Virginia planter as a walking Sunday school lesson. Nonetheless, his “Life of Washington’’ became one of the most widely read books in 19th century America.
In Weems’s account, it was the British who forced the Revolution on the colonists, because, as he put it, when King George III’s ministers wanted “stakes for their gaming tables, or diamond necklaces for their mistresses, they will have it.’’ The contest between British decadence and corruption, opposed to American courage and virtue,
personified in George Washington, gave the book its shape.
Democracy was not its concern. In fact, Weems never mentioned democracy or the Founding Fathers. The phrase would not be coined until the 20th century, by Warren G. Harding. Accepting the 1920 nomination for the presidency, the Ohio Republican said, “It was the intent of the founding fathers to give to this Republic a dependable and enduring popular government.’’
The Red Scare was still weighing on American hearts and minds. Fathers founding sounded better than revolutionaries, who might be overthrowing. Harding, who liked alliteration, had unleashed one of the great acts of phrasemaking in US history.

During World War II, Kenneth G. Umbreit helped the phrase find its place in the national imagination. In 1941, Umbreit, a New York lawyer and historian with a flair for popularization, published “Founding Fathers: Men Who Shaped Our Tradition.’’ It was the first time the phrase appeared in a book title. Harding had characterized the founders’ defining accomplishment as stable, enduring government. Writing during World War II, under the shadow of fascism and in the light of America’s greatest moment in world history, Umbreit gave the leaders of the American Revolution a more heroic role. Without Washington, he wrote, “there would never have been a United States.’’

In helping to reinvent the American revolutionaries, Umbreit added the courage and virtue celebrated by Parson Weems to the story that New Englanders had first set forth in Forefather’s Day. Since then, the Founding Fathers’ stature, though occasionally embattled, has been on the rise.

No single reason accounts for the durability of the Founding Fathers. Imagining a past golden age seems to be a part of human nature. The late 18th century was the last moment in the history of complex societies when political, intellectual, and literary leaders could be the same men. The legend of the Founding Fathers also allows Americans to see themselves in a compelling, if long expired, role: that of the underdog.


Sam Haselby, a historian at Harvard University, will be a visiting faculty member this year at the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for American Studies and Research at the American University of Beirut.

Inspiration

Blogs seem like the newspapers of social media. A few days ago I read that Ad Orientem (here) announced he’s done blogging.

I thought I was too. Maybe I am. I’ve been on here off and on the last year or so, trying to get myself back to a  more disciplined schedule of posts but to no avail. Ironically, some months back – the last time I tried to beam myself up into the blogoshpere – I was surprised that blogs like Ad Orientem were still going strong. And by that I mean that I was surprised any blogs were still running.

Some blogs that no longer exist but had a great impression on me and probably inspired my own blogging were Ora et Labora (long gone), the Ochlophobist (gone and disappeared, where are the archives?!?)…..and so on.  I’m beginning to wonder what’ll inspire me to stop.

June 28th

H/T: The Duran (here)

Vidovdan: Serbia’s day of destiny

Adam Garrie

Today is Vidovdan or St. Vitus Day, one of the most if not the most important days in the Serbian national calendar.

It was on the 28th of June in 1389 that the Battle of Kosovo ended, a heroic struggle for Serbian freedom against Ottoman Turkish colonial oppression. Although Serbia lost the battle, it is widely seen as Serbia’s version of what the Battle of Thermopylae was for the Hellenic world. It was during the Battle of Thermopylae that Spartan King Leonidas I stood alone with just 300 Spartan fighters against the massive attack of the Persians under Xerxes I.

During the Battle of Kosovo, outnumbered Serb forces were able to inflict heavy loses on the much bigger Ottoman contingent, killing their leader Sultan Murad in the process.

Serbia would remain a colony of the Ottoman Empire until the struggle for national liberation which started in 1804 and formally ended in 1878 when Russia and Serbia worked together to secure international recognition for an independent Serbian state.

Indeed it was on the 28th of June in 1876 when the final battle for Serbian independence against Ottoman Turkey commenced.

But these are not the only events that Serbia marks on the 28th of June.

It was also on this day that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austo-Hungarian Empire was assassinated in occupied Sarajevo. This is widely seen as the formal beginning of the First World War.

At the end of the war, it was on the 28th of June on which the notorious Treaty of Versailles was signed, a treaty meant to restore peace to Europe but which in actual fact, helped pave the war for the Second World War, a war where Serbians stood proudly against fascist aggression in southern Europe.

In 1921, the Vidovdan Constitution was ratified in the  Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, the state that would become Yugoslavia in 1929.

Later in 1989 on the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, Serbian President Slobodan Milošević gave his much misunderstood Gazimestan speech in which he promised that the state would do more to protect the Serbs of Kosovo and Metohija who had been under attack from Albanian terrorists who were attempting to foment a war in a once peaceful province.

In 1986, it was Milošević who repudiated the SANU Memorandum which asked for Serbs living outside of Serbia, in other Yugoslav republics, to have the same rights as minorities living in provinces of Serbia. The SANU Memorandum also warned of creeping nationalist and far-right aggression against Serbs for the mere ‘crime’ of being Serbs.

In the Gazimestan speech, Milošević was seen to offer contrition for ignoring the grievances of Serbian people from provinces like Kosovo and Metohija. It was there that he made a commitment to defend them against terrorism and violent aggression.

Of course that same Milošević was demonised by NATO, the EU and the wider west when he made good on his word and defended the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia against Croatian nationalists and Sunni Bosnian radicals. Later he also defended Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija  against Albanian terrorist groups like the KLA.

The US took the KLA off the official State Department list of terrorist groups shortly before NATO committed a series of war crimes during its totally illegal war upon Yugoslavia in 1999, a war which killed thousands of Serbian civilians, destroyed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, destroyed churches, a news station, hospitals, orphanages and bridges throughout Serbia and Montenegro.

Adding insult to injury, it was on the 28th of June that  Milošević was sent to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He would die in prison under mysterious circumstances, only to be exonerated after death.

Serbia’s history of struggle against oppression, fighting for justice against extreme odds and being on what most righteous people consider to be the correct side of history whether struggling against Ottoman oppression, fascist imperialism or modern terrorism and nationalism, Serbia can hold her head high, especially on the 28th of June.

The History of Pews

Empty-Pews

H/T: here

Is there anything more reassuring than a church pew?

Simple. Humble. Sturdy. Two rough-hewn planks, fastened with a handful of nails, permanently fixed to the floor—and open to all. Occasionally padded, often not; not comfortable, exactly, but comforting. An invitation to the weary traveler to sit and hear the Word of God proclaimed; a simple reminder that we follow a humble, crucified carpenter; the perfect symbol that all are equal at the foot of the cross. From the greatest king to the poorest pauper, from the holiest saint to the most desperate sinner, all have sat in these pews before us, pondering their failings and begging for mercy. Despite the advent of stadium-style seating and auditorium-like worship halls, the simple, ancient pew endures—and no wonder, because it is, and always has been, the perfect metaphor for the faith.

Seating in churches didn’t really become a thing until parishioners got bored enough to wish they were sitting down—that is, about the time of the Protestant Reformation.

Except—nothing I just said is even remotely true. In fact, it’s pretty much the exact opposite of all that. Would you like to know the true story of the pew? Okay, then—buckle up. (But not actually, though, because pews don’t have seatbelts.)

It turns out that there’s no evidence of churches having seating of any kind for at least the first 1,400 years or so of Christianity. In other words, Augustine, Athanasius, Jerome, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin—all those guys very likely lived their whole lives attending churches that were standing-room-only. During ancient Christian worship, parishioners could stand, kneel, or even mill about the nave if they so chose. There’s no record of whether they engaged in stage dives and crowd surfing, so we’re forced to assume they did.

If this sounds insanely uncomfortable to you, keep in mind that which body postures are considered comfortable or uncomfortable is a highly culturally constructed thing. The ancient Romans, for instance, almost never sat in chairs, preferring to stand or recline, while modern Japanese are still perfectly happy sitting on the floor, even well into their elder years. The idea that sitting in a backed chair is comfortable is a modern, Western notion, and one we’re currently learning has all sorts of health drawbacks. Also keep in mind that ancient and medieval Christian worship involved the average parishioner much more actively, with a lot of kneeling and recitation, and climaxed with the entire congregation coming forward for communion.

In other words, seating in churches didn’t really become a thing until parishioners got bored enough to wish they were sitting down—that is, about the time of the Protestant Reformation. In order to emphasize how not-Catholic we were, we began to jettison everything from our worship: confessions, creeds, communal prayer, a weekly Eucharist—basically everything except long, boring sermons. And when your “come to church” sales pitch is essentially “Listen to me yammer about Jesus for several hours!” the response is predictably going to be “Uh, can I at least sit down for that?”

And so, the pew was born.

When pews first began to gain in popularity, however, they weren’t anything you probably would have recognized as pews—they were more like those luxury skyboxes they have at sports stadiums. So-called “box pews,” which were particularly popular in England and America, were anything but the austere benches you’re used to, and featured four walls—often shoulder-height or higher—along with doors, windows, curtains, kneelers, tables, and sometimes even fireplaces. Basically you could hide in them and do whatever the 17th-century version of playing games on your iPad was (I’m guessing cock fights?).

They were also bought and paid for—and frequently custom-built—by each congregation’s wealthiest families, who held actual deeds to them and frequently passed them down to their children as real estate, like the world’s worst timeshares. On the rare occasion that the deed to a pew would free up, there was more often than not a public fistfight (a metaphorical one, usually) over which family would get it—being seen in a prominent pew was an important status symbol, like having the biggest beard at an Acts 29 church or having the dorkiest fedora at Hillsong.

In other words, they were pretty much the exact opposite of what Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke:

When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, “Give your place to this person,” and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Of course, for this and numerous other reasons (see also: cramming poor congregants into a smaller and smaller space as more and more rich people demanded space for luxury pews), clergy began to speak out against them—but as is often the case, they were shouted down by economic concerns. Churches were getting more and more expensive to build and maintain, and pew sales and rentals were providing a large chunk of that funding (especially in America, where churches weren’t publicly funded). Eventually, though, the more reasonable voices won out, and most parishes did away with their box pews, replacing them with the “free and open” wooden benches we know today, resulting in worship services where uncontained toddlers run rampant, ruling over their terrified congregations with tiny iron fists.

In any case, we had finally all learned our lesson, and now nobody goes to church to be seen, which is why we all cram into the back pews and leave right after communion.

Right, guys? Or is that just me?