Good Grief!


Hat-tip to Incendiary for this quote he found in a Turlock, California newspaper.

Ms. Kristina Hacker, wanting to get everyone in the spirit of the holiday, compiled a list of fun Christmas facts. You know: when was the first eggnog made, how did poinsettias get their name and so on. Among other things, she tried to explain the Orthodox:

“Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.”

Source: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Was Stalin A Believer?


Some Russians — Christians and Communists — Venerate Icon of Stalin

Vienna, November 27 – An Orthodox priest in a town near St. Petersburg has sparked controversy by putting up an icon showing the figure of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, with some believers and Communists viewing this as simple justice and others as an indication that many Russians have lost any sense of proportion or truth.

One of the most widely covered stories in the Russian Federation this week concerns not the actions of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin or even the impact of the economic crisis but rather the decision of a priest to put up an icon portraying Stalin and the efforts of some to canonize him.

The priest of St. Olga’s Church in Strel’na, Father Yevstafiy, recently put up an icon there to the Blessed Matrona of Moscow, on which Stalin was portrayed, without any of the attributes of sainthood but simply standing next to her. Thus, technically, it was not an icon of Stalin at all.

But that distinction was quickly lost. Yevstafiy’s own parishioners demanded he put the icon with Stalin in a less prominent place and stop referring to the late Soviet dictator in prayers – even though the Strel’na priest has a long history of provocative actions, including putting up another icon portraying a Russian soldier who died in Chechnya as a “new martyr.”

His superiors in the Russian Orthodox Church denounced this action as “inappropriate.” And story after story on Russian television, the print media and the Russian blogosphere played up the debate.

In comments to “Novyye izvestiya,” Father Yevstafiy stood his ground. “The feeling that Stalin is the father of the peoples, that he is thus in part my high father has never left me in the course of my life. I thus have two fathers, besides the Heavenly Father: one is my father in the flesh and the other is the father of the peoples who was strict” and may “have made mistakes.”

Any attacks on him are wrong and inappropriate the dissident priest continued, and he said that he “remembers Iosif Vissarionovich in all services where this is appropriate, especially on those days when he died, was born and when he celebrated the common Victory of our people.” And he insisted that Stalin was “a believer.”

But at the same time, Yevstafiy was careful to specify that “this is not an icon glorifying Stalin. This is an image of. Matrona of Moscow. And Iosif Vissarionovich is one of those people whom she blessed. She blessed many people,” the priest said, including “a well-known architect and a well- known composer of those times. And Stalin too.”

Spokesmen for the Moscow Patriarchate denounced this action but have taken no action against it, at least so far. The sharpest criticism of Yevstafiy’s pretentions came from the pastor of Moscow’s Church of the Tsar Martyr Nicholas, who said that the appearance of icons showing Stalin was “a terrible sign, an indication that people have completely lost a sense of truth.”

The appearance of the icon showing the late Soviet dictator comes as some Russians are seeking his canonization by the Church. Among them are believers who agree with Yevstafiy and also some communists, who although themselves atheists, believe that the Soviet leader deserves this mark of respect.

Sergey Malinkovich, the leader of the Communists of Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, said that he would not deny that “the majority of the members of our organization are atheists, but there are believers and Orthodox too, [and] we try to respect their attitudes” in the work of the party.

“Those priests with whom we have spoken say that the figure of Stalin enjoys great respect among their parishioners. Therefore we too have begun now to speak about his canonization and about the creation of icons on which he is portrayed.” He added that in short order, 10,000 of them would be printed to give to those who already see Stalin as “holy.”

“For the Church, Lenin was a communist,” he continued, “but Stalin was a genuine national leader.” And “for us, he is approximately the same as Napoleon is for France.” Thus, he has already for a long time been “canonized in the popular consciousness.” Now all that needs to be done is to take care of “the formalities.”

Source: Georgian Daily

Again and Again (Or, Let me Reintroduce Myself)


For us on the Old Calendar today is the first day of the Christmas Fast. It is also a personal milestone for me as it marks one year since my first post. One year of Again and Again.

Actually, I feel like the blog only started a few months ago. I was sort of talked into the whole idea of the blog. In the beginning I followed no real routine in my posts.  Every so often I’d write something or find something interesting and post it on the blog. That was that.

In August I seriously considered deleting the thing altogether. If you go, for instance, in the archives to June, July and beginning of August there’s hardly anything there.  I wanted to delete it because, even though I did nothing with it, it was always on my mind. I’d think of posting this or that but, in the end, did nothing. It was quite frustrating.

Then I remembered the paper. You see, soon after being assigned here I met a good man, a parishioner, who did newspapers for different organizations. Seeing how I thought that was a pretty neat thing he asked me if I’d like to do the parish bulletin as a newspaper. It only cost something like $250 and they’d print over a 1,000 copies (that was the minimum, maybe it was 2,000, I can’t remember). I used to mail a hundred or so copies to neighboring parishes. I’d give them out to friends and so on. This went on for about a year and a half and then I stopped. I got tired of it. People liked it and in the beginning they complimented me on it but after awhile, well, it just got old.

I remember how months after I had stopped doing the paper I’d have people from other parishes (people who I’d never suspect even to care for such a thing) start asking me about it. They’d ask if I still put it out and how much they enjoyed it and so on.  Actually, there are people I see at picnics, diocesan meetings and such who still ask me about it.

And so, as I was thinking of doing away with the blog completely I was reminded of this and thought to myself, maybe there is someone out there reading. I decided to give it another shot.  Since the end of August I’ve been very active on the blog: posting sermons, quotes from books and other thoughts. In addition I’m not only teaching others but learning new things from people who take the time to make comments and I thank them for that. In the meantime my stats have risen significantly. I’ve also noticed Again and Again on more and more blogrolls.

Thank you for reading.  I suppose I can stay on for a little longer. Or at least until you stop reading.

Thanksgiving and American Mythology


Jennie Augusta Brownscombe’s   (1850 – 1936)  – “The First Thanksgiving”

Of all the American holidays, the only one I take part in is Thanksgiving. Isn’t it food that makes the holiday? If not, I’m sure it has a lot to do with it. As Orthodox Christians, we certainly know what Christmas and Pascha each commemorate but what would those feasts be, at least in the local family tradition, without the roasted pig or BBQ lamb respectively, or, would they be a festive if we simply had peanut butter and jelly after church? Therefore, being  on the Old Calendar, the 4th of July, for example, is always during the Apostles’ Fast. We go and watch fireworks, so I suppose we ‘celebrate’ it in some way, but the fact there is no cookout, no real culinary aspect to the festivities, leaves it somewhat unmemorable.

Moreover, the very idea of ‘thanksgiving’ is easy to accept and celebrate. It is, after all, a Christian concept – to thank God for all that He has given us. My commemoration (if you can even call it that) of Thanksgiving is based solely on this one aspect and I do indeed look forward to it: the meal, the family coming together, being thankful, etc.

Was there a ‘first’ Thanksgiving or not I’m not too sure, nor am I qualified enough to negate it completely. There probably was something that took place in the early autumn of 1621. Then again, there are those that argue that the first Thanksgiving took place in 1598….in Texas. Whatever the case, Thanksgiving for me has always been something that belongs to the mythology of America, together with George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. They are childlike myths told with an essential truth (e.g. do not tell a lie, thank God for all that blessings He has given you).  We have spiritualized, if you will, the holiday and made it into something which is certainly more worthy of celebrating. To bring history into it I think would ruin the mood. After all, not all Americans, the Native Americans in particular, have the same understanding of Thanksgiving. For if Thanksgiving is about Puritans then it is also has something to do with Indians as well. Howard Zinn in his ‘People’s History of the United States’ writes about Columbus’ discovery of America:

“To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves-unwittingly-to justify what was done.

My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism….)-that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth.”

I doubt, therefore, that I am actually celebrating Thanksgiving by merely eating turkey with family. It would be like saying someone can celebrate Christmas just by going home for the holidays. But what I do think (and here I might be completely wrong) is that I join most Americans in celebration. In other words, I think Thanksgiving has been accepted as an American myth while actual historical events have been glanced over.

Whatever the case may be I look forward to turkey. I am thankful for many things but reminded more so of  J.F.K’s thanksgiving words: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

Just How Exactly Does One Perform a Sacrifice?


Photo: Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Damian, one time abbot of Ascension Monastery

Years ago, when I was a parish priest in Atlanta, the Ascension Monastery in Resaca, Georgia was under the Russian Church Abroad. Actually, I think when we first moved down there they were still OCA, then they switched to ROCOR. Today I think they are under the Jerusalem Patriarchate.

Anyway, they used to put out a publication called The Harvest with the blessing of Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan (ROCOR). I am posting an excerpt from a continuing piece they had included in this publication entitled The Apostolic Origins of the Orthodox Church. I do not know, nor does it indicate who authored the article. This is taken from the December 1999 issue:

“The Epistle of James supplies us with further Scriptural evidence for the Jewish roots of Christian worship. For the word in James 2:2 referring to a Christian occasion or place of worship, usually translated as “assembly”, in Greek is actually “synagogue.”  That Greek term means both Synagogue and the Synagogue-type Service of worship. James here indirectly indicates that the early Christians thought of their place of worship as a Synagogue, where they celebrated Christianized Synagogue Service of worship.

The word “Synagogue” is found forty-four times in the New Testament; but, ironically, the word Synagogue, which today we customarily associate exclusively with Judaism and the Old Testament, is not to be found anywhere in the Old Testament. For the Synagogue was a development in Judaism that postdated the writing of most of the Old Testament Scriptures.

The word “Synagogue” is from the Greek, meaning “to gather together.” The Jewish Synagogue has its origin in Babylon during the Babylonian Captivity. In 597 and again in 586 BC, the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar deported the most prominent Jews from Israel to his capital city, where they and their children remained in exile for approximately 100 years. During that time, it became customary for the Jews to gather on the Sabbath to hear the Scriptures read, to sing Psalms, and to receive instruction. This practice developed into an orderly pattern of liturgical worship. The Jews, of course, were already quite accustomed to liturgical worship in the Temple, so it was only natural for them to develop liturgical forms of worship in their Synagogue Services.

By the time of Christ, the common order of Service in the Synagogue was as follows: the Service began with several readings from the Scriptures, followed by preaching from various individuals who would be invited by the Synagogue leader to comment on the day’s readings; finally, Psalms were sung and appropriate Benedictions were recited. At the end of the service, men who were of priestly families would be invited to recite Aaron’s Blessing (Numbers 6:26).

The typical Synagogue in the first century was an open hall, with no seats for the congregation. At one end (facing Jerusalem if possible) there was a “bema” or high place, which was an elevated stage-like platform. In the center of the wall behind the bema was the seat of the ruling elder, with seats for his council on either side. In the center of the bema itself stood a table upon which sat both the “Menorah” (a seven-branched candlestick) and the Ark, a decorated cabinet containing the Scrolls of the Scriptures.

After the return from the Babylonian Captivity and the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews brought the custom of Synagogue worship to Judea. But not all the Jews returned to the Holy Land. Those who remained behind in Babylon continued to worship in their Synagogues. By the beginning of the first century, the custom of Synagogue worship had gradually spread throughout the Jewish Diaspora. Jews from all around the ancient world were able to participate in and benefit from Temple worship only if they made a pilgrimage to the Temple in the Holy City. Back home it was the Synagogue which naturally was the center of Jewish life and worship.

Temple worship centered on the offering of sacrifices. Synagogue worship centered on reading, preaching the Word, singing the Psalms, and the offering of Benedictions. Worship, both in the Temple and in the Synagogues, was understood to be fundamentally an act of praise to God, and focused only secondarily on seeking His blessings. The emphasis, in other words, was on giving, not receiving. The benefits one derived from both Temple and Synagogue worship were the by-product of one’s participation in the acts of adoration, praise, and thanksgiving to the God of Israel.

The only detailed instructions in the Bible for Services of worship are the elaborate rules for the sacrificial rites set forth in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. But even there, we find no directions on how exactly to offer a sacrifice. Some contemporary traditionalist Jews, dreaming of restoring Temple worship, have found this fact truly a stumbling block. For if they were to reconstuct the Temple, how exactly would a sacrifice be performed? No one today knows.

Since we find no reference to the Synagogue in the Old Testament, obviously neither will we find any directions in the Old Testament on how to conduct a Synagogue Service. The manner of conducting worship in the Synagogue, like the instructions for offering sacrifice, was a part of Jewish tradition found outside of Scriptures. According to the Scriptural record, neither Jesus nor the Apostles had the slightest difficulty with this fact, for, as we have seen, they all participated in Synagogue worship on a regular basis. They had no reason even to expect the Bible to provide directions on how to conduct Synagogue worship.

We do have a very good idea today of how a Synagogue Service was done two thousand years ago, simply because the Jews have been conducting Synagogue worship all along, without break, even to this present time. Modern Jewish Synagogue worship, as well as Jewish home worship, is part of a living tradition. On the other hand, however, we do not know today the finer details of the sacrificial worship of the Temple, since the Jews were forced in AD 70 to cease offering the liturgical sacrifices ordered by the Law of Moses. In that year, the Imperial Legions of the Roman Emperor Titus destroyed the last Temple of the Jews.”