Ontology and Ethics

1095“Salvation, offered by the Church, does not lie in the moral improvement of people, as it is often claimed. The Church has in her bosom so many people with moral shortcomings, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians: “If you bite and devour each other, watch out not
to exterminate each other”.

In this context, the question of holiness is asked. It is thought that the sanctity is identified with moral perfection. Even the holiness of God is presented in textbooks of Dogmatics as a moral perfection (e.g. Andrucos, Trembelas etc.). However, it disagrees not only with what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letters, calling believers “saints”, despite what he says about them, as we can see in the example of the Galatians, but also with the entire history of our Church. Thus the Byzantine emperors, such as Constantine the Great, Saint Irena of Athens and so on, we recognize as saints, despite the fact that they did things incompatible with the principles of morality. St Irena blinded her son; the Holy Prophet Elijah slew five hundred priests of god Baal, etc. Based on today’s moral criteria, many of the saints of our Church would have been excluded. The Church consecrates us not on our moral improvement, but on the basis of repentance, i.e. confirmation that our sinfulness is an ontological reality. This explains the justification of publicans and condemnation of the morally perfect Pharisees.”

The above quote is taken from a paper written by Metropolitan John Ziziulas Ontology and Ethics which can be accessed here

The Christmas Nativity Scene

H/T: About.com (here)

Question: How Did Francis of Assisi Begin the Christmas Nativity Scene Tradition?

Francis of Assisi, who founded the Catholic Church’s Franciscan Order and became a saint after his death, began the Christmas tradition of nativity scenes because he wanted to help people gain a fresh sense of wonder about the miracles that the Bible records from the first Christmas.

Up until Francis set up the first nativity scene in 1223, people celebrated Christmas primarily by going to Mass (a worship service) at church, where priests would tell the Christmas story in a language that most ordinary people didn’t speak: Latin. Although churches sometimes featured fancy artistic renditions of Christ as an infant, they didn’t present any realistic manger scenes. Francis decided that he wanted to make the extraordinary experiences of the first Christmas more accessible to ordinary people.

Francis, who was living in the town of Greccio, Italy at the time, got the Pope’s permission to proceed with his plans. Then he asked his close friend John Velita to loan him some animals and straw to set up a scene there to represent Jesus Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. The nativity scene could help people in the area imagine what it may have been like to be present on the first Christmas long ago, when they came to worship at Christmas Eve Mass in December 1223, Francis said.

The scene, which was set up in a cave just outside Greccio, featured a wax figure of the infant Jesus, costumed people playing the roles of Mary and Joseph, and the live donkey and ox that John had loaned to Francis. Local shepherds watched over their sheep in nearby fields, just as shepherds in Bethlehem had watched over sheep on the first Christmas, when the sky suddenly filled with angels who announced Christ’s birth to them.

During the Mass, Francis told the Christmas story from the Bible and then delivered a sermon. He spoke to the people gathered there about the first Christmas and the miraculous impact that placing their faith in Christ, the baby born in a simple manger in Bethlehem, could make in their lives. Francis urged people to reject hatred and embrace love, with God’s help.

In his biography of Francis (called the Life of St. Francis of Assisi), Saint Bonaventure described what happened that night: “The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise. The man of God [Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; the Holy Gospel was chanted by Francis, the Levite of Christ. Then he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His name for the tenderness of His love, He called Him the Babe of Bethlehem.”

Saint Bonaventure also reported in his book that people saved the hay from the nativity presentation afterward, and when cattle later ate the hay, it: “miraculously cured all diseases of cattle, and many other pestilences; God thus in all things glorifying his servant, and witnessing to the great efficacy of his holy prayers by manifest prodigies and miracles.”

The first nativity scene presentation proved to be so popular that people in other areas soon set up living nativities to celebrate Christmas. Eventually, Christians worldwide celebrated Christmas by visiting living nativity scenes and praying at nativity scenes made of statues in their town squares, churches and homes.

People also added more figures to their nativity scenes than Francis was able to feature in his original, live presentation. In addition to the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, a donkey, and an ox, later nativity scenes featured angels, shepherds, sheep, camels, and the three kings who traveled to present gifts to the infant Jesus and his parents.

Twenty ninth Sunday after Pentecost

miracle-healing-of-the-10-lepers

It doesn’t matter how much money and wealth you have, the most important thing in this life is that we have our health. Almost everyone will agree with this statement. Those of us who know what it means to be sick – really sick – know especially the meaning of this statement.

And, at times, those who have their health can be like the wealthy described throughout Scriptures. Like the rich man who paid no heed to poor Lazarus, who didn’t think of helping or feeding anyone but himself. Like the rich man who had abundant crops so that his barns were too small that he couldn’t fit all of his good in them so he built larger barns. Or, even like the man who comes to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit everlasting life and when the Lord tells him to sell everything he had he sadly walks away.

And this morning’s reading from the gospel deals with a couple of very sick people. Ten of them to be exact. And it wasn’t just some passing illness they had. They had a death sentence: they had leprosy.  It’s an infectious skin disease and it’s mentioned 55 times in the Old Testament and 13 times in the New Testament. And so serious of a disease was it that those infected by it were commanded by the Law of Moses to be cast out from the community. We read in the Book of Numbers: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp everyone who is leprous…You shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell” (Num. 5:1-3).

That’s just how the lepers are described in the gospel this morning. St. Luke writes that as Jesus was going to Jerusalem He passed through Samaria and Galilee and He was met by ten lepers “who stood afar off”. Meaning, because of their highly infectious disease they were not allow to come in contact with people or enter the villages. Yet, even though they stood ‘afar off’ they still tried their hardest to have their voices heard and so they yelled out, or as St. Luke says: “they lifted their voices and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

That’s exactly what Jesus did. He showed His mercy upon them and healed them. You know, at one place in the gospels we read how St. John the Baptist hears about this man named Jesus but he isn’t sure that this is the Coming One they’ve been waiting for. So he sends out two of his disciples to Jesus to ask Him, “Are you the Coming One or is there another one we are to wait for?” And Jesus answered them and said: “Go and tell John the things which you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised…” (Luke 7:22). All of these miracles, including the one described in the gospel this morning, they all attest to the fact that Jesus is Lord, the Son of God.

Only in a world where there is no God are miracles impossible. Just as Jesus proves to John’s disciples that He is Lord because of the miracles He has done, so too does God reveal Himself in our lives through all the many miracles that happen to us everyday. Granted, they might be what we would refer to as little miracles but the point is God works in our lives whether we know it or not. Chances are we don’t.   Similarly, there were ten lepers healed in this morning’s gospel but only one found it necessary to go back and thank Jesus. The rest of them, even though only moments ago they had all found enough strength to yell out Lord have mercy on us, now like the wealthy of this world they forgot God and only thought of themselves.

They had the opportunity – through the healing of their bodily illness – to find healing in their souls. To heal that part of them that will never grow old and will never die.  Yet that which they could clearly see when they were sick now ingratitude blinded them in their health.

That’s one of main reasons we  go to church. We go to worship and praise God but ultimately, as the Psalm says, we go “to give thanks to the Lord for He is good and His love endures forever”.  To thank God for all the many blessings in our lives so that through our gratitude our souls might be healed as well. As we pray at the liturgy “for every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from Thee, and to The do we ascribe glory: to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. Amen.

Christmas and Pagan Influences

H/T: Touchstone Magazine (here) via Byzantine Texas

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Calculating Christmas

William J. Tighe on the Story Behind December 25

Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.

Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.

 A Mistake

The idea that the date was taken from the pagans goes back to two scholars from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German Protestant, wished to show that the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th was one of the many “paganizations” of Christianity that the Church of the fourth century embraced, as one of many “degenerations” that transformed pure apostolic Christianity into Catholicism. Dom Jean Hardouin, a Benedictine monk, tried to show that the Catholic Church adopted pagan festivals for Christian purposes without paganizing the gospel.

In the Julian calendar, created in 45 B.C. under Julius Caesar, the winter solstice fell on December 25th, and it therefore seemed obvious to Jablonski and Hardouin that the day must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one. But in fact, the date had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian’s time, nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.

There were two temples of the sun in Rome, one of which (maintained by the clan into which Aurelian was born or adopted) celebrated its dedication festival on August 9th, the other of which celebrated its dedication festival on August 28th. But both of these cults fell into neglect in the second century, when eastern cults of the sun, such as Mithraism, began to win a following in Rome. And in any case, none of these cults, old or new, had festivals associated with solstices or equinoxes.

As things actually happened, Aurelian, who ruled from 270 until his assassination in 275, was hostile to Christianity and appears to have promoted the establishment of the festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” as a device to unify the various pagan cults of the Roman Empire around a commemoration of the annual “rebirth” of the sun. He led an empire that appeared to be collapsing in the face of internal unrest, rebellions in the provinces, economic decay, and repeated attacks from German tribes to the north and the Persian Empire to the east.

In creating the new feast, he intended the beginning of the lengthening of the daylight, and the arresting of the lengthening of darkness, on December 25th to be a symbol of the hoped-for “rebirth,” or perpetual rejuvenation, of the Roman Empire, resulting from the maintenance of the worship of the gods whose tutelage (the Romans thought) had brought Rome to greatness and world-rule. If it co-opted the Christian celebration, so much the better.

A By-Product

It is true that the first evidence of Christians celebrating December 25th as the date of the Lord’s nativity comes from Rome some years after Aurelian, in A.D. 336, but there is evidence from both the Greek East and the Latin West that Christians attempted to figure out the date of Christ’s birth long before they began to celebrate it liturgically, even in the second and third centuries. The evidence indicates, in fact, that the attribution of the date of December 25th was a by-product of attempts to determine when to celebrate his death and resurrection.

How did this happen? There is a seeming contradiction between the date of the Lord’s death as given in the synoptic Gospels and in John’s Gospel. The synoptics would appear to place it on Passover Day (after the Lord had celebrated the Passover Meal on the preceding evening), and John on the Eve of Passover, just when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Jerusalem Temple for the feast that was to ensue after sunset on that day.

Solving this problem involves answering the question of whether the Lord’s Last Supper was a Passover Meal, or a meal celebrated a day earlier, which we cannot enter into here. Suffice it to say that the early Church followed John rather than the synoptics, and thus believed that Christ’s death would have taken place on 14 Nisan, according to the Jewish lunar calendar. (Modern scholars agree, by the way, that the death of Christ could have taken place only in A.D. 30 or 33, as those two are the only years of that time when the eve of Passover could have fallen on a Friday, the possibilities being either 7 April 30 or 3 April 33.)

However, as the early Church was forcibly separated from Judaism, it entered into a world with different calendars, and had to devise its own time to celebrate the Lord’s Passion, not least so as to be independent of the rabbinic calculations of the date of Passover. Also, since the Jewish calendar was a lunar calendar consisting of twelve months of thirty days each, every few years a thirteenth month had to be added by a decree of the Sanhedrin to keep the calendar in synchronization with the equinoxes and solstices, as well as to prevent the seasons from “straying” into inappropriate months.

Apart from the difficulty Christians would have had in following—or perhaps even being accurately informed about—the dating of Passover in any given year, to follow a lunar calendar of their own devising would have set them at odds with both Jews and pagans, and very likely embroiled them in endless disputes among themselves. (The second century saw severe disputes about whether Pascha had always to fall on a Sunday or on whatever weekday followed two days after 14 Artemision/Nisan, but to have followed a lunar calendar would have made such problems much worse.)

These difficulties played out in different ways among the Greek Christians in the eastern part of the empire and the Latin Christians in the western part of it. Greek Christians seem to have wanted to find a date equivalent to 14 Nisan in their own solar calendar, and since Nisan was the month in which the spring equinox occurred, they chose the 14th day of Artemision, the month in which the spring equinox invariably fell in their own calendar. Around A.D. 300, the Greek calendar was superseded by the Roman calendar, and since the dates of the beginnings and endings of the months in these two systems did not coincide, 14 Artemision became April 6th.

In contrast, second-century Latin Christians in Rome and North Africa appear to have desired to establish the historical date on which the Lord Jesus died. By the time of Tertullian they had concluded that he died on Friday, 25 March 29. (As an aside, I will note that this is impossible: 25 March 29 was not a Friday, and Passover Eve in A.D. 29 did not fall on a Friday and was not on March 25th, or in March at all.)

Integral Age

So in the East we have April 6th, in the West, March 25th. At this point, we have to introduce a belief that seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ, but which, as it is nowhere taught in the Bible, has completely fallen from the awareness of Christians. The idea is that of the “integral age” of the great Jewish prophets: the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception.

This notion is a key factor in understanding how some early Christians came to believe that December 25th is the date of Christ’s birth. The early Christians applied this idea to Jesus, so that March 25th and April 6th were not only the supposed dates of Christ’s death, but of his conception or birth as well. There is some fleeting evidence that at least some first- and second-century Christians thought of March 25th or April 6th as the date of Christ’s birth, but rather quickly the assignment of March 25th as the date of Christ’s conception prevailed.

It is to this day, commemorated almost universally among Christians as the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel brought the good tidings of a savior to the Virgin Mary, upon whose acquiescence the Eternal Word of God (“Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten of the Father before all ages”) forthwith became incarnate in her womb. What is the length of pregnancy? Nine months. Add nine months to March 25th and you get December 25th; add it to April 6th and you get January 6th. December 25th is Christmas, and January 6th is Epiphany.

Christmas (December 25th) is a feast of Western Christian origin. In Constantinople it appears to have been introduced in 379 or 380. From a sermon of St. John Chrysostom, at the time a renowned ascetic and preacher in his native Antioch, it appears that the feast was first celebrated there on 25 December 386. From these centers it spread throughout the Christian East, being adopted in Alexandria around 432 and in Jerusalem a century or more later. The Armenians, alone among ancient Christian churches, have never adopted it, and to this day celebrate Christ’s birth, manifestation to the magi, and baptism on January 6th.

Western churches, in turn, gradually adopted the January 6th Epiphany feast from the East, Rome doing so sometime between 366 and 394. But in the West, the feast was generally presented as the commemoration of the visit of the magi to the infant Christ, and as such, it was an important feast, but not one of the most important ones—a striking contrast to its position in the East, where it remains the second most important festival of the church year, second only to Pascha (Easter).

In the East, Epiphany far outstrips Christmas. The reason is that the feast celebrates Christ’s baptism in the Jordan and the occasion on which the Voice of the Father and the Descent of the Spirit both manifested for the first time to mortal men the divinity of the Incarnate Christ and the Trinity of the Persons in the One Godhead.

A Christian Feast

Thus, December 25th as the date of the Christ’s birth appears to owe nothing whatsoever to pagan influences upon the practice of the Church during or after Constantine’s time. It is wholly unlikely to have been the actual date of Christ’s birth, but it arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death.

And the pagan feast which the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date in the year 274 was not only an effort to use the winter solstice to make a political statement, but also almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians. The Christians, in turn, could at a later date re-appropriate the pagan “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” to refer, on the occasion of the birth of Christ, to the rising of the “Sun of Salvation” or the “Sun of Justice.”

The author refers interested readers to Thomas J. Talley’s The Origins of the Liturgical Year (The Liturgical Press). A draft of this article appeared on the listserve Virtuosity.

William J. Tighe is Associate Professor of History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a faculty advisor to the Catholic Campus Ministry. He is a Member of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

The Church’s memory is Tradition

H/T: Pravmir (here)

St. Nicholas fresco in Hermitage

Homily delivered by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, 2009

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!

Today our Church solemnly glorifies the memory of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia. St. Nicholas lived at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth centuries. Nearly 1,700 years separate us from him, but the Church has carefully preserved his memory throughout all these centuries because he lived such an extraordinary life, acquiring great power of spirit and drawing so near to God through his ardent faith that God granted him the special power of performing miracles.

The Church’s memory is its Tradition. Having studied history, we know about certain historical events, but think of them rarely; we very often forget what we learned in school or college. This memory is dead, it is no longer alive; it no longer enters the activity of our spiritual powers, it has no continual effect on the human mind. But the memory preserved in the Church, the Tradition of the Church, is a living memory; it is supported and fertilized by the sincere prayer that man raises to those whom he remembers: the holy saints of God.

Our memory of St. Nicholas is so alive that we often turn to him every day, asking his help in our lives. We receive a reply from him: our prayers are answered. He appears to us through his presence in our lives, including through his miraculous and myrrh-streaming relics preserved in the city of Bari, which are profusely covered in fragrant myrrh. This myrrh is collected annually and pilgrims visiting Bari have the possibility of anointing themselves with it.

What is St. Nicholas famous for? What was the basis of his marvelous life? We all know well the saint’s troparion: in it we call him a “rule of faith and model of meekness.” It is impossible to put this any better – the entire meaning of the saint’s life was that he was a rule of faith and a model of meekness. Meekness is a Christian virtue that modern man has a difficult time understanding. After all, one’s worldview is largely shaped by one’s environment, by those standards of thought and ideals and stereotypes that are found within the public consciousness. But in modern society a conception of meekness is lacking, and the practical worldview generated by everyday life all but excludes it. Many today consider that the foundation of success – and many view success as the goal of life – is a constant fight. The world is constructed according to the laws of competition and competitiveness. If within this competitiveness everyone were to strive to show his best side, hurting no one, this would be justifiable, comprehensible, and perhaps even beneficial. More often than not, however, the competitiveness in which we are engaged is accompanied by conflict, a desire to weaken others, to defeat them, and to insure one’s own victory on the basis of their defeat. What room is there here for meekness, given that meekness is nothing other than the manifestation of one’s inner humility? It is expressed externally through one’s lack of irritability, anger, and spite.

One can keep oneself from irritation and restrain the feeling of anger, controlling one’s actions and emotions through an act of will – but this will not be meekness. Meekness derives from an inner condition of spirit, for it is the external manifestation of an inner condition of human humility. This, if you will, is a special philosophy of life – a correct philosophy, a true picture of life, one in which one places oneself in this picture in the best manner. This is a special attitude towards God, towards other people, and towards oneself. In humility one, as it were, cedes one’s central place to God; in humility one discovers one’s own best qualities; in humility one establishes a special relationship with other people, so that this relationship in no way destroys or causes harm to others.

In the end, human humility is a great force; with it, one can reach one’s goals without harming others, without causing them any hurt or damage. Constructing such relationships gives joy and peace, rest and quiet to the heart. One’s conscience is clean: one has hurt no one, tread on no one, cheated no one. How sweet is such a victory, how remarkable such achievements feel when they are realized without any harm to others! It indeed takes a great deal of strength to live one’s life in this way. But if there is a worldview at the basis of our actions, then there is also a defined worldview at the basis of meekness, namely the Christian view of life formed by Christian faith. We say that St. Nicholas is a “model of meekness” because he was a “rule of faith.” If one’s life is based on faith, then one’s inner humility and meekness become a natural manifestation of this faith.

We have just heard the Gospel according to St. Luke containing the Sermon on the Mount. What clear commandments the Lord gives us! If we live according to these commandments, if we preserve the Orthodox faith, not subjecting it to distortion, not introducing any commentaries and corrections arising from human ingenuity into it; if we do not introduce into it any mistakes arising form human sinfulness, but rather preserve it purely, then we will have a solid worldview serving as a basis for constructing a happy, peaceful, and quiet life, in which one’s success does not necessarily entail conflict with others.

St. Nicholas lived by this faith. But it has so happened that there have been attempts since deep antiquity to change, destroy, or introduce a sinful human element into this pure and holy faith, which has Divine revelation – that is, God Himself – as its foundation. The entire history of the Church is a history of struggle for purity of faith, and St. Nicholas was an active fighter for the preservation of the Orthodox faith. He was a participant in the First Ecumenical Council, fighting against the presbyter Arius, a heretic who tried to introduce human philosophical sophistry into the Orthodox Christian faith, which would thereby have destroyed the very foundation of this faith. Arius taught that Christ was not the Son of God, that He was not consubstantial with the Father, and that He was not God, but only a kind of supreme created being. But if Christ is created, then how can salvation be accomplished through His death and Resurrection?

The Arian heresy was intended to destroy the very foundation of the Christian faith. St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, being a rule of this faith, assembled with his brother bishops in 325 in Nicaea, a city in Asia Minor to which bishops from all over the world traveled for the First Ecumenical Council, in order to defend the Orthodox faith; he thereby became an example of how to preserve the treasure of faith so that it can serve as the foundation and norm of our lives.

In order that our lives be formed on the basis of faith, this faith must be pure, uncomplicated, and not obscured by human sophistry. The difficulty lies in the fact that people perceive faith by means of their reason, and our reason, again, is formed under the influence of our environment. Every succeeding generation of people perceives this faith – this same one, holy, pure faith – through the prism of their views and convictions. There is nothing wrong in this, for this is the way man is made: people in the twenty-first century cannot think in the same way that people did in the third or fourth centuries. But, perceiving our faith with the modern mind and through the prism of modern knowledge, we must not destroy this faith by introducing sinful human sophistry.

St. Nicholas the Wonderworker teaches us all this, as do a host of other saints. This all sounds very relevant to us today, for in our vain times many people are incapable of seeing the foundation of their lives, the norm of their being, in the pure faith – that marvelous source of Divine wisdom. Therefore the Church, including its clergy, bears an enormous responsibility to help each succeeding generation of people accept this norm and model of faith and to make it the foundation of their lives.

A theological seminary is located in the monastery in which we are today celebrating this divine service and praying together. Therefore I have a special word for the seminarians, for those who will tomorrow become servants of the Church. I call on you always to remain faithful to that source of Divine wisdom that is revealed to us in our Orthodox faith. I simultaneously call upon you to be capable of communicating to the consciousness of modern people the meaning of the faith in clear, comprehensible, and convincing words, so that the faith not be perceived simply as a legacy from the past, as a part of national tradition and folklore – because faith is, in the first place, the foundational worldview of our lives. If our contemporaries are able to penetrate everything that the Divine word contains, and make it the foundation of their lives, then these lives will indeed become beautiful. Human success, development, and everything that modern civilization offers us can be transfigured, can indeed serve the fullness of human life. Today we pray to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, that he would enlighten us and help us to build a life full of meekness, spiritual strength, and humility on the immutable rock of the rule of faith. Amen.

Translated from Russian

Schools and Yoga

The practice of yoga in schools has become more and more popular throughout America and  a bigger issue for more and more Christians. The bottom line is that it’s seen as a religious practice. We are used to being told that there is no prayer in our schools but then we hear that our children are practicing deep breathing and stretching exercises common to yoga, which is a religion. If we want to get technical I’m not quite sure I’m all that opposed to the breathing exercises. I agree that children should be taught the importance of stopping and reflecting. Quiet time. We consider that to be wasted time on our schedules nowadays, when we have soooo many things to do. During our quiet times we spend on our androids, video games, etc. So it’s definitely a positive thing that children – and all of us – learn the importance of just stopping and breathing. What  I am opposed to, however,  is ignorance. They’re not breathing exercises. Call it what it is. It’s a religious practice, a variation of it used by Hindus, Buddhists, etc. That’s fine. But I’m Christian. Orthodox. Give the kids a prayer rope and teach them to recite the Jesus Prayer.      

H/T: Fox News (here)

Yoga programs in public schools face backlash

ENCINITAS, California –  Public school yoga instructor Katie Campbell proudly looks out at 23 first graders as they contain their squirming in a kid-friendly version of the lotus position.

In a voice barely above a whisper, she says into her microphone: “Why look at everyone showing me they’re ready for yoga. A-plus, plus, plus!”

Then the lesson begins with deep breathing and stretches common to many yoga classes. But there is no chanting of “om,” no words spoken in the Indian language of Sanskrit nor talk of “mindfulness” or clasping hands in the prayer position.

Campbell avoids those potential pitfalls for the Encinitas Union School District, which is facing the threat of a lawsuit as it launches what is believed to be the country’s most comprehensive yoga program for a public school system.

Parents opposed to the program say the classes will indoctrinate their children in Eastern religion and are not just for exercise.

It’s a debate public schools across the country are increasingly facing with the rising popularity of the practice and the recent dispute over school prayer.

Yoga is now taught at public schools from the rural mountains of West Virginia to the bustling streets of Brooklyn as a way to ease stress in today’s pressure-packed world where even kindergartners say they feel tense about keeping up with their busy schedules. But most classes are part of an after-school program, or are offered only at a few schools or by some teachers in a district.

Encinitas is believed to be the only public school system that will have yoga instructors teach full-time at its nine schools as part of an overall wellness curriculum that includes nutrition and a school garden program, among other things.

“This is 21st century P.E. (physical education) for our schools,” said Encinitas Superintendent Timothy B. Baird. “It’s physical. It’s strength-building. It increases flexibility but it also deals with stress reduction and focusing, which kickball doesn’t do.”

The program is expected to teach a 30-minute yoga lesson to roughly 5,000 students twice a week at the district’s schools, which run kindergarten through sixth grade. It is funded with a $533,000 grant from the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit whose board of directors includes the son of the late Indian instructor Krishna Pattabhi Jois, whose teachings are said to have popularized Ashtanga yoga in the Western world and were followed by Madonna and Sting.

The Jois Foundation’s program director Russell Case said Encinitas is building a national yoga model for public schools.

“Kids are under a lot of stress. There are a lot of mandates on them to perform. We think it would be extremely helpful to have 10 to 15 minutes possible to sit and be reflective instead of go, go, go,” he said.

Researchers at the University of Virginia and University of San Diego will study the program, including analyzing data on students’ resting heart rates.

They want to know if public schools can impact not only children’s learning, but instill in them good eating habits and skills to help their well-being.

The program started in several schools in September but will go district-wide in January after months of protests by a group of parents.

Mary Eady pulled her first-grade son out of the classes.

Eady said she observed a kindergarten class in which the children did the motions referred to in yoga practices as a sun salutation. The folded over children, stood upright, sweeping up their arms toward the sky.

She said while the teacher called it an “opening sequence” the connotation was the same in her mind: Students were learning to worship the sun, which went against her Christian beliefs that only God should be worshipped.

“It will change the way you think,” she said. “What they are teaching is inherently spiritual, it’s just inappropriate therefore in our public schools.”

Their attorney, Dean Broyles, says they are considering suing to halt the program.

Despite the long debate over prayer in school, constitutional law experts say the courts still have not clearly defined what constitutes religion.

“You might get litigation on a program like this because it’s not totally settled what the boundaries of religion are,” said New York University law professor Adam Samaha.

He points to the 1979 ruling by a federal court that blocked transcendental meditation classes from being taught in New Jersey public schools, deeming those particular lessons to be religious.

But the court did not go so far as to rule that meditation in general is and Samaha thinks courts would not deem yoga a religious practice. If they did, it would open the door to scrutinizing a host of activities.

“It’s practiced by enough people, who probably don’t believe they are engaging in a religious practice,” he said.

Still, Encinitas Assistant Superintendent David Miyashiro said administrators are not taking any risks.

“In light of all the attention, it’s not enough to remove things with cultural references but also anything that can be perceived by onlookers as a concern,” he said. “We think it’s important to keep this program in our schools and we’re going to do what we can to protect it.”

At Flora Vista Elementary School, those precautions were apparent.

“Spread out, we’re getting ready for some airplane,” Campbell said as the children laid on their mats face down and spread their arms, arching their back and then flopping back down. Later she said: “now push back to downward dog.”

At the end, the children sprawled on their backs to relax like a “pancake” as the lights went off. There were soft giggles. Some wiggled in the dark or fiddled with their socks.

“We’re like melting cheese,” Campbell reminded the students.

Principal Stephanie Casperson said fewer children now come to her office for acting out.

“I have teachers who say before a test now students do yoga to calm themselves so they’re transferring it into the classroom, into their lives,” she said.

During a recent fire drill, 6-year-old Sylvia Lawrence said she folded over into a yoga position under her desk.

“It made the fire drill more fun,” she said.

Maria Walsh, 11, said she was never into other sports.

“It’s just a fun way for me to exercise,” said the freckled, blond-haired girl with a big smile.