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Archive for the category “Orthodoxy”

Christmas and XMas

A useful reminder.

Again and Again

XMasHAPPY XMAS – X is the abbreviation of the name Christ and has been in use since early Christian times. Many people nowadays are mistakenly of the opinion that the use of “Xmas” is a recent invention or a secular attempt to remove the religious tradition from Christmas by taking the “Christ” out of “Christmas. The practice of using contractions for divine or sacred names (nomina sacrum) started sometime in the 1st Century AD although the exact date remains unknown.

‘X’ is an ancient abbreviation for the word ‘Christ’ which comes to us from ancient Greek and is written in the Greek alphabet ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (cristos) The first two letters are called Chi and Rho and were used to form one of the earliest Christograms, which is a monogram or combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ. Known as the Chi-Rho it is traditionally used…

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Happy Spring Day! Happy New Year!

Today, we are told, is officially the start of Spring, and it is also New Year’s Day — welcome to the year 7519 (I think).

Of course to those on the old calendar, the new year won’t begin for another 13 days (14 September Gregorian), and for those who paid attention in geography lessons at school spring won’t begin until the equinox on 21 September, or thereabouts.

But according to our mulberry trea, it’s already been spring for a couple of weeks. It seems to sprout its new leaves on about 19/20 August every year. And that’s just about when the jacarandas finish losing their leaves — they always seem to be the last.

It’s been a warm winter. It was cold for a couple of weeks during the world cup, but it’s felt like spring for well over a month now.

Twenty-one years ago the Patriarch of Constantinople, Dimitrios, urged Orthodox Christians to make 1 September a day of prayer for God’s creation and for the environment. You can read his message here. His successor as Patriarch, Bartholomew, has continued to encourage the practice, and as a result has been named the first among the top 15 “green” religious leaders. The day has since been adopted by other Christian bodies as well, and the first day of spring seems like an appropriate time for it.

Wednesday 1st September 2010

* Tone 5 – Week after PENTECOST 14


  • St Simeon Stylites (the Elder) (459)
  • St Martha mother of St Simeon Stylites (the elder) (c 428)
  • Martyr Aithalas the Persian (380)
  • Holy Forty Women Martyrs and Martyr Ammon the Deacon their teacher, at Heraclea (4th)
  • Righteous Joshua the Son of Nun (16th BC)
  • St Fiacre, Hermit of Meaux (670)
  • St Giles the Greek, Hermit and Abbot (8th)
  • St Drithelm of Melrose, Monk (c 700)

Revised Julian (New Style) Calendar

Are Roman Catholics and Orthodox about to unite?

There has been quite a lot of talk in the blogosphere about an imminent reunion between Orthodox and Roman Catholics. Father Milovan writes about it in “The Arrogant Papal Brow” | Again and Again. The Roman Pope has visited several Orthodox countries recently, and there has also been a proliferation of Byzantine-style ikons in Roman Catholic churches, as this Orthodox writer notes OCA – Q & A – Orthodox Influences on Roman Catholicism:

Of course, it is difficult to objectively detail influences Orthodoxy has had on Roman Catholicism. Very often an individual or a small group of individuals may have contact with Orthodoxy, digest certain things which they discovered, and incorporated them into the life and thought of their communion, generally without the knowledge of the Orthodox. Last May I encountered a Roman Catholic priest from France who operates a school for young adults interested in missionary and evangelistic outreach. He gave me a copy of the school’s magazine, which sported photographs of the school’s chapel, the interior of which was completely frescoed in Byzantine iconography. Other pictures revealed another small chapel filled with icons, as well as the priest himself in Orthodox vestments celebrating the Eucharist. Odd as all of this might be — imagine how one would react to find an Orthodox church in which the Sacred Heart statue was prominently displayed! — it does show that, in many ways great and small, Orthodoxy has had some influence, even if it is only external.

The last point, about the Sacred Heart, indicates, however, that there is still a very long way to go. Why is it that, as an Orthodox Christian, I find this Byzantinised image of the Sacred Heart (found at Clerical Whispers: Prayer To The Sacred Heart) quite shocking, and almost a desecration?

I don’t mind if Roman Catholics use Byzantine ikons, but this image strikes me as abuse rather than use. It indicates that the gulf is much wider than we think.

Unity is a lot more than Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops visiting and being polite to each other. I’m all in favour of them doing that, and even doing the same thing with Anglican and Zionist bishops, but it doesn’t mean that reunion is imminent.

Some think that it is only a few minor theological issues that can be sorted out quickly. But it’s not just papal primacy and the Filioque that keep us apart, but a millennium of history. We differ in soteriology (Anselm’s theory of the atonement, which swept the west, never got much traction in Orthodoxy), ecclesiology (the Orthodox temple versus the Roman monolith and the Protestant heap of stones) and missiology (Roman missiologists believe that Orthodox missiology is derived from Origen).

All these have led to a different culture and ethos, and this is just as much theology as the kind of theology that is written in books. And so before there can be any reunion, these things must be faced and examined.

So if Roman Catholics want to have images of the Sacred Heart, I think it would be better if they stuck to ones like the one on the left.

Unlike some writers, I don’t think a hasty marriage is imminent. We are far closer to the Oriental Churches, like the Copts and Armenians, than we are to the Roman Catholics, and I don’t see reunion happening there very quickly. I’ll believe it when I see an agreement that the next Pope of Alexandria to die will not be replaced, but that the other one will simply move in to succeed him and that thereafter there will just be one. But I see no sign of that happening yet.


Some other posts that point to differences that need to be examined and sorted out before we can say that the time is ripe for reunion:

The past as it was: rare color photos of Czarist Russia

Most of us have, or at least have seen, photos taken about 100 years ago: ourgrandparents and great grandparents in stiff poses, the women wearing enormous Edwardian hats, the children looking like miniature adults. The photos are black and white or sepia, and it is hard to imagine that our ancestors lived in a colourful world.

Hat tip to Ad Orientem: Rare Color Photographs of Czarist Russia:

The Library of Congress has a display of photographs taken by the royal photographer of Czar St. Nicholas II online. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was given special funding and transportation by the Czar, including a private train, with the commission to create a photographic record of his vast empire.

But when we see them in colour, kids look like real kids:

Back in those days colour photographs were taken only by professionals, and were expensive. They were only used rarely, for book illustrations and things like that, because of the cost. A special camera was used, which took three negatives either simultaneously or in quick succession, through red, green and blue filters. These could then be projected on a screen through filters (rather like early video projectors, which had separate red, green and blue lenses), but were usually used for making colour plates for books.

It was only after the First World War that colour film became available for amateur use. At first there were many different processes. Some were additive (red+green+blue), like Dufaycolor (one can see a lot of them in 1930s National Geographic magazines). These had the filters built into the film — OK for large format negatives, but the pattern of the filters was intrusive in 35mm film, rather like an enlarged 0.5 megapixel photo today. So subtractive processes, like Kodachrome and Kodacolor, were developed in the 1930s and 1940s, where the silver in the image was replaced by coloured dyes in the development process. The problem with this is that dyes fade, so a lot of old colour negatives and slides have faded and lost much of their original colour.

But Prokudin-Gorskii used a camera that made colour-separations with three negatives, using silver, not dyes, and, by using digital techniques, the colour is as fresh as the day the pictures were taken. And so we can see Edwardian (well, actually Nikolaivian) pictures showing what the people really looked like a century ago.

It’s a fascinating collection, and you can see more here.

Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee

Saturday 7 February 2009 is visitors night at St Nicholas of Japan Orthodox Church in Brixton, Johannesburg. Here are some notes to help visitors know what is happening.

Vespers begins at 6:30 pm on Saturday, but is actually the first service of Sunday, so the themes of the hymns belong to the Sunday.

Sunday 8th February 2009

  • (Beginning of the Lent Triodion)
  • Sunday of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia
  • Afterfeast of the Meeting of Christ in the Temple

Tone 1 – this refers to the Octoechos, eight sets of melodies for hymns which are used in succession, so that after eight weeks we begin again at Tone 1. These are called the Resurrectional Tones, because every Sunday is a commemoration of Christ’s resurrection. A hymn from the Octoechos, called a Troparion or Apolytikion, is repeated at every service. The Troparion of Tone 1 is:

When the stone had been sealed by the Jews;
While the soldiers were guarding Thy most pure Body
Thou didst rise on the third day, O Saviour,
Granting life to the world.
The powers of heaven therefore cried to Thee, O Giver of Life:
Glory to Thy Resurrection, O Christ!
Glory to Thy Kingdom!
Glory to Thy dispensation, O Thou who lovest mankind.

This Sunday marks a transition – the feast of the meeting of Christ in the Temple (Feb 2nd), forty days after his birth, looks back to Christmas. The Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee looks forward to Great Lent, which begins with Vespers on Sunday 1 March, which is known as the Vespers of Forgiveness, where all members of the congregation ask and offer forgiveness to each other.

You will notice that the prayer of the Publican, Lord have mercy, is very prominent in public Orthodox worship. In private prayer it is often expanded into what is sometimes called the “Jesus Prayer”: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

The hymns of Vespers therefore follow these themes: First, the resurrection (which we remember every Sunday); Second, the Publican and Pharisee; Third, the Meeting of Christ in the Temple. Some of the saints of the day may also be commemorated:

  • Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates (“the General”), of Heraclea (319)
  • Prophet Zechariah (c 520BC)
  • St Sava (Sabbas) II, Archbishop of Serbia (1268-1269)
  • St Kegwe, Monmouthshire (6th)
  • St Oncho (Clonmore 600)
  • St Cuthman of Steyning, Hermit (8th)
  • St Elfleda, Abbess of Whitby (714)
  • Martyr Conitus of Alexandria (249)
  • SS. John and Basil of the Kiev Caves

From the Revised Julian (New Style) Calendar

OCA – Lives of all saints commemorated on this day: “Afterfeast of the Meeting of our Lord in the Temple

The sixth day of the Afterfeast of the Meeting of the Lord falls on February 8. The hymns of the day speak of Christ fulfilling the Law by being brought to the Temple, and of how the Theotokos ‘reveals to the world its Creator, and the Giver of the Law.'”

OCA – Lives of all saints commemorated on this day: “Greatmartyr Theodore Stratelates ‘the General’

The Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates came from the city of Euchaita in Asia Minor. He was endowed with many talents, and was handsome in appearance. For his charity God enlightened him with the knowledge of Christian truth. The bravery of the saintly soldier was revealed after he, with the help of God, killed a giant serpent living on a precipice in the outskirts of Euchaita. The serpent had devoured many people and animals, terrorizing the countryside. St Theodore armed himself with a sword and vanquished it, glorifying the name of Christ among the people”

The structure of Vespers

The core of Vespers goes back to the Old Testament: “When Aaron sets up the lamps in the evening, he shall burn it, a perpetual incense before the Lord from generation to generation” (Exodus 30:8).

So at the heart of Vespers are lights and incense. There is a procession of priests, deacons and other ministers with lighted lamps and incense, which comes from the north door of the sanctuary, and goes to the holy (central) door, and the altar and its lamps are censed by a deacon, while the congregation sings the hymn:

O gladsome light of the holy glory of the immortal Father: heavenly holy blessed Jesus Christ!
Now that we have come to the setting of the sun, and beheld the light of evening, we praise the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For meet it is at all times to praise Thee, Son of God and Giver of Life
Therefore all the world doth glorify Thee.

Then is sung:

The Lord is King! He is robed in majesty
For he has established the world so that it should never be moved!
Holiness befits Thy house, O Lord, for evermore!
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Followed by intercessions and led by a deacon, after which it is sung again, interspersed with hymns (Aposticha) on the themes of the day.

You can find more information on Vespers here:

If you don’t have time to read them all, at least try to read the first one.

Clash of civilizations redux

A new book on the role of the Orthodox Church in the new Russia seems to confirm Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis.

Garrard, J. and Garrard, C.: Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent: Faith and Power in the New Russia.:

In the new Russia, the former KGB who run the country–Vladimir Putin among them–proclaim the cross, not the hammer and sickle. Meanwhile, a majority of Russians now embrace the Orthodox faith with unprecedented fervor. The Garrards trace how Aleksy orchestrated this transformation, positioning his church to inherit power once held by the Communist Party and to become the dominant ethos of the military and government. They show how the revived church under Aleksy prevented mass violence during the post-Soviet turmoil, and how Aleksy astutely linked the church with the army and melded Russian patriotism and faith.

Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent argues that the West must come to grips with this complex and contradictory resurgence of the Orthodox faith, because it is the hidden force behind Russia’s domestic and foreign policies today.

Thus far, however, all the glowing comments and reviews seem to be from Western scholars. It would be interesting to see what Orthodox scholars have to say about it.

Hat tip to Eastern Orthodox Librarian.

God’s politics – synchroblog

The theme of this month’s Synchroblog is “The politics of God”. A bit awkward, that. I could write quite a bit about God and human politics, but the subject seems quite clearly limited to God’s politics.

It would be easy to think that God’s politics must be monarchist. After all, the synoptic gospels have a great deal to say about the “Kingdom” of God, in which God is the king.

In church services we have the same thing. At the beginning of the Divine Liturgy the priest announces “Blessed be the kingdom of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

In baptism we are asked if we believe in Jesus Christ as king and God.

So the evidence is pretty strong: God’s politics are monarchist.

St Matthew’s Gospel has a variation. He talks about the “Kingdom of Heaven” rather than the “Kingdom of God”, but the effect is much the same, though. Heaven, we are told, was a euphemism for “God” in the first century.

And concerning that, St Paul urges the Philippians not to set their hearts on earthly things, but says that “our politics is in heaven” (Philippians 4:20). Actually the word he uses, politevma, is translated in many varying ways — “commonwealth”, “citizenship” and even (KJV) “conversation”. I can’t help thinking that “conversation” must have meant something very different in Jacobean English to what it means today. But whatever it meant back then, I understand it today to mean that our politics should be God’s politics.

And to the Colossians he says (Colossians 3:1-4)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Whatever else that means, it means we should not take earthly politics too seriously. Christians can never say, “My country, right or wrong”, because our country is heaven, and our citizenship is primarily in the Kingdom of Heaven and not in any earthly republic or monarchy or dictatorship. Our politics is in heaven, and so we cannot take earthly political parties and movements too seriously.

And the Kingdom of heaven is not like earthly kingdoms and republics and dictatorships. As Jesus told his disciples, it would be difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:26) and he went on to say

You know that those who are supposed to rule over the nations lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be the slave of all (Mark 10:42-43)

So Jesus represents a kingdom that is radically different from the kingdoms of this world, from the rulers of the nations. And this radical difference is shown by St Paul in I Cor 15:24, when Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father, having put down all rule, all authority, all power. What kind of kingdom is without rule (arche), without authority (exousia), without power (dynamis)?

An anarchic kingdom, that’s what.

The Kingdom of God is without rule (an-archy), without authority, without power.

That is the politics of God, and that is our politics as Christians; we are citizens of an anarchic kingdom, a royal anarchy.


This post is part of a synchroblog, in which a number of bloggers blog on the same general theme on about the same day. The theme of this synchroblog is “God’s politics”, and other synchrobloggers blogging on this theme are listed below. Please visit their blogs to to see what others have to say on the topic

Phil Wyman at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Lainie Petersen at Headspace
Jonathan Brink enters The Political Fray
Adam Gonnerman explains The Living Christ’s Present Reign
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian
Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes
Steve Hayes on God’s Politics
Matthew Stone at Matt Stone Journeys in Between
Steve Hollinghurst at On Earth as in Heaven
KW Leslie tells us about God’s Politics
Julie Clawson at One Hand Clapping
Dan Stone at The Tense Before
Alan Knox asks Is God Red, Blue, or Purple?
Beth Patterson at The Virtual Teahouse
Erin Word at Decompressing Faith

Antioch Abouna: True Hope

People often assume that all Christians understand the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in much the same way. This is true if you only take Roman Catholic and Protestant views into account.

Antioch Abouna: True Hope: “what is this fundamental commonality between most non-Orthodox traditions and where does Orthodoxy differ? With Pascha (Easter) approaching in the Orthodox Church it is crucial that we acquaint ourselves with these issues because they touch upon the whole meaning of the gospel, its preaching and celebration.”

Call for Papers – Sergii Bulgakov Blog Conference, September 2008

At the Land of Unlikeness we could think of no better way to break into Bulgakov’s Sophia thesis than to join forces with the rest of you and throw a Sergei Bulgakov Blog Conference to be held in September later this year. The details are still sketchy, but we already have a few participants and many others are pondering. More participation is welcome, both in the form of a 1500 word contribution or in the form of a response to a post. Please send your contribution ideas to The Land of Unlikeness.

This looks as though it might be similar to a synchroblog, and on an interesting topic.

Call for Papers – Sergii Bulgakov Blog Conference, September 2008 – Updated at The Land of Unlikeness:

In his aptly titled essay, “On the Holy Grail,” Sergei Bulgakov meditates on the meaning of the verse in John where Christ’s side is pierced with a spear and “blood and water flow out.” Bulgakov’s thesis is straightforward: It is not the legendary grail of Western mythos that is interesting or vital, but rather the fact that when Jesus spills his blood upon the earth, the earth is charged and changed and maintains the seeds of its own transfiguration even when Christ dies, descends, and ascends to heaven. Clearly, the church has always maintained that Christ is present in the Eucharist and in the Spirit which he bequeaths, but Bulgakov thinks that the fact that this presence resides also in the earth itself, which is the holy grail, needs to be thought about much more seriously.

Frank Schaeffer: Obama’s Minister Committed "Treason" But When My Father Said the Same Thing He Was a Republican Hero – Politics on The Huffington Pos

US presidential hopeful Barack Obama has been attacked because the minister of his church criticised the US government and society, as if it was some heinous crime. Here Frank Schaeffer, the son of prominent US evangelical teacher Francis Schaeffer, points out the illogicality and inconsistency of such accusations.

Frank Schaeffer: Obama’s Minister Committed “Treason” But When My Father Said the Same Thing He Was a Republican Hero – Politics on The Huffington Post:

When Senator Obama’s preacher thundered about racism and injustice Obama suffered smear-by-association. But when my late father — Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer — denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.

Every Sunday thousands of right wing white preachers (following in my father’s footsteps) rail against America’s sins from tens of thousands of pulpits. They tell us that America is complicit in the ‘murder of the unborn,’ has become ‘Sodom’ by coddling gays, and that our public schools are sinful places full of evolutionists and sex educators hell-bent on corrupting children. They say, as my dad often did, that we are, ‘under the judgment of God.’ They call America evil and warn of immanent destruction. By comparison Obama’s minister’s shouted ‘controversial’ comments were mild. All he said was that God should damn America for our racism and violence and that no one had ever used the N-word about Hillary Clinton.

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