Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “Orthodoxy”

In the deep mid-winter

When do the seasons begin and end?

There seem to be various answers, depending on who you ask, and Aquila ka Hecate recently discussed this question on her blog, here.  I wanted to comment on it, but the new Blogger commenting system, which seems to be broken, would not allow me to do so, so I’ll quote the post in full and comment here.

A colleague at my (new! 3 months only!) place of work mentioned this week that there were only 12 weeks until Spring.

Being the new girl in the district, I hesitated to make a ‘thing’ of it – although I was tempted. You see, it’s one of my triggers : how we mark the seasons of the year. It irritates me that many people can’t see how beautifully simple it is.

We have 52 weeks in a solar year, with 4 seasons. That’s 13 weeks per season When each season starts appears to vary from person to person. Here in the southern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice is celebrated on or around June 21st. Now here comes the nub of the whole “season” matter: If you call this day “MidWinter”, you have just fixed a point around which you will have to configure all the other seasons.

I have no idea what’s so hard to understand about “mid” and “Winter” coming together in one word. It’s the mid-point of Winter, right? So in another 6 and a half weeks it will be the end of Winter, right? That’s around the first week in August, and I get to call it Imbolc.

Unfortunately for me, most Seffricans believe that Spring starts either at the beginning of September, or else on the Vernal Equinox, around 21st September. But how can that be? Unless you are counting Winter as starting either at the beginning of June or at the Solstice…which we’ve agreed to keep calling Mid-Winter, OK?

“Mid” does not mean “start”. It means the bloody middle, people. So, figuring from this fairly rock solid premise (and assuming 4 seasons of roughly equal length, unlike the Celts, who really only had Summer and Winter), the Vernal Equinox would be the middle of Spring, the Summer Solstice the middle of Summer (or MidSummer!) and the Autumnal Equinox on around March 21st would be the mid-point of Autumn. That leaves 4 points as ending/starting days for each of the seasons.

And as luck would have it, many Pagans already celebrate on these days – Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnassad and Samhain. The start of each season. So pardon me while I revere the very depth of Winter – when the apparent Sun reaches its lowest point in the heavens as seen from Earth – as MidWinter. That’s in just one week from today.

And Imbolc, the start of Spring, a scant 6.5 weeks later, in the first week of August. Makes frighteningly proper sense to me. More sense-making goodiness here.

My comment, if I had been allowed to make it, is this:

As a child, and until about the age of 15, I thought of the seasons in exactly the way that Aquila ka Hecate describes. Winter was May, June and July. It made logical sense for exactly the reason that Midwinter was just after the middle of June. To be strictly accurate, one should say that winter lasted from 7 May to 6 August, but the May-July reckoning was close enough.

Then when I was about 15 we had a geography lesson at school in which spring was defined as the period whe n the days were longer than the nights and getting longer, while winter was when the days were shorter than the nights and and gretting longer. So winter began in its middle.

So there was the scientific meaning of winter, and the popular meaning of winter, which didn’t quite coincide.

But there are lots of things where the scientific meaning of something and the popular meaning don’t coincide.

CreationIkon1Then, about 20 years ago, people started talking about the first day of September as “spring day”. Well, I think the media started it, and it sort of spread from there.

I’m not sure where that started, because the media must have got it from somewhere. But I accepted that because in the Orthodox Church the church year begins on 1 September, and it seemed quite appropriate that it should be on the first day of spring (though that doesn’t apply in the northern hemisphere). It is linked to the idea of the creation of the world, though I’m surprised that in the northern hemisphere they didn’t pick on February or March for that rather than September, which is the northern Autumn.

CreationIkon2In recent years there has also been a tendency for Orthodox Christians to observe the first few days of September as days to pray about and be concerned for the environment, which also seems appropriate for the beginning of Spring.

But if we are going to regard the First of September as the first day of Spring, then perhaps we should think of mid-winter as occurring on 15 July. That’s probably when it’s coldest, anyway.

But going back to my childhood, when I was 9, 10, 11 years old, June and July were the cold months, when we had chapped hands and legs at school. August was the windy month, the kite-flying season, and we could expect the wind to blow up the first rains.

I used to sit in class looking out of the window and watch the cumulus clouds sailing from north-west to south-east, and grow taller as they moved. I used to daydream about jumping around and sliding down the slopes of the clouds. The teachers thought that that was a Bad Thing, and mentioned it in school reports as Day-Dreaming in Class (DDIC). Nowadays they call it ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and they use drugs to try to suppress it.

Anyway, the clouds would build up on the south-eastern horizon and then come back, towering cumulo-nimbus clouds, and at 4 pm they would drop their load, as rain or hail, with thunder and lightning. From August onwards you could almost set your watch by it, and it was called the civil service rain, because it always seemed to fall when civil servants were leaving work at 4 pm, and stopped by 4:30.

Climate change has changed all that, of course. Now they say “Rain in September, drought in December” and everyone looks for the first rains to begin in October. So perhaps the popular seasons are moving closer to the scientific ones.







Belarus: Zimbabwe in Europe or socialist paradise?

I’ve just read two contradictory accounts of Belarus in blogs that I read. I’ve never been to Belarus, so have no firsthand experience of the place.

Neil Clark: Letter from Minsk: Belarus- a country unspoilt by capitalism:

This is a capital city where the streets are safe and clean, where ordinary people can still afford to buy medicine and basic foodstuffs and where the unemployment rate is less than 1 per cent. It’s the side of Belarus you won’t read much about.

And then there is this:

Clarissa’s Blog: American Writers and Actors Helping Belarus:

As if that weren’t enough suffering, since 1994 Belarus has been ruled by a fascist dictator Alexander Lukashenko. He has been condemned by the EU for horrible human rights violations on a variety of occasions and has been made notorious by his anti-semitic statements. Lukashenko can afford not to care about that, though, since his regime is supported by Russia. Russia isn’t interested in being surrounded by strong nation-states and has been punishing its neighbors for daring to seek independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

And then in Russia last year renowned TV anchor Vladimir Pozner declared that that Orthodoxy is a reason for economic failures and the low living standards of Russians. Partiarch Kirill disagrees: Interfax-Religion:

‘Today our life is worse not because we are Orthodox, but because we ruined our country and spiritual foundation of our life two times during one century. Protestant countries live better not because they are Protestant, but because these countries have not been at war, they developed their economy staying in rather favorable conditions,’ the Patriarch summed up and wished so that God ‘gives us reason to save our political, social stability and develop ourselves both spiritually and economically.’

My own observation is that in the early 1990s Russia was overrun by snake oil salesmen from the West, evangelising for the Western religion of the free market system, which had become the established church in the USA and UK under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. A lot of Russians bought this lie, and the new god didn’t live up to the claims made for it.

Perhaps Belarus didn’t buy into that to quite the same extent. but it also seems to have retained an authoritarian government.

In the 1990s both Russia and South Africa moved away from authoritarian government, and this was accompanied by a huge increase in the crime rate. A Russian geologist living in Johannesburg at the time told me, when I was about to visit Moscow, that the crime was far worse in Moscow than in Johannesburg. But it makes me wonder: is the Mafia the necessary price we have to pay for freedom? In Russia the Mafia operated in the private sector. In Zimbabwe for the last 20 years it has been the government. I can’t make up my mind about Belarus.

And whatever the case may be, it seems to be a highly disingenuous effort of misdirection to try to blame it on Orthodoxy.

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

The Pope in Gauteng

Yesterday I had to take my son Simon to work in Johannesburg, and went to St Thomas’s Church in Sunninghill where the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa was paying a visit. After a service in the church, the Patriarch had lunch with some of the parishioners.

One of the contrasts between Orthodoxy in America and Orthodoxy in South Africa is that in South Africa there is not the same ecclesiastical apartheid that one finds in America. St Thomas’s is largely a Serbian parish. The parishioners are, for the most part, Serbian immigrants and their descendants, and they use the Serbian language in their services. But the Antimension on the Altar is signed by His Beatitude Theodoros, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa. People of all races and ethnic groups are welcome at St Thomas’s, and one of the gifts presented to the Pope by Archimandrite Pantelejon was a picture drawn by his 7-year-old niece in Serbia, showing her uncle baptising black children in Johannesburg. Some of those who regularly attend St Thomas’s are black South Africans from Klipfontein View, who used to belong to Tembisa, but find it easier to get to St Thomas’s.

The picture shows Pope Theodoros II with Archimandrite Pantelejmon, the Rector of St Thomas’s Church.

The Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria, Metropolitan Seraphim, says that we should not refer to the “Greek Orthodox Church”, but rather “The Orthodox Church of South Africa”, or the “African Orthodox Church” because though there are Greek, Russian and Serbian parishes in the archdiocese, which maintain ethnic traditions and have services in those languages, the Orthodox Church is one church. So while the Patriarch visited St Thomas’s, he was shown a classroom attached to the church hall, which is a Serbian School, and children are taught the Serbian language and history, and he approved of it. But in spite of the variety of ethnic groups and traditions, we are still one Orthodox Church, under one bishop and one Pope and Patriarch, and nobody asks the question, so common among Americans “What juridiction are you?” In South Africa, thank God, that question is meaningless.

Every year a different bishop from Serbia visits St Thomas’s for their patronal feast in October, but the visiting bishops are always given a formal reception by Metropolitan Seraphim at the Metropolis as well, and Metropolitan Seraphim makes a point of atending at least part of the celebrations of the patronal feast (panigyri).

Among the guests at lunch yesterday were Father Daniel, the new priest of the Church of St Sergius of Radonezh in Midrand, and Fr Seraphim (in the world Matthew van Niekerk), the first South African to be tonsured as a monk in South Africa, who is at the moment caring for the Greek parish in Klerksdorp.

Fimi of the Patriarch of Alexandria: Tone 4

His Beatitude Theodoros
Most Divine and Most Holy
Our Father and Shepherd, Pope and Patriarch
Of the Great City of Alexandria
Of Libya, Pentapolis and Ethiopia
Of all the land of Egypt and All Africa
Father of fathers, Shepherd of shepherds
Bishop of bishops, thirteenth in line of the Apostles
And Judge of the Universe, Many Years!

Haiti: earthquakes, democracy and imperialism

The media and the blogosphere have been buzzing with reports of some American politico saying that Haitians deserved to die in an earthquake because there was a rumour that some of their ancestors may possibly have made a pact with the devil. But it seems that the ancestors of the US population are just as open to the accusation.

Morehead’s Musings: Interview at Sacred Tribes Journal: Miguel De La Torre on Haiti, It’s People and Religion:

We need to be aware that America from very early on never really wanted to see Haiti succeed. When the Haitian slaves overthrew their slave owner masters, this was really the first democracy in the Caribbean that was established. The democracy in the United States was leery of having a Haitian democracy. People like Thomas Jefferson were very concerned that a nation of free black people, run by free black people might be a bad inspiration for his personal black slaves and those in the South. There has always been this desire to make sure the Haitian people did not succeed because if they were to succeed as a country then that would begin to undermine the mythology of white supremacy. This was active in the time of Jefferson, up to the Civil War, and after the Civil War. So there has always been this relationship with Haiti where we did not want to see it be successful.

Interesting stuff there, in John Morehead’s blog.

And US and Canadian opposition to Haitian democracy continues into the 21st century. As Fr Michael Graves, an Orthodox missionary in Haiti (since reposed in the Lord), wrote five years ago

Greetings from Haiti, where we experience FIRST-HAND the terrible results of the Feb. 2004 intervention and toppling of the Aristide government. The following is one of the best articles describing our situation. Since the majority of the public media all over this area appears to be controlled by the imperialist powers that be, I am circulating this article which tells the truth about our situation. Please circulate it far-and-wide if you are able.

And please pray for us because we are living under an evil and frightening regime.

God bless,

Father Michael in Haiti

Seven Oaks Magazine August 24, 2004

Blood on the hands: A survey of Canada’s role in Haiti

Roger Annis

Five hundred Canadian soldiers are returning from Haiti this month. Together with the armed forces of France and the United States, they took part in the violent overthrow of the elected government of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February/March of this year. Since then, occupying troops have provided backing for rightist gangs who will form the core of the police and government authority the occupying forces are cobbling together to replace the Aristide government.

Troops from the three countries began occupying Haiti on February 29, hours after the United Nations Security Council gave its blessing. Aristide was kidnapped by U.S. forces later that day and flown out of the country. He now lives in asylum.

The capitalist media in Canada presented the coup as a popular uprising against an unpopular regime. Since then, they have kept a discreet censure about conditions in Haiti under imperialist occupation. New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton spoke not a word about the ongoing tragedy in Haiti during the federal election campaign in May and June. Trade union leaders have also been silent.

The truth urgently needs to be told about Ottawa’s crime against the Haitian people.

A disaster for the Haitian people

Constitutional government in Haiti, won through many years of tenacious struggle, has been overthrown. Killings by rightist gangs were widespread leading up to the coup and they have continued during the occupation regime. Several thousand have died. The rightists target supporters of the Aristide government and anyone striving to improve social conditions in the country. Rightists convicted of crimes and human rights violations during previous regimes have been released from prison and are involved in the killings.

U.S. troops have taken part in the attacks on the Haitian people. An Associated Press reporter witnessed U.S. marines joining police in firing on a demonstration of tens of thousands of Haitians on May 18 in Port au Prince. A dozen people were killed and many more injured. Demonstrators were demanding the return of Aristide on the occasion of a holiday marking Haitian independence.

Following the coup, living conditions in Haiti have gone from bad to worse. Prices for basic foodstuffs have risen sharply, the minimum wage has been cut by the new governing authority, and civic services have declined. Flooding this past May on the east- ern part of the island devastated many villages and killed several thousand. In the countryside, drought conditions are devastating the livelihood of farmers and
threatening the vital food harvest. Precious little international aid is being delivered to meet emergency needs.

In a letter to the Toronto Star on July 30, a reader described her dismay with the head of the Canadian military in Haiti when he described the occupation as a “success.” The letter recounted a recent telephone conversation with a Canadian aid worker living in Cap Haitien, the second largest city in Haiti. “Things are so much worse than they were last October, prior to the revolt in February,” reported the worker.

“Supporters of Jean-Bertrand Aristide are still being hunted down by those who support a new regime. Food supplies are low, electricity is only on for one to three hours daily, garbage is piled up along the roads, as there has been no collection for many months now, and people everywhere are sick.”

Why imperialism opposed Aristide

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. Average annual income is a few hundred dollars. Average life expectancy is 49 years for men and 50 for women. An AIDS epidemic is ravaging the country. Forty-seven percent of the adult population is illiterate and unemployment is 60% to 70%. The country is burdened by a crushing debt to imperialist governments and lending agencies. Gross domestic product in Haiti has declined from US$4 billion in 1999 to $2.9 billion in 2003.

Aristide rose to prominence in the 1980s during the revolutionary movement that overthrew the Duvalier dictatorship in 1990. He was first elected president that year with the overwhelming support of Haiti’s working people on a platform of radical social reform. Nine months later he was overthrown by a military coup. He was elected again in May of 2000.

The masses in Haiti had big expectations in the governments headed by Aristide, and despite many disappointments with his performance, they continued to place enormous pressure on his government to stand up to the imperialists and improve their lot. Aristide established diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1996, and he welcomed hundreds of Cuban doctors and health workers to provide health care in remote parts of the country.

The post-2000 government built new schools and refused imperialist demands to privatize state-owned services such as electricity, telephones, and ports.

Aristide angered the French government in April 2003 when he demanded that it pay $21 billion in reparations to Haiti. France, the island’s former colonial power, had extorted millions of dol- lars in payments from Haitian governments during the 19th and 20th centuries as punishment for the successful anti-slave revolt that led to Haiti’s independence from France in 1804.

Aristide’s governments brought few improvements in living conditions for the masses. It implemented measures demanded by the imperialists, including lowering of tariffs that protected local food production, emptying of the national treasury in order to pay off international lending institutions, and privatizing some state-owned industries.

Nevertheless, the imperialist powers feared a revival of the mass movement that had toppled the Duvalier dictatorship, and they were not confident that Aristide would keep the island safe for continued exploitation.

Canadian imperialists in Haiti

The imperialist intervention in Haiti was a joint venture with rightist forces that launched an armed rebellion in early February. The rightists were armed and financed by wealthy Haitians and their backers in the U.S., France, Canada, and neighbouring Dominican Republic. They were few in number and weak in the capital city Port au Prince. But pro-government defense forces were poorly organized and armed, and were politically disoriented by the record of the Aristide government in bowing to imperialist dictates.

In January 2003, Canada’s foreign affairs department was one of the sponsors of an international conference in Ottawa that discussed and laid plans for the overthrow of Aristide’s government. Thirteen months later, according to a report on the French-language television news network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the elite service of the Canadian armed forces was among the imperialist troops that helped capture and secure the airport in Port au Prince in the early hours of February 29.

On July 6, Prime Minister Paul Martin announced that Canada would send 100 RCMP to replace the returning soldiers. Police and soldiers from the U.S., France, Chile, Brazil, and other countries will remain in Haiti, under UN Security Council approval. A press release from the Canadian government described the role of the occupation as being a form of assistance to “the transitional Haitian government in establishing a secure and stable environment, restoring law and order, and reforming the Haitian National Police.”

Canada’s troops provide security for the post-coup regime, and the killings continue. One of the tasks the occupation forces have set for themselves is to disarm the civilian population.

The Canadian government has convinced many at home and abroad that it is a friend of peace and democracy and that its armed forces abroad are “peacekeepers.” This is a lie. Indignation against the crimes of Washington in Iraq and elsewhere will ring hollow if not accompanied by equal indignation at Ottawa’s participation in the pillage and oppression of the semi-colonial world.

Those concerned with human rights, poverty and the oppression of the Third World peoples have a responsibility to speak out about the situation in Haiti. We should demand of the Canadian government that it withdraw police and military forces from that country and halt any form of assistance to the post-coup authority. Working-class and progressive organizations in Canada need to support the people of Haiti in opposing the coup-imposed regime and fighting for the return of the democratically elected government.

Roger Annis is an editor of , where this article
originally appeared.

I am not sure that Fr Michael would have sympathised with all the “Marxist perspectives” in Socialist Voice. What is clear is that from his perspective, inside Haiti at the time of the 2004 coup, is that that article was telling the truth about what was happening in Haiti.

As the Kingston Trio sang 50 years ago:

They’re rioting in Africa
There’s strikes in Iran
What nature doesn’t do to us
Will be done by our fellow man.

For more background information see In Case You Missed It: A Pact With Which Devil?

Turkey seeks return of Santa Claus’ bones

“Christmas, with its spirit of giving, offers us all an opportunity to reflect on what we most deeply and sincerely believe in. I refer, of course, to money.”

So said the satirical song-writer Tom Lehrer, as a preface to his Christmas carol on how the feast is commonly celebrated nowadays. But I don’t think even Tom Lehrer could have imagined just how far the money-grubbing greed exhibited in the commercialisation of Christmas could go. I think this one takes the cake (hat-tip to Ad Orientem: Turkey hints at calling for repatriation of the relics of St. Nicholas). You can’t satirise and take the mickey by exaggeration any more, because no sooner do you do so than someone comes along whose behaviour in real life goes beyond the most exaggerated caricature you can think of.

BBC News – Turkey seeks return of Santa Claus’ bones:

A Turkish archaeologist has called on his government to demand that Italy return the bones of St Nicholas to their original resting place.

The 3rd Century saint – on whom Santa Claus was modelled – was buried in the modern-day town of Demre in Turkey.

But in the Middle Ages his bones were taken by Italian sailors and re-interred in the port of Bari.

The Turkish government said it was considering making a request to Rome for the return of the saint’s remains.

While Christmas is by and large not celebrated in Muslim Turkey, the Christmas figure of Santa Claus certainly is, in the Mediterranean town of his birth…

Even without the bones, the town of Demre has not been shy about cashing in on its most famous native son – today visitors to the Byzantine church there are greeted by a large, plastic Santa statue, complete with beard and red snow-suit.

It appears, however, that the church in question is in ruins, and its congregation long dispersed (hat-tip to RORATE CAELI).

France24 – Turkey wants the remains of old St Nick:

‘These bones should be exposed here and not in a town of pirates’ in Bari, said Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay, quoted in the newspaper Milliyet.

‘If we build a museum in this town (Demre), naturally the first thing we will ask for are the remains of Father Christmas’.

The minister gave no schedule for the museum construction, which would exhibit relics of ancient civilisations, but said that after a study by experts, Turkey would request that Italy return the remains of Saint Nicholas.

Someone should point out to the Minister that if the bones are returned, they should not be in a museum, but in a church where they can be venerated by the faithful. The Turkish government might not like that, howeever, because it would mean that the church should be rebuilt and a Christian community allowed to live and worship there. The bishop should not return unless his flock is also allowed to return. If it is not, it is cynical money-grubbing at its very worst, and an insult to Christians far worse than any Danish cartoons could have offered to Mohammed (pbuh) or any Swiss ban on the building of minarets.

So if the Turkish Minister of Culture doesn’t want to look like a cynical and greedy money-grubber, interested in nothing but tourist Euros, let him forget about his idea of a museum. Let him rather rebuild the church, and allow its congregation to worship there, so that they can welcome their bishop back home.

On making poverty history

Tales of the desert fathers, as told by ORTHODIXIE … Southern, Orthodox, Convert, Etc.:

A very rich man who lived in Alexandria prayed to God every day that the lives of the indigent be made easier. On hearing about this, Abba Makarios sent him a message: ‘I would like to own all your estate.’

The man was puzzled, and sent one of his servants to ask what [Abba Makarios] would do with all that wealth.

Abba Makarios said: ‘Tell your master that I would immediately answer his prayer.’

Communication without community

In a recent post Bishop Alan’s Blog: Why ordination? Why today? Bishop Alan quotes an author, Eugene H. Peterson as saying:

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shop-keepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shop-keepers’ concerns — how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shop-keeping; religious shop-keeping, to be sure, but shop-keeping all the same… “A walloping great congregation is fine, and fun,” says Martin Thornton, “but what most communities really need is a couple of saints. The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre.”

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them.

And one of Bishop Alan’s blogging friends, Simple Massing Priest, responded to this thus:

I’ve said before that statistics only tell you what they tell you and that’s all they tell you. Thus statistics about average Sunday attendance or giving by members do tell you something about the vitality of a congregation. But what they’re telling isn’t always clear. And even when it’s clear, it may not be important.

If only we could find some discrete statistical way to quantify the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a community and in the lives of individuals.

He goes on, however, in another post Simple Massing Priest: The Great Heresy(ies) to say:

Historically, Catholic Christianity has always seen the collective expression of the Body of Christ – that is to say the Church – as important. While never denying the importance of individual faith, individual devotion and individual piety, a Christian is properly a Christian because they are part of Christ’s Body, the Church. To treat Christian faith as being an entirely individual undertaking – as seems altogether too common in some circles – is manifestly heretical. The Ethiopian eunuch came to believe as an individual, but it was baptism by Philip which grafted him into the Church. The lot fell on Matthias as an individual, but his Apostolic authority came from being ‘added to the eleven Apostles.’

Now, I agree that there is, as always, a polar opposite heresy – the heresy that would emphasize the collective to the exclusion, diminution and discarding of the individual. That heresy might take many forms, but it would certainly be a heresy.

Individualism and collectivism are both Western heresies, or perhaps I should say heresies of Western modernity. And they are both related to (and are perhaps the root of) the obsession with counting, and the idea that if things are not numerically quantifiable, they aren’t worth bothering with. Things must be “measurable”, and this is often used as a kind of label of approval. “Measurable” is an epithet tagged on to things to make us think that they must be good.

The Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras has a different take on it

In everyday speech we tend to distort the meaning of the word ‘person’. What we call ‘person’ or ‘personal’ designates rather more the individual. We have grown accustomed to regarding the terms ‘person’ and ‘individual’ as virtually synonymous, and we use the two indifferently to express the same thing. From one point of view, however, ‘person’ and ‘individual’ are opposite in meaning. The individual is the
denial or neglect of the distinctiveness of the person, the attempt to define human existence using the objective properties of man’s common nature, and quantitative
comparisons and analogies. Chiefly in the field of sociology and politics the human being is frequently identified with the idea of numerical individuality. Sometimes this rationalistic process of leveling out is considered progress, since it helps
to make the organization of society more efficient.

One manifestation of this, especially in America, is the failure to understand objections to attempts to expunge the inclusive use of the word “man” from our vocabulary. Some people insist that “man” must refer exclusively to males, and ought not, indeed cannot, include females.

They would demand that the word “man” be removed from a phrase like “reconciliation between God and man, and man and man” and replaced with some impersonal abstract collective term like “humanity”, and fail to see that this changes the meaning, and the reason they fail to see this is because they cannot see the distinction between individuals and persons.

In part this is because a a deficiency in the English language. Other languages have different terms for a person of either sex and a male person. Greek has anthropos and aner, Latin has homo and vir, Zulu has umuntu and indoda, but English has to make do with “man” and “man”. Zulu even has a saying umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu — “a person is a person because of people”. But because Western modernity prefers to see things that are quantifiable and countable, the idea that persons need communities in order to be persons at all seems quite alien. The Orthodox anthropology that Yannaras describes is communitarian rather than aligned with Western individualism or collectivism — and I’ve discussed the economic ramifications of that in another post.

However, another blogging friend, Dion’s random ramblings, writes about using social media:

Build a wide range of relationships. This is where twitter and facebook come in. The intention of these relationships is the create opportunities to interact around common interests and concerns, and particularly to drive traffic to my content! I cannot emphasize this last point strongly enough!

As should be apparent from my previous post, I have grave reservations about simply “driving traffic” without being concerned with the quality of the traffic. For example, on Blog Catalog I have 8 friends. They are people I have interacted with, either face-to-face or online. There are many more who have said that they want to be my “friend”, but they haven’t bothered to read any of my blogs. What kind of idea of friendship is this?

As one writer put it, we live in an age of communication without community. People say that they want to be our “friends”, but they don’t want to talk to us, or exchange ideas. A person is a person because of people, but in individual is an individual in isolation from other people. Occasionally feral children have been found, children that were lost and brought up by animals, and they find it very difficult to interact with other people. They may be individuals, but they find it very difficult to become persons till they have faces, and some people don’t seem to want to have faces. Faces have been replaced by “avatars” and “personas”.

Glocal Christianity: Rapture Ready? Questioning the Celestial Panic Room

Glocal Christianity: Rapture Ready? Questioning the Celestial Panic Room:

For those of you not familiar with the jargon the rapture is not the same as the second coming of Jesus which we all look forward to. Instead the rapture is said to be a precursor to it sort of a factional coming between the first and second coming of Jesus from what I can gather which I suppose makes it the one and a halfth coming . It is said that to protect his people during the last days Jesus will come and snatch them away to keep them safe before he returns. It is a prominant feature of the premillenial dispensationalism to be found in books like Tim LaHay’s ‘Left Behind’.

Thanks to Matt Stone for posting that, and with it a warning — this post is an exercise in theological archaeology, so anyone who finds that sort of stuff boring should skip to the next one.

Also a disclaimer: the Orthodox Church regards chiliasm as a heresy. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines chiliasm thus:

CHILIASM (Gk. chilii ‘a thousand’). Another name for Millenarianism, the theory that Christ will return to earth and reign here for a thousand years before the final consummation of all things. The belief is based on an interpretation of Rev 20:1-5.

And under the entry for Millenarianism in the same source we learn that

…its advocates fall into two groups, pre- and post-millenialists. The former maintain that the Millennium will forllow the Second Coming of Christ, but are divided as to whether it will be spent by the saints in heaven or upon earth: the latter believe that it precedes the Advent and, indeed, prepares the way for it by the spread of righteousness over the earth, a view which, in its modern form, owes owes much to Daniel Whitby (1638-1726).

In the early Church, Millennarianism was found among the Gnostics and Montanists, but was also accepted by more orthodox writers such as St Justin Martyr, St Irenaeus, and St Hippolytus of Rome, all of whom were pre-millennialists. Millennarianism came, however, increasingly to stress the carnal plasures to be enjoyed during the thousand years of the saints’ earthly reign and eventually a revulsion against the whole concept set in, initiated by Origen and completed by St Augustine. For the next thousand years millenarian expectations were rarely met with, except among the Joachimates and other sectarians of the 13th cent.

The article goes on to describe how the doctrine was revived by the Anabaptists and Pietists in Germany, and in the English-speaking world by the Irvingites, Plymouth Brethren and the Adventists.

It was the Plymouth Brethren who added to it the refinement of Dispensationalism — the belief that history was divided into periods called “dispensations”, and that the Bible can similarly be divided into sections that are only relevant to certain of these periods. Dispensationalism was propagated by the Scofield Reference Bible, through which it spread far beyond the Plymouth Brethren to other branches of Protestantism, especially in the English-speaking world.

The terminology of dispensationalism may be familiar to those whose theology has been shaped by the Scofield Reference Bible, but is quite likely to be puzzling to anyone else, and this includes the term “rapture” itself.

I first heard of “rapture” in the dispensationalists’ sense of the word on a radio programme called “The world tomorrow” by Herbert W. Armstrong. A friend of mine insisted that I listen to the programme, and Herbert W. Armstrong went on and on about “rapture”, but did not say what he meant by it. I gathered that he was against it, and took it to mean that he thought that Christians ought to be miserable, and should exclude all joy from their lives.

My understanding of “rapture” was shaped by English poets who associated it with birdsong:

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture (Browning)

or Shelley’s Ode to a skylark

Teach us, Sprite or Bird,
What sweet thoughts are thine:
I have never heard
Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.

I’d read the Bible a couple of times, but had never encountered the term “rapture” in the sense used by Herbert W. Armstrong.

My ignorance persisted for several years, until I picked up a pamphlet attacking dispensationalism, when some of the terminology became clear.

“Rapture”, it appeared, was based on an an interpretation of Matthew 24:40-41, and to the dispensationalists it meant being literally carried away bodily, and not being metaphorically carried away by joy.

That discovery led me to ponder something else. At my Methodist school we had sung a hymn, which I quite liked, one verse of which was:

Great things he hath taught us, great things he hath done
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son
But purer and higher and greater will be
Our wonder, our rapture, when Jesus we see.

I had always understood that as a similar kind of rapture to that attributed by the poets to the thrush and the skylark.

But having discovered what dispensationalism was I began to have second thoughts, and this is where we get into theological archaeology, deconstruction and textual criticism.

In the Methodist Hymnbook that hymn (No 313) was listed as written by W.H. Doane and Frances Jane van Alstyne. But there were other hymn collections where it was shown as written by Fanny J. Crosby. Well, that could be explained by one being her married name and the other being her maiden name, and nowadays Google makes it easy to check on such things.

But there were other differences too. In some of the Fanny J. Crosby versions the last line was changed to

Our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.

So which was the original, and who changed it, and why?

Could it have been changed by someone who objected to dispensationalism, or by someone who favoured dispensationalism? Now that I knew about dispensationalism, the word became loaded with ideological implications. I still favoured the poets’ ornithological sense, but what if it meant something else?

“Transport of delight” is a metaphor that means exactly the same as “rapture” in the poetical sense, and is also used as a pun on the literal meaning of “transport” (see here, for example), though speakers of American English might know that better as transportation. For speakers of other than American English, however, “transportation” is anything but delightful, being associated with penal servitude.

But without “of delight” transport suggests the literal meaning even more strongly.

So that little question of the substitution of a word bothers me. Can anyone tell me the answer?

I don’t suppose it bothers dispensationalists though (unless it was a dispensationalist who made the change in the wording of the hymn). Dispensationalists are far more worried about being rapture ready, but that doesn’t bother me at all.

For Orthodox Christians there is a somewhat different concern, which we focus on at the beginning of Holy Week. Here’s the Troparion for Bridegroom Matins:

Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed be the servant whom He shall find watching: and again, unworthy is the servant whom he shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself crying: Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O our God. Through the blessed Theotokos, have mercy on us.

You don’t have to be a dispensationalist or any other kind of chiliast for that.

And for those who are worried about not being able to find “troparion” in the Bible, you won’t find “rapture” in the Bible either, just like Herbert W. Armstrong said. But here’s a hint.

Gossiping the gospel, AIC mission to the West, Baptists in boots

Notes from a Common-place Book: On Pork-pie Hats, Nigerian Evangelists and Baptists in Boots – an interesting post on a variety of topics. A chance encounter while buying Sunday newspapers after church leads to “gossiping the gospel”:

As I walked out, only one of the young people was still hanging about, a man/boy wearing a yellow pork-pie hat. We spoke in passing, the typical “how’s it going,” and I walked on towards my truck. He called out to me as I passed, saying “so you didn’t go to church today, either?” I stopped and turned around, because I understood what he meant, and took it as a high compliment. I was in faded jeans, although my shirt was tucked-in, which is not always the case. I gather that he assumed that I had not done the “Easter-thing” because I was not suited-up.

And on reading the papers he finds a couple of articles on what missiologists are pleased to call “contextualisation” — an African independent church evangelising the West, and cowboy churches in Texas. The last reminds me of a song sung many years ago by Liberace, the King of Kitsch, about a Rhinestone cowboy.

I found it well worth a read, so go over to Notes from a Common-place Book: On Pork-pie Hats, Nigerian Evangelists and Baptists in Boots and read the full story.

See also Neopentecostalism in Africa, and abroad: Khanya for more on the African independent churches aspect of it.

Post Navigation