Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Non-Gotchya on Mike Huckabee

Some in the press think that they have caught Mike Huckabee in a lie. He said he had a degree in theology, and it turns out he only had a degree in religion. Well, I have a degree in religion too... and that is a degree in theology. As a Protestant, I was an avid reader of American (Protestant) Church history... particularly the period of the 19th Century. When you read a lot of books from this period, one thing that strikes you is that Protestant terminology has evolved over time. For example, time was when if you spoke of a "professor of religion", you were not talking about a college instructor who taught world religious studies courses, but you were a professing Christian. A famous book from the 19th century by noted Christian evangelist Charles Finney, was entitled "Lectures on Revivals of Religion" -- and he was not speaking of revivals of just any religion, but was using the word "religion" as a synonym for "Christian Faith". Another phrase which you still hear occasionally is that someone has "got religion", which means they have made a commitment to Christ.

When I was attending Southern Nazarene University, I was a Religion Major in the Religion Department, and I received a B.A. in Religion. Not long after I graduated, they changed the name of that Department and it is now "The School of Theology and Ministry", and were I graduating today, I would be awarded a B.A. in Theology.

It has been my experience that telling people you have a degree in Religion only results in them coming to false conclusions about the nature of that degree, and so I have generally just told people that I have a degree in theology, because as a matter of fact, that is what I have, and that term is less prone to misinterpretation... which is why my Alma Mater changed the name of that degree. A rose by any other name is still a rose. A theological degree by any other name is still a theological degree.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Huckabee was right: Mormons do teach that Jesus Christ and Satan are brothers

New campaign debate: Is Satan Jesus' brother?
Mormon church weighs in on Huckabee suggestion


Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has prompted angry denunciations of religious bigotry by rival Mitt Romney as well as an official retort from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for speculating in a New York Times Magazine interview this weekend that Mormons believe Jesus and Satan were brothers.

Stirred by the debate, the Associated Press sought clarification from Kim Farah, a spokeswoman from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

She said the question is usually raised by those who wish to smear the Mormon faith, but she evaded a direct answer to the question: "We believe, as other Christians believe and as Paul wrote, that God is the father of all. That means that all beings were created by God and are his spirit children. Christ, on the other hand, was the only begotten in the flesh and we worship him as the son of God and the savior of mankind. Satan is the exact opposite of who Christ is and what he stands for."

More to the point, the official website of the LDS church explicitly makes the sibling connection between Jesus and Lucifer a matter of official Mormon doctrine.

"On first hearing, the doctrine that Lucifer and our Lord, Jesus Christ, are brothers may seem surprising to some – especially to those unacquainted with latter-day revelations," says the statement. "But both the scriptures and the prophets affirm that Jesus Christ and Lucifer are indeed offspring of our Heavenly Father and, therefore, spirit brothers. Jesus Christ was with the Father from the beginning. Lucifer, too, was an angel "who was in authority in the presence of God," a "son of the morning." (See Isa. 14:12; D&C 76:25–27.) Both Jesus and Lucifer were strong leaders with great knowledge and influence. But as the Firstborn of the Father, Jesus was Lucifer's older brother. (See Col. 1:15; D&C 93:21.)"


But Romney interprets the question from Huckabee – rhetorical or not – to be a display of religious bigotry.

"But I think attacking someone's religion is really going too far," he said on NBC's "Today" show. "It's just not the American way, and I think people will reject that."

The exchange is setting up tonight's GOP presidential debate, the final showdown before the Iowa caucuses, as a potentially fiery denouement in the first major contest of the 2008 primary campaign.

Will the Satan card be played?

Are theological questions fair game?

Huckabee, a Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor, has surged in public opinion polls and is now ahead of Romney in polls in Iowa, which holds its caucus Jan. 3.

He made the comment before Romney gave a major speech last week trying to dispel fears about his church, particularly among conservative Christians, an important voting bloc. Romney said he believes Jesus Christ is the son of God and savior of mankind, and that his White House would not be controlled by his church.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Fall Pastoral Retreat of the Western American Diocese in Los Angeles Concludes



The Transfiguration Cathedral in Los Angeles


You can read what I was up to last month in Los Angeles last month by clicking here.

You can see photos by clicking here.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Romney's problem with Evangelicals

Mitt Romney's primary problem (no pun intended) with conservative Evangelicals is not so much a question of his being a Mormon... though that doesn't help him much either, since Mormons are considered to be a religious cult by Evangelicals (and with good reason). However, I think given a choice between Rudy Giuliani, they would pick a good Mormon in a heartbeat. But Romney's biggest problem is that on the issues that matter to conservative Evangelicals... he has not been a good Mormon. He has supported abortion and gays in the military... he has changed his mind... so he says, but inconsistency on these issues is the primary reason why Huckabee is quickly becoming the candidate for those who see these moral issues as the biggest issues when selecting a candidate.

And aside from that, Huckabee has a sense of humor:

Obsession - Radical Islams War Against the West

This is a great video, that everyone should see. It is scary how political correctness is killing us. Maybe this video will help wake America up, before it is too late.

http://www.obsessionthemovie.com/

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Trail of TIERS continues

Food stamp applications piling up under state's new system

AUSTIN — Texas is dealing with a backlog of applications for welfare programs, including food stamps, because not enough workers know how to process cases in the state's new social services computer system, officials said.

More than 14 percent of food stamp applications were processed late in October, the most recent month with available statistics. The number of applications processed on time that month was the lowest since January.

"There is very clearly a TIERS workload issue," said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission. "We're trying to staff up. We do think that with additional staff ... we'll get through this hump."

The Legislature approved the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System program in 1999 to replace a system implemented in the 1970s. It's supposed to improve access to state benefits by reducing operating and maintenance costs and improving the accuracy and timeliness of eligibility and benefit decisions.

Recent delays were most pronounced in the Central Texas region, the test region for the new system. A third of the more than 25,400 Austin-area food stamp applications in October were not processed within the 30 days required by the federal government.

Meanwhile, the state continues to add cases to TIERS. State Auditor John Keel released a report last month saying TIERS wasn't ready for more cases.

Katie Romich of the Texas State Employees Union said workers are frustrated.

"Every day, more and more cases are being put into TIERS ... without an infrastructure to deal with those cases," she said.

Demetria Johnson, an Austin mother of two, said she's still waiting for food stamps after applying to renew in June.

"I do get paid weekly, but it's still hard for me to buy groceries," she said. "I fall off on the other bills."

Goodman didn't know exactly how many people were waiting for welfare benefits.

She said the backlogs have been exacerbated by the addition in January of the Texas Women's Health Program, which provides gynecological exams and birth control to 70,000 low-income women.

The state is using TIERS to process applications for the program, and also for members of participants' households who are seeking food stamps, Medicaid or temporary family assistance.

"The thing that has been somewhat of a surprise is how many of those women and their families have applied for other services," Goodman said.

The addition of 50,000 foster care cases to TIERS also had an impact, Goodman said.

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, said that until TIERS is working smoothly, "we don't need to be integrating anything into it."

See also More from HHSC Employee.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Pat Buchanan Nails it again: Blow Back from Moscow





Blowback From Moscow
by Patrick J. Buchanan

Our next president will likely face a Russia led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, determined to stand up to a West that Russians believe played them for fools when they sought to be friends.

Americans who think Putin has never been anything but a KGB thug will reject accusations of any U.S. role in causing the ruination of relations between us.

Yet the hubris of Bill Clinton and George Bush I, and the Russophobia of those they brought with them into power, has been a primary cause of the ruptured relationship. And the folly of what they did is evident today, as Putin's party, United Russia, rolls to triumph on a torrent of abuse and invective against the West.

Entering the campaign's final week, Putin, addressing a rally of 5,000, ripped the Other Russia coalition led by chess champion Gary Kasparov as poodles of the United States, "who sponge off foreign embassies ... and who count on the support of foreign resources and governments, and not of their own people."

"Those who oppose us," roared Putin, "don't want our plans to be completed. They have completely different tasks and a completely different view of Russia. They need a weak, sick state, a disoriented, divided society, so that behind its back they can get up to their dirty deeds and profit at your and my expense."

Putin is referring to the time of the "oligarchs" of the Yeltsin era, who looted Russia when its state assets were sold off at fire-sale prices.

Putin is also accusing his opponents of attempting to use the Western-devised tactics of mass street protests to bring down his government. "Now that they have learned some things from Western specialists and tried them in the neighboring republics, they are going to try them on our streets."

Putin is talking here about the "color-coded" revolutions that the U.S. and NATO embassies, the National Endowment for Democracy, and allied foundations and front groups engineered in Ukraine and Georgia. Governments tilting toward Moscow were dumped over and pro-Western regimes installed -- to bid for membership in NATO and the European Union.

Blowback is a term broadly used in espionage to describe the unintended consequences of covert operations. The revolution that brought the Ayatollah to power is said to be blowback for the U.S.-engineered coup to overthrow Mossadegh in 1953 and install the Shah.

The nationalism and anti-Americanism rife in Putin's Russia is blowback for our contemptuous disregard of Russian sensibilities and our arrogant intrusions into Russia's space. How did we lose a Russia that Ronald Reagan and Bush I had virtually converted into an ally?

We pushed NATO into Moscow's face, bringing six ex-Warsaw Pact nations and three ex-Soviet republics -- Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia -- into our Cold War alliance and plotted to bring in Ukraine and Georgia.

We financed a pipeline from Baku through Georgia to the Black Sea to cut Russia out of the Caspian oil trade. After getting Moscow's permission to use old Soviet bases in Central Asia to invade Afghanistan, we set about making the bases permanent. We pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty over Moscow's objection, then announced plans to plant ABM radars in the Czech Republic and anti-missile missiles in Poland.

Putin has now responded in kind, and who can blame him?

As we tried to cut him out of the Azerbaijan oil with a Black Sea pipeline, he is slashing subsidies on Ukraine's oil and colluding with Germany on a Baltic Sea pipeline to cut Poland out of the oil trade with Western Europe.

As we moved our alliance and bases into his front and back yard, he has entered a quasi-alliance with China and four nations of Central Asia to expel U.S. military power from the region.

As we abandoned the ABM Treaty, the Duma, in November, voted 418 to 0 to suspend participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which restricts the size of the Russian army west of the Urals.

If we recognize Kosovo as independent, at the expense of Serbia, Putin is now threatening to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the breakaway republics of Georgia and Transneistria, claimed by Moldova.

Where we backed the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia, Russia backs its favorites in Kiev and supports street protests in Tbilisi against the pro-American regime of Mikhail Saakashvili, whom the United States now seems powerless to help.

It was not NATO that liberated Eastern Europe. Moscow did -- by pulling out the Red Army after half a century. Why, then, did we think moving NATO into Eastern Europe was a surer guarantee of their continued independence than the goodwill of Russia?
Many among our foreign policy elite now talk of a Second Cold War. John McCain wants Russia kicked out of the G-8.

But do we not have enough enemies already that we should add the largest nation on earth?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Orthodox Study Bible





The complete Orthodox Study Bible can now be pre-ordered, for shipment in February 2008. There is also a web site that has sample pages that can be viewed. Judging from these sample pages, the commentary notes seem to be a huge improvement over the earlier New Testament only edition. I just hope that they re-did the New Testament with the same kind of patristic commentary as is shown in the Old Testament samples.

Click here to listen to an interview with Fr. Peter Gilquist, in which he gives an update on the publication schedule, as well as details about the contents.

Monday, October 29, 2007

G.I Joe... a Real American Hero?

VIN SUPRYNOWICZ: G.I. Joe was just a toy, wasn't he?

Hollywood now proposes that in a new live-action movie based on the G.I. Joe toy line, Joe's -- well, "G.I." -- identity needs to be replaced by membership in an "international force based in Brussels." The IGN Entertainment news site reports Paramount is considering replacing our "real American hero" with "Action Man," member of an "international operations team."

Paramount will simply turn Joe's name into an acronym.

The show biz newspaper Variety reports: "G.I. Joe is now a Brussels-based outfit that stands for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity, an international co-ed force of operatives who use hi-tech equipment to battle Cobra, an evil organization headed by a double-crossing Scottish arms dealer."

Well, thank goodness the villain -- no need to offend anyone by making our villains Arabs, Muslims, or foreign dictators of any stripe these days, though apparently Presbyterians who talk like Scottie on "Star Trek" are still OK -- is a double-crossing arms dealer. Otherwise one might be tempted to conclude the geniuses at Paramount believe arms dealing itself is evil.

(Just for the record, what did the quintessential American hero, Humphrey Bogart's Rick Blaine in "Casablanca," do before he opened his eponymous cafe? Yep: gun-runner.)

According to reports in Variety and the aforementioned IGN, the producers explain international marketing would simply prove too difficult for a summer, 2009 film about a heroic U.S. soldier. Thus the need to "eliminate Joe's connection to the U.S. military."

Well, who cares. G.I. Joe is just a toy, right? He was never real. Right?

On Nov. 15, 2003, an 85-year-old retired Marine Corps colonel died of congestive heart failure at his home in La Quinta, Calif., southeast of Palm Springs. He was a combat veteran of World War II. His name was Mitchell Paige.

It's hard today to envision -- or, for the dwindling few, to remember -- what the world looked like on Oct. 25, 1942 -- 65 years ago.

The U.S. Navy was not the most powerful fighting force in the Pacific. Not by a long shot. So the Navy basically dumped a few thousand lonely American Marines on the beach at Guadalcanal and high-tailed it out of there.

(You old swabbies can hold the letters. I've written elsewhere about the way Bull Halsey rolled the dice on the night of Nov. 13, 1942, violating the stern War College edict against committing capital ships in restricted waters and instead dispatching into the Slot his last two remaining fast battleships, the South Dakota and the Washington, escorted by the only four destroyers with enough fuel in their bunkers to get them there and back. By 11 p.m., with the fire control systems on the South Dakota malfunctioning, with the crews of those American destroyers cheering her on as they treaded water in an inky sea full of flaming wreckage, "At that moment Washington was the entire U.S. Pacific Fleet," writes naval historian David Lippman. "If this one ship did not stop 14 Japanese ships right then and there, America might lose the war. ..." At midnight precisely, facing those impossible odds, the battleship Washington opened up with her 16-inch guns. If you're reading this in English, you should be able to figure out how she did.)

But the Washington's one-sided battle with the Kirishima was still weeks in the future. On Oct. 25, Mitchell Paige was back on the God-forsaken malarial jungle island of Guadalcanal.

On Guadalcanal, the Marines struggled to complete an airfield that could threaten the Japanese route to Australia. Admiral Yamamoto knew how dangerous that was. Before long, relentless Japanese counterattacks had driven the supporting U.S. Navy from inshore waters. The Marines were on their own.

As Platoon Sgt. Mitchell Paige and his 33 riflemen set about carefully emplacing their four water-cooled .30-caliber Brownings on that hillside, 65 years ago this week -- manning their section of the thin khaki line that was expected to defend Henderson Field against the assault of the night of Oct. 25, 1942 -- it's unlikely anyone thought they were about to provide the definitive answer to that most desperate of questions: How many able-bodied U.S. Marines does it take to hold a hill against 2,000 armed and motivated attackers?

But by the time the night was over, "The 29th (Japanese) Infantry Regiment has lost 553 killed or missing and 479 wounded among its 2,554 men," historian Lippman reports. "The 16th (Japanese) Regiment's losses are uncounted, but the 164th's burial parties handled 975 Japanese bodies. ... The American estimate of 2,200 Japanese dead is probably too low."

You've already figured out where the Japanese focused their attack, haven't you? Among the 90 American dead and seriously wounded that night were all the men in Mitchell Paige's platoon. Every one. As the night of endless attacks wore on, Paige moved up and down his line, pulling his dead and wounded comrades back into their foxholes and firing a few bursts from each of the four Brownings in turn, convincing the Japanese forces down the hill that the positions were still manned.

The citation for Paige's Medal of Honor picks up the tale: "When the enemy broke through the line directly in front of his position, P/Sgt. Paige, commanding a machine gun section with fearless determination, continued to direct the fire of his gunners until all his men were either killed or wounded. Alone, against the deadly hail of Japanese shells, he fought with his gun and when it was destroyed, took over another, moving from gun to gun, never ceasing his withering fire."

In the end, Sgt. Paige picked up the last of the 40-pound, belt-fed Brownings and did something for which the weapon was never designed. Sgt. Paige walked down the hill toward the place where he could hear the last Japanese survivors rallying to move around his flank, the belt-fed gun cradled under his arm, firing as he went.

Coming up at dawn, battalion executive officer Major Odell M. Conoley was the first to discover how many able-bodied United States Marines it takes to hold a hill against two regiments of motivated, combat-hardened infantrymen who have never known defeat.

On a hill where the bodies were piled like cordwood, Mitchell Paige alone sat upright behind his 30-caliber Browning, waiting to see what the dawn would bring.

The hill had held, because on the hill remained the minimum number of able-bodied United States Marines necessary to hold the position.

And that's where the unstoppable wave of Japanese conquest finally crested, broke, and began to recede. On an unnamed jungle ridge on an insignificant island no one ever heard of, called Guadalcanal.

When the Hasbro Toy Co. called some years back, asking permission to put the retired colonel's face on some kid's doll, Mitchell Paige thought they must be joking.

But they weren't. That's his mug, on the little Marine they call "G.I. Joe." At least, it has been up till now.

Mitchell Paige's only condition? That G.I. Joe must always remain a United States Marine.

But don't worry. Far more important for our new movies not to offend anyone in Cairo or Karachi or Paris or Palembang.

After all, it's only a toy. It doesn't mean anything.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Patriarch Alexei refuses to bow to political correctness.





Russian Orthodox Patriarch Explains Stand on Homosexuality to Council of Europe "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin"
By John-Henry Westen

STRASBOURG, October 3, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) - In his first visit to the Council of Europe on a mission to discuss inter-religious dialogue, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, gave a spirited defence of Christian morality. He noted that the notion of human rights in Europe stems, at least in part from Christian morality. "Yet today there occurs a break between human rights and morality, and this break threatens the European civilization," he warned.

"We can see it in a new generation of rights that contradict morality, and in how human rights are used to justify immoral behavior," he stated.

The remarks prompted British Liberal Democrat council member David Russell-Johnston to demand an explanation of the Russian Orthodox leader's opposition to the Moscow "gay pride" march.

"When persistent attempts were made to hold a homosexual parade in Moscow, we believed that that meant propaganda and advertisement of sin," Alexy replied before the Council. The Patriarch compared homosexual sex acts to kleptomania and asked, "Why then (does) no one advertise kleptomania while homosexuality gets advertised via gay parades?"

"It is advertisement that is being forced on people who are a very long way from it," Alexy added.

The Patriarch stressed that persons who have such temptations and engage in homosexual acts are nonetheless loved by Christians. They are he said, "sinners whom we love while we hate their sin."

"But at the same time we Orthodox Christians cannot depart from what is taught by the Bible and by the apostolic tradition of the church," he added. "Nobody must try to force me or my brothers and sisters in faith to be silent and [to prevent us from] using the word sin for something that is called sin in God's Word."

Several Council of Europe members including the Russian representative applauded these remarks by the Patriarch, much to the chagrin of Mr. Russell-Johnston. The irate councilman called the Patriarch's analogy between kleptomania and homosexuality "ridiculous" and dismissed the Patriarch's remarks as merely having "repeated his aggressively intolerant position."

"What was regrettable was that a lot of people applauded him," Russell-Johnston told the International Herald Tribune.

During his speech the Patriarch warned of just such intolerance of morality leading to Europe's demise. "If we ignore moral norms, we ultimately ignore freedom too," said Alexy. "Morality is freedom in action. It is a freedom brought into reality as a result of responsible choice, in which human person restricts his or her self for the good of that very person and broader society."

"Moral principles secure societal vitality and growth, as well as unity of society," he added. "And whenever moral norms are trespassed and declared to be relative, it may undermine the whole worldview of the Europeans. They may draw nigh to a disastrous moment when European nations risk losing their spiritual and cultural identity and ultimately their own place in history."

See the full speech (which did not contain the replies to questions):
http://www.coe.int/t/dc/files/pa_session/sept_2007/20071002_disc_patriarche_en.asp

Thursday, September 20, 2007

From Wittenberg to Antioch



Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Chapel


There is a very interesting Podcast that is posted on the Ancient Faith Radio web site, that contains an interview of Fr. Gregory Hogg by the Illumined Heart show, in which he discusses his conversion to Orthodoxy from Lutheranism. Click here to listen.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Complete Hymn "O Virgin Pure", by St. Nectarios



You can hear this hymn in Greek by clicking on the video above. You can read about St. Nectarios, by clicking here.

O Virgin Pure
by St. Nectarios
Plagal First Tone (Tone 5)

Refrain: O Rejoice, Bride Unwedded.

O Virgin pure, immaculate/ O Lady Theotokos
O Virgin Mother, Queen of all/ and fleece which is all dewy
More radiant than the rays of sun/ and higher than the heavens
Delight of virgin choruses/ superior to Angels.
Much brighter than the firmament/ and pure than the sun's light
More holy than the multitude/ of all the heav'nly armies.
O Rejoice, Bride Unwedded.

O Ever Virgin Mary/ of all the world, the Lady
O bride all pure, immaculate/ O Lady Panagia
O Mary bride and queen of all/ our cause of jubilation
Majestic maiden, Queen of all/ O our most holy Mother
More hon'rable than Cherubim/ beyond compare more glorious
than immaterial Seraphim/ and greater than angelic thrones.

O Rejoice, Bride Unwedded.

Rejoice, O song of Cherubim/ Rejoice, O hymn of angels
Rejoice, O ode of Seraphim/ the joy of the archangels
Rejoice, O peace and happiness/ the harbor of salvation
O sacred chamber of the Word/ flower of incorruption
Rejoice, delightful paradise/ of blessed life eternal
Rejoice, O wood and tree of life/ the fount of immortality

O Rejoice, Bride Unwedded.

I supplicate you, Lady/ now do I call upon you
And I beseech you, Queen of all/ I beg of you your favor
Majestic maiden, spotless one/ O Lady Panagia
I call upon you fervently/ O sacred, hallowed temple
Assist me and deliver me/ protect me from the enemy
And make me an inheritor/ of blessed life eternal.

O Rejoice, Bride Unwedded.



You can read the text of this hymn in Greek at:

http://agrino.org/cyberdesert/agni.htm

For more Byzantine Chant on Youtube, check out the following:

Byzantine Chant #1

Byzantine Chant #2

Byzantine Chant #3

Byzantine Chant #4

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Video of the Moscow Delegation in Boston

Video of the delegation from Moscow at the Boston ROCOR Cathedral, singing "memory eternal" to Fr. Roman Lukianov, the departed rector of that cathedral.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Der Spiegel Interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn





There is an interview that Der Spiegel has just posted with Alexander Solzhenitsyn that gives a lot of insight into how this former Soviet dissident views current trends in Russia. He is asked a number of questions that reflect common western rejudices about what is good or bad in Russia today, and Solzhenitsyn more than once sets the reporter back on his rear end with his answers.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Fr. Elia Wen, Memory Eternal





From Orthodox.cn, slightly modified.

Protopresbyter Elias ( Wén Zǐzhèng in Chinese) was a priest under the Archbishop of Shanghai, St John the Wonderworker. He became rector of the Cathedral there in 1946 but have fled to Hong Kong when the Communists took power in 1949.

Fr Elias was the oldest living Orthodox priest, who turned 110 on November 19th, 2006. He had been living in San Francisco with his son Michael, an active member of the parish council at the Holy Virgin Cathedral on Geary Blvd.

Memory eternal for the servant of God Protopresbyter Elias Wen who has fallen asleep in the Lord shortly before 3PM PDT on Saturday, June 9, 2007 at age of 110 years old. The first panikhida will be held Sunday night.

A Few New Photos

Here are some additional photos that have been e-mailed to me:

Here is a photo of me greeting a priest at the St. Sergius Trinity-Lavra, when we first got off the bus.

Here is a photo of when we were holding the top of the holy Table at Butovo.

Here, we were raising it to be blessed by the Patriarch on both sides.

A photo, as we put the table top into place.

And one more.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Interfax: Some English saints may be included in Russian church calendar



St. Alfred the Great of England



Some English saints may be included in Russian church calendar

London, June 6, Interfax - The need to include the names of some early Christian English saints in the Russian Orthodox church calendar was voiced during a conference at Diocese of Sourozh, Archpriest Mikhail Dudko of the Russian Cathedral of the Dormition in London, has told Interfax.

Rev. Andrew Phillips, an expert in hagiography well known in the Orthodox England and rector of the church of St. John of Shanghai, noted in his remarks that Great Britain was not normally seen as 'a country of sainthood', while it was the native land for over 300 glorified enlighteners, martyrs and ascetics who dedicated their lives to God and the Church.

Father Andrew reminded the conference of the forgotten pages of history which link Russia and England and of the fact that Yury Dolgoruky, the founder of Moscow, was half English and his mother was a daughter of an English king.

The priest also recalled the English roots of the Holy Protomartyr Elizabeth Fyodorovna, a granddaughter Queen Victoria. Sts. Martha and Mary's Convent founded by Princess Elizabeth could in due course become an English church representation in Moscow.

Bishop Yelisey of Bogorodsk, in his turn, reported that the Diocese of Sourozh had already initiated the inclusion of nine English saints in the Russian Orthodox church calendar and that they can be included in the lists of saints for church-wide veneration in the nearest future.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Moscow Trip, Part 5

Day 7, Sunday, May 20th.




The Kremlin


We headed out early again to the Kremlin for the final service of our vist at the Uspensky (Dormition) Cathedral.




The Uspensky Cathedral


This Church was where the Tsars, beginning with Ivan the Terrible, were crown, and where the Tsars often went to Church. The frescoes on the inside of the Church are very old, and beautiful. I wasn't serving this time, and so I just stood with the people. Initially I was in the middle of the Church with some other clergy, but an MP priest saw us and waved for us to move to the front of the Church, and so we had a very good view of the rest of the service.

You can see photos of this service by clicking here.

You can see a photo showing where I was (just behind the analogion to the left) by clicking here.

Here is a more close up shot of where I was.

You can see a high resolution photo of one of the walls of the Cathedral by clicking here.

And you can see a high resolution photo of more of the interior here.

As I said the place were I stood for most of the service afforded a good view, however, when it came time for the communion of the faithful, there was a press of people trying to get in position to receive communion from the patriarch that was a bit more than I was used to. I was knocked off balance a few times, but didn't fall because I was sandwiched in fairly well. I started to inch my way to a stone booth to my right, which I think was probably where the Tsar used to sit for the service. I figured I wouldn't be crushed there... and after a lot of squeezing, I made it there.

At the end of the service, I was able to go into the altar and venerate the relics of the holy hierarchs Phillip and Peter of Moscow. I later found out that I had missed the opportunity to venerate the relics of the holy hierarchs Hermogenes and Jonah of Moscow, whose relics are in other parts of the Church.

You can see more photos of this service by clicking here.

After the service, there was some confusion about how much time we would have to tour the Kremlin. Originally, we were supposed to have about 3 hours after the liturgy. However, in the morning we were told that the buses would be leaving much earlier than originally planned. After the service, I caught one of the organizers of the trip, and before he could explain, he just said "go to the buses", and then was whisked away with the official delegation. I wasn't happy about it, but I went to were the buses were supposed to be, but they were no where to be seen. Fr. Nicholas Manduke and I decided that we were going to make a run to Red Square, because the one landmark in Russia that everyone knows is St. Basil's Cathedral, and I did not want to come this close to it without being able to see it.



St. Basil's Cathedral


We figured the buses would not be able to load before we would be back, and in a worse case scenario, we would take a cab. So off we went, at a brisk pace. Red Square is amazing all by itself, but it is not as big as you might think from having watched the parades of ICBM's during the Soviet period. And by the way, Red Square's name has nothing to do with the Communists. It was called Red Square long before they came and went. The Russian word for "red" also means beautiful.

On the way to St. Basil's, we had to walk past Lenin's tomb. Fr. Leonid Mickle told me two interesting things about it. First, he cited a Russian saying that "A saint is known by his myrrh". And then told of how once a sewer line broke in the Kremlin, which resulted in Lenin floating in sewage. He then told me that a writer (whose name escapes me) from the Soviet period, who always danced close to the edge of acceptability to the Soviets once suggested that since Lenin had requested to be buried next to his mother, that his wish should be granted, and that this would free up a wonderful location for a restroom, of which there is a notable lack in the Red Square area.

The closer we got to St. Basil's, the more beautiful it appeared. It is more beautiful than the pictures I had seen led me to expect. We would have had to buy tickets to go inside. I am told that it is not as impressive on the inside as the outside might suggest, and it is not a big Church, but rather a series of small chapels. However, had I known we had the time, I would have gone inside. As it was, we just walked around it to get a good look at it from the outside. It was more than worth the trip.

We then headed back. On the way, we stopped at a Sbarro's Pizza, and for not too many rubles, I had a slice of pizza that hit the spot.

When we we got back, we discovered that we actually had about 30 more minutes before the buses would be there. Oh well.

While waiting for the bus a man came up to me and said that he was from Mexico, and wanted to know if he could have his picture taken with me. I obliged, but thought it was funny that he had come all the way to Moscow to have his picture taken with a Tejano in front of the Kremlin.

At some point, Fr. Leonid Mickle, who had been to Moscow during the Soviet period commented on how happy it made him to see the Russian Flag flying over the Kremlin, rather than the Hammer and Sickle. Flying over the presidential palace is the presidential flag, which has the double-headed eagle of the Russian Empire.

We went back to the hotel, and then that evening we went to a banquet that was hosted by some members of ROCOR who were living in Moscow. It was a very impressive meal... probably the best one we had, although since there were not many MP clergy present, the toasts seemed to lack some of the zip I had gotten used to. I spent the evening visiting with people whom I would soon be missing until the next big shindig would bring us together again.

Click here for a photo of Steve Pennings and myself at the banquet.

Around 9:30, I took the earlier bus back to the hotel to rest, and prepare for the trip home.

Day 8, Monday, May 21st.

This day happened to be my name's day, the feast of St. John the Theologian, and while travelling is not what I normally would have picked to be doing on this day, I took some consolation from the fact that it would be the longest name's day I would probably ever have, since we would be flying with the rotation of the earth, and so the day would be 33 hours long. We had a long bus ride back to the airport, but for some reason -- guilt perhaps -- the bus driver had the A/C on at last.

We had to go through Russian customs... Russia being one of the few countries that does this on the way out, because they want to make sure you are not smuggling out historical artifacts. We had a long wait for our plane, and so we were able to do some last minute shopping in the duty free area.

Click here for one of many group photos taken while we waited.

As the plane lifted off, we sang the troparion of the feast of the Ascension. Yet another Aeroflot crew was in for an experience. It was daylight the entire flight back to New York, and there was an even more festive atmosphere than there was on the way to Moscow. The flight went by relatively quickly thanks to the wonderful conversations we were all having on the way.

When we finally made it to JFK airport, and got in line to go through American customs, there was a joy that Americans were finally organizing a line for us again. It went so smoothly, that we were all quite happy to be back in America. All too quickly, we went our separate ways, but all with a lot of joyous memories of what we had seen and done, and of each other.

I still had my two parishioners with me on the flight to Houston. Click here for a photo of the weary tres hombres, Steve Pennings, George Nahlous, and myself. I was calling my wife for the first time in a week, having been absent on her birthday. George was checking on the status of his chickens and garden, and Steve was busy capturing the moment.

To my surprise, on the flight back I was able to catch the season finale of 24. We made it into Houston at 11:00 p.m., and I finally made it home at 1:00 a.m. the following day, very tired, but happy to have been blessed to be on this historic trip.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Moscow Trip, Part 4



An icon of the Martyrs of Butovo


Day 6, Saturday, May 19th.

We left the hotel early again, I think it was about 7:30 a.m., and again we had a police escort to help us get through the traffic. We were headed to the south of Moscow to a place called Butovo, for the consecration of a Church dedicated to the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, and this would be the second occasion in which we would be serving with the Patriarch.



The Church of the New Martyrs at Butovo
Click here for a high resolution photo of the Church, taken on May 19, 2007
Butovo Field was the site of numerous massacres by the NKVD, who executed tens of thousands of people from the 1930s to the 1950s on this spot. During fifteen months in 1937 and 1938 alone, 20,765 people were shot there, many because they were Orthodox, hundreds of them were clergy. Among those martyred at Butovo were Metropolitan Seraphim (Chichagov), Archbishop Nikolay (Dobronravov), Archbishop Dimitry (Dobroserdov), Bishop Arseny (Jadanovsky), who was the last abbot of the Chudov Monastery, Bishop Arkady (Ostalsky), Bishop Nikita (Dilektorsky), and Archimandrite Kronid (Lubimov), who was the last abbot of St. Sergius Laura of the Holy Trinity.

Three years ago, Metropolitan Laurus and Patriarch Alexei laid the cornerstone for this Church. Now we were back to complete the work which they began. You can see pictures of that service in 2004 by clicking here.

Because the Church was not nearly as large as Christ the Savior Cathedral, the only ROCOR clergy serving aside from the Bishops and some deacons, were supposed to be clergy who were official representatives of the various dioceses of ROCOR. I was one of two representatives of the Chicago and Mid-American diocese, and so I was able to serve. However, some clergy who were supposed to serve on this day did some horse trading with the clergy who were suppose to serve at the Uspensky Cathedral the next day, and so while the number serving stayed about the same, it was not just the diocesan representatives who actually did serve. Fr. Vladimir Boikov was also serving, since he was a representative of the diocese of Australia and New Zealand, and so I tried to stay close to him, since I could count on him to translate for me.

After going through security (for the same reasons they had security at Christ the Savior, except that Vladimir Putin was not going to be in attendance), we went into the lower Church to vest. I noticed that the walls had very nice icons all the way around the Church, but didn't pay attention to what they depicted, assuming that it would be the usual mix of icons you see in a Church -- but then Fr. Vladimir pointed out that these icons were all icons of the various known martyrs of Butovo, who had been killed at this very place by the Communists. When the Church was being constructed, family members of the martyrs of Butovo commissioned these icons. This realization brought home the full impact of where we were, and what we were here to do. These were not just any icons, this was not just any Church, and this would not be just any service either.

We went up to the main Church, which has three altars, all of which would be consecrated on this day, and stood there, waiting for the Patriarch to arrive.

You can see a Youtube video that someone took of the Patriarch's arrival from outside the Church here (not professional footage, but you can hear the bells, and see some things of interest).

After the greeting of the Patriarch, we began the service of the Great Consecration of the Church. The altars were just wooden frames, with the table top set aside. At the beginning of the service, the first thing that is done is that the bishops put on white carpenters' aprons, and the Holy table is constructed. My one part in this service was to help lift the top of the holy table, and hold it so that the Patriarch could bless the top and bottom of it with holy water, and then to place it onto the frame. While the Patriarch was doing this with the main altar, other bishops, including Metropolitan Laurus were doing the same things with the two side altars. The table top was nailed to the frame, and wax was poured over the nails to seal it. The top of the table was washed with hot water, then with wine, and then anointed with holy chrism. Then the holy table was vested with it's cover. Then a bishop went around the Church and anointed the four walls with chrism.

There was a MP priest, who was one of the ones whose job it was to make sure that the services went off smoothly, who was standing nearby. At one point he was telling me to do something, but I can't now remember what it was. Fr. Vladimir explained that I did not speak Russian, and that I was from Texas -- he seemed to take a particular delight in pointing that out to people. This priest commented to Fr. Vladimir that it must be difficult for me to be in a service that was all in Slavonic. Fr. Vladimir explained that I knew what was going on, and was happy to be there. In any case, I thought it was nice that he expressed such concern.

At some point, the rector of the parish in Butovo was nearby, and Fr. Vladimir asked him if he did daily services. He said that he didn't, but that there were more than 50 days in the year in which there were individual commemorations of the Martyrs at Butovo, a feast for the Synaxis of the Martyrs at Butovo, plus the usual schedule of Sundays and feast days, and so they had lots of Church in a given year.

Towards the end of the service of the consecration, we went in a procession around the Church, being preceded by the relics that would be finally placed in the altars. While going around the Church, I noticed that there were people holding icon banners all around the Church. I also noticed that there was a line of soldiers around the perimeter of the Church at the tree line -- which was no doubt a precaution against a terrorist attack.

Once back inside the Church, the service of the Great Consecration ended, and the Liturgy began.

You can see pictures of the service by clicking here.

And you can see more pictures by clicking here.

You can see one of the pictures in which I can be seen by clicking here.

Generally, I tried to stay out of the way. I am used to being in services that are all or mostly in Slavonic, having served as a deacon for a few years in a mostly Russian parish, and this generally being the language used in ROCOR when we have a really big service with lots of clergy... however, back in the US, most everyone speaks English and the directions given to the clergy in the altar are usually in English, or if not, when it is clear you didn't get it the first time in Russian, you get it the second time in English. But it was all in Russian here, and so again, I tried to stay close to Fr. Vladimir.

At some point, Fr. Nikolai Balashov (the Secretary of the MP delegation to the joint commission that worked out the issues to bring about the reconciliation between ROCOR and the MP) came and stood between Fr. Vladimir and me. When the troparia and kontakia were sung, Fr. Vladimir leaned over, behind Fr. Nikolai, and pointed out that the text that was used was the ROCOR text (the MP composed its own service to the New Martyrs). I figured at the time that this was a nice concession on the part of the MP for them to have chosen our text. I found out later that this was not really planned, but just happened, because it was the ROCOR choir that was doing the singing at that point. I also found out later, from talking to Matushka Elena Perekrestov, that the ROCOR troparion to the New Martyrs had been composed by Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco, who did not live to see this day in the flesh, but was no doubt pleased to see it with the saints.

Here is the text of that troparion in English:

"O ye holy hierarchs, royal passion-bearers and pastors, monks and laymen, men, women and children, ye countless new-martyrs, confessors, blossoms of the spiritual meadow of Russia, who blossomed forth wondrously in time of grievous persecutions bearing good fruit for Christ in your endurance: Entreat Him, as the One that planted you, that He deliver His people from godless and evil men, and that the Church of Russia be made steadfast through your blood and suffering, unto the salvation of our souls."

In this very service, we were witnessing the fulfillment of the prayer of this hymn.

I remember as a relatively new convert when communism in Russia finally collapsed on the feast of the Transfiguration in 1991, and being struck by the fact that this was the answer to all of our prayers for the salvation of Russia, and that it be delivered from the yoke of the Soviets. Of course, all was not made right in a day, but from that time on, we have seen how God has been restoring the Russian Church to health and strength, and today the contrast was undeniable.

After the clergy had communed, Fr. Vladimir turned to me and said with his Aussie accent, "So have you met the Patriarch yet?" I responded that I had received communion from him twice now, but that I couldn't say we had been properly introduced. So he grabbed me by the sleeve, and said, "Come on, mate." He had threatened earlier that he would introduce me to the Patriarch and lift up my sticharion to show him my cowboy boots as he did so. I was fairly certain that he was about to make good on that threat, but he didn't. After we both had received his blessing, Fr. Vladimir told him who I was, that I was from Texas, and that although I could not speak Russian I was an advocate for the reconciliation of the Russian Church. The patriarch thanked me, and said that he hoped I would continue to be an advocate for unity in the Church. It was a brief exchange, but he had a very warm expression on his face. I was already impressed by him, but I came away all the more impressed by him.

After the service, we all headed for a large tent in which there was another banquet. Fr. Vladimir and I sat across from some Russian dignitaries. One of them was Sergei Baburin, who is a member of the Russian Duma -- I wouldn't remember that, except that we exchanged cards. Next to him was a man whose name I can't remember, but he was wearing a medal which indicated that he was a hero of the Soviet Union, which is something like the Congressional Medal of Honor. Fr. Vladimir introduced me, and again explained my inability to converse in Russian, and that I was an advocate of the reconciliation of the Russian Church. The man with the medal commented that I had been spending so much time defending the unity of the Russian Church that I had acquired the face of a Russian.

It was interesting to ponder that there was a time when the only thing I knew about Russia was that they were the enemy, and I thought that the only way I would ever have visited Russia was the way Slim Pickens did in Dr. Strangelove... riding a hydrogen bomb.



And yet, here I was with a hero of the Soviet Union, having just consecrated a Church dedicated to the New Martyrs of Russia, and we were praying together, eating together, and drinking vodka together too. You just never know.

When I first encountered a Russian Orthodox priest at a pro-life rally before I converted, I turned to my wife and said, "Can you imagine me dressed like that?"




You just never know.

In any case, one thing about this banquet I was looking forward to was a good meal. After awhile a server came to me and ask if I wanted meat or fish. I said I would take the meat dish. But maybe I should have settled for fish, because after some time had passed, and we had shared some Russian toasts and singing, the Patriarch got up to leave. Then other bishops left, then the clergy started to leave. Then someone said we needed to hurry to our buses... and still no meat dish. Oh well, when dealing with Russians, one thing I have learned is you should never assume anything is in the bag, until it is safely in the bag.

On the bus ride back, I got to finally meet in person Fr. Andrew Phillips of England, whose writings I have long enjoyed. We were having a nice conversation, but as time went on the heat began to get the best of me.

When I checked the weather reports in Russia before the trip, I expected it would be cold. It actually turned out to be very nice, mostly sunny, and cool. However, when you are on a bus with no windows that can be opened, and a bus driver who doesn't believe in air conditioning, it can get quite warm. In fact, back in the states, had we been a bus load of animals, the bus driver would have been arrested. We were in stop and go traffic for what seemed like an hour and a half. As time went on, I unbuttoned my riassa and cassock, took off my cross, and tried not to die of heat exhaustion. Finally, we made it to our hotel, and I dragged myself along with an arm full of books and icons that we had just been given, and made my way to my room. The plan was that in about 45 minutes we were supposed to be back on that bus, and heading to the Danilov Monastery for Saturday evening vigil. When my elevator made it to the 6th floor, where my room was, as I was getting off, my cross slipped from my arms, and right down the crack between the elevator and the floor. I would not have even noticed it at that point had not another priest told me what happened. My heart sank. That was the cross I was given at my ordination to the priesthood, and the one I had been touching to the relics of all the saints I had been venerating in the past week.

Before I did anything else about it, I went on to my room, to recover from the bus ride. I decided that I was not going to survive the ride to the vigil, and so drank water, and took a bath. I prayed that my cross would be recovered, and particularly asked for the prayers of St. Sergius of Radonezh, whose relics I had just touched that cross to yesterday... though I was inclined to think that I would be shopping for a new cross tomorrow. I waited until people made it back from the vigil, because the people at the hotel didn't speak English. I bumped into Fr. Elias Gorsky, who kindly explained my situation to the lady at the front desk. I fully expected to be blown off, because I knew it would be a hassle to retrieve my cross from the elevator on a Saturday evening. However, the lady was quite nice, and told me it would be about an hour. Sure enough, in one hour there were people there trying to figure out where my cross had fallen to and how to get it. I kept having to detain people who happened to be handy to translate for me, but finally, after a great deal of effort on the part of several Russians, my Cross was back in hand.

So from triumph to minor tragedy, and back to triumph, I settled down for the evening, and prepared for our final full day in Russia, and in particular for our trip to the Kremlin.

To be continued.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Moscow Trip, Part 3

Day 5, Friday, May 18th.

On this day we headed outside of Moscow for the Trinity St. Sergius Lavra, which is in the town of Sergiyev Posad.



St. Sergius of Radonezh

Driving out of town, I noticed several World War II memorials. They seem to be all over the place. World War II was of course big news in the United States too, but for Russians it tore families apart, which in many cases were never reunited, it was fought in their country, and they had the highest number of deaths of any county in the war -- nearly 27 million dead, which was roughly 32.4% of all the dead of the war, both military and civilian.

The Russian countryside is quite beautiful. One big difference from home, is that instead of seeing lots of tall East Texas pine trees, you see lots of birch trees.

After an hour or so, we finally made it to Sergiyev Posad, which is a town that sprouted up around the Lavra. When St. Sergius of Radonezh first came here in 1345 to establish a monastery, this was nothing but an endless forest.



The Trinity St. Sergius Lavra

The Lavra is a group of 4 monasteries, with a fortress like complex, that has walls of incredible thickness (You can get a visual tour of the monastery from the outside by click here, however, the video has no sound, and does not show the inside of the Churches).

Here is a photo after we had just gotten off the bus, and were greeted by the monks there.

We were given tours of the monastery in smaller groups, and were guided by young monks. The tours were in Russian. Fortunately, Fr. Leonid Mickle was near, and he is use to giving simultaneous translations into English while listening attentively to a Russian speaker. A whole group of non-Russians were gathered around him, with their heads craned and a hand to their ears, so they could listen to his translations. I'm impressed by anyone who can speak more than one language, but I am doubly impressed by someone who can listen and translate at the same time, without missing a beat. Interestingly the only other Russian speaker I know who can and will translate like this is Fr. Victor Potapov, also of the Washington D.C. Cathedral. Fr. Leonid told me a joke on the bus ride back to Moscow later:

"What is someone who can speak two languages? Bilingual. What is someone who can speak three languages? Trilingual. What is someone who can speak many languages? Multilingual. What is someone who can speak only one language? An American."

When we entered the gate, the walls of the gateway have scenes from the life of St. Sergius. The first place we went was to the chapel which contains the relics of St. Sergius.



Click to enlarge
The relics of St. Sergius


There was something special about venerating the relics of St. Sergius... though I don't know how to verbalize that. After we venerated the relics of St. Sergius, Archbishop Kyrill of San Francsico arrived, and served a moleben to St. Sergius, and then gave a homily. Again, the non-Russians were gathered around Fr. Leonid, straining to hear his simulcast translation. When the service was over, many went to venerate the relics again.

Looking around in the chapel, I noticed icons on the iconostasis that I thought were prints, because they are commonly reproduced icons, but after looking closer I realized that I was looking at the original icons that all those prints I had seen over the years were copies of.

After the moleben, we went to a lower part of the chapel, which had the relics of St. Nikon, and then a room full of relics... too many to remember -- but there was a relic of St. Stephen the Protomartyr, and so Steve Pennings was able to venerate a relic of his patron saint. Click here for a photo of this relic.

We then went on a whirl-wind tour of a few of the Churches in the Lavra... unfortunately, we only got to see the interior of maybe 1/3 of the Churches associated with the Lavra.



The Dormition Cathedral at the St. Sergius Trinity Lavra



Click to enlarge
St. Innocent of Alaska

Of the many relics we were able to venerate, one that stands out is the relics of St. Innocent of Alaska, one of the early missionaries to America, who later became metropolitan of Moscow.



The Relics of St. Innocent of Alaska

We later got an abbreviated tour of the Seminary there, which has about 500 seminarians, and it's museum, which had an amazing collection of icons and historical artifacts. But we were told we had to be back to the buses by a particular time, or we would have to take a train back to Moscow, and so we headed back to the buses, for the next part of the days journey -- a trip to Sofrino. We had only about 3 hours at the Lavra, but if we had had 3 weeks, we would not have seen all that we could have.

For priests, going to Sofrino is a bit like going to Disneyland. This is probably the largest factory of Orthodox liturgical items, icons, and books in the world, and the scale of their operation is truly staggering.



The entrance to the Sofrino Factory.


We were greeted with Church bells (because we had Archbishop Kirill with us), and then were taken to their cafeteria for lunch. The meal was incredible. Then we were taken in groups for a tour of the factory. The factory has its own Church, numerous large buildings, thousands of employees, and an amazing amount of security. You could not go very far without seeing a security guard. It is almost a city unto itself. Click here for a photo of the pilgrims headed towards the Church at Sofrino.

When you see the massive scale of the production of Church items, and realize that while this is the biggest, it is by no means the only place in Russia that is manufacturing such things, one can only be impressed by the scale of the demand for such things that there is now in Russia.

The people at Sofrino were very nice and quite professional, and the tour was very impressive. However, our visit had been billed as a shopping expedition, and so clergy kept asking when we would be able to purchase some of the things we were seeing, and we kept being told that this would come later. However, by the time it finally did come, we were out of time, and so the only thing I was able to actually buy while there was a bottle of mineral water. Fortunately, when Fr. Vladimir Boikov took me around Moscow two days earlier, he told me I would be better off doing my shopping then, and so I had already purchased most of things I had planned to. Some clergy were more than a little irritated that they left empty handed.

We then headed back to Moscow. By this time we had already figured out that our bus driver did not believe in air conditioning -- but this long trip in the late afternoon was particularly unpleasant. Once we hit Moscow, the traffic was slow, our bus had no windows that we could open, and so we were sweltering on a day in which the high was probably in the upper 70's.

We finally made it back to the hotel, re-hydrated, had dinner, and began preparing for the liturgy of the following day.

To be continued.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Moscow Trip, Part 2


Christ the Savior Cathedral



Day 4, Thursday, May 17th.

This was of course the big day that we were here for. It was the feast of the Ascension, and also the date for the formal ending of the administrative division between the Russian Church inside Russia and that outside of Russia, after more than 80 years of separation.

If I remember correctly the buses left for the Church of Christ the Savior at about 7:00 or 7:30 a.m., with a police escort to help us get through the traffic. The practical reason for holding the services at Christ the Savior was because it is the largest Church in Russia. But on a symbolic level, it could not have been a better choice. This Church was built originally in honor of the victory of Tsar Alexander I over Napoleon in the war of 1812. It is so big that it is visible from much of Moscow. Because it was such a visible Church which represented Russia's faith as well as reminded people of something good that the Tsars had done, Stalin blew it up in 1931, and the plan was to replace it with a Palace of the Soviets, in honor of Socialism (You can see footage of the destruction of Christ the Savior by clicking here). The building was never finished because it kept sinking into the ground (hint, hint, you atheists...), and then World War II began.



The planned, but never completed Palace of the Soviets


After World War II, it was instead converted into the world's largest swimming pool, with the restrooms on the spot where the altar had been. Many people drowned in this pool. After the collapse of Communism in Russia, Christ the Savior was rebuilt just as it had been before... with the foundation raised so that it would stand even at the same height as before. They did add an underground complex with parking, and thankfully also added A/C, but otherwise it appears the same as it did... complete with the then popular 19th century style of iconography -- though many wish they had improved on the original Cathedral by using the more traditional style of iconography which has since revived in popularity.



The interior of Christ the Savior Cathedral
Click here to enlarge


Because of security concerns (since Vladimir Putin would be there, as well as the Patriarch, and it being such a high profile event that terrorism was a distinct possibility) only those with an invitation were allowed in, and only then after passing through metal detectors and having all bags inspected. Also, if they had allowed everyone to come who wanted to attend, the Church would have been packed to the brim even more so than it was.

After entering the Church, we venerated the relics of another one of Moscow's previous hierarchs, St. Philaret of Moscow. Then we were taken into a large hall behind the Altar to vest, and then once vested we went into the huge altar area of the Cathedral. The number of clergy who were there was more than I think I have probably ever seen at any one place before. There were certainly more bishops. In fact, when I saw how many priests there were I thought to myself that it would be interesting to see how they would manage to bring some order to the service. When deacons go to a hierarchical service, they are either quite confident of what to do, or else they are sweating it, and are earnestly trying to remember what to do -- because they have so much to do, and what they do can vary a lot, depending on their seniority in relation to the other deacons, and how many deacons are serving. Priests (myself included) have so little to do at such services (because almost everything is done by the Bishops, the Deacons, and Subdeacons), that they often have no worries going into such services at all, and so often mess up the meager parts that they do have. However, there were several priests who were not fully vested whose job it was to make things go smoothly, and it was amazing to see how quickly things did come to order, and how well everything went as a result.
The hours were done well before the arrival of the Metropolitan or the Patriarch. At some point the clergy exited the altar and went to stand in the nave of the Church, to greet the hierarchs. The ROCOR clergy were on one side (the north side of the Church, or on the left side if you are facing the altar), and the Moscow Patriarchate Clergy were on the south side, or right hand side). I was in the second row on the north side, about in the middle, and right behind me was a whole group of cameras and reporters. I thought one of them was going to rest his camera on my shoulder at a few points. We waited for what seemed like a long time to my feet, and then the bells sounded and finally Metropolitan Laurus entered the Church. A bit later, the bells sounded again and the Patriarch also entered.

Metropolitan Laurus is from Carpatho-Russia which is in present day Slovakia, and came to the United States after World War II to escape the Communists who had taken over Czechoslovakia. He is a true monastic, and a man of prayer. I had occasion as a new convert to spend 3 months in Holy Trinity Monastery, in Jordanville, New York, where he is the abbot, and I have seen how his life revolves around prayer.

This was my first experience seeing Patriarch Alexei II in person. He is 78 years old, but does not look it. He is an ethnic German, from Estonia, and became Patriarch during the Glasnost period just before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and I am told he serves the Liturgy almost every day.

As difficult as it was for me to stand through the service, I am impressed that men of their ages do this almost every day.

Then the secretary of the Moscow Patriarchate delegation, Fr. Nikolai Balashov, read the MP's official resolution approving the act of Canonical Communion. His counterpart, Fr. Alexander Lebedeff, read the official ROCOR resolution approving the act. Then an MP protodeacon read the act itself (which you can read by clicking here). Then both the Patriarch and the Metropolitan were seated, signed the document, and then exchanged the kiss of peace, with the Patriarch greeting Metropolitan Laurus with the word's "Christ is in our midst", and the Metropolitan giving the response "He is now, and ever shall be."

Each of them then gave a short speech, then the Patriarch acknowledged Vladimir Putin (who played some role in getting this process going by visiting Metropolitan Laurus in New York and inviting him to come to Russia in 2003), gave him icons of the Holy Trinity, Virgin Mary, and of the New Martyrs of Russia, and then Putin gave a short talk... you can hear some of what was said in the videos linked below.

Then the liturgy itself began, and before long, all the priests returned to the altar, where we remained until the very end of the service. It was very peaceful and joyful to just be able to stand back and pray. In normal parish life, priests have quite a bit to do in a typical liturgy, and it is always a nice break to stand back and let others do all of that stuff, while you just pray.



Me, in the altar of Christ the Savior... the one without the mitre


When it came time for communion, I received the body of Christ from the Patriarch, and the chalice from another bishop whose name I do not know. It was a joy to see that reconciliation had finally come, and this was most fully expressed by our sharing communion with each other.

At one point a Russian priest who did not speak English, and was vested in only an epitrachelion and cuffs came up to me and said something about my phelonion, I couldn't figure out what he was trying to tell me until, after some pointing, it dawned on me that he needed to borrow a phelonion to commune. So I had my first positive interaction with clergy of the MP, post-reconciliation.

Then later, someone came in my direction who looked a lot like one the MP priests who had been making sure everything went off well. Feeling the joy of the occasion, I greeted him as priest normally does another priest. He looked a bit puzzled, and then muttered something in Russian. As he walked off, I realized he was wearing a Panagia (and so was an MP Bishop, whose blessing I should have asked for). So I also had my first misunderstanding with a bishop of the MP, post-reconciliation. I tried very hard to spot him later, to make some attempt at an apology, but didn't see him again.

At the dismissal, Metropolitan Laurus and Patriarch Alexei exchanged gifts. The Metropolitan gave a very large copy of the Kursk Icon (an icon more than 750 years old, which was taken out of Russia by ROCOR as the White Army retreated from Russia at the end of the Russian Civil War). This copy was painted by Fr. Lubomir Kupec, and was one of the icons we had lugged around JFK airport, in search of the right terminal for Aeroflot. You can click here to see a photo of this icon.

You can see a photo taken from the nave of all the digital cameras that were in use during the service by clicking here.

After the Liturgy, we had a banquet, but before that, we had to wait for the opening of an exhibit on the life of the Russian Orthodox Church inside and outside of Russia in the 20th and 21st centuries in the basement of Christ the Savior Cathedral. The wait for this to happen dragged on for some time. The exhibit was nice, but we were all quite tired at this point. And no one seemed to know when exactly the banquet would begin, or where exactly it was going to be... at least no one who was saying so in English. Finally, I stumbled across it, just before the opening prayer.

I sat across from an older Russian lady. As the toasts were flowing, with all the singing and well wishing that Russians throw into that, she said something to me in Russian... and as I was habitually doing during this trip, I told her I did not speak much Russian. She then told me in English with tears in her eyes that this was like a second Pascha. I agreed. As we talked, and I told her where I was from and that my parish was dedicated to St. Jonah of Hancow, her eyes lit up, and she told me that she had had a hand in bringing about the glorification of St. Jonah... and so we spoke about that for awhile. She was from San Francisco, where many of the Russians had settled who had fled Russia to China when the Communists took over Russia, and then had to flee from China to the United States when the Communists took over China. I asked what her name was, and she told me her last name was Krassovsky... and so I said that she must be related to Vova and Fr. Roman Krassovsky. She said with a smile, "Well, I am the momma, so I guess you can say that I am somehow related to them."

After more toasts, eating, and singing, the banquet came to an End. And we all headed back to our hotel, and spent the evening celebrating, and watching ourselves on Russian TV.

This service was carried live on Russian Television and was the top story in the news.

Here are some Youtube videos with news clips from Russia Today, which have the advantage of being dubbed into English (some of the English is however a bit imprecisely translated):

Video #1


Video #2



The Full Service:


To be continued

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Moscow Trip, Part 1

Before I forget the details of my trip to Russia, I had best start making some notes, and so here is part 1.

Day 1, Monday, May 14th.

I arrived at Bush Intercontinental Airport at about 8:00 a.m. Two of my parishioners went with me -- Steve Pennings, and George Nahlous. Fr. Lubomir Kupec happened to be on the same flight, however, I was beginning to think he had missed it, because we were just about to board before we saw him. He had been delayed because he is an iconographer, and had been commissioned to paint four large icons to be given as gifts by the Metropolitan over the course of his visit, and getting these icons on the plane without being damaged took some negotiations. Fortunately, Fr. Lubomir has a parishioner who works for Continental Airlines who was able to help him make that happen.

When we arrived at JFK airport, we had some difficulty figuring out which Terminal Aeroflot flew out of. We were given two bum steers by people who worked for the Airport, before we finally got to the right one (Yankees...). We were helping Fr. Lubomir lug his icons around... which made the whole thing far more interesting. Finally, we got to the right place, and began to see clergy that I knew and clergy that I didn't know, but came to know over the course of the trip. The flight to Russia was probably one of the stranger flights Aeroflot has ever seen. Most of the flight consisted of ROCOR clergy and laity, and so throughout the course of the flight there were people going up and down the rows, catching up with old friends.

Day 2, Tuesday, May 15th

At some point during that flight, we ran into Tuesday. We were flying close to the Arctic circle, and flying against the Earth's rotation, and so night was very brief. It was only completely dark for a short time. When we landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, the passengers spontaneously began to sing the Paschal Troparion (in Slavonic), "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life".

You can see photos of the flight and the arrival by clicking here.

You can view a Youtube video of a Russia Today story on the arrival here:



Going through Russian customs, we began to encounter some of the differences between how things are handled in Russia vs. America. The line was very disorganized and long... although they made special arrangements to get us through, which made things go a lot quicker than they probably would have otherwise.

We boarded various buses, and headed to the place which most of us stayed at, which was a hotel owned and operated by the Moscow Patriarchate, called the Universityets Gostinitsa (if I remember correctly) which is so named because it is near to Moscow State University... a building which is known as one Stalin's seven sisters, because all seven buildings were built during his tenure, and they all look very similar... a sort of Stalinesque Gothic.






At the hotel, again more of the experience of Russian lines. I was told though, that compared to how things were 20 years ago, things ran much more efficiently than they used to (God bless America, land that I love...).

By the time we finally got into our rooms, we were all fairly tired. But before the banks closed, I went and changed most of my money into Rubles. I had thought I would encounter more Russians who spoke English than I did, but fortunately most of the people who traveled with us were bilingual, and at the bank one of them (Vladimir Krassovsky, who is the Choir director of the San Francisco Cathedral) happened to be there, and came to my rescue when I hit a snag with the teller. Also there, I got to meet Elizabeth Ledkovsky in person (whom I already knew somewhat via e-mail), the grand daughter of Boris Ledkovsky, and daughter of Alexander Ledkovsky, both of whom are well known composers of Church music. Both of them were part of the Synodal Choir that would participate in the services to come.

Russian TV is quite interesting. There is an Orthodox Channel that runs 24 hours a day. Other news shows spoke a great deal about our delegation and the upcoming reconciliation of the Russian Church. Also, there were many shows I saw throughout my trip that talked about the martyrs under the Communists, and the general havoc the Communists wrought upon Russia. I must say though that it was very disconcerting to hear Michael Jordan and Samurai Jack speaking Russian -- but hearing Kenneth Copeland in Russian was probably the biggest hoot.

Day 3, Wednesday, May 16th.

There was nothing officially planned for most of the pilgrims in the morning, but it was the Apodosis of Pascha, several of us wanted to go to Church, and so I got the Fr. Wally tour of Moscow from Fr. Vladimir Boikov (an exceptionally fun priest whom I got to know in December of 2000 when I traveled to Australia for a youth conference), along with Protodeacon Leonid Mickle of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington D.C., and Protodeacon Nicholas Triantafillidis of the San Francisco Cathedral.

Driving through Moscow in a car is a very harrowing experience. Our Russian driver, fearlessly weaved in and out of traffic, at a high rate of speed whenever possible, and to my surprise managed to get us to where we were going without killing us all.

First, we went to the Danilov Monastery, where our bishops and official delegates were attending the liturgy. Fr. Vladimir had the start time wrong by 1 hour, and so we unfortunately only caught the final parts of the liturgy. While there I was able to venerate the relics of St. Daniel of Moscow.




You can see me standing in the altar at the Danilov monastery
Click here for more photos of the day. Fr. Vladimir Boikov is the very Chinese looking priest. He is part Chinese, part Mongolian, and part Russian, though he sounds like the Crocodile Hunter when he speaks. He has often traveled to China to minister to the Chinese Orthodox there.


We then went to St. Catherine's, which is the OCA's representation Church. They have a beautiful Church, as well as a shop that sells vestments of a very high quality, but at a very reasonable price. The rector, Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood), was very hospitable, and insisted on us having tea with him before we left... which was a good thing, since we hadn't had breakfast, and it was time for lunch.



Click to enlarge picture
From left to right, Protodeacon Leonid Mickle, Fr. Vladimir Boikov, Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Wood), me, and Protodeacon Nicholas Triantafillidis.


We then went by a Church in Moscow, I can't remember the name, but it was the one that Peter the Great was baptized in. The original iconography had been destroyed by the communists, but new beautiful iconography now adorns the Church. As in every Church I saw, even though no service was going on, there was a steady flow of people who were lighting candles and praying.

After a few more stops around town, we rejoined the official tour at the Donskoy Monastery. They held a moleben before the relics of the Hieromartyr Patriarch Tikhon, who was killed by the Communists. We then were able to venerate his relics. I noticed that the priest in front of me took off his cross to touch it to the relics of the Saint, and so I started doing that myself whenever the opportunity presented itself. (Click here for a picture of those relics, taken during the moleben)

After that we were given a tour of the cemetery, in which many famous Russians are buried. Here again the signs of Communist desecration are still visible -- most of the tombstones had their crosses broken off.

We ended the day with Vigil at the Stretensky Monastery. Our Synodal Choir participated in the service. While there, I was able to venerate the relics of the Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky) (click here to see a photo of someone venerating St. Hilarion's relics), whose essay Christianity or the Church had a big impact on me as I was studying Orthodoxy prior to my conversion. The service was very beautiful, though the Church was a bit small for the number of people there (Click here to see me in the altar, where most of the clergy were standing and click here to see George Nahlous standing on the stairs to the choir loft). The abbot of the monastery, Fr. Tikhon (Shevkunov) is a very impressive man whom I first heard speak at the All-Diaspora clergy conference in Nyack, New York, in December 2003. There was a reception after the service, which included many toasts to those who had made all of this happen. It was a very happy evening.

To be continued