Thursday, February 23, 2017

Bitter Harvest

Maslenitsa: on Cheesefare Week

(ROC-Glouchestershire) - Perhaps the most cheerful holiday in Russia is Maslenitsa (Shrovetide). This holiday is considered to come from pre-Christian times, when the Slavs were still pagans.

In the old days Maslenitsa was for remembrance of the dead. So the burning of the figure of Maslenitsa means her funeral, and blini (pancakes) – coliphia. But with time the Russians longing for fun and entertainment turned the sad holiday into jolly Maslenitsa with blini – round, yellow and hot as the sun, sledding and horse sleigh riding, fistfights and mother-in-law chatting. The rituals of Maslenitsa are very unusual and interesting because they combine the end of the winter holiday rituals and the opening of new spring festivals and ceremonies, which were to promote a rich harvest.

Maslenitsa is celebrated during the week preceding the Lent or the 7th week before Russian Orthodox Easter (Pascha). Every day of Maslenitsa was devoted to special rituals.


Monday is “Vstrecha” – “Meeting”. On that day people made the straw-stuffed figure of Winter, dressed it in old women’s clothing and singing carried it on sleigh around the village. Then the figure was put onto snow-covered slope that people used for tobogganing, which was considered not just fun, but the ancient rite, because it was thought that the one who came down the hill more than once was likely to have tall flax in summer.


Tuesday is “Zaigryshi” which can roughly be translated as “games”. From that day on the whole village started all sorts of activities: sleigh riding, folk festivals, skomorokh (traveling actors) and puppet shows. The streets were full of people in carnival costumes and masks, who visited homes of their neighbours and organised impromptu concerts. Large groups of people rode troikas and simple sleighs.

Pancake Week in 18th century Moscow was hard to imagine without bear shows. Bear fun was very popular among all classes of the population of towns and cities, towns, and villages. Trained bears amused the audience, imitating girls putting makeup are in front of the mirror or women baking pancakes.


Wednesday is “Lakomki” – “gourmands” – opened feasts in houses with blini and other dishes. Each household had tables with delicious food, baked pancakes, and brewed beer. Tents selling all kinds of food appeared everywhere. They sold hot sbiten (drinks from water, honey and spices), nuts, honey gingerbreads and poured tea from boiling samovars.

Bp. Michael of NY to be at St. Moses Brotherhood conference

(OCA) - His Eminence, Archbishop Michael of New York and New Jersey will head the lineup of speakers at the 24th annual conference of the Brotherhood of Saint Moses the Black October 6-8, 2017.

The conference, titled “Closer to Christ, Closer to Each Other”, will be held at the Mother of God Joy of All Who Sorrow Church, Princeton, NJ.

Other speakers include Archpriest Moses Berry, Hieromonk Alexi [Altschul], Priest Jerome Sanderson, and the Nun Catherine [Weston].

A pan-Orthodox organization, the Brotherhood embraces individuals committed to multi-racial, Orthodox Christian fellowship and study of the Church’s ancient roots and to bringing Orthodoxy to the African American community as a means of “expanding the Mission.”

Additional information will be posted on the Brotherhood’s web site as it becomes available here. Audio recordings of lectures and presentations given at earlier conferences also are available here.

I would not like them here or there.
I would not like them anywhere.

Last year I was at an international conference on St. Maximus the Confessor in Belgrade, and it was a wonderful program. One of the many highlights was the consecration of a brand new church dedicated to St. Maximus. It was the first ever dedicated to him in Serbia. Met. John Zizioulas was there and ten other hierarchs and twenty or thirty clergy. It was a smallish church and it was packed, and a beautiful day. At one point prior to the start of the Liturgy someone came out of the altar and told me that the metropolitan didn’t have his Archeiraticon, so he ran out in a hurry because they needed the prayers for him to read. After a couple of minutes he came running back in because he had found the prayers on the internet and had them on an iPad. This altar was fairly open, by the way, so you could see into the sanctuary. So he came running back in with the iPad, happy that he had found the prayers, and as one body all of the Serbian hierarchs took a step back and said “No! Do not bring that object into this space.” It was done even without thinking. So he left and they printed out the text in the church office. It was a memorable thing to see that visceral response on the part of the hierarchy.

- Fr. Maximos (Constas)
Distracting us from the Depths

Fr. Maximos (Constas), who I enjoy reading immensely, delivered a talk to the Antiochian Archdiocese last year that was quite compelling. His topic was "Distracting us from the Depths," and in it he said the above. I'm of the same mind with the hieromonk here and don't permit ereaders in the altar and truthfully frown on cellphones unless there is a persuasive reason to have one at hand.

The general point of origin for most iPads in a parish setting is for cantors to use at the kliros. People say that it is easier to have everything in one place with no switching of books, that it saves paper, and that it is easy to share and updated texts. I agree on all those points, but still prefer the use of books whenever possible for two reasons. One, I believe there is knowledge and skill required to put services together and people should know how to compile tonight's vespers. Second, these texts have been sanctified to a purpose. An iPad can play Twilight while the protopsaltis is waiting for the priest to arrive at 8 and then flick the screen to the Divine Liturgy at 9.

Everyone has experienced the accidental phone left to ring during the homily while some red-faced woman plunges her hand into her purse or heard the video playing to jarring effect when someone checks their messages having forgotten that the last thing they had opened was Youtube or some children's app. Those are intrusions on our prayers that can be managed and forgiven as a lapse in judgement, but can you imagine Katy Perry blaring from the altar or having to stop a service because the iPad fell on the ground and the screen cracked?

I have even heard word that people want to use iPads to display icons without having to buy tons of icons. I shudder at the idea. But, if shuddering isn't at all convincing as a deterrent, here is my mental progression on such thinking: iPads are a step back from printed icons which are a step back from written icons which are a step back from the saints themselves. Do we want to move towards our saints or away from them?

I welcome your thoughts.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

To be so loved

How joyous and wonderful is this? Orthodox Christians in Congo have welcomed His Holiness Orthodox Pope of Alexandria and all Africa Theodore II who opened new Hospital wing run by the Orthodox Church and visited female monastery of St. Nektarios.

Deaconesses in Africa

(Romanian Church) - On the feast of the Saint and Great Martyr Theodore of Tyre, 17 February 2016, the day on which His Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa celebrates his name day, a festive Divine Liturgy was celebrated at the Holy Church of St Nicholas, within the Missionary Centre of Kolwezi.

Together with the Alexandrian Primate concelebrated Their Eminences Nicephorus, Metropolitan of Kinshasa, Innocent, Metropolitan of Burundi and Rwanda, and the local Metropolitan Meletios of Katanga, accompanied by the Clergy of the Hy Metropolis.

As the official site of the Patriarchate reports, His Beatitude the Patriarch spoke during his homily about the Great Martyr St Theodoros, emphasising the confession of martyrdom before the persecutors of faith and his love for Jesus Christ.

At the end of the Divine Liturgy the Primate of the Alexandrian Throne consecrated the Catechist elder Theano, one of the first members of the Missionary staff in Kolwezi, to “Deaconess of the Missions” of the Holy Metropolis of Katanga and read the prayer for one entering the “ecclesiastic ministry” for three Nuns and two Catechists, in order for them to assist the missionary effort of the Holy Metropolis, particularly in the Sacraments of Baptisms of adults and marriages, as well as in the Catechetical department of the local Church.

Note that it is the first time in the history of Missions in Africa that these consecrations have been done.

Preparing your family for Great Lent

Our Journey to Pascha!

If you'd like to use this in your parish bulletin, please credit Fr. Jonathan Bannon of Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Rockford, IL.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

OCA Standing Committee for Canonical Procedure meets

I have been known to tut-tut jurisdictions for publishing empty meeting information. Many paragraphs to say, "This group met at this location and discussed things related to the name of the group." The Greek Archdiocese has historically put out many such nutritionally empty posts. The OCA, on the other hand, often gets into the nitty gritty of such events most of the time - just not in this case.

(OCA) - His Grace, Bishop Daniel of Santa Rosa chaired the third meeting of the Orthodox Church in America’s Standing Committee for Canonical Procedure at Saints Peter and Paul Church, Phoenix, AZ February 8-10, 2017.

Pursuant to Article XV, Section 9 of the OCA Statute, the Committee was established to develop general rules for canonical procedures for use and application in Ecclesiastical Courts. The Committee’s work is subject to the Holy Synod of Bishops’ approval and adoption.

The Committee once again considered the practical necessities of Ecclesiastical Courts, particularly ensuring that the guidelines under development will maintain court proceedings that are conducted decently and in good order, as well as assigning particular supporting documents for each member to develop over the course of the next two months prior to meeting again.

Committee members will continue their work separately over the next months and will meet together again at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY before Pentecost to finalize the various documents and ensure harmony with other Synodal documents prior to presenting their work to the members of the Holy Synod for their consideration.

Other members of the Committee include Judge E.R. Lanier, General Counsel for the Orthodox Church in America; Ms. Angela Parks, Chair of the Metropolitan Council Legal Committee; Archpriest Alexander Rentel, Professor of Canon Law at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary; and Priest Nicholas Roth, Secretary of the Committee.

On children singing in the church

From the blog The Music Stand, a post entitled "Good Church Music Starts with Kids."

In response to some important questions I’ve gotten about teaching kids to sing in church, I’ve asked my wife Maria Sheehan, a longtime music teacher, to write a guest post based on her experience.


I have been a vocal music educator in some capacity for the past 20 years. I’ve taught pre-schoolers and retirees and every age in between, folks with “no ear” and folks who have been making music for decades, my own family and total strangers. I love to work with beginners, though.

We generally think of beginners as young. But in church music there is a huge population of adult singers who, while having spent years singing in choirs, still don’t really know what they’re doing. Their ear and their dedication have carried them through. I especially love to work with these students. I love to help them get to those wonderful “Oh, I get it!” moments!

We all agree that church singers need training. And we also agree that we have to somehow teach our children about church singing, too. But that’s a tall order. It sounds like it requires a ton of time and thought and energy and staff. It even sounds like we need to add children’s choirs and adult music classes and voice lessons to all the other things our small churches are trying to do.

Well, I’d like to offer a somewhat different perspective on this dauntingly huge task.

Through my years of teaching I’ve noticed that the training these “experienced beginners” need is nearly identical to the training that young musicians need. And this has allowed me to successfully teach these two groups at the same time and collect some important observations. So, based on this experience, I want to share with you a firm belief I now have that may sound crazy...
Complete article here.

Second Afrikaans-speaking parish founded in South Africa

Archbishop Damaskinos of Johannesburg and Pretoria blessed the St Theodore the Tyro Orthodox Mission Church. It is the second Afrikaans-speaking parish in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria. More information available here.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Violence against Christians up in Egypt

(Premier) - The study by Christian Solidarity Worldwide documented that since 2011 there has been a rise in the number of blasphemy cases brought against Christians and that perpetrators of attacks against religious minorities generally enjoy impunity.

The report also found there are still serious restrictions on church-building in the country.

The publication of the report coincides with the second anniversary of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians on an Egyptian beach in an Islamic State video.

The charity's Egypt Advocacy Officer - who can't be named for security reasons - told Premier News Hour that they are working with the Egyptian government to help improve the situation for Christians.

"There will be an attack on a community, the security services may know about it before hand and do nothing, there's precious little follow up for the Christian community in terms of justice."

He added: "We're making recommendations to try and encourage the Egyptian government in everything they've done well but also pointing out to everyone here that there are serious areas of concern where we want to see the Egyptian government do better."

Egypt's Coptic Christian community is still recovering after Islamic State suicide bombers murdered 27 believers at St George's Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo in December.

The country is number 21 on the Open Doors' World Watch List of the 50 most difficult countries in the world to be a Christian.

A day in the life of Fedor Emelianenko

Further update on Georgian poison plot

Tbilisi, February 17 (Interfax) - Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II of All Georgia has made his first statement after undergoing surgery at a Berlin clinic regarding the detention of Deacon Giorgi Mamaladze, who has been accused by the Prosecutor's Office of attempted murder.

"I have known Father Giorgi for a long time and have heard nothing but good things about him. The story with Father Giorgi is strange and not normal," the patriarch said in an interview circulated by the Zugdidi-Tsaishi Diocese.

Ilia II said that he would arrive in Georgia in three days and then "everything will be clarified and will return to normal."

"No one will be able to disrupt the unity of our people and our Church," he said.

Deacon Mamaladze faces attempted murder accusations. He was detained at Tbilisi International Airport on February 10 carrying the toxic substance cyanide.

Georgian Chief Prosecutor Irakly Shotadze said at a press briefing earlier that Mamaladze was accused of attempting to murder a "high-ranking clergyman" in Germany.

More on the Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II kerfuffle

A few days ago I posted on some rather raucous behavior within the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch (see here). I got a few emails asking for more background and some emails providing more details. I've posted more below.

His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II
Patriarch of Antioch
(La Stampa) - It is a “serious internal problem” the one exploded within the Syrian Orthodox Church. Words by Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch Syrian Orthodox, addressing the faithful present on Sunday in St. George’s Cathedral in Bab Tuma, in the old city of Damascus. This “serious problem” concerns himself as Primate of that ancient pre-Chalcedonian Christianity, who is also “the Successor of Peter”, as the Prince of the Apostles before being martyred in Rome, was also head of the Church Antioch. Six Syrian Orthodox metropolitan bishops have publicly accused him of “betrayal of the faith”, unleashing a hail of attacks against the Patriarch also through blogs and social media. I've noted the use of pre-Chalcedonian in recent articles instead of non-Chalcedonian. It's an interesting turn of phrase.

The turmoil between the patriarch and some bishops of his Church has a complicated plot. Officially, the most shocking accusation against Mor Ignatius Aphrem has a doctrinal imprint. The betrayal of faith “attributed to the Patriarch by his detractors is that of having raised the Koran, out of respect, and having used the expression “Prophet Mohammad,” when referring to Muhammad, during inter-religious meetings. “Christ loves everyone, and calls us to be peace-builders with everyone”, replies the Patriarch to his detractors. He reiterates that lifting the Qur’an is only a way of showing respect for hundreds of millions of Muslim believers around the world. It is he who exploits these kind of acts and words to divide the Church, “the body of Christ,” he is actually the one offending and denying the faith of the Apostles, “that reached us through the blood of martyrs.”

The six anti-Patriarch bishops have issued a statement on February 8, in which they argue that the Primate of the Church no longer deserves the title of “defensor fidei”, because according to them he has cast doubt and suspicion in the heart of believers, with statements and actions “contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Holy Gospel.” They also threatened to ordain bishops around the world, if the Patriarch continues to “persist in his errors.” However, the six bishops’ statements against the Patriarch provoked the firm response of the other 30 Syrian Orthodox bishops, who represent the vast majority of the Synod.

In a statement dated February 10, the thirty bishops have labeled as “rebellion against the Church ’ the allegations against the Patriarch of having moved away from the “orthodox Christian dogma.” They preventively declare as invalid all the ordinations and other episcopal acts that they should implement without the consent of the Patriarch. Bishops urge the “rebels” to repent and return to the right path, and confirm their full communion with the “legitimate successor of Peter”, recognizing the paternal aspect of his conduct, “through his constant presence among the people, especially during difficult times.”

Through social media, priests and Syrian Orthodox communities around the world express their solidarity to the Patriarch. Nevertheless, the unfortunate affair occurred at the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate is only the latest among the recent incidents that took place within many ecclesial communities of the Middle East and Arab world. The turmoil caused by the conflicts and sectarian rivalry in the Middle east have revealed the obvious weaknesses and miseries within local churches, catalyzing new divisions. Last June, the Synod of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church was interrupted and postponed due to the no-show of a number of bishops, who failed to reach the quorum and asked for the resignation of Patriarch Gregoire III and the election of a new Patriarch. In addition, Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako the First had to carry on a hard struggle to denounce the exodus of priests and religious who left their homeland and emigrated to the West without the consent of their bishops. While the Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignace Youssif Younan, in December, has suspended a divinis three priests who had sent the Pope a letter asking for the resignation of Yohanna Bedros Mouche, Syrian Catholic Bishop of Mosul.

The conflicts within the clergy of the Churches in the Middle East are also a distressing symptom of many clerics’ distance from the faithful’s sufferings and tribulations experienced in this time. Exchanges of doctrinal accusations often work us cover-ups to “dignify” conflicts moved by far more prosaic reasons. Meanwhile, the number of bishops, priests and religious-turned-financial operators, enrolled full-time in “fundraising” operations under a sign of support to the “suffering Christians” is increasing. Processes that in the long run may prove to be more devastating for the future of the Eastern Churches than jihadist violence.
And also...
(SCOOCH) - In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen.

The Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches (SCOOCH) was disturbed to learn that on February 8, 2017 six bishops of the Syriac Orthodox Church issued a statement accusing H.H. Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of deviating from the Orthodox Faith. The six bishops further declared that they had intentions not only to administer their dioceses independently of the Patriarchate, but also to cause enduring division by ordaining parallel bishops for all of the existing dioceses of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

For its part, SCOOCH declares its unequivocal support for His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, a learned teacher and a stalwart defender of the Holy Orthodox Faith. During his tenure as Patriarchal Vicar of the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of the Eastern United States from 1996-2014, H.E. Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim – as His Holiness was then known – labored alongside the members of SCOOCH for the growth and development of our shared heritage of Holy Orthodoxy here in the United States.

During that time, His Holiness established himself as a pillar of the Pan-Oriental Orthodox Movement and one of the driving engines behind the reinvigoration of SCOOCH, and cultivated the growth of the faith that is our shared inheritance in the hearts of all around him.

The Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches condemns any action which might create schism within our communion, and urges the six bishops to reconcile themselves to their Patriarch and to the Holy Synod, which supports him. Now more than ever, it is crucial that we come together and not foster division among ourselves. The Standing Conference supports any efforts at reconciliation between the six bishops and His Holiness Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, and will meet personally with His Holiness to declare our support for him when he next visits the United States early next month.

With Love in Our Savior Jesus Christ,
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian
Primate, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (New York)
President, Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches of America