Arimathea
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Religion
The human animal is the worshipping animal. Toward the divine, we have a need to pray, to sacrifice, to offer up, and to praise. From the spirit dances of primitive animism to the rational contemplation of philosophical paganism, from the ethical code of the rabbis to the theological vision of the scholastics, from the sprinkled blood (the origin of blessing) of temple cults to helping the poor in simple Christian charity, men need to relate the immanent and the transcendent -- they see their particular lives in time and space transfigured and transfused with meaning unbounded by human things. Religion is this aspect of human life where the everyday and worldly intersects with the ultimate and divine. Is this an accident of human evolution, or is it a racial neurosis brought upon us as conscious beings who live in the shadow of our own death? Is it a reflection of the divine order, where creatures naturally orient themselves toward their source? Has God revealed himself to us, as the Christians claim? In this realm, I shall try to delve into such questions as an Orthodox Christian who ever pesters God with "Why?"
Monday, January 19, A.D. 2015
Theophany 2015

I wish you a blessed feast today! С праздником!

As usual, I offer various media links that show today’s often frigid festivities. The Telegraph features some vivid photographs of icy plunges and cross retrievals: “Orthodox Christians celebrate Epiphany with ice swimming,” as does the International Business Times: “Russian Orthodox Christians plunge into icy rivers and lakes to celebrate the Epiphany.” The Jerusalem Post covers the commemoration on the Israeli side of the Jordan River: “Christians from around the world flocked to the Banks of the Jordan River to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany.” Channel One news covers the event in Moscow and beyond: ”Миллионы верующих отмечают сегодня Крещение.”

In war-torn Lugansk, in the eastern Ukraine, the town celebrated the feast as a full-fledged civic event in addition to the blessing of the waters:

Folks from Pokhvistnevo in the Samara Oblast took their dips at midnight; it was 3 degrees Fahrenheit there on Sunday night according to WorldWeatherOnline. Russians are crazy:

A news story from Novy Urengoy in Yamalo-Nenets covers the local celebrations well, beginning with the liturgical celebration followed by the outdoor baptism renewals that intrigue Westerners (it was -6 F. in Novy Urengoy):

Belarusian media feature freezing White Russians near the Church of All Saints in Minsk, who show themselves just as adventurous as their neighbors:

Stay warm.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, January 19, Anno Domini 2015
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Wednesday, January 14, A.D. 2015
Moines du Mont-Athos

Merry Christmas! May you enjoy this festive time, especially on this “old civil new year’s day,” which is also the feast of Christ’s Circumcision and of Saint Basil the Great.

For today, I offer an older French documentary film directed by Jacques Valentin about the Holy Mountain, Les Moines du Mont-Athos.

The film is easy to follow if you know French; it is paced forgivingly for fringe Francophones.

I learnt a new fact while watching the documentary—there are female cats on Mount Athos. I never knew that there was an exception to the exclusion of female humans and domesticated animals—besides the Theotokos, of course. However, cats of both sexes inhabit the autonomous peninsula, and their endless generations are there to manage the vermin. Therefore, my longstanding qualification for a monastery’s true Orthodoxy—the significant presence of cats—has additional Athonite authority. Unfortunately, the conspicuous absence of goats does make me question the Holy Mountain’s commitment to the faith. Monasteries have to come cum cattis caprisque.

A quick online search found an esempio felinissimo:

I suggest that Orthodox apologists include this widespread miracle that attests to the trueness of our faith—that the Orthodox religion even sanctifies the typically ungodly and demonically proud cat. ὅπερ ἔδει δεῖξαι.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, January 14, Anno Domini 2015
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Friday, January 9, A.D. 2015
Charlton on Peak Experiences

Bruce Charlton has recently written a lovely piece that I recommend: “Peak experiences - the Christian difference.” Read it, and enter into the joy of the Lord.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, January 9, Anno Domini 2015
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Thursday, January 8, A.D. 2015
Бадњак

Христос се роди!

I attended a Serbian Christmas Eve celebration for the first time this year. Following the vespers service for the feast of the Lord’s Nativity, some men brought a small oak tree (or very large branch) still laden with its dried leaves into the nave. The Serbs call this form of the yule log “badnjak.” During the procession of the tree inside the nave, women threw hay, grain, and nuts all over the floor along the route. In front of the bema (the raised platform around the altar), the priest blessed the tree and read more prayers about the shepherds around Bethlehem who came to worship the Christ Child and, as a practical matter, prepared a fire for the holy family’s warmth. After the short post-service service ended, we all received a small bough of oak leaves as we waited to venerate the cross. At this time, I noticed that the small boys of the parish started collecting the nuts that had been thrown on the floor. Later on, I discovered why—patience, folks. The whole congregation then proceeded to a bonfire already burning outside on the temple lawn. The tree-porting men brought the badnjak to the fire. After another brief set of prayers, they placed the tree on the fire, and it went up in flames. It was a jolly sight on a bitterly cold Christmas Eve night. I then found out what those nut stealing boys were up to . . . they started to throw the gathered nuts into the fire, whereupon they popped or exploded. I wonder whether the Serbs have any biblical symbolism for that puerile mischief.

When I recounted the story to my sister, she said that it sounded odd. I told her that many of our customs would seem quite queer to a foreigner, too. Imagine just how bizarre our birthday cake ritual is. We bake a cake for someone’s birthday, set it on fire, sing while gathering around the birthday holder, and then expect that special person to blow out the candles, whereupon we applaud as if he had just accomplished a real feat. It would look ridiculous to an outsider.

Here is some footage of the badnjak outside the Belgrade Church of Saint Sava:

Enjoy the feast!

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, January 8, Anno Domini 2015
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Wednesday, January 7, A.D. 2015
Glorify Him!

Merry Christmas to my fellow Orthodox Christians who follow the old calendar!

I wish you well, and for today’s offering, I can do no better than to share Kristor’s message for the season on the Orthosphere: “Immanuel Sabaoth.”

When I sent the post to my friend Andrew, he responded by referring to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where Ramandu corrects Eustace:

“In our world a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” Ramandu replies,“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”

May God grant us many more men like Lewis (and Kristor).

Thy nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shown to the world the light of knowledge;
For by it, those who worshipped the stars
Were taught by a star
To adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness,
And to know Thee, the Orient from on high.
O Lord, glory be to Thee.”

Christ is born!

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, January 7, Anno Domini 2015
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Thursday, January 1, A.D. 2015
Pancakes for the New Year

Merry Christmas to the new calendarists and Advent greetings to those who follow the old calendar! I also wish everyone many blessings for the civil new year.

I received a link to a charming video about “Encountering Orthodox Christianity for the First Time” by SoulPancake.

May 2015 be better than its predecessor.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, January 1, Anno Domini 2015
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