Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Texas Welfare Meltdown... the first in what will be many "See, I told you so" Posts





As things continue to Meltdown in what used to be the Texas Department of Human Services, we now have our first press notice taken of a measurable decline in services. This is only the beginning, and is small potatoes compared with what will be coming in the next year.

I have been keeping in touch with my friends who are still working there... and we are at the point where the life boats have all been launched, the Titanic is begining to list, and the orchestra is playing "Nearer my God to Thee".

CHIP Enrollment Down This Year


(Feb. 28, 2006)--Enrollment in the Children's Health Insurance Program has fallen sharply in the first months of 2006.

Officials Tuesday in Austin announced participation has dipped below 300,000 for the first time since 2001.

Stephanie Goodman with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says there have been changes in the renewal process.

She also cited collection of participation fees for the first time in the past year and a-half.

Parents must renew the coverage every six months.

Records show about 323,000 children were enrolled in December in CHIP.

About 295,000 children were on the rolls at the start of March.

Critics say changes in the renewal process may have confused or put off some families.

The program offers low-cost insurance to children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but can't afford private coverage.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Another reason why the WCC is a joke



The 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches


Key quote from the article below:

...the US responded to the attacks [of 9/11] "by seeking to reclaim a privileged and secure place in the world, raining down terror on the truly vulnerable among our global neighbours.

And the WCC is trying to "reach out" to conservative Protestant denominations in America, because they want to have nothing to do with the WCC... and they wonder why.

The WCC or NCC never spoke out against the terror of Communists groups such as SWAPO... instead they sent money to fund them. But they have never missed an opportunity to take a shot at the United States.

H/T Orthodoxy Today

US CHRISTIAN LEADERS APOLOGIZE TO ASSEMBLY PLENARY ON VIOLENCE, POVERTY AND
ECOLOGY


Representatives of the US Conference for the World Council of Churches (WCC) addressed a message to the WCC's 9th Assembly on 18 February saying that the US-led Iraq war was a "mistake", and apologized to the ecumenical community for failing to raise a prophetic voice to prevent it.

The Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, moderator of the US Conference for the WCC, made up of 34 US churches that are members of the Council, told a 9th Assembly plenary, "We lament with special anguish the war in Iraq, launched with deception and violating global norms of justice and human rights."

Speaking at a press conference earlier, Kishkovsky said the delegation was making the statement to the ecumenical community to "show repentance and solidarity with those who suffered".

President of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the US, Rev. Michael Livingstone referred to solidarity shown with the US over the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, saying, "In a number of ecumenical settings, we were deeply moved by post 9/11 visits, where we were offered sympathy over the tragic loss of life."

Nevertheless, the statement says, the US responded to the attacks "by seeking to reclaim a privileged and secure place in the world, raining down terror on the truly vulnerable among our global neighbours.

"Our leaders turned a deaf ear to the voices of church leaders throughout our nation and the world, entering into imperial projects that seek to dominate and control for the sake of our own national interests. Nations have been demonized and God has been enlisted in national agendas that are nothing short of idolatrous."

Presented in the form of a prayer of repentance, the message continues, "We confess that we have failed to raise a prophetic voice loud enough and persistent enough to call our nation to global responsibility for creation, that we ourselves are complicit in a culture of consumption that diminishes the earth. Christ, have mercy."

The statement says that while global warming goes on unchecked, the US refuses to acknowledge its responsibility and rejects multilateral agreements aimed at reversing disastrous trends.

It says, "Starvation, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the treatable diseases that go untreated indict us, revealing the grim features of global economic injustice we have too often failed to acknowledge or confront."

"Hurricane Katrina," it continues, "revealed to the world those left behind in our own nation by the rupture of our social contract. As a nation we have refused to confront the racism that infects our policies around the world."

Rev. Dr Sharon Watkins, president of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, who supported the statement, said, "This letter is not an attempt to undermine American troops. They are brave men and women who are our sons and daughters and our neighbours. But here we gather with Christians around the world, and meet the parents of other sons and daughters."

Visibly moved, she said, "We come face to face with brothers and sisters who suffered because of choices our government made, and we are making the statement to acknowledge solidarity with the suffering."

The statement itself affirms, "We mourn all who have died or been injured in this war; we acknowledge with shame abuses carried out in our name."

Explaining the timing of the statement, Rev. John Thomas, president of United Church of Christ, said, "An emerging theme in conversation with our partners around the world is that the US is being perceived as a dangerous nation."

He said that the Assembly was "a unique opportunity to make this statement to all our colleagues" in the ecumenical movement. The statement says, "We come to you seeking to be partners in the search for unity and justice."

Thomas acknowledged that not all church members would agree with the thrust of the statement, but said it was their responsibility as leaders to "speak a prophetic and pastoral word as we believe God is offering it to us".

The US Conference for the World Council of Churches is composed of 34 USchurches which belong to the WCC:
http://www.wcc-usa.org/about-us/member-churches.html

Orthodox church sees gap with Protestants growing



The 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches


Orthodox church sees gap with Protestants growing
21 February 2006


PORTO ALEGRE: Liberal reforms allowing female clergy and same-sex marriage are creating a widening gulf within world Christianity, a leading Russian Orthodox bishop said.


That growing divide may prompt Orthodox churches to consider a tactical alliance with Roman Catholicism to defend traditional Christian values, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev said on the sidelines of the global assembly of the mostly Protestant World Council of Churches (WCC).

While Orthodox churches, with some 220 million members, are members of the WCC, now holding its global assembly in Brazil, Alfeyev – the chief Russian Orthodox delegate – said they have less in common with fellow members than they once had.

"The gap between the traditional wing, represented mainly by Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church, and the liberal wing, represented by many Protestant churches, is only growing day by day," he said.

"We (Orthodox and Catholics) are on the same side of the divide." "Traditional Christianity's very survival is in jeopardy. We have no right to delay this strategic alliance, because in 20-40 years it will be too late," he said in an interview, citing threats like "warrior secularism, warrior Islam or warrior liberalism present in Protestantism."

Alfeyev, the Bishop of Vienna also in charge of Russian Orthodox Church relations with the European Union, said the alliance should not be a matter of dogma and should precede the resolution of many centuries-old differences between the two oldest branches of Christianity, some dating back to the Great Schism of 1054.

His comments echoed ideas supported by Roman Catholic Pope Benedict, who has said closer ties with Orthodox churches are a top priority of his papacy. The Catholic Church represents over half of the world's 2 billion Christians but is not a member of the Geneva-based WCC.

AdvertisementAdvertisementAlfeyev said Russian theologians thought decades ago to "establish full Eucharistic contact" with the Anglican church.

"In the past years, it has become clear that it is completely impossible – dogmatically, ideologically and from the point of view of moral teaching, as the Anglican church shifted very far away from Orthodox dogma," he said.

Some Anglican churches in North America and Europe, as well as other Protestant churches, ordain non-celibate gay clergy and bless same-sex unions. Some also ordain women bishops.

These stances, Alfeyev said, make "any talk of unification very hard nowadays." The Orthodox Church does not accept the idea of female clergy as it attributes that development to the influence of secular processes of the past few decades.

Alfeyev said "a revelation from above" is needed for Orthodox churches to start ordaining women.

The Russian Orthodox Church recently broke off relations with the Lutheran Church of Sweden after it established an official ceremony to bless same-sex marriages, he said.

Alfeyev said his church accepts homosexuals as parishioners, treating them "with a sense of pastoral responsibility," but still considered gay relationships "sinful and not to be blessed or promoted," as seen in some Protestant churches. This echoes the traditional Catholic view.

In the wake of the growing differences with liberal churches, Alfeyev suggested an alliance with the Vatican and stressed there was no time to lose.

Alfeyev said the sides were trying to resolve their own issues, including the more modern problem of Catholic proselytism in Ukraine and Russia.

"I'm not calling for a dogmatic alliance. . .. We should unite in a joint testimony of traditional Christian values."

Alfeyev said the two sides were working to prepare a historic meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, which had not yet taken place "not because of our denial, but because we want it to actually change things and not be just a protocol event."

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Return of the Copperheads





"The president is an idiot, who is leading us into a disasterous war we cannot win."

Sound familiar? It is what the Democrats say today. It's what they said about Vietnam (after Nixon took over). It's also what they said about Abe Lincoln and the Civil War.

It took a generation for the Democrats to live down the Copperhead label they earned during the Civil War.

It will take at least another generation for them to live it down this time, when not only the Union, but our survival is at stake.



Saturday, February 11, 2006

BONO'S REMARKS TO THE NATIONAL PRAYER BREAKFAST

I would not endorse every word or point that Bono made in this "homily", but I think it is well worth a read. Bono is not the typical dope-smoking rock and roller. He is a sincere believer. I don't think all of his beliefs are correct, but I think it is nice to see that someone who is on center stage in the pop culture, is talking about God's higher laws, and making people think a bit beyond themselves.





BONO'S REMARKS TO THE NATIONAL PRAYER BREAKFAST

***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***

BONO
REMARKS AT THE NATIONAL PRAYER BREAKFAST



Thank you.

Mr. President, First Lady, King Abdullah, Other heads of State, Members of Congress, distinguished guests…

Please join me in praying that I don’t say something we’ll all regret.

That was for the FCC.

If you’re wondering what I’m doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I’m certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It’s certainly not because I’m a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I’m here because I’ve got a messianic complex.

Yes, it’s true. And for anyone who knows me, it’s hardly a revelation.

Well, I’m the first to admit that there’s something unnatural… something unseemly… about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the South of France. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse Helms showed up at a U2 concert… but this is really weird, isn’t it?

You know, one of the things I love about this country is its separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me here, both church and state have been separated from something else completely: their mind. .

Mr. President, are you sure about this?

It’s very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned—I’m Irish.

I’d like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I’d like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws… but of course, they don’t always. And I presume that, in a sense, is why you’re here.

I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here—Muslims, Jews, Christians—all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.

I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.

Yes, it’s odd, having a rock star here—but maybe it’s odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was… well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays… and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land… and in this country, seeing God’s second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash… in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment…

I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.

Even though I was a believer.

Perhaps because I was a believer.

I was cynical… not about God, but about God’s politics. (There you are, Jim.)

Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick—my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the Millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world’s poorest people. They had the audacity to renew the Lord’s call—and were joined by Pope John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic’s point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.

‘Jubilee’—why ‘Jubilee’?

What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lords favor?

I’d always read the Scriptures, even the obscure stuff. There it was in Leviticus (25:35)…

‘If your brother becomes poor,’ the Scriptures say, ‘and cannot maintain himself… you shall maintain him… You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.’

It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, he’s met with the rabbis, impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he’s a clever guy, this Jesus, but he hasn’t done much… yet. He hasn’t spoken in public before…

When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,’ he says, ‘because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.’ And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour, the year of Jubilee. (Luke 4:18)

What he was really talking about was an era of grace—and we’re still in it.

So fast-forward 2,000 years. That same thought, grace, was made incarnate—in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn’t a bless-me club… it wasn’t a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow their convictions with actions… making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people.

But then my cynicism got another helping hand.

It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called A.I.D.S. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The one’s that didn’t miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even on children… Even fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.

Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself Judgmentalism is back!

But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.

Love was on the move.

Mercy was on the move.

God was on the move.

Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet… Conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS… Soccer moms and quarterbacks… hip-hop stars and country stars… This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!

Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!

Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!

Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.

It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks.

When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened—and acted. When churches starting organising, petitioning, and even—that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying… on AIDS and global health, governments listened—and acted.

I’m here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill… I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not… But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. “If you remove the yolk from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places”

It’s not a coincidence that in the Scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It’s not an accident. That’s a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. [You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.] ‘As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.’ (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

Here’s some good news for the President. After 9-11 we were told America would have no time for the World’s poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it’s true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.

In fact, you have double aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund—you and Congress—have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.

But here’s the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There’s is much more to do. There’s a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

And finally, it’s not about charity after all, is it? It’s about justice.

Let me repeat that: It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.

And that’s too bad.

Because you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what’s happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn’t accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the Tsunami. 150, 000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, “mother nature”. In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it’s a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It’s annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren’t they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.

You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, “Equal?” A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, “Yeah, ‘equal,’ that’s what it says here in this book. We’re all made in the image of God.”

And eventually the Pharaoh says, “OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews—but not the blacks.”

“Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man.”

So on we go with our journey of equality.

On we go in the pursuit of justice.

We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than two million Americans… left and right together… united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.

We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King—mother of a movement for equality, one that changed the world but is only just getting started. These issues are as alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.

Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market… that’s a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents… That’s a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents… that’s a justice issue.

And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.

That’s why I say there’s the law of the land… and then there is a higher standard. There’s the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it’s OK to protect our agriculture but it’s not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?

As the laws of man are written, that’s what they say.

God will not accept that.

Mine won’t, at least. Will yours?

[pause]

I close this morning on … very… thin… ice.

This is a dangerous idea I’ve put on the table: my God vs. your God, their God vs. our God… vs. no God. It is very easy, in these times, to see religion as a force for division rather than unity.

And this is a town—Washington—that knows something of division.

But the reason I am here, and the reason I keep coming back to Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come together on behalf of what the Scriptures call the least of these.

This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is not even, with all due respect, an American idea. Nor it is unique to any one faith.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ (Luke 6:30) Jesus says that.

‘Righteousness is this: that one should… give away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.’ The Koran says that. (2.177)

Thus sayeth the Lord: ‘Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring fourth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.’ The jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.

That is a powerful incentive: ‘The Lord will watch your back.’ Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord’s blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it… I have a family, please look after them… I have this crazy idea…

And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you’re doing.

Get involved in what God is doing—because it’s already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.

And that is what He’s calling us to do.

I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to ten percent of the family budget. Well, how does that compare the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than one percent.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:

I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing…. Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional one percent of the federal budget tithed to the poor.

What is one percent?

One percent is not merely a number on a balance sheet.

One percent is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. One percent is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. One percent is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. One percent is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This one percent is digging waterholes to provide clean water.

One percent is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism towards Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.

America gives less than one percent now. Were asking for an extra one percent to change the world. to transform millions of lives—but not just that and I say this to the military men now – to transform the way that they see us.

One percent is national security, enlightened economic self interest, and a better safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, one percent is the best bargain around.

These goals—clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty—these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a Globalised World.

Now, I’m very lucky. I don’t have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don’t have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don’t have to make the tough choices.

But I can tell you this:

To give one percent more is right. It’s smart. And it’s blessed.

There is a continent—Africa—being consumed by flames.

I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did—or did not to—to put the fire out in Africa.

History, like God, is watching what we do.

Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Independent: Once-banned Solzhenitsyn wins 15 million Russian viewers





Once-banned Solzhenitsyn wins 15 million Russian viewers
By Andrew Osborn in Moscow
Published: 10 February 2006


Forty years ago Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Soviet dissident whose books were suppressed and secretly distributed among a brave trusted few in the then USSR. He was part of a counter-culture that seemed nobly doomed and it was inconceivable that he would ever become part of the mainstream, let alone embrace it.

But 2006 has turned out to be the year Solzhenitsyn came full circle. Today his long bearded features stare at Muscovites from publicity posters and a TV adaptation of his troubling novel The First Circle is attracting impressive ratings and rave reviews.

The semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of a group of skilled mathematicians and specialists who agree to work on KGB special design projects for Joseph Stalin in 1949 in exchange for not being sent to hard labour camps where their chances of survival were much slimmer.

It focuses on the moral dilemmas that such a trade-off with the authorities presents and is based upon a stint that Solzhenitsyn did in such a centre on the outskirts of Moscow.

In an ironic twist that will not be lost on the Nobel Prize-winning writer, the TV serialisation is being funded by the Russian state - as if to underline his extraordinary journey from persecuted dissident to respected government-backed author.

Though, at 87, he continues to live the life of a frail recluse in an exclusive compound in north-west Moscow, he is no longer on the fringes of society but at the heart of it.

A total of 15 million Russians have tuned in to watch certain episodes of the 10-part serialisation, with 40 per cent of Moscow reported to have been glued to their screens during prime-time viewing recently on the state-owned Rossia Channel. Indeed to the surprise of TV executives, the grim morality tale set in Stalinist Russia turned out to have more pulling power than Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines which was broadcast at exactly the same time on a rival channel.

As the theatre critic Vera Maksimova wrote: "The streets are empty. People are sitting and watching The First Circle. Solzhenitsyn is back."

The man variously described as "Russia's greatest living writer" or as "Russia's conscience" did the voice-over for the powerful drama and penned the screenplay.

It is the first time any of his writings have been transferred to the small or indeed the big screen in his native Russia.

When he watched the rough-cut version he is reported to have wept with emotion. His wife Natalia, who also acts as his official spokeswoman, said that he was struck by the film's authenticity and reminded of his own eight-year stint in labour camps across the Soviet Union.

The series' director, Gleb Panfilov, said in a television interview that he had conceived the idea of turning the novel into a film as long ago as 1974, the year Solzhenitsyn was exiled from the USSR, but never thought it would happen in his lifetime.

"I assumed that bringing it to the screen would be possible in 300 years. But it happened earlier," he said.

That it has happened is all the more remarkable considering that when it was first written in the 1950s the first draft had to be concealed in an empty champagne bottle in a hospital ward where Solzhenitsyn was being treated for cancer. The novel was published in the West in 1968, but appeared officially in the Soviet Union only in the late 1980s when Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost (openness) began to bite.

Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia in 1994 amid great fanfare after years of living in the United States, but struggled to find his rightful place.

His views - trenchant Russian nationalism, loathing of materialism and vocal support for the Russian Orthodox Church - have at times been controversial.

But with the television film The First Circle he finally appears to have found his niche.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

American Chronicle: The extraordinary tale of an enormous Russian cathedral – birth, destruction and resurrection





By Martine Self
February 8, 2006


What can you say about a cathedral that took 40 years to build, was demolished on the whim of one man, who then planned to replace it by building the tallest building in the world, but instead it became the world’s largest open air swimming pool and then was rebuilt almost exactly as it first was built in the space of five years? In most other countries, the tale would defy belief, but in Russia, somehow it’s easier to understand.

Some see its story as an allegorical tale mirroring the Birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ as well as the torment, endurance and rebirth of the Russian state itself.

The departure of Napoleon’s invading forces and the fortitude and sacrifice of the Russian people inspired the then Tsar, Alexander I to sign a manifesto on Christmas Day, 1812, proclaiming the building of an enormous cathedral to celebrate Russia’s liberation.

Many years passed before his good intentions were realized. Work first began in 1817 at Sparrow Hills, but was abandoned in favour of its present site, next to the Moscow River on a piece of land paradoxically known as ‘Devil’s Hill’. The beautiful Alekseevsky Convent which already stood on the site, was demolished by order of the tsar and relocated, but not before the Abbess apparently cursed the ground and foretold that no building built there would stand for any lengthy period of time.

Building began in 1839 and lasted for more than 40 years, being finally consecrated on 26 May 1883, on the day that Tsar Alexander III was crowned. Designed by architect Konstantin Ton in ‘Russo-Byzantine’ style, the building aroused controversy.

By 1924, after seven years in power, the Bolsheviks came up with the grandiose plan of demolishing the vast temple, and replacing it with a ‘super building’ to be known as the ‘Palace of the Soviet’s’ reaching over 415 metres in height. This was to include a 100 metre tall statue of Lenin and was meant to demonstrate to the proletariat and to the rest of the world, the might of the Soviet people. By destroying the largest and most visible symbol of Russian Orthodoxy, Stalin was striking at the heart of the Orthodox Church.

Another seven years passed before the third of three explosions destroyed the massive structure, eerily true to the abbess’s prophesy. By 1939, work started on the foundations, but World War II soon halted construction when metal structures were removed from the building to create ‘hedgehog’ tank traps that protected Moscow suburbs from invasion by Hitler.

Despite continued work on the design after the war, building of the palace never resumed, with just a muddy crater marking the project’s site. After Stalin’s death, little mention was made of it.

Since then, rumours have abounded that subsidence and proximity to the river prevented any further construction of the Palace, while other rumours affirm that the Soviet state ran out of money after the war.

Nevertheless, the flooded foundations were turned into the world’s largest heated outdoor swimming pool in 1958 – 60. It was kept heated at a warm 27C even throughout the winter.

In the late 1980s, the idea of building an exact copy of the demolished cathedral began to take shape, and by 1994, the decision to do so was taken by the Russian Orthodox Church. It became Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov’s flagship project to coincide with Moscow’s 850th anniversary in 1997 and the regeneration of Moscow. The splendid monument to the Russian Orthodox Church’s triumph over tyranny was built in five years and finally consecrated in August 2000.

Breathtaking in its enormity – it is the largest Orthodox church in the world – it now lies adorning the Moscow River’s bank, just down the road from the Kremlin, enhancing a fairytale skyline which is even more splendid at night.

A museum dedicated to the church’s history in the building’s basement demonstrates the rise and fall and rise again of one of Christendom’s most magnificent temples. Tours to all parts of the cathedral, including a visit to the base of the dome section, which offers a splendid view of Moscow, are available in English at the church and from tourist agencies in Moscow.