Sunday, December 25, 2005



Fr. Dionisy Pozdnyaev, a Moscow Patriarchal priest now on mission in Hong Kong, has worked closely with Road to Emmaus staff since the journal's inception. His life-long interest in China and Chinese Orthodoxy sparked a warm response in Road to Emmaus' staff, publishers, and readers who have assisted Chinese seminarians and their families since 2002. In response to the inquiries of many readers, in this interview Fr. Dionisy brings us up to date on the political and spiritual condition of Chinese Orthodoxy, and his hopes for the future.

RTE: In 2003, Road to Emmaus did a lengthy interview with Ioannis Chen, an Orthodox Christian from Shanghai, on Chinese Orthodoxy and Christianity in general[1]. How has the Chinese mission grown since then?

FR. DIONISY: I cannot speak about real missionary work yet; we are still preparing for missionary work. We must lay the groundwork and prepare the missionaries, and we have just begun.

Two years ago, I moved to Hong Kong from Moscow to be closer to mainland China. It's much easier to visit from Hong Kong because of visa regulations, expense, and distance, and, of course, Hong Kong is already the Chinese world.

When I arrived, I served for a year in Metropolitan Nikitas' church, who oversees the Asian missions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We have good relations and this is important, as it is always a shame when interjurisdictional problems influence missionary work. I would like to see good relations among all Orthodox - Constantinople, Tokyo, Moscow, China, and throughout Asia. In my opinion the only way to do missionary work in China is for all Orthodox to recognize the previously established autonomous Chinese Orthodox Church, and work together towards full recognition by the Chinese government.

RTE: You have your own church now in Hong Kong?

FR. DIONISY: Yes. There was a long-standing Moscow Patriarchal parish in Hong Kong, but the priest died in 1971 and no one was sent to take his place. So, this is a reopened parish of the Moscow Patriarchate, which has a long tradition here. Part of the old Anglican cemetery was set aside long ago and consecrated for Orthodox believers and Orthodox priests.
We now have a house church in the center of Hong Kong, dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul. Our parishioners rent an apartment and the church is open not only to Russians, but to all foreigners, as well as to the Hong Kong Chinese.

RTE: Services are in Slavonic?

FR. DIONISY: Services are in Slavonic and English, and sometimes, if there are Chinese Orthodox, we do the hours or the Six Psalms in Chinese. It depends on who is there. If there are more Slavs, we use Slavonic; more English-speaking foreigners, we do more in English. We just began a year ago, and have a long way to go.

We've also opened a parish dedicated to St. Sergius of Radonezh in mainland China, in Shenzhen. This is quite a big city and rather near the border - it's a half an hour by train from the Hong Kong city-center to the border - and the population of Shenzhen is seven million. There are many foreigners there, as it was the first free-trade zone in mainland China under the new economic reforms. Thirty-five years ago it was a very small village, now it is a very large city.

RTE: Is the church in Shenzhen also a house church?

FR. DIONISY: Yes. We have permission from local authorities to celebrate services for expatriate Orthodox because there are many foreigners in Shenzhen from Russia, Ukraine, the U.S., Serbia, and Romania. We do not yet have permission to do missionary work with the mainland Chinese, so we cannot invite them to church services, although we can speak to them on the cultural level. We can invite them to tea, to discuss different questions of cultural exchange and cooperation between the Orthodox world and China. In the area of international relations, we can do joint projects. We cannot teach religion outright, but we can teach Russian language and culture classes, for example, and if the students are interested, through this they will get some knowledge of Orthodoxy.

RTE: If any of them wanted to come to your church could they come openly, or would they have to come quietly?

FR. DIONISY: Quietly. We have promised the authorities that we won't proselytize - this is a condition of our being in China - and if we violate this it might cause problems not only for us, but for them in the future.

I can say, though, that mainland China is now more and more open to Christianity and we have a very good example in the work of Catholic missionaries in mainland China. They are working there now as they did a hundred years ago, as scholars in universities that offer studies in western Christianity. They have Chinese students and professors involved in this work because they have many resources, and this is real missionary work, under the umbrella of academia.

RTE: My understanding is that once the Chinese Orthodox Church is officially given the recognition it had before the Cultural Revolution [2], and when you have native clergy, they will be free to teach openly.

FR. DIONISY: This question is not clear for us now, but certainly it is a condition that there must be native clergy in order to have services. We are preparing two seminary students for ordination now, and it will be very important for them to be recognized by the Chinese government. This is absolutely an internal Chinese decision. We cannot insist on this, but we are waiting for it.

RTE: Since they've allowed the Catholics to have their national Chinese Church, and recognized many Chinese Protestant groups, it seems reasonable that the Orthodox autonomy, originally recognized by the Communist regime, will be renewed.

FR. DIONISY: We hope so, but another factor is that Orthodox Christianity is now recognized only as the religion of the Russian ethnic minority in northern China. I believe it is very important to change the attitude of the Chinese authorities, that they recognize Orthodoxy not only as the religion of Russians, so that it can be open to all nationalities. Certainly, their current recognition of Orthodoxy as the religion of an ethnic minority within China is a chance for us now, but in the future this approach should change. We need to create a real Chinese Orthodox Church, with Chinese language and ways of expression in iconography and church music. The Chinese themselves will create this expression.

I also believe that missionary work in China should be done by native Chinese. As foreigners, we can only help them. We can orient them, educate them about Orthodoxy and prepare them to teach. Of course, the best variant would be to open a theological school in mainland China, but political restrictions make this impossible now, so the only possibility to give students experience of church life and a basic knowledge of Orthodox theology is to invite them to our own seminaries and church schools.

RTE: Would you speak a little about your own interest in China? Was this something that was with you from a young age?

FR. DIONISY: Yes, I've been interested in Chinese culture since childhood. I remember being five years old and trying to copy Chinese characters. When I was about ten years old we had a Chinese neighbor. He was a friend, and we discussed many things, including spiritual life. After I became a priest he came to me and said that he had known me for a long time, that he understood that Orthodoxy was a real religious system, and that he had a great respect for the Orthodox Church; he asked to be baptized. I baptized him, and then he invited me to visit his family in mainland China. It was my first trip abroad, about ten years ago. Since then, many people in different ways have broadened my knowledge of China, and my understanding of the Russian Orthodox presence there. I found some historical documents relating to this in the archives, and this theme has been very interesting for me. Later, I was able to serve at the chapel of the Russian embassy in Beijing.

RTE: Are you still serving there?

FR. DIONISY: Every month. This is a diplomatic privilege, as the embassy is sovereign Russian territory. The embassy itself is located on the territory of the former Russian Ecclesiastical Mission, but when it came under the jurisdiction of the Soviet embassy, the church was destroyed. A second church in Beijing was later closed by order of the Chinese authorities. This year the Russian embassy will begin reconstructing the church on the grounds of the embassy. It may be a new wooden chapel or a replica of the old stone church that was here before; we are still negotiating with our foreign minister.

Beijing is one of the few world capitals that doesn't have an Orthodox church. This is a problem not only for Chinese believers, but also for expatriates and for Russians. The only possibility to attend church services now in Beijing is at the Russian embassy, but this is limited to Russian expatriates. Under Chinese law, the Chinese cannot attend.

RTE: I've heard that President Putin may put in a word for you when he meets with the Chinese authorities later this year.

FR. DIONISY: Yes. We don't know precisely what he will talk about, but we have submitted this question to the Russian foreign minister and to the president and we hope that he will have time to discuss it with the authorities: Orthodoxy as the religion of Russian ethnic minorities, and the reinstatement of Orthodoxy under the autonomous Chinese Orthodox Church.

RTE: For our readers who may not know, the Moscow Patriarchate gave autonomy to the Chinese Church in 1957.

FR. DIONISY: Yes, under the Chinese communists. There was no choice. The only way for the Church to keep functioning in China was to give it autonomy. The Chinese Orthodox were perhaps not ready for it, but there was no alternative. They ended up with two bishops and several priests. One of the bishops died before they were able to consecrate a third, and there were never any synodal councils of the Chinese Orthodox Church.

During the Cultural Revolution, the canonical structure of the Church and all outward forms of religion were destroyed. The last active priest, Fr. Alexander Du died this past year. He wasn't serving, but he did come to the Russian embassy to receive Holy Communion. He had been ordained in Beijing by Archbishop Victor Sviatin who was the head of the last Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Beijing and Archbishop of Beijing and All-China. After the Cultural Revolution, Fr. Alexander repeatedly asked the local Beijing government to open one of the old churches for the small community of Orthodox believers, but never received a reply.

RTE: And when Fr. Alexander died, you were able to serve his funeral.

FR. DIONISY: Yes, it was held in the Catholic cathedral, and I was able to serve. The Catholic Archbishop of Beijing of the National Chinese Catholic Church was close to Fr. Alexander. He is quite a powerful man and was able to give this permission.

Papiy, a subdeacon from before the Cultural Revolution, is now studying for the diaconate at Holy Trinity - St. Sergius Lavra, near Moscow. There is only one old priest left in Shanghai, very ill, who hasn't served for several decades. I don't even know his name because he and his family are so afraid to have contact with foreigners that he sees no one. There is an old deacon, also, Fr. Evangelos, but of course he cannot serve alone.

RTE: Have you met any lay Orthodox Chinese who were able to keep their faith alive by doing reader's services privately, or were things so difficult, like in Albania, that they couldn't speak about the faith even in their own families?

FR. DIONISY: Even now, they are afraid, and won't speak openly about those times or their beliefs. Particularly to foreigners. This subject is quite private even now.

RTE: I remember reading a story about an Albazinian woman[3] near the Chinese border, whose Orthodox name was Matrona. She said that when she was small, the family's faith was kept a secret even from her.

FR. DIONISY: Yes. This is all history, and now we have to prepare absolutely new ground for new Orthodox believers.

RTE: How many Chinese consider themselves Orthodox now, either through ancestry, pre-communist baptism, or who have managed to be baptized recently?

FR. DIONISY: It is hard to say, because the younger generations are not baptized, although they call themselves Orthodox because of their family tradition. I think probably about 10,000 on the northern borders of China would claim to be Orthodox. In Beijing maybe 250, in Shanghai even less, perhaps fifty.

RTE: Without going into details that may cause political problems, have any of these people been able to receive sacraments in the past few years?

FR. DIONISY: Sometimes. I've baptized some of them, and I've celebrated liturgy in Shanghai. I know that a few other visiting priests have celebrated there, for example from the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and from the Constantinople Patriarchate visiting from Taipei. Occasionally there is a liturgy, and some groups of people take Holy Communion.

RTE: And this is kept secret from the government.

FR. DIONISY: I wouldn't say secret, we cannot announce it as a public service, because it can be construed as missionary work.

RTE: Have you had any contact yourself with the government about this?

FR. DIONISY: Yes, in fact the deputy-chairman of the Moscow Patriarchal Department of External Church Relations, Bishop Mark of Yegorevsk, is now in China conferring with the authorities on the practice of Orthodoxy.

RTE: You mentioned that you already have Chinese seminarians in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
FR. DIONISY: Yes, about eighteen, and the Chinese authorities know that we have these students. Their coming was the students' personal choice. A few months ago Metropolitan Kyrill visited the Chinese embassy and introduced some of the students to the Chinese ambassador, and we announced it also in Beijing, to the Religious Affairs Bureau. It is better to do so now because they will eventually have to be recognized by the Chinese government. We not only have men, we also have Chinese women students, who are studying choir directing and icon-painting.

RTE: Do you see the women also being catechists?

FR. DIONISY: Yes, of course, it's a very real possibility for them to become catechists. In this context there is no difference between women and men. Also, we hope that some of the women will become interested in monasticism and will want to help begin monasticism in China.
Another quite important need is priests who can speak Chinese to help train Chinese seminarians and catechists. This year we sent four of our Russian seminarians, whom we hope to eventually ordain, to Taipei to study Chinese in Taiwan. Of course, we would prefer mainland China, but the Chinese government hasn't offered any stipends or support for their education, while Taiwan did. Also, a Russian woman is going to teach Russian language and culture in Chinese in Taiwan, a civil project sponsored by the university. This is a good opportunity to introduce Orthodoxy. We have some Russian Chinese-speakers who could become catechists and teachers of catechists, but we need to find a way to support them and their families. Unfortunately, the Moscow Patriarchate cannot financially support this now, so a better variant would be for someone to have a civil job, such as teaching English, and then to do missionary work in their free time.

RTE: Wouldn't that conflict with government policy?

FR. DIONISY: No, because the primary missionary task ahead of us now is translation, and there are no difficulties with that.

RTE: I'm amazed at the number of Russians I've met who have studied Chinese or are academic sinologists.

FR. DIONISY: Yes, and many of them are Orthodox and would be glad to help - the opportunity just isn't there yet.

RTE: Can you tell us more about the translation and publishing efforts?

FR. DIONISY: Our first need is to create a Chinese dictionary of precise Orthodox terms for the use of translators and believers. This is extremely necessary as a foundation for all good translations for the future, not only in China, but in Chinese communities in Russia, Europe, Australia, and in the U.S.

RTE: Will you try to go for an older, more formal feeling in the Chinese, or would it lean towards contemporary speech?

FR. DIONISY: Because of my Slavonic background, I prefer a more classical, conservative translation into Chinese, but I think this is a question for the Chinese believers themselves. What can they accept and what will be useful for them? As foreigners, we cannot dictate this.

RTE: But I imagine they also would prefer something high and beautiful as opposed to more common usage.

FR. DIONISY: Yes, of course, it should never be everyday speech. The Chinese language, however, is quite complicated and has very different levels, even in contemporary life. The literary levels of official documents and that of everyday speech, for example, are very different.
RTE: In English, we still don't have lexical norms for many church words. We often use Greek or Russian words, when the English equivalent doesn't quite fit. For example, not only complex theological concepts, but even the particular items of vestments and clerical garb differ somewhat in the Catholic and Anglican churches from the Orthodox, so their English words aren't quite applicable. In our ecclesiology as well, something as simple as the Catholic feast of Epiphany has a different emphasis from the Orthodox Theophany which occurs at the same time. All of these things have to be explained.

FR. DIONISY: Yes, but in Chinese we don't have that problem because we have very few foreign words. Each word in Chinese has its own particular meaning, and nothing else, but you have to find it. You can also make up new words, but these should be made up carefully, to precisely express the idea. The two Chinese Orthodox philologists working on the dictionary are a Chinese English-speaking woman from Hong Kong, and Ioannis Chen, whom you interviewed two years ago. From the Russian side, we have two Russian sinologists, a woman from Moscow, and a man from Vladivostok. Fortunately, the internet is giving us the possibility to create a network of trained linguists.

RTE: Were there any Chinese liturgies in use before the Cultural Revolution, or were they all Slavonic?

FR. DIONISY: After 1905, most of the services of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission were in Chinese. Churches that had large Russian populations, like in Harbin, celebrated in Slavonic, but the Ecclesiastical Mission in Beijing did the liturgy, vespers, and matins in Chinese. After we restore these old texts and make some corrections, they may be republished, but corrections are certainly needed because the Chinese language changes rapidly, much more quickly than western European languages. What worked at the beginning of the century doesn't work now.
Of course, educated people can read and understand the older language, but not country people or those in remote regions. Since 65 percent of the Chinese population lives outside the cities and large towns, we have to take them into account in any translation.

RTE: Once the forthcoming dictionary establishes the lexical norms, what will follow?

FR. DIONISY: A service book and a prayer book. The prayer book will be the common prayers and liturgy for lay-people, and the service book will be the services for clergy. Later, we plan to do the Octoechos, then the Horologion, Festal Menaion, Lenten Triodion, as usual...
We already have an horologion that was translated in 1913. Once we've established the norms, we can publish it as an old variant with some corrections to make the translation more accurate and readable.

We also have a translation of a book by Elder Sophrony, The Life of Elder Silouan, that is ready for publication. The translation was made by a Chinese scholar of Russian in mainland China, but it can't be published there yet. It would be quite expensive to print it in Hong Kong, so my idea is to print it in Russia, and bring it in.

RTE: Why was The Life of Elder Silouan chosen? Is there something about Fr. Sophrony's writing that you think will be particularly interesting to the Chinese?

FR. DIONISY: My own experience is that during the Soviet period in Russia, this book was very important for Russian Orthodox believers, and even non-believers. I know many people who, previously knowing little about Orthodoxy, read this book and developed not only an interest in tradition but in real spiritual life. It is important to be within the tradition, but that isn't everything. The traditional forms have to be filled with real spiritual life, and this book is particularly effective at attracting people to a deeper belief. Also, a further step in publishing spiritual literature would be some good general books on Orthodoxy. I'm not sure about the Church Fathers at the beginning; much depends on the language, which can be quite difficult. One has to be prepared both to translate and to read the fathers ... But, there is no doubt that we need good literature now. We've begun collecting English books in a small library in Hong Kong. Fr. Sophrony's monastery in Essex donated books, as did the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood in Platina, California. We would also be very happy to have the resources to translate from English into Chinese. We don't have to translate from Russian only. The goal is to translate and publish good Orthodox material in the Chinese language. My long-term hope is to organize Orthodox education in mainland China.

RTE: Informally, with low-key house classes, or as something more public, like an institution?

FR. DIONISY: Step-by-step, we will have to bring this question before the Chinese authorities. If the Chinese Orthodox Church is recognized inside China, if the government permits our proposal, and if we can raise funds, we will begin by inviting teachers from abroad to teach theology, catechesis, church history, etc., until we can educate native Chinese to take over. This is a realistic approach.

In the future it may be possible to open a seminary in mainland China, but before this happens we have to begin thinking about textbooks in the Chinese language for these students. We have to find good course books and books of lectures on these topics in Russian or English to translate into Chinese: church history, liturgics, dogmatics. If people were interested in sponsoring high-quality translations of these things, we could have them printed in Russia. We have ways of distributing them in mainland China, but we need Orthodox translators who have a feel for what they are translating, and who can follow the lexical norms, once they are set. And, of course, we need to help support them as they translate.

RTE: And these books would be distributed for free? An average Chinese salary is low by our standards.

FR. DIONISY: Yes, of course. But we don't need so many to begin with. Just a few thousand copies of each book. Also, we will put all translations on the internet, so that these Orthodox texts will be available without charge to Chinese speakers around the world.

RTE: What is it about Orthodoxy that is most attractive to Chinese believers?

FR. DIONISY: The main attraction is the feeling of truth. This feeling should be the main reason for belief. Being attracted by traditionalism or non-traditionalism is important, but it is not the chief thing. The impression of Orthodox services will be very important to the Chinese, because they can understand liturgy through experiencing it, not through the mind, or philosophy. They can look at it and feel something. We have to involve the mind in this process, of course, but tradition by itself is not enough. Buddhism is also very traditional and even older, as is Judaism, but their traditionalism isn't enough of a reason to choose them.

If we can present the cycle of services: vespers, matins, hours, and liturgy in the Chinese language, in a traditional Orthodox style of reverent usage, it will be very attractive. As I said, our first translating task is to create lexical norms in Chinese for both the church services and other reading, so that the translations will be uniform and of high quality.

Perhaps the Chinese government will finally allow Orthodoxy because of the close historical links between China and Russia. And this is not bad. In Russia, Orthodoxy was also chosen under the influence of political reasons. It was the personal choice of St. Vladimir because of his personal experience of Orthodoxy's spirituality, but his ambassadors to different countries advised him to choose Orthodoxy because of quite simple impressions, not because of any philosophy. The emphasis in Russian Orthodoxy is often on attention to form, to details. Sometimes this is very good, but sometimes it can create a lot of difficulties, as we see in the Old Believer's Schism. But there is already a beginning - the government has helped build three new Orthodox churches in mainland China.

RTE: They were built in response to people asking for compensation for their ruined churches during the Cultural Revolution?

FR. DIONISY: Yes. Two have been built in Xinjiang, in the Autonomous Region in Inner Mongolia, and the Orthodox community in Chuguchak City, near the China-Kazakhstan border, has received permission to construct a new church. Also, an old church has been reopened in Harbin.

RTE: Do they also have permission to hold services?

FR. DIONISY: That is another question. The government may give the money to reconstruct the buildings, but if the community is not ready for services and if there aren't recognized native clergy, the government can do nothing.

RTE: What do they do about icons, vestments, and church supplies?

FR. DIONISY: Sometimes they buy paper icons from abroad, from Russia or Australia, for the iconostasis. There are also many old items from Orthodox churches in the storerooms of the Chinese Ministry of Cultural Affairs that were confiscated during the Cultural Revolution. They have many icons and church goods from Beijing, Harbin, Tianjin, but no one has yet begun negotiations for them.

RTE: I know that there have been at least two icons painted in a rather Chinese style of the Lord and of New Martyr Mitrophan, which have been distributed by the Greek Archdiocese in Hong Kong. Were these done by a Chinese iconographer, or painted somewhere else?

FR. DIONISY: We can't really speak of Chinese iconography yet. Perhaps it will exist in the future when there will be Chinese masters who can find a way to create Chinese iconography with a traditional Orthodox understanding according to all the canons. It's a problem because now in iconography we have much copying of old icons, but few real new icon painters. This may be a question for one of our Chinese students at St. Sergius Lavra, who already has an M.A., with her thesis on iconography. Once she is trained as a painter at the Lavra, perhaps she can begin to think about the specifics of Chinese iconography.

RTE: So, if everything goes well and the Chinese government recognizes the future ordination of the seminarians, how soon will they begin serving?

FR. DIONISY: I hope we can ordain two students as deacons at St. Sergius Lavra this year, but they will need to continue their education there, and afterwards have some pastoral practice in a Russian diocese near the border to gain experience. It will be the decision of the bishops, of course, but it would be my suggestion to send them to Chita just on the Russian side of the Russian-Chinese border, or to Kharbarovsk or Vladivostok to get some real practice and to have the possibility of crossing over into mainland China, once they are recognized. Also, they will be protected there. If the Chinese government does not recognize them, we will send them to these Russian border areas to serve anyhow. There are many Chinese communities now in the Russian Far-East, workers that have come to take jobs that the Russians don't want. Economic conditions are very poor in most of China, particularly in the countryside. People perhaps have their daily food, but nothing else. No income, no possibility for a good education or for medical care. There is a huge difference between the wealthy cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou, and the sixty-five percent of the population outside the cities. There are 250,000,000 jobless in mainland China.

RTE: How many Chinese are there now in Russia?

FR. DIONISY: We have 70,000 Chinese in Moscow and the Moscow region now. But that is not many compared to Paris, which has 450,000 Chinese. In all of Siberia, we do not have as many Chinese as there are in the city of Paris. The main wave of immigration from mainland China now is to Australia and Canada, not to Russia. Those who do come to Russia are from northeastern China only. Siberia has a very harsh climate and the economy is very poor; we see their presence in Siberia as an impact only because the population of China is ten times that of Russia - China has 1.3 billion people, over a sixth of the world's population. The Chinese themselves prefer to emigrate to North America, Europe, or Australia.

Another difficulty is that the Siberian Russian population is very against the Chinese. We have a lot of nationalism now in Russia, and this is particularly a problem for Asians.

Nationalism is a problem for the church in many countries. For example, one Greek businessman in Hong Kong donated his office for church use, but never visits the church himself. People are sometimes content to support the Church as part of the nation-state, as part of the national identity, but this is a pagan view. I call it pagan patriotism, because there is a difference between pagan and Christian patriotism.

A lot of people now talk about the renaissance of Orthodox Christianity in Russia. Quite often I hear people say that the Russian Orthodox Church should serve Russia. This is not correct. Russia should serve the Church; then it will have a true sense of itself. It is absolutely wrong to say that the Greek Church should serve Greece, and the Russian Church should serve Russia.

RTE: How would you reach out to a Chinese person coming to you who says they are interested in religion? China is a different culture, surely, but is the approach to belief so different?

FR. DIONISY: No, the difference is not great. People are the same, and they all look for the same thing - truth. The difference is only in language, perhaps in the means of expression. You can use different images to present Christianity to different ethnic groups, but there really aren't such huge differences in comprehension or outlook. This is one of the positive effects of globalization, that we can understand each other in a way that very isolated ethnic groups may not have been able to a century ago. A friend of mine once said that the first globalization process was the Roman Empire, and because of that Christianity spread throughout the Mediterranean and further. This was not by chance. Of course, globalization has bad elements, but it also creates positive possibilities. This is a new time and we have to take advantage of the opportunities we have. This time and these possibilities will be our judges. Do we have the strength to present the spirit of Orthodoxy to the contemporary world? There are more possibilities now than ever before.

RTE: Are people in mainland China finding out about Orthodoxy through the internet?

FR. DIONISY: I've met many Chinese people via internet, and for most of them this was the only possibility to come into contact with someone Orthodox and to receive information about Orthodoxy. For example, a few months ago I met a Chinese man in Malaysia. He had received information about Orthodoxy only via internet, and finally became Orthodox.

RTE: So you see the internet as a good resource in making Orthodox writings available to the Chinese. If these writings are available world-wide, it doesn't seem that the Chinese government could complain that you are specifically proselytizing the mainland Chinese.

FR. DIONISY: Yes, it should be fine, particularly because we do not speak against the government. It's absolutely a parallel world. For example, we don't talk about the "persecution of Christians." This has been a traditional theme for the western world, which uses religious topics to force change. Western Christian churches quite often openly accuse the government and use exposure and verbal pressure to force policy changes.

RTE: And you wouldn't do that?

FR. DIONISY: If we needed to discuss this question, we would never discuss it openly. It would be a closed discussion with the proper officials. Embarrassing them publicly brings no result, and even hinders the process. Also, this is not our main focus. There may be problems like this, but they exist all over the world. The greater problem is spiritual hunger.

RTE: Have many mainland Chinese returned to their older traditions of Buddhism and Daoism (Taoism) since the Cultural Revolution?

FR. DIONISY: Yes, there has been a great renewal of interest in religious life in mainland China in the past decade, and it seems to be getting stronger. The Protestant population is increasing 13 percent per year, the Catholics by 9 percent per year. I'm not sure about the Buddhists or Daoists, but I understand they are growing as well; after the collapse of Marxist ideology, there was a vacuum.

A parallel force is secularization. The whole world is now very materialistic, and countries have become secularized by different means - the West by one road, Russia by another. China has been prepared for it in yet another way, but every country now experiences the same problems, materialism and secularization, while at the same time, they are talking about trying to protect human rights. It's a time of polarization.

RTE: Have you had any contact with Mongolia? I remember that Mongolia had a strong Nestorian Christian presence around the 11th to the 13th centuries near Lake Baikal, which later disappeared. Was there any Orthodox influence, or was it limited to northern China?

FR. DIONISY: I've been to Outer Mongolia twice, and we have reopened one church there and begun constructing a new church in Ulaan Baator, where there is a Russian priest, although most of the believers are Russian, not Mongolian.

In the Russian Institute of Oriental Studies, however, they have Mongolian Orthodox liturgical texts translated over a century ago, so there were Mongolian Orthodox believers. No one is yet able to take up this work in the Mongolian world, but it is a very interesting subject. Mongolia would be very open to it, but we don't have anyone who can speak Mongolian to send. Even in Buryatia, I only know one or two Buryatian priests. They do what they can, but the resurgence of Buddhism is very rapid in Buryatia and Mongolia. It was the tradition of generations and is part of the national self-identification. Any missionary must be ready to support the local culture. He shouldn't inculturate Mongols or Buriats as Russian Orthodox; he should be able to think about the creation of an authentic Mongolian Orthodox culture. We shouldn't destroy original culture. Orthodoxy doesn't destroy culture, it creates culture. This means that we must have authentic Mongolian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian Orthodox cultures.

RTE: At St. Sergius Lavra, you also have some North Korean and several Indonesian students in different seminaries.

FR. DIONISY: Yes, and several of the Indonesians have already been ordained. The North Koreans are not the classical type of seminarians. They are with us because of the decision of Kim Jong-Il, the President of North Korea, to build an Orthodox church in Pyongyang.

RTE: What is his interest in Orthodoxy?

FR. DIONISY: It was a political decision because he's looking for protection from Russia and he understands that constructing an Orthodox church is a symbol of respect for Russia in general. I'm not sure what he expects the political result of this to be, but in any case, we told him, "Alright, so you will have a church in Pyongyang, but this is only a building. If you don't have real church services, it will just be an empty building." I proposed that he send some Koreans to study in our seminary, and I asked that he accept two of our Russian seminarians to study Korean in Pyongyang. He agreed to this and sent us four North Korean students. They've already been here one year, and the teachers say that they are quite good students.

RTE: Were they Orthodox when they came?

FR. DIONISY: It was a great exception for our seminary, the first time that we'd invited non-Orthodox students to study with us. They were baptized after they arrived.

RTE: And they were willing to do this, they understood what they were doing?

FR. DIONISY: Yes, I believe so, but you must understand that the North Korean mentality is very unusual for us. They will do anything that the government decides, and they will do it with their whole heart. If the government says, "You are to be Orthodox," they do it willingly.

RTE: So your problem is getting them to go beyond that obedience, to make sure that Orthodoxy is something that is really a part of them?

FR. DIONISY: It's not that simple. This is not just obedience to the government, it's an aspect of all traditional Asian societies, where society and government have much more power than the person. This is a much different attitude than in the West and it was only Christianity that gave the world the understanding of the value of the person. This is now a big question for Asian societies that are becoming aware of the idea of the value of the person. This is new for them, and they will have to decide what to do with the philosophy of the value of the individual. Asian societies are very old and complex systems that will need a long time to change. Sadly, even in western societies where they have had a sense of the value of the person, step by step, the mind is changing to that of the former pagan world. In the pagan world the value of society was definitely higher than that of the individual; our contemporary societies are returning to that.

RTE: Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?

FR. DIONISY: I think one of the most important things for westerners is not only to assist with missionary work in mainland China, but for American, European, and Australian Orthodox sinologists to do missionary work with the Chinese communities in their own countries. The translations and publishing that we are working on here can benefit Chinese all over the world. My hope is that interest in Orthodox missionary work for China, and for the Church in China, will increase. China needs spiritual support as well as material support. The Church in China has few resources, but I believe it has a future.

[1] For a comprehensive overview of the history and current status of Orthodoxy in China, see Road to Emmaus, Spring 2003: "Beyond the Great Wall: Orthodoxy in China," an interview with Chinese Orthodox Christian Ioannes Chen.
[2] The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was launched by Mao Zedong, who had risen to power with the Communists in 1949, in a move to "purify" the Communist party. The revolution saw the growth of the Red Guard Movement among Chinese youth, and the government worked through schools, widespread propaganda, and compulsory reeducation to inculcate Mao's atheistic philosophy. Chinese cultural traditions were uprooted and all temples, churches, synagogues and mosques that had not been destroyed in the earlier Communist period were closed. According to some historical analysts, between 1966 and 1968 alone, over 400,000 politically or philosophically dissident Chinese were killed. Among them were Christians of all denominations.
[3] Albazinians: Chinese descendants of Russian soldiers of Tsar Peter the Great, who were taken to Beijing in the 17th century as prisoners-of-war. When freed by the Chinese emperor, many elected to stay in China where they were given land, allowed to intermarry, and freely practice their Orthodox faith.
If you would like to read more interviews like this one, please support and subscribe to the Road To Emmaus: A Journal of Orthodox Faith and Culture today! Road To EmmausP.O. Box 16021Portland, OR 97292-0021 USA

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

World Magazine: Why December 25?

The following article is very interesting. Just to be clear, we celebrate Christmas on December 25th too, just on a different calendar... and so December 25th on the Julian Calendar coincides with January 7th on everyone else's calendar.

World Magazine:
Why December 25?
The origin of Christmas had nothing to do with paganism
by Gene Edward Veith
Dec 10, 2005

According to conventional wisdom, Christmas had its origin in a pagan winter solstice festival, which the church co-opted to promote the new religion. In doing so, many of the old pagan customs crept into the Christian celebration. But this view is apparently a historical myth—like the stories of a church council debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or that medieval folks believed the earth is flat—often repeated, even in classrooms, but not true.

William J. Tighe, a history professor at Muhlenberg College, gives a different account in his article "Calculating Christmas," published in the December 2003 Touchstone Magazine. He points out that the ancient Roman religions had no winter solstice festival.

True, the Emperor Aurelian, in the five short years of his reign, tried to start one, "The Birth of the Unconquered Sun," on Dec. 25, 274. This festival, marking the time of year when the length of daylight began to increase, was designed to breathe new life into a declining paganism. But Aurelian's new festival was instituted after Christians had already been associating that day with the birth of Christ. According to Mr. Tighe, the Birth of the Unconquered Sun "was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians." Christians were not imitating the pagans. The pagans were imitating the Christians.

The early church tried to ascertain the actual time of Christ's birth. It was all tied up with the second-century controversies over setting the date of Easter, the commemoration of Christ's death and resurrection. That date should have been an easy one. Though Easter is also charged with having its origins in pagan equinox festivals, we know from Scripture that Christ's death was at the time of the Jewish Passover. That time of year is known with precision.

But differences in the Jewish, Greek, and Latin calendars and the inconsistency between lunar and solar date-keeping caused intense debate over when to observe Easter. Another question was whether to fix one date for the Feast of the Resurrection no matter what day it fell on or to ensure that it always fell on Sunday, "the first day of the week," as in the Gospels.

This discussion also had a bearing on fixing the day of Christ's birth. Mr. Tighe, drawing on the in-depth research of Thomas J. Talley's The Origins of the Liturgical Year, cites the ancient Jewish belief (not supported in Scripture) that God appointed for the great prophets an "integral age," meaning that they died on the same day as either their birth or their conception.

Jesus was certainly considered a great prophet, so those church fathers who wanted a Christmas holiday reasoned that He must have been either born or conceived on the same date as the first Easter. There are hints that some Christians originally celebrated the birth of Christ in March or April. But then a consensus arose to celebrate Christ's conception on March 25, as the Feast of the Annunciation, marking when the angel first appeared to Mary.

Note the pro-life point: According to both the ancient Jews and the early Christians, life begins at conception. So if Christ was conceived on March 25, nine months later, he would have been born on Dec. 25.

This celebrates Christ's birth in the darkest time of the year. The Celtic and Germanic tribes, who would be evangelized later, did mark this time in their "Yule" festivals, a frightening season when only the light from the Yule log kept the darkness at bay. Christianity swallowed up that season of depression with the opposite message of joy: "The light [Jesus] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).

Regardless of whether this was Christ's actual birthday, the symbolism works. And Christ's birth is inextricably linked to His resurrection.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Doctrine of Limbo... Now in Limbo

Reason number 1,273 why I am an Orthodox Christian...

Pope set to abolish limbo
By Jill Rowbotham
LIMBO, the resting place for the souls of unbaptised children, is being written out of Catholic teaching.

The concept, which developed during the Middle Ages, was never official doctrine and now Pope Benedict XVI will abolish it.

According to sources reported in London's The Times, the Vatican's International Theological Commission will recommend tomorrow that it be replaced by a more compassionate doctrine that children who die do so "in the hope of eternal salvation".

The Pope is expected to agree because, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he presided over the first sessions of the commission, which had been asked to examine the matter by the late pope John Paul II.

And as long ago as 1984 the then cardinal told Catholic author Vittorio Messori that limbo had "never been a definitive truth of the faith".

"Personally I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis," he said.

Australian Catholic University professor Neil Ormerod called the move a piece of "theological housekeeping".

"A lot of Catholics, especially those of an older generation, would have grown up with the notion of limbo in their catechism teaching but it was never an official teaching of the church," Professor Ormerod said. "It was a theological position."

The old catechism, adopted under the papacy of Pius V from 1903 to 1914, defined limbo as a place where the dead "do not have the joy of God but neither do they suffer ... they do not deserve Paradise, but neither do they deserve Hell or Purgatory".

It takes its name from the latin word limbus, meaning hem, edge or boundary.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Akathist of Thanksgiving

There is an Akathist of Thanksgiving that was composed by one of the New Martyrs of Russia, Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov, while in a Soviet prison camp, where he later died. You can read that text here.

You can purchase a recording of this akathist here.

Five Questions Non-Muslims Would Like Answered

Five questions non-Muslims would like answered
By Dennis Prager, Dennis Prager's nationally syndicated radio show is heard daily in Los Angeles on KRLA-AM (870). He may be contacted through his website:

THE RIOTING IN France by primarily Muslim youths and the hotel bombings in Jordan are the latest events to prompt sincere questions that law-abiding Muslims need to answer for Islam's sake, as well as for the sake of worried non-Muslims.

Here are five of them:

(1) Why are you so quiet?

Since the first Israelis were targeted for death by Muslim terrorists blowing themselves up in the name of your religion and Palestinian nationalism, I have been praying to see Muslim demonstrations against these atrocities. Last week's protests in Jordan against the bombings, while welcome, were a rarity. What I have seen more often is mainstream Muslim spokesmen implicitly defending this terror on the grounds that Israel occupies Palestinian lands. We see torture and murder in the name of Allah, but we see no anti-torture and anti-murder demonstrations in the name of Allah.

There are a billion Muslims in the world. How is it possible that essentially none have demonstrated against evils perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam? This is true even of the millions of Muslims living in free Western societies. What are non-Muslims of goodwill supposed to conclude? When the Israeli government did not stop a Lebanese massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982, great crowds of Israeli Jews gathered to protest their country's moral failing. Why has there been no comparable public demonstration by Palestinians or other Muslims to morally condemn Palestinian or other Muslim-committed terror?

(2) Why are none of the Palestinian terrorists Christian?

If Israeli occupation is the reason for Muslim terror in Israel, why do no Christian Palestinians engage in terror? They are just as nationalistic and just as occupied as Muslim Palestinians.

(3) Why is only one of the 47 Muslim-majority countries a free country?

According to Freedom House, a Washington-based group that promotes democracy, of the world's 47 Muslim countries, only Mali is free. Sixty percent are not free, and 38% are partly free. Muslim-majority states account for a majority of the world's "not free" states. And of the 10 "worst of the worst," seven are Islamic states. Why is this?

(4) Why are so many atrocities committed and threatened by Muslims in the name of Islam?

Young girls in Indonesia were recently beheaded by Muslim murderers. Last year, Muslims — in the name of Islam — murdered hundreds of schoolchildren in Russia. While reciting Muslim prayers, Islamic terrorists take foreigners working to make Iraq free and slaughter them. Muslim daughters are murdered by their own families in the thousands in "honor killings." And the Muslim government in Iran has publicly called for the extermination of Israel.

(5) Why do countries governed by religious Muslims persecute other religions?

No church or synagogue is allowed in Saudi Arabia. The Taliban destroyed some of the greatest sculptures of the ancient world because they were Buddhist. Sudan's Islamic regime has murdered great numbers of Christians.

Instead of confronting these problems, too many of you deny them. Muslims call my radio show to tell me that even speaking of Muslim or Islamic terrorists is wrong. After all, they argue, Timothy McVeigh is never labeled a "Christian terrorist." As if McVeigh committed his terror as a churchgoing Christian and in the name of Christ, and as if there were Christian-based terror groups around the world.

As a member of the media for nearly 25 years, I have a long record of reaching out to Muslims. Muslim leaders have invited me to speak at major mosques. In addition, I have studied Arabic and Islam, have visited most Arab and many other Muslim countries and conducted interfaith dialogues with Muslims in the United Arab Emirates as well as in the U.S. Politically, I have supported creation of a Palestinian state and supported (mistakenly, I now believe) the Oslo accords.

Hundreds of millions of non-Muslims want honest answers to these questions, even if the only answer you offer is, "Yes, we have real problems in Islam." Such an acknowledgment is infinitely better — for you and for the world — than dismissing us as anti-Muslim.

We await your response.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Saint for Orthodox Pacifists to Ponder

St. Nestor of Thessalonica

Today we celebrate the memory of the Holy Martyr Nestor of Thessalonica, who is not nearly as well known as the saint he was associated with... St. Demetrius of Thessalonica. What should be noted is that St. Nestor took up arms to kill a man who was murdering innocent Christians, but he first asked for and received a blessing from St. Demetrius to do so.

St. Nestor would no doubt have been more than happy to turn his own other cheek, had the occassion called for it; but he could not turn the other cheek for those were helpless. Just as Scripture commands us to turn the other cheek, it also commands us to defend the helpless, and this is what he did.

The following is the entry for October 27 o.s. / November 9th n.s. from the Prologue of Ochrid, by St. Nikolai Velimirovich.

In the time of the suffering of St. Demetrius the Myrrh-gusher, there was a young man of Thessalonica, Nestor, who learned the Christian Faith from St. Demetrius himself. At that time Christ's enemy, Emperor Maximian, organized various games and amusements for the people. The emperor's favorite in these games was a Vandal by the name of Lyaeus, a man of Goliath-like size and strength. As the emperor's gladiator, Lyaeus challenged men every day to single combat and slew them. Thus, the bloodthirsty Lyaeus amused the bloodthirsty, idolatrous Maximian. The emperor built a special stage for Lyaeus's battles, similar to a threshing floor on pillars. Spears, points upward, were planted beneath this platform. When Lyaeus defeated someone in wrestling, he would throw him from the platform onto the forest of spears. The emperor and his pagan subjects cheered as some poor wretch writhed in torment on the spears until he died. Among Lyaeus's innocent victims were many Christians: when no one volunteered to duel with Lyaeus, by the emperor's orders Christians were arrested and forced to duel with him. Seeing this horrifying amusement of the pagan world, Nestor's heart was torn with pain, and he decided to come forward for a duel with the gigantic Lyaeus. But first, he went to prison to see St. Demetrius and sought a blessing from him to do this. St. Demetrius blessed him, signed him with the sign of the Cross on the forehead and on the chest and prophesied to him: ``You will defeat Lyaeus, but you will suffer for Christ.'' Thus, young Nestor went to duel with Lyaeus. Maximian was present with a multitude of people; everyone felt pity for the young Nestor, who would surely die, and tried to dissuade him from dueling with Lyaeus. Nestor crossed himself and said: ``O God of Demetrius, help me!'' and with God's help, he overcame Lyaeus, knocked him down, and threw him onto the sharp spears, where the heavy giant soon found death. Then all the people cried out: ``Great is the God of Demetrius!'' But the emperor, shamed before the people and sorrowing for his favorite Lyaeus, was greatly angered at Nestor and Demetrius, and commanded that Nestor be beheaded and Demetrius run through with lances. Thus, the Christian hero Nestor ended his earthly life and took up his habitation in the Kingdom of his Lord in the year 306.

The Holy Martyr Nestor

St. Nestor was outraged at evil
And was zealous for the Christian Faith.
The young disciple of St. Demetrius
Seemed young and weak against the terrible Lyaeus,
But he traced the sign of the Cross on himself
And impaled the powerful Lyaeus on a spear.
He had been given power from above,
Like David against Goliath.
``You will conquer, but you will be tortured,
And will lay down your life for Christ.''
Thus Demetrius prophesied to him,
And as he said, so it came to pass.
Nestor jubilantly went to torture,
And wonderfully magnified the wondrous Christ
With sweet words and sweet hymns,
And fervent prayers for the Church.
Great in spirit, small in years,
He did not grieve over his young life;
His blood strengthened the Church,
And Nestor was eternally glorified.

By the way, if you are interested in getting a copy of the Prologue, click here. It is a great way to read the lives of the saints for each day, and also to read other short but edifying comments from St Nikolai Velimirovich.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Partial Birth Abortion... Crushing a Baby's Head

As you read the following, remember that the Democrats cannot bring themselves to condemn this... even in the 9th month of pregnancy.

From Southern Appeal:

Abortionists must sleep real well at night. The following is from the transcript of one of the recent partial-birth abortion cases, as related by this illuminating article in The Human Life Review(pdf format):

Dr. Johnson testified from his own experience about performing dismemberment abortions, and gave his opinion about the partial-birth abortions he had observed. Dr. Johnson described observing how doctors who did partial- birth abortions “used a crushing instrument to deliver the head.”22 This provoked further questions from Judge Casey:

THE COURT: Can you explain to me what that means.

THE WITNESS: What they did was they delivered the fetus intact until the head was still trapped behind the cervix, and then they reached up and crushed the head in order to deliver it through the cervix.

THE COURT: What did they utilize to crush the head?

THE WITNESS: An instrument, a large pair of forceps that have a round, serrated edge at the end of it, so that they were able to bring them together and crush the head between the ends of the instrument.

THE COURT: Like the cracker they use to crack a lobster shell, serrated edge?


THE COURT: Describe it for me.

THE WITNESS: It would be like the end of tongs that are combined that you use to pick up salad. So they would be articulated in the center and you could move one end, and there would be a branch at the center. The instruments are thick enough and heavy enough that you can actually grasp and crush with those instruments as if you were picking up salad or picking up anything with—

THE COURT: Except here you are crushing the head of a baby.


(page 5 of 18)

See also: Doctor Kermit Gosnell found guilty of murdering infants in late-term abortions

The Truth about Planned Parenthood

Monday, November 07, 2005

Charles Darwin's response to those who criticized Christian Missionaries

"They forget, or will not remember, that human sacrifices and the power of an idolatrous priesthood - a system of profligacy unparalleled in another part of the world - infanticide, a consequent of that system - bloody wars, where conquerors spared neither women nor children - that all these have been abolished; and that dishonesty, intemperance, and licentiousness have been greatly reduced by Christianity. In a voyager to forget these things is base ingratitude; for should he chance to be at the point of shipwreck on some unknown coast, he will most devoutly pray that the lesson of the missionary may have reached thus far."

"The lesson of the missionary is the enchanter's wand. The house has been built, the windows framed, the fields ploughed, and even the trees grafted by the New Zealander."

"The march of improvement, consequent on the introduction of true Christianity throughout the south Seas, probably stands by itself in the records of history." [Charles Darwin, `Journal of Researches', p. 414, 425, and 505.]

Communism killed 100 million people and all I got was this lousy t-shirt

Actually, the communists probably killed 100 million in China alone... but this is a cool t-shirt, any way.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

2 Million Muslims Baptized in Russia

The Baptism of Rus, in 988 A.D.

2005.11.01 Interfax:
01 November 2005, 12:05

2 million ethnic Muslims adopted baptism in Russia while only 2,5
thousand Russians converted to Islam - expert

Moscow, November 1, Interfax - The number of ethnic Muslims in Russia who adopted Christianity is 2 million, while the number of the Orthodox who have been converted to Islam is only 2,5 thousand, stated Roman Silantyev, executive secretary of the Inter-religious Council in Russia.

'Christianization happens not so much as a result of some purposeful missionary activity (in which only Protestants are engaged) as under the influence of Russian culture which has express Christian roots', Silantyev said in a interview published this week by the Itogi weekly.

According Silantyev, the converts are predominantly Muslims by birth, while 'those who really confess Islamic values and attend mosque on a regular basis rarely change their faith'.

'The assimilation of ethnic and religious minorities is an inevitable process in any society. In Russia it is accelerated due to extremist activities', the Islamic researcher believes.

For instance, he says, as a result of what happened in Beslan, the proportion of Muslims in North Ossetia has decreased at least by 30%, while in Beslan itself, where Muslims had comprised from 30 to 40% of the population, their number has decreased at least by half.

'As even Muslim sources confirm, after each terrorist action, thousands and may be even dozens of thousands of ethnic Muslims adopt baptism', Silantyev stated.

At the same time, the expert accounts for the small number of ethnic Orthodox people who have adopted Islam for the last 15 years, among other things, by the fact that 'for some reason Russians seem to be more willing to join sects than Islam'.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

A Translation of the Septuagint is on the way

Fr. Deacon Michael Hyatt, who was recently elected CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the largest Christian publisher in the world, was recently featured on the Internet/Radio broadcast of "Come Receive The Light". You can hear that show by clicking here. Thomas Nelson is the publisher of the New King James Version, which is the best contemporary English translation of the Bible (which is based on the traditional Received (aka Byzantine, aka Majority) Greek Text of the New Testament. The Orthodox consider the Septuagint Greek text of the Old Testament to be the more reliable than the Masoretic Hebrew Text, and to date there has only been a somewhat awkward translation into English of the full Septuagint text. However, Thomas Nelson, which has already published the New Testament Orthodox Study Bible, is going to publish a complete Bible that will use the New King James New Testament text, and a new translation of the Septuagint, that will follow the style of the New King James. Previous press releases had indicated it would be out this year, but Fr. Michael Hyatt answered the question of when this text would be out as follows:

"...we're probably still about a year and a half away.. we've got the full manuscript in house now, thank God, but now it begins its scholarly review...."

In many ways this is good news, because that means this will not be a half baked job, but will be something of the highest quality. I am looking forward to seeing the final product.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Arnold Winkelried

Monument to Winkelried at the site of the Battle of Sempach. The inscription reads: "Here Winkelried made a path for his comrades 1386"

Christ taught "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

We see this vividly illustrated in the life of the Swiss hero, Arnold Winkelried. The Swiss are thought of a peaceful people today, and they are famous for remaining neutral and staying out of wars that do not concern them. However, their independence did not come to them so easily. Most people have heard of William Tell, who was a famous Swiss patriot, but here is the story of another man whose death is in many ways an image of the victory of the Cross of Christ:

[The Austrians] were drawn up in a solid compact body, presenting an unbroken line of spears, projecting beyond the wall of gay shields and polished impenetrable armour.

The Swiss were not only few in number, but armour was scarce among them; some had only boards fastened on their arms by way of shields, some had halberts, which had been used by their fathers at the battle of Morgarten, others two-handed swords and battleaxes. They drew themselves up in the form of a wedge and

"The gallant Swiss confederates then
They prayed to God aloud,
And He displayed His rainbow fair,
Against a swarthy cloud."
Then they rushed upon the serried spears, but in vain. "The game was nothing sweet ".

The banner of Lucerne was in the utmost danger, the Landamman was slain, and sixty of his men, and not an Austrian had been wounded. The flanks of the Austrian host began to advance so as to enclose the small peasant force, and involve it in irremediable destruction. A moment of dismay and stillness ensued. Then Arnold von Winkelried of Unterwalden, with an eagle glance saw the only means of saving his country, and, with the decision of a man who dares by dying to do all things, shouted aloud: "I will open a passage."

"'I have a virtuous wife at home,
A wife and infant son:
I leave them to my country's care,
The field shall yet be won!'
He rushed against the Austrian band
In desperate career,
And with his body, breast, and hand,
Bore down each hostile spear;
Four lances splintered on his crest,
Six shivered in his side,
Still on the serried files he pressed,
He broke their ranks and died!"

The very weight of the desperate charge of this self-devoted man opened a breach in the line of spears. In rushed the Swiss wedge, and the weight of the nobles' armour and length of their spears was only encumbering. They began to fall before the Swiss blows, and Duke Leopold was urged to fly. "I had rather die honourably than live with dishonour," he said. He saw his standard bearer struck to the ground, and seizing his banner from his hand, waved it over his head, and threw himself among the thickest of the foe. His corpse was found amid a heap of slain, and no less then 2000 of his companions perished with him, of whom a third are said to have been counts, barons and knights.

"Then lost was banner, spear and shield
At Sempach in the flight;
The cloister vaults at Konigsfeldt
Hold many an Austrian knight."

The Swiss only lost 200; but, as they were spent with the excessive heat of the July sun, they did not pursue their enemies. They gave thanks on the battlefield to the God of victories, and the next day buried the dead, carrying Duke Leopold and twenty-seven of his most illustrious companions to the Abbey of Konigsfeldt, where they buried him in the old tomb of his forefathers, the lords of Aargau, who had been laid there in the good old times, before the house of Hapsburg had grown arrogant with success.

As to the master-singer, he tells us of himself that

"A merry man was he, I wot,
The night he made the lay,
Returning from the bloody spot,
Where God had judged the day."

On every 9th of July subsequently, the people of the country have been wont to assemble on the battlefield, around four stone crosses which mark the spot. A priest from a pulpit in the open air gives a thanksgiving sermon on the victory that ensured the freedom of Switzerland, and another reads the narrative of the battle, and the roll of the brave 200, who, after Winkelried's example, gave their lives in the cause. All this is in the face of the mountains and the lake now lying in summer stillness, and the harvest fields whose crops are secure from marauders, and the congregation then proceed to the small chapel, the walls of which are painted with the deed of Arnold von Winkelried, and the other distinguished achievements of the confederates, and masses are sung for the souls of those who were slain. No wonder that men thus nurtured in the memory of such actions were, even to the fall of the French monarchy, among the most trustworthy soldiery of Europe.

Click here for more information on the battel of Sempach.

Click here to see a painting of Arnold Winkelried's heroic death at the battle of Sempach.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Everything has a purpose

Fr. Jospeh Huneycutt has just moved to Houston, and talks about the welcome he has received here, here, here, and here.

I went to the local grocery store today, and it was so packed with panic shoppers that there were no shopping carts to be had. I had to empty a box of snickers to buy the things I had come to pick up. It took about 45 minutes to get through the check out line. While waiting in line one unhappy immigrant to Houston said "This makes me sick. I should have never moved here."

These hurricanes can be bothersome, but if it wasn't for the hurricanes, the summer heat, and the bugs, everyone would want to live here, and next thing you know Houston would be taken over by commie libs from the North who would turn it into another San Francisco. So even the yellow rose of Texas has a thorn, but the thorn is only meant to scare the fur-nurs.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Religion of Peace Strikes Again... an update on Taybeh

Dr. Maria Khoury

Rage Followed the Forbidden Affair in Taybeh

Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D.

Our Biblical Christian village has co-existed in peace with the surrounding Muslim villages for centuries. Not being able to comprehend the tragic events that took place in our little innocent village of Taybeh, I have been speechless for many days. I literally lost my voice yelling at the fanatics to go away from our doorsteps at the Taybeh Brewery as they were about to torch modern-state of the art equipment that produces the only micro brewed beer in the whole Middle East area named after our village. A violent mob of armed young men took the law in their own hands and come for a revenge attack on our whole extended family since a distant cousin was accused of having an affair with a woman from their village of Deir Ejreer. Over three hundred men aggressively raided the village between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. on Sept 3rd burning down houses, cars and looting. Taybeh residents evacuated their homes in fear of their lives thus no one was injured.

At the moment, Taybeh Beer, for me stands as a symbol for democracy in Palestine. It was Muslim fanatics that wanted to burn it and Muslim policemen that saved us. It is a challenge for the Palestinian Authority to protect the small Christian community and diverse populations in Palestine if there is to be a democratic two-state solution following the pro-longed years of occupation. By the way, the Israeli army jeep came in the village and the soldiers simply watched the houses burn down without doing anything in their power to stop the rage. Although we were on the phone with the army captain begging for immediate help to stop the violence.

We are overpowered by tribal laws which make it legal in the Islamic religion to kill women in the honor of the family. Thus, the Muslim woman, Hiyam was killed and buried by her brothers without a death certificate after discovered pregnant. The accused man, a Christian, paid the highest price by not only going to jail but knowing that sixteen homes were attacked belonging to his extended family leaving fourteen homes completely burned. Innocent families losing all of their personal belongings, furniture, clothes, family keepsakes that were passed down from generation to generation and beautiful family portraits that reflect the deep roots of this Christian village having a unique character and identity since the time Christ our Lord walked into this village before his crucifixion (John 11:54).

This barbaric and uncivilized behavior could not be stopped by the Israeli Occupying army or by the Palestinian Authority. As American citizens we made numerous phone calls to the American Consulate Emergency services pleading for help to put pressure on the Israelis to allow the Palestinian police to pass the checkpoints and arrive in Taybeh to stop the catastrophe. It took over three hours for the Palestinian police to arrive but with great appreciation to the American Consulate at least our brewery and our home were saved. This was totally unjustified violence that left over 72 people, the majority children, in despair and agony having nothing left except the shirt on their backs.

Furthermore, as a woman believing in human rights, what bothers me the most is that I live in a culture that wants to punish the man who slept with the woman instead of the men who killed the woman? And not only punish one man but in barbaric style punish every family member that is related to him; and we are talking about fifth cousins and sixth cousins; innocent people that have nothing to do and cannot control the sin of an individual. This aggression is something bizarre that has happened in our village and should be condemned by all people who believe in law and order.

I have never had such an experience in my twenty-five years in Palestine. It is my Muslim collogues who call me before my Christian friends to wish me “Merry Christmas.” It is a Muslim mother that picks up my son at midnight when he is stranded in the city. My son’s best friend is a Muslim and I love him like my own son Costa. I cannot make logical sense of what has happened in our village. And we are in such deep need of reconciliation among all groups of people who are just in pure shock.

Christ’s love and peace is more important than ever. Our witness to Christian values and our struggle to exist as a small community is now at the mercy of not only the Israeli Occupying power which is legally responsible for protecting unarmed civilians but also at the hands of the Palestinian Authority who must bring law and order and put an end to tribal laws which are detrimental in this new millennium. Family feuds should be taken to a courtroom not solved in the hands of hundreds of crazy fanatics that are capable of wiping out a whole village with such aggressive violence that leave you speechless.

My husband David Khoury, the new mayor of Taybeh has make an appeal to many religious leaders, both Muslim and Christian and to all authorities including humanitarian organizations to help us have a strong voice as a Christian community and send letters of condemnation to the Israeli and Palestinian Prime Ministers that justice, law and order should prevail. Protection against such aggressive unjustified violence should be guaranteed for all human beings in the Holy Land regardless of religion, race, and gender. The violent aggression against our village should be condemned to help Taybeh maintain its unique character and identity as one of the most ancient places in Palestine and the only 100% Christian village left. We want the Palestinian justice system to prevail and not the tribal traditions that seek blood for forbidden relationships.

Note: Maria Khoury is author of Witness in the Holy Land and the new children’s book, Christina’s True Heroes about seven women saints.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Religion of Peace Strikes Again... This time it's Taybeh

This village that was attacked is the same village that Dr. Maria Khoury has been trying to help. It is the last completely Christian town in the west bank.

Sep. 5, 2005 4:39 | Updated Sep. 5, 2005 6:55
Muslims ransack Christian village

Efforts were under way on Sunday to calm the situation in this Christian village east of Ramallah after an attack by hundreds of Muslim men from nearby villages left many houses and vehicles torched.

The incident began on Saturday night and lasted until early Sunday, when Palestinian Authority security forces interfered to disperse the attackers. Residents said several houses were looted and many families were forced to flee to Ramallah and other Christian villages, although no one was injured.

The attack on the village of 1,500 was triggered by the murder of a Muslim woman from the nearby village of Deir Jarir earlier this week. The 30-year-old woman, according to PA security sources, was apparently murdered by members of her family for having had a romance with a Christian man from Taiba.

"When her family discovered that she had been involved in a forbidden relationship with a Christian, they apparently forced her to drink poison," said one source. "Then they buried her without reporting her death to the relevant authorities."

When the PA security forces decided to launch an investigation into the woman's death, her family protested for fear that the relationship would be exposed. The family was further infuriated by the decision to exhume the body for autopsy.

The attack is one of the worst against Christians in the West Bank in many years. Residents said it took the PA security forces several hours to reach Taiba. Others complained that the IDF, which is in charge of overall security in the area, did not answer their desperate calls for immediate help.

"More than 500 Muslim men, chanting Allahu akbar [God is great], attacked us at night," said a Taiba resident. "They poured kerosene on many buildings and set them on fire. Many of the attackers broke into houses and stole furniture, jewelry and electrical appliances."

With the exception of large numbers of PA policemen, the streets of Taiba were completely deserted on Sunday as the residents remained indoors. Many torched cars littered the streets. At least 16 houses had been gutted by fire and the assailants also destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary.

"It was like a war, they arrived in groups, and many of them were holding clubs," said another resident.

"Some people saw them carrying weapons. They first attacked houses belonging to the Khoury family [looking for the man who had the affair with the women, not realizing he had already fled the village.] Then they went to their relatives. They entered the houses and destroyed everything there. Then they tried to enter the local beer factory, but were repelled by PA security agents.

The fire engine arrived five hours later."
Col. Tayseer Mansour, commander of the PA police in the Ramallah area, said his men arrived late because of the need to coordinate their movements with the IDF. "The delay resulted in the torching of a number of houses and cars in the village," he said.

Taiba, the only West Bank village that is completely inhabited by Christians, is famous for its Taiba Beer factory, which was established by the Khoury family in 1994.

The residents are Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox or Greek Catholic. The village was originally called Ephraim, and is thought to be the city to which Jesus came with his disciples before his crucifixion: "Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim" (John 11:54).

According to some accounts, Salah a-Din, who led the war against the Crusaders, was responsible for the name change. He is said to have found the villagers there to be nice and kind – in Arabic, taybeen – and the name stuck, to become Taiba.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Katrina, Race, and Simple Answers

For several years, I was an assistant to the manager of a welfare office here in Houston, and one of my primary duties was to handle complaints that had gone beyond the unit level, and the person making the complaint wanted to speak to head honcho. I wasn’t the head honcho, but I was the closest that they usual got to him. One of the things I observed over time was how issues of race entered into these complaints.

Particularly, if the person making the complaint had been interviewed by a case worker of another race, they would often charge that racism had played a role in them not getting the benefits they wanted in the amount or in the time that they believed that they should have… but some times, they would make claims of racism even if the case worker was the same race. In those cases, they would claim there was a larger conspiracy to prevent their race from getting the right amount of benefits or timely service.

Black folks would tell me that if they were white, they would have been treated differently. White folks would tell me if they were black, they would have been treated differently. Hispanic folks would tell me that if they were white or black, they would have been treated differently. I have spoken with many people of other races who also work in government bureaucracies, who have have observed this same phenomenon

I had the advantage of knowing the bureaucracy, the policy, and the people involved, and I know that race had nothing to do with it. Regardless of the race of the people they dealt with, Case workers invariably just wanted to stay on top of their work, get cases finished, and not be cited with an error by a quality control auditor for having worked the case incorrectly. However, there were policies that often prevented people from getting what they wanted… and often those policies did not make sense even to us. There were also staff shortages and work load issues that resulted in people not having their cases completed timely. Race was not the issue, but what I came to conclude was that when things do not make sense, and people feel ill-treated, people look for simple explanations that explain why. And unfortunately race is one of the first things we notice about people that we do not know, and so it is also one of the first things to get blamed whenever we have a negative experience interacting with people of other races.

In less politically correct times, it use to be said that all Chinese people look alike. My wife tells me that Chinese people have said the same thing about white people. In fact, in Vietnam, I recall hearing about an American GI that was convicted of some crime on the basis of the testimony of some Vietnamese civilians. He was later proven to be innocent, but when asked why they identified him as the one who had committed the crime, they said "How can you tell one from another? They all look alike." Of course, if you aren’t use to seeing Asians, their distinctive features are all that you notice. However, if you spend a lot of time around Asians, and get to know them, soon you discover that they don’t all look alike.

Likewise, if a white man were to car jack another white man, the first thing the white man would be thinking was not that all white people were not to be trusted, but rather than some dirty scumbag had stole his car. However, if a black man car jacked him, he would be far more likely to reach conclusions about black people in general. The same is true in reverse.

Prejudice, to some extent, is a survival characteristic that is hard wired in our brains. If we eat pickled herring, and we get sick, we will likely be prejudiced against that kind of fish. That would be less likely to happen, if we had been eating pickled herring all of our life. We would be more likely able to distinguish between the bad experience with that particular pickled herring, and pickled herring in general. If we run across a skunk, and trying to pet it, we will likely be prejudiced against skunks for life. However, as rational human beings, we should be aware of this tendency towards hasty generalizations based on particular experiences, and resist that temptation when it comes to entire groups of people.

Certainly, we should expect that elected representatives would have more sense than to encourage such prejudice.

In Houston, all Houstonians are moved by the suffering they see. Everyone is asking what they can do to help. Millions of dollars were raised on a radio station in the space of a few hours, at the spur of the moment. Whites, Hispanics, Asians, Blacks, and all the various combinations thereof that make up Houston are trying to help all of those who are streaming into our city in need of help. People are opening up their homes to complete strangers.

In New Orleans, rescuers of all stripes are risking their lives to save people of different races. Just as with Americans on the battlefield, people are willing to die to save people that have neither race, nor creed in common with them.

What a shame it is then, to see certain Democrats trying to make political hay by taking the cheap political shots of accusing people of being racists. How completely anti-American this is.

Those who are suffering, are suffering not because they are black, pink, or green, but because of a natural disaster that turned out to be more devastating than was originally thought, and a large bureaucracy has had many inexplicable inefficiencies and simply mishandled many aspects of the disaster… which of course pundits, sitting safely on their butts can analyze and comment on, as if they would have handled it so much better had they been the ones actually trying to organize such a massive effort, in a chaotic situation, made worse by the “Big Easy” "laissez les bon temps rouler [Let the good times roll]" attitude that makes Louisiana both charming, and irritatingly French (and all that goes with being French).

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Japanese "Schindler" was an Orthodox Christian

Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese "Schindler"

I've seen several mentions of Chiune Sugihara in documentaries... but no mention was made of one interesting fact -- he converted to Orthodox Christianity while in Harbin, China.

Chiune Sugihara: His conscience gleams out of the darkness

Special to The Japan Times

Exactly 60 years ago, during the evening of Aug. 14, 1945, Emperor Hirohito recorded the speech of surrender to be broadcast to the Japanese nation the next day at noon.
Aug. 15, 1945 found Chiune Sugihara, his wife, Yukiko, and their three little children in Romania, interned there by the Red Army. It was unclear what their fate would be. Japan had been officially at war with the Soviet Union, albeit for only a few days.

Who was Chiune Sugihara, and how did he come to be in Bucharest at the war's end? At a time when Japan is being branded in some quarters as the unrepentant perpetrator of cruel misdeeds during World War II and before, a look at the life of this man of conscience may serve to lighten this dark image. It may also be a guide to Japanese people living today: proof that an individual can make a difference, even in the most callous of times.

I was fortunate to have known Sugihara's eldest son, Hiroki, who was named after Koki Hirota, the prime minister in 1936 when Hiroki was born.

The elder Sugihara was a diplomat who was posted to the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania, in November 1939. He was soon to be presented with a striking dilemma.

"My father woke up one morning in late July, 1940, to see a great crowd of people milling outside the gate of the consulate," Hiroki told me in July 2000. "I remember staring down at them from the second-story window. They were Jews, and they had come to get exit visas from my father."

Strict instructions
Sugihara was under strict instructions from his superiors at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo not to issue any Japanese visa other than a transit visa, and this only when the applicant had a valid visa to a subsequent destination.
However, Sugihara deliberately disobeyed those instructions, issuing more than 2,000 visas, some of them covering more than one member of a family, to Jews who were desperate to escape the Nazi terror that had overtaken Poland and was gradually moving eastward.

"The consulate was shut down on Sept. 4 that year," Hiroki told me, "but my father continued to pen visas even at the railway station, throwing the last stamped passports out of the window of our train to Jews whose lives would, thanks to him, be spared."

The more than 2,000 refugees traveled by train across Siberia and on to Japan, from where they eventually made it to Shanghai, Australia, the United States or other destinations. Incidentally, those Jewish refugees were treated humanely while in Japan, despite general Japanese sympathies for the Axis cause.

Meanwhile, Sugihara made his own way from Kaunas to posts in Prague, Konigsberg and, eventually, in 1942, Bucharest, where he remained until 1945.

Born on Jan. 1, 1900, in the village of Yaotsu in Gifu Prefecture, Sugihara went to Waseda University in Tokyo in 1918, but dropped out the next year to join the Foreign Ministry. After being sent by the ministry to Harbin in China, he converted to Russian Orthodox Christianity and married a White Russian woman named Klavdia.

In Harbin, Sugihara studied Russian and became, it was said, the best Russian-speaker in the Japanese government. He also negotiated, on terms exceedingly favorable to Japan, the agreement with the Soviet Union that allowed for the expansion of Japan's Northern Manchurian Railway. Then in 1935, after divorcing Klavdia* (who died several years ago, age 93, in a Russian nursing home in Sydney), Sugihara returned to Japan and married Yukiko Kikuchi, Hiroki's mother.

The Soviets were not well disposed to Sugihara, given his hand in the railway negotiations, and disallowed his proposed next posting, to Moscow. He was dispatched instead to Helsinki and then to Kaunas where, with his linguistic skills (he had studied German as well as Russian), he was invaluable to the Japanese foreign service.

Pure humanity
Why did Sugihara go out on a limb to save those Jews? His son, Hiroki, saw it as a matter of personal conscience.
"My father made a decision based on pure humanity. If you had the power to save people and didn't, what kind of a man were you?"

In 1946, Sugihara, his wife and their three children, found themselves on the same trans-Siberian train line ridden by the Jewish refugees he saved. They were finally repatriated in April 1947. Before long, however, Sugihara was relieved of his duties at the Foreign Ministry, in what some have interpreted as a rebuke for his disobedience. This explanation fits into the stereotypical view of the conformist Japanese, but I believe it was not the case here. Instead, Sugihara was simply let go in the postwar changing of the guard that saw a third of the Foreign Ministry's staff receive their marching orders in those chaotic years.

Afterward, Sugihara found various jobs, one of them as manager of a PX on an American base. Eventually he took up a position with a trading company and moved, alone, to Moscow, where he lived for 16 years. He passed away in Japan on July 31, 1986.

"I think that my father may have felt more at home with Russians than he did with Japanese," Hiroki told me. "I guess he wasn't very much at home in postwar Japan."

There are tens of thousands of people around the world today who would not have been born had it not been for the compassion of Chiune Sugihara.

On a day such as this one, perhaps it will help both Japan and those who genuinely wish this country well to remember that the devils of the past were not alone in their undertakings. There were angels in their midst. Thanks to Japanese like Chiune Sugihara, "Lest we forget" may justifiably be said in the same breath as "kindly remember."

* It should be noted that it was actually Klavdia who initiated the divorce, because she feared having children, and he wanted very much to have children.