Thursday, May 31, 2007

May 29: A Day That Will Live in Infamy

A Dark Day in History

by Srdja Trifkovic

On May 29, 1453, the city of Constantinople fell to the Muslims. It was a dark day for Christendom and for all civilized humanity. His pleas ignored in the West, his supplies running out after six weeks’ siege, his soldiers outnumbered 15 to one, Emperor Constantine XI Dragas knew that his cause was hopeless. Like Prince Lazar at Kosovo 64 years earlier, he chose martyrdom.

On May 22 the moon, symbol of Constantinople since its founding, rose in dark eclipse, fulfilling an old prophecy on the city’s demise. Four days later the Bosphorus was shrouded by thick fog, a phenomenon unknown in eastern Mediterranean in late spring. When the final assault started on the 29th and the walls of the city were shattered, the Emperor discarded his purple cloak and led the last defenders to charge into the breach. The Turks were never able to identify his body; the last Roman Emperor was buried in a mass grave along with his soldiers.

When it was all over, bands of Turks went on a rampage. Pillaging and killing went on for three days. The blood ran down the steep streets from the heights of Petra toward the Golden Horn. All the treasures of the Imperial Palace were promptly removed. Books and icons were burnt on the spot, once the jeweled covers and frames had been wrenched off. In the monastery of the Holy Savior, the invaders first destroyed the icon of the Mother of God, the Hodigitria, the holiest icon in all Byzantium, painted—so men said—by Saint Luke himself. When the Turks burst into the Hagia Sophia, Sir Steven Runciman tells us in his Fall of Constantinople,

The worshippers were trapped. A few of the ancient and infirm were killed on the spot; but most of them were tied or chained together. Many of the lovelier maidens and youths and many of the richer-clad nobles were almost torn to death as their captors quarreled over them. The priests went on chanting at the altar till they too were taken . . . The inhabitants were carried off along with their possessions. Anyone who collapsed from frailty was slaughtered, together with a number of infants who were held to be of no value . . . [The city] was now half in ruins, emptied and deserted and blackened as though by fire, and strangely silent. Wherever the soldiers had been there was desolation. Churches had been desecrated and stripped; houses were no longer habitable and shops and stores battered and bare...
Read it all here.

Artwork: Siege of Constantinople, by Jean Chartier

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Monks, Madness, and Virginia Tech

"I do not know what might have been done differently to prevent the Virginia disaster. It is impossible to determine what led Seung-hui Cho to his final terrible moments or if he was capable of making any clear choices at that point in his life. But it is the source of some hope to know that in a world where such horrors can happen within any human heart, people still make the sign of the Cross and sit in silence before God, whose love has called both the monk and Seung-hui Cho into existence."

- Father John Garvey, an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal Magazine. Read the entire piece here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Liturgy in Moscow

Maxim Marmur/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Here's the story as it appears in today's NY Times:

MOSCOW (AP) -- Church bells pealed as leaders of the Russian Orthodox faith signed a pact Thursday healing a historic, 80-year schism between the church in Russia and an offshoot set up abroad after the Bolshevik Revolution.

After a choir sang hymns, Moscow Patriarch Alexy II, leader of the main Russian Orthodox Church, led the ceremony with a sermon praising the end of the formal division.

''Joy illuminates our hearts,'' Alexy said, addressing worshippers in the vast Christ the Savior Cathedral. ''A historic event awaited for long, long years has occurred. The unity of the Russian church is restored.''

Alexy later signed the reunion agreement with Metropolitan Laurus, head of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Worshippers wept and incense wafted up into the cathedral's soaring cupola.

Read it all here.

An Ascension Day to Remember...

By God's grace and mercy, and through the prayers of the Theotokos and all the Saints, today will mark the closure of one of the most difficult chapters in the history of the Orthodox Church in Russia and her diaspora around the world.

Division among brethren is painful and scandalous. The 2oth century offered far too many opportunities for both pain and scandal, but also for the witness of martyrdom.

The apologist Tertullian once wrote that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. Pray that the blood of the countless martyrs will indeed bring a new season of growth for Holy Orthodoxy in the 21st century.

The following news article by Sophia Kishkovsky appeared in today's International Herald Tribune:


The atmosphere was tense, laced with nearly a century of mistrust and bitter feelings, when President Vladimir Putin met in New York with leaders of an émigré church that had broken with the Russian Orthodox Church after the Bolshevik Revolution. The breakaway church had vowed never to return as long as the "godless regime" was in power.

"I want to assure all of you," Putin said at the 2003 meeting, "that this godless regime is no longer there." Then, recalled the Reverend Serafim Gan, a senior priest of the breakaway church, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Putin added: "You are sitting with a believing President."

That meeting set in motion years of difficult negotiations that on Thursday are expected to be capped by the signing of a canonical union at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which was dynamited by Stalin in 1931 and rebuilt in the 1990s. Church members are calling the signing - which coincides with the feast of Ascension - the symbolic end of Russia's civil war and confirmation of the Russian Orthodox Church's central role in post-Soviet society.

Read it all here.

Monday, May 07, 2007


I've been reading around in the recent festschrift for Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, Abba: The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West, and the material is excellent.

There are those rare occasions when a passage describing another's pilgrimage resonates profoundly with one's own - and such was my experience when reading the following excerpt from Father Andrew Louth's biographical sketch of His Grace:
"In 1954, Timothy offered himself for ordination in the Church of England, went to a selection board organized for what was then called CACTM (The Church's Advisory Countcil for Training for the Ministry), and was accepted for ordination. During his time at Magdalen, especially through Brother Peter of the Anglican Franciscan order, Society of St Francis, he came to know and experience much of the best of the Anglican tradition, with its combination of deep devotion, both personal an liturgical, a sense of mission, and an energetic concern for the needs of the poor and underprivileged. By the time he finished Greats, his doubts over Anglicanism were beginning to grow, and he chose to stay on at Magdalen to read for the Honour School of Theology, rather than begin his theological studies at an Anglican Theological College. For during his time at Oxford his interest in Orthodoxy had deepened and developed. He received little encouragement in his journey to Orthodoxy: far from it, he had been very much discouraged, both by his English friends (who warned him of 'life-long eccentricity'), and by the Orthodox bishop he had approached (Bishop James [Vivros] of Apamaea, of the Greek Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom in London). But Anglicanism itself he came to feel he could no longer embrace. What troubled him was the diversity of Anglican faith, leaving him with the oddness of affirming as an individual preference what he saw as something to be received as Tradition. Anglican involvement with the Church of South India, which troubled many fellow Anglicans, seemed to underscore such openness to ambiguity. The pull of Orthodoxy - its unambiguous embrace of Tradition, the continuing witness of its martyrs, its profound life of prayer, as well as the bonds of friendship being forged with such as Nicolas and Militza Zernov, and the influence of the theological insights of theologians like Vladimir Lossky, Fr Georges Florovsky and Fr John Romanides - became overwhelming." (pp 15-16, italics and bold added)