Saturday, March 27, 2004

Who Do You Say That I Am?
Our Lord Jesus Christ asks His disciples this question while they are journeying into the towns of Caesarea Philippi. (Mark 8:27-31)

For us, hearing this question is like going to school to take a quiz on which we've already been told what will be asked on the quiz. We've looked up the answer; studied; and when we take the quiz, it's a "no-brainer." We don't even have to think about the answer. Unlike the disciples, we know how the Gospel story turns out; and so, when the Lord asks, "Who do you say I am?" and Peter replies, "Thou art the Christ," it's like, "Well, hello!" We don't have to think about it. We know the answer; or, we think we do...

That's too bad; because this is probably the most important question we'll be asked this side of Judgment Day. Our Lord asks each of us called by His name, "Who do you say that I am?" We can use Peter's words -- but does that mean we'll get full credit for the answer? Or do we need to grasp the concept that what we "say" is not just parroting the words? (Anyone thinking, "Actions speak louder than words" here?) We say Who our Lord Jesus is in everything we think, and say, and feel, and do. If we truly believe that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (from St. Matthew's account of the Gospel), this information should make a fundamental difference in our being. If we grasp that we have been given His life through our baptism, and the power of the Holy Spirit to live that life on our own when we were chrismated, our lives should "say" this to everyone we meet. If we take Him seriously, we are striving to grow in prayer, and fasting, in giving alms, in struggling to overcome our spiritual weaknesses and wicked habits, and to set ourselves free of the things of this world to which we cling, and so do not rise towards heaven. If, on the other hand, we don't think about what it means when we say, "Thou art the Christ," our lives will be little different from those in the world around us -- and so we have squandered our inheritance, the great richness and beauty of the Orthodox Church and faith and way of life.

Brothers and sisters! Great Lent is drawing to a close; and the celebration of Pascha is drawing near! Let us take heart, and commit ourselves once more to walking the way of the Faith that has been entrusted to us, so that, in all that we think, and do, and feel, and say, we may proclaim that our Lord Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and redeemer of the world!

Thursday, March 25, 2004


In a way, this topic is directly connected to September 11, 2001; which, in turn, is connected to the "War of Terror," American military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, and American foreign policy in a number of places around the world, including Serbia and Russia -- specifically, Chechnya. Once again, this requires someone to have a memory, if they're going to correlate their own history with current events. (If you don't remember these things because you were too young at the time -- or were paying attention to other things! -- you need to be teachable...)

Once upon a time, the U.S. government was attempting to pressure Russia to change its policy towards dealing with the rebels in Chechnya. We were leaning towards supporting the Chechnians in their struggle against the remnant of the "Evil Empire" under Boris Yeltsin, and then Vladimir Putin, the current President of the Russian Federation. The explanations offered by the Russians weren't sufficient in our eyes (how arrogant we can be...) to "justify" their military action against the rebels, whose tactics included terror bombings in Russian cities, including Moscow. In many ways, the pressure situation was parallel to our pressuring Serbia to "back off" in its efforts to deal with the rebels in their province of Kosovo. Not entirely parallel, of course. Serbia didn't have missiles equipped with nuclear warheads; and so NATO got to bomb Serbia to bring about the change in policy. An unspoken connection between the Albanian rebels and the Chechnian rebels: they're (for the most part) Moslems. Then came September 11th.

    "Wars of Religion"

For most of us, this is a phrase from a world history class; which, if we took it, most likely happened in high school. With very few exceptions, this phrase refers to events that took place a long, long time ago -- say, the 16th century, following the Protestant Reformation. Oh, sure, there's a religious aspect to the situation in the Middle East, between the Arabs and the Israelis -- but that's over territory, not a war between Jews and Muslims -- right? Or in Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants used to kill each other with frightening regularity. But that's over -- right? There really aren't any "wars of religion" today - right?

Let's get real, people! On one level, the "culture wars" being "fought" today here at home (same-sex marriages, anyone?) have a basis in religion. "Oh, but Fr. John, there are no bullets being fired in this 'war' -- no newsreel footage of body bags." Let me tell you, my friends: the War on Terror -- real bombs, real bullets, real bodies -- has a religious element, and we are engaging in self-delusion when we ignore it. Among other things, what fuels a great deal of the terrorists in their actions against America and her people and interests is a rejection of our culture; and to the perceived dominant religion of that culture: Christianity.

    "The War on Terror and Martyrdom"

Back to September 11th. In at least part of the Islamic world, the guys who flew the airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and that field in Pennsylvania died as "martyrs." They would enjoy a special place in "heaven." (We'll skip the details.) I don't think it's too much of a reach to say that the same concept of martyrdom -- to die in battle against the infidel -- empowers the suicide bombers who strap on a vest full of explosives and detonate the same on a bus, or a plaza, or a dance club. Die for Allah -- go to paradise. Martyrdom.

We Orthodox also understand martyrdom. Die for Christ - go to paradise. One slightly major distinction: Martyrs for Christ are the ones who are killed, not the ones who do the killing! There is no parallel for acts of aggression against others, even "infidels," in the scope of the Christian faith. (Anyone want to defend the Crusades? Not me.)

Sorry -- I know I'm not making myself clear. (Time pressure; we have a service tonight, and it will be time to go very soon!) I think the difference between the Christian understanding of being a martyr, and the Muslim understanding, points to a fundamentally different worldview; and, until we become cognizant of this distinction, we are going to fail to understand the forces driving the "other side" in the War on Terror. In the West, we'd like to think that we've moved "beyond" religion as a factor in politics and economics; and that we can be active on the world stage on our terms. Among other things, we think we can attempt to structure things geopolitically, and lend our support behind certain groups (the Chechnians, for example, or the Kosovar Albanians), so as to positively influence their co-religionists (such as the ones in the Middle East, with all that "black gold" in the ground our economy desires at the lowest possible price); and that the religious component should not be a factor. History, and current events, are teaching us that this is just not so.

Me? I guess I'd prefer that our State Department look around, asking, "Who thinks and believes the way we do?"; and put our support there. I also hope there's more Orthodox Christianity coming through this post than I can see right now. It is, after all, late in Great Lent -- and my focus should be on being an Orthodox Christian, more so today than yesterday...

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Marriage, the State, and the Church -or- Fr. John's Paranoia
Well done, Fr. John, even if I do say so myself! Managed to stir up a few hornet's nests without even really trying! For example, "Journeyman James" has a copy of my thoughts about the "Civil Rights Issue of the 21st Century" posted at his site; he wanted a copy there because I don't have permalinks here at this site. (I am working on it... a process complicated by the fact that I don't have a clue! Thankfully, Steve is helping out -- as he usually does!) Meanwhile, over at Huw Raphael's site, things are getting a bit toasty in the "Comments" section. That's all fine; I have no problems with the discussion this far. In some ways, I hope I'm wrong; and that the issue of same-sex marriages, once legalized by the state, will not become an engine driving any persecution of the Church. I will add (after all, this is *my* site!) that, if it isn't this issue, it will be some other issue. It's coming... We need to get ready...

Back to the issue of same-sex unions as "marriages." At James' site, a commenter, Alana (who didn't leave a site to link to; or an email address), made a suggestion worth considering:
One solution would be for churches to PUSH, and push HARD, for legislation that would insure a separation of "civil" marriage and church marriage. That way, everyone is required by law to have a civil ceremony, and churches are freed to maintain their religious boundaries.

I agree. Here's my reply:
Alana's suggestion is well taken. At present, the marriage laws in just about every state allow that a person validly authorized (by ordination or other action) by their respective church hierarchy or leadership to function as an agent of the state to perform the marriage ceremony: in effect, to perform both the civil ceremony and the religious rite simultaneously. (Another way of saying this is that the state accepts the religious rite as the civil ceremony.) The state's interest is to ensure that both persons are legally able to marry; and to establish a background process whereby, if the union is subsequently dissolved, the dissolution protects the persons involved, including offspring, and maintains public order without unnecessarily requiring the resources of the state to financially support any of the persons involved. (It doesn't always work that way...) Thus, the state's interests in many ways are shared by the faith community. As there were essentially no points of conflict, the state could easily validate (on a civil basis) the religious rite; and the persons being married would not be required to take part in two ceremonies.

To be honest, I'd rather not be an agent of the state. When I serve as a priest, I am not the representative of the state; I am there to make present the God Who receives the promises of those being joined, and to pronounce God's blessing upon them, as He bestows His grace in the mystery/sacrament by which these two persons become one. Let the state protect its interests as it wishes with regard to marriage; and let the faithful come to Church to receive the mystery of Holy Matrimony; for the state cannot bestow the blessing of God; the state is not the agent of grace.

Yes, we should push, and push hard, for such a situation, whenever and where ever the state in which we reside begins to contemplate the legalization of same-sex unions as "marriages."

There's something to think about: a practical suggestion! (Is that Orthodox?) (I said that tongue-in-cheek!) Let's keep this one in mind; just in case we might/will need it some day...

Is it Just My Paranoia?
Read this, and tell me what you think:

Here's an article from the Pawtucket Times, entitled "Marriage is a Civil Right."

OK, so the second article suggests that I'm not off the mark in identifying this as a serious issue; and the avenue along which it will be pursued. (Gee; if I'm not careful, I'm going to think I might be schmart...) The first one is the closest I've been able to manage to find that elusive article from Great Britain. I'm not saying it's going to happen; it's just that it's so easy to see that this is certainly one way in which it could happen...

Now on. Thanks again, Steve!

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

1984, The War on Terror and the AntiChrist

Probably because I had just recently finished reading Robert C. Tucker's, Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941, I re-read George Orwell's 1984 for the first time in at least ten years. I was struck by how much the description of life in the London of Winston Smith resembled the descriptions of life in Stalin's Soviet Union. From the chronic shortages of food and living supplies to the fear of informers to the ubiquitous posters of "Big Brother"/Stalin, Orwell's fictional portrayal of life in "Airstrip One" could have been lifted almost word-for-word from contemporary works such as Tucker's, published in 1990.

Equally thought-provoking was Orwell's discussion of how the use of a permanent state of war enabled the dictatorships (or, more accurately, oligarchies of the ruling political party) to remain in power; primarily by the economic manipulation and political oppression of their own citizens. The "negative utopia" of the world of 1984 envisioned a world in which surplus production of goods was channeled into the production of war materials that were rapidly consumed, rather than allowing this production to lead more and more people into a life of plenty, and of comfort, through rising prosperity. Orwell's thesis was that it would be easier to control people through economic privations, coupled with a fanatic form of patriotism, and a total control of information.

We're not there -- at least, not yet. But in our post-"9/11" world, with its "Patriot Act" and especially the "War on Terrorism," we're closer than we were before. I've always appreciated the saying, "Just 'cause you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you." OK, so call me mildly paranoid. The "War on Terrorism" would certainly have the potential to become a permanent state of warfare, as in Orwell's construction. Let's see: Osama bin Laden is still at large, and presumably still directing the terrorist activities of al-Qaeda; we are still trying to bring stability to Iraq; and to Afghanistan; and now Hamas is vowing to commit acts of terror against the United States -- perhaps even in the United States itself, as well as against troops and installations overseas, such as in Iraq. A terrorist attack by a group such as Hamas -- infamous for its suicide bombers in public places -- would expand the "horizons" of the "War on Terror." One example can be found in a news article today on the economy in Arizona. Budget analysts are projecting a potential $121 million budget surplus for the current fiscal year, due to higher-than-predicted tax revenues, resulting from job growth and an improving tourist economy. The analysts felt that the increase should continue for the next few years, "barring another terrorist attack."

Orwell said that, given the choice between freedom and happiness, peope would choose happiness every time. I would define this in a slightly different way: given the choice between freedom and stability, people will choose stability (almost) every time. Here's a bizarre example. I went into a bread store during a visit to Russia in 1994. The value of the ruble was fluctuating wildly, causing great fears among those living on fixed pensions. One woman remarked that things had been better under the Communists. With typical American incredulity, I asked, "How can that be?" The answer may require a little bit of thought; but once you "get it," it opens up things in a very new way. She replied, "There was never any bread in the stores, but at least we knew what it cost."

Does anybody see things getting better? Or do you think, as I do, that the general level of insecurity is going to continue to rise? It works itself out in weird ways. Want to connect to the woman in the bread store? Try to predict the price of gasoline at your local station. Then try to explain why the price has jumped so high in such a short period of time; and in which "nothing" has happened. No terrorist attacks in the US; the war in Iraq has given us access to Iraqi oil previously off the market (and doesn't the standard economic theory hold that increased supplies tend to drive down prices?); no refinery fires or other accidents; and yet the price of both crude oil and refined products are going up.

Here's a "conspiracy theory" for you. The increasing instability will so upset the economy, and through this, people's lives, that they (*we*) will trade freedom for stability -- as is happening now with the "Patriot Act." It won't help. Finally, someone will appear on the scene who will promise to restore law and order, and stability - and we'll be so desperate for it that we will grant to him the powers needed to bring this about. Who is this? The AntiChrist...

On a Lighter Note
Scientists report that mice fed a low-calorie diet from birth live twice as long as those who are not fed a restricted-calorie diet. Older mice who are put on a reduced-calorie diet also live longer than those who are not. This leads the researchers to speculate that the same may be true for human beings. Living longer... but is it living? And yes, I am "calorically challenged"...

Thanks, Steve!
My friend Steve (please see his blog, "Confessio") gave me instructions on how to turn on a "Comments" feature for this blog. As before, your comments are invited -- and now, thanks to Steve and Halocast, it's easier than ever!

Monday, March 22, 2004

"The Civil Rights Issue of the 21st Century"

According to Ellen Tauscher, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Walnut Creek, California, the civil rights issue of the 21st century is same-sex marriages. The clergy of the Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia who were gathered for a conference in San Francisco a few weeks ago adopted a statement which, among other points, explicitly rejects this as a civil rights issue. The statement declares that marriage "is a holy mystery, a sacrament, an avenue of the Grace of God"; and, as such, "...cannot be merely a social or civil contract entered into by two persons."

We need to be clear about this issue. We are, at one level, talking about the "separation of Church and State" when we engage the current debate. Like it or not, the current laws regarding marriage contain an inherent connection to morality and ethics which is primarily the realm of religious belief. Remove this aspect from the equation, and what remains is, indeed, a civil rights issue. Once these rights are "divorced" (pun, such as it is, intended) from this connection to morality, there are no boundaries, except those established in law.

According to Holy Scripture, the civil authority is established by God for the purpose of being a "minister unto the good"; endowed with the power of the sword to punish those who do what is evil. This is in agreement with other theories of government, which hold that the civil authority is established to maintain the common good, which, among other things, depends upon the maintenance of order. Activities permitted by the state may be practiced without fear; while those prohibited are practiced at the risk of the correction and/or punishment by the state.

The "synthesis" of Church and State in the Byzantine (read "Eastern Roman") Empire produced a dynamic in which the power of the Orthodox faith helped shape and guide the rule of law in the secular realm, which was the proper province of the State; while the State used its power to protect the Church from enemies in this world. There was, until recently (that is, my lifetime!), a similar, although far less formal, dynamic at work in the American system of government -- a direct residual effect of the fact that religious men (and women) were the ones who crafted the Constitution of the United States; which in turn embodied the beliefs and principles of the society governed according to that document. The State, here in the United States, was acknowledged to be a servant of God; and, as it became less fashionable to speak directly of the Diety, the State was the enforcer of public morality.

As the debate, and its underlying social dynamic, pushes ethics and morality increasingly from the discussion -- because these are "religious" in nature, and there is no place for religion in government, because of the "separation of church and state" -- those who wish to continue to wield the sword of the civil authority to enforce the standard of marriage as an estate between one man and one woman have an increasingly difficult argument to make. When religious beliefs are "out of bounds" for the discourse shaping public policies and laws (and the enforcement of the same), what is to stop the state from making legal same-sex marriages? Or, for that matter, legalizing polygamous (and/or polyandrous) marriages? (It is, of course, possible to push this extension to ridiculous extremes -- we won't go there now.) If the primary responsibility of the state is the maintenance of public order; and a man wants to marry a man, or a woman a woman, or a man two or three or more women, or a woman two or three men -- and everyone is at or above the "age of consent", and is willing to appear before a duly-appointed civil authority to attest their desire, freely and without coercion, to enter into such a union, why should the state, in the absence of the argument from morality, raise any barriers to such a union? It would be a simple matter to craft the marriage laws to deal with the question of what to do if and when the union is dissolved regarding the offspring and other assets of the union; even while acknowledging that this would be considerably more complicated than for a "one person to one person" union. No, it is only the persistence of religious ethics and morality, and its residual support among the society at large, which prevents the state from making these changes to marriage laws.

Brothers and sisters, I will make here a prediction. (It's not prophecy.) We are going to lose on this issue. It will become strictly a civil rights issue; and as such, without moral factors being permitted, as a civil rights issue, it will be impossible to stop the legalization of same-sex marriages. I wish I was wrong... But we'd better start now to prepare for the next step in the process: What will happen to the Church as we refuse to perform such "unions" on the basis of our Christian beliefs. Someone -- the classic formulation of "Adam and Steve" -- will request that I join them in marriage. I will refuse, citing our Christian beliefs; and the fact that they may obtain what they desire through a civil ceremony notwithstanding, they will sue, claiming discrimination. Because it is now a civil rights issue, and an action allowable by law, the Church will lose. We will lose our tax exemptions, because our continuing to speak against same-sex marriages will be defined as political action; and then as "hate speech" inciting the rejection of a certain "minority" whose rights must be protected by the power of the state. Any priests who don't "get the message" will risk time in prison for "hate crimes." Civil and criminal damages will result in the loss of church properties and other assets, to settle judgments by sale, or by outright confiscation. I don't want this to happen; but I think it is inevitable...

A Step in the Wrong Direction

My friend Steve's blog ( has a discussion posted about the recent acquittal of a Methodist pastor who was charged with violating Church discipline for being a lesbian. He's got some interesting things to say; you should take a look at the article he cites. I also want to kick in my $0.02.

It is interesting to me that the pastor responsible for the prosecution of the case, the Rev. James Finkbeiner, "said he thought jurors were predisposed to clearing Dammann, and that the verdict was 'out of bounds with the way the Discipline actually reads.'" He added, "on a personal level, I'm glad I lost."

As the newspaper article points out, the Methodist Church has held, since 1972, the position that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching." But it is apparently perfectly acceptable for a pastor in that polity to practice what they can't teach... The reported "predispostion" of the 13-pastor "jury" (which voted 11-0 with two abstentions for acquittal), despite the position of the Methodist Church, based upon established Christian beliefs and teachings, reveals a rejection of classic Christianity and an increasing embrace of the ways of the world. And so the Methodists are traveling the same road recently pioneered by the Episcopal Church, with its acceptance of an openly homosexual bishop, who left his wife and children to enter into a relationship with his male partner. I dunno... When the salt has lost its savor, what is it good for, except to be thrown on the ground and trodden underfoot?

Thank you, all of you who have read this far! Hey, Steve! How do I put in the "Comments" feature for this page?

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Romanov Relics, Canonization, and the Truth

I received the following information from someone who I trust without question:

"Just so you know, our Church and all of us personally know for a fact that the remains buried in St. Petersburg were not the royal family. My grandmother and great-grandfather were in charge of the commission which found the mine shafts where they were chopped up into. My grandmother told me very many vivid things she witnessed. That is where the bodies are, not wherever they dug up just to close down this story and make it go away.We have articles in Russian that were written at the time of the DNA expert investigation. It was done terribly, with multiple chances of contamination. The rooms were never locked, people were walking in and out with no business being there, all kinds of people touched the 'remains' with no gloves, etc. It was a total circus, not a scientifically carried out investigation at all. It is very important that the charade be exposed, and the truth about what happened to the Royal family be known in its utter horror to everyone, not swept under the rug."

My original message was meant to question why this issue was being given consideration at this time; and wondering if the motive was to call into question the canonization of the Tsar-Martyr and his family by questioning the authenticity of the remains now buried as "Romanovs" in St. Petersburg. (I have apologized to my friend for my failure to state this more clearly before now.) There are, indeed, legitimate reasons to question the identity of these remains. There is no reason whatsoever to question the recognition of the Royal Martyrs as saints. (Sometimes my conspiracy theory gland works overtime...)

As I understand it, our Church -- the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia -- has recognized the Romanovs as "martyrs"; while the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarch has recognized them as "passion-bearers." Martyrs are those who have died for the faith; while passion-bearers suffered (sometimes to the death) for the faith. On one level, a subtle point; on another, a major distinction. Both are forms of sainthood, and a saint is a saint, after all. I suppose that it could be said that a martyr died for the faith, while a passion-bearer suffered for the faith. We are, in effect, saying that the royal family was killed because they were Orthodox; while the ROC-MP is saying (if I understand this correctly) that they suffered because they were Orthodox, but died for another reason -- say, politics. This would place the ROC-MP position closer to that perceptions of the world; where Tsar Nicholas II is viewed (at best) as a well-intentioned but inept ruler, whose flaws were among the causes of the revolutions that wracked Russia in 1917. Maybe this doesn't matter... Oh, well, what's a blog without the occasional rant?

Friday, March 19, 2004

Odds and Ends

The Passion of the Christ

My comments about Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ, can be found at the "Rotten Tomatoes" web site. Here's a link to take you there.

More about Kosovo and the Balkans

Why is it we don't remember? Kosovo, still part of Serbia, despite the efforts of the Albanian population there to become independent, is but one part of a larger, tragic puzzle. (I still can't understand why the American people can't grasp what is going on there. What if there was an attempt here in Arizona by people of Hispanic background to seize control of the state and declare their independence? Or in Texas? Or California, the world's seventh-largest economy? Would "we" as a nation intervene to allow the separatists to take control? Or would we act to retain these parts of our nation? Of course, we'd do the latter. The problem is that this is what the Serbian government did in Kosovo...) Because of our amazing ability to forget, we have actually contributed to causing the tragedy.

Before Kosovo, the "hot button" in the Balkans was Bosnia. (It's actually "Bosnia-Herzegovina," but who can spell or pronounce that?) Underlying all the problems was the Christian-Muslim tension that has wracked this region for centuries; pitting "Serbs" against "Bosnians." [Again, a bit of history may be helpful. Originally, the Bosnians were Serbs, and Orthodox. The defeat of the Serbian army at the Battle of Kosovo (hmmm...) by Muslim invaders from Ottoman Turkey led to the subjugation of the Serbs. Many opted to adopt the religion of those in power, becoming Muslims. Thus, the battles today are, in a way, brother against brother; a nation divided since 1389 A.D.] There were also ethnic-based clashes in Croatia and Slovenia in the same time-frame.

"Once upon a time," there was a kingdom, Yugoslavia, formed at the end of World War I, as a union of the "Southern Slavs" (yugo-, southern). It was originally called the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes; the name was changed to "Yugoslavia" in 1929. The core was Serbia, which had only become independent from Ottoman rule in the late 19th century, with the recognition of the Principality of Serbia in 1879, and the Kingdom of Serbia in 1882. The growing power of Serbia, seen in the First and Second Balkan Wars (1911-1912) helped end Turkish rule in the Balkans; and undoubtedly contributed to fears about Serbia on the part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which seized control (in violation of treaties) of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908; and which led to the disastrous conditions which the Austrians attempted to force upon Serbia following the assassination of the Grand Duke Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the empire, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 1914. [The Serbs, by the way, in an effort to keep peace, accepted every condition except the one that would have replaced the teaching of the Serbian language with Austrian in Serbian schools.] The failure of negotiations led to the mobilization of troops by Austria-Hungary, Serbia, Germany (in support of Austria), Russia (in support of Serbia), and other nations; and World War I followed.

Yugoslavia fell under Communist control after World War II; and it was under her ruler, Josip Broz, known as "Tito," that many Serbs were forcibly relocated from Kosovo, the "Cradle of Serbia." Tito allowed the ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia to move into the province in their place. This, of course, set the stage for the problems of today. The break-up of the Eastern European Communist states in the early 1990's led to votes in Croatia and Slovenia which would radically affect the makeup of Yugoslavia. Initially, the American government did not recognize the "independent" status of Coratia and Slovenia. However, once we did officially recognize these as "independent" states, the division of Yugoslavia began. These two states broke away, as did Macedonia, in 1991; leaving a rump Yugoslavia of Serbia, Kosovo, and Montenegro; and Bosnia-Herzegovina, control of which was contested between Croatia and "Yugoslavia" (Serbia).

Sorry; this was meant to be brief. But's it hard to stop, when there is information that we need to know, and it isn't being presented anywhere that's immediately easy to find. By the way, here are some links that can help you find more: about the history of Serbia and Yugoslavia; and about the current Yugoslavia.

This Just In...
KFOR has decided it will defend the Sokolnika Monastery, and return the evacuated sister to their monastery; as well as to the monastery at Devic, which has been destroyed. KFOR has announced it will protect the monk and monastery of Visoki Decani. Italian forces under KFOR tried to defend the Church of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple in Djakovica; but the church was later set on fire, and its icons, books, and 19th-century iconostasis were destroyed.
Silence About Serbia

Maybe the problem is having a memory. Anybody remember what the big deal was in the summer before September 11, 2001? Go ahead, take a moment to think about it. I'll wait. OK, time's up. The Chinese, after a mid-air collision forced down a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft, held the crew captive; and it took a while to have the plane released back to us. There was also a good deal of buzz about the potential for Chinese control of the Panama Canal. Then we were attacked by al-Qaeda's suicide pilots, and there wasn't another word to be heard about anything to do with China.

Before that, the "big deal" was the situation in Kosovo, where, we were told, the Serbs were pursuing the "ethnic cleansing" of Albanians from the region. In response to the efforts being made by the government of Serbia, led by Slobodan Milosevic, to keep control of the province of Kosovo, in 1999, NATO forces, at the initiative of the United States, started a massive bombing campaign which finally forced the Serbs to surrender control of their territory to NATO and UN "peacekeepers"; and which allowed the Albanian "Kosovo Liberation Army" (KLA) to move into political power in the province.

What has followed has been, truth be told, an exercise in ethnic cleansing in reverse. According to official sources, the "oppression" of Kosovo by the Serbs cost some 10,000 lives, most of them persons of Albanian background. Since NATO and UN control began, some 3,000 Serbs have now been murdered; and a quarter of a million Serbs who had lived in Kosovo have been forced to flee. In the most recent round of violence, murders and arson have taken place with reports of busloads of Albanians being brought to Serbian enclaves. Fourteen churches and monasteries, most hundreds of years old, have been burned, most being destroyed. As I am writing this, reports are surfacing that the monastery in Devic, built in the 14th century, has been abandoned by the KFOR troops, and is now burning; and KFOR has alerted the sisterhood dwelling at the Sokolika monastery near Zvecan, giving them warning to be ready to evacuate with 30 minutes notice, as KFOR "cannot protect the monastery."

KFOR has some 18,500 peacekeepers in Kosovo. According to the U.S. Army's home page, some 5,000 of these are American GI's. American troops have been in Kosovo since 1995. Is there anything in the news about any of this? I checked the online version of the Arizona Republic, our local paper. Zip, nada, zilch, nothing. Then I checked the online version of the San Francisco Chronicle (you know, a major newspaper in a major city). The same: nothing. Lots of news of the war in Iraq, and of casualties, and protests; but about Kosovo? Nothing. There was, at least, one link on the msnbc web site. But the only way to get any real details was to go to Google, enter "Kosovo," and then click the "News" tab.

The conclusion seems unavoidable. Ethnic cleansing of Albanians requires NATO intervention; but ethnic cleansing of Serbs deserves only silence. Allow me for a moment to be stupidly and politically incorrect. Could it have anything to do with the fact that the Albanians are Muslims, while the Serbs are Orthodox Christians? Of course not, you'll say. But let us then factor in the reality that, not too far away from the Balkans, is the region which controls the vast majority of the world's reserves of petroleum -- and this oil is located under territories controlled by Muslim peoples (or rather, their rulers -- grand democracies such as the one found in Saudi Arabia). Who do we (the USA) support? Oil-poor Christians; or Muslims, whose co-religionists have the oil our economy requires? OK, although U.S. foreign policy looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it isn't necessarily a duck -- right? Call me suspicious.

There are members of Congress who have raised questions about what is happening in Kosovo. But until I start reading reports about what is happening in my local paper (I won't see it on the news until after Pascha, 'cause the TV is off until then), I'll continue to wonder why there is silence about Serbia.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Credit Where Credit is Due

Steve ( is correct when he says that I was the chairman of the committee responsible for drafting the statement on same-sex marriages. I must give credit where credit is due. The bulk of the statement was written by Fr. David Moser; with additional input and direction from Fr. Ken Bracey. The proposed draft was then modified by well-taken comments from Fr. Peter Perekrestov and Fr. James Baglien. Of course, I got my $0.02 worth in! But I cannot take credit for the work of all the clergy who gathered, and who gave their consent to the issuance of this statement.

Finger Bones, DNA, and the Relics of the Romanovs
Earlier today, I came across a news article (here)
in which a research team from Stanford University has given ammunition to those who do not believe that the relics are actually those of the martyred Romanov royal family. The ostensible reason is that the DNA match is "too good to be true."

The 1994 study by Peter Gill and Pavel Ivanov used both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA in making their determination. The Stanford team claims that the DNA strings were "too long and too perfect to have come from such old bones." To these researchers, this was a sign of a contaminated sample. The Stanford team also did research using samples taken from the finger bone of the Grand Duchess Elizaveta, which relic had been kept by Bishop Gregory (Grabbe). The study noted that the DNA from this relic did not match any of the Romanov bones. Here again, there was raised the question of contamination.

Once upon a time, I had a pretty good science background (B.Sc. in Zoology; M.S. in Environmental Studies, with a scientific core of classes). But I must admit that I wonder about the Stanford study. Can someone please explain to me how contamination leads to a positive result? I would think it would be the opposite. As for the failure to match the DNA from the finger bone, well, we need to remember that the Grand Duchess Elizaveta was Romanov by marriage, not by birth. It is true that she is the sister of the Tsarevna Alexandra; and so there should be a high degree of correlation between their nuclear DNA; and both some correlation to the nuclear DNA of the children. Also, there should be a good match at the level of the mitochondrial DNA for the sisters, and the children of the royal family -- but none of these tests would identify Tsar Nikolai's remains. That would require Romanov DNA.

The jurisdiction in which I serve -- the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia -- canonized the Royal Martyrs in 1981. The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate canonized the royal family in 2000. We don't need relics to do so. What's the deal here? Is someone somewhere trying to call the canonization into question by challenging the DNA?

(By the way: this article contains an experiment on my part; to try to link to a news story. Let's see how well I did...)

I haven't found out yet how to set things up for you to click a "comment" highlight on this page. You can always send your comments to me at my email address. I'd like to hear from you.

Spelling Note
I've been banging away at typewriters for as long as I can remember; over 40 years. If you see "teh" it usually means "the" -- and unless the context specifically requires "fro", you should read "for." I doubt I'm ever going to successfully retrain my fingers...

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Meet the Evil Juan

Why am I doing this? Probably because a good friend (Steve -- check out said I should start blogging. Like I have anything worth saying... Or anything different... Just what the world needs: another blog!

OK, so maybe it isn't that bad. (Or maybe it's worse.) The name? It's from the Lord's Prayer (not the protestant version): "Deliver us from the evil one." Evil one, Evil Juan -- right? That's because I'm Fr. John, an Orthodox priest (most unworthy). Hey, it had to be called something! I know, no marks for "originality"...

I've tried blogging before; but every time the screen came up, I sat there, staring, wondering what to say. Each time (up until now) I just logged out; and never went back. (There's a trail of abandoned blogs out there, empty, void, blank, with my name on them...) At least there are words here with this attempt.

It's not that I lack an opinion on, like everything. Ask anyone who knows me... If they're a friend, they'll say something like, "He was vaccinated with a phonograph needle." (How much longer can we keep using that line in a world that is dropping audio CD's for MP3 players?) Well, maybe from time to time there might be something of interest to someone posted here. It may also give me an outlet for the thoughts that don't seem to make it up on the bulletin boards.

Your suggestions and comments are invited.