Thank you, Emily Hellman. My Daughter for a Day

I’ve become aware of something called National Daughter’s Day which is September 25th, apparently.  I don’t have any daughters, so it’s a day of recognition that has never appeared on my personal calendar. I reflected on that a little bit this morning, and remembered I did have a daughter once — for a few hours.

It happened as I began a business trip sometime in the mid ’90s. I had just boarded a flight out of Washington to a layover point in the midwest which I think was Chicago. As I came aboard the jet, I made my way down to my assigned seat, and found a little girl sitting there. She was perhaps six or seven years old. It looked like the girl had boarded on a previous leg, and was continuing to the next destination. Both seats on that side were full of her scattered things, among which was a coloring book, some pencils, a CD player, a jacket, and a bag.  I said, “hello there, I think you’re in my seat”. Whereupon she stood up and slid down to the floor, then began pushing her stuff over to the empty window seat.  We sat down, and she politely asked me in a small voice, “Can we switch seats?  I don’t like the window.”  I agreed to move, and we changed places with her pushing that small mountain of stuff back towards the aisle seat again.  As she did this, she remarked to me, “thanks, sometimes I have to negotiate with people”. I thought to myself, “she’s a very bright and articulate girl, this flight could be interesting”.

The plane took off, and I noticed she firmly gripped the armrest with white knuckles. Once airborne, I saw that she was very good at keeping herself occupied. There was a woman on the opposite side who kept glancing at her, and I asked the girl if she was her mother. She told me no, her mother was not aboard, nor was her father.  She indicated that she was traveling alone. She added that her parents were divorced, and she was a frequent traveler because her parents lived a great distance apart.  I think she told me her mother lived in the Midwest, perhaps the Chicago area, and inferred that her father was somewhere back east. After so many years, I now forget those details. I nodded, and thought to myself how sad it all was. I was sitting next to an unaccompanied minor, who was being chaperoned by the airline, as she shuttled back and forth between her divorced parents to be delivered like a FedEx parcel.

We had a very nice conversation on that flight. I learned that she was afraid of flying, and didn’t like to look out the window. She read me a book, and we read two others together. She showed me her entire Barbie CD collection. The stewardess came by to check on her once, knelt down, and asked if she needed anything.  Towards the end of the flight, she asked if she could draw me a picture and I said, “sure”.  She drew a scene with her parents, and herself, a house, and a tree — in colored pencil.  She gave me the drawing, and I declared it a work of art.  I said, “all art deserves the artist’s signature, sign your name to it.” — so she did.

Once the plane was on the ground, people stood up waiting to exit.  The girl indicated she needed to use the lavatory and then disappeared aft by pushing her way through the crowd in a way that only little people can manage. The woman asked me, “she’s so sweet, is she your daughter?”.  I told her the truth.   Everyone was as surprised as I was.  I disembarked with all the other passengers, and never saw her again. I still think about her from time to time knowing that she must now be in her mid to late twenties.

The picture she drew for me hung in my office for years until it eventually disintegrated. Thank you Emily Hellman. For a few hours you entered my life, and became the daughter I never had.

What the Church Can Accomplish

(UPDATE: January 2014 — I found another link to this beautiful film which someone has subtitled into English. It is the second video below.)

If any women out there among my readers need a good cry today, please read on. Linked below is a heartwarming film about the Monastery of the Holy Ascension in Banchen, Ukraine which is about 7 kilometers from the Romanian border. The monastery has become an orphanage, hospice, and home to over 200 children. Some of the kids are profoundly disabled. Many were simply abandoned by parents who did not want them. The brothers and sisters of this community who have taken vows of celibacy, prayer, and obedience have become mothers and fathers in every sense of the word.

The abbot is Fr. Michael who started the monastery with four other monks in 1994, and you will see that he has accomplished much since then. Recently I read that Fr. Michael has been made a bishop, but he is still the abbot.

This 55-minute documentary is not in English, but it really needs no translation.

The film is titled “Forpost” (Outpost) – What the Church Can Accomplish”

Fyodorsky Cathedral Restoration 2005-2013

Another interesting short film here, from Russia. It’s a documentary concerning the restoration of the Fyodorovsky Theotokos Icon Cathedral in St. Petersburg. This once was one of the most beautiful cathedrals in all Russia before their 1917 Revolution which brought a militantly secular atheistic government to power.

The Fyodorov Icon Cathedral was completed in 1913 to commemorate the 300th Anniversary of the Romanov family imperial dynasty which ruled Russia until the last Tsar, Nicholas II, abdicated his throne in 1917. The cathedral was desecrated by the communists and turned into a milk production factory sometime around 1932. The cupolas were removed and significant alterations destroyed many of the outer parts of the structure. The milk factory was removed only in 2005, but not before the entire basement was allowed to fill with industrial waste and municipal sewage. Judging by the photos in the early minutes of the film, any lesser people would have simply abandoned the decayed and derelict structure, but the people of St. Petersburg wanted their cathedral back. Restoration efforts began in 2005 and are ongoing. The cathedral may now be used for divine services although the restoration continues.

This 23-minute film is narrated in Russian, but it really needs no translation. From what they had to start with, you can see that the transformation is absolutely amazing.

1937- A Short Film

Some of my readers may be interested in this powerful, but short Russian film (with English subtitles). It’s just 18-minutes long, and gives the viewer some idea of what it was like in 1937 to have a child baptized in the USSR. From what I can read, the film appears to be the final project of a Russian graduate student.

1937 was 76 years ago. It was the year that Josef Stalin’s political repressions reached their peak. The government did not stop at forcing secularization on society, it set a goal for the complete elimination of religious faith. The political class had control of the justice system, and heavily persecuted the clergy and believers.

The figures are staggering. During the purges of 1937 and 1938, documents record that 168,300 clergy were arrested. Of these, over 100,000 were shot. More than 85,000 priests were shot in 1937 alone. Hundreds of thousands of believers were shot or sent to labor camps. Churches and religious icons were destroyed. Theological schools were closed, and church publications were prohibited. Teaching your own children about religion was considered grounds for termination of parental rights. Officially the USSR constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, but militant secularists running the government ignored that guarantee. Despite the persecution, religious faith survived although many people paid a terrible price.

I fear for the West, those of us in the formerly Free World, because history often repeats itself. We are living in a time when religious faith is marginalized and openly ridiculed, and our freedom of religion is being downgraded to simple freedom to worship which means people are “free” as long as they don’t drag their beliefs outside of their churches or temples. When people live a compartmentalized existence where their religious life and regular life don’t intermingle, that is secularism at its worst.

The persecutions in Russia in the 20th century created many hundreds of thousands of what are now called “the New Martyrs of Russia”, the true number known but to God Himself. The advancing secularization of Western society in the 21st century may yet see a new persecution emerge in the West since religious belief and secular government appear to be set on a collision course.

Update: A letter is read at the end of the film mentioning a destination called “Kolyma”. That place is located in far eastern Siberia and was the site of a particularly notorious “gulag” or forced labor camp for political prisoners. It is worth noting that millions of ordinary and innocent people never returned from the Soviet gulag system.

Another Update: I would like to update and close this piece with a brief personal anecdote. My wife is an ex-Soviet citizen, and an outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in the relatively prosperous post-war period she and her contemporaries knew little of the Stalinist era gulag system, and most of her contemporaries dismissed the stories of purges and mass arrests as exaggerations, and something from a bygone era. While she was a university student in the 70’s, two male friends of hers went camping in the far east of Russia. Siberia, so vast and limitless, still holds many secrets. While they were hiking in the wilderness, the past and present collided. Her friends came across large mounds of human bones. Who they belonged to is known only by God. Her mention of their unsettling discovery, and this film, reminds me of the novel “Dr. Zhivago” written by the Russian writer Boris Pasternak. He closed the story by describing the circumstances of the heroine Lara’s disappearance with these words. “…as so often happened in those days…she died or vanished somewhere, forgotten as a nameless number on a list which was afterwards mislaid.”

May their memory be eternal.

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See also one of my earlier posts: Moral Relativism, Homosexuality, Secular Law, and the Coming Persecution of Christians in the USA
This video is on Youtube.com

(Muslim) Prophet Muhammad’s Letter of Protection to Christians

The months of July and August  (2013) saw terrible violence befall Christians in both Egypt and Syria. It remains to be seen, but Christianity may exterminated from two of its oldest historical homelands within the next several years. The situation for Christians in the Middle East is well past crisis, and is now very dangerous. I have written on this subject before.

The big news over the last several weeks is the many attacks on Egypt’s Christian communities. Several outlets reported that violence by supporters of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi Isa al-Ayyat left dozens of Christian churches and Coptic-owned businesses and properties burnt. Fears of widespread sectarian strife seem to be growing among Egypt’s Christian minority.

The violence against Egypt’s Christians reminds us of the important symbolism of the Prophet Muhammad’s letter to the Christian monks at St. Catherine Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai in 628 A.D.

St. Catherine's Monastery; Sinai, Egypt (2010)

St. Catherine’s Monastery; Sinai, Egypt (2010)

In his letter, Muhammad championed universal peace and harmony between Christians and Muslims. Not only did he outline how Muslims should treat Christians, but Muhammad also touched upon human rights, including freedom of conscience, freedom of worship, and the right to protection in war.

St. Catherine’s is the oldest continuously functioning monastery in the Christian world having been built between 548 and 565 A.D. I visited there as recently as 2010 and can attest that is a special and holy place. The monastery is also the site of the biblical Burning Bush which continues to grow within its walls. St. Catherine’s contains a priceless library of some of the earliest Christian writings as well as iconography that predates the iconoclasm which divided the Christian world in the 700’s and the Muslim conquest of Eqypt that followed.

A Christian text written in the 8th Century (St. Catherine Monastery Library)

A Christian text written in the 8th Century (St. Catherine Monastery Library)

It is easy to forget that the Middle East is the historical heartland of Christianity and today’s Muslim lands were once Christian lands. Significant Christian minorities continued to exist in almost every country of the Middle East well into the 20th Century.

St. Catherine’s welcomes pilgrims from all over the world, and the monks have preserved Muhammad’s letter which is sealed in a representation of the prophet’s own hand. The Muslim populations of Eqypt have respected their prophet’s command, and for centuries they have generally left St. Catherine’s in peace.

Muhammad's Letter of Protection to St. Catherine's Christians (ca. 730 A.D.)

Muhammad’s Letter of Protection to St. Catherine’s Christians (ca. 730 A.D.)

Here is an approximate English translation of the letter:

This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who profess Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily the servants, the helpers, my followers, and I defend them, because Christians are my citizens, and, by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are you to remove their judges from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they’re my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it can’t take place without her approval. No one is to prevent her from visiting her church to pray. You shall respect their churches. You shall neither prevent them from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey this covenant until the Last Day (end of the world).

The attacks by some Egyptian Muslims on their fellow Egyptian Christian citizens is to be condemned, for the simple fact that the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, would have condemned any violence towards Christians. This applies equally to the situation in Syria as well. One can question whether the Muslims responsible for attacks on their Christian neighbors can be true Muslims with the integrity and legitimacy that the name conveys.

May God protect all the Christians of the Middle East, and may He soften the hearts of their Muslim neighbors who know not what they do.

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(From the Gospel of St. Luke)
(Luke 23:33-34)

When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” +++

Sunrise at the summit of Mt. Sinai, Egypt (2010) Photographed by your author

Sunrise from the summit of Mt. Sinai, Egypt (Nov. 2010) Photographed by your author

The Atheist Daughter of a Notable Christian Apologist Shares Her Story

Rachael Slick

Rachael Slick

The story I’ve linked to below is about a young woman named Rachael Slick who was raised in a devoutly Christian family. Rachael has since apostatized and left the faith. She is now an atheist. I feel for this girl as she describes being caught in a biblical conundrum that eventually destroyed her faith. She now says that the Bible lied to her. This is the natural outcome of Sola Scriptura, or the doctrine defended by many Protestant sects holding that the Bible is the sole source of Christian teaching.

We don’t believe in Sola Scriptura in the Eastern Orthodox Christian Churches. We believe that the Bible was written and compiled by human hands under heavenly inspiration. We can say this with authority because it is our book, we wrote it. We convened the councils that compiled and vetted all the books that form the Holy Bible used by the entire Christian world. It’s the same Bible used by all the Protestant denominations, the Evangelicals and the Roman Catholic Church. Those councils were all convened when there was only one Christian Church and it was Orthodox, so when we speak about the Holy Bible we do so with authority. It’s our book. Nonetheless, we don’t teach that the Bible is the sole source of Christian teaching. You would not expect to take a university degree by simply reading the textbook. You would expect to receive guidance by studying at the feet of a master on the subject who can expound on all the complexities of the subject matter. The Desert Fathers, those early desert dwelling monks and ascetics, as well as the early bishops, martyrs, and saints created and left behind a huge number of writings and spiritual guidance that help us to interpret biblical scripture in the correct context and to apply it in our daily lives.

The history of the Orthodox Church goes back almost 2,000 years to Christ’s apostles who dispersed to the four corners of the Earth to become our first bishops. The first Protestant church appeared on the scene only in the Middle Ages. Many of the western denominations simply ignore the collected wisdom from the early church fathers, but can’t easily explain away the gap between Christ’s Ascension and the formation of their own sects and denominations centuries later. Did nothing noteworthy happen in Christian history during all those previous centuries? All the answers are out there for those who are willing to seek them. In the meantime Rachael is still in need of our prayers. May God save and protect her.

Source: patheos.com

The Atheist Daughter of a Notable Christian Apologist Shares Her Story.

Marian devotions bring Muslims to Christian shrines

I’ve been told that the Virgin Mary is held in high esteem by many in Islam who venerate her as the mother of a great prophet, so I’m not surprised by the subject of this article. When people are left to themselves they generally find ways to coexist and adapt to each other. It’s the fanatics in any population who usually cause the trouble.

Several years ago my wife and I found ourselves in Arab East Jerusalem at the top of the Mount of Olives standing before the great iron gate separating the large Russian Orthodox monastery there from the outside world. The Muslim gatekeeper proudly mentioned that he was the third generation in his family to exercise that duty, and produced a photograph of his grandfather standing with the monastic clerics to prove it to us. When my wife asked him if he was a Christian, he said that he was a Muslim, but he knew that God was present on the other side of the gate.

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Source: catholicculture.org

Marian devotions bring Muslims to Christian shrines : News Headlines – Catholic Culture.

Excerpts: “Devotion to the Virgin Mary is quite strong in Islam….The spiritual dialogue between Christians and Muslims is much more promising than cultural, theological, or political dialogue…While some Islamic sects are hostile to all manifestations of Christian belief, countless Muslims cherish a belief in the healing powers of Marian shrines. Pilgrimages are particularly popular in Egypt, and thousands of Muslims have been attracted to reported apparitions of the Virgin.”