16 September 2007

on Halloween

I am ever grateful to my parents for teaching me at a young age that Halloween was not a Christian holiday, and since then I have been extremely opposed to Halloween. I am relieved, honestly, that Orthodoxy takes such a strong stance against any practice that is the least bit associated with Halloween...including receiving candy in the spirit of Halloween, dressing up, carving pumpkins, etc. Here is Bishop Kyrill's homily on the subject. I encourage you to take the time to read it--it is interesting and very important.

by Bishop Kyrill of Seattle,
reprinted from "Parish Life" of the St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Washington, DC.

It is that time of the year when the secular society in which we live is preparing for the festival of Halloween. Because most of us are either newly Orthodox or newly aware of our Orthodoxy, it is absolutely necessary that we carefully examine every aspect of our involvement in the world - it's activities, festivals, associations and societies - in order to discern whether or not these involvements are compatible or incompatible with our holy Orthodox Faith.

This is a difficult task which leads to some pain when we realize that there are popular organizations and activities in which we are unable to participate.

Though our schools, our local community organizations, and all forms of entertainment in television, radio, and the press will share in and capitalize upon the festival of Halloween, it is impossible for Orthodox Christians to participate in this event at any level. The issue involved is simple faithfulness to God and the holy Orthodox Christian Faith. Halloween has its roots in paganism and continues to be a form of idolatry in which Satan, the angel of death is worshipped. As we know, the very foundation of our holy Church is built upon the blood of martyrs who refused under the painful penalties of cruel torture and death to worship, venerate, or pay obeisance in any way to the idols who are Satan's angels. Because of the faithfulness through obedience and self-sacrifice of the holy martyrs, God poured out upon His holy Church abundant Grace and its numbers were increased daily, precisely at a time when one would have expected the threat of persecution to extinguish the flame of faith. But, contrary to the world's understanding, humble faithfulness and obedience to God are the very lifelines of our life in Christ, through Whom we are given true spiritual peace, love, and joy, and participation in the miraculous workings of His Holy Spirit. Therefore the holy Church calls us to faithfulness by our turning away from falsehood toward truth and eternal life.

With regard to our non-participation in the pagan festival of Halloween, we will be strengthened by an understanding of the spiritual danger and history of this anti-Christian feast. The feast of Halloween began in pre-Christian times among the Celtic peoples of Great Britain, Ireland and northern France. These pagan peoples believed that physical life was born from death. Therefore, they celebrated the beginning of the "new year" in the fall (on the eve of October 31 and into the day of November 1), when, as they believed, the season of cold, darkness, decay and death began. A certain deity, whom they called Samhain, was believed by the Celts to be the lord of Death, and it was he whom they honored at their New Year's festival.

There were, from an Orthodox Christian point of view, many dia bolical beliefs and practices associated with this feast which, it will be clear, have endured to our time. On the eve of the New Year's festival, the Druids who were the priests of the Celtic cult, instructed their people to extinguish all hearth fires and lights. On the evening of the festival a huge bonfire built of oak branches, which they believed to be sacred, was ignited. Upon this fire sacrifices of crops, animals, and even human beings, were burned as an offering in order to appease and cajole Samhain, the lord of Death. It was also believed that Samhain, being pleased by their faithful offerings, allowed the souls of the dead to return to homes for a festal visit on this day. It is from this belief that the practice of wandering about in the dark dressed up in costumes imitating ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons grew up. For the living entered into fellowship and communion with the dead by what was, and still is, a ritual act of imitation, through costume and activity of wandering around in the dark of night, even as the souls of the dead were believed to wander.

The dialogue of "trick or treat" is also an integral part of this system of beliefs and practices. It was believed that the souls of the dead who had entered into the world of darkness, decay, and death, and therefore into total communion with and submission to Samhain the lord of Death, bore the affliction of great hunger on their festal visit. Out of this grew the practice of begging, which was a further ritual enactment and imita tion of what the Celts believed to be the activities of the souls of the dead on their festal visit. Associated with this is the still further implication that if the souls of the dead and their imitators were not appeased with "treats," i.e., offerings, then the wrath and anger of Samhain, whose angels and servants the souls and their imitators had become, would be unleashed through a system of "tricks," or curses.

From an Orthodox Christian point of view, participation in these practices at any level is impossible and idolatrous, a genuine betrayal of our God and our holy Faith. For if we participate in the ritual activity of imitating the dead by dressing up in their attire or by wandering about in the dark, or by begging with them, then we have willfully sought fel lowship with the dead, whose lord is not Samhain as the Celts believed but Satan, the Evil One who stands against God. Further, if we submit to the dialogue of "trick or treat," we make our offering not to innocent children, but rather to Samhain, the lord of Death whom they have come to serve as imitators of the dead, wandering in the dark of night.

There are other practices associated with Halloween which we must stay away from. As was mentioned above, on the eve of the Celtic New Year festival, Druid priests instructed their faithful to extinguish their hearth fires and lights and to gather around the fire of sacrifice to make their offerings to pay homage to the lord of Death. Because this was a sacred fire, it was from this that the fire of the new year was to be taken and the lights and hearth fire rekindled. Out of this arose the practice of the jack o'lantern (in the USA, a pumpkin; in older days other vegetables were used) which was carved in imitation of the dead and used to convey the new light and fire to the home where the lantern was left burning throughout the night. Even the use and display of the jack o'lantern involves celebration of and participation in the pagan festival of death honoring the Celtic god Samhain. Orthodox Christians must in no way share in this Celtic activity, but rather we should counter our inclinations and habits by burning candles to the Saviour and the Most Holy Mother of God and to all the holy saints.

In the ancient Celtic rite divination was also associated with this fes tival. After the fire had died out the Druids examined the remains of the sacrifices in order to foretell, as they believed was possible, the events of the coming year. Since this time the Halloween festival has been the night for participation in all kinds of sorcery, fortune telling, divination, games of chance, and in latter medieval times, Satan worship and witchcraft.

In the days of the early Celtic Church, which was strictly Orthodox, the holy Fathers attempted to counteract this pagan New Year Festival which honored the lord of Death, by establishing the Feast of All Saints on the same day (in the East, the Feast of All Saints is celebrated on the Sunday following Pentecost). As was the custom of the Church, the faith ful Christians attended a Vigil Service in the evening and in the morning a celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It is from this that the term Halloween developed. The word Halloween has its roots in the Old English of "All Hallow's Even," i.e., the eve commemorating all those who were hallowed (sanctified), i.e., Halloween. The people who had remained pagan and therefore anti-Christian and whose paganism had become deeply intertwined with the occult, Satanism, and magic, reacted to the Church's attempt to supplant their festival by increased fervor on this evening. In the early middle ages, Halloween became the supreme and central feast of the occult, a night and day upon which acts of witch craft, demonism, sorcery, and Satanism of all kinds were practiced.

Many of these practices involved desecration and mockery of Christian practices and beliefs. Costumes of skeletons developed as a mockery of the Church's reverence for holy relics; holy things were stolen, such as crosses and the Reserved Sacrament, and used in perverse and sacrile gious ways. The practice of begging became a system of persecution designed to harass Christians who were, by their beliefs, unable to participate by making offerings to those who served the lord of Death. The Western Church's attempt to supplant this pagan festival with the Feast of All Saints failed.

The analogy of Halloween in ancient Russia was Navy Dien (old Slavonic for "the dead" was "nav") which was also called Radunitsa and celebrated in the spring. To supplant it the Eastern Church connected this feast with Pascha and appointed it to be celebrated on Tuesday of the Saint Thomas' week (the second week after Pascha). The Church also changed the name of the feast into Radonitsa, from Russian "radost" joy. Joy of Pascha and of the resurrection from the dead of all of mankind after Jesus Christ. Gradually Radonitsa yielded to Pascha its importance and became less popular in general, but many dark and pagan practices and habits of some old feasts of Russian paganism (Semik, Kupalo, Rusalia and some aspects of the Maslennitsa) survived till the beginning of our century. Now they are gone forever, but the atheist authorities used to try to revive them. We can also recall the example of another "harmless" feast - May 1, proclaimed "the international worker's day." That was a simple renaming of a very old satanic feast of Walpurgis Night (night of April 30 into the day of May 1) - the great yearly demonic Sabbath during which all the participants united in "a fellowship of Satan."

These contemporary Halloween practices have their roots in paganism, idolatry, and Satan worship. How then did something that is so obviously contradictory to the holy Orthodox Faith gain acceptance among Christian people?

The answer to this question is: spiritual apathy and listlessness, which are the spiritual roots of atheism and the turning away from God. In today's society one is continually urged to disregard the spiritual roots and origins of secular practices under the guise that the outward customs, practices and forms are cute, fun, entertaining, and harmless. Behind this attitude lies the dogma of atheism, which denies the existence of both God and Satan and can therefore conclude that these activities, despite their obvious pagan and idolatrous origin, are harmless and of no consequence.

The holy Church must stand against this because we are taught by Christ that God stands in judgment over everything we do and believe, and that our actions are either for God or against God. Therefore, the customs of Halloween are not innocent practices with no relationship to the spiritual world. But rather they are demonic practices, precisely as an examination of their origins proves.

Evil spirits do exist. The demons do exist. Christ came into the world so that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil (Heb. 2:12). It is imperative for us to realize as Christians that our greatest foe is the Evil One who inspires nations and individuals to sin against mankind, and who prevents them from coming to a knowledge of the truth. Unless we realize that Satan is our real enemy, we can never hope for spiritual progress for our lives. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph.6:12).

Today we witness a revival of satanistic cults; we hear of a satanic service conducted on Halloween night; everywhere Satan reaches out to ensnare as many innocent people as possible. The newsstands are filled with material on spiritualism, supernatural phenomena, seances, prophecies, and all sorts of demonically inspired works.

It is undoubtedly an act of Divine Providence that Saint John of Kronstadt, that saintly physician of souls and bodies, should have his feast day on the very day of Halloween, a day which the world dedicated to the destroyer, corrupter, and deceiver of humanity. God has provided us with this powerful counterpoise and weapon against the snares of Satan, and we should take full advantage of this gift, for truly "Wondrous is God in His saints."

11 September 2007

become a dead man

From the life of Saint Macarius of Egypt, as written in The Lives of the Saints, Vol. 5 (January):

A brother came to visit Saint Macarius and pleaded, "Abba, give me a word, that I will be saved."

The elder said, "Go to a cemetery and insult the dead."

The brother insulted the dead, threw rocks at their graves, and returned to the old man. "Did they say anything to you?" the venerable one asked.

"Nothing," replied the monk.

"Now go, praise them," enjoined the elder. The brother praised the dead as saints and apostles, then reported back to the saint. Macarius asked, "Did they respond?"

"No," answered the monk.

"You heaped contempt on them, and they said nothing; you praised them, but they remained silent," said Macarius. "If you wish to be saved, become a dead man. If, like the dead, you take no account either of the scorn of men or their acclaim, you can be saved."


Dweller of the desert and angel in the body
you were shown to be a wonder-worker, our God-bearing Father Macarius.
You received heavenly gifts through fasting, vigil, and prayer:
Healing the sick and the souls of those drawn to you by faith.
Glory to Him who gave you strength!
Glory to Him who granted you a crown!
Glory to Him who through you grants healing to all!


The Lord truly placed you in the house of abstinence,
As a star enlightening the ends of the earth,
Venerable Macarius, Father of Fathers.

08 September 2007

Battle of the Ice

This month we remember and celebrate the Russian Saint Alexander Nevsky and his victories. I remember being surprised the first time I learned that the Crusaders (Western/Roman Catholic) were not only against Muslims but also against the the Eastern Orthodox Church. Actually, earlier I never even knew there was a different church (Eastern). It makes sense, though...I mean about the Crusaders. Many do not realize how deep the gulf was between the East and West, and it only continues to deepen and widen. Many hope for the unification of the Roman Catholics with the Eastern Orthodox, but there have been 10 centuries of change on one end and 10 centuries of unchanging Tradition on the other. The Eastern Orthodox church is not about to compromise her Tradition now (talking big T, not the little t's), and I'm not sure how far the Roman Catholic church would be willing to back track. Only God knows. His will be done.

Anyway, on to the battle and Alexander Nevsky (taken from Wikipedia):

The Battle of the Ice, also known as the Battle of Lake Peipus, was a battle between Novgorod and the Teutonic Knights on April 5, 1242 at Lake Peipus.

The battle was one of the most significant defeats sustained by Roman Catholic crusaders during the Northern Crusades, which were directed against pagans and Eastern Orthodox Christians rather than Muslims in the Holy Land. The crusaders' defeat in the battle effectively marked the end of significant campaigns against the Orthodox Novgorod Republic and other Russian territories in the aftermath of the conquest of Estonia.


Hoping to exploit the Russians' weakness in the wake of the Mongol and Swedish invasions, the Teutonic Knights attacked the neighboring Novgorod Republic and occupied Pskov, Izborsk, and Koporye in the autumn of 1240. When they approached Novgorod itself, the local citizens recalled to the city 20-year-old Prince Alexander Yaroslavich, whom they had banished to Pereslavl earlier that year. During the campaign of 1241, Alexander managed to retake Pskov and Koporye from the crusaders.

The battle

In the spring of 1242, the Teutonic Knights defeated a reconnaissance detachment of Novgorodians about 20 km south of the fortress of Dorpat (Tartu). Led by Prince-Bishop Hermann of Buxhoeveden of the Bishopric of Dorpat, the knights and their auxiliary troops of local Ugaunian Estonians then met with Alexander's forces by the narrow strait that connects the northern and southern parts of Lake Peipus (Lake Peipus proper with Lake Pskovskoe) on April 5, 1242. Alexander, intending to fight in a place of his own choosing, retreated in efforts to draw the often over-confident Crusaders to the frozen lake.

The crusader forces likely numbered somewhere in the area of 500 to 1000 [citation needed]. Most of them were Germans, including knights of the Teutonic Order and their squires, although there were large numbers of Danes and Swedish and Estonian mercenaries. The Russian force in contrast numbered around 5,000 soldiers: Alexander and his brother Andrew's bodyguards (druzhina), who numbered around 1,000, plus the militia of Novgorod (not at full force, because of the absence of a direct threat to Novgorod).

According to contemporary Russian chronicles, after hours of hand-to-hand fighting, Alexander ordered the left and right wings of his archers to enter the battle. The knights by this time were exhausted from the constant fighting and struggling with the slippery surface of the frozen lake. The Crusaders started to retreat in disarray deeper onto the ice, and the appearance of the fresh Russian cavalry made them run for their lives. When the knights attempted to rally themselves at the far side of the lake the thin ice started to collapse, under the weight of their heavy armour, and many knights drowned.

According to the First Novgorod Chronicle,

Prince Alexander and all the men of Novgorod drew up their forces by the lake, at Uzmen, by the Rave's Rock; and the Germans and the Estonians rode at them, driving themselves like a wedge throughout their army. And there was a great slaughter of Germans and Estonians... they fought with them during the pursuit on the ice seven versts short of the Subol [north-western] shore. And there fell a countless number of Estonians, and 400 of the Germans, and they took fifty with their hands and they took them to Novgorod.[1]

According to the Livonian Order's Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, written years later,

The [Russians] had many archers, and the battle began with their bold assault on the king's men [Danes]. The brothers' banners were soon flying in the midst of the archers, and swords were heard cutting helmets apart. Many from both sides fell dead on the grass. Then the Brothers' army was completely surrounded, for the Russians had so many troops that there were easily sixty men for every one German knight. The Brothers fought well enough, but they were nonetheless cut down. Some of those from Dorpat escaped from the battle, and it was their salvation that they fled. Twenty brothers lay dead and six were captured.[2]

The Battle of the Ice has been described as an event of major significance, especially by Russian historians. The knights' defeat at the hands of Alexander's forces prevented the crusaders from retaking Pskov, the linchpin of their eastern crusade. The Novgorodians succeeded in defending Russian territory, and the German crusaders never mounted another serious challenge eastward. After the battle Alexander was canonised as a saint in Russian Orthodox church. Later, during World War 2, the image Alexander Nevsky became the great national symbol of fighting against the Western occupation. Today, in Russia, there exists an "Order of Holy Alexander Nevsky", a medal given for outstanding bravery and excellent sevice to the homeland.

Sergei Eisenstein's historical drama film Alexander Nevsky features the Battle of the Ice. The film has elements of propaganda and makes changes to the historical background, however, and should not be viewed as being accurate.