Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Book Review: Youth of the Apocalypse and the last true rebellion by the St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.

Youth of the Apocalypse and the last true rebellion by the St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.

This book is described as “A virtual manifesto for the children of the eleventh hour” and it certainly reads as one. Discussing the world today and the cure. Having read much from Heiromonk Seraphim Rose and his writings on Orthodoxy in the modern world I was eager to get my hands on this book, as someone who entered Orthodoxy from the Metal subculture much like one of the authors, Monk John Marler. This as well as it’s connection to the well known “death to the world” zine, of which I am an avid reader, drew me to borrow it from my local priest.

The book is certainly a blessing, and pulls no punches when discussing how the world today has become a spiritual warzone, where the three Children of Nihilism (Sex, Drugs and Violence) have become encouraged as a norm for those seeking escapism from the world. At first glance it reads much like a slap in the face when you say something stupid to the wrong person, opening with the line “From the mother’s womb the newborn baby cries; and these teardrops continue to fall even unto thiseeration of youth.”

To those who prefer a standard, impersonal account of Orthodoxy, the book will certainly not appeal, but to someone like me, who appreciates the struggle that the Orthodox youth must go through to understand the place of God in today’s world it is a great change from much of the lukewarm “for academic use only” orthodox literature I have encountered. The book is split into three sections; “Our origin”, “our death” and “our resurrection”, each of these dealing with a specific topic.

“Our Origin” discusses the rise of Apathy and Nihilism through History, and the change from the peace of our beginnings with God, to the war we see around us on both the physical and metaphysical battlefields of the modern world. It is only a short section, and serves as a second introduction, covering the historical background of the war between the world and God.

This leads the writers to look at specific philosophies and “new order” which led to this tragedy in humankind, from the actions of the Emperor Nero in Rome to the works of later Philosophers which sought to end religion, calling it outdated. The development of these new moral traditions based on mankind’s lust for new meaning and experience were harmful to mankind, and eventually would lead to the escapist Philosophy which the book focuses on for the next section. The book them looks into the writings of Nietzsche, seen as the father of insanity, and how they again influenced the zeitgeist, opening the path to a humankind with the notion of the living God effectively killed by mankind who now seek nothing as they have lost their only comfort. This, according to the Youth of the Apocalypse gave rise to Generation X, the lost generation.

“Our Death” looks specifically at the world of today, where, as previously mentioned, escapism rules and the devil provides many tools for those looking for it. It looks at how people today seem to be fighting a war against God. They have decided to push far away from God, seeking to escape the world which mankind has created by losing themselves in the mind bending realities of modern culture From Drugs to Fashion to the outright grotesque. I myself am a big video game fan, but have seen many people lose themselves to this need for an escape, spending hundreds of pounds a month on the newest games, as they have no reason to associate with the world.

The book deals with the sad realities of the world. It asks why there is a necessity in the modern world to “feed the need.” It looks at how people’s lives are changed as the passions they have lived for have led them to apathy, as they cannot feel pleasure from these things now, and of course this can lead to suicide. Again, through the war against God man’s ultimate destination is death.

In the Third section the book looks at “Our Resurrection”. How is man saved? How can we know this? And what can we do to save ourselves? This is by far the largest section of the book, taking  three quarters of the page count and an in depth, but simply worded explanation of salvation and the person of Christ and the trinity. One part of this section I find extremely beautiful is its detailed summaries the lives of some of the Saints that have inspired the writers, from St. Antony of the desert, who gave up the passions of the world to become a monk in the desert, to Moses the Black, the feared thief who became a peaceful monk. It also looks at some of the modern Martyrs who have died at the hands of those influenced by the “anti-faith” mindset of the modern world such as Priest-monk Nestor, who suffered greatly at the hands of hooligans because of his faith, and was eventually murdered. These inspirational lives are sure to remind any reader that you can find the greatest of pleasures through serving your creator, rather than through giving your body to mankind.

The book ends in a fashion which I could only liken to a medical manual for medication, or even instructions for the human soul, explaining the training of the body and soul to be healthy, and reminding of what is best avoided in this minefield we live in. Finishing with Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, to remind us that those that do not seek personal greatness, or rely on the suffering of others, or person hate to get by in life will inherit pleasure far beyond any worldly suffering when we leave the world.  

All in all, I feel that this book is to be highly recommended for any struggling with the world. It is mainly written for those coming from a punk or metal background in which the concept of nihilism has prevailed, but is easily understood and read by any who wish to read it.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Exploring the origins of British Christianity Conference. 14/07/2012 (Part 2)

After this was the lecture which stole the day. The lecture was by the renowned Historian Prof. Michelle Brown. As with Fr Andrew, she started by pointing out that East and West were linked by Ecumenical traditions and through the teachings of the desert fathers, emphasising that the only changes were cultural. From here, she went on to point out how far these people travelled, listing pilgrims from the British Isles who visited or had contact with visitors to the Holy Land and other Christian Centres of worship.

Later, she looked at the Archaeological evidence of this relationship between East and West, such as Byzantine Cocides and Armenian Khachkars found across the Isles. The most fascinating piece demonstrated was the vast amount of Eastern influence on design in books and coins produced in Pre-Norman Britain, from Arabic coinery to Coptic bound Psalters. Prof. Brown then treated us to a detailed look at her most recent work in the Monastery of St Catherine, which unearthed the first known Latin works in the Monastery's library, most likely produced by British scribes in the first Millennium AD. 

One thing which stood out with Prof Brown's talk was her emphasis on the connection between the Coptic tradition and British isles, especially the monastic and archeological connections.The relationship between early psalters and Coptic binding may seem trivial in age age where books are everywhere but to the people of this time an Egyptian Monk with a Psalm book demonstrated the pinnacle of scholarship and we would do well to remember how influenced the Christians of Southern Ireland were when they first encountered the Desert fathers as it is one of the major factors in the Christianisation of our Islands.
Altogether, Prof Brown's talk opened the eyes of many there to the idea that Britain was not a closed and isolated place at this time, but had plenty of contact with the rest of the Christian world, from knowledge of Indian Christians to Scribes in Sinai. 
The final talk of the day was by Metropolitan Seraphim. He spoke on the emphasis of the Christian identity in the Isles before the Norman invasion and even beyond. In order to convey this point, he spoke of the vitality of the term Romanitas in the writings of such great saints as Saint Patrick. The Archbishop emphasises this sense of Christian identity as vital at the time for the Romano-British in the Isles, speaking of how this was culturally engrained into the people, even whilst pagan Saxons looted the shores.

One interesting point brought up in his speech is that of St Gildas. Gildas was mentioned throughout the day due to his anger at the clergy and people of the Christian British Isles for their lapse in faith and austerity. Abba Seraphim pointed out in his speech that despite accusations of laziness, lust and other sins, Gildas did not at any point accuse them of Paganism. This links to the vital sense of Christian identity throughout the people, much like how there is a large nominally Christian sense of Identity in the British isles today. 
The Bishop then spoke of the importance of this Roman and Christian identity in world terms, speaking not just of patriotism as being part of the Romano-British community for those people of the time but being part of the Christian community as a whole. The example given was that of Constantine being proclaimed as Emperor for the first time in York, giving the isles a place in Roman Politics and imperial power. This sense of Christian Roman identity, with clergy and king being power brokers was vital for the people of this time and the sad point we are reminded of in the conclusion is that for many British Christians today, the King leads the Church rather than allowing for this dual identity, claiming that this is how it should be. This was another harsh reminder of how disconnected modern English Christianity is from its glorious past.

The day, on the whole, was a great experience and a rare chance to learn of how Christianity in Britain grew and flourished through external contact and internal development. The context of it from within a Greek Orthodox community also demonstrates the vitality for British Converts to the Orthodox faith to learn about their own heritage rather than giving it up for a Russian, Greek or Coptic one. This opportunity to do this, in itself, made the day a great success.

Exploring the origins of British Christianity Conference. 14/07/2012 (Part 1)

I had been looking forward to attending this conference for a long time, as it tackled that rare topic of British Christianity, something which a British convert to Orthodoxy will always sense a lack of in Orthodoxy, with its culturally foreign nature and constant struggles with Ethnophyletism. The conference had been Organised by Angelos Scott Stanway, a member of the British Navy and convert to the Greek Church. He had work exceedingly hard to prepare this event and dedicated much of his off-ship time to it.

After the introduction, Fr Chrysostom from Poole started the conference with a powerful talk on how 1066 destroyed a Cohesive and adventured nation. He looked at the structure of the politics and faith of the pre-Norman British Isles, explaining how the faith was orthodox with some indigenous elements.

He then looked at the links between the British isles and the East, including the Roman Empire, Egypt and the Holy Land. This finished by looking at the death of the indigenous Church after the Council of Synod of Whitby and final end of this Church in Scotland when its Liturgical and hierarchy fell under Norman Reforms.

Following this, we had a discussion session with Fr John Nankivell as to the definition and influence of the Indigenous Church of pre-Norman Britain and the influence of Eastern Christian thought on the Church there.

The next Lecture which caught my interest was that of Professor Paul Cavill of the University of Nottingham. He looked at Veneration of the Cross in Early British Christianity. This used archaeological sources such as the Coppergate helmet and Benty Grange Helmet to see how Christian Crosses replaced Pagan imagery on Military arms in order to invoke God's help on Christian armies of this time. This was fascinated as it showed the importance of the faith to the Saxon Kings of this time and vitality of a prayer based life, trusting in God for victory and prosperity in their kingdoms.

It compared this and collaborated the evidence to Constantine's Dream, where the cross was invoked to bring him victory at Milvern bridge, looking at the similarities of this story to Oswald's veneration of the cross in his victory in the battle of Hatfield-Chase. The talk as summarised by explaining the historical evidence for this veneration and the use of lines, showing a distinct tradition of the use of cross and its direct replacing of Pagan venerations in the Pre-Norman mindset.

After Lunch Fr Andrew Phillips led a fascinating talk which started with the line “The Centre of the Church is in Asia, Not Europe...” and caught the attention of everyone there. It focussed on the Eastern and especially Egyptian influence on the austere Monastic practices of Southern Ireland as well as the existence of an organised hierarchical and Liturgical traditions in the indigenous Church, unlike what is commonly suggested by those claiming some kind of new age 'Celtic Christianity'.  This is a common problem with Pseudo-historians, who claim some kind of almost post-modern Pagan form of Christianity existed in the Romano-Celtic British isles, when the evidence of a structured Christianity, as with any part of the Church.

He also looked at the links to the immense Ecumenical and International scope of the Church with Bishops and Monks known to have been in the isles from Armenia, Egypt, Syria, Greece and across the Eastern world including King Alfred's famous Alms giving to Christians in India. This came with the message that “there was no place for nationalism in the Early Church,” granting a stark difference to the Christianity we see in many nations today. My favourite point made was at the end when Fr Andrew pointed out what the British Church had given to the rest of the world, he did this by showing how Yury Dolgoruky, founder of Moscow, was in fact the Grantson of Harold Godwinson, the Last pre-Norman King of Britain. This gave a light hearted end to what was a deep and highly detailed talk.

Friday, 13 July 2012

He gives Himself to you...

"How many of you say: I should like to see His face, His garments, His shoes. You do see Him, you touch Him, you eat Him. He gives Himself to you, not only that you may see Him, but also to be your food and nourishment." - St. John Chrysostom

Liberty is not the mere freedom of choice or license

"Liberty is not the mere freedom of choice or license, but the freedom to act with great love--the love of Christ. There is no freedom outside of the sphere of the Cross, which is the summit of Love." Fr Pishoy Kamel

Pagans, Christians and Muslims: Egypt in the First Millennium AD (9-10 July 2012)

Pagans, Christians and Muslims: Egypt in the First Millennium AD – The Annual International Egyptology Colloquium 2012. 

 9-10 July 2012.

Due to work based commitments I was unable to reach the first day of the conference until the 4pm break, where I met up with Metropolitan Seraphim at the Museum as well as some known Egyptologists who I have had the pleasure of meeting before. Though I missed the first two lectures, I was there in time to catch Jochem Kahl and Jane Faiers' talks on Middle Egypt.

Both talks were excellent and highly insightful, looking at monastic settlements in middle Egypt. Jochem Khal's detailed contemporary expeditions and analysis of the Gebel Asyut Al-Gharbi site but, of the two, I found Mrs Faiers' especially interesting as it used a photo diary from the last century to analyse previous knowledge of the site. This talk was met with questions and links to other research which Mrs Faiers said she would look into.

After this, we had the chance to discuss the talks with others in the museum and look around the books before heading in for Dr Gawdat Gabra's talk, which was this year's Raymond and Beverly Sackler lecture.

Dr Gabra's lecture was focussed on the connections between the Coptic mindset's link to Martyrdom and the Ancient Egyptian view of death. It looked heavily at what Coptic Christianity had inherited from its ancient ancestors, which sometimes made it sound like a polemic, but resonated at a time when Egypt is facing political uncertainty after the election of the Islamist Dr Mursi as President.

The part of this lecture which I found extremely interesting was the link between the christianisation of the Ankh and the mindset of Martyrdom. Dr Gabra looked at this with respect to the tradition of the Soldier-Saint in Coptic iconography, a topic which I have recently studied myself. This made the lecture's underlying study of the Coptic 'Church of the Martyrs' extremely interesting though somewhat out of place in an Egyptology conference.

When the lecture ended, we attended the reception which gave the guests a chance to talk and people the chance to talk to Abba seraphim about Coptic Christianity, as most were Egyptologists, so did not study the faith on its own. Having an Archbishop there to talk to helped them put Dr Gabra's talk in context and gain a further understanding of the faith behind the Copts.

On the Second day, I reached the Colloquium at 10.30, in time to hear Dr C├Ącilia Fluck speak on the discovery of a female Tomb at Antinoupolis. Though the title of the lecture leant heavily on the study of textiles (Which I expected to be very boring) it was a fascinating look at the traditions of the day. It developed into a lecture on the clothing designs of women in 5th Century Coptic Egypt, something which it is rare to have explained since the majority of women we hear about in that period our the Holy Desert Mothers or the aristocracy. 

From this, we were given three lectures on the area of Minya (Now Al-Minya) and the monastic settlements here. The first two focussed heavily on the tombs of the area. The first was by Dr. Katja Lembke, who explained the changes in burial traditions in the Necropolis of Tuna El-Gebel. The lecture looked into how the traditions became Hellenised, though his did not cover the later Christian period, only the change from the Egyptian Gods and rituals to the more Hellenic style of Roman and Greek burial with images of their Gods and Myths. 

This led smoothly on to the final two talks of the morning which were on the use of Tombs and quarry worker settlements by 4th and 5th century Anchorites and the evidence at sites across Minya which show the presence of monks. It covered the pattern of monastic settlements around cities in the area and the development of Christian communities close to abandoned cities such as Amarna which was the short lived Capital of Egypt under Akenaten. 

This final talk led to some interesting discussions and questions on the Monks who lived there such as St Ammonas who wrote to other monks in the area, instructing them in the teachings of Saint Anthony. Some of the questions and comments were far more obscure, such as a claim of Kabbalistic and Gnostic teachings by the Monks under Ammonas, which led to some sniggers by people in the audience. On the whole it was a productive session, looking at the links and marriage between the Egyptian Landscape and Christianity and explaining how it was a fertile environment for the faith to develop and grow, even under the most difficult of circumstances.

Altogether, the Colloquium was an extremely successful event and a rare chance for Coptology to take the forefront at an Egyptology event in the UK. With a demonstration of the ongoing and planned work on the somewhat forgotten monastic settlements of Early Medieval Egypt it demonstrated that the study of Christian Egypt is still alive and well, with many breakthroughs expected in the field within the next few years.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

God bless all those Tumblr folks

My Tumblr has served me well but now I am here.
God bless you and keep you all.