Friday, June 30, 2006


...because Catholicity cannot be truly ‘Catholic’ - universal - without you, without the other authentic and apostolic ‘half’ of Christ’s Church [Orthodoxy], we have no intention of replacing you in this Church, for you are the only one capable of preparing us [the Eastern Catholics] a place in it.

Only as the Catholic Church opens and affords you a loving home within its fold, on an equal basis with the Latins, will we be able to feel at home in it ourselves.

Patriarch Joseph Slipyj of the Ukrainian Catholic Church

Reason #395,408.7 Why I Love My Godmother

I like her advice. Her words are always tempered with love, concern and wisdom. Last night, I asked how she felt about me going on a date tomorrow evening:

"I'll be going on a date this Saturday."
"How old is the girl?"
"She's 22."
"And you're... (pause) ...19 this year?"
"Yes... I will be in November"
"Ah, still too old for you..."
"Well, it's only 3 years, I think..."
"Still too old... but do go on the date. As friends."
"I will."
"Be of clear mind and reasoning that night. Be mature. Respect her; remember that, it is very important. And do not fall in love. Not just yet."

A few hours earlier, I had a similar conversation with my (biological) mother. Her response, however, veered dangerously close to the absurd. Overreacting, some might call it, but she calls it "concern". I call that paranoia.

"May I have extra money? I have a dinner date this Saturday."
"Oh? With who?"
"She's a 22 year old translator."
"Not local, is she?"
"Yes, she's Russian."
"Where does she work?"
"I don't know... (pause) ...why'd you want to know?"
"I want to make sure her company's legal."
"Whatever for?"
"So I will know that she isn't some illegal immigrant!"

And people wonder why I spend more time talking to my godmother!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Dinner this Sunday Night

Finally we gather, this Sunday night/
To celebrate our lives & all things gone right/
At Norman's abode this dinner will be/
Upon him be Benedictio Domini!

Composed by Edward

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Saints & Sinners

Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.

Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Religion is not necessary but spirituality is

I first heard a similar line when I watched a movie on television some years ago. The details are fuzzy, but I remember the protagonist asking a mysterious character, who was meditating, whether he was religious. The latter replied that he was not. Rather, he said was spiritual and went on to elaborate how the two were different.

I never knew then that the same idea about the two being separate and distinct would return to haunt my future. I thought this concept belonged to the beatnik and hippie generations in the United States. Never did I expect it to show up here!

Thankfully, those of my age group (I’d say 13-23) are free of this erroneous thought. Most are attached to a religion, though I’d hesitate to describe some of them as ‘organised’. This concept afflicts the mindsets of the previous generation – young adults in their late 20s to early 30s.

My experience has shown me that whenever a popular (usually handsome) young teacher is asked which faith he belongs to, he’d (almost always) give one of two possible answers 1) that he’s not religious, but spiritual or 2) that he doesn’t believe in any religion because they’re all corrupted, hypocritical, etc. I heard option 2 spouted as recently as some months ago.

Curious to know what this “spirituality” so many spoke of, I delved into various (unhealthy) web sites in the name of research. The general consensus between the diverse web sites of the term is that many “spiritual paths” exist in this universe and that there is no objective truth about which is the best one to follow. Many emphasise on the importance of finding one’s own path rather than following one that people say works. It is not a religion – it is the vital connection to one’s soul, sense of the deep self, etc.

I would beg to differ. Spirituality is not reason-oriented as many adherents so nicely describe it. Spirituality is self-oriented – “I want to seek the truth on my terms; I don’t want to listen to anybody else”. Spiritual practitioners (if I may term them as such) are hardly connected to the world. They reject organised religion because of the rampant corruption and oppression that the hierarchy rains down upon the faithful. Some think that believers of organised religions are either brainwashed minions of the hierarchy, coerced to remain, or simply lack the level of experience/education to understand better.

Taking the cue, many religions either have been invented or have been re-invented to cater to the burgeoning demand for a “spiritual” faith – e.g. Christian Science, Charismatic Christianity, Neo-Confucianism, Pentecostalism, Kabala, Hare Krishna, Neo-Paganism, etc.

At the end of the day, the corrupt understanding of “spirituality” is not about seeking one’s purpose in the universe – it’s about feeling good. One can eschew all the commitments (i.e. obedience, charity, time for worship, etc) that religions would customarily demand and yet claim to have a connection with the supernatural at the same time. Now, if one had surrendered all worldly possessions and lived for some years in the desert/mountains/caves as a hermit, I could take their word for it – but those who have made such claims to me happen to be the very same folk who are terrified of commitment and yet desire to feel secure about the afterlife – they’re either heading to heaven, there is no hell, there is no afterlife, etc. Reminds me of someone who’s in a relationship for sex/money and not love.

It’s more than a belief, I hear some call out:
Spirituality is living life at a depth of newness and gratitude, courage and creativity, trust and letting go, compassion and justice!

Gosh, what innovative ideas! Why didn't we hear this kind of brilliance before? Why haven't we been hearing about it for forty... long... tedious... years?

More on spirituality and religion soon - comments/questions are welcome

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Five Hundred Years On

Constantine XI Palaeologus died defending Orthodox Christianity on that Black Tuesday - May 29th 1453. Orthodoxy continues to be under attack in our own day.

Five hundred and fifty-three years on, the Turkish thirst for devastation have not yet been quenched. Churches in Turkish-occupied Cyprus have been converted to restaurants and hotels. Countless holy relics remain in Turkish museums. Anti-Greek pogroms were arranged in the City on September 6th, 1955 - the Greek population in the City then was 100,000 strong. Now, it is estimated to be less than 1500. The Turks continue to deny their role in wiping out millions of Christians - Orthodox and Oriental alike.

Armenians from Kesaria - they were all killed by Turks one hour after this photograph was taken

The Patriarch Athenagoras stands at the ruins of the Church of Ss Constantine and Helena of Ypsomatheion

Armenian refugees during the Armenian Genocide (1915 to 1917)

Having decimated the Greek populations of Constantinople, Thrace and Asia Minor, they now attempt to eradicate the last vestiges of Greek culture. Islamists have openly advocated that the (remaining) walls of Constantinople be torn down. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has been bombed by the ideological heirs of the Young Turks.

Sadness and faith in a destroyed church

The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the only Byzantine office to have survived the fall of the City. Its expulsion is desired by Islamist and Turkish nationalist alike.

It is honestly not inconceivable to me that the Patriarchate will have to vacate the Queen of Cities within a generation.

And Turkey has just that intention. It requires Turkish citizenship for the Patriarch, yet has conveniently ethnically cleansed all the Christians (Orthodox and Oriental alike), and at the same time, refusing to open the theological school and Halki.

Since no one is expelling the Ecumenical Patriarch from Constantinople at the immediate moment, ideas as to where he might go are in the realm of speculation. With that caveat, here are a few possibilities (thought up by Incognitus at the Byzantine Forum):

Chambesy: well, not perhaps the best solution, because the Patriarch would once again find himself with a very small flock. Possible, though.

New York: interesting. I take it for granted that if the Ecumenical Patriarch took up residence in the USA the jurisdictional problem in the USA would collapse.

Rhodes: well, it is unquestionably his, and it is outside of Turkey. Getting to or from Rhodes might be a bit of a nuisance, but nothing major against it.

Thessaloniki: now there's an interesting idea. As Bartholomew has recently made clear, this is also a territory which belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and which has a long connection to Constantinople - in fact to Byzantium, if I may make such a distinction. It also has a Patriarchal Monastery and Institute (Vlatadon). Getting down to brass tacks, it has a major international airport and other modern necessities of life - and I'm confident that the city fathers, whoever they may be, can grasp the point that having their city as the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch might be very good for Thessaloniki. Whether the Church of Greece would share their happiness is a different question.

On the other hand (said Incognitus, still speculating) there is an unpleasant consideration back in Constantinople: the "Turkish Orthodox Church" still maintains a shadowy existence, complete with "Patriarch". I would not put it past the Turkish government to announce that an Ecumenical Patriarch who left Constantinople more-or-less permanently had thereby resigned - and then installing this Turkish "Patriarch-in-waiting" in the Phanar, in hopes of causing more chaos in the Orthodox world.

Note: The "Turkish Orthodox Church" is an awful parody of the Chinese Patriotic Church. She has a patriarch and five bishops - but lacks a congregation of any sort.

Let us pray for the delivarance of all Christians who live under the Turkish yoke.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Remembering Constantinople

For eleven hundred years there had stood on the Bosporous a city where the intellect was admired and the learning and letters of the classical past were studied and preserved. Without the help of Byzantine commentators and scribes there is little that we would know today about the literature of ancient Greece. It was too, a city whose rulers down the centuries had inspired and encouraged a school of art unparalleled in human history, an art that arose from an ever varying blend of the cool cerebral Greek sense of the fitness of things and a deep religious sense that saw in works of art the incarnation of the Divine and the sanctification of matter. It was too, a great cosmopolitan city where along with merchandise ideas were freely exchanged and whose citizens saw themselves not as a racial unit but as the heirs of Greece and Rome, hallowed by the Christian faith.
Sir Steven Runciman

Western Europe has been slow to recognize its debt to Byzantium. The emergent nations of the western empire surpassed the Greeks in material power and commercial enterprise from the 13th century onwards, but they did so behind the shield of Constantinople's walls. Byzantium bore the brunt of the Mohammedan invasions, from the Arabs to the Ottoman Turks, and served as a breakwater which enabled the West to turn the tide. There were other incalculable debts; the preservation of classical literature and Roman law; the systematic study of history, the foundation of universities and the promotion of science, the rise of monasticism and missionary activity; the evolution of religious art and architecture which left their mark not only on Italy but in the Norman West.
C. M. Woodhouse, Modern Greece, A Short History

Blocked from Europe by the impregnable walls of Constantinople and the unyielding spirit of the Emperor and his people, the armies of the Prophet were obliged to travel the entire length of the Mediterranean to the Straits of Gibraltar before they could invade the continent - thus extending their lines of communication and supply almost to breaking point and rendering impossible any permanent conquests beyond the Pyrenees. Had they captured Constantinople in the seventh century rather than the fifteenth, all Europe - and America - might be Muslim today.
John Julius Norwich, Byzantium, the Early Centuries

The following paragraph would have been omitted had an arrogant Western Christian not made disparaging remarks when I lamented the City's fall. Remember, the Latin west owes more to the Byzantine east than she would care to admit.

Again, I quote C. M. Woodhouse,
In return, the West sent to Byzantium its Crusaders and traders, between whom it is hard to distinguish for unscrupulous rapacity. It is little wonder that many Greeks accepted the Turkish conquest not only as a punishment for the heretical union of 1439, but as a merciful release from Latin domination.

O, Woe to Us, Thrice Woe

Why do I lament? 553 years ago yesterday (May 29th according to the Julian Calendar), Constantinople - the City of Constantine, the New Rome, the Queen of Cities - fell to the Turks. The last Christian emperor of the Romans, Constantine XI Palaeologus, died bravely defending the City to the end. A sorrowful event still to all true Christians, lovers of Byzantium and the Classical world. It would strike some as odd that this event would affect me so strongly and personally.

The City of Constantine the Great, New Rome, Queen of Cities

I'll try to give as much details about the event as this post would allow me:

Since April 2nd, 1453, a vast Ottoman army, numbering over 100,000, had beseiged the City. There were no more than 7000 defenders, out of which 2000 were foreigners - among the foreingers were 700 Genoese soldiers under the command of the brilliant Giovanni Giustiniani Longo and 200 archers sent by Pope Nicholas V and led by Cardinal Isidore. On the night of May 22nd, the sky was darkened by a lunar eclipse - a bad omen.

On Monday, May 28th, some final repairs were made to the walls and stockades damaged by Turkish cannons. In the City herself, the bells of every church rang mournfully as civilian and soldier alike joined a long procession behind the holy relics brought out of the churches. Singing - in Greek, Latin, Catalan and the various Italian dialects - hymns - Orthodox and Catholic - the men, women, children, soldiers, civilians, clergy and monastics, knowing that they had not much time to live, made peace with themselves and God.

When the procession ended, the Emperor met with his commanders along with the nobles of the City. In an impassioned speech - Gibbon called it the 'funeral oration of the Roman Empire' - he beseeched the defenders of the city to fight on without fear:

Gentlemen, illustrious captains of the army, and our most Christian comrades in arms: we now see the hour of battle approaching. I have therefore elected to assemble you here to make it clear that you must stand together with firmer resolution than ever. You have always fought with glory against the enemies of Christ. Now the defence of your fatherland and of the City known the world over, which the infidel and evil Turks have been besieging for two and fifty days, is committed to your lofty spirits.


You are aware that the impious and infidel enemy has disturbed the peace unjustly. He has violated the oath and treaty that he made with us; he has slaughtered our farmers at harvest time; he has erected a fortress on the Propontis as it were to devour the Christians; he has encircled Galata under a pretence of peace.

Now he threatens to capture the city of Constantine the Great, your fatherland, the place of ready refuge for all Christians, the guardian of all Greeks, and to profane its holy shrines of God by turning them into stables for fits horses. O my lords, my brothers, my sons, the everlasting honour of Christians is in your hands.


You, my comrades in arms, obey the commands of your leaders in the knowledge that this is the day of your glory - a day on which, if you shed but a drop of blood, you will win for yourselves crowns of martyrdom and eternal fame.

When the shades of evening began to fall, people moved as if by instinct to the Church of the Holy Wisdom. The soldiers stayed at their posts on the walls.

Inside, the people began singing hymns, some openly crying and others asking each other for forgiveness. Greeks and Latins alike, gathered to pray together for their deliverance. Common fear worked more of a wonder than all the councils of the Church. For the last time, the Akathist Hymn was sung before the holy "Odigitria" icon of the Virgin, made by the Evangelist Luke. Orthodox bishops, priests and monks who had protested that they would never again set foot in their cathedral until it had been purged of Latin pollution, now came to the altar to join their Catholic brethren in the holy liturgy.

Among the celebrants was Cardinal Isidore, whom many of the faithful had branded a traitor and heretic. The Emperor came to pray and ask forgiveness from every bishop present before receiving communion at the altar. The priest who have him the sacrament cannot have known that he was administering the last rites to the last Christian Emperor of the Romans.

From the great church, the Emperor rode to the Palace at Blachernae, where he asked his household to forgive him for any sins committed toward them. He then bade the emotionally shattered men and women farewell and rode away for a last inspection of the defensive positions.

The final assault began after midnight, in the early hours of May 29th, 1453. Wave after wave of enemy warriors stormed the walls. The battle for the City raged on till sunrise, when the first enemy flags were seen on the walls. The Emperor and his commanders frantically tried to rally their troops, but it was too late. Waves of janissaries, followed by the regular units of the Ottoman army, were crashing through the gates. Realising everything was lost, the Emperor cast aside the imperial insignia and followed by his cousin Theophilus Palaeologus, as well as Don Francisco of Toledo and John Dalmatus, charged into the sea of enemy soldiers, never to be seen again.

A civilisation spanning over a millenium lost in a few days. The barbarians did not respect anything holy - icons, books, paintings and mosaics. They vandalised and demolished ancient monuments - churches and palaces alike - some dating back to the 4th century. Their greed for devastation has not yet been satiated, even after five centuries.

The evocative words of Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia describing the events of that terrible day, from his book, The Orthodox Church:

Outnumbered by more than twenty to one, the Byzantines maintained a brilliant but hopeless defense for seven long weeks. In the early hours of 29 May, the last Christian service was held in the great Church of the Holy Wisdom. It was a united service of Orthodox and Roman Catholics, for at that moment of crisis, supporters and opponents of the Florentine Union forgot their differences. The Emperor went out after receiving communion, and died fighting on the walls. Later the same day the city fell to the Turks, and the most glorious church on Christendom became a mosque.

I can hardly read that last line without spitting.

There is a legend, which I fondly believe...
If you should chance to see, gliding in the clear water of a stream, seven strange fish, half fried and yet alive, do not be amazed. They are the fish of a poor monk who could not believe that the Turks had entered Constantinople. Squatting by the stram, he was cooking his meal over a wood fire and had already fried the fish on one side. He was about to turn them when he heard the fateful news.

"Never shall the infidels enter the City!" cried the monk, "any more than these fish come back to life!" Then, with a vigorous flick of their tails the seven fish leaped out of the boiling oil and into the stream, half fried and half alive... Forever? No! When we recapture the City, another monk will come and the seven fish will allow themselves to be caught by him; and, like the first, he will light his wood fire by the stream and will finish his frying.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A Black Day In History

Just realised that today (29th May in the Julian Calendar) marks the 553rd anniversary of the fall of the City.

More tomorrow.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Happy Pentecost!

Despite a persistent flu, I managed to enjoy a perfect evening today. I had a pasta dinner with fellow parishioners of Holy Resurrection after the vigil for Pentecost, along with Fr Dion, a visiting ROCOR priest from Indonesia. After that ended, I walked a pretty lady to the bus stop (I'm not going to say who exactly; figure out from the photograph =P).

I met up with Edward later again for hot chocolate, only to be joined by Norman a few minutes later to discuss an upcoming music video project - though, admittedly, we digressed so often, we ended up talking about everything but the project.

All in all, I must say I had a pleasant evening - an experience that has eluded me since my godmother's departure for Romania some months ago.

My Other Blog

Announcing a new group blog I'm working on:

Poblem Engrish

Armed with naught but camera-enabled mobile telephones and our wits, our gang of four highlight examples of bad English in Singapore, from people and organisations that really ought to know better. As our introduction puts it:

This blog is here to show you examples of BAD ENGLISH in Singapore, accompanied by pictures and details of where they occur. Why do we do this? Primarily in order to provide merriment, but also as a running example of how appallingly bad the standard of English in Singapore is, thus combining education with entertainment. If the culprits may be thus shamed into improving their English, so much the better, but we're not holding our collective breath.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

6th June 2006 - 6/6/06

It's here! The "Day of the Beast"!

Recent discoveries show that 616 to be the Number of the Beast, rather than the more commonly accepted 666 - in 2005, an early fragment of papyrus was discovered, showing that the Number of the Beast was 616. The reading 616 is intriguing since the conversion of Nero Caesar's name in Latin by way of gematria (Hebrew numerology) comes out to 616.

UPDATE: Most scholars agree that the Number of the Beast is 666, and not the recently discovered 616. Hat tip to Fr John (see comments for more details).

There is a theory regarding the meaning of 666. Man was created on the 6th day and Triune God exists in 3 persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore, the number 6 represents Man and the fact that it is repeated thrice implies than Man is trying to be God.

More Useless Facts About the Most Dreaded Number:

666 written in Roman numerals (DCLXVI) is the only number that uses once each the Roman number symbols with values under 1000 and they occur in exact reverse of their respective values (D=500, C=100, L=50, X=10, V=5, I=1).

Apple's first computer, the Apple I, was priced at $666.66.

666 is an abundant number. It is the sum of the squares of the first seven prime numbers.

666 is the numerical value of "ועתה יגדל-נא כח אדני" [Ata yigdal na koach Adonai - Now, let the power of my Lord grow] (Numbers 14:17). This was Moshe's prayer invoking Divine Mercy on behalf of the Jewish people.

666 is the brand of a cough syrup in the United States.