Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006: As I Remember It

6 January: I witness a Coptic liturgy for the first time, during the Feast of the Nativity held at St Mark's Coptic Church
25 January: Pope Benedict's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, is promulgated
27 January: 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

11 February: US Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shoots his friend, Harry Whittington
27 February: Carmen, my godmother, returns to Romania after a 3 year stay in Singapore

11 March: Slobodan Milošević is found dead in his cell at the Hague
22 March: ETA declares a permanent ceasefire in their campaign for Basque independence from Spain

22 April: I am received into the Orthodox Church on Holy Saturday; my good friend Maria represents Carmen as godmother

9 May: Bishop Basil of Sourozh is retired by the Moscow Patriarchate pending an investigation into the disruption of Holy Week services
12 May: ROCOR confirms its willingness to reunite with the Russian Orthodox Church
20 May: Finnish heavy metal band Lordi win the Eurovision song contest in Athens
23 May: Edward, Norman & I watch 'The Da Vinci Code' - much laughter ensue
27 May: The first gay rights demonstration in Moscow is broken up by police

3 June: Serbia and Montenegro is dissolved as Montenegro declares independence
8 June: Bishop Basil is received by the Ecumenical Patriarchate
16 June: Dinner at Norman's for the first time; Edward makes Polish Hunters' Stew

1 July: Smoking ban extends to outdoor cafés and stalls in Singapore, angering many
9 July: Italy wins the 2006 FIFA World Cup, beating France 5-3 on penalties
10 July: Notorious Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev is accidentally killed while escorting a truck filled with explosives
12 July: Israel invades the Lebanon, on the pretext of rescuing two kidnapped soldiers

13 August: Norman, Ernest, Michael and I visit several farms in Singapore
Later that day, I finally cut my hair short after 2 years
14 August: The 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict ends, leaving 1400 Lebanese dead and 975,000 displaced
24 August: The International Astronomical Union demotes Pluto to the status of 'dwarf planet'

6 September: Prince Hisahito of Akishino is born, the first male child born to the Japanese Imperial family since his father 41 years ago
12 September: Pope Benedict delivers lecture; quoting Byzantine Emperor Manuel II on Islam, sparking mass protests and acts of violence against Christians worldwide
19 September: The Royal Thai Army stage a coup d'état, removing Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from power
23 September: Edward's 25th birthday is celebrated; many of us invited sample Shanghainese cuisine for the first time

29 October: I sample Beijing cuisine for the first time, with Edward, Norman & Michael

3 November: I turn 19 years of age
8 November: Film composer Basil Poledouris passes away at 61 years of age
28 November: Pope Benedict arrives in Constantinople for a 3 day visit

11 December: The Holocaust Conference is opened in Tehran
13 December: The baiji, or Chinese River Dolphin, becomes extinct
21 December: The first polyphonic mass is held in Singapore; I am hired as photographer (more on this later)
30 December: Saddam Hussein in executed in Baghdad

Friday, December 29, 2006

Asia Communications Hit By Quake

Telecommunications across Asia have been severely disrupted because of damage to undersea cables caused by Tuesday's earthquake near Taiwan.

Banks and businesses in Taiwan, South Korea, China and Japan reported telephone and internet problems.


Taiwan's largest telephone company, Chunghwa Telecom Co, said damage to an undersea cable had disrupted 98% of Taiwan's communications with Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong.

Repairs could take three weeks, Vice-General Manager Lin Jen-hung said, but quality would improve daily.

- BBC News, 27 December 2006, 07:44 GMT

Internet at this end has been slowed dramatically for a month or so; blogging will be sporadic over the next couple of weeks (if it ever was frequent to begin with).

Calendar Issue

It has been brought to my attention that a certain post involving the date of Christmas was not so warmly received by certain people, Latins in particular.

It was a cynical, tongue-in-cheek greeting by an Old Calendarist on the occasion of New Style Christmas. Neither he nor I (currently in the process of switching to the Old Calendar), bear any ill intention toward anybody celebrating the Nativity of Our Lord on the 25th.

Most Chinese continue to regard the Lunar New Year as the "proper" start of the New Year, as opposed to 1 January. The rest of the world does not object, nor are the Chinese ridiculed for celebrating the New Year on a different date.

Likewise, if you feel that we bear animosity toward anyone celebrating Christmas on the 25th, medical help is on its way.

I am not Roman Catholic. Not bound to the laws and doctrine of the Roman Church, I have every right as an Orthodox Christian to label certain Latin practices as "heretical" and "innovative", which I almost never do in polite company.

I have silently stood by as one Roman Catholic after the other make highly ignorant and presumptive statements about Orthodoxy, ranging from calling the absence of the filioque in the Nicene Creed an "alteration", the Eastern view of original sin as "heretical" and regarding the Byzantine rite as inferior to the Tridentine Mass.

Now, I must speak.

First, a little background information:

The Julian Calendar
The eponymous Julian calendar was introduced in 46 BC by Julius Caesar and came into force in 45 BC. It was chosen after consultation with the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria. Up till the 16th century, it was the only calendar in use in Europe. The notation "Old Style" (OS) is used to indicate a date in the Julian calendar.

The Gregorian Calendar
The most widely used calendar worldwide, it is a modification of the Julian calendar. Proposed by Italian chronologist Aloysius Lilius, it was promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. It was first adopted by the Catholic states of Europe, followed by Protestant nations. The predominantly Orthodox countries in the East were among the last in Europe to adopt the new calendar (Russia in 1917, and Greece in 1923).

Modifying the Church Calendar
By 1927, all of Eastern Europe had adopted the Gregorian calendar, although the Orthodox Church had not. Patriarch Meletius IV of Constantinople (who was suspected by many of being a Freemason) convened a synod in May 1923, revising the Julian calendar. The Revised Julian Calendar was, in all practical usage, identical to the Gregorian.

It was not accepted by all - the Churches of Jerusalem, Georgia, Russia, Serbia, Macedonia and Ukraine continue to use the Julian calendar. Those that did accept it (the Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria), did it with hopes for improved dialogue with Western Christianity.

The Heretical Calendar
At the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, one of the topics discussed was the date of Easter. Linked to the Jewish Passover, during which the crucifixion and resurrection took place, most Christians had, by 300 AD, begun to celebrate the feast on the Sunday after Passover.

The council ruled
* that Easter must be celebrated by all throughout the world on the same Sunday;
* that this Sunday must follow the fourteenth day of the Paschal moon;
* that that moon was to be accounted the Paschal moon whose fourteenth day followed the spring equinox;
* that some provision should be made, probably by the Church of Alexandria as best skilled in astronomical calculations, for determining the proper date of Easter and communicating it to the rest of the world

Thus, a common formula to determine the date of Easter was created.

However, like most statements of the Council, *cough* the Nicene Creed *cough* the Church of Rome conveniently replaced with her own understanding. In introducing the Gregorian calendar, refinements to the calculations were introduced - because of the difference in calendars and formulas, Western Easter and Orthodox Pascha do not often coincide. Generally, Orthodox Pascha follows Western Easter by between 1 and 5 weeks.

For this reason (among many others), the Gregorian calendar is deemed heretical by traditional-minded Eastern Christians - if you need any more reasons, drop a note and I will answer as soon as I can.

However, heretical or not, the new calendar remains a papal innovation (reread 'The Gregorian Calendar' a few paragraphs earlier if you dispute this). Thus, I stand my ground on calling the new calendar a "heretical papal innovation".

Sheesh. This post would be totally unnecessary if Latin hardliners weren't so stodgy.

Bishop Rejects Muslims' "Right" to Pray in Cathedral

The Roman Catholic bishop of Cordoba in southern Spain has rejected an appeal from Muslims for the right to pray in the city's cathedral, a former mosque.

Juan Jose Asenjo rejected the request made by Spain's Islamic Board in a letter to the Pope.

It had asked that the cathedral become an ecumenical temple where believers from all faiths could worship.

The bishop said such a move would not contribute to the peaceful co-existence between people of different religions.

- BBC News, 28 December 2006, 12:50 GMT

So - the Muslims want the "right to pray" in a Christian cathedral and turn it into an "ecumenical temple" at the same time?

Let's get things right - these people are Muslims, right? The very same sort of people who held mass protests and threatened violence should Pope Benedict make the sign of the cross when he visited the Hagia Sophia, once a church, but currently a MUSEUM.

If they want the right to pray in the religious edifices of other faiths, then they should start by allowing Christians to pray in Hagia Sophia, which, I might add, is no longer a mosque.

Kudos to the good bishop for standing up to this utterly ridiculous request.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

"Mer' *eee!* Chrip-bwa-papapa!"

My godsister, Mariuca, attempting to greet me 'Merry Christmas'

December 25th

Happy Feast of Christmas according to the heretical, innovative, thrice-cursed, papal calendar.

Bah, humbug.

Addendum: Okay, Edward, I'll give credit where credit's due - this message was received from Edward on Monday morning.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Bethlehem Today

Sixty years ago, Bethlehem was overwhelmingly Christian. Today, it has a Muslim majority.

The town’s Christian population has dwindled from more than 85 per cent in 1948 to 12 per cent of its 60,000 inhabitants in 2006.

There are reports of religious persecution, in the form of murders, beatings and land grabs.

The town, according to Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, is being "steadily strangled".

The sense of a creeping Islamic fundamentalism is all around in Bethlehem.

Κύριε ἐλέησον.

Veni, Veni Emmanuel!

Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.
Isaiah 7:14

Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
Qui gemit in exsilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Beauty of Russian Orthodox Chant

In perhaps the most beautiful and heartwarming video I've seen recently, an amateur female choir, in the city of Sergiyev Posad (known as Zagorsk in Soviet times), sing three hymns.

Francis thinks the only reason I keep playing this video over and over is so that I may ogle the pretty lasses in headscarves.

Live for God

And I stamped my foot angrily, "Are you not ashamed, unhappy animal, to whine about your fate? Are you not able to free yourself of subjectivity? Are you not able to forget yourself? Can you not (O shame!) understand that you have to surrender to the objective? The objective, standing outside of you, standing above you, will it not take you over? Unhappy, pitiful, stupid! You whine and complain as if someone is obliged to satisfy your needs. Yes? You cannot live without this and without that? Well, what of it? If you cannot live, then die, let your blood flow out, but live by the objective. Don't descend to contemptible subjectivity, don't seek conditions of life for yourself. Live for God, not for yourself."

Pavel Florensky

It sounds like what my godmother has been saying all this while!

[H/T to Anastasia]

Jeff Randall of the Daily Telegraph...

...defends Christmas:

Before you ask, I haven't become a weirdo fundamentalist. This is not a matter of religiosity (I flicker somewhere between an agnostic and a mild believer). My protest is about resisting those who seem hell bent on turning Christianity into a crime.


No, it's not the Muslims, Jews or Hindus who are behind the drive to secularise Christmas. They are not the culprits. The presence of a small cross round the neck of a British Airways check-in staff member does not prompt them to scream in protest, vomit in the aisle or rush for a transfer to another carrier. On the whole, they couldn't care less. The demons in this horror story of crucifying Christmas are white, middle-class do-gooders whose assumption of a superior morality is as disgraceful as it is disgusting. They are busybodies, obsessed with forcing on us their vacuous "ethical" code.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christine... favourite cousin

I will post something more substantial later.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Little Known Fact About Your Blogger...

He suffers insomnia when depressed and/or frustrated.

I haven't been able to sleep before 5 a.m. for the past three days or so.

As a rule, I become pensive toward the end of the year. However, this year, my thoughts have taken a turn for the worse, being subjugated by a flood of memories from the past year. Memories, not of happy times, but of incidents I do not wish to recall:

I remember how I fell completely in love with Olesya. A love that would, in time, take me hostage, utterly consuming my soul, eating me from the inside out; only to leave me lachrymose in the darkness. It hurt - not just in the mind, not merely in the imagination - it rent me asunder and obliterated every last shred of hope I had in human empathy. It remains within me, like an old disease, emerging periodically to rain pain and anguish on an already broken spirit.

I remember how I helped a good number of friends, be it with homework, projects or simply their errands. Oftentimes, I found myself accomplishing the bulk of it, sometimes sacrificing my entire day or hours of sleep to see it through. Save for a word of thanks, I received nothing else - which I am perfectly fine with, I am always happy to help a friend. However, I am noticing that most (if not all) exploit this weakness - I have people who have not spoken to me in weeks, even months, approach me for help, to which I consent. As it is, it looks as if more than 70% of the people I know continue to maintain ties with me due to my apparent usefulness. I ask myself repeatedly, do I still want to be in contact with these people after the New Year?

I remember how I remembered the birthdays of individual parishioners, always presenting them with gifts on that special day, only to be completely neglected by my own people (save for godmother) when it came to my birthday. It was the Catholics, the "schismatic heretics of the West" whose company I was warned not to enjoy too often, who remembered.

I remember how my various classes consider me interesting, enthralling even - but would abandon me to skulk at the "loser wall", should a dance or any function be held.

I remember how I severed ties with someone, who was openly blasphemous and critical of my beliefs, only to be accused to prejudice and intolerance. It was difficult, but it had to be done. Charitable as I can be toward different people, flagrant disrespect toward my morals, the saints and the Church will not be tolerated. This decision was not an easy one, and it continues to remain a thorn in my side.

I remember how certain individual white people were always forthright and direct (blatant at times) with me, but reacted surprisingly indignantly when I did the same.

I remember how I was invited by an ex-schoolmate to his place this Friday, supposedly to reminisce old times and engage in entertaining conversation. The night, however, was spent with him glued to his computer, bewitched by that wretched idol, DotA as I waited for hours, being relegated to the position of 'furniture'. I remember how I missed the last bus and spent 45 minutes walking home.

I remember how I am being constantly described as "too nice". Now, as these thoughts overwhelm my mind, I wonder if I should resolve to change. The world lacks nice people, I am told, and I finally know why.

Niceness is simply not worth the time; niceness is almost always paid with scorn and disdain - gratitude is a luxury many of us can ill afford these days. Why would anybody want an despised job with little benefits and much work? It's so much more rewarding to have few friends and be nasty rather than be nice and be exactly in the same situation. Indeed, why should I continue to make the effort?

Why do I continue to befriend these hypocrites? Why do I continue to sell myself shamelessly? Why do I continue to win the Doormat of the Year award?

I used to be able to put this behind me, either ignoring these people or inventing excuses for them. After the entire episode with Olesya, things haven't quite been the same. I used to be depressed once or twice a year. Now, I am depressed with more frequency, relapsing every other month, yet save for complaining and gorging myself silly with chocolate, I have done little to remedy it. I am, however, readying myself to take drastic measures.

I now make a request - pray for me. If you find that too complicated a request, one could choose to send me Prozac - lots of them, and preferably coated with chocolate.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

VIRTUE: He Said, She Said

The husband and wife must lay virtue, and not passion, as the foundation of their love, that is, when the husband sees any fault in his wife, he must nudge her meekly, and the wife must submit to her husband in this. Likewise when a wife sees some fault in her husband, she must exhort him, and he is obliged to hear her.

St Tikhon of Zadonsk

[via Fr Joseph Huneycutt]

Monday, December 04, 2006

Answering Roman Accusations

Browsing through blogs yesterday, I came across a post at The New Liturgical Movement, where one of the (Roman Catholic) commentators brought up several charges against the East:

We keep talking up the East, but remember, they bowed down the Emperors, fell into first Caesaro-Papism, then various heresies, then nationalism (what Irish, or German, African, etc. would feel welcome, in a Serbian, Greek, etc. church)? Another thing, they converted no-one. Western (Roman) Catholicism is the reason there are still 1.5 billion who believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ. The East was happy to sit in the caves, and monasteries chanting and growing their beards. Complete lack of Apostolic Dynamism, almost no missionary work.

Nothing new, really. I've heard most of them before - the usual allegations of heresy and nationalism. I tend to avoid answering them; I know the Latins who bring them up usually have little or no knowledge of the East whatsoever and are, more often than not, unwilling to listen. This time, however, there was an Eastern - it was not me, I assure you - who did not let these charges pass:

Nationalism isn't a problem. I'm Chinese Singaporean, which is about as far as one can get from any sort of Byzantine heritage, and I've been perfectly welcome at every single Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Church I've popped into, and on 4 out of 5 continents. 'eck, I've been invited onto kliros or to be server at most of them. I don't get stares and I've received a warm welcome almost every single time. Don't try to presume any of us Easterns aren't comfortable in each other's churches.

Next, bowing to Emperors? Of COURSE we bow to Emperors - the Emperor is God's chosen ruler. We had the guts to excommunicate and depose Emperors when they became heretics (iconoclasm aside), did you guys have the guts to depose John XII when he preached heresy, in full papal vestments, from the pulpit, about the Beatific Vision? We certainly never attempted to declare the Emperor to have universal immediate jurisdiction or dreamed up the silly notion that he was infallible without an Œcumenical Council. So sometimes we gave the Emperor too much ecclesiastical power, we goofed, Cæsaro-papism indeed. You guys on the other hand, made the Pope a temporal ruler and gave him the power to depose monarchs (who are placed there by God). Can you, in your turn, say Papo-Cæsarism?

Various heresies? True, we gave birth to Arianism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, Monothelitism, Iconoclasm, and the usual suspects, but you guys gave the world Protestantism, Secular Humanism, Communism and Nihilism. With these four, you've completely pwned us when it comes to giving birth to heresy.

Complete lack of Apostolic Dynamism? Almost no missionary work? Ahem. By the end of the first millennium, there were flourishing Eastern Churches in India, China, Japan, Indo-China and many other small missions scattered throughout Southeast Asia. Any reputable historian will tell you the biggest missionary church of the Middle Ages was the Persian Church, with a mission territory stretching over India, Tibet, China and Japan. The fact that almost nothing remains of these missions is due mostly to the Mongol hordes who pretty much killed everything in sight. Our missions ended gloriously in blood. On the other hand, in Western Europe, you guys pretty much gave up the faith without a fight. Were there persecutions in France, Holland, Italy and America? From the way your churches there look, it appears your Catholic populations decided one day that they simply couldn't be bothered anymore.

When WE plant churches, we inculturate them and make them authentic expressions of Christianity with national characteristics. This is why the Indian Church remains. Ditto the Copts, Assyrians, Armenians, Syrians and suchlike.

What we don't do is make our faith the tool of empire, of imperialistic aggression. Offhand, I can't think of one non-European country, aside from Korea (which is a special case) and North Africa (which was Roman anyway) where the Latin Faith was strong in past centuries, and was NOT made a colony.

'bout time someone stood up to these sanctimonious Romans.

Friday, December 01, 2006

New Rome: Vivacious Vestments

As photographs from Pope Benedict's visit to Constantinople stream into the newspapers and Internet, Catholics - traditionalists & liberals alike - assail me with questions about Orthodox clerical dress.

I knew I should have written a post on Byzantine vestments when thinking up this series.

1. Why do Orthodox priests have beards?
As one can see from any icon of Christ, our Lord had a beard. Since the priest dispenses sacramental grace, he is an icon of Christ and should physically resemble our Lord by being bearded and having the same hairstyle (long and parted down the middle).

2. Why does the Ecumenical Patriarch carry that cool staff?
The staff the Patriarch carries is a crosier, and usage is akin to its Western counterpart. It is the symbol of the governing office of a bishop.
It comprises of two serpents/dragons curled around a small cross, remembering the bronze serpents Moses made in Numbers 21:9-9.
There is another form of the crosier, carried mostly by Russian bishops. It is tau-shaped with drooping arms and surmounted by a small cross.

3. Is the hat similar in usage/symbolism to the papal tiara?
The headgear in question is a mitre. Just as in the West, it signifies the temporal authority of bishops. Its shape is based on the closed imperial crown of the late Byzantine Empire. The design of the papal tiara is said to have been derived from the Byzantine mitre. As to whether they share similar symbolism, the answer would be no.
The papal tiara symbolises the papacy and the triple crowns represent the threefold authority of the pope. The Orthodox East, however, does not have an equivalent office.
The mitre is almost always worn only by bishops, but is also awarded to archpriests, protopresbyters and archimandrites at the discretion of the local synod. Unlike the episcopal mitre, the priestly mitre is not surmounted by a cross.

4. What's the big cape?
It is the mantle, the distinctive garment worn by monastics at various services, including vespers. It is not worn when serving the Divine Liturgy.
Monks wear the plain black mantle; the mantle of a hegumen (abbot) or an archimandrite may have crosses on the front. In the Slavic tradition (I am not familiar with the Greek), the different ranks of bishops use different colours - red for bishops, purple for archbishops, blue for metropolitans and green for patriarchs. Bishops generally don the mantle when formally entering a church or when he is attending a service he is not serving.
The episcopal mantle is characteristically decorated with red and white ribbons (called 'streams', symbolizing the word going out into the entire world) and four rectangular embroidered appliqués, two at the neck and two at the feet (called 'tablets', symbolizing the Gospel which must be the focus of a bishop's teachings).

5. How do you tell the different ranks of clergy when not in liturgical vestment?
Yes, it is very difficult to distinguish bishops from priests since almost every Orthodox cleric (nuns included) dress in black. The easiest way to tell a clergyman's rank would be to look for the engolpion (εγκόλπιον - lit. "on the chest") worn around the neck. Generally speaking, it is anything worn upon the bosom, but in recent times, it refers to the medallion with an icon in its centre, worn by bishops.
Often called a panagia, because all bishops wear a particular kind of engolpion which depicts the All-Holy Virgin Mary. Primates (i.e. archbishops) and certain bishops are bestowed the dignity of a second engolpion, which usually depicts our Lord.
Priests are usually recognised by the pectoral cross. This is not often the case, however - in Greek tradition, the pectoral cross is awarded only to archpriests; in the Russian, however, a silver cross is given upon ordination. Gold or decorated (i.e. jewelled) crosses are usually worn by higher ranking priests. A priest may sometimes be awarded with a second pectoral cross, which he may wear along with the first.

Left to right: Ihumenia Makrina, Metropolitan Laurus & Bishop Agapit

Bishops are entitled to wear the pectoral cross, but most simply wear a panagia when not vested. Patriarchs wear all 3 - both engolpion of Christ and His Mother & a pectoral cross - when vested and occasionally when not. The hegumen (abbot) and hegumeni (abbess) of monasteries are also entitled to wear the pectoral cross.
Men dressed in cassocks, but lacking pectoral cross, are usually either seminarians, monks, deacons or Greek priests.

Pope Benedict in the City - Day 2

Pope Benedict is enthusiastically greeted by the ringing of church bells

November 30th marks the feast day the Apostle, St Andrew, founder and patron of the see of Constantinople

This saint, brother of the first pope, is the patron of Eastern Christianity, and it is appropriate and providential that His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI should meet today.

"The kiss of peace is... a symbol of fellowship of the faithful in the Holy Spirit"

"Every celebration of the Divine Liturgy is a powerful and inspiring con-celebration of heaven and of history" - Patriarch Bartholomew

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”

Ενότητα στην πολυµορφία

(Photos: N. Manginas)

Pope Benedict in the City - Day 1

Patriarch Bartholomew welcomes Pope Benedict to St George's Cathedral

This is Pope Benedict's first visit to Constantinople

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”

Pope Benedict reaffirmed his commitment towards full unity

"Πάτερ ἡμῶν, ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς..."

Joint veneration of the relics of St Gregory Nazianzen & St John Chrysostom

Pope and Patriarch have a private meeting

(Photos: N. Manginas)