Thursday, March 29, 2007

UN Plans for Kosovo Independence

The United Nations envoy for Kosovo says independence is the "only viable option" for the territory, in a report to the Security Council.

The envoy, Finnish diplomat Martti Ahtisaari, says Kosovo should have internationally-supervised independence for an initial period.

Serbia has rejected a previous outline of the proposals, which have been broadly accepted by Kosovo Albanians.

- BBC News, Tuesday, 27 March 2007, 01:01 GMT

Now, I've written a great deal on Kosovo independence to the point where readers have grown weary of the subject. It is not my desire to pontificate, nor do I wish to carp on this topic any further. I write because Kosovo draws nearer and nearer to independence every day.

I've stated this before: there is no such thing as an independent Kosovo. It cannot be independent simply because there is no such ethnic group as the 'Kosovars'. An independent Kosovo will become Albanian sooner or later.

Kosovo belongs to Serbia both historically and culturally - the UN has no right to take it away on any grounds. The Finn they have appointed as envoy has to be completely deaf and blind to the plight of Serbs in Kosovo. They say Kosovo must be "freed" of Serbia because Serbs are now a minority - but what made them the minority in the first place? It is none other than Albanian terrorists.

An Albanian Kosovo will see to the destruction of Serbian culture and history. Christianity will be forced to depart this land forever.

Let us pray that this day does not come. Keep Kosovo Serbian!

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Polish Rally Urges Abortion Ban

Finally, some good news from Europe!

Thousands marched through the Polish capital, Warsaw, today calling for a total ban on abortion even in cases of rape or incest.

3,000 people at the rally agreed that it should not be offered even when the pregnancy threatens the mother's life.

A "pro-choice" rally elsewhere in the city drew a paltry thousand people.

This is truly refreshing, especially since after one nation after another in Europe succumbed to the evil, modern concept of "freedom of choice" - the latest being Portugal.

It is a good thing to see people standing up for all that is right.

May this action by the Polish people inspire their Slav brothers over in Russia to do the same.

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The Communion Queue

When you see the Lord immolated and lying upon the altar, and the priest bent over that sacrifice praying, and all the people empurpled by that precious blood, can you think that you are still among men and on earth? Or are you not lifted up to heaven?

St John Chrysostom

The Eucharist is, as St John Chrysostom wrote, "a great and wonderful thing".

Holy Communion is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful features of the Divine Liturgy. For many an onlooker, one does not see the faces of communicants as they line up to receive the sacrament - one only sees them from behind. In my position as an acolyte at the Divine Liturgy, I indeed blessed to have been granted the rare view of people as they approach the sanctuary for Communion.

It is truly a heartwarming sight. The children, enthusiastic passion etched across their small faces, rush out to join the queue; the younger ones all trying to be first. Even when standing in the queue, the enthusiasm of the children does not dampen as they prepare in their individual ways to receive the Body and Blood of Christ: sisters carrying their younger siblings to venerate the icons on the tetrapod, toddlers looking around in awe and bewilderment as they approach the priest, and others mostly excited - as if it were Christmas morning.

Parents who accompany their children are no less curious to watch. They seem just as happy to see their children receive the sacrament as the children themselves. Their reaction is the same: just as soon as the spoon with the Blood and Body enters the child's mouth, a wide smile appears on the parent's face. What parents do when their child reaches for the prosphora after communion is equally heartwarming: they all whisper (albeit loudly) to their children, "Take one. Take only one!"

The adults in the queue show the solemn side of Holy Communion. Most are expressionless, looking almost apathetic - but every now and then, you see in the queue, someone so deep in prayer and devotion. It's beautiful.

Regardless of how they receive the sacrament, everyone who partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ return contented, and gladdened. Now, that is a sight visible to all.

"Eat my flesh," He says, "And drink my blood." The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutriments. He delivers over his flesh, and pours out his blood; and nothing is lacking for the growth of His children. O incredible mystery!

St Clement of Alexandria

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

March 25

Today we mark the beginning of the liberation of the Hellenic people from the Turkish yoke. On March 25, 1821, Metropolitan Germanos of Patras blessed a Greek flag at the Monastery of Agia Lavra and proclaimed a national uprising. Greece declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire, beginning the Greek War of Independence.

The rallying song of Righas Pheraios, a poet brutally murdered by the Turks, is remembered today:

Ως πότε παλληκάρια θά ζούμε στά στενά
O brave young warriors, we shall live close together,
μονάχοι σάν λιοντάρια στίς ράχες τά βουνά
Lonely like the lions in the ridges of the mountains,

Καλύτερα μιάς ώρας ελεύθερη ζωή
It is better an hour of free life,
παρά σαράντα χρόνια σκλαβιά καί φυλακή.
Than forty years a slave in chains.

May God continue to bless the Hellenic nation for years to come!

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Vexilla Regis

One of the greatest hymns ever written is sung today, Passion Sunday, in the Western Church: Vexilla Regis.

The poet Venantius Fortunatus wrote it in honor of the arrival of a large relic of the True Cross which had been sent to Queen Radegunda by the Byzantine Emperor Justin II and his Empress Sophia.

Queen Radegunda had retired to a convent she had built near Poitiers and was seeking out relics for the church there.

To help celebrate the arrival of the relic, the Queen asked Fortunatus to write a hymn for the procession of the relic to the church.

The hymn was first sung in the procession (November 19, 569) when the relic of the True Cross was carried in great pomp from Tours to the Queen's monastery of Saint-Croix at Poitiers.

Vexilla Regis prodeunt;
fulget Crucis mysterium,
quo carne carnis conditor
suspensus est patibulo.

Abroad the regal banners fly,
now shines the Cross's mystery:
upon it Life did death endure,
and yet by death did life procure.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007


Words of wisdom from St John Climacus, whom we commemorate today, on the married life:

Some people living carelessly in the world put a question to me: "How can we who are married and living amid public cares aspire to the monastic life?" I answered: "Do whatever you may. Speak evil of no one. Tell no lie. Despise no one and carry no hate. Do not separate yourself from the church assemblies. Show compassion to the needy. Do not be a cause of scandal to anyone. Stay away from the bed of another, and be satisfied with what your own wives can provide you. If you do all this, you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven".

St John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent

Never mistake the monastic life for being superior or inferior to the married life.

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Friday, March 16, 2007


"And you still believe in God?"
"Got anybody else in mind?"

Dick Ohrt, RC former seminarian and Vietnam veteran
from Paul Hendrickson’s
Seminary: A Search

[via A Conservative Blog for Peace]

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He Was, But Is

He was baptized as Man – but He remitted sins as God - not because He needed purificatory rites Himself, but that He might sanctify the elements of water.

He was tempted as Man, but He conquered as God...

He hungered, but He fed five thousands...

He thirsted - but He cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.

He was wearied, but He is the Rest of them that are weary and heavy-laden...

He prays, but He hears prayer...

He is bruised and wounded, but He healeth every disease and every infirmity...

He dies, but He gives life.

St Gregory the Theologian
Third Theological Oration "On the Son"

[via Fr Joseph Huneycutt]

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Indulging in Fantasy

It's the middle of the week. With my chores and homework conveniently relocated to the back of my mind, I sit down in front of the computer and check my email. One message in particular stuck out from the rest - titled "hello and smiles, dear", it was from a certain "Nastenka". Curious, I clicked on it.

Its first lines betrayed its source from a marriage agency. However, seeing as how the message was directed to me and only me, I read oAttrition n. A link to the lady's profile was provided at the end of the letter. And what a profile!

This agency has managed the remarkable feat of actually sending me a profile of someone who is actually my 'type', so to speak (I've received millions of such emails before - none even came close).

So this lady - her name is Anastasia. She is my age, and studying psychology. A Ukrainian from the city of Poltava, she has a striking appearance: possessing both brown hair and green eyes (anybody who knows me personally would know what a sucker I am for green eyes). She likes to cook and wants children.

In addition, under "The type of man I desire", she stated that she would like a "mature, handsome, supportive, without bad habits, reliable, interesting man".

Yep, she's referring to me alright.

Maybe I should respond to that email.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Madness? This is Sparta!

After answering endless questions over the weekend, it has suddenly dawned upon me that classical Greek history has suddenly become very popular among male youths (not the most willing history students in this country) due to a certain film.

Yes, I refer to the movie "300".

I read about the Battle of Thermopylae when I was 12, but hardly anyone cared for it then. Now they swarm to me like flies, asking all manner of questions.

Watched this film last week with a JieXiong. At the end of it, I overheard some bloke going, "This battle really happened?". Great Zeus help us all.

From the very beginning, where the historical preamble explaining the "background" is narrated, I begin to squirm. "We Spartans have descended from Hercules himself" a dispirited voice said. Now, although we tend to be more familiar with his Latin name, the demigod was known as Heracles in Greek. There is no way a Spartan would ever use the name, "Hercules". And since when were the Spartans collectively descended from Heracles? Only their kings were said to be. Now, this is an error I can forgive quite easily, seeing as how this is all artistic license.

I don't have too many complaints against the depiction of the Greeks here. I won't say much about their choice of costume - but does it occur to you that ancient Greek male dress in film is showing more and more skin these days? Compare the designer leather skirts the Greeks wore in "Troy" and the leather briefs in "300", for example.

Gerard Butler, who plays King Leonidas of Sparta, seems rather lost. He commands his men with an accent that knows no location on earth. Struggling to keep his thick Scottish accent at bay throughout the film, he seemed to belong to "Braveheart" more than "300".

What's up with the number of Greek allies that join up with the Spartans along the way to Thermopylae? For crying out loud - there were well over 5000 Greeks present. And while many did withdraw, 700 Thespians (citizens of Thespiae, not actors) cast their lot with the Spartans. Certainly not the tiny mob of untrained levy soldiers as shown in the film.

Also, why was the character Dilios invented for the film? What was wrong with Aristodemus? Being one of the 300 to survive the Battle of Thermopylae, returning to do battle at Plataea... really, I don't see the difference here!

My last gripe about the Greeks - what's all this talk about freedom from slavery? Sparta probably had a larger slave population per capita than the Persian Empire. Maybe they were referring about their freedom from the Persians...

Next, the Persians - pioneers in the art of facial piercing. Why on earth are their emissaries depicted as black Africans? Does Frank Miller know where the Persian Empire was located? Certainly nowhere near Africa! Just because most of us don't know how Central Asians look like, it doesn't mean that filmmakers can pick random exotic-looking actors to portray them! Well, some of us happen to know how Central Asians look like - and these actors don't even come close! Were they guided by the same logic that led filmmakers to cast Rosario Dawson as Roxana in the 2004 film "Alexander"?

Now, if you thought the emissaries wandered in from the next-door audition for Indiana Jones villains, then you'd absolutely have a heart attack if you saw Xerxes, the ruler of the Persian Empire - portrayed here by Brazilian hunk Rodrigo Santoro. They've rid him of his surfer boy look, I'll give them credit for that, but they've replaced it with something so wrong.


Xerxes is shown here as an androgynous, hairless goliath who speaks with a James Earl Jones-type voice. When he made his appearance, I heard stifled snickering from all the teenage boys in the audience.


Like the emissaries, he is arrayed in all manner of body piercings. Has no one seen the reliefs at Persepolis? Has there ever been a notable Persian ruler (both past and present) without prominent facial hair (save for Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran)? I don't know what inspired the artists - some cross between RuPaul and Baron Samedi, I imagine.

I know what you're thinking, but stick with me - the story gets better. The entire Persian army consisted almost entirely of grotesquely deformed, bloodthirsty subhumans incapable of speech. What is this? Lord of the Rings? Is this what the Battle of Thermopylae has been reduced to - a greatly simplified battle between good and evil?

The Persians were every bit as human as the Spartans were! Mind you, the Persian army was one of the most efficient and powerful fighting forces in the ancient world, not some rabble of mindless orcs. The way the Persian military was portrayed, however, could easily have led one to believe that it was essentially a crowd of homicidal lunatics, including ninjas, dervishes, elephants, a charging rhino, an angry bald giant and led by witch doctors.

The Persian War Machine



Angry Bald Giant

Moving on to the rest of the movie.

Tyler Bates, whose repertoire includes "Dawn of the Dead" and "The Devil's Rejects", composed the soundtrack. He described the score as having "beautiful themes on the top and large choir", but "tempered with some extreme heaviness". I'm not quite sure what that means, but his soundtrack was more wrestling match than epic battle.

Like Robert Rodriguez's version of that earlier Miller work, the movie is one of those computer jobs, in which real men do real stuff in a big blue room and then digital artists invent a world around them. Its digitally tricked-up colour scheme, while impressive at times, is hard to tolerate for nearly two hours. I understand that filmmakers wanted to remain true to the comic book - but really, someone ought to tell them that the colour scheme of a late 90s comic book *ahem*, I meant graphic novel, doesn't quite work so well on the big screen.

The action is all showy and stylized, trapped in the realm of the surreal (along with just about the entire movie). Director Zack Snyder does not a gift for kinetic action (his most famous work being "Dawn of the Dead"), and the battle choreography is stilted. Violence and gore lose their meaning 20 minutes into the film. He overdoes the slow motion until it becomes comic.

Don't get me wrong here. Though I curmudgeonly carp at blatant inaccuracies and misrepresentations, I welcome the publicity for this subject. If you really want to experience the Battle of Thermopylae, ignore the graphic novel. Go out and get a translation of Herodotus' account and read it for yourself. Better yet, learn ancient Greek and read the original.

What do you get if you start with the greatest last stand in all history, then remove the historical context and all the psychological complexity?

"300" is a movie that is too artistic and detached to be taken seriously.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Russian Sunday

This is a post long due.

This entry refers to the Second Sunday of Great Lent, the Sunday of St Gregory Palamas, pillar and doctor of the Church. What a Sunday it was!

There used to be a time when one could group the congregation of my parish, the sole Orthodox church in this country, into various ethnicities/nationalities: the Greeks, the Russians, the Arabs, the Georgians, the Singaporeans, etc. Nowadays, the parish just falls into two main categories - those who speak Russian, and those who don't.

The Russian-speaking congregation has grown so large these days. Their numbers alone could well account for more than half of the regular attendance. Every new face in church over the past six months has been Russian. Sunday school is entirely made up of Russians.


I met a little Russian girl that Sunday. It was probably her first visit there. After conversing for while in English, I began another in Russian:

Ира, говорите ли вы по-русскии?
(Ira, do you speak Russian?)

Of course. I'm Russian what.

*bangs head on wall*

The first-generation of Russians in Singapore all speak Singlish with a horrid pseudo-American accent.


I received my first Russian cross from Natalia! On its reverse, "спаси и сохрани" (save and keep) is inscribed in Russian civil type. Still, it differs somewhat the more traditional Cross of St Olga, commonly around on the necks of Russians. It looks like a Latin crucifix, if you ask me.

Cross of St Olga visible around Sofia's neck

Compare with the Romanian baptismal cross I received. Why is it that the crosses I receive seem to all look so Western?

Left to right: Natalia's cross, baptismal cross


To end the day, Life! newspaper that Sunday carried a lengthy article on the mass arrivals of Russians into this country (it has increased a hundred over the course of 2006). Unfortunately, I recognised none of the Russians featured. As my godmother used to say, "If expatriates were any where near religious, they would have never left a Christian nation for a secular one".


Friday, March 09, 2007

Poblem Engrish is Back!

My other blog, Poblem Engrish, which is co-run with Edward and Vernon, is up and running after a long hiatus.

Do check it sometime.


Friday, March 02, 2007

Our Lenten Worship: The Prayer of St Ephrem

As requested, I will be sharing a little on how the Eastern Church commemorates Great Lent, beginning with the Prayer of St Ephrem.

This prayer is considered, in the Byzantine tradition, to be the most succinct summation of the spirit of Great Lent and is hence the Lenten prayer of the highest quality, prayed during all Lenten weekday services, and many more times in private.

O Lord, and Master of my life,
give me not the spirit of slothfulness, faint-heartedness,
lust of power, and vain talking;
but instead grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of integrity,
humility, patience and love;
O Lord and King, grant that I may see my own
faults, and not judge my brother,
for You are blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The priest recites this prayer audibly, unlike most prayers offered aloud in our services. Customarily, we make prostrations after each clause, three in all. The prayer is repeated at virtually every service on the weekdays of Lent. We (or rather, the pious among us) say this prayer several times a day, wherever we happen to be.

The prayer begins with a reaffirmation of our acceptance of God as our Lord and Master over our entire life, all that we are, have and do:

"O Lord, and Master of my life"

At the same time, we come to Him acknowledging our sinfulness and the great sins to which all humanity is inclined as a result of our fallen state - sins that lead us to commit all others, in fact:

"the spirit of slothfulness, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and vain talking"

Slothfulness - i.e. laziness! The Christian life is an effort (which does not mean to say we cannot enjoy life). Christ has promised to give us joy, but joy - real joy - has nothing in common with laziness. Laziness steals our time and gives no joy, one discovers only one has done nothing. Exercise is a good cure for laziness - and Lent is a spiritual exercise.

Being faint-hearted is to ask "Why should we try? What for? We will only fail, so why make the effort?". It is a notion that we cannot accomplish anything. God does not demand success; God is always there to pick us up with His love when we fail.

Lust of power is not only something that characterizes military dictators and control freaks but it is also the foundation of "spiritual independence" to which it ultimately leads. The way of humility and obedience is based on our sense of "need" for God, our dependence on Him and the means He has placed at our disposal to achieve union with Him, by means of and in His Church.

Vain talking - the Spiritual Fathers of the Philokalia, the great teachers of the spiritual way rooted in the constant invocation of the Name of our Lord Jesus, take extra care to warn us of this sin! The harm done to individuals, families and communities by foolish words, often spoken in haste, is countless. Christ in the Gospels warned the people of His day who were very concerned with the sins committed by what went into the mouth that what comes OUT of the mouth is what should be guarded against.

All four of these sins represent the four corners, so to speak, of the fundamental "window" that leads us into sin and spiritual tragedy.

We also ask for specific virtues:

"the spirit of integrity, humility, patience and love"

As God's servants, we ask God to reflect in us His Grace through the virtues that run counter to the four vices we enumerated in the first verse.

Integrity is the virtue by which we recognise God's plan for us and do our best to live in accordance with that plan.

We often think of "humility" as the opposite to integrity. Genuine humility is not at all undignified - humility is freedom from illusion. Humility is being prudent. Humility is being clear-sighted. Humility is ultimately realizing that we are called to sanctification and Divinization in Christ, as He demonstrated on Mount Tabor.

Patience comes from the Latin "patient" - "to suffer". It also means not losing hope that God will answer us and keep His Promises to us, no matter what befalls us now. Suffering, in fact, far from being something to be shunned, is an experience that teaches us how truly dependent we are on God and His Mercy.

We ask for the gift of real, authentic love. Christian love is not a sentiment nor an emotion - it is an act of the will, a virtue. It is a gift of God's grace, but we must make the effort to exercise that gift of grace.

After praying for these 4 virtues, we make two more requests:

"grant that I may see my own faults, and not judge my brother"

We can only truly answer for our own sinfulness, for our own intentions. Only God may judge others. This is why we never say, in public prayer, "have mercy on us sinners" but only "have mercy on me a sinner".

The Bible asks us, "who are you that you should judge another man's servant? (Romans 14:4)" Each of us shall answer to the Lord; God forbid that we should judge each other. Christ warns us, "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged! (Matthew 7:2)"

Instead of judging, let us pray to God to make us always merciful, as He is merciful to us.


UN Chief "Reassures" Kosovo Serbs

Serbs should not be afraid to live in Kosovo after the United Nations hands over power, the head of the UN mission (Unmik), Joachim Ruecker, has said.

- BBC News, Thursday, 1 March 2007, 14:18 GMT

Who is Mr Ruecker trying to bluff? It wasn't safe for Serbs to live in Kosovo even when the K-For (the 16,000-strong international military force deployed in Kosovo) were around. Serbs have been murdered, churches systematically destroyed and God knows what other atrocities have been committed by the Albanians under the watch of international troops.

What has NATO/K-For done to allow for the return of the 240,000 Serbian refugees expelled by the UÇK (the local Albanian terrorists) in 1999? Absolutely nothing.

Serbs live in heavily guarded areas, under constant protection by K-For troops. Living conditions are almost ghetto-like. There are no protections from violations of civil and human rights. There is no rule of law.

This is what NATO has achieved: the slow genocide of the Serbian Orthodox population of Kosovo. The UÇK has expelled over 240,000 Serbs, Roma and Jews. The UÇK has destroyed over 112 Serbian Orthodox churches supposedly under NATO/K-For/UNMIK protection. The UÇK has desecrated over 10 Serbian Orthodox cemetaries. This is what NATO has achieved. Imagine what the UÇK will do when Kosovo finally falls into their hands.

Lord have mercy.

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