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Forget religion, it’s all politics!

Sunday, December 16th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Ukraine-Russia tensions reach Greece’s holy Mount Athos ]
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Holy Athos

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Forget religion, it’s all politics!

Thee title of the Guardian piece, which came to me via my admired scholar friend Michael Robinson, is Ukraine-Russia tensions reach Greece’s holy Mount Athos. Michael pointed it my way because “holy Mount Athos” — not because “Ukraine-Russia tensions”.

Nevertheless, forget religion, it’s all politics! (a popular refrain in our secular-dominant world)..

“Ukraine is an independent country and deserves its own church,” Makarios told the visiting Belarusians, who nodded dubiously. His view is not shared by all: a Ukrainian monk based at Makarios’s cell, Father Agafon, had a different opinion, calling those Ukrainians in favour of an independent church “splitters and heretics” and saying the Ukrainian church should remain under the control of Moscow.

and:

Although most of the monks on Athos are Greek, for many Russians, as well as Ukrainians and Belarusians, a pilgrimage to Mount Athos has become almost like an Orthodox version of the Islamic hajj, seen as a spiritual must for any true believer. Oligarchs and government elites particularly like the peninsula, with its difficult-to-obtain permits and air of a VIP club. In the weeks prior to the Guardian’s visit, Makarios said he had hosted a Belarusian army general, a number of Ukrainian MPs and several rich Russians at his austere cell.

Makarios’ austere breakfast, btw, is coffee and nuts — for the visiting generals, MPS and rich folk, too..

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Forget religion, it’s all violence and strategy!

With a meeting in Kiev on Saturday set to formally proclaim the church’s independence, some are predicting violence if Kiev tries to seize church property from the Moscow patriarchy.

Subtitle of the piece:

Orthodox church’s decision to make Ukrainian branch independent of Russia causes schism and predictions of violence

and:

M:alofeev blamed the Americans for the turmoil, claiming that “Pyatt is trying to stir up the same things he did in Ukraine” in Greece. He also claimed Bartholomew’s entourage was “infiltrated with CIA agents” and said the decision to grant independence to the Ukrainian church could lead to violence in Ukraine and Athos to split with the ecumenical patriarch.

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Forget religion, it’s all money!

One Russian who has been particularly active on Athos is Konstantin Malofeev, a businessman known as the “Orthodox oligarch”, who is currently on EU and US sanctions lists for his alleged role in funding the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

and:

He insisted that most of Athos was united in its loyalty to the ecumenical patriarch, but conceded that the feeling was not unanimous. “There are some monks who just love Russian money,” he said with a sigh.

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Forget religion, it’s quintessentially religion..

For centuries, Orthodox men have come to Mount Athos, a closed peninsula in northern Greece, to sequester themselves away from the everyday concerns of the outside world. The only entrance is by boat, and women are strictly forbidden to set foot on the territory. Male pilgrims, after receiving a special permit, can visit to confess and seek counsel from the 2,000 monks at the 20 monasteries and smaller “cells” dotted along the hilly shoreline. It is one of the holiest sites of Orthodoxy, the eastern form of Christianity that split with Catholicism in the 11th century.

Monks enter Athos “to sequester themselves away from the everyday concerns of the outside world,” okay?

Athos runs on Byzantine time, an archaic system in which the clocks are reset each day at sunset, and it uses the Julian calendar, rendering Athos 13 days behind the rest of the western world. At sunset the monasteries shut their gates and a stillness settles on the peninsula until the bells ring for morning liturgy.

“People come here to try to be saints, and leave the difficulties of the world behind,” said Father Porfirius, a 27-year-old Greek monk. “The hardest part is to kill your will. We try to destroy it, to get to the level of obedience of Jesus Christ.”

Patriarch vs Patriarch (with Putin Plus):

All is not well in Orthodoxy currently, with a split linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine causing a schism and dark talk of violence among the various Orthodox churches. Bartholomew of Constantinople, known as the ecumenical patriarch and the “first among equals” of the Orthodox patriarchs, agreed in October to give autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox church, essentially making it an independent church. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian church, which regards Ukraine as its domain, responded furiously and announced a split from the ecumenical patriarch.

and:

Kirill has banned Russians from taking holy communion in the churches of Athos, calling any priests who bless the ecumenical patriarch schismatics, leading to a dilemma for those Russians who want to visit.

Schism is about as bad as it gets within Christianity. The Pope and the Patriarch are currently trying, with some little success, to heal a schism between Catholics and Orthodox which began as a dispute over a clause in the major credal statement — the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed — which broke the two major branches of the Church, east and west, apart in 1054. That’s more than a millennium of strife between brothers whose savior prayed at the end of his life [John 17.22-23]:

And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

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Okay, kudos to Guardian writer Shaun Walker for knowing the importance of rrligious reporting of issues that also hav financial, strategic and political aspects!

And let’s conclude with a link tom this related Orthodox prayer page:

:Concerning the Orthodox Prayers for the Union of All and the Prayer in St. John 17
Excerpts from Ecumenism: A Movement for Union or a Syncretistic Heresy?
by Bishop Angelos of Avlona

Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Thomas à Becket, Jim Comey, Vladimir Putin, Stormy Daniels ]
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Okay, let’s start with the movie version of “Who will rid me..?” Here’s the set up, the breaking of the long and deep friendship between King Henry II, his will driven by the power of the State, and his Archbishop, Thomas à Becket, driven to opposition by the honor of Mother Church

When the King determines at last to have his Archbishop removed, he utters those words which ring down the centuries — “will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” — shown here in Anouilh‘s version of Becket at 3.32 in this clip or thereabouts:

Sigh.

Becket meanwhile offers his resignation unto death in surrender to the will of his God:

In Eliot‘s Murder in the Cathedral, a passage with which one must wrestle lays out the conflict and its resolution:

They know and do not know, what it is to act or suffer.
They know and do not know, that acting is suffering
And suffering is action. Neither does the actor suffer
Nor the patient act. But both are fixed
In an eternal action, an eternal patience
To which all must consent that it may be willed
And which all must suffer that they may will it,
That the pattern may subsist, for the pattern is the action
And the suffering, that the wheel may turn and still
Be forever still.

Becket was killed in his cathedral on 29 December 1170, by four knights acting on the spur of the moment utterance of their king, and their own certainty as to the wish their king intended to express.

Becket was canonized — named a saint and martyr — in 1173. And the King? Wiki summarizes:

The king performed a public act of penance on 12 July 1174 at Canterbury, when he publicly confessed his sins, and then allowed each bishop present, including Foliot, to give him five blows from a rod, then each of the 80 monks of Canterbury Cathedral gave the king three blows. The king then offered gifts to Becket’s shrine and spent a vigil at Becket’s tomb.

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So much for Becket.

President Trump, who had somewhat reluctantly fired Flynn, suggests to Jim Comey, head of the FBI, that he might want to close down the further investigation of the Russia business:

I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.

Comey was later questioned by Sen. Angus King in an intelligence committee hearing:

KING: In terms of his comments to you — I think in response to Mr. Risch — to Senator Risch, you said he said, “I hope you will hold back on that.” But when you get a — when a president of the United States in the Oval Office says something like “I hope” or “I suggest” or — or “would you,” do you take that as a — as a — as a directive?

COMEY: Yes. Yes, it rings in my ear as kind of, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

KING: I was just going to quote that. In 1170, December 29, Henry II said, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” and then, the next day, he was killed — Thomas Becket. That’s exactly the same situation. You’re — we’re thinking along the same lines.
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That’s the direct use of the Becket theme turned to a contemporary purpose. But there’s more..

Julia Ioffe on All In with Chris Hayes, speaking of Putin‘s plausible deniability using the oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin as a cut-out:

IOFFE:It`s a very, very close relationship. In Russia, he`s known as Putin`s chef. And this is very much in keeping with how the Russians do things, right? There`s never going to be or probably not going to be any finger – any of Putin`s fingerprints on this, right? Probably what it looked like was Putin essentially saying, you know, who will rid me of this you know troublesome Hillary and everybody else kind of gets what that means and swings into action.

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You might think the Becket story was enough. You might take delight in its contemporary echo by Comey and King. Julia Ioffe using the same example of Vladimir Putin was an unexpected bonus — but there’s (sadly) more..

Consider this:

Who Will Rid Me of This Meddlesome Stormy? The Michael Cohen Story:

Doing conspicuous favors and fixing things is in the nature of this bizarrely public toady-chieftain relationship. Read through Cohen’s interviews. You’ll find it’s replete with mixes of mafia tough guy talk and zany levels of conspicuous self-abnegation. It’s all theater at some level. But I think to a great degree it’s genuine. It’s the guy’s identity, like the way a top captain thinks about the mob boss he serves. Who will rid me of this meddlesome Stormy? Did I mention that Cohen and Trump’s mafia business partner Felix Sater were childhood friends long before they both ended up as top Trump business partners right around the same time? Well, that’s true too. In the scale of money both Trump and Cohen operate at, covering the $130,000 payment himself seems entirely plausible as something Cohen would do as part of the larger relationship. He probably did get paid back some way or another. But I think it’s totally plausible he didn’t. He’d love to be that guy who made the problem go away. Doing Trump a solid like that would be something he’d happily do. It’s the basis of their relationship. He’d get paid back in other ways.”

When Donald Trump, in one of his furies, makes an offhand comment about Mueller, does that then become an order in the ears of one of his loyal subordinates?

The Becket story has much to teach us.

Loading up for Survival, Church and State

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Merkel’s under attack for recommending Germans keep a two-week supply of food ]
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Mormon faithful are exhorted by the First Presidency of their Church in a pamphlet titled All is safely gathered in “to prepare for adversity in life by having a basic supply of food and water and some money in savings.” Specific recommendations follow:

THREE-MONTH SUPPLY

Build a small supply of food that is part of your normal, daily diet. One way to do this is to purchase a few extra items each week to build a one-week supply of food. Then you can gradually increase your supply until it is sufficient for three months. These items should be rotated regularly to avoid spoilage.

DRINKING WATER

Store drinking water for circumstances in which the water supply may be polluted or disrupted. If water comes directly from a good, pretreated source then no additional purification is needed; otherwise, pretreat water before use. Store water in sturdy, leak-proof, breakage-resistant containers. Consider using plastic bottles commonly used for
juices and soda. Keep water containers away from heat sources and direct sunlight.

FINANCIAL RESERVE

Establish a financial reserve by saving a little money each week and gradually increasing it to a reasonable amount (see All Is Safely Gathered In: Family Finances guide).

LONGER-TERM SUPPLY

For longer-term needs, and where permitted, gradually build a supply of food that will last a long time and that you can use to stay alive, such as wheat, white rice, and beans. These items can last 30 years or more when properly packaged and stored in a cool, dry place. A portion of these items may be rotated in your three-month supply.

That’s a pretty comprehensive survival plan, and while it allows for those who are just starting to prepare themselves to begin incrementally, it’s first real target is three months’ preparedness and longer-term vision extends out to thirty years.

Note that the motivation here is to live in accordance with the divine will as it may be applicable to human circumstance.

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Compare that with what the secular state of Germany is currently proposing. Deutsche Welle, under the heading What emergency supplies do you need? reports the following:

Germany’s government is mulling a plan requiring citizens to stock up on food and supplies in case of a natural disaster or armed attack. So what should you have in your pantry? Here’s our comprehensive checklist.

The stockpile plan outlined in the government’s “Concept for Civil Defense” paper obligates Germans to store 10 days’ worth of food and five days’ worth of drinking water. The idea is for people to have enough supplies – including cash and medicine – on hand to get them through an emergency situation before government assistance kicks in.

The level of preparedness proposed in the paper hasn’t been seen since the end of the Cold War. The strategy was originally commissioned by a parliamentary committee in 2012, but its release now comes amid a raft of new security measures and heightened terror concerns. Still, its contents aren’t new – German authorities have long urged households to store two weeks’ worth of emergency supplies.

The Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance, for example, has published a checklist online with recommended supplies for a 14-day period. The most important thing on the list is water – 28 liters per person for a fortnight, or around two liters per day. People can survive a few weeks without food, but only four days without liquid.

The Ministry of Food even has an online “calculator” to help you work out what kind of food – and how much – to stock up on. It recommends 4.9 kilograms of cereal-based products like rice, bread and noodles per person per fortnight. It also suggests 5.6kg of veggies, 3.7kg each of milk products and fruit and nuts, and 2.1kg of fish and meat. All food should be able to last without refrigeration.

The government also advises keeping a medicine cabinet stocked with supplies in case it’s not possible to get to a hospital. That means, among other things, a first aid kit, the necessary personal prescription drugs, cold medicine, painkillers, anti-diarrhea and nausea medicine, electrolytes, a thermometer and disinfectant.

Here the anticipated survival time is two weeks, or fourteen days.

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I don’t know what the prophets, seers, and revelators of the First Presidency have been shown, what ISIS may be plotting, what German intelligence suspects, nor what the future has in mind for us. I do know that Matthew 6.34 counsels:

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

and that this is generally considered sufficient precaution for the lilies of the field, but that readers of John Robb may well find it insufficiently flexible — if taken literally — to survive encounters with a succession of inbound black swans. And as is often the case with scripture, preparedness too has its place, as indicated by the “kingdom” parable of the wise and foolish virgins of Matthew 25.1-13.

I note here that the spiritual claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affords the First Presidency the opportunity to call for far more extensive planning than the German Chancellor can ask of her citizens without considerable brouhaha.

Hence:

Three months (minimally) to two weeks (suggested) is the recommended preparedness ratio between the (Mormon) Church and (German) State.

Whence does authority derive?

Vladimir Putin and St Vladimir, Church and State in Russia

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Saint Vlad II? Tsar Vlad? Impaler Vlad? Ras(KGB)Putin? — my latest piece, posted today at LapidoMedia ]
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Here’s the opening of my latest piece for LapidoMedia, exploring issues of Church and State — with an eye on Putin & Patriarch Kirill, and their join interest in the assassination / martydom of the Romanovs.

Vladimir Putin and St Vladimir, Church and State in Russia

THE Romanovs, the royal family of the Russian Tsars were killed, and some would say martyred, by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

But now, almost a century later, President Vladimir Putin, appears to be slowly rehabilitating the royals.

And the Romanovs’ reemergence has implications for Putin, a quasi-Tsar as Russian head of state, emphasizing renewed collaboration between Church and State, long estranged during Soviet rule.

Here as in many other ways, Putin works in close association with his fellow ex-KGB hand, Patriarch Kirill II of Moscow. Forbes described him as more than a mere informer saying he was ‘an active officer’ of the spy organization.

And Putin’s friend the Patriarch too has a keen interest in the rehabilitation of the Romanovs.

In a 2013 television broadcast on the significance of the Romanov family, he said: ‘A solemn Divine Liturgy was celebrated on March 6 in Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin, during which we commemorated all Romanovs, beginning with Mikhail Fedorovich, Aleksei Mikhailovich – the great gatherer of the Russian land, Peter I, and down to the Holy Passion-Bearer Nicholas II. We commemorated these people with thanks to God for their efforts and with prayers beseeching the Lord to grant rest to their souls in the abode of the righteous.’

To read the rest, including the end of my tale, looking at ideas that Vladimir Putin must surely have entertained– Saint Vladimir II? Tsar Vlad? Impaler Vlad? Ras(KGB)Putin? — please go to the Lapido site.

Enjoy.

Trump 1, Theology 0

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — politics wearing religion as a glove and vice versa, mostly re Trump but MB too ]
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This is a sort of anti-post for me, because it reports on a situation where theology is considered unimportant by pastor and Governor Mike Huckabee.

First, a DoubleTweet from Michelle Boorstein of WaPo:

Trump is speaking today at Trump Towers, it appears, and Boorstein has been tweeting excerpts of what he’s been telling 900 top evangelical and social conservative leaders behind closed doors — she has, it would appear, an ear to a leaky keyhole.

I’m not interested in the DoubleTweet-ishness here, Boorstein is simply dividing a comment that exceeds twitter’s 140 character rule into two parts to post it. But her message does indicate that the theological equivalent of “dress casual” is the tone of the meeting.

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Which is surely what caused Michael Farris, Founder and now Chancellor of Patrick Henry College, to post a FaceBook comment today picked up as an op ed in Christian Post under the stunning title, Trump’s Meeting With Evangelical Leaders Marks the End of the Christian Right.

Excerpts [I’ve collapsed the one-sentence-per-paragraph format here for ease of reading]:

I attended the very first meeting of the Moral Majority held in Indianapolis in February of 1980. I was the Washington state director of the MM and have been a leader of the “Christian right” ever since.

[ .. ]

The premise of the meeting in 1980 was that only candidates that reflected a biblical worldview and good character would gain our support. Today, a candidate whose worldview is greed and whose god is his appetites (Philippians 3) is being tacitly endorsed by this throng. They are saying we are Republicans no matter what the candidate believes and no matter how vile and unrepentant his character. They are not a phalanx of God’s prophets confronting a wicked leader, this is a parade of elephants.

In 1980 I believed that Christians could dramatically influence politics. Today, we see politics fully influencing a thousand Christian leaders.

This is a day of mourning.

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Farris was politely dis-invited from the meeting on account of his known anti-Trump sentiments, but for my purposes, what’s interesting here is what the incident shows us about the vexed business of disentangling religion and politics. In dealing with religiously-related terrorism, the question often arises as to whether a given text or act is political, wearing religion as “cover” — or essentially religious, albeit with political implications.

In this case, it’s instructive (for me at least) to see that for Huckabee, politics is dominant, and wears religion as a glove or mask, whereas for Farris, it is religion that is dominant, albeit in the context of a presidential campaign which is by definition political.

Whether as Farris asserts, today’s meeting at Trump Towers “marks the end of the Christian Right” presumably depends on which of those two words one chooses to emphasize.

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FWIW, here’s the same “which is the hand, which is the glove” issue in Egypt:

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood faces a dilemma: Religion or politics?


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