21 November 2017

Legacies of Plato and Confucius – an observation

A mosaic of Plato with his students at the Academy

In my experience, it’s been next to impossible to read anything by or about Plato without stumbling, in one form or another, onto that tired ‘series of footnotes’ saw coined by Alfred North Whitehead. And yet, we can identify, in the annals of Western thinking, discrete figures and groups of people who are broadly considered to have been ‘Platonists’. In the classical world: the Middle Platonists (of whom Plutarch was the major figure) and the neo-Platonists (epitomised by Plotinus). In early Christian times, several of the Church Fathers (but certainly not all of them!) were influenced deeply by Plato: Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, Saint Irenæus of Lyons, Saint Basil of Cæsarea, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Saint Maximus the Confessor. Later: Mary Astell and the Cambridge Platonists. And in our own age: Vladimir Solovyov, Leo Strauss, George Grant, Simone Weil and Alain Badiou. I haven’t even mentioned the Islamic Platonists, because I’m not familiar enough with them, although I’m quite aware of their existence and influence.

‘Confucianism’, however, is something at once more conceptually discrete, and also more diffuse, than ‘Platonism’, in spite of the well-founded parallels between the two philosophers otherwise. On the one hand, it would be profoundly silly to assert, as Whitehead did about Plato, that all of East Asian philosophy is a series of footnotes to Confucius, for the simple reason that Confucius’ contemporaries, the zhuzi baijia 诸子百家, existed, and that many of them went on to become profoundly influential. To be sure, many Western commentators attempt to do this anyway, by applying Confucianism as some kind of a priori cultural rubric onto everyday practices in East Asian business, etiquette, everyday life and so on. On the other hand, individual Confucians or groups of Confucians in Chinese intellectual history tend to be harder to identify than Platonists in the West, precisely because it was a philosophy that was heavily tied up with political legitimacy and class status. Anyone who passed the civil service examinations had to be familiar with the Classics and would be judged according to the depth of their understanding; thus, if one isn’t careful, one could wind up judging any post-classical Chinese thinker with official status as being a ‘Confucian’.

We can still try to draw some parallels. Confucius did have an academy, and many of his students went on to become philosophers in their own right. Mencius (a pupil of Kong Ji) and Xunzi each represented a branch of classicist thinking that relied heavily on Confucius’ teachings. Later, the schools of Dong Zhongshu and Yang Xiong represented a further split in Confucian thinking. Han Yu and his philosophical writings in response to Buddhism mark the definitive ‘neo-Confucian’ turn in classicist thought, and by the time you get to Zhu Xi the Confucian canons have been standardised and Confucianism fully transformed into a state ideology. (Ironically, Dong Zhongshu too often gets unfairly blamed for the process of institutionalisation perfected by Zhu Xi, the less-‘political’ thinker.)

After Zhu Xi it becomes much trickier to tell the difference between ‘Confucians’ (those philosophers convinced of the rightness of Confucius’ ideas and proponents of the classical canon) and the general class of scholar-officials tied to the Song, Ming and Qing states, and several Confucians were sympathetic to other modes and forms of thought (particularly those who rebelled and remonstrated against the official culture and order). There was no such ‘institutionalisation’ of Platonism, which makes it slightly easier to identify thinkers in the course of Western and Islamic history who were genuinely drawn to Plato’s ideas, despite the fact that Plato’s fingerprints are all over Western and Islamic philosophy.

I don’t think there’s any essential difference between the East Asian and Western-Islamic worlds that necessitated these shifts. I agree completely with Dr van Norden about the necessity of taking each seriously and on its own terms; and I find it atrocious that we don’t already. I further don’t think it’s conceptually impossible to find thinkers in modern times whose ideas and thinking were closer in spirit to Confucius than others – in the same way we can tell which thinkers in modern times are more influenced by Plato than by, say, Aristotle, the Pythagoreans, the Stoics, the Cynics or the Epicureans. I merely happen to believe that the Confucians who are truer and closer in substance to Confucius’ own thought are those that haven’t tried to definitively resolve the self-ritual dialectic with conceptual imports from German idealist or Buddhist philosophy. Confucius himself leaves that question, of whether the institutional rites come first or whether the self which cultivates them in itself does, as a problem for his own students. He doesn’t set out to solve it himself, at least not in the Analects, and it’s therefore inappropriate to cast Confucius as a definitive individualist or as a definitive collectivist.

At any rate, just a random observation here about some of the difficulties in doing genuine comparisons between the historical legacies of Plato and Confucius. I am still convinced that the two thinkers have much more in common with each other, than either of them do with the modern societies that lay claim to them.

Confucius teaching his students

18 November 2017

The greatest criminals

In the annals of American decline, the Iraq War under George W Bush and Dick Cheney will, I am certain, come to be remembered as one of the great tipping points – if not the tipping point – at which we sacrificed any semblance of respect for truth in the pursuit of… precisely what is still not clear, and has become less so the more the war and its motives are examined. Revenge? Oil? Corporate privilege? Wilsonian ideology? Democratic idealism? The ‘end of history’?

The masterminds of the war will have much to answer for. The blood of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent Iraqis will cry up from the ground in accusation. But even more so, the willing tools of those neoconservative masterminds: the ‘liberal hawks’, the bleeding-heart interventionists whose good intentions would pave the way for a great utopian upwelling of Middle Eastern democracy and freedom. These people must stand accused and accursed. The greatest criminals are the ones who begin committing their crimes with the monstrous lie on their forked tongues: ‘we are your friends’.

Hillary Clinton. John Edwards. Joe Lieberman. Christopher Hitchens. Thomas Friedman. Jacob Weisberg. Paul Berman. Michael Ignatieff. Jonathan Chait. Bill Keller. Fred Hiatt. All of these people must be condemned, again and again, over and over, for each and every one of the half a million deaths, the rapes and the tortures, the infant deformities from depleted uranium, the displaced families, the persecuted Assyrians, the human blood that they wilfully plunged their hands into, the hypocrisies they indulged, the lies they perpetuated, the people of the world that they deceived, all in their support of Bush’s Folly. And not only them. Also Lech Wałęsa. Also Adam Michnik. Also Václav Havel. Also Liu Xiaobo and Yu Jie. Also Chen Shui-bian. Also Koizumi Jun’ichirô. Also Mikheil Saakashvili. Also Garry Kasparov. Also André Glucksmann. Each and every such native informant outside the West who backed Bush. Even though Hitchens, Havel, Glucksmann and now Liu are dead, their whited sepulchres deserve no honour, and the people who still honour them in defence of their ‘cause’ perpetrate the very same lies that they told in that ‘cause’.

These people are not heroes; they are not paragons of civic virtue and democratic idealism; they are moral cowards. They are dogs, carrion birds and maggots. From actual defenders of democracy in particular, they deserve condemnation and censure at every turn, not for their support of ‘democracy’, but for their wilful support of totalitarian untruths, in the name of ‘democracy’. Such people destroyed my faith in ‘democracy’ as an ideal, and I will not go back to the tyrannies they cherish and represent, their graven Inannas soaked in sacrificial Iraqi blood.

Upon the heads of such people, horrified though they might be by his rise, belongs the brunt of the blame for the relativism and cynicism of the Age of Trump in their disdain for truth and their hatred of just critique – precisely because they were not punished for their lies. If not ‘fake news’ itself, then the warranted distrust of the traditional news media, began with Judith Miller’s tall tales of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and the immanent threats he and his nation posed to democracy, peace and the liberal order. The fact that no single liberal commentator lost a job over his support of the war, and that prizes were given instead and backs were patted, speaks volumes about the spiritual death of our entire modern political order, and its impotence in the face of the very authoritarianism it ostensibly set out to destroy. Those whom God would destroy, he first makes mad. The supporters of the war in Iraq, and especially the liberal ones, bear responsibility for the crisis of political legitimacy we are in today.

I am in dead earnest.

We are where we are now because democracy failed. And the failure is not the current administration’s. The failure belongs to the supporters of Bush. Even and particularly his liberal, democratic and idealist supporters.

And all this deserves to be said now more than ever, precisely because of Bush’s rehabilitation at the hands of liberals, democrats and idealists, showing that these people have learnt nothing from the rise of Trump.

17 November 2017

China’s pilot ‘slow food’ village in Sichuan

Anren, Dayi County, Sichuan Province 四川省大邑县安仁镇

Last month, the South China Morning Post ran a story on Sun Qun’s initiative for ‘slow food’ villages in southwest China, specifically in Sichuan. The pilot village will be the ‘ancient town’ of Anren in Dayi County. The ‘slow food’ movement, initiated in Italy on principles that could largely be considered as ‘distributist’, has apparently made common cause in this case with the Chinese New Left and the New Rural Reconstruction Movement. That movement itself is a legacy of the original Rural Reconstruction Movement kicked off by Jimmy Yen and Liang Shuming, and of which a young Mao Zedong was a notable member. As I am fond of saying: I’m certainly no apologist for the last, but his legacy is far more complex than many of his modern-day detractors are willing to admit.

It’s also worthy of note that this slow food village initiative has its nucleus and its pilot project in the deep-‘red’ rural Chinese inland. It also wouldn’t be the first time that traditionalist, rural and working-class concerns have overlapped in China’s recent political memory, though one hopes that these villages and the kinds of preservation they want to effect will be more politically-substantive than the hanfu movement. Ironically, and somewhat sadly, those commentators who do see a political meaning within the hanfu movement, both oppose it and deliberately ignore its working-class roots. I think we can expect to see, in the near future, more such discrediting attacks aimed at the slow food village initiative, even before it manages to take off.

I note also a certain degree of similarity between the slow food villages, and a certain urbanist counterpart, the Forest City Arcology in Guangxi. Both projects involve input from Italian ‘big concept’ thinkers and movements. Both projects are deliberately locating themselves in the Chinese inland. Both projects have an explicitly conservationist raison d’être. Both projects appeal to a specific kind of collective effort aimed at changing the boundary conditions for work, leisure and consumption. Both projects seek to circumvent capitalist waste, environmental destruction and cultural corrosion. (And both projects happen to appeal, to differing degrees, to a certain ex-expat blogger with both leftist and traditionalist sympathies.)

And yet there is a distinction to be drawn, and I’m not sure but it may yet be solely an æsthetic one. I admit to being more enthusiastic about the Slow Food Villages than I am about Forest City; in part, that may be because of my affinity for the Chinese New Left and the Rural Reconstruction movements with which it has consciously associated itself. It may also be the case that I’m attracted to such villages because they build on what’s already there, rather than planting a work of modern architecture ex nihilo. It will be interesting and edifying (uh, pardon the pun) to note what becomes of the arcology project in Guangxi; it will be still more interesting to see what happens with these Sichuanese slow food villages.

16 November 2017

Remembering Holy Apostle Matthew (rightly)

It’s been a habit of mine in past years to mark the feast-day of Saint Matthew by bringing to the fore his love for the Iranian people, both in his telling of the story of the Magi in the Gospel which bears his name and in his preaching the Gospel among that nation. Today as well that emphasis would not come amiss, as Iran struggles with the fallout of a great natural disaster. If possible, gentle readers, consider contributing on this Saint Matthew’s Day to the Child Foundation, a four-star charity which is assisting the victims of the Kermanshah Earthquake.

But it’s worth noting also, that in Orthodox hagiography and historiography, including in the Golden Legend, Saint Matthew was also responsible for evangelising among the Æthiopian people and bringing the Gospel into sub-Saharan Africa. Some parts of Africa, of course (and notably Æthiopia) have been Christian far longer than Europe has; to characterise African Christianity solely as the legacy of European missionaries is not only an insult to Saint Matthew, but also the very crudest sort of intellectual imperialism. Even now it is necessary to point out that the African churches are defending and advancing the whole of the Christian legacy even as Europe is abandoning it either for sæcular liberalism, or for an equally-sæcular race-nationalism.

Turning the entirety of sub-Saharan Africa into a political football for Western sexual identity politics and power projection (the two of which are never as far removed from each other as Westerners may think) has backfired spectacularly. This effort has spurred more Africans – on the whole more conservative than European whites – to begin to realise the importance of virtue ethics and the ethics of care when it comes to protecting themselves from the continuing colonial encroachments of their long-time oppressors. As I have said before – and I plan to get into this in further depth at a later time – African Christianity going back to Saint Matthew has had radical implications. It is not an accident and not some fluke of history that Marcus Garvey, Léopold Senghor, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and other great lights of pan-Africanism and African socialism were also drawn to traditional, apostolic Christianity.

If we’re going to remember the Holy Apostle Matthew today, let us do it rightly. Let us use it as an occasion for reflection and repentance. Let us reach out a hand to a suffering nation, a nation which taught us philosophy and right honour for the one God, many of us now still consider an enemy, but which Saint Matthew considered brothers and sisters in the Lord. Let us think back on our ill-treatment of our black African brothers and sisters, and instead of preaching to them now on what they should do and what they shouldn’t within their own countries, let us listen. They have been our brothers and sisters in the Gospel, since long before our barbarian ancestors living like wild animals in the northern woods of Europe had even heard the name of Jesus, the Christ. Let us remember the Holy Apostle Matthew and his missions to Persia and Æthiopia, then, in a respectful and attentive manner.

15 November 2017

Conservatism ain’t what it used to be

The original Red Flag

I left a comment on another conservative blog to the effect that, although I am not a fan of ‘nativism’ in such a context as my own, as a conservative, I had no problems either with trade protectionism (or, for that matter, legal sanctions and limits on entire sectors of œconomic activity, if they are socially harmful) nor with a non-interventionist foreign policy. Those were, after all, the stances taken by Lord Salisbury. The response was, shall we say, somewhat disappointing. Clearly the author of the blog had more interest in being ironically self-defensive about his own ‘modern false’ conservatism than in discussing the merits. One of the overriding themes of this blog, and an irony that never fails to get old for me, is that each and every single one of the positions that would have made me a good, High Tory conservative 160 years ago now renders me something similar to a socialist.

For example, my belief that families are generally a positive thing for society, and that even the most modest families should be protected and encouraged. On the modern right, the family has long been considered a secondary and expendable concern, next to the sacrosanct demands of the Corporation. The most pro-family œconomic policies (living wages, paid maternity leave, universal health insurance, food aid to needy children) are now, on either side of the English-speaking Atlantic, almost exclusively staples of the discourse of the left.

Or, for example, inequality. I’m currently reading Plato’s Laws, and here as in the Republic he is insistent that inequality is both a harbinger of instability and chaos, and the result of bad citizenship. Inequality is a mark that distinguishes a ruling class that has turned from the higher things to the wants of the belly. For Plato, in Book V of the Laws, a well-governed society legally won’t let the wealthiest citizens acquire more than four times the minimum amount of wealth needed for a dignified existence. Why is that? The reason he gives is wholly a conservative one: ‘A state which is desirous of being saved from the greatest of all plagues-not faction, but rather distraction;-here should exist among the citizens neither extreme poverty, nor, again, excess of wealth, for both are productive of both these evils.’ Inequality should be a concern for conservatives who seek to ward off both faction and distraction. Yet nowadays both left and right wallow, even revel, in distraction and, with some noble and prophetic exceptions like Neil Postman and Chris Hedges, do not see such distraction as morally problematic.

The conservative voices, the voices of the gentry and rural élites, speaking up for the nascent working class in the nineteenth century produced a great wealth of conservative enthusiasm for alternative forms of labour organisation. German conservatives like Justus Möser were advocates of the freer life for the craftsman that held under the mediæval guild system. In Britain, a direct line can be drawn among the High Tories from Richard Oastler to Arthur Penty and Gilbert Chesterton in their advocacy for traditional forms of workers’ self-reliance. The Russian artel’ and obshchina were favoured by the conservative Slavophils as peculiarly Slavic and traditional ways to organise labour and œconomic activity that would bypass capitalism. And, as I have pointed out before, in these areas you see an overlap between peculiarly conservative and peculiarly socialist ideas.

The suspicion that trade is and must be a political and not merely an œconomic matter, historically, hasn’t just been for socialists, anti-globalisation protesters and environmental advocates. This suspicion of ‘free trade’ has long been an animating force of the Old Right in Britain, from Richard Oastler’s spirited defence of the Corn Laws on through the tenures of Disraeli and Bentinck. Depending on whether or not you see Lincoln as a political conservative, on this side of the Atlantic you might be able to make a similar case.

Public management of utilities and infrastructure is nowadays dismissed as a far-left Corbynista pipe dream. The irony is that in Britain itself the idea that mail, rail, road and telegraph ought rightly to belong to the Crown was originally a conservative idea. There’s a reason that in Britain it’s called the ‘Royal Mail’: it was a project first undertaken by Henry VIII, but brought to fruition by His Majesty King James I of England, VI of Scotland with the mail service connecting London to Edinburgh. (Not coincidentally, British Unionism itself was a conservative idea and a Stuart and Jacobite cause to begin with.) It was Sir Robert Peel, of all men, who first brought the railways under state control. I could go on, of course, but you get the idea.

These are all areas in which I am distinctly drawing on and taking inspiration from conservative categories and modes of political thinking, but which have been leading me in what is now considered a leftward direction for the past decade. It’s not merely the opposition to Whiggish forms of thinking, not merely a reaction against an entrenched definition of ‘progress’ that has been tugging in this direction. There is indeed a substantive overlap between the two bodies of thought, that goes back to King Charles I (or, if you like, Tsar Aleksei of Russia, who did so much to ingrain the aforementioned obshchina into Russian life) and his defences of the rural working class against predation by the gentry. Even earlier parallels might be drawn: the early rulers of Kievan Rus’, perhaps, or the reigns of Emperor Constantine and perhaps even Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodōra.

What passes for modern movement conservatism, by contrast, is sorely lacking in moral content and, yes, deeply false. Trumpery is only the latest and most visible symptom of that, and should not be confused with the true rot. That set in far earlier with the prior conservative embraces of ‘free trade’ Whiggery, the non-ethics of pre-emptive war and torture, and an overriding disdain for the people at the bottom of the socioœconomic ladder who embody all the ‘little platoons’ they claim to cherish. If such ‘conservatives’ want to mistake me for a socialist, so be it. I welcome their contempt.

A few words on Empress Saint Theodōra

Holy and Right-Believing Empress Theodōra of Constantinople

Yesterday (pardon my negligence) was the feast day of the Holy Right-Believing Empress Theodōra of Constantinople, a royal saint of the Holy Orthodox Church who ought by no means to be overlooked! A working-class woman who toiled in a low-end brothel and performed on stage in her youth, she rose to become a respected and feared stateswoman, second only, if not equal, to her husband the Emperor of the most powerful empire on earth at the time. How she got there, what she did in respect of her office, and how she became a saint are all very much worthy of our attention as Christians.

Yes, Empress Saint Theodōra did begin her life as a ‘woman of ill repute’. A Cypriot by descent if not by birthplace, she was born to the very lowest class of Byzantine society. Both of her parents were ‘entertainers’; her mother, like her, made a living by her body. Her father having died when she was four, she entered the brothel as one of the few avenues open to her to support herself. When she was sixteen she entered the company of a Syrian-Greek official named Hekēbolos who had been appointed as governor of Libya; she stayed with him for four years, but left him on account of his neglectful and abusive behaviour to her. Travelling back to Constantinople, she made the acquaintance of Pope Timothy III of Alexandria, who apparently left a deep religious impression on her and steered her toward a more pious life.

It is here that the historical accounts tend to diverge. Prokopios, a hostile and rather unreliable historiographer, asserts that her conversion experience was fake, and that she met the Emperor Justinian while continuing as an actress and prostitute, after a performance of the parody Leda and the Swan. John of Ephesos, on the other hand, relates that she took up a job in the capital as a manual labourer, a wool-spinner, who caught the attention of the Emperor. In any event, Justinian was not able to marry her due to the class restrictions then in place; only when his uncle repealed the law was Justinian able to marry Theodōra. By that time, Theodōra already had an illegitimate daughter, whose father was likely Saint Justinian.

Saint Justinian and Saint Theodōra were an odd case at the time, having married for affection rather than for political reasons. At the same time, though, Saint Theodōra was quite politically-active. She broke with Roman convention by offering advice to the Emperor directly, and in so doing saved Emperor Saint Justinian’s throne, his life, and possibly the empire itself during the Nika riots. At the time, Saint Justinian and his closest advisers were preparing to flee the city, which was then under siege by the rioters. In her own words:
My lords, the present occasion is too serious to allow me to follow the convention that a woman should not speak in a man’s council. Those whose interests are threatened by extreme danger should think only of the wisest course of action, not of conventions. In my opinion, flight is not the right course, even if it should bring us to safety. It is impossible for a person, having been born into this world, not to die; but for one who has reigned it is intolerable to be a fugitive. May I never be deprived of this purple robe, and may I never see the day when those who meet me do not call me empress. If you wish to save yourself, my lord, there is no difficulty. We are rich; over there is the sea, and yonder are the ships. Yet reflect for a moment whether, when you have once escaped to a place of security, you would not gladly exchange such safety for death. As for me, I agree with the adage that the royal purple is the noblest shroud.
Thereupon Saint Justinian broke up the riots – bloodily, according to Prokopios – and restored his hold on power. In the wake of that event, Justinian and Theodōra began to rebuild the royal city. They established vital infrastructure and public works (aqueducts, roads, bridges), built twenty-five churches (including the great Agia Sophia!), and spent a great deal on social welfare also, particularly public hospitals. Saint Theodōra, remembering perhaps her unfortunate youth and her ill-treatment at the hands of Hekebolos, was also an advocate against prostitution and in favour of women’s rights – including lower-class women’s right to work and feed themselves without having to marry or enter a brothel. She established a convent named Metanoia (or Holy Repentance), which catered specifically to ex-brothel girls and street prostitutes, giving them shelter, a space for reflection and the possibility – an all-too-attractive possibility at the time for many such women – of becoming a nun. As the folks at In Communion put it:
She made it legal to marry across class lines, gave women inheritance rights, gave women custody rights in the case of divorce, increased the penalty for rape, and outlawed the practice of infanticide whereby the father would decide whether a newborn would live and which often was committed against baby girls. She also opened many convents and saved many women from prostitution. Convents gave women of the time a way to support themselves without having to marry.
Saint Theodōra began her life of religious piety as a Miaphysite follower of Pope Timothy III, but after her marriage to Saint Justinian it appears she embraced Chalcedonian Christianity. At the same time, her sympathies were deeply engaged toward the Miaphysites, and she exerted tremendous political and spiritual energies in the attempt to heal the breach between the two confessions. The right-believing Empress reposed at the age of forty-eight, succumbing to an illness which was likely breast cancer. However, she would leave a deep impression on Saint Justinian’s reign even after her death, as he would continue to pass laws and institute social services for lower-class people, and particularly lower-class women, for the remainder of his reign. Empress Saint Theodōra, pray to God for us!

08 November 2017

A faith for my mixed-race children

Saint Andrei the God-Loving

So, I started writing a blog post on ‘the Eurasian face of Saint Andrei’ (who was half-Qypchaq and half-Rus’), which quickly turned into another one of my broadsides against nationalism generally. Not that the defamation and Yellow Peril yellowface caricature of one particularly complicated and ambiguous Eurasian saint of the Church, by the racist nationalist right to spite the Russians, isn’t heinous and contemptible. It is. It’s just that the most interesting point that the piece made about the incompatibility of Orthodox Christianity with the current right-wing nationalist moment got some rather short shrift, and I’d prefer to expand upon that here. The latter would be, in any event, a better way of defending the honour of Saint Andrei the Prince, given the ambiguous and complex position he occupied, straddling Asian and European cultures, values and principles.

Christianity itself is, after all, an Asian religion. Its adoption by the West immediately imbued Western pagan political institutions, categories, forms and concepts with a fundamentally ‘Eastern’ meaning and inward importance. The adoption of the languages of Roman statecraft and Greek philosophy by a messianic Jewish movement led by a nonviolent descendant of King David and hailing to the anti-Hellenistic, anti-Alexandrian Hasmonean legacy was indeed a recapitulation of all three of Imperial Rome, philosophical Athens and Old Jerusalem. But it also subverted all three: the former two ultimately more so than the last. In the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ Our God, the East in her own powerlessness gained a final spiritual triumph over the self-inflated political and intellectual pride and pomp of the West.

But, even if Christianity is unmistakeably a religion of the East in the reckoning of Saint Ilya Fondaminsky (marked by ‘solar’ monotheism and autocracy, personalism, communitarianism), it is also a true religion of the interstices. I have made mention of this multiple times, so it’s worth dwelling on a bit more at length. In life Christ dwelt in the places which both Roman statecraft and the Second Temple forgot: in the wilderness, among the lepers and disfigured, in the lands of the Syrians and Phœnicians. In death Christ hung on a Cross between two Jewish rebels, bandits, enemies of the Roman state and well left of the mainstream of the Jewish religion. Christ came from one of these interstices, a Jewish region under Hellenistic influence yet respected by neither: ‘Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ It becomes a little too easy and a little to pat to romanticise this, among Christians of a certain kind of lefty stripe who want to make of their religion a kind of social service. There is unmistakeably that dimension too, of course, but it’s worth remembering that Christ did not come to offer merely a cause; he came to offer Himself. It was Christ Himself whom Saint Dismas accepted as he died in agony – and was lifted that very Friday into the Kingdom.

Not to get too identity-political here, but… Myself and my wife – we’re definitely working-class millennials, but we aren’t poor poor. We both have jobs. We don’t have five-figure debts. We keep our heads mostly above water every month. But we’re still an immigrant-expat family. We still exist within certain interstices and between-spaces which make our lives, our two beautiful children’s lives and all our relationships to the state complicated and ambiguous. We’re on various forms of government assistance, which makes some of these problems far more tangible to me. Ellie and Albert, by virtue of being my natural children, are citizens who weren’t born here. Ellie still gets homesick for China, and is still a bit slower than her peers to pick up English. Like Saint Andrei the God-Loving, she’s both Asian and white; and she in particular, being so young and yet aware of being both Chinese and Anglo-American, will face at least some of the difficulties he did in navigating his Qypchaq-Rus’ heritage. And yet in the eyes of the government, no matter how well-intentioned, she and her younger brother are always going to be slotted into one or the other, or else treated as ‘other’ entirely. Which, I suppose, is why the Maidanist sæcular-nationalist yellowface treatment of Saint Andrei rankles me, personally in such a deep way. Bad enough to attack a saint for not being white, which shouldn’t be done anyway. Such an attack attacks my family as well.

But to Ellie and to Albert, Christ offers Himself in the Divine Liturgy. It’s a comfort to know that we are every bit as welcome at the chalice as any Russian, Ukrainian, Rusin, Romanian, Armenian, Lebanese Arab, Japanese, African-American, American Indian or Alaska Native. In the eyes of the Church they are whole persons and living icons – and not merely ‘either / or’, not merely categories or stereotypes or fractions-of-persons – made one in the Symbol of Faith and the prayers and fasts of the Church. Thanks be to Christ our God for that. Holy Prince Andrei the God-Loving, pray to God for us sinners here.