28 February 2019

Holy Hierarch Osweald of Worcester


Saint Osweald of Worcester

Leap-day saints need more love. As mentioned before, I’m a big fan of the Desert Father John Cassian – but it turns out that Yorkshire has its own leap-year saint who deserves some commemoration alongside Venerable Cassian today: Osweald, Bishop of Worcester.

Osweald, or Ásvaldi, was an at least half-Danish by-blow (of the second generation) of the Mickle Heathen Here which invaded England in 865, the same army which conquered northern England, martyred Saint Éadmund and came close to defeating Ælfrǽd the Great. However, the descendants of these heathen invaders lost no time adopting the religious beliefs of their new English subjects. Oda or Auði, Osweald’s paternal uncle, began listening to Christian preaching against the wishes of his heathen father, sought refuge with a Christian nobleman, was baptised, became a monk, and later went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury and a saint in his own right. He was commemorated in the English Church as ‘Oda the Good’, or ‘Oda se Goda’.

One of the things that Saint Oda the Good did for his nephew was to sponsor his upbringing and education. Oda had young Osweald sent to the Benedictine Abbey at Fleury, which was then a major centre of learning with a massive library and a flourishing ascetic discipline. Osweald himself was drawn to the holy way of life he learned at Fleury, and there took the cowl and became a Benedictine himself. Upon the death of his uncle in 958, he returned to England from Gaul and was welcomed back by Osc‎ytel (or Ásketill, clearly another churchman of Danish stock) of York. The bishop and the monk set out together some time later on pilgrimage to Rome, but Osweald did not range beyond Fleury, where he stayed until Oscytel summoned him back to England.

Osweald was called on this occasion to assist Archbishop Saint Dúnstán of Canterbury in his monastic reforms of the Church – supported by Éadgár King and by Bishop Æþelwold of Winchester. In particular, Saint Osweald was tasked with the reinvigoration of the Benedictine Rule, which had grown slack in England over the course of the ninth century, and the replacement of sæcular canons (the equivalent of modern-day deans) with Benedictine monks. Saint Osweald took to this work with relish. It was little wonder that in 961, then, the monk would be elevated to the see of Worcester. To this office he added also the see of York, after the repose of Oscytel and the resignation of his successor Éadwold.

Saint Osweald was far more active and vigorous in his southern see, however. He brought a greater rigour to the Benedictine Rule at the abbeys of Ely and St Albans, and consecrated with the aid of the East Anglian ealdorman Æþelwine a new Benedictine house at Ramsey with the help of a brother-monk from his days at Fleury, Saint Abbo. In what seems to be a rather poetic historical twist, Saint Osweald and Saint Dúnstán directed Saint Abbo to compose a Life of Saint Éadmund, who had been martyred by the Danes (including, presumably, Saint Osweald’s grandfather) three generations before.

Saint Osweald was truly given to the Benedictine discipline of total hospitality and self-giving love to the poor, and made a point of washing the feet of the poor in his see every day during Great Lent. He met his repose in the Lord after completing this work of mercy and hospitality, on the twenty-ninth of February, 992. He was recognised as a saint very shortly after his death, and is still regarded as one of the primary patrons of the city of Worcester along with the post-Schismatic Western saint, Wulfstan (who had a particular devotion to Saint Osweald). Holy Hierarch Osweald, pray to Christ our God that our souls may be saved!

26 February 2019

Backyard ghosts

Ghosts haunt my backyard.
The plywood and the concrete
Both try to stifle up their voice,
So they can’t be easily heard.
But they’re whispering all the time.

Ghosts haunt my backyard.
They’ve learned to cover their tracks.
They step without disturbing
The twigs and branches and blades of grass.
But somehow they’re still walking.

Ghosts haunt my forgotten history.
Static crackles on the radio, talking Morse.
Or, then again, there’s a click,
Like a door being locked from inside
Or like an emptied Colt Single Action.

Ghosts haunt my dreams as well.
Was I ever supposed to be here?
The rustle of shedding clothes,
The parting of pale, varicose thighs –
Lewd fingers slither down bellies
Into places I shouldn’t see.
Am I just imagining their sighs?

Or is there danger in their cries?
They linger muffled in the air.
The ghosts fear taking up the space,
And the narrow cracks admit them –
Last shelter of the truly lost.

Even if I could, would I hear them?
Flat screens large and small hood my eyes.
Earbuds and Bluetooth block the noise.
Blaring guns, bombs and one-liners,
Captain America and Superman.

No ghosts living here, they say.
Who am I to argue? Maybe they’re right.
Maybe I’ve chased them all away,
Or maybe until that Judgement Day
Ever onward I’ll march in ignorance.

In the backyard, amid the plywood
And the concrete… why do I still feel,
Still know they’re there? Ignoring
Them doesn’t ever seem to dull
The phantom itch behind my brain.

The ghosts are unseen and unheard,
But never truly gone.

- Matt Cooper, 26th February, 2019

Jews and the Eastern Churches in WWII


Metropolitan Evlogiy (Georgievskiy) of the Western Exarchate

Given the considerable and unacceptable uptick in anti-Semitic violence, imagery and dog-whistles in the Ukraine over the past few years, which coincides with an inter-Christian religious conflict within the country that is being driven by a sæcular nationalist government agenda, certain hard questions about the nature and history of Eastern Christianity’s relationship with the Jews in the Ukraine need very badly to be posed.

Archival information from Central and Eastern Europe about the evil years of 1939 to 1945 is apparently incomplete, and what is there has not yet been fully explored. One of the scholars who had been most active in tackling the primary archival data with an eye particularly to the religious dimension of this history, Dr Mikhail Shkarovski of the Saint Petersburg Theological Academy, did publish a short article in 2001 on this particular question, in the context of Roman Catholic attitudes toward the Jews during the same period.

Dr Shkarovski makes no bones in showing that, among the Christians of Eastern Europe, no one really has clean hands. (In short: he’s a scholar, not a polemicist.) He notes that anti-Semitic language and attitudes were sadly not unknown even in high places, both in Russia proper and among the diaspora. The heroic work of Priestmartyr Dmitrii (Klepinin) and Saint Maria (Skobtsova) in saving Jews in Paris is discussed in Shkarovski’s paper. So are the lesser-known – to me, anyway – efforts of Western Exarchate (now sadly-defunct, thanks to Patriarch Bartholomew, though that will hopefully change) clergymen like Metropolitan Evlogiy (Georgievskiy) of Paris and his subordinate, Archimandrite Ioann (Shakhovskoy) to secretly baptise Jews or provide them with false paperwork to evade the Nazis – for which activities both men were persecuted by the Gestapo. Archbishop Aleksandr (Nemolovsky) of Belgium (Western Exarchate) was outspoken in his opposition to the Nazis, and was labelled ‘Enemy № 2’ by the Gestapo. On the other hand, Metropolitan Seraphim (Lukyanov) was unfortunately given to anti-Semitic outbursts in his correspondence with the German leadership, though it appears he later repented of his attitudes and inaction during the war.

Both ROCA (i.e., ROCOR) in Germany and the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate were much more unequivocal in their condemnation of Nazi anti-Semitic ideology; and though in Moscow’s case this seems to have followed more strongly from the Soviet government’s directive to oppose the Nazis, they were still more consistently friendly to the Jews than Stalin’s government was. Dr Shkarovski points out that there were a number of Moscow Patriarchate priests – particularly among the ‘Renovationists’ – who were of Jewish descent themselves. In German-occupied Belarus, Archbishop Filofei (Narko) of ROCA managed to save thousands of Jewish children from the gas chambers by baptising them in secret and providing them with certificates. Both Moscow Patriarchate clergy and in particular the ‘Renovationist’ clergy were persecuted and killed by the Nazis in territories they controlled for this reason, and made plans to exterminate them on the grounds that both jurisdictions (ROCA and MP) had been ‘infiltrated by Jewish dogmatists’.

In the Ukraine, where the Soviet Union’s Jewish population was largest and where the Jews had the most contact with Orthodox believers, there was a marked distinction in attitudes between the ‘autocephalous’ church (the UAOC, now part of the so-called OCU) and the ‘autonomous’ church (the UOC-MP). The latter, being affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate, was totally opposed to anti-Semitism and to the Nazis, and behaved accordingly. The former at best kept aloof from the question, and at worst was complicit in anti-Semitic crimes. The relevant passage from Dr Shkarovski’s article is as follows:
The Russian Orthodox Church’s attitude to the Holocaust was more evident in the Ukraine where the majority of Soviet Jews lived. During the occupation there were two Ukrainian Orthodox Churches - an autocephalous church and an autonomous church which was subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate. The latter condemned outright the extermination of Jews. Many of its priests tried to save them in different ways. The most famous example is that of Alexei Glagolev in Kiev. In a speech given in 1991 to a predominantly Jewish audience in New York, Alexius II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, spoke of him together with Fr Dmitrii Klepinin and Mother Maria (Skobtsova) as examples of those who had made heroic efforts to save Jews. Fr. Alexei, Senior Priest at the Church of St Nicholas in Podol’, and his wife Tatiana managed to save dozens of people from death over a period of several years. Fortunately, they both survived.

But several priests and laymen in the Ukraine were killed by the Nazis for trying to save Jews. For example, on 6 March 1942 the Security Police and the SD made a report on the execution of Sinitsa, the Mayor of Kremenchug in the Poltava region, for baptising Jews together with the local priest, giving them Christian names and so saving them from extermination. In the report there was no information about how the priest was punished. A Arkhangelsky, a senior
[Moscow Patriarchate] priest from the Crimea, reported to the Metropolitan of Leningrad, Aleksei (Simansky) on 13 July 1944 that during the occupation the senior priest of the cemetery church in Simferopol, Fr Nikolai Shvets, read an anti-Nazi appeal made by the Patriarchal Locum Tenens Metropolitan Sergei to his parishioners, and then Deacon A Bondarenko helped him to distribute it. ‘Their patriotic deed was supported by the elder Vikenti, a former Renovationist bishop. They were all shot by the German Gestapo. Fr N Shvets was also accused of baptising Jews.

However, some Ukrainian nationalists voluntarily took part in exterminating Jews. Most of them belonged to the Greek Catholic Church but some belonged to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. In a horrific report made by the SS operational command № 5 in autumn 1941 we read about the actions of the latter. The report speaks of the extermination of 229 Jews in the town of Khmelnika, and of how the inhabitants of the town received the news of the murders with such enthusiasm that a thanksgiving service was held. Whilst the leadership of the
[UAOC] did not approve the anti-Jewish actions, it also did not condemn them.
The Uniate, or ‘Greek-Catholic’, church in the Ukraine is a separate case entirely. In the broad strokes: the top hierarchs of that church were bravely opposed to anti-Semitic violence – after a brief period of enthusiasm for the Nazis. However, the Uniate laity and lower ranks of the priesthood – who were then fully in thrall to the Ukrainian nationalist ideology which viewed Jewry as a foreign and ‘Asiatic’ element to be purged – did not take the hierarchs’ lead. To his credit, Dr Shkarovski does highlight the personal bravery of Met Andrei Sheptitsky in sheltering Jews in Lvov from the Nazis, and also in resolutely opposing the extermination of Ukrainian Jews both to the German government and to Pope Pius XII. ‘However,’ Dr Shkarovski damningly notes, ‘the majority of his parishioners were extremely anti-Semitic and the Metropolitan’s example did not have the necessary effect on them.

All of the foregoing should not be treated either as exculpation from or as recrimination for historical crimes. Particularly in the wake of the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, the truly important point is and ought to be Dr Shkarovski’s insistence that no one’s hands are truly clean save Christ’s; he faults even ROCOR and the MP for ‘insufficient practical action’. But truth is a necessary prerequisite to reconciliation, and history – and particularly this history – has a bad habit of not going away. For the intellectually-curious, honest and attentive it must serve as necessary context for the current political and ecclesiological disputes which are still inextricably linked.

EDIT (26 Feb): One of my readers in the comments, and one of my readers on social media, have most graciously corrected one of several glaring oversights in this piece, which is the neglect of the saintly and heroic Bulgarian Orthodox clergy in managing to save 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from the hands of the Nazis, for which they are rightly honoured today as Righteous Among the Nations. It is also a significant oversight in the topic to ignore the rôles that the Serbian and Greek churches played in rescuing Jews in their own countries, or else suffering alongside them, or that of the Royal Family of Romania in saving Jews from extermination in that country. In an article on the relations between the Jews and the Eastern Churches during the Second World War, overlooking the Bulgarians, Serbs, Greeks and Romanians who often opposed not only the Nazis but even occasionally their own governments and risked their own lives to save the lives of Jews, is rather inexcusable; I offer my apologies.

25 February 2019

Venerable Wealdburg, Abbess of Heidenheim


Saint Wealdburg of Heidenheim

The name of Walpurgis is often associated with May Day celebrations in central and northern Europe; however, the occasion is based the celebration of a real saint – a nun and missionary, in fact – who lived in the eighth century. Wealdburg, the daughter of the saintly couple Richard ‘the Pilgrim’ of Wessex and Winna the sister of Saint Boniface of Fulda, herself sister to the saintly monks Willibald and Wynnebald, became a celebrated saint in her own right, particularly in the Teutonic world. Father Deacon Aaron (Taylor) has a litany to Saint Wealdburg posted on his blog, along with some materials related to the later traditions that adhered in continental Europe to the feast of Saint Wealdburg’s translation in May. (It’s somewhat ironic that Bram Stoker has one of his characters claim that the feast ‘doesn’t concern Englishmen’ given that the saint it commemorates is very English!)

Entrusted to Abbess Tetta at the cloister at Wimborne at the age of eleven, when her brother and father took monastic vows themselves and left on pilgrimage for the Holy Land, Wealdburg took to the demands of her new life without complaint. She gained a love of learning, becoming versant particularly in Latin. She became the first Englishwoman (that we know of) to put pen to paper and write a lasting work: a narration, in fact, of her brother Willibald’s pilgrimage.

Her uncle, Saint Boniface, wrote to her abbess requesting the aid of his niece and nephews in his mission work on the Continent. Thus at the age of thirty-seven, Wealdburg left her monastic home at Wimborne and travelled, along with her saintly brothers Willibald and Wynnebald and her cousin Saint Leofg‎yð, to Germany. Eventually she came to the Bavarian town of Heidenheim, where Saint Willibald (who had been appointed Bishop of the still largely-heathen district of Eichstätt) established a double Benedictine community: one for women and one for men. Saint Wynnebald served as the first abbot of the double monastery, after whose repose in 761 he was succeeded by Saint Wealdburg as abbess. From there the holy siblings aided their uncle in his missionary work among the peoples of Germany and the Low Countries.

Saint Wealdburg attained the reputation of a wonderworker in her own lifetime. Legend has it that as she and her brethren were crossing the English Channel at the start of their voyage to Germany, the Devil raised a tempest in the Channel that threatened to sink their ship. However, Saint Wealdburg prostrated herself on the deck of the ship and prayed to God to spare them, and the storm calmed so that they could cross in safety. She and her kin were said to have stayed at Antwerp on their journey further inland; she was said to favour praying in the garden at the church which now bears her name. She was greeted by her uncle at Mainz and spent some time under the rule of her kinswoman Saint Leofgyð at Tauberbischofsheim before proceeding to Heidenheim where she lived the rest of her life in service to the poor, gaining a reputation for sweetness, humility and kindness that endeared her deeply to the German people.

In 776, she assisted in the translation of the relics of her brother Saint Wynnebald, which were found to be incorrupt; shortly after this, she fell ill herself and reposed in the Lord, and was lain to rest beside her saintly brother. After her repose, her tomb became renowned for streaming myrrh, a fragrant and miraculous oil which could cure all number of maladies.

In the words of Frédéric Ozanam, the founder of the Roman Catholic Saint Vincent de Paul Society, spoke of Saint Wealdburg and Saint Leofgyð thus: ‘ Silence and humility have veiled the labours of the nuns from the eyes of the world, but history has assigned them their place at the very beginning of German civilisation: Providence has placed women at every cradle-side.Holy Mother Wealdburg, venerable Abbess, please pray to Christ our God that our souls may be saved!

24 February 2019

Holy Righteous Æþelberht of Kent, King and Confessor


Saint Æþelberht King of Kent

Today in the Orthodox Church we commemorate the first Christian King in Old England, Æþelberht of Kent – for whom I have a particular reverence as he is my son’s patron saint. Christianity had been present on the British Isles long before the arrival of the saintly monk Augustine in the Kingdom of Kent at the behest of Pope Saint Gregory the Dialogist. The first Christians in Britain were converted after the death of Saint Alban in the third century; thus was established the tradition of Celtic Christianity in Britain. But, as Saint Bede relates, the hæresy of Pelagius found a ready hearing among the Celts of Britain, and it was only with great efforts of Saint Germanus of Auxerre, among others, that the Orthodox faith was preserved. In addition, the landing in three longships at the invitation of British king Vortigern of three groups of heathen mercenaries – the Saxons (of what is now northwestern Germany), the Jutes (of what is now northern Jylland in Denmark) and my own forebears the Angles (of the region of Schleswig straddling Germany and southern Denmark) – indelibly changed the religious landscape of Britain.

In the early years of this Teutonic presence on the British Isles, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes followed the religious practices of heathenry. Little remains of these practices; but we can tell that all the groups of insular Teutons – Angles, Saxons and Jutes – held to these beliefs. Popular gods in the Teutonic pantheon attested in place-names and other linguistic clues appear to have been Grim, Þunor, Tíw and Frige. Heathen worship often occurred in the open, in sacred groves or near other sacred natural landmarks. The heathen worldview incorporated a certain tragic and fatalistic cosmology, which nonetheless inculcated a certain sense of nobility and heroism in the face of death and defeat.

Perhaps it was these latter qualities and virtues in the still-heathen English people that attracted the attention of Pope Saint Gregory, that moved him to a holy Christian love for them, and motivated him to send Saint Augustine to British shores to preach the Gospel among them. As Saint Bede recounts:
In the fourteenth year of [Emperor Maurice] and about the one hundred and fiftieth year after the coming of the English to Britain, Gregory was inspired by God to send his servant Augustine with several other God-fearing monks to preach the word of God to the English nation. Having undertaken this task at the Pope’s command and progressed a short distance on this journey, they became afraid, and began to consider returning home. For they were appalled at the idea of going to a barbarous, fierce and pagan nation, of whose very language they were ignorant. They unanimously agreed that this was the safest course, and sent back Augustine – who was to be consecrated bishop in the event of their being received by the English – so that he might humbly request the holy Gregory to recall them from so dangerous, arduous and uncertain a journey. In reply, the Pope wrote them a letter of encouragement, urging them to proceed on their mission to preach God’s word, and to trust themselves to his aid. This letter ran as follows:
GREGORY, Servant of the servants of God, to the servants of God. My very dear sons, it is better never to undertake any high enterprise than to abandon it when once begun. So with the help of God you must carry out this holy task which you have begun. Be constant and zealous in carrying out this enterprise which, under God’s guidance, you have undertaken: and be assured that the greater the labour, the greater will be the glory of your æternal reward. When Augustine your leader returns, whom We have appointed your abbot, obey him humbly in all things, remembering that whatever he directs you to do will always be to the good of your souls. May Almighty God protect you with His grace, and grant me to see the result of your labours in our heavenly home. And although my office prevents me from working at your side, yet because I long to do so, I hope to share in your joyful reward. God keep you safe, my dearest sons.

Dated the twenty-third of July, in the fourteenth year of the reign of our most devout lord Maurice Tiberius Augustus, and the thirteenth year after the Consulship of our said Lord. The fourteenth interdiction.
Augustine took heart from this letter, as did the monks under his care. They journeyed onward and eventually reached the shores of Kent, which was then ruled by Æþelberht king, who held sway over all the lands from the coasts of Kent in the south to the south bank of the Humber in the north. Augustine landed with his monks at the isle of Thanet – the very land which, as legend has it, Vortigern king promised to the Jutish heretugs Hengist and Horsa for defending his realm against the Scots. The monks under Augustine then sent a Frankish embassy declaring their arrival and their purpose to Æþelberht.

The king received this embassy with a mixture of hospitality and caution. Through the Frankish messenger he bade the monks stay where they were, but also bade that they be given from his stores all provisions and necessaries of life until he could decide what answer to make to them. The Jutish king had already heard of Christianity and was well-disposed to the monks; he had taken a Frankish bride named Berhte, a Christian, on the condition that she be given the freedom to practise her faith without hindrance, and she had brought with her a bishop named Leodheard to celebrate the Liturgy and minister to her the Divine Mysteries.

Even so, when he went to meet them at Thanet several days later, Æþelberht took precautions according to his customs. Saint Augustine was to meet him in the open air. Again, according to the heathen beliefs, Thanet was holy ground and meeting in the open would afford him a degree of protection against evil witchcraft – to which, if he were to meet in a private home, he would supposedly be vulnerable. ‘But the monks,’ says Bede,
… were endowed with the power of God, not from the Devil, and approached the king carrying a silver cross as their standard, and the likeness of our Lord and Saviour painted on a board. First of all they offered prayer to God, singing a litany for the æternal salvation both of themselves and of those for whose sake they had come. And when, at the king’s command, Augustine sat down and preached the word of life to the king and his court, the king said:

‘Your words and promises are fair indeed, but they are new and strange to us, and I cannot accept them and abandon the age-old beliefs of the whole English nation. But since you have travelled far, and I can see that you are sincere in your desire to instruct us in what you believe to be true and excellent, we will not harm you. We will receive you hospitably, and take care to supply you with all that you need; nor will we forbid you to preach and win any people you can to your religion.’

The king then granted them a dwelling in the city of Canterbury, which was the chief city of all his realm, and in accordance with his promise, he allowed them provisions and did not withdraw their freedom to preach. Tradition says that as they approached the city, bearing the holy cross and the likeness of our great King and Lord Jesus Christ as was their custom, they sang in unison this litany: ‘We pray Thee, O Lord, in all Thy mercy, that Thy wrath and anger may be turned away from this city and from Thy holy house, for we are sinners. Alleluia.’

Augustine, now Bishop Augustine, and the monks at Canterbury were nonetheless incredibly circumspect in their missionary activities during their first few years on English soil. Their mission, such as it was, consisted of prayers and vigils held in the Church, and fasting – they did not abuse Æþelberht’s hospitality but took only what they needed. They would preach to individuals who desired to hear them, but did not proclaim the faith in the open. However, the simplicity and sincerity of their monastic life attracted the English of Kent and aroused their curiosity – soon throngs of folk were desirous of hearing the Gospel and of being baptised. In due time, no doubt being swayed by the example of his wife, Æþelberht King himself joined them – and only after that did the monks begin preaching openly.

True to his word, Pope Gregory the Dialogist took an active and sincere interest in the progress of Saint Augustine and his party – and he established a fruitful pastoral correspondence with Saint Augustine on the needs and questions of his new but growing English flock. According to the testimony of Saint Augustine, it seems that the early English converts struggled most with questions of sexual ethics and cleanliness: in his letters and Pope Gregory’s answers, rules were established concerning double in-law marriage; marriage between close kin; taking the Eucharist after sex, after childbirth or during menstruation; and taking the Eucharist after a nightly disturbance. Pope Gregory patiently and with pastoral love gave answers to Saint Augustine and the English flock on all of these questions. He also kept in regular contact with the Bishop of Arles regarding the progress of the English church and gifted an omophor to Saint Augustine on his accession to the office of bishop. On the occasion of the saintly king’s conversion, Pope Gregory composed a personal letter to him. It read as follows.
To our excellent son, the most glorious King Æþelberht, King of the English: the Bishop GREGORY.

Almighty God raises good men to govern nations, in order that through them He may bestow the gifts of His mercy on all whom they rule. We know that this is so in the case of the English nation, over whom you reign so gloriously, so that by means of the good gifts that God grants to you, He may bless your people as well. Therefore, my illustrious son, zealously foster the grace that God has given you, and work to extend the Christian faith among the people committed to your charge. Make their conversion your first concern; abolish the worship of idols, and destroy their shrines; raise the moral standards of your subjects by your own innocence of life, encouraging, warning, persuading, correcting and showing them an example by your good deeds. God will most surely grant you His rewards in heaven if you faithfully proclaim His Name and truth upon earth; and He whose honour you seek and uphold among your peoples will make your own name glorious to posterity.

The devout Emperor Constantine in this way turned the Roman State from its ignorant worship of idols by his own submission to our mighty Lord and God Jesus Christ, and with his subjects accepted Him with all his heart. The result is that his glorious reputation has excelled that of all his predecessors, and he has outshone them in good works as greatly as in reputation. Now, therefore, let Your Majesty do your utmost to bring to your subject princes and peoples the knowledge of the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so that your own merit and repute may excel that of all the former kings of your nation. And when your subjects are thus absolved from their sins, you will stand with greater confidence before the judgement seat of God.

Our most reverend brother Bishop Augustine has been trained under monastic rule, has a complete knowledge of Holy Scripture and, by the grace of God, is a man of holy life. Therefore I beg you to consider his advice with care and follow it exactly; for if you listen to him when he speaks in God’s name, his prayers for you will be the sooner answered. But if you ignore his advice – which God forbid – and disregard him when he speaks in God’s name, how will God answer his prayers on your behalf? Work sincerely and wholeheartedly with him in fervent faith, and support him in all his work, so that you may receive a place in the Kingdom of Christ, Whose Faith you profess and uphold in your own realm.

We would also have Your Majesty know what we have learned from the words of Almighty God in holy Scripture, that the end of this present world and the æternal kingdom of the Saints is approaching. When the end of the world is near, unprecedented things will occur – portents in the sky, terrors from heaven, unseasonable tempests, wars, famines, plagues and widespread earthquakes – all of which things will not happen during our own lifetimes, but will ensue in due course. Therefore if any such things occur in your own country, do not be anxious, for these portents of the end are sent to warn us to consider the welfare of our souls and remember our last end, so that when our Judge comes, He may find us prepared by good lives. I have mentioned these matters in this short letter, my illustrious son, in the hope that as the Christian Faith grows more strong in your kingdom, our correspondence with you may become more frequent, and we shall be pleased to write further when we receive the glad news of the complete conversion of your people.

I have sent some small presents, which will not appear without value since they are accompanied by the blessing of the blessed Apostle Peter. May Almighty God continue to perfect you in His grace, prolong your life for many years, and after this life receive you among the citizens of your heavenly home. May the grace of heaven preserve Your Majesty in safety.

Dated the twenty-second day of June, in the nineteenth year of our most devout lord and Emperor Maurice Tiberius Augustus, and the eighteenth of his Consulship. The fourth indiction.
If Saint Bede’s Ecclesiastical History is any indication, Æþelberht King received this letter and did exactly as he was bidden by it. He gave Saint Augustine his permission to rebuild an old disused Roman church that had once stood in Canterbury, and used it as the cathedral. Æþelberht King also founded for Bishop Saint Augustine and his monks an abbey church dedicated to the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul

As a ruler, Æþelberht King was vigorous and effective, eventually becoming recognised by the other English kings as Brytenwealda or ‘high king’ by virtue of his military and administrative skill. He crafted for the people of Kent the first written law-code in any Teutonic language, which is similar in most respects to customary Teutonic law but which entails specific protections and privileges for the Christian Church in his realm. He also, as part of this law code, re-established a system of weights and measures and the standard use of coinage in his realm in England. Æþelberht King reposed in the Lord after a long fifty-six year reign, on the twenty-fourth of February, 616; he was buried alongside his saintly wife Berhte in the Abbey Church he founded.
Having acquired all the Christian virtues,
O right-believing King Æþelberht,
Thou didst attain glory in doing godly deeds,
And art now enrolled among the choirs of the saints on high;
For, having passed from the things of this fleeting world,
In glory thou reignest now eternally with Christ our God,
Whom do thou beseech to grant us great mercy!

23 February 2019

Pointless video post - ‘Into a Dream’ 夢の中へ by Inoue Yôsui 井上陽水

Sadly, it’s been awhile since I did one of these. Enjoy this whimsical Japanese folk-rock song from 1973, gentle readers!


Lyrics (English translation):
What is it that you’re looking for?
Is it something that’s hard to find?
And you looked in your bag and your desk…
… but you can’t find it.

Do you still intend to keep on looking?
Won’t you dance with me instead?
Wouldn’t you want to… Wouldn’t you want to…
… go off into a dream?

Woo-hoo-hoo… Woo-hoo-hoo… Woo-hoo-hoo… Sa-a…

You won’t even let yourself sleep anymore,
And you’ve stopped smiling.
Down on your hands and knees, down on your hands and knees,
What on earth is it you’re looking for?

And just when you’ve stopped looking for it,
You find it; it happens all the time.
So let’s dance! Wouldn’t you want to…
… go off into a dream?

Woo-hoo-hoo… Woo-hoo-hoo… Woo-hoo-hoo… Sa-a…

What is it that you’re looking for?
Do you still intend to keep on looking?
Wouldn’t you want to… Wouldn’t you want to…
… go off into a dream?

Woo-hoo-hoo… Woo-hoo-hoo… Woo-hoo-hoo… Sa-a…
Woo-hoo-hoo… (… Into a dream?)
Woo-hoo-hoo… (… Into a dream?)
Woo-hoo-hoo… Sa-a…

22 February 2019

Red is old is good is red(dish)


Ivan Naumovich and Yakov Golovatskiy, 1883

The Carpathian Institute and the Lemko Association recently came out with a new short volume of essays from Polish professor Dr Stefan Dudra, translated by Dr Paul Best, on Lemko identity and the Orthodox Church. This volume shows how the Rusin people, including the Lemkos, have long been a subaltern people in the truest sense, formed in the context of the politics of Central Europe. The historical pathways by which their consciousness has been formed – under subjection to Poland, then Hungary, then the Dual Monarchy, Czechoslovakia, Germany, the Soviet Union, now the Ukraine – are of endless interest to me, given the historical ties between the Rusins (including the diaspora) and the Jews of Central Europe (including the diaspora). There are some generalisations and characterisations in Dr Dudra’s narrative I could pick nits with, but on the whole volume does not disappoint. He does great justice to the various aspects of Lemko-Rusin consciousness which too often get ignored in the established histories of the time – but his focus is primarily on the twentieth century and the political struggles that took place on account of WWI, the resistance against the Nazis in WWII, Operation Vistula during and after the war, and the post-war rebuilding of Lemko communities.

Dr Dudra shows quite adroitly how the Rusin communities of southern Poland and Transcarpathia which were so violently repressed by Austria-Hungary and then so brutally uprooted and relocated by the NKVD, held to Orthodox Christianity not only to prevent cultural and linguistic assimilation, but also as a way of remembering and honouring their parents and communities, which had always – even under the Unia – considered themselves little-o ‘orthodox’ (‘православны’) in belief. They had always celebrated the Liturgy in Slavonic; had always had bearded, married priests; had never made a show of ethnic identity in their church life. So when Greek-Catholic seminaries began, in the early twentieth century under pressure from the Austro-Hungarian government, sending clean-shaven, celibate priests to them, who used vernacular Ukrainian and displayed tryzubs in the liturgy, it became a political problem for them. One of the answers to this political problem was switching jurisdictions and entering the Orthodox Church – under Constantinople, Serbia, Poland or most popularly Russia.

These old but recently-Orthodox communities were immediately politically-suspect. They incurred the displeasure of both the Austro-Hungarian authorities (who treated them as Russian spies or as a Russian fifth column), and, for obvious reasons, the Greek-Catholic hierarchy and priesthood. It was in these political conditions that the show-trial of Saint Aleksei (Kabalyuk) occurred, and the martyrdom in Gorlice of Fr Saint Maksim (Sandovich) (who said of himself: ‘my only politics is the Gospel’). Over 30,000 Orthodox Lemkos, having been informed on to the gendarmes by their neighbours, were interred and suffered in Thalerhof concentration camp. World War II brought even further suffering. Orthodox Rusins, like Saint Iov of Ugolka, fought for Czechoslovakia, and were again herded into camps and murdered by the Nazis – many welcomed the coming of the Soviets. However, the directive under Operation Vistula (carried out by the satellite Polish government) was to round up and disperse the Rusins – who, far from being Nazi collaborators, were more likely to be innocent bystanders.

Among the Lemkos so displaced, who were generally mistrusted and despised as outsiders where they were settled, folk songs and Christmas carols shared within the family circle from their ‘little homeland’, from ‘those brought from the mountains’, were one particular source of comfort and cultural continuity. The other was the Church. Icons which had been salvaged from the villages prior to Operation Vistula came to adorn house churches, abandoned buildings, hospital and cemetery chapels which became the makeshift Orthodox chrámy (at the expense of the parishioners; there was no aid from the state). These temples would then become the centres of the internal Lemko diaspora’s shared life – weddings, baptisms, funerals. Priests – who were victims of displacement along with the laypeople – would take it upon themselves to teach catechesis, the Slavonic language and even sæcular history. These classes were often the only times Lemko children were permitted to speak по-нашему (‘our way’, i.e. the Rusin language) in public.

The Rusins did fare a little better when Khrushchev came to power in Moscow in 1953, and some were allowed to return home by the Polish government starting around 1956 under the partial thaw in religious and ethnic policies. However, communal conflict between Orthodox Lemkos and Catholic (including Greek-Catholic) priests who had taken control of their home parish churches in their absence was still fraught in places like Rozdziele and Polany, and conflicts often came to forcible seizures, vandalism, intimidation and literal blows. (In Rozdziele the Orthodox community survived; in Polany it did not.) Catholics and Greek-Catholics accused the Orthodox of being ‘pagans’, schismatics and Soviet spies. It was not that the Polish government at the time was any friendlier to the Catholics than to the Orthodox Christians; it was simply that the government found a policy of ‘divide and rule’ to be the most effective way to quell any possible dissent. Suffice it to say: as Dr Dudra’s book makes clear, the road to the current status of the Orthodox Lemko communities in southern Poland and Slovakia has not been a particularly easy one.

In the book, however, a couple of passing references were made to the cultural-political self-identification of ‘Old Ruthenia’ (or ‘Old Rus’’, ‘Старорусь’) which were somewhat intriguing to me. It was somewhat outside the scope of the book, which was more focussed on twentieth-century events, so I ended up having to delve into the topic a bit on my own with outside sources.

In short: the ‘Old Ruthenian’ group were the first people among the Rusins to try to resist the official policies, on either side of the border, of Ukrainianisation and Polonisation. Being drawn from the Rusin intelligentsia, they were as often as not Greek-Catholic priests or relatives of priests. Appealing to distant historical memory, they revived the idea of the unified Rus’ civilisation: Great Rus’ (Russia), Little Rus’ (Ukraine), White Rus’ (Belarus) and Red Rus’ (Carpathian Ruthenia) – through the last of which they claimed belonging for themselves. Their orientation was one of cultural conservatism. They wanted to keep Church Slavonic, the unreformed Cyrillic orthography, the Byzantine Liturgy and the married priesthood. They distanced themselves decisively from all market-liberal and ethno-nationalist appeals. Though a few of their number voiced some sympathy for Russia, at the time, most of the ‘Old Ruthenians’ appealed instead to the Austroslawismus of Czech statesmen like František Palack‎ý and to the political reaction of Metternich. In the eyes of the Old Ruthenians, the Habsburg monarchy as a multi-ethnic state stood the best chance of preserving their cultural heritage from assimilation. The Old Ruthenians thus constituted a politically- and socially-conservative party among the Rusins in Central Europe.

The subsequent events leading up to and during the First World War unfortunately disabused and destroyed a lot of this monarchical-conservative ‘Old Ruthenian’ idealism. Beginning with the Ausgleich in 1867, when the Habsburg Empire reorganised as Austria-Hungary (thus alienating the Slavs by exclusion), the Teutophile orientation of the Old Ruthenians became much harder to justify on the grounds of ethno-political parity. At the same time, the liberal nationalism which was fomenting in the newly-autonomous region of Galicia – even though the people who embraced it were Slavs – was galling to their conservative sensibilities. In such an environment, with what they saw as an Austrian political betrayal on the one side and an artificial geometric vernacularism on the other, it was only natural for the ‘Old Ruthenian’ tendency to begin looking further eastward towards Imperial Russia for support, and many of them converted to Orthodoxy. This was the course charted by, for example, Yakov Golovatskiy and Ivan Naumovich, encouraged by the Russian Slavophil historian Mikhail Pogodin.

However, this influence from the Slavophils and from Imperial Russia over the long run meant that the Old Ruthenians, now Orthodoxising and drifting in orientation toward Russophilia, began to adopt certain radical and populist ideas. (This makes sense: not being able to draw on the Austrian nobility for political support, where else could these Slavic intellectuals go but to the common people who held onto the old religious traditions?) At the same time, even their original, high-Tory lack of enthusiasm for parliamentary finagling was reinforced by the fact that the Ausgleich had taken place pretty much entirely over their heads! The result was: a culturally-conservative movement, nationalist only in a loose, mild Herderian sense, whose class-based œconomic tendencies, learned from a poor peasantry and later from a proletarianising diaspora, were firmly – if not fanatically – on the left.

One can see some of these same tendencies in modern Rusin political preferences in the mother country. According to the data, Rusins in Slovakia tend to be loyal to the Direction party which embraces left œconomics and a mild form of civic nationalism; however, they tend to reject the ethnic-nationalist options which are set before them. Now, I’m a realist; I understand full well that there are good material reasons for (especially older) Rusins to stick by Direction, which have nothing to do with the Habsburg-era cultural politics of their great-great-great-grandfathers. But it is an intriguing point of convergence that both the rejection of a narrow ethnic nationalism and the embrace of œconomic populism appear to be typical of the ‘Old Ruthenian’ mindset. It should be clear by now that both of these tendencies endear this mindset to me greatly.

A quick note on my Latinised orthography. I use the spelling ‘Rusin’ rather than ‘Rusyn’ for two reasons. First of all, it is the preferred spelling of the local Rusin Association of Minnesota. It is out of respect for my friends in that Association that I use their preferred spelling of ‘Rusin’. (Sorry, Pittsburghers!) Secondly, though, ‘Rusin’ simply seems to me to be common-sense. The Western Slavic languages with which Rusin forms a language continuum simply do not have the front-to-central vowel mutation that occurred further north and east whereby /i/ changed to /ɨ/: thus, the demonym in Czech and Slovak ‘Rusíni’; in BCS ‘Rusini’; in Polish ‘(Karpato)rusini’, in Rusin itself ‘Русины’ or ‘Rusinŷ’. It might even just be better to write ‘Ruthene’ following the historical English usage.

20 February 2019

Sanders and Orthodox social teaching, compared


Now that Bernie Sanders has declared his candidacy for the presidency on the Democratic ticket, and in light of my recent piece on Fei Xiaotong and Nikolai Berdyaev, it seems as good an opportunity as any to compare certain points of convergence between his version of ‘democratic socialism’, or more correctly social democracy, and the social teachings of the Orthodox Church. Here are a few the respective stances of Bernie Sanders and the Orthodox Church (from the Basis of the Social Concept document) on distribution of the fruits of labour:
In the last 30 years in this country there has been a massive transfer of wealth going from the hands of working families into the top ⅒ of 1% whose percentage of wealth has doubled… Of course there will be a limit, but when today you have massive levels of income and wealth inequality, when the middle class is disappearing, yes, in my view, the government of a democratic society has a moral responsibility to play a vital role in making sure all of our people have a decent standard of living.
- Bernie Sanders, 2016
Continuing on earth the service of Christ Who identified Himself with the destitute, the Church always comes out in defence of the voiceless and powerless. Therefore, she calls upon society to ensure the equitable distribution of the fruits of labour, in which the rich support the poor, the healthy the sick, the able-bodied the elderly. The spiritual welfare and survival of society are possible only if the effort to ensure life, health and minimal welfare for all citizens becomes an indisputable priority in distributing the material resources.
- BSC 2000, VI.6


On the principles of just war:
From the very beginning of the Persian Gulf crisis, I was of the belief that the US could push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait without having to resort to war. Diplomacy, economic boycott, isolation, financial leverage: we had many means for reversing the invasion. I was not only opposed to the war because of the potential destruction and loss of life, but also because I believe it IS possible for the major countries of this planet, and a virtually united world community, to resolve crises without carnage. If this matter could not be solved without massive bombing and killing thousands of people, then what crisis could ever be solved peacefully?
- Bernie Sanders, 1997
From the Christian perspective, the conception of moral justice in international relations should be based on the following basic principles: love of one’s neighbours, people and Fatherland; understanding of the needs of other nations; conviction that it is impossible to serve one’s country by immoral means. These three principles defined the ethical limits of war established by Christendom in the Middle Ages when, adjusting to reality, people tried to curb the elements of military violence. Already at that time, people believed that war should be waged according to certain rules and that a fighting man should not lose his morality, forgetting that his enemy is a human being too.
- BSC 2000, VIII.3


On financial institutions which are ‘too big to fail’:
I’ve laid out a very aggressive plan to rein in Wall Street—not just the big banks. We have to go after what is called the shadow banking industry. Those hedge funds. I want to look at the whole problem; my proposal is much more comprehensive than anything else that’s been put forth… You know, maybe they’re dumb and they don’t know what they’re going to get, but I don’t think so. If Teddy Roosevelt, a good Republican, were alive today, you know what he’d say? “Break them up.” Reestablish Glass-Steagall. And Teddy Roosevelt is right.
- Bernie Sanders, 2015
Those standing at the head of international economic and financial structures have concentrated in their hands a great power beyond the control of nations and even governments and beyond any limit, be it a national border, an ethnic and cultural identity or the need for ecological and demographical sustainability. Sometimes they refuse to reckon with the customs and religious traditions of the nations involved in the implementation of their plans. The Church cannot but be concerned also for the practice of financial speculations obliterating the dependence of income on the effort spent. Among various forms of this speculation are «financial pyramids» the collapse of which causes large-scale upheaval. In general, such changes in economy result in the loss of priority that labour and man have over capital and means of production…

The Church raises the question concerning the need to establish comprehensive control over transnational corporations and the processes taking place in the financial sector of economy. This control, aimed to subject any entrepreneurial and financial activity to the interests of man and people, should be exercised through all mechanisms available in society and state.

- BSC 2000, XVI.3


On usury:
We know every major religion on Earth—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, you name it—has always felt that usury is immoral. What we mean by usury is that when someone doesn't have a lot of money and you loan them money, you don't get blood out of a stone. You can’t ask for outrageously high interest rates when somebody is hurting. That is immoral. Yet today we have millions of people in our country who are paying 25% or 30% and in some cases even higher interest rates on their credit cards. Yet many of the credit card companies were bailed out by the taxpayers of this country. What the Fed must do is say to those companies: “Sorry, you can’t continue to rip off the American people and charge them 25% or 30% interest rates.”

In my view, when credit card companies charge over 20% interest, they are not engaged in the business of making credit available to their customers; they are involved in extortion and loan-sharking—nothing essentially different than gangsters who charge outrageously high prices.

- Bernie Sanders, 2010
It is not accidental that many traditional religions have a cautious and sometimes even negative attitude to the collection of bank interest. Usury has always been regarded as a morally unsafe activity. Finance and credit activity becomes morally dubious if in its unscrupulous pursuit of profit it deviates from its original calling which is to make people’s life better and economy more effective. Therefore in our time the profession of financier requires not only serious public control but also strong ethical self-control. Without calling to reject the use of resources offered by modern financial instruments and far less to return to natural forms of economy, we believe it necessary to take a sober view of all the strengths and weaknesses of the existing world financial model. It is important to bring the economic system as near as possible to the needs of ordinary people, creating opportunities for their active and creative involvement in economic activity.
- MP Council on Œconomy and Ethics, ‘Statement on the global financial and œconomic crisis’, 2009


On public education:
When we think about cutting back on education—whether it is childcare, primary school, or college—we are simply cutting off our noses to spite our faces. At one time in this country, we used to lead the world in the number of our people who graduated college, we are now falling very significantly. How do you become a great economy if you don't have the scientists, the engineers, the teachers, the professionals out there, and many other countries around the world are having a higher percentage of their high school graduates going to college? That is something we have to address. Anyone who comes forward and says cut education is moving us in exactly the wrong direction.
- Bernie Sanders, 2010
Christian tradition has always respected the secular education. School is a mediator that hands over to new generations the moral values accumulated in the previous centuries. School and the Church are called to co-operation in this task. Education, especially that of children and adolescents, is called not only to convey information. To warm up in young hearts the aspiration for the Truth, authentic morality, love of their neighbours and homeland and its history and culture is a school’s task no smaller but perhaps even greater than that of giving knowledge. The Church is called and seeks to help school in its educational mission, for it is the spirituality and morality of a person that determines his eternal salvation, as well as the future of individual nations and the entire human race.
- BSC 2000, XI.6


On the œcological crisis:
Pope Francis made this point. This [climate change] is a moral issue. The scientists are telling us we need to move boldly. I am proud that, along with Senator Boxer, a few years ago, we introduced the first piece of climate change legislation which called for a tax on carbon. Nothing is gonna happen unless we [deal] with campaign finance reform, because the fossil fuel industry is funding the Republican Party, which denies the reality of climate change. The future of the planet is at stake.
- Bernie Sanders, 2015
The Orthodox Church appreciates the efforts for overcoming the ecological crisis and calls people to intensive co-operation in actions aimed to protect God’s creation. At the same time, she notes that these efforts will be more fruitful if the basis on which man’s relations with nature are built will be not purely humanistic but also Christian. One of the main principles of the Church’s stand on ecological issues is the unity and integrity of the world created by God. Orthodoxy does not view nature around us as an isolated and self-closed structure. The plant, animal and human worlds are interconnected. From the Christian point of view, nature is not a repository of resources intended for egoistic and irresponsible consumption, but a house in which man is not the master, but the housekeeper, and a temple in which he is the priest serving not nature, but the one Creator.
- BSC 2000, XIII.4


On affordable health care:
I have always been a proponent of a national health care system. It just seemed eminently fair and right. How can we call this a civilized society when the children or parents of the rich get the medical attention they need in order to stay alive, while members of working-class families, who lack health insurance, have to die or needlessly suffer—or go hopelessly into debt to get the care they need? This is an outrageous injustice and it cannot be rationally defended.
- Bernie Sanders, 1997
Without giving preference to any organisational model of medical aid, the Church believes that this aid should be maximum effective and accessible to all members of society, regardless of their financial means and social status, also in the situation of limited medical resources. To make the distribution of these resources truly equitable, the criterion of «vital needs» should prevail over that of «market relations». The doctor should not link the measure of his responsibility for giving medical aid exclusively with the financial reward and its amount, turning his profession into a source of enrichment. At the same time, worthy payment for the work of medical workers appears to be an important task for society and state.
- BSC 2000, XI.3


On criminal justice reform:
Black lives matter. The African American community knows that on any given day some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car, and three days later she’s dead in gaol. We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom, and we need major reforms in a broken criminal justice system. I intend to make sure people have education and jobs rather than gaol cells.
- Bernie Sanders, 2015
The prevention of crime is possible first of all through education and enlightenment aimed to assert in society the authentic spiritual and moral values. In this task the Orthodox Church is called to intensive co-operation with school, mass media and law-enforcement bodies. If the people lack a positive moral ideal, no measures of coercion, deterrence or punishment will be able to stop the evil will. That is why the best form of preventing crime is the preaching of the honest and proper way of life, especially among children and youth. In this effort, close attention should be given to the so-called risk-groups or those who have already committed first offences. These people need a special pastoral and educational care. The Orthodox clergy and laity are called to take part in the efforts to overcome the social causes of crime, showing concern for the just order in society and economy and for the self-fulfilment of every member of society in his profession and life.
- BSC 2000, IX.2


On drug addiction and treatment:
The number of heroin deaths is growing significantly. What do we do? For a start, we have to tell doctors who are prescribing opiates that we cannot have this huge number of opiates out there, where young people are taking them, getting hooked, and then going to heroin. Second, we need to understand that addiction is a disease, not a criminal activity. When somebody is addicted and seeking help, they should not have to wait months to get that help.
- Bernie Sanders, 2015
Drug-addiction and alcoholism point to the spiritual disease that has affected not only the individual, but also society as a whole. This is a retribution for the ideology of consumerism, for the cult of material prosperity, for the lack of spirituality and the loss of authentic ideals. In her pastoral compassion for the victims of alcoholism and drug-addiction, the Church offers them spiritual support in overcoming the vice. Without denying the need of medical aid to be given at the critical stages of drug-addiction, the Church pays special attention to the prevention and rehabilitation which are the most effective when those suffering participate consciously in the eucharistic and communal life.
- BSC 2000, XI.6


The social teaching of the Orthodox Church does have some fundamental and deep-seated disagreements with Senator Sanders’s priorities on sexual and reproductive ethics – it would be dishonest to attempt to paper those over. Sanders, unfortunately, thinks of reproductive issues solely in the terms of the bodily autonomy of the woman and spares no consideration for that of her unborn child – this is a point on which the social teaching of the Orthodox Church stands in fundamental disagreement with Sanders. Likewise, the Orthodox Church considers the anthropological basis of marriage as rooted in reproduction. Though there is some overlap between the Orthodox Church’s pastoral understanding of homosexuality and Sanders’s stance that public treatment of homosexuals is a matter of civil rights, the question of what constitutes marriage is a point of fundamental disparity.

But these two points of difference are well-known, particularly in an American political context. While acknowledging the gravity and the incommensurability of these two points of disagreement, blowing them out of proportion would be an equally-dishonest mistake. What remains to be said is that the basic ethical perspective of the Orthodox Church on matters of œconomy, distribution of resources, finance, œcological crisis, criminal justice, public health and war and peace shares a fundamental likeness to the ethical vision consistently promoted by Senator Sanders. The Orthodox Church presents a consistent vision of, if not equality, tout court, then proportionality and reciprocity in the public sphere, for which the politics of Bernie Sanders provide a fair approximation – on practically all issues but the pelvic ones.

EDIT (21 Feb): On a tangentially-related note with regard to Bernie and Orthodoxy. I realise that it’s a grave temptation right about now for establishment Dems, but seriously, don’t be a jerk. I am seeing plenty of jerks in social media space right now, including certain performatively-woke Catholic bloggers in my immediate news feed, saying Sanders is a ‘sellout to Russia’, a ‘Russian trojan horse’ or worse. Just because Bernie Sanders shares some overlap in views with the Russian Orthodox Church on œconomic matters does not make him a Russian agent, people. And even if he were somehow connected with Russia, it still wouldn’t make him wrong on these matters of œconomics and œcology, for which he was fighting in office decades before anyone was concerned about chasing ever less-credible phantasms of ‘election interference’ by Russia. Remember: accusations of disloyalty, or dual loyalty, when aimed at a patriotic Jewish politician, constitute an old and well-worn anti-Semitic canard. So don’t do it. Take your ‘eevul Pootin’ antics elsewhere.

19 February 2019

A sæcular saint of sociology


I recently finished reading David Arkush’s English-language biography of the great Fei Xiaotong 費孝通, a figure who somehow manages to become more and more impressive to me every time I read something about or by him. Being Eastern Orthodox, I do not use the word ‘saint’ lightly, and certainly here not in the strict hagiographical sense. But there are aspects of his life illuminated in this book that speak to a soul that was filled with love for those near to him, and to a temperament that was willing to forgive even his political enemies for more than a decade of gross personal injustice done to him, both to his face and in the press.

Fei Xiaotong was born to a slightly less-well-off gentry family in Jiangsu in 1910; his parents were both educated and members of the intelligentsia. His father was not religious in the slightest, but his mother Yang Renlan 楊紉蘭 was a devoted Christian, and had him sent to missionary schools for most of his early education. (For his own part, Fei Xiaotong seems to have come down in the middle – his writings evince a vague and ill-defined theism, but he never observed any religious discipline, and even called himself an ‘irreligious man’.) Fei continued his studies at Tsinghua, which had been established by Americans under the ‘Boxer indemnity’; it is thus fair to say that his education through college was deeply Westernised, Western-influenced and progressively-oriented. His major academic influences after Tsinghua were American urban sociologist Robert Park, Russian white émigré sociologist Sergei Shirokogoroff (a family friend of Alexander Kerensky who had cut his teeth on sociological research among the reindeer-herding Evenki people of Siberia, related to the Manchus) and Polish-British pioneer of functionalism Bronisław Malinowski. He didn’t see much use for Confucius as a schoolboy, but in his post-graduate work he came to a new appreciation of the classical philosopher, and quoted him numerous times in his later work From the Soil.

Yet despite Fei’s Westernised academic environment, his Western teachers and his generally Anglophile orientation to scholarship, such politics as he had were – if anything – amenable to a kind of mildly-conservative Chinese patriotism. His schooling happened in the context of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria; his early professional life was situated in the looming context of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and he and his brother Fei Qing 費青 criticised the Nationalist government of the time with accusations of cowardice in the face of foreign threats. This was the extent of his political involvement, however. For the most part, he was content to be absorbed in academic questions and sociological work.

Fei Xiaotong, as stated before, was never a Marxist; indeed, his tutoring under Shirokogoroff and Malinowski instilled in him a deep, Tory distrust of all forms of Whiggish and developmentalist social-scientific schemas. Malinowski in particular, possessed of what Ernest Gellner called an ‘anti-colonial moral intuition’, hated the condescension that ‘civilised’ Westerners deployed when talking about ‘primitive’ peoples, and much of his functionalist approach consisted of demonstrating the complexity and the utility of the social structures of non-Western cultures: this attitude is one that Fei himself took up with zeal. Taking the lead of his mentors – particularly Shirokogoroff’s studies of the Evenki, and Malinowski’s studies of the Trobrianders – Fei undertook his own field studies of minority communities in China, particularly the Yao people of Guangxi Province.

I will note again how important the Chinese southwest appears to be and continues to be as a physical location in the thought development of many left intellectuals of twentieth century China. Though the situation is slightly more complicated now, the inland southwest (Guangxi and Guizhou particularly) continues to be a ‘red’ beacon. The ancestral home of Liang Shuming 梁漱溟 was in Guangxi; that of Yan Yangchu 晏陽初 in Sichuan; and Tao Xingzhi 陶行知 spent much of his politically-formative professional life in Chongqing. It’s not an accident that Kunming was the capital of ‘Third Force’ politics: the populist leftism engendered in the Chinese southwest far predates Bo Xilai 薄熙來, Cui Zhiyuan 崔之元 and the slow-food movement.

Fei’s first wife, a bright young fellow sociologist named Wang Tonghui 王同惠, accompanied him on his field studies into Guangxi Province in 1935. Fei, who had unfortunately picked up a few pseudoscientific notions from Shirokogoroff about skull shapes, often busied himself with calipers among the Yao and travelled from village to village; Wang Tonghui, on the other hand, stayed mostly in one Yao village and used her social abilities and language skills to greater effect. However, this field study would end in tragedy. While hiking on an isolated rural backroad, Fei triggered a tiger trap which crushed his leg beneath a mass of rock. Wang Tonghui left to get help; however, she did not return that night or at all the following day. Fei, cold, thirsty, famished and in wrenching pain, managed to crawl his way to help. When he was well enough to do so, he asked his Yao rescuers to mount a search for his bride, for days to no avail. A week after the search was called, the Yao found Wang Tonghui’s body floating in a river: she had fallen off the road and drowned there.

Fei was devastated. He lost a great deal of weight in the years afterward, had to walk most of the time with a cane, and blamed himself for his wife’s death. He fell into depression and contemplated suicide. What saved him from taking his own life, by his own account, was a desire to be able to face his wife in the afterlife having done something useful with his life that she might take a professional interest in. His work, then, became his life. Moving back to Jiangsu Province and living with his elder sister, Fei Dasheng 費達生, he determined on using his sociological research to study, not isolated aboriginal groups, but instead the Chinese peasantry in the countryside around him – taking up a study of the peasant community in Kaixiangong 開弦弓. It seemed his sister encouraged him in this. She herself was involved in rural advocacy, self-help projects and the development of rural sericulture coöperatives for the impoverished and indebted peasants of Jiangsu. (In effect, she was doing much the same work that the itinerant lecturers of the Farmers’ Alliance had done in the United States two generations before, as Janez Evangelist Krek had done among the Slovenes, and as Svetozar Marković had done among the Serbs.) It was during this time of his life that Fei Xiaotong began advocating rural coöperatives and rural industrialisation. He moved back to the southwest and undertook a programme in Yunnan Province which mentored young sociology students.

He undertook a couple of trips abroad at this time, as well. He was on very friendly terms with American scholars, owing in large part to his training under Robert Park. He cultivated close relationships with the Fairbanks, Wilma and John, with Margaret Redfield and with Dorothea Mayo. Initially enthusiastic about America – being a fan of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and Henry Wallace’s contributions in particular – his impressions began to sour when he began noticing various facets of American life that didn’t agree with him. He didn’t like the ugliness of our urban industrialisation, the thick black smoke that hung over our cities in palls, or the square, faceless frames of our modernist architecture. He didn’t like Western food (with the exception of breakfast) or eating habits. He was disgusted with Jim Crow and anti-Chinese sentiment. He worried over American youths’ addiction to superhero comic books. And he was particularly appalled at the way we treated our elderly:
I know well all the tragedies of the [Chinese] big family, but… I became a reactionary and felt that to make sacrifices to bring up children and then watch them fly away like swallows, leaving one able only to sit on a cold park bench and feed sparrows, is just too cruel. I am glad I was not born in America.
Not for the first time, he wondered if he were seeing a society in decline. Fei Xiaotong briefly flirted with Western reactionary thought at this time – being particularly drawn to Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, to whose thesis he would return after the Cultural Revolution was over. Fei saw China as an ‘Apollonian’ society in Spengler’s schema, a society whose creative energies were bent to the preservation and renewal of an established order; and America as a ‘Faustian’ society. In the years after the Cultural Revolution, his criticisms of American society were largely cultural-conservative: in particular, he deplored our ugly suburban sprawl, our skyrocketing divorce rate, our tolerance of crime and drug addiction, and the sexual licence which was evident in our academic life (being embarrassed in one particular case by an American female professor’s discussion of the Ming erotic novel Jin ping mei 《金瓶梅》).

Despite these conservative misgivings about the American spirit and its hostility toward the old, Fei was nevertheless an outspoken fan and proponent of the New Deal, and relentlessly criticised Truman in the wake of the war for having reneged on the promises made by his predecessor and funnelling that energy into the creation and maintenance of a global empire and an aggressive Cold War posture. He became a fervent critic – here again there are echoes of his mentor Malinowski – of the colonialist and imperialist policies pursued by the United States in the Third World in its shadow war with the Soviet Union. Fei Xiaotong was particularly critical of American military and financial support for the Chinese Guomindang 國民黨 in the postwar years, which he felt only worsened the lot of common Chinese people and legitimated a Communist takeover in their eyes.

Fei’s travels to Britain in the postwar era were much more positive in tenor. On good terms with Richard Henry Tawney, whose travels and studies in China had placed him within Fei Xiaotong’s circle of acquaintance, Fei quickly befriended several Labour backbenchers and watched in appreciation as the Labour government of Clement Attlee instituted various œconomic reforms to the benefit of the urban poor: job guarantees, public healthcare, public education, industrial policy. His one critique of British Labour was its continued dependence on American aid money and its subservience to American gæopolitics – he felt that eventually, Labour’s posture of dependency on America would trigger a massive rollback even of Britain’s admirable postwar social gains. (Thatcher sadly proved him right.)

As I mentioned in my previous piece on Fei Xiaotong, it was during this time that this previously rather apolitical or mildly-conservative professor of sociology became political. Fei may have been gentry, but he had managed to get a ground-level view of what the Guomindang’s policies were doing to the Chinese peasantry: bullying, conscription, deliberate starvation. He understood full well the appeal the Chinese Communist Party had for peasants driven to the edge by the casual brutality of Nationalist rule – but he did not join the Communists. Instead, Fei was drawn (initially thanks to his older brother) into the same Democratic League in which the aforementioned Liang Shuming, Yan Yangchu and Tao Xingzhi were particularly prominent. Fei Xiaotong, for all his admiration of English and American constitutionalism, followed the lead of his fellows in the League in that he never thought full democracy was feasible or desirable in a Chinese context.

Kunming – in particular the National Southwestern Associated University or Lianda 聯大 – under the rule of warlord Long Yun 龍雲 was the hotbed of Third Force politics. The Nationalist government was weak there, and the refugee academics from Japanese-held territory were more or less free to critique it. Fei was in good company among these refugee academics, though he also put down some local roots in the southwest. He married again, a woman of peasant upbringing named Meng Yin 孟吟, whom Fei praised affectionately for her humble, hospitable and hard-working character, and appreciated for the long hardships she endured together with him.

The safety promised by Long Yun in Kunming was not absolute, however. Fei Xiaotong and Meng Yin lived in fear of Japanese air raids, once leaving their home for the shelter of the woods while Meng was pregnant with their child – only to return to find their home destroyed. Also, Guomindang secret police and informants were everywhere, and they managed to assassinate Li Gongpu 李公樸 and Wen Yiduo 聞一多 for speaking out against the government. Fei Xiaotong – along with the entirety of the Democratic League – bitterly condemned these shootings, but he himself along with a number of League supporters and their families had to take refuge in the American Consulate in Kunming to keep from being assassinated themselves, and were later evacuated to Nanjing in the care of American consular staff.

Yet, for all his detestation of the Guomindang, Arkush maintains that the extent to which Fei was radicalised and the extent to which he embraced the Communists in the years running up to their victory in the Civil War is far from clear. The Communists themselves would find plenty of reason to distrust him and malign him as a ‘rightist’ from his writings in this period and after. Insofar as Fei speaks of the Communists at all during the Civil War years, he speaks of them with a kind of detached appreciation (in that they pursue reforms beneficial to the peasantry) mixed with apprehension about their ultimate accountability to the peasantry. Yet Fei does not flee abroad the way so many others of his cohort do, to Hong Kong, Taiwan, England or America: instead he stays put, for reasons which any good traditionalist conservative ought to appreciate.
I feel much better that I am going through the dark period with my people… I am glad that I decide to return home instead of run away to foreign countries. The sense of belonging and rooting which grows responsibility is essential to human life. It makes one’s life rich.
Fei would ultimately pay a heavy price for that choice. In the years immediately after the establishment of the People’s Republic, Fei fought an uphill battle to establish and defend the scholarly discipline of sociology, which as often as not (under Soviet influence) subject to fundamental critique on Marxist-Leninist grounds as a ‘bourgeois’ discipline. The documents Arkush cites from Fei usually take on a fairly optimistic and ebullient tone, but the biographer is clear that they were written in something of an adverse political atmosphere, and his work was as often as not regarded as subversive. He was put to work, ultimately, working with the ethnic Mongolians of the Chinese north and the Hmong and Zhuang peoples of Guizhou and Guangxi in the Chinese southwest. During this time he ventured some rather trenchant criticisms of Han chauvinism and uncomradely condescension toward the ‘brother nationalities’ on the Chinese frontiers.

When the Hundred Flowers Campaign opened up, Fei pressed home his advantage and fought to gain a place at the table for the objective study of social conditions within the country, even – at this time – returning to Kaixiangong for a follow-up study to his earlier Peasant Life in China to see how things had improved. He was clear that under the new government’s rule the peasants’ lives had improved materially, but that there was still more work to be done.

But the Hundred Flowers Campaign ended abruptly, as the Communist Party was inundated by internal criticism – much of it, in fact, from League members. In the Anti-Rightist Campaign that followed, the League were among the first and foremost of the targets, and Fei Xiaotong, being a high-profile member of the League whose work appeared prominently in print, came in for early and harsh censure as an unreformed ‘bourgeois intellectual’ who had not sufficiently engaged in self-criticism or thought reform. Fei’s public humiliation was swift, sudden and harsh, and he was denounced by several people and former students he had thought of as close friends. Much of this denunciation was salacious, patently ridiculous, and motivated by malice and intent to humiliate rather than edify. Fei was accused of being a lackey of the landlords and an agent of American imperialism – both of which charges are easily falsifiable by a cursory examination of his work. But his treatment was not nearly as harsh as what later victims of the Cultural Revolution would have to endure. He lost his job and his reputation; he was lucky not to have lost his family and his life.

For the better part of twenty years, Fei was not allowed to return to academic work, and the social ostracism and abuse he endured during those years put an awful strain on Meng Yin and their children. The book does end on a hopeful note, though. In the wake of the trial of the Gang of Four Fei Xiaotong was largely exonerated and rehabilitated, and allowed to return to sociological work. He was particularly eager to return to the villages and the peoples he had studied as part of his national minorities work; and he was warmly received back by the Hmong and Zhuang communities he had studied, in no small part due to his advocacy on their behalf.

Getting back to my first paragraph, though. The reason I consider Fei Xiaotong to have a ‘saintly’ disposition lies precisely in the fact that, after the Gang of Four trial and the thaw in the intellectual climate brought by ‘reform and opening’, Fei Xiaotong did not avail himself of the opportunity to strike back at the people who had denounced and borne false witness against him, for the sake of pursuing revenge. No one came through those years with their hands clean, and it seems like Fei understood that perfectly well. If he was not as outspoken as he could have been about the Anti-Rightist Movement and the Cultural Revolution, at least he also did not engage in recriminations or feuds with former friends, and for the last years of his life instead focussed on bolstering his own work and continuing to advocate both for sociology and for the peasantry.

Fei continues to be of scholarly interest to me as one of the ties (along with Wen Yiduo) between the strand of populist leftism in Russia represented by Kerensky (and Mother Maria, and Saint Bunakov, and Priestmartyr Valentin), and the strand of populist leftism in China represented by Liang Shuming. The ties in the present day between the thought of Dr Aleksandr Shchipkov and that of Dr Wen Tiejun 溫鐵軍 go far deeper than a mere mutual admiration for Immanuel Wallerstein. And those ties continue to have something to do with the interactions on the frontiers of both nations exemplified by the sociological work of Dr Fei Xiaotong and the political poetics of his comrade in Kunming.