16 July 2021

Why the TYT vs. Jimmy Dore fight isn’t just Twitter drama

If you follow Left Twitter at all (and I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t; it’s as much a mess as the rest of Twitter), you wouldn’t have really been able to miss the ongoing feud between The Young Turks – Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian – on one side, and Jimmy Dore on the other. Basically, what it amounts to is this: Ana Kasparian baselessly, gratuitously and vulgarly called The Nation reporter and author Aaron Maté a Russian agent on the TYT show, Maté demanded an apology, and Jimmy Dore leapt to Maté’s defence when Kasparian doubled down. Now TYT has been smearing Jimmy Dore as a sexual predator, and lining up to attack anyone who defends Aaron Maté, including Glenn Greenwald and Rania Khalek.

Now, some folks on the highly-online left (namely Kyle Kulinski and Krystal Ball), have basically dismissed this spat as meaningless ego-driven Twitter drama. And, to be fair to them, there probably is some element to this that is personality-driven. But it would be a mistake to mischaracterise the fundamental dynamics of this online spat, which really hit at one of the fundamental flaws – or, I should say, fundamental contradictions – at the heart of Anglophone liberal and leftist politics.

Basically, on one side, you have people who are intimately familiar with venues outside the United States, who understand that non-Americans are people with legitimate aspirations, life goals and a need for basic dignity. And these people have lived in these venues long enough and inquired deeply enough, that they have come to understand that American military and economic power projection is an existential threat to these people and these communities. In short, they are anti-imperialists. Now, I’m not sure about Jimmy Dore. He’s a comedian, not a journalist, and in some cases it shows. But note that people like Stephen Kinzer, Glenn Greenwald, Aaron Maté, Rania Khalek, Abby Martin, Max Blumenthal, Ajit Singh and of course late lamented figures like Robert Parry and the great Robert Fisk – have all spent significant amounts of time outside the Anglosphere, doing on-the-ground reporting and talking to ordinary people in conflict zones.

On the other side, you have people who, if they don’t outright support it, then at least don’t strongly object to the use of American military and financial dominance to achieve political and economic goals, regardless of who gets trampled on in the process: Cubans, Venezuelans, Bolivians, Hondurans, Russian-speakers of the Donetsk Basin, Eastern European Jews, Romani, Syrians, Palestinians, Yazidis, Armenians, Libyans, Yemenis, Iraqis or Afghans. This side is automatically better-disposed to American intelligence and military power blocs, and will predictably characterise even mild critics of American intelligence and military power blocs as ‘authoritarians’, ‘tankies’, ‘Marxist-Leninists’, ‘apologists for dictators’, ‘Russian assets’ or ‘Chinese assets’, while themselves posing as advocates for democracy and human rights. Indeed: this is precisely what Ana Kasparian did to Aaron Maté.

And here’s the thing: this divide goes back all the way to the beginnings of the organised Left. Anti-imperialism as an organised force in the West started, arguably, with William Morris… who was intimately familiar with the brutal mass killings, tortures and rapes carried out by the original Young Turks (the same genocidaires that Cenk Uygur named his YouTube channel after) against the Bulgarian peasantry, and who understood the British Empire’s willing and knowing complicity in the Ottoman government’s heinous barbarism. Morris’s opponent on the left was a man named Henry Hyndman, an early disciple of Marx in England who supported British imperial projects in Ireland and in Eastern Europe. Indeed, the disputes between Morris and Hyndman over this matter led to Morris’s leaving the SDF in 1885.

In short: yes, Twitter is toxic. Yes, Twitter is personality-driven. Yes, there’s definitely a personal element to these online fisticuffs. But let’s not be naïve about what is actually going on. This is a bad-faith attempt to ostracise and silence Maté and others like him who are well-informed critics of empire. There is a shadow-movement on the left which still maintains a faith in the fundamental goodness and moral righteousness of American power projection. And then there is the part of the left which has a more realistic understanding of the nature of power, and which is willing to both oppose the abuses of American power and expose and demystify the propagandistic supports for it. Jimmy Dore and Aaron Maté are on the principled side here: the side which William Morris took back in 1885. The Young Turks are - at best - Hyndmanites and apologists for Anglo imperialism. That is, of course, presuming that they aren’t something considerably more sinister, like nostalgists for genocidal Ottoman tyranny in the Middle East. There is a clear choice to be made here, and it is also clear which choice is the correct one.

28 June 2021

Two simple statements

At this point, I am fairly comfortable making two statements with a fairly high degree of factual confidence, that will nonetheless alienate me from broad swathes of the American electorate. The first is that Russiagate was, is and remains a hoax. There is no evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election in any way that even approaches criminality, let alone one that would have had any statistically-significant impact on the outcome. Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 is – pardon my French – her own damn fault. Further, Democrats can expect to continue losing to Trump-like demagogues as long as they continue flying pride flags and spouting wokety-woke nonsense slogans instead of focussing on bread and butter issues that affect all Americans. Blaming Russian meddling for their own dismal failure to convince Americans that they are competent at governing is not only factually wrong, but psychologically pathetic.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I view Trumpian coping strategies and scapegoating of foreign agents for their own political failures as equally obnoxious and pathetic. There is no new evidence that the novel coronavirus that put the whole world on lockdown in 2020 is manmade or that it was leaked from a biological weapons research lab in Wuhan. Despite the eagerness with which the American intelligence apparatus leapt on the possibility that the Chinese government might be to blame for the virus, thus in some measure exculpating the American government from blame for its own dismal performance in combating it, they simply haven’t found anything substantive that might support that conjecture. The people who leapt on Lableakgate as fact did so, not because that conjecture was better-substantiated than other hypotheses that better conform to the data we have on the virus, but because it provided them with a just-so story about why Daddy lost the election.

One reason that American politics is so grotesque right now, is that we keep feeding ourselves these accounts of reality that are not grounded in the way things actually are, but in wishful thinking about the way things should be. And then when reality fails to indulge our fantasies, we turn ugly and begin abusing one scapegoat or another. One reason why I was attracted to conservatism in the first place was observing that liberals are not very good at understanding conservative thought-processes, and actually lack the empathy they claim to embody. But I soon came to discover that conservatives are not only not that much better at understanding others, but they also simply aren’t interested in understanding. The entire political noise machine here, including even the ‘populist’ pundits that are now cropping up on places like The Week, is driven not by a search for truth, but for the angle of biggest impact for gain.

22 June 2021

Holy Mother Agafia the Wonderworker of Cușelăuca

Saint Agafia of Cușelăuca

Gentle readers of my blogs, I apologise. I have been struggling with some fairly severe health problems as of late, including a stay in the hospital, and I haven’t been able to put up much of anything by way of content for the past month or so, absent one or two hagiographical pieces. I hope that I am well enough now that I can get back to blogging on a regular basis.

Yesterday was the new calendar feast day of Blessed Agafia of Cușelăuca, a wonderworking monastic saint of Moldova. She spent most of her years in one of the poorest monasteries in one of the poorest parts of Europe. Although she spent most of her life in a state of pain and bodily infirmity, she continued to be sweet, kind and patient to all who met her, and healed many who came to her with their own pains and disabilities.

Agafia Maranciuc [Ru. Агафия Маранчук] was born in the year 1819, in the village of Păsățel. This Moldovan village is situated between the Bug and the Dneister, very close to the city of Odessa. Her parents, Ioan and Eudochia, were highly observant Orthodox Christians who strove to live a life of humility and service to God. They would on occasion visit holy sites nearby. On one occasion, when Agafia was only a little girl, her parents decided to take a pilgrimage to the Kiev Caves Lavra. Little Agafia begged her parents, with tears in her eyes, to be allowed to go with them. However, this was in a day and age when most pilgrimages were made on foot, and small children were at particular danger on the roads. Out of concern for her, Ioan and Eudochia decided to leave Agafia in the care of some family friends when they left for the Kiev Caves Lavra.

Agafia was not content with this. Aflame with the desire to visit the holy relics of the Russian saints in the Lavra, a few days after her parents left, she escaped her guardians’ care on her own and tried to catch up with her parents. However, as the little girl travelled by night and tried to make her way in the darkness, she fell into a deep abandoned well, mangling both of her legs. For three years, nothing was heard of her. Her guardians and parents were distraught when they learned of her disappearance, and they mourned for her, thinking she was dead. But little Agafia survived at the bottom of that well for those three years, miraculously sustained by the grace of God. Some testimonies assert that she was visited by the angels, and fed by manna from heaven during her imprisonment in the well.

She was eventually found by a local shepherd named Dimitriu Baciu. The grass was thick in the field around the well, and Dimitriu led his sheep there to graze. Once there, he began to sing Psalms to himself as he watched over his flock. As if in answer, he heard unearthly sweet angelic voices emanating from the well. Examining the well, he was shocked to find the young girl inside, alive, and having been there evidently for a long time. He managed to lift her out, and contacted her parents, who came to her. Her parents were astonished at this wonder of God, and when they asked the young sufferer how she survived those years, Agafia told them that a pair of pigeons had come to her, bringing her food and warming her to keep her alive. Being unable to walk, her parents placed Agafia in a cart and wheeled her back to their home.

Even though she was returned to her loved ones, who cared for her and looked after her with the greatest solicitude and affection, a change had come over Agafia. Formerly a curious and talkative child, Agafia had grown taciturn, and she spent several years in a state of silent prayer. The injury to her legs was severe, and she would never physically recover from it. In her childhood years, she suffered a great deal of pain and illness on account of this injury. Yet she did not become bitter because of it. Even though she was quiet, she continued to be kind and considerate to everyone, and she also was given by God the gift of healing others through her prayers. Word of this went out, and many came from the surrounding countryside to visit her, and she healed their afflictions and gave them helpful advice. Some years afterward, two monks from Athos visited Agafia at her parents’ house. They were astonished at the young woman’s patience and kindness even in her suffering, and after several discussions with her, they gave her a copy of the Holy Gospels printed on Athos, which was her constant companion for the rest of her life.

Agafia retired to Cușelăuca Monastery. As mentioned before, this was at the time the poorest monastery in Bessarabia, and consequently one of the poorest in all of Europe. Being completely bedridden, she still kept as much of the nuns’ rule as she was able in her infirmity, and did not vary it in the slightest using her disability as an excuse. She was given for her patience not only the gift of healing by God but also the gift of prophecy. She foresaw both the flourishing of her monastery, and later its persecution under the Soviets. In her final months she kept counsel with the abbess and with her monastic sisters, and urged everyone to carry their crosses in a spirit of peace and penitence. She had harsh rebukes for some of them, but she assured them of her love and prayed for them.

On the ninth of June – or rather the twenty-second of June on the new calendar – Blessed Agafia received the Gifts for the last time in this earthly life. Some witnesses report that after she took the elements, her face began to glow with an otherworldly light. She reposed in the Lord, at peace with her sisters and her family, that same day. Saint Agafia was formally glorified on the fifteenth of July, 2016, by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, at the request of Metropolitan Vladimir and the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Moldova. Her feast day is kept on the same day as her repose. Holy Mother Agafia, patient sufferer and kindly healer, pray unto Christ our God for us sinners!

Cușelăuca Monastery, Moldova

22 May 2021

Holy and Righteous Jovan Vladimir, Prince-Martyr of Duklja

Saint Jovan Vladimir of Duklja

Today in the Holy Orthodox Church we commemorate a young man of blameless life, the Serbian prince Jovan Vladimir, who ruled the principality of Duklja – what is now Montenegro – around the turn of the eleventh century. A young ruler who was killed unjustly for political reasons, his life mirrors those of the Russian princely martyrs Boris and Gleb, the Bohemian ducal martyr Václav and the Old English atheling Éadweard.

Jovan Vladimir [Srb. Јован Владимир] was born in the year 990. Having been raised according to Christian principles by his father Peter [or Petrislav] of Duklja, he ruled the principality from his childhood, and upon his majority he was already considered to be a thoughtful, peaceful and just ruler – and was described as such by the Byzantine historian John Skylitzēs. He ruled from a hill named Kraljič, which is currently the village of Koštanjica in southeastern Montenegro. It was his misfortune that he was born during a period of protracted warfare between the Bulgarian Empire and the Byzantine Empire. His father had been approached by Emperor Basil II ‘the Bulgar-Slayer’ for support against the Bulgarians; although Peter did not send any soldiers, the diplomatic relations between Duklja and Byzantium remained cordial under Jovan Vladimir. The Bulgarian Tsar Samuil attacked Duklja in the year 1009, in order to head off a possible alliance that could undermine him. Jovan Vladimir retreated with his armies to Oblik, which was infested with venomous snakes. Offering a prayer to the Lord, he asked for Christ’s aid. As a result, the snakes became tame and did not attack his soldiers.

Samuil lay siege to Oblik, and Jovan Vladimir, not wishing to cause his people any further suffering from violence and starvation, surrendered himself into the hands of the Bulgarian Tsar. He was taken in chains to the Tsar’s capital at Prespa (today Little Prespa Lake in Greece), and thrown into the dungeons. What happened afterwards became the basis for one of the truly great High Medieval romances.

Samuil had a daughter whose name was Teodora Kosara. This young woman was deeply pious and minded to follow Christ; upon hearing that her father had taken many captives in Duklja, she asked his permission to go with her maids and wash the feet of the captives in imitation of Our Lord. Seeing no harm in granting this wish, her father allowed it. Kosara descended into the dungeons and began to carry out her good work. She began to wash the feet of a young man of her own years. Looking up at him, she found him handsome. Engaging him in conversation, she found him to be sweet and gentle and modest in character, and full of wisdom and knowledge of holy things: ‘to her his speech seemed sweeter than honey and the honeycomb’.

Having fallen for her father’s hostage, Kosara went straight back to Tsar Samuil and asked to be given to Jovan Vladimir in marriage. Samuil found this proposition expedient, as it would allow him to retain control over Duklja without having to resort to force of arms. (Samuil seems to have been led by the nose by his daughters in this respect. His elder daughter Miroslava had similarly pled for the hand of the Armenian prince Ashot of Taron and was granted it.) He freed Jovan Vladimir from prison, married his daughter to him, and placed him as his vassal over the lands of Duklja.

Jovan Vladimir and Teodora Kosara had one daughter together, who ended up marrying the Serbian prince Stefan Vojislav. When Samuil died of a heart attack in 1014 following a military defeat at the hands of the Greeks, his son and Kosara’s brother, the chivalrous Gavril Radomir, ascended to the throne of the Bulgarian Empire. However, he did not reign long. The following year, however, his cousin Ivan Vladislav assassinated Gavril, and then usurped power for himself. Seeking to stamp out any further threats to his consolidation of power, Ivan Vladislav then made a plot to cut off Kosara from political consideration by murdering her husband. He issued an ‘invitation’ to the Serbian prince to join him in Prespa.

According to Skylitzēs, Jovan Vladimir would have gone himself, but his wife insisted on going in his place and making a demand for his safe passage. Vladislav welcomed Kosara and offered her a golden cross to take back to Vladimir as a token, but Vladimir refused it, saying that he would accept instead a wooden cross similar to the one that Christ was crucified on, from the hands of a priest. Vladislav sent two bishops and a hermit with the wooden cross which he had taken an oath on, and Jovan Vladimir kissed it and took it with him to Prespa. He went into a church to pray, and as he was leaving the church, he was taken by Vladislav’s soldiers and beheaded on the very church steps. In this way he met his death in a Christlike way at the hands of a political rival.

His wife, Teodora Kosara, never remarried. She transported the remains of her beloved husband from Prespa back to Duklja and had them buried at the Prečista Krajinska Church close to Jovan Vladimir’s main court. She herself became a nun and entered a community of monastics nearby. When she herself reposed, she requested that she be buried at her husband’s feet. The relics were translated from thence by the Despots of Epirus, from which they fell into the hands of the Arberian warlord Karl Topia in the late 1300s; he had a church erected in Saint Jovan’s honour in Elbasan in central Albania.

Saint Jovan Vladimir was the first of many Serbian princes to be recognised as a saint, as many of the descendants of Saint Stefan Nemanja, including most notably the glorious Saint Sava, were cut from a similar God-fearing cloth. Holy martyr Jovan Vladimir, blameless sufferer and believer in the saving Cross, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!
Apolytikion for Saint Jovan Vladimir, Tone 3:

Your holy martyr John, O Lord,
Through his sufferings has received an incorruptible crown from You, our God.
For having Your strength, he laid low his adversaries,
And shattered the powerless boldness of demons.
Through his intercessions, save our souls!

Church of St Jovan Vladimir, Bar, Montenegro

17 May 2021

Holy New Martyrs of Batak

Icon of the Martyrs of Batak

The Orthodox Church commemorates today the New Martyrs of Batak – the people who died in that village during the April Uprising, as a result of the Ottoman atrocities. The Batak martyrs are important not only to Orthodox history, but to the history of radicalism in the UK and the West more broadly. The Eastern Question Association was formed largely in response to the reports of the slaughter at Batak. Indeed, William Morris’s own pro-Russian and anti-imperialist sentiments were galvanised by his sympathy for the suffering Bulgarian peasantry.

The Bulgarian cause, which was highlighted and commemorated in literature by Ivan Vazov, in fact grew out of the Ottoman Empire’s attempts to modernise and to establish a bureaucratic uniformity over all of its territories. In order to meet a budget deficit in the mid-1870s, the Ottoman Empire began to cut services and raise taxes on its Christian population, particularly in the Balkans. This led to tensions and uprisings, particularly in Herzegovina by the Bosnian Serbs. The Bulgarian people as well rose in revolt in 1876 after several stages of careful planning. They stockpiled ammunition and had even begun making makeshift cannon out of cherry wood. Four revolutionary districts were established, at Vratsa, Veliko Tărnovo, Sliven and Plovdiv. Planning for a fifth revolutionary district in Sofia had to be discontinued on account of the poor local conditions, and the Plovdiv revolutionary district was moved to Panagyurishte.

The Panagyurishte district leaders met to discuss strategy, but one of the delegates of the district betrayed them to the Ottoman authorities. After the revolt started and the Bulgarian revolutionaries had attacked the local police, expecting other groups around the country to do the same, the Ottoman army, which had advanced warning of the uprising, moved in to crush the rebellion. They relied heavily on Slavic Muslim irregulars – başı-bozuks – commanded by Ahmet Aga, to subdue the populace. After an initial skirmish, the rebel leaders in Batak, one of the main villages in the Panagyurishte district, surrendered to the Turks on a promise that the village would be spared. That promise was not honoured.

What happened after that was one of the single most gruesome mass killings committed on European soil in the nineteenth century. As many as five thousand civilians in Batak were rounded up and systematically shot, tortured, mutilated, raped, beheaded, impaled and burnt alive. The last torturous death was the one Ahmet Aga commanded for the leader of the rebellion, Trendafil Kerelov. Some of the villagers fled for safety into the Holy Sunday Church (Света Неделя) in Batak and barricaded themselves inside. They held off the başı-bozuks for three days, during which time the Turks repeatedly fired on the church and tried to scale the roof and bash in the doors. It was thirst which drove the survivors out, and when they surrendered they too were put to the sword and beheaded.

The massacre was reported in the Western press by Ohio war correspondent Januarius MacGahan and New York diplomat Eugene Schuyler, who managed to visit Batak, albeit with significant hindrance from the Ottoman bureaucracy, several days after the massacre. MacGahan wrote:
We looked into the church which had been blackened by the burning of the woodwork, but not destroyed, nor even much injured. It was a low building with a low roof, supported by heavy irregular arches, that as we looked in seemed scarcely high enough for a tall man to stand under. What we saw there was too frightful for more than a hasty glance. An immense number of bodies had been partly burnt there and the charred and blackened remains, that seemed to fill it half way up to the low dark arches and make them lower and darker still, were lying in a state of putrefaction too frightful to look upon. I had never imagined anything so horrible. We all turned away sick and faint, and staggered out of the fearful pest house glad to get into the street again. We walked about the place and saw the same things repeated over and over a hundred times. Skeletons of men with the clothing and flesh still hanging to and rotting together; skulls of women, with the hair dragging in the dust, bones of children and of infants everywhere. Here they show us a house where twenty people were burned alive; there another where a dozen girls had taken refuge, and been slaughtered to the last one, as their bones amply testified. Everywhere horrors upon horrors.
As a result of this investigative reporting by MacGahan and Schuyler, the reaction to the Bulgarian atrocities was widespread and profound. The Disraeli government’s policy of support for the Ottoman Empire was roundly discredited in the eyes of the British public, and not least among the radicals, whose activity also began to take on an anti-war and anti-imperialist perspective on account of the ‘Eastern Question’. As a result, the British government declined to aid their traditional Ottoman friends during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 – which resulted in the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman tyranny.

The cost borne by the Bulgarian people, however, was altogether too high. Even today, the Holy Sunday Church in Batak has been rededicated as a shrine to those killed in the massacre, and the bones of the victims have been preserved. The memory of these martyrs is still of great importance to the Bulgarian people and to the Orthodox Church. Holy new martyrs of Batak, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!

Holy Sunday Church, Batak, Bulgaria

15 May 2021

Remembering the Nakba and Gaza today

In the past six days, Israeli armed forces have killed 126 people, including 31 children, and wounded 920 more after shelling Gaza and bombarding from the air. Nearly ten thousand Palestinians have been forced to flee their homes from the assault. This coordinated and deliberate display of military brutality against a civilian population comes as a result of protests against Israeli police, who have been aiding illegal Israeli settlers to forcibly evict Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem over the past several weeks.

According to any civilised measure of what constitutes just warfare, Israel’s retaliation to these protests is anything but just. The principles of necessity and proportionality are not only routinely ignored, but flouted, by Netanyahu’s misgovernment of miscreants. It is not, as the American press misreports it, a ‘clash’. It is not, as said misgovernment risibly calls it, a ‘civil war’. It is an act of ethnic cleansing, one which also targets and impacts the indigenous Christians of the Middle East.

It is necessary to remember that this is not a sectarian struggle. It is not about Muslims versus Jews. Christians have been integral to the Palestinian struggle since the beginning. The newspapers that were chiefly responsible for building the movement opposing Zionist settler-colonialism, al-Karmal and Falasṭîn, were run by Orthodox Christian editors: to wit, Najîb Naṣṣâr and ‘Îssa al-‘Îssa. The Palestinian Arab Congress arose out of the Muslim-Christian associations that arose as organic Arab nationalist societies in every major city in Palestine. The cause of Palestine is not a Muslim one only, it is a human one.

Of the Palestinian people who live in aš-Šayḵ Jarrâḥ, a significant proportion of them are in fact refugees from aṭ-Ṭalbiyyah in the western part of the city, which during the 1920s and 1930s was a predominantly Arab Christian neighbourhood. Between 1948 and 1967, the Israelis cheated or outright stole the land from the Arabic residents and kicked them into East Jerusalem. The current takeover by Israeli settlers, the evictions and the confiscation of property, are in fact a continuation of the initial Nakba which took place in 1948 and which is remembered each year today.

The Nakba is continuing in aš-Šayḵ Jarrâḥ and in Gaza, through the familiar pattern of people with guns terrorising people without guns. However, the people of Palestine are rising up against the unlawful evictions, and they deserve support. So far, that support has not been forthcoming from the United States or from the Biden Administration, which has been blocking UN Security Council action to stop the escalating violence against Palestinians. Moreover, they refuse to condemn the killing of children by the Israeli military. This is part of a definite pattern on the part of this administration, and one may be sure that the hypocrisy is being noticed abroad.

For that matter, it’s also necessary to remember that the Nakba is not just a Middle Eastern problem. It is a European problem. George Antonius’s book The Arab Awakening should be required reading on this topic. The British and French governments rankly betrayed their Arab allies during WWI, first with the Sykes-Picot Agreement and then with the Balfour Declaration. It was easier for them to foist off the ‘Jewish problem’ onto a subjugated and colonised population far away in the Middle East, than for them to deal with their own deep-seated anti-Semitism. The same principle held when it came to European support for Zionism after World War II. The same people who perpetrated the horrors of Shoah on European Jewry were content to send the rest of them packing to the Middle East: a way to assuage their guilty consciences without bearing any real cost.

(Even today, the openly anti-Semitic governments of Poland, Hungary and the Ukraine enjoy an alliance of convenience with the far-right ethnonationalist Likud misgovernment in Israel. And in the United States, men who can’t stand the idea of their children going to school with Jewish children openly tout their alliance with Israel. This ‘double game’ allows anti-Semitism in the West to continue to disguise itself as ‘friendship’, and also allows Israel to benefit from a continuing climate of hostility to Jews in Western nations.)

In the meantime, however, the Palestinian people cannot wait for justice. This Nakba Day, let us first begin by praying for an end to the violence. And then, in the spirit of that prayer, at the very least let us be courageous enough to acknowledge the truths of what is happening in Palestine. What is going on is not a ‘clash’ or a ‘civil war’ between two sides of equal strength which bear equal blame: one side has tanks and planes and nuclear weapons and the other side does not, and the more powerful side has no regard for restraint. What is going on is not a conflict over religion: it is a conflict over land. What is going on is also not a far-away iteration of irrational regional hatreds: it is the culmination of a long and deep-seated spiritual illness in the West, and it is one for which our governments and peoples bear responsibility. Once we have been courageous enough to acknowledge these truths, let us then translate that awareness into action. Israel’s ongoing crimes against Palestine must end, and international pressure must be brought to bear for that to happen. And the costs of Europe’s centuries-long mistreatment of the Jews must no longer fall upon an Arabic populace that bears no responsibility for that mistreatment.

14 May 2021

Holy New Martyr Raiko of Shumen

Saint Raiko of Shumen

The fourteenth of May in the Orthodox Church is the feast-day of Saint Raiko of Shumen, who is also called Ioan or John. This young Bulgarian martyr was another of the many innocent victims of Ottoman Turkish oppression in the Balkans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Saint Raiko [Bg. Райко] or Ioan [Bg. Йоан] was born in 1784 in the northeastern Bulgarian town of Shumen. He was quite good-looking for his age, but he worked as a goldsmith, which at that time was a fairly disreputable trade. He was suspected of working for the Ottoman lords who ruled Bulgaria at the time. However, his faith was quite firmly in Christ.

In 1802, when Raiko was eighteen, he was contracted for an order by a rich Muslim who lived across the street from his shop. One of the women in the house noticed Raiko, and she tried to take him into her room. Raiko refused her advances. Humiliated and enraged, the young woman then accused Raiko of trying to sexually assault her. The Muslim master of the house brought her accusation before the local qâḍî, or judge. The judge told Raiko that he had two choices: he could either convert to Islâm and marry his accuser, or he could suffer punishment. Raiko refused to convert, saying that he had done nothing to the woman, and that he had only fulfilled the order as a workman that he had been given.

The qâḍî then ordered that Raiko be tortured. The executioners beat him, flayed the skin from his flesh and poured salt in the wounds, drove wooden spikes under his nails. They even hanged him from the ceiling of his prison cell several times and cut him down before his neck broke, the result of which nearly killed him. Then he was brought back before the judge. This time he was promised gifts and various honours if he converted, but still Raiko refused to forsake Christ. Again he was tortured – he was broken on a wheel and his flesh was burnt with lit torches. At the end he was beheaded, and in this way he achieved the laurels of the martyrs and the kingdom of heaven. This occurred on the fourteenth of May, 1802.

The martyrdom of Saint Raiko was recorded by the great hagiographer Saint Nikēphoros of Chios, and an icon was painted of the saint and placed in the Church of the Ascension in Shumen. Local commemorations were held for Saint Raiko – for example, in 2001 – however, he was not formally glorified by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church until June of 2017. Holy new martyr Raiko, innocent confessor of Christ who bore false accusation and torture, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!