07 May 2024

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem and the poverty of philosophy

St Cyril of Jerusalem

Today, the seventh of May, is one of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem’s two feast days in the Orthodox Church—the other one, the commemoration of his repose, being on the eighteenth of March. This is the day on which the miraculous appearance of the Cross in the skies over Golgotha and the Mount of Olives occurred in the year 351, and Saint Cyril’s is commemorated for his role in witnessing this event.

Not much is known of Saint Cyril’s early life. He was born in 315 and became a priest at the age of 31, in 346, and was elevated to the archbishopric four years later. His archbishopric was marked by a decades-long string of exiles, imprisonments and persecutions: under Emperor Constantius, under Emperor Julian the Apostate, and under Emperor Valens. Yet Saint Cyril somehow managed, in the midst of it all, to retain his humanity and trust in God—over against the princes and sons of men who seemingly always and everywhere opposed him. Saint Cyril spent all of his own wealth providing for the citizens of Jerusalem during a famine, and even pawned off Church utensils in order to buy grain for those who were starving. At another time, Saint Cyril was said to have prophesied that Julian the Apostate’s attempts to rebuild the Jewish Temple would come to naught—and later a series of disasters struck the Temple such that construction couldn’t continue.

If his hagiography is to be believed, then, like the Scriptural God he glorifies, Saint Cyril was emphatically not a fan of sedentary architecture.

Yet Saint Cyril is important, not for his miracles or for his prophecies or even for his works of charity, but instead for the writings and the teachings that he left. I have recently returned to reading his Catechetical Lectures. It is stunning how much I garnered, going back for a reread.

In my own anti-philosophical mood, reinforced by the occurrences in Gaza and a certain well-known continental philosopher’s morally-indefensible stands on this and other current events, I find myself in particular drawn to Saint Cyril’s prophetic invective against the Hellenic philosophers of his own time:
There is need of a wakeful soul, since there are many that make spoil through philosophy and vain deceit. The Greeks on the one hand draw men away by their smooth tongue, for honey droppeth from a harlot’s lips: whereas they of the Circumcision deceive those who come to them by means of the Divine Scriptures, which they miserably misinterpret though studying them from childhood to old age, and growing old in ignorance. (Lecture IV)
In his lecture against heresy, Saint Cyril correctly upbraids the philosophers in the point of his jeremiad against Manichaeism for ‘not… reproving the king in the cause of truth’ and ‘not… destroying the idols’. The promise of Plato’s Socrates, and the promise of Aristotle, that men might be made their own masters through the search for truth along the path of reason—is a deception. Philosophy is a path, not to self-mastery, but to self-idolatry.

If the entire Strauss-Kojève debate shows us anything useful, it is that Saint Cyril is right on the money at that point. The entire Western philosophical project in fact enslaves the human being to a mode of language and its use, that will always and everywhere serve the purposes of would-be Pharaohs, Alexanders, Caesars, Napoleons and Hitlers. Philosophy cannot speak truth to power, but will ultimately always be the slave of power1. The only way to win the philosophers’ semantic shell game is not to play. Why is this? It’s because Socrates’s entire aim, to start with, is flawed. In his fallen state, man is not his own master, and cannot be.

So then, where can we turn?

The Palestinian Patriarch’s point of reference, as for Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Ephraim the Syrian, is always Scripture. Though we are not made aware in his hagiography of his parentage, Saint Cyril reads Scripture the way a Syriac or a Palestinian—that is to say, as a Semite—does. Saint Cyril speaks as a pedagogue, not as a debater or a polemicist, of Scripture.

The catechumens to whom Saint Cyril delivered these addresses during Great Lent, would have heard Scripture, read aloud to them, in the context of the Divine Liturgy before they would have been called upon to depart. These writings that Saint Cyril has left to us, likewise, were first delivered as lectures to the catechumens. Saint Cyril’s method is as important as the message: he appeals to what is written, and attempts thereupon to interpret all of the catechumens’ questions about the Symbol of Faith.

For Saint Cyril, the rational intellect is something that must be yoked, and brought under the discipline of the text. This is in order to bring the catechumens’ behaviour into accord with Scriptural statutes, and the will of the Scriptural God:
Seek not the things that are too deep for thee, neither search out the things that are above thy strength: what is commanded thee, think thereupon. (Lecture VI)
To give one example, when discussing the Mystery of Baptism, does he go into abstruse theologising over the symbolism of the waters? Not in the least. He says instead:
What then must you do? And what are the fruits of repentance? Let him that hath two coats give to him that hath none… and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. Wouldst thou enjoy the grace of the Holy Spirit, yet judgest the poor not worthy of bodily food? (Lecture III)
Baptism entails upon itself a change, not only in mind, not only in ideas, but in comportment. And the measuring-stick is not any creed, not any mental formula: it is concrete love of neighbour… and that, as understood in the context of the Law of Moses, the Books and the Prophets.

Once more, in discoursing upon God the Father, and the relationship between the Father and the Son, Saint Cyril pointedly does not come to any philosophical conclusion regarding the oneness or the many-ness of the substance or the nature or the will of God the Father:
I have ever wondered at the curiosity of the bold men, who by their imagined reverence fall into impiety. For though they know nothing of Thrones, and Dominions, and Principalities, and Powers, the workmanship of Christ, they attempt to scrutinise their Creator Himself. Tell me first, O most daring man, wherein does Throne differ from Dominion, and then scrutinise what pertains to Christ… Not even the Holy Ghost Himself has spoken in the Scriptures concerning the generation of the Son from the Father. Why then dost thou busy thyself about things which not even the Holy Ghost has written in the Scriptures? Thou that knowest not the things which are written, busiest thou thyself about the things which are not written? (Lecture XI)
Instead, he comes to the conclusion that
the first virtue of godliness in Christians is to honour their parents, to requite the troubles of those who begat them, and with all their might to confer on them what tends to their comfort… (Lecture VII)
What is important to St Cyril is not to dispute over the underlying attributes or inner relations of the Persons (let alone about even whether or not they are ‘persons’, in the language of Greek philosophy!), but instead what is implied from the Scriptural Godhead in how we should behave, from the love of the Father for His Son. In other words, St Cyril places himself and his catechumenate under the didactic hand of Scripture. He does not try to philosophise it; nor does he try to read it as history or as science. His concern is chiefly the manner in which we behave, and finds that Scripture will judge us on not on how we think, but on what we do:
We do nothing without the body. We blaspheme with the mouth, and with the mouth we pray. With the body we commit fornication, and with the body we keep chastity. With the hand we rob, and by the hand we bestow alms; and the rest in like manner. Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past. (Lecture XVIII)
This saintly Patriarch, the direct apostolic predecessor to the current Patriarch Theophilos III, speaks as much to Christians now, not to sit aside idly and watch as the Holy Land burns once again. Instead, we are to follow the statutes and commandments of the One Scriptural God, and to love our neighbours, today: not just in the idle chatter of the philosophers, but in truth.

What is commanded thee: think thereupon. Amen.

1. That’s how someone like Žižek can pretend, and perhaps even delude himself, that he’s doing something liberating… when in fact he’s actively and consciously demonising the Arabs at the same time as they’re being slaughtered en masse by the Israelis, and cravenly serving his NATO paymasters’ interests at the same time.

22 April 2024

‘To your tents, O Israel!’

Readers of this blog will know how attached I am, at both a level of religious sentiment and at a level of cultural sympathy, to the Evenki people of Siberia. Take a look, if you will, at this sketch, drawn by a gold prospector in Siberia whose name has been lost to time, of an Evenki church.
Accompanying this sketch, Yu V Klitsenko writes:
The fund of the Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore preserved this sketch from pre-revolutionary Russia. The inscription reads: ‘Christian temple of the Tungus nomads on the river Iochimo’. The Tungus temple was sketched by an anonymous artist in forest lands belonging to the Evenkil, in the northern gold mining complex in the Yenisei Basin, north of the modern North Yenisei district of the Krasnoyarskii Krai.

MS Batashev, who first published this document, reports:

In the indigenous peoples’ ethnography fund of the KRMLL, a pen sketch is stored under manifest number 1610-3. The sketch shows a square building with a square building with a hipped roof, installed on an elevated platform. Behind the structure there is a log section with six ‘legs’, on which three eight-pointed Orthodox crosses are erected. In appearance, the log is close to some figures of the so-called ‘shamanic chum*’ – a ‘kalir’ (mythical giant wild deer) installed in the darpe gallery, or to the mythical shamanic elk, whose image was located in the onang gallery. The caption under the picture reads: ‘Christian temple [chram] of the Tungus nomads on the river Iochimo’. From the materials of the manifest, it is only known that the drawing was received by the fund in 1923 from a certain AS Gobov through museum employee AA Savel’eva. But, judging from the style of the signature, the sketch itself was made much earlier, even in pre-revolutionary times. This dating is supported also by the fact that the sketch is wrapped in a sheet torn from some printed bibliography, in which the latest date of the publications listed is 1893.

Iochimo is a small river in the Velmo Basin, the region of the North Yenisei gold mines. Already by the middle of the 19th century there were 97 mines in this area, employing 22,000 people. Of course, the influence of Orthodox culture on the local Tungus population here was much stronger than in any other region of the North Yenisei, and the evident result of this was the appearance of such a structure, meeting both local conditions and the tastes of the local population.
Apart from this brief commentary, we have no further information about the origin of the portrayal, and the ‘Sitz in Leben’ of the building depicted on it.

The refusal to question the content of the inscription and the conviction that the Tungus structure in the drawing was indeed, at least from the perspective of the Evenkil of the Iochimo River, Christian, were accepted as an operating principle of the study. Indirect signs of the Christian nature of the building include the image of the three crosses, in the absence of ‘
homokonov’ and other idols usual for shamanic prayer sites…
From the description of this The Evenki people had (and, God willing, will have again!) a unique approach to Christian worship that conformed to their nomadic-pastoralist lifestyle. The temple is on an elevated platform, of the sort that would be used by steppe peoples for shamanic ceremonies and ritual dances. The people would be gathered outside and underneath, in their yurts or their hide tents. They would offer prayers for successful hunts or for successful migrations. Because they lived in Siberia, success was not guaranteed for either, and failure often meant death.

The poles upon which the temple stood, would be ornately adorned with icons of Christ, the Theotokos and various Russian saints, as well as prayer flags and tokens of offering. The Evenkil revered Christ as the ultimate Shaman--the Son of God who rescues the souls of all the dead at the cost of His own life. The worship of the Theotokos and the saints fit into the Evenki worldview as well, for of course the supreme God has helpers who can guide reindeer to good grazing areas, or keep hunters safe in the taiga forests.

Baptism also made a degree of intuitive sense to Evenki worshippers, as the cosmology of traditional Evenki religion involves a great river that stands between this world and the next, which all men must cross if they are to live on in the other world.

As well, the Evenki erected these large wooden crosses in front of such churches in memory of the dead.

Such temporary, small, portable places of worship would have been instantly recognisable to the (likewise nomadic-pastoralist) ancient Hebrews. God lived in a Tabernacle in the desert: that is to say, he lived in a tent, a ‘chum’. The love of the Evenkil for their marginal taiga lands, and for the reindeer with whom they lived in symbiosis, would have been understandable to, and approved by, the authors of the Hebrew Scriptures, who were of course biased toward the way of life of the shepherd.

It would seem, or rather it is to be hoped, that at least some of these churches survived, it seems, up until the Revolution... and not much further on than that. The aggressive atheism of the early Soviets did not permit the Evenki to worship Christ.

But, what a loss to the Christian world are such churches! That is not, of course, to say the building. The building was not, and never was, important. Indeed, it seems meant to be taken down and put up somewhere else. But rather, what a loss to the Christian world are the tent-gatherings of Indigenous peoples who could hear the words of Scripture, unfiltered by some self-serving colonialist missionary’s ‘interpretation’!

And thus, what a shame indeed, that Western Protestants (and Evangelicals in places like South Korea) are still trained think of the Evenki and other nomadic groups as ‘unreached people’, that they seek to turn into sedentary, suit-and-tie-wearing, joyless and self-righteous bourgeois children of hell like themselves. Give me the shamanism-inflected indigenous Evenki Christianity any day of the week, over the religion of such ‘missionaries’.

* Chum is an ethnographical term for ‘a portable dwelling of nomadic reindeer herders in the form of a conical frame made of poles, covered with skins, birch or other bark’, similar to the tipi used by the people of the Seven Council Fires, or the wigwam used by the Anishinaabeg.

20 April 2024

The meaning belongs to the text(ile)

From the Bruce Museum of Greenwich, Connecticut. It is, of course, a white Anglo-Saxon academic’s commentary on Diné weaving, and should be taken as such. But the section called ‘Weaving from a Navajo perspective’ is not without a certain mashal-ic merit:

There is more to a rug than a tight weave or aniline or vegetal dye. An entire culture might be woven into a single textile, but to the non-Navajo, the rug is silent. We search for meaning. Anglo collectors and tourists like Native American art with "symbolism" and hidden meaning - figurative art that "tells a story" rather than geometric patterns. Even in geometric forms, many will search for deep significance in every triangle or zigzag, suggesting that stepped triangles and stripes represent striations in the mesas and the desert sunset. These results are more romantic than realistic. Streaks may come from faulty dyeing; the step motif results from the nature of the vertical loom.

Outsiders also over emphasize external influences - the Pueblo, Spanish, and Anglo contributions of materials, techniques, and designs, and the role of traders and collectors - rather than the weavers themselves...

Weaving is a sacred art, embodying creation stories, prayers and ceremonial practices, the ancient and historical past. In weaving, the individual preserves
hozho, the concept that combines order, beauty, balance and harmony.

A recent study asked fifty Navajo elders to examine a collection of 200 traditional textiles at a museum and identify symbols and meaningful techniques in each. One elder interpreted the design of an M-like figure to be Spider Woman in the Creation story. Barely visible particles - bits of feathers and plant matter - woven into rugs were thought to relate to stories or ceremonies. Another weaver saw a diagonal cross as signifying the Long Walk, and the double diamond as specifying the imprisonment at Bosque Redondo. A slight variation in color along one edge of a rug was said to be the weaver's attempt to avoid perfect symmetry.

This study is controversial because there is no way to tell whether a color change is intentional or a dye result, or whether a foreign item has simply been picked up in the wool. Only the actual weaver can explain the piece. Most Navajo will not explain another weaver's rug because it is too personal and individual; the meaning belongs to the textile.
The Diné are, of course, nomadic pastoralists, indigenous to the American Southwest. They still herd sheep, whose wool makes these rugs that are woven. Of course they know better than to try to explain or interpret another weaver’s rug. That would be both arrogant, and ignorant.

Now bear in mind that the Latin word textile comes from the same root verb, texō (‘I weave’), as the noun textus.

Let the reader understand.

24 March 2024

ATTN: philosophers

Attention, philosophers.

It seems most of you didn’t get the memo. You did not get renewed for a new season. Your subscription got cancelled. Your account has been locked due to your repeated violations of community standards. Miss Σοφία had to put out a restraining order on you creeps, because you wouldn’t leave her alone, 2,400 years after she let you know in no uncertain terms that she wanted nothing to do with you.

The only one among you who even halfway took the hint was Schelling.

But some of you are still (now, as then) following the wrong German, going on Piers Morgan and flapping your fascist white-supremacist gums about the New Yellow Peril as though (now, as then) a genocide wasn’t going on right under your nose, this time brought to you by the same NATO forces you serve.

You. Are. Done.

Go home.

Your calls for nuclear war are sick. That should go without saying. It should have gone without saying since Sam Harris said it. But what’s even sicker is that you keep blaming the victim.

Scripture already stands against you, as it always has. You have already been judged. Socrates is dead. Plato is dead. Aristotle is dead. Your great Academy is standing in ruins. But you persist in wanting to fling yourself into the dung pile along with it.

Go ahead. Call me a ‘dark conservative religious fanatic’. I don't care. Call me ‘no less than Arabs’. I'll take it as a compliment, والله!

God will judge me, as He will judge us all. I have no doubt about that. I have no doubt that my case’s defence will be insufficient.

But at least, ان شاء الله, I won't be a ‘philosopher’. Or a ‘leftist’, if being a ‘leftist’ means what you say it does.

15 March 2024

Peace will surely come

A letter to Palestine from Faina Savenkova, the children’s author in the Donbass. I have no comment of my own to add; it suffices to let her speak for herself:
Hello, Palestine!

My name is Faina. All my short life I have lived in war. I know what a blockade is. I know what it’s like to be under fire. I know how it is when people are dying not far away, but you hold on with all your might because your whole family needs water. I know what it is to realize that old people and children have been and are being killed by weapons supplied by the West, and you can do nothing. Every day, like you, we bury our fathers and mothers and children. They destroy, like you, hospitals, and temples just because we want to be free and happy. I know what war is. I know what it is to lose friends, but I ask you to hold on and not to despair. We will cope with everything, no matter how hard it is.

In Donetsk and Lugansk there is the Alley of Angels. There is a memorial there dedicated to the children who were killed by Ukraine. I can say with bitterness that Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria have their own Alley of Angels who died under destroyed mosques and churches. Because the world is unjust and cruel, and the enemy is merciless. But I have hope that Donbass, Syria, and Palestine will be free and children will stop dying from shells. And the souls of the victims of these wars will look down on us from heaven, protecting our fragile lives. That’s what will happen. That’s what I believe. I do not know what will happen tomorrow to each of us, for we all live in war, but peace will surely come.

With love to you,
your friend Faina Savenkova

22 February 2024

Of Guatemala and Gaza

This past Tuesday, after two and a half years of construction and labour of those monastics and faithful under the guidance of Archimandrite Evangelos Patá, a seminary and mission centre opened in the Huehuetenango District of Guatemala, reports Pravoslavie.Ru. The Orthodox community in Guatemala is one of the explosive success stories of twenty-first century Orthodox mission work, particularly after 2010 when 500,000 Guatemalans—mostly indigenous Maya people—converted en masse. A steady stream of converts into the Orthodox Church has continued since then.

This new seminary and mission centre will ‘serve the spiritual, educational and administrative needs of the faithful’, who are As Fr John Chakos puts it on his blog: ‘The palpable joy that filled this day reflected the vibrant Christian faith of the long suffering Mayan people who endured much throughout their tragic history, but never lost hope.’

How true this is. The ‘tragic history’ of the Guatemalan Mayan people is one which can be attributed directly to American imperialism and the legacy of colonialism. During this time, the Guatemalan military and government forces, trained by the School of the Americas and funded by the American government, used ‘scorched earth’ tactics against the Indigenous people of the country: including death squads, ‘disappearances’, strafing from helicopters, internment camps, forced starvation, torture and sexual violence. Leftists, labour leaders and union organisers were also subjected to this targetted violence from the state. Canadian folk-rock musician Bruce Cockburn, after visiting Guatemala during this time, wrote the song ‘If I Had a Rocket Launcher’ specifically about this situation.

The flocking of Indigenous Maya Guatemalans to the Orthodox Church in the present day, may be considered one of the fruits, primarily, of the career of Archimandrite Andrés Girón, a cleric who took up the cause of the Indigenous peoples of Guatemala, specifically during this time of the US-backed military dictatorship in the 1980s. For his efforts, Archimandrite Giron was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church on account of his pro-Indigenous stand, and he fled to Mexico after several assassination attempts on him by the right-wing government, after which he joined the Orthodox Church and continued his advocacy work. Although he was an agrarian-minded Christian and not a Marxist, he gained the moniker ‘Father Revolutionary’ from both his supporters and his opponents, particularly when he began supporting progressive land reforms which would benefit the Indigenous peoples. He even began political action against the US-backed military government, at the head of the left-wing, anti-capitalist Asociación Nacional Campesina Pro-Tierra, and direct action by occupying and farming land collectively for the benefit of the people living there.

Archimandrite Andrés Girón

Even though his electoral campaigns did not win him much support in terms of government reform, the Indigenous Mayans quickly gravitated to his social ideals, not to mention his religious convictions. At a time when the Catholic Church was divided between a reactionary hierarchy and a liberation-theological parish priesthood (and the hierarchy winning out more often than not); and when Evangelical Protestantism was marching in lockstep with state violence and American-style capitalism and white supremacy; Orthodox Christianity began to look all the more attractive. When Fr Andrés Girón joined the Orthodox Church in 2010, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous Mayans came with him. Stop me if any of this starts to sound familiar.

I beat this drum a lot. I have remarked before, and repeatedly, that the Indigenous peoples of Asia and America are a valuable witness within Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy at its best does not see Indigenous traditions and languages as things to be assimilated from the outside or suppressed from above. It values these traditions and languages in themselves, and transfigures them from the inside.

Orthodox womens’ monastery in Kyltovo, Komi Republic, Russia

For example: Orthodox Bibles, prayer books, patericons and religious texts have been published in Indigenous languages such as Sakha, Nenets, Evenki, Chukchi, Khanty, Skolt Sámi, Komi, Veps, Aleut and Tlingit and Yup’ik. Saint Innocent of Irkutsk, Saint Herman the Wonderworker of Alaska and, later, Saint Tikhon of Moscow defended Indigenous rights against oppression and exploitation first by Russian and later by American pecuniary interests and colonisation. (One can see from these examples that the witness of Fr Andrés Girón was not without precedent!) But Indigenous people themselves have contributed to Orthodoxy in profound and ineluctable ways. Saint Peter the Aleut, Saint Jacob Netsvetov, Saint Olga of Alaska... these Indigenous saints have deeply and without question enriched the experience of American Orthodoxy. And the former two of these saints did so, while Indigenous people in the Americas were undergoing one of the worst genocides of human history.

Now, let us turn our attention, for the sake of comparison, to another Indigenous people. The people of the country of Palestine are descended, indisputably from a scientific and genetic point of view, from the ancient Levantines. Modern Palestinians are genetically closest to the Bronze Age inhabitants of Canaan, with unbroken ancestral roots in the Levant going back nearly 4000 years. (We ethnic Ashkenazim simply cannot claim the same thing: over forty percent of our autosomal ancestral DNA originates in Western Europe--France and Germany.) What appears clear now, is that this Indigenous population of the ancient Holy Land has undergone numerous cultural and religious and linguistic shifts through the millennia. So although Palestinians are culturally Arabic, and the majority are Muslims, their presence in the place where they are long predates the Arab conquests and the rise of Islâm!

Church of St Porphyrios, Gaza, Palestine

Indeed, Palestinians were among the first Christians. Gaza was a Christian city. The Church of Saint Porphyrios, which was bombarded by the Israel Occupation Forces two weeks into their current war, dates back over sixteen hundred years. Gaza was home to Christian saints such as Bishop Saint Porphyrios himself, Abba Dorotheos, Saint Vitalios and Saint Silvanos, to name but a few. Before Palestine was Muslim, Palestinians followed Jesus Christ. And before Palestinians followed Christ, Palestinians were without question among the people who worshipped the God of the Hebrews, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, at the Second Temple.

Despite the prevarication and mealy-mouthed excuses that issue from on high in Washington and New York, there can be very little doubt now that what is going on right now as we speak, in the home territory of this very oldest of Christian Churches, is a genocide of the Palestinian people, at the hands of another US-backed far-right parafascist government: complete with scorched-earth tactics, death squads, weaponised starvation, torture, sexual violence. In short, the Palestinians now are suffering everything that the Indigenous Guatemalans faced from the military dictatorship of that country in the 80s and 90s. And the American government backs the Israeli fascists to the hilt.

Archbishop Alexios of Gaza

But if there is another Indigenous genocide occurring right now in Gaza, there is also another Fr Andrés Girón, in the saintly Archbishop Alexios of Gaza. Archbishop Alexios has courageously declared that he will not abandon his flock there even if he is the last Christian standing in Gaza. And he has dedicated his work to giving food and clean water and shelter to any who have come to need it, even as they are being denied these by the military. And he has rededicated himself to praying for the dead, the dead without number: and many of these dead are Christians.

The Indigenous Christians of the Holy Land need our solidarity, and they need it now more than ever. But, just as Efraín Ríos Montt has gone down to Sheol, while the relatives of people he ordered to be slaughtered by the tens of thousands are flocking to the Church to be joined to Christ, so too will Netanyahu and his hateful right-wing butcher-regime and his death squads go down to the pit, while the names of the innocents who died at Saint Porphyrios shall be sung by the heavenly choirs without end. Of this I am sure. And if God wills it, may He let Gaza again breathe, be free and be green, as Guatemala may now (to a certain extent) do.

14 February 2024

The dragon and the bear

First of all, (sort of) belated blessings for Spring Festival this year, and a Happy Year of the Dragon! It’s the middle of Golden Week, so I’m still in the window!


According to the Yijing, the relevant hexagram seal for this year is qian 谦, or ‘modesty’, composed of an upper trigram kun 坤 (the receptive, field) and a lower trigram gen 艮 (keeping still, mountain).

The judgement associated with this seal is as follows:
MODESTY creates success.
The superior man carries things through.
And the associated image for his seal is that of a subterranean mountain.
Within the earth, a mountain:
The image of MODESTY.
Thus the superior man reduces that which is too much,
And augments that which is too little.
He weighs things and makes them equal.
This image in fact reminds me of something that Fr Thomas Hopko of blessed memory once wrote on the subject. Modesty (that is to say, humility) is not a matter of self-abasement in his view:
Humility does not mean degradation or remorse. It does not mean effecting some sort of demeaning external behaviour. It does not mean considering oneself the most vile and loathsome of creatures. Christ Himself was humble and He did not do this… Genuine humility means to see reality as it actually is in God. It means to know oneself and others as known by God… The humble lay aside all vanity and conceit in the service of the least of God’s creatures, and to consider no good act as beneath one’s dignity and honour.
In order to ‘reduce that which is too much’, we have to have a certain standard as to what ‘too much’ is; and we can’t do that without looking outside of ourselves for the standard. The same goes with ‘augmenting that which is too little’, ‘weighing things’ and ‘making them equal’. The standards are not to be found in us, but to realise that requires that we understand reality by a different measure than our own fallible perspective. Faith may move mountains, even if it is as small as a mustard seed which is buried in the earth. But to understand this parable, we can’t be reading it with the eyes of worldly pride.


And, by the way, in the interest of rectification of names, it is properly called Spring Festival (春节). That is even though this festival does mark the New Year on the agrarian calendar, and even though it technically falls during winter. Traditionally, farmers used Spring Festival as a yearly marker to prepare for the necessary work that needed to be done by the vernal equinox—hence the name.

Despite the woke usage nowadays, Spring Festival is not, properly speaking, a ‘Lunar’ New Year, because the traditional agrarian calendar is in fact a lunisolar calendar, with intercalations to make up for discrepancies with the solar year, and not a true lunar calendar. And thank goodness for that, because if it were a true lunar calendar, Spring Festival would jump around as much as Ramadan does. But I don’t see anyone lining up to call Spring Festival the ‘Lunisolar New Year’.

And… wait, where and when was the traditional agrarian calendar developed again? It wasn’t developed in Seoul. It wasn’t developed in Tôkyô. And it sure wasn’t developed in Manila (where agricultural work is based on the tropical ‘dry’ and ‘rainy’ seasons with no need for a lunisolar marker for the coming of spring). It was developed along the Yellow River in the Central Plains of China. The agrarian calendar is traditionally accredited to the Yellow Emperor in about 2700 BC, with reforms to it being made during the Shang (1600 BC – 1046 BC) and Zhou (1046 BC – 256 BC) Dynasties. The New Year on this calendar was first celebrated in the Central States: what is now China.

So, for English-speaking people to call it ‘Chinese New Year’ is, even if not exactingly correct as a translation, still completely understandable. Further: it’s asinine for the perpetually-aggrieved wokesters, Redditors and bourgeois Korean and Japanese nationalists to try to ‘correct’ them prescriptively, to the even more incorrect ‘Lunar New Year’.


Two days before Spring Festival, also, media personality and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson held an interview with the President of Russia, released on the Social Media Platform Formerly Known as Twitter. It’s a two-hour-long interview, but I highly encourage watching it.
What somewhat surprised me about it, actually, was how unsurprising Putin’s historiographical position was. There was nothing at all idiosyncratic, revisionist or even overtly nationalist in Putin’s reading of medieval and early modern Russian history. If anything, it was a standard textbook treatment of the subject which held to consensus positions on the creation of the Rus’ polity under Ryurik, the baptism of Kievan Rus’, the Tatar yoke, the geopolitical struggle between Muscovy and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Treaty of Pereyaslavl and so on. But the fact that he dwelt upon the history of medieval and early modern Rus’ far longer than Carlson was clearly comfortable with, shows that Putin not only takes that history seriously but thinks it is worthwhile for Americans to be exposed, even to an abridged textbook version of it.

It somewhat restored my respect for Putin, as well, that he refused to be baited or led, as Carlson was clearly attempting to do, into acceding to or supporting American conservative culture-war aims or narratives. Most notably: when Carlson attempted to push forward his idea that China would attempt to exert its hegemony over Russia in a more intolerable way than America would, Putin at once dismissed this as a ‘bogeyman story’. He further emphasised that China was Russia’s neighbour with a long land border; that it was a valuable partner in trade; and that its leadership is much more interested in compromise than in confrontation or domination. Putin is not about to sell out his good relationship with such a neighbour for a fistful of empty promises from the West.

To give another example, Putin steadfastly declined to delve into the details of any of his dealings with former (or current) American leadership. At first I found this rhetorical tactic a little frustrating. I was wondering why he was protecting these people, or lending them a cover of plausible deniability. But after a while I came to realise that Putin was simply being a diplomat. Even though he clearly has grievances with the way Russia has been treated by America and by the West more broadly, even under Yeltsin’s tenure, he isn’t in the business of singling out particular American political figures for particular instances of blame. For similar reasons, he also didn’t give in to Tucker’s questions about the current state of the American social fabric and its relations with the government… though there it might really be a weak point in his knowledge rather than a gentlemanly attempt not to take sides.

But Putin also, to his credit, refused to offer support even implicitly, for the idea that a change in administration alone could bring about a thaw in relations with Russia. Carlson was clearly leading him with his questions toward an admission that Trump would be preferable to Biden for Russia. But for Putin, it clearly isn’t a question of a Republican or a Democrat in the White House. (I made exactly this point eight years ago also; I’m glad it still holds up!) Putin observes that the American élite mentality which prevails in both parties, and which attempts to destroy anything that it can’t control, needs to shift first.

So, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but a major tip of the hat to Tucker Carlson for holding this interview. It needs to be seen; Carlson has provided a valuable service to the American people to be able to hear the arguments of the other side for themselves. As for Carlson himself, though, as an interviewer… he seemed to be rather out of his depth, and one could get the impression at a couple of points that Putin was playing with him, even trolling him a bit (as when he hinted at Carlson’s unsuccessful attempt to join the CIA).

I hope that (in the spirit of the Yijing for this New Year), we can approach this interview with the Russian President in a spirit of humility, in the interest of correcting our deficiencies or exaggerations in vision, and making things equal.