26 July 2022

Good general wisdom from VK

A Belarusian woman, Marishka B—, whose account I follow on VK posted the above two images to her public feed. I thought they made some very profound points in general, not just with relation to this war, so I’m resharing them here on my blog with a quick-and-dirty translation.
  1. Any war will end.

  2. Every nation is made up of different people. Not everyone participates in war. Don’t insult everyone in one group.

  3. The politicians will end up agreeing. And you? You’ll be left with the mud you fling at your ‘ideological opponents’.

  4. In wartime, EVERYONE lies. Don’t spread info that you're not 101% sure (or can’t verify) is true. If you want to write something, write only about what you saw with your own eyes. That’s being honest. The rest is participation in lies.

  5. If you want to express your attitude to politics, express it. It’s not necessary to insult someone [while doing so].

  6. You don’t like somebody else’s opinion, but you really want to speak out? Then speak out - about the opinion and not about the person. Because most often you don’t know them personally.

  7. Hating people you don’t know is pathological.

  8. People’s relationships are very complicated, even at the level of a family or a work group. [Relationships] between states are still more difficult. Only to idiots is everything clear and simple to understand. Don’t be an idiot. Don’t jump to conclusions.

  9. Always be human and remember point 1.
Some very sound advice from Ms. B—, to always be human no matter what side of an argument you fall on. I won’t pretend I’ve always been (or still am) a model of good online behaviour according to these nine points, but with God’s grace I can try.

18 July 2022

Woo Yee Sing, Liang May Seen and Minnie Wong

Chinese language class at Westminster Presbyterian Church
Minnie Wong is seated third from the left in the back row

This past Wednesday, I went with Fr John Schroedel to the Lakewood Cemetery, where several members of his extended family are buried, as well as the remarkable Father Anthony Coniaris of blessed memory, who founded Light & Life Publishing and was responsible for the translation and publication of some of the first Orthodox theological materials in English on the continent of North America. Orthodoxy in this country owes a great debt to Father Anthony. Although I never made his acquaintance in life, I am happy to have been given the privilege to visit his grave and offer prayers there.

One of the other grave markers that I saw in the cemetery, not that far away from the Greek section where Father Anthony is buried, belonged to a certain Minnie Wong. Minnie Wong is a name which deserves to be better-known in the Twin Cities. She was as important in her way for the Chinese community here as Father Anthony was for the Greek community. It is only on account of my work for Global Learning Alliance and Minghua Chinese School that I became aware of her in the first place. However, Minnie Wong’s history is closely intertwined with that of another outstanding Chinese woman here, Liang May Seen.

Chinese people have been coming to North America for a long time. Many Chinese folks worked as ship-hands on Spanish galleons operating out of Manila during the Age of Sail, and some of them ended up in Mexico and California in the 1500s and 1600s, where they worked primarily as hairdressers for the Spanish. These Chinese communities ended up as a part of the United States at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War. But there are interesting archaeological finds indicating that Chinese trade goods—belt buckles and beads made out of bronze—ended up in the hands of Alaska natives long before contact with the Europeans. (This doesn’t exactly prove the wilder theories of Gavin Menzies, but it is tantalising, and should force a massive rethink of the way archaeologists think about the region.)

The first Chinese woman in Minnesota, though, came here a different way. Born in Kaiping in Guangdong Province, Liang May Seen was essentially lured onto an America-bound ship by a human trafficker, who promised her a wealthy marriage to a Chinese-American businessman but sold her into a brothel instead. This happened in 1885. She managed to escape the brothel in 1889 and took refuge at the Presbyterian mission in San Francisco, where she availed herself of the opportunities to learn English, housekeeping and mathematics.

There she was introduced to Woo Yee Sing. Woo Yee Sing, originally a laundryman, had come to Minneapolis in the wake of the Chinese Exclusion Act in order to escape the persecution, harassment and violence that Chinese people faced in San Francisco. Together with his brother Woo Du Sing, he opened the first Chinese restaurant here, the Canton Café, in 1883. Woo Yee Sing had come back to San Francisco in 1892 to look for a bride, which is how he met Liang May Seen.

Liang May Seen and Woo Yee Sing

Liang May Seen took an active role in building relationships in her new town. Thanks to her excellent study of English, she befriended many white women through the Presbyterian Church—among whom was women’s suffrage activist, Urban League director and state congresswoman Mabeth Hurd Paige—and opened a curio shop in 1904 to bolster her family’s income and to broaden her network of friends. More importantly, though, she took the lead in welcoming other newcomers of Chinese descent to Minneapolis. Through the Presbyterian Church she established a Chinese Sunday school and an afterschool programme for English language learners to help recent Chinese immigrants acculturate to their new home.

It was in this capacity that she met and befriended Minnie Wong, the wife of George Wong Gee. Minnie Wong was also from Kaiping, and evidently hit it off immediately with Liang May Seen. She excelled in her own English studies. The two women’s shared interest in promoting the welfare and advancement of Chinese women in Minneapolis led them to found and co-teach the first ELL classes specifically for Chinese women in the state. The two of them collaborated on a number of charitable and advocacy projects together.

Unfortunately, Liang May Seen was unable to have children of her own with her husband. (This isn’t attested in the actual history, but reading between the lines, her infertility is likely on account of the sexual violence she experienced during her involuntary servitude at the San Francisco brothel.) She and her husband adopted a young boy from San Francisco, named Howard.

Even though they had come eastward to escape the organised anti-Chinese violence and racism that characterised life on the West Coast, life here in the Twin Cities was still hard. Canton Café changed its name to Yuen Faung Low (遠芳樓) or ‘John’s Place’, and it became famous as a restaurant which was open to everyone regardless of race. As Woo Yee Sing put it in an interview with the Minneapolis Journal: ‘They are men like you or me. They have got to eat and there must be some place for them to do so… They are all brothers, and there is no room for race prejudice.’ (It is worth remembering that at this time, even though Jim Crow didn’t exist de jure in Minnesota, segregation was still the de facto norm and was enforced extralegally.) Despite this, in 1912 Yuen Faung Low fell victim to a bomb attack, probably motivated by race prejudice. Woo and Liang’s foster son Howard, in another interview, also recalls being attacked and taunted with anti-Chinese slurs on the street when growing up.

Yuen Faung Low, however, expanded—a second-floor tearoom was built to accommodate more upscale clients, and the restaurant continued to operate until the 1960s. Woo Yee Sing passed away in 1925, and Liang May Seen twenty years later in 1946—by the end of her life she was able to see the end of Chinese exclusion.

Things have certainly improved for AAPI people in the United States since the days of Woo Yee Sing, Liang May Seen and Minnie Wong—and these improvements are largely the efforts of precisely such people who were active in their own communities. It is with gratitude, then, that we should remember these three people and their contributions, and continue working to ensure that the current atmosphere of anti-Chinese bigotry in the United States is dispelled. For this I ask the added prayers and intercessions of Fr Anthony Coniaris of blessed memory, whose own experiences as the son of Greek immigrants assuredly parallel those of Howard Woo.

17 July 2022

Neither Fordham nor Montanica!

Christ confronts the pride of the disciples, Russian icon

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
- 1 Corinthians 1:10-15, 21-25

The divisions currently evident in American Orthodoxy are entirely American in character, and not one whit Orthodox. They are reflective of the culture war priorities in American politics and, as such, represent parochially American concerns. The Fordham and Butte sects in American Orthodoxy represent a ‘liberal’ and a ‘conservative’ pose within American culture, respectively, which neither liberates, nor conserves. They are, in fact, like most heresies which come in pairs, both heretical.

By the Fordham Sect, I mean the culture-war liberals which centre on the so-called ‘Orthodox Christian Studies Centre’ at Fordham University. This ‘Centre’ is squarely under the thumb of the Catholic Jesuits, share entirely the Jesuitical cultural-political priorities, and are entirely adept at performing an Orthodox step-‘n’-fetchit ‘minstrel show’ for the sake of the grant money their Ignatian ‘Massa’ provides. George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou, the elders of this ‘house-Ortho’ greekface minstrel-show act (along with First Things contributor, Michael Novak apostle and all-around pretentious popinjay David Bentley Hart, Notre Dame-based scion of effete Tidewater plantation-gentry, replete with a ready arsenal of affected transatlanticisms and sesquipedalian highfalutin puffery which he, his indefatigably-miserable elder brothers, and his sycophantic clique of pseudointellectual toadies routinely mistake for wit), have assembled around themselves a veritable rogues’ gallery—Nathaniel Wood, Nicholas Denysenko, Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, Paul Ladouceur, Cyril Hovorun, Paul Gavrilyuk, Sr Vassa Larin, Antoine Arjakovsky, Inga Leonova, the defrocked Giacomo Sanfilippo—of well-manicured academics and experts whose sole purpose in life seems to be to mock and denigrate the hoi polloi of Orthodox believers both here and abroad; to pay a crescendo of degrading obsequies to the American war machine; and to ‘push the envelope’ of acceptable practice, particularly with regard to sexual ethics, in directions which have never been acceptable at any other time in Church history.

And by the Butte Sect, I mean the opposing culture-war conservatives and reactionaries which have nucleated in several places around several increasingly-radical Montagnard cults of personality. Fr Josiah Trenham seems to be the (ahem) ‘Tren-setter’ in this regard along with Fr Johannes Jacobse, though he has of course been joined by the increasingly-unhinged political pugilist Abbot Tryphon, the disgraced former metropolitan of the OCA Archbishop Jonah Paffhausen, YouTube chuds and social-media gadflies like Jay Dyer and (at the fringes) ‘Brother’ Nathanael, and bloggers like George Michalopulos and the cartoonishly-camp Rod Dreher. They claim to be the true defenders of Orthodoxy in America, and yet they rally around open heretics and political lightning-rods like pill-popping kvetch and Pelagian pedlar of penny-ante Jungianism Dr Jordan Peterson in their misguided pursuit of purity-through-far-right-political-action. I call them the Butte Sect because several of these figures are planning to meet later this month in Butte, Montana at something of a ‘constituent assembly’, if you will: the so-called ‘Patristic Faith Conference’.

It may seem strange to you, readers, that I take such pains to describe the ‘liberal’ side of this cultural divide using descriptors which would seem to belong to the ‘right wing’, and that I take such pains to describe the ‘conservative’ side of this cultural divide using those which belong to the ‘left wing’. But there is a reason for this.


The Fordhamites fancy themselves to be ‘open-minded’ and ‘tolerant’, but in reality their cultural attitudes give inadvertent voice to forms of white supremacy and Eurocentrism that should have been left behind with the death of Jim Crow. One example may suffice here as an archetype. Hovorun, writing for Fordham’s blog Public Orthodoxy, speaks of Africa like a latter-day apostle of Cecil Rhodes and Leopold II of Belgium would. Lamenting the departure of ‘the Western democracies’ (by which, one presumes, he can only mean Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Belgium) from their putatively-benevolent colonial overlordship of the African continent, he points the finger at Russia and China—the ‘Eastern authoritarian regimes’—for a ‘recolonisation’, a ‘second Scramble of [sic] Africa’ which depends on infrastructure and investment on the Chinese side, and patronage of ‘murderous regimes’ on the Russian.

Never mind that the typical characterisation of Russia as an ‘Eastern’ dictatorship falls right in line with a long litany of tired Orientalist tropes (many perpetrated by the Jesuits), or that the characterisation of China in equally insidious terms is meant to recall the Yellow Peril. Never mind that the attempt to ascribe demonic motives to China falls particularly flat given Debt Justice UK’s explanation that China is emphatically not to blame for the current debt crisis on the African continent—private Western concerns hold three times more African debt than China does. The true point here is that one searches in vain to find anywhere in Hovorun’s essay, any attempt either to ascertain or place value upon the inherent well-being and dignity of the peoples of Africa. For him, Africans are relegated to the status of pawns, and his preference is merely for a (presumably benevolent) Western colonialism over an (evil and insidious) Eastern one.

This is not a one-off phenomenon for Fordham, nor is it indicative only of the usual bigotry with which Ukrainian nationalists routinely discriminate against and attack Africans and Asians. I have mentioned before how there is more than a germ of genteel liberal cultural discrimination against Middle Easterners by the contributors to Public Orthodoxy, such as Katie Kelaidis. And, of course, more recent essays by different PO contributors have doubled down on Orientalist and Yellow Peril scaremongering, in service of the foreign policy goals of the American military-industrial complex.

Which brings me to Fordham University’s current toast of the New York Times booklist, Sarah Riccardi-Swartz. It is a truism in the Orthodox deposit of spiritual wisdom that accusation is a kind of confession: as Saint Jerome said in his epistles, ‘When you believe you are excusing yourself, you are accusing yourself.’ So when Riccardi-Swartz goes around ROCOR parishes in West Virginia and sees there only white supremacism and fascism and Lost Cause mythology, one ought to suspect that she is merely confessing, in bad conscience, to the faults of which she and her own academic peer group are already guilty. One can hardly blame ROCOR for the widespread nature of the veneration of Tsar Nicholas II, for example—whose blessed feast is upcoming. On balance, given that he is perhaps (from a more objective standpoint) one of the more humane and forward-thinking figures in modern Russian history (or of his era in general!), attributing nothing but the darkest motives to such veneration appears to be a classic case of Freudian projection. The academics at Fordham and their associates are quick to signal their alliance with sexual minorities to burnish their liberal bona fides, and then promote and join witch-hunts against what they view as openly racist elements in the Orthodox Church—so that no one will think to scrutinise their own discriminatory tendencies, their own Eurocentric lenses of interpretation, their own enthusiasm for America’s wars of choice on the other side of the globe.


Now let’s talk about the other side of the coin: the Butte side. Even if ‘the lady doth protest too much, methinks’, Riccardi-Swartz isn’t wholly wrong in her diagnosis of a certain subset of ‘vocal’, ‘digitally-savvy’ Orthodox converts who flock to far-right political causes. The effect of these digital communities, which tend to propagate themselves around self-promoters like Jay Dyer and Rod Dreher, can be felt even within fairly ‘normal’ Orthodox parishes. Ironically, given how much they like to inveigh against ‘the Left’ (which is to blame for every manner of social ill from mass shooting to pornography to transsexualism), in truth their programmatic tactics resemble nothing so much as those of a revolutionary vanguard party in a Montagnard or Trotskyist vein.

There is an irreducible germ of Gnosticism or Kabbalah in the œuvre to which Dyer, Dreher and (sadly, increasingly so) Abbot Tryphon belong. The entire conceit of this œuvre is that an occult They (Hollywood, the ‘Cultural Left’, the Jews) are seeking to control society and control the spirits of the people through esoteric-occult means, and only by knowing the code can one hope to defeat them. This promise of a key to hidden knowledge, of initiation into mysteries, acts as the lure by which people gain entrance to the ‘inner circle’. This is analogous in many ways—and follows from—the phenomenon of being ‘redpilled’ or ‘blackpilled’ on online message boards. And of course, once one is gifted with this initiation, this occult hermeneutical ‘key’ to the inner workings of the hidden Them, one is essentially primed to be handed the Programme. And it is similar in many ways to the initiation practices of many secret societies and revolutionary cadres throughout history; the irony is that many of those thus initiated do not see it—they believe instead that they are counter-revolutionaries.

It is not, therefore, an accident that classic fascism and other far-right ideologies have a draw on such people. Fascism has historically held great appeal for those who believe themselves privileged with a degree of superior knowledge into a mythopoeic-symbolic order, to combat the degeneracy of their surroundings. It is well-known—and one can cite authors like Goodrich-Clarke on this—that fascist movements drew heavily on and even grew out of an idle middle-class fascination with esotericist movements such as Theosophy and the Thule Society.

Likewise, this preference for ‘keys’ that break into a mythopoeic-symbolic order creates synergies with the half-baked pseudo-Jungian pop-psych claptrap bandied about by Joseph Campbell, Jordan Peterson and the like. Of course, there is nothing particularly Christian about any of this, as evidenced by Peterson’s completely Pelagian understanding of Christianity – or, as my friend Dan DeCarlo aptly described him, ‘[an] anti-Tolstoy who has rewritten “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” but changed the ending’. That doesn’t prevent it, however, from being alluring. As St Paul warned us, false teachers will never go wanting for itching ears. And some of those itching ears, sadly, claim for themselves the mantle of Orthodoxy.


I must beg the pardon of friend and kinsman Luke L—, who coined the slogan ‘Neither Fordham nor Montanica’ for precisely this purpose. I must also beg your pardon, readers, if my wording here seems a bit eristic, in the tradition of the aforementioned Saint Jerome and the more recent Saint Alexis of Wilkes-Barre. I have always held to this point. Also, I have long since run out of patience with both sides, and in this case, proper Christian love for adherents of these twin, very public, errors requires a certain public sharpness. Indeed, as far as I can tell, this split in Orthodoxy between Fordham and Montanica seems to be a repetition-as-farce of the errors of the Hellenisers and the Judaisers, respectively. The pride of Fordham’s scholarly sect is in its philosophical erudition, its professed adherence to the norms of modern academia, and its greed for the simulacrum of virtue which passes for currency in elite circles. And the pride of the Butte sect is in its purity and holiness as those possessing the true revelation, fancying themselves its sole inheritors and upholders, through initiation into its secrets. Yet the fullness of truth rests with neither of them.

Culture wars are not spiritual wars, despite what the combatants themselves might think. Culture wars by definition divide humanity into warring camps. These camps then fight over things which are decidedly not spiritual: wealth, power, prestige, glory, conquest, the adulation of men, the warm fuzzy feelings of being on the ‘right side of history’, the thrill and passion of being a ‘chosen one’ in a cataclysmic battle between light and darkness. Academics are jealous of their ‘seats of honour’. YouTubers and social media personalities are driven by the cash generated by ‘likes’. There is no room for the great mass of humanity in either of these formations (the great majority of whom are geopolitically non-aligned). And it goes without saying that there is no room for Jesus Christ in either of these formations. Orthodox Christianity as a whole must therefore stand up and cast aside such divisions within itself, because they are not of Christ.

14 July 2022

Rereading the Armament of Igor in a time of war

Were it not seemly to us, brothers,
To begin in ancient diction
The tales of the toils of the army
Of Igor, Igor Svyatoslavič?

Or to begin this song
In accordance with the ballads of this time,
And not like the invention of Boyan?
One of the few stabs I’ve made at reading again so far this year has been a reread of The Tale of the Armament of Igor. This poetic lamentation of a failed attempt by a prince of Rus’, Igor Svyatoslavič, to stage a raid on the attacking Cumans is the earliest extant example of literature in the Old Russian language, dating to the late 1100s. In addition to the themes of heroism in hopeless battles, grief and exile, the Tale also spends a great deal of time exhorting the princes of Rus’ to put aside their personal ambitions and greed, and unite in the face of a common enemy.

I found a great deal more in it on this third read-through than on my first. The poem rises and falls in mood, between the high triumphant martial imagery of Igor’s exhortations to the defence of the Russian land, and the vast desolate lamentation of Yaroslavna on the walls of Putivl, and finally returning again to a tone of hope in the voice of the poet Boyan. There is much in this poem that is still obscure to me, and that may be owing to my poor Russian.

However, I am still struck by the beauty of the natural imagery of the poem. One can almost hear the cries of falcons, the calls of magpies and crows, in the verse itself. The rivers speak, especially the Donets River with whom Igor converses in his Cuman exile (and which is today still the site of tragic bloodletting and destruction between brothers). The poet invokes the sun and the aurora borealis. Yaroslavna invokes the wind and the sky in her lamentations.
For brother spake to brother: ‘This is mine, and that is also mine!’
And the princes began to pronounce of a paltry thing, ‘This is great,’
And themselves amongst them to forge feuds…
I have found myself unable to write, and increasingly unable to read productively, on account of the war. I am caught between a love of Russia which rebukes their paranoia, and a love of the Ukraine which reproaches their pride and greed, and to see them fall upon each other with this insane bloodlust—Ukrainians against the civilians of Seversky Donets; and Russians against the Ukrainians—breaks the heart. Once again, ‘Kiev groaned with mourning, and Černigov with disasters.’ I find that I resonate much more, given the state of current events, with the lamentations of Svyatoslav over the deaths of his sons, and that of Yaroslavna over the fate of Igor.

This is a conflict which would not have happened, if the Russian leadership had not, under the fear of a threat to its borders, been goaded into an attack by the provocations of the Western powers on the Black Sea. This is also, much more so, a conflict which would not have happened if the Ukrainian oligarchs who foisted the Maidan upon them in 2014 at the instigation of the same Western powers, had not said to the people of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts, ‘this is mine, and that is also mine’—and then sent in the SBU and the fascist paramilitaries to destroy them. I hate that the people of the Donbass have been dying needlessly for the past eight years at the hands of their own government, and I hate more that Ukrainians are dying still in numbers equally great, at the hands of an attacking army. Most of all I hate the injustices and machinations and engineered policies of division and exploitation in Washington and London that brought all of this about.
Then in the time of Oleg, Boris wrought for evil: feuds were sown and grew apace.
The life of the scion of Dažbog was wasted,
In the factions of the princes and the generations of mankind were shortened.
What more can be said now? Perhaps the Russian band Aria said it already with their elegiac ‘Ballad of an Old Russian Warrior’:

Or perhaps the anonymous poet in the tradition of Boyan said it best: Далеко! Ночь меркнет.