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.

03 February 2024

Iraq War III, Syria War II, Yemen War II

Man, I get sick to death of this culture of remakes. Hollywood really doesn’t have any new or original ideas, do they? It’s just Iron Man this, Batman that: military abuses abroad, police abuses at home. And even the focus group-tested corporate-boardroom storylines don’t change. Or rather, I should say, the lies. We have to bomb Iraq because of… wait, what again? Weapons of mass destruction? Oh, wait, no, it’s those evil Eye-ranians up to their no-good tricks. Because three soldiers are dead who… wait, what were they doing there, again? Why were they there? I thought the Iraqi government had already given us the eviction notice? Or several? Why were they even there in the first place?

So, under Biden we have another war. Another unilateral illegal military action, without Congressional approval, open-ended, with no strategy for either victory or exit. And we have declared it, make no mistake, on the people of Iraq—who apparently haven’t suffered enough these past two decades on our account—and on the people of Syria, who apparently also haven’t suffered enough these past dozen years. Oh, and on the people of Yemen just for good measure, because why not? Clearly 377,000 dead people, mostly children, in that country didn’t get that message across firmly enough. And of course, we have also declared war on truth, because American imperium has no greater enemy than reality.

But tell me again how it’s those evil Eye-ranians who are to blame. Or the Russians, always the Russians. As Ginsberg put it: ‘Its them bad Russians. Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.’ Point the finger anywhere but at Washington, anywhere but at Hollywood, anywhere but at Wall Street, anywhere but at yourself—in short, anywhere but at those actually responsible.

I’m sick. I’m not motion-sick; there is no motion, and that’s the problem. I’m sick to death. I’m sick of the lies. And I’m sick that children die, under the flag that I’m told is mine, while we all clap along passively in the theatre and wait for the after-credits teaser that previews the next million children to die. I beg God to let me leave the room, but I can’t. What else can I do? They’re not going to stop the reel no matter how much I object, and attract the heckling of the people in back who are still in their trances. But there’s nothing else for me to do, except pray.