On Saturday, February 2nd, 2019 the inaugural Mission Development Conference and Satellite Training workshop was held in Glendale, AZ. The conference was sponsored by St. Lawrence Orthodox Church in Felton, CA, and their priest, Fr. Thaddaeus Hardenbrook, was one of the conference speakers and leaders. Fr. John A. Peck led the sessions by identifying important mission growth principles. Fr. Thaddaeus discussed the relationship of anthropology and Orthodox phroenema to mission work. A break for lunch at the local Buffalo Wild Wings was a happy success, and after lunch, Paul Rathbone, of the Theotokos “Joy of All Who Sorrow” and St. John Maximovitch Orthodox Mission spoke about Home Fellowship Groups. Conversations were lively, and continued well after the conference, into Vespers and Liturgy the next day!
Pictures of the event are below.
by John Sanidopoulos
Every Christmas season, the usual myths are hauled out and distributed for popular consumption. You know them. We’ve all heard or read them.
- That Christmas celebrations were stolen from the Romans
- The Christmas tree is a pagan hangover
- That other gods had virgin births
- That Yule and the mistletoe are all about Odin
These falsehoods are repeated often and loudly, under the guise of being “historical truths.” And strangely they still stump most Christians, who are then filled with doubt about what they believe.
Of course, these myths were designed to elicit precisely this sort of reaction from believers.
All of them were invented in the 18th- and 19th-centuries by specific writers, who were looking for ways to finally destroy traditional Christianity, and specifically Roman Catholicism. It was, in fact, a continuation of the Black Legend (the anti-Catholic propaganda of the Protestants, which continues to this day and has now been taken up by secularists).
Six writers of such legends have had the most long-reaching influence, despite peddling in ahistorical and groundless suppositions.
The earliest is Paul Ernst Jablonski (1693-1757), who in his De origine festi nativitatis Christi (Concerning the Origins of Christmas) set out to destroy Roman Catholicism by claiming that it was all pagan superstition (a view still rather common among many Protestants).
He was the first to suggest that Christmas was nothing other than a pagan celebration for Mithras (the Persian god adopted into the Roman army, like a mascot, if you will). Until recently, in fact, Protestants tended not to celebrate Christmas, deeming it to be paganism.
Jablonski made all his claims without a shred of historical evidence. But his real legacy is the habit of mind that he created – which holds to the supposition that beneath the superficial Christian overlay, there is a jumble of ancient superstitions, myths, pagan folk customs and practices. Scratch a Christian and you find a Roman pagan.
And this habit of mind is now a thriving industry, with everyone and his uncle nursing a pet theory about how “pagan” Christianity really is.
Ernst Friedrich Wernsdorf (1718-1782) picked up where Jablonski left off and claimed that Christmas was just an adapted Roman celebration for the Unconquerable Sun (Sol Invictus). He laid out his case in De originibus solemnium natalis Christi ex festivitate natalis invicti (The Origins of Christmas in the Festival of the Birth of the Unconquerable Sun).
Wernsdorf further popularized the trend of finding ways to debunk Christianity via spurious historical references. In this view, Christians were a fraud, foisted upon the world by conniving, power-hungry lot who wanted to control the Roman Empire.
The real historical evidence points to the fact that Christians were always distancing themselves from anything pagan. So much so that they were willing to be slaughtered in the arenas, rather than agree to anything the pagans wanted them to do to fit into being “Greek” (which the Christians of the Roman Empire called the pagans).
In fact, Christians were renowned throughout the Roman world for neither adopting nor adapting to pagan ways.
But Wernsdorf did set an influential precedent – implicating Christianity for “stealing” pagan ideas, festivals, theology, and making them their own. Again, all these assertions were made without a stitch of historical evidence – just a lot of suppositions and assumptions.
His views would find their most eloquent expression in Edward Gibbons (1737-1794) who wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (published in 1776, the same year as the American Revolution).
This then led to all kinds of suppositions about just how pagan Christianity was. Gibbons suggested that Christians destroyed the Roman Empire and replaced it with a terrible Dark Age, filled with superstition, ignorance and narrow-mindedness.
His explanation as to how Christians managed to do this was by a policy of adapting and adopting everything pagan, giving it a quick whitewash and proclaiming it as sound “Christian” theology – and in this way they won friends and influenced people.
We have to bear in mind that when Jablonski, Wensdorf and Gibbons are writing, there is a lot of interest in history among ordinary people (antiquarianism). Thus, there’s a great demand for books that explore and explain the past.
Antiquarianism would go on to establish history as a science, as well as archaeology, paleography, chronology. In short, the diachronic approach.
So, it’s also at this point that another modern phenomenon began to emerge – popular history, which took on a life of its own, and soon was separated from real, scholarly, evidence-based inquiries into past.
One such popularist was Alexander Hislop (1807-1865), whose life mission was to annihilate the Roman Catholic Church once and for all. He set about doing this by claiming that everything about Catholicism was nothing other than the disguised paganism of ancient Babylon.
It was Hislop who turned Constantine into the great “villain” who connived to create the Roman Catholic Church, building it entirely on the ancient Babylonian religion.
This cartoon version of Constantine is now widely popular and taken to be the “truth” by many.
Another contemporary, Charles William King (1818-1888), who published his influential work, The Gnostics and their Remains, in 1864, claimed that Christianity was simply Mithraism whose object of worship was the sun. King knew nothing about Mithraism, other than what he could find in Latin sources. And, of course, Mithraism has nothing to do with the sun.
As the work of the historians continued to bring to light more ancient civilizations, the “paganizers” found more grist for their various mills.
The most important among these was Gerald Massey (1828-1907), who went more ancient than Rome and latched on to Egypt as the “real” root of Christianity. It’s he who is responsible for the howler that Jesus is actually Horus (the ancient Egyptian sky god, often depicted as a falcon).
Wallace then went to town as he concocted a heady brew of “proofs” – that Horus was born of a virgin mother; that Horus was baptized in a river by a baptizer named Anup; that Horus had twelve disciples; that Horus was crucified and rose from the dead and proclaimed as savior of mankind. None of this is true, of course. It’s all Wallace letting his imagination run amok.
So, this brief exertion into the origins of the still-vibrant Debunk Christianity industry points to something far more important…
- That Christianity is unique. It has no pagan links. All claims that assert a pagan connection are easily destroyed (it would be dull going through them one-by-one)
- That the message of Christianity is entirely new. Nothing like it ever existed in the ancient world.
- That unlike the pagan gods, Jesus is a thoroughly historical figure.
- That Christian theology is unlike any other, whose main principles (love, forgiveness, charity, and a personal relationship with God) are unprecedented in any other religion.
- That even the Resurrection is a verifiable, historical event, entirely provable by clear evidence.
The consequences of all the attacks by the “paganizers” (who have now grown in number) are easily disproved.
This means that…
Christmas is only Christian and nothing else, and was established as a Christian feast day from the very earliest time of the faith.
Christmas trees are an ancient symbol of the hope that Christ offers. They are “paradise trees,” and symbolize the Garden of Eden, to which human beings return by faith in Christ. They have nothing to do with Germanic or Roman pagan festivals (for which we have no concrete historical evidence).
The mistletoe represents the love of God, which is why couples kiss beneath it. The Old English word, “mistel” really refers to the her basil, which in ancient Christian herbals (book of healing herbs), is associated with the crucifixion. When the True Cross was found by Saint Helen, the spot where she had dug for it was covered in basil.
And, no, the mistletoe is not a hangover from “Germanic” paganism. We have no idea what the ancient Germanic tribes worshipped, because the further back we go, the more Roman these tribes present themselves – and the evidence of Christianity is pervasive among them. By the time these Germanic people appear in history, they are already Christians. The connection with Baldur is spurious, since none can now say what is ancient and pagan and what is invented by Snorri Sturluson to flesh out his narratives.
As for the term, “yule,” the earliest mention comes from the Venerable Bede who tells us that it was the name for the month of December among the Anglo-Saxons.
We cannot really use the Scandinavian evidence because it is much later (Snorri Sturluson dates from the 13th-century). So, Bede makes the earliest reference. And Odin is nowhere in sight! All the later mythologizing is merely neo-pagan wishful thinking.
Murdo Macdonald, in his book, The Need To Believe, summarizes all these efforts to make Christ and Christianity into anything but what it really is:
“…certain authors tried to prove that Jesus, as a historical person, never existed. He was only a figment of the imagination, a fanciful creation, a mythical figure, giving expression to the religious aspirations of mere heretical tendencies of the time. These attempts have long been abandoned and no reputable scholar gives them a passing thought… It may be possible to ignore the New Testament and to misread history, selecting only those parts of it which lend sanction and support to our own personal bias, but it is difficult all the time to elude the challenge of Christ Incarnate in human character.”
Christianity is not pagan in any way. It is uniquely its own. This is what scholarly history shows us. Though the lies be many, there can be only one truth.
In light of the terrible earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska, we offer this homily by St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the occasion of an earthquake in his day.
Have you seen God’s power, have you seen God’s love for mankind?
His power, because He shook the world; His love, because He made the tottering world firm again; or rather, you saw both His power and His love in both. For the earthquake showed His power, and its cessation showed His love, because He shook the earth and made the world fast again, because He set it upright when it was rocking and about to fall. The earthquake has gone by, but let the fear remain; that tossing has run its course, do not let discretion depart with it.
We spent three days in prayer; let us not relax our zeal. This is why the earth quake came: because of our laxity. We relaxed, and we summoned the earthquake; we renewed our zeal, and we drove away His anger. Let us not relax again, or we may again summon His anger and His retribution.
For God does not desire the death of the sinner, but that he should repent and live. Have you seen the mortality of the human race? When the earthquake came, I reflected with myself and said, where is theft? Where is greed? Where is tyranny? Where is arrogance? Where is domination? Where is oppression? Where is the plundering of the poor? Where is the arrogance of the rich? Where is the domination of the powerful? Where is intimidation? Where is fear? One moment of time and everything was torn apart more easily than a spider’s web, everything was shattered, the city was full of shrieking, and everyone ran to the church.
Consider, if God had chosen to demolish everything, what we would have suffered. I say this, so that the fear of these events may remain sharp in you and may keep everyone’s resolution firm. He shook us, but He did not destroy us. If He had wished to destroy us, He would not have shaken us. But since He did not wish to destroy us, the earthquake came in advance like a herald, forewarning everyone of the anger of God, in order that we might be improved by fear and prevent the actual retribution. He has done this even for foreign nations.
“Yet three days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
Why do You not overthrow the city? You threaten to destroy it, and why do You not destroy it?
“Because I do not wish to destroy, for this very reason I threaten.”
So what do You say?
“Lest I do what I say, let My word go in advance and prevent My deed.”
“Yet three days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown;”
then the prophet spoke, today the walls send out a voice. I say this, and I do not cease saying it, both to the poor and to the rich: consider how great God’s anger is, how easy and simple everything is to Him; and let us abstain from evil! In a brief moment of time He shattered the mind and resolution of each one of us, and He shook the foundations of our hearts.
Let us consider, if on that terrible day, when instead of one moment of time there will be endless ages, rivers of fire, threatening anger, powers dragging us to judgment, a terrible judgment seat, an incorruptible court, and the deeds of each one set before our eyes, no one to help, neither neighbor, nor counsel, nor relative, not a brother, not a father, not a mother, not a friend, not anyone else— what will we do then? Tell me. I bring fear to you in order to prepare your salvation.
I have wrought a lesson sharper than steel, so that each of you who has a gangrenous sore may cut it away. Have I not been asking all along, as I ask now, and do not cease asking, how long will you be attached to the things of this world? I am speaking to all of you, but especially to those who are ill and do not heed what I say. Or rather, the sermon is useful for each of you: for the ill person, to make him well, and for the healthy person, to keep him from falling ill. How long does money last? How long does wealth? How long ostentatious houses? How long the frenzied quest for pleasure in material things?
See, the earthquake came: how did wealth help anyone? The labor of both rich and poor was shattered. The possession perished along with the possessor, the house along with the builder. The city became the common tomb of all, a tomb not constructed by the hands of craftsmen but prepared by the disaster itself. Where was wealth? Where was greed? Do you see that everything was slighter than a spider’s web?
Did you see how in a brief moment of time He brought everything together?
So think over continually in yourselves that evening of the earthquake. Everyone else was afraid because of the earthquake, but I was afraid because of the cause of the earthquake. Do you understand what I mean? They were afraid that the city would collapse, and they would die; but I am afraid that the Master is angry with us. Death is not grievous, but it is grievous to provoke the Master.
So I was not afraid because of the earthquake, but because of the cause of the earthquake; for the cause of the earthquake was the anger of God, and the cause of His anger was our sins. Never fear punishment, but fear sin the mother of punishment. Is the city being shaken? What of it? But do not let your resolution be shaken. In the case of diseases and injuries we do not grieve for those who are being cured, but for those who have incurable diseases. Sin is the same as disease or injury; retribution is the same as surgery or medicine.
Do you understand what I am saying?
Pay attention: I want to teach you a word of wisdom. Why do we grieve for those who are being punished, but not for those who are sinning?
Punishment is not as grievous as sin, for sin is the reason for the punishment. If you see someone with a putrefying sore, and worms and discharges coming from his body, and you see him neglecting his infection, but you see another person with the same affliction benefiting from the hands of physicians, from cautery and surgery and bitter-tasting medicines, for whom will you grieve?
Tell me, for the one who is ill and is not being treated, or for the one who is ill and is being treated? In the same way imagine two sinners, one being punished, the other not being punished. Do not say, this one is lucky because he is rich, he strips orphans of their property, and he oppresses widows.
Apparently he is not ill, he has a good reputation in spite of his thefts, he enjoys honor and authority, he does not endure any of the troubles which afflict mankind—no fever, no paralysis, nor any other disease—a chorus of children surrounds him, his old age is comfortable; but you should grieve most for him, because he is indeed ill and receives no treatment. I shall tell you how.
If you see someone afflicted with dropsy, his body swollen with a painful spleen, and not hurrying to the doctor, but drinking cold water, keeping a Sybaritic table, getting drunk every day, surrounded with body-guards, and aggravating his disease, tell me, do you call him lucky or unlucky? If you see another person afflicted with dropsy, benefiting from the care of doctors, purging himself with hunger, with great difficulty braving his bitter medicines which are painful but bring forth health through pain, do you not call this person more fortunate than the other?
It is agreed: for one is ill and is not treated, but the other is ill and benefits from treatment. But, you may say, the treatment is painful. But its purpose is beneficial.
Our present life is like this also, but you must change the words from bodies to souls, from diseases to sins, from the bitter taste of medicines to the retribution and judgment from God. What the medicines, surgery, and cautery are for the physician, chastisement is for God.
Just as fire is often used to cauterize, to prevent the spread of infection, and as the steel removes decayed flesh, bringing pain but providing benefit, so hunger and disease, and other apparent evils, are used on the soul instead of steel and fire to prevent the spread of disease, by analogy with the body, and to make it better.
On Saturday, October 13, 2018 at the Cathedral of St. George in Daly City, CA, the Vicariate held the 3rd Annual Spiritual Retreat of the Vicariate for Palestinian/Jordanian Orthodox Christian Communities in the USA. The speakers were Archimandrite Damaskinos Alazrai (who gave his presentation in Arabic), Fr. Thaddaeus Hardenbrook, Fr. John A. Peck, and Fr. Leo Arrowsmith whose presentations are embedded below. Although it is not below, Master Iconographer Fr. Luke Dingman also gave a short presentation.
The text of Fr. John’s presentation is below the videos.