Tuesday, December 25, 2012

On the Nativity of Christ - St Gregory Nazianzus

    Christ is born, give glory; Christ is from the heavens, go to meet him; Christ is on earth, be lifted up. "Sing to the Lord, all the earth"; and to say both together, "Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice," for the heavenly one is now earthly. Christ is in the flesh, exult with trembling and joy; trembling because of sin, joy because of hope. Christ comes from a Virgin; women, practice virginity that you may become mothers of Christ. Who would not worship the one "from the beginning"? Who would not glorify "the Last"?

    This is our festival, this is the feast we celebrate today in which God comes to live with human beings, that we may journey toward God, or return,  - for so to speak thus is more exact - that laying aside the old human being we may be clothed with the new, and that as in Adam we have died so we may live in Christ, born with Christ and crucified with him, buried with him and rising with him.

A Reading from Festal Orations (Book, 2008) [WorldCat.org],   Oration 38, sections 1 & 4.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Guest Post - Of Apocalyptic Murmurings

     This post is something my friend Dallas wrote recently on the subjects of Advent and the supposed (and now past) Mayan End of the World.

One hears rumors that huge numbers of people take the supposed Mayan calendar seriously, and expect the world to end sometime today. This seems highly unlikely - that is, that large numbers of people are actually taking it seriously, but it may be so. The BBC is reporting mobs of New Agers descending on remote villages in Serbia to escape the wrath to come. (Did the Mayans have anything to say about Serbia?) Disturbingly, the BBC is also reporting on a crackdown of the Chinese government on a Christian sect that is rabble-rousing about the coming apocalypse and "spreading discontent," riding on the back of 2012 angst, I do suppose. I must be far from the global pulse, finding this all so unlikely.

One is more used to hearing about the coming apocalypse from our own Christian evangelicals - a motley group who can put aside most differences to agree on the pre-tribulation rapture. A walk through any Lifeway Christian Bookstore is enough to make any impressionable evangelical a part-time survivalist. "End Times" literature has an unusual appeal, for it is supposedly where the Bible intersects with commentary on contemporary Mideast politics and the most recent election in Washington. The literature combines the excitement and terror of the seven bowls of God's wrath with the excitement and terror of the most recent violence in Gaza or Damascus. The "End Times" commentary and speculation will not pan out, of course. It will not be like Harold Camping's apoplectic failure in prediction. The "Left Behind" blockbuster will fade more quietly out of memory without utterly ruining its authors and champions only because it was less specific in the timing of its predictions. Commentary about the end of the world will continue through the shelves of the Christian bookstore because it is excellent business, and the prophecies of the Bible, taken alone, are inscrutable enough to support any amount of interpretation. This, however, is not my point.

"End Times" literature is the concern of all who claim the name Christian because the most vocal Christians in America (the ones on television, by definition) have associated the religion strongly with speculation on the end of the world. The best selling "Christian" books are littered with novels of the end of the world, speculations on the end of the world, and the inevitable Shacks and Purpose Driven scholarship. No matter where the serious-minded Christian may fall in the spectrum of opinions, one faces disturbing odds of being identified with Christian apocalypticism merely because one identifies as a Christian. I seriously doubt even the average New Ager wants to be identified with the supposed Mayan apocalypse of 2012. The error ultimately lies in the whole mess being based in individual opinions and sectarian notions of the apocalypse, and the salvation in the stability (and the refusal to politicize doctrine) in the teaching of the Church. Any brief comparison between the teaching of an evangelical sect and the Orthodox Church or the Roman Catholic Church on eschatology will illustrate the difference between the new and political with the old and measured understanding.

When Christ told us to keep watch because no man knows the day when the Lord will come, He was not telling us to peddle tales of the end of the age, or invest our energies speculating on the coming apocalypse. We are meant to keep watch, but this is far secondary to the life of the Church. In the divine liturgy we remember the creed, that we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. In Advent, we recall Christ's first coming, incarnated in the womb of the Virgin, and we meditate on His second coming as foretold in the prophecies. We prepare for Christmas through prayer, holy readings, and spiritual discipline, and talk of Christmas each year as a holy feast, and a visitation of God in the mystical sense of the Christian calendar. This is what keeping watch and following Christ's command looks like.

Apocalypticism is stultifying and paralyzing. It brings disrepute on the our religion for obvious reasons, but it has serious, negative effects on the life of the Church. One who is convinced he lives on the eve of destruction cannot build for the future, of course. The smugness of evangelical apocalypticism lies in the conviction that the prognosticators speak from a hell-proof cocoon to denounce and warn of the end. This attitude is repulsive and naive, for no one is ready for virtually everything they know and see to burn. For the unconvinced outside of the Church, how can the evangelist convince the unbeliever of the love of Christ when the Christians are vocally calling for the destruction of the world and anticipating it with a devilish happiness? This is in contrast to the life of the Church in Advent, which is focused on spiritual discipline in community, preparing together to celebrate Christ's incarnation and to anticipate His second coming with prayers that we will be worthy of Him. When the Church meditates on the end of all things, we pray for God to postpone His judgment. We remember the scripture, "who can abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth?" Any man who claims to be ready and eager to stand before God and be judged is a man beyond my understanding. I remember the last words of an Orthodox saint: "Lord, give me more time! I have only begun to repent."

The Christian apocalypticism of the American imagination is unfortunate baggage of American Christianity. The rumors and speculations will most likely swirl around and fade away rather than be confronted with authority and dismissed, and this is a bad state of affairs. The stable testimony of the Christian tradition, which extends past all the strange teachings of our age, will reward all who search for it. The bad effects of apocalyptic convictions have damaged the faith of many in our own lives. The cautionary tales of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the false prophecy of their day of judgement, or the Seventh Day Adventists with their false prophecy, did nothing to slow the zeal of Camping and his followers. The sensational apocalyptic teachings always backfire, and the false prophets with the day and the hour are only the most disastrous and the most visible. The dark teachers in American Christianity who call for the day of judgment with excitement have a much larger and more damaging effect in the long-term. Through them, our faith is associated with their frank desire to watch the world burn and to watch the sinners suffer. We have a word for this desire, and it is sadism. Those who call for military maneuvers to bring about the end of the world are beyond the pale.This kind of teaching is perverse, and all of the faithful are best advised to join the Church in prayer that God will delay His day of judgment: that we will all have time to reform our own lives and to make ourselves and the world itself holy and prepared for His coming. Let us reflect this Advent on the wisdom of the Church, and may we use it to banish these confused speculations and the disrepute they have brought on our holy faith.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Feast Day of St Thomas the Apostle

     Today in the West we celebrate the feast of my patron saint, Thomas the Apostle. 

     In the Orthodox Tradition, he is known not for his doubt, but for his wonderful confession of faith "My Lord and My God!" when he came face to face with the risen Savior.  It is a pious custom in the West to confess as did St Thomas "My Lord and My God" when the priest presents the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
     The Lord commended Thomas for his faith, and furthermore blessed those in the generations to come saying "Blessed are they that do not see, and yet believe." 
     Holy Apostle Thomas, by your intercession to Christ our God, may our faith be strengthened and may our souls be saved. Amen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gaming Report - Kasserine Pass

     Yesterday afternoon my older son and I finished a game modeling the Battle of Kasserine Pass (1943), specifically the GDW game Bloody Kasserine [1992].  It is a mid-complexity wargame with units at the battalion level. I bought the game back in 1992, when it was new, and have finally, 20 years later, actually played against an opponent.
     Kasserine Pass was a step up in terms of the complexity of game for my son. This game includes air units, and specialized ground units like engineers and anti-aircraft (flak) units. Of course my son the plane expert knew all of the aircraft types, both American and German. I played the German side, which has more on the board in the first turns, but at least in the air finds the odds evening and shifting away to the Americans. My son had the rule booklet near memorized by the time we began, and he made few strategic errors. His plans may not have been Patton-esque yet, but he certainly stalled me out in the titular pass. The town of Kasserine is right in the middle of the map, but is actually one of the less strategically important towns. The airfield at Tebessa and the city of Le Kef are much more valuable. I never reached either of them, as the Allied forces went quickly on the offensive and hit me on the south side of the mountains, away from the crucial airbases. The Allied air support was notably more effective than the German's. Only time I've ever not liked the Supermarine Spitfire. They shot down a lot of my Me-109's and FW-190's. A lot of the battles were pitched at 1:1 odds, which is not my favorite, and resulted in the two sides locked in position without any ground being traded. There were a lot of flanking/surrounding moves on both sides. 
     In the end, my son held on to enough strategic ground to end up with a narrow Allied victory, nicely approximating the actual outcome of the battle. Maybe next time, we'll use the optional "what if?" rule that makes George Patton the commander of the Allied forces - this means the Allies get reinforced sooner, and get a movement point bonus reflecting Patton's hard-charging tactics. I'm pleased and excited to see my son's game improving, and as a bonus I have more fun from more serious challenge. I think I'm a big enough guy to congratulate my son if ever he should wipe the board with me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

New (Old) Gaming Goodies

     Last month (or so) I mentioned that I had won second place in the Zhodani Base's "76 Patrons" contest with a little adventure called Renovations. With that honor came a gift cert good over at Drive Thru RPG. Yesterday I finally got around to spending my hard-earned credit, and I picked up some nice play aids. I got a D66 sheet of 66 Cargoes - things interesting and mundane to find in a ship's hold. I picked up some back issues of Signs & Portents, Mongoose Publishing's house organ, which usually features some material for Traveller. Best of all, I got a PDF version of the Judge's Guild supplement Starships and Spacecraft with it's selection of deck plans for some of the typical Traveller small starships. Deck plans are fun to make, but can be very time consuming, so this supplement is a time-saver, and looks cool as well.

Just Across Town nearing publication?

     Many, many months ago, I put up a series of posts introducing characters from a short story I was writing, called Just Across Town. I am glad to announce that I've finally gotten it done (enough) to submit to the good folks at Lantern Hollow Press, who published my story Snowball last year. I am hopeful that they will publish JAT in their spring issue, but I figure if they don't, then I'll break it up into segments and publish it here, in serial format, like Charles Dickens (no, I'm not putting myself in the same category of writer as Dickens).
     The story is how my four main characters, who are touring their way around My Traveller Universe, find themselves at the wrong (right?) place at the wrong (right?) time and have to take a dangerous journey of only a few miles under difficult conditions in order to save the day.

Friday, December 7, 2012

St Nicholas Day 2012

     So many of my Facebook friends were having fun yesterday on St Nicholas' feast day, posting fun pictures and videos about him, that I decided to gather some up and re-post them here. Last year I shared the story of St Nicholas, so I won't do that all again - you can check that post HERE. Enjoy, laugh, and may the Wonderworker of Myra pray for us to Christ our God.

One version of the story of his encounter with Arius says he boxed Arius' ears.

A Youtube video about St Nicholas

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Memory Eternal - Patriarch +Ignatius IV

     It is with much sadness that I report that His Beatitude Patriarch +Ignatius (IV) Hazim, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East fell asleep in the Lord early today, December 5th, 2012. He had suffered a stroke yesterday and reposed early this morning. He was 91 years old, and had been Patriarch of Antioch since 1979. This is a serious blow especially to the Orthodox Christians in Syria, where +Ignatius led the patriarchate from Damascus, on a Street called Straight. I have never met His Beatitude, but I am grateful to him (and many others) that I and my family were welcomed into the family of Orthodoxy. I intend to thank him personally some day for his work in sharing the light of Holy Orthodoxy in America.

 The Orthodox Wiki article on His Beatitude.

A news report of his repose: http://www.pravmir.com/patriarch-ignatius-of-antioch-has-reposed-after-suffering-stroke/
Another report: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Local-News/2012/Dec-05/197289-lebanons-patriarch-hazim-dies-at-91.ashx#axzz2EBi5dQJu
From the Antiochian Archdiocesan Website: Memory Eternal Patriarch Ignatius

     Lord, receive into your eternal kingdom your faithful servant +Ignatius. Grant him rest, grant him peace, may your Light Perpetual shine upon him, and may his memory be eternal. Amen.