Friday, December 29, 2006

Get Religion

I check out a few websites almost every day for relevant news coverage. One of my favorite websites for daily viewing is The site doesn't just cover religious news stories, but provides analysis on how the secular press handles new stories related to religion. The site derives its name from a quote by William Schneider: “On the national level the press is one of the most secular institutions in American society. It just doesn’t get religion or any idea that flows from religious conviction.” I find the way the press covers the Orthodox Church and our way of life particularly interesting, but the way the secular press covers religious stories in general is worth considering. Press coverage tells us a lot about our society and culture.

Read Orthodixie as a suppliment to


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The DaVinci Code at Christmas

A few days ago, before Christmas, I watched The Da Vinci Code. I hadn't read the book and was waiting for a copy of the movie to make its way into my hands. I walked up the road to talk to one of my neighbors the other night as he cleaned out his garage. He owns The Da Vinci Code DVD. The conversation turned to the film. We talked about Church history. He let me borrow the DVD.

I stayed up late that night. What did I think of the movie? I was entertained. It was sort of like National Treasure in a way. It's an interesting piece of fiction. It's perhaps more like science fiction than historical fiction. I could write an analytical article describing the historical and theological inaccuracies in the film, but that's like writing about the scientific inaccuracies in Star Wars, Dr. Who, or Battlestar Galactica. The movie not only misrepresents the early Church but even misrepresents the heretics. The history and world presented by Dan Brown is like what one might encounter when traveling into an alternate universe. (Watch Dr. Who or Stargate.)

Some people may confuse the fiction in this film with reality. If the movie were presented as a documentary, then the movie should be condemned as a work of heresy, a deviation of the truth that can lead people away from a healthy understanding of God and, therefore, themselves and their relationships with others. The movie isn’t' a documentary (which would be offensive), but fiction. It's based on a novel. The twisting of the truth in the movie just makes the movie look kind of ridiculous to the knowledgeable. Nevertheless, it's entertaining. It reflects the yearning and confusion of our society.

The movie can have a positive effect. After watching the film there may be those who want to learn what is really going on. Fiction can peek people's interest in the real story behind it. On the other hand, the movie can just confuse a lot of people who are already confused about what is true and what is false. In the first century St. Paul the Apostle wrote to St. Timothy saying, "The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths" (RSV). Nothing has changed. The truth is far more interesting and beneficial than fiction, but deeply knowing the Truth takes time, calls us to get over ourselves, and requires personal committment.

Anyone who wants to know who Christ is, who St. Mary Magdalene is, what the Church is, and what the holy grail is can find the real meaning in the Orthodox Church, the original, ancient Church rooted in Christ and founded upon the Holy Apostles. We regard Mary Magdalene as "Equal to the Apostles" and sing to her, "When God, who is transcendent in essence, came with flesh into the world, O Myrrhbearer, He received you as a true disciple, for you turned all your love toward Him; Henceforth you would yourself work many healings. Now that you have passed into heaven, never cease to intercede for the world!" Within the Orthodox Church the truth has been preserved and lived for 2,000 years. For us the truth doesn't need to be rediscovered. It's a way of life. To many Americans, however, the Orthodox way of life remains an unknown secret, brilliantly shining, but hidden in the shadows of ignorance.

In The Da Vinci Code story secret symbolic meaning is applied to Leonardo Da Vinci's 15th century mural, The Last Supper. If people seek to discover what the early Church, the Orthodox Church, has believed since the beginning, they can find the meaning within the Church in our sacred iconography. What is the true meaning of Christmas? Who is the One who was born in a cave and laid in a manger? The holy icons teach it today as they have for centuries. When those who live the Orthodox way look deeply into the image they can see the truth in the icon and look beyond the wood and paint to encounter the One Himself who has been born among us.

Copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees. The image is in the public domain.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Christmas Message from the Ancient Patriarchate of Antioch

The Nativity of our Savior Jesus Christ dawns upon us each year to remind us of God's infinite mercy and love for His entire Creation, and to call us to reflect again on the sublime Mystery of the Divine Incarnation, without which our salvation would not be possible.

Christmas should constitute, for all of us, an occasion of spiritual renewal, a moment of meditation on our life, acts, behavior, and on our commitment to live in Christ.

Peace and joy was poured upon earth at the moment the Divine Child appeared in a humble cave. The pure-hearted, humble shepherds were the persons who received Him, not the world's powerful leaders.

Christmas is an invitation, for all of us, to contemplate on the heavenly message and to strive for peace, which is not, unfortunately, attainable nowadays, in the cradle of the Good News, in the land of the Incarnation, and in many regions of our suffering, crucified world.

Images of massacre and destruction are shown and diffused every day, as well as images of the violation of the dignity of the human being for whom the Glorified Son consented to dwell among us, in order to restore our affiliation to the Father, to enable us to sit with Him on the Day of Judgment.

We pray Our Lord, during this honorable season of Christmas, the New Year and Theophany, to grant us peace and stability, praising God and acclaiming with the Angels:

"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill to men.”

+ His Beatitude Ignatius IV, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East

(I received this photo along with the Christmas message from one of our bishops in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Bronze Serpent: A Sign of Healing

After God had liberated the Israelites from oppressive slavery in Egypt, when Moses was leading them to their own homeland, the people complained to Moses, "Have you brought us out of Egypt into the wilderness so that we'll die here? We don't have any food or water. We can't stand this worthless food." (God had been providing them with food all along, but they wouldn't be satisfied.)
Because of their lack of faith, serpents came from the wilderness to invade their camp. Many of the Israelites died from snake bites. The people approached Moses in repentence saying, "We have sinned by complaining against you and against God. Pray to God on our behalf so that He will take these snakes away from us."

Moses prayed for the people. God mercifully replied, "Make a serpent and place it on a pole. Whenever someone who has been bitten looks upon it, he will be healed."

Following God's instructions, Moses made a bronze serpent and placed it upon a pole. God healed everyone who looked upon it.

The bronze serpent that Moses raised up in the age of the ancient prophets pointed to the time when God would dwell among humanity to heal us all from the affects of death, giving us the fullness of life. Speaking about Himself, Christ proclaimed, "No one has gone up to heaven except the One who came down from heaven, the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, the Son of Man must also be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."

Orthodox bishops often carry a staff as a symbol of their authority as shepherds of the Church. A staff may be crowned with two serpents facing each other, each one looking upon the Cross centered between them. The bishop is the chief physician who oversees the Church, the spiritual hospital founded by the Great Physician, Christ Himself. When we see the bishop's staff we should remember that Christ came to heal us. He was lifted upon the Cross to triumph over death, which had infected humanity and the whole cosmos. Through the Cross, the Tree of Life, we have life.

The Orthodox Way is the way of the Cross, the way of divine healing. Within the Orthodox Church we participate in the divine life and receive the healing grace of God that transforms us into true human beings who embody divine love, live in communion with our Creator, and promote harmony in the world around us.

A couple photos of Metropolitan Philip with a staff like the one described here is available on Wikipedia.

Copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees. The public domain image of "Moses and the Brazen Serpent" by S√©bastien Bourdon is available at the Art Renewal Center. Used by permission.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Real St. Nicholas

Although the myth of Santa Claus is associated with Christmas, the Orthodox Christian Church commemorates St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Bishop of Myra, every year on December 6th.

For information on St. Nicholas visit the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America or Orthodoxwiki.

The State Newspaper in South Carolina published a story about the Feast Day of St. Nicholas.

Thanks to an Orthodixie post, I discovered that a new movie, Nicholas of Myra, is currently in production.

(The icon is from the IconoGraphics Colorworks Collection, Used by permission.)

Monday, December 04, 2006

A World Split Apart

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, an Orthodox Christian writer, delivered the commencement address to the Harvard University graduating class of 1978. He had won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. In 1974 the Communists deported him from his beloved Russia. The speech he delivered at Harvard on June 8, 1978, entitled, A World Split Apart, describes the decline of Western culture. His words remind us about the connection between our present cultural sickness and our loss of spirituality. I find his words inspiring. They remind me of how critical Orthodox Christian spirituality is to the healing and renewal of American culture.

"If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era. This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but -- upward." - Alexander Solzhenitsyn, A World Split Apart

The text of the speech, A World Split Apart, is available on the Columbia University website or at The National Review Online.

You can listen to a recording of the original speech (including the original English translation from Russian) at the American Rhetoric site.

Read more about Alexander Solzhenitsyn at

The photo from Wikipedia is in the public domain.