Florida’s Republican-led state legislature on Thursday passed a bill sought by Gov. Ron DeSantis to cancel Walt Disney World’s special tax district in Florida.
Dreher For Brits
Woke up this morning in Brussels, where I will be giving a Live Not By Lies talk in a few minutes, to find that Sebastian Milbank has written a generous piece about me in The Critic, introducing me to British readers. Here’s an excerpt:
I asked him how he reconciles his scepticism of authority, and the idolatry of family and place, with Orban’s Hungary, and nationalism in general. Dreher replied he was a “reluctant nationalist”, but “believes nations are important”. His defence of nationhood is not triumphalist, he suggested, but essentially conservative, praising the diversity of cultures in Europe, and opposed to what he calls “the McDonaldisation of Europe”, arguing that America has been turned into a “shithole” by relentless capitalism.
His perspective on state power is realist — it is always going to exist, and if it isn’t used to defend basic natural goods like the family, or religious faith, it will be wielded by those who are their relentless enemy. And if he’s sceptical of traditional authority, he’s even more wary of the panglossian narratives of modern liberalism. He’s determined to break the taboo on the right against using political levers to restrain the power of big business.
But having made the improbable leap from America to Continental Europe, can Dreher be translated into a British milieu? In some ways he’s utterly at odds with traditional English sensibilities. He’s disarmingly open, fluently and earnestly laying out his life story over the course of our conversation.
His religiosity, for all its fascination with Europe and tradition, is very American: apocalyptic and with a passionate, personal relationship with his saviour which he describes as “an active life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ”. There’s more than a touch of revivalist preacher to Rod.
But here is something we’ve lost: passionate self-expression and apocalypticism were once defining features of many religious communities in this country, and those passions still quietly burn away in the pages of Milton and Blake. His influence is already being felt in Britain, as I learned when I spoke to Daniel French, an Anglican priest and one of Dreher’s English supporters.
French believes that the shock of the pandemic, in which many ordinary Anglicans were horrified by the bishops’ willingness to close churches, and their increasingly managerialist agenda for the Church, has helped generate an appetite for something very different.
With the establishment apparently blind to, or complicit in, the dwindling of British Christianity, French believes The Benedict Option presents an alternative that meets the scale of the crisis: “It is naive to think that change in Christian fortunes is just one revival tent away. The Benedict Option points rather to our corporate journey out of exile requiring several generations of introspection.” Conservatism and Christianity alike may have to accept some time in the wilderness if they’re to recapture their soul, and to truly revive.
According to Daniel French there is an increasingly “underground” aspect to conservative Christian life in the UK — believers have woken up to the fact that the culture is against them, and in many cases even traditional religious leaders too.
Another of his UK allies, Dr James Orr, believes that Rod Dreher is destined to have a significant impact on our conservatism. “His insights are proving more salient with every week that passes, not only for Christians but for all those who are beginning to feel the consequences of rejecting the West’s Christian inheritance.
“As hyper-progressivism continues to colonise the UK public square with neuralgic imports from the US culture wars, I predict that more and more people in the UK will start to take Dreher’s jeremiads seriously and pay attention to his constructive proposals.”
Whether or not James Orr is right, Dreher is interesting not just for who he is, but for what he represents. He stands at a newly emergent nexus of traditional European conservatism, English realism, and American romanticism and religiosity. With an increasingly sterile politics, caught between technocratic centrism and the hollow battles of the culture wars, there’s a desperate need for new ideas, and fresh approaches. This is a man worth listening to.
About the “shithole” comment. I made it with conscious reference to Donald Trump’s controversial remark about “shithole countries” of the Third World. I love America, but I do not love what America has become, thanks to radical individualism and a marketplace culture that valorizes desire. Our capitalism-über-alles stance has allowed us to buy and sell human life, and the mechanism for creating human life (e.g., surrogacy, IVF clinics that create hundreds of embryos), and is now allowing, even mandating, the deliberate destruction of the human in children, for the sake of allowing them to create a gender identity of their choosing. It doesn’t make you a socialist to oppose that; it just makes you a Christian who believes that God is greater than the market, and that facilitating choice is not the summum bonum of social and political life.
There’s a minor error of location — Sebastian has me living in DC at a time when I was actually living elsewhere — but overall it’s a lovely piece, and I’m grateful for his interest in my work. I am also grateful for the kind things that Father David French and Dr. James Orr said about me to Sebastian.
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We Might Miss Liberalism When It’s Gone
Sorry for the light posting — I’ve been traveling back to Budapest from Jerusalem, and now I’m in the Budapest airport on my way to Brussels for a speech. I’ve not had much time. I did a series of wonderful interviews with people I met on my week in Jerusalem. I’m going to transcribe them and roll them out here over the next few days. I think you’ll find them all interesting.
Despite some unpleasantness, which I wrote about on this blog, the trip to the Holy Land was overwhelmingly positive, and I cannot encourage you strongly enough to visit. I did have a philosophical moment on the way to pray at the Western Wall on Sunday. As most of you know, the Western Wall is all that remains of Herod’s Temple. It is the holiest place on earth that is freely accessible to Jews. The Temple Mount is the holiest place, but Muslim places of worship are there now, and it is not easy for Jews to get there. You will have seen images of pious Jews praying at the Western Wall. Some Christians go there to pray too. I did, first to pray for the intentions of a Jewish friend, and then to pray for the Jewish people, and for the peace of all God’s children in this holy land.
The Old City is difficult to navigate, and I was having trouble with my GPS. I saw an Israeli soldier escorting two younger women dressed like religious Jews. I asked them if they could show me the way to the Kotel (the Hebrew word for the Western Wall). They said they were going there, and invited me to follow them.
The women looked to be in their mid-thirties. One was white, the other black. The black woman comes from continental Europe, and is in the process of converting to Judaism. She comes from a non-observant Catholic family, and explained how happy she was to have found Judaism. The joy on her face was palpable. She talked about how life back home had so little meaning. Not anymore.
The white woman, who I think had an English accent, was very intense. She told me that she had spent a decade in a Hindu religious cult, but came out of it a year ago. Now she was in Israel, embracing the faith of her ancestors. Yet she was very, very angry. She kept engaging the soldier in conversation about how horrible the Muslims were, and how disgusted she was with the Israeli government for going so soft on non-Jews. We reached a promontory overlooking the plaza in front of the Western Wall, and the white woman scowled.
“Look at them,” she said, referring to Muslims milling about on the Temple Mount. “That doesn’t belong to them. It’s ours. It’s ours! We should push them off of it. Why is the government so weak?”
The soldier didn’t really disagree with her, but his tone was more moderate. The angry white woman kept cutting him off to denounce Muslims and Gentiles. I kept wondering if she could see that I was wearing a visible cross. I don’t think she noticed me at all. A year ago, she was praying to Ganesh, but now, she had adopted the persona of a militant settler. The black woman with the cheerful face kept chiming in to echo the extremism of her friend. It was as if she was learning that to be a Jew was to want to drive non-Jews off the land. I mean, this was the catechism she was imbibing from the Jews she had gone to for instruction in the faith.
I liked the soldier, if not his opinions. He told me he came to Israel eight years ago from Canada. He got tired of anti-Semitism back home, but more than that, he wanted to do something meaningful with his life. He said that his family back home had no real interest in Jewish culture and heritage. I could tell that this caused him pain.
“Those Jews in Tel Aviv,” he said, “the only thing they care about is pleasure and spending. But God gives us only one life, and we have a responsibility to use it to do important things.” He went on like that for a bit. I agreed with him wholeheartedly on that point.
Down on the plaza, the soldier asked the women if they wanted him to wait for them to finish praying, and escort them back to the Jaffa Gate. No, said the white woman, half-snarling; “I know how to treat them if they give me any trouble.” Then the two women went over to the women’s side of the wall to pray, and I said goodbye to the soldier, and went to the men’s. After I left, and meandered over to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I started thinking about the meaning of what I had witnessed.
All three of these Jews — and the Jew-in-training — had reacted against vacuous liberalism. They understandably found a life of hedonism and consumerism to be vapid and not worth living. And they’re right! But they had chosen paths that brought them into harsh conflict with those who didn’t share their ultimate commitments. This is unavoidable. Nothing like the Holy Land brings that into such sharp focus.
To be clear, not all Israeli Jews are so militant. But the demographic future of Israel favors the hardliners.
We all know, of course, how intolerant and hateful Islamic extremists of the city and the region are. That hardly needs elaboration in this space. When I was last in Jerusalem, in the year 2000, I interviewed a couple of Arab Christian men in their twenties. They told me that they hated the way Israel treated them, but that they would rather live under Israeli government than Palestinian government, which they feared at that time would mean Hamas. Christians would have no chance at all under Hamas, they said. To paraphrase the great Walter Sobchak, say what you will about Hamas’s insane, murderous Islamist ideology, but at least it’s an ethos.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? Say what you will about the various extremisms going around — religious and otherwise — but at least they call people out of themselves and orient them to something greater than individual pleasure. But it should be obvious that not all higher causes are equally honorable or virtuous. There is no way that Muslims and Jews who hold those radical beliefs about the land and its righteous use can live together. The conflict between absolutisms is especially vivid in the Holy Land, but you can see various versions of it playing out all over. Among us, the Woke are best understood as zealots of a political religion. They are purists who will not tolerate any opposition. In my case, I would prefer to live in a classical liberal society governed by a Judeo-Christian moral framework, but I have lost faith that this kind of liberalism is even possible anymore. Certainly the kind of conservatism that is really nothing but right-liberalism has proven completely ineffective in staving off progressive illiberalism.
Liberalism exists in part to make it possible for diverse peoples with irreconcilable beliefs to live together in peace. But it’s fading away, in part because it doesn’t offer enough to hold people like that Canadian man who moved to Israel to devote his life to defending the Jewish state. It doesn’t offer enough to hold that angry white woman, who didn’t find what she needed in the Hindu cult, and was now trying on settler extremism. It doesn’t offer enough to hold the ex-Catholic black woman, who wanted something more than the vacant middle-class rituals of post-Christian European life. What was especially interesting to me about the black woman is that she seemed clearly motivated by the joy of discovering Jewish religion, but had fallen in with a friend whose experience of passion for Judaism had primarily taken the form of hating non-Jews. What a tragedy.
Liberals tend to believe that all illiberal commitments are inevitably going to become intolerant and militant. And so, to forestall that, they have become in recent years the same thing that they profess to hate.
Understand me here: I share the same disaffection from secular liberalism that this Jewish trio does. You’ll read an interview here in the days to come with a Jewish man — one I’m pleased to call a friend — who moved from Canada to Israel seeking a deeper life, and who is now building it in a way that is wholly admirable. (My thought after our lunch was like that of François, the protagonist of Houellebecq’s Submission, with regard to his Jewish girlfriend who escapes France: I envy him that he has an Israel to go to.) But I have no doubt at all that the angry English Jewish convert would never tolerate Christian me if she had the power not to. All I can figure is that she shared her sharp opinions so freely because she assumed that if I was going to the Kotel, I must be Jewish. I am also sure that there are Christians who are just as intolerant. I saw a distinguished Catholic priest, a theologian who supports integralism, on Twitter defending executing heretics. While there are far more cutthroat Israeli settlers and bloody-minded Islamist militants in the world than killer Catholics (or Orthodox, or other Christians), we ought to know by now enough about human nature to realize that the skull is always just below the surface.
After the long Paschal liturgy, I stopped by a shawerma shop that was open at five a.m. to break the Lenten fast. Others from the liturgy followed me in. We were all in a celebratory mood. I started talking to the Orthodox men at the table next to me.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“Republika Srpska!” he said. “You have heard of it? In Bosnia?”
Yes, I had. This is the statelet that had waged war on Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s, and whose soldiers committed horrible atrocities. The next day, talking to a Serbian friend, I asked him if Republika Srpska sentiment was coming back.
“Oh yes,” he said, “and very fast.” Then he told me about how the Gulf Arab states are pouring funding into Albania and Kosovo to fund Wahhabi mosques, to turn the Muslims there militant. The Kosovar Muslims are going after Serbian Orthodox monasteries, he said, and showed me horrific videos of sacrileges and destruction. He said that the current Islamic government of Bosnia is working now to promote militancy among Bosnian Muslims, and the Bosnian Serbs are responding in kind.
He expected that we would see war in the Balkans again, before much longer. In fact, I had heard an international correspondent say the same thing two months ago over coffee in Budapest.
Liberalism is falling apart, because honestly, who can give a damn about what it has become? Silencing everyone who disagrees, mutilating children and alienating them from their bodies, sanctifying a certain kind of racism, valorizing pornography and transgressive sex, and all the rest. Good riddance to it.
But we are going to miss it when it’s gone, and people like that angry Jewish woman, and Madame Defarge of the Millennials, are in the driver’s seat. It’s coming.
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An Anti-Christian Disgrace In Jerusalem
Today is the holiest day in the year for Christians — or, I should say, Orthodox Christians. It’s Pascha (Easter), for us; Western Christians celebrated Easter last week. The first service of Pascha begins at midnight tonight, which is why I say that today is the holiest day; to be honest, Pascha stretches from that service tonight, and lasts all day tomorrow.
Here in Jerusalem, though, Holy Saturday has particular meaning to local Christians because of the miracle (it is believed by most) of the Holy Fire. This is the first sign of the Resurrection. At 11 am, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher fills with believers. After noon, the Greek Patriarch goes into the edicule, the “little house” built over the tomb of Christ, prays, then, according to belief, a divine energy descends, lighting the Patriarch’s candles. He then emerges and passes the flame to everyone there. It is an ecstatic moment, as you can see here. I have a ticket to get into the Church this morning for the event. Me, I’m skeptical about whether or not it’s truly a miracle — I am certainly willing to believe — but no Orthodox believers from this region doubts at all. Whether the Holy Fire is a true miracle of mere symbolism, it is a central annual event in the lives of Christians in the city and region where Jesus lived, ministered, suffered, died, and rose again.
I’m staying at a hotel inside the Old City, where I was advised to book a room out of fear that the Jerusalem police would not let Christians into the Old City on Holy Saturday. This turns out to have been very good advice.
After an early breakfast in our hotel, a Christian friend and I decided to go over to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to pray. We got to the end of our street, which opens onto the plaza at the Jaffa Gate, and two Jerusalem police officers told us we couldn’t pass. Then she said we could leave, but there was no guarantee that we could get back in. We walked past the barrier, over to the Jaffa Gate, where I saw this big crowd of Christians behind the barrier, denied entrance into the Old City:
The police officer at the gate said we could leave the Old City, but when we returned, to tell the guards at the bottom to phone her, and she would tell them to let us in. She was polite, and tried to be accommodating, but I told my friend that I didn’t want to risk not being able to get back in. My friend, who lived in Israel for years, told me that he doesn’t blame these cops. “They’re all Israeli millennials,” he said. “Many of them don’t like this any more than we do. These are their orders.”
Meanwhile, Orthodox Jews like this man, wearing a white prayer shawl, passed easily into the Old City, going to the Western Wall on the Jewish Sabbath to pray:
My friend said, “In all my years living in Israel, I’ve never seen that. Wow.”
A few minutes later, an Arab Christian shop owner said to us, “You see what we have to live with? Every year it’s like this.”
Before we returned to the hotel, I saw a small group of Christians passing by, headed into the Old City. They must have been allowed to pass by the police at the Jaffa Gate. But this was only a small number; by far the greater part of the crowd remained outside.
Later this morning, my friend and I will be allowed to pass into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, because we managed to get tickets to the service. Normally, though, you don’t need a ticket. The Patriarch has protested the Jerusalem police decision to limit the number of Christian worshippers allowed into the Old City for the Holy Fire ceremony. In a press statement about the letter the Patriarch sent to the head of Jerusalem police, the Patriarchate said:
The controversy has ended up in Israeli court. The Israelis say this is a matter of safety, but no Christian here believes that. There have been violent clashes this weekend between Israeli soldiers and Islamic worshipers outside the Christian Quarter of the Old City, but Christians do not cause problems. We are peaceful. Yet the Israelis won’t let our people come freely to worship. Why not?
There is a broader controversy here that the worldwide Christian community should know about. It involves the activities of a radical Israeli settler group that aims to “redeem” Jerusalem by cleansing it of non-Jews. The controversy for now centers around the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City. This 2019 story from The Guardian gives a good overview. Since that report, the radicals of Ateret Cohanim have taken possession of the Imperial Hotel. Here is a more recent report from The Telegraph:
Atop the roof of the Petra Hotel, almost every major Christian site and denomination in Old Jerusalem is visible, from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection and the centre of world Christianity, through to the lowly Swedish Christian Study Centre.
Located by the ancient city’s Jaffa Gate, where the Christian Quarter meets the Armenian Quarter, the strategically located hotel and its neighbours, Little Petra and the Imperial Hotel, are at the heart of an epic legal battle that local Christians said epitomises their struggle to cling on in this holiest of cities.
“The problem of Jaffa Gate is the problem of the coming generations for hundreds of years,” claimed Abu Walid Dajani, the proprietor of the Imperial Hotel. “Fifty years from now, there will be no Christians in Jerusalem. I can see Jerusalem, unfortunately… it’s a cemetery.”
The fight over the hotels came as Christians in Jerusalem face a demographic crisis and alleged increasing harassment from radical Jewish groups in the city.
Members of the clergy and local Christians that The Telegraph spoke to described regular incidents of verbal abuse, vandalism and spitting, as well as rare occasions of violent assault.
The property dispute dates back nearly two decades. At its heart are a series of deals done under the previous head of the Greek Patriarchate in Jerusalem in 2004 and 2005, in which key properties across the city were sold to Ateret Cohanim, a Jewish settler group which seeks to “reclaim” land in Jerusalem for Jews.
The Patriarchate, backed by the 12 other major Christian denominations in the Holy Land, insisted that the deals were the result of corruption and blackmail.
Irenaios I, the Patriarch at the time, signed over power of attorney to Nikolas Papadimos, an official in the finance department who made the deals with Ateret Cohanim.
When the sales came to light, Irenaios I became the first Patriarch in two centuries to be removed from office, while Mr Papadimos fled to South America.
Two factors have created renewed urgency. Ten days before The Telegraph visited the Petra Hotel, members of Ateret Cohanim forced their way into Little Petra in the middle of the night and occupied it.
On the day that The Telegraph visited, scorch marks were still visible on the door into Little Petra, whilst from inside the Petra Hotel, a single Jewish man was visible next door, through a broken window, dressed in a kippah, prayer shawl and tefillin and praying.
When The Telegraph spoke to one of the settlers, he had limited English and was unwilling to talk to journalists. Whilst he provided a phone number to call, no one picked up.
The second factor is a looming Supreme Court case in which the Greek Patriarchate will attempt to have the case reopened. Since the court last considered the case, a whistleblower has come forward, allegedly disgruntled at Ateret Cohanim’s failure to pay him, detailing supposed corruption by the group in the mid-Nineties.
Lawyers for the Patriarchate admitted that it does not prove that the 2004 and 2005 deals were corrupt, but they hope to demonstrate a pattern of behaviour and, crucially, to get Mr Dan in the witness box.
If the case is lost, the Christian community faces the prospect of losing control of a key area of the Christian Quarter where pilgrims enter on their route to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Christian churches start their processions.
The Patriarchate insisted that the row is not about preventing Jews from living where they want to, but stopping a co-ordinated attempt to change the character of the old city.
They point, as an example, to the former St John’s Hospice. Just 250yds east of the Jaffa Gate, it is the prime example of what the Christian church fears could happen across the quarter.
On the lintel above the entrance is the tau-phi monogram of the Greek Patriarchate, yet the vast building is bedecked with multiple Israeli flags, the windows barred and the stonework crumbling.
In 1990, this hostel for pilgrims was taken over by Ateret Cohanim, causing uproar among Christians and Muslims, and led to the closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in protest.
That hostel normally would have housed hundreds of Christian pilgrims. Now it is full of hostile Israeli settlers. The local Christians I’ve talked to this week believe that this is part of a settler plot to choke off access to Christian holy sites within the city, and force Christians out. One more clip:
At the far end of the Armenian Quarter, on Mount Zion, Father Nikodemus Schnabel works as a monk in the Benedictine Abbey of the Dormition. He told The Telegraph how more settlers had moved into derelict buildings around the order’s properties, bringing with them vandalism, littering, abuse and the throwing of projectiles.
“They destroy the tyres of our cars, graffiti ‘death to Christians’, break windows, they desecrate our cemetery, you know… ugly things, and it’s really invasive,” he said.
Both Father Baghdasaryan and Father Nikodemus were clear that this is not about Jews or Israelis in general, but a radical minority, with many Israelis unaware that there is even a problem.
Father Baghdasaryan described how when he was abused by extremists in front of an Israeli crowd in the new city, the crowd turned against the abusers.
“We have so much solidarity because there are many, many wonderful Jews who are ashamed of that behaviour,” said Father Schnabel. “But I see a lack of will among the authorities to really go after [the perpetrators].”
I want to emphasize that as far as I can tell, what the monk says is true: most Israeli Jews wouldn’t support these hate-filled radical settlers. But do they even know what is going on?
Here is a link to the Ateret Cohanim website.They sound innocent. Believe me, they are not. Guess who spoke at their 2010 dinner? John Bolton.
What is happening here in this holy city is a disgrace. I say that as an American Christian who cares for Israel, and who wants the Israelis and the Arabs to live in peace. But we American Christians, especially those who support Israel, cannot stand by and allow these radical Jews to stomp all over our people in the city where Jesus lived, died, and rose from the dead. I believe in Israel’s right to exist, especially as a safe haven for the Jewish people. But I do not believe in the Jewish right to abuse non-Jews, especially in the holy city. I also do not believe that my Israeli Jewish friends support this. I hope that Christians and Jews of good will will rise up, repudiate these radical settlers, and defend the status quo that makes the holy city a place of worship for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
And to be clear, I condemn all violence in the Holy City; the Muslims this week who have caused such an uproar are wrong. Nevertheless, what is happening this morning here in Jerusalem, as I write this, with Christians — who have always been peaceful — being denied access to their holy sites for prayer on this most sacred of days, is another form of violence. It is intolerable.
The United States provides billions in aid annually to the State of Israel. Why do we put up with this from the Israelis? Washington should pressure the Israeli government to take a firm stand against these radical settlers in the Old City. I understand that a Congressional delegation may soon be coming here to take a look at the Jaffa Gate controversy. Good. I urge both Republicans and Democrats to come to Jerusalem, meet with Christians living in the Old City, and learn first hand about this intolerance and abuse.
And to my Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters in America, those who are so devoted to the State of Israel: I get it, but if you love Israel, please speak to the Israelis on behalf of your Christian brothers and sisters who live here, and who are mocked, harassed, and abused by radical Jews. These radicals are not representative of all Israeli society — but they are tolerated. They should not be. You American Christians, you have a lot of influence. Please use it to defend your fellow Christians in the city of Christ’s death and resurrection. If you don’t, very soon you yourselves may not be able to gain access to the Christian holy places, to pray at the site of Golgotha, and at the Tomb where Jesus rose from the dead. These radical Jews of Ateret Cohanim do not love or respect you; they despise you as much as they despise the Catholics, Orthodox, Armenians, and Protestants who live here.
This is not theoretical; this is actually happening. These Orthodox Jews are walking right this very morning, freely, to pray at their holiest site. Thanks be to God that they can do that! But what about us Christians? We never threw stones at Israeli police in the Old City. Why are we treated like potential criminals? Who benefits from this? Besides Ateret Cohanim, I mean.
(Note well: anti-Semitic comments will not be published. I condemn anti-Semitism unreservedly. But criticizing the Jewish settlers and official Israeli policy does not constitute anti-Semitism.)
UPDATE: Yesterday at the Holy Fire ceremony, I met the Rev. Canon Don Binder, a Virginia priest who is now an official of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, which cares for the Anglicans here.
Father Binder posted this to his Facebook feed after yesterday’s events:
Imagine you are driving across town to attend Easter Day services in your church. Only when you arrive, you find that the surrounding area has been cordoned off by barricades manned by hundreds of armed police.
No crime has been committed, you’re told. But the authorities have decided that they are only allowing a few people inside to attend Easter services that day–and you’re not one of those included.
Now imagine in that same cordoned-off section of town, there is also a synagogue and mosque. Unlike their treatment of Christians, the police are freely admitting those who wish to attend their Passover or Ramadan services–many hundreds, in fact.
Sound like some Orwellian alternative reality? Or perhaps some distant third-world country? No. That was yesterday here in Jerusalem during Eastern Orthodox Easter.
Less than two weeks ago, police summarily announced to the church leaders in Jerusalem that they were reducing by 90% those allowed to attend Easter eve services at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre–limiting attendance to 1,000 worshipers for a church that can hold more than 10,000 people. What’s more, they were only going to permit 500 people from outside the Old City inside to join in the Easter festivities.
Meanwhile, throughout the festivals of Passover and Ramadan, police have facilitated the admission of tens of thousands of daily worshipers to the Western Wall and the Haram esh-Sherif (though the latter not without incident, as you may have heard).
As I’ve commented in my videos, because of my position as Undersecretary of the Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, I was invited to help escort foreign diplomats from western countries to the service of Holy Fire yesterday. Yet even for those VIPs, it was like running a gauntlet.
Police checkpoints were at every corner. Even when we reached the private property of the Greek Patriarchate, police had taken over there as well. They actually turned back nearly a dozen Consuls General and other diplomatic representatives, including ones from the United States. We had to take an alternative route to get inside.
If that was the way it worked for VIPs, imagine you’re a local Palestinian Christian simply trying to worship on the holiest of Christian holidays inside the church built over the very Tomb of Christ.
In the pictures I took below, you can see the grieving faces of a tiny fraction of the thousands who were not permitted even near their church yesterday, breaking with a precedent that has continued for nearly seventeen centuries, across half-a-dozen ruling empires. But apparently not now by the current right-wing Israeli government.
Authorities will tell you this was all out of safety and security concerns, citing the Haredi disaster last year at Mt. Meron, where 45 died because of collapsing risers. But there is no comparison. Mt. Meron had been a free-for-all for decades, with no coordinated safety plans.
In contrast, Church leaders have cooperated with Israeli authorities since they began occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967. There have been firemen inside with extinguishers on their backs, and crowd-control measures implemented. Moreover, there are no such risers inside Holy Sepulchre to collapse, just a massively solid stone church.
What’s more, if these were such grave concerns, why have police not limited the numbers of Jewish or Muslim worshipers in a similar manner?
I think we all know the answers to that.
Clearly, the “safety and security” rationale is merely a pretext for keeping Palestinian Christians from worshiping inside the Holy City. As such, Church leaders of Holy Sepulchre were right to issue bold statements against this draconian action, correctly identifying this as a religious freedom violation.
In the end, the Israeli courts, with little deliberation, decided that 1,800 would be allowed inside Holy Sepulcher. So instead of a 90% reduction from the past Status Quo, there was only an 82% one.
That’s cold comfort for the thousands of Palestinian Christians barred from worship yesterday. Beyond that, it should be a matter of grave concern for those around the world of any faith: to see the religious freedom of the Christian minority so violated yesterday is a severe erosion of human rights in the Holy City that is sacred to all three Abrahamic faiths.
I invite the international community to intervene in this matter, and I challenge the Israeli government to do more than pay lip-service to their pledge to the world that they would protect both the religious Status Quo and freedom of worship inside the Holy City of Jerusalem.
If you have Facebook, read the post in the original, and look at his photos.
UPDATE.2: A statement from Jerusalem Police:
Since early morning hours and throughout the day, The Israeli Police took actions in order to enable a proper and safe Holy fire ceremony , in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.The police deployment was completed after comprehensive assessments , extensive staff work, a field tour, coordination meetings with church leaders and approval of plans headed by the Jerusalem District Commander.Hundreds of policemen, border guards and volunteers were deployed since this morning in the Old City area in order to secure the public, accompany the processions and visitors, regulate capacitors according to congestion, and act to allow the proper holy fire ceremony, with the participation of many Christians and believers from around the country and from many countries in the world.In order to maintain public safety and security, the participants were regulated in the area of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the areas adjacent to it in the Old City, in accordance with the number of crowds and loads and in accordance with the maximum safety and occupancy rules.The limitation of the crowd during the ceremony in the area of the church area, * was due to safety reasons only and in order to avoid overcrowding that could endanger the safety and security of the public*.The purpose of the police activity was to enable the Christian public practice the freedom of worship and the ceremony to be held safely and securely and so it was.During the day, the Minister of Public Affairs and the Commissioner of Police arrived at the scene, met with police commanders and policemen and received an overview from the Jerusalem district commander about the deployment and operational preparation of the police.Recently, Israeli police officers have been working in Jerusalem day and night to maintain security, law and order, as well as to secure the residents, travelers, tourists and worshipers wherever they are. As such, today’s Holy fire ceremony was a safe one for all participants , due to the strenuous and prolonged activity of many policemen.The Israel Police will continue to operate in order to enable all worshipers to exercise their freedom of religion and worship throughout the Old City and in the holy places safely and securely.
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American Babylon: Endarkening The Nations
I have had a peaceful and restorative Orthodox Holy Week in Jerusalem. It has been good to not think about the collapse of Western civilization for a while, though it has come up a few times. When the transgender madness back in America comes up with religious Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians, they are absolutely confused and angry about the whole thing. To watch their faces and hear their words when they talk about it is like going back in time to America circa 2008, or even a bit later, when the idea of filling the heads of little children with gender ideology would have sounded insane, and quite possibly criminal, to most Americans.
Not anymore. This is what America has become. We are no longer a light to the world; we are endarkening it. These people are correct to fear and loathe the poisonous ideology we are promoting in the world, via our government, our corporations, and our entertainment.
It’s not just us, either. I had coffee with a British Christian visiting the city, a man who has worked in elite circles most of his life. He told me that he, his wife, and their adult child, a college student, are starting to make plans to get out of the UK. I met him at a cafe where we shared a table, talking to locals. He told them about how you can find yourself disciplined at work, or even out of a job, for using the wrong word. When he told a story about how he was very nearly fired for an offense that sounded like a bad parody of wokeness, the local people thought he was surely making it up. I told them that I didn’t know this Brit, but what he said happens all the time.
I see that the invaluable Christopher Rufo has published leaked documents from the Evanston-Skokie public school system in Illinois. Excerpt:
The Evanston–Skokie School District has adopted a radical gender curriculum that teaches pre-kindergarten through third-grade students to celebrate the transgender flag, break the “gender binary” established by white “colonizers,” and experiment with neo-pronouns such as “ze,” “zir,” and “tree.”
I have obtained the full curriculum documents, which are part of the Chicago-area district’s “LGBTQ+ Equity Week,” which administrators adopted last year. The curriculum begins in pre-kindergarten, with a series of lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity. The lesson plan opens with an introduction to the rainbow flag and teaches students that “each color in the flag has a meaning.” The teacher also presents the transgender flag and the basic concepts of gender identity, explaining that “we call people with more than one gender or no gender, non-binary or queer.” Finally, the lesson plan has the teacher leading a class project to create a rainbow flag, with instructions to “gather students on the rug,” “ask them to show you their flags,” and “proudly hang the class flag where they can all see it.”
In kindergarten, the lessons on gender and trans identity go deeper. “When we show whether we feel like a boy or a girl or some of each, we are expressing our gender identity,” the lesson begins. “There are also children who feel like a girl and a boy; or like neither a boy or a girl. We can call these children transgender.” Students are expected to be able to “explain the importance of the rainbow flag and trans flag” and are asked to consider their own gender identity. The kindergartners read two books that affirm transgender conversions, study photographs of boys in dresses, learn details about the transgender flag, and perform a rainbow dance. At the end of the lesson, the students are encouraged to adopt and share their own gender identities with the class. “Now you have a chance to make a picture to show how you identify,” the lesson reads. “Maybe you want to have blue hair! Maybe you want to be wearing a necklace. Your identity is for you to decide!”
In first grade, students learn about gender pronouns. The teachers explain that “some pronouns are gender neutral” and students can adopt pronouns such as “she, tree, they, he, her, him, them, ze, zir, [and] hir.” The students practice reading a series of scripts in which they announce their gender pronouns and practice using alternate pronouns, including “they,” “tree,” “ze,” and “zir.” The teacher encourages students to experiment and reminds them: “Whatever pronouns you pick today, you can always change.” Students then sit down to complete a “pronouns workbook,” with more lessons on neo-pronouns and non-binary identities.
In third grade, Evanston–Skokie students are told that white European “colonizers” imposed their “Western and Christian ideological framework” on racial minorities and “forced two-spirit people to conform to the gender binary.” The teacher tells students that “many people feel like they aren’t really a boy or a girl” and that they should “call people by the gender they have in their heart.” Students are encouraged to “break the binary,” reject the system of “whiteness,” and study photographs of black men in dresses and a man wearing lipstick and long earrings. “It is a myth that gender is binary,” the lesson explains. “Even though we are all given a sex assigned at birth, you are not given your gender. Only you can know your gender and how you feel inside.” At the end of the lesson, students are instructed to write a letter to the future on how they can change society. “Society right now is very unfair,” reads a sample letter. “I see a lot of marches on the T.V. and I even went to a march last summer.”
This is morally insane. And, as we know, this ideology has conquered American elites and their institutions. There seems to be no brakes on this runaway train.
Why are we letting this happen in our country? Jeremy Carl tells the truth without pulling punches. Excerpts:
Sometimes a crime is so profound that it is difficult even to name it; to grasp the enormity of it. The recent explosion of transgenderism in children, an affliction currently affecting the lives of more than 1-in-50 young adults and children in Gen Z, is one such instance.
It’s the word of the month, which the Right is applying increasingly to our leftist political establishment.
Perhaps the best response to the groomer debate came from Helena Kirschner, a woman who detransitioned (that is, she spent years as “transgender man” before later accepting her birth sex) and has become an influential voice speaking up against transgender ideology:
“There’s a place for precise terminology,” she tweeted. “There’s also a place for memetic terms that convey a difficult to articulate concept in a way many people can intuitively understand. ‘Groomer’ applied to teachers & other adults who manipulate kids into gender confusion accomplishes this.”
And that is exactly right. It’s difficult for us to acknowledge the enormity of the crime that has been committed against our children because it’s hard for us to acknowledge how deeply we have failed. And it’s hard for us to accept that this crime is taking place with the full support of the leadership of one of America’s major political parties and most of the medical establishment. Indeed, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) banned a group of those skeptical of pediatric transgenderism from even setting up a booth at the latest AAP conference. To acknowledge the depth of the transgender transgression against our children is to stare deep into the void of a society in chaos and moral decay.
The mass grooming of our children into pediatric transgenderism and other confused gender identities is a crime of world-historical proportions, a crime which dare not speak its name.
There are no “transgender kids.” There are confused kids. There are kids with gender dysphoria. There are depressed kids. There are feminine boys and masculine girls. There are kids who have been groomed and abused by the system, our corporations, our education system, and our media for years and are now deeply damaged. But there are no trans kids. There are only adults who have stolen our children’s innocence.
We lack the language to even describe the level of violation that has taken place. Joe Biden has absurdly labeled transgenderism “the civil rights issue of our time.” He has said there is “no room for compromise” on the issue. If there is no room for compromise with those who support genital mutilation of children than we are truly ruled by demons in human form.
Read it all. If we cannot turn this back, we don’t deserve to exist as a country. We will have become a curse upon the earth.
I can’t tell you how happy I am that thanks to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, conservative lawmakers are finally kicking woke capitalism in the goolies. From the Washington Post:
The speedy approval of the bill — it was filed three days ago, during a special session that was called for a different reason — was decried by state Democrats. Sen. Tina Polsky (D) called it “an enormous decision based on spite and revenge governance.”
The Left loves it when Woke Capitalism pushes state governments around to achieve progressive ends. But when a state government — which is accountable to voters, unlike corporations — pushes back on Big Business to hold it accountable for using its powers to interfere with politics and to behave in grotesquely antisocial ways (e.g., Disney senior executives bragging about inserting gender ideology propaganda into children’s programming and films), well, the Left freaks out.
Let them. This is a fight the GOP should want to have. From the polling I’ve seen, the trans-mania is unpopular even with most Democratic voters. But not Uncle Joe:
For Joe Biden, the vote by Florida Republicans on Thursday to strip Disney of its self-governing powers was a step too far. “Christ, they’re going after Mickey Mouse,” the president exclaimed at a fundraiser in Oregon, in apparent disbelief that state governor Ron DeSantis’s culture wars had reached the gates of the Magic Kingdom.
The move, Biden asserted, reflected his belief that the “far right has taken over the party”.
Says the Groomer-in-Chief, who doesn’t note that just over half of the people who voted for him in 2020 approve of DeSantis’s education law.
And people should be advised often that the mainstream media lie constantly about what’s really going on, either by omission or commission. Only sources like @libsoftiktok, which just retweets videos that pro-trans teachers and other activists release on social media, can be trusted to tell the truth.
The video Taylor Lorenz is describing is of a self-described “magical pleasure worker” who runs “Sexy Summer Camp” for children in rural Kentucky. pic.twitter.com/fuIHwsfMku
— John Hirschauer (@JohnHirschauer) April 19, 2022
🚨 This woman is running a “sexy summer camp” for children in Kentucky. She says she think it’s good for toddlers to masturbate. pic.twitter.com/Q2fJdR1gcB
— Libs of TikTok (@libsoftiktok) March 8, 2022
Here’s the Washington Post‘s Taylor Lorenz in her failed hit piece on @libsoftiktok:
Tyler Wrynn, a former English teacher in Oklahoma, posted a video telling LGBTQ kids shunned by their parents that Wrynn was “proud of them” and loved them; it was featured on Libs of TikTok last week. Since being featured on the page Wrynn has been barraged with harassment and death threats.
“I’ve always seen myself as the type of teacher to stand up for marginalized voices,” Wrynn said. “I see fellow teachers on TikTok speak out for our disenfranchised students and they’re getting the same sort of harassment too.”
Here’s what the actual video was like (NSFW language):
“If your parents don’t accept you for who you are, f*** them. I’m your parents now” – Oklahoma middle school teacher
This teacher was let go last week after complaints of grooming and this tiktok + others containing questionable content were brought to the principal’s attention. pic.twitter.com/eBgAWCW3K7
— Libs of TikTok (@libsoftiktok) April 11, 2022
How many liberal parents would be happy with their middle schooler’s teacher saying that?!
We are so lucky to have @libsoftiktok:
This is an example of an educator who lost their job after I posted their own video. A professor who wants to destigmatize pedophelia. This is who the left is defending. https://t.co/3UXezrGwvp
— Libs of TikTok (@libsoftiktok) April 20, 2022
5th grade teacher shows her lesson plan for teaching gender and sexuality. pic.twitter.com/iFYdiigFMD
— Libs of TikTok (@libsoftiktok) April 15, 2022
This will never stop until and unless the GOP can inflict real pain on Woke Capitalists, and the medical industry for its ghoulish todger-chopping and breast-hacking exploitation of minors. We may not win this thing, but at least we can fight like hell for our children, and for sanity.
I hope you’ll watch Jonathan Pageau’s terrific conversation with the great Paul Kingsnorth. They talk about how insane the world has gotten, and how corporations, technology, and ideology are upending everything. Here’s how it ends: with Kingsnorth saying that now is the time we have to be bold in standing up for truth, and to not care about being hated:
Today in Jerusalem, at my hotel, I met an American pastor who’s about my age, who told me that college students he works with keep telling him he’s got to read my Live Not By Lies. He told me that they are serious about their faith, and they really want to prepare to be bold and resilient in the face of what’s coming. One very good way to see if you have what it takes to resist is to ask yourself how you are facing down gender-ideology insanity — if you’re doing it.
Anyway, it’s so good to get outside of the Anglosphere + Western Europe, and talk to people. Until you do, you don’t realize how much Kultursmog we are breathing in the West, all of it belched out by our corrupt political, corporate, military, and cultural leaders. Even people like me, who recognize it for what it is, are so used to living with it that we lose our ability to be shocked. Sit down with a young Palestinian Christian mom in Bethlehem, as I did one day earlier this week, and start telling her what’s now mainstream for children in US pop culture. You’ll be hit upside the head with a healthy blast of sanity.
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A Good Friday Traveling Mercy
That woman you see me with is the chambermaid at my Old City Jerusalem hotel. When I left my room this morning, she was in the hallway with her cart.
“May I do your room today?” she asked. “You had the ‘do not disturb’ sign yesterday.”
“Yes, please do,” I said. Then, noticing a small knotted cross necklace around her neck, I said to her, “I like your cross.”
She looked at me with eyes of boundless compassion. It was startling to me. Who is this woman? Then she took it off, and signaled for me to bend down.
“It’s yours,” she said. “It’s my gift from the Holy Land.”
I have not wept once since my wife sent me notice that she had filed for divorce. It’s not because I’m not sad; it’s because I have spent nine years weeping, and I’m out of tears. But when that chambermaid put the cross on me this Good Friday morning, I burst into tears.
She looked a bit afraid.
“Thank you,” I said. “I’m sorry I’m crying. My wife and I are getting a divorce. I just found out last week.”
This happened three hours ago, and as I’m typing this, I’m fighting back tears. The woman looked it me with even more compassion than she had showed a moment earlier. I can’t remember exactly what she said, because I was fighting to control my tears, but I remember the tone in which she said it. It was the sound of the purest mercy, and I tell you, it was balm.
She told me that the Lord will take care of me and my family, not to be afraid.
“What is your name?” I asked her.
“Angela,” she said. “People tell me that I am their angel.”
“They are right,” I said, smiling through tears.
She said, “People tell me things. I take them into my heart, and they never come out.” Angela smiled.
“Angela, I will never forget you,” I said. “You cannot imagine how much I needed to meet you today, and hear your merciful words. Thank you, my sister. Thank you.”
She promised to pray for me, my wife, and our children, then we took the photo you see above. She went back to cleaning rooms in the hotel. I walked out and into the streets to join the Good Friday procession on the Via Dolorosa. But I wasn’t dolorous, because of Angela’s mercy.
Angela the Palestinian Christian chambermaid: Greater faith in all of Israel hath no woman! How many suffering souls passing through Jerusalem must she have showed mercy over the years? What a ministry she has. Just a simple chambermaid who somehow has the charism of seeing into the hearts of troubled travelers. She is one of the living stones of this ancient city. I will cherish her memory all the days of my life.
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A Resurrection In Jerusalem
It is just past ten in the morning on (Orthodox) Holy Thursday here in Jerusalem’s Old City. I just returned from the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, celebrated in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral that’s part of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher complex. Before I went into the liturgy, God worked a miracle of healing within me. I can hardly believe what happened. I am so exhausted from lack of sleep, but I have to tell you the good news of what the Lord has done for me.
First, let me thank you who have sent me your prayers and best wishes after the announcement that my wife and I are divorcing. I had not realized I had so many friends. I love and appreciate you, and thank God for the blessing of your friendship. One of you asked for my prayers, saying that your wife had just told you of her intention to divorce you. You have them. Let us walk this desolating path together.
Now, I was up very late last night, unable to sleep because of anxiety over the divorce. This was frustrating to me, because I intended to get up for early (5:30 am) liturgy at what the English-language program of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate said would be a service at “the Cathedral of St. James”. I made it out of bed four hours later, got dressed, and walked bleary-eyed over to what my maps app said was the Cathedral of St. James. (St. James was the half-brother of Jesus — believed to have been the son of Joseph from his first wife — and the first bishop of Jerusalem.) But isn’t that the name of the Armenian Cathedral? Yes. Maybe they share it with the Orthodox, or something.
An Armenian cleric walking the street alone told me that the Armenian cathedral was closed. “We had our liturgy yesterday,” he said. I showed him on my phone what the Greek schedule was. He shrugged.
Frustrated, I walked back to the hotel. Maybe, I thought, the Greek cathedral is in the Patriarchate building. I shuffled over there, but found the door locked. I decided to go back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to pray. This Orthodox priest seemed to be hurrying over there. He scurried out of the way before I could keep up with him.
As usual in the Old City, I got lost in its warren of tiny streets. I was anxious about that, but then told myself: why? Just rest, and open your heart to whatever these stones have to tell you.
Eventually I found my way to the Holy Sepulcher church, crossed myself at the threshold, and went in. Maybe the liturgy is at the Katholikon, in the center of the church? No, it was closed. Well, I thought, I guess I’ve missed it. But I didn’t want to miss another opportunity to pray in the holiest place on earth for us Christians. I decided to walk to a part of the sprawling old basilica that I had never seen.
I ventured into a crypt, where the Armenians have a chapel. It was still early in the morning, and very few people were in the church. No one at all was down here. I looked for a place to pray, and was drawn to a dark chapel to the right of the altar. I walked in, looking for a bench on which to sit and pray.
There were no benches, but I did see this mosaic on the floor:
I went on my knees, crossed myself, kissed it (though I didn’t know what I was reverencing, except the Holy Cross), then traced the Alpha and Omega with my fingertip. I realized that I was at the base of the Golgotha hill, which rose behind the basilica wall on my right. I stayed there in prayer for a few minutes, but then a couple of men came into the area, and were a bit noisy, so I moved back to the main chapel in the crypt, found a bench, and sat down to pray.
The entire church was eerily still, and my heart began to resonate with the unearthly silence. I realized at once that I was in the Chapel of St. Helena, who supposedly found the True Cross on the same journey that she found the Tomb of Christ. Then I realized that the rock I reverenced must be the traditional marker for the place where she discovered the Cross. (Whether she really did find it there or not is beside the point; that’s where that event is marked.) Suddenly I became aware of a presence around me, and a voice in my heart, speaking clearly. Normally I turn on my skeptical mind when something like that begins to happen, and it scares whatever it is away. This morning, though, I was so still that I just let it go.
The inner voice — that calming vocal presence — told me several things. One of the things it told me was that I was at the end of a journey. I had been praying for a long time, wondering what the sword in the stone meant. As you longtime readers will recall, in 2018, a mysterious artist appeared to me in a church in Genoa after a lecture, and gave me an engraving he had done. His English was poor, but he told me he had been praying in his studio that afternoon when the Holy Spirit told him to go hear the American speak, and give him a certain engraving that he had made. This is what he gave me:
“Who is this?” I asked him.
“San Galgano,” he said.
I had no idea who Galgano was, but I thanked him anyway. Later in the hotel room, I looked up St. Galgano, and discovered that he was a 12th century Tuscan who was a notoriously violent man. One day he had a vision of Christ, His Mother, and the Twelve Apostles atop a Tuscan hillside. A voice told him to put down his sword and serve Christ. Galgano, very proud, said it would be easier for him to put his sword in a nearby stone than to do that. He brought his sword down on a rock … and it went in almost to the hilt. He immediately converted, and lived the rest of his life as a hermit by the sword in the stone.
His fame spread quickly, and so did his miraculous healings. When he died, bishops and abbots came to his funeral. The Church opened up a cause for canonization, and sent a cardinal to investigate his life. The Vatican still has the written notes from the cardinal’s interviews with Galgano’s mother (who had prayed for his conversion) and with others who had known him. The Cardinal examined the sword in the stone. Galgano was canonized in 1187, I think. Some time later, a great abbey was built in the plain near the hilltop on which his miracle happened. To this day, you can still go to the small 12th century church Galgano’s bishop built over his sword in the stone. Italian scientists investigated it in 2000, and found the metal consistent with the 12th century.
All very interesting, but what did it have to do with me? I had no idea.
Then, in late spring of 2020, I was deeply depressed over my failed marriage — so much so I hadn’t been to communion in a long time. One night, I forced myself to go, and came back feeling refreshed. I decided to watch a movie. In those days, I was watching the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, the great Soviet-era Russian director. I chose one I hadn’t seen, Nostalghia, about a Russian writer in Italy who can’t focus on his work because he is totally preoccupied missing his wife and children back in Russia. Early in the film, I thought, that man is me. For seven years, I had been obsessed with the happy marriage I used to have, and trying to figure out how things had gone so badly so we could get back to the good times. I had fought so hard to fix things, but nothing had worked. I was so focused on the pain of loss, and trying to figure out what I could do with myself and with others to restore the lost world that I often found it hard to think of anything else.
(I’ve told this story many times before, and only alluded to family loss as the thing I was missing. I had written in my books about how I got very sick after my Louisiana family’s true feelings about me — and my wife, I should add — became clear. But I left it vague for the blog, to protect our privacy about the marriage, which I still earnestly hoped the Lord would restore. There’s no need to be coy now, though.)
There is a passage in the opening sequence in the film in which the protagonist Andrei and his Italian interpreter, Eugenia, visit a rural church. Andrei can’t bring himself to go in. He is so tormented by his nostalgia for his family, and for Russia, that he remains insensible to the beauty around him. Watch that sequence here (don’t forget to turn on the subtitles):
Eugenia, a sophisticated Roman, does go into the church, where she encounters simple peasant women engaged in a prayer service for fertility. It’s Christian, but also strangely pagan. A sacristan asks her if she is interested in asking God’s favor for having a baby, or what. She’s just looking, she says. He tells her that if she wants God’s help, she can’t be a “casual onlooker,” but has to be a “supplicant” willing to kneel sacrificially. If not, “the nothing happens.”
“What is supposed to happen?” she asks. He responds:
Eugenia, a sophisticated Roman, can’t do it. It seems too superstitious, too absurd, too medieval. She offers no sacrifice.
In the next sequence, Andrei checks into his hotel room. It is a long, wordless scene, in which a man numb to the world, and lost in his head, tries to make himself at home in a strange land. I felt his pain intensely. I thought: that’s me.
Late in the film, there’s a dream sequence in which Andrei visits a beautiful ruined church. We hear the Virgin pleading with God to show Himself to Andrei, or speak to Him, because Andrei is so lost. God tells him that Andrei is incapable of hearing or seeing him, because he is so lost in his head.
I thought: yes, that is me.
The film ends with one of the most astonishing scenes in cinematic history: a nine and a half minute one-take shot in which the actor playing Andrei carries a lit candle across a drained pool from one side to the other, to place it atop the stone on the other side. There is no real reason for this, other than a holy fool had asked Andrei to do it. The act focused Andrei’s concentration, for once, and got him out of his head — this sacrificial act based on love for a holy fool. Andrei collapses at the end and dies. Tarkovsky was later quoting as saying that that journey across the drained pool, with Andrei trying to keep the flame lit, is a metaphor for a human lifetime.
All very beautiful, if mysterious (the death of Andrei, which is symbolized by the gathering-together of his shattered world) — but what did it have to do with me? After the movie was over, I googled to see where that beautiful old church from the dream sequence was.
It was the Abbey of St. Galgano, in Tuscany!
Last fall, on the trail of the mystery, I made a pilgrimage to pray before the sword in the stone, and then to see the ruined Galgano abbey nearby. Again, take a look at the original report I made, to see images of me at the sword in the stone, and in the ruined abbey.
I prayed for God’s will to be known to me, and for God to give me the courage to do it. There was no woo-woo; as far as I could tell, nothing happened. I returned to America, and to the fight to save my marriage.
What if our marriage was not going to be healed, as I know that both Julie and I wanted? If that was the case, then what? I had thought that maybe God was calling me to sacrifice my desires for a restoration of our happy marriage, for the sake of honoring the marriage covenant, and protecting our kids. Surely that’s what the sword in the stone meant, right? But I didn’t want it to be true. I didn’t want to face the prospect of living in this pain and loneliness for the rest of my life. Still, if what I learned from the anti-Communist dissidents I wrote about in Live Not By Lies means anything, it is that sometimes the Lord asks us to suffer for His sake. That seemed to me to be the unavoidable conclusion here.
Yet I fought it. Both my wife and I were suffering terribly, and had been for a long time. Nothing was working. What did God ask for? An Orthodox priest (not my parish priest) who had known us both for a long time told me that only a miracle could save this marriage, and maybe we should consider divorce. I didn’t want to face that. But more than anything, I wanted to do the will of God.
Almost three weekends ago, I was on pilgrimage at a Romanian monastery. After talking with monks about my situation, I made a promise to the Lord to stop fighting this fate, to sheath my sword in a rock of faith and make that tremendous sacrifice. It was settled. I came down from the monastery with my heart full of resolve, though not happiness, because the road ahead was going to be very long and difficult.
I didn’t realize that while I was at the monastery, my wife was at her lawyer’s. I found out the result one week later. Now, you might think that makes me look more noble. Wrong! In retrospect, and in light of a lot of facts I’ve been thinking about this week, I sincerely think Julie made the braver and more intelligent choice, and that the Lord has worked for us both, through her choice, a severe mercy. But I had to make the choice I did, for reasons that will soon become apparent.
The morning after I found out that my wife was divorcing me, I came to Jerusalem. I have spent a lot of time atop Golgotha, praying for her, praying for me, praying for our kids. I have been grieving. God has given me an ability to see my wife as someone who has been suffering greatly too. I have not been able to muster anger at her. We are just so unbelievably exhausted from all this. Nine years of it.
So: as I sat in that silent crypt this morning, I thought about the sword in the stone, then I remembered that today is Holy Thursday, the day that Jesus Christ was taken in the Garden of Gethsemane to his trial. On this night, Peter drew his sword to protect the Lord from his enemies, but Jesus told him to put it away, and surrendered to his fate. Jesus knew that what was about to happen had to happen for all righteousness to be fulfilled.
I heard the inner voice say to me that now was the time to put away my sword — that is, to stop fighting for a restoration of the past. In fact, said the voice, I had done that at the monastery. I had made the long nine-year journey across the empty bath with the flame alight; now I needed to place it on the stone and be free. Then it hit me: that stone where I had just been praying was the stone that marks the spot (traditionally, if not necessarily literally) where the Romans discarded the Cross. The inner voice was telling me that the fight was over, that what was about to happen — meaning the dissolution of the marriage — had to happen.
But why? I asked. Why not just restore the marriage?
I didn’t wait for an answer, but banished the questions. I may never know, and that’s beside the point. Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? We are dealing with the deepest mysteries here.
The voice said to me that he was with me throughout the long walk across the desertified pool, and would be with me always. He — because I was pretty sure that it was Jesus — told me, “I will send my brother James to help you.” And then: “And I will send you a sign: where you see the stars, there I am.”
Then the episode ended. I rose and went back to the stone in the Finding of the Cross chapel. I knelt down, kissed it, and left my sword there, buried in it, at the foot of Golgotha. I turned and walked out, a free man. The knot that had been tied so tightly in the cords of my heart untangled itself. I was light as a feather. I felt born again. Now I was walking in the joy of the Lord.
Look at the face of this man, leaving the stone. That is the look of relief. That is the look of the peace that passes all understanding:
I am returning to a world of pain and brokenness as the disassembly of my marriage and life as I knew it begins. But I know that God is in this. I don’t just believe it; I know it. I know that He won’t abandon us. I know that somehow, for reasons that we may never understand, He allowed this horrible thing to happen for some greater good that can come if we cooperate with it. The same Lord who turned his shameful, bloody, violent death on the Cross into the cosmic victory over death is at work in our grievous divorce, to redeem it from the jaws of sin and death.
I climbed the twenty-nine steps out of the crypt and into the light of new life.
Somehow, I thought, something about my willingness at the Putna monastery in Romania to make that sacrifice must have jarred something loose in the spiritual world. I don’t know; maybe so. I couldn’t understand why I felt so light, then it occurred to me that I had left my cross in the same place, symbolically, where Jesus had left His.
That was it. That was my healing miracle.
I walked out of the church in a joyful daze. But was there a liturgy anywhere? Where is this St. James Cathedral? Standing in the small plaza outside the Church, I saw a stout, grey-bearded Greek priest passing.
“Where is the liturgy?” I asked.
He pointed to a doorway nearby, then passed through it. I followed, then saw the sign saying that this is St. Jacob’s Cathedral. Of course! “James” is the Anglicization of “Jacob”. The English translation from the Greek Patriarchate had not taken that into account. When I arrived into the cramped cathedral (really the size of a small church), one liturgy had ended, but one celebrated by Patriarch Theophilos had begun. As I pushed my way into the jam-packed nave, I looked around, then up. This is what I saw:
The ceiling covered with stars! And then, a few minutes later, out from the altar came Patriarch Theophilos to bless us:
I thought: there is James! James, the stepbrother of the Lord (St. Joseph’s son by his first marriage), was the first bishop of Jerusalem. Patriarch Theophilos stands in an unbroken line of succession back to St. James. You know how Catholic sometimes call the Pope “Peter”? This man you see there is James. The Lord sent him to me, under a canopy of stars, to confirm that what had just happened to me in the crypt was real, and that I could believe in it confidently. That is my conclusion. I imagine the light pealing off my face the moment I realized that could have illuminated the entire church.
And who do you think I saw at the end of the liturgy? Father Timotei, a monk of Putna!
I marvel at the face of the man in the purple gingham shirt. Look how happy he is. You would never know that he is in defeat and disgrace. You would never know that his marriage had failed, because of his sins and the sins of others. You would never know that he faces the terrible task of overseeing the orderly disintegration of his marriage of 25 years, and the comforting of his children, who now bear a heavy burden because of the sins of their parents, and grandparents. You would never know that he was a man who still feels a responsibility to go back home and fulfill his promise to his suffering wife to work with her to end the marriage peacefully and with as little pain as possible after all this time. You would never know that for a very long time, that man would have preferred to die (if they killed him quick) than to keep living in this grinding way.
What you see there is a happy man: a sinner who knows that his Redeemer lives, and knows that he met by surprise that Redeemer at the foot of Golgotha this morning, and allowed Him to heal his ravaged heart. That man knows that life remains a blessing, although he cannot bless. But he thinks maybe he can bless others, if he tells them the story of how Jesus the Lord is at work making things new, and turning suffering to His glory for those who are willing to share in His passion.
If I had known where to go for the liturgy this morning, I never would have wandered around the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I never would have found that cave chapel. I never would have prayed silently there under the earth, amid the limestone. And I never would have heard the still, small voice tell me: you’re free.
I don’t know what comes next. I do know that I need to go back and try to share some of this unmerited grace with my wife, who needs to taste the same freedom and healing that Christ gave me. Jesus has made it possible for me to go home without resenting, or mourning, or in a spirit of destruction, but rather in a spirit of peacemaking and love and rest. How? How did this come to me? I have no idea, but I will not stay stuck in my head and refuse it because it came so suddenly, and doesn’t make sense so soon after the horrible stroke of the divorce announcement.
What I know is that this very afternoon, as soon as I publish this, I will walk down to the Garden of Gethsemane to be where the Lord told Peter to put down his sword and follow Him, so to speak, through the Passion. I am going to be fully open to the movement of the Holy Spirit these next three days, leading to Pascha, and rejoice in every second of it, because I know that resurrection is coming. I knew it by faith, and this morning, in the city where he died and rose from the dead, Jesus of Nazareth touched my heart and made it rise from a living death. Jesus Christ conquers! Glory to Him forever!
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Tears At Golgotha
Some of you will have intuited that given the amount of time I have spent living in Budapest this past year, things have not been well for me at home. You were right. I received an email from Julie last Saturday, the day before I left for Jerusalem, giving me some news — news that occasions this statement, the text of which has been approved by my wife:
It pains me more than I can say to announce that my wife recently filed a petition of divorce, and I have agreed unreservedly to her request for a mutual, and amicable, parting. While this will come as a great shock to my readers, it will not surprise those who know us best. We are both exhausted from nine years of excruciating struggle to save this marriage. I can safely say that I have learned through bitter experience the truth of the saying that nobody knows what really goes on in a marriage.
We have agreed that I won’t be talking in public about the circumstances leading up to the divorce. That would be unfair to her, because she has no platform, and cruel to our children, who remain our greatest concern. I can say (and she has approved everything in this statement) that infidelity was never, ever an issue, on either side. There is plenty of blame on both sides. We will have the rest of our lives to think about that.
That’s it. That’s all we feel comfortable with me saying. Please pray for us, and for our children. As I mentioned, this news came to me just before I left to spend Orthodox Holy Week in Jerusalem, worshiping and doing research for my next book. You can now understand why I have been posting so little since the weekend, and spending so much time this week praying at the actual hill of Golgotha, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It feels like to me that evil has won. I must believe — I must believe — that there will be resurrection.
I will continue posting close to normal, even thought it’s going to seem jarring to you, with me blogging about news events and cultural trends after disclosing this crisis. I ask you to withhold judgment. Remember that writing is how I deal with pain. When I travel, sometimes I meet people who tell me that they can’t understand how I write so much. This torment for my wife and me has been going on since 2013. Let the reader understand.
You will not be surprised to learn that I have turned off comments on this thread. I know there will be countless people who will be delighted to learn of my suffering. I can’t do anything about that, and besides, nothing they say can be worse than the fact of all this. All I can do is pray that they never have to endure what my wife and I have endured, and are enduring. Honest to God, I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
Hello from the Old City of Jerusalem, where I arrived yesterday to spend Orthodox Holy Week. I am here first to pray, but also to gather material for my book on re-enchantment.
After I checked in to my hotel, I sent straight to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to pray at the chapel over Golgotha. I received some truly grievous news from back home on Saturday morning (sorry, I have to protect the privacy of others), and wanted to rush to pray for those dear to my heart who are suffering. The Golgotha chapel is on the second level of the Holy Sepulcher church. It really is built over the hill where Jesus was crucified. How do we know this? Because the place on which the HS church was built, and where Golgotha was identified, fits the Biblical description of the place of the Crucifixion. And the Romans built a temple to Venus on the site encompassing both Golgotha and what is believed to be Christ’s tomb, which now constitutes the HS church. Why did they do that, given that it was in a strange place outside the city? Some theorize that it was to discourage Christians of the early church from gathering at these places to pray. So when Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, came on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, her son’s predecessor on the imperial throne had inadvertently marked the spot.
Here is the altar built over the rocky hillock itself:
There is a pilgrim under the altar. If you bend down and go underneath the table, you can put your hand through a hole in the floor and touch Golgotha yourself. Here’s what the rock looks like, beneath this glass sheet to the side of the altar:
That was the altar upon which the Lamb Of God Who Takes Away The Sin Of The World was sacrificed.
That rock, and no other. This is what it means to be in Jerusalem.
I prayed half my prayer rope at Golgotha, asking Christ’s mercy on my suffering loved ones. Then I went downstairs to the edicule, the little house built over the spot where Christ’s Tomb was. I prayed the rest of my prayer rope there. It is inside the edicule that the Greek Orthodox Patriarch goes on Holy Saturday for the miracle of the Holy Fire. Orthodox Christians believe that when the Patriarch says prayers in there on Holy Saturday, a mysterious light descends from heaven and lights the candles he holds in his hands.
Here, from a website dedicated to the miracle, is a description from a previous Greek Patriarch about what happens:
“I enter the tomb and kneel in holy fear in front of the place where Christ lay after His death and where He rose again from the dead… I find my way through the darkness towards the inner chamber in which I fall on my knees.Miracle of God. At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature… Here I say certain prayers that have been handed down to us through the centuries and, having said them, I wait. Sometimes I may wait a few minutes, but normally the miracle happens immediately after I have said the prayers. From the core of the very stone on which Jesus lay an indefinable light pours forth. It usually has a blue tint, but the colour may change and take many different hues. It cannot be described in human terms. The light rises out of the stone as mist may rise out of a lake — it almost looks as if the stone is covered by a moist cloud, but it is light.
This light each year behaves differently. Sometimes it covers just the stone, while other times it gives light to the whole sepulchre, so that people who stand outside the tomb and look into it will see it filled with light.
The light does not burn — I have never had my beard burnt in all the sixteen years I have been Patriarch in Jerusalem and have received the Holy Fire. The light is of a different consistency than normal fire that burns in an oil lamp… At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature, so that I am able to light my candles from it. When I thus have received the flame on my candles, I go out and give the fire first to the Armenian Patriarch and then to the Coptic. Hereafter I give the flame to all people present in the Church.”
The ceremony of the Holy Fire has its origins in the early years of the Church when the liturgical practices of the Church were developed and it is one of the most ancient experiences in our tradition in the Church of Jerusalem. We have evidence of this from the itineraries of early pilgrims, like Egeria. Year after year both local Christians and pilgrims gather for this moment when we have a foretaste of the resurrection, which we call in our tradition the “First Resurrection.” This represents the light that shone from the tomb which the myrrh-bearing women experienced. As we read in the Gospel of Saint Matthew:
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Maty went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow (Mat 28:1-3).
This is an experience of the Uncreated Light that shines from the Holy Tomb and that is symbolised in the lighted candles that spread light not only throughout the church, but throughout the world. In every Orthodox church at the beginning of the Easter liturgy the people come forward to receive the light from a candle held by the priest and this custom came to them from Jerusalem. Even in times of persecution and difficulty for the Church of Jerusalem in ages past, the witness of the Holy Fire has continued.
Some say, of course, that the miracle must be a fraud. We have records of it happening going back to the first centuries of the church, though, back to a time when it was very hard to light a fire (that is, before the creation of matches). Plus, in modern times, the Patriarch is searched by police before he goes into the edicule for the ceremony, to make sure he doesn’t have any ignition sources. Anyway, I will be present this Saturday for the Holy Fire ceremony, and see what I can see with my own eyes.
I found out last night that my friend Father Dwight Longenecker, a US Catholic priest, is in Jerusalem doing Biblical studies. He came over to my hotel this morning, and we had coffee.
Father Dwight’s newest book is called Beheading Hydra: A Radical Plan For Christians In An Atheistic Age, in which he talks about how extremely fringe in history contemporary Western culture is, with our rejection of transcendence. I thought that since here we were in Jerusalem (our last meeting was in Lafayette, Louisiana), I might as well interview him for my book on re-enchantment.
“The divide between what I call the sacramental vision and the modern world began in the 16th century, when Western man basically took the idea — one that not only had been part of Christianity but part of humanity since the beginning — that the invisible realm was integrated into the physical realm,” he said. “For us Catholics and you Orthodox, through the sacraments, through the physical realm, we access the invisible realm.”
Father Dwight said that the theological revolution of the 16th century (the Reformation) led to the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, which built on the rejection of metaphysics. In the 18th century this led to the Enlightenment, then the Industrial Revolution, and eventually the Sexual Revolution. The Catholic and Orthodox churches still teach the sacramental vision, the priest said, “but so many Catholics today have forgotten it, and are held hostage by the modern age, with its absence of spirituality.”
The priest’s first steps towards the sacramental vision came when he was a student at fundamentalist Protestant Bob Jones University. He became an Anglican, and ended up later at Oxford studying theology, after which he was ordained in the Church of England.
“After that, in 1987, I made a pilgrimage from England to Jerusalem, hitchhiking, and stayed at Benedictine monasteries all across France and Italy. It was a great adventure. I was every day on my own, praying my way to Jerusalem. It was a real immersion into the sacramental vision, into the Catholic life,” he said.
“Of course coming to England from America, it was like I stepped back 500 years, to the Anglican church. But then walking through France, and Italy, and finally Greece and the Holy Land, it was an even deeper immersion in the historic faith.”
“You were literally walking back through history, to the geographical source of Christianity,” I said.
“Yes, in France it was like walking through the Middle Ages,” Father Dwight said. “In one village, I stopped in a medieval church open for prayer. High in the tower there was a carving of a monk, and he was standing with his hands folded over his belly, and his eyes, which were carved larger than life, were closed. He was a picture of the contemplative life – the discipline of your physical appetites, with his hands folded over his belly, but with his closed eyes larger than life, indicating that this is how you really see things.”
When he reached the 8th century Benedictine monastery of Novalesa, on the Italian side of the Alps, he had a jarring experience.
“The monks showed me around a series of little chapels in the monastery grounds,” he began. “‘And this chapel,’ a monk said, ‘was built on the foundation of a chapel established by St. Paul.’ And I’m like, get out! I’m an American! You must be kidding me. And then I remembered that the Book of Acts says that St. Paul went to the uttermost parts of the West. Certainly he came to Rome. He could have gone to northern Italy. And of course Rome, with the relics of St. Peter and St. Paul, but that didn’t really register with me at the time. In Greece you see road signs to Thessalonika, to Ephesus. It’s overwhelming.”
I tell my friend how shocked I was the first time I was in Jerusalem, in the year 2000, to encounter all these places and names that I had grown up with in Southern Christian culture. They were real. It’s such a strange and wonderful feeling.
“The ‘myth’ of the Gospels, which have been demythologized by the liberal scholars – actually, you come to Jerusalem, to the Holy Land, and you realize that it’s not a myth,” said Father Dwight. “That it really happened here. That’s why they call the Holy Land ‘the fifth Gospel’.”
We have to lean hard into beauty to re-evangelize the world today, said the Catholic priest.
“We built a beautiful new church in my parish in South Carolina,” he said. “We built it in a typical Romanesque style. We salvaged stained glass windows from a church that was closing in Massachusetts. One of the amazing things about our church is that anybody who steps back into the nave immediately falls silent, and says, ‘It’s beautiful.’ These are schoolchildren, people with PhDs in art history, plumbers, electricians, everybody. The apprehension of beauty is universal.”
Father Dwight, 65, is on sabbatical in Jerusalem living with the Dominican fathers at the École Biblique. He said that being here now, as an older man and indeed a Catholic priest, opens the holy city’s meaning up to him even more.
“Yesterday, as a Catholic priest, I concelebrated Mass with the Latin Patriarch at the Catholic-controlled area of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is the chapel of St. Mary Magdalene,” he said. “So I was standing virtually at the place where St. Mary Magdalene met the risen Lord on Easter morning. It’s just phenomenal.
“On Palm Sunday, thousands of us walked down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem. On Holy Thursday, we met in the Church of All Nations, which was packed, for a prayer service, in the Garden of Gethsemane. And then there was a torchlit prayer procession down the Kidron Valley and up to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, which was where Jesus was tried before the Sanhedrin.”
I told him that the first time I visited the Garden of Gethsemane, and gazed across the Kidron Valley up at the Old City of Jerusalem, it hit me for the first time that it really was a mountain of sacrifice — an altar. I might have understood that in the abstract, but there was nothing like being in Gethsemane, looking out at the very path Jesus took when then Romans arrested him and took him into custody — it’s overwhelming.
Father Dwight began talking about the tragedy of how modern Catholics have lost so much of the mystical spirit inherent to their faith.
“It saddens me that we have sacrificed all this mysticism for relevant practicality – like, how can we be nicer people in the world?” he said. “Of course we need to feed the hungry and house the homeless, and work to make the world a better place. But this is a consequence of our faith. It’s not the faith. It’s what Christians do; it’s not what Christians are. The liturgy is what we are. We are supposed to be there in body, mind, and spirit in the love and worship of God, and the liturgy is how we make that connection. That’s what gives us the power to do that other stuff in the world. If we reduce it all to Girl Scouts selling cookies, we do ourselves a great disservice.
“And this is why churches are emptying,” he continued. “People go to church and find out that it’s no more than the Rotary Club at prayer, and they say, ‘I don’t need to go to church to be a good person’ – and they’re absolutely right.”
“Some of the [Catholic] Traditionalists say that it was because the liturgy was debased,” the priest continues. “I say uh-uh, it goes way deeper than that. The problem is a crisis in belief in historic Christianity. The liturgy being debased is a symptom of that.”
We said goodbye so I could go meet the Greek Patriarch, Theophilos, the unbroken successor of St. James, the first bishop of Jerusalem.
Of course I asked him about the Holy Fire, as he is the one who receives it. He was clearly weary of talking about that subject with a journalist, and referred me to the L’Osservatore Romano interview I quoted above. The Patriarch went on to say:
The thing is that the Holy Land is the land of the human-divine encounter, correct? Which means this part of the earth has the unique privilege to have been blessed, and therefore sanctified, by the blood of the Righteous One, Our Lord Jesus Christ. So it is the blood of Jesus Christ that has made this place to be holy. Which means to be a place where divine energy emanates from. This is what makes Jerusalem specifically to be a place of purpose for every human being who visits this part of the earth. I’ve been here for 68 years, and my experience is that I have not seen so far anyone who left Jerusalem without being touched. You can’t remain indifferent.
Inside the Tomb of Jesus Christ is full of energy. This has been confirmed and verified not by myself, but by the engineers and architects who were in charge with the restoration of the Edicule of the Holy Tomb. You can see it in the National Geographic narrative. The narrative of the Holy Tomb is that it is full of energy. When the architects and specialists were about to remove the marble to discover the tomb, they put very special instruments there, in order to measure the quantity of energy, all those sensitive instruments were totally destroyed.
But the journalist is much less hesitant regarding the electromagnetic disturbances recorded by the scientists’ instruments. The phenomenon was confirmed by one of the scientists authorized to access the tomb. Later, one of the heads of the building and construction team, Antonia Moropoulou, indicated that it is really hard to imagine that someone would be willing to put in danger his or her reputation just because of a “publicity stunt.” Moreover, the journalist testifies to the scientists’ surprise during the opening of the slab: they hoped that the grave would be much lower than it was. Their conclusion: previously performed analyses with the instruments seemed to have been distorted by an electromagnetic disturbance.
It seems, lacking any other explanatory element, the tomb of Christ indeed affected instruments sensitive to electromagnetic disturbances.
The observation of these unusual electromagnetic anomalies at the tomb of Jesus may lend credence to a scientific hypothesis on the creation of the ghostly image on the Shroud of Turin. Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development [ENEA] concluded during a five-year-long study that the Shroud of Turin could not be a ‘medieval fake’. The findings of ENEA study hypothesized that the image may have been created by an intense source of light, stronger than could be created by any technology currently available to man. The results of ENEA “show that a short and intense burst of VUV directional radiation can color a linen cloth so as to reproduce many of the peculiar characteristics of the body image on the Shroud of Turin, including shades of color, the surface color of the fibrils of the outer linen fabric, and the absence of fluorescence”.
The study noted “that the total power of VUV radiations required to instantly color the surface of linen that corresponds to a human of average height, body surface area equal to = 2000 MW/cm2 17000 cm2 = 34 thousand billion watts makes it impractical today to reproduce the entire Shroud image using a single laser excimer, since this power cannot be produced by any VUV light source built to date (the most powerful available on the market come to several billion watts )”.
Back to my talk with the Patriarch, who spoke of the special view that the Orthodox Church brings to Christianity. He talked of the purity of the Orthodox approach, not endeavoring to explain mystery, but rather to accept it and to live it out:
The Orthodox Church is represented by the Greek mind — not the Greeks, please! but the Greek mind — and you know, the Greek mind has two ways of thinking. One is the mind of inventiveness, which means speculation; and the other is revelation. So the Greek [Orthodox] mind gave up inventiveness, which implies idolatry of human inventiveness. When the Greek mind met with the prophetic divine, it endorsed the prophetic divine. Sacred history — the history of revelation — is taken seriously.
In the Orthodox Church, there is nothing that is not substantiated in the Bible, in the history of revelation. If you take all the great Church fathers and Orthodox saints, they say nothing that is not established in the Bible. What the Church fathers do is try to understand the Bible. This is why there is a very special word in Greek. It is said that the Church fathers do not ‘invent’. Rather, they go all around [what already exists].
So, in order to understand the mystery of God is to go through a three-stage process. One is purification. The next is illumination. And the final stage is deification (theosis). This is what the Orthodox Church is all about. The sacraments of our church are helping us to purify ourselves, to clean ourselves so the Holy Spirit will dwell within us. Then enlightenment comes. This is why the great fathers of the church became luminaries.
The Patriarch went on to say that today, scientists are discovering things that validate observations made during the Patristic era by Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, and other Church fathers. I have been reading a bit about that this spring, in fact, and will need to go more deeply into it.
The Patriarch gave me two icons, a hand cross, and a prayer rope — but the greatest gift was of his time, on what for him is the busiest week of the year.
After that meeting, I headed back over to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and had another look around. I saw in the Catholikon (the central part of the crazy-quilt church), an odd structure. Look:
Is that a delicious Cornish pastie? No, it’s an omphalos, or navel, stone, marking the center of the world. It is exactly halfway between Golgotha and the Tomb of the Resurrection. That is, at precisely the midpoint of the two sites on this earth where the eternal cosmic destiny of humankind was worked out.
If you stand near the omphalos stone and look up into the dome of the church, this is who you see:
Christos Pantokrator — Christ, the Ruler of All, the God-Man, looking down on the site of his death and resurrection.
There, in that church. In this city. Nowhere else in the world.
It’s almost too much to take in.
At the omphalos stone I fell into conversation with a Palestinian Christian, who, as it turns out, is Orthodox. Most Palestinian Christians are. I enjoyed talking to her about Christian life in the Holy City, and ended up inviting her to lunch. It turns out that she had done graduate work in the United States, at an elite institution, and had not been favorably impressed. I won’t quote her directly because it wasn’t an interview, but she basically said that she was struck very hard by the cluelessness of her fellow American students. They didn’t know anything about the world beyond their own, and they were impossible to educate, because they thought they knew it all. She said she ended up getting really mad at them sometimes, because America is so powerful in the world, and affects her world in particular. But we just stumble through the world ignorantly, and can’t understand why people hate us.
A second thing that she took from her time in America is how insane it is over what we call “wokeness” (she knew the word). She said that it was absolutely shocking to her, as a Palestinian, to have to deal with LGBT ideology in US academia. She said it was not only shocking in itself, but the inability to say anything critical about it really knocked her for a loop. She learned very quickly to keep her mouth shut about what she really believed. She did not fail to notice that her fellow students prided themselves on being supremely open-minded and tolerant, but instead she found them to be rich, culturally illiterate liberal bumpkins.
She talked further about how resentful her people are of US cultural imperialism, by which she meant the spread of LGBT ideology. I mentioned to her that it is very hard for conservative Americans like me to accept that our country, which we love, has now become responsible for bringing so much corruption into the world.
“This is new for you, maybe, but we have always seen you Americans that way,” she said sharply. “Sorry, I’m very direct.”
I thanked her for her honesty.
When we parted, I went over to see Wassim Razzouk at his tattoo shop in the Old City. Maybe you read about it in The New York Times the other day. Excerpts:
But during Holy Week and the days leading up to it, Wassim Razzouk’s tattoo parlor in Jerusalem’s Old City is packed with some of his most reliable customers: Easter visitors who, seeking an indelible reminder of their time in Jerusalem, “want a tattoo as a certificate of pilgrimage,” Mr. Razzouk said.
While tattoos may have moved into the global mainstream only in the last few decades, the Razzouk family has been practicing the art form a little bit longer: 700 years, or 27 generations, he said. He’s the scion of a long-venerated family of tattoo artists, Coptic Christians who, as family lore has it, came on a pilgrimage from Egypt to the Holy Land hundreds of years ago, and decided to stay in Jerusalem and set up shop.
Mr. Razzouk — with his long hair, Harley-Davidson biker’s jacket and passion for motorcycles — decided to follow in the family tradition at the age of 33. His two sisters and the cousins of his generation were not interested in becoming tattoo artists, he said, adding, “I knew that if it wasn’t for me the tradition would disappear.”
His father, Anton, 82, taught him the craft, having learned it from his father, Jacob, or Yaqoub.
I went to see Wassim because I was interested in the phenomenon of why certain religious pilgrims feel the need to mark their visit to the Holy City with a tattoo. We had a great interview, but honestly, it’s 1:25 am here in Jerusalem, and I’m too tired to transcribe it now. I will tell you, though, that I decided to get a tattoo. I am no fan of tattoo culture, but there is no other city like Jerusalem, and no other place like Razzouk’s. Besides, standing at the site of Christ’s death on the Cross the night before, and praying for my loved ones caught up in this terrible situation back home, I found that I wanted somehow to feel in my skin, for all the days left of my life, the truth that JESUS CHRIST CONQUERS. That nothing we have to suffer today is the final word. That the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David has triumphed.
So I chose the medieval Greek cross with the symbols that mean IX (Jesus) XC (Christ) NIKA (Conquers):
Wassim and me, in a selfie:
Next time you’re in Jerusalem, go see Wassim at Razzouk Tattoo. You’ll have a great conversation with him, and his work is varied and beautiful. He’s known for tattoos made from Coptic stamps hundreds of years old, that had been passed down by his family. They were quite striking, but as I am a middle-aged fogey, I decided to have my one and only tattoo be something more modest, and personally meaningful to me.
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Conservatism & Cultural Antibodies
Disney has always been an explicitly morally instructive company; its characters were used as propaganda during World War II. Walt Disney’s original vision for Walt Disney World in Orlando was a model for a healthy civic society, among many other examples. Conservatives now simply disapprove of the corporation’s chosen morality, which includes commonly accepted progressive ideas about multiculturalism and personal identity.
The story of fighting back against that gradual, seemingly inevitable leftward cultural creep is more or less the story of conservatism itself. The incentives and pressures that have led conservatives on this particular quest, however — one that’s not only almost certainly hopeless, but that has led them into sinister rhetorical territory in referring to opponents of the law as “groomers,” or manipulative pedophiles — are quite modern, and reveal how much both our cultural and political landscape have shifted over just the past decade of American life.
“Sinister rhetorical territory” — right. The real problem is with people who call this stuff out for what it is. Anyway, let’s move on:
They now accuse notionally LGBT-friendly companies like Disney of “grooming” children — an astonishingly cynical rhetorical flourish that, by misappropriating a term used to describe pedophiles, manages to conflate homosexuality and pedophilia, profoundly disrespect actual survivors of child sex abuse by using their experience as a political cudgel, and invoke the specter of far-right conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate” all at once. (The backlash has also predictably and depressingly caught sex education in its blast radius, which has been repeatedly proven as the most effective tactic to prevent sexual abuse.)
Oh for pity’s sake, really? Nobody is conflating homosexuality with pedophilia. Nobody thinks Douglas Murray, Andrew Sullivan, or Camille Paglia are a danger to children. What we’re talking about is the grooming of little children to accept radical sexual and gender identities (e.g., “pansexual”) at a time when these kids are putty in the hands of teachers and other authority figures. It teaches them to think of themselves as sexual beings, and their every desire as constitutive of their identity. Both gays and straights doing this are grooming kids into a highly sexualized culture — one that seems obvious to many of us to be headed straight for the literal sexualization of children, as in turning them into objects of sexual desire.
To pretend that objecting to this is being Anita Bryant is rhetorically dishonest, and maybe even sinister. But anyway, let’s go on. Author Derek Robertson has a point here, though:
Embedded in that effort is the recognition that when it comes to the core issues at hand — support for the racial justice movement and LGBTQ rights — the ship has sailed leftward and has been doing so since the 1960s, if not before.
Why does he have a point? Because the ship of American culture really has been sailing leftward for a long time. That is not always a bad thing. No morally aware conservative could possibly want to return to the days of 1950s Jim Crow, for example, or to the days when homosexuals were hounded out of employment for being gay. But Robertson’s piece is part of progressive mythology, claiming that the Grand March of History is inevitable, and conservatives can’t stop it. In fact, what the Robertson piece points to, whether he realizes it or not, is the power of culture-creating institutions like Disney to direct the culture in certain ways. Disney is a marker of the mainstream, but it has also created the mainstream. Watch those videos that Chris Rufo posted of all the senior Disney executives talking about how they’ve been quietly inserting LGBT ideas and characters into children’s movies and TV programming, and how they’re going to ramp that up. They understand the power they wield to guide culture in certain ways. It is absurd for Derek Robertson to claim that this all just sort of happened.
Nevertheless, Robertson also gets to a reason that I wrote The Benedict Option (and now, Live Not By Lies). We on the cultural and religious right really have lost this war. We absolutely have to wage guerrilla warfare when we can — that’s what Rufo is doing — but the deeper currents of American culture are moving strongly to the left. This is not something we can vote ourselves out of. Unless American conservatives can make these groomer woke capitalists afraid of us, nothing will change. Are there enough of us to do that? I hope so, and maybe there is right now. But it won’t be forever. As Eric Kaufmann warned, based on his research, the Millennials and Generation Z are the wokest generations ever.
Most Americans, I fear, are not even aware that there is something to resist in all this. There are almost no cultural antibodies left with which to fight the invader. Religion ought to have been leading the charge against the corporate colonization of our minds, but of course most American religion is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Few American churches are in any sense enemies of Mickey Mouse. Nevertheless, there are lots of people — Christians, Jews, Muslims, even some secular folks — who despise what is happening, and who just want to build communal structures in which moral sanity can thrive, and in which they can learn resiliency, and pass it on to their kids.
I like to think that I’ve identified this need. But I have no idea how to build. Do you?