Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The True Meaning of Christmas from Archbishop Fulton Sheen

The Roman Catholic Archbishop Fulton Sheen was an excellent orator on Catholic values and faith. He used to appear on his own TV show, back when Christianity wasn't shunned. This episode from his show "Life is Worth Living" describes the fullness of the meaning of Christmas, and why Jesus's incarnation is so important to mankind.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Europe, Immigration, and Merkel’s Christian Values

We probably shouldn't hold our breath on it, but it looks like the secular culture is starting to realize what they've lost, at least on some subconscious level. In multiple countries now, politicians in have been standing up for Christian culture, values, and rights. Hopefully this fever catches on bringing back some sanity to the destructive culture currently dominate in the west.
It’s not often senior European political leaders make politically-incorrect statements, but Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has recently made a habit of it. The subject has been the touchy question of Muslim immigration and the challenges it poses for European identity. Not only has Merkel upset the European political class (especially the Left and the Greens) by saying what everyone knows—that multiculturalism has “utterly failed”—but she also argued that the issue was not “too much Islam” but “too little Christianity.”

“We have too few discussions about the Christian view of mankind,” Merkel claimed in a recent speech. She then stressed that Germany needs to reflect more upon “the values that guide us, about our Judeo-Christian tradition.” It was one way, Merkel maintained, of bringing “about cohesion in our society.”

On one level, Merkel is surely stating the blindingly obvious. How can Europeans ask Muslim immigrants to integrate into European society and respect European values without Europeans themselves being clear in their own minds about what values are at the core of European identity and where these values come from?

And as much as significant portions of European society would like to deny it, it’s simply a historical fact that the idea of Europe and European values such as liberty, equality before the law, and solidarity did not suddenly appear ex nihilo in the late seventeenth-century with the various Enlightenments. Central to the formation of European identity and such values was the synthesis of Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem achieved by Christianity following the Roman Empire’s collapse in the West in 476 A.D.

Indeed there’s plenty of evidence that the antecedents of most of the various freedoms and genuine achievements of the various Enlightenments are to be found in Christianity. There is increasing recognition, for example, that the idea of human rights was first given concrete expression by medieval canon lawyers.

Yet it is hardly a secret that the Judeo-Christian heritage sits very loosely on many European societies. We find this in a type of secular-fundamentalism—exemplified by Spain’s current Socialist government—that has become fashionable among sections of the European Left. But the ambiguity also manifests itself in the persistence of historical legends that diminish, distort, and denigrate Christianity’s contributions to European civilization.

A good example is the mythology of the so-called “Dark Ages” that permeates popular and elite discussion of European history. Most of the moral, political, and legal foundations of modern market economies, for instance, were established in Europe well before the sixteenth century. Likewise the scientific method was born in the Middle Ages. Medieval thinkers such as Albertus Magnus made crucial contributions to the development of the natural sciences. Yet despite these facts, many persist in claiming that market economies are essentially a post-Enlightenment phenomenon, or that Christianity is essentially “anti-science.”

But the problem is not only with secular opinion. Since the 1950s, many European Christians have gradually reduced their Christian faith to a vacuous humanitarianism worthy of the best EU-funded NGO. One difficulty with “liberal Christianity” (or whatever’s left of it) is that it isn’t especially interested in affirming any Christian values that go beyond sentimental platitudes about tolerance and equality which are routinely emptied of any specific Christian content. It’s goodbye Thomas Aquinas, hello John Rawls.

This makes it even more ironic that increasing numbers of secular European thinkers believe Europe can only reinvigorate its distinct identity and values through reengaging its Judeo-Christian heritage. This is certainly the conclusion of one of Germany’s most prominent intellectuals, Jürgen Habermas.

A self-described “methodological atheist,” Habermas has been insisting for some time that Europe no longer has the luxury of wallowing in historical denial. As Habermas wrote in his 2006 book, A Time of Transitions: “Christianity, and nothing else [is] the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of western civilization. To this day we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”

It follows that any serious discussion of Europe’s Christian values in the context of contemporary immigration and identity debates will require many Europeans to go beyond their often-truncated understandings of European history and Christianity. There’s something paradoxical about this being facilitated by the increasing numbers of Muslims living in Europe. But such an engagement is arguably being made even more urgent by the economic reality that Europe will need even more immigrants if its present demographic winter persists for any significant period of time.

What Chancellor Merkel herself understands by “the Christian view of mankind” was not clear from her remarks. Nor is it evident that particular Christian ideas are always compatible with some Muslim positions. Despite the interfaith babble to the contrary, there are some fundamental theological differences between Christianity and Islam, many of which have implications for subjects ranging from religious liberty to the nature of the state. Merkel, however, is undoubtedly correct to insist that any discussion of immigration in Europe should involve Europeans worrying a little less about Islam and paying far more attention to knowing the truth about their own heritage and Christianity’s place in it.

The truth doesn’t just set us free. There’s no future without it.

Dr. Samuel Gregg is Research Director at the Acton Institute. He has authored several books including On Ordered Liberty, his prize-winning The Commercial Society, and Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy.

Read the entire article on the Acton Institute website (new window will open).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

St. Nicholas Fights Port Authority

For Orthodox Christians a name is more than just a name

There is a culture to Orthodox Christianity that is either unnoticed or misunderstood by many in the Protestant West. This last Monday was the Feast Day of St Nicholas, a prominent Orthodox saint.

In Orthodoxy, as well as Roman Catholicism, people who die are not believed to be gone from all rational thought. In fact, if someone is 'saintly' they are likely to be in communion with God in Heaven. Therefore, it is proper and possible to ask these people, albeit without bodies, to pray for us, that God will bless us in our lives. Many people hold to a person's "Sainthood" because of the miracles that they experience in their lives after including a saint in their prayers. 

By Evagelos Sotiropoulo

When Ian Miller’ parents visit his son’s soon to be in-laws in the 2002 blockbuster movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, they’re introduced to no less than 10 Nicks.

While overlooking the exaggerated (albeit not by much) tradition of naming a child after its grandparent, there’s actually a more profound, religious reason behind Greek – indeed all Orthodox Christian – names.

At its baptism by immersion, an Orthodox baby is given the name of a saint and enrolled into the Church, both on earth and in heaven. This name is used each and every time a sacrament is administered to them. When one’s patron saint is celebrated, this represents his or her Name Day, which is more important than their birthday. (In Serbian culture, each family has a patron saint who is observed in a collective celebration known as Slava.)

This Monday, for example, the Orthodox Church celebrates St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra. (If you know a Nicholas, Nick or Nikoletta, be sure to wish them a happy Name Day.) He is one of the foremost Christian saints, known for his abundant mercy and zeal for the truth who lived during the reign of Constantine the Great. The Saint was present at the First Ecumenical Council of the 318 Fathers at Nicaea in 325 and stood strong against the heretical teaching of Arius that taught Jesus was not equal to God.

Saints, who follow the prophets and apostles, are an integral part of Church life in Orthodoxy. St. Clement of Rome says, “Cleave to the saints, for they who cleave to them shall be made holy,” while St. Ephraim the Syrian affirms that, “Blessed is he who plants in his soul good plants, that is, the virtues and the lives of saints.”

It should be noted, however, that sainthood has nothing necessarily to do with intellect – which is based in the brain – but everything to do with spirituality, which is rooted in one’s heart: while some saints have possessed superior intelligence, like Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople, others have attained the highest level of noetic perfection with little education, like Elder Paisios the Athonite.

Reverence for saints is closely connected with the veneration of holy relics and icons. When one walks into an Orthodox Church, there’s an otherworldly feel to it and a myriad of icons expressing a sense of heaven on earth. As Bishop Kallistos Ware (an Anglican convert) has written, “Icons, frescoes, and mosaics are not mere ornaments, designed to make the church ‘look nice’, but have a theological and liturgical function to fulfil.” Icons, among other things, serve as a continuous reminder for the faithful of the invisible presence of heaven at each Divine Liturgy.

Nicholas the Wonderworker in the fourth-century to modern day saints like Nectarios of Aegina (1846-1920) and Arsenios the Cappadocian (1840-1924) all serve to continue the communion of saints in Orthodoxy which is like a chain of mutual love and prayer. It’s the saint, who, through his or her glorification by God continues the Christian Truth.

Saints are the aristocracy of mankind and their intercessions to God help us all.

Evagelos Sotiropoulos is a freelance writer who lives in Toronto. He has previously written about the Orthodox Christian faith for Holy Post

Originally Posted in Holy Post.

Eating Our Young, Or Just Harvesting Them for Corporate Profit?

Friday, December 03, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (21)

In the ongoing descent of our culture into hi-tech savagery, I note the following:
Is it Real, Or Is it Senomyx? How New Flavor Technology Tinkers with Our Tastebuds
Ever wonder what flavor technology companies really do? Well you should because this time, they’ve decided to trick our tastebuds, and in turn our brains, into tasting something that isn’t necessarily there.
Sounds pretty perky, eh?  Another fun science article about those amazing wizards who make it possible for gluttonous Americans to have all the sensations of eating tasty goodness while not actually having to gain weight.  What’s their special secret?

UPDATE:  According to Lynn Stratton at Healthy Holistic Living: Fetuses.  Their “unique proprietary technologies” are “Embryonic kidney cells from aborted human fetuses.”  Stratton maintains that these are used as an ingredient, but a reader states:
This is absolutely NOT TRUE! At Children of God for Life we monitor the use of aborted fetal cell lines in vaccines, medical products, cosmetics and regular research. I have done the research on Senomyx and what they are doing is TESTING their food enhancers using aborted fetal cell line HEK-293 (human embryonic kidney, specimen 293)Yes - this is wrong and repulsive - not to mention unnecessary.  But the cell lines are NOT IN your food.  Mark Shea blew it on this one.
I bow to my reader’s superior knowledge.  Apparently, the giant corporations in question are merely using aborted fetuses, not actually feeding them to us.  It’s sort of like saying “The Commandant’s wife didn’t actually eat prisoners, she merely made lampshades out of their skin.”  Derive what consolation from that you will.

Me: I think that, once again, reader Barbara is vindicated.

Read the article to discover which giant corporations to boycott.

This is like something out of a science fiction movie... or The Jungle. Unbelievable that there are people that allow these things, much less actually practice them.

Church left out of 9/11 renewal

Most people haven't even hear about this. Who could care about the Christians who want to rebuild their church, when we have other pressing deadlines? Besides, did you hear about the Muslims and their mosque?

By Martha T. Moore, USA TODAY

NEW YORK — Towers are rising again at the site of the World Trade Center, a place of devastation turned into a construction hub. But the cross-topped belfry of St. Nicholas Church isn't among them.

Nine years after it was destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the little Greek Orthodox church that stood across the street from the twin towers is farther away than ever from being rebuilt.

Slow progress toward a new home halted last year when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the Ground Zero site, broke off discussions with the church over where and how a new church would be built.

FAITH & REASON: Conversation about religion, spirituality & ethics

On Sunday, the eve of St. Nicholas Day, 70 families of the congregation gathered near the site to light candles and pray for a way to rebuild their spiritual home amid the office towers and memorial plaza taking shape. "It's not a political statement. This is our place, and we belong there," says Mark Arey, a priest and director of interfaith relations for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Before the Port Authority pulled the plug in March 2009, the agency and the church had spent several years working on a plan for the church to be rebuilt a block from its original location. Each side says the other refused to come to terms. The Port Authority says the church wanted too much say in the design of a vehicle screening center underneath the new building. The church says the agency wouldn't finalize the swap of its original property for the new site.

"After nine months of negotiations in which the demands of the Orthodox Church continued to increase over and above what we originally agreed to, we had to make a practical decision," says John Kelly, a Port Authority spokesman.

To work on the vehicle screening center, the Port Authority has begun ripping up the 1,200-square-foot plot where the old church stood, though the agency has not bought the rights from the church to do so.

'Back to the table'

The stalemate is emblematic of the complexity of plans for rebuilding Ground Zero and shows the intense pressure to move forward on a project that has taken years longer than anticipated.

The Port Authority says it sent a letter last month to the church, seeking to resume discussions to set a value on the church's land.

"We really want to go back to the table with the Port Authority ... because I just don't think it's reasonable that the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11 would not be rebuilt," Arey says.

When the twin towers were standing, they dwarfed little St. Nicholas. Founded in 1916, the church's home was a whitewashed 19th-century building that had once been a tavern. It sat across the street from the south tower of the Trade Center. It had a tiny congregation and was open only on Sundays and Wednesdays, when workers from the financial district sometimes stopped to light a candle or sit in peace.

In the years after it was destroyed, a plan emerged for St. Nicholas to be rebuilt a block east of its original site in a park the Port Authority is building on top of its underground vehicle screening center, through which all traffic into the Trade Center complex will have to pass.

In a preliminary deal announced in the summer of 2008, the Port Authority said it would cover the $40 million cost of the platform on which the church would be built and contribute $20 million to the cost of the church, in exchange for the church's original lot. In March 2009, the Port Authority cut off talks. The church will have to rebuild on its original site, the agency says, when the vehicle center is finished in 2013.

The church says that's impossible, partly because the construction of the underground center is raising the church's site by 30 feet. "They're saying, 'Go back to your old space,' knowing full well that without years of planning, it's not feasible," says John Couloucoundis, president of the St. Nicholas congregation.

In August, the church got a flurry of attention during the controversy over a proposal to build an Islamic center near the Trade Center site. When New York Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, offered to help the developer find a site farther away, elected officials such as state Sen. Dean Skelos, a Republican, asked why there was no equivalent effort to help St. Nicholas.

An odyssey

The church has raised "a couple million" for a new building, though Arey says it has not launched a fundraising campaign. "It's hard to fundraise for something you don't have a design for."

While worshiping at a Greek Orthodox cathedral in Brooklyn, the members continue to pay their dues, have meetings and gather annually at Ground Zero to celebrate St. Nicholas' feast day.

The travails of St. Nicholas are — fittingly for a Greek church — an "odyssey," Couloucoundis says. "I hope, just like the original Odyssey, we end up where we're supposed to."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Austrian MP on Turkish "one-way street tolerance babble"

Let me tell you, how surprised I am to see this come out of Europe. Even more surprising is how much support it's getting from the other members of the parliamentary body.

What do you think? Is this something "long time coming" or "distressing news"?

What Happened to Christmas? A Lesson For All Godly People

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

It is no secret that God and religion are being marginalized, that is to say considered irrelevant in modern secular society. Many work hard to remove all reference to God in our culture and nation. Consider Christmas, although a legal holiday by Act of Congress (signed 1870, June 28, by President Ulysses S. Grant) the religious significance is being systematically eradicated. For example, the secular “language police” have made sure a Christmas Tree is now a Holiday Bush and the proper greeting is no longer “Merry Christmas!” but “Happy Holidays!”” Here in San Diego a popular community celebration, for years called “Christmas On the Prado” and held in beautiful historic Balboa Park, was renamed a couple of years ago as December Nights in order to mollify the secular language police. The list goes on and on.

Secularism claims to be indifferent to religion. It claims to be inclusive of all. What is missed is that Secularism itself has the essential marks of religion. What are the critical ingredients of any religion? “These are: narratives, symbols, and traditions concerning the meaning of the universe and its existence, of human life, and of societal values and how they should be carried out.” Religion has a public aspect and the Secularist Religion has spared no effort in its desire to establish itself as the public national and world religion. Furthermore, it makes no apology for imposing its values on all. It is “politically correct.”

Secular values are disguised by politically correct jargon. If Godly people were more aware of the secular value agenda, they might see the need to embrace and celebrate traditional religious beliefs in our society instead of eradicating them. Fortunately (or unfortunately), the laws of secularism were explicitly laid out in 1998 by Robert Greene in a book entitled The 48 Laws of Power. Among the most egregious secularist principles are: learn to use your enemies; conceal your intentions; court attention at all costs; get others to work, but take the credit; use selective honesty; appeal to self-interest; crush your enemy; keep others in suspended terror; discover each man's thumbscrew; create compelling spectacles (the aura of power).

What is so nefarious about this establishment of secularism is that its values are diametrically the opposite of the values embraced by the traditional religions. How different are the value systems of most world religions, so well summarized in the Sikh proverb: "If you can't see God in all, you can't see God at all." (Sri Singh Sahib, Yogi Bhajan). In the Eastern Church, we go beyond saying "Merry Christmas!" We exchange the Christmas greeting "Christ is Born!" with the response, "Glorify Him!" We have a sense of the birth of the "Prince of Peace;" "Emmanuel," not the 'prince of darkness or power.' Along with Isaiah the Prophet we proclaim: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. . . . For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." And his peace shall have no end, for God is with us!" (Is 9: 2,6-7).

During colonial times in Plymouth Colony it would not have been "politically incorrect" to celebrate Christmas. Neither should it be "politically incorrect" to celebrate the beautiful feasts of the other religions that make up our free and great nation.

Fr. George Morelli
V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist, Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, ( and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion. Fr. George is Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.

Originally Posted on Orthodoxy Today.

Smart Parenting XIX. Preparing for the Extinction Explosion

Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God (Luke 18: 16).

In previous essays (Morelli, 2008c) on marriage and parenting I pointed out the importance of parents perceiving the spiritual and the psychological implications of their vocation. A male and female, blessed by God in Holy Matrimony, are called up to be "[united] in one mind and one flesh, and grant them fair children for education in Thy faith . . . ." This has to be in the context that the married couple are individuals themselves, as are their children, made in God's image and called to grow in Divine illumination and become like Him.

Neglecting our intelligence: Sin

The Church Fathers told us that intelligence is one characteristic of God's image in us. (Morelli, 2006b, 2008b) Thus, by the very fact that we are made with intelligence, it behooves us to use the findings of scientific researchers which have been shown to be effective in behavioral control. It is morally necessary to use the scientific techniques which have been found to be beneficial in helping raise Godly, morally and socially responsible children. Not to do so, in fact, would be neglecting an important gift given to us by God. It would be "missing the mark:" Not to use the results of efficacious scientific behavioral research would be an illness and infirmity, that is to say, it would be sinful parenting.

One aspect of disciplining children which remains a problem for many Orthodox Christian parents is the use of effective punishment techniques. In actual fact, correct use of punishment actions can be a very effective form of behavior control. The operative term here is "correct use" of punishment. It must be psychologically, emotionally and spiritually 'correct.' The Punishment tool

Psychologically correct means that punishment is but one of a myriad of tools of discipline in a total program of behavioral intervention. Punishment is to be applied after a behavior is evaluated as inappropriate (Morelli, 2005a, 2006a, 2008b). This paper is going to focus on preparing the parent who uses negative punishment, also called extinction, for one of its major effects, the extinction explosion. This effect, if a parent does not expect it and is not helped to deal with it, can sabotage the correct use of negative punishment in behavioral control and, in fact, can make an inappropriate behavior even stronger. However, before considering the extinction explosion an overview of negative punishment (extinction) in the context of the total behavioral intervention program is useful.

Behavioral Intervention overview

Behavior is shaped by its consequences. There are four consequences which influence behavior. i
Consequences which increase behavior:
  • Positive Reinforcement: after a behavior occurs (whether or not the behavior is good or bad) a pleasant event occurs. The behavior increases.
  • Negative Reinforcement: after a behavior occurs (whether or not the behavior is good or bad) an unpleasant event is taken away. The behavior increases.
Consequences which decrease behavior:
  • Positive Punishment: after a behavior occurs (whether or not the behavior is good or bad) an unpleasant event occurs. The behavior decreases.
  • Negative Punishment (extinction): after a behavior occurs (whether or not the behavior is good or bad) a pleasant event is taken away. The behavior decreases.
Parents who are following Christ and His Church should want to increase good or appropriate behavior, but at times (hopefully inadvertently) good behavior is punished. For example, a child who is showing a proficient school project to their parent (an appropriate behavior) is told how awfully (even if objectively true) they are dressed. This 'put down' is found to be very unpleasant by the child and thus in the long run decreases his doing good schoolwork. [Hint: Better Parental procedure: praise the child for the school project; address his or her dress at a later, more appropriate time].

Important psychological caveats

Use behavioral pinpointing, that is to say, be concrete-specific. Never give general-abstract instructions or comment in general-abstract terms. Never tell a child to "be good" or "do better," rather say: "sit in your chair for the next 15 minutes," or "check the spelling of the words in this line," etc.

Spell out the behavioral contract ahead of time. Tell the child what specific behaviors are expected, or are not to be done, and what the consequences will be. If the child does a 'new' inappropriate behavior or fails to do an appropriate behavior they have previously performed, do not 'shoot from the hip' and say something like: "Ok! No TV this evening!” Rather, tell the child the consequence for the next time the 'infraction' occurs and be sure to follow up. Punishment temporarily decreases or suppresses behavior. Right after applying punishment is the opportunity to catch the child doing something good and reward the child for doing it. This is especially effective if it is a good behavior which would substitute for the inappropriate behavior the child was performing.

Be consistent. Do not give a consequence which will occur and then not follow-up and apply it. Furthermore, for teaching new behaviors or modifying the behavior of children who display inappropriate behavior, there must be no exceptions. The consistency of rewards and punishments must be 100%
Pleasant or unpleasant consequences must be defined from the child's point of view not that of the parent (or teacher). In fact, what a parent may think is pleasant or unpleasant may be quite different from the child's idea. For example, a child may do a good job fixing a broken fence. His/her parent may say "Great! you did such a good job, I'll give you a really challenging job now; you can repair the broken window frame in the living room." The parent may think they are rewarding the child; the child may feel they are being punished by this difficult 'extra' chore. They may feel it is better not to do a good job ever. Why try hard, since more will be loaded on?

Punishments should only be introduced by parents who are in total emotional control. (Morelli, 2005b, 2006c). Not only do anger, anxiety and/or depression prevent parents from effective behavioral management of their children, but children cognitively focus on the inappropriate out-of-control parental emotion and how awful it is to be yelled at, and do not attend to their own good and/or bad behavior and its consequences.

Critical spiritual caveat

Also needing to be overcome are fundamentalist and literal misperceptions of the teachings of Christ and His Church, specifically individualistic interpretations of scripture passages. In the Orthodox Church, scripture comes from tradition and can only be interpreted in union and in conformity with the Holy Spirit-inspired Church. (Morelli, 2009, 2010). If scripture is to be followed literally, without the Holy Spirit inspired Body of Christ, the Orthodox Catholic Church, it is without the Holy Spirit. Christians trace their founding to Jesus Christ, by His sending (descent) of the Holy Spirit on His apostles and disciples at Pentecost. According to St. Paul we know that the teachings of Jesus were understood by Christians by their being sanctified by this same Holy Spirit. St. Paul did much to spread the teachings of Jesus throughout the Roman world and writing to the Corinthians concerning the teachings which Jesus passed in tradition to His Church he says: "I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you" (1 Corinthians 11:2).

Many who are sincere, well-meaning religious individuals, but who are seriously misguided and not in conformity to the Church, believe that corporal punishment is mandated by Holy Scripture, and that, if they be parents, they would be negligent in not employing corporal punishment in their families. The typical verse quoted in justifying corporal punishment is supposedly from the book of Proverbs: "Spare the rod and spoil the child." This is actually a misquote from the scriptural passage: "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him" (Pv 13: 24). There is another passage from the book of Proverbs which is also quoted in support of corporal punishment: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. If you beat him with the rod you will save his life from Sheol" (Pv 23:13-14).

Consider the wisdom of our holy Church Spiritual Father St. Isaac of Syria. Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev (2000) summarizes St. Isaac's discernment: ". . . the Old Testament understanding of God as a chastiser of sinners . . .does not correspond with the revelation we have received through Christ in the New Testament . . .one should not interpret literally those Old Testament texts. . . .they are being used in a figurative sense. . . ." Thus it is the 'spirit' of the Old Testament message we have to discern in light of the mind of Christ and His Church. The spirit of the "rod" is not its use in corporal beating, but in effective behavior management informed by the science of the day. (Morelli, 2006d).

The Extinction Explosion


The extinction explosion is a result of using negative punishment. As defined above: Negative Punishment (extinction) is the removal, taking away, that is to say subtracting, a pleasant event following a bad (or inadvertently a good) behavior. The result is that the behavior decreases.

The behavior decreases if the removal (of the pleasant event) is consistently applied over whatever time period it takes for the behavior to significantly diminish or disappear completely. However, in practical use of this punishment technique a temporary surge, burst or explosion of inappropriate behavior occurs when the pleasant event is removed.ii This can be so unsettling to a parent that unless they are prepared for this 'explosion' they are likely to give up on the procedure. The child is also learning that they can persist in the behavior and the parent will eventually 'give-in.' Effectually this makes the child's behavior even stronger.

For example, suppose a child is constantly yelling out, a bad behavior, and interrupting his/her parent. Each time the parent would answer the child's query (a pleasant event for the child). If the parent were to be keeping a record of the number of such interruptions and then instituted a negative punishment (extinction) procedure involving not paying any attention at all to the child's interruption, they would note a dramatic increase or burst of the child's bad behavior interruptions. If unprepared for this 'extinction explosion' a parent may well give in and respond again to the child’s inappropriate behavior. The child will continue interrupting. The bad behavior will not only persist, but will more likely be harder to extinguish in the future. Extinction bursts will be more intense and pronounced. On the other hand ,if the parent expects the extinction explosion and is prepared to "wait it out," the bad behavior, as is shown in the graph below, will eventually diminish.

Case study

Extinction explosions can last from several minutes to several hours. One of the most severe clinical cases I had involved a 6 year old male child who due to previous ineffective extinction attempts (one parent was in the field of education and had minimal and inadequate training in use of the procedure) had temper tantrum outbursts which lasted 6-7 hours. His inappropriate behavior included yelling, screaming, throwing objects through glass windows, turning over kitchen and dining table set with dinnerware and food, etc.

Before I had the parents employ an 'effective extinction procedure,' I had to thoroughly train the parents and some extended family members. This training involved a didactic phase explaining all aspects of negative punishment (extinction) and probable consequences (extinction explosion), role playing, an assessment of the home, rearranging furniture and safety-proofing objects. It also involved stripping bare one room in the house which would serve as a "time-out" room (cf. Morelli, 2008a)

Upon the first outburst of a temper tantrum the child would be escorted (or carried) to the time-out room. The door to the room would be held shut by a family member. All family members were instructed not to answer the child at all or open the door until the child was quiet for 5 minutes. Upon opening the door the adult would, in a pleasant tone of voice, praise the child for how 'quiet they are now.' The program was explained to the child. I made myself available for telephone consultation during this week. Family members would take turns holding on to the door handle. The child's first temper tantrum lasted 6 hours. Over the next few days he continued to have temper tantrums, but the time-out period significantly diminished. Within two weeks there were no reports of outbursts. The parents came in for support counseling for consistency in continuing the procedure for several more weeks. A follow-up several months later indicated no more behavioral outbursts.

Body, Mind, Spirit


Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Agelogiou, 1998) reminds earthly physicians: "You must have a practical mind. Generally speaking, every one of us must take advantage of his mind which is a gift from God.”
It must be considered that in the Orthodox tradition the body and the mind, that is to say psychological procedures, do not exist separately from their synergia with the spirit. As St. James tells us:
Is there any one among you suffering? Let him pray . . . .Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven (Jas 4:13 - 15).
St. John Chrysostom presented us with the idea that the entire Church of Christ is a hospital, thereby expressing in clearer theological terms the relationship between the healing of body and soul practiced by the early healers. (Morelli, 2006d). A prayer by St. John Chrysostom which is included in "The Book of Needs" concisely states the goal of our earthly life:
O Lord Jesus Christ . . . .We beseech You, look mercifully upon him (or her), and in your great love grant him (or her) relief from his (or her) pain . . .that restored to the vigor of health, he (or she) may . . . serve you faithfully and gratefully all his (or her) life, and become heir of Your Kingdom, For You are the Physician of our souls and bodies, O Christ . . . ."

Ageloglou, Priestmonk Christodoulos. (1998). Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain. Mt. Athos, Greece: Holy Mountain.
Alfeyev, Bishop Hilarion (2000) The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.
Morelli, G. (2005a, September 17). Smart Parenting Part 1.
Morelli, G. (2005b, October 14). The Beast of Anger.
Morelli, G. (2006a, February 04). Smart Parenting Part II.
Morelli, G. (2006b, March 6). Asceticism and Psychology in the Modern World.
Morelli, G. (2006c, March 25). Smart Parenting III: Developing Emotional Control.
Morelli, G. (2006d, December 21. The Ethos of Orthodox Christian Healing.
Morelli, G. (2008, May 28) Smart Parenting XII: The Time Out Tool.
Morelli, G. (2008a, June 10). Smart Parenting XIII:Tools for Smart Punishing.
Morelli, G. (2008b, July, 08). Good Marriage XIII: The Theology of Marriage and Sexuality.
Morelli, G. (2009, September 26). Secularism and the Mind of Christ and the Church: Some Psycho-Spiritual Reflections.
Morelli, G (in press). The Ethos of Orthodox Catechesis: The mind of the Orthodox Church.

Fr. George Morelli
V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist, Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, ( and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion. Fr. George is Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.

Originally posted on Orthodoxy Today

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Who Needs Marriage? Children Do

As reported in Time Magazine's November 18th cover story, according to a new Pew Research Center nationwide survey, a growing number of Americans believe that "marriage, whatever its social, spiritual, or symbolic appeal, is in purely practical terms just not as necessary as it used to be."

The claim raises the question, "not necessary for whom?"

The Future of Children's Fragile Families study, referenced in Time's feature, Who Needs Marriage?, suggests that for some, and particularly for children, marriage is more necessary than ever.

And despite the more general findings that Americans believe that marriage is unnecessary for a host of issues, when it comes to raising kids, more than three-quarters say it's best done married.

As The Future of Children: Fragile Families journal explains, fragile families - defined as couples who are unmarried when their children are born - face greater risks than more traditional families, which can have negative consequences on child wellbeing. Simply put, stable, two parent homes have greater monetary and emotional resources to support their children's development. And in the United States, marriage has the greatest chance of achieving relationship stability which leads to stability for children.

So where do we go from here?

The Future of Children Fragile Families journal shows that, contrary to popular belief, most unwed parents have close and loving relationships at the time of their child's birth. However, at five years after birth only 35 percent of unwed parents are still together. These first moments in a child's life present a unique opportunity to work with couples to strengthen unwed parents' relationship and parenting skills.

At the Brookings Institution Fragile Families launch on October 27, 2010, a young man summarized the impact of such program participation on his views about children and marriage.

"When we went to this class, and I listened to the statistics about the married couples and the unmarried couples and how much it would benefit my child for us to be married, I took advantage of that. I want my child to be raised to be a man, and I love my girlfriend. It was a no-brainer, but it really took learning about my child's future to help me put it together."

While a growing number of Americans may view marriage as a dying institution, its benefits for children are clear. As our nation's poverty rate continues to climb, preventing and strengthening fragile families will become increasingly important.

For more information on fragile families and our policy recommendations to support them, please go to The Future of Children's full volume on Fragile Families.

This article was reprinted from Princeton Blog on the The Future of Children

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wikileaks: Russian Orthodox Church’s Kirill on ecumenism

(FaithWorld) - Some interesting comments on Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, back in April 2008 when he was still Metropolitan Kirill, in a cable from the U.S. embassy in Moscow published by Wikileaks:

¶8. (C) Kirill seemed to be in good health was preoccupied as always with the, in his view, excessive emphasis on the individual in the West, and stressed the need to harmonize traditional human rights concerns with “morality and ethics.” Economic progress had been a two-edged sword for Russia, Kirill thought. With prosperity, Russians had “lost something” and Kirill, who is Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, pointed to less prosperous Smolensk as “better preserved” than Moscow or St. Petersburg.

¶9. (C) Kirill spoke highly of a UN-sponsored effort to bridge the gap between East and West by seeking an alliance of civilizations. Kirill was attempting to interest the UN in his efforts to sponsor ecumenical dialogue especially, he said, in the Middle East. As he has in past conversations, Kirill contrasted Roman Catholic Pope Benedict favourably with his predecessor John Paul II, and again held out the prospect of significant improvement in Russian Orthodox – Roman Catholic relations. Also on the ecumenical front, Kirill reported to the Ambassador efforts, via the Russian Orthodox Church of America and the National Council of Churches, to reach out to Protestant denominations in the U.S.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Why Christmas is not pagan.

Calculating Christmas

William J. Tighe on the Story Behind December 25

Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.

Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.

A Mistake

The idea that the date was taken from the pagans goes back to two scholars from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German Protestant, wished to show that the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th was one of the many “paganizations” of Christianity that the Church of the fourth century embraced, as one of many “degenerations” that transformed pure apostolic Christianity into Catholicism. Dom Jean Hardouin, a Benedictine monk, tried to show that the Catholic Church adopted pagan festivals for Christian purposes without paganizing the gospel.

In the Julian calendar, created in 45 B.C. under Julius Caesar, the winter solstice fell on December 25th, and it therefore seemed obvious to Jablonski and Hardouin that the day must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one. But in fact, the date had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian’s time, nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.

There were two temples of the sun in Rome, one of which (maintained by the clan into which Aurelian was born or adopted) celebrated its dedication festival on August 9th, the other of which celebrated its dedication festival on August 28th. But both of these cults fell into neglect in the second century, when eastern cults of the sun, such as Mithraism, began to win a following in Rome. And in any case, none of these cults, old or new, had festivals associated with solstices or equinoxes.

As things actually happened, Aurelian, who ruled from 270 until his assassination in 275, was hostile to Christianity and appears to have promoted the establishment of the festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” as a device to unify the various pagan cults of the Roman Empire around a commemoration of the annual “rebirth” of the sun. He led an empire that appeared to be collapsing in the face of internal unrest, rebellions in the provinces, economic decay, and repeated attacks from German tribes to the north and the Persian Empire to the east.

In creating the new feast, he intended the beginning of the lengthening of the daylight, and the arresting of the lengthening of darkness, on December 25th to be a symbol of the hoped-for “rebirth,” or perpetual rejuvenation, of the Roman Empire, resulting from the maintenance of the worship of the gods whose tutelage (the Romans thought) had brought Rome to greatness and world-rule. If it co-opted the Christian celebration, so much the better.

A By-Product

It is true that the first evidence of Christians celebrating December 25th as the date of the Lord’s nativity comes from Rome some years after Aurelian, in A.D. 336, but there is evidence from both the Greek East and the Latin West that Christians attempted to figure out the date of Christ’s birth long before they began to celebrate it liturgically, even in the second and third centuries. The evidence indicates, in fact, that the attribution of the date of December 25th was a by-product of attempts to determine when to celebrate his death and resurrection.

How did this happen? There is a seeming contradiction between the date of the Lord’s death as given in the synoptic Gospels and in John’s Gospel. The synoptics would appear to place it on Passover Day (after the Lord had celebrated the Passover Meal on the preceding evening), and John on the Eve of Passover, just when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Jerusalem Temple for the feast that was to ensue after sunset on that day.

Solving this problem involves answering the question of whether the Lord’s Last Supper was a Passover Meal, or a meal celebrated a day earlier, which we cannot enter into here. Suffice it to say that the early Church followed John rather than the synoptics, and thus believed that Christ’s death would have taken place on 14 Nisan, according to the Jewish lunar calendar. (Modern scholars agree, by the way, that the death of Christ could have taken place only in A.D. 30 or 33, as those two are the only years of that time when the eve of Passover could have fallen on a Friday, the possibilities being either 7 April 30 or 3 April 33.)

However, as the early Church was forcibly separated from Judaism, it entered into a world with different calendars, and had to devise its own time to celebrate the Lord’s Passion, not least so as to be independent of the rabbinic calculations of the date of Passover. Also, since the Jewish calendar was a lunar calendar consisting of twelve months of thirty days each, every few years a thirteenth month had to be added by a decree of the Sanhedrin to keep the calendar in synchronization with the equinoxes and solstices, as well as to prevent the seasons from “straying” into inappropriate months.

Apart from the difficulty Christians would have had in following—or perhaps even being accurately informed about—the dating of Passover in any given year, to follow a lunar calendar of their own devising would have set them at odds with both Jews and pagans, and very likely embroiled them in endless disputes among themselves. (The second century saw severe disputes about whether Pascha had always to fall on a Sunday or on whatever weekday followed two days after 14 Artemision/Nisan, but to have followed a lunar calendar would have made such problems much worse.)

These difficulties played out in different ways among the Greek Christians in the eastern part of the empire and the Latin Christians in the western part of it. Greek Christians seem to have wanted to find a date equivalent to 14 Nisan in their own solar calendar, and since Nisan was the month in which the spring equinox occurred, they chose the 14th day of Artemision, the month in which the spring equinox invariably fell in their own calendar. Around A.D. 300, the Greek calendar was superseded by the Roman calendar, and since the dates of the beginnings and endings of the months in these two systems did not coincide, 14 Artemision became April 6th.

In contrast, second-century Latin Christians in Rome and North Africa appear to have desired to establish the historical date on which the Lord Jesus died. By the time of Tertullian they had concluded that he died on Friday, 25 March 29. (As an aside, I will note that this is impossible: 25 March 29 was not a Friday, and Passover Eve in A.D. 29 did not fall on a Friday and was not on March 25th, or in March at all.)

Integral Age

So in the East we have April 6th, in the West, March 25th. At this point, we have to introduce a belief that seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ, but which, as it is nowhere taught in the Bible, has completely fallen from the awareness of Christians. The idea is that of the “integral age” of the great Jewish prophets: the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception.

This notion is a key factor in understanding how some early Christians came to believe that December 25th is the date of Christ’s birth. The early Christians applied this idea to Jesus, so that March 25th and April 6th were not only the supposed dates of Christ’s death, but of his conception or birth as well. There is some fleeting evidence that at least some first- and second-century Christians thought of March 25th or April 6th as the date of Christ’s birth, but rather quickly the assignment of March 25th as the date of Christ’s conception prevailed.

It is to this day, commemorated almost universally among Christians as the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel brought the good tidings of a savior to the Virgin Mary, upon whose acquiescence the Eternal Word of God (“Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten of the Father before all ages”) forthwith became incarnate in her womb. What is the length of pregnancy? Nine months. Add nine months to March 25th and you get December 25th; add it to April 6th and you get January 6th. December 25th is Christmas, and January 6th is Epiphany.

Christmas (December 25th) is a feast of Western Christian origin. In Constantinople it appears to have been introduced in 379 or 380. From a sermon of St. John Chrysostom, at the time a renowned ascetic and preacher in his native Antioch, it appears that the feast was first celebrated there on 25 December 386. From these centers it spread throughout the Christian East, being adopted in Alexandria around 432 and in Jerusalem a century or more later. The Armenians, alone among ancient Christian churches, have never adopted it, and to this day celebrate Christ’s birth, manifestation to the magi, and baptism on January 6th.

Western churches, in turn, gradually adopted the January 6th Epiphany feast from the East, Rome doing so sometime between 366 and 394. But in the West, the feast was generally presented as the commemoration of the visit of the magi to the infant Christ, and as such, it was an important feast, but not one of the most important ones—a striking contrast to its position in the East, where it remains the second most important festival of the church year, second only to Pascha (Easter).

In the East, Epiphany far outstrips Christmas. The reason is that the feast celebrates Christ’s baptism in the Jordan and the occasion on which the Voice of the Father and the Descent of the Spirit both manifested for the first time to mortal men the divinity of the Incarnate Christ and the Trinity of the Persons in the One Godhead.

A Christian Feast

Thus, December 25th as the date of the Christ’s birth appears to owe nothing whatsoever to pagan influences upon the practice of the Church during or after Constantine’s time. It is wholly unlikely to have been the actual date of Christ’s birth, but it arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death.

And the pagan feast which the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date in the year 274 was not only an effort to use the winter solstice to make a political statement, but also almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians. The Christians, in turn, could at a later date re-appropriate the pagan “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” to refer, on the occasion of the birth of Christ, to the rising of the “Sun of Salvation” or the “Sun of Justice.”

The author refers interested readers to Thomas J. Talley’s The Origins of the Liturgical Year (The Liturgical Press). A draft of this article appeared on the listserve Virtuosity.

William J. Tighe is Associate Professor of History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a faculty advisor to the Catholic Campus Ministry. He is a Member of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

Originally an article in Touchstone Magazine.