Way Down South

There is an interesting dichotomy in Orthodoxy that would have been impossible to predict in the earliest days of the Church. With the spread of Christianity to lands in the southern hemisphere that were largely unknown at the time of Christ, we have feasts that we associate with spring – Easter – and winter – Christmas – celebrated at the same time in places like Australia where Easter takes place in late fall and Christmas in summer. Although seasons in the southern hemisphere are completely opposite our own, when you are near Antarctica, it is always cold and winterly. The southernmost Orthodox church in the world, and one of the southernmost churches period, is Trinity Church on King George Island about 75 miles off the coast of Antarctica. It was founded to service the local Russian research station, but it also has a missionary purpose and is staffed full-time by a priest who is also a hieromonk. The church has received converts and even conducts some services in Spanish for Latin American visitors. The priest is known to bless the local penguin population during Epiphany services. Weddings have been performed there, and new converts are baptized in the Southern Ocean, a very chilly and wintry proposition indeed.

King George Island, where the above-mentioned church is located, was named by the British after King George III, regnant during the Revolutionary War and thus the king who lost the 13 colonies. Argentina, which lays claim to this British Island, names it after the 25th of May, which is Argentine Independence Day. Chile also claims the island but merely calls it by the Spanish translation of the British name. The Russians, who do not claim it, call it Vaterloo – Waterloo. It has historically been known as Waterloo Island. I can find no reason why, but I suspect the fact that Waterloo, the battle where the Brits defeated Napoleon and the French, has become known as a synonym for the end, is the reason – the island is literally at the end of the earth. Waterloo comes from a Flemish -the Dutch language of Flanders – word meaning “wet forest clearing” – you can easily see the word water there. More interesting than the etymology of Waterloo is the role it played in Winston Churchill wreaking havoc from beyond the grave. Churchill stipulated in his will that his funeral would be held at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Traditionally, a British Prime Minister would be buried out of Westminster Abbey. Also, St. Paul’s was not Churchill’s parish. So why did he decide to have his funeral there? He knew that dignitaries from other countries would attend his funeral, and in fact at that point in history it was the biggest state funeral of all time. Churchill appreciated the friendly rivalry Britain had with France and knew French representatives would be at his funeral. By having it at St. Paul’s he knew the funeral procession would pass by Waterloo Station, and that the French in attendance would be forced to be reminded of their humiliating defeat at the hands of Britain.

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November 30th, 2015 by Fr. Greg

Veterans Day

I like Veterans Day, which we are celebrating today.  It is a great holiday – it honors a worthy cause, the veterans (like my dad, uncle, and and papou [grandfather]) who have served our country in the armed forces.  It also has not been commercialized – in fact, quite the opposite; many business have special deals or free items for vets on this day.  Finally, the holiday does not move.  This is a big deal – if it was one of those that if it were moved to a Monday it would likely have a different meaning.  Memorial Day is great, and we do the cemetery thing and all of that, but it is basically a long weekend.

Despite all of this, the first thing I think of when Veterans Day rolls around is the song Penny Lane by the Beatles.  The song was a double-A side along with Strawberry Fields Forever, and this disc is often considered one of if not the best psychedelic singles ever (another great contender is Eight Miles High b/w Why by the Byrds).  Both Beatles tunes are about the atmosphere of their childhoods and include radical musical and lyrical experimentation.  Paul wrote Penny Lane, and the lyrics are very contradictory.  The song takes place in the summer under blue skies, but it is also raining.  There is a girl selling poppies from a tray.  This is a practice that takes place on Remembrance Day, the British equivalent of our holiday, both of which originally commemorated the end of the Great War (WWI), in which my grandfather mentioned above fought.  So in the song, it is summer and Veterans Day at the same time, with rain and sunny skies.  The psychedelic imagery is sealed by the great line “though she feels as if she’s in a play, she is anyway”.  Give it a listen.

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November 11th, 2015 by Fr. Greg