Category Archives: Christianity

The Iberian Peninsula: Part 1 – Conquest by the Muslims


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Greek geographers used the ancient Greek word Ιβηρία (Ibēría) to refer to the land mass known today as the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain and Portugal). Hecataeus of Miletus (c. 550 BC – c. 476 BC), an early Greek historian  was the first to use this term during the time of the first Persian invasion of Greece which began in 492 BC.

In Europe, after the Scandinavian and Balkan peninsulas, Iberia is the third-largest peninsula, located in the southwest corner of Europe.

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Hispania in 418 AD
Hispania in 418 AD

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Hispania was the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula. The modern name España derives from Hispania.

Roderic, the last king of the Goths

In 711, an army of Muslim Moors composed of North African Berber soldiers with some Arabs, under Tariq ibn-Ziyad and other Muslim generals, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and landed at Gibraltar. The Islamic army began its conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania ruled by King Roderic, known in the legends as “the last king of the Goths“.

According to the Chronicle of 754, a Latin-language history in 95 sections composed in 754 in a part of Spain under Arab occupation, Roderic immediately upon securing his throne gathered a force to oppose the Moors raiding in the south of the Iberian peninsula.

Since there were just a few freemen among the Goths, Roderic gathered together an army of unwilling slave conscripts. He made several expeditions against the invaders led by the Berber general Tariq ibn-Ziyad.

The early modern historian al-Maqqari, in his “The Breath of Perfume,” places the following long sermon to the troops in Tariq ibn-Ziyad’s mouth before  the Battle of Guadalete:

Oh my warriors, whither would you flee? Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy. You have left now only the hope of your courage and your constancy. Remember that in this country you are more unfortunate than the orphan seated at the table of the avaricious master. Your enemy is before you, protected by an innumerable army; he has men in abundance, but you, as your only aid, have your own swords, and, as your only chance for life, such chance as you can snatch from the hands of your enemy.

If the absolute want to which you are reduced is prolonged ever so little, if you delay to seize immediate success, your good fortune will vanish, and your enemies, whom your very presence has filled with fear, will take courage. Put far from you the disgrace from which you flee in dreams and attack this monarch who has left his strongly fortified city to meet you. Here is a splendid opportunity to defeat him, if you will consent to expose yourselves freely to death.

Do not believe that I desire to incite you to face dangers which I shall refuse to share with you. During the attack, I myself will be in the fore, where the chance of life is always least. Remember that if you suffer a few moments in patience, you will afterward enjoy supreme delight. Do not imagine that your fate can be separated from mine, and rest assured that if you fall, I shall perish with you, or avenge you.

You have heard that in this country, there are a large number of ravishingly beautiful Greek maidens, their graceful forms are draped in sumptuous gowns on which gleam pearls, coral, and purest gold, and they live in the palaces of royal kings.

The Commander of True Believers, Alwalid, son of Abdalmelik, has chosen you for this attack from among all his Arab warriors; and he promises that you shall become his comrades and shall hold the rank of kings in this country. Such is his confidence in your intrepidity. The one fruit which he desires to obtain from your bravery is that the word of God shall be exalted in this country and that the true religion shall be established here. The spoils will belong to yourselves.

Remember that I place myself in the front of this glorious charge which I exhort you to make. At the moment when the two armies meet hand to hand, you will see me, never doubt it, seeking out this Roderick, tyrant of his people, challenging him to combat, if God is willing. If I perish after this, I will have had at least the satisfaction of delivering you, and you will easily find among you an experienced hero, to whom you can confidently give the task of directing you. But should I fall before I reach to Roderick, redouble your ardor, force yourselves to the attack and achieve the conquest of this country, in depriving him of life. With him dead, his soldiers will no longer defy you.

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The weakness of the Visigothic kingdom was displayed in Roderick's stunning defeat at Guadalete / Río Barbate, (July 19, 711). It is believed that Roderick and much of the Visigothic nobility was killed in the battle and aftermath. (Source: histclo.com)
The weakness of the Visigothic kingdom was displayed in Roderick’s stunning defeat at Guadalete / Río Barbate, (July 19, 711). (Source: histclo.com)

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On July 19, 711, Tariq ibn-Ziyad defeated Roderic at the Battle of Guadalete / Río Barbate. Roderic and much of the Visigothic nobility were killed in the battle and aftermath.

Facing no further strong resistance, Tariq swept north toward Toledo, the Visigothic capital.

Al-ʾAndalūs, the Islamic Iberia

In an eight-year campaign, the Moors brought most of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic control. In 719, they crossed the Pyrenees and took control of Septimania, the last province of the Visigothic kingdom. In 721, the Moors tried to conquer Aquitaine from their stronghold of Narbonne, but suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Toulouse.

At no point did the invading Islamic armies exceed 60,000 men.

The invading Moors gave the Arabic name Al-ʾAndalūs (الإندلس) to the region under their control, maybe to mean “Land of the Vandals“. The Islamic rule lasted 300 years in much of the Iberian Peninsula and 781 years in Granada.

From their stronghold of Narbonne, the Moors launched raids into the Duchy of Aquitaine, a fiefdom in western, central and southern areas of present-day France to the south of the Loire River.

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Al_Andalus & Christian Kingdoms (Source: en.wikipedia.org)
Al_Andalus & Christian Kingdoms (Source: en.wikipedia.org)

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After establishing a local Emirate, Caliph Al-Walid I, ruler of the Umayyad caliphate, recalled many of the successful Muslim commanders to Damascus including Tariq ibn Ziyad, the first governor of the newly conquered province of Al-Andalus. Musa bin Nusair, his former superior replaced him.

Governor Musa’s son, Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa, married Egilona, Roderic’s widow. He established his regional government in Seville. Under the influence of his wife, Egilona, he wanted to convert to Christianity. He was then accused of planning a secessionist rebellion, and Caliph Al-Walid I ordered his assassination.

By the year 1100, local Iberian converts to Islam, the so-called Muladi formed the majority of the Iberian population. The term ‘Moor’ was the generic term used to refer to the Islamists that composed the initial Arabs and Berbers and the converted Muladi. The Iberian Peninsula transformed from a Romance-speaking Christian land into an Arabic-speaking Muslim land. However, pockets of Arabic and Romance-speaking Christians called Mozarabs and a large minority of Arabic-speaking Jews survived throughout Al-ʾAndalūs.

In the chronicles and documents of the High Middle Ages the Christians used the terms Spania, España or Espanha derived from Hispania in reference to Muslim controlled areas. King Alfonso I of Aragon (1104–1134) says in his documents when in 1126 he made an expedition to Málaga he “went to the lands of España.

During the Middle Ages, the Iberian peninsula housed many small states, including Castile, Aragon, Navarre, León and Portugal.

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The five kingdoms of Iberia in 1360.
The five kingdoms of Iberia in 1360.

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Towards the end of the 12th century, the whole Muslim and Christian Iberian Peninsula became known as “Spain” (España, Espanya or Espanha). The term “the Five Kingdoms of Spain” referred to the Mussulman Kingdom of Granada and the Christian kingdoms of Aragon, Castile, Portugal and Navarre.

The Muslim caliphs competed with each other in the patronage of the arts. From the 8th to the 15th century, the Iberian Peninsula incorporated into the Islamic world became a center of culture and learning, especially during the Caliphate of Cordoba. It reached its height under the rule of Caliph Abd ar-Rahman III.

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Next → Part 2 – The Reconquista

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Vikings, the First Colonizers of North America: Part 2 – Leif Erikson


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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 Bjarni Herjólfsson

The “Saga of the Greenlanders” (“Grænlendinga saga” in modern Icelandic tells that in the summer of 986, Bjarni Herjólfsson, a Norse explorer sailed to Iceland as usual, to visit his parents. Since his father had migrated to Greenland with Erik the Red, Bjarni with his crew set off to find him.

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Bjarni Herjólfsson (Source: ru.warriors.wikia.com)
Bjarni Herjólfsson (Source: ru.warriors.wikia.com)

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In the 10th century, they had no map or devices such as compasses to guide them. Neither Bjarni nor any of his crew members had been to Greenland before. A storm blew them off course. Bjarni and his crew saw a piece of land covered with trees and mountains. The land looked hospitable. They were not sure whether it was Greenland. Although his crew begged him to, Bjarni refused to stop and explore the new lands. He was much eager to reach Greenland to see his parents.

So, Bjarni Herjólfsson was the first European to have made landfall there and see North America beyond Greenland.

After regaining his course, and arriving in Greenland, Bjarni reported seeing the low-lying hills covered with forests some distance farther to the west. But at the time no one seems to have shown interest. Later, word spread of the lands to the west, which Bjarni Herjólfsson had seen.

As they lacked timber, Greenlanders took a special interest in what Bjarni described. They became allured by the wooded coastline Bjarni had seen. It created a great intrigue throughout the Nordic Empire. Though Bjarni was celebrated by the Greenlanders, King Eric chided him for not exploring that land mass.

 Leif Erikson

In 999, Leif Erikson, the son of Greenland leader Erik Thorvaldsson (Old Norse: Eiríkr Þorvaldsson), also known as Erik the Red (Old Norse: Eiríkr hinn rauði), travelled from Greenland to Norway.

Leif Erikson ((Source - pixgood.com)
Leif Erikson ((Source – pixgood.com)

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Blown off course to the Hebrides and staying there for much of the summer with his crew, Leif arrived in Norway. He became a hirdman of King Olaf Tryggvason. He converted to Christianity from Norse paganism and took on the mission of introducing the new religion to Greenland.

Leif Erikson, having heard the story of Bjarni Herjólfsson, approached Bjarni and purchased the ship he had used for his voyage.

The Saga of Erik the Red says Leif Erikson hired a crew of 35 men. He planned to take his father, Erik the Red along with him in his expedition, however, Erik fell off his horse on the way to the ship, and this was taken as a bad omen and stayed at home. Leif with his crew set out towards the land Bjarni had described. He retraced Bjarni’s route in reverse.

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Map shows the route Leif Erikson took to reach Vinland
Map shows the route Leif Erikson took to reach Vinland

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They first went up the West Coast of Greenland and then crossed the Davis Strait and landed first in a rocky and desolate place which he named Helluland (“the land of the flat stones”), possibly Baffin Island.

Then, they went down south and found a forest area which amazed them because there were no trees in Greenland. They named the region Markland (“Wood Land”), possibly Labrador coast.

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The Viking expedition led by Leif Eriksson lands on Vinland (Source: kids.britannica.com)
The Viking expedition led by Leif Eriksson lands on Vinland (Source: kids.britannica.com)

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After two more days at sea, they landed in a luscious place. Relative to Greenland, the weather was mild. Salmon was aplenty in the streams. They named the region Vinland (“land of pastures”).

During one of these explorations, they found the land was full of vines and grapes. Leif and his crew built a small settlement, which later visitors from Greenland called Leifsbúðir (Leif’s Booths).

The earliest record of the name “Winland” is in chapter 39 of Adam of Bremen’s “Descriptio insularum Aquilonis” (“Description of the Northern Islands”) written c. 1075. Adam implies that the name contains Old Norse “vín” (Latin “vinum” meaning “wine”):

Praeterea unam adhuc insulam recitavit a multis in eo repertam occeano, quae dicitur Winland, eo quod ibi vites sponte nascantur, vinum optimum ferentes.

“In addition, the island discovered by many in one of the seas, which is called Winland, from the fact that the spontaneous growth of grapevines, produced the best wine.”

This etymology retained in the 13th-century Saga of the Greenlanders, provides a circumstantial account of the discovery of Vinland, and named from the vínber, i.e. “wine berry,” a term for grapes or currants (black or red), found there.

Archaeological evidences suggest that Vinland may have been the areas around the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the world’s largest estuary, and the outlet of the North American Great Lakes via the Saint Lawrence River into the Atlantic Ocean.

Leif Erikson formed two groups: one to remain at the camp, and the other to explore the lands.

After having spent the winter in Vinland, Leif Erikson returned to the family estate of Brattahlíð in Greenland in the spring of 1000 with a cargo of grapes and timber.

In Greenland, he started preaching Christianity. His father, Erik Thorvaldsson reacted with anger to the suggestion that he should abandon his religion –  Norse paganism.

Replica of Tjodhilde's Church, was built in Brattahlið (Source: greenland.com)

Replica of Tjodhilde’s Church that was built in Brattahlið (Source: greenland.com)

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His mother became a Christian and built a church called Thorhild’s Church (actually a small chapel) in Brattahlið.

At odds with both wife and eldest son Leif, Erik attempted a sail to Leif’s Vinland with his youngest son Thorstein. They failed to reach Newfoundland, but the doughty Eric said, “We were more cheerful when we put out of the fjord in the summer; but at least we are still alive, and it might have been worse.”

Erik the Red is last mentioned in the sagas in 1005.

Leif Erickson is last mentioned alive in 1019. By 1025, he installed one of his sons, Thorkell as the chieftain of Eriksfjord (Eiríksfjǫrðr).

None of the sagas mentions Leif Erickson’s death. He must have died in Greenland. Nothing further is known about his family beyond the succession of Thorkell as chieftain.

In the early 1960s, Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, identified a Norse settlement located at the northern tip of Newfoundland. They suggested that this site, known as L’Anse aux Meadows, is Leif’s settlement of Leifsbúðir, the first known attempt at founding a settlement by Europeans on the mainland of the Americas.

Leif Erikson had opened the way to America. Vikings ships plied from Greenland to these “new lands” (Newfoundland) during the following years.

According to Brattahlíð lore, Thorvaldur, the brother of Leif Erikson set sail to further explore Vinland. The natives of Vinland, called Skrælings (“stunted”) by the Norse because of their small size, attacked Thorvaldur and his crew. Thorvaldur received a fatal wound and his men buried him in Vinland and returned to Greenland.

According to the “Saga of the Greenlanders,” Leif Erikson’s younger brother Thorstein set sail for Vinland along with his wife Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir (Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir) to retrieve his brother Thorvaldur’s body. Losing their way at sea they had to return. At the close of the first week of winter, they landed at Lysufiord, where Thorstein fell ill and died.

After her husband’s death, Gudrid returned to Brattahlíð. She married a merchant named Thorfinn Karlsefni, “a man of good family and good means” and “a merchant of good repute.” After their marriage, at Gudrid’s insistence, the couple set sail to Vinland with a group of sixty men, five women, and various livestock in an attempt to settle down in the camp that Leif Erickson had built some years earlier. They spent three years in Vinland.

In Vínland, Gudrid bore a son, the first European reported to be born in the Western Hemisphere. They named him Snorri Thorfinnsson,

Harassed by the natives, Thorfinn and Gudrid returned with their son to Greenland, where Thorfinn Karlsefni died.

After that, the hostile indigenous people of Vinland thwarted the many attempts by settlers from Greenland and Iceland to found a colony there. The stories of the various Viking expeditions survived in the collective memory of the descendants of those who returned by the 13th century from the North American coast to settle once again in Greenland and Iceland.

The Norse settlements in coastal North America were small. They did not develop into permanent colonies. While voyages, such as to collect timber, are likely to have occurred for some time, there is no evidence of enduring Norse settlements on mainland North America.

Leif Erikson has the honor of being the first European to open the way to America almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

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Next → Part 3 – America Honors Leif Erikson

← Previous: Part 1-  Erik the Red

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Vikings, the First Colonizers of North America: Part 1 – Erik the Red


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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For eons, the Americas were a pristine no man’s land.  Around 12,000 BC, humans first stepped onto the North American continent. But who were they?

The Clovis people
 Beringia Land Bridge. This animation illustrates the flooding of the Bering Land Bridge over the last 18,000. (Source: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
Beringia Land Bridge. This animation illustrates the flooding of the Bering Land Bridge over the last 18,000. (Source: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

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Approximately 14,000 years ago, humans walked across the Bering Strait from Siberia into Alaska. They were the Clovis people.

The Clovis culture is a prehistoric Paleo-Indian culture, named after distinct stone tools found at sites near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1920s and 1930s. This culture appears at the end of the last glacial period,  roughly  around 13,200.

The Clovis people spent the next few thousand years migrating from Alaska to the south and east across North America, and then into South America.

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Clovis points from the Rummells-Maske Site, 13CD15, Cedar County, Iowa, These are from the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist collection.
Clovis points from the Rummells-Maske Site, 13CD15, Cedar County, Iowa, These are from the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist collection.

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The manufacture of “Clovis points” and distinctive bone and ivory tools characterize the culture of the Clovis people. They are the ancestors of most of the indigenous cultures of the Americas: the Folsom tradition, Gainey, Suwannee-Simpson, Plainview-Goshen, Cumberland, and Redstone.

At the same time as the Clovis people began leaving behind tools, human bones and other evidence of their presence in the northwest, humans were leaving similar items along the New England coastline in the Northeastern United States. It puzzled the historians. They wondered how the Clovis people could trek from both Alaska and New England at the same time?

The answer – two different cultures discovered America: one crossing the frozen Bering Strait, on foot; and the other traveling from Europe to America’s east coast by boat.

Gunnbjørn Ulfsson

Gunnbjørn Ulfsson (circa 10th century), also known as Gunnbjørn Ulf-Krakuson, a Norwegian, was the first European to sight North America. Blown off course while sailing from Norway to Iceland, GunnbjørnUlfsson and his crew sighted islands which he called “Gunnbjarnarsker”  (Gunnbjörn’s Skerries) lying close off the coast of Greenland. They did not land on any of those islands. However, Gunnbjørn reported this find.

The exact date of this event is not recorded in the Nordic sagas. Various sources cite dates ranging from 876 to 932, but these must remain little more than guesses, but the early 10th century is more likely than earlier.

Around 978, Snaebjörn Galti (c. 910 – 978) made the first purposeful visit to Gunnbjørn’s islands. According to records from the time, this first Norse attempt to colonize Greenland ended in disaster.

Historians consider Eric the Red, the Viking rover, who soon followed Galti’s attempt, as the first permanent European settler in Greenland.

Eric the Red

According to medieval and Icelandic sagas Erik Thorvaldsson (Eiríkr Þorvaldsson) was born in the Jaeren district of Rogaland in Norway around 950.

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Erik the Red, the fierce red-haired Viking discovered Greenland about AD 982. (Source: lookandlearn.com)
Erik the Red, the fierce red-haired Viking discovered Greenland about AD 982. (Source: lookandlearn.com)

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He is best known as Erik the Red (Eiríkr hinn rauði). The appellation “the Red” most likely refers to the color of his hair and beard and perhaps also because of his fiery temper.

Erik’s father Thorvald Asvaldsson (Þorvald Ásvaldsson) was banished from Norway for manslaughter. Thorvald sailed West from Norway with his family and settled in Hornstrandir in northwestern Iceland, 175 miles away from Greenland.

Erik married Thorhild (Thjóðhildr), daughter of Jorund Atlisson, and as part of her dowry received land at Eriksstadir in Haukadal where he built a farm.

Around the year 980, the thralls (serfs or slaves) of Erik caused a landslide on the neighboring farm belonging to Valthjof. The landslide buried the home of Valthjof along with him and his family. Eyiolf the Foul, a kinsman of Valthjof in turn killed the thralls. Eric retaliated by killing Eyjolf and Holmgang-Hrafn. Eyjolf’s kinsmen demanded the banishment of Erik from Haukadal.

The Vikings cherished the ornamental beams which were symbols of Viking authority and had religious, mystical, and political significance known as the setstokkr. Erik had inherited his setstokkr which his father had brought with him from Norway. After giving this setstokkr to his friend Thorgest (Þórgestr) to look after, Erik and Thorhild moved to the isle of Öxney off the western Icelandic coast.

After building his new house, Erik went back to Haukadal to get his setstokkr. Thorgest refused to give them back. An infuriated Erik went to Breidabolstad and stole Thorgest’s own setstokkr instead.

Thorgest gave chase. Erik prepared an ambush. In the ensuing skirmish, Erik slew both sons of Thorgest and a few other men.

Thorgest approached the court.

In 981, the thing (Þing), assembly of Thorness resolved the dispute. Erik was banished from both Iceland and Norway, for three years.

Colonizing Greenland

Erik the Red had heard about the “Greater Ireland” settlements in Greenland, a small, unprotected Irish settlement in Greenland.

In the spring of 981 he traveled westward in his 100-foot-long ship. It was not a romantic voyage with the urge to discover new lands. It was rather a typical Viking voyage of plunder.

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An illustration by Carl Rasmussen of Erik the Red on a Viking longboat as he and his men from Norway first land on what became Greenland in 982 AD (MansellGetty Images)
An illustration by Carl Rasmussen of Erik the Red on a Viking longboat as he and his men from Norway first land on what became Greenland in 982 AD (MansellGetty Images)

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Erik’s party landed near Julianehåb. They arrived too late to reap the reward, for the Irish settlers had already left and mere arctic desolation greeted them.

They spent the first winter on the island of Eiriksey. In spring, he proceeded to Eriksfjord (Eiríksfjǫrðr). They spent the second winter in Eiriksholmar, close to Hvarfsgnipa.

According to the Saga of Erik the Red, Erik spent his three years of exile exploring this land. In the last summer, they explored as far north as Snaefell and into Hrafnsfjord. They even crossed the Davis Strait and reached Baffin Island, then abundant with game.

Erik was much impressed with the resources he found in the land. He was convinced that the new land was better adapted than Iceland for raising stock.

In 985, Erik returned to Iceland after the expiry of his exile period. He wanted to found a colony in the new land he had found. He knew that the success of any settlement in the new land would need the support of as many people as possible.

Erik had great powers of persuasion. He was always boasting and praising the new land he had returned from. To lure potential settlers, Erik on purpose called the land “Greenland” which was a more appealing name than “Iceland”. Many Vikings, especially those living on impoverished lands in Iceland and those that had been victims of a recent famine became convinced that Greenland held great opportunity.

The following year Erik set out from Iceland leading a fleet of 25 ships on course for Greenland. On board were around 500 men and women, various livestock, provisions and gear required to found the settlement in Greenland.

Of the 25 ships only 14 made it to the eastern shore of Greenland – of the other 11, some sank while others turned back to Iceland.

Each sea-captain claimed a fjord to which he gave his name.

Erik the Red and his wife Thorhild took the best fjord. They called it Eriksfjord (Eiríksfjǫrðr). They built the farm Brattahlið near its head (in present-day Qassiarsuk). Here, Erik lived like a Jarl (lord) with his wife and four children: Leif Erikson, Thorvald (Þorvaldr) Eiriksson, Thorstein (Þorsteinn) Eiriksson, and an illegitimate daughter, Freydis Eiríkssdóttir.

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A farm house in Greenland (Source: bestof.fjordnorway.com)
A farm-house in Greenland (Source: bestof.fjordnorway.com)

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Along one side of Eriksfjord was much good pasture. The farm Brattahlið lay on one of the most fertile plains in Greenland. Another large green valley lay behind it.

Erik the Red held the title of the paramount chieftain of Greenland and became both much respected, and wealthy.

Both the Eastern Settlement (the area around present-day Qaqortoq, formerly Julianehåb) and the Western Settlement (around Nuuk or Godthåb, the capital and largest city of Greenland) were presumably established soon.

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The Eastern Settlement, Greenland (Source: archaeology.about.com)
The Eastern Settlement, Greenland (Source: archaeology.about.com)

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The Eastern Settlement was about 300 miles south of the Western Settlement. Located near the mouth of Eiriksfjord in the area of Qaqortog, the Eastern Settlement had about 200 farmsteads and supporting facilities.

During the summers, when the weather favored travel, each fjord-based settlement would send an army of men to hunt in Iss Vagr above the Arctic Circle. They hunted  food and other valuable commodities such as seals, Walrus tusks and meat from beached whales. In these expeditions, they first met the Inuit people or Skræling.

The settlement flourished, growing to 5000 inhabitants spread over a considerable area along Eriksfjord and neighboring fjords. Groups of people escaping overcrowding in Iceland migrated to Greenland.

In 1002, a group of immigrants brought with it an epidemic that ravaged the colony, killing many of its leading citizens, including Erik the Red.

The Norse colony in Greenland lasted for almost 500 years.

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Next → Part 2 – Leif Erikson

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John Chrysostom: Part 3: The Second Banishment and Death


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Statue of St John Chrysostom, at St Patrick's cathedral, New York City. (Source: wikimedia commons)
Statue of St John Chrysostom, at St Patrick’s cathedral, New York City. (Source: wikimedia commons)

 

Even though exiled, John Chrysostom found it possible to correspond with his supporters in Constantinople. He was still able to exert a measure of influence in his cause. His correspondences were discovered. Word came from Constantinople that he was to be removed from Caucasus to an even more remote place at the eastern end of the Black Sea to a so-called castellum, a rectangular fortress with towers at each corner, built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD in Pitiunt, in modern Abkhazia.

Imperial officials forced John Chrysostom to walk in bad weather to his new place of exile. He did not survive the exhausting journey. He died at Comana Pontica on September 14, 407. His last words are said to have been, “δόξα τῷ θεῷ πάντων ἕνεκεν”, meaning “Glory be to God for all things.

After John Chrysostom’s death, people venerated him as a saint. Three decades later, some of his adherents in Constantinople remained in schism. Saint Proclus, the then Patriarch of Constantinople (434-446), hoping to bring about the reconciliation of these Johannites, preached a homily  in the Church of Hagia Sophia, praising his predecessor  He said:

O John, your life was filled with sorrow, but your death was glorious. Your grave is blessed and reward is great, by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ O graced one, having conquered the bounds of time and place! Love has conquered space, unforgetting memory has annihilated the limits, and place does not hinder the miracles of the saint.

These homilies helped to mobilize public opinion.

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Coffin of St. John Chrysostom in Komani, Georgia.
Coffin of St. John Chrysostom in Komani, Georgia.

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The patriarch Patriarch of Constantinople received permission from the Emperor Theodosius II, son of Arcadius and Eudoxia, to return Chrysostom’s relics from Comana to Constantinople. On January 28, 438, the relics were solemnly received by the Archbishop Proclus and the Emperor Theodosius II and enshrined in the Church of the Holy Apostles.

The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches commemorate John Chrysostom as a “Great Ecumenical Teacher” and honour him as a saint. They count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus. These three saints, in addition to having their own individual feast days, are commemorated together on January 30, a feast known as the  feast known as the honour him as a saint. They count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus. These three saints, in addition to having their own individual feast days, are commemorated together on January 30, a feast known as the  feast known as the honour him as a saint. They count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus. These three saints, in addition to having their own individual feast days, are commemorated together on January 30, a feast known as the  feast known as the Synaxis of the Three Hierarchs.

There are several feast days dedicated to him:

  • 27 January, Translation of the relics of St John Chrysostom from Comana to Constantinople. Some Lutheran and many Anglican provinces commemorate him on this traditional eastern feast.
  • 30 January, Synaxis of the Three Great Hierarchs.
  • The Churches of the western tradition, including the Roman Catholic Church, some Anglican provinces, and parts of the Lutheran Church commemorate him on 13 September (Western feast day).
  • 14 September, Repose of St John Chrysostom
  • 13 November, St John Chrysostom the Archbishop of Constantinople (Eastern feast day).

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria also recognizes John Chrysostom as a saint (with feast days on 16 Thout and 17 Hathor).

Here is an excerpt from one of John Chrysostom’s Homilies on confessing one’s sins:

Are you a sinner? Do not become discouraged, and come to Church to put forward repentance. Have you sinned? Then tell God, ‘I have sinned.’

What manner of toil is this, what prescribed the course of life, what affliction? What manner of difficulty is it to make one statement, ‘I have sinned’?

Perhaps if you do not call yourself a sinner, you do not have the devil as an accuser? Anticipate this and snatch the honor away from him, because it is his purpose to accuse. Therefore, why do you not prevent him, and why do you not tell your sin and wipe it out, since you know that you have such an accuser who cannot remain silent?do you not prevent him, and why do you not tell your sin and wipe it out, since you know that you have such an accuser who cannot remain silent?

Have you sinned? Come to Church. Tell God, ‘I have sinned.’

I do not demand anything else of you than this. Holy Scripture states, ‘Be the first one to tell of your transgressions, so you may be justified.’ Admit the sin to annul it. This requires neither labor nor a circuit of words nor monetary expenditure nor anything else whatsoever such as these.

Say one word, think carefully about the sin and say, ‘I have sinned.’”

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← Previous: Part 2: The Bishop of Constantinople

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John Chrysostom: Part 2: The Bishop of Constantinople


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Saint John Chrysostom (Hagios Ioannis Chrysostomos) of Antioch. An early Byzantine mosaic from the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The mosaic is approximately 1,000 years old.
Saint John Chrysostom (Hagios Ioannis Chrysostomos) of Antioch. An early Byzantine mosaic from the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The mosaic is approximately 1,000 years old.

 

On September 27, 397, Nectarius, Bishop of Constantinople, died. There was a general rivalry in the capital for the vacant see.

After some months, to the great disappointment of the rival factions, Emperor Arcadius, at the suggestion of his minister Eutropius, asked the Prefect of Antioch to send John Chrysostom to Constantinople without the knowledge of the people of Antioch, due to fears that the departure of such a popular figure would cause civil unrest.

John Chrysostom was hurried to the capital. On February 26, 398 Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria ordained John Chrysostom as Bishop of Constantinople in the presence of a great assembly of bishops.

The life in Constantinople was more turbulent than what John Chrysostom  had at Antioch. As Archbishop of Constantinople, he refused to host lavish social gatherings. This made him popular with the common people, but unpopular with the wealthy citizens. He became unpopular with the clergy for his reforms of the clergy. He told visiting regional preachers to return to the churches they were serving, without any payout.

Here is an excerpt from a homily by St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew (Hom. 50, 3-4, PG 58, 508-509). In this homily, he warns against adorning Church buildings at the expense of caring for the suffering members of the Church:

Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body and made it so by his words, also said: “You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.” What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.

Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honor Christ as he desires. For a person being honoured finds greatest pleasure in the honor he desires, not in the honor we think best. Peter thought he was honoring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet, but what Peter wanted was not truly an honour, quite the opposite! Give him the honour prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.

Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms. He accepts the former, but he is much more pleased with the latter. In the former, only the giver profits; in the latter, the recipient does too.

A gift to the church may be taken as a form of ostentation, but an alms is pure kindness. Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made, but not give a cup of water?

What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs?

What profit is there in that? Tell me: If you were to see him lacking the necessary food, but were to leave him in that state and merely surround his table with gold would he be grateful to you or rather would he not be angry?

What if you were to see him clad in worn-out rags and stiff from the cold, and were to forget about clothing him and instead were to set up golden columns for him, saying that you were doing it in his honour? Would he not think he was being mocked and greatly insulted?

Apply this also to Christ when he comes along the roads as a pilgrim, looking for shelter. You do not take him in as your guest, but you decorate floors and walls and the capitals of the pillars. You provide silver chains for the lamps, but you cannot bear even to look at him as he lies chained in prison.

Once again, I am not forbidding you to supply these adornments; I am urging you to provide these other things as well, and indeed to provide them first. No one has ever been accused of not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbour a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire and torment in the company of the demons. Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.

In 399, through the intervention of John Chrysostom and the influence of the emperor Theodosius I, Flavian was acknowledged as the sole legitimate bishop of Antioch.

Theophilus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, wanted to bring Constantinople under his jurisdiction. He opposed John’s appointment as Bishop of Constantinople, even though he had ordained him under duress instead of securing the appointment for Isidore, his own candidate. At that time, Theophilus had disciplined four Egyptian monks, known as “the Tall Brothers,” over their support of Origen’s teachings.

Origen (184/185 – 253/254) was a scholar and an early Christian theologian. He was a prolific writer in many branches of theology, including textual criticism, biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, philosophical theology, preaching, and spirituality. Some of his reputed teachings, such as the pre-existence of souls, the final reconciliation of all creatures, including perhaps even the devil (the apokatastasis), and the subordination of the Son of God to God the Father, later became controversial among Christian theologians.

The Tall Brothers fled to Constantinople and were welcomed by John Chrysostom. Theophilus accused John of being too partial to the teaching of Origen.

John Chrysostom made another enemy in Aelia Eudoxia, the Empress consort of the Byzantine Emperor Arcadius. Eudoxia assumed that his denunciations of extravagance in feminine dress were aimed at herself.

In 403 AD, Theophilus Eudoxia, and other of enemies of John Chrysostom held a synod (the Synod of the Oak) to charge John Chrysostom. They used his connection to the four Egyptian monks who espoused the teachings of Origen against him. Eventually, this resulted in the deposition and banishment of John Chrysostom from Constantinople.

The people rioted over the deposition and banishment of John Chrysostom. Also, on the night of his arrest, there was an earthquake.  A frightened Aelia Eudoxia considered it as a sign of God’s anger. She beseeched Arcadius to reinstate John Chrysostom as Bishop of Constantinople.

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John Chrysostom confronting Aelia Eudoxia, in a 19th-century painting by Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921).
John Chrysostom confronting Aelia Eudoxia, in a 19th-century painting by Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921).

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However, peace between John Chrysostom and Eudoxia was short-lived. A silver statue of Eudoxia was erected in the Augustaion, near his cathedral. John Chrysostom denounced the dedication ceremonies. He spoke against her in harsh terms alluding to the events surrounding the death of John the Baptist:

Again Herodias raves; again she is troubled; she dances again; and again desires to receive John’s head in a charger.

Once again, John Chrysostom was banished, this time to the Caucasus, a region at the border of Europe and Asia, situated between the Black and the Caspian seas.

John Chrysostom wrote an appeal for help to three churchmen: Innocent I,  the Bishop of Rome (Pope);  Venerius, the Bishop of Milan; and Chromatius, the Bishop of Aquileia.

Pope Innocent protested against the banishment of John Chrysostom from Constantinople to the Caucasus. With the help of the western emperor Honorius, the Pope attempted to intervene, but the enemies of John Chrysostom thwarted his efforts. In 405, Pope Innocent sent a delegation to intercede on behalf of John. But the delegation never reached Constantinople.

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Next → Part  3: The Second Banishment and Death

← Previous: Part 1- Where Can You Find God?

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John Chrysostom: Part 1- Where Can You Find God?


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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If you cannot find Christ

 

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Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is considered the most prominent doctor of the Greek Church and the greatest preacher ever heard in a Christian pulpit. He is known for his preaching and public speaking. The zeal and his clarity of preaching appealed to all, especially the common people. This earned him the Greek surname “kihrys stymo” (χρυσή στόμιο) meaning “golden-mouthed.” He denounced the abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders.

John Chrysostom was born in Antioch in 349 AD to Greco-Syrian parents.

In the fourth century, at the time of John Chrysostom’s birth, Antioch was the second city of the eastern part of the Roman Empire.  Throughout the fourth century, religious struggles troubled the empire. Pagans, Manichaeans, Gnostics, Arians, Apollinarians, Jews, made their proselytes at Antioch. The Christians were themselves separated by the schism between Bishop Meletius and Bishop Paulinus for the bishopric of Antioch.

John Chrysostom’s father, Secundus, a high-ranking military officer died soon after his birth. His widowed mother Anthusa, only twenty years of age, took the sole charge of her two children John and an elder sister. She raised him in piety. Using her influence in the city, she had him study under a distinguished pagan rhetorician, Libanius, the most tenacious adherent of the declining paganism of Rome. Soon John acquired the skills for a career in rhetoric, as well as a love of the Greek language and literature.

About 367 AD, he met the Bishop Meletius. John captivated by the earnest, mild, and the winning character of the bishop frequented the sermons of Meletius. He studied Holy Scripture and soon began to withdraw from classical and profane studies and devoted himself
to an ascetic and religious life.

According to the Christian historian Sozomen, Libanius was supposed to have said on his deathbed that John Chrysostom would have been his successor “if the Christians had not taken him from us“.

About three years later John Chrysostom received Holy Baptism and was ordained lector. Later, the young cleric, desiring a perfect life entered one of the ascetic societies near Antioch.

About 375 AD, John Chrysostom resolved to live as an anchorite in one of the caves near Antioch. There, he followed extreme asceticism. He spent the next two years, continually standing and fasting in frost and cold, committing the Bible to memory. He scarcely slept at all. As a consequence of these harsh practices, his stomach and kidneys were damaged. He returned to Antioch to regain his health and resumed his office as lector in the church.

John Chrysostom was ordained as a deacon probably in 381 AD by Bishop Meletius of Antioch, president of the Second Ecumenical Council. After the death of Bishop Meletius in Constantinople in the same year, Flavian I of Antioch (ca. 320 – February 404) was ordained as bishop or Patriarch of Antioch. The Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Alexandria refused to acknowledge Flavian, and Paulinus, who by the extreme Eustathians had been elected bishop in opposition to Meletius, continued to exercise authority over a portion of the church.

John Chrysostom separated himself from the followers of Bishop Meletius, but he did not join Bishop Paulinus.

On the death of Bishop  Paulinus in about 383, Evagrius was chosen as his successor. In 386 AD, John Chrysostom was ordained as a presbyter (a priest) by Evagrius.

Note: Actually, there is a difference of opinion on who ordained John Chrysostom as a presbyter. Some authors claim it was Bishop Flavian I, while others say it was Bishop Evagrius.

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St. John Chrysostom (Source: integrated atholiclife.org)
St. John Chrysostom (Source: integrated atholiclife.org)

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For 12 years, from 386 AD to 397 AD, John Chrysostom became popular for the eloquence of his public speaking at the Golden Church, Antioch’s cathedral. People liked his clear expositions of Biblical passages and moral teachings. The themes of his talks were eminently social. He explained the Christian’s conduct in life. His straightforward understanding of the Scriptures were in contrast to the Alexandrian tendency towards allegorical interpretation.

One incident that happened during John Chrysostom’s service in Antioch illustrates best the influence of his sermons.

Emperor Theodosius I, also called Theodosius the Great ruled from 379 to 395 made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire. He was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and western portions of the Roman Empire. He was a strong defender of the Orthodox Christian faith and honoured  as a saint.

When John Chrysostom arrived in Antioch its citizens were on a riotous rampage. They   mutilated the statues of the Emperor and his family. The Bishop had to intervene with the Emperor on behalf of the citizens of Antioch.

During the weeks of Lent in 387 AD, John Chrysostom preached 21 sermons in which he entreated the people to see the error of their ways. These sermons had a lasting impression on the citizens of Antioch. This resulted in many pagans converting to Christianity. Due to the conversions, Theodosius’ vengeance on the citizens of Antioch subdued and was not as severe as it might have been.

The most valuable of his works from this period are the Homilies he wrote on various books of the Bible.

He was most concerned with the spiritual and temporal needs of the poor. He spoke out against abuse of wealth and personal property. He particularly emphasized alms and charitable giving:

Do you wish to honour the body of Christ?

Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad.

He who said: “This is my body” is the same who said: “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food”, and “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me”…

What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.

After the death of Evagrius (c. 393), Flavian succeeded in preventing the election of a successor. However, the Eustathians still continued to hold separate meetings.

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Next → Part 2:  The Bishop of Constantinople

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Some Legends of the Easter (Paschal) Eggs.


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Hand Painted Easte Eggs (Source: menorca-live.com)
Hand Painted Easte Eggs (Source: menorca-live.com)

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On Easter Sunday, at the end of the Paschal Liturgy, the faithful exchange Paschal greetings. In some churches the priests and the faithful present each other with Easter (Paschal) eggs.

Wooden eggs with icons hang as decorations from lamps and chandeliers in the churches, and from the vigil lights in the homes. The Coptic Christians of the Orthodox church in Egypt often hang ostrich eggshells in the front of their churches. The eggshells evoke the image of the mother ostrich’s single-minded and calm concentration on the eggs in her nest. It reminds the faithful how they should pray and conduct their spiritual life.

There are many legends about the Easter (or Paschal) Eggs.

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Mater Dolorosa with open hands. Artist: Titian 1555. Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.
Mater Dolorosa with open hands. Artist: Titian 1555. Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.

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One apocryphal legend concerns Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. It tells of the time when she gave eggs to the soldiers at the cross. She entreated them to be less cruel towards her son and wept. As her tears fell upon the eggs, they spotted them with dots of brilliant color.

Through the ages, the egg symbolizing new life and fertility appeared during many spring festivals. To the Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Gauls, and the Chinese, the egg symbolized the rebirth of the earth at springtime.

Saint Augustine, an early Christian theologian and philosopher whose writings influenced the development of western Christianity described the Resurrection of Christ from the dead as “a chick bursting from an egg.” This analogy represents the rebirth of humans through Christ. Hence, the Christians identify the egg with the tomb from which Christ rose and used eggs during Easter celebrations.

Many cite the following apocryphal story as the tradition of the first Easter Egg associated with Mary Magdalene.

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Icon of Saint Mary Magdalene holding a red egg.
Icon of Saint Mary Magdalene holding a red egg.

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Mary of Magdala is a major saint in the East, where she is never associated with women of ill repute and known as being equal to the apostles. She traveled with Jesus as one of his followers and was present at two most important moments in the life of Jesus: the crucifixion and the resurrection.

After the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, Mary Magdalene gained an audience with the Roman emperor Tiberius Julius Caesar. She denounced Pontius Pilate, the fifth prefect of the Roman province of Judaea from 26-36 AD for his mishandling of the trial of Jesus.

She then told the emperor about the resurrection of Jesus. The unconvinced emperor pointed at an egg on the dining table and riposted that there was as much chance of a human being returning to life as there was for the egg to turn red. As soon as the emperor said this the egg miraculously turned red!

Hence, from antiquity, Mary Magdalene has been associated with red color. Most icons of Mary Magdalene show her holding a red egg.

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Red Easter Eggs (Source: psalterstudies.wordpress.com) (Custom)
Red Easter Eggs (Source: psalterstudies.wordpress.com) (Custom)

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From these tales originated the basis for dyeing Easter eggs. While people use all the colors of the rainbow to dye eggs, red is by far the most usual color used, especially in countries of the Eastern Orthodox faith. Sometimes the priests bless the red eggs at Orthodox masses on Easter Sunday.

Chocolate Easter Egg

With changing times, chocolate eggs or plastic eggs filled with confectionery such as jellybeans have replaced the real dyed and painted eggs as gifts.

Fabergé eggs

While the commoners were happy to receive dyed and hand painted real eggs as gifts for Easter, the Russian Tsar Alexander III and his eldest son Tsar Nicholas II presented their wives and mothers jeweled eggs as Easter gifts. The two Tsars commissioned Peter Carl Fabergé and his company between 1885 and 1917 to create a series of 54 jeweled eggs. These eggs were often called the ‘Imperial’ Fabergé eggs.

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Russian Imperial Easter Fabergé egg, the Jeweled Hen Egg from the collection of Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg.
Russian Imperial Easter Fabergé egg, the Jeweled Hen Egg from the collection of Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg.

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Peter Carl Fabergé delivered the first Fabergé creation known as the “Jeweled Hen Egg” to Tsar Alexander III in 1885. It featured a seemingly ordinary egg, but inside was a yolk of gold that contained a golden hen with ruby eyes, seated on a nest of gold. Inside the hen was a miniature diamond replica of the royal crown and a ruby egg pendant that could be worn as a necklace. Tsarina Marie Feodorovna was overjoyed with the egg so much that Alexander III ordered a new egg from Fabergé for his wife every Easter thereafter.

While the Hen Egg is among those that have survived, the gifts inside have been lost to time. The Jeweled Hen Egg is currently located in Russia as part of the Vekselberg Collection and is housed in the Fabergé Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

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A few Fabergé Eggs (Source: thesipadvisor.com)
A few Fabergé Eggs (Source: thesipadvisor.com)

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Other famous eggs include the Danish Palaces, Memory of Azov, Diamond Trellis, Caucasus, Renaissance, Rosebud, Twelve Monograms, Imperial Coronation Egg, Lilies-of-the-Valley, etc.

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You Need Only One Hand to Help…


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Instead of using your two hands to pray to your God, gods and goddesses, why not stretch one hand and help the poor?

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Photo source: Unknown
Photo source: Unknown

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Lent is a solemn religious observance in the liturgical calendar of many Christian denominations. The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and covers a period of approximately six weeks before Easter Sunday.

For the Christians, prayer, fasting and almsgiving mark Lent. Of these three, almsgiving is the most neglected.

Why is almsgiving better than prayer and fasting?

In a way, almsgiving is a form of prayer and not just philanthropy.

Almsgiving is also a form of fasting. It requires some sacrifice. One has to give up something, even if it hurts. It is not just giving something to someone. It is “giving to God”.

The Book of Tobit, named after its principal character has an engaging story about Jewish piety and morality combined with folklore. The book has enjoyed wide popularity in both Jewish and Christian faiths. The inspired author of the book places a firm emphasis on almsgiving. The following verses 12:8-10 in Tobit is the only place in the Bible where prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are brought together.

Prayer with fasting is good. Almsgiving with righteousness is better than wealth with wickedness. It is better to give alms than to store up gold, for almsgiving saves one from death and purges all sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life, but those who commit sin and do evil are their own worst enemies. (Tobit 12:8-10)

Almsgiving is also a form of fasting. It requires some sacrifice. One has to give up something, even if it hurts. It is not just giving something to someone. It involves giving money, food, clothes, and materials or providing capabilities such as education, health facilities, and other amenities.

Almsgiving is a necessary part in all religions. It is “giving to God”.

Almsgiving in Buddhism

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Novices receive alms, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar (magical-world - flickr.com)
Novices receive alms, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar (magical-world – flickr.com)

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In Buddhism, a layperson shows respect to a monk, a nun, a spiritually developed person or to any other sentient being by giving alms. It is not charity. Being humble, giving alms, and showing respect to the monk or nun and the religious society, provides a symbolic binding of the layperson with the spiritual realm.

According to the Buddhists, the more a layperson gives without seeking anything in return the wealthier he or she will become. The act of giving destroys the acquisitive nature that leads to further suffering. Generosity is an act of merit performed by a donor to help the receiver.

The Mahayana Buddhist tradition emphasizes that generosity towards others as one of the perfections (paramita) as found in Lama Tsong Khapa’s ‘The Abbreviated Points of the Graded Path‘:

Total willingness to give is the wish-granting gem for fulfilling the hopes of wandering beings.

It is the sharpest weapon to sever the knot of stinginess.

It leads to Bodhisattva conduct that enhances self-confidence and courage. It is the basis of the universal proclamation of your fame and repute.

Realizing this, the wise rely, in a healthy manner, on the outstanding path of being ever-willing to offer completely their bodies, their possessions, and positive potentials.

The ever-vigilant lama has practiced like that.

If you too would seek liberation, Please cultivate yourself, in the same way.

Almsgiving in Hinduism

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Lady giving alms at the Temple, by Raja Ravi Varma, (1848–1906)
Lady giving alms at the Temple, by Raja Ravi Varma, (1848–1906)

In Hinduism, Bhiksha is a devotional offering. It is  usually food, presented at a temple to the destitute, a religious Brahmin, a swami, or an ascetic.

In Chapter XXIX of Vasishtha Samhita we find:

  1. Through Alms giving to poor obtains all his desires.
  2. (Even) longevity, (and he is born again as) a student of the Veda, possessed of beauty.
  3. He who abstains from injuring (sentient beings) obtains heaven.
  4. By entering a fire the world of Brahman (is gained).
  5. By (a vow of) silence (he obtains) happiness.
  6. By staying (constantly) in water he becomes a lord of elephants.
  7. He who expends his hoard (in gifts) becomes free from disease.
  8. A giver of water (becomes) rich by (the fulfilment of) all his desires.
  9. A giver of food (will have) beautiful eyes and a good memory.
  10. He who gives a promise to protect (somebody) from all dangers (becomes) wise.
  11. (To bestow gifts) for the use of cows (is equal to) bathing at all sacred places.
  12. By giving a couch and a seat (the giver becomes) master of a harem.
  13. By giving an umbrella (the giver) obtains a house.
  14. He who gives a House to a poor family obtains a town
  15. He who gives a pair of Shoes obtains a vehicle.
  16. Now they quote also (the following verses): Whatever sin a man distressed for livelihood commits, (from that) he is purified by giving land, (be it) even “a bull’s hide”.
  17. He who gives to a Brâhmana guest a vessel filled with water for sipping, will obtain after death complete freedom from thirst and be born again as a drinker of Soma.
  18. If a gift of one thousand oxen fit to draw a carriage (has been bestowed) according to the rule on a perfectly worthy man, that is equal to giving a maiden.
  19. They declare that cows, land, and learning are the three most excellent gifts. For to give learning is (to bestow) the greatest of all gifts, and it surpasses those (other gifts).
  20. A learned man who, free from envy, follows this rule of conduct which procures endless rewards, and which through final liberation frees him from transmigration.
  21. Or who, full of faith, pure, and subduing his senses, remembers or even hears it, will, freed from all sin, be exalted in the highest heaven.

According to the Hindu scriptures, every human owes five important karmic debts called pancha-maha-yajna: to gods, to ancestors, to guests, to mankind, and to nature.

Debt to the gods for their blessings. Repaid by rituals and offerings.

Debt to ancestors and teachers. Repaid by supporting them, having children of one’s own and passing along knowledge.

Debt to guests. Repaid by treating them as if they were gods visiting one’s home.

Debt to Mankind. Repaid by mutual cooperation and helping others by giving money, clothes, shelter and land to poor people, feeding the hungry, and helping orphans and destitute.

Debt to Nature. All humans are indebted to plants, trees, birds, animals and nature. Repaid by offering good will, food, water, or any other help that is appropriate.

So, a human to place himself in correct relations with the gods, ancestors, spirits, men, the cosmos, nature and himself must repay these debts during his or her lifetime.

Almsgiving in Islam

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Zakat (Source - infopediapk.weebly.com) (Custom)

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One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God and, so, human beings hold wealth in trust.

Islam divides the concept of charitable giving into Sadaqah or voluntary giving, and the Zakāt, an obligatory practice governed by a specific set of rules within Islamic jurisprudence.

Sadaqah is possibly a better translation of the Christian notion of ‘alms’.

Zakāt (Arabic: زكاة‎ ,”That which purifies”), the third of the five pillars of Islam, is the mandatory practice of charitable almsgiving. Every mentally stable, free, and financially sound adult Muslim, male or female, has to pay Zakāt to ease the economic hardship of others and end the inequality of financial status. Zakāt consists of giving 2.5% of one’s savings and business revenue and 5-10% of one’s harvest for distribution to the poor or needy, including slaves, debtors, and travelers. As such, Zakāt plays a much larger role in Islamic charity.

Qur'an 9_60

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah . And Allah is Knowing and Wise.
(The Holy Qur’an 9:60)

Almsgiving in Judaism

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Tzedakah pouch and gelt (Yiddish for coins - money) on fur-like padding. (Photo - Cheskel Dovid)

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In Hebrew, Tzedakah literally means righteousness but is commonly used to signify charity. In Judaism, Tzedakah refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just. It is considered one of the greatest deeds that a human can do. In practice, most Jews carry out Tzedakah by donating a part of their income to charitable institutions, or to needy people that they may come across.

Traditional Jews practice “ma’aser kesafim,” tithing 10% of their income to support those in need. Jewish farmers leave the corners of their fields for the starving to harvest for food. They do not pick up any grain dropped while harvesting because such food may benefit the starving.

Jews perform special acts of Tzedakah on significant days. At weddings, it is a tradition among couples to offer charity to symbolize the sacred character of  marriage. It is traditional at Passover to be welcome hungry strangers, and feed them at the table. During the joyous holiday of Purim, to increase the total happiness, it is obligatory for every Jew to offer food to one other person, and gifts to at least two poor people, in an amount that would equate to a meal each.

Jews are cautioned about how they give out Tzedakah  money. They should check the credentials and finances to be sure that their Tzedakah money will be used wisely, efficiently and effectively.

Also, they are admonished:

Do not rob the poor because they are poor, nor crush the needy at the gate;” (Proverbs 22:22)

Jews are taught that Tzedakah money was never theirs to begin with, rather, it always belongs to God, who merely entrusts them with it so that they may use it properly. Hence, it is their obligation to ensure that it is received by those deserving of it.

Almsgiving in Christianity

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James Tissot, "The Lord's Prayer" (1886-96)
James Tissot, “The Lord’s Prayer” (1886-96)

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Jesus spoke of almsgiving thus:

“[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.

When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”  (Matthew 6:1-4)

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So What Is My Action?


Myself 

 

 

BT.V. Antony Raj

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Image source: pastorsblog.com.au
Image source: pastorsblog.com.au

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My article “Actions speak louder than words!” has evoked a good response from my readers. One person after reading the article has asked: “So what is your action?”

This is my reply:

Look at this (sinful) woman. She has come to Jesus and found in him her Saviour. She wetted his feet with her tears and then wiped them with her hair. Look at verse Luke 7:50, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

It is our faith that saves us. We either look at this woman and say, “Thank you Lord, I am not like her,” then the question becomes, “Has your faith saved you?”

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"Lord, have mercy on me!" (Image source:  bitlanders.com)
“Lord, have mercy on me!” (Image source: bitlanders.com)

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But if our response is “Lord, have mercy on me,” then the good news is mercy is freely given.

Jesus is here and He will always be wherever we are or who or whatever we choose to be. This woman knew Jesus was there to forgive her and she loved Him for that. In the same way, I know Jesus is forever here to forgive me, no matter who I am or what I have done. I know he will forgive me.

Most of us do not get over our afflictions and then go to Jesus, rather we approach Him and He removes them, and He also gives us something else to live for.

My action in life has always been “do more than what I am paid for,” like the woman wiping the feet of Jesus with her tears, wiping it with her hair, and anointing it with perfumed ointment.

There is nothing in this world we could ever do to make up for the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Yet, most of us are not called to do anything. So, most of us forget that it is easy after being Christians for a while to become a Pharisee and point a “holier than thou” finger at others.

Now, I ask you “What is your action?”

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RELATED ARTICLES

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Actions speak louder than words!


Myself 

 

 

BT.V. Antony Raj

This is my 1000th post on "Impressions"!
This is my 1000th post on “Impressions”!

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 The Pardoning of the Sinful Woman

In the gospel of Luke, the story of the pardoning of a sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50) illustrates the axiom that “actions speak louder than words.”

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Jesus is anointed by a so-called sinful woman (Source: musicademy.com)
Jesus is anointed by a so-called sinful woman (Source: musicademy.com)

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A Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to dine with him. On entering the house of the Pharisee, Jesus reclined at the table, the normal posture of guests at a banquet.

On learning that Jesus had come to the house of the Pharisee, a woman of that town who lived a sinful life, came there with an alabaster jar of perfumed ointment.

Weeping, she fell down at the feet of Jesus and wet them with her tears. Then, she wiped his feet with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with the perfumed ointment.

When the Pharisee saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what sort of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”

Jesus understood his thoughts and said, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” Simon said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other owed fifty.”

At that time, one denarius was the normal daily wage of a laborer.

“Neither of them had the money to repay his loan, so the moneylender forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one whose larger debt was forgiven.”

Jesus said, “You have judged rightly.”

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water to wash my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. As my host, you did not greet me with a kiss, but this woman, from the time she entered this house, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not place oil on my head, but she anointed my feet with perfumed ointment.”

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