Divine Impassibility

It is fascinating how the ever-changing needs of the times often call us to tread again the same ground once covered by the Fathers. In their day the need was to show how the Scriptural account of God’s self-revelation was consistent with a more Hellenistic and philosophical view of the impassable divine nature.

Such a project was required in their day if they were to commend the Hebrew Scriptures which the Church received as divinely-inspired to the wider pagan audience which viewed the divine nature as eternal, impassable, transcendent, and unchanging.

The problem, of course, is that this philosophical view of divinity didn’t seem to line up with what people read about the Hebrew God in the Hebrew Scriptures.

People believed—correctly—that the divine nature was unchanging and unchangeable, that it was eternal and untroubled. Or, in the words of St. John of Damascus, that “He is invariable and unchangeable, and it would not be right to speak of contingency in connection with Him. [The divine nature is] uncreated, without beginning, immortal, infinite, eternal, immaterial, good, creative, just, enlightening, immutable, passionless, immeasurable, unlimited, undefined, unseen, unthinkable, wanting in nothing” (Exact Exposition, book 1, chapters 13, 14).

St. John Cassian said the same thing at an earlier time: The idea that God has physical limbs “cannot be understood literally of Him who is declared by the authority of Holy Scripture to be invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible, inestimable, simple, and uncompounded, so neither can the passion of anger and wrath be attributed to that unchangeable nature without fearful blasphemy” (Institutes, book 8, chapter 4.)

What both John of Damascus and John Cassian meant was not that the Scriptures were unreliable, but that they needed interpretation. For if one read the Hebrew Scriptures with a simple heart and insufficient subtlety, one might come away with an erroneous view of the Hebrew God.

One might imagine that Yahweh had a short fuse, that He sometimes lost His temper and needed calming down, that He did not know everything in advance, and sometimes needed to find things out by investigation and then might need to change His mind.

They might imagine that mere human beings could ruffle the divine feathers and get Yahweh worked up, and that He was subject to passions and emotions such as jealousy, uncontrolled rage, as well as bouts of happiness, and that His emotions could see-saw between extremes of happiness and sadness.

Even simpler readers might conclude that Yahweh had arms, fingers, eyes, ears, and a mouth because the Scriptures spoke of these things.

And some people even justified their own human rage by referring to the divine wrath mentioned in the Bible: “We have heard some people trying to excuse this most pernicious disease of the soul [i.e. anger] in such a way as to endeavour to extenuate it by a rather shocking way of interpreting Scripture: as they say that it is not injurious if we are angry with our brethren who do wrong, since they say God Himself is said to rage and to be angry” (Institutes, book 8, chapter 2).

These overly-simple interpretations of Scripture flew in the face of what an intelligent pagan audience believed about the divine nature, and led a number of them to dismiss the Scriptures and the Church which received them as infantile and unworthy of true philosophy.

Of course, they said, the divine nature cannot be subject to such human passions. In fact, the Church had been saying the same thing about the pagan gods for some time, pouring scorn on the pagan myths and stories of Jupiter becoming angry and lustful.

But if it was true, as the Church always taught, that divine nature was essentially impassable and beyond the reach of change and passion, how could the Church’s Hebrew Scriptures have any credibility when they seemed to present a very changeable and passionate God? That was the problem that the Fathers had to grapple with as they presented the Christian Faith to a pagan world.

The Fathers’ solution is well known: they affirmed the philosophical view of God and interpreted the Scriptural account of God’s limbs (such as His mouth, eyes, and hands) metaphorically, as well as the Scriptural narratives about God’s wrath and seeming changeability.

St. John Cassian again: “By God’s mouth we should understand that His utterances are meant…by His eyes we can understand the boundless character of His sight with which He sees and looks through all things. By the expression ‘hands’ we understand His providence and work”.

But the Scriptural references to His divine wrath, though they should not be understood as declaring that God is subject to the passion of anger or that our sins cause Him to throw a fit, are not to be explained away.

Thus Cassian: “When we read of the anger or fury of the Lord, we should take it not according to an unworthy meaning of human passion, but in a sense worthy of God, who is free from all passion, so that by this we should understand that He is the judge and avenger of all the unjust things which are done in this world, and by reason of these terms and their meaning we should dread Him as the terrible rewarder of our deeds, and fear to do anything against His will.”

It is clear therefore that God still has wrath against sin, in that He will judge and avenge human wrong. Because of this divine vengeance we should “dread Him and fear to do anything against His will”.

The Fathers do not declare that God has no wrath, but only that His anger is just and not the result of fits of passion or pique. God’s anger is not like human anger, and is consistent with the divine impassibility. God is always good, and His beneficence never changes.

Whether or not we experience His kindness or His severity (see Romans 11:22) depends not upon His shifting moods, for He is not subject to shifting moods. Rather it depends entirely upon us and how we live.

St. Irenaeus said as much even earlier still: “As many as according to their own choice depart from good, He inflicts that separation from Himself which they have chosen of their own accord. But separation from God is death and separation from light is darkness and separation from God consists in the loss of all the benefits He has in store…It is in this matter just as occurs in the case of a flood of light: those who have blinded themselves are forever deprived of the enjoyment of light. It is not that the light has inflicted upon them the penalty of blindness, but it is that the blindness itself has brought calamity upon them.” (Against Heresies, book 5, chapter 27).

God’s unchanging nature remains light; those who experience calamity and the divine wrath do so because of their own actions, not because God is no longer light or willing to enlighten.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: in the Fathers’ day, many took offense at the Scriptural teaching about the wrath of God, saying that this was incompatible with the divine nature, the objection taking its force from the philosophical conviction that divine nature cannot be subject to emotions of any kind (including presumably nice emotions, such as happiness).

Today also many take offense at the Scriptural teaching about the wrath of God, saying that this is incompatible with the divine nature, the objection taking its force from our modern conviction that a loving God could not also have wrath.

We have seen that the Fathers’ teaching overthrows both objections. The Fathers agree that God’s nature is good and unchanging and unaffected by our sins. They also assert that the Scriptural teaching about God’s wrath is true, and that God will one day act as “the judge and avenger of all the unjust things which are done in the world”.

The modern attempt to deny this latter truth by appeal to God’s good and unchanging nature cannot be sustained, and those who attempt to use the truth of divine impassibility to deny the truth of divine wrath are in error.

I suggest that those making this attempt are not motivated by the venerable philosophical appreciation for the doctrine of divine impassibility so much as by a very modern squeamishness about the doctrine of divine wrath.

The Fathers affirmed both divine wrath and divine impassibility, and we must tread in the way that they walked, following along the path they blazed for us.

Father Lawrence Farley serves as pastor of St. Herman’s Orthodox Church in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.

The photo shows, “Moses on Mount Sinai,” by Jean-Léon Gérôme, painted ca. 1895-1900.

The Book Of Tobit And Its Recensions

The book of Tobit is one of those books Catholics would call the Deuterocanonicals and non-Catholics would label the Apocrypha.

Basically, it’s about a pious old man from the tribe of Nephthali named Tobit exiled along with the other Israelites in Nineveh who goes blind after bird droppings fell on his eyes (!). One day Tobit decides to collect money he had once deposited to an acquaintance named Gabael in the land of Media and sends his son Tobias (aka Tobiah) to do so.

Along the way, Tobias is accompanied by a guy who passes himself off as a kinsman of his named Azariah, and a dog who doesn’t do anything in the story except to be mentioned briefly at the very beginning and the very end of the journey. Arriving in Media, Tobias gets the money from Gabael, and marries the latter’s daughter Sarah, who was tormented by a demon named Asmodeus, who had killed every man she married.

Tobias succeeds in driving Asmodeus out by burning, under Azariah’s advice, the liver and heart of a rabid fish he had encountered during the journey. Tobias, Sarah, and Azariah return to Nineveh, where Tobit was cured of his blindness by the gall of the same fish. ‘Azariah’ eventually reveals himself to be the angel Raphael, sent by God to cure Tobit and Sarah of the afflictions they had, and goes back to heaven.

Years pass, and Tobit finally dies, but not before warning his son to leave Nineveh before God destroys it according to prophecy. After burying his father, Tobias and his family then go away and settle at Media, where the tale ends.

That’s the main gist of the story. But here’s the thing. Those of you who like to read from different translations of the Bible might have already noticed this, but if you compare the book of Tobit as it is in three different translations – the Douai-Rheims, the Revised Standard Version, and the New American Bible – you’d notice that the text of each is radically different from one another.

I encountered some people from time to time who tried to follow the daily readings, only to find that the version they found in their Bible is totally unlike what’s read out in church.

This is much more evident if you read from the Douai-Rheims. The book begins like this in the NAB version: “This book tells the story of Tobit, son of Tobiel, son of Hananiel, son of Aduel, son of Gabael, son of Raphael, son of Raguel, of the family of Asiel and the tribe of Naphtali. During the days of Shalmaneser, king of the Assyrians, he was taken captive from Thisbe, which is south of Kedesh Naphtali in upper Galilee, above and to the west of Asher, north of Phogor.”

The RSV version is pretty close, if shorter (for instance, it omits “son of Raphael, son of Raguel” and simply mentions Thisbe as being “to the south of Kedesh Naphtali in Galilee above Asher.”)

But if you pick up the DR, this is what you’ll find: “Tobias of the tribe and city of Nephtali, (which is in the upper parts of Galilee above Naasson, beyond the way that leadeth to the west, having on the right hand the city of Sephet,) when he was made captive in the days of Salmanasar king of the Assyrians, even in his captivity, forsook not the way of truth, but every day gave all he could get to his brethren his fellow captives, that were of his kindred. And when he was younger than any of the tribe of Nephtali, yet did he no childish thing in his work.”

Totally different, isn’t it? What’s going on here? The answer’s simple: all three translations use three different source texts.

The first thing to understand is that there’s no single, standard version of the book of Tobit. Instead what you really have is different versions of the same work circulating in different languages like Greek or Latin or Hebrew or Aramaic or even Ethiopian.

There are at least two or three versions of Tobit in Greek. The shorter one, found in virtually most surviving Greek manuscripts, is called Greek I (G1). The longer (containing 1,700 more words than G1) version found only almost fully in the 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus, and partially in a couple other manuscripts, is Greek II (G2). Sinaiticus uniquely preserves most of G2 – albeit riddled with scribal errors – except for two lacunae (4:7-19b and 13:7-10b).

Fortunately, an 11th century manuscript (Mount Athos, MS 319, aka Vatopedi 913) gives the G2 text from 3:6 to 6:16 (while giving the G1 text for the rest of the book), thereby filling one of the two lacunae.

The third version, Greek III (G3) is fundamentally related to G2, but is not dependent on the version contained in Sinaiticus. G3 exists only partially (covering only 6:9-13:8) in three cursive manuscripts, which all reproduce G1 for the rest of the book.

As for Latin, there are two main versions of the book. To be more precise, one of the two is more like a family of different versions.

The various versions of Tobit made before St. Jerome translated biblical books into Latin are mainly related to G2, to the point that it can be used to understand and correct its text via comparison, although from time to time they do exhibit some differences from the text in Sinaiticus (more on these later). These so-called Vetus Latina (VL) versions are not all of one type, though.

As of now, there is still no critical edition of the VL version (or rather, versions).

The next best thing is an 18th century text assembled by French Benedictine monk Pierre Sabatier in the Bibliorum sacrorum latinae versiones antiquae, seu Vetus Italica (pp. 706-743), mainly based on two 9th century Latin manuscripts: Q (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 93, aka MS Regius 3564) and P (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 11505, aka MS Sangermanensis 4) along with readings from G (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 11503, aka Sangermanensis 15 or Sangermanensis 1), which contains the text up to 13:2, and W (Rome, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Regin. lat. 7, aka Codex Reginensis), which contains the text only as far as 6:12, the rest being a copy of the Vulgate version (see below).

Since then, two other manuscripts have been found and studied, which illustrate the lack of ‘one type’ of the text: the 10th century R (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 6, aka the Ripoll Bible), and the 9th-century X (Madrid, Biblioteca Univers. Cent. 31, aka Codex Complutensis I).

Both of these have been published by the Italian scholar Francesco Vattioni in the 1970s, who also published the readings of the Tobit text found in a work attributed to St. Augustine known as the Speculum de sacra scriptura (Mirror of Holy Scripture).

The text of Complutensis I is very paraphrastic, representing a much expanded form of the text found in Sabatier. Besides these, other important sources for the VL Tobit are quotations from early Church Fathers.

The text translated by Jerome and included in the Latin Vulgate, meanwhile, is interesting in itself, because it is a free translation of a translation.

This is how he explains the translation process in his preface to the book: “I have persisted as I have been able, and because the language of the Chaldeans is close to Hebrew speech, finding a speaker very skilled in both languages, I took to the work of one day, and whatever he expressed to me in Hebrew words, this, with a summoned scribe, I have set forth in Latin words.”

Apparently, Jerome did not know ‘Chaldean’ (Aramaic) – although he does note that the language is similar to Hebrew (answer being that both are Semitic languages), which he is thought to have known – that he needed someone to translate the Aramaic version of Tobit he had acquired. The translation work was apparently very quick – according to Jerome’s words it only took him, his scribe, and his Aramaic-speaking translator “the work of one day.”

The Vulgate version (which is apparently of the same general family as Greek I, though not similar to it) was once the dominant version of the book in the West before more use was made of Greek manuscripts in biblical translations starting from the Renaissance onwards.

We don’t know for sure whether the Aramaic text used by Jerome is descended from a Semitic forebear or was based on the Greek. The Vulgate text’s relation to the Greek versions and even to the VL recensions is really problematic, since it exhibits some considerable differences from them (although some scholars suspect that Jerome was apparently at the same time dependent on the VL versions).

These differences might stem in part from the version Jerome and his bilingual acquaintance were translating from, but perhaps also in part due to Jerome’s possibly rather free translation method (he admitted that his translation of Judith, which was like Tobit also from an Aramaic version, was magis sensum e sensus quam ex verbo verbum “more sense for sense than word for word;” it could very well be the same case here).

The general impression one could get from Vulgate Tobit is that it is more moralistic and didactic compared to the more straightforward other versions – I’d even say quite preachy. Compare Raphael-as-Azariah’s advice to Tobias on their way to Media in the Vulgate to, say, the G2 version (NAB):

Then the angel Raphael said to him: Hear me, and I will shew thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power. But thou when thou shalt take her, go into the chamber, and for three days keep thyself continent from her, and give thyself to nothing else but to prayers with her. And on that night lay the liver of the fish on the fire, and the devil shall be driven away. But the second night thou shalt be admitted into the society of the holy Patriarchs.

And the third night thou shalt obtain a blessing that sound children may be born of you. And when the third night is past, thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children than for lust, that in the seed of Abraham thou mayst obtain a blessing in children.”
(Douai-Rheims, Tobit 6:16-22)

Raphael said to him: “Do you not remember your father’s commands? He ordered you to marry a woman from your own ancestral family. Now listen to me, brother; do not worry about that demon. Take Sarah. I know that tonight she will be given to you as your wife! When you go into the bridal chamber, take some of the fish’s liver and the heart, and place them on the embers intended for incense, and an odor will be given off. As soon as the demon smells the odor, it will flee and never again show itself near her. Then when you are about to have intercourse with her, both of you must first get up to pray. Beg the Lord of heaven that mercy and protection be granted you. Do not be afraid, for she was set apart for you before the world existed. You will save her, and she will go with you. And I assume that you will have children by her, and they will be like brothers for you. So do not worry.” (NAB-RE, Tobit 6:16-18)

For a long time, only G1 and the Vulgate text were the only ones readily available to translators: Sinaiticus was only found in the early 19th century and Oxyrhynchus (where a 6th century fragment containing the G2 version of Tobit 2:2-5, 8 was found – one of the three manuscripts containing G2) wasn’t excavated until 1896.

And even after Sinaiticus was discovered to have a different text of the book, scholars at the time still considered the its text to be secondary to G1’s. Reason being the adage (well-known in textual criticism) of lectio brevior lectio potior, “shorter reading is the better reading.”

That, and the fact that G1 enjoys more attestation than G2, which was – back then – only represented in a single manuscript. They assumed that G1 was the original version, while G2 was an expansion of it.

Aside from G1, Sinaiticus, and the Vulgate, people before the mid-20th century were aware of a number of other versions of the book in Hebrew (and one in Aramaic), although all of these were late, medieval texts that are deritative of the Greek or the Vulgate versions.

  1. The Münster text (HM), first published in 1516 in Constantinople, then reprinted in Basel by Sebastian Münster in 1542. Said to be a 5th century version, this text is generally based on G2. This version was reproduced in the London Polyglot.
  2. The Fagius text (HF), said to date from the 12th century and first published in 1519 (reprinted by Paul Fagius in 1542). This version is also found in the 1657 London Polyglot. This text is usually judged to be a paraphrastic translation or a free recasting of a Greek text like G1 made by a medieval Jew from Western Europe. This version is noted for its introduction of OT phraseology into the text. The Haydock Commentary often alludes to this version along with the other ones named here.
  3. Gaster’s text (HG), another translation derived from from a 15th century Midrash on the Pentateuch that condenses and greatly abbreviates the narrative found in the medieval Aramaic text, with which it otherwise largely agrees. The narrative in 1:1-3:6 is again in the third person; much of the dialogue and the prayers are eliminated. The text lays a huge emphasis on tithing, a reason why it was introduced into the pentateuchal midrash.
  4. Cairo Genizah T-S A 45.25, 45.26 and 45.29 (Cambridge University Library): Fragmentary texts dating from the 13th-14th century. The earliest of these, 45.26 is of the same recension as the 1516 Constantinople text, while the latter two agree with Fagius’ version.

In the 19th century, Adolf Neubauer also discovered a 15th-century Aramaic text of Tobit in the Bodleian library at Oxford (Hebrew MS 2339).

The text, written in late Aramaic, seems to have been derived from G1. Some peculiar quirks of this version include: (1) agreement with the Vulgate in telling the story of Tobit in the third person in chapters 1-3; (2) omission of the dog, which is mentioned in most other versions; (3) abbreviation of chapter 12, omission of chapter 13 and most of 14 (the remaining part of which is highly condensed); and (4) a short epilogue in Hebrew.

At that time, Neubauer expressed his opinion that this text “Chaldee text in a more complete form was the original from which the translation of the Vulgate was made,” an opinion which was eventually critiqued as being unsubstantiated.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1950s, however, would change long-held assumptions. But that’s for next time.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “Tobias Saying Good-Bye to his Father [Tobit],” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1860.

Tsar Nicholas II And Thailand

An Orthodox parish appeared in the Thai city of Hua Hin about seven years ago. Hua Hin is situated near Bangkok and it is one of the residences of the King of Thailand. When the members of the Russian Orthodox mission were discussing who to dedicate the new church to, the Orthodox community from the island of Phuket proposed that the church be dedicated to the Royal Martyrs.

When St. Nicholas II was the tsarevich (crown prince), he visited the Kingdom of Siam during his Eastern journey, which makes him the only Orthodox saint who has ever trod this country so far. The factors contributing to the dedication of the church in honor of the Royal Family were: the importance of the monarchy for the Thai people, the Russian monarch’s holiness, and the status of the city as a royal residence. Another weighty argument was the fact that the parish on Phuket suggested donating relics associated with the Royal Family to the new church, namely a medallion which belonged to Princess Tatiana Nikolaevna and the cross that she used to wear on her neck (these were bought by Sergey Yefremov, a parishioner, at an Armand Hammer Auction).

The rector of the Holy Trinity Church on Phuket painted an icon of the Holy Princess Tatiana and donated it to the new church in Hua Hin, and Sergei Yefremov sent them another present from Russia, namely a small icon of the Protection of the Holy Theotokos from the Church of the Feodorovskaya icon in Krasnoye Selo near St. Petersburg (also from the Armand Hammer collection).

Although the community is small, the church started holding interesting annual public and church meetings and concerts, along with other events with the participation of the Russian Federation’s Ambassador Extraordinary to Thailand. Last year there were also Church-wide festivities on the occasion of the centenary of the Royal Family’s martyrdom.

Pilgrims from across Thailand came in buses and their own cars, and at least half of them were Thais—most probably because the tourist season had ended long before and all who remained in Thailand were its permanent residents and a handful of tourists.

Of all the Thais who were present at the church service, one elderly couple stood out: the former commander-in-chief of the Thai Royal Navy, Admiral Varong Songcharoen, and his wife, Vorasulisi (Bhakdikun) Songcharoen, who is related to the New Martyr Nicholas Johnson. Admiral Varong and his spouse had recently returned from Russia where they had participated in an international conference dedicated to the memory of Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich and St. Nicholas Johnson.

The service was solemn, with an assembly of priests in the altar, and a male choir singing in the church which was packed. After the service Archimandrite Oleg (Cherepanin) delivered a sermon on the podvig of the last tsar and his family and on how much the monarchical system in Thailand should be valued.

After the sermon the choir performed the anthem of the Russian Empire, “God Save the Tsar”, as well as the royal anthem of Thailand, Sansoen Phra Barami [meaning, “Glorify His Prestige” in Thai.—Trans.]. Fr. Oleg spoke on the New Martyr Nicholas. Most of the parishioners knew nothing about him, and the presence of this saint’s Thai relatives in the church was both stirring and mysterious—you immediately wanted to know them better.

When all the prayers were over, the celebration continued in a freer atmosphere—during the festal meal, the choir of St. Nicholas Church sang songs, and students of Sunday schools from Pattaya and Samui Island gave performances.

The program concluded with the launch of a Thai book that was published especially for the feast. The book was composed of selected letters and diary entries of the Holy Emperor Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra. The purity of love and faith and the high standards of family relations in their correspondence demonstrates to us an example of family holiness.

The greatest impression came from the illustrations: the photographs of the Royal Family, skillfully colored by the well-known photographer Olga Shirnina (aka Klimbim). The book was launched by the project manager Xenia Bychkova who expressed her gratitude to all those who had worked on this book. The launch in Thai was prepared by a student of the Orthodox theological college in Phuket, Karl Ratchanont Teikoksung. Fr. Oleg presented each Thai who attended the service with a copy of the book.

Reflecting on the Orthodox community in Thailand, I asked myself the following questions: Do we and the Thais understand the meaning of today’s celebrations? How can residents of Thailand, a monarchical state, mark the martyrdom of a monarch of their friend-state?

Some reflections…

Hieromonk Micah (Phiasayawong), the first Laotian Orthodox priest: Today we commemorate Tsar Nicholas and his family: how much they did for the Church and the people! Both the tsar and the tsarina faithfully accepted their crosses. Apart from having the power of the State in their hands, they believed in God, and they taught us to believe in God also. This day is a sad one and a happy one at the same time. When we look at their example of a holy life, it gives us joy, but when we recall how they were killed we feel sorrow. They were the father and the mother of the entire Russian land, and now they are saints and all of us (not just Russians) love them.

People in Thailand know about St. Nicholas II as he did much to help Thailand avoid French and British colonization—he is perceived as the defender of Thailand’s independence. As for Laos, no one knows about the tsar there. Laos is a Communist state, and they have a negative attitude towards royal authority (The last King of Laos, Savang Vatthana, abdicated the throne, after which he and his family were sent to the “Re-education camp,” where all of them perished in about 1977).”

Nicholas Thanaboon Kebklang, a student of the Orthodox theological college on the Island of Phuket: “July 17 is a sad day for the Russians. Exactly 100 years ago [this article was published in Russian in 2018 for the tragedy’s centenary.—Trans.] they lost their beloved state—Russia. Tsar Nicholas II was brutally murdered together with his family. Some may perceive it as a shocking and tragic event—and it is really so. But the tragedy of that fateful day is our today’s joy. Tsar Nicholas and his family became holy martyrs for the Church, and this is a victory, a triumph in Christ. Who is our God? Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in Heaven… (Lk. 6:22-23).”

Archimandrite Oleg (Cherepanin), Dean of the Patriarchal Parishes in Thailand:Today in Hua Hin, apart from the exploit of the martyred Royal Family we honor Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, Many consider him the last Russian monarch, although he was never crowned. He was executed by firing squad in the city of Perm a month prior to the martyrdom of St. Nicholas II’s family. His faithful secretary, who didn’t leave the Grand Duke even in the hardest of times despite mortal danger, was martyred with him. He remained wholeheartedly faithful to Michael Alexandrovich both in the good times and during persecutions even to the point of death. This man’s name was Nicholas Johnson. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia canonized him as a new martyr. His icon lies on the analogion. It turned out that some of his relatives are Thai and reside in Thailand. Notably, one is Mrs. Vorasulisi Songcharoen, the spouse of the Thai Royal Navy Admiral Varong Songcharoen. Two months ago the couple emailed me and then came to the church on Saturday to pray at a memorial service for the repose of St. Nicholas Johnson. However, we didn’t have a memorial service because he is already ranked among the saints; instead, we held a service of intercession. It was then that the couple said that they wanted to attend the celebrations in Hua Hin.”

Vorasulisi (Bhakdikun) Songcharoen, the New Martyr Nicholas Johnson’s great-niece: “My great-uncle, Nicholas Nikolaevich Johnson, the secretary of Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, was executed with him on the night of June 13, 1918, in the city of Perm, and was recognized as a new martyr afterwards. We learned about his tragic death not long ago, and on the 140th anniversary of his birth we asked Fr. Oleg (Cherepanin) to conduct a memorial service. Fr. Oleg kindly explained that we shouldn’t pray for his repose now because he is already a saint and what we can do is ask for his blessing. Fr. Oleg helped me understand and accept this tragedy from a more spiritual point of view, even if we are very sorry and sad. Now they are saints of God, and we can no longer think of them the way we would think of all other people. Fr. Oleg helped me perceive this feeling and accept this way of thinking, and I enormously appreciate that. Earlier I had thought desperately: “What a terrible tragedy! Why did it happen?” and so on. Instead of dwelling solely on the tragic aspect of the subject, we all should take into account that it was one of the most important lessons of history we must learn.

“Three weeks ago, I attended events organized in Perm to commemorate Grand Duke Michael and my great-uncle St. Nicholas Johnson. The procession of the cross walked from the city to the chapel built on the hill where the Grand Duke and his secretary are believed to have been killed. It was explained to me that it was a procession of repentance. In my view, the penitential nature of this procession is very important. With so many people and so many priests participating, it was a religious procession of people who had the same sense of remorse for what happened 100 years ago…

“I have been to Russia on three occasions: during the first visit I tried to find my mother’s grave; the second trip was last year because my son wanted to see Moscow; and this year we travelled to Perm in connection with the centenary of my great-uncle’s martyrdom. So, we walked in a cross-procession to the chapel—the supposed place of his execution, then we were present at the ceremony of the unveiling of a plaque in the building where the Grand Duke was seen for the last time; next we took part in the planting of a tree and visited a museum dedicated to the story of Grand Duke Michael and St. Nicholas Johnson. We also participated in an international conference where the tragic events of 100 years ago were discussed in detail from different perspectives: historical, legal, archeological, social and so on. It was also mentioned that it would be more correct to call Grand Duke Michael “Tsar Michael II” because in fact he was the last Emperor of Russia.

“The remains of the Grand Duke and my great-uncle haven’t been found yet, but the search will continue using the most advanced technology and instruments. My cousin and I have provided our DNA samples so the remains could be identified once they have been found. I was happy to have a chance of offering my mite and I pray that the bodies of the Grand Duke and my great-uncle could be discovered and buried in an appropriate manner.”

The original Russian version of this article was translated by Dmitry Lapa, and appears courtesy of Orthodox Christianity.

Who Was Lavrentiy Beria?

That corpulent man wearing a pince-nez remains one of the most symbolic faces of Joseph Stalin’s era. Lavrentiy Beria was calculating and vicious, hard-working and hedonist – and people feared him so much that it led to his downfall.

Just like his boss Joseph Stalin, Lavrentiy Beria (1899 – 1953) was born and bred in Georgia. An ethnic Mingrelian (a small nation closely-related to Georgians), during the Russian Civil War (1918-1921) he specialized in spying and undercover operations for the Bolsheviks in neighboring Azerbaijan. Later, Beria returned to Georgia to work for the Soviet secret police, known as the Cheka – the Extraordinary Commission.

He made a great career in Georgia: in the 1930s, after Stalin got rid of the old Georgian Communists, Beria led the republic. “Beria had no values, was always ready to discard ideology or personal relations – and Stalin liked that about him,” historian Lev Lurie writes. 

Plus, Beria was indeed a good manager. “During his reign in Georgia, the republic became the main supplier of tea, grape and citrus for the entire USSR… the republic that was among the poorest turned into the most prosperous,” Lurie notes.

Cunning Beria established excellent personal relations with Stalin, who visited Georgia many times during his vacations. That helped him a lot – Beria was one of only two heads of Soviet republics ( there were 15) who survived the purges of 1937. Moreover, Stalin took Beria to Moscow, appointing him chief of the NKVD, the notorious secret police.

In Russia, it is common to associate Beria, the longest-sitting head of the NKVD during Stalin’s era, with mass repressions. In fact, it was Beria’s predecessor Nikolai Yezhov who ran the secret police during the height of the terror, 1937-1938. As far as Stalin was concerned, appointing Beria to head the NKVD was a way to scale back the extent of the executions.

“Stalin was a violent yet clever man who was well aware of the fact that further repressions would lead to the failure of his power,” wrote Sergo Beria, Lavrentiy’s son, in his memoirs. “He needed a man of a different kind [from Yezhov] to lead the NKVD.” Sergo’s objectivity can be disputed, but his father did alleviate the violence: in 1938 (the last year of Yezhov’s tenure as head of the NKVD), 328,000 people were sentenced to death in the USSR; in 1939, with Beria in charge that figure was 2,600.

Certainly, that doesn’t mean Beria was a bleeding-heart liberal: like everyone else in Stalin’s government he was always ready to spill blood if there was an order. For instance, it was Beria’s NKVD that sentenced 14,500 Polish war prisoners to death in 1940 (the infamous Katyn massacre).

Stalin appreciated Beria’s organizational skills enough to put him in charge of the manufacture of armaments, aircraft and aircraft engines during World War II – which was in addition to his duties in state security that included both coordinating the work of spies and the infamous deportations of ethnic groups accused of collaborating with the Germans – Chechens, Crimean Tatars and so on.

When the war ended, the USSR faced new challenges – the nuclear arms race, with Washington ahead of Moscow. Stalin had no doubt who could supervise the Soviet atomic project: Beria headed the Special Committee on Creating Nuclear Weapons in the shortest time possible.

The ruthless minister spent 1945 to 1949 providing Soviet scientists with everything they needed. Ninel Epatova, an engineer who used to work on the atomic project, saw Beria periodically, and she recalled: “Back then, Beria always looked exhausted… with red eyes, bags under them… It seemed he didn’t care about anything except work.”

That work consumed Beria, and historian Oleg Khlevniuk writes that: “Soviet nuclear testing could result in his triumph or, in case of failure, the end of his career or even life.” But testing was successful: in 1949, the USSR became a nuclear power, and Beria was among those who made it possible.

“Stalin’s attitude towards Beria was special. He was the only one among the top members of the Communist Party not to have an apartment but a mansion in Moscow all to himself,” Lurie states. Today, this mansion on Malaya Nikitskaya Street in the Moscow center hosts the embassy of Tunisia and… is rumored to be haunted.

There are dark legends surrounding Beria: allegedly he was something of a sexual maniac, having young girls delivered to his house, raping and (sometimes) murdering them, while his guards helped him get rid of the bodies. Nevertheless, there is absolutely no proof for this urban legend, and most historians suppose it was Beria’s posthumous bad publicity that led to such rumors.

What has been proved is that Beria had, in addition to his wife, an ‘unofficial’ one – Valentina Drozdova, who was a 16-year-old schoolgirl when they met in 1949. Their relations lasted until Beria’s death in 1953. Later, Drozdova claimed that Beria raped her, but it’s unclear if it was true or whether she wanted to distance herself from Beria’s legacy.

When Stalin died on March 5, 1953, Beria became one of the most influential people in the USSR, forming a ‘triumvirate’ with two other leaders – Nikita Khrushchev and Georgy Malenkov. In that ‘collective ruling’ system Beria was in charge of state security, which, along with his dark reputation, resulted in Khrushchev and Malenkov fearing Beria and a possible plot against them.  

So, they decided to strike first. In June 1953, Beria was detained, denounced as the architect of repressions and a British spy (a fabricated accusation) and executed the same year. Beria was Stalin’s only secret police chief to outlive his boss, but not for long.

Oleg Yegorov writes for Russia Beyond.

The photo shows a Soviet poster of Lavrentiy Beria, from the 1953.

Why Eastern Europeans Do Not Want Islam

Why Eastern Europeans are much more reluctant to accept Muslim migrants than their Western counterparts can be traced back to circumstances surrounding a pivotal battle, that of Kosovo, which took place on June 15, 1389, exactly 630 years ago today.  It pitted Muslim invaders against Eastern European defenders, or the ancestors of those many Eastern Europeans today who are resistant to Islam.

Because the jihad is as old as Islam, it has been championed by diverse peoples throughout the centuries (Arabs in the Middle East, Moors (Berbers and Africans) in Spain and Western Europe, etc.). Islam’s successful entry into Eastern Europe was spearheaded by the Turks, specifically that tribe centered in westernmost Anatolia (or Asia Minor) and thus nearest to Europe, the Ottoman Turks, so-named after their founder Osman Bey.   As he lay dying in 1323, his parting words to his son and successor, Orhan, were for him “to propagate Islam by yours arms.”

This his son certainly did; the traveler Ibn Batutua, who once met Orhan in Bursa, observed that, although the jihadi had captured some one hundred Byzantine fortresses, “he had never stayed for a whole month in any one town,” because he “fights with the infidels continually and keeps them under siege.” Christian cities fell like dominos: Smyrna in 1329, Nicaea in 1331, and Nicomedia in 1337. By 1340, the whole of northwest Anatolia was under Turkic control.  By now and to quote a European contemporary, “the foes of the cross, and the killers of the Christian people, that is, the Turks, [were]  separated from Constantinople by  a channel of three or four miles.”

By 1354, the Ottoman Turks, under Orhan’s son, Suleiman, managed to cross over the Dardanelles and into the abandoned fortress town of Gallipoli, thereby establishing their first foothold in Europe: “Where there were churches he destroyed them or converted them to mosques,” writes an Ottoman chronicler: “Where there were bells, Suleiman broke them up and cast them into fires. Thus, in place of bells there were now muezzins.”

Cleansed of all Christian “filth,” Gallipoli became, as a later Ottoman bey boasted, “the Muslim throat that gulps down every Christian nation—that chokes and destroys the Christians.” From this dilapidated but strategically situated fortress town, the Ottomans launched a campaign of terror throughout the countryside, always convinced they were doing God’s work. “They live by the bow, the sword, and debauchery, finding pleasure in taking slaves, devoting themselves to murder, pillage, spoil,” explained Gregory Palamas, an Orthodox metropolitan who was taken captive in Gallipoli, adding, “and not only do they commit these crimes, but even—what an aberration—they believe that God approves them!”

After Orhan’s death in 1360 and under his son Murad I—the first of his line to adopt the title “Sultan”—the westward jihad into the Balkans began in earnest and was unstoppable. By 1371 he had annexed portions of Bulgaria and Macedonia to his sultanate, which now so engulfed Constantinople that “a citizen could leave the empire simply by walking outside the city gates.”

Unsurprisingly, then, when Prince Lazar of Serbia (b. 1330) defeated Murad’s invading forces in 1387, “there was wild rejoicing among the Slavs of the Balkans. Serbians, Bosnians, Albanians, Bulgarians, Wallachians, and Hungarians from the frontier provinces all rallied around Lazar as never before, in a determination to drive the Turks out of Europe.”

Murad responded to this effrontery on June 15, 1389, in Kosovo.  There, a Serbian-majority coalition augmented by Hungarian, Polish, and Romanian contingents—twelve thousand men under the leadership of Lazar—fought thirty thousand Ottomans under the leadership of the sultan himself. Despite the initial downpour of Turkic arrows, the Serbian heavy cavalry plummeted through the Ottoman frontlines and broke the left wing; the Ottoman right, under Murad’s elder son Bayezid, reeled around and engulfed the Christians. The chaotic clash continued for hours.

On the night before battle, Murad had beseeched Allah “for the favour of dying for the true faith, the martyr’s death.”  Sometime near the end   of battle, his prayer was granted. According to tradition, Miloš Obilić, a Serbian knight, offered to defect to the Ottomans on condition that, in view of his own high rank, he be permitted to submit before the sultan himself. They brought him before Murad and, after Milos knelt in false submission, he lunged at and plunged a dagger deep into the Muslim warlord’s stomach (other sources say “with two thrusts which came out at his back”). The sultan’s otherwise slow guards responded by hacking the Serb to pieces. Drenched in and spluttering out blood, Murad lived long enough to see his archenemy, the by now captured Lazar, brought before him, tortured, and beheaded. A small conciliation, it may have put a smile on the dying martyr’s face.

Murad’s son Bayezid instantly took charge: “His first act as Sultan, over his father’s dead body, was to order the death, by strangulation with a bowstring, of his brother. This was Yaqub, his fellow-commander in the battle, who had won distinction in the field and popularity with his troops.” Next Bayezid brought the battle to a decisive end; he threw everything he had at the enemy, leading to the slaughter of every last Christian—but even more of his own men in the process.

So many birds flocked to and feasted on the vast field of carrion that posterity remembered Kosovo as the “Field of Blackbirds.” Though essentially a draw—or at best a Pyrrhic victory for the Ottomans—the Serbs, with less men and resources to start with in comparison to the ascendant Muslim empire, felt the sting more.

In the years following the battle of Kosovo, the Ottoman war machine became unstoppable: the nations of the Balkans were conquered by the Muslims—after withstanding a millennium of jihads, Constantinople itself permanently fell to Islam in 1453—and they remained under Ottoman rule for centuries.

The collective memory of Eastern Europeans’ not too distant experiences with and under Islam should never be underestimated when considering why they are significantly more wary of—if not downright hostile to—Islam and its migrants compared to their Western, liberal counterparts.

As Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán once explained:

“We don’t want to criticize France, Belgium, any other country, but we think all countries have a right to decide whether they want to have a large number of Muslims in their countries. If they want to live together with them, they can. We don’t want to and I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country. We do not like the consequences of having a large number of Muslim communities that we see in other countries, and I do not see any reason for anyone else to force us to create ways of living together in Hungary that we do not want to see….  I have to say that when it comes to living together with Muslim communities, we are the only ones who have experience because we had the possibility to go “through that experience for 150 years.”

And those years—1541 to 1699, when the Islamic Ottoman Empire occupied Hungary—are replete with the massacre, enslavement, and rape of Hungarians.

This is an excerpt from Raymond Ibrahim’s book, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, which was also reviewed in the Postil here.

The photo shows, “The Kosovo Maiden,” by Uroš Predić, painted in 1919. The scene illustrates a scene from the poem, “The Kosovo Maiden,” from the Kosovo-cycle of Serbian poetry.

The Real Vikings

In these days where man is held to be homo economicus, we are told that all people are basically the same, and what they want, most of all, is ease and comfort. Real Vikings prove this false.

Instead, they reflect back to us a strange combination of very bad behavior and until-the-last-dog-dies virtue. Tom Shippey wants to talk about those real Vikings, not the sanitized ones who were supposedly much like us, just colder. If you read this book, therefore, you’ll get the Vikings in all their bloody, malicious glory.

Shippey (a professor of Old and Middle English literature, and one of the world’s leading authorities on J. R. R. Tolkien) tells what we know about the Vikings, primarily from their own stories about themselves, the sagas.

He combines this with other sources, including archaeology and the written histories of those with whom the Vikings came into contact, to create a vivid and compelling narrative. It may seem strange to treat the sagas as history, since fantasy elements, from dwarves to dragons to Valkyrie, are ubiquitous, and many were written down centuries after the events in them took place.

The author takes the position, apparently not uncontroversial, that the sagas can nonetheless be used as history, though with caution and only in some instances. Either way, the sagas show the Viking mentality, not so much through the plots of the stories, but through the actions of the people in them. Most of all, it is this Viking mindset that Shippey cares about; he calls it “a kind of death cult,” which does not seem an exaggeration.

Shippey is well-versed in the languages in which the sagas were written, including Old Norse; he does his own translations. Given the bowdlerization that is common in pre-modern translations, this is very helpful to the reader. The stories in the sagas are very complex, largely due to the tangled webs of kinship they portray.

These are not fairy tales, with a simple story and simple moral, but Shippey does an excellent job of exposition. He emphasizes that sagas aren’t meant to be beautiful or delicate; they aim instead to follow extremely strict rules of rhyme and meter, and are full of complex grammar and obscure allusions. The creation of excellent poetry was regarded as a high virtue and accomplishment for men in their off hours, when they weren’t killing other men.

Vikings are often incorrectly seen as synonymous with Scandinavians. In Old Norse, vikingr meant simply pirate or marauder. “It wasn’t an ethnic label, it was a job description.” Shippey rejects revisionist accounts that try to paint the Vikings as settlers, or traders, or nice people who just occasionally got caught up in fighting.

Plenty of Scandinavians were settlers, traders, and nice people—just not the Vikings. For three hundred years, they stole and murdered across much of northern Europe, especially England, and got as far as Constantinople and southern Spain.

“To the modern mind, it is amazing, almost incomprehensible, how so many thousands of men, over generations, took appalling risks in small boats and continuous hand-to-hand and face-to-face confrontations with edged weapons, for what do not seem to us to have been very great financial returns. Viking armies were often defeated, even exterminated, but there never seemed to be any difficulty recruiting another one.”

What made this possible was the Viking mentality.

Shippey’s book is both analysis and history. The history begins where Viking histories normally begin, with the sack of the monastery of Saint Cuthbert on Lindisfarne, in A.D. 793. It ends with Harold Godwinson’s defeat, in 1066 at Stamford Bridge, of the giant Norwegian king, Harold Hardrada (whose name Shippey translates, roughly, as “Hard-Line Harold”).

The actual causes of the eruption of the Vikings are not completely clear, because there are almost no written records from Scandinavia of the time, but they probably have to do with upheaval and a power vacuum in Scandinavia. Intertwined with history, Shippey offers his careful and detailed parsing of sagas, combining that with evidence from archaeology.

Much of this seems vaguely familiar to the reader, because Vikings have been staples of popular culture for two hundred years, but the more you read about real Vikings, the less familiar it seems (although a few works of modern fiction, such as Eric Rücker Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros, do manage to capture a real Viking feel).

As he moves through history, Shippey itemizes core features of the Viking mindset; then illustrates and expands on them. The single overriding feature was an absolute need to be brave. Cowardice was utterly disgraceful. Part of that was never giving in.

Fighting to the last man was a baseline Viking expectation. We can understand that; it’s to some extent part of our own culture (or was, until we were pansified). Another feature, though, is harder for us to grasp—losing isn’t the same as being a loser.

Vikings lost all the time; there was no disgrace in that, as long as you kept the right attitude, which was not giving in. If you had to give in physically, not giving in mentally would do. And the best way to show that was to die laughing (hence the title of the book). That laughter wasn’t ironic or self-referential, though. It was malicious.

If you laughed as your enemies killed you, because you knew how they were going to die soon too and you’d get your vengeance, that was admirable. The goal wasn’t stoicism (which was often the goal of other martial societies, particularly the American Indians); it was getting one over on your enemies, and knowing it.

Or if you bided your time as a defeated slave, forming a plan to kill and mutilate your enemies, then chuckled over their bodies, that was admirable too. (It is, as Shippey says, no coincidence that our word “gloat” comes from Old Norse.) Waiting to get back at your enemies so as to do it well is high-class behavior; it’s low-class thralls that lose their tempers and strike back hastily.

And if you simply can’t get vengeance, you can make a dark joke, like the saga hero who, cut terribly across the face in hand-to-hand combat onboard a ship, grabs his gold, says “The Danish woman in Bornholm won’t think it so pleasant to kiss me now,” and jumps overboard to sink beneath the waves.

Being humorously nasty is also admirable, like the man who, as he is about to be decapitated after a battle, asks for one of his enemies to hold his hair back so it doesn’t get bloody—then, as the axe falls, jerks backward so the helper’s hands are cut off, and dances around, laughing and shouting “Whose hands are in my hair?!”

Being comfortable with losing continued even after death. Those warriors chosen for Valhalla were not promised eternal life or eternal happiness; they were promised a good time until Ragnarok, the final battle, whereupon all of them, and all the gods, were to lose and die permanently.

In the Viking ethos, this makes sense, because you can only show that you will never give in if you can be defeated. The goal isn’t to avoid defeat, certainly not by switching sides to gain advantage. It’s to show your worth, come what may. Many have pointed out that the gods in the Iliad are, in a sense, lesser than men because their immortality makes everything they do ultimately trivial. Not so for Vikings, or their gods.

Fighting was the number one Viking activity, of course. In all the sagas, there is a definite exaltation of strongly masculine behavior, mostly fighting but wine and women as well. Vikings had a general love of constant violence, including games intended to create violent disputes among friends out of nothing.

They also invariably reacted with a hair trigger to insults; and when they lost their lives, as they expected to someday, if not laughing ideally offered dying last words that were not self-pitying but were laconic, such as “bear to Silkisif and our sons my greeting; I won’t be coming.”

Self-control was extremely important—showing any weak-seeming emotion or offering any reaction (other than violence or laughter) was looked down on, even if severely injured or having lost a child or wife.

Vikings didn’t cry, ever. All this behavior was, collectively, drengskapr, basically a code of honor, the function of which Shippey analogizes to later European dueling, which served important functions tied to the core male need for validation and hierarchy.

Its opposite, naturally, was dishonorable behavior, such as killing the defenseless, cowardice, or breaking an oath; such actions meant either a loss of face or expulsion from the community.

Despite the inherently masculine nature of drengskapr, women appear often in this book. Shippey notes that in the sagas women are “not themselves Vikings by trade, but often the most determined instigators and proponents of the heroic mindset.” The “sagas of Icelanders especially are full of dominating and aggressive women.”

Numerous sagas turn on the actions of women, seeking revenge for slights or harms to them or their families, or rejecting an ambitious warrior until he achieves more fame. Old Norse even has a special verb just for women taunting men as cowards.

Beyond the sagas, as with all the peoples descended from “Germanic” barbarians, women occupied significant roles in society. This is in sharp contrast to the East, where women were kept hidden and exercised influence purely behind the scenes. Women were out and about in Viking society (and in other Germanic societies, such as the Franks, causing scandal in Outremer among Muslims during the Crusades).

They ran businesses, owned property, signed contracts, and generally acted with a great degree of independence. Vikings had no harems—although Vikings made a lot of money supplying young women to Muslim harems (and some high-status Viking men kept concubines).

Slaves were the Vikings’ number one cash generator, and Muslims their number one market, since Christian Europe strongly disfavored slaves, even at this point, and Scandinavia itself didn’t have the money to buy a lot of slaves.

In other words, contrary to the modern propagandistic myth, there’s no indication women as women were oppressed in Viking society (which is true for most, if not all, Western societies throughout history).

As usual, relations between men and women were a constant negotiation where everyone was trying to muddle through together. In conflicts, women usually gave as good as they got, and exemplified similar courage as men.

Voluntarily choosing to die, “[Brynhild] regards Sigurd as her real husband, her frumverr or ‘first man’; she means to go with him. Of course, she also had him murdered, but that does not affect her real feelings or her sense of what’s right.”

Where women appear not a single time in this book, however, is as warriors, because Viking women warriors are a total myth. Last year widespread coverage was given to a claim that the grave of a Viking woman warrior had been uncovered. Fake news, which was quickly disproven, though that was not given any coverage at all in the popular media.

Viking women warriors simply didn’t exist. “Viking warrior” is a tautology; “Viking woman” is an oxymoron. Neither history nor saga mentions women as warriors. What about the famous “shieldmaidens,” you ask? A thirteenth-century Danish historian, Saxo Grammaticus, created that legend out of whole cloth in imitation of myths about the Amazons.

The sole mention in any actual saga of any woman warrior is in The Saga of Hervor and Heidrek, a thirteenth-century mashup of several earlier sagas, where part of the plot revolves around a woman, Hervor, who takes up arms after her father and brothers are killed (summoning her dead father, Angantyr, from his barrow grave to give her his sword, Tyrfing). (She was the inspiration for Tolkien’s Eowyn of Rohan, depicted, like Hervor, as golden haired in golden helmet).

This is all obviously just fantasy no different than that about dwarves and dragons. Such fantasies aren’t new; people have been projecting their fantasies onto Vikings for more than a thousand years. In the ninth century A.D. the Muslim ruler of Spain, Abd al Rahman II, sent an embassy to the Vikings, led by an ambassador, nicknamed al-Ghazal (“the gazelle,” for his good looks).

It’s not clear precisely where he went or whom he met, because in what he wrote he was less interested in writing useful detail, and more in telling us that the custom of the Vikings was “no woman refused any man,” and that the queen of the Vikings was infatuated with him. Al-Ghazal’s writings show, as Shippey says, “we are deep in Male Fantasy Land,” and the same is true of Hervor.

(Muslims, and the Byzantines, did interact quite a bit with the Vikings; more accurate than al-Ghazal was the record of the tenth-century Ahmad Ibd Fadlan’s mission to the Rus, which forms a large part of the backstory to the movie The Thirteenth Warrior and which Shippey discusses at length, mostly to show that the Vikings were fine with sex slavery, ritual murder, and gang rape.)

Along similar lines, you often hear that the Valkyries were women warriors, a trope that shows up, for example, in modern movies based on the Marvel comic books. Shippey makes clear that they were nothing of the sort (addressing the question directly never comes up for him, any more than discussing whether the Vikings carried iPhones or used machine guns).

The Valkyries were Odin’s servants, acting as harvesters, or rather recruiters, who picked which warriors would die in battle, and thus join Odin in the halls of Valhalla. They often picked the strongest men, who were brought low by seeming chance, but actually by the Valkyries or Odin himself—a way for the Vikings to explain the seeming randomness of death in battle. But the Valkyries weren’t warriors.

At all. They were more like the Greek Fates, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos; and overlap with the Norns, the Norse rough equivalent of the Fates. Nor were they aspirational figures for women in Viking society.

Silly claims about female Vikings are part of a larger problem with the corruption of everything by ideology—news, science, history. A claim that a Viking woman has been found is useful.

It can be, and is, used to support idiot actions like allowing women into the military, and more generally to aid the ongoing massive propaganda campaign to pretend that not only are there no real differences between men and women, but that women can do anything that men can do, only better.

(We have seen this on display in recent weeks in the blanket coverage given to the Women’s World Cup, an unimportant event that very few Americans care about, and the winning of which is equivalent to being the world’s tallest midget).

Thus, such a “discovery” is feted around the world and the “discoverer” briefly becomes an international celebrity, before returning to a promotion and permanent job security. A claim that a male Viking burial has been found is boring and gets the claimant nothing.

Along similar lines, Shippey notes several attempts to feminize Viking history, such as when in 2014 the British Museum censored the translation of a runestone inscription to change phrases such as “They fared like bold men far for gold” to “They fared far for gold.” As Shippey says drily, the word men “is not favored academically.”

Fortunately, this book is not marred by any such distortions. It’s an uncut presentation of Viking behavior, straight up, no chaser. After you read it, you’ll probably be glad you weren’t around when and where the Vikings were.

Still, as you order some knickknack off Amazon to give you a brief rush of consumer enjoyment, briefly beating back your ennui, you’ll probably feel some tug toward the grandeur and glory of the Viking mindset, and wonder whether modern life, lacking any transcendence, is as hollow at its core as it seems.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows, “Funeral of a Viking,” by Sir Frank Bernard Dicksee, painted in 1893.

Alfred The Great

In a new endeavor for the Postil, we will publish interesting works which have been passed over by the hurrying flow of years. We believe that such works still have the ability to teach and please, and thus deserve an afterlife. Our first offering is by John Henry Haaren (1855-1916), who a native of New York, a teacher, and president of the Brooklyn Institute. This brief biography of Alfred the Great was published in 1904.

I

The Danes were neighbors of the Norwegian Vikings, and like them were fond of the sea and piracy. They plundered the English coasts for more than a century; and most of northern and eastern England became for a time a Danish country with Danish kings.

What saved the rest of the country to the Saxons was the courage of the great Saxon king, Alfred.

Alfred was the son of Ethelwulf, king of the West Saxons. He had a loving mother who brought him up with great care. Up to the age of twelve, it is said, he was not able to read well, in spite of the efforts of his mother and others to teach him.

When Alfred was a boy there were no printed books. The wonderful art of printing was not invented until about the year 1440—nearly six hundred years later than Alfred’s time. Moreover, the art of making paper had not yet been invented. Consequently the few books in use in Alfred’s time were written by skillful penmen, who wrote generally on leaves of parchment, which was sheepskin carefully prepared so that it might retain ink.

One day Alfred’s mother showed him and his elder brothers a beautiful volume which contained a number of the best Saxon ballads. Some of the words in this book were written in brightly colored letters, and upon many of the leaves were painted pictures of gaily-dressed knights and ladies.

“Oh, what a lovely book!” exclaimed the boys.

“Yes, it is lovely,” replied the mother. “I will give it to whichever of you children can read it the best in a week.”

Alfred began at once to take lessons in reading, and studied hard day after day. His brothers passed their time in amusements and made fun of Alfred’s efforts. They thought he could not learn to read as well as they could, no matter how hard he should try.

At the end of the week the boys read the book to their mother, one after the other. Much to the surprise of his brothers, Alfred proved to be the best reader and his mother gave him the book.

While still very young Alfred was sent by his father to Rome to be anointed by His Holiness, the Pope. It was a long and tiresome journey, made mostly on horseback.

With imposing, solemn ceremony he was anointed by the Holy Father. Afterwards he spent a year in Rome receiving religious instruction.

II

In the year 871, when Alfred was twenty-two years old, the Danes invaded various parts of England. Some great battles were fought, and Alfred’s elder brother Ethelred, king of the West Saxons, was killed. Thus Alfred became king.

The Danes still continued to fight the Saxons, and defeated Alfred in a long and severe struggle. They took for themselves the northern and eastern parts of England.

Moreover, Danes from Denmark continued to cross the sea and ravage the coast of Saxon England. They kept the people in constant alarm. Alfred therefore determined to meet the pirates on their own element, the sea. So he built and equipped the first English navy, and in 875 gained the first naval victory ever won by the English.

A few years after this, however, great numbers of Danes from the northern part of England came pouring into the Saxon lands. Alfred himself was obliged to flee for his life.

For many months he wandered through forests and over hills to avoid being taken by the Danes. He sometimes made his home in caves and in the huts of shepherds and cowherds. Often he tended the cattle and sheep and was glad to get a part of the farmer’s dinner in pay for his services.

Once, when very hungry, he went into the house of a cowherd and asked for something to eat. The cowherd’s wife was baking cakes and she said she would give him some when they were done.

“Watch the cakes and do not let them burn, while I go across the field to look after the cows,” said the woman, as she hurried away. Alfred took his seat on the chimney-corner to do as he was told. But soon his thoughts turned to his troubles and he forgot about the cakes.

When the woman came back she cried out with vexation, for the cakes were burned and spoiled. “You lazy, good-for-nothing man!” she said, “I warrant you can eat cakes fast enough; but you are too lazy to help me bake them.”

With that she drove the poor hungry Alfred out of her house. In his ragged dress he certainly did not look like a king, and she had no idea that he was anything but a poor beggar.

III

Some of Alfred’s friends discovered where he was hiding and joined him. In a little time a body of soldiers came to him and a strong fort was built by them. From this fort Alfred and his men went out now and then and gave battle to small parties of the Danes. Alfred was successful and his army grew larger and larger.

One day he disguised himself as a wandering minstrel and went into the camp of the Danes. He strolled here and there, playing on a harp and singing Saxon ballads. At last, Guthrum (Guth’-rum), the commander of the Danes, ordered the minstrel to be brought to his tent.

Alfred went. “Sing to me some of your charming songs,” said Guthrum. “I never heard more beautiful music.” So the kingly harper played and sang for the Dane, and went away with handsome presents. But better than that, he had gained information that was of the greatest value.

In a week he attacked the Danish forces and defeated them with great slaughter in a battle which lasted all day and far into the night. Guthrum was taken prisoner and brought before Alfred.

Taking his harp in his hands, Alfred played and sang one of the ballads with which he had entertained Guthrum in the camp. The Dane started in amazement and exclaimed:

“You, then, King Alfred, were the wandering minstrel?”

“Yes,” replied Alfred, “I was the musician whom you received so kindly. Your life is now in my hands; but I will give you your liberty if you will become a Christian and never again make war on my people.”

“King Alfred,” said Guthrum, “I will become a Christian, and so will all my men if you will grant liberty to them as to me; and henceforth, we will be your friends.”

Alfred then released the Danes, and they were baptized as Christians.

An old road running across England from London to Chester was then agreed upon as the boundary between the Danish and Saxon kingdoms; and the Danes settled in East Anglia, as the eastern part of England was called.

Years of peace and prosperity followed for Alfred’s kingdom. During these years the king rebuilt the towns that had been destroyed by the Danes, erected new forts, and greatly strengthened his army and navy.

He also encouraged trade; and he founded a school like that established by Charlemagne. He himself translated a number of Latin books into Saxon, and probably did more for the cause of education than any other king that ever wore the English crown.

The photo shows King Alfred, from a 14th-century roll chronicle.

Yoga Of Deception

What attracts people to yoga? In my case, it was a thirst for something mysterious, some teaching that would allow me to develop some superpowers, such as telepathy, breath-holding, etc. I discovered yoga as a primary school student back in the early 1980s thanks to my elder cousin.

I would sit in the lotus position at the lessons, and the teacher would rebuke me, telling me “to sit like a human.” And my last mentor was a yoga fitness instructor, under whose guidance between 2008 and 2009 I refreshed my skills in the fundamentals of Ashtanga yoga that I had largely forgotten over the years of my office work. And there were a great number of books, groups, seminars, and teachers between these two “mentors.”

When I was in my thirties, I wanted to comprehend the essence of yoga, and I was more interested in meditative practices than in physical exercises (asanas). The fact is that if someone starts yoga and doesn’t quit it, sooner or later he will find that it is boring to sit in the same positions and do the same exercises day in and day out.

One day he will inevitably ask himself: “Why do I need all of this”? And this is precisely what happened to me: I wanted to find the meaning. And at last I discovered the concept of pralaya in Hinduism which (to put it simply) means “cyclical destruction of the universe.”

No matter what you did (whether you practiced yoga or something else), what you strove for, how many times you were born, which class or caste you belonged to, all the souls (whether they like it or not) will ultimately unite into one “golden egg”, into which the whole universe will contract, once one “day of Brahma” has changed into a “night of Brahma” next time. It will be the end of the universe, and all will disappear.

From the yogis’ point of view, there is no such thing as immortality of an individual soul because with the beginning of a “new day of Brahma” the souls will come into being again, but these will be absolutely different souls (not those destroyed). Only Brahman, the impersonal absolute, is immortal.

There are many similarities between all of this and the materialist conception of the world, the “pulsating universe theory”, and so forth. However, there are quite a few tendencies in Hinduism (of which yoga is a part), from atheistic and agnostic to pantheistic, those recognizing many deities and close to paganism.

Then what is the object pursued by a yogi? He seeks to attain the state of Moksha, or Samadhi, approximately meaning “being released.” This is the “liberation” from the cyclic existence, this suffering-laden cycle of life. A yogi believes in reincarnation, in the rebirth cycle, but he tries his best to avoid this continued suffering.

When I came to realize that, according to yoga, death awaits you in any case (both the physical death and the death of your soul, once it has escaped the vicious birth-death-rebirth cycle and united with the indifferent absolute), I lost interest in this teaching.

Later, in the summer of 2010, I ended up at the Monastery of St. Paphnutius in Borovsk [in the Kaluga region south of the Moscow region] completely “by chance” (in fact, providentially), and my life was gradually transformed.

But why not practice yoga as we do gymnastics, without becoming absorbed in its mysterious and occult depths? I am quite sure that this is impossible (except when someone is fortunate enough in having a transient passion for yoga). Yoga is part of the Hindu religion, and there’s no getting away from it.

The very word “yoga” derives from the Sanskrit root word “yuj”, meaning “to yoke”, “to unite”, “to join.” Meanwhile the word “religion” derives from the Latin verb “religare”, meaning “to tie”, “to bind together.” In both cases you connect to God or some other invisible forces that interact with you. So at very least it would be illogical to state that yoga is not religious as the words “religion” and “yoga” are almost synonyms. The problem is that people seldom take the trouble to grasp the hidden meaning of words.

Websites dedicated to yoga often contain quotations from the Gospel and portray Christ as a yogi. This “message” is addressed to the nominal, unchurched “Orthodox” who make up the vast majority in Russia.

According to the statistics, between seventy and eighty percent of Russian residents call themselves Orthodox; those who take Communion at least once a year make up less than thirty per cent; and the true children of the Church, who know the Creed by heart, are fully integrated into Church life, and regularly take Communion make up less than five per cent.

Of course, yogis make use of some similar element in Christian teaching and the teaching of yoga to attract these “liberal faithful” who consider themselves Christians and may sincerely want to be followers of Christ, wear crosses on their necks, but know virtually nothing about Christ and His Church.

The question of the key difference between Orthodoxy and yoga really concerned me after my visit to the Monastery of St. Paphnutius in Borovsk. I kept asking the spiritual fathers there: “May I practice yoga? Why is it a bad idea?” While they answered the first question with confidence, they skirted the second one. So I wanted to find out the truth for myself.

It eventually became the subject of my seminary thesis and even developed into the book, An Orthodox Perspective on Yoga, which was published by the Simvolik publishing house not long ago.

On the face of it, yoga’s ethical principles are very similar to the commandments of the Bible. Thus, the principle of Ahimsa (“not to injure”, “nonviolence”) seems to be equivalent to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” Brahmacharya (“continence”) is consonant with the commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Asteya (“non-stealing”) is in harmony with the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.”

But this is what the Holy Hierarch Gregory Palamas said about similarities like these: “A lie that is not far from the truth gives rise to a double delusion. Since a tiny difference escapes the majority’s notice, they either take the lie for the truth or, on account of its closeness to the lie, take the truth for the lie, in both cases completely falling away from the truth.”

These words are true about Christianity and yoga: The difference becomes manifest when you make it as simple and clear as you can.

Yoga has no principle of humility at all, though this fact is often overlooked. Yogis will argue with this statement, but the collections of Yoga Sutras, the main sources of yoga, don’t say a single word about humility, whereas in Christianity the commandment of humility is the greatest one. Blessed are the poor in spirit (Mt. 5:3) – the Savior’s Sermon on the Mount begins with these words. No virtue has any value without humility.

From personal communication with adherents of yoga whom I held in respect I was convinced that the absence of pride is fine for yogis, but they won’t need it until they reach the “spiritual heights.”

While they are on their way “to the top”, they need to be motivated by pride (among other things) to speed up their progress. Thus ego becomes an “engine of progress.” Although humility is essential, they will first “achieve holiness” and then get rid of their pride. But will they succeed?

That is why Christians start with humility, relying on the will of God and not their own will.

However, someone can argue and say that while pride moves you to pursue new goals over and over again, traditional yogis aim to reach nothingness—a goal that seemingly has nothing to do with pride.

It should be stressed that classical yoga no longer exists—one won’t find it, not only in Europe, but also in India, the motherland of this teaching. I concede that there may be two or three gurus in the Himalayas preaching “true yoga”, though that is very unlikely.

As a matter of fact, yoga is a motley collection of various schools and tendencies. Some of them do understand that gaining supernatural powers feeds your pride and hinders your spiritual growth. Then the question arises: when do the Yoga Sutras devote so much attention (a special section) to these supernatural abilities?

Back in the 1960s, the documentary, “Indian Yogis, Who Are They?” was released in the USSR. Its authors presented yoga as a philosophy, a moral teaching, and health and fitness gymnastics. This film contributed to the popularization of yoga in the Soviet society, as did some publications in Soviet popular science magazines, The Razor’s Edge science fiction novel by the Soviet writer Ivan Yefremov (1907-1972), along with a number of other arts and cultural events in the Soviet Union.

And what is interesting is that the modern sequel of that film, “Indian Yogis, Who Are They? Forty Years Later”, tells the viewers plainly that yoga “is a tool for awakening of your energy potential and obtaining super-normal powers.” Formerly this side of yoga was not emphasized, but it is obvious that today this way of advertising yoga works.

Man wants to become like God. It is a matter of the path he chooses. If Adam had obeyed the commandment of God, he would have remained immortal and with time could have become like God, cultivating and caring for the Garden of Eden with which God had entrusted him and growing in love. But Adam preferred the easy path, namely “to become like gods”, by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was “magic”, something that was not blessed by God and “outside” God.

Many people see yoga precisely as entering the spiritual world “from the backdoor.” They think: “In Christianity I am obliged to obey the moral commandments, keep the fasts, go to church and so on. But why? I would rather go to a yoga center, perform asanas and pranayamas, and will get what I need!”

Nevertheless, I do hope that one way or another the Lord will bring the yogis who sincerely seek Him to His Church, the only ark of salvation. I believe that even committed adherents of yoga have simply strayed from the right path while searching for the true God. I have a feeling that many of them may become devout members of the Holy Church. After all, they are seekers of God and are not lukewarm (cf. Rev. 3:15-16).

The main area of divergence between Christianity and yoga is dogmas. What is a dogma for the majority? It is something the Church calls on them to believe in, while giving no proof of it. But yogis have their own dogmas, something they unconditionally believe in, too. And their basic tenets are very different from Christian ones.

Though it is hard to perceive it, Christians confess the faith in the God Who is one in essence and three in personhood: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—the Consubstantial and Undivided Trinity. He is the Triune, One, Personal God. It is extremely difficult for Christians to comprehend the mystery of the Trinity, to say nothing of yogis and Hindus, for many of whom the Supreme Being cannot be personal. Hindus recognize the existence of rational spiritual beings and even refer to some of them as to “gods”, yet they see the absolute, Brahman, as impersonal.

The concept of reincarnation that is prevalent among yogis contradicts all the Christological dogmas and is in opposition to the Christian doctrine that life is given to us only once, and it will be followed by death, resurrection, and judgment (cf. Heb. 9:27).

The Holy Church has never raised this very important idea to a dogma because there has never been a slightest doubt about this in the minds of Christians. The first argument that proponents of reincarnation usually put forward is that the belief in metempsychosis is widely spread and its origins allegedly date back to ancient times. They contend that “Christianity appeared only 2,000 years ago, whereas people had believed in transmigration of the soul for thousands of years before Christ was born.”

However, insofar as we can judge from surviving monuments, neither (traditional) ancient Greeks nor ancient Romans believed in reincarnation. We can trace back their beliefs concerning afterlife from their mythology, the earliest monuments of which go back to the time of Homer and Hesiod [c. 750 B.C.].

According to them, after death people descend to the underground kingdom—a dark place known as Hades, Erebus, and Tartarus in different traditions—where they drag out a “shadowy”, joyless, miserable existence. In fact the idea of metempsychosis didn’t appear until the time of Pythagoras and Plato (that is, the sixth to fourth centuries B.C.) and it was adopted only by some representatives of a number of schools of philosophy.

Ancient Egyptians mummified the corpses of dead people, hoping that in the future their souls would be reunited to their bodies.

Ancient Hebrews believed in the resurrection of physical bodies as well, as evidenced by the famous prophecies of Ezekiel about the valley of dry bones, which will be joined together and come to life again (see Ezek. 37:1-14); the prophecy of Isaiah about the rising of dead bodies (Is. 26:19); and the prophecy in the Book of Job about the restoration of bodies from dust (Job 19:25-27).

Thus, neither ancient Egyptian books nor the books of the Old Testament mention transmigration of the soul.

We can judge the Christian attitude towards incarnation by the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus: And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom (Lk. 16:22-23).

The narrator, our Lord Jesus Christ, made it clear that after death human souls don’t transmigrate from one body to another; rather, as St. Nicholas (Velimirovich) of Serbia said, “They proceed to the abodes that they have deserved by their deeds on earth.”

Interestingly, the notion of metempsychosis didn’t exist among the ancestors of Aryan people either. At least the Rig-Veda [the oldest and principal of the Vedas, composed in the second millennium B.C. and containing a collection of hymns in early Sanskrit] has no mention of rebirth.

Let us once again return to the question of the purpose of life. The ultimate goal of Hinduism is to stop suffering, while Christians aspire to everlasting and happy life with God. The idea of theosis (union with God) which is central in Orthodox Christianity is based on awareness that both God and man are persons. Given this, our union with the Creator by no means implies that we are becoming a part of His body or a cell in His organism. Rather, we can potentially contemplate God and be in communion with Him.

But someone will surely exclaim: “I don’t care about philosophy, religious systems and other intricacies! I am interested in yoga solely as a set of physical exercises and a fitness training system which give a practical result! Can I practice yoga as mere exercises?”

The point is that yoga is not limited to only physical exercises. The fact is that when you come to a yoga center, you not only begin to train your body and practice yoga poses, but you also should be prepared for “expanding your consciousness” through special exercises, breathing exercises and meditation. Yoga practice presupposes mandatory meditation.

Can we practice yoga without all this “spirituality”? Yes, we can, but it won’t be yoga in this case. There are numerous similar types of exercises directed towards increased flexibility, muscular strength, and organism’s resistance to pathogens—in a word, towards health improvement. What about Pilates, stretching, and so on? If you are interested exclusively in physical training, you’d better opt for one of these instead of falling for yoga with its “spirituality”, which smells like sulfur…

The Russian original of this article was translated Dmitry Lapa, courtesy of Orthodox Christianity.

The photo shows the goddess Chhinnamasta, with his severed head. She is the essence of the yogic force, kundalini. The painting, in the Pahari style, dates to ca. 1750.

How Many Russians Died In WWII?

It is clear that during the most horrendous war in the history of mankind, the USSR suffered greater losses than any other country – but the exact number of victims remains disputed.

In 1946, reacting to Winston Churchill’s Fulton speech that marked the start of the Cold War, Joseph Stalin mentioned the Great Patriotic War (how Russians refer to the war with Nazi Germany) and stated that “as a result of the German invasion, the Soviet Union irrevocably lost… around 7 million people.” That was the first ever official Soviet stance on war casualties. And it was fake news.

“In fact, Stalin had knowledge of the other statistical data: 15 million casualties. This number was contained in a report delivered to him in early 1946, by the commission led by The State Planning Committee’s president Nikolai Voznesensky,” Professor Viktor Zemskov of the Institute of Russian History notes. Zemskov supposes that Stalin was eager to hide the real scale of losses from both the Soviet citizens and the world – in order not to show the USSR as a state weakened by the war.

Nevertheless, the official 7-million estimate of casualties didn’t last long, as most Soviet people believed that number to be too low. In 1965, Nikita Khrushchev, who succeeded Stalin as USSR’s leader, mentioned a higher number: 20 million. Essentially, this is the number that became the official evaluation for the rest of the Soviet era – Leonid Brezhnev adhered to it too, but added “more than” to the 20 million casualties.

Both Khrushchev and Brezhnev used the phrase “the war cost the country…” to lump everyone together, not separating those who died in the battlefield, victims of German occupation, those who starved to death, etc.

After the dissolution of the USSR, the estimate grew again. According to the latest statements that Russian authorities officially acknowledge, overall losses (both among soldiers and civilians) amounted to 26,6 million people. That’s the official evaluation of the losses today (in 2019) – at least, it’s the number Russian state officials mention on Victory day, commemorations and so on.

While dealing with those numbers, they didn’t take the whole World War II into account, but rather only the war between the USSR and Nazi Germany between 1941-1945, excluding the Soviet operations between 1939-1941 (the invasion of Poland and the Winter War with Finland) and the Soviet-Japanese war of 1945. 

Another important nuance is that the official estimate, given by the Ministry of Defence in 2015, separates the number of losses (26,6 million people) into the two following categories:

– Around 12 million soldiers were killed in the battlefield, captured (not having returned) or gone missing.

– The rest (approximately 14,6 million people) were civilians who died in the occupation zones, were forcefully moved to Germany (and did not come back) or lost their lives to starvation, illnesses and so on. 

The 26,6 million estimate of losses clearly is official (as of now), but far from being the only one. Though the Great Patriotic War ended almost 75 years ago, the war of numbers still goes on, with different historians proposing different ways to measure the number of losses. 

On the one hand, from time to time occurring versions suggest even bigger losses than the official estimate. For instance, in 2017, Nikolai Zemtsov, Deputy of the Russian State Duma, stated that “the USSR irrevocably lost almost 42 million people due to [the Great Patriotic] war factors.” That version, however, is very doubtful – Zemtsov included in that enormous number not only people who actually died, but children who were not born due to the war – which is incorrect, as professional demographers state. 

On the other hand, there are opinions that suggest 26,6 million is already an overestimation. In his 2015 article, Viktor Zemskov suggested that the estimation of war casualties (11,5 – 12 million) is correct, but the number of civilian losses due to war factors includes too many people: “Such statistics include the increased mortality in the Soviet home front because of malnutrition, overburdening work and so on… I disagree with such an approach.” 

According to Zemskov, it is too hard to distinguish between deaths caused by war and natural reasons in this case – so to be more precise, historians should have only included in the number of civilian deaths caused by war, i.e. those killed directly by Germans, by bombardments, those who died during the Siege of Leningrad – that amounts to 4,5 million victims. Combined with actual war casualties, that gives us 16 million people. Nevertheless, official statistics embrace a larger number of people.

While the argument on the evaluation methods can go on forever, one thing is undeniable: during the Great Patriotic War, the USSR lost a great number of people – strong and passionate men and women in their prime – but it saved the world from German Nazism. The price of victory was terrible, but the price of defeat would have been unthinkable.

Oleg Yegerov writes for Russia Beyond.

The photo shows, “A Nameless Height,” by Alexey and Sergei Tkachev, painted latter part of the twentieth-century.

Nahum The Carpenter: The Sixteenth Epistle

The boys were happy their parents were considering moving from just outside Jerusalem into the country.

The raids by the Romans on the Jews in Jerusalem were escalating, with some people predicting a complete devastation of Jerusalem if the new Roman emperor had his way. People were very scared and helpless against the powerful Roman army.

Interestingly, the new Jesus people, Christians, were not bothered as much by the Romans, but unfortunately some Jewish followers were angry at the Christians for believing in this man Jesus and forgetting their Jewish beliefs. Some Jews were hunting, persecuting, torturing and killing the Christians.

Jesus had taught his new followers this was going to happen: You suffer because of me if you follow me.

One of Jesus apostles wrote this: You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.

So they were mentally prepared to suffer for their beliefs, but like any human being they preferred to live happy safe lives so it made sense to try and avoid trouble as much as possible.

Ruth and Nahum did not know it yet, but they were in for another surprise!

Hannah, who liked to joke and tease Ezekiel, told him she wanted to furnish the spare bedroom. He asked why, were they going to have company?? She replied, yes in about five months. He said how do you know that far in advance who is coming, and how many?? She said as far as I know only one, but you never know? He was just on the verge of getting upset with her when she went over, put her arms around him and said we are having a baby!

Ezekiel was overcome with emotions and had to sit down. Hannah said to him you better be stronger than this when our baby arrives, you will have lots of work to do!!!

The boys had been looking for a place for their parents to move to, but so far had no success.

Back at home Ruth and Nahum had put a small sign on their front lawn HOUSE FOR SALE. They didn’t expect to get many responses considering the Jewish people were living under constant fear of raids by the Romans.

After two months of absolutely no action they decided they would board the home up and move away.

Nahum visited The Banker next day and got his approval to put the Banker on the For Sale sign as contact. He would expect a fee, of course. Nahum agreed.

The couple then started packing and getting rid of years of accumulation. They donated many items to local charities and some friends who could use some of their household items.

Meanwhile, back at The Medical Centre just as she closed the clinic, Hannah was surprised to see her father, Jonah, jump down from his horse, she was afraid something was wrong. No, on the contrary, I would like to chat with you for few minutes, can I follow you home and you can make me tea? of course his daughter said anytime for you Daddy.

Once settled, Jonah started to tell his daughter why he was there. He said, Hannah as you know your mother and I are now alone in our home, you, your sister and brother have all moved out and we have three bedrooms collecting dust. Hannah wondered where this was going? He said your mother mentioned the other day that Ruth and Nahum want to move closer to their two boys and the businesses and she wondered if they might be interested in staying with us until they sell their home and find another one? Hannah, oh Daddy, I am so pleasantly surprised at your offer. We never would have thought to ask you, but it makes to much sense.

They discussed the idea a bit more, Jonah explained that they would make an opening between two of the bedrooms, providing a dining area and a separate sitting room. The third room would be the bedroom.

The one problem would be the kitchen, Ruth would have to share it with Abigail. Jonah went on to explain that Ruth and Abigail had been friends for years, and while they were both similar in personalities, both very confident and independent, they were also loving and caring. They thought these last two attributes would allow the two ladies to work together in the kitchen. The couples could decide to eat together or separately and probably a bit of both.

Hannah was so excited and hugged her dad, big time. She said I can’t wait for Zeke to get home to tell him.

Her dad returned the hug and with a kiss said good bye and mounted his horse.

When Ezekiel arrived home a short while later, Hannah, who was in a very good mood, met him at the door and greeted him more warmly than usual! Ezekiel was well aware of his wife’s expressive nature and said, ok, what is going on here now??? Hannah, in her teasing manner said, oh Zeke why would you ask that? He replied because you have that devilish twinkle in your eyes!

She then told him of her father’s visit and offer. Ezekiel said, I can see now why you are so happy, now I am too. Would you mind delaying dinner for a few minutes, I just have to go and tell Ezzie, I won’t be long.

He returned and told Hannah they were going to go visit her parents’ tomorrow and then if everything looked good, they would ride to his parents and tell them the good news.

It was a happy night for both Ezzie and Zeke and their ladies!

The photo shows, “The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70,” by David Roberts, painted in 1850.