Today is the feast day of St. Macarius of Egypt. At least with the Eastern Orthodox. I don't believe the RCC recognizes him as a saint. He is one of the men who followed St. Anthony into the desert that we talked about in the last episode, and he became one of the greatest men. He lived until he was 90, dying in 390, making him a younger contemporary of St. Anthony the Great.
It's odd that the Eastern Orthodox Church really seems to celebrate the desert saints in January. The RCC calendar also appears to put a few desert saints in January. I mean, it's not hot outside, like it is in the desert.
But is it odd? No, not at all. It's in January that the northern hemispheres are most like the desert. If you can keep warm enough, there's a wonder of silence out there that we all crave at some level.
And people know it, even if they don't know they know it. I remember talking with an old childhood friend of mine who really got into ice fishing a few years ago. I was like, “What the frick. You go out there in that shanty, augur out a spot in the ice, drop a line and just sit there, hoping a fish bites? Sounds boring.” He was having none of it. “It's quiet, man. It's peaceful. I don't care if a single fish bites. I just like being out there.”
Amen to that.
Amen to yet another instance of the supernatural manifesting itself in something as mundane as ice fishing.
Silence is always a good thing, btw. It's one of the few things in the world that you can say that about. Of course, what you do in silence can be good or bad (cat burglar/pray), but dual-silence–both external and internal at the same time–is a situation we all ought to strive for as often as possible. It's as hard to get too much silence as it is to eat too many vegetables or to stretch too much. I guess it is possible at some level, but man, I wouldn't worry about it.
I should do whole podcast episodes on Russia. Man, it's a fascinating hodgepodge.
Russia came late to the Christianity game. Around 1000, making it the last European nation to convert, except maybe Finland. But then again, Russia came late to everything, whether because retarded by the Viking culture that swamped it in the late dark ages, I don't know. I mean, its three main cities and the cities around whom its cultural history revolves–Kiev, Moscow, St. Petersburg–were all founded late compared to other great cities (700s for Kiev, probably, Moscow 1100s, St. Petersburg 1700s).
BTW: Saints Cyril and Methodius. RCC and Christians in the west don't fully appreciate what they did. Missionaries. They translated the Bible into Slavic and spread Christianity throughout the Balkans and from there it went to Russia. No C and M, no JPII. No Poland as the last great bulward against the European Union and the Islamization of Europe today. An exaggeration? Maybe, but “what if” history is an impossible task.
A big physical thing happened in 1453 that had big metaphysical consequences in Russia: The Fall of the Byzantine Empire . . . the real fall of the Roman Empire. The Ottoman Empire took it down, which is really bizarre. If you get a chance, read about the fortification that was Constantinople. I don't remember all the details, but I remember one: a huge outer wall that was virtually insurmountable, and if you did get over it or under it or through it somehow, you were met by the “real” wall where you would die like a pig stuck in a pen as the defenders rained arrows, rocks, feces, and who knows what all on you.
The fact that the Ottoman Empire took it down speaks volumes about the greatness of the Ottoman Empire. What speaks even more volume? The fact that it's probably the single-most responsible agent for the mess that is the modern world. Its decline that led to its demise after WWI was responsible for the mess that was the Balkans throughout the 20th century and the mess that is the Middle East today.
When Constantinople fell, it sent shockwaves through Europe, including Russia. Russia's response? We are now the Third Rome. The timing was impeccable. Russia was entering its golden period, in the process of throwing off Mongol control of the past 200 years. They threw off the descendants of the Golden Horde. Great name. Not to be confused with the Golden Shower, for my postmodernist fans out there who want to invert the urine-soaked/not-urine-soaked binary.
The first Rome had fallen, according to the Russian Orthodox priest, because the RCC had lapsed into heresy. Then the second Rome, Constantinople, fell because of a compromise reached with the RCC at the Council of Florence in the 1430s (where, among other things, the Orthodox admitted that the Pope has certain prerogatives. And now Moscow and the Russian Orthodox Church would serve as Rome until the second coming of Christ.
The Russian emperor, or czar, was Caesar. Like the later Caesars and the Byzantine Emperors, he was protector of the Church, of Christendom. It was role they took seriously and inflated Russian pride. They would be the keepers of Christianity until the end of time. They are third in line. Everything comes in threes. Trinity.
This Russian self-proclaimed divine destiny had its secular counterpart. Manifest destiny. They actually thought it was their divine right/destiny to control all of Asia, from the north pole to the Indian Ocean.
As the Ottoman Empire declined, the Russian Empire eagerly swallowed up the gaps. Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries saw it as one of their primary duties to stop the Russians and resist their expansion at every point it could. The Russians were into the Middle Eastern game way before the U.S. got there.
Third Segment: Lightning Segments