Montag, 20. April 2009

Orthodox Pascha in Dachau

Taken from Ora et Labora:

The [following] account, by the late Gleb Rahr (+2006), tells the story of the celebration of Pascha at Dachau shortly after its liberation in 1945. It is among the most extraordinarily moving things I've ever read. It's been posted on a good number of websites and blogs, but I can't help but reproduce it once again. The photograph below depicts the interior of the Russian Orthodox chapel in Dachau, which the author mentions. Notice in particular the large icon behind the Holy Table.

This is my father's account of how he celebrated the feast in 1945.

The last transport of prisoners arrives from Buchenwald. Of the 5,000 originally destined for Dachau, I was among the 1,300 who had survived the trip. Many were shot, some starved to death, while others died of typhus...

April 28th: I and my fellow prisoners can hear the bombardment of Munich taking place some 30 km from our concentration camp. As the sound of artillery approaches ever nearer from the west and the north, orders are given proscribing prisoners from leaving their barracks under any circumstances. SS-soldiers patrol the camp on motorcycles as machine guns are directed at us from the watch-towers, which surround the camp.

April 29th: The booming sound of artillery has been joined by the staccato bursts of machine gun fire. Shells whistle over the camp from all directions. Suddenly white flags appear on the towers—a sign of hope that the SS would surrender rather than shoot all prisoners and fight to the last man. Then, at about 6:00 p.m., a strange sound can be detected emanating from somewhere near the camp gate which swiftly increases in volume...

Finally all 32,600 prisoners join in the cry as the first American soldiers appear just behind the wire fence of the camp. After a short while electric power is turned off, the gates open and the American GIs make their entrance. As they stare wide-eyed at our lot, half-starved as we are and suffering from typhus and dysentery, they appear more like fifteen-year-old boys than battle-weary soldiers...

An international committee of prisoners is formed to take over the administration of the camp. Food from SS-stores is put at the disposal of the camp kitchen. A US military unit also contributes some provision, thereby providing me with my first opportunity to taste American corn. By order of an American officer radio-receivers are confiscated from 'prominent Nazis' in the town of Dachau and distributed to the various national groups of prisoners. The news come in: Hitler has committed suicide, the Russians have taken Berlin, and German troops have surrendered in the South and in the North. But the fighting still rages in Austria and Czechoslovakia...

Naturally, I was ever cognizant of the fact that these momentous events were unfolding during Holy Week. But how could we mark it, other than through our silent, individual prayers? A fellow-prisoner and chief interpreter of the International prisoner's committee, Boris F., paid a visit to my typhus-infested barrack 'Block 27' to inform me that efforts were underway in conjunction with the Yugoslav and Greek National Prisoner's Committees to arrange an Orthodox service for Easter day, May 6th.

There were Orthodox priests, deacons and a group of monks from Mount Athos among the prisoners. But there were no vestments, no books whatsoever, no icons, no candles, no prosphoras, no wine...

Efforts to acquire all these items from the Russian parish in Munich failed, as the Americans just could not locate anyone from that parish in the devastated city. Nevertheless, some of the problems could be solved: The approximately 400 Catholic priests detained in Dachau had been allowed to remain together in one barrack and recite mass every morning before going to work. They offered us Orthodox the use of their prayer room in 'Block 26', which was just across the road from my own 'block'. The chapel was bare, save for a wooden table and a Czenstochowa icon of the Theotokos hanging on the wall above the table—an icon which had originated in Constantinople and was later brought to Belz in Galicia, where it was subsequently taken from the Orthodox by a Polish king. When the Russian Army drove Napoleon's troops from Czenstochowa, however, the abbot of the Czenstochowa Monastery gave a copy of the icon to Tsar Alexander I, who placed it in the Kazan Cathedral in Saint-Petersburg where it was venerated until the Bolshevik seizure of power. A creative solution to the problem of the vestments was also found. New linen towels were taken from the hospital of our former SS-guards. When sewn together lengthwise, two towels formed an epitrachilion and when sewn together at the ends they became an orarion. Red crosses, originally intended to be worn by the medical personnel of the SS-guards, were put on the towel-vestments.

On Easter Sunday, May 6th (April 23rd according to the Church calendar),—which ominously fell that year on Saint George the Victory-Bearer's Day, Serbs, Greeks and Russians gathered at the Catholic Priests barrack. Although Russians comprised about 40 percent of the Dachau inmates, only a few managed to attend the service. By that time 'repatriation officers' of the special 'Smersh' units had arrived in Dachau by American military planes, and begun the process of erecting new lines of barbed wire for the purpose of isolating Soviet citizens from the rest of the prisoners, which was the first step in preparing them for their eventual forced repatriation. In the entire history of the Orthodox Church there has probably never been an Easter service like the one at Dachau in 1945. Greek and Serbian priests together with a Serbian deacon adorned the make-shift 'vestments' over their blue and gray-striped prisoners uniforms. Then they began to chant, changing from Greek to Slavonic, and then back again to Greek. The Easter Canon, the Easter Sticheras—everything was recited from memory. The Gospel—'In the beginning was the Word'—also from memory.

And finally, the Homily of Saint John Chrysostom—also from memory. A young Greek monk from the Holy Mountain stood up in front of us and recited it with such infectious enthusiasm that we shall never forget him as long as we live. Saint John Chrysostomos himself seemed to speak through him to us and to the rest of the world as well! Eighteen Orthodox priests and one deacon—most of whom were Serbs, participated in this unforgettable service. Like the sick man who had been lowered through the roof of a house and placed in front of the feet of Christ the Saviour, the Greek Archimandrite Meletios was carried on a stretcher into the chapel, where he remained prostrate for the duration of the service.

The priests who participated in the 1945 Dachau Easter service are commemorated at every Divine Service held in the Dachau Russian Orthodox Memorial Chapel, along with all Orthodox Christians, who lost their lives 'at this place, or at another place of torture' ('na meste sem i v inykh mestakh mucheniya umuchennykh i ubiennykh'). The Dachau Resurrection-Chapel, which was constructed by a unit of the Russian Army's Western Group of Forces just before their departure from Germany in August, 1994, is an exact replica of a North-Russian 'tent-domed' (Shatrovyie) church or chapel. Behind the altar-table of the chapel is a large icon depicting angels opening the gates of the Dachau concentration camp and Christ Himself leading the prisoners to freedom. Today I would like to take the opportunity to ask you, Orthodox Christians all over the world, to pass on the names of fellow Orthodox who were imprisoned and died here in Dachau or in other Nazi concentration camps so that we can include them in our prayers. Should you ever come to Germany, be sure to visit our Russian Chapel on the site of the former concentration camp in Dachau and pray for all those who died 'at this place, or at another place of torture'.

Khristos voskrese! Christos anesti! Christ has risen! El Messieh Qahm!

Christus ist auferstanden!

Sonntag, 19. April 2009

Ein frohe Osterbegrüßung!

Christus ist auferstanden!

Er ist wahrhaftig auferstanden!

Freitag, 17. April 2009

Good Friday in Germany

From this informative page:

The German name for Good Friday (Karfreitag) comes from the Old High German form kara, which has the same meaning as the English word 'care'. This gives the meaning of 'Sorrowful Friday to the day when Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is also known as 'Quiet Friday' (Stiller Freitag) for obvious reasons. On this very solemn day no church bells are rung in Roman Catholic churches. Some children believe that the bells are sent to Rome at this special time to be consecrated. Consequently the male members of the communities make up for the lack of noise with the 'Good Friday rattles' - in appearance rather like football rattle - which not only provide them with pleasurable task of making a lot of noise but also summon the villagers church services. In Swabia a loud-mouthed person is rebuked with saying: 'You have a mouth like a Good Friday rattle' (Dui hot e Meul wie e Karfreitigrätsch).

In former times there were far more restrictions on individual behaviour on this day of mourning than there are today. The drinking of alcohol was strictly forbidden in order to bring to mind the fact that Jesus Christ was thirsty whilst on the Cross. No one was allowed to kill an animal and the blacksmith was not allowed to use either hammer or nails, since these were employed in the Crucifixion. In some homes the crockery which had been specially polished during the Green Thursday spring clean was kept covered up in baskets until Easter Saturday, since it was considered unfitting for anything sparkling to be on view on Good Friday.There are special church services on Good Friday, some lasting for three hours, and Bach's St. Matthew's Passion is performed in many churches. Passion Plays used to be popular on Good Friday but are rarely performed today. The Passion Play in the Eifel mountains was banned around the year 1800, because it was considered to have become too worldly and to be too distracting. Many families eat the familiar Lenten food on Good Friday, choosing fish in preference to eggs or meat, and in some areas the bread eaten on Good Friday has the sign of the cross marked on the crust. Twigs from the sloe tree and buchthorn are sometimes brought into the house as an Easter decoration, reminding the householders of the crown of thorns which Jesus Christ was made to wear. Furthermore, a symbol of new life and future growth is to be found in the blossoms the branches bear, in the same way as Jesus Christ in his resurrection was the first fruit of believers.

Montag, 13. April 2009

Göttingen Scholar to speak on Syriac Christianity

The Canadian Society for Syriac Studies is hosting Professor Martin Tamcke of Göttingen University, Germany. His presentation is entitled

The Correspondence between Mar Thoma V of India and Professor Karl Schaaf (18th Century)

8 pm: Wednesday April 15, 2009
Hosted at the University of Toronto's
Koffler Institute for Pharmacy Management
Room 108, 569 Spadina Avenue
University of Toronto

Karl Schaaf (1646-1729) was a professor of Aramaic and Syriac and was responsible for a series of definitive lexicons and grammatical works on the Syriac language. Schaaf also corresponded with the Syriac Bishop of Malabar.

Donnerstag, 9. April 2009

Orthodox German: Hieromonk Clement (Sederholm)

Thanks to Ручьёв of the Incendiary blog, I have found a book I have long been looking for. Of course, it's in Russian - which I don't read - but I at least know that the book has been published in this century rather than the turn of the last (like, 1902).

Православный немец. Иеромонах Климент (Зедергольм) [Orthodox German: Hieromonk Clement (Sederholm)] was published in 2005 by Московское подворье Свято-Введенской Оптиной Пустыни [the Moscow dependency of the Holy-Entry Optina Hermitage].

It contains letters to his father (a Lutheran pastor, thus my interest), two biographies of Fr. Clement (one of which was written by Konstantin Leontiev and is available online here and here [also, John Hogg has begun an English translation of it in the combox here]) and six other articles of his. Two works of his have appeared in English - Elder Leonid of Optina and Elder Anthony of Optina - both published by St. Herman Press.

I am eager to see this text translated into English and would be thankful for any help at all in even a rough translation into English.

I shall also append Leonard Stanton's brief overview of Fr Clement's life in his wonderful book, The Optina Pustyn Monastery in the Russian Literary Imagination (NY: Peter Lang, 1995), p. 152:

The author [of the Life of Elder Leonid of Optina], Karl (later Father Kliment) Zedergol'm, died in 1878, before Dostoevsky's last visit to Optina. Zedergol'm was a cantakerous man of great culture and learning. He was at home both in a monastic setting and in the inner circles of Russia's literary beau monde. He graduated in classics from Moscow University in 1853, having written a master's thesis on Cato the Elder that [Konstantin] Leont'ev, his biographer, called both stimulating and controversial. In the same year, Zedergol'm converted from Lutheranism to Orthodoxy. (His father was the head Lutheran pastor in Moscow at the time.) Zedergol'm was at home in the brilliant Moscow salons, particularly Mrs Elagin's with its erudite ferment of German Romantic thought and Slavophilism. He was a protégé of Ivan Vasil'evich Kireevskii, Russia's first original philosopher, and counted among the friends of his youth some of the leading lights of the Moscow literary intelligentsia, including Tertii Filippov and the 'young editors' of The Muscovite. After a brief career as a layman working in the Holy Synod, Zedergol'm entered Optina Pustyn in 1862 and soon became a monk and a priest as well. He was never himself an elder, nor was he possessed of a sufficiently irenic disposition ever to have been considered for elderhood. He devoted himself to literary endeavors at Optina, as a translator of spiritual works from Latin and Greek into Russian, as the author of the elders' biographies, and as secretary to Elder Amvrosii.

Mittwoch, 8. April 2009

St Rupert of Salzburg

Today, 27 March on the old Orthodox calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Rupert (c. 660-718), Bishop of Salzburg (other forms of his name are Ruprecht, Hrodperht, Hrodpreht, Roudbertus, Rudbertus, and Robert). According to one Life of St Rupert:

He was gentle and chaste, simple and prudent, devout in praise of God, full of the Holy Spirit. He was also circumspect in his decisions and righteous in his judgement. He possessed great spiritual discernment, and his good deeds formed his flock into true images of Christ, for he inspired them not only with his words, but by the example of his works. He often kept vigil, weakened himself with fasting, and adorned his works with compassion. He gave away his riches that the poor might not go hungry, believing himself to be one who should clothe the naked and help the destitute.
Traditionally believed to have been one of the Merovingians, very little is known about St Rupert’s early life. At some point he was a made Bishop of Worms, a position he held until about 697, when he was invited by Duke Theodo II to Bavaria to do missionary work. St Rupert was greeted by the Duke at Regensberg, and ‘set out immediately on a journey along the Danube, preaching in towns and villages as far as Hungary’ (Butler’s Lives of the Saints, New Full Edition: March, rev. Teresa Rodrigues [Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1999], p. 261). He went to Lorch, and built a church dedicated to St Peter on the Wallersee, later becoming the town of Seekirchen.

At St Rupert’s own request, Duke Theodo gave him about two square miles of the old ruined Roman town of Juvavum. According to the previously quoted Life:

Some very reliable men came to the blessed hierarch and told him of an amazing phenomenon which had taken place when they had gone into an unnamed wilderness area now called Bongotobum (Pongau). Three or four times they had seen heavenly lights shining like bright lamps in the sky and they had also experienced a wonderful fragrance in the same place. The pious bishop sent the priest Domingus to Bongotobum because of the reports which he received concerning these lights. It was his desire that the priest would verify the authenticity of these wonders by erecting in that location a wooden cross which the holy one had made and blessed with his own hands. When Domingus arrived, he at once began the First Hour with the monks who had come with him. They saw a bright heavenly light which descended from the sky and lit up the entire region with the brightness of the sun. Domingus saw this vision on three nights in a row, and experienced the wondrous fragrance as well. He erected the blessed cross in that place, and it was miraculously transported to a spot above the dwelling of St Rupert, confirming the truthfulness of what had been reported to him! St Rupert took word of the miraculous occurrence to Theodo and then he himself went into the wilderness to the very spot, and seeing that it was suitable for habitation, began to cut down aged oaks and brought in building materials that he might build a church with dwellings for a monastic community.

Here he built a church and monastery dedicated to St Peter (the Archabbey of St Peter), which St Rupert himself served as abbot, as well as a women’s monastery dedicated to the Theotokos (Nonnberg Abbey), and where he installed his niece, St Erentrude, as abbess. Both are still functioning monasteries under the Benedictine rule, and the latter was made famous as the monastery of Maria von Trapp’s novitiate. St Rupert is said to have encouraged the development of salt mining at his new see, and it is from this industry that the city acquired the name by which it is still known today: Salzburg, or ‘Salt castle’ (I have blogged about this beautiful city a little bit before, in connection with St Rupert’s successor, St Vergilius). For this reason, St Rupert is often depicted holding a container of salt (see here, for instance).

Despite his attachment to a particular see, St Rupert continued to travel throughout the area, ‘preaching the Faith and founding many other churches and monasteries’, until finally, ‘After a life of strenuous activity he left his helpers to carry on the work and returned to Salzburg, certain that he was about to die. He died on Easter Sunday, probably between 710 and 720’ (Butler, p. 262). According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

. . . [H]e died at Salzburg, aided by the prayers of his brethren in the order; his body reposed in the St Peterskirche until 24 September 774, when his disciple and successor, Abbot-Bishop St Virgil, had a portion of his remains removed to the cathedral. On 24 September 1628, these relics were interred by Archbishop Paris von Ladron (1619-54) under the high altar of the new cathedral. Since then the town and district of Salzburg solemnize the feast of St Rupert, Apostle of Bavaria and Carinthia, on 24 September.

One can read more about St Rupert in German here and here, and about Nonnberg Abbey here. The second link includes the following hymn for Ss Rupert and Vergilius:
Lied zum Fest der Heiligen Rupert und Virgil
Melodie: Gotteslob 639 (Ein Haus voll Glorie schauet)
Ein Jubellied erschalle,
dem heiligen Bischofspaar,
das hier in unserem Tale
einst Hirt und Lehrer war:
Singet Preis und Lob
Gott, der sie erhob
auf Salzburgs Bischofsthron
und uns zum Schutzpatron.

Sankt Rupert hat verkündet
das Evangelium,
den Bischofssitz gegründet
als Hort dem Christentum.
Gottes Wort und Macht
ist in dunkler Nacht
uns Schirm und unser Licht
bis Christi Tag anbricht.

Sankt Virgil trug die Lehre
des Glaubens in die Fern;
dass er das Land bekehre,
war Auftrag ihm vom Herrn.
Hütet Gottes Geist,
der den Weg uns weist,
dem Volk auf Pilgerfahrt,
das um das Kreuz sich schart.