28 February 2011

Maslenitsa: Cheesefare Week

Maslenitsa (Russian: Ма́сленица, Ukrainian: Ма́сляниця, Belarusian: Ма́сьленіца), also known as Butter Week, Pancake week, or Cheesefare Week, is a Russian religious and folk holiday. It is celebrated during the last week before Great Lent—that is, the seventh week before Pascha (Easter). Maslenitsa corresponds to the Western Christian Carnival, except that Orthodox Lent begins on a Monday instead of a Wednesday. The Orthodox date of Easter can differ greatly from the Western Christian date.

On the Christianity, Maslenitsa is the last week before the onset of Great Lent. During Maslenitsa week, meat is already forbidden to Orthodox Christians, making it a myasopustnaya nedelya (Russian: мясопустная неделя, English "meat-empty week" or "meat-fast week"). It is the last week during which milk, cheese and other dairy products are permitted, leading to its other name of "Cheese-fare week" or "Butter week". During Lent, meat, fish, dairy products and eggs are forbidden. Furthermore, Lent also excludes parties, secular music, dancing and other distractions from the spiritual life. Thus, Maslenitsa represents the last chance to partake of dairy products and those social activities that are not appropriate during the more prayerful, sober and introspective Lenten season.

The most characteristic food of Maslenitsa is bliny (Russian pancakes), popularly taken to symbolize the sun. Round and golden, they are made from the rich foods still allowed by the Orthodox tradition: butter, eggs, and milk.

Maslenitsa also includes masquerades, snowball fights, sledding, riding on swings and plenty of sleigh rides. In some regions, each day of Maslenitsa had its traditional activity: one day for sleigh-riding, another for the sons-in-law to visit their parents-in-law, another day for visiting the godparents, etc. The mascot of the celebration is usually a brightly dressed straw effigy of Lady Maslenitsa, formerly known as Kostroma.

As the culmination of the celebration, on Sunday evening, Lady Maslenitsa is stripped of her finery and put to the flames of a bonfire. Any remaining blintzes are also thrown on the fire, and Lady Maslenitsa's ashes are buried in the snow (to "fertilize the crops").

Religiously, the beginning of Great Lent is traditionally tied to the beginning of Spring, an association found in the Greek Triodion (containing hymns for the Lenten season), going back to at least a century before the Baptism of Rus—thus having no connection with pagan Russian customs. The ancient hymns refer to the "Lenten Spring," a natural link because of the time of year during which Lent always occurs in the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The church services during this week are very similar to those served during Great Lent itself, though they are shorter. This is also the first time the Prayer of Saint Ephrem is said and the Divine Liturgy is forbidden on Wednesday and Friday (as it is on every weekday of Great Lent).

The last day of Cheesefare Week is called "Forgiveness Sunday", indicating the desire for God's forgiveness that lies at the heart of Great Lent. At Vespers on Sunday evening, all the people make a poklon (prostration) before one another and ask forgiveness, and thus Great Lent begins in the spirit of reconciliation and Christian love. Another name for Forgiveness Sunday is "Cheesefare Sunday," because for devout Orthodox Christians, it is the last day on which dairy products may be consumed until Pascha. Fish, wine, and olive oil will also be forbidden on most days of Great Lent. The day following Cheesefare Sunday is called Clean Monday, because everyone has confessed their sins, asked forgiveness, and begun Great Lent with a clean slate.

26 February 2011

Meatfare Sunday of the Last Judgment

The Sunday of the Last Judgment or Meatfare Sunday is the third Sunday using the Lenten Triodion, the liturgical book used in the services of Great Lent. It is the Sunday after the Sunday of the Prodigal Son and Sunday before Forgiveness Sunday (Cheesefare Sunday). This is the third week of the pre-Lenten start of the Paschal (Easter) cycle of worship in the Orthodox Church.

This Sunday is called Meatfare Sunday since it is traditionally the last day before Pascha (Easter) for eating meat. Orthodox Christians observe a fast from meat all week, but still eat dairy products and eggs till the start of Great Lent.

The Gospel reading this Sunday remembers Christ's parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). This adds to the previous pre-Lent Sundays and teaches that it is not enough to see Jesus, to see ourselves as we are, and to come home to God as his prodigal sons. The Church teaches that, in addition, one must also be God’s sons by following Christ, his only-begotten divine Son, and by seeing Christ in everyone and by serving Christ through them.

Salvation and final judgment will depend upon deeds, not merely on intentions or even on the mercies of God apart from personal cooperation and obedience. All piety and prayer is ultimately directed towards the goal of serving Christ through his people.

From the reading, the faithful hear:
… for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and in prison and you visited me. …. For truly I say to you, if you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me (Matthew 25).
The Christian Church has always taught from antiquity that there are two judgments: the first, or "Particular" Judgment, is that experienced by each individual at the time of his or her death, at which time God will decide where the soul is to spend the time until the Second Coming of Christ. This judgment is generally believed to occur on the fortieth day after death. The second, "General" or "Final" Judgment will occur after the Second Coming. Although in modern times some have attempted to introduce the concept of Soul sleep into Christian thought about life after death, it has never been a part of traditional Christian teaching—in fact, it contradicts the traditional understanding of the intercession of the Saints.

Salvation is bestowed by God as a free gift of Divine grace, which cannot be earned, and by which forgiveness of sins is available to all. However, the deeds done by each person is believed to affect how he will be judged, following the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. How forgiveness is to be balanced against behavior is not well-defined in scripture, judgment in the matter being solely Christ's. Similarly, although salvation is obtained only through Christ and His Church, the fate of those outside the Church at the Last Judgment is left to the mercy of God and is not declared.

The theme of the Last Judgment is extremely important in Orthodoxy. Traditionally, an Orthodox church will have a fresco or mosaic of the Last Judgment on the back (western) wall, so that the faithful, as they leave the services, are reminded that they will be judged by what they do during this earthly life.

The icon of the Last Judgement traditionally depicts Christ the Pantokrator, enthroned in glory on a white throne, surrounded by the Theotokos (Virgin Mary), John the Baptist, Apostles, saints and angels. Beneath the throne the scene is divided in half with the "mansions of the righteous" (John 14:2), i.e., those who have been saved to Jesus' right (the viewer's left); and the torments of those who have been damned to his left. Separating the two is the River of fire which proceeds from Jesus' left foot.

The theme of the Last Judgment is found in the funeral and memorial hymnody of the Church, and is a major theme in the services during Great Lent. The second Sunday before the beginning of Great Lent is dedicated to the Last Judgment. It is also found in the hymns of the Octoechos used on Saturdays throughout the year.
Kondakion (Tone 1)
When You, O God, shall come to earth with glory,
All things shall tremble
And the river of fire shall flow before Your judgment seat;
The books shall be opened and the hidden things disclosed!
Then deliver me from the unquenchable fire,
And make me worthy to stand at Your right hand, righteous Judge!

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12 February 2011

Why is American Football called "Football"?

Internationally, "Football" means Association Football or Soccer. The term "soccer" originated in England, first appearing in the 1880s as an Oxford "-er" abbreviation of the word "association". Personally, I think "Soccer" would have been a better name for American football, as it is all about socking (or sacking) the man with the ball. But the history of the name, still makes sense.

From Wikipedia:
The history of American football can be traced to early versions of rugby football and association football. Both games have their origins in varieties of football played in the United Kingdom in the mid-19th century, in which a ball is kicked at a goal and/or run over a line. Many games known as "football" were being played at colleges and universities in the United States in the first half of the 19th century.

American football resulted from several major divergences from rugby football, most notably the rule changes instituted by Walter Camp, considered the "Father of American Football". Among these important changes were the introduction of the line of scrimmage and of down-and-distance rules. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, game play developments by college coaches such as Eddie Cochems, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Knute Rockne, and Glenn "Pop" Warner helped take advantage of the newly introduced forward pass. 
The popularity of collegiate football grew as it became the dominant version of the sport for the first half of the twentieth century. Bowl games, a college football tradition, attracted a national audience for collegiate teams. Bolstered by fierce rivalries, college football still holds widespread appeal in the US. 
The origin of professional football can be traced back to 1892, with William "Pudge" Heffelfinger's $500 contract to play in a game for the Allegheny Athletic Association against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. The first Professional "league" was the Ohio League, formed in 1903, and the first Professional Football championship game was between the Buffalo Prospects and the Canton Bulldogs in 1919. In 1920, the American Professional Football Association was formed. The first game was played in Dayton, Ohio on October 3, 1920 with the host Triangles defeating the Columbus Panhandles 14–0. The league changed its name to the National Football League (NFL) two years later, and eventually became the major league of American football. Initially a sport of Midwestern industrial towns in the United States, professional football eventually became a national phenomenon. Football's increasing popularity is usually traced to the 1958 NFL Championship Game, a contest that has been dubbed the "Greatest Game Ever Played". A rival league to the NFL, the American Football League (AFL), began play in 1960; the pressure it put on the senior league led to a merger between the two leagues and the creation of the Super Bowl, which has become the most watched television event in the United States on an annual basis.

So that is why, in America, we call the greatest sport ever, "Football"!

10 February 2011

Now THAT Was a Super Bowl!

I could have not asked for a better Super Bowl. First the Green Bay Packers dominated, but after losing 3 of our best players, the Pittsburgh Steelers started to come back. In time, we returned and won the game after a lot of nail-biting minutes of play where it looked like it could go either way. Aaron Rodgers finally has stepped out from under the heavy weight of Brett Favre's shadow and become another franchise quarterback as only Titletown makes them! I hope and pray for a back-to-back championship for the Pack, just like Superbowl I and II under the leadership of quarterback extrodanaire, Bart Starr! In other Packers news, after the retirement of Brett Favre, Green Bay will still retire #4 in Brett Favre's honor. Does anyone else remember when Green Bay quarterback, Don Majkowski was supposed to be the next Bart Starr caliber quarterback like Favre and Rodgers have become?

06 February 2011

The Super Bowl: Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

So anyone who has known me or any length of time knows that ever since I was about 2 years old, the Green Bay Packers has always been my favorite team. The team of great quarterbacks like Starr #15, Majkowski #7, Favre #4, and now Rodgers #12. I had a sweet Green Bay Packers pennant, trash can, locker, etc. as a boy. I recently got a new simple t-shirt to replace one that got thrown out in error. One I used to always wear with my gold corduroy pants.

Anyway, back to the game. This was the exact match up I wanted all season, although it seemed unlikely to happen. My favorite team, the Green bay Packers, playing my favorite player, Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Now that my previous #1 football player, Brett Favre has really retired).

So while my heart of hearts wants Green Bay to win, I can stomach a loss to Pittsburgh. But please do not let that happen!
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