Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Personal Experiences

Is veneration worship? // The Theology of Icons and the Incarnation of God the Logos  // Are holy icons ‘idols’? // The Icon of the Theotokos

Between the West and Islam
Five experiential scenes
by Nick Chiladakis,
Journalist - Author - Turkologist (*)



1) The huge indoor stadium, «Philips Arena» in Atlanta, Georgia in the USA, is filled with thousands of faithful who have their arms raised up high, while a large chorus dressed in red is chanting various hymns and "bewitching" the crowd.  The "great teacher of Christ", the renowned "healer", dressed in an obviously expensive white, glittery suit buttoned to the top, who is "blessing" his faithful "customers".  His facial complexion "glows", thanks to his wealthy, comfortable lifestyle.  The crowd is enthused at the sight of him, and many are crying, deeply touched. The orchestra on center-stage is directed by a chubby commentator who is also the great "teacher's" master of ceremonies.  The show begins.  Soon, the music stops and the healer begins his "miracles", before the awestruck audience.  The miscellaneous patients - many of them with crutches - hobble onto the stage, "bewitched", in order to display their adoration of the great "healer".  He, after giving them a sympathetic look, shouts out with conceit: "No more!"  He lifts up an invalid woman from her wheelchair, then gives her a thump on the forehead with his palm and she falls down, but.... miraculously, she recovers instantly! Ooooh !! What a huge miracle! the audience below is shouting ecstatically...   A show with miraculous cures, at the price of a... ticket.  All those who get onto the stage supposedly have an actual, serious health problem, but the "great, holy healer" gives all of them the same thump on the forehead (see image below); they all fall down and... are instantly healed.  Everyone in the audience is crying inconsolably, however, the chubby commentator is all smiles and is rubbing his hands with satisfaction.  Needless to say that not a single Christian Crucifix is anywhere to be seen. Near-death cases instantly begin to sprint like deer; cancer patients are aglow with health; the lame prance about like goats. However, because there was the danger of a very obese black woman falling down and breaking something, the healer's goons hurry to grab her in time, to break her fall. This is the notorious "healing apostle" of Christ - Benny Hinn - who has a vast fortune, including luxurious villas and terribly expensive cars with which he tours all over the world.   Come.... all ye gullible.


2) We are in the big, central mosque in Ankara, the Kocatepe Camisi.  This mosque began to be constructed in the sixties and was completed in 1987.  It is where all the official rituals take place, in the presence of the Turkish military and political leaders.  On that day, there was a religious function by one of the largest religious orders of Turkey - the Naskbendi - whose members are most of the ministers of the Erdogan government.  Women are prohibited.  The members of the order gather in the center of the mosque and form concentric circles. They wear long, brown "cassocks".  In the middle of the circles is the Sheikh who will be directing the dance.  The orchestra, which is comprised of huge tray-shaped drums, is on a gallery and soon begins beat out its monotonous rhythm.  The whirling dervishes (image below) at first begin to spin about gently. The Sheik watches them from the centre of the circle.  The rhythm soon speeds up, accelerates, and their moves become even faster.  The rhythm speeds up even more, and the dervishes are now swirling incessantly.  Some of them have by now fallen into a trance and have lost touch with reality.  Their bodies are now all moving in tune to the rhythm, and the sheikh moves among them, observing their ecstatic state until they slow down to end the dance.  Their movements are reminiscent of the frenzied repetitious dances of indigenous Africans. 


3)  The scene here is in an old cathedral, a (Roman) catholic temple in the South of France. The "Catholic priest" - a young, 25-year-old man, Franck Legros - performs the "divine liturgy" and distributes "communion" to the faithful with the characteristic Ostia.  The same priest also sheds his cassock and dons a black dancing form (photo below - also, a related documentary: Un danseur dans la maison de Dieu - A dancer in the House of God) and… he invites his musicians up to the sanctum. The music begins. Young girls dressed provocatively and a few young boys also go up to the sanctum and, under the guidance of the prancing priest they commence their dancing figures.  In a while, the sanctum has been turned into ... a dance platform, and the music and drums echo through the temple.  The priest has become famous, because he has introduced a new, "contemporary"... "divine liturgy".  He has been accumulating fans from all over France, as he has... "enhanced" the liturgy, with dance routines dressed in extremely provocative dance wear, prancing around in the sanctum.  His fame reached Rome, and... after receiving the Pope's blessing, the major Roman Catholic Channel "KTO" hurried to film scenes from that "lilting liturgy" in order to broadcast it to all the world!   Woe betide us !



4) A well-known, popular brotherhood of dervishes - the «Aczimendi» (characteristic images below) - has gathered in a regional opium den in Constantinople.  Quite a crowd has gathered: commoners, poor.  The ritual begins.  The rhythm is somewhat slow at the beginning. "La Illah Il Allah...". Someone is directing the pace of the beat.  Soon everything begins to "heat up" and speed up.  These dervishes - this time on their knees at first - begin to wag their heads left and right, gradually going faster and faster. Then they begin to lose touch with reality; they fall into a trance-like state.  Unintelligible cries can now be heard (reminiscent of the demonically-possessed) - some have seizures and fall down on the floor, yelling, while others scream incessantly.  Their heads are now thrashing left and right at a crazy rhythm.  The sheikh watches on, smiling somewhat sarcastically at this religious ritual.  One man has lost consciousness, another is still uttering unintelligible cries, while yet another is thrashing about relentlessly. 
A veritable pan-demonium...

5)  Early morning, somewhere in the heart of the Holy Mountain, near Karyes.  A pilgrim was making his slow ascent towards the Elder's skete.  The Elder wasn't receiving visitors that day, which is why all you could hear was the chirping of birds, with nature liberally scattering its Springtime fragrances in the air.  As the pilgrim got closer, the delicate scent of incense flooded the air.  You could also hear the subdued chanting of a hymn.  As soon as he reached the humble skete, he went into the tiny chapel where the morning service was taking place. The church was very tiny indeed, and very old. Its holy icons were suffused by the piety of the countless pilgrims who had visited and paid their respects there.  The few monks of the skete were chanting with melodious voices and the Elder was performing the Divine Liturgy inside the sanctum.  The pilgrim felt an overwhelming relief, and his soul began to soar high...  In a while, the Elder came forth holding the Chalice with the Holy Communion.  The pilgrim approached, trembling.  An amazing and wonderful sensation coursed though him as he received Holy Communion.  It was as though the surrounding holy icons were alive and the depicted saints were observing the mystery of the holy Eucharist, enraptured.  He could feel how blessed that place was; without electricity, without any modern amenities, and yet so pure, so divine...  A place sanctified by the presence of so many saints over so many centuries..  It was there, inside that same humble skete, that the great Elder - Father Paisios - had once been raised above the ground while in prayer, engulfed by a brilliant white light.

Blessed is Your name, Lord, unto the ages of ages, and blessed also is the Elder who communed Your Immaculate Mysteries on that morning...

The skete of the Elder Paisios



(*) Turkology (Turkish: Türkoloji), also Turcology or Turkologie, is a complex of humanities sciences studying languages, history, literature, folklore, culture, and ethnology of people speaking Turkic languages and Turkic peoples in chronological and comparative context. This includes ethnic groups from the Turks (Turkish People), Sakha in East Siberia to the Balkan Turks and Gagauz in Moldova.



Translation:  K.N.

Article published in English on: 29-9-2011.

Last update: 29-9-2011.