Archive for December, 2009

Santa Lucia: The Saint for the Season of Light

December 10, 2009 - 10:14 am 40 Comments

St. Lucia: A Saint for the Season of Lights
The Rev. Peter E. Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

At first, you might be wondering about today’s topic…
How could an Italian gondola song, a faith miracle, sticky buns, evergreens, a Norse Goddess, and a Swedish folk festival ever be linked?
The connections, as you will hear, are found in the unifying ideals of light and love. These associations are all wrapped and presented to us in the story of St. Lucia, the patron saint of light and spiritual insight.
As We enter into the darkest two weeks of the year, it is part of our heightened awareness to pay attention to how light and spirituality share a common religious history. In all the world religions, myths, and stories light and theology are intermingled and one often illumines the other, and can serve to point to the same truths.
Not that much is known about the early saints of Christendom, especially the female ones. Lucia, like St. Barbara, and St. Agatha, and St. Catherine were often extolled as models of virtue and faith. They were powerful witnesses to how love overcame fear, and how light is as much an inner quality of vision and purpose as it is a sensory and seasonal fact.
According to a synthesis of historical accounts, Lucia was born in Syracuse, Sicily in approximately 300 AD . From early in her life, she was programmed and prepared for an influential marriage to one of the sons of eligible aristocracy.
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This fellow who was to be her husband by a prearranged pact between the two Roman families- families who were “politely religious,” in that they observed all the Greco-Roman pagan rites and rituals of their day.
However, Lucia was discontent about these hard and fast locked in arrangements. When she came of age, she requested repeated delays, while the groom’s family grew increasingly impatient. Then something dramatic happened that would alter Lucia’s life even more. Her mother became gravely ill; none of the local doctors could find a cure. Lucia was deeply troubled. She asked for advice. She was desperate.
Through the grapevine, she heard of people called Christians who gathered at the tomb of St. Agatha. There, people were supposedly able to cure people or help them in their distress.
Secretly, she accompanied her dying mother to the tomb, and waited for a sign. Nothing happened at the time, but soon after, her mother recovered fully! Lucia was amazed and resolved to find out more about those curious people called Christians. She became aware of all their good works, and their generosity to the poor and needy around the city. She experienced a change of heart. She decided that she would become a Christian, too.
Now she knew definitely, that she did not want to marry that man that her family chosen. With an independent and faithful spirit, she informed the groom that she declined the betrothal. The groom and his family were furious! She offered to give back her abundant dowry but they refused!
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So she turned around and gave it all to the poor! The groom’s family became incensed. They found out about Lucia’s visit to the saint’s tomb and her interest in the Christians, and indignantly dragged her before the Roman judge. Then, In a public trial, they accused her of being a Christian! At that time, this was a horrible indictment, since it occurred during the times of severe religious persecution.
She stood accused of a heinous crime of not paying homage to the pagan gods but seeking out a new one for her mother’s cure. The judge sentenced her to be burned at the stake for her crime.
On her way to her execution, something strange happened in the city square. Somehow, Lucia gained great strength, and the soldiers could not move her any further toward the fire. They pushed and pulled, they even tied oxen to her, but she would not be moved! So determined to punish her, the authorities poked out her eyes- still she refused to recant her faith or be moved toward the flames. The vengeful family then insisted that the flames be rebuilt around her, and still she remained unmoved by the fire. Some accounts attribute that only evil, magical sword had to be used, and only that finally killed her.
All through this ordeal, the young maiden projected a serene radiance- people remarked about her calm and bold trust, her unwavering faith, her special countenance and its affect on the crowds. The people saw that this frail girl became so strong and resistant within her newfound faith that even hot pokers, and the fires of resentment and hate could not touch her. ….
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After her death, and when Constantine declared the Empire to be a tolerant one that promoted Christianity, the body of St. Lucia was transferred from Sicily to Constantinople, then the official seat of the Roman Empire. Later, her remains were threatened by the Crusades, and so her relics were brought up to Venice, and there they were housed in the magnificent church of Santa Lucia.
The legend about Lucia and her eyes of faith spread through the canals, and she became the patron saint of lamplighters and gondoliers. She was believed to light the way so that all could walk by faith, and not just by sight, and her spirit guided the boats safely through the waterways and dim canals. As the legends grew, St. Lucia became the patron saint for all those who experienced eye diseases, vision difficulties, or problems with perception.
In his poetry, Dante referred to St. Lucia as the “Queen of Supernal Light” Whatever you might think about the idea of having a patron saint, a guiding spirit or some protective intercessor on your behalf, the story of St. Lucia is among the most beloved in Western thought and legend.
As Christianity spread northward, it began to encounter various Teutonic pagan beliefs and their earth centered festivals. As I have previously noted, our modern holidays decorations and myths such as Halloween, All Souls, and Now Christmastime have many of its origins, from pumpkins to evergreen trees, in these pagan Northern festivals of the Teutons, Celts, and Druids.
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In studying the spread of Christianity and Western Civilization, I remain amazed how a Middle Eastern religion, with a Mediterranean culture, could fit or be accommodated to Teutonic, Celtic, and Druid festivals. When looked at through our modern eyes we can see that all religious cultures contain the same truths placed or adorned in different packages- the key to this inclusion or accommodation of different traditions is an open attitude of appreciation, and a willingness to become aware of how we can all benefit from acknowledging our interfaith roots and celebrations.
In Northern Europe, principally among the Danes, and the Scandinavian people, there was a rich and elaborate mythology that guided their lives and directed their worship.
Known collectively as Norse mythology, it was every bit as enthralling and complex as the Greco-Roman versions. ( The world tree, Yggsdrasil, Thor’s day, mistletoe, and many famous tales …)
One of the most enduring and important festivals for the Norse people was the acknowledgment of the harvest and the season of darkness covering the Earth. Living in a intimate relationship with nature, and not being influenced by a city state mentality and its
governmental regulations, the seasonal cycle was the all important consideration that guided their lives. In the cold Northern climates, and according to the old calendars, December 13th was the shortest day of the year. (Later, it was known as the twelfth day before Christmas or as the unofficial start of the Christian observances. (From the 13th to 12th Night and Epiphany on January 6th)
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This most important date, December 13th, was the feast day of the goddess Lucina, or Lucinda. Along with other goddesses such as Freja, they governed the harvest season and acted as female protectors of hearth and home. Lucina, instructed the villagers to build bonfires, to urge the Sun to come back and gain in strength for the coming spring. As a part of their gratitude, the people were told to offer hospitality, and share their food and drink with all their neighbors and kin. Lucina was known for the common cup of mead- a fermented drink made of grain that was hearty and stout, that each family would serve to its many visitors helping them to become happy and helping each person to ward off the winter chills.
With the Christianization of Europe, over the centuries,
St. Lucia and the goddess Lucinda became merged into one holiday celebrating the season of light and hope and the promise of spring. Still celebrated in many Swedish homes, St. Lucia’s day remains a popular family event.
One daughter, from every household would be designed as the “Lucia Bride” for that year. She would be dressed all in white, with a red sash. On her head would be a crown of evergreens, red loganberries, and it would support seven encircling candles. Her task was to rise early on the 13th, and prepare a special treat of coffee, candy, and special sticky bun pastries and offer them to every parent and grandparent in the home as a sign of gratitude and love.

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To summarize, the archetype or ancient symbolic teachings found in the St. Lucia story can still hold value for us today. Remembering St. Lucia’s day is another way of remembering how darkness is dispelled by light, ignorance by truth, fear by faith and loneliness by love.
For the women of the world, the image or role model of a powerful yet compassionate woman serving humanity by offering gifts of light and caring can be appreciated in many ways:
It could be a metaphor for holiday cooking and entertaining family and friends- Or more seriously, a time when the dis-eases of perception are looked at and faced and when the purpose for one’s life and the importance of one’s relationships becomes illumined.

For me, the archetypal truth of St. Lucia that lives on in her celebration is that humanity, in rhythm and resonance with the seasons, gives thanks for all who bring light to our world, and that whatever spiritual understanding we have or chose concerning this season, we can claim that it is a truth that transcends creeds and cultures. That each of us is to live in the light and love of God.
AMEN

Notes on the Symbolism of Stars

December 10, 2009 - 10:10 am 10 Comments

Notes On The Symbolism of Stars

My definition: Star(s): Those celestial signals whose eminent and reflective nature serve to draw our attention and awareness to our cosmic connections- especially as portends of new gracious beginnings…. Stars can act as signals that usher in new dimensions of grace and enlightenment….
From the Tarot: Major Arcana #17 Star(s) upon seeing or being captive by their sight will usher in a new inspiration- a new depth of hope… Especially as it relates to a significant change on your life’s path…. And from that hope, you will gain a strength or a courage for the new direction or the next steps in your journey…. Assistance and support will come to you from altruistic sources…. Particularly as you unlock or bring this new light to your deep unconscious and how it relates to the collective unconscious…

It is a signal of a celestial light that looks deeply into your soul and brings anything that is the hidden to light from its dark depths….

Swedenborg: Stars symbolize the coming of good and truth as manifest-as shining in one’s life- Wisdom revealed or displayed and when followed brings greater hope and comprehension/truth…..

Indigenous Wisdom Traditions:
Stars as a shining body in the early dawn or late night sky has been historically associated with the female myths of the Ancient Near East- most specifically, the Isis cycle, Inanna, and Ishtar Stars are also associated with the planet Venus as the morning stars and how the feminine archetypal energies are drawing you inward and then outward….
Astrology and Jungian studies:
When first being instructed in the study of astrology and archetypes, I was given a phrase for guidance that I have never forgotten: “The stars impel, but do not compel”…
They can instruct by pointing us towards various possibilities, and potentials, but they are not powerful instruments of a sealed destiny, or an inescapable fate. Nor do they predict any situations that are beyond free will, or our conscious responses/responsibility…
Astrology, when best used and understood, acts as a holistic system of indications and patterns that can reveal our acausal or transformational synchronicity; The stars and planets symbolically reveal patterns of celestial correspondences that can act as a “way of knowing, learning, and perceiving” whose indications, guidelines and information need to be comprehended and understood as one of the many ways we humans are given insight and direction through life…

In my current book on Spirit, Time, and The Future, I speak about the dubious value of certain predictions around the year 2012, and review the various astrological ages of time and culture. I also recommend that there are times when faith must triumph any sense of human control, and that living a Spirit centered life is our best means for truly coming to terms with our challenges and potentials.

In my ministerial and priestly celebrations, I designed and wear an Advent stole that depicts the season of light in its two most inclusive and transdenominational ways: As a candle, and as a star… The smallest symbol of visible light, peace, assurance, and love that we can perceive with our eyes and in our lives, and the largest symbol of cosmic hope, warmth, change, that states that the cosmos itself is based on God’s love and compassion…

A Reflection of Emerson and the Star

When speaking of the necessity to maintain one’s ideals and goals in life, Emerson responded in his essays by stating ” We should hitch our wagons to a star.”
As I have pondered this phrase over the years, it seems to point us toward the importance of maintaining hope and the willingness to strive, in faith, towards lofty ideals and aspirations.
If one’s wagon is all that a person or a community carries with them, if it is how they travel through life together as a community, then the star represents those values and ideals that keep them vital and alive- those aspirations that seek to unify and that gives them the capacity to shine beyond the ordinary or beyond their past expectations that they had for being together.
“To hitch one’s wagon to a star” can mean that a person or a community reaches, seeks out and finds a guiding, shining ideal. Then this common intent and shared desire is actively reinforced and sustained in all that we decide, all that we conscious do or accomplish on behalf of the community- we, as a community need to find that connection, that tipping, hitching point that inspires each of us, and that acts as a greater or more luminous quality that heals or overcomes fear and differences, and sets us out on a path of personal guidance and a shared grace that can be found in being a church- being truly together!.

Starlight

All [of us] have stars… But they are not the same things for different people.
For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others, they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are… Problems… But all these stars are silent.
You- You alone- will have the stars as no one else has them.
Antoine de Saint- Expury 1900-1944 France

Becoming A Peaceful Warrior & Male Spirituality

December 7, 2009 - 4:08 pm 12 Comments

A Brief Reflection on Becoming A Spiritual Warrior

Today, I will focus on how this new yet ancient spiritual approach that validates and can direct the particular hunger that men in our world are experiencing.
While feminism has had its proponents, and victories, we have seen its reluctant message become more mainstream, men of all ages are finally summoning their courage to look at the shadow side of our masculinity found in war, greed, selfishness, and hostile competition. Men from many of the developed countries are actively questioning social, economic, and political assumptions concerning roles and responsibilities. Men are also calling into serious question the images of masculinity in our music and films that promote violence and depersonalization of both men and women. In the 1970’s, liberation movements for men consisted of drum circles and the Iron Man Wild John ideas that frankly, became comic and largely ineffectual when it came to transforming Pentagon priorities or Wall Street abuses. Now this quest, for initiation and radical change, for empathy and understanding, for dignity, and for finding the lost dimensions of our souls while letting our spirits grow and be free, is, under political, economic and family duress, arriving at a level of depth and maturity rarely realized in earlier decades.
Along with political and economic reform, this striving for a new definition of what it means to be a man is what being a peaceful and spiritual warrior is all about.
(now before the women in this gathering recoil or rebel… Of course, women can be warriors… But that often centers on reclaiming or recapturing the masculine energies in themselves, and that integration is a worthwhile goal… But as a man, I cannot fully speak to that… But it is clear that such necessary alchemy and growth towards individuation is the right path as such transformation or wholeness is a universal human need.)

The principal reason I emphasize the need of men to awaken to the depth of their character and to the greater sense of meaning and purpose in their struggle to be alive, strong, compassionate, and at peace, is because our whole world, maybe its very survival, depends on men learning these lessons of how to possess a vigilance for peace, for upholding human rights, dignity, and self worth in their days and in their ways that neither an illustrious sense of title, worldly power, or a bank account can truly give them. There is no equation that states happiness is equated with money or power… Happiness comes to men when a man feels useful and when he is able to express his positive emotions when and where it matters most!
As one my “Socrates” or one of my mentors, Matthew Fox, puts it there may be no greater need that adopting a warrior mentality. A warrior is different from being a solider… “A solider follows external orders, usually to accomplish some external goal, whereas a warrior finds his or her strength and purpose in following their hearts…” Fox is the principal modern exponent of Creation Spirituality- an inclusive, earth centered approach that honors science, the world religions, the arts, and what can be called the best of the human spirit. He puts it this way:
“To become a spiritual warrior encourages us by challenging us to risk- to go beyond social expectations and the ordinary ways of perceiving and relating. It asks us to look within and to acknowledge the wonder and the reverence that can be found in oneself, life, and in all our sacred relationships. ”
The reason the old, fearful forms of religion still endure is found in the abdication of human responsibility for the world, our cultural priorities, and our families. There is tenacious part of the human psyche that feels that it is easier for us to accept being passive, afraid, even guilty, than it is to accept our personal responsibility as powerful co-creaters of our own world.
Fox defines it further in these words: “[A spiritual warrior learns to let go- Letting go of comforts, security, of past images of himself, or past ways of relationships. It is being willing to risk the unknown for what is yet to be. Here the essential masculine task is to learn what serves growth and goodness, and then to obey one’s inner wisdom directives so that he can practice only what will not harm him or live in ways that will not robs anyone else of their dignity, freedom, and respect.]” To be a warrior then, in the understanding of Creation Spirituality, requires the journey of a lifetime. It is a sacred, intimate, yet all inclusive quest, that seeks out and tries to find what is authentic, real, and nurturing to oneself and affirmative towards others. How? It is having the inner awareness, insight and confidence to face down negativity and evil in all its disguises.  When one gains that courage, that strength of will, that is when the real or the deep work begins; the work to see what it is possible to heal and restore, to truly know deeply what the world and what life requires of you.
As a spiritual warrior, you will be asked to face the greatest enemy- oneself; and you will be enlisted to support others in their battles and challenges for the sake of the world, for all biological life, and for the future of all the children on the planet.
Creation Spirituality urges you to engage in life’s promises and pitfalls, with an open and willing heart. For the way of the true warriors are full of growth and change. As we intentionally create and transform who and what we are, for who and what we can become, we serve our world needs and promote by our example what a more enlightened relationship, family, or society can become.
I invite you this day and to each day that affirms and celebrates our need for greater peace in ourselves and in our world, to learn more about this approach and others that also serve the cause of harmony, beauty, balance and peace. Let it be an opportunity for you to express more of who you are, and how you can participate more fully in spirituality and in the original blessings that have been given to us by God, or good!
Namaste, Shanti, Salaam, Pax,
Blessed Be, Peace…

Peace Quotes; Wage Peace and The Cost of War

December 7, 2009 - 4:00 pm 494 Comments

PEACE QUOTES

We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children
William Ellery Channing

In separateness lies the world’s great misery;
In compassion lies the world’s greatest hope and strength Gotauma Buddha

While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful
Be careful to have it ever more fully in your heart. St. Francis of Assisi

If you want to make peace, you do not talk with only your friends
You talk with your enemies General Moshe Dyan

So we must fix our vision, not merely on the negative expulsion of war
But upon the positive affirmation of peace. M. L. King, Jr.

Hatred can only be overcome by love. Mahatma Gandhi

We all can be peacemakers if, each day, we live the belief that within ourselves
And all around the world, we hold the keys to peace.
Peacemakers, our hope is in you. S. L. Fiske

If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower
And then everyone in our family, our entire society will benefit from that peace.
Thich Nhat Hahn
Peace cannot be kept by force.
It can only be kept by understanding. Albert Einstein

Imagine all the people, living life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer, buut I am not the only one.
I hope someday you join us, and the world will live as one.

Give Peace a chance. John Lennon

Peace has never come from dropping bombs. Real peace comes from enlightenment- from educating people to behave in a more divine manner. Carlos Santana

If there is peace in the world, then there must be peace in the nations.
If there is peace in the nation, then there must be peace in the cities.
If there is peace in the cities, then there must be peace between neighbors.
If there is peace among neighbors, then there must be peace in the home.
If there is peace in the home, then there must be peace in the heart.
Lao Tzu circa 570 BCE

 

When I think of peace, I think of a world where human beings are no longer brutalized by the accidents of birth such as sex, race, religion, or nationality. For me, peace is a way of structuring human relations where daily acts of kindness and caring are tangibly rewarded.
It is a way of thinking, feeling, and acting where our essential interconnectedness with one another is truly honored….. Where power is no longer equated with the bullet or blade, but is held within a holy chalice-
the chalice which is our ancient and modern symbol of the power to give, to nurture, to enhance life. And I will not only pray for this peace, but sparked by the light of this chalice, I will actively work for the day when such peace is evident among us. … AMEN Riane Eisler

 

Wage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble,

Breathe out whole buildings and flocks of redwing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.

Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.

Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries, imagine grief as the out breath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.

Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived. Don’t wait another minute.

Wage Peace by Mary Oliver

 

The Cost of War
Near the end of his presidency, Eisenhower warned our country about the prospects of letting a military-industrial complex run the economy, and shape the priorities and values of our nation … He said:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and who are not fed, who are cold, and who are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone; It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, and the hopes of its children.”
I ask that you consider two facts:
First is the fact that a significant portion of South Carolina’s economy is derived from defense contracts that promote the building of weapons and the selling of armaments, which General Eisenhower believes robs our children of hope- the hope of peace, safety, of the promise of growing into being an adult, or possibly a father or mother….
According to Human Rights Watch, we spend more on weapons production than do the rest of the G7 or most industrialized nations combined! For the fiscal year, 2005, it will be 420.7 billion dollars! But I will not belabor you with a mountain of statistics… Comparing military spending to what we spend on education, health care or genuine foreign aide… It all too well known!

What I wish to question is the quality or the capacity for willingness we, as citizens of the USA, have that accepts and condones that our national and economic priorities have to be so intertwined with weapons, so much so that we generate arsenals or are at least directly linked to much of the world’s warfare as either providers or purveyors that make violence and torture all the more possible!
Lastly, another possible explanation can point to our own domestic moral climate- The lack of civility, compassion, trust and the missing sense of a clear sense of a moral code is pervasive in our country. Whether we wish to cite the public schools and the increasing discipline problems, to permitting coarse and crude behavior all through our media, it vividly appears as if our culture seems to have lost it moral compass. As a result, we have an urgent need, as a culture to find its reliable direction through a greater debate and dialogue on civic and personal responsibility for what we are teaching and modeling for effective and empathetic human interactions. As Rabbi Michael Lerner in his book, The Politics Of Meaning, points out, we have an ethos of capitalism and an ethic of individualism,” whereas what we need is an ethos of community and an ethic of compassion. May we take this day of peace into each and every day… For to work for peace is just and humane, and truly addresses our human needs…

We, who seek to promote peace, equity and new national priorities for its budget, we have a moral responsibility and an ethical imperative not to promote the sale of weapons to foreign countries whose attitudes and politics serve to perpetuate terrorism, conflict and death. We also need to own our responsibility for those weapons reaching our own neighborhoods and streets.

One of the ways we promote peace is through listening, through caring… A supportive community is a safe, serene, and loving community whose dynamism is expressed through how well we share common values, and how well and how often we express our concern and caring for one another…

The Story of Hannukah and Religious Freedom

December 7, 2009 - 3:43 pm 5 Comments

The Story of Hannukah:
Its Message of Faith and Religious Freedom
The Rev. Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

The feast of Dedication or the festival of Hanukah has a special signifigance for religious liberals. Traditionally, it is classified as a minor occasion within the calendar of Jewish holidays, yet it has a major importance that is hidden within its story and customs that needs to be honored and preserved within our U-U congregations.
As a part of explaining this importance and the lasting value it has for us, I will quickly trace the history of Hanukah’s origins and examine the theological signifigance of this event and how it might apply to your spiritual questions and religious understanding. I will give a synopsis of the events then provide an explanation of the menorah and its symbolic worth for us. Lastly, I will raise some comments on our current cultural scene and how the controversies that arose in the first Hanukah are still with us today.
First, the merit of celebrating Hanukah in our homes and in our churches has little to do with the sentimentalization of this holiday season. It is neither a Jewish “substitute” for Christmas, nor it a more pagan, earth-centered ritual about the return of light to the earth. It is not Kwanza or Diwali, it is Hanukah, the story of sacrifice, defiance, heroism and faith.
Therefore, all the pleasantries of this holiday, such as making latkes, spinning dreydels, exchanging gifts can be seen as cultural aggregations and accommodations to the commercial impact of our society’s secular Christmas extravaganza.

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They are, like the Christmas tree, and jingle bells, only part of an external message of Hanukah, which is really about a holy hope and the cost of maintaining one’s religious freedom.
We can never be sure of the whole story concerning the origins of Hanukah. Like so many traditions and rituals that began in ancient times, we have no one authoritative source, or unbiased accounting of its events. In that regard, there are four references to Hanukah, the two earliest accounts are included in the larger Catholic or non-Protestant Bible, and two are later Jewish commentaries. (I Maccabees 4: 39-59; II Maccabees 10: 1-8; Peskhita Rabbati; The Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 21b)

Condensing these four accounts, the events of what became the origins of Hanukah unfold like this:
During the last two centuries before the Common era or approximately during 200-100 BC., the land that is Palestine was occupied by the Greeks and was under the cultural control of Greek speaking Egyptian rulers known as the Ptolemies in the south, or under Greek dominated Syrian rule, or the Selcudids in the north. (These two rival empires used Israel and Judah as bargaining chips and as moveable territories based on the whims and the might of the ruling families who sat in Alexandria and Damascus.)
After the death of Alexander The Great, these two families divided their kingdoms and placed their rulers over parts of the
Holy Land. These two dynastys made sure to collect taxes and place the burdens of rulership on all the occupied peoples. Next to that in importance was their interest in the complete enculturation of these captives. They wanted to ensure that these subjects learn and reinforce the Greek culture-its language, customs, teachings and its beliefs.
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This process, known as Hellenization, was an imposition to the life and routine of the devout Jews and a hindrance to obeying the Mitsvah or commands of the Torah. Its effects were looked at as an another accommodation to power for those Jews who were only culturally connected to their traditions.
As this enforced social reconditioning continued, the devout Jews or the Hasidim began to see this as a systematic destruction of their lifestyle and beliefs, and an attack on their cherished ways of life and worship. This imposition reached its zenith under the ruler named Antiochus Epiphanes. He was the Greek Syrian ruler who commanded that the Greek panoply of gods and goddesses be revered and that the statues of Zeus and (of course tributes to himself) be placed in the Temple in Jerusalem and in all the synagogues in Palestine!
This overt action created a crisis among the Jews. For the Hellenized or polite Jews who were willing to “go along to get along”, they found it to be an awkward embarrassment. For the more devout Hasidim, it was an outrage and a completely intolerable situation-a blasphemy that the Brit or the covenant between God and humanity would be so abused and profaned.
As the destruction of their culture under the iron handed oppression of the Greek tyrant continued, the people became despondent and depressed. They felt both resentment and a powerlessness to stop the encroachment and the profanity.
In short, they were in need of heroic deliverance.
Then, in 165 BC., the Syrian soldiers brought their strategy for cultural conversion to the remote areas near Galilee, in the more mountainous north. There they entered the city of Modin, and were confronted by the defiant Hasmodean priest named Mattathias Maccabeus. (An interesting note from current events- recently, archeologists have unearthed the ruins of a northern city they
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believe to be Modin-this could go along way in establishing that this story has a historical or factual basis.)
The Syrian army first tried all the strategies that had worked so easily in the sophisticated southern cities. It was their custom to convert those Jews by excess-That is, they would lavishly bribe the leaders and the priests with wealth, women, and power. All these Jews needed to do was to renounce the Torah, the food laws daily customs, and begin to worship Zeus,thereby adopting the Greek ways of worship as their own.
But Mattathias would have none of it! He and his five sons refused to be corrupted or swayed from their devout Jewish faith.
According to one of the accounts, one of the Jews openly and easily converted in front of him. In a rage, he drew out a knife and killed him. Other accounts infer that he became so upset with the materialism and superficial loyalties he witnessed and became outraged. He railed against the Syrians and their approach. This upset the Syrian army, and so Mattathias, his sons, and their followers, ran up into the hills. There they formed a resistance army against the Syrians. It was at this point that the Maccabean Revolt began.
While easily portrayed as a zealot or as a religious fanatic, we also can receive a picture of Mattathias who was a loyal citizen under Greek rule. Yet, he was foremost a sincere Jew who did not confuse his loyalties or his bottom line values, ethics and beliefs. All he wanted was the right to practice his faith freely and conscientiously. But the powerful and tyrannical Greeks could not allow this, so his only noble recourse was to fight for his faith and his freedom to practice it.
Against seasoned military forces, many well trained soldiers who used elephants and spears, this small band of Jews fought and were able to overcome fantastic odds.
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After three years of fierce and bloody fighting, we able to drive the Syrians back and reclaim the Temple at Jerusalem. Along the way, Mattathias was killed. Then one of his sons named Judas Maccabeus began to lead the fight and the tide turned.
Tradition states that Maccabeus means “The Hammer” and that it was the Judas acting as the hammer of God that pounded away at the Syrians until they released the Temple back to the Jews so that they could reclaim their lives and their faith.
As a point of equal time, there is also a female heroine in the Maccabean revolt. Her story, the story of Judith is only found in the Catholic Bible, also in the Apocrapha. She was definitely a woman not to be messed with! She seduced, then cut off and delivered the head of the Syrian General Holofernes to her male leaders. The Syrians in complete horror, surrendered quickly!
Back to the story…
Why was this band of believers able to overcome such lop-sided odds? Because they knew, in the depths of their hearts, that their faith and their whole way of life depended on it. Faith, courage and strength are all synonymous–we are given this quote from the prophet Zecceriah 4:6 “Not but power or by might, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord…” and the words of Judas Maccabeus, who said, “Victory in battle does not depend on the size of one’s army, but on the strength one receives from Heaven.”
The commitment to fight for one’s ideals and for one’s beliefs is one of the crucial teachings we receive from the Hanukah story. It is a lesson that is indeed timeless and always relevant.

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Now what about the signifigance of the Menorah? How does this distinctive candelabra and its ritual lighting tie into the original story of Hanukah? What is its value? What does it teach us? First, the menorah used during Hanukah is different that for Shabbat, and other Jewish holy days. It differs in that it has eight wicks with a ninth smaller candle, instead of the customary seven. Generally, the ninth candle is added as a pilot or servant light. It has a special name, the shammus or the servant. It is from that light that all other candles or wicks are lit.
Legend connects this special Hanukah menorah with the ceremony of rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus in 169 BC.. He reclaimed and purified the Temple after the Greek idols were taken out. Then the whole altar and sanctuary were cleansed and restored. This arduous process took three years of dedicated labor to complete.
Tradition states that when the light of the Temple was to be rekindled, they found only just enough oil for one night’s burning. Reluctantly, they lit that torch, and set out in search of more oil, but they believed that it would not last more than one day and the nearest supplies were miles away. However, when Judas and his people returned, a miracle had happened! The oil had lasted eight days and had symbolically sustained the presence of the Lord in the Temple. (Q: How does our flaming chalice function in a similiar way?)
Then on the 25th day of Kislov,(or December) exactly three years after the Temple was reclaimed and repaired, they held a joyous celebration that lasted for eight days. Judas and the people decided that this commemoration should be an annual event to remind them of their victory over oppression and the price one has to be prepared to pay to maintain their religious freedom. Thus Hanukah became the only Jewish festival not recorded in the Hebrew Bible.
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Indeed, if it was not for the courage, faith, and resolve of the Maccabees and their followers, our monotheistic faith and our Judeo-Christian legacy might have been permanently lost- forsaken to the culturally dominant idolatries of the day.
All too often, or so it seems to me, religious liberals are quick to be complacent. Oh sure, we like to make noise, pass resolutions, and we will argue about almost everything…
but actions, commitment, and dare I say, sacrifice for one’s beliefs are not so highly regarded. I suspect this is true because it is rare to take such risks without being accompanied by a strong, abiding faith-something that might be scarce in our Association. While we have always been willing to confront social, sexual, and racial tensions and injustices, I feel that we have lacked the depth and the resolve to see how various religious expressions and differing spiritual dimensions in our churches and across the world need our sincere acceptance and willing advocacy.
This analogy could be made that when it comes to the issues of religious freedom, dignity and autonomy and authenticity. The Maccabees of old were the religious liberals of their day, and the Syrian Greeks were the right-wing Christian Coalition. Is this too far fetched? Maybe, but it remains up to us to rally our words and actions in the coming year to maintain our religious values in the fight against large, intimidating and militant adversaries with their Congressional allies, whose rhetoric is now shifting and shaping our society and whose monetary power is large and deep. The question for us during this last Hanukah season might be this: Do we resolve to clear our temples of apathy, indifference, false security or intellectual arrogance? Will we be more Maccabean in our nobility, and demonstrate our support for those principles and purposes that engage us in social change and involve us personally? Only time, commitment, faith, and our depth of caring will tell… This Hanukah season, do not neglect this heroic story or the need to become re-inspired by the Menorah and its light of God’s sustaining reality and presence in our lives. Be willing to share this story and the blessings of living freely and more faithfully over the next few days, and with God’s help, over and through all the days to come. AMEN