Monday, October 26, 2009


To all intents and purposes, the Greek-Australian view of the Greek Orthodox Church is a parochial and ethnophyletic one. However, the venerable Byzantine tradition that defines Modern Hellenism and the permeation of that culture through much of eastern Europe and the Middle East, notwithstanding, the adherence or interest of others in Orthodoxy looms strange. Enter the Very Rev. Raphael Morgan a Jamaican-American priest of the Ecumencial Patriarchate, designated as Ιεραποστολος to America and the West Indies, founder and superior of the Order of the Cross of Golgotha and thought to be the first Black Orthodox clergyman in America.
He spoke broken Greek, and therefore served mostly in English. Having recently been discovered, his life has garnered great interest, but much of his life still remains shrouded in mystery.
Fr. Raphael is said to have resided all over the world, including: "in Palestine, Syria, Joppa, Greece, Cyprus, Mytilene, Chios, Sicily, Crete, Egypt, Russia, Ottoman Turkey, Austria, Germany, England, France, Scandinavia, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, Bermuda, and the United States."
Born in Chapelton, Clarence Parish, Jamaica either in the late 1860s or early 1870s, he became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and left as a missionary to Germany.
By the turn of the 20th century, Raphael seriously began to question his faith, and began intensive study of Anglicanism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy over a three year period, to discover what he felt was the true religion. He concluded that the Orthodox Church was "the pillar and ground of truth", resigned from the Episcopalian Church, and embarked on an extensive trip abroad beginning in the Russian Empire in 1904.
Once there, he visited various monasteries and churches, soon becoming quite the sensation. Various periodicals began publishing pictures and articles on him, and he soon became the guest of the Tsar. He was allowed to be present for the anniversary celebrations of Nicholas II's coronation, and the memorial service for Tsar Alexander III.
Leaving Russia, Raphael traveled Turkey, Cyprus, and Palestine returning to America and writing an article to the Russian-American Orthodox Messenger in 1904 about his experience in Russia. In this open letter, Morgan expressed hope that the Anglican Church could unite with the Orthodox Churches. He also stated that people of African descent were generally well-received within the Russian Empire,
For another three years, Raphael studied under Greek priests for his baptism, eventually deciding to seek entry and ordination in the Greek Orthodox Church. In 1907 the Philadephia Greek community referred Raphael to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople armed with two letters of support, describing Morgan as a man sincerely coming into Orthodoxy after long and diligent study, and recommending his baptism and ordination into the priesthood and that he could serve as an assistant priest if he failed to form a separate Orthodox parish among his fellow African Americans.
In Constantinople, Raphael was interviewed by Meropolitan Joachim, one of the few bishops of the Patriarchate that could speak English. Joachim noted that he had a "deep knowledge of the teachings of the Orthodox Church." Citing the Biblical exhortation "...the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out" Joachim concluded that Raphael should be baptised, ordained and sent back to America in order to "carry the light of the Orthodox faith among his racial brothers".
.On Sunday August 4, 1907, Robert was baptised in the Church of the Lifegiving Source at the Patriarchal Monastery at Valoukli,before 3000 people and was ordained a priest on 15 August1907. Metropolitan Joachim conducted the sacraments of Baptism and Ordination in the English language, following which Fr. Raphael chanted the Liturgy in English. Fr. Raphael Morgan's conversion to the Greek Orthodox Church thus makes him the first African American Orthodox priest.
Fr. Raphael was sent back to America with vestments, a cross, and 20 pounds sterling for his traveling expenses.
Ellis Island records indicate the arrival in New York from Naples, Italy, of the priest, Raffaele Morgan, in December 1907. Once home, Fr. Raphael baptized his wife and children in the Orthodox Church. This is noted in the minutes of the Holy Synod of 9 February 1908, which acknowledges receipt of a communication from Fr. Raphael.
The last mention of Fr. Raphael in Patriarchal records is in the minutes of the Holy Synod of 4 November 1908, which cite a letter from Fr. Raphael recommending an Anglican priest of Philadelphia, named "A.C.V. Cartier. According to the letter, Cartier desired as an Orthodox priest to undertake missionary work among his fellow blacks.
In 1909, Raphael's wife filed for divorce, on the alleged charges of cruelty and failure to support their children. She left with their son Cyril to Delaware County, where she remarried.
In 1911 Fr. Raphael sailed to Cyprus, presumably to be tonsured a hieromaonk. Possibly somewhere around this time, he founded the Order of the Cross of Golgotha.It is suggested that in 1911 Fr. Raphael was tonsured a monk in Athens.
In April 1913, Jamaica Times wrote that Fr. Raphael was headquartered at Philadelphia where he wanted to build a chapel for his missionary efforts, that he had recently visited Europe to collect funds to this end, and had the intention of extending his work to the West Indies. Towards the end of 1913, Fr. Raphael visited his homeland of Jamaica. In December, a Russian warship came to port, and he concelebrated the Liturgy with the sailors, their chaplain, and the Syrians resident in Jamaica.
The main work of his visit, however, was a lecture circuit that he ran throughout Jamaica. Citing a lack of Orthodox churches, Fr. Raphael would speak at churches of various denomination. The topics would usually cover his travels, the Holy Land, and Holy Orthodoxy.
In 1916 Fr. Raphael was still in Philadelphia, having made the Philadelphia Greek parish his base of operations. The last documentation of Fr. Raphael comes from a letter to the Daily Gleaner on 4 October, 1916. Representing a group of about a dozen other like-minded Jamaican-Americans, he wrote in to protest the lectures of Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey. Garvey's views on Jamaica, they felt, were damaging to both the reputation of their homeland and its people, enumerating several objections to Garvey's stated preference for the prejudice of the American whites over that of English whites. Garvey's response came ten days later, in which he called the letter a conspiratorial fabrication meant to undermine the success and favour he had gained while in Jamaica and in the United States.
Little is known of Fr. Raphael's life after this point, except from some interviews conducted in the 1970s between Greek-American historian Paul G. Manolis and surviving members of the Greek community in Philadelphia, who recalled the black priest who was evidently a part of their community for a period of time. One elderly woman, Grammatike Kritikos Sherwin, remembered that Fr Raphael's daughter left to attend Oxford; another parishioner, Kyriacos Biniaris, recalls that Morgan, whose hand "he kissed many times", spoke broken Greek and served in the church, reciting the liturgy mostly in English; whilst another, a George Liacouras, recalled that after serving in Philadelphia for some years, Fr. Raphael left for Jerusalem, never to return.
The elusive and obscure Father Raphael's legacy is an interesting one. He is said to have inspired and influenced George McGuire an associate of Marcus Garvey and his Black Nationalist UNIA movement. McGuire soon after founded the African Orthodox Church a non-canonical Black Nationalist church, in the Anglican tradition. Today, it is best known for its canonisation of Jazz legend John Coltrane. Many of the parishes established by him in Africa now come under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.
Ultimately, while Fr. Raphael Morgan's work among Jamaicans in Philadelphia appears to have been transitory, nevertheless he did serve as an important precedent for current African American interest in Orthodoxy, especially that of Father Moses Berry, director of the Ozarks African American Heritage Museum, who served as an Orthodox priest in Ash Grove, Missouri.


First published in NKEE on 26 October 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009


The bilingual form of Dina Dounis’ recently launched first collection of poetry: “Poems for my Mother,” requires comment. We could, should we wish to do so, subscribe to the theory of translation that would have the rendering of expression and concepts from the source language into the target language as a mere interpretation of the original. This is the reason why Islamic theology holds the Qu’ran to be untranslatable. We could thus view the appearance of Christos Avramoudas’ Greek translation of Dina Dounis’ original English poems as manner of approximating her work for a Greek audience. Or we could consider that somewhere deep within the Greek-Australian psyche, there is a tacit belief in the primacy of the Greek language, even when our preference is to write in English. As human beings, we have demonstrated a strange propensity to record or preserve sacred texts in extinct or archaic languages. So is this what Konstantina Dounis is doing? Refining her cosmology into a sacred text?
Cafavy wrote of the Poeidonians that the only thing surviving from their ancestorswas a Greek festival, with beautiful rites. Ιn her poem “Visiting my mother,” referring to a visit to her mother’s grave, Dounis writes: “I kiss her photo, light the candle , prepare the incense... and let it burn …I tend to the flowers… The familiarity of ritual frames me, in my shadow of sorrow.” The bilingual language use thus frames a conceptual Poseidonian ritualism for reasons that will become apparent as the collection unfolds.
In the poem “My Childhood Home,”
My childhood home,
rendered more cognizant now…
enshrouding the translucence
of that most poignant of mysteries.”

The last sentence appear in Greek as «του πιο οδυνηρού μυστηρίου.»The word poignant signifies something that is profoundly moving; touching. Οδυνηρός, however ventures off into the painful and the horrific. There seems to be a parallel narrative here, depending on which language you speak and the mythological requirements of each one. An experience (such as death or migration) may be poignant for the purposes of an Anglo-Saxon narrative) and horrific and painful for a Greek narrative. This is the language of myth and mystery. The poet will refer to this plurality of narrative and its convergence time and time again.
In the field of folkloristics, a myth is conventionally defined as a sacred narrative explaining how the world and humankind came to be in their present form. It could be that Poems for My Mother forms a personal myth and that Dina Dounis, in inducting us into its mysteries – for what else was a mystery in ancient times but a series of myths, symbols and stories about the divine that would only be revealed to the initiated? In the Orthodox tradition, it refers to that which, being outside the unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation.
The revelation here, then is the poet’s own cosmogony. We know that the poet came into being in her present form due to the union between her mother and father. However, what we also come to learn, is that her world, could very well be our world and that it is underpinned by a mythology and sacred doctrine of experiences of those primieval parents. Like Hesiod, she reveals to us the golden age of our antipodean existence:

“In the photograph is
a beautiful looking couple
they are happy
they are together
they have just arrived on this foreign shore
the endless hours in the factories and shops
have not yet etched
their endelible scars
on their face and body
there is only the anticipation of a better life.”

Reading this poem, which goes on to list the many sacrifices the poet’s parents made for her, one gets the feeling that much more is at play here. One feels as if the poet is describing a ritual and not just any ritual. If you remove the photograph and replace it with a chalice, you have a description of the Orthodox mystery of communion, replete with Orthodox hymnology. For the Eastern Orthodox, Christian life is centered in the Mystery of the Incarnation of Christ, the union of God and man. The Sacraments, or Sacred Mysteries are the most important means by which the faithful may obtain union with God,. Ιt could be said that poetically at least, Dina seeks that type of union, that communion through an understanding of the lives of her progenitors, including but limited to the sacrifice they made for us. She will do so by enumerating their works and deeds, much as Hesiod did for the ancient Greeks, in the hope that they imbue everything we do and that even when they are long forgotten by future generations, they will at least remain in ritual for tomorrow’s Poseidonians, to unsettle them and make them uneasy. That faith and ritual are at the center of this work, can be evidenced by the poem Byzantine Hymns, is a parallel and a response to Cafavy’s poem “In the Church”. Dina’s description of ordinary long lost events also is imbued with Orthodox symbolism:

“Every Easter a lamb was kept in the yard
And then slaughtered for the feast
The hanging carcass
Becoming the lamb on the spit
And the sausages, their deliciousness
An immediate recompense
For the horror of the preparation.”

Here we have the Pascal sacrifice, the book of the Apocalypse all rolled into one culinary morsel for easy bolting down. When the poet witnessed her parents slaughtering the sacrificial lamb, was she in fact witnessing the slaughter of their own hopes and dreams of happiness in a land not their own? Isn’t this the most poignant and horrific of mysteries – the myth-busting of the myth that we had nothing to eat, then came to Australia worked hard, had kids and then lived happily ever after?
As an aside, the poet related to me her daughter’s response to this particular myth element. It was one of incredulity. Such things, which many of us in this room have witnessed or partaken of have already passed into the realms of implausibility for the next generations.
One of the foremost functions of myth is to establish models for behavior. The figures described in myth are sacred and are therefore worthy role models for human beings. Thus, myths often function to uphold current social structures and institutions: they justify these customs by claiming that they were established by sacred beings. In this case of course, founding fathers/creators.
Another function is to provide people with a religious experience. By retelling myths, human beings detach themselves from the present and return to the mythical age, thereby bringing themselves closer to the divine. In fact, in some cases, a society will reenact a myth in an attempt to reproduce the conditions of the mythical age: for example, it will reenact the healing performed by a god at the beginning of time in order to heal someone in the present.
We see this approach to myth in the poem Greek school.:
“Australian at day school
Greek at home
The epicentre of cultural identity
Crystallised in the four hours at Greek school…
the glories of Greece
gave way, in our senior classes
to the world of Greek literature.."

How Poesidonian a moment is this. We go from the blind recitation of almost unintelligible mantras relating to our past, to a period of knowledge, knowing that we will swing back to a period of Poseiodianism once again. That small window of knowledge however, is a mythological age, the time when we truly knew what this transported culture was all about. It is a time that we need to refer to and perpetuate.

Time itself, for the Greeks, was a mythological being. In Dina Dounis’ work, time is of the because mythology is of necessity, backward looking, looking to the past to establish and explain the presence, as well as to guide the future. In Summers at Sorrento, while following the Poseidonian listing of symbolic elements, such as spanakopita, dolmades, roast chicken, honey cookies), what makes time wonderful, is our mother’s selfless fussing. Summers at Sorrento, describing the now largely lost custom of mass Greek picnics by the seaside, takes the same form as and is sister to the poem Soccer at Middle Park, which follows the same format: a liturgical listing of symbolic elements “an assortment of treats, oranges nuts and cake, passed along” as if in a communion of all those united by their attendance and adherence to the same tenets of identity. This moment is a break in time, a snapshot before the real essence of the progenitors existence, which is back breaking toil, again part of the sacrifice of those by the virtue of whose labours, time began for us.
Dina is, like Doctor Who, a Time Lord and she can play with time, showing that it is not just linear but can be looped, so that we are can be ensconced in a space time vortex. She can “resurrect the past” as she does in the poem “A Minutiae of Rememberance, where she recalls the exact details of a doll. In “Meanderings,” which again describes a semi linear progression that weaves back upon itself – a true reflection of Dina’s conception of time, we learn however, that this resurrection has side effects, namely “the intangible ache of the heart and the sadness of time’s passing.”
It is important, not only because of its attitude to time, its attempt to create a teleturgy for the mythologisation of the works and deeds of an entire generation but also because of the sensitive manner in which it mourns the passing of a truly remarkable woman.

First published in NKEE on 19 October 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009


“It’s exciting; I don’t know whether I’m going to win or not. I think I am. I do know I’m ready for the job. And, if not, that’s just the way it goes.” George W Bush.

This Diatribe was supposed to be about why I should be the leader of my own Greek political fringe party. After all, it works for Alexis Tsipras, president of Synaspismos, who vaulted into prominence as a representative of the pupil movement when he was featured as a guest at the Anna Panagiotarea talk show. Aleko is young, much too young in the gerontocracy that is Greece, to be a serious political leader and up until the recebnt elections, he was not even a member of the Greek parliament. Instead, he was a member of the Athenian municipal council. That in itself does not totally disqualify him from legitimate aspirations to power. Rather, it is his name.
A Tsipras does not appear in the annals of Greek politics anywhere. As is well known, Greek politics is a family business and only the true dynasties who have a pedigree of at least three generations can rule. Constantine Mitsotakis gained his legitimacy from his uncle, the great Eleftherios Venizelos, which in turn justifies the existence of his son, Kyriakos in Parliament, along with his prominent daughter Dora, whose alleged Prime Ministerial aspirations are widely speculated upon. Kostas Karamanlis on the other hand, is merely a second generation politician, following in the footsteps of his uncle, unless you take into account any reputed link to the Karamanli dynesty of Tripoli, headed by Ahmed Karamanli, in which case, Kostas should try his luck contesting the Libyan elections, in the hope of becoming a successor to Qaddafi. At any rate, it his his lack of pedigree which seems to have cost him the recent election. Diatribe prophetically cautions the gentle reader to watch for the fallen PM’s son Alexandros. Should he enter politics upon attaining his age of majority, then we can be assured of the permanency of this upstart political family. Hopefully, he will not inherit the quixotic nature of his father, who called the poll midway through his term in office, hoping it would boost his legitimacy. By voting out the incumbent New Democrats so determinedly, analysts said, Greeks had shown how "fed up" they were with the abuse of power. Conceding defeat Karamanlis said: "I take full responsibility … and will start the process for the election of a new leader." That in itself is offensive. Everyone knows that the new leader must be a scion (here read scioness, for anti-scionism in New Democracy seems soon to be outlawed), of the greatest New Democracy family ever to grace its party halls.
Karamanlis congratulated his rival, saying in a brief speech in central Athens: "From the depths of my heart, I wish to thank the voters who backed us in these elections. I wish to congratulate George Papandreou for his victory. We hope he succeeds in the great challenge of facing the economic situation." What about castigation, hyperbole and rhetoric followed by drinks at the club? Bad form, I would say.
Yiorgakis Papadreou on the other hand, PASOK leader and prime minister elect has an impeccable pedigree. His grandfather George, an aide of Venizelos, was Prime Minister of Greece on three occassions, assisting the British soldiers in his first term, against the ELAS guerillas. His father, Andreas Papandreou, who made being a socialist a borgeois pastime, was prime minister twice, which means that Yiorgaki may just only make one term (may he reign forever.) Yiorgaki has a son, Andreas, who deserves to be made prime minister just after young Alexandros Karamanlis has had a go, for the sake of symmetry. Papandreou had wooed voters by promising to "revolutionise" cultural and political life – and offering the possibility that Greece's near bankrupt economy could be "fixed" without further austerity. "We need a new start," he told the media. "We need to clean up our act … people, clearly, are looking for an alternative that is both realistic and visionary." He added: "We bear a great responsibility to change the course of the country ... We know that we can make it." Where have we heard all that before? That’s right, daddy Papandreous slogan of «Αλλαγή.» Good to see that slogans also remain in the family, along with the right to rule.
Having one family succeed the other is a brilliant political innovation for two reasons. Firstly, when asked who the current Prime Minister of Greece is, one has a fifty percent chance of getting it right and thus avoiding the appelation of politically uninformed, which, as I’m told, is death on the dating scene. Secondly, if the Greek state was to do away with elections and simply alternate between members of the two families, for pre-determined terms, the savings would certainly heal any trauma caused by the entrepreneurial property-developing prelates of Vatopaidi monastery, the spurious scandal-mongering Siemens executives, or any other peccadillo or slight mishap that will be dredged up by the Papandreou government in order to justify itself when it inevitably hits a brick wall.
After all, implementing Pasok's agenda of reform will not be easy, and Papandreou is unlikely to be given a honeymoon period. He must deal with a faltering economy that is expected to contract in 2009 after years of growth, while the budget deficit will probably exceed 6% of economic output. Despite his plans for a stimulus package, the new government will probably have to borrow heavily to service the ballooning debt, which is set to exceed 100% of GDP this year, and pay public-sector wages and pensions.
"People are very scared out there. They are very worried about the economy because in this country so much depends on the state," said analyst Pavlos Tsimas. "I have been following Greek elections for over 30 years and I have never seen anything like it, there is absolutely no joy, no hope."
If there is hope, it lies in the smaller parties who continue to amuse us with their existence. Apart from KKE, which despite the downfall of almost every communist regime in the world, save those that have reintepreted Das Kapital as a call for rampant capitalism, still believes in the proletarian revolution (and this in one of the most borgeois societies in the world), the Greek parliament is graced by the presence of LAOS, not to be confused with KAOS, which is short for Popular Orthodox Alarm, as opposed to any other sort of generic brands that can be purchased at your local electrical shop, headed by the beefy and obscure New Democracy defector, Karatzaferis, one of whose claims to fame, according to Ios Press is broadcasting his opinion on television that: "1/3 of Greek congressmen are passive homosexuals with Albanian Stallions." This party has won 15 seats in Parliament. Then there is Tsipras’ party, the Coalition of the Left and Ecology, which began life as a splinter of the Communist Party and like its rival, is able to comment adversely and profusely on all aspects of government with luxurious abandon, given that it will never have a chance to assume the reigns of power.
Amidst the Trotskyites, parties whose name is an acronym for chicken (KOTA) and other worthy partakes of the Greek democratic system, there is no reason why I should not be compelled to lead the Neos Kosmos party, short for Coalition of the Bereft and Phrenology. Our platform is manifold and is comprised of, well recycled manifolds from American classic cars. Our policies include the ritual smearing of Eleni Menegaki with coconut oil every 17th of November and including “The Spit” as compulsory reading in all high school syllabi. Further, the inclusion of the glyph comprising the name of the artist formerly known as Prince in the Greek alphabet and the exile by ostracism to Folegandros of all those who do not acknowledge Tzimis Panoussis as their personal saviour. Given that none of my family has ever entered politics or is likely to do so, I feel that I am well equipped to take my place at Alekos Tsipras’ side. All I have to do, is to be opinionated and spew forth my unsubstantiated and highly twisted social critique in a public forum in an attempt to beguile people into thinking that I have a social conscience. But then again, is that not what the Diatribe is for? From a grand adept at democratic elections, Imelda Marcos, these words of wisdom to tide us over intil the next poll: “Win or lose, we go shopping after the election.”


First published in NKEE on 12 October 2009