Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Sylvester of Obnora

Today is the Feast of St. Sylvester of Obnora, which is a monastery in the southern part of Vologda Oblast in Russia. Originally founded in the 14th century, it was destroyed by Tartars in the 16th century. It was later rebuilt in the 17th century.

St. Sylvester was a monastic at Holy Trinity Monastery and was a disciple of St. Sergius of Radonezh, who gave him the blessing to become a hermit, which he was for many years. As often happens with hermits, people were drawn to St. Sylvester for advice and spiritual needs. He fulfilled this role at Obnora by becoming abbot.

Despite this, St. Sylvester still yearned for solitude. Therefore, he found a grove of trees which he commanded to be left alone so that he always had a place to pray in peace. This became known as the Commanded Grove or Sanctuary Grove.

St. Sylvester died of illness in A.D. 1479.

In 1645, the hieromonk Job, who re-built the monastery, ordered trees from the Commanded Grove to be cut down. He was struck blind and only regained his sight after repenting and going to the reliquary of St. Sylvester.

Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I am not a fan of the Druid as a PC class, although I am happy to use them as monsters. Given that Earth Day was this past week and the seemingly druidic command of St. Sylvester to keep and defend a sacred grove of trees, I thought it apropos to scratch that itch again.

Whenever I introduce the idea of druids as monsters, a common reaction is to understand them as eco-terrorists. While I suppose interpreting them as a fantasy version of Earth Firsters might work, I have never imagined them that way. For me, the most terrifying monster is a human being who embraces sin as righteousness and consequently does horrible things. The best way to tell a horror story is to hold up a mirror to ourselves. For me, the druid is a fantasy version of Earth Day taken to its logical conclusion.

I doubt there are many people who are against the basic concept of environmentalism, which can be simply stated as: Don’t defecate where you eat.

From a theological perspective, Christianity is (for a lack of a better word) green and has always been green. Human beings are the pinnacle of creation having been endowed according to the image and likeness of God. We fulfill a priestly role of presenting God to creation and lifting up creation to God by being co-creators with God.

In the LXX Greek translation of the OT, the word “to create/make” used in Genesis and attributed to God shares the same root as the English words “poem” and “poet.” God is an artist. In other words, we are expected to use nature and the environment in creative ways that are beneficial for everybody and everything.

This POV can be expressed with this diagram:
God --> Humanity --> Creation (Co-Creation)
The proponents of Earth Day turn this diagram upside down. Nature becomes more important than humanity and humanity is more important than God. Thus, as I have heard from several sources, humanity becomes a virus that endangers Nature that needs to be reformed and controlled in order to save the Earth.

There is a dissonance in the logic of modern environmentalism that is frightening. Humanity is both undesirable and the mechanism of salvation. It is within this logic that I find the druid-as-monster. Nature is better off without humanity, which needs to get wiped out. Humanity, however, won’t go away without help. Thus, druids seek to destroy Civilization while abandoning their own humanity (in my own rendition, they seek to become one with Nature by becoming Elementals).

The mirror that needs to get held up to modern environmentalism is this: Since human beings are a part of Nature (whether you accept that God created it or not), mistreating and dismissing humanity is a misuse and abuse of Nature.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Basil Ratishvili of Georgia

Today is the Feast of St. Basil Ratishvili of Georgia. He was a monastic saint of the 13th century who lived on Mt. Athos at Iveron Monastery. He is considered a wonderworker and was endowed with the gift of prophecy, the most famous of which was leveled at King Denetre of Georgia.

St. Basil received a vision of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) to travel to Georgia to censure the King and his court for their profligate lifestyle (in his youth, Demetre took more than one wife). The saint appeared in court and implored the king and his court to turn away from their lifestyle. When they dismissed St. Basil, he was impelled to respond with this prophecy:

A vicious enemy will kill you, and your kingdom will remain without refuge. Your children will be scattered, your kingdom conquered, and all your wealth seized. Know that, according to the will of the Most Holy Theotokos, everything I have told you will come to pass unless you repent and turn from this way of life. Now I will depart from you in peace.

At the time, Georgia was a client state of the Ilkanid Mongols under Abaqa Khan, who died in 1282. What followed was a turbulent period of succession wars. Abaqa’s brother first took the throne but was overthrown by Abaqa’s son Arghun. Another of Abaqa brothers, Qonguram, plotted to overthrow Arghun but failed.

King Demetre’s son was married to the daughter of Mongol Chancellor Buqa, who was one of the conspirators against Arghun. Thus, the armies of the Mongols were poised to fulfill St. Basil’s prophecy. Seeing this truth, King Demetre repented and acquiesced to appear before the court of Arghun Khan in order to sacrifice himself for the safety of his Kingdom. He was imprisoned and executed and the anger of the Khan was sated.

At his death, those present witnessed the sun grow dark and the city enshrouded in gloom and shadow. His body was guarded by the Georgians present and then secreted away with help of fishermen back to Georgia. Today he is revered as a martyr saint with the title “the Devoted” or “Self-Sacrificer.”

Prophecy is a trope in fantasy and sci-fi storytelling because it is great tool for crafting interesting and exciting tales, as can be seen above with the story of King Demetre. In RPGs, however, prophecy is a tricky and even dangerous thing to play with. An author has complete control over everything that happens in the worlds she creates. A GM, however, has ceded that complete control to the players. Thus, if a prophecy is leveled at PCs, it can be abusively used to wrest that control back from the players begging the question: why play an RPG when the story can more properly be told as a short story or a novel?

If prophecy is to be used in an RPG setting, it really should to be part of what I call background noise. In other words, in context of St. Basil and St. Demetre the Devoted, the PCs would hear the rumor that the King had a prophecy leveled against him. The PCs can get involved if they want, or simply ignore it. Note that a good prophecy is one that has an “If…then” statement so that should players want to mess with it, they can be part of the force that can place pressure on whatever variable they wish.

At some point in the campaign (or even prior to the campaign) the prophecy is fulfilled and the PCs then have to deal with the consequences. To continue the example of Sts. Basil and Demetre, the PCs could be called upon to be those who secret the body of the King out of enemy hands.

In other words, prophecy in an RPG can still be a great tool; however, it needs to be a source of adventure background that players can interact with rather than something that is leveled at PCs that then players need to deal with.