Black January

January 20

Black January is the Azerbaijani term for the massacre of January 20, 1990. Every year since 1990, the people of Azerbaijan remember those who fell that day. They are called the January 20th Martyrs.

On that day Soviet troops stormed the capital city of Baku. Their supposed intent was to crack down on Azeri nationalist demonstrations, to protect the faltering Communist Party leadership, and to stem the violence in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region between Azeris and Armenians.

The result of the attack was at least 133 Azerbaijanis killed; hundreds more were wounded. Most of the victims were civilians and peaceful demonstrators.

Azerbaijani citizens don’t appreciate the fact that the same year Soviet Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev ordered the attack on Baku, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Azerbaijan gained its independence in 1991, but the Nagorno-Karabakh War continued for years. Even today Armenia and Azerbaijan contest the ownership of the N-K Autonomous Region, and nearly 20 years later, emotions run high when remembering the Martyrs of Black January. – Black January

World Religion Day – Bahá’í

January 20

Today is World Religion Day in the Bahá’í Faith.

Bahai symbol

For two years I drove by the Baha’i Faith Center just a few blocks from my apartment without bothering to stop in.

It wasn’t until after I moved away that I finally decided to come back and sit in on a Sunday service to find out more about the Baha’i Faith first hand.

To my surprise, the center was mostly empty, despite it being a Baha’i holiday: World Religion Day. Members taught me two things about the Baha’i Faith that helped explain why to attendance on a Baha’i holiday was less than packed.

Most Baha’i services are not held in formal places of worship at all. Bahais usually meet at the homes of the congregation’s members.

Baha’u’llah, the religion’s founder, believed that the people’s scarce resources shouldn’t be spent on lavish buildings. The Baha’i world headquarters in Haifa, Israel, is the exception to this.

Shrine of the Bab, Haifa, Israel
Shrine of the Bab, Haifa, Israel

The community center in Los Angeles on the other hand is a plain, underwhelming box that’s easy to miss amid the grid of traffic and mini-malls known as La Cienaga Boulevard.

I was surprised the meeting didn’t mention anything about World Religion Day. The Baha’i Faith combines the philosophies of the world’s major religions — Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism — with the writings of its founder and final prophet Baha’u’llah. The people at the service came from all different religious backgrounds, and they said members were encouraged to continue attending the services of their original faiths.

World Religion Day was not an invention of Baha’u’llah it turns out, but was promoted by the American chapter of the Baha’i Faith beginning in the 1950’s. I don’t want to call it a publicity stunt, but it may have be more for those outside the Faith than within.

As one member of the small congregation explained to me, for Bahais, “every day is World Religion Day.”

[Originally written March 2008]

More about the Baha’i Faith

Bahai Community in Iran Under Attack

Baha’i Library Discussion Group

Why Baha’i?


January 19 (January 20 in Leap Years)

If you’ve just had an epiphany, you’re not alone.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Epiphany on January 19. (January 20 in Leap Year.) It’s called Timkat, or Timket.

In parts of Europe and the Americas Epiphany is also known as Three Kings Day, (though no number or rank is specified in the Bible) and celebrates the visit of the Magi who bestow gifts on the baby Jesus.

In the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches however, the day commemorates Jesus’s baptism by St. John in the River Jordan.

As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” — Mark 1:10

Traditionally Christians celebrate the event twelve to fourteen days after Christmas. (Once Epiphany was the twelfth day of Christmas.) In the Ethiopian Calendar Christmas falls on December 28, or January 7 Gregorian.


Timkat/Epiphany falls on January 11th in the Ethiopian Calendar, or January 19th Gregorian.

The night before, priests take the Tabot (which symbolizes the Ark of the Covenant) containing the Ten Commandments from each Church. Concealed by an ornamental cloth, it is taken to a tent, close to a consecrated pool or stream, accompanied by much ringing of bells, blowing of trumpets and the burning of incense. —

In Timket, Tella and Tej are brewed, special bread is baked called “Himbash” (in Tigrigna) “Ambasha” (in Amharic), and sheep are slaughtered to mark the three-day celebration. —

While most African churches south of Egypt date only to the colonial era, Hebraic traditions and Semitic language were practiced by some Ethiopian tribes before the birth of Christ.


In fact, the Ethiopian Cathedral of Our Lady Mary of Zion, claims to hold the original Ark of the Covenant, said to have been brought to Ethiopia by Minelik, son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, around the 9th century B.C.

The Ark’s authenticity has been impossible to verify, as only one person has access to the Ark at a time: a sacred guardian, chosen for a lifetime term by the previous guardian.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has the most extended Biblical Canon of any major church, numbering 81 sacred books. Among those writings not included by Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic churches are the books of Enoch, Esdras, and Jubilee. – photos/celebration of Timket

Timket 2008: Epiphany & Stardom – a Peace Corps blog

Christian Unity Week of Prayer

January 18-25

January 18, 2008 marked 100 years since the first Christian Unity Week of Prayer was first held on January 18, 1908.

Over a century ago an American Episcopalian priest and an English Anglican vicar exchanged correspondence regarding a day of prayer for Christian Unity. Reverend Jones, the Anglican vicar, proposed June 29th, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. Friar Paul Wattson, the Episcopalian, suggested a week of prayer between the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (then celebrated on January 18th) and the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25th.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.

Matthew 16:18

The Feast of the Chair, now celebrated on February 22, is not in honor of the grand Basilica in St. Peter’s Cathedral, designed by Bernini during the 17th century. Nor is it meant to pay homage to the remains of the chair behind it–once thought to have been St. Peter’s own chair–which is now believed to have been built around the 9th century.

The word “chair” in Latin is cathedra, from which we get the word “cathedral.” Specifically, cathedra referred to a chair with armrests, or a throne. But the word signified the power that went along with the throne of the Roman Emperor. Today we still say “the seat of power” to refer to an abstract position of power, not as a four-legged furniture piece. (Likewise, “chairman of the board” does not mean upholsterer.)

Thus the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter is in effect in honor of the creation of the Papacy by Jesus and St. Peter.

Records of the Feast date all the way back to the 4th century, and were adapted from an ancient Roman tradition honoring the memory of the original patriarch of a dynasty, family or clan.

In 1908 Friar Paul Wattson felt this would be an appropriate date on which to start an Ecumenical week of prayer. The term Ecumenical Movement refers to “the initiatives and activities planned and undertaken…to promote Christian unity.” (Unitatis Regintegratio, Vatican II)

The Society of the Atonement was founded by Wattson and Mother Lurana White in Garrsion, New York in 1898, one of its main missions being greater unification between the differing sects of Christianity. Wattson decided upon the name “Atonement” while reading Romans 5:11. The word atonementseemed to stand out from that sacred page with a distinctness all it own…”  When divided the word read ‘at one’ -ment.

Friar James Gardiner describes the first observance of Christian Unity Prayer Week:

“Ten inches of snow blanketed the Hudson River Valley and temperatures hovered in the low 30s. There couldn’t have been more than a handful of people–probably just the Friars and Sisters–who gathered each night in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels at Greymoor.”

Through Wattson’s correspondence with religious leader thousands of others joined in prayer at other locations.

The following year Wattson was told, “You cannot serve either the Papal Church or the Protestant Episcopal Church well if you try to serve both at the same time.

Friar Paul along with Mother Lurana and other members of the Society of the Atonement made the choice of submitting to the Catholic Church as a distinct religious community. The Friars and Sisters of the Atonement were recognized as corporate body, “the first such occurrence since the Reformation.” (

The Christian Unity Octave was blessed by Pope Pius X. During World War I Pope Benedict XV encouraged the annual celebration throughout the Catholic Church. For its Golden Jubilee Pope John XXIII announced:

Encouraging you and your community to ever more strenuous efforts in the propagation of the Chair of Unity Octave, we urgently invite the faithful of every race and clime to join in this period of prayer.

Five years later the Second Vatican Council recognized that prayer was “the soul of ecumenical movement” and “welcomed ecumenical dialogue with non-Catholic Christians and with Orthodox Churches.”

The decree announced revolutionary changes that encouraged cooperation between separate churches, including:

“All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of the Body of Christ, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church…

“The Sacred Council exhorts all the Catholic faithful to recognize the signs of the times and to take an active and intelligent part in the work of ecumenism.

“Catholics are encouraged to join in ecumincal activity, and to meet non-Catholic Christians in truth and love…

“All Christians have a common purpose–to confess Christ before men. Practical expression must be given to this, by relieving the distress which afflicts so many of the human race: famine, illiteracy, shortage of housing and the unequal distribution of wealth.”

[posted January 18, 2008]

Greymoor Friary
Graymoor Friary today

Ad Te Levavi Animam Meam

Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreglious Institute

Blog by the Sea


Christian worship & spirituality

Foundation of Lima: City of Kings

January 18


Today is the Foundation Day of Peru’s capital city. Francisco Pizarro founded Lima on January 18, 1535 as La Ciudad de los Reyes (City of Kings). Pizarro has been at various times the most reviled, revered, and again reviled figure in South American history.

Pizarro was a Spanish soldier in Panama who earned his stripes by bringing his former commander, pig-farmer-turned-Conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa, to Balboa’s rival, Governor Dávila. Dávila tried Balboa and his associates for allegedly betraying the Spanish crown and had them immediately decapitated. Dávila rewarded Pizarro by making him mayor of Panama City.

In the 1520’s, stories of gold and riches filtered north from the land that would be Peru. Pizarro joined forces with a priest (Luque) and a soldier (Almagro) to lead an expedition south in search of these treasures.

Their first expedition was a dismal failure. And while the second expedition succeeded in bringing back some treasure, it wasn’t enough to entice Panama’s new governor to approve a third. Not one to take ‘no’ for an answer, Pizarro sailed to Spain, and attained funding directly from King Charles and Queen Isabella.

Pizarro returned to Peru with less than 200 men. The Battle of Cajamarco in 1532, between those soldiers and, according to Spanish accounts, 80,000 Incas, is perhaps the most staggering military upset in recorded history.

Pizarro occupies Cuzco
Pizarro occupies Cuzco

The small pox virus, brought by Europeans, helped. Not only had small pox devastated the Incan population, it killed the previous ruler, leading to a civil war between the king’s sons.

Atahuallpa, the apparent victor of the fraternal struggle, commanded an army of tens of thousands. When he was invited to meet Pizarro at Cajamarca, he didn’t consider a force of 200 men any threat.

Historian Jared Diamond combines the testimony of 6 Spanish eyewitnesses into a full description of the battle in the chapter “Collision at Cajamarco” from Guns, Germs, and Steel, the text of which can be found here. Go there. Read it. Now.


On reaching the entrance to Cajamarca, we saw the camp of Atahuallpa… We were so few in number and we had penetrated so far into a land where we could not hope to receive reinforcements. The Governor’s brother Hernando Pizarro estimated the number of Indian soldiers there at 40,000, but he was telling a lie just to encourage us, for there were actually more than 80,000 Indians.

Through a messenger, Francisco Pizarro invited Atahuallpa to meet with him at Cajamarco, promising, ‘I will receive him as a friend and brother… No harm or insult will befall him.’

“At noon Atahuallpa began to draw up his men and to approach…In front of Atahuallpa went 2,000 Indians who swept the road ahead of him… Many of us urinated without noticing it, out of sheer terror…”

“Governor Pizarro now sent Friar Vicente de Valverde to go speak to Atahuallpa… the Friar thus addressed him: ‘I am a Priest of God, and I teach Christians the things of God… What I teach is that which God says to using this Book…’

Atahuallpa opened the Bible, and showing no expression, tossed it on the ground.

“The Friar returned to Pizarro, shouting, ‘Come out! Come out, Christians! Come at these enemy dogs who reject the things of God. That tyrant has thrown my book of holy law to the ground!…’

“…The booming of the guns, the blowing of the trumpets, and the rattles on the horses threw the Indians into panicked confusion. The Spaniards fell upon them and began to cut them to pieces…

Pizarro reaches for Atahualpa
Pizarro reaches for Atahualpa

“Although we killed the Indians who held the litter, others at once took their places and held it aloft…Atahuallpa was captured, and the Governor took Atahuallpa to his lodging. The Indians carrying the litter, and those escorting Atahuallpa, never abandoned him: all died around him…

“When the squadrons of Indians who had remained in the plain outside the town saw the other Indians fleeing and shouting, most of them too panicked and fled. It was an astonishing sight, for the whole valley for 15 or 20 miles was completely filled with Indians…

“Six or even thousand Indians lay dead, and many more had their arms cut off and other wounds… It was extraordinary to see so powerful a ruler captured in so short a time, when he had come with such a mighty army. Truly, it was not accomplished by our own forces, for there were so few of us. It was by the grace of God…

Pizarro explained to Atahuallpa that God permitted his defeat so that “you may know Him and come out from the bestial and diabolical life that you lead… When you have seen the errors in which you live, you will understand the good that we have done you…

Atahuallpa offered to fill a large room with gold and treasure for his release. After Atahuallpa made good on his promise, Pizarro executed him anyway. But not before baptizing him.

Pizarro paved the way for three centuries of Spanish colonization in Peru. He crushed Cuzco and set up the city of Jauja as his capital in 1534, but it was too remote. The following year he established Lima; he later claimed that the creation of Lima was the greatest thing he ever did.

Today Lima’s 7.8 million residents celebrate the 475th anniversary of Pizarro’s founding, though its founder has grown less and less popular in Peru in recent decades. (I can’t imagine why.)

Here upon the plains
The Great Calichuchima
Was burnt at the stake by the conquistadores;
From the flames he called upon the sun for justice.
Now with its golden figure the same sun
Points to you, Pizarro,
The greatest criminal of the New World.

— Jorge Carrera Andrade, “El Pacificador” (about Pizarro’s brother Gonzalo)

Capture of an Inca King: Francisco Pizarro

Lima Commemorates 474th Anniversary

St. Anthony: Blessing of the Animals

January 17

St. Anthony the Hermit

And God maketh the beast of the earth after its kind, and the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, and God seeth that it was good.

— Genesis 1:25

Before there was Doctor Dolittle, there was St. Anthony Abad, patron saint of the animal kingdom.

St. Anthony the Hermit, or St. Anthony the Great, was born in Egypt in 251 AD and lived to be 105. At age 34, he relinquished all his wealth and headed into the desert to be alone with God and meditate on Christ. He spent twenty years in isolation living in an abandoned Roman fort on a mountain by the Nile. The devil tormented him with images of animals attacking him, but Anthony never gave in.

Later in life, according to legend, various animals helped guide Anthony on his travels, including a wolf and a raven.  Once a dog attacked his enemy. Once he cured a pig from illness. He’s often pictured wandering the wilderness with a pig by his side.

Anthony’s other claim to fame was his fight against the followers of Arian Christianity in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries. Arias was an Egyptian Christian who taught that, while Jesus was divine, he was not the same as God. The Council of Nicea declared Arian Christianity heretical in 325 AD.

Blessings of pets and livestock are common, but not limited to Latin and Hispanic cultures. The biggest ceremonies occur on the Sundays nearest the feast days of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4) and St. Anthony the Hermit (January 17).

St. Anthony died on January 17, celebrated as his spiritual birth in Heaven.

Even now I remember being caught up in the moment, feeling inexplicably happy when my doggie received her very own blessing from the priest. When all is said and done, it was a remarkable experience, a chance to share our love for our beloved pets, and to renew our commitment to protecting and respecting all of God’s creatures.

Rose Lee Hayden, Goin’ to the Chapel, The Blessing of the Animals a la Romana

Blue Monday, Saddest Day of the Year

3rd Monday in January


Misery is expected to peak today, the third Monday in January being the “most depressing day” of the year.

[Note: you can say things like “is expected to” if one person expects it to be true.]

That one person is Cliff Arnalls of Wales, who created the formula to determine the worst day of the year.

[Note: if I can find someone who agrees with him, I can write: “Researchers agree…”]

The equation is:

[W + (D-d)] x TQ
divided by
M x NA


D = debt

d = amount of January pay check

T = time since Christmas

Q = amount time since failure to quit bad habit

M = motivational levels

NA = the need to take action

(The BBC describes Cliff as a part-time tutor at University of Cardiff in Wales, although one week later MSNBC promoted him to Dr. Arnall, a psychologist specializing in seasonal disorders. Apparently American educational standards are more lax.)

Even though the shortest day of the year is December 21st, the weather continues getting colder throughout the month of January. In fact, in ancient Rome the calendar year originally started in March and ended in December. The months of January and February were just one big amorphous clump of days, as the calendar was used mainly for agricultural purposes and was based on lunar cycles rather than solar.  In the 700s BC January and February were “created” to fill in the gap.

By a couple weeks into the new year the energy of the holidays has long dissipated, folks have failed all or most of their resolutions, and their bank accounts are still empty.

The airlines, however, recognize the date as the time when people are most likely to book a vacation.

“People feel bleak when they have nothing planned, but once they book a holiday they have a goal, they work toward having time off and a relaxing period,” — spokesperson for Porter Novelli, the PR agency for Sky Travel.

I’m buying into the vacation-booking theory, since my folks just booked their vacation last night.

Tips for making it through Blue Monday:

“Have a party and celebrate” – Jack Gilbert, Ontario, Canada

“Exercise and bibliotherapy” — Dr. Alan Cohen, Royal College of General Practioners

“Watch the film ‘The Sound of Music'” — Ketan Shah, Harrow, England

“Move to New Zealand…It’s summer!” – Oliver, Auckland, New Zealand

Thank you, New Zealand, for rubbing that in.

Martin Luther King Day

3rd Monday in January

Martin Luther King
Across from the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee

The above quote was from his Mountaintop speech, given one day before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee.

Today we remember, not his tragic death, but his remarkable life.

In the early 1980’s, Martin Luther King Day was a holiday in several states, but there was debate about whether King ‘deserved’ a federal holiday. After all only one other American had been so honored. George Washington.

[Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is not a federal holiday. There was a movement to rename Washington’s Birthday ‘Presidents Day’ but according to the Federal Government it is still celebrated as Washington’s Birthday. Lincoln’s Birthday is celebrated at the state level, as is the name ‘Presidents Day.’]

Then-Senator Barack Obama pointed out in his speech for the MLK Memorial ground-breaking that:

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not a president of the United States–at no time in his life did he hold public office. He was not a hero of foreign wars. He never had much money, and while he lived he was reviled at least as much as he was celebrated.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s path differs from Washington’s in many respects; however, his life is consistent with the lives of those who have been honored via holidays throughout the world over the past three thousand years.

  1. Martin Luther King was the unofficial spiritual leader of a large, underrepresented minority, suffering from great, long-lasting injustice.
  2. Against incredible odds he successfully challenged and helped to change the unjust laws and practices of a powerful nation.
  3. In the process he was prosecuted and imprisoned by that nation’s government.
  4. He traveled great distances to deliver 2,500 speeches.
  5. His words reached hundreds of millions of people.
  6. He made it known through his words and proved through his actions that the values for which he lived outweighed the sacrifices he would have to make fighting for them, even if this meant death. (He had received countless death threats before his assassination.)
  7. He was struck down during the height of his leadership, while fighting for those values and leading his people to freedom.
  8. And he left behind a large body of written and–thanks to the advent of television–spoken work that explains his political, spiritual and moral belief system for future generations.

Former Ambassador to the UN Andrew Young was with King in Memphis, Tennessee the day he died. Young reflects on the events that led up to King’s famed: “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

“There had been 60 unsolved bombings in Birmingham, Alabama. There were people being beaten up on the street for no good reason. Martin said, “We’ve got to take on Birmingham.” A group of black leaders came to meet with him to call off the demonstrations because we had several hundred people in jail, and we didn’t have bond money to bail them out. They were asking him to stop the demonstration and to leave town and go around speaking to try to raise money to get these people out. He got up and went into the next room and in about five minutes, he came back with his overalls on, and he said, “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, I know you mean well, but I cannot leave with these people in jail. The only thing I can do is go join them.”

It was in that jail cell that Martin Luther King penned a letter, started in the margins of an old newspaper, and continued on scraps of paper. It is now one of the most powerful documents of the Civil Rights era and a manifesto of civil disobedience.

Letter From a Birmingham Jail

Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King

Poems Concerning Martin Luther King Jr.