Dormition Fast: Orthodox Christians prepare for ‘falling asleep’ of the Theotokos

Russian cathedral of white, brown, turquoise with gold dome, view of pillars from ground

The Dormition Cathedral in Omsk, Siberia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, AUGUST 1: As the death of the Virgin Mary draws imminently closer on the Christian calendar, Orthodox Christians prepare through the Dormition Fast. For two weeks, observant Orthodox Christians fast from red meat, poultry, meat products, dairy products, fish, wine and oil (an exception is made on August 6, for the Transfiguration. Wikipedia has details).

Orthodox Christians have one of the most extensive fasting calendars among the world’s great religions. In fact, they spend almost half of each year practicing some form of dietary restriction—and through August 1-14, the faithful make preparations for the approaching Dormition of the Theotokos, a phrase that refers to her death as her “falling asleep.” (Find Dormition Fast resources here.) In the Orthodox tradition, the Virgin Mary is called Theotokos, or God-bearer.

As would be in most families, the occasion of a deathly ill mother would bring children together—and this is still the case in the Orthodox Christian Church, points out the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Families should regularly gather and this fasting period is a good reminder of that, he writes. The routines of daily life should slow; during the Dormition Fast, Orthodox Christians reflect and honor the woman who bore God.

Today—the first day of the Dormition fast—is a feast day in the Church, called the Procession of the Cross. In commemoration, many Orthodox congregations hold an outdoor procession and perform the Lesser Blessing of Water.

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Categories: Christian

Lammas, Lughnassadh: Christians, Wiccans, Pagans mark grain harvest festival

Grains, breads and rolls on table

Lughnasadh and Lammas have long been a first harvest festival: a time for giving thanks for grains, and baking with the fresh crops. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, AUGUST 1: Freshly baked breads, golden grains, dancing and the imminent days of autumn are all central to today’s celebration—by Christians, Lammas, and by Wiccans and Pagans (in the Northern Hemisphere), Lughnassadh. Though the name varies by tradition, this first harvest festival draws its roots from the same agricultural festival, steeped deep in history.

It is the joyful simplicity of gratitude for the change in seasons—from a season of planting to a season of harvest—that marks today’s occasion. While Lammas is a Christian holiday, it is observed primarily by the English and those of the Anglo-Saxon tradition; the Catholic Church previously commemorated both Lammas and the feast of St. Peter in Chains on August 1, but the latter feast has since been removed from the Roman Calendar. (Learn more from Catholic Culture.) For Wiccans and Pagans everywhere, Lughnassadh is a time for reflection, renewed hope and dancing. Centuries ago, the blessing of the first fruits—that is, the first crops of the harvest—was performed in both the Eastern and Western Christian Churches.


Learn more about the link between grains, breads and faith in Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads, a book filled with fascinating stories and traditional recipes, from ReadTheSpirit author Lynne Golodner.


The Anglo-Saxon version of Lammas, or hlaf-mas, “loaf-mass,” refers to the practice of bringing a loaf of freshly baked bread to one’s local church for blessing: the loaf would, of course, be made from the baker’s freshly harvested grain. The faithful would ask God’s blessings upon their harvest, and in some regions, Anglo-Saxon charms were placed upon the Lammas loaves. (Find scrumptious bread recipes at Allrecipes; get instructions for daily fresh bread from Mother Earth News.) Following Lammas Mass, Christians would partake in a Lammas Day feast, complete with the loaf that had been blessed in church.


Ancient Celtic myth describes a god of sun, of light and brightness: He is Lugh, the deity for whom Lughnassadh is named. Ever mirthful, Lugh is honored alongside his foster mother, Tailtiu, who is said to be responsible for introducing agriculture to Ireland. The story of Lughnassadh is one of the cycle of life, of the harvesting of grains and crops, and of one season’s fruits dropping seeds for the next. (Wikipedia has details.) In many areas, corn dollies were made from the harvested corn, sometimes hung in the home for a measure of luck.

Today, modern Wiccans and Pagans enjoy the season’s freshest produce, preferably in a feast: blackberries, grains, grapes and apples. Aside from ceremonies with dancing and bonfires, anyone can participate in Lughnassadh by giving thanks for the food on the table. (Learn more from Try a walk in the woods or fields, visit an orchard, or collect seeds for next year’s planting season.

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Categories: Wiccan / Pagan

Can you hear me now? Transcontinental telephone service marks 100 years

Black-and-white photo of Alexander Graham Bell in suit with white hair and white beard

Alexander Graham Bell conducted a first celebrated call on the transcontinental telephone line, staged in January 1915 six months following the first 1914 connection to test the line. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

TUESDAY, JULY 29: Paper-thin telephones, sleek tablets, high-tech smartphones and e-readers now circle the globe. But it was only 100 years ago, on this day, that the first test call was made on a transcontinental telephone line. Commercial service for the technology, however, was not possible until January 25 of the following year.


Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone way back in 1876. Appropriately, he was invited to complete the celebrated “first” telephone call on a transcontinental line in 1915. In truth, that was an official demonstration scheduled to coincide with a huge world’s fair in San Francisco.

The first actual voice transmission on the transcontinental line is the subject of today’s anniversary, connecting Theodore Vail, the president of AT&T, with a few of his workers. Wikipedia has details. Vail was a fascinating figure in American life, even though he is almost entirely forgotten today. He began working in railroads and with mail delivery in the American West, then he switched to the new telephone technology.

Perhaps because of his vast experience, Vail was quite a visionary. At the height of his career, he argued that major corporations, especially communication companies, should have public service as their first and foremost goal, even more important than the financial profits earned. He also foreshadowed the 21st-century debates on privacy by writing—a century ago—”If we don’t tell the truth about ourselves, someone else will.”

The highly debated question of who invented the telephone remains a burning controversy, but Bell patented his version, and went down in history as his patents were successfully defended for a time.


On a basic level, every telephone converts sound into electronic signals that are suitable for transmission—via cables, radio or other transmission media—and the signals are replayed into the receiver’s telephone, where they are converted back into audible form. From the Greek tele (“far”) and phone (“voice”), telephone means, quite literally, “distant voice.”

Did you know? A January 2014 Pew study found that 90 percent of American adults have a cell phone, and 42 percent own a tablet; 58 percent own a smartphone, and 32 percent have an e-reader.

The earliest mobile phones evolved from two-way radios and transportables. Cellular technology took off in the 1960s, and 1973 brought the first cellular phone call. (Read more from Wikipedia.) Today, most mobile devices can send and receive text messages; take and display photographs; access Internet sites and play music and video. Smartphones combine mobile communication and computing needs.


American consumers will soon be able to legally unlock their phones for wireless networks, reported the Huffington Post, after a bill was passed that allows phone users more choices when choosing a phone carrier. The bill, “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act,” allows consumers and third parties to unlock phones that were received through a carrier.

The lithium-ion batteries of today may be too large for future electric devices, and a startup business in California is responding to that need with paper-thin batteries. Imprint Energy has been experimenting with chemistry that was, previously, regarded as incompatible with batteries. (Read more in the Christian Science Monitor.)

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Categories: Anniversary

Eid ul-Fitr: Muslims rejoice in Feast of Breaking the Fast of Ramadan

Large stadium filled with people and pillars

Thousands of Indonesian Muslims gather for Eid ul Fitr prayer in Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Comons

SUNSET SUNDAY and MONDAY, JULY 27-28: Eid Mubarak! The long days of Ramadan have ended to make way for a new and triumphant day. Muslim days begin at sunset on the previous evening—so the new Islamic month begins at sunset July 27 and the festivities of Eid al-Fitr, the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, are expected to start on the morning of Monday July 28.

Remember the global diversity in this celebration by more than a billion Muslim men, women and children. First, English spellings of the Arabic phrase Eid ul-Fitr vary. Second, the start of this holiday may also vary, based on how each regional community around the world interprets the sighting of a new moon. Finally, the length of the Eid celebration varies—perhaps as short as a single day but usually lasting two days or even longer.

Throughout the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims spent each daylight hour without food or water, restraining their worldly desires in one of the most sacred traditions of Islam. Then, the first day of the month of Shawwal brings the Eid, and Muslims are actually not permitted to fast. Grand feasts ensue, prayer is offered in congregations and in some regions, festivities last for three days. Fireworks, carnivals, gift exchanges and visits from family and friends add to the joyous revelry of Eid al-Fitr.

This grand holiday originated with the Prophet Muhammad, in what a hadith (a saying of the Prophet) describes as a declaration that the Almighty had fixed this time of festivity for Muslim celebration.

The day’s events begin early on Eid al-Fitr—before sunrise—with prayer, bathing and the donning of new clothing. A small breakfast, often of dates, is consumed before adherents head to a nearby mosque, hall or even an open field in many parts of the world. (According to Islamic tradition, Eid’s prayer may only be offered as a part of the overall Muslim community, so huge crowds show up and many mosques around the world have lines of praying Muslims spilling out the doors onto sidewalks, parking lots or fields. Wikipedia has details.)

Also a part of these celebrations is the Zakat, a traditional donation to charity. Usually, sermons instruct the faithful to ask Allah’s forgiveness and to, in return, grant forgiveness to others. When prayers are over, Muslims visit friends and family, receive visitors in their homes and attend large, communal celebrations. (Learn more from IslamiCity.)

One of the largest temporary human migrations globally is the Eid al-Fitr homecoming of Indonesian Muslims, primarily workers who typically live far from their hometowns. The travelers seek forgiveness from parents, in-laws and elders, and all join in a feast together.


Pakistan Railways announced weeks ago that it would run special Eid trains for the Eid ul-Fitr holiday in anticipation of the vast number of pilgrims making the journey to their hometowns for the holiday of Eid ul-Fitr. Train schedules are revised in many Muslim countries.

The UK’s The Guardian recently asked Muslim bloggers to share their experiences of being a Muslim in Britain today—the best and worst aspects, how it has shaped their views of Britain as a whole, etc.—and the results are in this article.

Interested in what Eid al-Fitr looks like around the world? The Huffington Post has a photo slideshow.

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Categories: Muslim

Birthday of Haile Selassie: Rastafari celebrate with Nyabingi, gatherings

Time magazine cover with black-and-white photo of young Emperor Haile Selassie

When news of Haile Selassie’s coronation reached Jamaica—such as via this magazine cover from Time magazine—the fledgling Rastafari religion began. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, JULY 23: Rastafari far and wide hold Nyabingi drumming sessions and revel in the birthday anniversary of their God incarnate, Haile Selassie.

Beginnings were meager for this renowned emperor-to-be, born in a mud hut in Ethiopia, in 1892. Selassie—originally named Tafari Makonnen—was a governor’s son, assuming the throne of Ethiopia in a complex struggle for succession. The nation’s leaders favored Tafari for the role of emperor—and, in 1930, he was crowned. Selassie would become Ethiopia’s last emperor, and today, he is viewed as the messiah of the Rastafari. ( has more on Selassie’s life.)

Years prior to Haile Selassie’s enthronement, American black-nationalist leader Marcus Garvey began preaching of a coming messiah who would lead the peoples of Africa, and the African diaspora, into freedom. When news of Selassie’s coronation reached Jamaica, it became evident to some that Selassie was this foretold of messiah. (Wikipedia has details.) Beyond the prophesies in the Book of Revelation and New Testament that Rastafari point to as proof of Selassie’s status, the emperor also could trace his lineage back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Rastafari pointed to Selassie as the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David and the King of Kings.

Selassie remained a lifelong Christian, but never reproached the Rastafari for their beliefs in him as the returned messiah. To this day, Rastafari rejoice on July 23, the anniversary of his birth.


The young musicians of Zvuloon Dub System performed recently in San Francisco, garnering press attention for their unique blend of sounds and cultures. Today, approximately 100,000 Falashas (Ethiopians of Jewish faith) live in Israel—and the band members of Zvuloon Dub System spread awareness of this group. The band’s music can be described as Ethiopian, Jamaican and Israeli, performed in both English and Amharic. Check out the easygoing style of Zvuloon Dub System on YouTube.

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Categories: AnniversaryRastafari

Laylat al-Qadr: Muslims revere Night of Destiny, Night of Power

Open book of the Quran in dim lighting

Many Muslims stay awake the entire night of Laylat al-Qadr, reading the Quran and reciting prayers. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, JULY 23 (or one of the last 10, odd-numbered nights of Ramadan): The holiest night of Ramadan is met by Muslims across the globe with great reverence and joy. It’s Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Destiny, the Night of Power or the Night of Decree.

Most Muslims regard Laylat al-Qadr as the anniversary of the night the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, and the Quran declares that observing this night is “better than one thousand months.” Though the Prophet Muhammad never specified the exact date of Laylat al-Qadr, Muslims are required to “search for it” among the last 10, odd-numbered nights of Ramadan.

Millions of adherents believe, generally, that Laylat al-Qadr occurs on the 27th day of Ramadan; however, many attempt to stay awake in prayer as much as possible during each of the odd-numbered nights during the final 10 of Ramadan, in case of error on the correct date. Those fortunate Muslims who can afford to do so spend the entirety of the final 10 days of Ramadan in the mosque, in the worship known as I’tikaf.

The traditional sayings of the Prophet assure the faithful that whoever prays in sincerity on Laylat al Qadr will be forgiven of sins.

Highly regarded is the belief that angels descend upon the earth on Laylat al-Qadr, due to the many blessings of the sacred night. (Read more from On Islam.) During the final 10 days of Ramadan, acts of charity and donations are increased—along with prayer and readings of the Quran. (Wikipedia has details.) Muslims teach that the complete revelation of the Quran to Muhammad took place over a total of 23 years; this transmission began in 610 CE at a cave near Mecca with this initial revelation of the holy text that is remembered on Laylat al-Qadr.


Cover of Najah Bazzy Beauty of RamadanShopkeepers in Maharashtra, India, have been reporting increased sales in dates during Ramadan 2014, according to an article from Business Standard; the dates range in price from $.67 per pound to $33.32 per pound. Though dates have been popular for breaking fast during Ramadan for centuries, they now are available in flavors and from nations across the globe. The fasting of Ramadan will end on the first day of the next month—and with the grand festival of Eid ul-Fitr.

CHECK OUT ‘THE BEAUTY OF RAMADAN’! ReadTheSpirit Books publishes a complete guide to Ramadan, including the Night of Power, written by Najah Bazzy.

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Categories: Muslim

Joe Hill: Sing a new song on the centennial of a labor union activist

Black-and-white portrait of middle-aged man with a button-up shirt and hat askew

A portrait of Joe Hill. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, JULY 18: One hundred years after the conviction of Joe Hill—the presence of the famed union activist, songwriter and miner is as strong as ever. It was said of Hill, “it takes more than guns to kill a man.” Though he was executed at a youthful 36, the legend of Joe Hill lives far beyond his years—in movements reflecting Hill’s sense of justice.

Often portrayed as a political martyr, Joe Hill secured his place in history when he gave his life in the name of his cause. Yet any true follower of Hill would starkly recognize the request left before his execution: “Don’t waste time mourning—organize.” In other words—remember him best by putting into action what he fought for. (Interest in Hill’s story was renewed in 2011, with a new biography—read reviews from the New York Times and Newcity.)

Hill’s immortal words have since been shortened into the union catchphrase, “Don’t Mourn, Organize.”


A Swedish immigrant, Joel Hagglund came to America with high hopes, changing his name to Joseph Hillstrom and, later, Joe Hill.

He had high hopes, but the reality of American life soon hit: Hill had trouble finding work and wound up in the lower working class in New York, then later found himself living in a hobo jungle. Hill moved with the immigrant masses, bouncing from job to job. For that reason, few details exist about the majority of Hill’s life. Only when Hill became a Wobbly—a member of the Industrial Workers of the World—did he become renowned for the music and revolutionary spirit that inspired thousands of laborers. (Wikipedia has details.)

Hill’s labor tunes urged workers to quit thinking of themselves as a dispirited crowd of immigrants—and, instead, to take heart and show confidence through singing and organized efforts to improve their lot in life. As one writer commented, during a strike, “There was in it a peculiar, intense, vital spirit, a religious spirit if you will—that I never felt before in any strike.” Nationalities and differing languages came together to sing Hill’s tunes in unison. Even if jailed for their protests, the workers would sing piercingly until their release.

Brought up in the Lutheran Church, Hill borrowed the tunes for many of his labor songs from popular hymns.


In January of 1914, during a labor action involving Hill, a Salt Lake City shopkeeper and his son were killed in their store. There was no clear evidence of a connection, but Hill was suspected in the crime because he had suffered a gunshot wound the same night. Though evidence has since come forth that Hill had been engaged in conflict elsewhere, in a fight over his love, the Utah jury found him guilty of the murders in the store. Uproar from around the world erupted, with President Woodrow Wilson writing twice to Utah’s governor—and unions as distant as Australia protesting his conviction. Yet Hill refused to give an alibi or release the name of his sweetheart, and he was executed by a firing squad on November 19, 1915.

Interested in memorializing the mission of Joe Hill? Check out the Facebook page dedicated to Joe Hill’s Centennial Celebration, on September 5, 2015.

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Categories: Anniversary