Saturday, February 7, 2015

Yalta, The Place of the Skull?

Depending on your Catholic upbringing and whether you were exposed to classic Crucifixion iconography, you may or may not be conscious of the skull buried at the foot of the Cross and bathed in the Precious Blood of Jesus, Our Savior and Our God. The skull is that of the first Adam, now washed clean of his sin in the Blood of his Descendant, the second Adam, the Christ. The imagery is part of the reason why pilgrims to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, when they reach the top of Calvary there, are told that this is the axis, the center point of our world and our history, this, the Place of the Skull. This is the place in history, in time and space, of our salvation.

Naturally, the godless and sophisticated pseudo-scientists scoff at such meditations; these offspring of the so-called Enlightenment are too sterile and enamored of death to embrace the poetry of God's great symphony, our hymn to the mystery of God's love and how through the sacrifice of His only begotten Son He chose us from all times to share in the everlasting life and light of His Presence. The earth-bound and destined to die seem more enthralled by other axes or delimiters (think of the neo-pagan attraction to Stone Hendge in England). I think Yalta in Crimea, for Europe at least, is another one of these delimiters, an axis around which much has turned and not just since the infamous conference, starring Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill, held there in February 1945.

Chance and geography have divided Europe since time immemorial, setting off or into motion certain mechanisms, which are far from reasoned but jealously defended as determinate by these so-called champions of reason and secular values against the Jerusalem axis. Yalta becomes in a way the European axis, if you will. Beyond the realm of the Roman Empire, Crimea was the place of exile and testimony to the martyrdom of two early popes: St. Clement and St. Martin. It played the frontier again in the senseless slaughter of the Crimean War. Perhaps not quite so ancient a demarcation line would be the Elbe River, which St. Norbert of Xanten (1080-1134) looked upon from its west bank at Magdeburg as marking off the Christian west from the pagan east. Interestingly enough, centuries later his brethren would save his bones from desecration by German protestant iconoclasts by carrying them east to Prague.

Certainly from the time of Sts. Cyril and Methodius (c. 815-885) western Catholicism from Germany was pushing east of the Elbe and attempting to impede efforts of the saintly brothers of Saloniki to extend Byzantium's sphere of interest through evangelization into these regions. Constantinople, not that many years later, was successful in pushing north from Crimea to Kyiv and beyond when St. Volodymyr presented the people of the Rus' for Baptism. Centuries later, Muscovy attempted to bring territory west and south under its control, fighting time and again to try and hold Crimea and repeatedly pushing west toward the Elbe. Stalin got what he wished and more in February of 1945 and strong men without warrant divided Europe into spheres of influence, seemingly guided by arbitrary delimiters almost as old as time. The whole thing, I am sorry, smacks of Stone Hendge and shows little or no concern for the populations involved and their dignity.

Most people have some awareness of how burdensome this has been for Catholic Poland but less so for the people of Ukraine. Historians are wont to say of the peace Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I, that it actually set the stage for World War II, because of its injustice. The same can be said of the Yalta Conference, which held many peoples bound until 1989 and beyond. It would seem that for some reason Russia today is again pushing to control all within the "mystical" delimiters of Yalta and the Elbe. It would seem that the strong men of the world are also obsessed with respecting those delimiters, as if they were not arbitrary but somehow written in the stars. Calvary denotes the axis of the world's salvation, freeing all for eternity through the Blood of the Cross, and Yalta marks the epicenter of the killing fields, Europe's death-dealing place of the skull.

Rationalists ought to scoff at such determinism, now shouldn't they? Me thinks there is a demon that needs to be expelled. What else indeed could be at work in a Western world unwilling to defend the integrity of today Ukraine, tomorrow the Baltic countries and Poland... all the way to the Elbe?

Yalta, the place of the skull? Not hardly! It is sacrilegious even to think it. Free men turn only around the center point of Calvary, The Place of the Skull, the place in time where God in His love freed us from sin and death, and for the sake of something much better, greater than spheres on influence delimited maybe by Crimea and the Elbe.

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