Friday, July 29, 2011

The Ways of Opus Dei early March, Elizabeth Heil, an arts-administration graduate student at Columbia University, was watching previews in a movie theater on Manhattan's Upper West Side when she cracked up inappropriately. The trailer was for the movie The Da Vinci Code, directed by Ron Howard and scheduled to open May 19, and it featured a grim-faced fellow uttering Christ's name repeatedly and then--wham!--whaling away at his already bloodied back with an Inquisition-issue cat-o'-nine-tails. It was not an intentionally funny scene. But Heil, who was familiar with the book on which the movie is based, recognized the figure onscreen as the albino assassin Silas, a fanatical, murderous member of a bizarre Catholic group called Opus Dei, and couldn't suppress a giggle. She is a member of the actual Opus Dei. "This is so outlandish," she recalls thinking. "I wish we were that interesting."

The Da Vinci Code's Opus Dei--a powerful, ultraconservative Roman Catholic faction riddled with sadomasochistic ritual, one of whose members commits serial murder in pursuit of a church-threatening secret--is obviously not reflective of the real-life organization (although author Dan Brown's website states the portrayal was "based on numerous books written about Opus Dei as well as on my own personal interviews"). Yet in casting the group as his heavy, Brown was as shrewd as someone setting up an innocent man for a crime. You don't choose the head of the Rotary. You single out the secretive guy at the end of the block with the off-putting tics, who perhaps has a couple of incidents in his past that will hinder an effective defense. That's not Heil, but it's not a bad sketch of the organization to which she belongs.
In its 78 years, Opus Dei has been a rumor magnet. Successful and secretive, it has been accused of using lavish riches and carefully cultivated clout to do everything from propping up Francisco Franco's Spanish dictatorship to pushing through its founder's premature sainthood to planting conservative minions in governments from Warsaw to Washington. Brown's treatment of the group had seemed to represent an untoppable high-sewage mark--that is, until the movie trailer appeared. Says Juan Manuel Mora, director of Opus Dei's communications department in Rome: "Reading a print version is one thing. Seeing the color images is another."
Yet Mora and his colleagues have inaugurated a countertrend, in part by breaking their organization's historical silence. They spoke at length on record to John Allen, a respected print and television Vatican commentator, and offered him unprecedented access to Opus Dei records and personnel. In November he responded with Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church (Doubleday), probably the most informed and sympathetic treatment of the group ever penned by an outsider. Opus has since talked freely to other journalists, including TIME's.
But Opus' public relations offensive hasn't quite managed to close the gap between what critics say it is about and its own version of the story. On one side there is "Octopus Dei," or, as the current issue of Harper's magazine puts it, "to a great extent ... an authoritarian and semi-clandestine enterprise that manages to infiltrate its indoctrinated technocrats, politicos and administrators into the highest levels of the state." On the other is the portrait painted by Opus' U.S. vicar Thomas Bohlin, who sat for several hours with TIME at his group's Manhattan headquarters. Opus, he explained, is just a teaching entity, a kind of advanced school for Catholic spiritual formation with minimal global coordination or input as to how members and sympathizers apply what they learn. "You know Dale Carnegie courses?" he asked. "Businesses send their people there to learn to speak better, to organize--they teach all these kinds of things. People go there because they get something out of it, and then when they graduate, they don't represent Dale Carnegie."
James Martin, an editor at the Jesuit publication America who has written critically about Opus, offers a middle ground between Dale Carnegie and the octopus: "Opus Dei provides members with an overarching spirituality for their life," he suggests. "It's an ongoing relationship that helps buttress and further shape the thought of people who are already conservative Catholics. That's a powerful symbiosis, and there's a personal connection between members, whether they're housewives or politicians. It's not an evil empire, but that doesn't mean there aren't serious issues that need to be addressed."
A first journalistic pass, by Allen or TIME, cannot fully resolve all those issues. But it can answer some of the questions that have long dogged the organization, and it may also show how The Da Vinci Code could end up helping Opus Dei.
On Oct. 2, 1928, a 26-year-old Spanish priest named Josemaría Escrivá was visited by a new vision of Catholic spirituality: a movement of pious laypeople who would, by prayerful contemplation and the dedication of their labor to Christ, extend the holiness of church on Sunday into their everyday work life. Escrivá's title for the movement was a literal description--Opus Dei means "the work of God"--and his ambition was correspondingly large. He saw Opus eventually acting as "an intravenous injection [of holiness] in the bloodstream of society." was controversial almost from birth. Opus threatened the era's Catholic clericalism, which privileged priests, monks and nuns over the laity, and Escrivá was called a heretic. In the 1950s, several prominent Opus Dei members joined Franco's dictatorial but church-supportive regime in Spain, inaugurating speculation about the group's political leanings. The church's Second Vatican Council (1962-65) seemed to catch up with Escrivá's idea of lay activism--but his rigid adherence to Catholic teaching put his system at odds with liberals who accorded the laity a wide freedom of conscience. He himself was a polarizing figure, humble and grandiose, avuncular and ferocious. Opus grew slowly but steadily, remaining below the radar of most Catholics.
That all changed in 1982. Pope John Paul II, also a creative traditionalist interested in labor and faith, granted Escrivá's wish that Opus be a "personal prelature," a global quasi-diocese, able in some cases to leapfrog local archbishops and deal directly with Rome. Almost simultaneously the Pope publicly constricted the competing, more liberal Jesuit order. A perception that Opus' ecclesiastical power knew no limits peaked with Escrivá's 1992 beatification, a brief (for those days) 17 years after his death. Faultfinders, notes Allen, claimed that the judging panel had been packed and Escrivá's critics blackballed; they viewed his fast move toward sainthood as the muscle-flexing "ecclesiastical equivalent of [the Roman emperor] Caligula making his horse a senator." Allen sees the beatification as legitimate, as did 300,000 people who thronged Rome for Escrivá's 2002 canonization.
Opus Dei is not a kind of spiritual pick-me-up for casual Catholics. It features a small, committed membership (85,500 worldwide and a mere 3,000 in the U.S.), many of whom come from pious families and are prepared to embrace unpopular church teachings such as its birth-control ban. Members take part in a rigorous course of spiritual "formation" stressing church doctrine and contemplation plus Escrivá's philosophy of work and personal holiness. Opus' core is its "numeraries," the 20% who, despite remaining lay, pledge celibacy, live together in one of about 1,700 sex-segregated "centers" and extend their training to a degree rivaling a priest's--all while holding day jobs, with most of their pay devolving to the group. That near cloistered life produces the group's most avid, satisfied members and its bitterest dropouts. Opus steers a small number of members toward the priesthood, and they exert considerable influence on the lay majority.
Some 70% of the membership, called supernumeraries, are much more of this world. They bend Opus' daily two hours of religious observance around a more typical--or perhaps retro, given the large size of many of their families--existence. Opus' sureties provide a spiritual grounding to life's everyday chaos and ambiguities. While she was raising seven children in the anything-goes 1970s, says Cathy Hickey of Larchmont, N.Y., Opus gave her "an underlying stream of peace and joy." Members bring a pious concentration to jobs that might otherwise be done less ethically or carefully. Heil, the Columbia student, says Opus "helps your whole life melt into this 24/7 conversation with God."
For all its uniqueness in mission and structure, Opus Dei is best known for being secretive. It has a special set of greetings: "Pax" and "In aeternum" ("Peace" and "In eternity"). Its 1950 constitution barred members from revealing their membership without permission from the director of their center. In 1982 a new document repudiated "secrecy or clandestine activity," and Bohlin, the U.S. vicar, claims that the continuing impression is a misunderstanding based again on decentralization. "People [get Opus training] and go back to where they were," he says. "So we never march in a parade as a group because we don't form a group. And when people don't see us marching, they say, 'They must be secret.'"

Yet Opus will still not identify its members, and many prefer not to identify themselves. In England, in late 2004, the Labour government's Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, went months before confirming she had received "spiritual support" from Opus. (Her exact status remains unclear.) Nor, as Allen shows in his book, will Opus formally own up to many of its institutions. Its U.S. schools tend to go by bland names like the Heights or Northridge Prep. For years, he reports, the 17-story U.S. headquarters in New York, finished in 2001, lacked an identifying street-level sign. Allen counts 15 universities, seven hospitals, 11 business schools and 36 primary and secondary schools around the world as what Opus calls "corporate works," as opposed to personal deeds. It is justly proud of 97 vocational-technical schools worldwide, which deflate the myth that Opus serves only the rich. But very few of the schools and hospitals are legally owned by Opus, which admits only to providing "doctrinal and spiritual formation." It is a tribute to the persistence of Allen and his financial expert, Joseph Harris, that they determined that at least in the U.S., Opus proper enjoys a minimum of "dual control" over them by placing members on their boards.
The normal assumption about such indirectness would be that the group is hiding something, and filthy lucre is a staple of the Opus myth. Two rumors about its popularity with John Paul were that it funded the Solidarity trade union and helped bail out the Vatican bank after its 1982 scandal. Poverty is demonstrably not one of Opus' vows. It has a reputation for cultivating the rich or those soon to be, at both élite colleges and its own institutions. (In Latin America many in the church feel that Opus priests served once ascendant oligarchs over the masses.) Even in the inner city, Opus is unabashedly less interested in identifying with the poor than turning them into the middle class. Bohlin jokingly distinguishes his members from "some Franciscans with holes in  their shoes, driving a crummy car because of their sense of the spirit of poverty." the basis of their study of IRS filings, Allen and Harris found $344.4 million in Opus assets in the U.S. and roughly estimate a global total of $2.8 billion. If correct, that sum approximates Duke University's endowment, yet is hardly Vatican bailout money. But those figures are only part of the picture. Opus members and its sympathizers, known as "cooperators," can be very generous, and their funds hard to track. Allen's research suggests that a most likely unexpected $60 million gift (a hefty portion of its total U.S. assets) financed much of the Manhattan building. Longlea, the group's Washington-area mansion, was donated by a couple who had just bought it for $7.4 million. Father Michael Barrett, an Opus Dei priest who pastors a chapel in Houston, recently raised $4.3 million for a new building and says, "I can assure you that cooperators and supernumeraries have given at the $100,000 level." That largesse, credited officially to the Galveston-Houston archdiocese, would not show up even on Allen's scrupulous balance sheet. Nor would similar Opus-generated funds.
Some have said that Opus' true secret is its clout in international politics. Poland's new conservative regime includes an Opus minister and several Opus officials, according to one of the group's Warsaw directors; membership there is rumored to be a political stepping-stone. In Peru, Juan Luis Cardinal Cipriani, the church's first openly Opus Dei Cardinal, was seen as having sanctioned antiterrorist excesses by the regime of former President Alberto Fujimori; he scoffed at the accusations, writing that most human-rights groups were "fronts for Marxist and Maoist political movements."
For years, Catholics in Washington have kept informal count of possible high-profile Opus people, including Justice Antonin Scalia and almost-Justice Robert Bork, Senators Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback, columnist Robert Novak and former FBI head Louis Freeh. The tally was not totally arbitrary: Freeh's child went to an Opus Dei school, and his brother was a numerary for a while; Scalia's wife has attended Opus events, and the Justice is close to an Opus priest; and Brownback, Bork and Novak converted to Catholicism under one's wing. Several have denied the rumors ("I can't stress enough that he is not a member," says Santorum's communications chief). But a bonus of Opus' new candor campaign is that it now states freely that not one of the powerful Washingtonians belongs.
The more complicated question is what influence Opus Dei exerts on nonmembers. Says Bohlin: "We generally avoid talking about anything political, so as not to come down on one side or the other." Then he pauses. "But when you're talking about abortion, that's not a political issue. That's a Catholic issue," he says. "There are certain issues that we take a clear stand with the church on, and many of them are hot-button issues." Of course, you don't have to be Opus to oppose abortion, euthanasia or gay marriage. But the prelature, with an office on the capital's lobbyist-laden K Street, can act as a kind of validator to a broader spectrum of traditionalists. Scott Appleby, a Catholic history expert at Notre Dame, estimates that through programs for nonmembers and the articulate piety of its members, Opus Dei informs "about a million conservative Catholics." That's just 1.5% of the 67 million Catholics nationally, but it's a trove of motivated voters a politician can love, and may explain why Santorum has spoken at Opus events, in one case quoting Escrivá: "'Have you ever bothered to think how absurd it is to leave one's Catholicism aside on entering a professional association [or] Congress, as if you were checking your hat at the door?'" MEMBERS REALLY WHIP THEMSELVES?
The man doing penance advised his associate to cover his head with a blanket; but the observer could not stop his ears. "Soon," said the witness, "I began to hear the forceful blows of his discipline ... there were more than a thousand terrible blows, precisely timed. The floor was covered in blood." That is not an early Da Vinci Code draft. It is a description of Opus Dei founder Escrivá's routine by his eventual successor, quoted in a biography of Escrivá. Escrivá emphasized that others should not emulate his ferocity. But numeraries are expected, although not compelled, to wear a cilice, a small chain with inward-pointing spikes, around the upper thigh for two hours each day, and to flail themselves briefly weekly, with a small rope whip called a discipline.
With rare exceptions, even angry defectors don't cite self-mortification, as it's known, as their deal killer. Lucy, a former numerary assistant (see box, following page), told TIME it was "nothing. It's not like The Da Vinci Code." Catholic laity and luminaries, including Mother Teresa, have used it to identify with Christ's--and the world's--agony. San Antonio Archbishop José Gomez, an Opus member, notes self-mortification's tie to Opus' roots: "In the Hispanic culture," he says, "you look at the crucifixes, and they have a lot of blood. We are more used to sacrifice in the sense of physical suffering."
Self-mortification resonates with critics because, as Allen points out, it provides a metaphor for what they see as an "inhumane approach within Opus Dei, which demands a kind of dominance over its members, body and soul." Unnerving stories have been passed by ex-numeraries to journalists or posted to the anti-Opus website Many involve charges of deceptive recruiting, with prospective members unaware that the events they are invited to are Opus', of numeraries' realizing only belatedly that Opus expects them to sign away their paycheck and curtail relations with their families. The music they play and the publications they read are allegedly controlled, and they must report their own and others' deviations as part of a system of "fraternal correction." Center directors are portrayed as little dictators. Complaining to local bishops is futile because of Opus' semi-independent status. The critics claim that when the numeraries try to leave, they are threatened with damnation. Experts who have helped extract the disaffected have likened center life to a cult. And Martin, the America editor, contends that he gets "dozens" of calls yearly from parents saying the group has estranged or brainwashed their numerary children.

Opus responds that those who leave are a small minority, and Allen describes the mood around the many centers he visited as cheerful. Bohlin dismisses charges that prospective members are unaware of what to expect, pointing out that all go through an 18-month preparatory process. He says that in a group as loosely knit as he claims Opus to be, "you can't keep all the people happy all the time; you can't keep people from making mistakes." And he says the organization has mellowed. "I was running a center as a 25-year-old," Bohlin, now 51, notes. "At this point, we hopefully have more mature people. A green organization is different from one with more experience." To those who have been hurt, he says, "the only thing we can do is try to apologize and hope people understand, and you move on with your life." 
Prior to last year's Papal election, rumor held that Opus might end up brokering the conclave, but it turned out Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger did not need a broker. And the new Pope may be less concerned with aiding Opus than with strengthening the church's hierarchy. Nonetheless, Opus' second in command, Fernando Ocáriz, worked closely with Ratzinger on one of his last great conservative gestures as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Dominus Jesus, a reassertion of the primacy of Catholicism over other religions. Other members are "consultors" to that key office, and Opus' canon lawyers saturate Rome. Asserts John  Navone, a Jesuit theologian at Gregorian University: "They're in the forefront of the Vatican."
Opus' future in the U.S. is more complicated. Recently, on the 16th floor of the New York headquarters, 40 men did a guided contemplation. Two-thirds were visitors, some "meeting the Work" for the first time. While they sat, eyes closed, an Opus member intoned questions for them to ponder. "Do I realize that Christian life means finding and following Christ closely, no matter what the cost?" he asked: "Am I waging a generous inner struggle?" "Do I find in my work many opportunities for small sacrifices?" "Do I restrain my curiosity?"
That last one is a particularly telling query. Restraint of curiosity is not a virtue much trumpeted in the West today. That may help explain both why Opus' membership levels appear to have remained static in the U.S. over the past few decades and, perhaps, why it has attracted so much negative energy. "I don't believe Opus Dei is either a [cult] or a mafia or a cabal," a senior prelate of another religious community in Rome told TIME. It is just that "their approach is preconciliar. They originated prior to the Second Vatican Council, and they don't want to dialogue with society as they find it." That would not describe the majority of self-identifying American Catholics, who are distinctly postconciliar, with more than 75% opposing the birth-control ban. Their sympathy for Opus Dei might be limited. Some might even feel hostile toward it: church liberals, once riding high, have understood for decades that Rome does not incline their way. They feel abandoned, says Allen, "and whenever you feel that way, there's a natural desire to find someone to blame."

If that is the case--if much of the negative feeling regarding Opus at this point is displaced anger over the direction of the church--then The Da Vinci Code may be the best fate that could befall it. The movie will not deter Opus' usual constituency--conservative Catholics do not look to Ron Howard for guidance. But by forcing Opus into greater transparency, the film could aid it: if the organization is as harmless and "mature" as Bohlin contends, then such exposure could bring in a bumper crop of devotees--with perhaps even more to come if, as seems likely, American Catholicism becomes both more Hispanic and more conservative.

That is the kind of outcome Julian Cardinal Herranz, Opus' ranking Vatican official, expects. Long ago, he says, when he was editing a university newspaper, someone submitted a story claiming that Opus Dei was part of a worldwide conspiracy. Fascinated, Herranz began talking to Opus members, eventually becoming one himself. "That article I read was fiction," he says. "And now I'm here. I became a priest, I came to Rome, I became a bishop, and now a Cardinal. All because I read a fictional story about Opus Dei."

The Modern Knights the Order was founded by a Christian Byzantine Emperor, there still exist a great deal of confusion about the nature of Chivalric Orders around the world. Many of the original Chivalric Orders arose in response to the crusades to the Holy Land and other efforts to protect their lords, as well as the weak and less fortunate. 

Byzantine Knights were appointed by their leaders in recognition of their valiant deeds in battles; protecting their emperor or other high ranking nobleman. The earliest of knights were proclaimed the defenders of the empire well before the crusades from 312 AD after the battle of the Melvin bridge and 1190 by the Byzantine Emperor Flavio Constantino I, Emperor Isaac II, as was the Holly Constantinian Order of St. Sofia. In 1290, these Chivalric orders continue until the fall of Constantinople on the 29th of May 1453. These Orders were held in trust by the Greek patriarch of Jerusalem after it was conquered by the emerging Ottoman forces lead by the Sultan Mehmet II, after an 8 week battle in which the last Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI was capture blinded and was executed. 

In other parts of the world, well before the crusades, as early as 300 A.D., we find the Order of St. Antonio of Ethiopia, in 496 under the reign of King Clovis, the Order of St. Ampolla, in 732 the Order of the Genette by King Charles The Hammer; and in 800 we find the Order of Royal Crown by King Carlo Magno just to mention a few. 

In 1291 after the Christian Crusades, the European Orders of Knighthood serving under its Grand Masters, had to find new missions for their existence since the Holy Land had effectively been lost. As most Orders were originally established as military and monastic Orders, and had the title bestowed upon them as Chevalier or Knight, some Orders became Monarchial. Others became Confraternal and Honorific. The Byzantine and Charitable Order of Constantine the Great, along with a small handful of other Orders, remain today as some of  the oldest Orders, along with The Order of St. Michael 1171, St. Lassarus 1187, The Order of the Bear, 1213 by Emperor Federico II, the military Order of Jesus Christ, 1317 by Pope Giovanni XXII, The Equestrial apostolic Order of St. George of Bourgone, 1390. 

In 1525, only four of the recognized Medieval Orders survived as their continuation had been thwarted by a number of territorial Kings, Prince Regents, and interfering and / or weak popes who continuously tried to dismantle most Chivalric Orders due to the fact that they had grown in size and reputation and had become much too powerful and wealthy, creating fear with in the Royals and the papal circles. The Orders had to be stopped! 

In 1560, with the introduction of newer and more sophisticated weapons of war, and the formal establishment of Armies and Navies, many of the Monarchial Orders became unnecessary, and were transformed into honorific Orders where military and civic leaders rewarded the past deeds and service of distinguished individuals bound by a permanent rule of behavior and charitable goals. 

The Orders now expanded in to the civilian side, allowing prominent citizens from all walks of life to become part of our chivalric families. Some Monarchial and governmental Orders still remains as of today, such as the Order of the Count de Lion 1745, Belgian Order of Leopold I 1832, the Order of the Crown 1897, the Order of Leopold the II, 1900,The legion d’Honeur of France, The Order of the Garder of England 1347, The Order of the Elephant 1458 of Tialand, the Order of Rizal of the Philippines and many other European and Asian Orders. 

Then we have the modern Knights and ladies, selected from all professions and whose Orders have evolved into bodies dedicated to a return to the chivalric values of old, such as charity, educating, military service and the arts – all the while maintaining a sense of those great traditional noble values, that are needed today perhaps more than ever in the history of mankind. 

Many Modern Orders are patterned after a few ancient truly important Orders, and has many branches worldwide, Such Orders including our Orders of Constantine the Great and Saint Helen, the Knights Templar 1118, Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, Order of Malta, Orders of the Holy Sepulchers, Orders of St. Lasarus, The Order of St. Michael, the Order of St. George; just to mention a few.
Excluding these Orders associated with ruling Monarchs and the leaders of the world’s leading religions, most of the remaining Orders if not all, are Private and Honorific even though this might not be an admitted fact. 

Regardless to which Order one belongs, the modern Knights and Ladies of the 21st Century are expected and by sworn oath, required to uphold certain traditional and historic values. During their ceremonies of investiture, the members pledged themselves to a Grand Master and to the Constitution of the Order and agree to follow its ideals of personal honor, courage and service to others. So the tradition continues, they are conferred with the title of "Chevalier", or Knight for gentlemen and "Dame" for our Ladies which is an Honorary Title. Our Order is world wide in nature, with functioning Priories in 13 countries. 

Since 2005, The Order has raised and donated well over $125,000.00 and we will continue to do so with the help of our membership. The Order has an increased popularity in many countries and it interviewed and has been published in Turkey, Korea, Finland, Belgium and in the USA via the press and television shows. 

The Order will petition the Catholic and Orthodox church to be recognized as a Charitable Chivalric Order and with your help the Imperial & Charitable Order of Constantine the Great and of Saint Helene will continue to grow and prosper.
A speech by Grand Master,
H.G. Michael, Duke of Gardham

Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions, and Domestic Partnerships
"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." 
Leviticus :18:22

For over a decade, the issue of same-sex marriage has been a flashpoint in American politics, setting off waves of competing legislation, lawsuits and ballot initiatives to either legalize or ban the practice and causing rifts within religious groups. The legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States has become a relatively recent goal of the gay-rights movement, but over the last few years, gay-rights organizers have placed it at the center of their agenda, steering money and muscle into dozens of state capitals in an often uphill effort to persuade lawmakers.

Proponents of same-sex marriage have long argued that the institution of marriage is a unique expression of love and commitment and that calling the unions of same-sex couples anything else is a form of second-class citizenship; they also point out that many legal rights are tied to marriage. Those opposed to same-sex marriage agree that marriage is a fundamental bond with ancient roots. But they draw the opposite conclusion, saying that allowing same-sex couples to marry would undermine the institution of marriage itself.

Most states have shown caution in changing the status quo. But Washington, D.C., Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And in June 2011, New York lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage, making New York the largest state where gay and lesbian couples are able to wed and giving the national gay-rights movement new momentum from the state where it was born. Days later, the Rhode Island State Senate approved a bill allowing civil unions, despite fierce opposition from gay rights advocates who called the legislation discriminatory.

Beyond symbolism, gay-rights advocates said that New York had provided them with a new political model. The movement’s success in New York and other places could prove difficult to replicate. Twenty-nine states have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, while 12 others have laws against it. Gay-rights groups are likely to seek ballot initiatives in 2012 to overturn bans on same-sex marriage in Maine, where the Legislature approved a same-sex marriage law in 2009 that voters almost immediately turned back, and in Oregon.

A California court in 2008 ruled that a law barring same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. In a referendum that November, a ballot measure known as Proposition 8 was passed that restored the ban. Proposition 8 withstood a challenge in the state Supreme Court, which upheld the ban while allowing the marriages performed before it took effect to stand. But in August 2010, a federal judge found it unconstitutional, in a ruling that both sides say will end up before the Supreme Court. The ban ceased to have effect on Aug. 18, 2010.

In February 2011, President Obama, in a major legal policy shift, directed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act — the 1996 law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages — against lawsuits challenging it as unconstitutional.

Legally, there is still a long way to go before the issue is settled. Mr. Obama's decision has generated only mild rebukes from the Republicans hoping to succeed him in 2012, but House Republicans made plans to intervene, possibly by seeking to have Congress made a party to the suit.

Running Battles: Political and Legal
The issue of same-sex marriage came to the fore after the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled in 1993 that the denial of marriage licenses to three homosexual couples amounted to unconstitutional discrimination on the basis of sex — not sexual orientation — unless the state could show a compelling reason for the denials.

The Hawaii Legislature passed a bill in 1994 affirming marriage as intended for "man-woman units" capable of procreation. But in 1996, conservatives, fearful that the court case would lead to the sanctioning of marriages of lesbian and gay couples in Hawaii by the end of 1997, campaigned across the nation to insure that the recognition of same-sex marriages would not spread to other states.

The legislative battle picked up momentum as more conservatives became convinced a federal law was required. In September 1996, the United States Congress, approving what was called the "Defense of Marriage Act," voted overwhelmingly to deny Federal benefits to married people of the same sex and to permit states to ignore such marriages sanctioned in other states. The bill was signed by President Bill Clinton.

In 1998, Hawaii voters rejected the legalization of same-sex marriages.

Same-sex marriage first became a reality in the United States in 2004, after the Supreme Court in Massachusetts ruled that it was required under the equal protection clause of the state's Constitution. Connecticut began allowing same-sex marriage in late 2008. 

In April 2009, Iowa's Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing gay couples to marry, and the legislatures of Maine and Vermont passed laws granting the same right in the following weeks. In California, after a court decision in 2008 allowed the marriages, a voter referendum that November, upheld in court in May 2009, barred them.

The New Hampshire legislature approved revisions to a same-sex marriage bill on June 3, 2009, and Gov. John Lynch promptly signed the legislation, making the state the sixth to let gay couples wed and changing the landscape surrounding an issue that brings together deeply held principles and flashpoint politics.

Civil unions, an intermediate step that supporters say has made same-sex marriage seem less threatening, are legal in New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont. The latter two states are phasing them out after adopting same-sex marriage laws.

New England
New England remains the nucleus of the same-sex marriage movement, with a campaign under way to extend marriage rights to gay men and lesbians in all six of the region's states by 2012.

Critics say the success of the movement in New England is largely because courts and legislatures, not voters, are making the decisions. Voters have approved constitutional bans on same-sex marriage in 26 states since the Massachusetts court ruling, a landmark, took effect; the constitutions of four other states also limit marriage to heterosexuals.

Gay rights supporters suffered a crushing loss when voters decided in November 2009 to repeal Maine's new law allowing gay men and lesbians to wed, setting back a movement that had made remarkable progress nationally over the course of the year.

Maine, with its libertarian leanings, had seemed to offer an excellent chance of reversing the national trend of voters rejecting marriage equality at the ballot box. Instead, it became the 31st state to block same-sex marriage through a public referendum.

In July 2010, a federal judge in Massachusetts ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, finding that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.

Another major front in the debate is California. On May 15, 2008, the Supreme Court of California voted 4-to-3 that a state law banning same-sex marriage constituted illegal discrimination because domestic partnerships were not a good enough substitute. In its decision, the court wrote that whatever term is used by the state must be granted to all couples who meet its requirements, whatever their gender. The court left open the possibility that another term could denote state-sanctioned unions so long as that term was used across the board.

Opponents quickly organized, and launched the Proposition 8 initiative campaign, asking voters to ban same-sex marriages. After an expensive and hard-fought campaign, the measure passed on Nov. 4, 2008, with 52 percent of the vote. (Florida and Arizona also passed bans at the same time.)

Groups who had fought Proposition 8 immediately filed suit to block it. On May 26, 2009, the state Supreme Court upheld the voter-approved ban but also decided that the estimated 18,000 gay couples who tied the knot before the law took effect would stay wed. But in August 2010, a federal judge in San Francisco struck down the ban, saying it unfairly targeted gay men and women, handing supporters of such unions a temporary victory in a legal battle that seems all but certain to be settled by the Supreme Court.

The judge initially stayed his order, leaving the Proposition 8 ban in effect, then said it would be lifted as of Aug. 18, allowing same-sex marriages to resume.

In January 2011, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, asked the California Supreme Court for guidance on the issue of standing in a federal challenge to Prop 8. The order comes after former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his successor, Gov. Jerry Brown, refused to defend the proposition in court. That has left the defense primarily to conservative legal groups and proponents of the measure.

New York
In December 2009 the New York State Senate voted down a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage. The vote followed more than a year of lobbying by gay rights organizations, who steered close to $1 million into New York legislative races to boost support for the measure.

But in June 2011, the tide turned when four senators who had voted against legalizing same-sex marriage reversed course, saying their constituents’ thinking on the socially divisive issue had evolved. Lawmakers voted on June 24 to legalize same-sex marriage, making New York the largest state where gay and lesbian couples will be able to wed.

The marriage bill, whose fate was uncertain until moments before the vote, was approved 33 to 29 in a packed but hushed Senate chamber. In the end, four members of the Republican majority joined all but one Democrat in the Senate in supporting the measure after an intense and emotional campaign aimed at the handful of lawmakers wrestling with a decision that divided their friends, their constituents and sometimes their own homes.

The unexpected victory had a clear champion: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat who pledged in 2010 to support same-sex marriage but whose early months in office were dominated by intense battles with lawmakers and some labor unions over spending cuts. Mr. Cuomo made same-sex marriage one of his top priorities for 2011 and deployed his top aide to coordinate the efforts of a half-dozen local gay-rights organizations whose feuding and disorganization had in part been blamed for the defeat two years ago.

The new coalition of same-sex marriage supporters brought in one of Mr. Cuomo’s trusted campaign operatives to supervise a $3 million television and radio campaign aimed at persuading several Republican and Democratic senators to drop their opposition. In New York, passage of the bill reflects rapidly evolving sentiment about same-sex unions. In 2004, according to a Quinnipiac poll, 37 percent of the state’s residents supported allowing same-sex couples to wed. In 2011, 58 percent of them did. Advocates moved aggressively to capitalize on that shift, flooding the district offices of wavering lawmakers with phone calls, e-mails and signed postcards from constituents who favored same-sex marriage, sometimes in bundles that numbered in the thousands.

The law went into effect on June 24, with hundreds of couples marrying within the first hours. Obama and Gay Marriage
The flurry of activity in early 2009 has put pressure on President Obama to engage in a variety of gay issues. Mr. Obama has said he opposes same-sex marriage as a Christian but describes himself as a "fierce advocate of equality" for gay men and lesbians. While Mr. Obama has said he is "open to the possibility" that his views on same-sex marriage are misguided, he had offered no signal that he intended to change his position.

In February 2011, Mr. Obama directed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act against lawsuits challenging it as unconstitutional. The 1996 law barred federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. sent a letter to Congress on Feb. 23 saying that his department will take the position in court that the act should be struck down as a violation of same-sex couples’ rights to equal protection under the law.

The move was welcomed by gay-rights advocates, who had often criticized Mr. Obama for moving too slowly in his first two years in office to address such issues. Coming after the administration successfully pushed late in 2010 for repeal of the military’s ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly, the change of policy on the marriage law could intensify the long-running political and ideological clash over same-sex marriage as the 2012 presidential campaign approaches.

A few years ago, the president’s decision might have set off an intense national debate about gay rights. But the Republicans’ reserved response suggested that Mr. Obama may suffer little political damage as he evolves from what many gay rights leaders saw as a lackluster defender of their causes into a far more aggressive advocate.

The Republican responses reflect a belief that the political focus in the near term will be on fiscal issues rather than social ones. Advocates for gay rights, meanwhile, argue that the political ramifications of the president’s decision should be limited because surveys suggest that, while the country is split on the issue, a growing number of people support gay marriage.

Religious institutions have struggled with policies, privileges and rites regarding homosexuality, including whether or not to bless same-sex unions and whether or not gays and lesbians may hold positions of authority. There is no consensus among Christian faith groups on what the Bible says about homosexuality. Meanwhile, many individuals yearn for acceptance from their houses of worship.

In 2005, The United Church of Christ became the first mainline Christian denomination to support same-sex marriage officially when its general synod passed a resolution affirming "equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender." The resolution was adopted in the face of efforts to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

In July 2009, at the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, delegates including bishops, clergy and lay members, voted to open "any ordained ministry" to gay men and lesbians, a move that could effectively undermine a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops that the church passed at its last convention in 2006. Delegates also voted not to stand in the way of dioceses that choose to bless the unions of same-sex couples. Both issues have roiled the church for years.

Methodists, Presbyterians and American Baptist Churches have also debated the issues, and other Christian denominations have struggled with how to minister to gay and lesbian members.

Fundamentalist denominations have made significant efforts against homosexuality. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, has expelled congregations that welcomed homosexuals to their memberships.

Reform Judaism, the largest of the main branches of Judaism, has for years allowed same-sex commitment ceremonies.

Islam prohibits same-sex marriage.

The Patron Saint Helena "Parts of the True Cross" Helena is the patron of Archaeologists. Meanings, definition and origins - a patron is considered to be a defender of a specific group of people or of a nation. There is a patron for virtually every cause, profession or special interest. Prayers are considered more likely to be answered by asking a patron for intercession on their behalf.

Flavia Julia Helena Augusta rose from humble beginnings as a stabularia, inn-keeper, to become the mother of the great Christian Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. She was born c250 in Bithynia (modern day Turkey), a Roman province, in the northwest of Asia Minor. A Roman general called Constantius Chlorus met Helena whilst on a military campaign in Asia Minor. They became the parents of Constantine who became the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. Helena was not accepted in Roman society and Constantius Chlorus married a more socially suitable wife. Her son was proclaimed emperor at York in AD 306 and Helena moved to Rome where she converted to Christianity. The Emperor honored his mother and Constantine bestowed the title of Augusta on Helena. Augusta was the feminine form of the title Augustus and usually given to the wives or relatives of the Roman Emperors. Helena went on her famous pilgrimage to the Holy Land where legend tells that she found three crosses buried under the earth where Christ had died in Jerusalem. Helena built a church on the site where the 'Parts of the True Cross' were found. Following her pilgrimage, Helena died in Trier in Germany at the age of eighty in AD 330.

Saint Helana
ca. 246/50
Drepanum, further Helenopolis Bithynia, Asia Minor
ca. 330
Constantinople, Roman Empire (now modern-day Istanbul, Turkey)
Honored in
Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Oriental Orthodoxy
Anglican Communion
Lutheran Church
Major shrine
The shrine to Saint Helena in St. Peter's Basilica
18 August (Roman Catholic Church); 21 May (Orthodox, Anglican & Lutheran Churches); 19 May (Lutheran Church); 9 Pashons (Coptic Orthodox Church)
archaeologists, converts, difficult marriages, divorced people, empresses, Saint Helena island

The Patron Saint Helena 
What is the definition and the meaning of the Patron Saints and why were these people chosen to become patrons of causes, professions and countries? The term 'Patron' is used in Christian religions, including the Roman Catholic religion, to describe holy and virtuous men and women who are considered to be a defender of a specific group of people or of a country. There is a patron for virtually every cause, country, profession or special interest. There are two categories of saints: martyrs and confessors.

Why is Saint Helena the patron of Archaeologists?
Why is Saint Helena is the patron of Archaeologists? Because according to legend Saint Helena found three crosses buried under the earth where Christ had died in Jerusalem - the 'Parts of the True Cross'
How Saint Helena is represented in Christian Art
It is helpful to be able to recognise Saint Helena in paintings, stained glass windows, illuminated manuscripts, architecture and other forms of Christian art. The artistic representations reflect the life or death of saints, or an aspect of life with which the person is most closely associated. Saint Helena is represented in Christian Art with a crown on her head as empress, and embracing the Cross, because it is to her that modern Christians are indebted for the finding of the True Cross.

Saint Hood
She is considered by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern and Roman Catholic churches, as well as by the Anglican Communion and Lutheran Churches as a saint, famed for her piety. Her feast day as a saint of the Orthodox Christian Church is celebrated with her son on 21 May, the "Feast of the Holy Great Sovereigns Constantine and Helen, Equal to the Apostles." Likewise, Anglican churches and some Lutheran churches, keep the Eastern date. Her feast day in the Roman Catholic Church falls on 18 August. Her feast day in the Coptic Orthodox Church is on 9 Pashons. Eusebius records the details of her pilgrimage to Palestine and other eastern provinces (though not her discovery of the True Cross).
Relic discoveries
Constantine appointed his mother Helen as Augusta Imperatrix, and gave her unlimited access to the imperial treasury in order to locate the relics of Judeo-Christian tradition. In 326-28 Helena undertook a trip to the Holy Places in Palestine. According to Eusebius of Caesarea she was responsible for the construction or beautification of two churches, the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, and the Church on the Mount of Olives, sites of Christ's birth and ascension. Local founding legend attributes to Helena's orders the construction of a church in Egypt to identify the Burning Bush of Sinai. The chapel at St. Catherine's Monastery--often referred to as the Chapel of Saint Helen—is dated to the year AD 330.

Jerusalem was still rebuilding from the destruction of Emperor Hadrian, who had built a temple dedicated, according to conflicting accounts, to Venus or Jupiter over the site of Jesus's tomb near Calvary and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina. According to tradition, Helena ordered the temple torn down and, according to the legend that arose at the end of the fourth century, in Ambrose, On the Death of Theodosius (died 395) and at length in Rufinus' chapters appended to his translation into Latin of Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, which does not mention the event, chose a site to begin excavating, which led to the recovery of three different crosses. Then, Rufinus relates, refusing to be swayed by anything but solid proof, the empress (perhaps through Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem) had a woman who was already at the point of death brought from Jerusalem. When the woman touched the first and second crosses, her condition did not change, but when she touched the third and final cross she suddenly recovered, and Helena declared the cross with which the woman had been touched to be the True Cross. On the site of discovery, Constantine ordered built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as well as those on other sites detected by Helena.

She also found the nails of the crucifixion. To use their miraculous power to aid her son, Helena allegedly had one placed in Constantine's helmet, and another in the bridle of his horse. Helena left Jerusalem and the eastern provinces in 327 to return to Rome, bringing with her large parts of the True Cross and other relics, which were then stored in her palace's private chapel, where they can be still seen today. Her palace was later converted into the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. This has been maintained by Cistercian monks in the monastery which has been attached to the church for centuries.
Tradition says that the site of the Vatican Gardens was spread with earth brought from Golgotha by Helena to symbolically unite the blood of Christ with that shed by thousands of early Christians, who died in the persecutions of Nero.

According to one tradition, Helena acquired the Holy Tunic on her trip to Jerusalem and sent it to Trier. Several of Saint Helena's treasures are now in Cyprus, where she spent some time. Some of them are a part of Jesus Christ's tunic, pieces of the holy cross, and the world's only pieces of the rope with which Jesus was tied on the Cross. The latter has been held at the Stavrovouni Monastery, which was also founded by Saint Helena.

Death of Saint Helena
There are two categories of saints: martyrs and confessors. A Christian martyr is regarded as one who is put to death for his Christian faith or convictions. Confessors are people who died natural deaths. Date of Death: Saint Helena died in A.D. 330. Cause of Death: Natural Causes. 

She was buried in the Mausoleum of Helena, outside Rome on the Via Labicana. Her sarcophagus is on display in the Pio-Clementine Vatican Museum, although the connection is often questioned, next to her is the sarcophagus of her granddaughter Saint Constantina (Saint Constance). The elaborate reliefs contain hunting scenes. During her life, she gave many presents to the poor, released prisoners and mingled with the ordinary worshippers in modest attire.

Feast Day of Saint Helena
The Feast Day of Saint Helena is August 18th(Roman Catholic Church). The origin of Feast Days: most saints have specially designated feast days and are associated with a specific day of the year and these are referred to as the saint's feast day. The feast days first arose from the very early Christian custom of the annual commemoration of martyrs on the dates of their deaths at the same time celebrating their birth into heaven. and also celebrate her Feast Day 21 May (Orthodox, Anglican & Lutheran Churches); 19 May (Lutheran Church); 9 Pashons (Coptic Orthodox Church)

Depictions in British folklore 

In Great Britain, later legend, mentioned by Henry of Huntingdon but made popular by Geoffrey of Monmouth, claimed that Helena was a daughter of the King of Britain, Cole of Camulodunum, who allied with Constantius to avoid more war between the Britons and Rome. Geoffrey further states that she was brought up in the manner of a queen, as she had no brothers to inherit the throne of Britain. The source for this may have been Sozomen's Historia Ecclesiastica, which however does not claim Helena was British but only that her son Constantine picked up his Christianity there. Constantine was with his father when he died in Eboracum (York), but neither had spent much time in Britain. There is no other surviving evidence to support this legend, which may be due to confusion with Saint Elen, wife of the usurper Magnus Maximus.

At least twenty-five holy wells currently exist in the United Kingdom that are dedicated to Saint Helena. She is also the patron saint of Abingdon and Colchester. In Colchester, St Helen's Chapel was believed to have been founded by Helena herself, and since the 15th Century, the town's coat of arms have shown a representation of the True Cross and three crowned nails in her honour. Colchester Town Hall has a Victorian statue of the saint on top of its 50 metre tower. The arms of Nottingham are almost identical, because of the city's connection with Cole (or Coel), Helena's supposed father. Gilbert has argued that Helena traveled to Nevern in Wales where she hid the True Cross near the local Norman church of St Brynach where a cross is carved into a rock formation. Named the Pilgrim's Cross, religious pilgrims once came here to pray for visions. Names of local places are abundant with cross imagery, including "River of the Empress," "Mountain of the Cross," "Pass of the Cross" and others. The True Cross, however, has not been found in this region. Anthony Ayre St. Helen's Freemasons Lodge No 531, Hartlepool is so named after the 12th Century Chapel of St. Helen's whose ruins were discovered in Hartlepool in 1841. The Lodge was granted it's Warrant on 1 August 1846, Constituted 11th Sept 1846 and received its Centenary Warrant on 11th Sept 1946.

Depictions in fiction
In medieval legend and chivalric romance, Helena appears as a persecuted heroine, in the vein of such women as Emaré and Constance; separated from her husband, she lives a quiet life, supporting herself on her embroidery, until such time as her son's charm and grace wins her husband's attention and so the revelation of their identities.

Helena is the protagonist of Evelyn Waugh's novel Helena. She is also the main character of Priestess of Avalon (2000), a fantasy novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana L. Paxson. She is given the name Eilan and depicted as a trained priestess of Avalon.