Σάββατο 31 Ιουλίου 2021

Developing a Prayer Rule: Measurement for a Pure Heart

The Modern Monastic Order Of Saint Simon of Cyrene
(Orthodox African Americans)

“Without purity of heart, we cannot reach our goal.  We should therefore always have this purpose in mind; and should it ever happen for a short time our heart turns aside from the direct path, we must bring it back again at once,  guiding our lives with reference to our purpose as if it were a carpenter’s rule.”  Saint Moses the Black

Saint Moses was a very dark skinned man who stood out from the lighter complexioned Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans around Alexandria.  Thus, he was called the Ethiopian more because of his “burnt face” apperance rather than actually being from the specific African kingdom.  After being enslaved (as people of any “race” in the Roman Empire was), Moses became a heralded monk known for great forgiveness and humility.  He turned away a wealthy man who wanted to give him great wishes.  But, he welcomed and conversed an aspiring Christian from Gaul (modern day France) named John Cassian.

It is easy to consider that having a pure heart is the pursuit of monks and nuns as we read this account in the Philokalia Vol. 1 (On the Holy Fathers of Sketis an on Discrimination).  However, Jesus Christ gave us this promise in the Sermon on the Mount:  “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8).  We all have the responsibility to rid our inner selves of anger, lust, pride and other sins that keep us from experiencing God’s presence in our lives.  Visiting a monk in the desert is a tall order.  Becoming a monastic is not something that most of us are called to.

Developing and maintaining a prayer rule is a practical means anyone can use to cleanse the heart.  We can ask the Lord to examine our hearts in our times of silence.  We can repent even (and especially) of our “minor” sins and learn watchfulness to avoid temptations. Reading scripture and writings of early Christians  can encourage us to develop such virtues as endurance, hospitality, love, and patience.  Purifying the heart is not only a process of taking away spiritually toxic thought and behavior.  We must also inject ourselves with things healthy for the soul.

Needless to say, prayer has to be more than presenting the Lord with petitions out of love.  Prayer is also be a time for us to challenge ourselves to grow in God’s grace and leaving sin behind.

Jesus Christ, St. Moses the Ethiopian, an African Child & a Holy Angel (icon from here)

The Modern Monastic Order Of Saint Simon of Cyrene

“If you are a theologian, you will pray truly.  And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.”  Evagrios the Solitary

We pray not to instruct or inform God, but to be intimate with Him.”

St. John Chrysostom

“In the Orthodox Tradition, one can be a theologian and mentally retarded.”

Fr. Andrew Damick,from Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (1st Edition)

Photo from here

Not everyone can become an academic or scholarly theologian.  I do not say this to insult anyone’s intellect.  Much is said for desire and effort in achieving goals.  However, the demands of a seminary curriculum, reading volumes from ancient and modern scholars, writing almost endless papers defending conclusions based on history, scripture, and other topics; it is a special calling to be that sort of theologian. 

Theology literally means, “The study of God.”  If we are made in His image and likeness, does knowing Him require admission in a divinity school costing tens of thousands of dollars so that we can become members of the ordained clergy?  For those who feel called to some form of vocational ministry, yes.

 However, God has always made Himself known to rather simple people with limited resources and little time for academic regimens.  Moses was a murderer with a speech impediment.  Gideon was a frightened farm boy.  The shepherds near Bethlehem were not the great scholars of Judea.  The Apostle Paul, who was a scholar, did not preach with fine words.  He only preached Christ and Him crucified (I Corinthians 2:1, 2).  Therefore, the way for every person to know God is not some complex and expensive degree program.  It is something as simple as a maintained prayer rule.

I heard a story of an illiterate Greek man who went into a church every morning greeting Jesus and asking Him for strength for the day’s work.  Every evening he went back to the church on his way home to greet the Lord again and thank Him for the day.  He did this in good times and bad times until he couldn’t work anymore and was placed in a nursing home.  A nurse was concerned for his seemingly lack of visitors.  However, he explained to a priest that Christ came to him every morning and evening encouraging him to be patient.  In time, the man told the priest, “Christ came to me and said He would take me to heaven in three days.”  On the third day as the priest was visiting, the man sat up and said, “Christ is here!”  That was his last breath.

Monk in prayer

I think every Christian culture has stories of ordinary people who, because of their regular prayers, had extraordinary peace in mind.  It is easy to dismiss slaves on a plantation or blacks in the Jim Crow South as being terrorized into submission.  However, many of those “old praying” mothers and fathers did not have a shred of fear in them.  God had given them a calm in the midst of their storms that even confounded their oppressors.  Such spirituality was the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement that sought reconciliation rather than revenge. 

Knowing God only takes a heart and mind willing to seek Him regularly.  This sort of theologian may never write a book or earn a degree.  That is not important.  The greater blessing is when his or her name is written in the Book of Life.  This is the calling and goal of all Christians.

See also

Moses the Ethiopian, the Black Saint & Teacher (& other Ethiopian saints in the Orthodox Church) 

La Prière de Jésus - Prière du coeur ou encore la prière d'une pensée unique.

Παρασκευή 30 Ιουλίου 2021

The metropolitan of Kinshasa Nikiforos dies at the age of 72 († July 27, 2021)

Newsbeezer.com (language editing for our blog Α.Ν., photo from here)

Metropolitan of Kinshasa Nikiforos passed away today, Tuesday, July 27, 2021 at the age of 72. The hierarch - who belonged to the Patriarchate of Alexandria - had been infected by Covid-19 and was intubated in his hospital in Congo due to underlying diseases of the lungs and heart, and was transported by plane to the “Papanikolaou” hospital in Thessaloniki at the expense of the Political Commander of Mount Athos.  Athanasios Martinou.
According to information from Romfea.grMetropolitan of Kananga Theodosios is taking over as "Topotiritis" of the Holy Metropolis of Kinshasa .
When the Patriarch of Alexandria Theodoros II learned that Metropolitan Nikiforos had fallen asleep in the Lord, he performed the Holy Trisagion for the repose of his soul. Patriarch Theodoros later declared: “A remarkable official of the Patriarchate and an excellent figure of the Church”.

The Metropolitan of Kinshasa, Reverend and Exarch of the whole of the Equator, the venerable Nikiforos (according to George Constantinou) was born in Thessaloniki in 1949.

After graduating from the Practical High School in Thessaloniki, he studied at the Church Tutoring Center in Thessaloniki (1967-1969).

In 1975 he graduated from the Theological Faculty of the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, while in 1999 he received his doctorate from the Theological Faculty of the same University.

In 1971 he was tonsured a monk in the Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegian Monastery of the Holy Trinity of Tzagarolon, Chania. He was ordained a deacon on August 22nd of the same year.

In 1977 he retired to Mount Athos, was appointed professor at the Athonias Ecclesiastical Academy and afterwards as assistant scholar, and in 1988 at the proposal of the Holy Community of Mount Athos by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Scholars.

In 1978 he was ordained an Elder by Theophilos. Bishop Chrysostom of Rodostolus, and was consecrated as Archimandrite by the Metropolitan of Ierissos and Mount Athos, Fr. Nikodemos.

In 1997 he left the school of Athonias and at the invitation of the Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, he took over the organization of the first ecclesiastical lyceum in Argyrokastro.

Since 2006 he has worked in the administration of the Orthodox University of the Congo “Agios Athanasios the Athonite”, where he also taught.

He wrote many scientific studies and participated in various conferences in Greece and abroad.

On October 7th, 2010 he was elected Metropolitan of Central Africa by the Holy Synod at the suggestion of the Pope and Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria and All Africa.
See also 

Εκοιμήθη o Μητροπολίτης Κεντρώας Αφρικής (Κινσάσας) Νικηφόρος


Πρακτορείο Εκκλ. Ειδήσεων "Ορθοδοξία" 

Γραφείο ρεπορτάζ ope.gr

Έναν ταπεινό και αφοσιωμένο Ιεραπόστολο έχασε το βράδυ της Τρίτης 27 Ιουλίου το Πατριαρχείο Αλεξανδρείας και η Ορθόδοξη Εκκλησία. Ο λόγος για τον μακαριστό Μητροπολίτη Κινσάσας κυρό Νικηφόρο ο οποίος εκοιμήθη σε ηλικία 72 ετών στο νοσοκομείο «Παπανικολάου» της Θεσσαλονίκης όπου μεταφέρθηκε με αεροδιακομιδή από το Κονγκό το απόγευμα της ίδιας ημέρας. Τοποτηρητής της χηρευούσης Μητροπόλεως ορίστηκε, με εντολή του Πάπα και Πατριάρχου Αλεξανδρείας και πάσης Αφρικής κ.κ. Θεοδώρου Β΄, ο Σεβ. Μητροπολίτης Κανάγκας κ. Θεοδόσιος.

Ο μακαριστός είχε βρεθεί θετικός στον κορωνοϊό και δυστυχώς η κατάστασή του ήταν αρκετά δύσκολη αφού έπρεπε να διασωληνωθεί εξαιτίας υποτροπής σε υποκείμενα νοσήματα. Μέρες τώρα προσπαθούσαν να τον μεταφέρουν αλλά δυστυχώς δεν εύρισκαν τον τρόπο. Από την Ελλάδα είχε προσφερθεί να τον μεταφέρει με δικά του έξοδα ο διοικητής του Αγίου Όρους Αθανάσιος Μαρτίνος αλλά για άγνωστους λόγους αυτή η επιχείρηση καθυστέρησε. Στην κάλυψη των εξόδων για την μεταφορά του μακαριστού Ιεράρχη στην Ελλάδα συνέδραμε και ο Πρόεδρος της Ελληνικής Κοινότητας Κινσάσας κ. Γεράσιμος Ντούνης με την σύζυγό του Παρασκευή Ντούνη που από την πρώτη στιγμή της εκδηλώσεως της ασθένειας στάθηκαν με όλες τους τις δυνάμεις στο πλευρό του Σεβασμιωτάτου.

Τελικά υπέκυψε το βράδυ της Τρίτης 27 Ιουλίου στο νοσοκομείο Παπανικολάου. «Εκοιμήθη πριν λίγο ο αδελφός μου Ιεραπόστολος Μητροπολίτης Κεντρώας Αφρικής Κινσάσας κ Νικηφόρος. Η Παναγία κρατεί στα χέρια της την Αγία του ψυχή. Καλό Παράδεισο Δέσποτα Αιωνία ή μνήμη σου τα φτωχά παιδιά της Αφρικής σε ευγνωμονούν», έγραψε σε μέσο κοινωνικής δικτύωσης ο κατά σάρκα αδελφός του μακαριστού Μητροπολίτη λίγο μετά την κοίμησή του.

Θλίψη στο Πατριαρχείο Αλεξανδρείας

«Ο αείμνηστος Ιεράρχης υπήρξε μια αγία μορφή και από τα σημαντικότερα στελέχη του Αλεξανδρινού Θρόνου. Διηκόνησε με αφοσίωση προσφέροντας ταπεινά τον εαυτό του θυσία στην Ιεραποστολή της Αφρικής» αναφέρει σε ανακοίνωση του το Πατριαρχείο Αλεξανδρείας και πάσης Αφρικής αναγγέλλοντας με βαθιά θλίψη και συνοχή καρδίας την προς Κύριον εκδημία του Σεβ. Μητροπολίτου Κινσάσα κυρού Νικηφόρου.

Η Α. Θ. Μακαριότης ο Πάπας και Πατριάρχης Αλεξανδρείας και πάσης Αφρικής κ.κ. Θεόδωρος Β΄, με αισθήματα βαθιάς ανθρώπινης λύπης, τέλεσε Τρισάγιο υπέρ Αναπαύσεως της ψυχής του μακαριστού Μητροπολίτου κυρού Νικηφόρου.

Τοποτηρητής της χηρευούσης Μητροπόλεως ορίστηκε, εντολή του Πάπα και Πατριάρχου Αλεξανδρείας και πάσης Αφρικής κ.κ. Θεοδώρου Β΄, ο Σεβ. Μητροπολίτης Κανάγκας κ. Θεοδόσιος.

Τη θλίψη για την εκδημία του μακαριστού Μητροπολίτη Κινσάσας κυρού Νικηφόρου εξέφρασε η Ιερά Μητρόπολη Αξώμης. Με ανάρτησή της σε μέσο κοινωνικής δικτύωσης σημειώνει ότι «η πανδημία μάς στέρησε ένα πολυτιμότατο στέλεχος, έναν αγιώτατο μοναχό και ιεραπόστολο Ιεράρχη».

Αναλυτικά η ανάρτηση γράφει:

«Απόψε το Δευτερόθρονο Πατριαρχείο μας είναι πολύ πτωχότερο. Ο αδελφός μας, Σεβασμ. Μητροπολίτης Κινσάσας κυρός Νικηφόρος «έφυγε» για την Βασιλεία του Θεού, νικημένος από covid. Η λύπη του Μακαριωτάτου Προκαθημένου μας και όλων των αδελφών στην Ιερά Σύνοδο είναι βαθύτατη. Η πανδημία μάς στέρησε ένα πολυτιμότατο στέλεχος, έναν αγιώτατο μοναχό και ιεραπόστολο Ιεράρχη. Καλή Ανάσταση δεσπότη μας Νικηφόρε! Αναπαύσου στην αγκαλιά του Χριστού που αγάπησες και κήρυξες στην Εκκλησία του Κονγκό! Θα σε μνημονεύουμε πάντοτε!»

Η Εκκλησία της Αλβανίας τον μνημονεύει με ευγνωμοσύνη

Πληροφορηθείς την εις Κύριον εκδημίαν του Μητροπολίτου Κινσάσα κυρού Νικηφόρου, ο Αρχιεπίσκοπος Τιράνων, Δυρραχίου και πάσης Αλβανίας Αναστάσιος τέλεσε με βαθειά συγκίνηση τρισάγιο και αναφερόμενος στην προσωπική γνωριμία και την προσφορά του αοιδίμου Μητροπολίτου στην Ορθόδοξο Αυτοκέφαλο Εκκλησία της Αλβανίας δήλωσε:

«Με οδύνη πληροφορηθήκαμε την εκδημία του προσφιλούς εν Κυρίῳ αδελφού κυρού Νικηφόρου. Ο μακαριστός, προ της εκκλησιαστικής του διακονίας στην Αφρική, υπήρξε πολύτιμος συνεργός εν Κυρίῳ στην ανασυγκρότηση της εν Αλβανία Ορθόδοξου Εκκλησίας, ως πρώτος Διευθυντής του Εκκλησιαστικού Λυκείου «Τίμιος Σταυρός» στο Αργυρόκαστρο (1998-2006). Με τον ιεραποστολικό του ζήλο, την εργατικότητα, την εκπαιδευτική εμπειρία, την απλότητα του χαρακτήρα και την ορθόδοξη πνευματικότητά του, συνεισέφερε ουσιαστικά στη μόρφωση και την πνευματική καλλιέργεια των νέων. Διατηρήσαμε πάντοτε την ἐν Χριστῷ τῷ Κυρίῳ ἡμῶν αδελφική κοινωνία.

Η Εκκλησία της Αλβανίας τον μνημονεύει με ευγνωμοσύνη. Ο Κύριος, τον οποίο με όλη του την ψυχή αγάπησε και με αυτοθυσία διακόνησε σε απαιτητικές περιοχές, ας αναπαύει εν σκηναίς δικαίων την ευγενή ψυχή του».

Από τη Θεσσαλονίκη στο Άγιον Όρος και την Ιεραποστολή

Ο κατά κόσμον Γεώργιος Κωνσταντίνου (Μικραγιαννανίτης) γεννήθηκε στην Θεσσαλονίκη το 1949. Αποφοίτησε από τη Θεολογική Σχολή του Πανεπιστημίου Θεσσαλονίκης το 1975.

Το 1971 εκάρη μοναχός στην Ιερά Μονή Τζαγκαρόλων Χανίων. Διάκονος χειροτονήθηκε στις 22 Αυγούστου 1971 και Πρεσβύτερος το 1978 από τον Επίσκοπο Ροδοστόλου Χρυσόστομο.

Το όνομά του για πολλά χρόνια ταυτίστηκε με την ζωή και την πορεία της Αθωνιάδος Εκκλησιαστικής Ακαδημίας την οποία διακόνησε ως καθηγητής, αναπληρωτής Σχολάρχου και Σχολάρχης. Υπήρξε πνευματικός πολλών σπουδαστών της εν λόγω σχολής και σε πολλούς ενέπνευσε την αγάπη για την ιερωσύνη, τον μοναχισμό, αλλά και την εν γένει ευλαβή διακονία της Εκκλησίας. Το 1977 μετέβη στο Άγιον Όρος όπου εγκαταβίωσε στην Σκήτη της Μικράς Αγίας Άννης και τοποθετήθηκε Καθηγητής στην Αθωνιάδα Σχολή. Από το 1988 μέχρι το 1997 διετέλεσε Σχολάρχης της Σχολής αυτής. Στην συνέχεια υπηρέτησε στο Αργυρόκαστρο της Αλβανίας και από το 2006 στο Κονγκό.

Στις 24 Οκτωβρίου 2010 χειροτονήθηκε Μητροπολίτης Κεντρώας Αφρικής. Τη χειροτονία τέλεσε ο Πατριάρχης Αλεξανδρείας Θεόδωρος ο Β΄, συμπαραστατούμενος από τους Μητροπολίτες Σεβαστείας Δημήτριο (Οικουμενικό Πατριαρχείο), Πηλουσίου Καλλίνικο, Βερροίας και Ναούσης Παντελεήμονα, Ξάνθης και Περιθεωρίου Παντελεήμονα, Ελασσώνος Βασίλειο, π. Κεντρώας Αφρικής Ιγνάτιο, Κυδωνίας και Αποκωρώνου Δαμασκηνό και τους Επισκόπους Κατάγκας Μελέτιο, Μαρεώτιδος Γαβριήλ και Βαβυλώνος Νήφωνα. Στις 24 Νοεμβρίου 2015 ο τίτλος της Μητροπόλεώς του μεταβλήθηκε σε «Κινσάσας».

Τι είχε πει στο Πρακτορείο ΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΙΑ για την πανδημία

Ο μακαριστός ιεραπόστολος ιεράρχης είχε παραχωρήσει συνέντευξη τον Μάιο του 2020 στο Διεθνές Πρακτορείο Εκκλησιαστικών Ειδήσεων ΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΙΑ (ope.gr) και τη δημοσιογράφο Μαρία Γιαχνάκη.

Ο μακαριστός είχε αναφερθεί στην κατάσταση που επικρατούσε στο Κογκό κατά τη διάρκεια των μέτρων για την πανδημία του κορωνοϊού, εξηγώντας πως ο ίδιος και η Μητρόπολή του υπάκουσαν στους κανόνες της πολιτείας και εφάρμοσαν τα μέτρα για την αποφυγή διασποράς του ιού.

Επίσης, είχε σχολιάσει το γεγονός ότι αρκετοί στην Ελλάδα έκαναν συζήτηση για τη Θεία Κοινωνία υπονοώντας ότι μεταδίδει νοσήματα, με τον μακαριστό Μητροπολίτη να αναφέρει ότι είναι ανεπίτρεπτο αυτό που γίνεται εναντίον της Θείας Κοινωνίας λέγοντας: «Για να είμαι ειλικρινής, πάντα, με διάφορους τρόπους, υπάρχει διωγμός εναντίον της πίστεώς μας και της Εκκλησίας. Τώρα έχουν επικεντρωθεί στον ίδιο τον Χριστό, στη Θεία Κοινωνία στο προσκύνημα των εικόνων, στον ασπασμό προς τον Ιερέα. Ουσιαστικά δεν πιστεύουν ότι υπάρχει αληθινή εκκλησία ότι είναι η Θεία Χάρις, ποια είναι η δύναμη της Θείας Χάριτος του Θεού. Πιστεύουν έναν Θεό νεκρό γι αυτό και πολεμάνε την Εκκλησία. Βρήκαν ευκαιρία να την πολεμήσουν. Έχει ξεφυτρώσει ένας σύγχρονος διωγμός στα Ιερά και τα Όσια».

Ακούστε τη συγκινητική συνέντευξη (στην αρχική ανάρτηση). "Ν": Σημείωση του ιστολογίου μας: το ότι ο μακαριστός μητροπολίτης εκοιμήθη λόγω κορωνοϊού δεν αλλάζει τα συντριπτικά στοιχεία ότι είναι ασφαλές να κοινωνούμε. Ως γνωστόν, ο κορωνοϊός μπορεί να μεταδοθεί οπουδήποτε, δεν σημαίνει ότι κόλλησε μέσω της θείας κοινωνίας. Ο ίδιος ο μακαριστός (όπως και όλοι οι ορθόδοξοι ιερείς όλων των χωρών) σίγουρα είχε κοινωνήσει κατ' επανάληψιν μαζί με ασθενείς από μεταδοτικά νοσήματα, χωρίς ποτέ να πάθει τίποτε. Δείτε και: Θανατηφόρες ασθένειες & θεία κοινωνία στην Αφρική (Κένυα, Σιέρρα Λεόνε).

Μια ημέρα πριν την παραχώρηση της συνέντευξης ο μακαριστός Μητροπολίτης είχε προσευχηθεί για την παύση της πανδημίας, λιτανεύοντας μάλιστα τα ιερά σεβάσματα της Ορθοδόξου πίστεως στην καρδιά της Αφρικής (βλ. βίντεο στην ίδια ανάρτηση).

Κυριακή 18 Ιουλίου 2021

The worker John Henry, an African American folk hero — a human against a machine


Statue of John Henry outside the town of Talcott in Summers County, West Virginia

John Henry is an American folk hero. An African American, he is said to have worked as a "steel-driving man"—a man tasked with hammering a steel drill into rock to make holes for explosives to blast the rock in constructing a railroad tunnel.

The story of John Henry is told in a classic blues folk song, which exists in many versions, and has been the subject of numerous stories, plays, books, and novels.[1][2]


Plaque celebrating the legend of John Henry (Talcott, West Virginia)

According to legend, John Henry's prowess as a steel-driver was measured in a race against a steam-powered rock drilling machine, a race that he won only to die in victory with hammer in hand as his heart gave out from stress. Various locations, including Big Bend Tunnel in West Virginia,[3] Lewis Tunnel in Virginia, and Coosa Mountain Tunnel in Alabama, have been suggested as the site of the contest.

The contest involved John Henry as the hammer man working in partnership with a shaker, who would hold a chisel-like drill against mountain rock, while the hammer man struck a powerful blow with a sledgehammer. Then the shaker would begin rocking and rolling: wiggling and rotating the drill to optimize its bite. The steam drill machine could drill but it could not shake the chippings away, so its bit could not drill further and frequently broke down.


The historical accuracy of many of the aspects of the John Henry legend are subject to debate.[1][2] According to researcher Scott Reynolds Nelson, the actual John Henry was born in 1848 in New Jersey and died of silicosis and not due to exhaustion of work.[4]

Several locations have been put forth for the tunnel on which John Henry died.

Big Bend Tunnel

Sociologist Guy B. Johnson investigated the legend of John Henry in the late 1920s. He concluded that John Henry might have worked on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway's (C&O Railway) Big Bend Tunnel but that "one can make out a case either for or against" it.[5][3] That tunnel was built near Talcott, West Virginia, from 1870 to 1872 (according to Johnson's dating), and named for the big bend in the Greenbrier River nearby.

Some versions of the song refer to the location of John Henry's death as "The Big Bend Tunnel on the C. & O."[3] In 1927, Johnson visited the area and found one man who said he had seen it.

This man, known as Neal Miller, told me in plain words how he had come to the tunnel with his father at 17, how he carried water and drills for the steel drivers, how he saw John Henry every day, and, finally, all about the contest between John Henry and the steam drill.

"When the agent for the steam drill company brought the drill here," said Mr. Miller, "John Henry wanted to drive against it. He took a lot of pride in his work and he hated to see a machine take the work of men like him.

"Well, they decided to hold a test to get an idea of how practical the steam drill was. The test went on all day and part of the next day.

"John Henry won. He wouldn't rest enough, and he overdid. He took sick and died soon after that."

Mr. Miller described the steam drill in detail. I made a sketch of it and later when I looked up pictures of the early steam drills, I found his description correct. I asked people about Mr. Miller's reputation, and they all said, "If Neal Miller said anything happened, it happened."[6]

When Johnson contacted Chief Engineer C. W. Johns of the C&O Railroad regarding Big Bend Tunnel, Johns replied that "no steam drills were ever used in this tunnel." When asked about documentation from the period, Johns replied that "all such papers have been destroyed by fire."[5]

Talcott holds a yearly festival named for Henry, and a statue and memorial plaque have been placed along West Virginia Route 3 south of Talcott as it crosses over the Big Bend tunnel.[7] (Coords 37°38′56″N 80°46′04″W)

Lewis Tunnel

In the 2006 book Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend, historian Scott Reynolds Nelson detailed his discovering documentation of a 19-year-old African-American man alternately referred to as John Henry, John W. Henry, or John William Henry in previously unexplored prison records of the Virginia Penitentiary. At the time, penitentiary inmates were hired out as laborers to various contractors, and this John Henry was notated as having headed the first group of prisoners to be assigned tunnel work. Nelson also discovered the C&O's tunneling records, which the company believed had been destroyed by fire. Henry, like many African Americans, might have come to Virginia to work on the clean-up of the battlefields after the Civil War. Arrested and tried for burglary, John Henry was in the first group of convicts released by the warden to work as leased labor on the C&O Railway.[8]:39

According to Nelson, objectionable conditions at the Virginia prison led the warden to believe that the prisoners, many of whom had been arrested on trivial charges, would be better clothed and fed if they were released as laborers to private contractors. (He subsequently changed his mind about this and became an opponent of the convict labor system.) In the C&O's tunneling records, Nelson found no evidence of a steam drill used in Big Bend Tunnel.[9]

The records Nelson found indicate that the contest took place 40 miles (64 km) away at the Lewis Tunnel, between Talcott and Millboro, Virginia, where prisoners did indeed work beside steam drills night and day.[10] Nelson also argues that the verses of the ballad about John Henry being buried near "the white house," "in the sand," somewhere that locomotives roar, mean that Henry's body was buried in a ditch behind the so-called white house of the Virginia State Penitentiary, which photos from that time indicate was painted white, and where numerous unmarked graves have been found.[11]

Prison records for John William Henry stopped in 1873, suggesting that he was kept on the record books until it was clear that he was not coming back and had died. Nelson stresses that John Henry would have been representative of the many hundreds of convict laborers who were killed in unknown circumstances tunneling through the mountains or who died shortly afterwards of silicosis from dust created by the drills and blasting.

Coosa Mountain Tunnel

There is another tradition that John Henry's famous race took place not in Virginia or West Virginia, but rather near Dunnavant, Alabama. Professor Johnson in the late 1920s received letters saying that John Henry worked on the A.G.S. Railway's Cruzee or Curzey Mountain Tunnel in 1882, and a third letter saying it was at Oak Mountain in 1887, but he discounted these reports after the A.G.S. told him that the railway had no such tunnel.[6] Retired chemistry professor and folklorist John Garst, of the University of Georgia, has argued that the contest happened at the Coosa Mountain Tunnel or the Oak Mountain Tunnel of the Columbus and Western Railway (now part of Norfolk Southern Railway) near Dunnavant on September 20, 1887.[12]

Based on documentation that corresponds with the account of C. C. Spencer, who claimed in the 1920s to have witnessed the contest, Garst speculates that John Henry may have been a man named Henry who was born a slave to P.A.L. Dabney, the father of the chief engineer of that railroad, in 1850.[12] Since 2007, the city of Leeds has honored John Henry's legend during an annual September festival, held on the third weekend in September, called the Leeds Downtown Folk Festival & John Henry Celebration.[13]

Garst and Nelson have debated the merits of their divergent research conclusions.[14] Other claims have been made over the years that place Henry and his contest in Kentucky or Jamaica.[15]

In other media

The tale of John Henry has been used as a symbol in many cultural movements, including labor movements[16] and the Civil Rights Movement.[17]

John Henry is a symbol of physical strength and endurance, of exploited labor, of the dignity of a human being against the degradations of the machine age, and of racial pride and solidarity. During World War II his image was used in U.S. government propaganda as a symbol of social tolerance and diversity.[18]


In 1995, John Henry was portrayed in the movie Tall Tale by Roger Aaron Brown.

In the 1996 film Basquiat, the story of John Henry was told to Basquiat by his friend Benny as words of wisdom.

In 2018, it was announced that Dwayne Johnson would portray the character in a Netflix film, John Henry and the Statesmen. Development on the film has been delayed due to controversy over Johnson casting himself as the lead, with John Henry being a dark skinned black man.[19][20]

In 2020, Terry Crews played a modern-day adaptation of the legend in John Henry, in which he plays a former gang member who takes in two young teens who are on the run from his former gang leader, played by Ludacris. The film was released by Saban Films.[21]


In 1946, animator George Pal adapted the tale of John Henry into a short film titled John Henry and the Inky-Poo as part of his theatrical stop-motion Puppetoons series. The short is considered a milestone in American cinema as one of the first films to have a positive view of African-American folklore.[22][23]

In 1974, Nick Bosustow and David Adams co-produced an 11-minute animated short, The Legend of John Henry, for Paramount Pictures.[24]

The character later appeared in a Walt Disney Feature Animation short film, John Henry (2000). Directed by Mark Henn, plans for theatrical releases in 2000 and 2001 fell through after having a limited Academy Award qualifying run in Los Angeles,[25] a shorter version was released as the only new entry in direct-to-video release, Disney's American Legends (2002). It was eventually released in its original format as an interstitial on the Disney Channel, and later as part of the home video compilation Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection in 2015.

The 88th episode of season 5 of SpongeBob SquarePants, titled SpongeBob vs. The Patty Gadget, is a reference to the story of John Henry. It features SpongeBob competing against a machine called The Patty Gadget in an attempt to keep his job at The Krusty Krab.


Danny Glover played the character in the series, Shelley Duvall's Tall Tales & Legends from 1985–1987. Duvall served as the series' creator, presenter, narrator, and executive producer. The show aired on Showtime Network as well as Disney Channel, and received a Primetime Emmy Award.

John Henry was mentioned in the season 7 premiere of Cheers.

The story of John Henry was prominently featured in a 2008 episode of the CBS crime drama, Cold Case.

In season 2 of the Smart Guy episode "TJ versus the machine", Floyd and TJ mentioned John Henry and his victory over the steam drill.

John Henry is briefly mentioned in an episode of 30 Rock, during season 6 titled “The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell”.

In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles season 2 episode 10 John Henry is introduced both as the name of ZeiraCorp's A.I. and as the tale of a man who is unable to halt progress.

John Henry is also referenced in episode 4 of season 6 of the television show How I Met Your Mother, his legend briefly told through Marshall's song.

In the season 3 finale (Kimmy Bites an Onion!) of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt a version of The "Ballad of John Henry" is played with lyrics surmising the fight between Kimmy and a robot to become a crossing-guard. Like the legend, Kimmy gives her all to beat the robot and in doing so, effectively sacrifices her life.


The story of John Henry is traditionally told through two types of songs: ballads, commonly called "The Ballad of John Henry", and "hammer songs" (a type of work song), each with wide-ranging and varying lyrics.[2][15] Some songs, and some early folk historian research, conflate the songs about John Henry with those of John Hardy, a West Virginian outlaw.[15] Ballads about John Henry's life typically contain four major components: a premonition by John Henry as a child that steel-driving would lead to his death, the lead-up to and the results of the legendary race against the steam hammer, Henry's death and burial, and the reaction of his wife.[15]

The well-known narrative ballad of "John Henry" is usually sung in an upbeat tempo. Hammer songs associated with the "John Henry" ballad, however, are not. Sung more slowly and deliberately, often with a pulsating beat suggestive of swinging the hammer, these songs usually contain the lines "This old hammer killed John Henry / but it won't kill me." Nelson explains that:

... workers managed their labor by setting a "stint," or pace, for it. Men who violated the stint were shunned ... Here was a song that told you what happened to men who worked too fast: they died ugly deaths; their entrails fell on the ground. You sang the song slowly, you worked slowly, you guarded your life, or you died.[8]:32

There is some controversy among scholars over which came first, the ballad or the hammer songs. Some scholars have suggested that the "John Henry" ballad grew out of the hammer songs, while others believe that the two were always entirely separate.

Songs featuring the story of John Henry have been recorded by many musical artists and bands of different ethnic backgrounds. These include:

They Might Be Giants named their fifth studio album after John Henry.

The American cowpunk band Nine Pound Hammer is named after the traditional description of the hammer John Henry wielded.

Bengalee singer-songwriter and musician Hemanga Biswas (1912-1987), considered to be as the Father of the Indian People's Theater Association Movement in Assam inspired by ’John Henry’, the American ballad translated the song in Bengali as well as Assamese language and also composed its music for which he was well recognized among the masses.[46][47] Bangladeshi mass singer Fakir Alamgir later covered Biswas' version of the song.[48][49]


Henry is the subject of the 1931 Roark Bradford novel John Henry, illustrated by noted woodcut artist J. J. Lankes. The novel was adapted into a stage musical in 1940, starring Paul Robeson in the title role.[2] According to Steven Carl Tracy, Bradford's works were influential in broadly popularizing the John Henry legend beyond railroad and mining communities and outside of African American oral histories.[2] In a 1933 article published in The Journal of Negro Education, Bradford's John Henry was criticized for "making over a folk-hero into a clown."[50] A 1948 obituary for Bradford described John Henry as "a better piece of native folklore than Paul Bunyan."[51]

Ezra Jack Keats's John Henry: An American Legend, published in 1965, is a notable picture book chronicling the history of John Henry and portraying him as the "personification of the medieval Everyman who struggles against insurmountable odds and wins."[17]

Colson Whitehead's 2001 novel John Henry Days uses the John Henry myth as story background. Whitehead fictionalized the John Henry Days festival in Talcott, West Virginia and the release of the John Henry postage stamp in 1996.[52]

The textbook titled American Music: A Panorama by Daniel Kingman displays the lyrics of the ballad titled "John Henry", explores its style and relates the history of the hero. That's in Chapter 2: The African–American Tradition.

In the comic series DC: The New Frontier, an African American man named John Wilson becomes a vigilante in order to battle the Ku Klux Klan after his family is lynched. He names himself after John Henry and even uses John Henry's weapons/tools, two iron sledgehammers. For three months, he plagues the Klan in Tennessee. Unfortunately, he was wounded, discovered by a white girl, was caught by the Klan, and was burned alive.

The DC Comics superhero Steel's civilian name, "John Henry Irons," is inspired by John Henry.[53] The story of John Henry is further referenced by Steel's weapon of choice, a sledgehammer. In DC's Super Friends #21 (January 2010), Superman encountered the actual John Henry after being placed in the folk tale by the Queen of Fables

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is a juvenile fantasy novel about seventh grader Tristan Strong who travels to another world and encounters black American gods. These include Br'er Rabbit, Anansi, and John Henry.

He appears as a character in Peter Clines' novel Paradox Bound.

He makes an appearance in the IDW Publishing miniseries The Transformers: Hearts of Steel

United States postage stamp

In 1996, the US Postal Service issued a John Henry postage stamp. It was part of a set honoring American folk heroes that included Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill and Casey at the Bat.[54]

Video games

John Henry was featured as a fictional character in the 2014 video game Wasteland 2. The story is referenced by various NPCs throughout the game and is also available in full as a series of in game books which tell the story of the competition between John Henry and a contingent of robotic workers.[55]

He also appeared as a playable character in the 3DS game Code Name: S.T.E.A.M..

In the story of Team Fortress 2 comics, he was the first Heavy of the original BLU team.[56]

In Civilization IV, the quote "Before that steam drill shall beat me down, I'll die with my hammer in my hand." appears when steel is researched.[57]

The Big Bend Tunnel is a location of the multiplayer videogame Fallout 76, set in Appalachia region. The story surrounding the Miner Miracles quest is a reference to John Henry's competition.

See also


  1. "Tech Quotes from Civilization IV – Industrial Era Technologies". levelskip.com. Retrieved 21 January 2019.

Further reading

  • Johnson, Guy B. (1929). John Henry: Tracking Down a Negro Legend. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press
  • Chappell, Louis W. (1933). John Henry; A Folk-Lore Study. Reprinted 1968. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press
  • Keats, Ezra Jack (1965). John Henry, An American Legend. New York: Pantheon Books.
  • Williams, Brett (1983). John Henry: A Bio-Bibliography by Brett Williams. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press
  • Nelson, Scott. "Who Was John Henry? Railroad Construction, Southern Folklore, and the Birth of Rock and Roll", Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas Summer 2005 2(2): 53–80; doi:10.1215/15476715-2-2-53

External links

  • Stephen Wade (2 September 2002). "John Henry, Present at the Creation". NPR. Archived from the original on 12 July 2012.
  • Tracy, Steven C.; Bradford, Roark (2011). John Henry: Roark Bradford's Novel and Play. Oxford University Press, US. ISBN 978-0-19-976650-5.
  • Giles Oakley (1997). The Devil's Music. Da Capo Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-306-80743-5.
  • Grimes, William (2006-10-18). "Taking Swings at a Myth, With John Henry the Man (Published 2006)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-02-08.
  • Johnson, Guy B. (1929). John Henry: Tracking Down a Negro Legend. Chapel Hill: UNC Press. pp. 44–49.
  • Johnson, Guy (2 February 1930). "First Hero of Negro Folk Lore". Modesto Bee and News-Herald. p. 22. Retrieved 5 September 2014 – via Newspapers.com. 
  • "Talcott prepares for John Henry Days", Sarah Plummer, The Register-Herald, 28 June 2010
  • Nelson, Scott Reynolds (2006). Steel drivin' man: John Henry, the untold story of an American legend. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-530010-9.
  • Grimes, William. "Taking Swings at a Myth, With John Henry the Man", The New York Times, Books section, 18 October 2006.
  • Downes, Lawrence. "John Henry Days", The New York Times, Books section, 18 April 2008.
  • "John Henry – The Story – Lewis Tunnel". Ibiblio.org. 13 July 2006. Retrieved 20 July 2010.
  • Garst, John (2002). "Chasing John Henry in Alabama and Mississippi: A Personal Memoir of Work in Progress". Tributaries: Journal of the Alabama Folklife Association. 5: 92–129.
  • "Free Leeds Downtown Folk Festival is Saturday & Sunday", Christie Dedman – The Birmingham News, 15 September 2011

    "John Henry in Leeds" Archived 2011-09-03 at the Wayback Machine, Leeds Folk Festival

  • Garst, John (27 November 2006) "On the Trail of the Real John Henry". History News Network, George Mason University, includes rebuttal by Scott Nelson
  • Cohen, Norm (2000). Long steel rail: the railroad in American folksong. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-06881-2.
  • Singer A (Winter 1997). "Using Songs to Teach Labor History". OAH Magazine of History. 11 (2): 13–16. doi:10.1093/maghis/11.2.13. JSTOR 25163131.
  • Nikola-Lisa W (Spring 1998). "John Henry: Then and Now". African American Review. 32 (1): 51–56. doi:10.2307/3042267. JSTOR 3042267.
  • Bicknell J (Spring 2009). "Reflections on "John Henry": Ethical Issues in Singing Performance". The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 67 (2): 173–180. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6245.2009.01346.x.
  • Donnelly, Matt (2020-05-15). "'John Henry' Producers on Their Netflix Ratings Smash, Dwayne Johnson Controversy and Potential Sequel". Variety.
  • "Dwayne Johnson faces backlash after casting himself as John Henry in new Netflix movie". www.cbsnews.com. Retrieved 26 June 2021.
  • "JOHN HENRY Official Trailer". YouTube.com.
  • Shadow and Act (20 April 2017). "Have You Seen 'John Henry and the Inky-Poo'? ("1st Hollywood Film to Feature African American Folklore in a Positive Light")". Shadow and Act. Shadow & Act. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  • Lehman, Christopher (7 January 2019). "The George Pal Puppetoons and Jasper – Part 4". Cartoon Research. Jerry Beck. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  • Lenburg, Jeff (2006). Who's Who in Animated Cartoons: An International Guide to Film and Television's Award-Winning and Legendary Animators. New York: Applause Books. ISBN 978-1-55783-671-7.
  • Hill, Jim (22 February 2001). "A black hero comes up short". Orlando Weekly. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  • Ann Arbor Blues Festival 1969: Vols 1&2, Third Man Records, Americana Music Productions, Inc. 2019
  • "Josh White- John Henry | For Old Times Sake". Reddevillye.wordpress.com. 2008-01-07. Archived from the original on 2015-11-18. Retrieved 2015-10-07.
  • "The Legend of John Henry's Hammer" and "Nine Pound Hammer", both on Blood, Sweat and Tears; Cash also recorded a shorter version of the former as "John Henry" with a different account of the legend for Destination Victoria Station
  • Merle Travis – John Henry, Composed by Traditional at AllMusic. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  • Harry Belafonte – John Henry at AllMusic. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  • Mississippi John Hurt – Folk Songs And Blues at Discogs (list of releases)
  • Giles Oakley (1997). The Devil's Music. Da Capo Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-306-80743-5.
  • Flipside of "Rock Island Line"
  • album Long Time Gone 1979
  • "Songs: Ohia – John Henry Split My Heart Lyrics". SongMeanings.
  • Album: Rescattermastered – 2016
  • Song: John Henry - Album: Waiting For The Day – 1997
  • "Nine Pound Hammer" on the 1968 LP The Voice of the Turtle
  • "They Killed John Henry" on his 2009 album, Midnight at the Movies
  • "Cécile McLorin Salvant – John Henry". Genius.com.
  • "Those Poor Bastards – John Henry Gonna" – via genius.com.
  • "When I Get My New House Done Western North Carolina Fiddle Tunes and Songs" – via mustrad.org.uk.
  • "G. B. Grayson - Henry Whitter* – The Nine-Pound Hammer / Short Life Of Trouble". Discogs.com.
  • Kozinn, Allan (22 November 2009). "The John Henry Who Might Have Been". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  • Reinthaler, Joan (23 November 2009). "Review: Bang on a Can All-Stars and Trio Mediaeval Perform 'Steel Hammer'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  • John Henry Hemanga Biswas, retrieved 2020-05-15
  • Hujuri, Raktima (15 July 2015). "Shodhganga : a reservoir of Indian theses @ INFLIBNET". hdl:10603/45142. Retrieved 15 May 2020.
  • https://www.thedailystar.net/news-detail-127850
  • https://www.thedailystar.net/news/fakir-alamgir-holds-sway
  • Sterling A. Brown. "Negro Character as Seen by White Authors", The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Apr., 1933), pp. 179–203
  • "Bradford was one of Immortals", Robert C. Ruark, The Evening Independent, 22 November 1948
  • "Freeloading Man", Jonathan Franzen, New York Times, 13 May 2001
  • Action Comics #4 (February 2012)
  • New Stamps Tell Tall Tales of Folk Heroes, Deseret News, 24 July 1996
  • "The Story of John Henry – Official Wasteland 3 Wiki". wasteland.gamepedia.com. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
  • "Non-playable characters – BLU Team (original)". wiki.teamfortress.com. Retrieved 30 July 2017.