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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Holy New Martyr Elias Ardounis

St. Elias Ardounis the Neomartyr (Feast Day - January 31 and Sunday of the Holy Myrrhbearers)

Saint Elias was a barber in the town of Kalamata in Peloponnesos and much respected for his shrewd good sense by the Turkish officials of the place. One day, when the latter had come to see him, Elias urged them to do all they could to reduce the burden of tax on Christians, or many would be led to deny their Christian faith and become Muslim merely to be relieved financially. The discussion grew heated and Elias was carried away to the extent of declaring, almost jokingly, that he himself was inclined to deny his faith in return for a fez. One of the Turks took him at his word and handed him the headgear, whereupon poor, benighted Elias adhered to Islam in the presence of the judge and to the sorrow of the local Christians.

Not long after, he was moved to repentance and travelled to Mount Athos. There he found a spiritual father and confessed with many tears his apostasy and once again acknowledged Orthodoxy; he was also chrismated and received the Body and Blood of Christ. Elias eventually became a monk on Mount Athos, where he led a virtuous life for eight years. However, as he could not attain peace of conscience, he received the blessing of his spiritual father to offer himself for martyrdom.

Elias returned to Kalamata, and made his presence known by walking around the bazaars of the Turks. When he was called Moustafa and questioned why he was gone for so long, he responded he was no longer Moustafa but an Orthodox Christian. He was then presented before the judge and confessed Christ in like manner. After two sessions of questioning, he was condemned to be burned to death in a slow fire. On his way to the flames a Turk slashed his back with the sword, but he gained greater courage for the trial and proceeded along joyfully singing the Psalms of David. But when he was thrown into the pile of green wood, he was suffocated almost immediately and his hair, beard and monastic rason were left miraculously untouched by the flames. This occured on January 31, 1686. That night a heavenly light appeared over his body, and for which it was said by the Christians that since the earthly fire could not burn him that God sent His heavenly light to do the job.

The local Christians buried his body with great devotion, and as they were in procession the entire area was filled with a beautiful aroma coming from his relics. A church was later built over his tomb. His holy skull is in the Holy Monastery of Voulkanou in Messinia and is processed on the Sunday of the Holy Myrrhbearers, which is the day of his feast (February 2 is also a major feast in Kalamata because of the Cathedral of the Presentation of Christ). He was also martyred next to the Church of the Holy Forty Martyrs, which after the Turkish occupation was named in honor of St. Elias.

The Prodigal Son Interpreted Hesychastically

by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos

Regarding the meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, St. Gregory Palamas interprets the parable hesychastically. St. Luke the Evangelist presents Christ's parable, in which we read: "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living" (Lk. 15, 13). St. Gregory does not analyze the parable in terms of morals, but theologically. He sets forth its true dimensions. Having the mind of Christ, experiencing the mystery of the spirit, he grasps its true meaning. Belonging organically, as he does, to the Orthodox Tradition, he realizes that the Fall of man, the so-called Ancestral Sin, is in reality a darkening, obscuring and deadening of the nous, whereas the resurrection of man is the vitalization of the dead nous. It is in this light that he also interprets the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

The nous is man's real wealth. "Above all else the nous is our innate essence and wealth". As long as we remain on the ways of salvation "we have our nous gathered in itself and in the first and highest nous, God". Our salvation is that we have our nous in God. But when we open a door to the passions, then our nous "is immediately scattered, wandering all the time around things that are carnal and worldly, around the manifold pleasures and passionate thoughts about them". Then a man's nous becomes prodigal, and in general he is called prodigal. The wealth of the nous is prudence, and it distinguishes good from evil as long as we continue to keep Christ's commandments. But when the nous withdraws from God, then prudence too is scattered into prostitution and imprudence.

Man's soul has not only a rational aspect but also appetitive and incensive aspects. In its natural condition man's nous "directs desire towards the one and truly existing God, the only Good One, the only Judge, the only one who provides pleasure unmixed with any pain." But when the nous is in the unnatural state, when it departs from God and is darkened, then desire is dispersed into many self-indulgent appetites: "Drawn on the one hand towards a desire for foods that are not needed, secondly towards the desire for unnecessary things, and thirdly towards the desire for vain and inglorious glory". This comes about through desire. But when the nous is being deadened, the incensive power too is similarly taken captive. When the nous is in its natural state, when, that is to say, it is united with God, then it rouses the incensive power only against the devil and utilises the soul's courage against the devil and the passions. But when it disregards the divine commandments, then "one fights against one's neighbour, rages against those of the same race, is infuriated with those who do not assent to one's irrational appetites, and alas, one becomes a homicidal man...".

From the book titled St. Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite, Ch. 3.

Triodion: Sunday of the Prodigal Son

The Sunday of the Prodigal Son is the second Sunday of a three-week period prior to the commencement of Great Lent. On the previous Sunday, the services of the Church began to include hymns from the Triodion, a liturgical book that contains the services from the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, the tenth before Pascha (Easter), through Great and Holy Saturday. As with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, the theme of this Sunday is repentance, and the focus on the parable of the Prodigal Son leads Orthodox Christians to contemplate the necessity of repentance in our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Kontakion in Tone Three
When I disobeyed in ignorance Thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that Thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to Thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, 'I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of Thy hired servants'.

Doxastikon in Tone Six
Loving Father, I have gone far from you, but do not forsake me, nor declare me unfitted for your Kingdom. The all-evil enemy has stripped me naked and taken all my wealth. I have squandered like the Profligate the graces given to my soul. But now I have arisen and returned, and I cry aloud to you, ‘Make me as one of your hired servants, You who for my sake stretched out Your spotless hands on the Cross, to snatch me from the fearsome beast and to clothe me once again in the first robe, for You alone art full of mercy'.


See also this article titled "The Brother of the Prodigal Son".

"The Prodigal Son" by St. Cyril of Alexandria

I HEAR one of the holy prophets trying to win unto repentance those who are far from God, and saying, "Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God: for you have become weak in your iniquity. Take with you words, and return to the Lord our God." What sort of words then did he, under the influence of the Spirit, command them to take with them? Or were they not such as become those who wish to repent; such namely, as would appease God, Who is gentle, and loves mercy. For He even said by one of the holy prophets, "Return you returning children, and I will heal your breaches." And yet again by the voice of Ezekiel, "Return you altogether from your wickednesses, O house of Israel. Cast away from you all your iniquities which you have committed, that they be not to you for a punishment of iniquity. For I have no pleasure in the death of the sinner, as that he should turn from his evil way and live." And the same truth Christ here also teaches us, by this most beautifully composed parable, which I will now to the best of my ability endeavour to discuss, briefly gathering up its broad statements, and explaining and defending the ideas which it contains.

It is the opinion then of some, that by the two sons are signified the holy angels, and we the dwellers upon earth: and that the elder one, who lived soberly, represents the company of the holy angels, while the younger and profligate son is the human race. And there are some among us who give it a different explanation, arguing that by the elder and well conducted son is signified Israel after the flesh: while by the other, whose choice it was to live in the lust of pleasures, and who removed far from his father, is depicted the company of the Gentiles. With these explanations I do not agree: but I would have him who loves instruction, search after that which is true and unobjectionable. What then I say is as follows, "giving occasions to the wise, and to the just offering knowledge," as Scripture commands: for they will examine for a fitting meaning the explanations proposed to them. If then we refer the upright son to the person of the holy angels, we do not find him speaking such words as become them, nor sharing their feelings towards repentant sinners, who turn from an impure life to that conduct which is worthy of admiration. For the Saviour of all and Lord says, that "there is joy in heaven before the holy angels over one sinner that repents." But the son, who is described to us in the present parable as being acceptable unto his father, and leading a blameless life, is represented as being angry, and as even having proceeded so far in his unloving sentiments as to find fault with his father for his natural affection for him who was saved. "For he would not, it says, go into the house," being vexed at the reception of the penitent almost before he had come to his senses, and because there had even been slain the calf in his honour, and his father had made for him a feast. But this, as I said, is at variance with the feelings of the holy angels: for they rejoice and praise God when they see the inhabitants of the earth being saved. For so when the Son submitted to be born in the flesh of a woman at Bethlehem, they carried the joyful news to the shepherds, saying, "Fear you not: for behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people, that there is born to you today in the city of David a Saviour Who is Christ the Lord." And crowning with lauds and praises Him Who was born, they said, "Glory to God in the highest, and upon earth peace, and among men good will."

But if any one say, that Israel according to the flesh is meant by the virtuous and sober son, we are again prevented from assenting to this opinion by the fact, that in no way whatsoever is it fitting to say of Israel that he chose a blameless life. For throughout the whole of the inspired Scripture, so to say, we may see them accused of being rebels and disobedient. For they were told by the voice of Jeremiah, "What fault have your fathers found in Me, that they have wandered far from Me, and have gone after vanities, and become vain?" And in similar terms God somewhere spoke by the voice of Isaiah, "This people draws near unto Me; with their lips they honour Me, but their heart is very far from Me: but in vain do they fear Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." And how then can any one apply to those who are thus blamed the words used in the parable of the virtuous and sober son? For he said, "Lo! all these years do I serve you, and never have I transgressed your commandment." But they would not have been blamed for their mode of life, had it not been that transgressing the divine commandments, they betook themselves to a careless and polluted mode of life.

And yet again,for I think it right to mention this also,some would refer to the person of our Saviour that fatted calf which the father killed when his son was called unto conversion. But how then could the virtuous son, who is described as wise and prudent, and constant in his duty, and whom some even refer to the person of the holy angels, treat it as a reason for anger and vexation that the calf was slain? For one can find no proof of the powers above being grieved when Christ endured death in the flesh, and, so to speak, was slain in our behalf. Rather they rejoiced, as I said, in seeing the world saved by His holy blood. And what reason too had the virtuous son for saying "you never gave me a kid." For what blessing is wanting to the holy angels, inasmuch as the Lord of all has bestowed upon them with bounteous hand a plentiful supply of spiritual gifts? Or of what sacrifice stood they in need as regards their own state? For there was no necessity for the Emmanuel to suffer also in their behalf. But if any one imagine, as I have already said before, that the carnal Israel is meant by the virtuous and sober son, how can he say with truth "you never gave me a kid?" For whether we call it calf or kid, Christ is to be understood as the sacrifice offered for sin. But He was sacrificed, not for the Gentiles only, but that He might also redeem Israel, who by reason of his frequent transgression of the law had brought upon himself great blame. And the wise Paul bears witness to this, saying, "For this reason Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people by His blood, suffered outside the gate."

What then is the object of the parable? Let us examine the occasion which led to it; for so we shall learn the truth. The blessed Luke therefore had himself said a little before of Christ the Saviour of us all, "And all the publicans and sinners drew near unto Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and Scribes murmured saying, This man receives sinners and eats " with them." As therefore the Pharisees and Scribes made this outcry at His gentleness and love to man, and wickedly and impiously blamed Him for receiving and teaching men whose lives were impure, Christ very necessarily set before them the present parable, to show them clearly this very thing, that the God of all requires even him who is thoroughly steadfast, and firm, and who knows how to live holily, and has attained to the highest praise for sobriety of conduct, to be earnest in following His will, so that when any are called unto repentance, even if they be men highly blameable, he must rejoice rather, and not give way to an unloving vexation on their account.

For we also sometimes experience something of this sort. For some there are who live a perfectly honourable and consistent life, practising every kind of virtuous action, and abstaining from every thing disapproved by the law of God, and crowning themselves with perfect praises in the sight of God and of men: while another is perhaps weak and trodden down, and humbled unto every kind of wickedness, guilty of base deeds, loving impurity, given to covetousness, and stained with all evil. And yet such a one often in old age turns unto God, and asks the forgiveness of his former offences: he prays for mercy, and putting away from him his readiness to fall into sin, sets his affection on virtuous deeds. Or even perhaps when about to close his mortal life, he is admitted to divine baptism, and puts away his offences, God being merciful unto him. And perhaps sometimes persons are indignant at this, and even say, 'This man, who has been guilty of such and such actions, and has spoken such and such words, has not paid unto the judge the retribution of his conduct, but has been counted worthy of a grace thus noble and admirable: he has been inscribed among the sons of God, and honoured with the glory of the saints.' Such complaints men sometimes give utterance too from an empty narrowness of mind, not conforming to the purpose of the universal Father. For He greatly rejoices when He sees those who were lost obtaining salvation, and raises them up again to that which they were in the beginning, giving them the dress of freedom, and adorning them with the chief robe, and putting a ring upon their hand, even the orderly behaviour which is pleasing to God and suitable to the free.

It is our duty, therefore, to conform ourselves to that which God wills: for He heals those who are sick; He raises those who are fallen; He gives a helping hand to those who have stumbled; He brings back him who has wandered; He forms anew unto a praiseworthy and blameless life those who were wallowing in the mire of sin; He seeks those who were lost; He raises as from the dead those who had suffered the spiritual death. Let us also rejoice: let us, in company with the holy angels, praise Him as being good, and loving unto men; as gentle, and not remembering evil. For if such is our state of mind, Christ will receive us, by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen.

- St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, Sermon CVII.

Saints Cyrus and John the Unmercenaries

The Martyrdom of Sts. Cyrus and John the Unmercenaries along with Sts. Theoktiste and her daughters Athanasia, Theodota and Eudoxia (Feast Day - January 31)

Saint Cyrus was a noted physician in the city of Alexandria, where he had been born and raised. He was a Christian and he treated the sick without charge, not only curing their bodily afflictions, but also healing their spiritual infirmities. He would say, "Whoever wishes to avoid being ill should refrain from sin, for sin is often the cause of bodily illness." Preaching the Gospel, the holy physician converted many pagans to Christ. During the persecution by Diocletian (284-305), St Cyrus withdrew into Arabia, where he became a monk. He continued to heal people by his prayer, having received from God the gift to heal every sickness.

In the city of Edessa at this time lived the soldier John, a pious Christian. When the persecution started, he went to Jerusalem and there he heard about St Cyrus. He began to search for him, going first to Alexandria and then to Arabia. When St John finally found St Cyrus, he remained with him and became his faithful follower.

They learned of the arrest of the Christian woman Athanasia and her three young daughters. Theoctiste was fifteen; Theodota, was thirteen; and Eudoxia, was eleven. Sts Cyrus and John hastened to the prison to help them. They were concerned that faced with torture, the women might renounce Christ.

Sts Cyrus and John gave them courage to endure what lay before them. Learning of this, the ruler of the city arrested Sts Cyrus and John, and seeing their steadfast and fearless confession of faith in Christ, he brought Athanasia and her daughters to witness their torture. The tyrant did not refrain from any form of torture against the holy martyrs. The women were not frightened by the sufferings of Sts Cyrus and John, but courageously continued to confess Christ. They were flogged and then beheaded, receiving their crowns of martyrdom.

Christians buried their bodies in the church of the holy Evangelist Mark in Alexandria. Their tomb became a renowned shrine in Egypt, and a place of universal pilgrimage. It was found in the area of the modern day resort near Alexandria named Abu Kyr.

In the fifth century the relics of Sts Cyrus and John were transferred from Canopis to Manuphin or Menuthis (Aboukir) by St. Cyril of Alexandria (June 9) in order to displace the idolatrous cult of Isis there. Miracles and healings multiplied and the sanctuary became one of the greatest places of pilgrimage in Christendom. Later on their relics were transferred to Rome, and from there to Munchen or Munich (the transfer of their relics is celebrated on June 28).

In the seventh century, St. Sophronius of Jerusalem (Mar. 11) was healed of an eye complaint by an apparition of the two Saints: Cyrus healed one of his eyes with the sign of the Cross and shortly afterwards John restored his sight completely by kissing the other eye. To show his gratitude, St. Sophronius wrote a detailed account of their miracles.

Sts Cyrus and John are especially invoked by those who have difficulty in sleeping.

Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Since Thou hast given us the miracles of Thy holy Martyrs as an invincible battlement, by their entreaties scatter the counsels of the heathen, O Christ our God, and strengthen the faith of Orthodox Christians, since Thou alone art good and the Friend of man.


What It Takes To Be Saved

by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Although the Holy Fathers praised monasticism as the angelic state, and although many of the greatest saints lived their lives and attained perfection in the deaf and lifeless desert, nevertheless, the Orthodox Church does not recommend tonsuring to all the faithful. "Neither all those in the desert were saved nor all those in the world were lost," said one saint. To a city dweller who, with no inclination for monasticism, desired to enter the monastery, St. Niphon said: "My child, a place neither saves nor destroys a man, but deeds save or destroy. For him who does not fulfill all the commandments of the Lord, there is no benefit from a sacred place or from a sacred rank. King Saul lived in the midst of royal luxury and he perished. King David lived in the same kind of luxury and he received a wreath. Lot lived among the lawless Sodomites and he was saved. Judas was numbered among the apostles and he went to Hades. Whoever says that it is impossible to be saved with a wife and children deceives himself. Abraham had a wife and children, three-hundred-eighteen servants and handmaidens, much gold and silver but, nevertheless, he was called the Friend of God. Oh, how many servants of the Church and lovers of the desert have been saved! How many aristocrats and soldiers! How many artesians and field-workers! Be pious and be a lover of men and you will be saved!"

Saint Arsenios the New of Paros

St. Arsenios the New of Paros (Feast Day - January 31)

Saint Arsenius was born on January 31, 1800 in Ioannina, Epirus of pious Orthodox parents. In holy Baptism he was given the name Athanasius. His parents died when he was quite young. He was only nine years old when he made his way to Kydoniai, Asia Minor, where he was received by Hieromonk Gregory Saraphis and enrolled in his school. His humility and piety endeared him to Fr Gregory and also to the other teachers. The boy remained at the school for five years, surpassing the other students in learning and in virtue.

One day the renowned Spiritual Father Daniel of Zagora, Thessaly came to the school to hear confessions. Athanasius became Daniel's disciple, remaining with him until the latter's death.

Not long after this, Fr Daniel decided to go to the Holy Mountain for quiet and spiritual struggles. Athanasius begged his Elder not to leave him, but to take him with him. He expressed the desire to travel to Mt. Athos, the Garden of the All-Holy Virgin, and to become a monk.

Fr Daniel instructed Athanasius in the monastic life, which is called "the art of arts, and the science of sciences." The holy Elder was a perfect teacher who was accomplished in the spiritual life, and Athanasius was an attentive student. After a time Fr Daniel tonsured his pupil, and told him he had to learn three important lessions. First, he must cut off his own will. Secondly, he must acquire humility. Finally, he must learn obedience. "If you cut off your will, if you become humble, and if you practice perfect obedience, you will also make progress in the other virtues, and God will glorify you."

After a further period of testing, Fr Daniel tonsured Athanasius into the Great Schema and gave him the name Arsenios. The saint remained on Mt. Athos with his Elder for six years. Then they had to leave the Holy Mountain because of the agitation against the so-called "Kollyvades," who called for a strict adherence to Holy Tradition. The name comes from the kollyva (boiled wheat) used in the memorial service. Part of the controversy involved the debate on whether it was proper to serve memorial services for the dead on Sunday. The Kollyvades believed that these services were inappropriate for the Day of Resurrection, but should be served on Saturday. The Kollyvades advocated frequent Communion, rather than the practice of receiving the Holy Mysteries only a few times during the year. When Fr Daniel and St Arsenius left Athos, it was probably due to the animosity of those who opposed the Kollyvades.

Early in 1821, before the Greek War of Independence, they went to the Monastery of Pendeli near Athens. Their stay was a brief one, for Fr Daniel forsaw the destruction of the monastery by the Turks.

The two made their way to the Cyclades Islands in the southern Aegean Sea. First they stopped at Paros, perhaps because some of the Kollyvades had settled there. Eventually, they decided to live on the island of Pholegandros. Since there were no teachers for the children, the inhabitants entreated Fr Daniel to allow St Arsenius to instruct their children. The Elder agreed, and had Arsenius ordained as a deacon. Then he was appointed to the teaching post by the government.

The saint remained there as a teacher from 1829-1840. He taught the required subjects in school, but he also helped his students to form a good character, and to live as pious Christians.

Elder Daniel had passed away in 1837. Before his repose, he asked his disciple to take his remains to Mt. Athos after two years. St Arsenius left Plolegandros in obedience to Fr Daniel's request, planning to stop on Paros then continue to the Holy Mountain. On Paros the abbot of St George's Monastery, Fr Elias Georgiadis, told St Arsenius that it was God's will for him to remain on Paros. This was providential, because Mt. Athos was undergoing great difficulty after the Greek War of Independence. 3,000 Turkish soldiers occupied Athos, resulting in the departure of 5,000 of the 6,000 monks. In 1840 St Arsenius entered the Monastery of St George on the island of Paros.

St Arsenius joined the community at St George's Monastery on the northern end of Paros. There he found spiritual strivers of true wisdom and excellent conduct, who were worthy models for him to follow.

When he was ordained to the holy priesthood at the age of forty-seven, St Arsenius intensified his spiritual efforts. Every day he studied the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers, and became adept at the unceasing prayer of the heart. He also began to show forth the gift of tears. In this, he resembled his patron St Arsenius the Great (May 8), who continuously wept tears of contrition.

Gradually, the inhabitants of Paros came to recognize him as an outstanding Father Confessor and spiritual guide. Whenever he stood before the holy altar, he felt that he was standing before God. He served with great compunction, and his face often became radiant like the face of an angel.

As his virtues became known to people, they flocked to him from near and far. He received all with paternal affection, treating each one with the proper spiritual medicine which would restore their souls to health.

A certain girl from Syros came to the Convent of the Transfiguration to visit her sister, who was a nun. The nun had previously been informed that her sister had fallen into a serious sin. When she learned that the girl was outside the doors of the convent, the nun screamed at her, "Go far away from here. Since you are defiled, you will defile the convent and the nuns." Instead of feeling pity for her sister, and trying to lead her to repentance, the nun and some of the other nuns struck the poor girl and told her to go away.

The wretched girl cried, "I have made a mistake. Forgive me!"

The nun shrieked, "Go away, or I will kill you to wash away the shame you have brought to our family."

"Have you no pity, my sister, don't you share my pain?"

"No," the nun shouted, "you are not my sister, you are a foul harlot."

"Where shall I go?" she sobbed.

"Go and drown yourself," was the heartless reply.

The poor girl fled from the convent, bleeding and wounded, intending to kill herself. At that very moment, St Arsenius was on his way to visit the convent. Seeing the girl in such a state, he asked her what was wrong. She explained that she had been led astray by corrupt men and women. Realizing her sin, she went to the convent to ask her sister for help

"See what they have done to me, Elder. What do you advise me to do? Shall I drown myself, or leap off a cliff?"

"I do not advise you to do either, my child. If you wish, I shall take you with me and heal the wounds of your soul and body," he said gently.

"Where will you take me?" the miserable girl asked.

"To the convent, my child."

"I beg you not to take me there, Elder. My sister and the other nuns said they would kill me if I came back."

The saint replied, "Do not be afraid. They will not kill you, because I shall entrust you to Christ, and no one will be able to harm you."

"Very well," she said, "If you entrust me to Christ I will not be afraid of them, for Christ is more powerful than they."

St Arsenius led her to the convent, consoling her and encouraging her to repentance and confession. After hearing her confession, he made her a nun. Then he called all the nuns into the church and severely rebuked those who wounded the girl. He reminded them of the parable of the Prodigal Son, and of how Christ had come to save sinners. He often associated with sinners, showing them great love and mercy.

"You, however, have done the opposite. Though you knew that her soul had been wounded by the devil, you did not feel sorry for her. You did not embrace her and try to save her from further sin, but you attacked her and beat her. Then you urged her to kill herself. Now I, your Spiritual Father, tell you that you are not nuns, you are not Christians, you are not even human beings. You are devoid of compassion, affection, and sympathy. You are murderesses! Therefore, I forbid you to receive Holy Communion for three years, unless you recognize your sin. Repent and confess, weep and ask forgiveness from God and from me, your Spiritual Father, and from the other nuns who did not participate in your sinful behavior."

The nuns began to weep bitterly and they repented. Thus, he lessened their penance and forgave them. He gave the girl's sister the penance of not receiving Holy Communion for a whole year. Because the other nuns had shared in this sin, he would not permit them to receive Communion for six months.

St Arsenius foresaw his death a month before it occurred. At the Liturgy for the Feast of St Basil, he announced that he would soon depart from them. With great effort, he was able to serve for the Feast of the Theophany. After the service, he told some nuns that this had been his last Liturgy.

News of the saint's illness and approaching death spread quickly to all the villages of Paros. People wept because they were about to lose their Spiritual Father, and they hastened to bid him farewell and to receive his blessing.

On the eve of his repose, he called the nuns of the convent to come to him. He told them that the next day he would leave this temporary life and enter into eternal life.

On January 31, 1877 St Arsenius received Holy Communion for the last time and fell asleep in the Lord. For three days, people came to kiss his body, then they followed the funeral procession to the burial site which he himself had selected.

St Arsenius of Paros was glorified by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1967. He is also commemorated on August 18 (the uncovering of his relics).

Counsels of St Arsenios the New

- "Practice self-observation. And if you want to benefit yourself and your fellow men, look at your own faults and not those of others. The Lord tells us: "Judge not, that ye be not judged," condemn not that ye be not condemned. And the Apostle Paul says: "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant?"

- "If you want Christ to bless you and what you have, when you meet some poor individual, who is hungry and asks you for food, give him. Also, when you know that some poor man, or a widow, or an orphan are hungry, do not wait for them to ask you for food, but give them. Give with pleasure, and be not afraid that your will become indigent. Have faith that Christ invisibly blesses your few possessions, and you shall never starve, nor will you be in want till the end of your life."

Apolytikion in the First Tone
The glory of Epiros and the boast of Paros, the protector of Dasous Monastery, we honor you O Arsenios. You were seen as an angel on earth and through asceticism received heavenly virtues, because of this you were glorified by God granting us miracles, O Father. Glory to Christ Who glorified you, Glory to Him Who showed you wondrous, Glory to Him Who granted to us an unsleeping intercessor.

By the Waters of Babylon: The Great Fast, Our Exile

by Fr.Seraphim Rose
March 1965

This weekend, at the Sunday Vigil of the Prodigal Son, we will sing Psalm 135.[1]

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion".

In these words of the Lenten Psalm, we Orthodox Christians, the New Israel, remember that we are in exile. For Orthodox Russians, banished from Holy Russia,[2] the Psalm has a special meaning; but all Orthodox Christians, too, live in exile in this world, longing to return to our true home, Heaven.

For us the Great Fast is a session of exile ordained for us by our Mother, the Church, to keep fresh in us the memory of Zion from which we have wandered so far. We have deserved our exile and we have great need of it because of our great sinfulness. Only through the chastisement of exile, which we remember in the fasting, prayer and repentance of this season.

Do we remain mindful of our Zion?

"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem..."

Weak and forgetful, even in the midst of the Great Fast we live as though Jerusalem did not exist for us. We fall in love with the world, our Babylon; we are seduced by the frivolous pastimes of this "strange land" and neglect the services and discipline of the Church which remind us of our true home. Worse yet, we love our very captors - for our sins hold us captive more surely than any human master - and in their service we pass in idleness the precious days of Lent when we should be preparing to meet the Rising Sun of the New Jerusalem, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is still time; we must remember our true home and weep over the sins which have exiled us from it. Let us take to heart the words of St. John of the Ladder: "Exile is separation from everything in order to keep the mind inseparable from God. An exile loves and produces continual weeping." Exiled from Paradise, we must become exiled from the world if we hope to return.

This we may do by spending these days in fasting, prayer, separation from the world, attendance at the services of the Church, in tears of repentance, in preparation for the joyful Feast that is to end this time of exile; and by bearing witness to all in this "strange land" of our remembrance of that even greater Feast that shall be when our Lord returns to take His people to the New Jerusalem, from which there shall be no more exile, for it is eternal.


[1] “By the Waters of Babylon” is the entire Psalm 136, sung to a plaintive melody, after the Polyelos Psalm during Matins. It is only sung in church the three Sundays that precede Great Lent: Sunday of the Prodigal Son, The Last Judgment (Meatfare) and Forgivensss (Cheesefare) It is significant that this same hymn is chanted at the beginning of the service of monastic tonsure.

[2] This homily was written in 1965, when the church in Russia was still under captivity to the Communist regime.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What is the "Byzantine" Empire? Lars Brownworth Explains

Lars Brownworth, author of "Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Rescued Western Civilization", discusses what the Byzantine Empire is and where it fits in history.

Parable of the Prodigal Son from "Jesus of Nazareth"

I typically don't endorse films about the life of Jesus, but this one played a major role in my conversion and it is probably the most dignified. One of my favorite scenes from the film Jesus of Nazareth is the tremendous performance of Robert Powell, who plays Jesus, when he dramatically narrates the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I offer it as a reflection for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son.

The Bogomils and the Three Hierarchs

By John Sanidopoulos

The Three Hierarchs Controversy in Constantinople

During the reign of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (1081 – 1118) there arose in Constantinople a great dispute over these three hierarchs. Some regarded Basil the Great (c. 330-379) higher than the other three because he was an exalted orator, he surpassed all in his time in both word and deed, he was angelic, steadfast in temperament, and alien to all that is worldly. Others regarded John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) for being most loving and merciful, understanding the weaknesses of human nature, and as an eloquent orator who guided all to repentance through his discourses. Others, finally, stood behind Gregory the Theologian (329-389) maintaining that in the cogency of his speech, his skillful interpretation of the Scriptures and in the elegance of the construction of his discourses he surpassed all the renowned proponents of Hellenic wisdom, both those who lived in times past and those who were his contemporaries. Thus, while others would exalt the glory of one Church Father, others would demean their significance. Some went so far as to refer to themselves as Basilians, Johnites and Gregorians.

After a short time these three Saints appeared in a vision to Metropolitan John Mauropous of Euchaita (died c. 1075-1081), who recorded the details of this controversy (PG 120). He was told in this vision by the three hierarchs themselves that all three of them were equal before God and commanded that those indulging in the disputes to cease their disagreements and unite by commemorating the three together on a single day and ordered that Bishop John write the hymns for the feast. Since all three were commemorated in January, he decided to proclaim the Feast of the Three Hierarchs on January 30th, and this ended the dispute. (See The Lives of the Three Great Hierarchs: Basil the great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. Dormition Skete Publications, 1985, pp. 188-191.)

The Bogomils and the Three Hierarchs

It was not only among the Orthodox that a controversy at this time existed regarding the Three Hierarchs. It seems that it was a short time after the institution of this feast that Basil, the ascetical leader of the Bogomil heretics, entered Constantinople with his twelve disciples seeking to convert the Orthodox to their heresy. The Alexiad of Anna Komnena describes the meeting between Basil and her father, Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, who tried through argument and intimidation to bring Basil to Orthodoxy. Basil's defiant belief that God would deliver him even if he were thrown in a pit of fire prompted the emperor to test this claim by having him burnt in the Hippodrome.

While Basil was in prison, the emperor sent a renowned dogmatician and apologist, the monk Euthymios Zygabenos, to interview him about his beliefs and expose his gross heresies. Zygabenos recorded all this in his masterpiece titled The Dogmatic Panoply (PG 130). Among his many errors, Basil revealed his abhorrence for the Three Hierarchs, especially St. John Chrysostom whom the Bogomils called "John the Swollen Mouth". The Bogomils considered Chrysostom as a corrupter of the original New Testament by heading a conspiracy to remove important passages from the Gospels that in reality were interpolated by the Bogomils.

In his chapter "On the Bogomils", Zygabenos also offers a commentary on how the Bogomils interpreted specific passages from the Gospel of Matthew along with his own critique. Regarding Matthew 7:15 which reads "Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves", Zygabenos informs us of the following way in which the Bogomils interpreted this passage:

"They say that a false prophet - how absurd - means Basil, who was great in teaching, and Gregory the star of theology, and John Chrysostom, because they taught the revealed doctrine. I leave out the other absurdities of the sect, which they utter against these Saints more than the rest, and which deserve thunder and a chasm and punishment of every sort."

Both controversies were occurring at the same time and it appears the Bogomils possibly wanted their own opinion heard by not honoring any of the Three Hierarchs and demeaning their memory altogether. Or it merely shows how highly the Orthodox regarded the Three Hierarchs at this time, considering therefore that a war against the Three Hierarchs was a war against Orthodoxy. It is possible that the controversy among the Orthodox may have begun by Bogomils, since Cosmas the Bulgarian says a century earlier that the Bogomils of Bulgaria blamed John Chrysostom for introducing the corrupted doctrine of the Eucharist through his Liturgy.

When Basil the Bogomil was burned to death in the Hippodrome, it was not long thereafter that the influence of Bogomilism was eradicated from Constantinople, thanks to the efforts of Emperor Alexios I.

Orthodox Should Not Split Church and Secular Life

Moscow Patriarchate urges Orthodox Believers to Identify Themselves as Majority Church

Moscow, 29 January 2010, Interfax – A Renowned Priest urged Orthodox Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussia and Moldavians not to be afraid of feeling themselves a majority in their countries and follow Orthodox norms of life in all its sphere.

“You shouldn’t be afraid of making it your mission: if we make a majority in our own countries – representatives of Belorussia, Ukraine, Moldova are present here – then we have full authority to make our moral principles, our vision of the present and the future determinative in the spheres of society and state we work in,” head of the Synodal Department for Church-Society Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said.

Speaking at the Christmas Readings in Moscow, he urged “to change our identity so that Orthodox Christians, first of all, lay people should find their place in the spheres of state and social life they work in, they should not be people who are Christians just on Sundays and feasts, and on all other days, all other time people living in compliance with other laws, laws of this world, but they should become a live and acting community of people behaving like Orthodox Christians in an Orthodox country.”

According to the priest, this division, partly dictated by the Soviet period and partly by new apologists of secularism, is “very strange for a Christian,” as “if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand,” Fr. Vsevolod said.

“A person can’t divide himself or herself as a church being and a social being. A society, no matter if it is a local community or people of the country, can’t divide its spiritual and the so-called secular life,” Fr. Vsevolod went on to say.

He believes “Orthodox Christians have a conciliar, joint social mission, which they can carry out working in various fields, but coordinating, uniting their efforts as Orthodox Christians, positively influencing on different spheres of social and state life.”

Science Chief Calls for Honesty on Climate Change

Science Chief John Beddington Calls for Honesty on Climate Change

The Times
January 27, 2010
Ben Webster

The impact of global warming has been exaggerated by some scientists and there is an urgent need for more honest disclosure of the uncertainty of predictions about the rate of climate change, according to the Government’s chief scientific adviser.

John Beddington was speaking to The Times in the wake of an admission by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that it grossly overstated the rate at which Himalayan glaciers were receding.

Professor Beddington said that climate scientists should be less hostile to sceptics who questioned man-made global warming. He condemned scientists who refused to publish the data underpinning their reports.

He said that public confidence in climate science would be improved if there were more openness about its uncertainties, even if that meant admitting that sceptics had been right on some hotly-disputed issues.

He said: “I don’t think it’s healthy to dismiss proper scepticism. Science grows and improves in the light of criticism. There is a fundamental uncertainty about climate change prediction that can’t be changed.”

He said that the false claim in the IPCC’s 2007 report that the glaciers would disappear by 2035 had exposed a wider problem with the way that some evidence was presented.

“Certain unqualified statements have been unfortunate. We have a problem in communicating uncertainty. There’s definitely an issue there. If there wasn’t, there wouldn’t be the level of scepticism. All of these predictions have to be caveated by saying, ‘There’s a level of uncertainty about that’.”

Professor Beddington said that particular caution was needed when communicating predictions about climate change made with the help of computer models.

“It’s unchallengeable that CO2 traps heat and warms the Earth and that burning fossil fuels shoves billions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. But where you can get challenges is on the speed of change.

“When you get into large-scale climate modelling there are quite substantial uncertainties. On the rate of change and the local effects, there are uncertainties both in terms of empirical evidence and the climate models themselves.”

He said that it was wrong for scientists to refuse to disclose their data to their critics: “I think, wherever possible, we should try to ensure there is openness and that source material is available for the whole scientific community.”

He added: “There is a danger that people can manipulate the data, but the benefits from being open far outweigh that danger.”

Phil Jones, the director of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit and a contributor to the IPCC’s reports, has been forced to stand down while an investigation takes place into leaked e-mails allegedly showing that he attempted to conceal data.

In response to one request for data Professor Jones wrote: “We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”

Professor Beddington said that uncertainty about some aspects of climate science should not be used as an excuse for inaction: “Some people ask why we should act when scientists say they are only 90 per cent certain about the problem. But would you get on a plane that had a 10 per cent chance of landing?”

Mike Hulme, Professor of Climate Change at the University of East Anglia, said: “Climate scientists get kudos from working on an issue in the public eye but with that kudos comes responsibility. Being open with data is part of that responsibility.”

He criticised Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman, for his dismissive response last November to research suggesting that the UN body had overstated the threat to the glaciers. Mr Pachauri described it as “voodoo science”.

Professor Hulme said: “Pachauri’s choice of words has not been good. The question of whether he is the right person to lead the IPCC is for the 193 countries who make up its governing body. It’s a political decision.”

Blowing Hot and Cold


The IPCC says its statement on melting glaciers was based on a report it misquoted by WWF, a lobby group, which took its information from a report in New Scientist based on an interview with a glaciologist who claims he was misquoted. Most glaciologists say that the Himalayan glaciers are so thick that they would take hundreds of years to melt

Sea levels

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says sea levels could rise by 6ft by 2100, a prediction based on the 7in rise in sea levels from 1881-2001, which it attributed to a 0.7C rise in temperatures. It assumed a rise of 6.4C by 2100 would melt the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.

UK Climate Projections, published last year by the Government, predicted a rise of one to two feet by 2095

Arctic sea ice

Cambridge University’s Polar Ocean Physics Group has claimed that sea ice will have disappeared from the North Pole in summer by 2020. However, in the past two summers the total area of sea ice in the Arctic has grown substantially

Global temperatures

The Met Office predicts that this year is “more likely than not” to be the world’s warmest year on record. It claims the El Niño effect will join forces with the warming effect of manmade greenhouse gases.

Some scientists say that there is a warming bias in Met Office long-range forecasts which has resulted in it regularly overstating the warming trend

Buddhism Is Appealing to Westerners

Buddhism is an Eastern Way of Life Appealing to Westerners

By Jessica Porter
January 27, 2010
The Buddhist Channel

Richmond, VA (USA) -- Scarlett Sams works in a Presbyterian Church during the day, but on Thursday nights she attends a meeting of Tibetan Buddhist’s at Ekoji Buddhist Sangha in Richmond, Va. She is a part of a growing Buddhist movement in the United States of every day Americans finding comfort in this Eastern tradition.

“It’s a great community and they are my friends. They are genuine and if I need something, they are there for me. If I’m going through a crisis they are there for me. That is why I am a Buddhist,” Sams said. Although there are no exact statistics, the 2004 World Almanac estimates there are two to three million Buddhists in the United States. But that number includes not only converted Buddhists such as Sams, but Buddhist immigrants who have brought their religion from Eastern countries.

“Buddhism in American is two camps. One is the Ethnic communities that have centers practicing their own variety of Buddhism. At those places they speak in Vietnamese, or whatever language,” Virginia Commonwealth University Religious Studies Professor Daniel Perdue said. “But by and large it is middle class to wealthy white folks who have adopted Buddhism in all varieties.”

Buddhism in America is very different from Buddhism in Eastern countries and there the reasons are two-fold. It is a lay person religion, meaning anyone can participate. There is not the same emphasis on monks and monasteries as there is in other parts of the world.

“[In Tibet] major monasteries had more than 10,000 monks in a country with only six million people. By the time of the fall of Tibet, about one out of three males was a monk. And about 1 out of 4 females was a nun,” Perdue said, emphasizing the monastic importance in the East.

Also, many Americans do not view Buddhism as a religion or as strictly as it is practiced in the East. It is more often viewed as a philosophy or lifestyle.

“Some very famous Buddhist masters made a statement that ‘Buddhism in the East is like an old tree and has no more capability of producing good fruit. Buddhism in the West, even though still young, is very capable of making good fruit,” Huang Tran said. He believes the open-mindedness of Americans and their constant need to question things has allowed Buddhism to take root, unlike people in the East who just accept the religion and don’t question, not allowing any room for change.

Tran grew up in a Buddhist family in Vietnam, but never found comfort in the religion as a child. Due to economic and political hardships he left Vietnam and came to Virginia, where he has lived the past 24 years. Since then, he has become a mixture of Vipassana and Zen Buddhism. He often goes to Saddhama Vipassana Meditation Center, a monastery in Louisa County, and Hue Quang Temple, a Pure Land Temple, in Richmond.

Buddhism can be divided into two types, Mahayana and Theravada. Theravada is more monastic and emphasizes study and meditation while Mahayana is more ritualistic and holds the belief that any person can become enlightened at any time. Mahayana forms of Buddhism are Tibetan, Zen and Pure Land. The Theravada form of Buddhism is Vipassana.

Unlike Buddhism in Asia, where it is most prevalent, there are very few statistics about the amounts of people celebrating types of Buddhism in the United States. There is disagreement in the Buddhist community about which form is most popular in America.

“Tibetan is exploding in the U.S. right now. There’s a combination in Tibetan teaching of the concept of Zen and Vipassana, some practitioners prefer Zen and some prefer Vipassana, but in Tibetan they have both, it’s cool,” Tran said.

But others believe Zen is the most popular. Zen is considered a more intellectual type of Buddhism that goes beyond words and concepts, Kevin Heffernan, leader of the Zen group at Ekoji and Zen Buddhism professor at V.C.U., said.

Ekoji is a row house in Richmond’s Museum District that is home to Zen, Pure Land, Tibetan, Vipassana and a Meditative Inquiry group. Most members are people in the community, like teachers and hospice volunteers, who are not ethnic Buddhists but have found comfort in Buddhism, said Sams.

Zen also emphasizes the arts like haiku and calligraphy which is appealing to many people. But others have a different idea about why Zen has found such popularity.

“My honest answer is that it has such a nice catchy name. You can market Zen a lot better than you can some of the others because it sounds so cool … nothing quite so sexy in Theravada,” Vipassana Leader at Ekoji Andy Wichorek said.

Wichorek turned to Buddhism after facing hardships in his life. After choosing Vipassana he has been able to see life more clearly. He is now able to make better decisions and holds a higher degree of calm and collectedness. Although Buddhism is not as prevalent as other religions, others like Wichorek are turning to its teachings.

“Buddhism is sort of unique among the seven world religions for its slow spread, it take s a while for the ideas to sink into a culture. Often it is popular among the wealthy before it is popular among the entire population,” Perdue said.

Although changing slowly, American society is certainly seeing more Buddhist influence. For example, Hollywood has made Buddhism trendy. In many movies Buddhist symbols or references can be seen in the background and many celebrities are openly Buddhist. It is almost as if they are promoting Buddhism, Perdue said.

Examples of this are Seven Years in Tibet starring Brad Pitt about the fall of Tibet and the Dalai Lama and actors such as Richard Gere and Orlando Bloom who have converted to Buddhism.

Buddhism will only continue on its path to change and grow to become a greater part of American society. According to Tran it is becoming so accepted because it promotes ideas such as harmony, peace, love and kindness that is knitted among all people. But like many aspects of Buddhism, opinions of the future of Buddhism in America are very diverse.

“[Buddhism] is probably going to continue to get more popular, I don’t know what the ceiling is. Certainly it’s going to remain fairly obscure but there is so much room for growth … but there’s a lot more to go before it really hits the mainstream,” Wichorek said.

One idea is Buddhism will simply continue to change. People will be drawn to meditation and practice at home and occasionally at a center. A few of them will become more serious and actually go to temple, and then a few of those will go on retreats and seek harder practices. They will become the leaders at places like Ekoji for the people who want to come to a center once in a while, Heffernan said. Cliff Edwards, Religious Studies Professor at V.C.U. has a similar opinion.

“It’s going to splinter considerably. It doesn’t want to be called Zen, just Buddhism. And if meditation is the special interest just call it meditation. That is what America needs and wants,” Edwards said.

But everyone agrees that it will gain more popularity. It has grown a lot in the past 30 years and will remain obscure, but will become more popular, Wichorek said. Tran believes that everyone would become Buddhist, if they only had the knowledge.

“I can see that people offend Buddhism, but Buddhism doesn’t offend anyone, so if one recognizes and they can see, they would know and they would come,” Tran said.

Russian Cathedral May Appear Near Eiffel Tower

Russian Cathedral is Probable to Appear Near Eiffel Tower

Moscow, January 29, Interfax – Russia applied for participating in a contest for a lot of land to build an Orthodox church in Paris.

“The Executive Office of the President on behalf of the Russian Federation, in compliance with the governmental order, participates in a contest for purchasing a lot of land in Paris. In case of winning, we will build a Russian spiritual and cultural center,” the Russian Newsweek magazine has cited the Office's press secretary Viktor Khrekov as saying.

Khrekov noted that Russia had not done such concessions since 1917.

According to the edition, the land in question is located in downtown Paris not far from Eiffel Tower. Other contenders for the land is Saudi Arabia that wishes to build a diplomatic building and a mosque there.

Among other participants is Canada with an embassy project and a group of private investors who plan to construct a hotel.

[Update from February 10, 2010: Kremlin Acquires Plot Alongside Eiffel Tower]

Russian Donation To Restore Kosovo Monasteries

Russia Donates $2 Million to Restore and Protect Four Kosovo Monasteries

Belgrade, January 29, Interfax – Russia will donate $2 million to four monasteries in the Serbian district of Kosovo and Metochia, Serbian Minister of Culture Nebojsa Bradic told Serbian RTS TV.

These funds will be forwarded to renovate and secure the protection of monasteries Visoki Decani, Gracanica, Mother of God of Levis and the Patriarchal See of Pec.

“It’s planned to allocate $400,000 out of $2 million donated by Russia to restore paintings in the Monastery of Mother of God of Levis. Other monasteries will receive money not only to renew paintings, but to restore and secure protection of monastery complexes,” the Minister said.

History of the Feast of the Three Hierarchs

During the reign of the Emperor Alexios Komnenos (1081-1118), a controversy arose in Constantinople among men learned in the Faith and zealous for virtue about the three holy Hierarchs and Fathers of the Church, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom.

Some argued for Saint Basil [known as Basilians] above the other two because he was able, as none other, to explain the mysteries of the Faith, and rose to angelic rank by his virtues. Organizer of monastic life, leader of the entire Church in the struggle with heresy, austere and demanding shepherd as to Christian morals, in him there was nothing base or of the earth. Hence, said they, he was superior to Saint Chrysostom who was by nature more easily inclined to absolve sinners.

The partisans of Saint Chrysostom [known as Johnites] retorted that the illustrious Archbishop of Constantinople had been no less zealous than Saint Basil in combating vices, in bringing sinners to repentance and in raising up the whole people to the perfection of the Gospel. The golden-mouthed shepherd of matchless eloquence has watered the Church with a stream of homilies in which he interprets the divine word and shows its application in daily life with more accomplished mastery than the two other holy Doctors.

According to a third group [known as Gregorians], Saint Gregory the Theologian was to be preferred to the others by reason of the majesty, purity and profundity of his language. Possessing a sovereign mastery of all the wisdom and eloquence of ancient Greece, he had attained, they said, to such a pitch in the contemplation of God that no one had been able to express the dogma of the Holy Trinity as perfectly as he.

With each faction setting up one of the Fathers against the other two in this way, the whole Christian people were soon caught up in the dispute, which, far from promoting devotion to the Saints in the City, resulted in nothing but ill-feeling and endless argument.

Then one night the three holy Hierarchs appeared in a dream to Saint John Mauropous, the Metropolitan of Euchaita (5 Oct.), separately at first, then together and, speaking with a single voice, they said: "As you see, the three of us are with God and no discord or rivalry divides us. Each of us, according to the circumstances and according to the inspiration that he received from the Holy Spirit, wrote and taught what befits the salvation of mankind. There is not among us a first, a second or a third, and if you invoke one of us the other two are immediately present with him. Therefore, tell those who are quarreling not to create divisions in the Church because of us, for when we were on earth we spared no effort to reestablish unity and concord in the world. You can conjoin our three commemorations in one feast and compose a service for it, inserting the hymns dedicated to each of us according to the skill and knowledge that God has given you. Then transmit it to the Christians with the command to celebrate it each year. If they honor us thus as being with and in God, we give them our word that we will intercede for their salvation in our common prayer." At these words, the Saints were taken up into heaven in a boundless light while conversing with one another by name [PG 120].

Saint John immediately assembled the people and informed them of this revelation. As he was respected by all for his virtue and admired for his powerful eloquence, the three parties made peace and every one urged him to lose no time in composing the service of the joint feast. With fine discernment, he selected January 30 as appropriate to the celebration, for it would set the seal to the month in which each of the three Hierarchs already had a separate commemoration.

The three Hierarchs — an earthly trinity as they are called in some of the wonderful troparia of their service — have taught us, in their writings and equally by their lives, to worship and to glorify the Holy Trinity, the One God in three Persons. These three luminaries of the Church have shed the light of the true Faith all over the world, scorning dangers and persecutions, and they have left us, their descendants, this sacred inheritance by which we too can attain to utmost blessedness and everlasting life in the presence of God and of all the Saints.

With the Feast of the Three Hierarchs at the end of January — the month in which we keep the memory of so many glorious bishops, confessors and ascetics — the Church in a way recapitulates the memory of all the Saints who have witnessed to the Orthodox faith by their writings and by their lives. In this feast we honor the whole ministry of teaching of the holy Church, namely, the illumination of the hearts and minds of the faithful through the word of truth. So the feast of the Three Hierarchs is, in fact, the commemoration of all the Fathers of the Church, those models of evangelical perfection which the Holy Spirit has raised up from age to age and from place to place to be new Prophets and new Apostles, guides of souls heavenward, comforters of the people and fiery pillars of prayer, supporting the Church and confirming her in the truth.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
The three greatest beacons of the Three-sunned Godhead, who lighted the whole inhabited world with the beams of their divine doctrines, the rivers of wisdom flowing with honey, who watered all creation with streams of the knowledge of God, Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian with famous John whose tongue spoke golden words, let all we lovers of their words now assembled honour them in hymns. For they ever intercede with the Trinity on our behalf.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
You have taken, Lord, the sacred, the God-inspired heralds, the high peak of your Teachers, for the enjoyment of your good things and for repose; for you accepted above every offering their toils and their death, you who alone glorify your Saints.

Source: The Synaxarion, The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, Volume 3, Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady, Ormylia, 2001.

Turkey’s War on the Cultural Heritage of Cyprus

Bare Ruined Choirs: Turkey’s war on the cultural heritage of Cyprus

BY Katherine Eastland
February 1, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 19
Weekly Standard

When churches fall completely out of use
What shall we turn them into?

—Philip Larkin, ‘Church Going’

Soon after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the roof of St. Andronikos church in Kythrea caved in and fell into its sanctuary. No one came by to clear the rubble, so there’s a heap of ruins on the ground covered with tangled greenery. From where I stand, on top of that heap, I can see that the walls, once known for their frescoes, have been stripped white and are now marked with black and neon graffiti. In some places there remain a few painted figures, including ones of Saints Peter and Paul, but their faces are chiseled out and their bodies have been pockmarked by bullets. Cars roll by every so often, but the one persistent sound is the hum of bees coming from a smashed clerestory window.

I came across this church off a road near the Agios Dimitrios crossing point on the Green Line, the boundary running through the island of Cyprus and keeping it cloven in two radically disparate parts: the free, government-controlled area of Cyprus, and the upper third of the sovereign territory of the Republic that Turkey seized in 1974. Turkey has since held that part under illegal military occupation, and turned it into a rogue breakaway “state” called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized by Turkey only.

Dilapidated churches like St. Andronikos are a common sight here. As the journalist Michael Jansen observes, the north, full of 12,000 years of history at a key crossroads in the Mediterranean, now looks like a “cultural wasteland.”

During and soon after the invasion, museums in the north and private collections were plundered, artworks were burned in pyres, stolen, or illegally exported, 21 major archaeological sites were captured—including the ancient city kingdoms of Salamis, Soli, and Engomi—along with more than a hundred places that had been inspected or were being excavated, four castles, and over 500 churches, chapels, and monasteries, most of them dating to the Byzantine period (4th-15th centuries). From the interiors were removed several major icons, mosaics, frescoes, Bibles, wood carvings, reliquaries, silver and gold vessels, and more. Sixteen thousand icons alone are reported missing.

The Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus have worked to repatriate, with some major successes, several of these works through local, foreign, and international courts. But the list of damaged items and places keeps growing. As the occupation continues, so does destruction—whether by intent or neglect, or lack of adequate funds.

While much of the damage that took place in the north cannot be visited — most of the art hangs in other countries, was destroyed, or has been secreted away — the 500 religious buildings are still standing, at least for now. They remain as solid memories of a past that is flickering out as a new, and decidedly Turkish, culture develops in the north. The rise of that culture is quickened by the heavy influx of Turkish settlers, who currently outnumber the indigenous Turkish-Cypriot population by two-to-one. This cultural shift is apparent even in the cafés, where the drink of choice is black tea in tulip-shaped glass cups, the sort you can buy in twelve-packs in Istanbul. Town names are now Turkish, and the twin red-and-white flags of Turkey and the TRNC are everywhere—from mountain slopes to the rear windows of vans. Another part of this shift is seen in the churches which, with their ravaged cemeteries, are arguably the elements of Greek Cypriot culture that have suffered the most in the occupation. Divorced from their original use as houses of Christian worship, they are now in ruins or used for other purposes.

Most of the 500 buildings belong to the island’s Greek Orthodox Church, one of the world’s earliest, founded by St. Barnabas in 46 A.D. and decreed autocephalous in 431. Others are Catholic, Maronite, Armenian Apostolic, and Anglican; a few are synagogues. Nearly all of them can be visited; but about 50 are inaccessible since they stand within the U.N.-moderated buffer zone or Turkish military camps, where they are used as barracks, hospitals, cafeterias, and warehouses.

Over a fifth of the northern churches, like roofless St. Andronikos,
have been skinned of their art and left to the elements and foraging animals. About 80 other churches still have a religious use as mosques. Some of them are modest, with creaky mihrabs and sheets thrown over what remains of the iconostasis (a gilt wall where icons once hung). Others are rich, with big-branched chandeliers of glass. In St. Paraskeve in Morphou the gilt bishop’s throne and epistyle have been reassembled into a mihrab and mimbar. Some mosques that were formerly churches have been abandoned.

Most of the churches have been cast in new, secular roles as garages, luxury hotels, granaries, storage rooms for furniture or potatoes or hay, classrooms, bars, cafés, and art studios. One is a morgue. A few, such as the St. Barnabas Monastery in the Karpass peninsula, have been set up as icon galleries with whitewashed walls, but the works on view are not native to the buildings and are young and relatively worthless, dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Of the Christian buildings in the occupied north, three are kept, at least in appearance, as churches. But restrictions on their use and maintenance prevent Christians living in the north from worshiping in them regularly without interruption by Turkish officials.

The history of converting churches into mosques and mosques into churches, and of reappropriating buildings of any faith for secular purpose, is long and well documented. But the argument that Cyprus’s occupied religious buildings, and the art within them, are legitimate spoils of war does not hold. In today’s Europe, cultural property is seen as subsisting in a special niche that should be protected. Under the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), destruction of cultural heritage is considered a war crime. Furthermore, the European Union itself has several directives on cultural property—which Turkey would have to follow should it enter the EU. (Notably, one of the preconditions the EU has set for Turkey’s admission is a settlement to the Cyprus problem; i.e., the island’s reunification.)

This past summer in Washington the U.S. Helsinki Commission (CSCE), which monitors compliance between and among member states on the Helsinki accords, issued a 50-page report for Congress on the state of Cyprus’s cultural and religious heritage, saying that it was “in peril” and that “under conventional and customary law, Turkey, as an occupying power, bears responsibility for acts against cultural property.” It also numbers the various ways Turkey has violated international humanitarian law, as set forth in post-World War II treaties that Ankara has signed.

While there is a promising, but perhaps fatally slow-going, effort to reunify Cyprus by diplomatic means, the Church of Cyprus—which has remained independent through every vicissitude of political rule—believes it has a special, natural obligation to its religious heritage. But this heritage, especially if it’s already in shambles, fades in importance when urgent matters such as governance and property distribution are being addressed by the diplomats drafting a political settlement for Cyprus. The churches themselves simply don’t get much attention. But the Church, headed by Archbishop Chrysostomos II, is taking significant measures to try to save its property, usurped by the TRNC. And the Church reminds the EU that Turkey still has a long way to go before it conforms with EU policies.

Around Easter last year Chrysostomos opened an office in Brussels next to EU headquarters. When I met with him here in Nicosia — in his long office, featuring an icon of Christ in judgment on the wall behind his desk — he cheerfully said that at the new office there will always be a bishop to welcome EU parliamentarians and “present and promote our efforts.” By doing this, Chrysostomos hopes to “exert some pressure with the hope that we will manage to restore all the monuments if possible before it’s too late.” Thirty-eight are near collapse.

“Of course, it goes without saying that I can see the huge difficulties associated with such a task, not to say its impossible nature. Unfortunately,” he continues, “it seems to me that Europe does not know the real dimensions of the problem.”

Chrysostomos is frank about meddling in politics:

I know that the government might be reacting to such an idea [direct involvement of the Church] especially at this time, but we will continue our efforts. We invited [Cypriot] President Christofias to come and inaugurate our offices with us in Brussels, but he didn’t.

To further publicize the churches — and prepare as much as possible for their pending restoration — the Church has underwritten, through the Kykkos Monastery, the work of a young Byzantinist at the Hellenic Open University in Patras, Greece, to catalog all accessible religious monuments in the north. Professor Charalampos G. Chotzakoglou started work on the project with a team of archaeologists and other Byzantinists in 2003, when the Green Line was partially opened by the TRNC government, allowing people to cross the line freely for the first time since 1974. The Helsinki Commission consulted Chotzakoglou’s detailed account when it drafted its report for Congress last summer.

Incomplete reports had been made before Chotzakoglou’s, such as those by foreign journalists visiting the area, and by Turkish-Cypriot journalists such as Mehmet Yasin, who wrote some of the most eloquent testimonies. But the first report, UNESCO’s in 1975, was shelved because UNESCO feared it was too damning! (It has only recently become available, and on a strictly limited basis.) The man who submitted this report—Jacques Dalibard of Canada, who was specially appointed by UNESCO to assess the state of cultural heritage after the 1974 war—was not even allowed access to some of the most damaged churches. Still, he wrote that the whole island of Cyprus should be “regarded as one huge monument,” and that a team of specialists be dispatched solely to protect the remnants of Greek heritage in the north.

His suggestions were not followed.

Chotzakoglou’s findings were published in a book in 2008 (Religious Monuments in Turkish-Occupied Cyprus: Evidence and Acts of Continuous Destruction; Lefkosia) and will soon be available in an online public database. He has also been tending to a similar project with Greek and Turkish Cypriots on all religious monuments on the island (Muslim and Christian), It is a valuable site, but needs to be updated: Some of the recent destruction, such as the bulldozing of St. Catherine Church in Gerani in the summer of 2008, and its cannibalizing for buildings in the nearby village of Trikomo, has not been noted.

Incidentally, the razing of St. Catherine is not an isolated case: In the past five years 15 churches have been leveled. That such destruction still occurs is especially disappointing because, since 2007, there has been a special government-appointed technical committee of Greek and Turkish Cypriots dedicated to the maintenance and restoration of heritage on both sides of the island. (To be sure, these committees are destined to do only some good as long as Cyprus remains divided: Their success depends on the good faith of both sides to honor promises to restore the other side’s damaged buildings.)

Destruction did occur to Muslim monuments south of the Green Line, mostly in the years leading up to the war, when both communities were fighting and the Turkish Cypriots, in the minority, bore the brunt of the violence. But the Church and the republic have worked to restore those buildings—no doubt hoping for a gesture of goodwill in return—and since 1989 the government has spent over $600,000 in the effort. So far, 17 historic mosques damaged and looted by Greek Cypriots have been restored. In 2000 the project to restore and protect all Muslim sites in the south began; the Department of Antiquities has recorded all their names and will guard them until they are renovated. This project should be completed sometime this year.

In a recent meeting proposed by the EU, the archbishop met with the mufti of northern Cyprus and said that he would welcome him as his guest in the south to inspect the Muslim sites. If the mufti did not find a site well preserved, he said, then “we as the Church of Cyprus would be willing to take full financial responsibility to restore it.” In exchange, he told the mufti that he wanted him to “facilitate our crossing to the Turkish-occupied area in order to begin restoring our churches with our money. And we will bear any and all costs.”

The mufti declined the offer, and suggested that one church in the north be restored for every mosque restored in the south. Deeming the mufti’s proposal a “worthless gift” — there are far fewer mosques in the south than churches in the north, and it would take, at best, 500 years to renovate the north’s 500 churches and “in 500 years there will be nothing for us to restore” — Chrysostomos rejected the counteroffer.

The north’s “real policy,” he believes, “is to procrastinate so the monuments themselves might be destroyed in time.”

On the morning before I visited some of the northern churches, I walked through the Archbishop’s Palace museum and looked at the art on view. In one room, I stopped by seven small wooden boxes, each with a glass top and containing a head of a saint, archangel, or Christ rendered in tesserae. The heads rested on white tissue paper that ran around their heads like second halos or bandages.

The master smuggler Aydin Dikmen had raggedly cut these exceptional late fifth/early sixth-century works — some of the few to have survived the rampant iconoclasm of the eighth century — from the walls of the Church of Panagía Kanakariá at Lythrankomí. Efforts at restoration and rocky international flights had weakened them further, causing them to crack. At one point, Dikmen tried to repair the loose tesserae — some with sockets of silver imported from Bethlehem — with Elmer’s glue. While they once reminded a visitor of heaven and immaterial gain, they are now symbols of earth and material loss. Which is painful precisely because, as Chrysostomos says, “these are not just art objects for us.”

The case for the restoration of these churches, and the art within them, is compelling — and the loss to art history and to Cypriot culture is immense and immeasurable. Until the island is one again — which could happen in four months or four decades—its two sides will continue to diverge, becoming more lopsided, with a Turkish culture taking root in the north amid the continuing collapse of its Hellenic heritage.

Whatever happens to Cyprus, there remains an eloquent, otherworldly hope, as expressed by Paul in a letter to the Christians at Corinth at about the same time the Church of Cyprus was founded by his coworker Barna-bas: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Paul’s thought is especially poignant when you’re standing inside a church in early ruin, or looking at a torn mosaic — things that were made, at one time, as if to last.

Katherine Eastland is an assistant editor at The Weekly Standard.

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