Friday, March 12, 2010
by Saint Symeon the New Theologian
In the midst of that night, in my darkness,
I saw the awesome sight of Christ
opening the heavens for me.
And He bent down to me and showed Himself to me
with the Father and the Holy Spirit
in the thrice holy light --
a single light in three, and a threefold light in one,
for They are altogether light,
and the three are but one light.
And He illumined my soul
more radiantly than the sun,
and He lit up my mind,
which had until then been in darkness.
Never before had my mind seen such things.
I was blind, you should know it, and I saw nothing.
That was why this strange wonder
was so astonishing to me,
when Christ, as it were, opened the eye of my mind,
when he gave me sight, as it were,
and it was Him that I saw.
He is Light within Light, who appears
to those who contemplate Him,
and contemplatives see Him in light --
see Him, that is, in the light of the Spirit.
And now, as if from far off,
I still see that unseeable beauty,
that unapproachable light, that unbearable glory.
My mind is completely astounded.
I tremble with fear.
Is this a small taste from the abyss,
which like a drop of water
serves to make all water known
in all its qualities and aspects?
I found Him, the One whom I had seen from afar,
the One whom Stephen saw
when the heavens opened,
and later whose vision blinded Paul.
Truly, He was as a fire in the center of my heart.
I was outside myself, broken down, lost to myself,
and unable to bear the unendurable brightness of that glory.
And so, I turned
and fled into the night of the senses.
Every teacher, that he may edify all in the one virtue of charity, ought to touch the hearts of his hearers out of one doctrine, but not with one and the same exhortation.
Differently to be admonished are these that follow:
Men and women.
The poor and the rich.
The joyful and the sad.
Prelates and subordinates.
Servants and masters.
The wise of this world and the dull.
The impudent and the bashful.
The forward and the faint-hearted.
The impatient and the patient.
The kindly disposed and the envious.
The simple and the insincere.
The whole and the sick.
Those who fear scourges, and therefore live innocently; and those who have grown so hard in iniquity as not to be corrected even by scourges.
The too silent, and those who spend time in much speaking.
The slothful and the hasty.
The meek and the passionate.
The humble and the haughty.
The obstinate and the fickle.
The gluttonous and the abstinent.
Those who mercifully give of their own, and those who would fain seize what belongs to others.
Those who neither seize the things of others nor are bountiful with their own; and those who both give away the things they have, and yet cease not to seize the things of others.
Those who are at variance, and those who are at peace.
Lovers of strife and peacemakers.
Those who understand not aright the words of sacred law; and those who understand them indeed aright, but speak them without humility.
Those who, though able to preach worthily, are afraid through excessive humility; and those whom imperfection or age debars from preaching, and yet rashness impels to it....
Differently to be admonished are the wise of this world and the dull. For the wise are to be admonished that they leave off knowing what they know; the dull also are to be admonished that they seek to know what they know not. In the former this thing first, that they think themselves wise, is to be overcome; in the latter, whatsoever is already known of heavenly wisdom is to be built up; since, being in no wise proud, they have, as it were, prepared their hearts for supporting a building. With those we should labor that they become more wisely foolish, leave foolish wisdom, and learn the wise foolishness of God: to these we should preach that from what is accounted foolishness they should pass, as from a nearer neighborhood, to true wisdom.
No one, not even the Lord Himself, can easily instruct the proud. No one wants to give instructions to him who cries out that he knows everything. "For great is the power of God; by the humble, He is glorified" says the wise Sirach (Ecclesiasticus - Sirach 3:19), David also speaks about God saying, "He guides the humble to justice, He teaches the humble His way" (Psalm 25:9).
The proud person is he who wants to teach everyone and he himself does not want to be taught anything by anyone. The humble is he who does not wish to teach anyone but continually desires to be taught regardless by whom. An empty spike [ear] of grain raises its head above the entire field and the full spike [ear] of grain hangs down with bowed head.
O proud man, if only your Guardian Angel would somehow remove the veil from your eyes and show you the endless open sea of all that you do not know, you would kneel before every man before whom you have exhibited pride and kneel before every man whom you have belittled. You would cry out lamenting, "Forgive me, forgive me! I do not know anything!"
Often times, to the humble and pious the time when they are about to die is revealed, but the death of the proud comes unexpectedly and without warning. St. Gregory Dialogues speaks of a bishop, Carpus, who daily celebrated the Divine Liturgy and how suddenly someone appeared from the other world and said, "Continue to do what you are doing in serving me and may your legs never grow tired or your hands weakened. On the feast day of the Dormition of the Mother of God [August 15], you will come to Me and I will give you your reward in My Heavenly Kingdom, together with all of those for whom you have prayed at the Divine Services." After a year, on the feast of the Dormition, Bishop Carpus celebrated the Divine Liturgy of God, sought forgiveness from his priests, and gave up his soul to God. His face glowed like the sun.
- St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue
12 Mar 2010
Talk of the Devil came cheap in medieval Christianity. No mystery play was complete without an appearance by God's great adversary, all horns, cloven hoof and sulphur breath, while every church would boast a depiction of the 'Harrowing of Hell', a graphic warning to worshippers of the everlasting torment in the bowels of the earth that awaited unrepentant sinners.
But modern mainstream Christianity has apparently pensioned off Old Nick as an embarrassing reminder of a past when it used too much stick and not enough carrot in spreading the Good News. You have to go back to 1972 to find a Pope offering any detailed reflection on Satan. Paul VI described him as 'not merely a lack of something, but an effective agent, a living spiritual being, perverted and perverting'.
So the remarks by 85-year-old Father Gabriele Amorth, for decades the chief exorcist in Rome, have taken many by surprise. Far from being superstitious medieval nonsense, Amorth has said in promoting his new book, Memoirs of An Exorcist, the Devil is 'lodging in the Vatican' and can be seen in the activities of paedophile priests, over-ambitious clerics and 'cardinals who don't believe in Jesus'.
Even Amorth's title sounds as if it belongs more to Hollywood blockbusters than the contemporary life of the Catholic Church which makes only the most fleeting of references in its encyclopaedic Catechism, published in 1993, to the Devil as the 'seductive voice' who tempted Adam and Eve (article 391). But despite its official silence about Lucifer, the fallen angel who was ejected from heaven and will, according to the Book of Revelation, roam the earth until the final day of Judgement spreading evil and lies, the Vatican has never dismantled its medieval network of exorcists in every diocese. It just prefers not to mention them – until Father Amorth blew their cover.
When I was researching a biography of the Devil in the 1990s, I contacted each Catholic diocese in England and asked to speak to their official exorcist. Most denied such a figure even existed – though the Vatican plainly requires that one does – and those that did own up said they couldn't give me his name. 'It's not something we do anymore,' I was told more than once. '99 per cent of people who claim to be possessed need referring to psychiatrist.'
In Rome, of course, they are less coy about such matters, and that is where I finally got to meet Father Amorth. He's a giant of a man with a deeply lined bulldog face who was working out of a subterranean office in an anonymous church building on the outskirts of Rome. 'Our language may be more discreet today,' he told me, referring back to the Devil's medieval heyday, 'but the idea remains the same.' He had, he said, carried out more than 50,000 exorcisms, but added that the centre of Catholicism was unusual because it was special focus for Satan's schemes. Only 84 of the 50,000, he added, had been genuine cases of possession, but then he described, in that very room the day before, exorcising 'the demon of the media' from a young man who had, as a result, vomited fragments of radio equipment. At a distance, it sounds almost comical. At the time, I was so disturbed I brought the interview to a rapid conclusion.
Amorth, of course, is a deeply traditional figure, out of step with many in the church – though not, apparently, either Pope Benedict who, the chief exorcist says, believes in the reality of the Devil, or John Paul II who, it has been reported by Cardinal Jacques Martin, who headed his household, in March 1982, carried out an exorcism himself on a young woman.
What echoes back down the centuries, though, in what Amorth is now claiming, is not only the longstanding belief in demonic possession, but the logic behind it. For the Devil has always been a useful way of the Church doing two things. First the Devil puts a face to the otherwise intangible reality of evil. This proved so successful that even in our secular times we still demonise particular criminals and hold them up as the face of evil – Myra Hindley being a good example, especially the picture taken of her at the time of her trial.
The second is that belief in Satan allows us to externalise and therefore disown things we don't like. They are not a part of us – as Freud and Jung pointed out – but rather something that temporarily takes possession of us and can, with the help of an exorcist, be banished. So paedophile priests and faithless cardinals are not, in Amorth's analysis, a sign of corruption and moral decay at the very heart of the Church, but the result of the wiles of an external evil spirit trying to destroy it.
The lure and the emptiness of that logic was best summed up during my research by a young woman at a prayer group I observed in London. She had had a bad week, she told her fellow believers, because 'the Devil made me spend all my money'. She thereby conveniently absolved herself of all responsibility or any need to address or even own her own compulsions.
Perhaps it is that possibility that the Devil offers to shuffle the blame off onto an external demon that makes the Church so reluctant finally to bury this medieval ghoul. It has long pretended to have pensioned Satan off, but its exorcist network shows it hasn't. The dilemma, though, goes deeper. For the Devil is at the very heart of the New Testament narrative, tempting Jesus during his 40 days in the wilderness.
If the Church is now to start trying to explain away that key character by saying that Satan was only really a face of evil, then it throws the whole emphasis on the truth of the gospels into question. If you start dwelling on the fact that you only have to add a 'd' to evil to get devil, you soon notice that by taking an 'o' away from good, you end up with God.
Peter Stanford is a former editor of the Catholic Herald. His book, The Devil: A Biography, is published in paperback by Arrow.
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
March 11, 2010
The New York Times
Last week, the conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck called on Christians to leave their churches if they heard any preaching about social or economic justice because, he claimed, those were slogans affiliated with Nazism and Communism.
This week, the Rev. Jim Wallis, a liberal evangelical leader in Washington, D.C., called on Christians to leave Glenn Beck.
“What he has said attacks the very heart of our Christian faith, and Christians should no longer watch his show,” Mr. Wallis, who heads the antipoverty group Sojourners, wrote on his “God’s Politics” blog. “His show should now be in the same category as Howard Stern.”
Mr. Beck, in vilifying churches that promote “social justice,” managed to insult just about every mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, African-American, Hispanic and Asian congregation in the country — not to mention plenty of evangelical ones.
Even Mormon scholars in Mr. Beck’s own church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in interviews that Mr. Beck seemed ignorant of just how central social justice teaching was to Mormonism.
The controversy began when Mr. Beck said on his radio show: “I beg you, look for the words ’social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words.
“Am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If I am going to Jeremiah Wright’s church,” he said, referring to the incendiary black pastor who led the church attended by the Obama family members when they lived in Chicago. “If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop and tell them, ‘Excuse me, are you down with this whole social justice thing?’ ”
Religious bloggers, from the Rev. James Martin, an editor at the liberal Jesuit magazine America, to Joe Carter, at the conservative magazine First Things, took Mr. Beck’s decree as possibly an attack on Catholic teaching, and definitely an affront to Christianity.
Father Martin wrote on the Huffington Post: “It is not enough simply to help the poor, one must address the structures that keep them that way. Standing up for the rights of the poor is not being a Nazi, it’s being Christian. And Communist, as Mr. Beck suggests? It’s hard not to think of the retort of the great apostle of social justice, Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife, ‘When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.’ ”
Mr. Beck himself is a convert to Mormonism, a faith that identifies itself as part of the Christian family, but which is nevertheless rejected by many Christians. Two Mormon scholars said in interviews that social justice is integral to Mormon teaching too.
Kent P. Jackson, associate dean of religion at Brigham Young University, said in an interview: “My own experience as a believing Latter-day Saint over the course of 60 years is that I have seen social justice in practice in every L.D.S. congregation I’ve been in. People endeavor with all of our frailties and shortcomings to love one another and to lift up other people. So if that’s Beck’s definition of social justice, he and I are definitely not on the same team.”
Philip Barlow, the Arrington Professor of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, said: “One way to read the Book of Mormon is that it’s a vast tract on social justice. It’s ubiquitous in the Book of Mormon to have the prophetic figures, much like in the Hebrew Bible, calling out those who are insensitive to injustices. “A lot of Latter-day Saints would think that Beck was asking them to leave their own church.”
Mr. Barlow said that Mr. Beck’s comments were particularly ill-timed because just this year, the church’s highest authority, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, issued a new “Handbook of Instructions” to church leaders in which they revised the church’s “three-fold mission” and added a fourth mission statement: care for the poor.
Friday 12th March, 2010
The U.S. State Department says Israel is recognizing Jewish sites only as religious sites.
Christian and Muslim churches and mosques are not recognized by the Jewish state, and thus have no protection from future redevelopment by property developers.
The State Department raised the concern in its yearly human rights survey. It says the 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law has been imposed on 137 Jewish sites only, meaning Christian and Muslim sites are "neglected, inaccessible, or threatened by property development."
"The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other well-known sites have de facto protection as a result of their international importance; however, community mosques, churches, and shrines faced threats from developers and municipalities that Jewish sites did not face," the report says.
Pope Benedict prayed at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre when he visited the Holy Land in May last year.
The State Department survey states, "Christian pilgrimage sites around the Sea of Galilee faced regular threats of encroachment from government planners who wanted to use parts of the properties for recreational areas."
Major Protestant denominations that have been in the country for many years, such as the Anglicans, Assemblies of God, Baptists, and Lutherans, among others, are not recognized by Israel, the State Department report said.
ScienceDaily (Mar. 12, 2010) — Has another mystery in the history of Israel been solved? Prof. Gershon Galil of the Department of Bible Studies at the University of Haifa has identified Khirbet Qeiyafa as "Neta'im," which is mentioned in the book of Chronicles. "The inhabitants of Neta'im were potters who worked in the king's service and inhabited an important administrative center near the border with the Philistines," explains Prof. Galil.
Khirbet Qeiyafa is a provincial town in the Elah Valley region. Archaeological excavations carried out at Khirbet Qeiyafa by a team headed by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel and Mr. Saar Ganor have dated the site to the beginning of the 10th century BCE, namely the time of King David's rule. A Hebrew inscription on a pottery shard found at the site, also dating back to the 10th century, has recently been deciphered by Prof. Galil and indicates the presence of scribes and a high level of culture in the town.
The genealogy of the Tribe of Judah dated to the same period is recorded in 1 Chronicles. The last verse of this genealogy, 1 Chronicles 4:23, mentions two important cites: Gederah and Neta'im, both of which were administrative centers, since they were inhabited by people who work "in the king's service": "These were the potters, the inhabitants of Neta'im and Gederah, they dwelt there in the King's service." Gederah has been identified by A. Alt with Khirbet Ğudraya, near the Elah Valley, but Neta'im, which is mentioned only once in the Bible, remained unidentified.
American scholar Prof. William Albright, a leading archaeologist, proposed associating Neta'im with Khirbet En-Nuweiti', which is also located near the Elah Valley, based on the phonological similarity between the two names. Archaeological surveys at Khirbet En-Nuweiti', however, revealed that it was only inhabited during Hellenistic and Roman-Byzantine times, and not during the Iron Age.
Prof. Galil's identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa with Neta'im is based on the proximity of Khirbet Qeiyafa to biblical Gederah/Khirbet Ğudraya; on the archaeological findings -- including impressive fortifications -- dating from the time of King David's rule and indicating that this was an administrative center; and on the preserved name of nearby Khirbet En-Nuweiti'.
"The archeological findings at this site, the discovery of the earliest and most important Hebrew inscription to be found to date, and the understanding, based on the biblical text, that members of the Tribe of Judah inhabited the town and worked in the king's service, testify to Khirbet Qeiyafa -- Neta'im -- being an important administrative center in the border region of the Kingdom of Israel during the time of King David's reign. The existence of this fortified administrative center relatively far from the center of the kingdom testifies to a conflict that broke out between the Israelites the Philistines after David was victorious over the House of Saul and all of the Tribes of Israel were unified under his leadership. It is further proof of a large and powerful kingdom during the days of King David," Prof. Galil concludes.
New Study Debunks Myths About Vulnerability of Amazon Rain Forests to Drought
ScienceDaily (Mar. 12, 2010) — A new NASA-funded study has concluded that Amazon rain forests were remarkably unaffected in the face of once-in-a-century drought in 2005, neither dying nor thriving, contrary to a previously published report and claims by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"We found no big differences in the greenness level of these forests between drought and non-drought years, which suggests that these forests may be more tolerant of droughts than we previously thought," said Arindam Samanta, the study's lead author from Boston University.
The comprehensive study published in the current issue of the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters used the latest version of the NASA MODIS satellite data to measure the greenness of these vast pristine forests over the past decade.
A study published in the journal Science in 2007 claimed that these forests actually thrive from drought because of more sunshine under cloud-less skies typical of drought conditions. The new study found that those results were flawed and not reproducible.
"This new study brings some clarity to our muddled understanding of how these forests, with their rich source of biodiversity, would fare in the future in the face of twin pressures from logging and changing climate," said Boston University Prof. Ranga Myneni, senior author of the new study.
The IPCC is under scrutiny for various data inaccuracies, including its claim -- based on a flawed World Wildlife Fund study -- that up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically and be replaced by savannas from even a slight reduction in rainfall.
"Our results certainly do not indicate such extreme sensitivity to reductions in rainfall," said Sangram Ganguly, an author on the new study, from the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute affiliated with NASA Ames Research Center in California.
"The way that the WWF report calculated this 40% was totally wrong, while [the new] calculations are by far more reliable and correct," said Dr. Jose Marengo, a Brazilian National Institute for Space Research climate scientist and member of the IPCC.
by St. Theodore the Studite
For the Fourth Friday of Great Lent
Brethren and fathers, the day of Pascha is drawing near, since with God’s help we have passed the mid-point of the fast. But are we pressing forward to reach the Pascha that comes and goes? Have we not achieved this year after year? The present Pascha too will pass, for there is nothing lasting in the present age, but, "All our days pass like a shadow", and our life travels like a rapid rider, until it has driven us to the final boundary of life. ‘What’, someone says, ‘is Pascha not to be desired?’ Of course, it very much is to be desired. How could it not be? But we accomplish Pascha every day. And what is this? Cleansing from sins, contrition of heart, tears of compunction, a clean conscience, the "death of the parts of us that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire", and any other evil that is at work. One who has been found worthy in all this does not easter and celebrate a much longed for feast to the Lord just once a year, but, we may say, does so each day. Someone, on the other hand, who does not have all the foregoing, but is held fast by the passions, cannot celebrate. For how can someone celebrate whose god is their stomach? Or who is aflame with fleshly lust? Or melted by the heat of jealousy? Or drowned by the love of money? Or enslaved to vainglory? Or caught up by the other passions. No one could possibly say that someone with a high fever was at rest, or that someone shipwrecked was making a good voyage. It simply isn’t possible. It is impossible for someone who has become dark to be enlightened, or for someone possessed by sins to celebrate. But for you, brothers, we are confident of better things, ones that promise salvation. For our way of life is nothing other than preparation for a feast. Look at the reality: psalmody succeeds psalmody; reading, reading; study, study; prayer, prayer, like a wheel drawing us and joining us to God. How truly excellent is this way of life, how supremely excellent! How blessed this life and thrice-blessed! So then, since we have been shown the sought for Pascha, my honoured brothers, let us make it our aim, and, as far as we can, celebrate it every day, through the death of the passions and the resurrection of the virtues, in imitation of the Lord, "because he too suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps". And I say this, not so we become judges of the others — "for each has their own load to carry" — but so that, conscious of the grace that has been given us by God, we may give thanks to the Giver, glorify the Benefactor, repay the Master, who has not only granted our present blessings, but also, to those who genuinely serve Him to the end, He will also give those that are in His promises, that eternal and heavenly Pascha. May we all attain it, by the grace and love for humankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
 Psalm 143:4.
 Colossians 3:5.
 Cf. Philippians 3:19.
 The ordinary Greek word for ‘preparation’, paraskevi, in Christian Greek also means Friday, in particular Good Friday, the ‘preparation’ for Pascha.
 1 Peter 2:21. The critical editions have the second person throughout.
 Galatians 6:5.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
By Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem
These brief Lives are traditionally included in the introductory sections of the liturgical Gospels of the Orthodox Church in Greek and Church Slavonic. St Sophronius I was Patriarch of Jerusalem (634-638; feastday March 11) and as a patristic writer is also known as Sophronius the Sophist. His extant writings, including liturgical hymns, poetry, accounts of lives and miracles of the saints, and dogmatic works, have been published in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca. He is also co-author, with John Moshcus, of the Lemonarium, a classical collection of accounts of the ancient desert fathers.
The Life of the Evangelist Matthew
Matthew, also known as Levi, tax collector turned apostle, was the first to compose the Gospel of Christ, in Judea in the Hebrew language for those of the circumcision who believed. It is unknown by whom it was later translated into Greek. The Hebrew text is preserved to this day in the library of Caesarea that was most diligently assembled by the Martyr Pamphilus. The Nazarenes of Berroia in Syria, who use this text, gave me permission to copy it. From this, one is easily convinced that where the evangelist makes use of the testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures, either himself, or in the person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, he does not follow the authority of the Seventy (i.e. The Septuagint), but of the Hebrew text. It is from the latter that these two passages come: "Out of Egypt have I called My Son" (Mt 2:15) and "He shall be called a Nazarene" (Mt 2:23).
The Life of the Evangelist Mark
Mark was the disciple and interpreter of Peter, and, at the urging of the brethren in Rome, Mark wrote his short Gospel, following exactly what he had heard Peter tell. When Peter saw it, he gave it his approval, and directed that it be read in the Church, as Clement says in Book VI of his Outline. Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, makes mention of this same Mark. Peter, in his first Epistle, refers to Rome metaphorically by the name “Babylon”: "The church that is at Babylon, chosen together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son" (I Pet. 5:13). Taking with him the Gospel which he himself had written, Mark went to Egypt, and was the first to preach Jesus Christ in Alexandria, where he established the Church. So highly did he excel both in teaching and in a life of steadfast endurance, that all those who came to believe in Christ, followed his example. And Philo [an Alexandrian Jewish philosopher of the first century AD], the most eloquent of the Jews, was so impressed when he saw the first church in Alexandria while it was still made up primarily of Jews, that he wrote a book about the life of those Christians, praising, as it were, his own race. Luke relates that the believers in Jerusalem held everything in common; likewise Philo preserved the memory of what he had seen occurring in Alexandria under the guidance of Mark. Mark reposed in the eighth year of Nero’s reign [63 A.D.]. He was buried in Alexandria, where Ananias succeeded him as bishop.
The Life of the Evangelist Luke
Luke, a physician of Antioch, was not unacquainted with Greek culture, as is shown by his writings. He was a companion of the Apostle Paul and followed him in all his journeys to foreign lands. Luke wrote the Gospel to which Paul himself refers when he says, "And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the Gospel throughout all the churches" (II Cor. 8:18). And in his letter to the Colossians he says, "Luke, the beloved physician, greets you" (Col. 4:14). And to Timothy he says, "Only Luke is with me" (II Tim. 4:11).
Luke wrote another excellent book entitled The Acts of the Apostles, a history which ends with Paul’s two-year stay in Rome, that is, in the fourth year of Nero’s reign. This leads us to believe that The Acts of the Apostles was written in Rome. The tale of the journey of Paul and Thecla, and every other fable, such as the baptism of the lion, should not be counted among the canonical Scriptures. For it is not possible that he who was inseparable from the Apostle should not have known of this act among all his other acts. Tertullian also mentions a certain elder in Asia at that time, a companion of the Apostle Paul, who, when it was proven in the presence of John that he was the author of this book, confessed that he had written it out of love for Paul. Some say that this is why Luke does not mention himself as the author. Whenever Paul says in his own Epistles, "according to my Gospel" (Rom. 2:16, etc.), it is clear that he means the Gospel written by Luke. But Luke learned the Gospel not only from the Apostle Paul, who was not with the Lord in the body at that time, but from the other Apostles as well. He himself clearly states this at the beginning of his work, saying, even as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses. Therefore he wrote the Gospel as he had heard it. But he wrote The Acts based on what he himself had experienced. Luke’s relics were taken up and carried to Constantinople, together with the relics of the Apostle Andrew, in the twentieth year of the reign of Constantius.
The Life of the Evangelist John
John, "the beloved disciple" [see Jn. 13:23], was the son of Zebedee and the brother of James, who was beheaded by Herod after the Passion of the Lord [see Acts 12:1-2]. John was the last of the Evangelists to write a Gospel. At the request of the bishops of Asia, he wrote his Gospel to combat the teachings of Cerinthus and other heretics, and especially the newly appeared doctrine of the Ebionites, who claimed that Christ did not exist until Mary gave birth to Him. This prompted John to expound on Christ’s divine generation. There is another reason why he wrote. After examining the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke from beginning to end, John confirmed that they had recorded the truth [in contrast to authors of other, so-called gospels then in circulation]. Then he composed his own Gospel, focusing on the final year of the Lord’s earthly ministry and on His Passion. John omitted most of the events of the previous two years because these had already been faithfully recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke. A careful study of the four Gospels will resolve the apparent discrepancies between John’s narrative and the narratives of the other three Evangelists. John also wrote an epistle, which begins, That which was from the beginning. This epistle is accepted as John’s by all ecclesiastical and scholarly authorities. The other two epistles bearing his name—the first, beginning, "The elder unto the elect lady"; and the second, "The elder unto the well-beloved Gaius"—are considered by some to be the work of a certain John the Elder, whose tomb (one of two bearing the name John) still exists in Ephesus to this day. Others, however, maintain that these two epistles are also the work of John the Evangelist. We will say more about this in the Life of Papias, the disciple of John. Now in the fourteenth year of his reign, the emperor Domitian initiated the second major persecution of Christians (Nero’s persecution was the first). John was banished to the island of Patmos and there wrote the Apocalypse, later translated by Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. After Dometian was murdered, his decrees were annulled by the Senate on account of their inhuman cruelty. Nerva ascended the throne, and John was allowed to return to Ephesus, where he lived until [101 AD, the fourth year of] Trajan’s reign. During this time, John founded and built up churches throughout Asia. In the sixty-eighth year after the Passion of the Lord, John reposed in great old age near Ephesus.
The Hieromartyrs Pionius and Limnus, the Holy Martyrs Sabina, Macedonia, and Asclepiades suffered during the persecution of Christians in the reign of Decius (249-251). They suffered at Smyrna, a mercantile city on the eastern shores of the Aegean Sea. The Church in Smyrna was founded by the holy Apostle John the Theologian (May 8 and September 26), and was made glorious by its martyrs and confessors.
St Pionius knew that he and his companions would be arrested on February 23, the anniversary of St Polycarp's martyrdom, and a feastday for the Christians of Smyrna. The day before they were arrested, St Pionius entertained Asclepiades and Sabina in his house. Taking three lengths of woven chains, St Pionius placed them around his neck, and around the necks of the other two. He did this to show that they were all determined to be led off to prison rather than eat food sacrificed to idols.
The holy confessors were indeed arrested on February 23. After a brief interrogation they were dragged off by Polemon the verger in order to sacrifice to the idols and eat forbidden foods. They were brought to the forum, where a great crowd had gathered.
St Pionius addressed the people, chiding them for laughing and rejoicing at those Christians who had agreed to offer sacrifice. He quoted Homer to the pagans (Odyssey 22, 412) and said that it was shameful to gloat over those who were about to die. He reminded the Jews in the audience of the words of Solomon: "If your enemy falls, do not rejoice over him, and do not be glad when he stumbles" (Proverbs 24:17).
Polemon attempted once again to persuade Pionius to obey the law and offer sacrifice to the idols.
"If only I could persuade you to become Christians," he replied.
The men laughed at him, saying that he did not have the power to do that, because they knew they would be burned alive if they converted.
St Pionius said, "It is far worse to burn after death."
St Sabina laughed when she heard this. Then Polemon threatened to put her in a brothel, but she said she believed that God would protect her.
Under questioning, St Pionius stated repeatedly that he was a Christian, and could not sacrifice to the emperor or to the idols.
Before Polemon came to Sabina to question her, St Pionus told her to say that her name was Theodote. This he did so that she would not be returned to her former mistress Politta, an immoral woman. In an effort to turn her from Christ, Politta bound St Sabina and cast her out on the mountains. She was secretly helped by the brethren, and hid in St Pionus's house most of the time. That is how she came to be arrested.
Sts Sabina and Asclepiades were questioned, and they said they were Christians who worshiped Jesus Christ. Then they were thrown into jail.
In prison St Pionius and his companions met Limnus, a priest of the Church of Smyrna, and his wife Macedonia from the village of Karine. They had also been imprisoned for confessing Christ.
Many believers visited the holy confessors in prison, offering them whatever they could, but the saints did not accept it. The jailers were angry, because they used to keep a portion of the gifts given to prisoners for themselves.
The holy martyrs were brought to the marketplace, and were urged to offer sacrifice. When they refused, they were taken back to prison. On the way, they were beaten and mocked by the crowd. Someone said to St Sabina, "Why couldn't you have died in your own city?"
St Sabina retorted, "What is my native city?"
Terentius, who was in charge of the gladiatorial games, said to Asclepiades, "After you are condemned, I shall ask that you compete in the games given by my son."
"That does not scare me," he said.
After many torments, the holy martyr was brought to the amphitheatre on March 11, 250. Since he still refused to offer sacrifice to the idols, St Pionius was sentenced to be burned alive. He was nailed to a cross upside down, then they stacked wood around him and lit the fire under his head. When the fire subsided, everyone saw the body of the saint was unharmed. Not even the hairs of his head had been singed. His face was radiant, and shone with divine grace. When, at last, the fire was extinguished and when everyone thought that Pionius was dead, he opened his eyes and cried out rejoicing, "O God, receive my soul," and expired. After his victory in the contest, St Pionius received an incorruptible crown of glory from the Savior Christ.
St Pionius transcribed the Martyrdom of St Polycarp of Smyrna (February 23) from an older copy made by Isocrates (or Socrates) in Corinth. This document in turn was transcribed from an earlier manuscript written by Gaius, and was based on the recollections of St Irenaeus of Lyons (August 23), who knew St Polycarp. St Polycarp appeared to Pionius in a vision, telling him to search for the text of Isocrates. St Pionius collected the material which was nearly worn out with age, thus preserving the account for later generations. Now St Pionius rejoices in the heavenly Kingdom, glorifying the Life-Creating Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, throughout all ages.
HYMN OF PRAISE: SAINT PIONIUS
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Pionius speaks while being tortured:
O, citizens of famous Smyrna,
Fellow townsmen of Omar, the well known,
I know that which all of you know,
Not one of you know, that, what I know:
The sweet pleasure of dying, I know
And sweeter yet, hoping in Christ.
I know that death will destroy me not
But just the body, to separate from the soul;
For me, I know that the angels are waiting
In the mansions of the Heavenly King,
And angels, prophets and saints,
Many armies of those chosen by God,
And the wonderful martyrs for Christ.
I know that I am returning to my homeland,
From whence I came here.
The goal of my suffering, I do know,
(You know not why you are torturing me!)
Seethe, O malice, and against me rage!
With outstretched arms, the Savior awaits me,
Strike me, all of you, with greater tortures.
The more difficult the suffering, the sooner the dawn,
The quicker the death, the more joyful the soul.
"No good works are accomplished by our efforts alone but by the power and will of God. Nevertheless, God demands effort on our part in conforming to His will." These are the words of Saints Barsanuphius and John. Few words but much said. We are obliged to labor, to cultivate and to prepare every good thing, and if some good will take root, grow and bring forth fruit, that is up to the power and will of God. We plow the furrows and God sows, if He wills it. We cleanse the vessels of the Spirit and God pours the Spirit into these vessels, if He wills it. He can do anything if He wills it. And He will do everything that responds to the highest wisdom and suitability, that is, to His plan of man's salvation. In interpreting the words of our Lord, "So be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves" (St. Matthew 10:16), St. John Chrysostom writes that our Lord gave this commandment to His disciples that "they themselves should cooperate in some way, so that it will not to appear that all effort is of Grace alone and for them not to think that they received the wreaths of glory for nothing." And so, both of them are indispensable for our salvation: our effort and the power of God's Grace.
- St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue
Over 1/2 Million New Members to be received into the Holy Orthodox Church
By Fr. Johannes Jacobse
AOI Blog - March 9, 2010
After months of catechetical and pastoral follow-up, the Archiepiscopal Vicar, the Right Reverend Mitered Archimandrite Dr. Andrew (Vujisić), traveled to Guatemala in January 2010 and received Msgr. Andrés Girón and Msgr. Mihail Castellanos of the independent Iglesia Católica Ortodoxa de Guatemala (ICOG), into the Orthodox Church. At that time, guidelines were also established to facilitate the reception of the ICOG’s 527,000 members, which are overwhelmingly indigenous. The former ICOG has 334 churches in Guatemala and southern Mexico, 12 clergymen, 14 seminarians, 250 lay ministers, and 380 catechists. It also has an administrative office on 280 acres, a community college and 2 schools with 12 professors / teachers, and a monastery on 480 acres. Fourteen students from Guatemala are now enrolled in the St. Gregory Nazianzen Orthodox Theological Institute Licentiate degree program.
In February 2010, the Right Reverend Mitered Archimandrite Dr. Andrew (Vujisić) returned to Guatemala and met with clerics and others who assist in the Church’s pastoral work and outreach. He discussed mission and ministry priorities, and economic development with Msgr. Andrés Girón and Msgr. Mihail Castellanos. He met and encouraged the faithful who collaborate in the diverse ministries in Guatemala, visited schools and institutions, and spoke at length with seminarians regarding matters related to the Orthodox faith, especially the importance of the development of an Orthodox phronema, praxis, and liturgical life. His Right Reverence inspected places of worship, liturgical vessels, vestments, etc. in order to assess the needs of the Church in Guatemala. Twelve full sets of vestments for Priests were given to Msgr. Mihail Castellanos. Catechisms were distributed to the lay ministers and catechists.
In his talks with the clergy and faithful of the ICOG, the Right Reverend Mitered Archimandrite Dr. Andrew (Vujisić) reiterated the message of St. Paul: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your nous (mind), that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12: 1-3). He stressed the importance of formulating an Orthodox worldview through prayer, fasting, repentance, struggle against sin and overcoming the passions, participation in the Holy Mysteries, and the reading the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Holy Fathers. His Right Reverence conducted impromptu question and answer sessions everywhere he visited. Interest and excitement permeated the discussions.
The Right Reverend Mitered Archimandrite Dr. Andrew (Vujisić) also visited Holy Trinity Monastery (Antiochian Orthodox Church), where he held lengthy discussions with Abbess Inés and Mother María, and later prayed at the magnificent monastery Church, where he blessed the Russian iconographers of the Prosopon School of Iconology. He traveled to Guatemala City and visited the orphanage, Hogar Rafael Ayau, meeting, embracing, and blessing the children, and later having lunch with them. He held meetings with ‘Orthodox seekers’, who represent another 800,000 souls, regarding the straight and narrow path of reception into Orthodoxy. His Right Reverence will return to Guatemala after the Holy and Great Pascha of the Lord for follow-up meetings and discussions.
Yes, It Really is a Capitalist Plot
by Diana Johnstone
March 4, 2010
For Europe’s poorest countries, European Union membership has long held out the promise of tranquil prosperity. The current Greek financial crisis ought to dispel some of their illusions.
There are two strikingly significant levels to the current crisis. While primarily economic, the European Economic Community also claims to be a community, based on solidarity -- the sisterhood of nations and brotherhood of peoples. However, the economic deficit is nothing compared to the human deficit it exposes.
To put it simply, the Greek crisis shows what happens when a weak member of this Union is in trouble. It is the same as what happens on the world scale, where there is no such morally pretentious union perpetually congratulating itself on its devotion to human rights. The economically strong protect their own interests at the expense of the economically weak.
The crisis broke last autumn after George Papandreou’s PASOK party won elections, took office and discovered that the cupboard was bare. The Greek government had cheated to get into the EU’s euro zone in 2001 by cooking the books to cover deficits that would have disqualified it from membership in the common currency. The European Treaties capped the acceptable budget deficit at 3 per cent and public debt at 60 per cent of GDP respectively. In fact, this limit is being widely transgressed, quite openly by France. But major scandal arrived with revelations that Greece’s budget deficit reached 12.7 per cent in 2009, with a gross debt forecast for 2010 amounting to 125 per cent of GDP.
Of course, European leaders got together to declare solidarity. But their speeches were designed not so much to reassure the increasingly angry and desperate Greek people as to soothe “the markets” – the real hidden almighty gods of the European Union. The markets, like the ancient gods, have a great old time tormenting mere mortals in trouble, so their response to the Greek problem was naturally to rush to profit from it. For instance, when Greece is obliged to issue new bonds this year, the markets can blithely demand that Greece double its interest rates, on grounds of increased “risk” that Greece won’t pay, thus making it that much harder for Greece to pay. Such is the logic of the free market.
What the EU leaders meant by “solidarity” in their appeal to the gods was not that they were going to pour public money into Greece, as they poured it into their troubled banks, but that they intended to squeeze the money owed the banks out of the Greek people.
The squeezing is to take the forms made familiar over the past disastrous decades by the International Monetary Fund: the Greek state is enjoined to cut public expenses, which means firing public employees, cutting their overall earnings, delaying retirement, economizing on health care, raising taxes, and incidentally probably raising the jobless rate from 9.6 per cent to around 16 per cent, all with the glorious aim of bringing the deficit down to 8.7 per cent this year and thus appeasing the invisible gods of the market.
This just might propitiate both the gods and German leaders, who above all want to maintain the value of the euro. The financial markets will no doubt grab their pound of flesh in the form of increased interest rates, while the Greeks are bled by IMF-style “shock treatment”.
And what about that great theater of human rights and universal brotherhood, the European Parliament? In that forum everyone gets to speak for a carefully clocked 1, 2, or 3 minutes, but when it comes to the most serious matter, the budget, the authoritative voices are all German.
Thus the chairman of the EP’s special committee on the economic and financial crisis, Wolf Klinz, has called for sending a “high representative” of the EU to Greece, an “economies commissar” to make sure the Greeks carry out the austerity measures properly. The Greek crisis can allow the EU to put into practice for the first time its “Treaty instruments” concerning “supervision of budgetary and economic policy”. Interest rates may go up because of “risk”, but there is to be no risk. The pound of flesh will be delivered.
There was no such supervision of the financial fiddling which caused this mess. The EU statistics agency Eurostat recently discovered and revealed that in 2001, Goldman Sachs secretly (“but legally”, protest its executive officers) helped the right-wing Greek government meet EU membership criteria by using a complicated “currency swap” that masked the extent of public deficit and national debt. [See Andrew Cockburn and Marshall Auerback, on this site.] Who understands how that worked? I think it is fair to guess that not even Angela Merkel, who is trained as a scientist, understands clearly what went on, much less the incompetent Greek politicians who accepted the Goldman Sachs trickery. It allowed them to create an illusion of success – for a while. Success meant being a “member of the club” of the rich, and it can be argued that this notion of success has actually favored bad government at the national level. Belonging to the EU gave a false sense of security that contributed to the irresponsibility of incompetent political leaders.
Having euros to buy imported goods (notably from Germany) pleased rich consumers, while the euro priced Greek goods out of their previous markets. Now the debt trap is closing. The traditional way out for Greece would be to leave the euro and return to a devaluated drachma, in order to cut imports and favor exports. This way, the burden of necessary sacrifices would not be borne solely by the working class. But the embrace of EU “solidarity” is there to prevent this from happening. German authorities are preparing to lay down the law to the Greeks, after reducing the income of their own working class in order to benefit Germany’s export-oriented economy.
Austerity measures are the opposite of what is needed in a time of looming depression. Rather, what is needed are Keynesian measures to stimulate employment and strengthen the domestic market. But Germany is firmly attached to the export model, for itself and everyone else (“globalization”). For a country like Greece, which cannot compete successfully within the EU, exports outside the EU are crippled by its use of a strong currency, the euro. Bound to the euro, Greece can neither stimulate its domestic market nor export successfully. But it is not going to be allowed to extricate itself from the debt trap and return to its traditional currency, the drachma. Poverty appears to be the only solution.
There is discontent within the German working class at their country’s policies aimed at shrinking wages and social benefits for the sake of selling abroad. In an ideal “social Europe”, workers in Germany would come to the aid of workers in Greece by demanding a radical revision of economic policy, away from catering to the international financial markets toward building a solid social democracy. The reality is quite different.
The Greek financial crisis exposes the absence of any real community spirit in the EU. The “solidarity” declared by the country’s EU partners is a solidarity with their own investments. There is no popular solidarity between peoples. The EU has established a surrogate ideology of internationalism: rejection of the nation-state as source of all evil, a pompous pride in “Europe” as the center of human rights, giver of moral lessons to the world, which happens to fit in perfectly with its subservience to United States imperial foreign policy in the Middle East and beyond. The paradox is that European unification has coincided with decreasing curiosity in the larger EU states about what happens to their neighbors.
Despite a certain amount of specialized training needed to create a Eurocrat class, the general population of each EU member is only superficially acquainted with the others. They see them as teams in soccer matches. They go on holiday around the Mediterranean, but this mostly involves meeting fellow tourists, and study of foreign languages has declined, except for English (omnipresent, if mangled). Mass media news reports are turned inward, featuring missing children and pedophiles ahead of even major political events in other EU member states.
Northern European media portray Greece practically as a Third World country, peripheral and picturesque, where people speak an impossible language, dance in circles on islands, and live beyond their means in their carefree way. The crickets in the Aesop fable, scorned by the assiduous ants.
Media in Germany and the Netherlands imply that IMF-style shock treatment is almost too good for them. The widening polarization between rich and poor, between and within EU member states, is taken for granted.
The smaller indebted countries within the EU are amiably designated by the English-speaking financial priesthood as the PIGS – Portugal, Italy (perhaps Ireland), Greece, Spain – an appropriate designation for an animal farm where some are so much more equal than others.
Diana Johnstone is author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions (Monthly Review Press). She can be reached at email@example.com
by Frederica Mathewes-Green
February 10, 2010
"Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable …. I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:25, 27, ESV).
Lent is a time of year to remember that God has seen fit to make us not airy spirits but embodied human beings living in a beautiful, material world. The soul fills the body the way fire fills a lump of coal, and what the body learns, the soul absorbs as well. Spiritual disciplines such as fasting are analogous to weight-lifting equipment. One who uses them in a disciplined way will be stronger, not just when he's lifting weights, but also for every situation he meets.
While some people think of Lent as a time to personally choose something to "give up," the practice of the Eastern Christians, from the earliest centuries, is to observe a common fast. This is not a complete fast, but rather abstaining from meat and dairy—basically a vegan diet. Tertullian (A.D. 160-225) likened it to Daniel's diet in the king's court, when he abstained from meat and rich foods and grew stronger than those who feasted.
There's something to be said for following an ancient, universal Lenten custom like this instead of choosing your own adventure. Most of us are not capable of being our own spiritual directors. We don't have the perspective needed to choose the things that will really change us. (Deep down, we may not even want to change. I like to say, "Everyone wants to be transformed, but nobody wants to change.") A fast like this, observed for 2,000 years by Eastern Christians in lands from Eastern Europe to Africa, India , and Alaska , is time-tested. (The Lenten vegan fast was once a Western custom too, seen by some churches still holding a "pancake dinner" just before Lent to use up the butter, milk, and eggs.)
In Lent we are one not only with the church through time, but also with those in our local church. Orthodox Lent begins with the Rite of Forgiveness, in which all church members form a circle and, one at a time, stand face-to-face with each other and ask forgiveness. This experience is profoundly healing and also preventive; I'm more likely to restrain a harsh word in July if I recall that I will have to ask this person's forgiveness again in March.
Lenten disciplines train us like athletes, strengthening our earthly bodies and souls, healing the body of believers in our local parish, and forging union with the body of Christ throughout time. "Forgetting what lies behind" and the sins of the past, we "press on" to combat those sins that lie ahead, made stronger by our Lenten disciplines, "for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13-14, ESV).
Marriage Contract Initially Prepares Family to Divorce, Russian Bishop Believes
Yekaterinburg, 11 March 2010, Interfax - Archbishop Vikenty of Yekaterinburg and Verkhnyaya Tura recommends prospective couples not even to consider a marriage contract.
"A marriage contract a priori involves divorce: a person prepares to it from the start. But we should believe that we are getting married forever to stay together to the end of our lives and even after. Therefore, one should not even think of such a contract," the Archbishop said on air of Soyuz TV and Voskreseniye radio.
According to him, a marriage contract emerged because the society "gradually loses its real true values," when many young couples "say at first: let us just live together for a while and see how we get on," that is, "live in sin, don't get married, and don't wed because they have doubts as from the very beginning they have doubts whether they will stay together."
"If there is a need to marry, one should carefully think it over, evaluate, consider and get married without thinking that they will have to ruin it and divorce. They should think how to preserve it and make such considerations the basis of their married life," Archbishop Vikenty recommends.
According to him, "nothing can happen if we believe and hope that we are able to preserve our marriage with the help of God," and this "should be made a basis of matrimony and considerations how to preserve it in all circumstances of life."
"This is what true love and self-giving love is when a person can devote himself or herself to preserve his or her marriage. Such Western trends as marriage contracts are aimed at debilitating both matrimony and the very essence of marriage," the Archbishop believes.
'World's Most Useful Tree' Provides New Low-Cost Water Purification Method for Developing World
ScienceDaily (Mar. 3, 2010) — A low-cost water purification technique published in Current Protocols in Microbiology could help drastically reduce the incidence of waterborne disease in the developing world. The procedure, which uses seeds from the Moringa oleifera tree, can produce a 90.00% to 99.99% bacterial reduction in previously untreated water, and has been made free to download as part of access programs under John Wiley & Sons' Corporate Citizenship Initiative.
A billion people across Asia, Africa, and Latin America are estimated to rely on untreated surface water sources for their daily water needs. Of these, some two million are thought to die from diseases caught from contaminated water every year, with the majority of these deaths occurring among children under five years of age. Michael Lea, a Current Protocols author, and a researcher at Clearinghouse, a Canadian organisation dedicated to investigating and implementing low-cost water purification technologies, believes the Moringa oleifera tree could go a long way to providing a solution.
"Moringa oleifera is a vegetable tree which is grown in Africa, Central and South America, the Indian subcontinent, and South East Asia. It could be considered to be one of the world's most useful trees," said Lea. "Not only is it drought resistant, it also yields cooking and lighting oil, soil fertilizer, as well as highly nutritious food in the form of its pods, leaves, seeds and flowers. Perhaps most importantly, its seeds can be used to purify drinking water at virtually no cost."
Moringa tree seeds, when crushed into powder, can be used as a water-soluble extract in suspension, resulting in an effective natural clarification agent for highly turbid and untreated pathogenic surface water. As well as improving drinkability, this technique reduces water turbidity (cloudiness) making the result aesthetically as well as microbiologically more acceptable for human consumption.
Despite its live-saving potential, the technique is still not widely known, even in areas where the Moringa is routinely cultivated. It is therefore Lea's hope that the publication of this technique in a freely available protocol format, a first, will make it easier to disseminate the procedure to the communities that need it.
"This technique does not represent a total solution to the threat of waterborne disease," concluded Lea. "However, given that the cultivation and use of the Moringa tree can bring benefits in the shape of nutrition and income as well as of far purer water, there is the possibility that thousands of 21st century families could find themselves liberated from what should now be universally seen as19th century causes of death and disease. This is an amazing prospect, and one in which a huge amount of human potential could be released. This is particularly mind-boggling when you think it might all come down to one incredibly useful tree."
For more information, see:
Mar 10th, 2010
I edited and translated a most heartbreaking testimony by Sister Hatune, of the Syrian-Orthodox monastery in Warburg, Germany. She makes an amazing effort to help and protect the ruthlessly persecuted Christians in Iraq.
To watch the testimony of Sister Hatune
In recent years a horrifying number of kidnappings, rapes and mutilations of Iraqi Christian girls has been perpetrated by Muslim gangs. Some 700,000 Christians are fleeing this terror, but often find themselves exposed to similar dangers when they arrive in neighboring Muslim countries. With no rights and no help from authorities, they are surely in the most desperate of situations.
Please take the time to contemplate why this is not being reported more often.
And visit Sister Hatune's foundation for more information about her great work:
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
When we were visiting Abba John, abbot of the Giants' Monastery at Theoupolis, he told us the following story:
Not long ago a young man came to me saying: "For God's sake, take me in, for I want to repent" - and he was weeping bitterly whilst he said this. I could see that he was deeply troubled and perplexed.
"Tell me how you have come to such compunction," I said.
He replied: "Abba, I most certainly am a sinner, sir."
Again I said to him: "Believe me child, just as there are many and different kinds of sin, so there are many cures. If you wish to be healed, tell me truthfully what deeds you have committed so that I can apply suitable penances. One does not apply the same treatment to a fornicator and to a murderer and to a sorcerer. Greed is treated one way; lying, anger, theft, adultery - each has its proper medication. But rather than go listing sins for you, let me say that just as we see various remedies applied to different physical infirmities, so too for the sins of the soul (which are many) a variety of medicines are available."
He heaved a great sigh and smote himself on the breast, breaking into tears and sobbing. So great was the disturbance in his heart that he was unable to speak clearly. When I saw that he was paralyzed and struck dumb by his grief and could therefore tell me nothing of his condition, I said to him: "Listen to me, my child; take a hold of yourself and tell me what has happened. Christ our God Himself will grant you His own aid. Of His unspeakable love for mankind and His immeasurable mercy He endured everything for our salvation. He consorted with publicans; He did not turn away the woman who was a sinner nor did He reject the thief; and, finally, He accepted death on the cross. When you repent and turn to Him, He will receive you with His own hands and in great joy, for "He desires not the death of a sinner but that he should turn to Him and live" (1 Tim. 2:4).
Then he made an effort to pull himself together. When his tears had abated somewhat, he said to me: "Abba, I who am full of sin, sir, and unworthy of heaven and earth. Two days ago, I heard of the death of the maiden daughter of somebody of first rank in this city; also that she had been buried in many clothes in a sepulchre outside the city. Now I was already in the habit of doing the forbidden deed [of grave robbing]. I went to the sepulchre by night and began stripping the corpse. I stripped her of all she wore, not even leaving the innermost little garment but taking that from her too and making her as naked as the day she was born. Just before I was about to leave the tomb, she sat up before me and stretched out her left hand. She took hold of my right hand and said: 'Oh, man, did you have to strip me naked? Have you no fear of God? Ought you not to have had pity on me in death? Should you not respect my sex? How can you, as a Christian, condemn me to presenting myself naked before Christ because you had so little respect for my sex? Is not mine the sex which gave you birth? Do you not outrage your own mother in so using me? Wretched man, what sort of a defense will you offer for this crime against me when you come to the terrifying judgment seat of Christ? As long as I lived, no strange man ever saw my face; and now, after death and burial, you have stripped me and looked upon my naked body. What is there to be said for humanity when it can stoop to such depths? What a heart, what hands you are going to have when you come to receive the all-holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ!'
"When I heard and saw this, I was seized by fear and dread. Quaking I said to her: 'Let me go - and never again will I do this,' but she said: 'You came in here when you wanted to; but you will not go out of here as you will. This tomb shall be shared by the two of us. And do not think you are going to die right away. Only after many days of torment will you - in evil circumstances - surrender your soul.' I begged her with tears in my eyes to let me go, making great oaths by almighty God that I would never again commit that forbidden and illegal deed [of grave robbing]. After I had implored her at great length and poured out many tears, she replied in these words: 'If you wish to live and be delivered from this anguish, give me your word that if I shall let you go, not only will you desist from your hateful and profane deeds, but also that you will, immediately and without delay, go renounce the world and become a monk - so that you can repent of your misdeeds and live in the service of Christ.' I swore to her, saying: 'Not only will I do all that you have said, but from this day forward I will not enter my house. Rather I will go from here immediately to a monastery.' Then the maiden said to me: 'Dress me as you found me.' I made her fit for burial again and then she lay back down and was dead. I, the unworthy, the sinner that I am, immediately went out of the sepulchre and came here."
When I heard all this from the young man, I comforted and refreshed him by talking to him about repentance and continence. Some time later I tonsured him, clothed him in the monastic habit and shut him up in a cave in the mountain within the city, he giving thanks to God and fighting a good fight for his own soul.
St. John Moschos, The Spiritual Meadow, #78.
For forty years now Papa-Fotis from Mytiline gathers stones wherever he is and wherever he stands - broken and cut up floor tiles, roof tiles, marble, and bricks - which are thrown out from buildings, enclosures and stores. Later he goes to Pamphyla. He has completed a church which he built by himself with these remnants. It is a true masterpiece. It is as if it fell out of the heavens and is untouched by human hands.
He wanders around barefoot both winter and summer with a ripped rason. After a vigil in a church in Thessaloniki, a certain priest mistakenly took his ripped rason leaving on his seat his own which was new and made all of silk. When Papa-Fotis realized this he began to cry like a little child because the new one was too warm and he wanted his own which was lighter.
When after forty years of labor he completed the Church of Saint Luke, the first Liturgy was celebrated. Many people were there. A little before going out for the Small Entrance he realized he had forgotten to leave an opening for the left door of the Beautiful Gate to go through. Immediately he went and took the pickaxe and began to tear down the wall. The people went outside coughing because of the dust, and in danger of the stones launching out at them. But he, quietly, when his work was completed, continued doing the Liturgy in a correct manner....
I don't know if Papa-Fotis lives today. When I came to know him about five years ago he was already near ninety. May he be well wherever he is...I thank God that I responded to him on the road. May we have his prayers.
From the unpublished book "My Soul".
Papa-Fotis the "Fool For Christ" Has Reposed
Interview With Papa-Foti Lavriotis
Prostrations may seem a curious and dubious exercise for Christians to assume. They have a vital place, though, in the spiritual journey that leads through Lenten asceticism to Paschal joy.
A professor at Sarah Lawrence College long made it a practice to bring some of her students to St Vladimir’s Seminary, to introduce them to Orthodox worship. It was always a welcome sight to see her and the group of young men and women arrive as the community was gathering together in the seminary chapel. Interestingly, she chose to offer them this introduction on a Wednesday afternoon in Great Lent, during the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. As could be expected, reactions on the part of the students were mixed. With the many prostrations made by members of the congregation during the service, those reactions included a measure of surprise, or amusement, or even scandal.
Physical gestures are looked on with a great deal of ambivalence by many Americans. In Western Europe no one is surprised or offended when teen-agers, for example, greet each other in the street by kissing each other on the cheek: two, three or four times (protocol limits it, nevertheless, to boy-girl or girl-girl). If I enter a restaurant and meet an Orthodox friend, instinctively we tend to greet each other by embracing in the same way. The look on the faces of other patrons, however, is usually one of shock or bewilderment: “We don’t do that in our society.” We Orthodox do, though.
We also make prostrations, both in our times of personal prayer and in our liturgical services, particularly during Great Lent. Why do we do that? Is it some odd carry-over from traditional monastic spirituality, with its emphasis on rigorous ascetic discipline? Or is it a practice that has special value for anyone who wishes to enter seriously, deeply, into the Life in Christ? Is it, in other words, a peculiar exercise, taken on perhaps for some health benefit, as a kind of Christian yoga? Or is it a practice that works an actual and positive transformation in our life, one that is both physical and spiritual?
Americans these days are thoroughly familiar with the prostrations made by Muslims during their ritual of daily prayer; we see images of it almost daily in the media. Most are not aware that Orthodox Christians practice the same discipline, kneeling in a place of worship and touching the head to the ground, before rising to stand in the usual attitude of prayer. They would be amazed to witness those monastics, for example, who make literally hundreds of prostrations during an ordinary Vespers service (a common sight at Holy Dormition Monastery in Michigan, as in many such communities). They would be equally surprised to see “ordinary” lay people prostrating themselves repeatedly throughout the Compline service of the first week of Great Lent, with the penitential Canon of St Andrew of Crete. But again, this is what we Orthodox do. Why?
A fine answer to the question appears in the writings of the great hesychast bishop Theoliptos of Phildelphia (+1322). “Do not neglect prostration,” he admonishes his spiritual children. “It provides an image of man’s fall into sin and expresses the confession of our sinfulness. Getting up, on the other hand, signifies repentance and the promise to lead a life of virtue. Let each prostration be accompanied by a noetic invocation of Christ, so that by falling before the Lord in soul and body you may gain the grace of the God of souls and bodies.” 1.
The importance of prostrations, from Theoliptos’ point of view, is far more spiritual than physical. In bending our knees we assume an attitude of humility before the God to whom we offer our prayer. Kneeling, then touching our forehead to the ground, we acknowledge our sinfulness; we create a living image of our fall into sin. Our very posture represents a confession of that state, a calling to mind of our spiritual poverty, of our susceptibility to passions of greed, lust, anger and malice. As we make our descent in body and in spirit, we confess as well the Name above every name, the Name that “upholds the universe,” as the Shepherd of Hermas expresses it, and upholds our personal world as well: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
Then, as we rise to our feet, this confession both of Christ and of our sinfulness becomes a bodily symbol, a virtual promise, that change will occur in our life. We commit ourselves to repentance, to a turning from the old Adam to the new. The inner transformation signified by this gesture of course does not come about as a result of our prostrations, and not even as a result of our decision to repent. Like every aspect of our Christian life, this transformation – the power to act upon our commitment – is a gift of grace that comes down “from above, from the Father of lights.”
This passage from the Epistle of James (1:17), however, needs to be read in its context, expressed so well throughout the letter: “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith [alone] save him?… Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith… For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.”
When we consider ascetic disciplines such as fasting and prostrations, it is essential that we remember words like these. Those disciplines can indeed work an inner transformation, by purifying and directing our mind and spirit toward “the one thing needful” (Lk 10:42). But they are never ends in themselves. As the Holy Fathers teach repeatedly, they exist for the sole purpose of leading us to Christ, who alone heals our brokenness, forgives our sin, and draws us into eternal communion with God and with one another.
The last word, when we make a determination to assume a serious Lenten discipline, is given to us by our Lord Himself. Inveighing against the hypocrisy of religious leaders who followed the letter of the Law yet ignored its spirit, he declared: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Mt 23:23).
Ascetic practices, particularly during the Lenten periods, are good and even necessary, if we are to enter fully into the spirit of the feast, and allow the Spirit Himself to work His transforming grace and power in our life. But those practices can never stand alone. One of their most basic purposes, aside from the spiritual value they offer us, is to lead us into acts of justice and mercy toward those around us. These above all we ought to do, without neglecting the others.
1. “On Inner Work in Christ,” The Philkalia vol. IV (London: Faber & Faber, 1995), p. 185.
Saint Anastasia the Patrician of Alexandria lived in Constantinople and was descended from an aristocratic family. She was an image of virtue, and she enjoyed the great esteem of the emperor Justinian (527-565). Widowed at a young age, Anastasia decided to leave the world and save her soul far from the bustle of the capital. She secretly left Constantinople and went to Alexandria. She founded a small monastery not far from the city, and devoted herself entirely to God.
Several years later, the emperor Justinian was widowed and decided to search for Anastasia and marry her. As soon as she learned of this, St Anastasia journeyed to a remote skete to ask Abba Daniel (March 18) for help.
In order to safeguard Anastasia, the Elder dressed her in a man's monastic garb and called her the eunuch Anastasius. Having settled her in one of the very remote caves, the Elder gave her a Rule of prayer and ordered her never to leave the cave and to receive no one. Only one monk knew of this place. His obedience was to bring a small portion of bread and a pitcher of water to the cave once a week, leaving it at the entrance. The nun Anastasia dwelt in seclusion for twenty-eight years. Everyone believed that it was the eunuch Anastasius who lived in the cave.
The Lord revealed to her the day of her death. Having learned of her approaching death, she wrote several words for Abba Daniel on a potsherd and placed it at the entrance to the cave. The Elder came quickly and brought everything necessary for her burial. He found the holy ascetic still alive, and he confessed and communed her with the Holy Mysteries. At Abba Daniel's request, St Anastasia blessed him and the monk accompanying him. With the words: "Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit," the saint died in peace (ca. 567-568).
When the grave was prepared, the Elder gave his disciple his outer garment and ordered him to dress the deceased "brother" in it. As he was putting on the rassa, the monk noticed that she was a woman, but he did not dare to say anything. However, when they returned to the monastery after they buried the nun, the disciple asked Abba Daniel whether he knew the "brother" was a woman, and the Elder related to the young monk the life of St Anastasia. Later, the abba's narrative was written down and received wide acclaim.
The relics of St Anastasia were transferred to Constantinople in the year 1200, and put not far from the church of Hagia Sophia.
HYMN OF PRAISE: SAINT ANASTASIA THE PATRICIAN
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
One time, a glorious patrician, Venerable Anastasia,
Money, flattery, abandoned she all,
To Christ, her entire life she directed;
Christ, her bread; Christ, her water;
Christ, her joy and freedom,
Christ, the restorer of her soul,
Christ, the bridge over death.
Anastasia became shriveled,
The spirit through her withered face shines;
The spirit raises her higher to God,
With the Spirit of God, she breathes,
Until illuminated, she became,
By Grace enlightened,
By the power of God strengthened
And among the Living inscribed.
All she forgave, all she loved,
And for the entire world, she prays,
Like an angel, she was indeed,
Wholly fixed on Christ;
By the power of God, more powerful was she
And by riches, more wealthy
Than the Empress Theodora
Amidst the opulence of the imperial court.
09 Mar 2010
TAMPA - The Hillsborough County State Attorney's office has decided not to file charges against a Marine reservist accused of attacking an Greek Orthodox priest.
The incident happened in November in the parking garage of the Seaport Channelside Apartments on Twiggs Street.
Police said Jasen Bruce, 28, beat Father Alexios Marakis with a tire iron, then chased him on foot for three blocks.
The State Attorney's Office put out the following statement:
"After considering the law, the evidence and the information, and arguments provided by defense counsel, it is evident that we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Bruce committed a crime and acted without legal justification."
Bruce and his attorney spoke to the media Tuesday afternoon, saying Bruce was acting in self-defense after the priest grabbed his genitals.
"As you know, the state attorney's office said there was no legal justification to charge Jasen in the case, and what they're saying obviously is that Jasen acted in self defense," attorney Jeff Brown said.
"I defended myself that night from being sexually grabbed and attacked," Bruce said. "Many people refused to believe me simply because the attacker was a priest."
Brown played a surveillance tape of the priest's car following another car into the garage, saying it proved the priest was not lost.
Brown also said the entrance of that garage is a "known gay trolling area." He played an excerpt from a 911 call he said was Bruce telling the dispatcher a man had just grabbed his testicles. He says to the dispatcher, "If I follow him, it's gonna get bad. Get someone over here."
But Marakis' attorney said his investigation showed the attack was unprovoked.
"I firmly believe, and I'll stand by it based on my investigation and my information i've obtained, this is roid rage at its worst," said Jerry Theophilopoulos. "To have somebody beat another person with a tire iron, it is a travesty of justice to have him on the streets with you or I."
Bruce and his attorney say they are now looking at a potential civil lawsuit.
See more here and here.