In the city of Patras in the district of Riganokampou a basilica dated from the 10th century was dedicated to St. Irene the Great Martyr of Thessalonike and was in operation until the 17th century. During a building project in the area of the church in 1984, the church was rediscovered. The excavation was funded by Ancient Byzantium, a local association of Patras.
This church at one time had been stavropegial, which means it was under the direct authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and had in its possession the sacred skull of St. Irene the Great Martyr. Records from those days show that this skull was called "the treasure of Patras". The skull was here until the Frankish Crusaders invaded Constantinople in the 13th century and later came to occupy Patras. During these dark times many relics from the Orthodox world were stolen and brought to the West, especially to France. The skull of St. Irene suffered this same fate.
During this Frankish Occupation of Patras, the Orthodox Metropolitan was removed and a Latin Archbishop from Rome was installed. The first archbishop was one Antelmus from Rome, who presided over the Latin Church of Patras for some twenty-seven years (1205-1232). During this time he sent the holy skull of St. Irene to Hautecombe Abbey in Savoy, France as "a gift". The document issued with the "gift" of the relic is dated 5 March 1231 and survives till this day, indicating not only the authenticity of the relic but also of the exchange of the relic from the church in Patras to the abbey in France.
All these discoveries were made when the Church of Saint Irene in Riganokampou was discovered and excavated. It was the desire of the local clergy and laity to restore this church and the name of St. Irene who was associated with the area. This was first undertaken by Metropolitan Nikodemos of Patras with the help of the local people who had a new church built dedicated to the holy martyr very near the old church, since the old church was not able to be fully restored. The foundations for this church were laid on 5 May 1994, the day that Saint Irene's feast is celebrated. A very large crowd was in attendance, as well as the Greek army and various politicians. It officially opened as a parish in August of 1999 and the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated on 3 October 1999. The consecration of the Holy Altar was done two years later on 30 September 2001 by Metropolitan Nikodemos of Patras.
With this first project completed, it was the desire of Metropolitan Nikodemos to have the skull of St. Irene returned to Riganokampou. These efforts began in 2001 when the Metropolitan as well as Mayor Evangelos Floratos of Patra took initiative by contacting the Vatican. In May 2002 Metropolitan Nikodemos, Mayor Evangelos and the parish priest of the Church of St. Irene met with Archbishop Paul Tavet at the Vatican. During this meeting they received permission from Pope John Paul II to be given the holy relic. It should be noted that after Vatican 2, the veneration of relics died down much in the West and St. Irene came to be regarded as a mythical figure of the early Church, which the Orthodox very much disagreed with. Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Chambery was contacted in France as well as the abbot of Hautecombe Abbey Olivier Turbat to return the relic of St. Irene to the Orthodox of Patras. The holy skull of St. Irene was returned to Riganokampou on Saturday 5 October 2002 after 771 years amidst much joy and celebration and was handed over by the Catholic bishop of Chambery to Metropolitan Nikodemos. Over the next forty days a Divine Liturgy was celebrated daily together with a Supplication Service to the Saint as thousands came to venerate the holy relic and seek the Saint's intercessions.
In April of 2004 the holy skull of St. Irene was brought to Larnaka, Cyprus for ten days and was venerated by a great number of faithful there at the Church of Saint Irene.
Source of information with pictures here and a sermon with pictures from the feast in 2008 can be seen here.
Life of Saint Irene the Great Martyr of Thessalonike
The holy Great Martyr Irene was born in the city of Magedon in Persia during the fourth century. She was the daughter of the pagan king Licinius, and her parents named her Penelope.
Penelope was very beautiful, and her father kept her isolated in a high tower from the time she was six so that she would not be exposed to Christianity. He also placed thirteen young maidens in the tower with her. An old tutor by the name of Apellian was assigned to give her the best possible education. Apellian was a Christian, and during her lessons, he told the girl about Christ the Savior and taught her the Christian Faith and the Christian virtues.
When Penelope reached adolescence, her parents began to think about her marriage. One day, a dove flew through the window carrying an olive branch in its beak, depositing it upon a table. Then an eagle swooped in with a wreath of flowers in its beak, and also placed it upon the table. Finally, a raven flew in carrying a snake, which it dropped on the table. Penelope was puzzled by these events and wondered what they meant.
Apellian explained that the dove signified her education, and the olive branch stood for the grace of God which is received in Baptism. The eagle with the wreath of flowers represented success in her future life. The raven and the snake foretold her future suffering and sorrow.
At the end of the conversation Apellianus said that the Lord wished to betroth her to Himself and that Penelope would undergo much suffering for her heavenly Bridegroom. After this Penelope refused marriage, was baptized by the priest Timothy, and she was named Irene (peace). She even urged her own parents to become Christians. Shortly after this, she destroyed all her father's idols.
Since St Irene had dedicated herself to Christ, she refused to marry any of the suitors her father had chosen for her. When Licinius learned that his daughter refused to worship the pagan gods, he was furious. He attempted to turn her from Christ by having her tortured. She was tied up and thrown beneath the hooves of wild horses so that they might trample her to death, but he horses remained motionless. Instead of harming the saint, one of the horses charged Licinius, seized his right hand and tore it from his arm. Then it knocked Licinius down and began to trample him. They untied the holy virgin, and through her prayers Licinius rose unharmed in the presence of eyewitnesses with his hand intact.
Seeing such a miracle, Licinius and his wife, and many of the people, (about 3000 men) believed in Christ and turned from the pagan gods. Resigning his administrative duties, Licinius devoted himself to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. St Irene lived in the house of her teacher Apellian, and she began to preach Christ among the pagans, converting them to the path of salvation.
When Sedecius, the new prefect of the city, heard of this miracle he summoned Apellian and questioned him about Irene's manner of life. Apellian replied that Irene, like other Christians, lived in strict temperance, devoting herself to constant prayer and reading holy books. Sedecius summoned the saint to him and urged her to stop preaching about Christ. He also attempted to force her to sacrifice to the idols. St Irene staunchly confessed her faith before the prefect, not fearing his wrath, and prepared to undergo suffering for Christ. By order of Sedecius she was thrown into a pit filled with vipers and serpents. The saint spent ten days in the pit and remained unharmed, for an angel of the Lord protected her and brought her food. Sedecius ascribed this miracle to sorcery, and he subjected St Irene to many other tortures, but she remained unharmed. Under the influence of her preaching and miracles even more people were converted to Christ, and turned away from the worship of inanimate idols.
Sedecius was deposed by his son Savorus, who persecuted Christians with an even greater zeal than his father had done. St Irene went to her home town of Magedon in Persia to meet Savorus and his army, and ask him to end the persecution. When he refused, St Irene prayed and his entire army was blinded. She prayed again and they received their sight once more. In spite of this, Savorus refused to recognize the power of God. Because of his insolence, he was struck and killed by a bolt of lightning.
After this, St Irene walked into the city and performed many miracles. She returned to the tower built by her father, accompanied by the priest Timothy. Through her teaching, she converted five thousand people to Christ.
Next, the saint went to the city of Callinicus, or Callinicum (possibly on the Euphrates River in Syria). The ruler of that place was King Numerian, the son of Sebastian. When she began to teach about Christ, she was arrested and tortured by the pagan authorities. She was placed into three bronze oxen which were heated by fire. She was transferred from one to another, but miraculously she remained uninjured. Thousands of idolaters embraced Christianity as a result of this wondrous event.
Sensing the approach of death, Numerian instructed his eparch Babdonus to continue torturing the saint in order to force her to sacrifice to idols. Once again, the tortures were ineffective, and many people turned to Christ.
Christ's holy martyr then traveled to the city of Constantina, forty miles northeast of Edessa. By 330, the Persian king Sapor II (309-379) had heard of St Irene's great miracles. To prevent her from winning more people to Christ, she was arrested, beheaded, and then buried. However, God sent an angel to raise her up again, and she went into the city of Mesembria. After seeing her alive and hearing her preach, the local king was baptized with many of his subjects.
Wishing to convert even more pagans to Christianity, St Irene went to Ephesus, where she taught the people and performed many miracles. The Lord revealed to her that the end of her life was approaching. Then St Irene left the city accompanied by six people, including her former teacher Apellian. On the outskirts of the town, she found a new tomb in which no one had ever been buried. After making the Sign of the Cross, she went inside, directing her companions to close the entrance to the cave with a large stone, which they did. When Christians visited the cave four days later, they did not find the body of the saint.
Apellian returned after only two days, and found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Thus did God glorify St Irene, who loved Him and devoted her life to serving Him. Although many of these miracles may seem improbable to those who are skeptical, nothing is impossible with God.
St Irene led thousands of people to Christ through her preaching, and by her example. The Church continues to honor her memory and to seek her heavenly intercession.
The holy, glorious Great Martyr Irene is invoked by those wishing to effect a swift and happy marriage. In Greece, she is also the patron saint of policemen. St Irene is also one of the twelve Virgin Martyrs who appeared to St Seraphim of Sarov (January 2) and the Diveyevo nun Eupraxia on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1831. By her holy prayers, may the Lord have mercy upon us and save us.
For the longer life of Saint Irene, read here.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
O Lord Jesus, unto Thee Thy lamb doth cry with a great voice: O my Bridegroom, Thee I love; and seeking Thee, I now contest, and with Thy baptism am crucified and buried. I suffer for Thy sake, that I may reign with Thee; for Thy sake I die, that I may live in Thee: accept me offered out of longing to Thee as a spotless sacrifice. Lord, save our souls through her intercessions, since Thou art great in mercy.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
Being fair adorned before with pure and virginal beauty, thou becamest fairer still in thy brave contest, O virgin; for when thou, in thine own spilt blood, wast stained and reddened, O Irene, thou overthrewest ungodly error. Hence, thou hast received the prizes of thy good vict'ry from thy Creator's right hand.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
In the city of Patras in the district of Riganokampou a basilica dated from the 10th century was dedicated to St. Irene the Great Martyr of Thessalonike and was in operation until the 17th century. During a building project in the area of the church in 1984, the church was rediscovered. The excavation was funded by Ancient Byzantium, a local association of Patras.
by Catherine Kalogeratos (Neos Kosmos, Athens)
A friend of mine came over one day and gave me an icon of a saint named Ephraim. I accepted it graciously but secretly thought of how to get rid of it quickly, because I didn't believe in God. For the time being I placed it on the dining room table.
A few days later, at midnight, I saw a pale red light in front of the saint's icon. I was frightened at first but soon felt a kind of inner joy. I could see the red light burning all night like a candle. The following day I told my neighbors about the miracle. They were all surprised because they knew I didn't believe in God.
A few more days went by but I didn't see the light again. I didn't want to touch the icon as I had become very frightened. I decided to give the icon away because I didn't want to see the red flame again. When I went to sleep that night I had a dream of St. Ephraim. He was tall and looked austere. He wore a long tunic that reached to his feet and had a knotted rope around his waist - I particularly remember his Byzantine sandals. I felt sinful and couldn't look him in the face. He said in an imposing voice, "You will not see the light again because you said you wished it so, but be aware - you may remove my icon, but I shall always be here."
Thanks to Saint Ephraim, I now believe in God.
From the book Evlogeite! A Pilgrim's Guide To Greece, by Mother Nectaria Mclees, pp. 625-26.
Prayer consisting of words alone does not help if the heart does not participate in prayer. God hears only a fervent prayer.
Abba Zoilus of Thebaid was once returning from Mt. Sinai and met a monk who complained to him, that they are suffering much from drought in the monastery. Zoilus said to him: "Why don't you pray and implore God?" The monk replied: "We have prayed and have implored, but there is no rain." To this, Zoilus replied: "It is evident that you are not praying fervently. Do you want to be convinced that it is so?" Having said this, the elder raised his hands to heaven and prayed. Abundant rain fell to the earth. Seeing this, the astonished monk fell to the ground and bowed before the elder, but the elder, fearing the glory of men, quickly fled. The Lord Himself said: "Ask and it will be given you" (Luke 11:9).
In vain are mouths full of prayer if the heart is empty. God does not stand and listen to the mouth but to the heart. Let the heart be filled with prayer even though the mouth might be silent. God will hear and will receive the prayer. For God only listens to a fervent prayer.
- St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
When Ephraim reached the age of fourteen, the all-good God directed his steps to a monastery on the mountain of Amomon near Nea Makri in Attica. The monastery was dedicated to the Annunciation (Evangelismos) and also to St Paraskevi. Here he bore the heavy burden of the cross of Christ, which all His followers must bear (Matt. 16:24).
Being inflamed with love for God, St Ephraim eagerly placed himself under the monastic discipline. For nearly twenty-seven years he imitated the life of the great Fathers and ascetics of the desert. With divine zeal, he followed Christ and turned away from the attractions of this world. By the grace of God, he purified himself from soul-destroying passions and became an abode of the All-Holy Spirit. He was also found worthy to receive the grace of the priesthood, and served at the altar with great reverence and compunction.
On September 14, 1425, the barbarous Turks launched an invasion by sea, destroying the monastery and looting the surrounding area. St Ephraim was one of the victims of their frenzied hatred. Many of the monks had been tortured and beheaded, but St Ephraim remained calm. This infuriated the Turks, so they imprisoned him in order to torture him and force him to deny Christ.
They locked him in a small cell without food or water, and they beat him every day, hoping to convince him to become a Muslim. For several months, he endured horrible torments. When the Turks realized that the saint remained faithful to Christ, they decided to put him to death. On Tuesday 5 May 1426, they lead him from his cell to his death. They turned him upside down and tied him to a mulberry tree, then they beat him and mocked him. "Where is your God," they asked, "and why doesn't he help you?" The Saint did not lose courage, but prayed, "O God, do not listen to the words of these men, but may Thy will be done as Thou hast ordained."
The barbarians pulled the Saint's beard and tortured him until his strength ebbed. His blood flowed, and his clothes were in tatters. His body was almost naked and covered with many wounds. Still the Hagarenes were not satisfied, but wished to torture him even more. One of them took a flaming stick and plunged it violently into the saint's navel. His screams were heart-rending, so great was his pain. The blood flowed from his stomach, but the Turks did not stop. They repeated the same painful torments many times. His body writhed, and all his limbs were convulsed. Soon, the saint grew too weak to speak, so he prayed silently asking God to forgive his sins. Blood and saliva ran from his mouth, and the ground was soaked with his blood. Then he lapsed into unconsciousness.
Thinking that he had died, the Turks cut the ropes which bound him to the tree, and the Saint's body fell to the ground. Their rage was still not diminished, so they continued to kick and beat him. After a while, the Saint opened his eyes and prayed, "Lord, I give up my spirit to Thee." About nine o'clock in the morning, the martyr's soul was separated from his body.
These things remained forgotten for nearly 500 years, hidden in the depths of silence and oblivion until January 3, 1950. By then a women's monastery had sprung up on the site of the old monastery. Abbess Makaria (+ April 23, 1999) was wandering through the ruins of the monastery, thinking of the martyrs whose bones had been scattered over that ground, and whose blood had watered the tree of Orthodoxy. She realized that this was a holy place, and she prayed that God would permit her to behold one of the Fathers who had lived there.
After some time, she seemed to sense an inner voice telling her to dig in a certain spot. She indicated the place to a workman whom she had hired to make repairs at the old monastery. The man was unwilling to dig there, for he wanted to dig somewhere else. Because the man was so insistent, Mother Makaria let him go where he wished. She prayed that the man would not be able to dig there, and so he struck rock. Although he tried to dig in three or four places, he met with the same results. Finally, he agreed to dig where the abbess had first indicated.
In the ruins of an old cell, he cleared away the rubble and began to dig in an angry manner. The abbess told him to slow down, for she did not want him to damage the body that she expected to find there. He mocked her because she expected to find the relics of a Saint. When he reached the depth of six feet, however, he unearthed the head of the man of God. At that moment an ineffable fragrance filled the air. The workman turned pale and was unable to speak. Mother Makaria told him to go and leave her there by herself. She knelt and reverently kissed the body. As she cleared away more earth, she saw the sleeves of the saint's rason (cassock). The cloth was thick and appeared to have been woven on the loom of an earlier time. She uncovered the rest of the body and began to remove the bones, which appeared to be those of a martyr.
Mother Makaria was still in that holy place when evening fell, so she read the service of Vespers. Suddenly she heard footsteps coming from the grave, moving across the courtyard toward the door of the church. The footsteps were strong and steady, like those of a man of strong character. The nun was afraid to turn around and look, but then she heard a voice say, "How long are you going to leave me here?"
She saw a tall monk with small, round eyes, whose beard reached his chest. In his left hand was a bright flame, and he gave a blessing with his right hand. Mother Makaria was filled with joy and her fear disappeared. "Forgive me," she said, "I will take care of you tomorrow as soon as God makes the day dawn." The Saint disappeared, and the abbess continued to read Vespers.
In the morning after Matins, Mother Makaria cleaned the bones and placed them in a niche in the altar area of the church, lighting a candle before them. That night St Ephraim appeared to her in a dream. He thanked her for caring for his relics, then he said, "My name is Ephraim." From his own lips, she heard the story of his life and martyrdom.
Since St Ephraim glorified God in his life and by his death, the Lord granted him the grace of working miracles. Those who venerate his holy relics with faith and love have been healed of all kinds of illnesses and infirmities, and he is quick to answer the prayers of those who call upon him.
Saint Ephraim has a special love for troubled and despairing youth and protects them against suicide, alcoholism, drugs and all sorts of harmful addictions. The following links provide further information here and here. Parents especially, when praying for their children, should often seek the intercessions of this Saint and these two links are meant to encourage this. More miracles can be read here and here.
The icon above of St. Ephraim was the last painted by the famous iconographer, Photios Kontoglou in 1964 (who is also buried there at the Evangelismos Monastery of St. Ephraim). He had prayed to the Saint to reveal himself so that he could properly depict him, and the above icon is the result. This has become the prototype of all the icons of St. Ephraim.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
On Amomon Mountain, you shown forth like the sun, and O God-bearer, you left for God by martyrdom; you endured barbarians’ attacks, Ephraim, O great-martyr of Christ, because of this you ever pour forth grace, to those who piously cry out to you, Glory to Him who gave you strength, Glory to Him you made you wondrous, Glory to Him who grants through you, healings for all!
Blessed Maksim, "fool for Christ," walked about unclad throughout the streets of Moscow in winter. In response to the advice of men that he dress and protect himself from the cold, Maxim was known to respond: "Yes, it is bitterly cold, but Paradise is sweet!" He also responded: "For patience, God grants salvation!" When Christ Himself did not feel sorrow to give Himself over to suffering and death, why should we feel sorry for ourselves because of ourselves? He [Christ] prescribed a recipe for us; a diet for our spiritual restoration to health and He called that "an easy yoke." "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:30). The yoke which we impose upon ourselves is much heavier, for this yoke pulls us down deeper and deeper into spiritual illness. The earth seeks much greater sacrifices from us and does not promise us any reward after death. The earth seeks that we sacrifice even God, soul, conscience, mind and all of human and divine dignity to it and, for this, it shows a dark and putrid grave as the end of everything and reward for all. Christ seeks that we sacrifice only the earth, our beastliness and sin, vice and all wickedness and, for that, He promises resurrection and eternal life in Paradise. "Yes, it is bitterly cold, but Paradise is sweet!"
- St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Incense Found To Be Psychoactive
21 May 2008
by Kate Melville
Science A Go Go
Biologists from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem have discovered that burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain that alleviate anxiety and depression, suggesting that an entirely new class of medicinal drugs might be right under our noses.
Reporting their findings in The FASEB Journal, the researchers said that the active compound - incensole acetate - significantly affected areas in the brain known to be involved in emotions as well as in nerve circuits that are affected by currently prescribed anxiety and depression drugs.
"In spite of information stemming from ancient texts, constituents of Boswellia had not been investigated for psychoactivity," said researcher Raphael Mechoulam. "We found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior. Apparently, most present day worshipers assume that incense burning has only a symbolic meaning."
To make their discovery, the researchers administered incensole acetate to mice and found that the compound activated a protein called TRPV3, which is present in mammalian brains and also known to play a role in the perception of warmth of the skin. When mice bred without this protein were exposed to incensole acetate, the compound had no effect on their brains.
"Perhaps Marx wasn't too wrong when he called religion the opium of the people: morphine comes from poppies, cannabinoids from marijuana, and LSD from mushrooms; each of these has been used in one or another religious ceremony." said Gerald Weissmann, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "The discovery of how incensole acetate, purified from frankincense, works on specific targets in the brain should also help us understand diseases of the nervous system. This study also provides a biological explanation for millennia-old spiritual practices that have persisted across time, distance, culture, language, and religion - burning incense really does make you feel warm and tingly all over!"
This is an 11-part series that can be viewed on Youtube. It was filmed at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh, PA upon an unexpected visit from Elder Ephraim in the early 1990's. The lecture is translated into English.
St Nikephoros the Hesychast is known to us from the life of St Gregory Palamas, who had St Nikephoros as a teacher and guide. According to St Gregory he was ‘an Italian’ converted to Orthodoxy. This could mean that he was of Greek descent, from Sicily or Calabria, but whose family had been forced into union with Rome, or it could mean that he was an Italian of mixed Greek and Italian parentage. This we shall never know for certain. However, we do know that when he came to Constantinople, Nikephoros opposed the Unionist policies of Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologos (1259-1282). Moreover, by his stand for Orthodoxy, he won many disciples amongst the elite of the Imperial Capital.
After this period, Nikephoros left for Mt Athos, where he became a monk and lived in a hermitage near Karyes, the Athonite capital. Here he wrote a booklet called ‘On Guarding the Heart’, which made him famous as a hesychast, and on which veneration for his memory is founded. This work is in fact an anthology of quotations from earlier hesychasts, ascetic saints and fathers, such as Sts Anthony and Macarius the Great, St John of the Ladder and St Symeon the New Theologian. In his "Guide", St Nikephoros recommends particularly the importance of having a spiritual father and giving him obedience. This, he says, is essential if we are to guard the heart from distractions and achieve unceasing prayer, by calling on the name of Jesus Christ and asking for mercy. He also recommends as an aid for beginners the technique of breathing in and out as the Prayer is said.
St Nikephoros can therefore be seen to have assimilated the hesychast spirituality, typical of the thirteenth century, which had been inherited from the long hesychast tradition from the first century on. Moreover, it was on the basis of such Christian experience, including that of St Nikephoros, and on the basis of his personal experience, that in the fourteenth century St Gregory Palamas wrote his ‘Triads in Defence of the Holy Hesychasts’. So valuable was St Nikephoros’ "Guide" that it was later included in the Philokalia.
Nicephorus taught: "Gather your mind and force it to enter into the heart and remain there. When your mind is established in the heart, it should not remain empty, but allow it to continually perform this prayer: LORD JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, HAVE MERCY ON ME! Never allow it to be silent. Because of this, the entire chain of virtues will enter into you: love, joy, peace and all others, because of which your every petition to God will be fulfilled later."
30 Icons of Alexander Nevsky To Be Consecrated and Delivered on Board International Space Station
Moscow, 4 May 2010, Interfax – On the eve of the Victory Day, over thirty icons of St. Alexander Nevsky will be consecrated in the Moscow Church of this heavenly protector of the Russian army.
Next day after the consecration ceremony one of the icons in a wooden casing will be delivered to the Borodino field (where the Russian army defeated Napoleon in 1812 – IF) to participate in festival events, the Moscow Patriarchate's Publishing House told Interfax-Religion on Tuesday.
On May 6, Thursday, after the festal divine service in the Church of St. George the Victory Bearer at the Poklonnaya Gora, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will convey the icon to the Central museum of the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945.
Thirty St. Alexander Nevsky icons of smaller size will be transferred to the International Space Station. Icons are especially made on fabrics to meet all requirements to space cargoes.
After coming back from the space trip, the icons with special certificate will be handed over to veterans and other deserved persons.
Antonio Banderas Has Chosen the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood as the First Site of His St. Petersburg Tour
St. Petersburg, 4 May 2010, Interfax – Hollywood actor Antonio Banderas who came to St. Petersburg to participate in the International Cinema Forum, visited the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.
"Can we go in?" Banderas asked when he saw the renowned cathedral. Without waiting for the answer, he went to the box office to buy tickets, Metro paper reported on Tuesday.
Cashiers were surprised to see the celebrity. Antonio took some pictures of the church interior design, looked at the icons and mosaics.
Besides, the actor visited Dostoyevsky's museum flat, spent more than three hours in the Hermitage and called on Pub №1.
Digital Natives Embrace Ancient Church
Twentysomethings Captivated By Orthodoxy
By ANDREA GOODELL
The Holland Sentinel
Apr 28, 2010
Holland, MI — Tim Flinders will graduate from Grand Valley State University next month. Raised Lutheran, he also explored fundamentalist Baptism, Roman Catholicism and even Messianic Judaism before converting to Orthodox Christianity this year.
“Orthodoxy has completely transformed me already,” he said. “I feel like the first time in my life I’m growing spiritually.”
Flinders, 22, like many other young people converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, was looking for authenticity and historical accuracy in his Christian faith.
“I had so many different questions that needed to be answered,” said Flinders, who added he wrestled with the many divisions of the Christian church over the years.
He was chrismated Holy Saturday at St. George Orthodox Church in Grand Rapids. Chrismation is akin to confirmation.
Recently he attended the second annual Encountering Orthodoxy Conference at Hope College.
The Rev. Deacon Nicholas Belcher, dean of students at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, gave the opening keynote address, using the themes of holy week to introduce Orthodoxy to the more than 50 who attended.
Eastern Orthodox Easter, Pascha in Greek — the language favored by Orthodox everywhere — fell on the same day as Western Easter this year.
Belcher described the nailing of Jesus to the cross as “one of the most cruel things human beings have ever thought of to do to other human beings.”
Eastern Orthodox Christians, he explained, experience the crucifixion and resurrection in the now during liturgy.
“There is no sense that we are just talking about something that happened a long time ago. It is today,” he said.
Dustin Miller, a Hope senior, attended the conference for extra credit in his history of Christianity class, but said, “I’ve always been curious about Orthodoxy.”
He, too, said he was looking for the apostolic, historical roots of the Christian church. Miller considers himself non-denominational and said he didn’t know the Hope campus had Orthodox students.
“I’ve been trying to figure it out, trying to find what best fits me,” Miller said.
The Orthodox Christian Fellowship campus club, which sponsored this month’s conference, meets Thursday nights for Small Compline (a short Psalm and evening prayer service). Then the handful of Orthodox students, one seminary student and Fr. Steven VanBronkhorst discuss topics such as biblical foundations for Orthodox worship.
He would like to see more inquirers at the OCF meetings and more students at the second annual Encountering Orthodoxy Conference.
VanBronkhorst was a Reformed Church of America minister for almost two decades before coming to the Orthodox church 14 years ago. Still, VanBronkhorst said, he sees many more today looking for the historical church than when he was doing his own searching.
“I always felt that ideally there should be just one church,” he said. “The Orthodox church is by far the most historically faithful body. ... Who is going to deny that the greater part of the evangelical world has the faith? They have faith. What they don’t have is the worship.”
Tyler Dykstra of Holland was chrismated this month.
He grew up Christian Reformed, but says he “wanted more.”
“Over time I started to realize there was so much history I had not known about even though I had gone to Christian schools all my life,” Dykstra, 24, said.
The Abba John the Short asked the monks: "Who sold Joseph?"
One monk replied: "His brothers."
To that, the elder replied: "No brethren, rather his humility. Joseph could have said that he is their brother and could have protested to being sold but he remained silent. His humility, therefore, sold him. Afterward, this same humility made him master over Egypt."
In surrendering ourselves to the will of God, we defend ourselves too much from external unpleasantness, that is why we lose the good fruits which is harvested at the end of unpleasantness endured with humility.
Abba Pimen wisely spoke: "We have abandoned the easy yoke, i.e., self-reproach and we have burdened ourselves with a heavy yoke, i.e., self-justification." The Christian accepts every unpleasantness as deserving of their present or their past sins; seeking in all, the will of God with faith and awaiting the end with hope.
- St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Monday, May 3, 2010
Patriarchal and Synodal Encyclical On the Sunday of Orthodoxy
Prot. No. 213
February 21, 2010
By God’s Grace Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Fullness of the Church, Grace and Peace From our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:
Our most holy Orthodox Church today commemorates its own feast day, and – from this historical and martyric See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate – the Mother Church of Constantinople directs its blessing, love and concern to all of its faithful and dedicated spiritual children throughout the world, inviting them to concelebrate in prayer.
Blessed be the name of the Lord! Those who endeavored over the ages to suppress the Church through various visible and invisible persecutions; those who sought to falsify the Church with their heretical teachings; those who wanted to silence the Church, depriving it of its voice and witness; they all proved unsuccessful. The clouds of Martyrs, the tears of the Ascetics, and the prayers of the Saints protect the Church spiritually, while the Comforter and Spirit of Truth leads it to the fullness of truth.
With a sense of duty and responsibility, despite its hurdles and problems, as the First-Throne Church of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate cares about protecting and establishing the unity of the Orthodox Church, in order that with one voice and in one heart we may confess the Orthodox faith of our Fathers in every age and even in our times. For, Orthodoxy is not a museum treasure that must be preserved; it is a breath of life that must be transmitted and invigorate all people. Orthodoxy is always contemporary, so long as we promote it with humility and interpret it in light of the existential quests and needs of humanity in each historical period and cultural circumstance.
To this purpose, Orthodoxy must be in constant dialogue with the world. The Orthodox Church does not fear dialogue because truth is not afraid of dialogue. On the contrary, if Orthodoxy is enclosed within itself and not in dialogue with those outside, it will both fail in its mission and no longer be the “catholic” and “ecumenical” Church. Instead, it will become an introverted and self-contained group, a “ghetto” on the margins of history. This is why the great Fathers of the Church never feared dialogue with the spiritual culture of their age – indeed even with the pagan idolaters and philosophers of their world – thereby influencing and transforming the civilization of their time and offering us a truly ecumenical Church.
Today, Orthodoxy is called to continue this dialogue with the outside world in order to provide a witness and the life-giving breath of its faith. However, this dialogue cannot reach the outside world unless it first passes through all those that bear the Christian name. Thus, we must first converse as Christians among ourselves in order to resolve our differences, in order that our witness to the outside world may be credible. Our endeavors for the union of all Christians is the will and command of our Lord, who before His Passion prayed to His Father “that all [namely, His disciples] may be one, so that the world may believe that You sent me” (John 17.21). It is not possible for the Lord to agonize over the unity of His disciples and for us to remain indifferent about the unity of all Christians. This would constitute criminal betrayal and transgression of His divine commandment.
It is precisely for these reasons that, with the mutual agreement and participation of all local Orthodox Churches, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has for many decades conducted official Panorthodox theological dialogues with the larger Christian Churches and Confessions. The aim of these dialogues is, in a spirit of love, to discuss whatever divides Christians both in terms of faith as well as in terms of the organization and life of the Church.
These dialogues, together with every effort for peaceful and fraternal relations of the Orthodox Church with other Christians, are unfortunately challenged today in an unacceptably fanatical way – at least by the standards of a genuinely Orthodox ethos – by certain circles that exclusively claim for themselves the title of zealot and defender of Orthodoxy. As if all the Patriarchs and Sacred Synods of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, who unanimously decided on and continue to support these dialogues, were not Orthodox. Yet, these opponents of every effort for the restoration of unity among Christians raise themselves above Episcopal Synods of the Church to the dangerous point of creating schisms within the Church.
In their polemical argumentation, these critics of the restoration of unity among Christians do not even hesitate to distort reality in order to deceive and arouse the faithful. Thus, they are silent about the fact that theological dialogues are conducted by unanimous decision of all Orthodox Churches, instead attacking the Ecumenical Patriarchate alone. They disseminate false rumors that union between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches is imminent, while they know well that the differences discussed in these theological dialogues remain numerous and require lengthy debate; moreover, union is not decided by theological commissions but by Church Synods. They assert that the Pope will supposedly subjugate the Orthodox, because they latter submit to dialogue with the Roman Catholics! They condemn those who conduct these dialogues as allegedly “heretics” and “traitors” of Orthodoxy, purely and simply because they converse with non-Orthodox, with whom they share the treasure and truth of our Orthodox faith. They speak condescendingly of every effort for reconciliation among divided Christians and restoration of their unity as purportedly being “the pan-heresy of ecumenism” without providing the slightest evidence that, in its contacts with non-Orthodox, the Orthodox Church has abandoned or denied the doctrines of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Church Fathers.
Beloved children in the Lord, Orthodoxy has no need of either fanaticism or bigotry to protect itself. Whoever believes that Orthodoxy has the truth does not fear dialogue, because truth has never been endangered by dialogue. By contrast, when in our day all people strive to resolve their differences through dialogue, Orthodoxy cannot proceed with intolerance and extremism. You should have utmost confidence in your Mother Church. For the Mother Church has over the ages preserved and transmitted Orthodoxy even to other nations. And today, the Mother Church is struggling amid difficult circumstances to maintain Orthodoxy vibrant and venerable throughout the world.
From the Ecumenical Patriarchate, this sacred Center of Orthodoxy, we embrace all of you lovingly and bless you paternally, praying that you may journey in health through the holy period of contrition and asceticism known as Holy and Great Lent in order that you may become worthy of celebrating the pure Passion and glorious Resurrection of our Savior Lord with all faithful Orthodox Christians throughout the world.
Sunday of Orthodoxy 2010
+ Bartholomew of Constantinople
Fervent supplicant to God for all
This comment was made on May 3, 2010 by the First Radio Parish Church of America in Portland, Maine from a person who is not even Orthodox:
"We could take a cue from Orthodoxy, whose priests stand with their backs to their congregation, leading a liturgy that is neither clever nor impassioned, but simply beautiful, like stone smoothed by centuries of rhythmic tides. It's an austere ritual, in the sense of - there's nothing new here; it's sublime, in the sense of - creating a clearer view into Heaven. The priest can be any priest. Who he is, what he looks like, how he speaks, and what he thinks matter little. He hasn't written the service that he officiates. It isn't about him or his prowess. He's an interchangeable functionary draped in brocaded robes, obscured by incense, and, as such, never points to himself, a flawed human, pointing ever and only to the Perfection of the Mysterious Divine. That is the role of every priest or preacher - invisibility, while making God seen."
For nearly seventeen centuries an annual event has taken place at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday (according to Orthodox Christian reckoning) that is today reported by media outlets around the world and hailed by tens of millions as one of Christianity's greatest miracles. The event is known to non-Orthodox as the ceremony of the "Holy Fire", while Orthodox prefer to call it "Holy Light" because they claim without hesitation it has a divine origin and supernatural qualities.
Orthodox consider the ceremony of the Holy Light to be so sacred that for centuries it has been imitated in every Orthodox church throughout the world to usher in the celebration of Christ's victory over death through His Resurrection. They do this by extinguishing every light in their local church prior to midnight on Holy Saturday, and when midnight strikes and a new day dawns, the clergyman emerges from the darkened sanctuary (representing Christ emerging from His tomb) holding a single flame which he distributes to all the faithful assembled as they sing the joyous festal hymn "Christ is Risen!" This same ceremony is celebrated and has its origins in the Holy Light ceremony that takes place at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem amidst great enthusiasm and much reverence not only in the crowded church, but throughout the world as the faithful await news of the manifestation.
Of course, every miracle claim naturally has its skeptics and critics. Though most people would at least admit this event to be an unexplainable and extraordinary phenomenon, others who are strictly bound to their naturalistic biases simply dismiss this empirical manifestation as not sitting comfortable within their "enlightened" and "scientific" minds. Their agenda is to give a naturalistic explanation based on their naturalistic presuppositions, which often just end up being an elaborate conspiracy theory which requires more faith to believe in than the much simpler and coherent supernatural explanation.
To avoid cheapening what I personally consider a great miracle by systematically answering the absurdities of the objectors, I have instead decided to focus on ten reasons why I personally believe the Holy Light is both a unique and profound miracle of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this way the reader can compare their own reasoning with mine to form their own conclusions by weighing the evidence.
Continued...Reason One: The Insuffiency of All Skeptical Claims (Part One)
The name of this Greek girl, who had been sainted but ignored for altogether too many centuries, was Xenia; and the name of the devout Christian to whom she made herself known was the pious Father George Nasis, the highly respected priest of the Greek Archdiocese Annunciation Church in New York City.
Why Xenia remained screened from Greek Orthodoxy for so long a time is attributed to the will of God, the same will that selected a comparatively obscure twentieth-century priest as the herald of the unacknowledged saint. The amazing disclosure would have been more plausible had some archaeologist unearthed St. Xenia's earthly remains, but that was not the choice of the Lord whose acts often puzzle the will of man, but whose truth is borne out in one way or another. The comparative simplicity of the occurrence merely dramatises the way of heaven and the truth of Jesus Christ.
In yet another incredible incident, Father Nasis acquired laurels which he never wished for and which he thereafter chose to minimise rather than exploit. In one of his customary periods of meditation and prayer there appeared before him a very lovely girl who announced herself as Xenia, a martyred saint of the Church. Not only did she reveal herself for the first time in 1700 years, but she bade the good priest to paint her likeness, asking that in the icon her hands appear clasping a Cross.
At First Father Nasis kept the incident to himself, lest he be ridiculed; but finally he could contain himself no longer. He told his superiors about the appearance of St. Xenia with such conviction that scholars went in search of her in ancient manuscripts, even going back to the oldest of calendars in a vain effort to find the name Xenia mentioned. The credibility of the priest was on the wane when at long last St. Xenia was found in an ecclesiastical work entitled "O Megas Synaxaristes," comprising twelve volumes of the history of the saints of Orthodoxy by the scholar and monk, Victor Mattheou. In such a massive work Xenia was not easily found, but in the end Father Nasis was vindicated.
Mattheou's work describes Xenia as having long, golden-blonde hair, blue eyes (as witnessed by Father Nasis), and beautiful features. Moreover, when she was born in 291 AD, to parents named Nicholas and Despina, in the town of Kalamata, Greece, it was determined that she be raised in the faith of Jesus Christ. At maturity her depth of faith outshone her physical beauty, and she was looked upon with great admiration by the Christian community.
The roving eye of Magistrate Domitianos of Kalamata happened to fall on the lovely Xenia who stirred within him more than admiration. It was love at first sight and he soon offered a proposal of marriage. This proposal was rejected, however, because Domitianos had refused to accept Christ and clung to ancient idolatry with a tenacity which Xenia saw as folly and superstition. It was decided that a prison would change her mind. All else having failed, she was jailed on spurious charges with the stipulation that she could be released if she changed her mind.
When months of incarceration and abuse failed to move Xenia, she was put to death. Soon after, she was sainted because of the many miracles attributed to her, and was given a feast day on May 3rd. This date somehow failed to appear on the Greek Orthodox calendar, although it is a matter of record as indicated by the research of the Monk Mattheou.
The icon of St. Xenia still adorns the Annunciation Church and has for forty years been the site of miracles, and miracles in this twentieth century have been hard to come by. Father Nasis, who never sought public acclaim and managed to remain his humble self throughout, was a priest of the Annunciation Church for more than thirty years, passing on in 1974. His many writings, and supplications in honour of St. Xenia give testimony to his faith. His discovery remains in his beloved church, and many a gaze will be fixed upon the sweet St. Xenia who was cloaked in anonymity for seventeen centuries, but whose memory will now be honoured for as long as there is Greek Orthodoxy.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
O Lord Jesus, unto Thee Thy lamb Xenia doth cry with a great voice: O my Bridegroom, Thee I love; and seeking Thee, I now contest, and with Thy baptism am crucified and buried. I suffer for Thy sake, that I may reign with Thee; for Thy sake I die, that I may live in Thee: accept me offered out of longing to Thee as a spotless sacrifice. Lord, save our souls through her intercessions, since Thou art great in mercy.
From Orthodox Saints, v. 2, by Fr George Poulos, Holy Cross Orthodox Press.
St Peter the Wonderworker, Bishop of Argos in Peloponnesos, lived during the ninth and early tenth centuries, and was raised by pious parents in Constantinople. St Peter's parents, and later his brothers Paul, Dionysius, Platon and St Peter himself, all became monks. St Peter zealously devoted himself to monastic labors, and he excelled all his fellows. This came to the attention of the Italian bishop Nicholas I Mystikos (who from 895 was Patriarch of Constantinople), who wanted to elevate him to the rank of bishop. St Peter declined, accounting himself unworthy of such honor.
Bishop Nicholas consecrated Paul, St Peter's brother, as Bishop of Corinth, and St Peter went to his brother and lived with him, taking upon himself the spiritual struggle of silence. After a year emissaries came to Bishop Paul from the city of Argos, where the bishop had died, and they asked for St Peter as their bishop. After long and intense entreaties, St Peter finally gave his consent. As bishop, St Peter toiled zealously in guiding his flock. He was extraordinarily compassionate, concerning himself with those in need, especially orphans and widows.
The saint fed the hungry in years of crop failure. Through his prayers the food set aside for the hungry never ran out. The saint also ransomed captives, healed the sick and the afflicted, and possessed the gift of insight.
Before his death St Peter was called to Constantinople in 920 to participate in the Synod which addressed the fourth marriage of Emperor Leo.
The saint predicted the day of his death, and departed to the Lord at the age of seventy around 928 AD. At his funeral his face was illumined and he sweated as if alive.
His relics were placed in the Dormition of the Theotokos in Argos. His relics were transferred from Argos to Nafplion in 1421, exuding myrrh, and working miracles and healings. A Catholic bishop took them to Rome in the fifteenth century.
Since the early 1990s Argos churchmen have been trying to locate the relics. They were eventually found in a monastery chapel near Rome. On January 19, 2008 the relics were ceremoniously returned by Vatican clerics to the Cathedral of Argos. Thousands of faithful thronged the streets and church bells sounded as the relics were carried into the local cathedral and put on display.
On his feast day on May 3 the relics are processed throughout the city (as photos below from 2010 show).
Dormition Church in Argos, which originally held the relics of St Peter till 1421.
A church dedicated to St. Mavra can be found on the island of Zakynthos, Greece. St. Mavra's miracle-working icon is located there.
The icon was originally from Egypt. In Zakynthos, a shepherd from the village of Lagopodo had found the icon in a small ravine when he saw a bright light emanating from the area. Three times he took the icon with great reverence back to his village but each time it would miraculously return to the spot where he had found it. It was determined that it should be left there and a church should be built on that spot, where it still stands today (the village of Maherado).
The present church was rebuilt in 1631 after a great earthquake destroyed most of the original church. In 1953 another great earthquake damaged the church, but it was rebuilt by the devout Christians of the island.
Next to the church stands the 37 meter bell tower which was built in 1802 by the local Nikolaos Kivetou. The bells were fashioned in Venice.
In 2005 on December 8 the beautiful church was sadly ravaged by a fire of unknown origin and many of its treasures and icons were lost to the flames. Restoration is still being done, as the before and after photos below show.
Along with the feast day on May 3, the island of Zakynthos also celebrates another feast for the saints on the Sunday after Pentecost.
Panagia and St. Timothy
St. Mavra Church in 1968
Interior of the church prior to the fire.
Ceiling icon that survived fire
Ceiling icon that survived fire
Interior after fire
Interior after fire
Interior after fire