Fort de la Repentance
The video is a French news report of TF1 (video with Greek subtitles here). It is about Fr. Seraphim, who has lived as a hermit at the Fort of Porquerolles for over 15 years and is over 80 years old. The hermitage is a dependency of Saint-Antoine-le-Grand Monastery, featured in the documentary To Talandon, which in turn is a dependency of Simonopetra Monastery on Mount Athos. Fr. Seraphim was previously a monk at Simonopetra.
According to one news report from 2001:
"Père Seraphim, a 70-year-old monk from Mount Athos, is almost single-handedly transforming the Fort de la Repentance into a monastery. A Father Christmas lookalike, with flowing white beard, paint-splattered robes and an infectious giggle, he walked me through graffiti-covered vaulted halls which one day will house monks' cells. The chapel is already completed, its olive wood screen intricately carved by Seraphim himself - a riot of peacocks and flowers, angels and saints.
"Locals love this monk. 'He's bringing spirituality to the island and yet he is so jolly, so human,' says Katrine. 'Last summer, we watched the eclipse with him, and he got so drunk on Champagne that he fell off his stool backwards. His skirts went right over his head.'"
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Fort de la Repentance
Jennifer Lopez has officially "withdrawn" from a concert in a European territory currently under military occupation -- claiming she never would have agreed to perform had she known the "relevant circumstances" surrounding the intense political situation.
Lopez was scheduled to perform in Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus ... an area that neither the United Nations nor the European Union recognize as an independent sovereign state ... because of the way it was illegally occupied by the Turkish military in 1974.
In fact, multiple Greek and Cypriot politicians expressed anger after reports surfaced claiming Lopez had agreed to perform at a swanky hotel in Northern Cyprus on July 24.
But a rep for Lopez tells TMZ, "Jennifer Lopez would never knowingly support any state, country, institution or regime that was associated with any form of human rights abuse."
The rep added, "After a full review of the relevant circumstances in Cyprus, it was the decision of management to withdraw from the appearance. This was a team decision that reflects our sensitivity to the political realities of the region."
Official Statement Regarding Cyprus Appearance
Set aside half an hour out of the twenty-four to say the Prayer. Whenever you are able; but the evening is best. Say it without using the prayer rope - in supplication, pleading, and with tears. 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.' Cultivate this, and you'll see what fruit it brings. From half an hour, it will become an hour. And guard this hour. Whether the phone is ringing, or you have this task you need to do now, or you're sleepy, or some blasphemy is confronting you. Nothing. Turn off the phone. Finish your tasks. Do this half hour and you'll see. You've planted a little tree, and tomorrow or the day after it will bear fruit. St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil both began like this and became luminaries for the whole world. St. Symeon the New Theologian had experiences of the Uncreated Light while still a layman. He was a layman. How many laymen appear as such exteriorly, but deep down are monastics!
From Obedience Is Life: Elder Ephraim of Katounakia, by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi, p. 196.
“Thou hast ascended to the heights of chastity and purity, O Father, and the myrrh flowing from thy bones is a token thereof.”
After studying letters and calligraphy, he renounced all the things of the world and dedicated himself to God, being tonsured a monk. Shortly thereafter, he was Ordained to the Priesthood, as one pure and most worthy, and irreproachably served the one Holy Triune God at the fearsome Altar.
He was bound to the virtuous Bishop Akakios of Rendine, who had been Consecrated by St. Niphon of Constantinople (commemorated on 11 August) when he was still Metropolitan of Thessaloniki.
St. Niphon once sent Bishop Akakios and St. Theophilos to Egypt to ascertain the truth of two great miracles that took place there, in 1486, by Patriarch Joachim of Alexandria.
By order of the country’s Arab King — which order was issued following intrigues by certain Jews — this most holy Patriarch moved a mountain and unhesitatingly drank a poisoned drink without suffering any harm.
When St. Theophilos and Bishop Akakios had ascertained the truth of thesemiracles, they worshipped at the ancient Patriarchate, Sinai, and the Holy Land.
The Saint later returned to Constantinople, where the new Patriarch, Pachomios — who, indeed, was his compatriot — appointed him to the service of the Patriarchate, in which post he remained a good many years.
He then went to the Holy Mountain, where he lived in true ascesis, humility, and obedience at the Monasteries of Vatopaidi and Iveron, and later in the desert of Kapsala, being distinguished for his great piety and his love for our Lady the Theotokos.
Various manuscripts of his bear witness to his humility, when he says in self-reproach that he is “the sinful and unworthy one,” “wretched, miserable, and tattered,” and a “wretch, guilty of myriads of evils”!
The renown of his holiness drew near him many devotees of Godly life seeking guidance and consolation.
When Thessaloniki was deprived of its Shepherd, Patriarch Pachomios went to the city, and from there he wrote to the Blessed Theophilos, inviting him to come so that his acquaintances could see him — his aim, of course, being to Consecrate him Bishop of the city.
The Saint discovered this plan and, avoiding the dangers arising from the glory of honors, was tonsured to the Great Schema, having first renounced the Priesthood, to the sorrow, but also admiration, of the Patriarch.
Cultivating virtue in secret and being advanced in years, the blessed one foreknew his death.
Having been administered Holy Unction, he received Holy Communion and, on Sunday, 8 July 1548, he reposed, saying: “Lord Jesus Christ, receive my spirit!”
In token of his great humility, he had previously ordered his disciple, Isaac, not to bury him, but rather to drag him to the woods and to throw him there to be eaten by wild beasts.
Later, his Holy Relics were found and reverently placed in the Kalyve of his struggles, at the Church of St. Basil in Kapsala. These Relics began to gush fragrant myrrh as an indication of his God-pleasing way of life and angelic chastity and purity.
In this way, the Lord glorified His faithful servant, St. Theophilos, through whose intercessions may we be vouchsafed the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen!
A Reflection of St. Nikolai Velimirovich
St. Anthony teaches: "Be fearful that you do not become famous because of some work that you do. If they begin to praise you because of your work, do not rejoice in that and do not find satisfaction in that but keep your works in secret as much as you can and do not allow anyone to speak about them." How much more peace and joy would there be among men on earth if a part of mankind would take these holy words to heart! Even though St. Theophilos lived as a simple monk secluded on Holy Mt. Athos, he was famous in all the patriarchates of the east, as much for his learning as for his good works and ascetical life of mortification. It happened at one time that Theoleptos, the Patriarch of Constantinople, visited Thessalonica. At that time, the arch-episcopal throne of Thessalonica was vacant. The Christians of Thessalonica unanimously implored the patriarch to appoint Theophilos as their archbishop. The patriarch, a compatriot and friend of Theophilos, wrote a personal letter to him in which he invited him to accept the arch-episcopal throne. Fearing the glory of men and not being able to refuse the patriarch, Theophilos immediately received the "great angelic habit" [The Great Schema] and informed the patriarch of this adding: "If God be willing, we will see each other in the Kingdom of Heaven." Such were the spiritual giants, whom the Church calls saints, afraid of vanity and the glory of mankind.
This Icon has been attributed to a famous Iconographer, Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky (1758-1826), a protégé of the Empress Catherine II who was instructed at the Academy of Arts in St Petersburg, Russia. In addition to being a great portrait painter, Borovikovsky also painted many of the Icons for the Cathedral of the Kazan Icon in St Petersburg.
Painted in the style of the Kazan Mother of God Icon, on canvas, the Sitka Mother of God Icon is 36 x 17½ inches in size. An exceptionally beautiful and detailed riza of silver covers the Icon of the Theotokos and Christ child, and the Image of God the Father blessing from above.
The Cathedral received the Icon as a gift from the laborers of the Russian American Company in 1850, two years after the Cathedral was completed. Even with their meager wages, these men generously made their contribution to the Church.
Miracles have been attributed to the Sitka Mother of God Icon over the years. It is believed that the gaze of the eyes of the Theotokos have led to the restored health of those who prayed before the Icon.
Because of the peaceful gaze of the Theotokos, the Icon has been described as a "pearl of Russian ecclesiastical art of ineffable gentleness, purity and harmony…." And "…the most beautiful face of the Mother of God with the Divine Child in her arms is so delicately and artistically done that the more one looks at it the more difficult it is to tear one’s gaze away."
Originally part of the main Iconostasis at the Cathedral of St Michael the Archangel in Sitka, Alaska, the Icon is now permanently located on the far left side of the Iconostasis in a special place of honor.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Today, like the morning sun rising over us, your all-honored icon enlightens the world with rays of mercy and our land reverently receives it as a divine gift from on high, glorifying you, O Birthgiver of God, Our Lady of Sitka, with joy magnifying Christ our God Who was born of you. Pray to Him O Lady Mary, Queen and Theotokos, that all cities and lands be protected from our enemies, and that they will be saved who in faith venerate your most pure icon that has come to dwell with us, O Virgin Mother, who shows us the way to Christ.
Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
O Mother of God, chosen from all generations to be the protectress of the Christian people; we offer you songs of thanksgiving for your wonderworking Icon that has come to Alaska. You are a fountain of mercy and help all who seek refuge in you. Defend us in all afflictions, necessities and tribulations that we may cry to you: Rejoice, zealous defender of the Orthodox faithful in America.
1. Towards the end of August 2001, someone asked him to pray to Saint Nektarios to help him and the Elder said:
“Let the Saint be, my child. He is now in America running to save lives”.
On September 11th, the disaster at the Twin Towers took place. Some months earlier he had seen what was going to happen and had warned that it was going to change history.
"A great evil will begin in America, and not just in September. Alas!"
He had given this warning to the Metropolitan of Sisaniou, Anthony, in one of the latter’s visits, in the presence of other people. However, he did not give any explanation.
"Your Eminence, wait and see what calamity will befall the Americans in two months."
2) In 1990, he had said that the Lord will soon start revealing his Saints in front of people, because He wishes to strengthen mankind. Since temptations will be great and the trials unbearable, the Lord will instruct his Saints to show up, especially great Saints like Saint Demetrios or Saint George. People will hear that this Saint appeared in Crete this week, next week in Macedonia, the other one there, etc.
3) “What shall I do with my children, Geronda? They are very difficult. They shout at me, they watch all the filthy films on TV and they are affected.”
“Only the Lord will save the children. You must pray: 'Lord, save me and correct me, and enlighten my children to be near to You'. The Lord will hear you and will grant that which is necessary."
“Does the Lord hear us? Does our voice reach Him?"
“I do not know. Last month He had an earache. There are difficult times ahead, but do not be scared. The Lord will not abandon His children, He will save them miraculously."
“What do you mean Geronda?”
“What do I mean? For example, if you do not have anything to eat, you will wake up in the morning and you will find a loaf of bread on the table and you will wonder where it came from. But you must have faith. Without faith nothing happens."
4) One day in the summer of 2005 he said: “From now on, you will never be able to believe what you will hear and see. Such will be the events which have never happened before."
“Will they also take place in Greece?”
“Yes, they will take place in the whole world and in Greece as well. Why us? Because, we are the lighthouse of Orthodoxy and sin has made us worse than the atheists."
5) The Elder was speaking about the end of the world and was saying that it will only last as long as it takes to sing the Exapsalmos [the six Psalms at the beginning of Orthros]: a few minutes.
"At the time of our judgment, the angels will sing the Exapsalmos in the heavens. All the people, who will be alive at the time, will die simultaneously and immediately afterwards they will rise again. Everyone will possess their bodies, but without matter, they will take no room, each one of us will see the others’ bodies and we will all be 33 years old.
"The Lord will hold the Book of Life, the Gospel, and immediately we will move to the right or the left by ourselves, because we will know if we are destined to go to Paradise or not. That’s the reason why inside the church, the icon depicting Christ at the Throne of the Lord, is showing Him holding an open book without an oil candle. This means that there will be no mercy during His Second Coming. Whereas on the iconostasi, where all the icons are, His icon depicts Him holding a closed book and on top there is an oil candle burning. This means that we are still living in the hour of mercy."
6) "The Lord took some people and made them ‘militia’, because difficult times are ahead for humanity."
7) "Things will develop very fast. The devil will prevail. He will destroy and beat on all those who approach him. He does not have friends."
8) "You must be careful because the Evil One is setting traps. Do not laugh! He is next to us and you cannot see him. Listen to what I am saying to you. Do not stop praying!
"The Devil pushes people to commit a sin and then he scares them off and they are embarrassed to confess it.
"I went to Hell for 15 minutes and I thought I was there for three hours."
9) "Those who will accept Devil’s mark on them will never rest. You, by yourselves, must acquire deep faith, kindness, patience and justice. Beware! We must not lose our faith! We must have unwavering faith and the Lord will help us. If we do not pray, we will be lost. Do not think about the future. Everything is in God’s hands. You must read Patristic books, a little everyday and God will enlighten you. Then your mind will get stronger."
10) "The prayer “Lord, have mercy” is like a sword which cuts the Devil in half."
Poor people! Both monks and laymen! We are living during the difficult times, but the struggle is a struggle. You must not stop struggling, not even for a second. You must fight until the end. Then at the last minute, the Lord, who awards people the wreath, will give you not the futile possessions of this life, but will make you worthy of reigning in His Kingdom! Forever! Not just for a thousand or a hundred thousand years.‘Forever’ means it has no end."
11) "Even if the earth was double in population, the Lord can feed everyone. Do not have any doubt that our bodies will rise again. Look! I am 90 years old. This body must disintegrate in the grave in order to rise again imperishable, eternal, without feeling any sickness, pain, thirst, heat; but it will resemble the bodies of the angels. So long as we do not commit any sin. The Lord wants us to tell Him that we will only live for Him. If we remain in sin, then Hell will also be eternal. Then from there, the situation will not change, neither will the pain, the grief, the fires.
"At the Theological School, they tell you these things in a subtle way. Neither Iakovos [Tsalikis] nor Porphyrios [Kavsokalivitis] talked about these things straightforward. This is how they should have talked about them, so that people would hear and repent. The Devil comes and beats me up without mercy. He tells me: 'Do not talk so clearly. Let them sleep. Do not wake them up.'"
12) "Sin enters our minds from the senses. We must stop it from entering through prayer and the ‘efhe’ ['Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’).
Malice is the worst sin and we cannot have any excuses. It must be expelled from inside us.
The Saints also committed sins, but they were sanctified. As human beings, they have also committed trespasses, but they were sanctified.
13) This is what he said of someone who was suffering from depression: “He has not yet perfected his faith. When we truly believe, we talk to our Lord, as we talk to a friend, to a father. Then, He will talk to us. Christ will talk to us for each and every thing we ask of Him, either through someone else, or we will hear Him inside us. He will speak to us and we will understand Him."
"The Lord does not have boundaries. The Lord repairs everything with a caress. If we make a mistake, our guardian angel leaves us and sits nearby miserable. But if we say: 'I am sorry', he returns, my child."
"Those who die during Holy Week go straight to Heaven. Blessed is he who dies on a Saturday and is buried on a Sunday. The road to Paradise is wide open to him.”
14) Demons sometimes showed up in front of him and several times he confronted them in order to protect someone. Sometimes they even beat him up. For example, once a huge demon appeared in front of him and punched him in the face. The elder, who was strong and agile those days, did not hesitate and punched him back. Sometimes the signs of the beatings were noticeable on him. Once they bit him on his right hand between the pointer finger and the thumb. The blessed bishop of Sisaniou, Anthony, who saw it, turned and told one of his spiritual children accompanying him: “See what the devil did to him?”
Another time, when he was bedridden and could not even offer the Mystery of Confession, he permitted doctor Th. Douros to confess to him, but during the night he had been suffering from the beatings by the demons, because he took upon himself the doctor’s sins. However, when one of his spiritual children apologized once for making him suffer after confessing to him, he comforted him saying: ”This is my job, my child”.
15) The elder went once to a monastery to worship, accompanied by a young priest, who was his spiritual child. When they sat at the archontariki, they saw an old photo with the monastery’s monks. When they were drinking their coffee, he took the photo in his hands and whispered in the priest’s ear, pointing at one of the 20 or so monks who appeared on the picture: “Do you see them? Only this one has been saved.”
16) Two years before his passing, one of his spiritual children, whom he loved, asked the elder to give him a quick ride to rest a little after he had been discharged from ‘Attikon’ hospital.
“From where I am, George, I go everywhere and I see everything”.
These well-known events are very illuminating about the charisma that God gave him, especially during the last three years of his life. For instance, once he told us that he had attended the Holy Liturgy in a cave among the first Christians.
His spiritual trips did not take place, however, only in the past. He could spiritually transfer himself and be alerted about events which were taking place in the present or the future. For instance, once he let it be revealed that he had been attending the Holy Liturgy in Crete together with a priest, a cherished spiritual child of his, and that he had been very pleased with what he had experienced.
17) On the morning of the 11 September 2004, as everybody knows, a helicopter of the Sinouk type, carrying the Patriarch of Alexandria and 16 other priests and laymen, crashed in the sea of Siginitikos, 8 miles away from Holy Mount Athos. On the same evening, the elder was deep in prayer. He could see them where they were and was suffering from what he was seeing, because his face was crumbled and was making faces. He only revealed that the people had died as martyrs because they had realized that they were about to die and had suffered a lot.
Someone asked him:” Why did so many people die, in this place and in this way?”
“The Lord took all of them together, my child, because this was His wish."
A few days later, when the issue came up again, he added the following: ”All of them went to Heaven, because of the way they have died.”
See also: Elder Ambrose Lazaris of Dadiou Monastery
Translated by: Olga Konnaris Kokkinos
Edited by: John Sanidopoulos
"The idea that behavior or personality traits can influence health is one that's been around for a long time. We're just now getting a handle on to what extent they do," said Stephen Boyle of Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina.
From those with a chill demeanor to the completely frazzled types, mental factors are ultimately tied to physical health. And while a highly neurotic person might deteriorate more quickly than others, not every character trait will kill you. Some might even boost lifetimes.
Cynics who tend to be suspicious and mistrustful of others, a character trait that scientists refer to as hostility, may have an increased likelihood of developing heart disease. "These aren't necessarily hot-headed people, but people who are more likely to read into people's behavior as some hostile motive," Stephen Boyle said during a telephone interview.
In a study of more than 300 Vietnam veterans who were healthy at the study start, Boyle found that those who scored high on measures of hostility were about 25 percent more likely to develop heart disease.
Boyle and his colleagues think that hostile individuals might experience more stress, which can cause spikes in an immune-system protein called C3 that has been linked with various diseases, including diabetes. In fact, the participants with higher scores on hostility showed an increase in these proteins while the non-hostile men showed no such increase.
Lack of Meaning
If you lack a sense of purpose, your stay on Earth could be truncated. A study involving more than 1,200 elderly participants who didn't have dementia at the study's start found that those who indicated having a high purpose in life were about half as likely to die over the study period, which lasted up to five years. The results, published in the June 15 issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, held regardless of a person's age, sex, education and race, along with level of depression and neuroticism.
"Persons with high purpose readily derive meaning from and make sense of the events of their lives, and likely engage in behaviors and activities that they deem important," said study researcher Patricia Boyle of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago.
Some other research has suggested that people with a higher sense of purpose may have different levels of stress hormones, better heart health or improved immune systems, though more research is needed to firm up any of these biological mechanisms, she said.
The opposite also holds: "The findings from our study suggested that people who no longer set and work actively toward goals or enjoy their day-to-day activities (how they spend their time) are those with greater mortality risk," Boyle told LiveScience.
People who are highly neurotic -- constantly worried and anxious, and prone to depression -- die sooner on average than their chill counterparts. And a recently reported study of nearly 1,800 men followed over a 30-year period suggests that's partly because neurotics are also more likely to smoke. Perhaps having a cigarette eases anxiety, said study researcher Daniel Mroczek of Purdue University in Indiana, adding that such a short-term payoff might not be worth it if it kills you down the line.
Lack of Self-control
Late for appointments? Can't keep your desk organized? No self-control? These seemingly benign qualities could take a toll on your health.
A review of more than 20 studies and nearly 9,000 participants revealed people who are conscientious -- organized and self-disciplined, as opposed to impulsive -- live two to four years longer than others. Study researcher Howard S. Friedman of the University of California, Riverside, suspects the boost in lifetime can be attributed partly to the fact that highly conscientious individuals are less likely to smoke or drink to excess, and live more stable and less stressful lives. The study is detailed in a 2008 issue of the journal Health Psychology.
The jitters can put a strain on your noggin, research suggests. Compared with the highly frazzled, individuals with a mellow demeanor who are outgoing may be less likely to develop dementia, which can be caused by Alzheimer's disease and other illnesses. The claim is based on a study that followed more than 500 elderly individuals for five years. Among the outgoing extroverts, dementia risk was 50 percent lower for participants who were calm compared with those who were prone to distress.
Gloom and Doom
The gloomy, inhibited person is not just at a disadvantage socially, but also physically.
A preliminary study of more than 180 patients suffering from peripheral arterial disease (plaque buildup in the arteries) showed participants with so-called type D, or distressed, personality, had an increased odds of dying sooner than other people. Type-D people are more likely to experience negative emotions while at the same time hold in their feelings.
The researchers, who detail their work in the August issue of the journal Archives of Surgery, suggest the personality type is linked with the body's immune system as well as stress response system.
Whatever you do, don't let this list worry you! Research is showing that prolonged stress can be deadly, and if it doesn't do you in, workplace stress can increase your chances of heart disease, flu virus, metabolic syndrome and having high blood pressure.
A study of nearly 700 Israeli workers found that those who experienced job burnout (when work stress becomes unmanageable) were nearly twice as likely as others to develop type 2 diabetes, in which a person's body becomes resistant to the sugar-regulating hormone called insulin.
And while a job promotion might boost your income, it also stresses you out. British researchers recently found that when people get promoted, they suffer on average about 10 percent more mental strain and are less likely to find time to go to the doctor.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Below are some early reports detailing the continued horrible whitewashing of Climategate by the review board and media today:
Climategate Report Likely to Exonerate Scientists that Manipulated Data
Mainstream Media Joins Climategate Whitewash
Climategate Whitewash Complete: Third Inquiry Clears Everyone Involved
Muired in Controversy, Still: Climategate Continued
Secretive and Unhelpful. But Scientist in Climategate Storm STILL Gets His Job Back
Climate Whitewash, Blackwash and ‘Mushroom Clouds’
Planet Gore: Surprise! Muir Report Exonerates Climategate Scientists
Scientists Hid Doubts Over Global Warming
Harrabin's Notes: Getting to the bottom of Climategate
Never Mind the Climategate Whitewash – What About Our New £50 Billion Annual Climate Bill?
Agia Kyriaki (Αγια Κυριακη in Greek) is a small Greek island less than one mile from Astypalaia in the Dodecanese islands.
On the island is the small church of Agia (Saint) Kyriaki. Every July 7th the people of Leros will go to the small island to celebrate the name day of the saint. The island is also an ideal place for fishing and diving.
Viewed from above, the island looks similar to a misshapen beet.
Chapel of Saint Kyriaki
Tradition has it that a fisherman who used to go to the island often to collect salt, kept on falling on a piece of wood. He would pick it up and throw it in the sea, but the next time he was on the island there it was again. The third time, annoyed as he was, he took a good look at it and saw that it was in fact an icon of Saint Kyriaki. He decided to build a church at the same spot he found the icon.
About Saint Kyriaki the Great Martyr
Saint Kyriaki was the daughter of Christian parents, Dorotheos and Eusevia. She was given her name because she was born on Sunday, the day of the Lord (in Greek, Kyriaki). She contested in Nicomedia during the reign of Diocletian, in the year 300. After many bitter torments she was condemned to suffer beheading, but being granted time to pray first, she made her prayer and gave up her holy soul in peace.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
O Lord Jesus, unto Thee Thy lamb Kyriaki 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 Second Tone
The Martyr of Christ Kyriaki hath called us all together now to praise and acclaim her wrestlings and her godly feats; for possessed of manliness of mind, she hath proved to be worthy of her name, being lady and mistress of her mind and the passions of unseemliness.
St. John Klimakos informs us concerning the great virtue of obedience for monastics in Step 4 of his Ladder of Divine Ascent:
"Obedience is absolute renunciation of our own life, clearly expressed in our bodily actions. Or, conversely, obedience is the mortification of the limbs while the mind remains alive. Obedience is unquestioning movement, voluntary death, a life free of curiosity, carefree danger, unprepared defence before God, fearlessness of death, a safe voyage, a sleeper’s progress. Obedience is the tomb of the will and the resurrection of humility. A corpse does not argue or reason as to what is good or what seems to be bad. For he who has devoutly put the soul of the novice to death will answer for everything. Obedience is an abandonment of discernment in a wealth of discernment."
And regarding the life of St. Akakios, who he presents as a model of obedience, St. John says the following in Step 4:110:
I will not be silent about something which it is not right to leave in silence, lest I should inhumanly keep to myself what ought to be made known. The famous John the Sabbaite told me things worth hearing. And that he was detached and above all falsehood, and free from words and deeds of evil, you know from your experience, holy father. This man told me:
"In my monastery in Asia (for that is where the good man came from), there was a certain elder who was extremely careless and dissolute. I say this without passing judgment on him, but simply to state the truth. He obtained, I do not know how, a disciple, a youth called Akakios, simple-hearted but prudent in thought. And he endured so much from this elder, that to many people it will perhaps seem incredible. For the elder tormented him daily, not only with insults and indignities, but even with blows. But his patience was not mere senseless endurance.
And so, seeing him daily in wretched plight like the lowest slave, I would ask him when I met him: 'What is the matter, Brother Akakios, how are you today?' And he would at once show me a black eye, or a scarred neck or head. But knowing that he was a worker, I would say to him: 'Well done, well done; endure and it will be for your good.'
Having spent nine years with this pitiless elder, he departed to the Lord. Five days after his burial in the cemetery of the fathers, Akakios’s master went to a certain great elder living there and said to him: 'Father, Brother Akakios is dead.'
As soon as the elder heard this, he said: 'Believe me, elder, I do not believe it.'
The other replied: 'Come and see.'
The elder at once rose and went to the cemetery with the master of the blessed athlete. And he called as to a living person to him who was truly alive in his falling asleep, and said: 'Are you dead, Brother Akakios?'
And the good doer of obedience, showing his obedience even after his death, replied to the great elder: 'How is it possible, Father, for a man who is a doer of obedience to die?'
Then the elder who had been Akakios’ master became terrified and fell on his face in tears. Afterwards he asked the abbot of the Lavra for a cell near the tomb, and lived in it devoutly, always saying to the fathers: 'I have committed murder.’"
And it seemed to me, Father John that the one who spoke to the dead man was the great John himself. For that blessed soul told me another story as if it were about someone else, when it was really about himself, as I was afterwards able to learn for certain.
Hymn of Praise: Saint Akakios
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
The elder summoned his novice:
‘Brother Akakios, where are you?’
The elder called once more:
‘Akakios, are you dead?’
‘No, Father, I am not dead,’
The monk humbly replied,
‘For him who faithfully obeys,
There is no death.’
The irascible elder was amazed,
Amazed, and began to weep.
The elder bitterly wept,
And repented of his wickedness.
Why does the cruel elder repent?
Truly, he has a reason.
Into the wilderness, the sinner went
To atone for his evil.
Akakios, the wondrous monk,
By obedience, saved his soul;
And his soul now rejoices,
And his name is glorified.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
O God of our Fathers, always act with kindness towards us; take not Your mercy from us, but guide our lives in peace through the prayers of Saints Thomas and Akakios.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
Forsaking the world, you followed Christ from childhood. Emulating His voluntary humility, you cast down the prideful tyrant. All-wise and venerable Akakios, unceasingly pray for us all!
Source of quotes: The Ladder of Divine Ascent, (Boston: HTM, 1991).
Saint Thomas of Mount Maleon was a military commander before he became a monk. Strong and brave, he had participated in many battles, and brought victory to his countrymen, for which he gained glory and esteem. But, striving with all his heart towards God, Thomas abandoned the world and its honors, and he took monastic vows.
With great humility he visited monastic Elders, asking for guidance in the spiritual life. After several years Thomas received the blessing for solitary wilderness life and, led by a pillar of fire at night by the holy Prophet Elias, he settled on Mount Maleon (Akra Maleas or Kavo Malias or Cape Maleas in southern Lakonia of the Peloponnese, otherwise known as the "Small Holy Mountain", with Mount Athos being the largest). Dwelling in complete seclusion, St Thomas fought with invisible enemies with as much courage as he had displayed against the visible enemies of his country.
The life and deeds of St Thomas could not be concealed from the surrounding area. People began to flock to him seeking spiritual guidance, and even those suffering from sickness, since he received from God the blessing to heal infirmities.
By divine grace he wrought wonders, cast out demons, gave sight to the blind, caused springs of water to gush forth, healed many, and while in prayer appeared as a pillar of fire. The century in which he lived is not known.
Many believers received help through the prayers of the holy monk. Even after his death, he does not cease to heal those who seek his aid, from every passion and sickness.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
O God of our Fathers,always act with kindness towards us; take not Your mercy from us, but guide our lives in peace, through the prayers of Saints Thomas and Akakios.
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The image of God, was faithfully preserved in you, O Father. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By Your actions you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal. Wherefore, O Holy Thomas, your soul rejoices with the angels.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Leaving the army that is earthly and corruptible, thou didst ascend into the mountain of unceasing prayer, joining battle with the spirits of nether darkness. And since thou didst overcome thy fleshless enemies, thou was brought to thine eternal King in victory; hence we cry to thee: Rejoice, O Thomas of godly mind.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Inflamed with divine love, you courageously showed us a great victory; you spurned the mortal king and all earthly beauty. You completed your worldly sojourn on Mount Maleon, from where you went up to Heaven to the King of kings. Unceasingly pray for us all, O Thomas.
About Mt. Maleon and Cape Maleas, see here, here, here and here.
Photos above taken where St. Thomas lived in asceticism, on his feast day.
Moscow Mayor Office to Restore the Old Russik Monastery on Athos
July 6, 2010
Moscow government will help restore the Old Russik, the oldest Russian monastery on Athos.
Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov at his recent meeting with Athonite monks assured his guests that all the necessary works to restore the monastery would be completed shortly, the Department for External Church Relations Communication Service reported.
On Luzhkov's instruction, Moscow government delegation will visit the Holy Mount on Wednesday to coordinate all issues in question.
Luzhkov made a pilgrimage to Mount Athos early in June.
The Old Russik monastery is notable for the founder of Serbian Orthodox Church St. Sava took his monastic vows in it. The Russian monastery was moved to the sea, where it is now located, in the 17th century. The Old Russik was abandoned for a long time and now needs urgent restoration.
7 July 2010
Nearly 15 years from the end of the Balkans conflicts, thousands of people remain unaccounted for. The long wait for news has been unbearable for their families, as Rory MacLean discovers.
In villages around Srebrenica almost every other building is a ruin.
Amid the devastation rise busy Orthodox churches and deserted mosques without a congregation. Vast cement crosses squat on main streets. Blue beehives and slender white gravestones mount the hillsides. Above them spreads a ghost town of torched and vacated houses, their roofs collapsing, their windows open to the elements. Among them is a pretty little garden of yellow and red tulips, and a single restored home.
Beside it stand two young evergreens.
"My youngest boy Azmir planted the trees," says Dzidza Mehmedovic, "one for him and one for his brother. Every morning I look at them growing taller and stronger."
The Balkans contains a reservoir of tragedy, but in few places is that reservoir as deep as in Srebrenica. The town in eastern Bosnia was besieged for much of the 1992-95 conflict. Tens of thousands of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) were trapped in it. Despite being declared a demilitarised "safe area" under the care of the United Nations, it was eventually overrun by Bosnian Serb forces.
"Before the war I was a happy woman. I woke up and had something to look forward to in my day," says Dzidza, speaking with fierce energy. "But if I had known what was going to happen, I would never have had children."
In the days following the takeover, members of the Bosnian Serb army and police planned and implemented the execution of more than 7,000 men and boys. Dzidza's husband and sons ran into the forest to escape the massacre. She would hear nothing of them or their fate for the next 12 years.
In a decade of successive Yugoslav conflicts, acts of barbarism unseen in Europe since World War II were committed in horrendous numbers.
As many as 140,000 people were killed, a quarter of whom simply vanished.
In their desperate need for news, the families of the missing prayed for a message and begged for the truth. In almost every case, the missing had been murdered. But without word, witness or body, the bereaved could not accept their loss.
Their torment was drawn out for as long as 18 years - for many it continues still. Children waited for parents to return from the grave. Mothers made up their dead sons' beds. Old men couldn't bury their descendants. The living also lost their lives.
Since 1991, the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Balkans has been asked by families to trace 34,389 missing persons. Every single one of them left behind them a wife or husband, child or parent, brother or sister. Now for the first time in war DNA is being used to match living relatives to recovered bones, reuniting families divided by death, enabling survivors to find closure and to begin to live again.
Like most of the Bosniak women, Dzidza was evacuated from Srebrenica. Unlike them she came back after the war.
"I felt that I would learn the truth faster," she says. Her white headscarf was edged in green-and-yellow flowers. "I also believed that my family would return to me. I knew it was irrational but I had to do it."
Her house had been vandalised and her possessions thrown onto the rubbish tip. Dzidza combed through the tippings and found a water-stained school exercise book and a single marble.
"I worked for weeks to put the house back together," she says. "The morning after I'd finished, I heard a voice call 'Mama' and I ran outside.
"I ran up the lane. Of course there was no-one there." She hurried on, "I used to worry about my boys slipping on the snow, or falling down and grazing a knee. How could that be taken away from me?"
In 2007 Dzidza finally received news of her family's fate. The skeleton of one of her sons had been identified, but because the boys had been so close in age it proved impossible to determine if it had belonged to Almir or Azmir. Of her husband, only a single tibia remained.
Suffering knows no borders. Young or old, male or female, Albanian, Bosniak, Croat and Serb, all face the same abyss.
In the western Balkans most people - especially the families of the missing - speak now of the need to heal wounds. They plead for leaders to set an example and apologise for past wrongs.
Some progress has been achieved. War criminals have been prosecuted and put behind bars in Belgrade, Sarajevo, Zagreb and Pristina. But too few politicians in the region have shown the courage to act with contrition, to ask forgiveness for the sins inflicted by their predecessors.
The governments have an obligation to provide answers to the families and not to seek reciprocity for their efforts, not to treat the victims with partiality, not to delay endlessly. They need to open up their archives, to exchange information and to learn from the courage and humility of the bereaved.
Portraits of Dissent
Conspiracies to suppress, manipulate and distort information undoubtedly occur. Society needs to be vigilant to guard against deception. An increasing number of alleged conspiracies are being covered by the media, all reflecting in some way on the integrity of politicians, or business leaders or the scientific enterprise. Conspiracy theorists are skilled in appealing to emotion, phrasing allegations in a provocative way, and promoting their own reconstructions of events so as to capture the imagination of the public. Ted Goertzel's essay on this theme sounded some alarm bells when it provided four recent examples:
"Conspiracy theorists - some of them scientifically trained - have claimed that the HIV virus is not the cause of AIDS, that global warming is a manipulative hoax and that vaccines and genetically modified foods are unsafe."
The problem I have with this is that these cases are all examples of dissent within science, whatever else may be said about associated conspiracy theories. My purpose here is not to align myself with all these dissenters (although in two of the cases I find myself at variance with the apparent consensus), but to defend the legitimacy of dissent within science. It is vital for the health of science that dissenters have the opportunity to probe, to question and to challenge the theoretical framework of the science relevant to their case, and to test all theories by reference to empirical data. The danger I see in Goertzel's analysis is that legitimate dissent is marginalised and treated as the product of conspiracy theory. The consequence is that science is damaged because reasoned arguments of dissenters are re-categorised as "emotional appeals, unsupported allegations and unverified speculations".
Read the rest here.
Iran Issues List of Approved Muslim Hairstyles For Men
6th July 2010
by Michael Theodoulou
Iran is set to order a crackdown on men sporting 'un-Islamic' haircuts.
Long hair and ponytails are definitely out this summer - though a dab of gel is acceptable, according to the country's morality police.
And a beard is no longer required as a symbol of political and religious correctness.
A photographic catalogue of permissible 'Islamic' hairstyles is to be published and promoted later this month at the 'Modesty and Veil Festival'.
Iran’s dour Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has given the project its vital seal of approval.
'The proposed styles are inspired by Iranians’ complexion, culture, religion and Islamic law,' said Jaleh Khodayar, the festival’s female organiser.
A tantalising foretaste of what is folically acceptable was provided by Iranian news agencies yesterday, which carried pictures of mostly clean-shaven male models sporting short hair.
Hardliners have frequently raged against youths with 'decadent Western cuts'.
But the red lines governing male grooming have never been clearly identified – until now.
Those aping the elaborate styles of some millionaire European football stars have been hauled off to police stations where their beloved locks have been unceremoniously and inexpertly shorn.
First-time offenders braving a close shave with the law get off with an unflattering short-back-and-sides.
But serial hair delinquents risk stiff fines, while barber shops catering to Western fashions have been shut.
Dictating public behaviour and enforcing the strict dress code – especially for women – have long been a way for the regime to demonstrate its control.
But it has been an uphill struggle for an anti-Western regime dealing with a population seduced by Western pop culture.
The dress code crackdown is always beefed up at the beginning of summer when temperatures soar and people wear cooler clothing.
The authorities scornfully brand as 'mannequins' women who flout the rules by thrusting back their obligatory headscarves, wearing a dash of make-up or flashing a bit of ankle.
This summer, for the first time, police were equipped with cameras to film 'immodestly-attired' women, with the footage to be used as irrefutable evidence in court.
But men have also been feeling the heat in this summer’s 'anti-vice' campaign.
Police have seized expensive foreign cars whose male drivers are deemed to be 'harassing women'.
To humiliate the car owners, state media have shown pictures of their vehicles lined up along Tehran streets festooned with placards proclaiming, 'Combating harassment of women'.
Also under hardline scrutiny this summer is the growing fashion in Tehran’s wealthier northern suburbs to keep dogs – which are considered 'unclean' under Islamic tradition – as pets.
A senior cleric issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, against the practice last month.
'Friendship with dogs is a blind imitation of the West,' thundered Grand Ayatollah Naser Makerem Shirazi. 'There are lots of people in the West who love their dogs more than their wives and children.'
Planck Telescope Reveals Universe Image
The first image of the entire universe taken from Europe's Planck telescope has been published.
05 July 2010
The satellite, costing 600m euros, was launched last year by the European Space Agency.
It was sent nearly a million miles into space to record the origins of the universe. The Planck observatory's job was to look at the age, contents and evolution of the cosmos by studying the heat left behind by the Big Bang.
In September it began to reveal its first images showing strips of ancient light across the sky. Now it has revealed a full picture of the sky.
The image shows what is visible beyond the Earth to instruments that are sensitive to light at very long wavelengths.
Dominating the picture are large parts of our Milky Way Galaxy. The bright horizontal line running across the middle of the image is the galaxy's main disc and where the Sun and Earth are.
Also seen are huge bursts of cold dust that reach thousands of light-years above and below the galactic plane.
Scientists will spend years analysing the image to better understand how the Universe came to look the way it does.
"What you see is the structure of our galaxy in gas and dust, which tells us an awful lot about what is going on in the neighbourhood of the Sun; and it tells us a lot about the way galaxies form when we compare this to other galaxies," Professor Andrew Jaffe, a Planck team member from Imperial College London, told BBC News.
Another Christian Killed In Mosul
by Layla Yousif Rahema
Behnam Sabti, a Syrian Orthodox, was killed yesterday by a bomb placed under his car. The man worked as a nurse at the state Jumhuriya hospital in Mosul. According to anonymous sources the motive of the murder is his religious identity.
The agony continues for the Christian community of Mosul, the most dangerous city in Iraq. Yesterday July 5, in a targeted attack yet another Christian was killed. 54 year old Syrian Orthodox, Behnam Sabti worked as a nurse at the Jumhuriya state hospital of Mosul. A bomb fixed under his car exploded while the man was driving, killing him instantly. Local sources, anonymous for security reasons, tell AsiaNews, they are convinced that the motive of the murder was the man’s "religious identity". Married with three children, he will be buried in Bashiqa Kemal, his native village in the north.
According to the latest data, released in late June by the Iraqi ministries for Defence, Health and the Interior, violence has declined on a national scale. Nevertheless, people are still despondent and living in fear. The number of Iraqis killed violently, in June, fell to 284 compared with 437 the same month in 2009.
If Iraq is experiencing a political stalemate due to protracted negotiations on forming a new government after March 7 elections, Mosul faces "a real security vacuum", sources tell AsiaNews. In what is now the “Al Qaeda stronghold in Mesopotamia ", two types of violence take place, terrorism directed against the locals - mostly Shia - and minorities, and jihadist violence targeting American troops and their allies of the Iraqi security forces.
The streets of Mosul are patrolled by the U.S. military, about 18 Iraqi army battalions are deployed throughout the city, along with hundreds of police and checkpoints. Nevertheless, the situation remains highly uncertain, as revealed by the same American officials. And the problems "will increase when the U.S. completes the withdrawal," says Didar Abdulla al-Zibari, a member of the local provincial council.
July 5, 2010
The things we do for God, or imagine that we do for God, or do for an imagined God -- it doesn't matter which, since it's largely the same thing -- range from the very best things in the world to the very worst. In study after study, we learn that people of faith are more likely to donate their time and money than their non-believer counterparts, and that when they do, the amount donated is more likely to be a larger portion of the whole. And in just as many studies, we learn that individuals who identify strongly with a particular faith are more likely to fear and mistrust those who are not like them.
Like any powerful tool, faith can help us to build our world or destroy it. The issue is not whether we have faith, but how we use whatever faith we possess. And the most effective remedies to the excesses and damage done in the name of God are found within the traditions themselves. If they cannot be found from within, then it's time for that tradition to go.
Perhaps it's because of where we are in the cycle of weekly Torah readings, or perhaps it's because a day doesn't go by without stories of religious zealotry making the news. More than likely, for me at least, it's the combination of the two. The biblical story of Pinchas challenges us to recognize the seduction of religious zeal, reminding us that there are limits when it comes to acting on what we think of as God's behalf.
And it's the things we do for God that are the most dangerously seductive. When we act out of whatever we consider to be base impulses -- hate, greed, ego, etc. -- we eventually either satisfy the urge or feel sufficiently guilty to stop. But when "God wills it," it's amazing how easy it is to justify pressing on with even the most ugly behavior. After all, the underlying logic goes: we are not acting for ourselves, but for God. Enter Pinchas.
The Israelites, according to Numbers 25, were camped at Shittim when the people began "profaning themselves" by having illicit sex with the local Moabites. One of the men, Zimri, appears to have made a public spectacle of himself with a Moabite woman named Kozbi. A priest named Pinchas, grandson of the first High Priest Aaron, and grand-nephew of Moses, took a spear and impaled them on the spot. Result? God blesses Pinchas.
What at first appears to be a happy ending to the story turns out to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of religious zeal. Pinchas is indeed blessed by God, but the blessing reflects both what's missing in Pinchas and the fact that zealots such as he should spend their time removed from the daily life of normal people.
Pinchas is blessed with divine peace, clearly something which neither he nor any religious zealot possess, no matter how much they may say otherwise. Pinchas is filled with rage, and the fact that he believes it to be sacred doesn't make it any less problematic to God (often rage-filled Himself), who confers a corrective blessing which would diminish it.
In addition to the blessing of divine peace, Pinchas and his descendants are guaranteed that they will be priests -- people who serve in the ideal and disconnected world of the Tabernacle and later, the Temple. While that ideal may be beautiful -- a place of soft music, gentle prayer and sweet incense, no illness, human suffering or death (animal sacrifice too, but 2,000 years ago that would have been experienced positively, by the people, if not the animals) -- the Temple was also a place of rigid rules and the total domination of the ideal over the real. In other words, a zealot's dream come true, in which no violations were acceptable and any that occurred, required and swift and automatic ritual corrective.
The Temple was to reality what Disneyland is to six-year-olds: a place where their most deeply-held wishes and dreams were fulfilled, if only for a while. And just as Disneyland, and places like it, play an important role in nurturing children's sense of possibility, the Temple did the same for the Israelites.
But anyone who needs to spend their whole life at either Disneyland or the Temple has a problem. The problem? Not distinguishing between the real and the ideal, not accepting that life is about maintaining a healthy tension between the two. That is the problem of all zealots, Pinchas included, and why he was assigned to Tabernacle/Temple service for the rest of his life.
As Mick Jagger taught, if we are lucky, we get what we need. The same can be said of divine blessings. Pinchas' was given the inner peace needed to resist his own religious zealotry and a safe place to go when that same zeal needed to be expressed.
May none of us be zealots. But if zealots there will be, let them find this same blessing and let us find the strength to help them to do so.
See also: Anxiety May Be At The Root Of Religious Extremism
Today's youths have been praised so much that some flail at their first taste of criticism or failure, experts say
July 4, 2010
By John Keilman
Laura Rovi was smart enough to be lazy. An honor student at Elmhurst's York High School, she was accustomed to getting an A even when she cruised through a class.
She expected nothing less when she took a government course her sophomore year and let a classmate do all the work on their final group project, an advocacy video warning of the dangers of eating disorders.
This time, though, her lack of effort earned her a C — a mark that produced a curious reaction.
She wasn't guilty. She wasn't depressed. She was insulted.
"This was just in my face," Rovi, 18, recalled recently. "I was not used to that."
Rovi belongs to a generation of teens for whom praise has often come as readily as oxygen. They've been bathed from the cradle in affirmations and awards meant to boost their self-esteem — and, by extension, their prospects in life.
But some who research the psychology of teens have concluded that this trend, born of good intentions in the Age of Aquarius, has had toxic effects.
By their estimation, today's young people have been praised so much that some flail at their first taste of criticism or failure. Others develop a keen sense of privilege, believing they'll coast into a golden future regardless of their actual talents, accomplishments or willingness to work.
"There has been a pretty big shift in expectations. Adjusting to reality is going to be different," said Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor whose research has found soaring teen self-esteem.
Twenge's conclusion is not universally accepted — other researchers have found no significant changes in self-esteem from previous generations — but it rings true in many schools and homes. And it has some adults asking themselves hard questions.
"It's this entitlement that is driving many of us crazy. It's like, where did we go wrong?" said Rita Berger, a West Chicago mother of a teenage son and daughter. "We're kind of the root problem. In our attempt to give (this generation) everything, they have not learned to work or appreciate things."
The self-esteem movement grew out of the work of therapists like Nathaniel Branden, who in the late 1960s wrote that internal negativity could lead to lack of achievement. Change what people think of themselves, he contended, and you can change their destiny.
It was a theory in keeping with the times. Baby boomers were breaking free of traditional social structures to search for fulfillment on their own terms, and the notion of boosting one's self-esteem fit into that perfectly, Twenge said.
They carried the idea into the way they raised their kids, she said, while schools adopted policies that nurtured children's emotional well-being. The result, according to decades of data Twenge and her colleagues have mined in their research, is that youth self-esteem has risen sharply over the last 30 years, with a particularly dramatic jump since the late 1980s.
Brittany Gentile, a psychology graduate student at the University of Georgia, found that between 1988 and 2006, the average junior high student's score on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (a questionnaire that asks whether respondents agree with such statements as "On the whole, I am satisfied with myself") jumped nearly four points on a 40-point scale. The average score for a high school student went up almost two points during a similar span.
She said that while some of the increase could be due to the self-esteem movement, the rise could also reflect changes in the classroom.
Gentile cited a recent study that found twice as many high school seniors in 2006 reported earning an A average as seniors in 1976. At the same time, fewer students said they did 15 or more hours of homework each week — meaning teens are getting better grades with less work.
It is here, though, that the case for runaway self-esteem grows murky. Have teens really changed that much? Or are they simply reflecting changes in the world around them?
Take the fixation on grades. Mitchell Levy, who just graduated from Deerfield High School, said he once enlisted his parents' help to try to change his mark in a Spanish class from an A-minus to an A. They argued that a student teacher had been unduly harsh and that the good scores Levy earned when the full-time instructor returned should have received more weight.
The school declined to change the grade, and Levy said he and his parents dropped their challenge. Looking back, he called the episode "a little bit ridiculous" but said college entrance requirements have become so competitive and student evaluations so generous that even a tiny blemish can be damaging.
"If grades were harshly done, then it would be OK to get a B. But because grades are so lightly done, it can put you at a disadvantage," said Levy, who, after being wait-listed at Harvard University, plans to attend the University of Chicago in the fall.
Or take entitlement.
Mike Greene, who as caddy superintendent employs 170 teens at Wheaton's Cantigny Golf, said some live in such material splendor that they have little motivation to work hard.
"There certainly are a lot of kids in this world who are very comfortable," he said. "I think that's dangerous. They need to be hungry for something."
But Heather Nicodemus, who has one son at Grayslake Central High School and two in college, sees it differently.
She said her boys have routinely quit sports, activities and even jobs they felt were unfulfilling. Though it is far different from the way Nicodemus was brought up — "My parents said, 'Hell no, we paid our $100 (registration fee), you're not quitting,'" she recalled — she found something admirable about their willingness to walk away.
"If they're going to work so hard to accomplish something, it should be something they love," she said, adding that her sons buckle down once they find an activity that interests them.
The ultimate problem with inflated self-esteem, Twenge said, is that it can end with a painful reckoning. Alex Ortiz knows what that feels like.
As she grew up in Elmhurst, softball was her life. She had played since age 4, adoring the game and the bonds she formed with her teammates. Her e-mail address started with the handle "Softballgrl."
She was good too — or so her coaches had always told her. But then she got to York, where claiming a place on the freshman team meant surviving the cuts that followed a three-day tryout.
She didn't make it. Distraught, she gave up the game.
"I went from being told, 'You're good, you're good,' to getting told I'm not really good," said Ortiz, 16, who will be a junior in the fall. "It kind of crushed me. It felt like (earlier coaches) had been lying to me."
Others, though, say they embraced their reality checks. Rovi, the lackadaisical honor student, said she soon accepted the fairness of her C, realizing it was a better grade than her minimal effort deserved. It spurred her to work harder, she said, and she ended up graduating as an Illinois State Scholar.
John Reynolds, a sociologist at Florida State University, said that kind of adjustment appears to be common. Four years ago, he co-wrote a paper showing that high school seniors have increasingly overestimated their chances of earning a bachelor's degree or working in a professional job. He figured that would lead many unprepared students to drop out of college in a funk of despair.
But when he went back to examine the fallout, he was surprised at what he found. Students who thought they would earn a degree but failed were no more apt to suffer depression than those who succeeded.
That could indicate that their self-esteem is as bulletproof as ever. Or it could mean that getting taken down a few notches doesn't hurt as badly as some might fear.
"How long can you hold on to unrealistic self-esteem? It wouldn't last very far into your 20s," Reynolds said. "The sociological evidence says there are more important things to worry about."
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
“A tomb now suffices him for whom the whole world was not sufficient.”
-- Unknown quote about Alexander the Great
"The true philosophers are ever studying death, to them, of all men, death is the least terrible. Look at the matter in this way: how inconsistent of them to have been always enemies of the body, and wanting to have the soul alone, and when this is granted to them, to be trembling and repining; instead of rejoicing at their departing to that place where, when they arrive, they hope to gain that which in life they loved (and this was wisdom), and at the same time to be rid of the company of their enemy. Many a man has been willing to go to the world below in the hope of seeing there an earthly love, or wife, or son, and conversing with them. And will he who is a true lover of wisdom, and is persuaded in like manner that only in the world below he can worthily enjoy her, still repine at death? Will he not depart with joy? Surely he will, my friend, if he be a true philosopher. For he will have a firm conviction that there only, and nowhere else, he can find wisdom in her purity. And if this be true, he would be very absurd, as I was saying, if he were to fear death."
Of course in the Orthodox tradition, as opposed to Platonic philosophy, the body itself is good as a creation of God. Man is not whole unless he possesses both body and soul, hence the great horror of the Fall which made us slaves to the passions which bring death and the separation of soul and body. Hence also the great significance of Christ's resurrection from the dead, who conquered death by his death in order to liberate us from the fear of death which made us slaves to the passions and the desires of the flesh, uniting the dichotomy of body and soul through our own resurrection from the dead.
Plato goes on to explain the vanity of a life that lives for pleasing the body and explains how the true philosopher, disciplined through asceticism, attains through death that which he desires - wisdom and truth and the liberation of the passions which only drive us nearer and nearer to death:
"For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and also is liable to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after truth: and by filling us so full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and every sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as people say, so much as a thought. For whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? For wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and in consequence of all these things the time which ought to be given to philosophy is lost. Moreover, if there is time and an inclination toward philosophy, yet the body introduces a turmoil and confusion and fear into the course of speculation, and hinders us from seeing the truth: and all experience shows that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body, and the soul in herself must behold all things in themselves: then I suppose that we shall attain that which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers, and that is wisdom, not while we live, but after death, as the argument shows; for if while in company with the body the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things seems to follow-either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be in herself alone and without the body. In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible concern or interest in the body, and are not saturated with the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will be cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with other pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere; and this is surely the light of truth."
Here Plato encourages a life of purity giving the most minimal concern for the body in order to subject the body to the soul. He continues that by doing this the philosopher and lover of wisdom will attain a state of illumination. This falls in line with christian teaching that a soul and body that has not been purified cannot become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Purification comes through asceticism and prayer while living a life united to the Church. Just as our Lord warned his disciples to "watch and pray lest you enter into temptation, for the flesh is weak but the spirit is willing", so also Christians are called to make sure they do not fall into temptation by giving power to the spirit over the flesh through asceticism. This brings illumination which does not come from ourselves, but is a gift of the Holy Spirit for whom a temple we are called to be.
Plato goes on to ask:
"For I deem that the true disciple of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that he is ever pursuing death and dying; and if this is true, why, having had the desire of death all his life long, should he repine at the arrival of that which he has been always pursuing and desiring?"
"And when you see a man who is repining at the approach of death, is not his reluctance a sufficient proof that he is not a lover of wisdom, but a lover of the body, and probably at the same time a lover of either money or power, or both?"
It is only in light of these things that the great ascetic feats of the Desert Fathers make sense, as well as that of contemporary monks and ascetics (and even the ascetic practices of Christians living in the world).
Many incidents from the life of St. Sisoes can be found in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Apophthegmata to Pateron). This Saint, great and renowned among the ascetics of Egypt, lived in the fourth century in Scete of Nitria. After the death of Saint Anthony the Great, he left Scete to live in Saint Anthony's cave which was abandoned; he said of this: "Thus in the cave of a lion, a fox makes his dwelling." St. Nikolai Velimirovich writes of him in his Prologue: "Imposing difficult labors on himself, he humbled himself so much that he became meek and guileless as a lamb. For this God endowed Sisoes with abundant grace so that he was able to heal the sick, drive out unclean spirits and resurrect the dead. Sisoes lived a life of austere mortification in the wilderness for sixty years and was a source of living wisdom for all monks and laymen who came to him for counsel and advice."
Here are some of the wise sayings and illustrious deeds of this great Father of the desert:
St. Sisoes taught the monks: "Regardless in what way temptation comes to man, a man should give himself to the will of God and to recognize that temptation occurred because of his sins. If something good happens, it should be said that it happened according to God's Providence."
One monk asked Sisoes: "How can I please God and be saved?" The Saint answered: "If you wish to please God, withdraw from the world, separate yourself from the earth, put aside creation, draw near to the Creator, unite yourself to God with prayers and tears and then you will find rest in this time and in the future."
Another monk asked Sisoes: "How can I attain humility?" The saint replied: "When a person learns to recognize every man as being better than himself, with that he attains humility."
Ammon complained to Sisoes that he could not memorize the wise sayings that he read in order to repeat them in conversation with men. The Saint replied to him: "That is not necessary. It is necessary to attain purity of mind and speak from that purity placing your hope in God."
Another brother asked Abba Sisoes, "I have fallen, Abba; what shall I do?" The elder said to him, "Get up again." The brother said, "I have gotten up again, but again have I fallen." The elder said, "Get up again and again." So the brother asked, "How many times?" The elder replied, "Until you are taken up either in virtue or in sin. For a man presents himself to judgment in that state in which he is found."
One day a man came wanting to be a monk and he had a son. Sisoes commanded him to throw the son into the river, which he was only just stopped from doing by the brothers who brought the Elder's counter-command. He went on to become a proficient monk having learned the value of obedience as a means to attaining humility.
Another man from the world came to Sisoes with his son, who died on the way. The father prostrated himself before the Abba, leaving the boy's corpse there. Thinking the child had merely failed to get up again after the prostration, Sisoes commanded him to arise; which he did, and went out, whole. Sisoes was distressed for he did not intend to raise the dead; he charged everybody to keep silent concerning this matter for as long as he lived.
A brother who had been wronged by another brother came to see Abba Sisoes. He said to him, "My brother has hurt me and I want to avenge myself." The old man begged him, saying, "No, my child, leave vengeance to God." The brother said, "I shall not rest until I have avenged myself." The Elder said, "Brother, let us pray." Then he stood up and said, "God, we no longer need You to care for us, since we do justice for ourselves." When he heard these words, the brother prostrated himself before the Elder's feet and said, "I will no longer seek justice from my brother. Forgive me, Abba."
Sisoes died in extreme old age in the year 429 A.D. It is the details of his death that he is most famous for. In light of Plato's Phaedo, St. Sisoes died as a true philosopher and lover of wisdom after having purified himself to become an illumined temple of the Holy Spirit.
When Sisoes was at the end of his long life of labours, as the fathers were gathered about him, his face began to shine, and he said, "Behold, Abba Anthony is come"; then, "Behold, the choir of the Prophets is come"; his face shone yet more bright, and he said, "Behold, the choir of the Apostles is come." The light of his countenance increased, and he seemed to be talking with someone. The fathers asked him of this; in his humility, he said he was asking the Angels for time to repent. Finally his face became as bright as the sun, so that the fathers were filled with fear. He said, "Behold, the Lord is come, and He says, 'Bring Me the vessel of the desert,'" and as he gave up his soul into the hands of God, there was as it were a flash of lightning, and the whole dwelling was filled with a sweet fragrance.
Concerning the icon of St. Sisoes staring over the dead bones of Alexander the Great, we do not know for sure if this depicts a historical event. We do not have a historical account of what the icon describes until its depiction first starts appearing in monasteries in Greece following the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.
The inscription on the icon reads:
Sisoes, the great ascetic, before the tomb of Alexander, King of the Greeks, who was once covered in glory. Astonished, he mourns for the vicissitudes of time and the transience of glory, and tearfully declaims thus:
'The mere sight of you, tomb, dismays me and causes my heart to shed tears, as I contemplate the debt we, all men, owe. How can I possibly stand it? Oh, death! Who can evade you?'
The astonishment of Sisoes has been an icon of contemplation for all Christians, especially for monastics, since the 15th century and has spread so much in popularity that it appears throughout hundreds of Greek churches and monasteries. Among the most famous come from Holy Trinity Monastery and Varlaam Monastery at Meteora, and Hosios Loukas. The site of the church where this icon usually appears is on the opposite side of the altar area as people exit the church, where also the Dormition icon of the Theotokos also appears. It is wisely placed here so Christians can contemplate death as they leave the church.
It is no coincidence that this icon became so popular after the Fall of Constantinople. Constantinople, once the seat of the Roman Emperor from the time of Constantine the Great, always looked to Alexander as one of the most exemplary of rulers. In fact, this was a tradition of all the Roman Emperors. The historian Dion Cassius (155-235 AD) reports that after Augustus had visited the body of Alexander in Alexandria, he was asked if he also wanted to visit the tombs of the Ptolemies, the sovereigns of Hellenistic Egypt. He refused, saying: "I came to see a king and not dead men". Roman universal rule was considered an inheritance of the Roman Emperors received through Alexander.
Andrew Michael Chugg writes in his book The Quest for the Tomb of Alexander the Great:
"It was the most renowned and respected shrine in the Roman Empire, the object of veneration by Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Octavian, Caligula, Hadrian, Severus, Caracalla and a host of other luminaries. It stood for centuries within a sacred precinct the size of a large town at the heart of the greatest Greek city in the world. Yet at the end of the 4th century AD, when the Christian emperor Theodosius outlawed paganism, it disappeared without trace, creating the greatest archaeological enigma of the ancient world. What became of the tomb of Alexander the Great? Does any part of it still survive?"
"Ammianus Marcellinus relates an incident which took place in about AD 361. The Patriarch (Christian Archbishop) Georgius is said to have posed a rhetorical question to the Alexandrian mob concerning a tall and splendid temple of the Genius of Alexandria: 'How long shall this tomb stand?' he enquired. By 'Genius' Ammianus meant the tutelary deity of the city and this could well mean Alexander. Certainly, Alexander is the only figure to whom this expression might apply whose tomb also lay within the city. A few years later in AD 365, Alexandria was struck by a phenomenal earthquake followed by a gigantic tsunami, which is reported to have wrought havoc in coastal regions and port cities throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Alexandria is reported to have been particularly hard hit with ships being lifted onto the roofs of surviving buildings. This is the most probable occasion of the destruction of the Soma Mausoleum.
A quarter of a century later, in a newly recognised reference, Libanius of Antioch mentioned in an oration addressed to the emperor Theodosius that Alexander's corpse was on display in Alexandria. This would fit with the tomb chamber having eventually been excavated from beneath the rubble of the ruins. It also provides an occasion upon which the corpse might have been removed and separated from the sarcophagus, which would explain why the latter was found in a vacant state by Napoleon's expedition. A year or so later, Theodosius issued a series of decrees outlawing the worship of pagan gods, among whom Alexander was to the fore. In Alexandria, the Christians rioted and destroyed the Serapeum, the leading pagan temple. This is the point where the continued worship of the founder's corpse would have become unconscionable to the Alexandrian authorities. This is the time that Alexander's remains finally disappear from history. At the very end of the 4th century or early in the 5th, John Chrysostom was able to assert in a sermon that Alexander's tomb was then 'unknown to his own people', that is to say, to the pagans of Alexandria. A few decades later Theodoret listed Alexander among famous men whose tombs were unknown."
In light of this information, it is not implausible that the depiction of Sisoes lamenting over the tomb of Alexander is a historical event lost to us in document form but survives only in iconography. In many ways, the iconographic tradition is just as reliable historically as is a written document. Since Sisoes was a contemporary of the events described above regarding the destruction of Alexander's tomb, I would find it difficult to believe that such a wise disciple of Anthony the Great living outside Alexandria would not at least make some comment in this regard.
Sisoes lamenting over Alexander is also a lament over an ideology. It is not by coincidence that both men are known by the epithet "Great". At one time, during Roman rule that lasted over a millennium and a half, Alexander was an icon of the Empire, but now that the Empire was gone the Romans looked to monastics as the only hope for suffering Orthodoxy under the Ottoman Muslims. It is this outlook which formed the Orthodox mentality during this period. That is not to say that it did not exist before, since this was always a part of christian and monastic tradition, but now Sisoes stands over Alexander's dead bones alive and learning the great lesson of the vanity of worldly glory. Roman glory may have vanished, but the Kingdom of Heaven reigns forever.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
Thou didst prove to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh, and a wonderworker, O Sisoes, our God-bearing Father. By fasting, vigil, and prayer thou didst obtain heavenly gifts, and thou healest the sick and the souls of them that have recourse to thee with faith. Glory to Him that hath given thee strength. Glory to Him that hath crowned thee. Glory to Him that worketh healings for all through thee.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
In thy struggles, thou wast as an earthly Angel, shining light upon the minds of all the faithful ceaselessly with thy divine signs; and for this cause, righteous Sisoes, we honour thee faithfully.