In the Russian video above one can see briefly the Holy Cloud which descends upon Mount Tabor every year on August 19, which is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ according to the Julian Calendar followed by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. This is a miracle which has been witnessed every year by countless thousands and is visible to the naked eye.
The Holy Cloud can also be seen in the photo below in which it appears as a fog.
Mount Tabor (Hebrew: Har Tavor) is a hill rising 500m above the Jezreel Valley in the region of Galilee. Due to its strategic location along the north-south road, it has been an important fortress since ancient times. Christians have identified a rock atop Mt. Tabor as the place of the Transfiguration of Christ since the 4th century AD.
The miracle occurs following the All-Night Vigil when after the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy the faithful go outside and prayerfully begin to sing hymns. This miracle occurs no matter how clear the sky may be every year and is an observable fact. And it happens at the same time every year, at approximately 4:00 AM with the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy. In this case, it is very similar to the Holy Light which appears every year at the same time at the Holy Sepulchre on Easter. This Holy Cloud only descends upon the Orthodox monastery on Mount Tabor and not on the other heterodox churches on the mountain. When the Holy Cloud descends it brightens the area with a fragrant reddish-white (some say orange) color in the midst of the night. The fragrance spreads like incense, though it is distinct from incense. The faithful take in this experience and glorify God for the blessing and sanctification which the Holy Cloud brings. As the faithful continue their hymns to God, the cloud fades away. The faithful depart with great joy for being witnesses of this great annual miracle which confirms their Holy Orthodox Faith. Among those who attend are believers and unbelievers, Greeks, Russians, Bulgarians, Romanians and others.
An Account of the Annual Miracle on Mount Tabor on August 6th
Meteorologists Cannot Explain the Miraculous Cloud of Mt. Tabor
Read also the following eye-witness testimonies:
Nun Aikaterini Witnesses the Holy Cloud of Mt. Tabor
A Young Woman Sees the Holy Cloud in 2002
Thou, O Christ our God, hast delivered the written Law upon Mount Sinai, and hast appeared there riding upon the cloud, in the midst of fire and darkness and tempest. Glory to Thy power, O Lord. (First Canon of the Transfiguration, Ode 4)
The pillar of fire plainly showed to Moses Christ transfigured, and the cloud pointed clearly to the grace of the Spirit that overshadowed Mount Tabor. (Second Canon of the Transfiguration, Ode 6)
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Saint Alypius, one of the first and finest of Russian iconographers, was a disciple of St Nikon (March 23), and from his youth he lived a life of asceticism at the Kiev Caves monastery. He studied the iconography of the Greek masters, and from the year 1083 beautified the Caves monastery church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos.
If he learned that in some church the icons had become worn, he took them with him and restored them without charge. If people happened to pay him for his work, he set aside one third to purchase supplies for painting icons, one third as alms for the poor, and the remainder for his own needs.
St Alypius was never famous, and he painted icons only to serve God. He was ordained a hieromonk, and was known for working miracles even in his lifetime. St Alypius healed a Kievan man suffering from leprosy and decay of the body by anointing the wounds of the sick man with the paints he used for the painting of icons. Many of his icons were glorified by miracles, and sometimes angels helped him in the holy task of painting icons.
A certain man of Kiev who had built a church, once gave two monks of the Caves a commission to have icons painted for it. The monks concealed the money and said nothing to St Alypius about it. After waiting a long time for the work to be completed, the man went to the igumen to complain about St Alypius. Only then did they discover that he had not been told of the commission. When they brought the boards provided by the customer, it turned out that beautiful icons had already been painted on them.
When the church was consumed by fire, all of the icons remained unharmed. One of these icons (the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos), known as the Vladimir-Rostov Icon (August 15), was taken by Great Prince Vladimir Monomakh (1113-1125) to a church he had built at Rostov.
Another time, when St Alypius lay deathly ill, an angel painted an icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos for him. On August 17 (around the year 1114), an angel came to receive the soul of St Alypius, and he was buried in the Near Caves. The first three fingers of St Alypius's right hand were positioned together, and the last two were bent to the palm. It seems that he died while signing himself with the Sign of the Cross.
One of the icons painted by St Alypius survives from the time of Sts Anthony and Theodosius of the Kiev Caves, and is now preserved in the State Tretyakov Gallery. This is the Sven Icon (May 3 and August 17).
A twentieth century icon in the church of the Pskov Caves Monastery of the Dormition depicts St Alypius holding a copy of the "Assuage My Sorrows" Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos (January 25 and October 9).
The Sven Icon of the Mother of God
The Sven Caves Icon of the Mother of God was written by St. Alypius of the Caves. On the icon the Mother of God is depicted sitting upon a throne, with the Divine Infant on Her knees. St. Theodosius is on the right side of the throne, and St. Anthony of the Caves is on the left. Until 1288, the icon was in the Kiev Caves Monastery, where it was glorified by miracles. In 1288 it was transferred to the Briansk-Svensk Monastery, which is dedicated to the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos.
At Briansk, Prince Roman of Chernigov became blind due to an unknown ailment. Hearing about the miracles worked by the icon written by St. Alypius, the prince sent a courier to the monastery requesting that the icon be sent to him. A priest journeyed with the icon along the River Desna. After the voyage, the boat landed on the right bank of the River Svena. After lodging for the night, they went to the boat to pray before the icon, but they did not find the icon where they had last left it. Looking around, they saw it on a hill on the opposite bank, resting in the branches of an oak tree. News of this reached Prince Roman, and he was led to the icon on foot.
The prince prayed fervently before the icon and vowed to build a monastery on that spot, donating all the land which could be seen from the hill. After praying, the prince regained his sight. First he saw the footpath, then nearby objects, and finally all the surroundings.
After making a shrine for the icon, the prince had a Molieben served, and laid the foundations for a wooden church in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. The tree on which the icon rested was cut down and used as wood for other icons.
The feast day of the Sven Icon of the Mother of God is also commemorated on August 17 (the day of the repose of St. Alypius the Iconographer). The August 17 celebration was established in the year 1815 in thanksgiving for the deliverance of the city of Briansk (around which the icon appeared in 1288) from invasion during the 1812 Napoleonic War.
The icon was glorified by healings of the blind and of the possessed, and has long been regarded as a protector from enemies.
St. Alypius and the Miracle of the Dormition Icon
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
The Lord does not allow His faithful servants to be shamed. It often happened that the martyrs of Christ, ridiculed and mocked before the courts, unexpectedly performed a miracle, which instilled fear in the unbelievers. Either the idols fell or thunder destroyed the temples of the heathen or an unexpected downpour of rain extinguished the fire prepared for their burning or the torturers beat themselves with stones and rods and so forth. Thus, Antipater, the torturer of St. Myron, during the suffering of this man of God suddenly went insane and killed himself.
St. Alypius, the icongrapher, was already at the end of his life when he received an order from a man to paint the icon of the Dormition of the Most-holy Theotokos. As the feast was approaching, this man came several times to see whether the icon was completed. But the icon was not even begun, not even on the eve of the Feast of the Dormition itself when the icon was supposed to have been placed in the church. When this man returned home completely saddened, at once there appeared a young man in Alypius' cell who immediately sat down and began to paint the icon. He worked very quickly and very expertly. When the icon was completed, it shone like the sun. Showing the icon to the astonished Alypius, the young man took the icon and brought it to the church for which it had been ordered. The next day, that man who had ordered the icon went to the church and, to his great surprise, saw the icon in its place. Then that man came to the monastery and, with the abbot, entered Alypius' cell. "How and who painted the icon of this man?" asked the abbot. The ailing Alypius replied: "An angel painted it, and he is now standing here to take me away." And with that, he gave up the spirit.
The ‘Original’ Church: The Greek Orthodox Church Patriarchate of Jerusalem
By Dov Preminger
Quietly navigating its way through 1,500 years of history, the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem has had an unbroken presence in the Holy Land since the first centuries of Christendom. The Church considers itself to be the Mother Church of Christianity, and has preached the same doctrine since the time of Jesus.
The Orthodox Church claims its first bishop was James, brother of Jesus, and the Church counts among its holy places both the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Today its distinctive black-robed monks honor these sites with the same liturgy and ritual as in ancient times, holding fast to their traditions through the Great Schism of 1054 AD, the Muslim occupation of Jerusalem, the Ottoman rule, and the Crusades.
More recently, the local Orthodox Church has faced challenges from the Israeli government, and dissent from its mostly Palestinian-Arab flock.
But the Church continues on, led by calm and humble Patriarch Theophilos III, who deals with modern crises the same way the Church always has. “With prayer, patience, wisdom, persistence, and firmness”.
Interestingly, one might regard the members of the first Christian church as the original Protestants, since the Roman Catholic pope’s claim to universal jurisdiction was one of the prime causes of the Great Schism, which split the Church into Catholic and Orthodox denominations.
“Doctrinal teachings in many areas are common”, said Patriarch Theophilos III of the two churches. “The big difference between Roman Catholics and [Orthodox] Christianity is the office of a Pope who claims to be the Vicar of Christ on Earth”.
Daniel Rossing, Executive Director of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian relations, noted another difference is that the Catholic Church has a “pyramidal” hierarchy under the Pope, whereas the Orthodox Church’s authority derives from regional Patriarchates. The Patriarch of Constantinople is considered first among equals; he does not have authority over the rest.
The Orthodox religion is also different from Protestantism, despite the common absence of a papal authority “A very major difference in the Orthodox Church is that it’s very liturgical”, said Rossing. “It has a lot of forms, icons, candles, processions… Protestantism tends to be more mental, with less ritual. Also, Protestants don’t have celibate monks”.
The Greek Orthodox Church, sometimes known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, has its origins in the fracturing of the Roman Empire. In the third century, Emperor Constantine declared the new capital of Rome to be the eastern city of Constantinople. Thus began a gradual distancing between the eastern and western halves of the empire.
As the Latin-speaking western half and the Greek-speaking eastern half drew apart, theological differences and power struggles within the Church culminated in the Great Schism, in which the leaders of the eastern and western regions of the Church excommunicated each other. They split into the western Latin Church – now Roman Catholics – and the eastern Greek Church now knows as the Orthodox Church.
The word Orthodox is a Greek one for “correctly believing”, referring to the Orthodox Church’s view that it holds to the original, correct form of Christianity. The Greek Orthodox actually refer to themselves as the Roum Orthodox; they were named the Greek Orthodox by “the Latins”, and the name stuck.
Today there are about 40.000 native Orthodox Christians in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Most are Palestinian Arabs, save a small Greek clergy which leads them.
SAFEGUARDING HOLY PLACES
Some 120 monks live and worship at a beautiful monastery in the Old City of Jerusalem, which acts as the headquarters of the Patriarchate. These celibate monks are mostly Greek, and make up the core of the Church’s clergy.
The monks live a life of prayer and study, and count pastoral service among their responsibilities, as well as the maintenance and veneration of the Church’s holy places.
A governing council of 18 bishops, called the Holy Synod, governs the monk’s brotherhood and the Church, and is responsible for the election of the Patriarch. In 2005 it appointed His Beatitude Theophilos III as Patriarch of Jerusalem.
“A main mission of the Patriarchate is to look after the holy places”, said Patriarch Theophilos. “We keep the holy places accessible to everyone without discrimination”.
Perhaps the holiest place under the Church’s purview is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Greek Orthodox Church owns the land on which the site is built, though its administration is divided between six Christian denominations – the Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Egyptian Coptics and Ethiopians.
Although the Greek Orthodox Church tends to get along well with other Christian denominations, the site has a history of flaring tensions.
In 1853, the Sultan at the time issued a “status quo” decree at the Sepulchre, requiring that all six denominations agree on any structural changes to the church. This jigsaw of responsibility resulted in a deadlock in which changes cannot be agreed upon, including important ones such as the construction of a fire escape to supplement the Sepulchre’s single entrance.
The symbol of the Sepulchre’s status quo quagmire is a famous ladder, which was placed against a wall during the 1800s and has remained there ever since because no faction has the authority to remove it.
Even slight structural changes have incited clerical violence. When an Egyptian monk in 2002 attempted to move his chair into the shade, it provoked a brawl with the Ethiopians, who rejected his jurisdiction over the area. However, such incidents are relatively rare, and the shared administration of the Church generally proceeds in good faith.
The Greek Orthodox Church bears the largest share of responsibility for the Holy Sepulchre, and counts several holy relics among its treasures there. Under glass can be seen what is said to be part of John the Baptist’s skull, and the hand of Mary Magdalene.
GREEK CLERGY, ARAB LAITY
Besides the Church’s devotion to maintaining the holy places, Patriarch Theophilos said its responsibility is to “take care of the various Orthodox communities all over – Israel, the Palestinian territories and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”.
However, there have been accusations that too much time is dedicated to the holy places, and that the Church’s flock is a secondary concern.
“Some say the Catholics, for example, do much more for educational, medical and charity work than the Greek Orthodox Church”, said Daniel Rossing, Executive Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Relations. “They say the [Orthodox Church] gives too much emphasis to the holy places”.
Another concern is that the Arab laity is not well-represented in the Church’s leadership, which tends to be mainly Greek.
Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee said it’s an ancient problem. “There has been historical tension between the leadership and the laity [regarding this issue]. It is the only Christian denomination in the Holy Land whose leadership is not from its rank and file. All the churches led by Arab clergy, except for this one”.
Rosen suggested that the clergy remains overwhelmingly Greek because the Church sees its mission as a continuation of original Christianity. “If you ask the leadership, or the Church anywhere in the world, they will tell you it’s an historical Church, and its significance goes far beyond the local ethnic constituency. It’s part of its historic identity and responsibility.
“But if you ask the majority of the Orthodox faithful in the area”, he continued, “they think the clergy should represent the ethnic community. This has been a source of tension for as long as anyone can remember”.
Patriarch Theophilos called these claims “totally untrue”.
“In the past there have been problems, but it doesn’t mean the Patriarchate is not looking after its flocks. We’ve taken initiatives to promote education, to build schools.
“Right now there are two members of the Holy Synod who are Arab”, he said. “It’s just a matter of time”.
A notable figure fighting for Arab rights in the Orthodox Church was Theodosios, originally named Atalla Hanna, who was appointed Archbishop in 2005. He was only the second Palestinian to hold that rank in the church’s history.
Although Theodosios declined to comment on the current relationship between the Arab laity and the Greek clergy, before his appointment as Archbishop he was an infamous figure in Greek Orthodox circles.
Theodosios gained popularity with the Arab laity for his fiery denunciations of the Israeli occupation, to the point that in 2002 he was briefly arrested by the Israeli authorities on suspicion of “incitement” and links with terrorist organizations.
The Church clergy was unhappy with Theodosios stance, seeking as always to maintain good relations with the authorities in control.
“Our position here has been always to contribute as much as we can to peace, mutual coexistence, tolerance”, said Patriarch Theophilos.
But despite its best efforts to remain neutral, the Church has sometimes been caught up in the turbulence.
The most recent crisis was about land.
The Greek Orthodox Church is the largest landowner in the Old City of Jerusalem. It owns much of the land from the Jaffa Gate down the street of the Greek Patriarchate, all the way to the Holy Sepulchre.
Besides owning the land on which many holy places and adjacent properties stand, the Church counts among its holdings the land under the Israeli Prime Minister’s residence, and under the Israeli Knesset.
The land has belonged to the Church since ancient times. Patriarch Theophilos explained that the Church “is the inheritor not only of great spiritual heritage, but also natural, fiscal heritage”.
After the Muslims occupied the Holy Land, then-Patriarch Sophronius remained the ethnic and religious leader for the Christians there. The Greek Orthodox Church inherited the churches, basilicas and adjacent lands that had belonged to the conquered Byzantines. During the course of its history, the Church acquired even more land.
When both the Israelis and the Palestinians place such a high value on Jerusalem, the Church’s extensive land ownership has sometimes put it in a delicate position.
In 2005, then-Patriarch Irenaios sparked outrage within the Church after he reportedly sold some of its land to a group of Israeli investors.
The clergy was incensed that the Patriarch would sell Church land, and the Arab laity even more so, because they left that their land had been sold to Israelis. In response, the Holy Synod stripped Patriarch Irenaios of his position, replacing him with the current Patriarch, Theophilos III.
This began a difficult two-year stretch for the Church. Besides the controversy within the Church, external problems surfaced as well.
The Israeli government refused to recognize Irenaios’s removal, citing the need for government approval for the action. By the same token, it refused to confirm Patriarch Theophilos as Irenaios’s successor. Some accusations said figures in the Israeli government blocked the Patriarchate’s recognition in order to gain valuable church properties.
As Patriarch Theophilos labored to restore the Church to its previous calm, he was challenged with a government freeze of the Patriarchate’s bank accounts, the funds of which were needed for maintaining the holy places and the Patriarchate’s school system.
The following year, the Israeli government refused to renew visas for many of the Greek clergy, which would have necessitated their exodus from Israel.
Even the Jordanian government, whose Christians fall under the Jerusalem Patriarchate’s authority, for a time refused to recognize Theophilos either.
But Theophilos weathered the storm, appealing to the Israeli Supreme Court for recognition. He won his battle in 2007, and was confirmed in his role by the governments of Israel and Jordan.
Asked how he overcame the crisis, Patriarch Theophilos said he did it “with prayer, and with patience. With wisdom, persistence, and firmness. I myself knew what it was all about. I knew that all the problems were stemming not from the government itself, but from certain key persons who had a vested interest”. Theophilos declined to name particular persons.
TO THE FUTURE
Having weathered its recent crisis, speculations arise on the challenges the Church will face in the future. Rabbi Rosen sees the shifting ethnic makeup as a driver of future change.
“One fascinating thing about the Orthodox Church is the change of attendance over the past 20 years”. He said, referring to the mass immigration from Russia and other former Soviet countries.
Under Israel’s Law of Return, any person with at least one Jewish grandparent is entitled to make aliya – to immigrate to Israel. This has resulted in many Russian immigrants who may have a Jewish grandparent, but practice as Orthodox Christians. Estimates of the number of these immigrants vary, but Patriarch Theophilos says there may be as many as 50.000, which is greater than the native Arab Orthodox population.
Patriarch Theophilos acknowledged the new constituents, but was not concerned. “On the contrary”, he said, “this is something that’s repeating itself from 70, 100 years ago. We had a great influx of pilgrims. We’re very glad for the [immigration]… people are returning from former Soviet republics, communist countries. They feel at home because the Patriarchate represents all of them”.
If history is any guide, the Orthodox Church will welcome these new immigrants and continue to chart its course as it has since the earliest days of Christianity.
Source: This article which includes the interview was published by The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition in July 2010. The author is Dov Preminger.
August 15, 2010
The Huffington Post
Christians sometimes claim to be certain about spiritual matters. This can be everyday things like, "I know this new job is right where God wants me," or more important issues like, "I know the Bible is the word of God," or, "I know Jesus is the Son of God."
But Christians do not have sure knowledge of these things. They believe them -- deeply and sincerely, and for all sorts of reasons -- but they do not know them in the same way that we know that fire will reduce a book to ashes, that there are billions of galaxies in the universe, or that gravity works. Some Christians claim this kind of knowledge, but they are wrong.
The same goes for Christians -- and any religious person -- who would say, "I know God exists." No one can know that God exists in the sense of proof or logical demonstration. Rather, people of faith believe God exists for all sorts of reasons that can't be laid out in a spreadsheet or observed through a telescope.
Atheists are in exactly the same boat.
What holds true for religious people when they talk about God holds for atheists when they talk about not-God.
Some atheists claim to have a sure and certain knowledge about spiritual things. "I know -- through reason, logic, and evidence -- that God does not exist." These atheists feel that their position is intellectually superior to a belief in God. God does not exist because what cannot be established through "reason, logic, or evidence" is not real.
This sounds rational and objective, but there is a lot of belief tucked away in this assertion. Atheists do not know God does not exist; they believe it.
To say that God's existence is detectable with certainty through reason, logic, and evidence is a belief because it makes some crucial assumptions. For one thing, it assumes that our intellectual faculties are the best, or only, ways of accessing God. This is an assumption that privileges Western ways of knowing and excludes other wholly human qualities like emotion and intuition.
It also reduces God to an object, a thing, a being among all other beings, whose existence is as open to rational inquiry as anything else. It is an old argument but a good one: any god worthy of the name is the source of all being, and therefore not one more being alongside all others subject to rational control. Any god like that isn't God at all.
People can think what they want about God. My point here is simply this: no one knows whether our intellectual faculties can determine with certainty whether there is a higher power, prime mover, or whatever you want to call god. That is a belief.
Also, all people, atheists included, believe worthwhile things for which there is no compelling evidence whatsoever. For example, many people -- scientists, philosophers -- believe in the principle of uniformity: what we observe now of the laws of nature happens everywhere in the universe, always has and always will.
I happen to believe this is true, but what I believe isn't the point here. The point is that there is no empirical evidence for this principle, nor can it be logically proven. In fact, there is no evidence for the principle at all unless we assume it to begin with.
Why do people accept the principle of uniformity? Because it can be used to construct coherent scientific explanations of the universe, and that is a good reason to accept it. But this is not too far from what religious people say about their faith. Religious beliefs can be used to construct coherent explanations for things like why there is something rather than nothing.
All of us accept as true ideas that seem to work well, that make sense of our reality. We do not know with certainty that they are true because of reason, logic, or evidence; we believe they are true because they work.
I know some real live atheists, and they do not claim to know as much as some others do. The reason that they are atheists is that "God is" is a less compelling proposition to explain their reality than "God is not."
They did not come to this sure and certain conclusion by a calm and logical assessment of the evidence (as opposed to the unreasonable and illogical faith of religious types). Rather, they came to their atheism for many different types of reasons, some of which are too subtle to quantify.
They do not claim to know that God does not exist; they believe it to be so because it makes most sense of their own lives and the world around them. This is not sure and certain knowledge; it is a belief.
Oddly, some Christian fundamentalists and some atheist fundamentalists suffer under the same delusion, that their view on ultimate reality is fully supported by reason, logic, and evidence.
Both are wrong.
For both the religious and atheists, there is mystery. Atheists are free to be atheists, but they don't know any more than anyone else.
Monday, August 16, 2010
1. A Young Atheist Woman From Australia Converts To Orthodoxy and Becomes A Nun After Seeing the Incorrupt Relics of Saint Gerasimos
The powerful effect the incorrupt relics of Saint Gerasimos the New had a particular effect on a young Australian nun, Anna, who lives at St. Stephen's Monastery on Meteora. She related the following:
I came to Greece in 1988, hoping to get work as an English teacher. I wasn't of Greek parentage, nor did I have any particular interest in classical culture or the arts, but came because Greece sounded interesting. I had not been raised with any religion nor was I looking for one, but soon after I arrived I met some people who were planning to go to Kefallonia, to St. Gerasimos, and invited me along. It seemed a good way to begin seeing the country, and I agreed. When I entered the church and stood before the saint's coffin, I was stunned by what I saw - the incorrupt relics were so obviously a miracle that I knew in myself that there must be a God, and that Orthodoxy was how you worshipped Him. I was baptized and a year later I came to the monastery.
2. The Cave of Saint Gerasimos and Unbelievers
The older church containing the relics of St. Gerasimos is built directly over his cave and pilgrims are welcome to descend the ladder and squeeze through the tiny floor-level entrance that leads into the cave. Local Christians say that only believers can wriggle through the narrow passageway. The wife of an Argostoli priest has informed that, wanting a blessing for her unborn child, she had squeezed through with no trouble when she was fully nine months pregnant, but the thin, lithe young woman whom she brought with her - an unbeliever - couldn't do so.
3. The Epidemic of Cholera in 1760
In 1760, when an epidemic of cholera struck the island, a nun named Akakia had a vision of the saint, praying in front of an icon of the Mother of God, beseeching her to halt the epidemic. The Mother of God spoke from the icon and said, "I have asked my Son, and He will grant you this." Then the saint caught hold of a roll of a cotton-like material wrapped around his staff, and began plucking off many small pieces, scattering them into the air. That night he also appeared to another woman on the island, telling her to go quickly to her father's house - that the infection would not spread to the countryside.
The stories of these visions quickly made the rounds of the villages. One local woman, however, refused to believe the accounts, and scoffed at them saying, "These are stories for children." That night the saint appeared to her in a dream and struck her with his staff, saying, "By this children's story, through the blessing of Panagia, I dispel the sickness from this island." The next morning the woman went straight to the monastery to venerate the saint's relics, telling the nuns of her dream and showing them the bruise on her side where the saint had struck her. They all gave thanks to God.
4. Healing of a Mentally Ill Woman in 1785
In 1785, a mentally ill woman named Susannah came to the monastery and lived there for many months. She never spoke to anyone and ate only if she was given food; otherwise, she went hungry.
One day, after she had been there almost a year she began shrieking loudly during Vespers. The priest came out of the altar and tried to calm her but she screamed all the more until the unnerved cleric finally slapped her, and she was forcibly carried out of church.
That night the priest had a dream that the saint's larnaca (coffin) opened by itself and that St. Gerasimos climbed out. He was holding a book in his hands and motioned the priest over. When the priest came up to him, he hit him hard over the head with the book and asked him, "Did that hurt?" The priest said, "Yes," and the saint responded, "And that hurt me tonight when you slapped that poor woman. Get up now, it's time to go to Matins, and don't ever do it again."
The priest awoke terrified, and ran to the church where he begged the saint's forgiveness. That morning, Susannah was again in church, but this time, she suddenly called out coherently, "Let the priest who hit me yesterday, come and give me something to eat." To the amazement of everyone who knew her, she had been healed.
5. Saint Gerasimos Saves Sailors At Sea From Death
In November 1807, a shipping merchant by the name of Manuel was passing the island on his way to the Peloponnese. When he was in sight of Kefallonia a huge storm blew up. The sailors did all they could to keep the ship afloat, but the intensity of the storm continued to build until they were near despair. On board was a Kefallonian sailor named Ioannis, who had a small icon of St. Gerasimos with him. Shouting to the crew, "St. Gerasimos will save us!" he threw the icon into the sea. When the icon touched the surface of the sea the waves were immediately calmed. The grateful captain ordered the crew to dock in Kefallonia, to pay homage to the saint.
Read also: St. Gerasimos of Kefallonia and the Demon Possessed
Apolytikion in the First Tone
O believers, let us praise the protector of the Orthodox, the God-bearing miracle-worker lately appearing to us, the incarnate angel, divine Gerasimos. For he has rightly received from God the ever-flowing grace of performing healing. He strengthens those with diseases and he heals those with demons. And therefore he pours out healings to those who honor him.
In the year 1798, a boy named Paisios (who at the time was 9 years old), saw a vision of three men, dressed like equipped Roman soldiers, who told him to remove their remains from the earth. The boy related this vision to his grandfather, who not only disbelieved him, but scolded the boy. A year later, after his death, the men appeared once again to the boy, who then told his father, John, of the vision. Together, on the night of August 16th (for fear of the Turks), they uncovered the holy relics, which emitted an incredible fragrance. From this time the saints, through their holy relics, began to work miracles.
However, the inhabitants of Megara did not know the names of these saints, so they began fasting, and performing vigils and prayers for God to reveal their names. These relics were those of Sts. Seraphim, Dorotheos, and Iakovos. After a year, two other martyrs appeared to the boy Paisios (who became the protector of their holy relics) and related that their names were Demetrios and Vasileios, and showed him where to dig to find their relics, a few meters from the others. With the help of other faithful from Megara, they uncovered the tomb, and venerated the relics of these two saints.
After another twenty years, to the same Paisios, another saint named Sarantis appeared and told him to uncover his relics. Paisios took the priest John Moustaka to a rural area north of the city, and found the region among bushes and a large stone. At first it was impossible to dig because of two enormous snakes, but having kneeled and prayed, the snakes disappeared and a luminous glow shined around the bushes. Having gathered the relics with piety and devotion, they brought them to Megara and placed them together with the remains of the five other Martyrs. In the area where they found the sacred relics of St. Sarantis, a small country church was built later, which although situated in the bed of the river, has survived until today.
At 40 years of age, without ever having gone to school, and with the help of the holy Martyrs, Paisios became learned enough to be ordained a priest, in the year 1828. After his death in 1848, many pious residents of Megara who had been helped by the Saints so much, began to build a church to house the holy relics (which previously had been housed in a ruined house by Paisios). The cornerstone was laid in 1889, and soon the church to the Holy Martyrs of Megara was built on the site of their tombs. All year the inhabitants who go to the church to seek the help of the Martyrs.
Many miracles have been attributed to these saints, of which the following is among the many recent miracles of the saints:
In 1977, on the eve of the celebration of the holy Martyrs (15 August), the founder of the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner (Makrinou), Archimandrite Fr. Damaskinos Katrakoulis, became very sick. It was so serious that, for the first time in his life, he thought he would be unable to attend the feast of the Saints and the procession of their remains. At night, the sisters of the monastery, for their consolation, said to each other: "Let's leave the outer door [to the monastery] open for the holy Martyrs to pass by". And in their desperation they entreated the Saints very much to treat Fr. Damaskinos. But the loyal people of Megara, when they learned the reason for his not attending the festival, began to say with great simplicity and conviction: "The holy Martyrs will go with their horses and will make him well". In the monastery at about eleven at night and while the nuns had withdrawn to their cells, they heard a noise that sounded like horses galloping. At the same time, an unearthly light shone in the cells of several sisters, while St. Iakovos woke up one nun who was asleep. The nuns were full of joy and ecstasy, and realized that the holy Martyrs had visited, began to gather in the cell of the Abbess. And paradoxically, each of them claimed that they heared galloping outside of her own cell. With tears, deep and heartfelt gratitude and devotion, they began doxologies to God and thanksgiving to Holy God and to the holy Martyrs, who heard their humble prayer. Indeed from the time that Fr. Damaskinos was cured with the visit of the Holy Martyrs, to the glory of the most merciful God, he glorified again the holy Martyrs. A few years before that miracle, the same nuns in fact heard the festal bells of the Great Vespers for the Holy Martyrs in the courtyard of their own monastery. It should be noted that the Monastery of St John Makrinou is about 22 kilometers from Megara.
According to analysis by Archimandrite Dorotheos Mourtzoukos, the Holy Martyrs of Megara could have likely been martyred under the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363AD), because (1) they have always appeared like equipped Roman soldiers, (2) the name "Sarantis" is in reference to the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (March 9th) who weren't martyred until 320 AD, and the area which included Megara was given to St. Constantine the Great in 314 AD (so it would not have been an area of persecution of Christianity, unless under the reign of the Emperor Julian).
Fr. Gerasimos Mikragiannanitis wrote the service and hymns in their honor.
Read more here.
For information on the discovery of four more Newly-Revealed Martyrs in Megara, see here.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
The protectors of Megara, Champions ten in number, with Dorotheos, Sarantis, Seraphim, and Iakovos, Demetrios, Vasileios, Adrianos, Polyeuctos and George and Platon, faithful helpers of those in dangers, deliver those who cry to you, Glory to Him who glorified you, Glory to Him you magnified you, Glory to Him you grants to us through you, healings for all.
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
The Orthodox Church surpasses all other Christian groups in the richness of her Tradition. The Protestants want only to adhere to Holy Scripture. But, not even Holy Scripture can be interpreted without Tradition. The Apostle Paul himself commands: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or our epistle" (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
The tradition of Prince Abgar, without doubt, is of Apostolic Tradition even though the apostles do not mention him in their writings. The Apostle Thaddaeus, did not write anything at all and, according to Protestant thinking, did not say anything and neither did he teach the faithful. According to what then was he an apostle of Christ?
St. John Damascene mentions the tradition of Prince Abgar in his defense of the veneration of icons. How wonderful and touching is the letter of Abgar to Christ. And since he previously wrote that he heard of His miraculous power, that He cures the sick and since he implored Him to come and to heal him, Abgar further writes: "I also hear that the Jews hate You and that they are preparing some evil against You. I have a city, not large, but beautiful and bountiful in every good: come to me and live with me in my city, which is sufficient for the both of us for every need." Thus wrote a heathen prince while the princes of Jerusalem were preparing death for the Lord, the Lover of Mankind.
The Holy Monastery of the Great Martyr Saint Panteleimon the Healer is situated in the Christian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, between the Patriarchate and David’s Gate (Jaffa Gate).
In ancient times the Church was named in honour of Saint Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, the Catechist (351 AD); however, during recent times, it was renamed in honour of Saint Panteleimon, for the assistance of the Greek Community and for the treatment given to the infirm in the Patriarchate’s hospital which was situated across from the Church and housed on the first floor of what is now the Gloria Hotel.
The memory of Saint Panteleimon was panegyrically celebrated in this ornate Chapel of the Monastery, duly prepared and recently enriched with Byzantine hagiographies owing to the efforts of the Superior Sister Charitini.
In the evening Vespers were performed and, on the day of the feast on Monday 27th of July/ 9th of August 2010, a resplendent and devout Holy Liturgy was held with His Eminence Theophanis Archbishop of Gerasa presiding, who also preached the divine word to the numerous pious believers who participated.
During the Holy Liturgy, His Beatitude Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III along with Archbishops, members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, arrived at the Church to venerate and blessed the believers.
Chief Secretary’s Office.
August 13, 2010
Hürriyet Daily News
The Küçükyalı Arkeopark, a large archaeological area on the Asian side of Istanbul, hosts the only surviving Byzantine monastic complex in the city, the head of the excavation team says. The 9th-century complex contains gorgeous marble floors, valuable mosaics and beautiful art objects that she hopes to see in a museum someday.
The only surviving Byzantine monastic complex from 9th-century Constantinople has been uncovered in the Küçükyalı Arkeopark, located on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, the Italian head of the excavation team said Thursday.
“People started out thinking this was a 9th-century Islamic place. When I started doing research here, it became clear that this identification had no good grounding,” said team leader Alessandra Ricci, who noted that some travelers’ accounts dating from the early 19th century mentioned the existence of a Byzantine monastery in the area.
The rich monastic complex, built between 867 and 877, encompasses the church and burial place of Patriarch Ignatios, a prominent figure in Byzantine history who is depicted in the mosaics inside Hagia Sophia.
“There is nothing from the Ottoman period here, not even a piece of pottery. Underneath the modern layers, we’re going directly to Byzantium,” Ricci said, adding that the discovery is a wonderful opportunity for her since she has a great passion for the Byzantine period and it is very rare to find wall paintings from that era in Istanbul.
“We found beautifully decorated marble floors, golden mosaics, wonderful coins and beautiful art objects that deserve to be displayed in a museum,” Ricci said.
The Byzantinist scholar said she decided to conduct the first excavations in the area in order to eliminate the ambiguity about whether the archaeological remains belonged to the Byzantine or Ottoman periods. She received permission from the General Directorate of Monuments and Museums, part of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and has been working under the direction of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums since 2008.
The French author Pargoire wrote a study on monasteries on the Marmara seashore that identified the ruins in the area as part of the Satyros Monastery, an identification later supported by Ernst Mamboury, a geometry teacher at Galatasaray High School. In 1959, however, Semavi Eyice published an article in which he identified the complex as a palace built by a Byzantine emperor by the name of Theophilos, in imitation of Islamic Abbasid-period buildings in present-day Iraq, Ricci said. She explained that Eyice was mistaken in his identification as he did not conduct a survey of the area.
In addition to identifying the site as Byzantine, the excavations have retrieved organic residue from the period that are being used to examine patterns of climate change and other aspects of the history of Istanbul. “There was a lot of grain, but no olive trees or vineyards,” Ricci said, emphasizing that the team is also interested in exploring how much the ecological system and the climate have been transformed.
“Every single object taken out of the earth first goes into the washing area and then on to conservation and laboratories,” she said, noting that she plans to take the materials to the specialized laboratories of Koç University, where she works as an associate professor in the archaeology and art history departments.
A team of approximately 50 people, including archaeologists, graduate students and workmen, works under very hard and hot conditions, Ricci said, adding that the team’s just-completed season was very productive compared to 2008, when the Marmaray Tunnel Project absorbed much of the potential workforce.
Ricci said the team would carry out a conservation project in October to preserve the historical trees at the archaeological site, in collaboration with the Maltepe Municipality. “This is not just a dry archaeological site; we need to leave this place as a piece of tangible and permanent heritage,” she said.
Sightseeing tours are being prepared for both local and foreign tourists interested in Istanbul’s Byzantine heritage, Ricci said, adding that she is enthusiastic about sharing the team’s work with future visitors. “I am very grateful to this country because [Turkey] has given me the opportunity to do my research here. These kinds of dreams do not always come true,” she said, adding that she plans to continue her work excavating the complex’s church next year.
Read more here and here.
13 August 2010
Ukrainian regions that are in the pit of "deadly sins", were defined by the weekly newspaper Kontrakty. The first position was won by Odessa (142 points) for greed, followed by the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, who scored the same points -126. Thus, in the Donetsk region the "major sin" became anger, and in Luhansk - greed.
In the fourth place is Dnipropetrovsk (124 points). Here the major sins are "lust" and "extravagance”. The fifth place belongs to Sumy (123 points), which basically sinned in "despair".
To determine the most sinful region of Ukraine, the newspaper used statistics for the last year. Statistics were correlated with eight sinful passions known in Orthodoxy: gluttony (the number of overweight people), lust (the number of cases of gonorrhea and syphilis per capita), greed (number of officially registered cases of bribery), anger (number of cases of murder and intentionally causing grievous bodily harm), acedia (the percentage of happy people), despair (the number of suicides), pride (number of unique license plates on cars).
August 16, 2010
The architectural heart of ancient Serdica, the Roman Empire-era predecessor of Bulgaria's capital of Sofia, is emerging amid excavations for the construction of the city metro system.
In a couple of years, the finds will become part of an underground museum where visitors will be able to walk in the footsteps of Constantine the Great (272-337 AD), the first Roman emperor to legalise Christianity and adopt it himself.
Modern Sofia lies on several archaeological layers left by the Thracians, Romans, Byzantines, medieval Bulgarians and Ottoman Turks.
Infrastructure projects have often hit ancient city walls, public buildings and churches, which are well preserved and displayed in the downtown area.
But there still much more to dig out. The latest excavations next to the "Sveta Nedelya" square, in the very heart of the city, prove it had been inhabited and civilised for thousands of years.
The archaeologists are looking at the remains of two recently found XIV and XVI century churches and a necropolis. In one of them they came across murals, which are currently under restoration.
An Ottoman-era (XIV-XIX century) house is to be dismantled and rebuilt at a different location so that teams can explore underlying layers.
They have uncovered new stretches of Serdica's Decumanus Maximus – the traditional east-west street in Roman cities, which served predominantly administrative and defence purposes; as well as parts of the Cardo Maxima – the main north-south urban axis, which used to be home to crafts and trade.
The ancient arteries largely coincide with the modern locations of state institutions and shopping areas in Sofia.
A larger part of the Decumanus Maximus is still expected to emerge and lead to the eastern city gate, which was found years ago and is now exhibited in a subway linking the presidential and governmental headquarters.
Research shows that parts of several insulae – residential buildings where Roman lower and upper middle class lived – may be also lying beneath.
For several months now archaeologists have been working on a nobleman's mansion which they believe belonged to a local ruler.
It has a patio, arched galleries, mosaic-covered living areas and baths. Eight rooms and two VI century toilets - extremely rare from an archaeological point of view - have been found.
A 5.5 metre wide and 17 metre long section of a slate stone street leads to the mansion. Traces of arson have led researchers to believe the building was subject to a barbarian attack under Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD).
Barbarian raids made Romans fortify Serdica, evidenced by two recently found inscriptions, archaeologist Mario Ivanov said.
Sofia is among the oldest European cities. Its earliest traces of pre-historic population date back to 7,000 years ago.
The Thracians - tribes, whose civilisation flourished on the Balkans between the late Bronze Age and the VI century AD Slavic invasion – were the first recorded settlers here.
For a short spell, during the Hellenistic Period (323-146 BC), Serdica belonged to the empire of Philip II and Alexander the Great.
The Romans conquered it in the first century AD. They urbanised it by building roads, streets and plumbing.
Constantine the Great often spent summers in Serdica and even referred to it as to "my Rome."
Researchers suspect that remains of his palace might be lying under the massive Sheraton Hotel, a massive Stalinist-era ex-government building, standing s a few metres from today's excavations.
Parts of what is known as Constantine's Quarter of Serdica – the St. George Rotunda – a IV century brick Christian basilica - were found long ago and can be seen in the presidency patio with stretches of adjacent streets, plumbing and a hypocaust heating system.
Architects Slavey Galabov, Vasil Kitov and Krasen Andreev have designed a €10 million project to conserve and display the new finds and the city of Sofia hopes to source half of the funding from the EU Regional Development Programme.
The architectural design includes a 2-hectare pedestrian zone in the so-called Sofia Largo between the presidency and the government headquarters, an underground museum with a semi-transparent ceiling and a metro station under it.
A panoramic window will show-case the archaeological relics to passers-by in the pedestrian zone on the upper level. It will be covered by a glass dome of up to 65 metres. Two elevators will lead from it to the archaeological level.
A medium level will contain an exhibition site with a model of ancient Serdica, food and drink establishments, galleries, antique shops, an information centre, a stage for concerts and a street theatre
The subway train will pass 24 metres underground beneath the whole complex so that archaeologists can explore the area undisturbed and the finds be displayed at their original locations.
The project for the 80-metre long, two-platform metro station has been already altered four times to suit the ever emerging relics, Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova said.
"We want to preserve as much as possible of our unique architectural heritage and let local citizens and visitors enjoy it," she said.
Despite the chronic lack of parking space, the city has scrapped an initial plan for a 680-vehicle underground parking lot to make room for the museum.
This means more than 90 percent of the archaeological riches will be exhibited in their original locations and in the way they were found.
Read more here.
Bulgaria Gets Long-Distance Relics Authenticity Boost from Vatican
August 15, 2010
An expert from the Vatican has confirmed that the relics recently found in Bulgaria's Sozopol do belong to St. John the Baptist in spite of not having seen them.
This has been announced by Bulgaria's Diaspora Minister, Bozhidar Dimitrov, after on Saturday the relics, whose authenticity caused a bitter argument between him and leading archaeologists, were transferred to a special new reliquary.
“The Vatican has a committee for checking the authenticity of relics. Expert Michael Hesemann said the relics of St. John seem real to him from what he saw on TV, and what he read about how they were discovered. He does not need to see them personally,” explained Minister Dimitrov who has been criticized by many for rushing prematurely to declare the authenticity of the relics when they were found two weeks ago.
Dimitrov also joked that the relics have already made a miracle happen as Finance Minister Simeon Djankov allocated additional BGN 900 000 for archaeological excavations despite the government's austerity measures.
Nathan Lee Lewis has joined in collaboration with Kosta Stavrianeas to write and produce the screenplay Saint Moses The Black: The Motion Picture. For full information on the project and the new Collaboration by these two Orthodox filmmakers, please click on the link below to visit the project website.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
News articles and photos can be seen at the following links:
Turkey: Patriarch Holds Historic Mass at Monastery
After 88 Years, Orthodox Christians Hold Mass at Monastery in Turkey
Orthodox Christians From Abroad Gather in Turkey's Sumela After 88 Years
Turkey: Orthodox Christians Gather For First Mass in Almost 90 Years at Ancient Monastery
Sümela To Host Historic Mass Amidst Nationalist Protests
In Pictures: Historic Orthodox Mass at Ancient Turkish Monastery
The Icons of Panagia Soumela of Pontus
Turkey: Bartholomew I Celebrates First Mass at Our Lady of Sumela After 88 Years
Orthodox Christians Flock to Once-Banned Holy Site of Sumela Monastery in Turkey
The homily of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew can be read here and seen below, along with some footage from the Divine Liturgy below that:
The entire Divine Liturgy can be seen here. Below is a video of the Metropolitan of Drama singing a very old Pontian song to the Theotokos following the Divine Liturgy.
The Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos is celebrated with special solemnity at Gethsemane, the place of Her burial. Nowhere else is there such sorrow of heart at the separation from the Mother of God, and nowhere else such joy, because of Her intercession for the world.
The holy city of Jerusalem is separated from the Mount of Olives by the valley of Kedron on Josaphat. At the foot of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane, where olive trees bear fruit even now.
The holy Ancestor-of-God Joachim had himself reposed at 80 years of age, several years after the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple (November 21). St Anna, having been left a widow, moved from Nazareth to Jerusalem, and lived near the Temple. At Jerusalem she bought two pieces of property: the first at the gates of Gethsemane, and the second in the valley of Josaphat. At the second locale she built a tomb for the members of her family, and where also she herself was buried with Joachim. It was there in the Garden of Gethsemane that the Savior often prayed with His disciples.
The most-pure body of the Mother of God was buried in the family tomb. Christians honored the sepulchre of the Mother of God, and they built a church on this spot. Within the church was preserved the precious funeral cloth, which covered Her all-pure and fragrant body.
The holy Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem (420-458) testified before the emperor Marcian (450-457) as to the authenticity of the tradition about the miraculous ascent of the Mother of God to Heaven, and he sent to the empress, St Pulcheria (September 10), the grave wrappings of the Mother of God from Her tomb. St Pulcheria then placed these grave-wrappings within the Blachernae church.
Accounts have been preserved, that at the end of the seventh century a church had been built atop the underground church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, and that from its high bell-tower could be seen the dome of the Church of the Resurrection of the Lord. Traces of this church are no longer to be seen. And in the ninth century near the subterranean Gethsemane church a monastery was built, in which more than 30 monks struggled.
Great destruction was done the Church in the year 1009 by the despoiler of the holy places, Hakim. Radical changes, the traces of which remain at present, also took place under the crusaders in the year 1130. During the eleventh to twelfth centuries the piece of excavated stone, at which the Savior had prayed on the night of His betrayal disappeared from Jerusalem. This piece of stone had been in the Gethsemane basilica from the sixth century.
But in spite of the destruction and the changes, the overall original cruciform (cross-shaped) plan of the church has been preserved. At the entrance to the church along the sides of the iron gates stand four marble columns. To enter the church, it is necessary to go down a stairway of 48 steps. At the 23rd step on the right side is a chapel in honor of the holy Ancestors-of-God Joachim and Anna together with their graves, and on the left side opposite, the chapel of St Joseph the Betrothed with his grave. The right chapel belongs to the Orthodox Church, and the left to the Armenian Church (since 1814).
The church of the Dormition of the Theotokos has the following dimensions: in length it is 48 arshin, and in breadth 8 arshin [1 arshin = 28 inches]. At an earlier time the church had also windows beside the doors. The whole temple was adorned with a multitude of lampadas and offerings. Two small entrances lead into the burial-chamber of the Mother of God. One enters through the western doors, and exits at the northern doors. The burial-chamber of the All-Pure Virgin Mary is veiled with precious curtains. The burial place was hewn out of stone in the manner of the ancient Jewish graves and is very similar to the Sepulchre of the Lord. Beyond the burial-chamber is the altar of the church, in which Divine Liturgy is celebrated each day in the Greek language.
The olive woods on the eastern and northern sides of the temple was acquired from the Turks by the Orthodox during the seventh and eighth centuries. The Catholics acquired the olive woods on the east and south sides in 1803, and the Armenians on the west side in 1821.
On August 12, at Little Gethsemane, at the second hour of the night, the head of the Gethsemane church celebrates Divine Liturgy. With the end of Liturgy, at the fourth hour of the morning, he serves a short Molieben before the resplendent burial shroud, lifts it in his hands and solemnly carries it beyond the church to Gethsemane proper where the holy sepulchre of the Mother of God is situated. All the members of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Jerusalem, with the head of the Mission presiding, participate each year in the procession (called the "Litania") with the holy burial shroud of the Mother of God..
The rite of the Burial of the Mother of God at Gethsemane begins customarily on the morning of August 14. A multitude of people with hierarchs and clergy at the head set off from the Jerusalem Patriarchate (nearby the Church of the Resurrection of Christ) in sorrowful procession. Along the narrow alley-ways of the Holy City the funeral procession makes its way to Gethsemane. Toward the front of the procession an icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos is carried. Along the way, pilgrims meet the icon, kissing the image of the All-Pure Virgin Mary and lift children of various ages to the icon. After the clergy, in two rows walk the black-robed monks and nuns of the Holy City: Greeks, Roumanians, Arabs, Russians. The procession, going along for about two hours, concludes with Lamentations at the Gethsemane church. In front the altar, beyond the burial chamber of the Mother of God, is a raised-up spot, upon which rests the burial shroud of the Most Holy Mother of God among fragrant flowers and myrtle, with precious coverings.
"O marvelous wonder! The Fount of Life is placed in the grave, and the grave doth become the ladder to Heaven..." Here at the grave of the All-Pure Virgin, these words strike deep with their original sense and grief is dispelled by joy: "Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee, granting the world, through Thee, great mercy!"
Numerous pilgrims, having kissed the icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, following an ancient custom, then stoop down and go beneath it.
On the day of the Leave-taking of the feast (August 23), another solemn procession is made. On the return path, the holy burial shroud is carried by clergy led by the Archimandrite of Gethsemane.
August 15, 2010, Sunday
Sunday is Dormition of the Holy Mother of God, one of the greatest Christian Eastern Orthodox holidays, that brings together many believers.
Known to Catholics and Anglicans as Assumption of Mary, the holiday marks the day the mother of Christ passed away and was accepted in Heaven.
It is a holiday of happiness and joy, for it was the day that the mother of Chirst rejoined him in eternal glory.
In Bulgaria the day is also the name day of persons bearing the widespread name Maria, and cognates like Mario, Mariana.
Many people will flock to churches for the traditional Dormition of the Holy Mother of God services.
The famous Troyan Monastery, which bears the name of the day, has its temple holiday Sunday, and a lot of people are expected this year, as usual. The service in Troyan is to be held by the Bulgarian patriarch Maxim.
Up to 4,000 are also expected for the service at Rila Monastery south of Sofia in the Rila mountain.
The day is also the official holiday of second-biggest Bulgarian city Varna, whose main cathedral bears the name of the Dormition.
August 15th is one of the biggest celebrations in Greece and is a national holiday. It is the Orthodox Church's celebration of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, only of lesser importance than Easter and Christmas.
In August most people have a holiday and Athens becomes a ghost town as Athenians go back to the villages where they or their parents were born. It’s great if you happen to be having a holiday in Athens, as it’s very peaceful and easy to travel around for a change, but if you are in a holiday resort, it will be packed. Don’t travel without having booked accommodation or you might find yourself having to sleep in a church.
Cephalonia’s (Kefallonia) Snakes Go to the Church Service
In the little village of Markopoulou, on the island of Cephalonia, a miracle is said to occur, that of the Virgin Mary’s snakes. Legend has it that when the island was attacked by the pirate Barbarossa in 1705, the nuns in the convent at Markopoulou prayed to escape being ravished and killed by the pirates, so they were turned into snakes. The pirates were horrified when they entered the convent, as it was crawling with snakes.
Now, at the service which celebrates the Dormition, the snakes enter the church and head for the bishop’s throne and the icon of the virgin, crawling through holes made for the bell ropes, and over the congregation and furniture. The snakes are harmless, and have black cross marks on their heads, villagers say.
Apparently they did not put in an appearance in 1953, the year a disastrous earthquake struck the island, or in 1940, the year before Greece was attacked by the Axis forces. Nor did they appear during some years of the Turkish Occupation of Greece.
There are videos of this event to view on YouTube.
The Island of Tinos is a Centre for Pilgrims
The church at Tinos has many steps to climb before it is reached, and at this time of year, pilgrims ascend the steps on their knees. The church houses an icon of the Virgin, which was found after a nun had a vision of the Virgin, who explained where the miraculous icon could be found. Six months after this vision the icon was unearthed in 1823 and taken to the church. It is believed to have miraculous powers of healing, which is why so many supplicants visit the island at this time of year.
The Greek government arranges more ferries to Tinos at this time, but it would be unwise to go to the island without having booked accommodation well in advance.
Celebrations on the Island of Paros
Celebrations here are slightly different to those held in the rest of Greece, as the 15th of August also commemorates the time in the early 18th century when the island was attacked by the pirate Barbarossa. He took the women and children from Naoussa, and held them for ransom. The islanders would not pay tribute to him, so he set fire to the castro, or castle, in the harbour of Naoussa and killed his captives. The people on the neighbouring island of Naxos saw the fires, and paid him the tribute he demanded so that they would not meet a similar fate.
The islanders now hold reenactments of the pirate raid and these pageants are accompanied by fireworks and celebrations. It is also the time of the Paros wine festival, so a good time is usually had on this island on the 15th of August.
From 1st to 14th August is a Period of Fasting
As in Lent, strict Orthodox Greeks will fast in the fortnight leading up to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. They believe that she ‘fell asleep’ rather than died, so in some places you will read of the ‘Dormition’ [not Assumption] of the Virgin as being celebrated on this date. Fasting means not eating any red meat, nor any products from red-blooded creatures, nor olive oil, and no wine should be consumed either. Octopus and squid can be eaten as they are not red-blooded. Because of this, there is always a lot of food at celebrations on 15th August, celebrating the end of the fasting period.
In Naoussa, Paros, the food is free and the best place to be is the harbour area.
Name Day Celebrations
A name day is more important than a birthday in Greece, and August 15th is the celebrations for Maria, Marios, Panagiotis, (or Panos), Panagiota (or Iota), Despina and Thespina. As Maria is one of the most common girl’s names in Greece, the chances are you will know one and you might be invited to share the name day festivities. A small gift is always very much appreciated, if you are invited, but of course it’s not compulsory.
Wherever you are in Greece on this day you will certainly be involved in the celebrations. So go ahead and join in the Greek dancing. It’s always fun.
Paros Reenactment in August
Tinos on August 15th
by Protopresbyter Dr. George Dion Dragas
On August 15, Orthodox Christians celebrate the greatest of all the religious festivals which the Church established in honor of the All-Holy Virgin Mary (Panagia), the feast of the Dormition (Koimêsis) of the Theotokos.
The feasts of the Virgin Mary (theomêtorikai eortai) are second in importance after those of our Lord Jesus Christ in the annual cycle of festivals observed by the Orthodox Church because, after our Lord Himself, the All-Holy Virgin is the most blessed person in our Church.
If the Lord’s greatest Feast is that of Pascha, the Feast of His redemptive Death and Resurrection, then His Mother’s greatest feast is also associated with her death and metastasis (i.e., translation or transposition) to Heaven. The reason for this is to be found in the basic Christian perception of salvation, which is none other than the reentry of human beings into God’s eternal kingdom, transcending death and regaining the gift of eternal life.
In our Orthodox tradition, the blessed person of the Theotokos is inseparable from the blessed person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is exactly what the name, Theotokos (i.e., the God-bearer, Mother of God) constantly declares: namely that the place and significance of the Virgin Mary in the Church can not be understood apart from her relation to our Lord.
What is declared by the name Theotokos is most tangibly depicted on the iconostasion (the icon screen before the sanctuary) of any Orthodox Church. The icon of the Lord’s is always on the right of the Beautiful Gate, and the icon of the Theotokos is always on the left. This particular icon, depicting the All-Holy Virgin Mary holding our Lord and Savior as a child in her arms, is the most characteristic of all icons associated with her blessed person.
The hymns of this feast, which are among the most significant of the Orthodox liturgical year, bring out not only this basic Christian perception of salvation but also the important place that the blessed person of the All-Holy Theotokos has in this perspective.
The Feast of the Dormition was established in the 6th century, although its roots go back to earlier centuries, especially the 5th century, following the dogmatic decision of the 3rd Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431) to accept and use the term, Theotokos as the most important and defining description of the All-Holy Mother of our Lord in the Church.
According to Dr. Ioannis Fountoulis, Professor of Liturgics at the University of Thessaloniki, this feast was joined to an earlier feast in honor of the Theotokos at the famous church of the All-Holy Virgin Mary in Gethsemane, which had been erected by the Byzantine Emperor Maurice over her tomb.
The details of the celebration of the feast of the Dormition, especially those revealed in its hymns, are based on an apocryphal narrative concerning the circumstances of the death of the Theotokos, which goes back to Saint John the Theologian, the beloved disciple of the Lord in whose care the All-Holy Theotokos had been entrusted.
The narrative tells us the story, which is beautifully depicted on the holy icon of the Dormition. It tells us that the All-Holy Theotokos was visited by the Archangel Gabriel and foretold about her approaching death; that thereupon the Theotokos returned to her home and prepared for this event, praying at the same time that the Apostles should be notified accordingly. John is said to be the first to arrive in a miraculous way, and then all the rest follow. Finally, the Lord Himself appears in His dazzling divine glory, escorted by a myriad of angels, and takes her all-holy soul, which is wrapped up like a newborn babe in swaddling clothes, into His arms in order to transport it to Heaven.
THIS WORLD AND THE NEXT
Before she departs, the All-Holy Theotokos greets the Holy Apostles and the people, promising that “whichever soul is to call her name will not be put to shame, but will find mercy and consolation, understanding and boldness in this world and the next.”
Her funeral follows. The holy body of the Theotokos is then taken to a tomb in Gesthemane where it is buried. Yet according to the narrative, on the third day after the funeral, the holy body of the Theotokos was translated to Heaven. The first hymn of the Great Vespers of the Feast sums it all up.
“O marvelous wonder. The source of life is laid in the tomb, and the tomb itself becomes a ladder to Heaven. Be glad, O Gethsemane, thou sacred abode of the Mother of God. Come, o ye faithful, and with Gabriel to lead us, let us all cry out: Hail, thou who art full of grace, the Lord is with Thee, granting the world through thee great mercy.”
Orthodox Christians honor the All-Holy Theotokos as the supreme living icon of the Church, the Mother of all Christians because, as the holy fathers explain in their writings, she is the “New Eve,” the new Mother of Humanity who, through her obedience, reversed the curse, which followed Eve’s disobedience, and brought to the world the “New Adam,” our Savior Jesus Christ, Who restored mankind’s communion with God the Creator.
Orthodox Christians also believe in the ancient doctrine of the perpetual virginity of the All-Holy Theotokos. That is to say, that she was a Virgin before and during the Birth of Christ, and that she remained a Virgin afterwards. This is depicted in her icon by means of three stars appearing on the veil on her forehead and shoulders and also represents the grace of the Holy Trinity, Which was in her and made her “full of grace (kecharitômenê).”
In line with this, Orthodox Christians disagree with the Protestants, who believe that the All-Holy Virgin had other children besides the Lord, and maintain that the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in the Gospel are most likely children of Joseph from an earlier marriage or cousins of Christ who were under the protection of Joseph, their uncle. Indeed, Joseph was betrothed, but not married, to the All-Holy Virgin.
Orthodox Christians also believe that the Theotokos is all-holy and immaculate, not because of her “immaculate conception” by her parents Joachim and Anna, but because she became such by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, Who “came upon (epeleusetai)” her; the Divine Power, which overshadowed (episkiasei)” her; and the uncorrupted conception of Christ in her womb. The Roman Catholic dogma of the “Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” which was declared in 1854, is unacceptable to the Orthodox.
Orthodox Christians believe that the All-Holy Theotokos fell asleep, that the Lord took up her soul to heaven, and that her body was most possibly transposed to Heaven afterwards as some of the fathers teach. They find unacceptable the dogma of the “Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” which the Roman Catholic Church declared in 1950 and which not only suggests that the Theotokos’ death or dormition not real, but also that she is Co-redeemer (co-redemptrix) and co-mediator (co-mediatrix) with the Lord. The Roman Catholic position gives priority to Mary rather than to Christ, inasmuch it suggests that He is immaculate because of her, instead of her being immaculate because of Him.
In the United States, many Orthodox have adopted the name Assumption as equivalent to the Greek Dormition (Koimêsis), but they understand it not in the Roman Catholic sense, which is almost identical with the Ascension (of the Lord), but in the sense of metastasis, as explained above.
Orthodox Christians do not share the Protestant objections to the sinlessness of the Theotokos, however, which are based on false premises. Protestant Christians, by and large, basically identify the Virgin Mary with the rest of humanity and fail to see the distinct qualities, and the Grace that abides in her, which make her the New Eve.
Orthodox Christians believe in the all-holiness or sinlessness of the Theotokos, not in the absolute sense, which belongs to God Alone, but in the relative sense, which is the gift of Pentecost (i.e., the gift of the abiding grace of the Holy Spirit in the Mother of God, the Holy Apostles and the Church in general, Which, by definition, makes all of them holy).
Finally Orthodox Christians pray to the All-Holy Theotokos for salvation, not in the sense that she is the primary cause of salvation, for this belongs to Christ Alone, but in the sense that she mediates through her maternal boldness and prayers to the Lord for Christians as her spiritual children.
Protestant objections to such Orthodox prayers to the All-Holy Theotokos and to the Saints are based on a misunderstanding of the above position.
The dismissal hymn of her greatest feast, the feast of the Dormition, sums up all these points of Orthodox belief presented briefly in this article:
“In giving birth, O Theotokos, thou has retained thy virginity, and in falling asleep, thou has not forsaken the world. Thou who art the Mother of Life has passed over into Life, and by thy prayers, thou has delivered our souls from death.”