1 Samuel 25:1 says the Prophet Samuel was buried in his own house in Ramah, and over his tomb a sanctuary was built. This place housed the relics of the Prophet until the early fifth century.
According to the historians of the time, especially through the Chronicon Paschale, the arrival of the relics of the Prophet Samuel in Constantinople was a joyous and reverential event and he was received as if the living Prophet himself made his way into the city. His ashes, deposited in a golden vase, and covered with a silken veil, were delivered by the bishops into each other's hands. There had been an uninterrupted procession from Palestine through the highways leading up to Chalcedon by “one great swarm of people”; the emperor Arcadius himself, at the head of the most illustrious members of the clergy and senate, advanced to meet his extraordinary guest, who had always deserved and claimed the homage of kings. According to the Chronicon Paschale, the prophet’s body arrived in Constantinople “with Arcadius Augustus leading the way, and Anthemius, pretorian prefect and former consul, Aemilianus, city prefect, and all the senate.” When the prophet finally arrived at the ‘Chalcedonian jetty’, his body was carried to the Great Church, where he was “laid to rest for a certain time”. This occurred on May 19, 406. A few years later, on 5 October 411, the relics were removed from Hagia Sophia and laid to rest in a sanctuary dedicated to the name of the Prophet Samuel newly built near the Church of St. John the Baptist at the Hebdomon. The church collapsed during the earthquake of December 14, 557 and it was probably never repaired after that as it does not appear in any other historical records.
The horn which the Prophet Samuel had used to anoint David was stored in Nea Ekklēsia which was a church built by Roman Emperor Basil I the Macedonian in Constantinople between the years 876–80.
Below is an excerpt of a letter of St. Jerome to Vigilantius in which he defends the veneration of holy relics, and in which he mentions the transfer of the relics of the Prophet Samuel from Judea to Thrace in his lifetime:
Are we, therefore guilty of sacrilege when we enter the basilicas of the Apostles? Was the Emperor Constantius I guilty of sacrilege when he transferred the sacred relics of Andrew, Luke, and Timothy to Constantinople? In their presence the demons cry out, and the devils who dwell in Vigilantius confess that they feel the influence of the saints. And at the present day is the Emperor Arcadius guilty of sacrilege, who after so long a time has conveyed the bones of the blessed Samuel from Judea to Thrace? Are all the bishops to be considered not only sacrilegious, but silly into the bargain, because they carried that most worthless thing, dust and ashes, wrapped in silk in golden vessel? Are the people of all the Churches fools, because they went to meet the sacred relics, and welcomed them with as much joy as if they beheld a living prophet in the midst of them, so that there was one great swarm of people from Palestine to Chalcedon with one voice reechoing the praises of Christ? They were forsooth, adoring Samuel and not Christ, whose Levite and prophet Samuel was.
Apolytikion in the Second Tone
As we celebrate the memory of Thy Prophet Samuel, O Lord, through him we beseech Thee to save our souls.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Thy hallowed mother dedicated thee unto the Lord even before she had conceived thee; and when thou wast born thou didst serve Him from thine infancy like an Angel. And, O Prophet of the Most High, for thy fervent faith, thou wast granted to foretell things that should come to pass. Hence, we cry to thee: Rejoice, O ven'rable Samuel.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
1 Samuel 25:1 says the Prophet Samuel was buried in his own house in Ramah, and over his tomb a sanctuary was built. This place housed the relics of the Prophet until the early fifth century.
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Repent before death closes the door of your life and opens the door of judgement.
Repent before death and since you do not know the hour of death, repent today, even now, and cease to repeat your sin.
Thus, St. Ephraim the Syrian prays:
Before the wheel of time stops in my life, have mercy on me;
Before the wind of death blows and diseases, the heralds of death, appear on my body, have mercy on me;
Before the majestic sun in the heights becomes darkened for me, Have mercy on me; and may Your light shine for me from on high and disperse the dreadful darkness of my mind;
Before the earth returns to earth and becomes decay and before the destruction of all the features of its beauty, have mercy;
Before my sins deceive me at the judgment and shame me before The Judge, have mercy O Lord, filled with gentleness;
Before the hosts come forth, preceding the Son of the King to assemble our miserable race before the throne of the Judge, have mercy,
Before the voice of the trumpet sounds before Your coming, spare Your servants and have mercy, O Lord our Jesus;
Before You lock Your door before me, O Son of God, and before I become food for the unquenchable fires of Gehenna, have mercy on me.
Father Mark Arey and Fmr. Gov. Pataki on the stalled rebuilding of the Greek Orthodox church destroyed on Sept. 11.
In Piso Livadi of Paros, on the day prior to the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos of August 15th in 1931, there were three groups of fishermen fishing with the method known as gri-gri* between Paros and Naxos.
That night one of the teams stayed in the small port. The fishermen began to drink a lot of alcohol, and the drinking brought in a party atmosphere. Not even the All-Holy Virgin escaped from being blasphemed against by their loosened tongues and filthy words.
Suddenly the sky became stormy and the sea gained a strong current. Within a half an hour the waves grew to the size of a mountain and the boats with the fishermen were washed ashore and damaged. Immediately the sea then calmed and a small boat from Naxos entered into the port.
Seeing the boats washed ashore, the captain of the small boat came to the fishermen and asked them: "How did this happen? The sea for me was like glass."
"It was a miracle of the Panagia", explained one of the fishermen.
The majority of the fishermen agreed, though a few others sought to give a different explanation. "It was a tornado. Good thing it didn't lift our boat into the sky," said one.
Gregory Liakouras explained it saying: "Come on now, that it was a miracle. The Panagia, lest I say another word, is in no mood to bother with us fishermen." Upon saying this he went to his boat to see the damage. He then spat on it and blasphemed the Panagia again and went off to sleep.
As soon as he lay down to sleep, while awake, the Panagia appeared to George and asked him: "Why, my child, don't you respect me?"
"What is that you're telling me, my lady?" he said angrily. "I do not know you. When did I not respect you?"
"You don't know me? Why then do you always blaspheme me?" she asked.
With those words, George became afraid and got up, began screaming, and wanted to run but was unable. His legs were buried in the sand up till his knees. He then did his cross, then was able to clearly see the Panagia, who said to him: "Come to my house at Ekatontapiliani in Paroikia of Paros. Go there to venerate me."
George left running. He arrived at Panagia Ekatontapiliani a little before sunrise. He ran to the icon of the Panagia and recognized the woman who appeared to him in the vision. Kneeling he began to pray for many hours. Later he returned to Piso Livadi and witnessed another miracle - the boats of his fishing team were ashore without any damage.
* Gri-gri (γρι γρι) fishing is when there is a main big boat that pulls all the other vessels, a smaller (usually with its own engine) that collects the lamps and at least one lamp boat. Years ago there were 4-5 small lamp-boats but nowdays they have been replaced with the lamp robots.
The 2-volume The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity edited by John Anthony McGuckin is slated to be available on January 11, 2011 according to Amazon.com, and can be pre-ordered now for the discounted price of $280.00. Read the product description here.
Russia’s Traffic Police Issue Apples Instead of Fines
19 August, 2010
As Orthodox Christians mark the Holy Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, also known in the country as the Apple Savior, policemen in Rostov-on-Don gave up their fining appetites and joined in the tasty celebration.
Stopped by the traffic police right in the city center, careless drivers at first thought they lost their minds when normally harsh officers smiled to them and – instead of the usual fines – issued fresh apples and codes of conduct.
The answer to the puzzle turned out to be quite simple: on August 19, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates one of its main holidays: the Holy Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, or the Apple Savior.
On this day, traditionally associated with harvest, people come to church to sanctify apples, pears, plums and other fruits. As part of the celebration, apples and honey are presented to neighbors and brought to orphanages and hospitals. The old tradition symbolizes generosity and fruitfulness, glorifying the unity of the God and mankind.
Eager to participate in the nation’s beloved holiday, the police in Rostov-on-Don, inspired by the local eparchy, have come up with the unusual flash mob.
“This is a perfect occasion to remind people how important road safety is,” the head of the local police was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency. “Besides, apples symbolize a healthy way of life.”
St Theophanes the New, a native of the city of Ioannina, was born in 1590. As a young man, he received monastic tonsure on Mount Athos at the Docheiariou monastery. He was later chosen abbot of this monastery because of his lofty virtue. In giving refuge to his own nephew (who had been forcibly converted to Islam) from the Turks who had captured Constantinople, St Theophanes, with the help of God, freed the youth, hid him in his own monastery and blessed him to enter the monastic life.
The brethren, fearing revenge on the part of the Turks, began to grumble against the saint. He, not wanting to be the cause of discord and dissension, humbly withdrew with his nephew from the Docheiariou monastery, quit the Holy Mountain and went to Beroea. There, in the Skete of St John the Forerunner, St Theophanes built a church in honor of the Most Holy Theotokos. And as monks began to gather, he gave them a cenobitic monastic rule.
When the monastery flourished, the saint withdrew to a new place at Naousa, where he made a church in honor of the holy Archangels and founded there also a monastery. To the very end of his days St Theophanes did not forsake guiding the monks of both monasteries, both regarding him as their common father.
In a revelation foreseeing his own end and giving his flock a final farewell, the saint died in extreme old age at the Beroeia Skete of the Forerunner. Even during life the Lord had glorified his humble saint: saving people from destruction, he calmed a storm by his prayer, and converted sea water into drinking water. Even after death, the saint has never forsaken people with his grace-filled help.
Soon after his death the monks of the Skete placed his holy skull among the other relics of the Skete in a silver reliquery while they buried his body which became a shrine. Many decades later the Turks destroyed the Skete and left the tomb of St Theophanes in ruins. In the 20th century natives of Naousa stole the skull of the Saint to bring it back to their city in the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos (it is placed in the church dedicated to his name today). In 1926 the tomb of the Saint in Beroeia was opened and 60 pieces of bone were removed and placed in the Holy Altar.
God Wisely Directs The Destiny Of His Servants
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
When an unexpected misfortune happens to us who are innocent, we should not immediately grieve but rather we should try to see in this the Providence of God, Who, through that misfortune, is preparing something new and beneficial for us.
One day, unexpected news came to Blessed Theophanes, the abbot of Docheiariou, that the Turks had seized his sister's son, forced him to embrace Islam and took him to Constantinople. Theophanes immediately traveled to Constantinople and, with the help of God, succeeded to find his nephew and to secretly bring him out of Constantinople and brought him to his monastery on Mt. Athos. There, he again received his nephew into the Christian Faith and, after that, also tonsured him a monk. However, the brethren began to complain against their abbot and his nephew for fear of the Turks, for they were afraid that the Turks would find out and come and destroy the monastery. Not knowing what to do, St. Theophanes took his nephew and, with him, secretly withdrew not only from Docheiariou but also from the Holy Mountain and came to Berea.
The later activities of Theophanes in Beroea and in Naousa proved how much that misfortune was beneficial to the Church. That which Theophanes could never succeed to achieve on the Holy Mountain, he achieved in these other places to which he had fled from that misfortune. Namely: he founded two new monasteries, where, in time, many monks were saved and where countless men found comfort for themselves. In addition to this, his holy relics among the Christian people became a source of healing for the strengthening of faith among many unbelievers and those of little faith. Thus, God wisely directs the destiny of men through unexpected misfortunes, which momentarily seem to men that they are going to their final destruction.
Skete of Saint John the Forerunner
The Church of St Theophanes the New
Feast of St. Theophanes in Naousa on August 19, 2007
The three most impressive monasteries in Central Serbia – Žica, Studenica and Sopoćani, are the first examples of the energy with which the Nemanjić Dynasty took on the consolidation of an independent Serbian state between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries.
After having attracted some of the most skilful artists of Byzantium and the best builders of Zeta (contemporary Montenegro), which at the time was developing under the influence of Venice, they financed several masterpieces of medieval architecture.
Frescos with saturated, dark colours; expressive, albeit two-dimensional Biblical characters; façades that shine in the daylight – the monasteries and churches from this early period, known as Raška, already testify for the beginning of a whole new aesthetic époque in the region.
They are considered as evidence that – had the Balkans not fallen under the Ottoman Empire’s rule, a philosophy of art not any less humanistic than that of the Italian Renaissance would have blossomed in this part of Europe.
Žica: As Close to Rome as to Constantinople
With its tile-red façade, this monastery is one of Serbia’s most memorable landmarks.
Žica was built by Stefan Nemanja’s son – Sava, and stands, symbolically, at an equal distance from Rome and Constantinople. Its location is an expression of the desire of the medieval Serbian state to exist independently, by balancing between European Christianity’s two capitals.
In the context of the twelfth century, that was a brave decision. The cooling of the relations with the Orthodox or the Catholic Church at that time often meant not only diplomatic hardships but also wars. It was even more of a challenge to Sava, who built the monastery after returning from a prolonged stay at Mount Athos.
His certainty that the Serbian Church must seek a balance and get as close to Rome as to Constantinople, left a visible trace on the religious constructions of that era – the churches’ exteriors are Romanesque and their interiors are Byzantine. While the iconography remained an expression of Eastern traditions, the façades – like those of Catholic churches, were decorated with animals and floral motifs around the portals.
Žica was the first monastery to be built after the founding of the Serbian Patriarchy and, as such, carries a special significance to the Serbs. According to the legend, Sava – who was canonized as a saint later, reached the place by following a golden thread (or wire, the Serbian word for which is žica[ital]). Intended as to be the crowning wreath of statehood, it was pained dark red as a reference to the monasteries in Montenegro.
The original frescos have been destroyed to a large extent – during a 1290 attack by the Bulgarians and later, during the Ottoman Empire’s rule. A part of them were preserved alongside the dome’s interior, as well as the Crucifixion in the southern part of the church. Even though it is now largely a product of restoration, the Žica Monastery remains one of the grandest in Serbia.
Practical information: Žica is located at about an hour’s walk from the centre of Kralevo in Central Serbia. It is easy to reach by car, as there are sufficient signs along the road. It can be reached by public transportation as well – with the bus for Mataruška Banja.
Studenica: Stefan Nemanja’s Tomb and the First Signs of Serbian Realism
The Studenica Monastery was built, according to Eastern Orthodoxy’s unwritten rule, in possibly the most inaccessible spot. Similarly to the Byzantine monasteries in Mistra, Sumela and Meteora, it used to be reachable only by a long mountainous trek.
High up in the mountain over the Studenica River, it was built at the end of the twelfth century by Stefan Nemanja, founder of the medieval Serbian state Raška, and became the scene of a series of dramatic events of the ruler’s life.
Here, Stefan Nemanja lived for a while after announcing his abdication and before heading to the Hilandar Monastery on Mount Athos. After his death his remains were returned to Studenica and are now kept in a tomb that is among the most sacred ones for Serbs.
The monastery’s three surviving churches were built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The central and biggest one is that of the Virgin, named as “the mother of all Serbian temples.” The Roman influence on the decoration of the façade is even more visible than in Žica – the carved-marble wall covering is not typical of the Central Balkans’ religious architecture of that time. Polished and decorated with figures and floral motifs, it was obviously borrowed from the Adriatic coast’s traditions, where Venetian tastes and building traditions hardly left any space for the Eastern aesthetic.
All three churches – the Virgin church, the King’s Church and the Church of St. Nicholas, are exceptionally curious with their interiors as well. Here, unlike in Žica, many of the frescos are excellently preserved.
But perhaps the most interesting of them is on the northern wall of the King’s Church – an unexpectedly realistic depiction of the Virgin Mary’s birth. Near the newborn Virgin, two women are visible – both wrapped up in the proceedings with unusual professionalism – one is checking the water temperature with the back of her hand, while the other one stands around a tray of surgical instruments.
Practical information: The monastery can be reached by car or public transportation. Studenica is located at about the middle of the road between Kralevo and Novi Pazar, near Ušće. The regular bus line, which runs at least four times a day, starts from the centre of Ušće.
Sopoćani: Serbia’s Failed Renaissance
From all the medieval monasteries in Central Serbia, this one has retained the most impressive frescos and icons. It is considered as evidence of the potential of Serbia’s fine arts, failed during the Ottoman Empire’s rule.
Sopoćani is located near the ruins of the erstwhile capital of Raška, Ras, in the direction of the source of the river by the same name. Founded by Uroš in the middle of the thirteenth century, it spent the period between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries half-demolished, somehow managing to preserve a large part of its interior decoration.
The central Holy Trinity Church, like the other monasteries from the Raška School, has a Romanesque style exterior and was built with the initial construction of the monastery. The only surviving structure from the later additions is the bell tower from the fourteenth century.
Many of the paintings on the church’s interior depict scenes from the life of the Nemanjić Dynasty members, made almost god-like by their contemporaries, alongside the Christian pantheon’s saints. Stefan Nemanja appears as a monk in Mount Athos, not as a king.
The frescos near the altar are considered to be the most precious. Painted slightly before most of the church’s interior, for which painters were summoned from Constantinople, they are – according to art historians, a testament of the extraordinary processes in the local fine arts, reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance with their humanism.
Practical information: The Sopoćani Monastery can be reached by car, but if you don’t have your own transportation, you can do like the locals and hire a taxi from the centre of Novi Pazar, which should not cost more than 20 euro in both directions, including the wait.
The Holy Mount of Grabarka (Święta Góra Grabarka in Polish) is considered to be the holiest location in Poland for Orthodox Christians. It is the site of the Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord and is home to the women's monastery of Ss. Marta and Maria. The most prominent and well-known feature of Grabarka is the forest of crosses surrounding the Church, all brought to the Mount by pilgrims.
The history of the Mount dates back to the 13th century, when during a Tartar invasion an icon of Spas Izbawnik (Jesus Christ) was taken from the nearby church of Mielnik and hidden in the forests of Grabarka to prevent its theft or destruction.
A second miracle occurred at Grabarka in 1710 during a deadly outbreak of cholera in the region. According to legend, one day an old man received an order from God to lead the people to the Mount at Grabarka, to set there a holy cross and to pray for salvation. The sick villagers followed the instructions of the old man, and the epidemic ended almost instantly. To commemorate this miracle, the local people decided to build a chapel at Grabarka.
In 1884-1895 a new church was built. After the First World War, the church was in good condition. The church also survived the destruction that occurred to many buildings during the Second World War.
In 1947 with a blessing of Archbishop Tymoteusz of Bialystok and Gdansk, a nun chose the Holy Mount for a Monastery of Ss. Martha and Mary. Homeless sisters from monasteries which were closed down or situated behind the new borders of Poland took up residence there. In 1956 the second church of the Icon of the Mother of God "Happiness of All Crestfallen", along with nuns' cells bordering on the church, were consecrated. A house for priests serving at the Holy Mount was also built. During the 1960s the Church of Transfiguration of Christ was renovated. In 1980 a new brick monastic building with refectory of Dormition of the Mother of God was built.
In 1990 a tragic event took place: A fire was set in the church of Transfiguration of the Lord. Fire completely consumed the temple, and even the bells melted. Reconstruction started immediately, the effect of which was the consecration of a newly built church by Metropolitan Sawa on May 17, 1998.
The Holy Mount of Grabarka has been a center for pilgrimage for Orthodox Christians from Poland and other countries since the 18th century. Especially noteworthy is the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ in August, which draws about 10,000 believers from all over Europe. It is traditional for them arrive at Grabarka by foot, some of them bearing the wooden crosses that can be seen surrounding the Church.
- Official website of The Holy Mount Grabarka
- More About Grabarka
- Grabarka August 18, 2010
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
I am a scientist and party member. All the way up to 1967 I was an atheist. During the Second World War I was wounded near Pskov. Before I was wounded I saw in my sleep an old man, who warned me of what was going to happen. He even showed me where I would be shot. Everything turned out to be exactly as he had predicted. I was wounded by three bullets...
Like so many others, I had heard of the holy Dimitri of Salonika's revelations. He and three other elderly men often reveal themselves to sleeping people, even if they are Jews or atheists. I was recently on a business trip to Siberia. The same phenomena, the same type of dreams, occur there as well. Usually two or three elderly men appear. They also reveal themselves to members of folk minorities who have never heard of Christ, and whose parents were heathens. The revelatory dreams are very distinct, and predict that momentous changes will take place over the entire world and that great numbers of people will become believers...
On the evening of August 14th, the ringing of bells was heard in many places, though there were no churches within a radius of several miles, much less church bells. My wife and son also heard the tolling. The sounds reverberated through the area for more than an hour. The distinct ringing of one large bell and other small ones could be heard. Thus the old expression, "We hear bells ringing, but see none," became a reality. Nobody had the slightest idea as to how this all happened, least of all the authorities. But the incident made a strong impression on both members and non-members of the party.
The thirteenth century great Church figure and philosopher St. Christodoulos was from the village of Sakara in the Imereti region of Georgia. He possessed an exceptional knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and spoke several languages fluently. To support his prodigious understanding of the Christian Faith, Christodoulos became thoroughly acquainted with other creeds as well. To this purpose, he even memorized the Koran.
Once the Persian king Iamame arranged a debate on theological issues between the Muslims and the Christians, and he invited the elder Christodoulos to take part in this event. At first the king himself debated with the elder and suffered an upset. Then a certain pagan astrologer was brought to replace him, and when it became clear that he too was no match for the elder-philosopher, he summoned a renowned scholar to outwit him. In the debates with this scholar, Christodoulos freely cited both the Holy Scriptures and the Koran, and with his brilliant logic and rhetoric he triumphed over his rival. His challengers were disgraced.
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
It is not a rare occasion, especially in our time, that parents become the culprits for the spiritual death of their children. Whenever a child has an aspiration for the spiritual life, asceticism, or monasticism and the parent curtails this aspiration instead of encouraging it, such a parent becomes the murderer of his child. And, such children, as a punishment to their parents, often turn to the opposite side and become perverted.
A boy named Luke, the nephew of St. John of Rila, hearing about his uncle and drawn by the desire for the spiritual life, visited his uncle in the mountain. John received Luke with love and began to instruct and to strengthen him in the mortification of asceticism. However, one day Luke's father appeared at the cave of John and furiously began to scold the saint for keeping his son in that wilderness. John's words and counsels were of no avail. The father dragged the son home by force. However, on the way home a serpent bit the boy and Luke died. The cruel father saw in this the punishment of God and repented but it was all too late. He returned to John mourning and condemning himself. But the saint only said to him to bury the child and to return from wherever he came.
Relics Stored In Saint Sophia In Kiev Don't Belong To Prince Yaroslav the Wise
August 17, 2010
Traditionally it is known that the relics of the Grand Prince of Rus Yaroslav the Wise are stored in a special sarcophagus in Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev. After tomography, anthropological and other studies showed that the relics of the sarcophagus are the remains of a woman.
On the basis of modern methods scholars determined that the remains have anthropological characteristics of the Scandinavian type. And there is a hypothesis that it can be the remains of Yaroslav’s wife Ingegerd (daughter of the king of Sweden).
The scholars need to examine the DNA. Polish and Russian laboratories agreed to do proper research, but there is no permission from the Ministry of the Culture of Ukraine to take relics out of the country.
The place where are the holy relics of Yaroslav the Wise is not known. They disappeared between the years 1940 and 2009. There is a hypothesis that in 1943 the relics were brought abroad and now kept in the Ukrainian diaspora (in a Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA under the Patriarchate of Constantinople).
The Abbot of Vatopaidi Monastery, Archimandrite Ephraim, spoke on the radio programme “Η Γκίζα κάπου αλλού” (Giza somewhere else) of ΣΚΑΪ (Sky) 100,3 FM on Saturday 14th August 2010, on the eve of the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. Elder Ephraim was celebrating the feast at the Vatopedi Metohi of Porto Lagos.
Here is the full text of the interview:
Giza: Geronta you are in Porto Lagos to celebrate the feast of the Dormition and I was wondering why women could not attend?
Elder Ephraim: Excuse me. This is the monastery’s metohi and women can visit as well.
Giza: Up to there, but what about further up?
Elder Ephraim: The Holy Mount Athos as you know is inaccessible to women and this is the tradition spanning hundreds of years. The reason why it is inaccessible is not because the monks hate or scorn or wish to degrade women. But it is because The Holy Mount Athos is a man’s Parthenon.
Giza: Anyway, where you are now all of us can meet.
Elder Ephraim: Absolutely.
Giza: And it is a blessed place.
Elder Ephraim: Yes, of course. It is a place where our Panagia's grace dominates. There is a chapel devoted to her and another one devoted to Saint Nicholas.
Giza: Are there a lot of people up there now?
Elder Ephraim: Quite a lot. We have three spiritual fathers who are continuously taking confessions from people who are getting ready to take Holy Communion during the feast.
Giza: Geronda (Elder), how is confession helping people?
Elder Ephraim: Confession is a very helpful means because through this Mystery a person starts to condemn himself, blame himself and hold himself responsible. Not only does he hold himself responsible in a non verbal way in front of the icon, as they say, in front of Christ, but also in front of the priest who is also another human being. He comes to confess his sins. However, this meeting is not just a meeting which has man in its epicenter, but it is a meeting with Christ, because it is a Mystery of the Church. A person will then definitely feel the forgiveness for his sins, through the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is a very important issue.
Giza: Geronta, what is the message which the feast of the Dormition offers to modern man? We are living through very difficult times down here…
Elder Ephraim: We are living through difficult times but I think this feast of the Most Holy Panagia is one which offers a spiritual message, a message of purity and cleanliness and devotion to the Lord. Our Panagia was the first after The One, who devoted herself entirely to God. She stayed in the Holy of Holies since she was three years old. She is the person who experienced the grace of the Holy Spirit more than anyone else in the world. This alone bestows such a huge honor to our Panagia. That’s the reason we are calling her «Most Blessed», «Most Honored», «Most Gracious» and this is the model which we must present to the world. She is the one most honored by everybody, especially the monks, and also in the Holy Mountain.
Sometimes, you know, people say that no women are allowed in the Holy Mountain and that monks do away with women. On the contrary, they honor our Panagia more than anywhere else in the world. They offer her this comprehensive tribute and all this devotion because she is the one who loved Christ completely.
Giza: She becomes a great sanctuary for man even these days, doesn’t she?
Elder Ephraim: Absolutely. The Most Holy Panagia is a great sanctuary for all of us. People flock here with such pain, with so much suffering, with illnesses and toil and troubles and three hundred meters away we see them kneel and come to venerate her icon, to fulfill the promise they have made for their troubles. Then we see them again when they leave. They have been comforted and consoled and have such sweetness in their faces.
Giza: This is funny, Geronda. Faith is not diminished with the passing of time but it is as if it becomes stronger sometimes. How can this be? Is there an explanation?
Elder Ephraim: Faith is a strong spiritual weapon which is given to man because he is created in the image and likeness of God. Sometimes faith can be ridiculed and scorned by some, but it is a strong weapon not used by many, but which remains hidden inside them until the time of trouble comes, when one is really tested. Then he takes out this bag full of treasure, this great power called “faith” and uses it. And faith bears fruit.
Giza: Since no one has ever taught us about this spiritual work, how do we find such resilience and at the time of trouble we call out to our Panagia?
Elder Ephraim: We may have never been systematically taught, but do not forget that we live in Greece, where the environment and the tradition have always been helping man to turn to the Church in times of trouble. I think the person to whom man looks up to for help in times of trouble is our Panagia.
Giza: Geronda, do miracles happen today?
Elder Ephraim: Of course! Look here at our metohi at the Visthonida pond. So many miracles take place. So many people have found cure, there are so many offerings, so many letters! One is in awe when one witnesses all these miracles performed by our Panagia with her icon, which is a copy of the Panagia Pantanassa icon, which is found in Vatopaidi. As you may very well know the Vatopaidi Monastery is the only one in the world which is adorned with seven miraculous icons of our Panagia and also by her Holy Girdle.
Giza: Are we never going to see these since we are women?
Elder Ephraim: You will see these when we are occasionally asked to take them out of the Holy Mountain. But especially we agree to take them out every now and then so that women can see them.
Giza: What is the liturgical program at the garden of our Panagia, where you are now?
Elder Ephraim: As you know, today is not the feast of our Panagia according to the Old Calendar we use at the Holy Mountain. But here at the metohi we celebrate the feast with the New Calendar. We have an all night vigil this evening which will last up to five hours. The fathers from the monastery arrived here so that they can chant in the way it is done in the Holy Mountain. We are expecting a lot of people. We also hold a second liturgy at a different chapel for those who have children and cannot attend the all night vigil.
Giza: Do you think that the world will change at some point for the better?
Elder Ephraim: We are only left with the hope which as Saint Paul says “it does not embarrass us”. I think that hope must never leave a man’s heart.
Giza: Is hope stronger than faith?
Elder Ephraim: Hope is derived from faith and it is a prerequisite.
Giza: What would you say to someone who does not believe in God?
Elder Ephraim: I would say to him to try to live in the way we do. I think that if he experiments in this way he will experience something. Since even one who does not believe has an immortal soul inside of him.
Giza: If one does not live a Church life does it mean that he does not possess the Lord’s grace?
Elder Ephraim: He may not live the life of the Church now, but we do not know what will happen at the end. As this great modern Saint, Father Paisios the Athonite said, we will be met with a lot of surprises during the Second Coming of Christ. We do not know how each man will end his life.
Giza: One last question, Geronda. All this furor surrounding your name, which reminds us a little of the Christian persecutions of past times, did it leave you shaken at all?
Elder Ephraim: With God’s grace, I have not been shaken, since as I have told you faith is a great force. We are devoted to our duties; we are not expecting to hear praises from people. As you know, our holy forefathers, whom we read and imitate, have always been controversial figures. First it was Christ himself. A monk does not concern himself whether he will acquire good fame; he is only interested in diligently fullfilling his absolute duty: his complete devotion to God.
Giza: Aren’t you afraid that people’s faith will be shaken?
Elder Ephraim: I do not think so. A person who is struggling spiritually will recognize the methods and the descriptions and the reasons behind this furor. I think that common sense recognizes that it is something not worth mentioning.
Giza: You are saying that the truth will be revealed to someone sometime but in a way which may not be easily comprehensible these days.
Elder Ephraim: Many times a person does not recognize the truth because of the way he lives. On our part, we pray for the whole world, the whole universe and we always maintain a loving attitude for everybody. This is our position and our mission”.
Giza: It is very important to say that your mission is this. What would you ask for those who hear you today and those who don’t?
Elder Ephraim: I humbly pray that people will recognize than man is a spiritual creature and to start caring for the salvation of his immortal soul. As Saint Basil the Great, this grand Saint, said: "we must take care of our souls which are immortal". Only once someone starts taking care of his immortal soul will he come to comprehend that our Panagia is present, the saints are present and that faith is a great force for the Orthodox people and especially for our Greece.
Giza: Geronda, I thank you with all my heart.
Elder Ephraim: I wish you well and may our Panagia be with you.
Giza: You too. Give us your blessing!
Elder Ephraim: May you have our Lord’s blessing.
Translated from Greek by: Olga Konnari–Kokkinou, Journalist
Edited by John Sanidopoulos
On Morning Joe, Norah O'Donnell says that those who oppose the Ground Zero mosque are acting "like the people who attacked America and killed 3,000 people."
Read also: How the "Ground Zero Mosque" Fear Mongering Began
What About the Ground Zero Church? Archdiocese Says Officials Abandoned Project
By Judson Berger
August 17, 2010
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America accused New York officials on Tuesday of turning their backs on the reconstruction of the only church destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks, while the controversial mosque near Ground Zero moves forward.
The sidelined project is the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a tiny, four-story building destroyed in 2001 when one of the World Trade Center towers fell on top of it. Nobody from the church was hurt in the attack, but the congregation has for the past eight years been trying to rebuild its house of worship.
While the mosque project cleared red tape earlier this month, negotiations between the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the church stalled last year -- and will not be revived, according to government officials. Though the particulars of the two projects are completely different and on the surface unrelated, the church and its supporters see a disconnect in the way the proposals have been handled.
An archdiocese official said Tuesday that the situation has created "consternation" for those still struggling to jump-start talks over the church.
"We have people that are saying, why isn't our church being rebuilt and why is there ... such concern for people of the mosque?" Father Alex Karloutsos, assistant to the archbishop, told FoxNews.com. He said "religious freedom" would allow a place of worship for any denomination to be built, but accused officials with the Port Authority of making no effort to help move the congregation's project along.
"Unfortunately, they have just been silent -- dead silent, actually," said Karloutsos, whose father was ordained at St. Nicholas. "They just simply forgot about the church."
The Port Authority and the church announced a deal in July 2008 under which the Port Authority would grant land and up to $20 million to help rebuild it in a new location -- in addition, the authority was willing to pay up to $40 million to construct a bomb-proof platform underneath.
Within a year, the deal fell through and talks ended. Port Authority officials told Fox News that the deal is dead.
The archdiocese and Port Authority offer sharply conflicting accounts of where things went wrong. The Port Authority has previously claimed the church was making additional demands -- like wanting the $20 million up front and wanting to review plans for the surrounding area. They say the church can still proceed on its own if it wishes.
"The church continues to have the right to rebuild at their original site, and we will pay fair market value for the underground space beneath that building," a spokesperson with the Port Authority told Fox News.
But Karloutsos called the Port Authority's claims "propaganda" and said the church has complied with all conditions. He said the government should honor agreements that date back to 2004, under former New York Gov. George Pataki.
Pataki, speaking with Fox News on Tuesday, agreed that the church should be rebuilt.
"I don't understand it," Pataki said. "Why the Port Authority now has so far put roadblocks in the way of its reconstruction is beyond me. It's not the right thing to do."
George Demos, a Republican candidate for New York's 1st Congressional District, has also drawn attention to the church negotiations. He released a written statement last week calling the Port Authority "disingenuous and disrespectful" for claiming the church project could go forward.
"For the last year, the Port Authority has refused to meet with church officials and is now reneging on its commitment to rebuild the church," Demos said.
Demos said the stalled church plans are an "outrage," considering New York City's Landmarks Preservation Committee vote in early August to deny historical status protection to the building where the mosque is set to be built, clearing the way for the project to move forward.
The church project has not attracted the kind of national attention the mosque has. President Obama injected the mosque into the national political conversation when he appeared to endorse the plans at a Ramadan dinner at the White House Friday. The White House later clarified that Obama was supporting the developers' right to build the mosque, not the project itself.
The president's comments set the stage for mounting criticism from Republicans, who widely oppose the project and now want other Democrats to declare where they stand on what for months was a largely local issue.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has supported the church as well as the mosque, defended the mosque proposal Tuesday.
"I think it will add to the diversity of the area," Bloomberg said. As for Obama's comments, he said: "He understands the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as well as anyone."
Fox News' Kathleen Foster and John Brandt contributed to this report.
August 17, 2010
A Russian tycoon has told 6,000 workers at his private dairy company that they'll be fired if they've ever had an abortion, or if those who are "living in sin" don't get married within two months.
Vasily Boiko, who officially changed his name to Boiko-Veliky, which means "Boiko the Great," has set a deadline of October 14 -- a Russian Orthodox Church holiday -- for any of his unmarried employees who live with a partner to get married, or get fired.
"We have about 6,000 employees, most of whom are Orthodox, and I expect them to be faithful and to repent," Boiko told Reuters last week. His order came in an internal memo to workers at Russkoye Moloko, which means "Russian milk" and whose products are sold in many Russian supermarkets.
Boiko told Ekho Moskvy radio that a woman who's had an abortion "can no longer be an employee of our company ... We don't want to work with killers," according to Reuters.
The ultimatum also comes amid Russia's worst drought and wildfires on record, in which suffocating heat and smog have doubled the normal summertime death rate in Moscow. More than 2,000 homes have been destroyed by fires, and a third of Russia's wheat crop has succumbed to the drought. The government has banned grain exports for the rest of the year, and promised subsidies to farmers and agriculture businesses like Boiko's.
The tycoon blames Russia's extreme weather this summer on what he called a lack of ample religious faith. "Such an extreme situation is punishment for the Russian people's sins," he told daily newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, according to The Daily Telegraph. "I need to take extreme measures including looking at the way my employees treat God."
But government officials say such extreme measures could violate Russia's labor laws.
About two-thirds of Russians belong at least nominally to the Russian Orthodox Church, which has seen a revival of popularity since the 1991 collapse of the secular Soviet Union.
But one of Boiko's former employees told the independent Moscow News that the tycoon hasn't always been so religious, and characterized some of his business practices as "certainly not Christian." The unnamed former worker said Boiko apparently had an epiphany while in jail for fraud allegations in 2007.
Ecumenical News International
The Russian Orthodox Church has continued to pray for relief from the heat and drought that has gripped Russia for two months, as one archbishop condemned some retailers for profiteering from the extreme weather conditions - writes Sophia Kishkovsky.
"That air conditioners sell for 50,000 roubles [US$1650] instead of 10,000, when people are dying of the heat is immoral and cruel," said Archbishop Feofan of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz, speaking at a youth camp at Pyatigorsk, in the Stavropol region. "Sell them at the old price at least. This is God's command, and compassion for one's neighbour."
The cleric acknowledged that Russia has a market economy that sets the price of goods. However, he said, "This is not always justified, especially at critical moments in life."
In an encyclical on 1 August 2010, Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church had called for continuous prayers and special church-wide collections.
Monks at the Svyato-Nikolo-Tikhonovsky Monastery in the Ivanovo region urged that water be blessed in churches and used on the fires, the Interfax news agency reported.
"The blessed water, together with the help of aviation and other means … must be sprinkled over burning forests and villages," the monks appealed.
In Voronezh, a region hit by some of the worst of the forest fires that have swept across Russia, Metropolitan Sergius held a prayer service on 9 August to entreat God for rain.
Afterwards Orthodox Christians gathered to start a five-day procession around the region by car, bearing relics of St Mitrofan, a local saint.
Metropolitan Sergius said that prayers raised up during processions in July were heard and brought some relief in the form of rain, the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported.
Monks at one of the most important monasteries in Orthodoxy, the Kiev Monastery of the Caves in Ukraine, which has suffered from temperatures near 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), are also praying for rain, the press service of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate reports.
The rector of a cathedral in Dnepropetrovsk was reported by a local news Web site saying that while eliminating parts of church services to shorten them due to the heat is considered a mortal sin, the choir is singing faster to speed things up.
The Russian Orthodox Church has raised more than 6.6 million roubles (US$200 000) in a drive to raise funds for victims, http://miloserdie.ru/, the website of the Moscow Patriarchate's charity department, reported.
Smog generated by the fires enveloped Moscow for more than a week, exacerbating the impact of the heat wave that has suffocated the Russian capital with temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) since June.
Moscow received some respite on 10 August as rain came, lifting the smog, while forecasters said the air might remain clear for a few days.
The Rev Mikhail Ryazantsev told the Interfax news agency that air conditioning has been problematic at Christ the Saviour Cathedral, where he is sacristan. The cathedral, which was built under the patronage of Moscow's powerful mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, has sophisticated climate control systems.
Priests at Moscow churches without air conditioning said that despite the heat and smoke the number of worshippers had not declined beyond the usual summer drop-off.
"People are not complaining," the Rev Sergei Rybko told Interfax. "When you serve, and pray, you don't especially notice this smoke and heat. It should be noted that donations have risen significantly in the days since his Holiness the Patriarch announced a collection for the victims of the fire."
August 13, 2010
Two Lebanese television networks were banned Friday from showing an Iranian-made biopic on the life of Jesus Christ, officials said after the film sparked outrage among the country's Christians.
"General Security has requested the two Lebanese television channels airing the series during the holy month of Ramadan stop the broadcasts," the official who requested anonymity told AFP.
"The Messiah" was originally released in Iran as a big screen movie in the Islamic republic in 2008.
It was subsequently adapted to television as a series that was dubbed into Arabic and began airing on Lebanon's NBN and Al-Manar television channels after the start this week of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.
NBN and Al-Manar, run respectively by Shiite speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah, immediately issued statements saying the film would no longer be screened.
Christian Maronite Archbishop Beshara al-Rai had requested the series be banned as it "denied the basis of Christianity."
Christians believe Jesus was the Son of God and died by crucifixion before resurrecting and ascending to heaven.
But Muslims say Christ, or "the prophet Issa" in Islam, ascended to heaven while still alive, a notion which is made clear in the series.
"In the Quran it talks about Jesus many, many times, and about Mary many, many times," director Nader Talebzadeh said in an interview to CNN in 2008, when the original movie was released.
"But he is never the Son of God, he is a prophet, and also he was not crucified -- someone else was crucified in his place," he added.
Talebzadeh's biopic shows Judas Iscariot being crucified instead of Jesus.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
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)
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.