by Maran Ata
This is one part of the film "Mite" produced by the Pokrov Foundation in the year 2000, showing the Bulgarian Elder Dobri, who is considered a holy man of God.
Four years ago, I had the pleasure to meet him and directly delight in his innocent kindness and simplicity. People from Sofia know him as Elder Dobri Dobrev from the village Baylovo. He is a 96 year old elder who could often be seen standing in front of the church St. Alexander Nevsky or St. Methodius and Cyril and their five disciples with his metal cashbox and begging for money. He gives the collected money for renewing of the monasteries and churches or to poor people.
I met him at the Church of St. Kyriaki, when I was attending the Holy Liturgy which was led by several bishops, in the presence of the graceful relics of St. Stephen Milutin the King. Simply, he entered through the church gate, stood in front of the relics and, as a young boy, made a few deep bows [prostrations]. That was an amazing scene, especially because of the feeling of unworthiness when God crosses our life-path with one of His righteous men.
Kind eyes, pleasant smile, humble look... all that makes him bright in the eyes of those who have met him and without hesitation hurry to get a blessing from this sagacious elder. He wears traditional shoes from raw skin and he all the time rushes somewhere, but he never uses modern transport vehicles. Simply, he loves the ascetic walk. He eats whatever the good people give him and he never repines for his condition. His face shines with heavenly light which at one point of the moment makes people unconsciously to understand that he really is like someone out of the Bible.
I hope that I'll be vouchsafed by God to kiss the elders merciful right hand for third time in my life.
"Man should keep righteousness and the truth. That's God's path!"
Sunday, August 29, 2010
I venerate those beautiful feet, which evangelized the good things to the people and with which he prepared the way for the coming of the Lord.
Bring also the precious chains with which was tied the most precious and angelic among men.
Bring also the revered plate on which was placed the most revered head worth more than all gold.
Moreover, if I found it, I would not leave unvenerated the murderous knife which entered the sacred neck, nor would I hold back from kissing the dirt which guarded this treasure, certain that even this would have transmitted to me divine grace.
Last year (1939) I was in charge of the trapeza (refectory). The feast of the Honorable Forerunner was approaching, during which we have a small celebration. The day before the eve of the feast I counted the bread, and altogether it was 250 breads. With this I had to do four service rounds, knowing that each service requires 70-80 breads. Furthermore, on the feast of the Honorable Forerunner I had to give to the visiting pilgrims one or two breads for a blessing.
After careful calculations of the breads I saw that we would not have enough to get by. I went to the abbot. I told him that the breads will not be enough and we need tomorrow (this was the day before the feast) to knead. The abbot, not knowing what he was thinking, said to me: "No, no, we will not knead."
"But Elder, the bread will not be enough for us, and we will be shamed before our visitors, not having bread on the feast of the Honorable Forerunner."
But he repeated, saying: "No, we will get by."
What could I therefore do? In order to not enter a dispute, I left sad and distressed. I went to the refectory and divided the breads into two hampers. In one I put 150 breads and in the other I put the other 100. This happened on Friday morning. I thought furthermore that for service on Saturday night I can dampen dry bread to economize the need.
On Friday and Saturday morning, for the two dining services which occurred, 150 breads were issued that were in one hamper. When the dining service was complete on Saturday morning, I took the empty hamper to the "outer cell" where we kept the dry bread and raki. There remained only 100 breads and I was saving them for tomorrows dining service for the feast of the Saint.
On Saturday evening I went to the "outer cell" to get the dry bread in order to dampen, as I had determined, when, lo, your miracle O Honorable Forerunner! I saw the empty hamper which I had left there in the morning empty, now full of fresh bread. I rubbed my eyes. Perhaps it was a deception of the devil? Perhaps I could not see correctly? In this hamper I had the 150 breads that I used in two days! What is this? What is that? This is a miracle of the Honorable Forerunner.
I ran then to my Elder with joy, and I told him the whole story urging him also to come and see the miracle. He came, he confirmed the miracle, and the both of us gave the proper honor and glory to the Honorable Forerunner. And the next day I noticed the ascetics and the visitors taking not only one, but five or six breads each, proclaiming to all the miracle of the Holy Forerunner.
From Counsels From Dionysiou. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.
After the murder of St John the Baptist, Herod continued to govern for a certain time. Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, later sent Jesus Christ to him, Whom he mocked (Luke 23:7-12).
The judgment of God came upon Herod, Herodias and Salome, even during their earthly life. Salome, crossing the River Sikoris in winter, fell through the ice. The ice gave way in such a way that her body was in the water, but her head was trapped above the ice. It was similar to how she once had danced with her feet upon the ground, but now she flailed helplessly in the icy water. Thus she was trapped until that time when the sharp ice cut through her neck.
Her corpse was not found, but they brought the head to Herod and Herodias, as once they had brought them the head of St John the Baptist. The Arab king Aretas, in revenge for the disrespect shown his daughter, made war against Herod. The defeated Herod suffered the wrath of the Roman emperor Caius Caligua (37-41) and was exiled with Herodias first to Gaul, and then to Spain.
Reflection by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
If you observe how men die, you would see that the death of a man usually resembles his sin. As it is written: "For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matthew 26:52). Every sin is a knife and men usually are slain by that sin which they most readily committed.
An example of this is given to us by Salome, the foul daughter of Herodias who asked for and received from Herod the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Living in Spain in the town of Lerida [Loredo] with the exiled Herod and Herodias, Salome set out one day across the frozen river Sikaris. The ice broke and she fell into the water up to her neck. Icebergs squeezed around her neck and she wiggled, dancing with her feet in the water as she once danced at the court of Herod. However, she was unable either to raise herself up or to drown until a sharp piece of ice severed her head. The water carried her body away and her head was brought to Herodias on a platter as was the head of John the Baptist at one time.
Behold how terrible a death resembles the sin committed.
Today is a strict fast day in remembrance of the violent style of execution of God's greatest prophet, St. John the Forerunner. Though this commemoration is an ancient one, the prescription for a strict fast day is relatively recent as it does not appear in the old typika (rules of practice). Pious Orthodox people have established certain customs therefore to further remember and honor the honorable Forerunner.
1. Avoid using a round plate, since the head of the Glorious Prophet was delivered on a plate to Herodius.
2. Avoid dancing, since a dance seduced Herod to give even half of his kingdom to his seductress Salome, though this gave her the opportunity to ask for the head of the Glorious Prophet.
3. Avoid birthday celebrations, since the tragedy took place during the birthday celebration of Herod (postpone for another day).
4. Avoid cabbage, since it is round like a head and according to legend cabbage leaves were placed beneath St. John's head on the day that he was beheaded. This legend may have arisen specifically because of the shape of the cabbage.
5. Avoid eating round food, such as apples, pears, onions, garlic, or in general any round fruits or vegetables on this day. This is because of their similarity to the human head.
6. Avoid red wine, because red wine resembles the blood (except that of Holy Communion).
7. Avoid knives, so as not to cut or chop anything, for obvious reasons.
Read also: St. Justin Popovich: The Beheading of John the Prophet and Forerunner
Homily by St. Justin Popovich on the Feast of the Beheading of St John, the Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord
Today is a little Great Friday, a second Great Friday. For today the greatest man among those born of women, John, the Holy Forerunner and Baptiser of the Lord, is murdered. On Great Friday, people murdered God, crucified God. On today’s holy great feast, people murdered the greatest of all men. It is not I who chose to use the expression “the greatest.” What are my praises of the great and glorious Forerunner of the Lord, whom the Lord praised more than anyone among men, more than any of the apostles, the Angels, the Prophets, the Righteous Ones, the Sages? For the Lord declared of him: “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist…” (Мatthew 11: 11). In all Creation, there exists no greater praise.
This is why today is a little Great Friday. Consider: senseless people murder the greatest of the righteous. Is he getting in their way? Yes, he gets between the perverse King Herod and the dissolute Herodias. God’s Truth, God’s immutable Truth gets in the way of the lawless, gets in the way of poor sinners, gets in the way of everyone stupefied by the various passions. Consider: do not Christ’s opponents even today still shout “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!?” Even today, do not those who oppose Christ still demand the head of Jesus of Nazareth? They call for His head, not to mention calling for the head of John the Baptist.
What is this? Could it be that this world has become a madhouse? People do not want God, they do not want the greatest Righteous One in the whole world. Whom do you want? Whom would you prefer? Whom would you set in Christ’s stead? With whom would you replace St. John the Baptist? With yourselves?! О moth! О, tiny mortal insects! Yes, when people become maddened by pride, when out of egotistical pride they lose their reason, they have no need of God, they have no need of God’s Truth. They declare themselves to be gods. They present their petty, shallow, false likeness of truth as the great and salvific Truth. They declare their shallow, earthly, perishable images of truth to be the greatest of truths: they posit that we do not need Christ’s Truth, that we do not want God’s Truth. Yes, people blind in intellect and spirit do not see, and do not want to see, that man, true man, cannot manage without God. Why? Because this world is full of Herods, full of Pharisees. Herod demands the head of John the Baptist, Herod demands the heads of all of the righteous of the world, and Pharisees, the lying scribes, lying sophists of this world, demand the death of Christ, the Incarnate God.
Yes, today’s Feast is a second Great Friday. Why? Because there is no greater transgression than that committed on Great Friday and that committed now, when Herod destroys the greatest among those born of women. Why did the Savior exalt the great Saint John the Baptist, as He did no one else? Why? Because, brethren, the Holy Forerunner encompassed within himself, within his person, all of the virtues of Heaven, all of the virtues in all of the Prophets, all of the Apostles, all of the Martyrs, all of the Angels of Heaven, all of the Confessors. Regard: today we glorify the destruction, the beheading of the first Apostle among the Holy Apostles, for the Forerunner of the Lord was the first sent by God to see and to herald to the world the Savior of the world. Long before the Apostle Peter, before the Apostle Nathaniel, before anyone else, he bore witness to and announced God to the world, God Incarnate in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first Apostle to see the Holy Spirit descending from Heaven onto the Lord Jesus, when he baptized Him in the Jordan, announces Him to be the Son of God, the Savior of the world. [John] is also the first Evangelist among the Evangelists. He first announced to the world, and pointed out, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bearer of all Good News for mankind.
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the Good News of Heaven and earth, God’s Gospel for men in this world. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” In those few words, the Holy Forerunner expressed the fullness of the Gospels.
Looking toward the East, he said to the entire human race, from Adam to our days, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The Kingdom of Heaven? Here it is: the Lord Jesus [come] from Heaven. In Him is the Kingdom of Heaven. Looking toward the West, and seeing people drowning in sins and death, he called to them as well, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He looked to the North and to the South [and saw] – the same people, all slaves to sin, slaves to death, slaves to the devil. To all he announced the glorious, holy and salvific Gospel, “People, repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He was such an Evangelist, someone possessed of great power!
When the Lord set out to preach His Gospel, to preach with power, He took those words as the beginning and end of His Gospel. From that moment, Jesus began to preach and to declare, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17). This is why the Holy Forerunner is the first Evangelist among Christ’s Evangelists.
Today, people have come into contact with an Angel in the flesh, an earthly Angel, and a Heavenly person, St. John the Baptist. It was not only the Old Testament prophet who called the Forerunner the Angel of the Lord, but the Lord Himself said this was an Angel sent to go before Him to prepare the way for Him. (Isaiah 40: 3; Matthew 11: 10). Not only a prophet, said the Lord regarding the Baptist, but greater than a prophet – the Angel of the Lord. And people do not want him, and people drive him from this world! Thus, the Holy Forerunner is truly the first Angel in the flesh, the first among those who became the multitude of Angels in the flesh, lamps bringing God’s Light, who lived on earth like Angels of Heaven, and were Angels on earth, and in Heaven remained God’s people, holy people.
Today we glorify the great feast of the first among the Prophets of the New Testament. He announced to men that the Lord Jesus Christ had appeared to the world not only as the Savior, but as the Enlightener and as the Judge of the world. In his hands were both the hatchet and the spade: on the day of the Dread Judgement, the Lord would clean off the earth’s threshing-floor, and would separate the wheat from the chaff, the righteous from the sinners. All of this the great and glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptizer of the Lord had foreseen. Therefore, today we also praise him as the holy New Testament Prophet, killed by the impious, criminal, King Herod.
The Holy Forerunner also received the Lord’s witness to the fact that he was the greatest of those born of woman, because he had become the first of all of the Holy Martyrs of the New Testament. See how he suffered for God’s truth in this world! He suffered joyously! In today’s principal hymn and prayer to him it is said that he went to his death rejoicing, and that he suffered rejoicing. Thus, he became the first example and inspiration to all of the Holy Martyrs of the New Testament, beginning with St. Stephen the Protomartyr and through today. All of the Holy Martyrs go to their death rejoicing in the Lord Jesus Christ, go to their deaths, knowing that death cannot hold them in its bonds, knowing that death is merely a gate, an open gate through which their holy souls enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. How else, brothers and sisters, can we explain the joy of Holy Great Martyr George’s joy while having his body broken: his bones were being broken on the wheel, and he shouted with joy in the Lord, for he could see Him, could see the Angels of God, standing around Him, and the Angels stopping the wheel. See what joy [he experienced] during those awful tortures! And the Holy Great Martyr stands up whole and unharmed before the godless Emperor Diocletian. The first one to reveal that holy joy of martyrdom had been St. John, the Holy Forerunner and Baptizer of the Lord.
Today we also specifically glorify the first Evangelist and Christian Confessor, the first to Confess God in this New Testament world. Consider how fearlessly, openly and directly he confessed God's Truth: O King, it is not right for you to have your brother’s wife, your living brother’s wife. You have taken your brother’s wife away from him. All of the laws of Heaven and earth are against you, and I, I recite these laws of Heaven and earth to you, for it was to do so that I was sent. O King, you cannot have your brother’s wife. Fearless and uncowable, like an immortal lion, like one of the Cherubim in the flesh, he was the first Confessor of Christ’s Faith, and he has been followed by multitudes of faces – the world’s glorious Confessors of Christ’s Faith, Confessors who bear witness and confess before the entire world, before East and West, before North and South, that the Lord Christ is the Sole True God in Heaven and on earth. And this they, countless multitudes of fearless and uncowable all-conquerors, beginning with the Holy Forerunner and continuing through the present day, do despite all of the persecution, despite all of the lies of those who strive to rise up against Christ in this world, despite all the heresies, all of the theomachists, and all of the persecutors of Christ. They bear witness to, and announce to all the world, this Truth: Christ is before all and above all! He is the Sole True God. You, false gods, masks, vile and repulsive masks of false gods, begone! True God is essential to the human soul in this earthly realm. Who are you self-proclaimed ones? Who? In the graves, in thousands of nets you cast yourselves, and you want to supplant the Lord Christ? How lowly, how impoverished you are! Alas, all of Hell laughs at nothing more than it laughs at you. The demons laugh out loud at you, and you do not hear them; yet we Christians – we hear them.
Yes, the Holy Baptist, was the first Christian Confessor, and there streamed after him, following as after a helmsman, thousands and thousands of glorious Confessors of Christ in this world.
My brethren, a great Mystery is taking place through this Feast, a Mystery like unto threads stretching through and making up a piece of cloth. In today’s Gospel reading, you heard the disciples announce to the Savior that the Forerunner has been beheaded. The mouth that announced You to the world has fallen silent, O Lord! What now? Who are we in comparison to Your great Baptist? The Savior is silent. Then something unusual happens. He calls His disciples together, and with them, He goes out to a place in the desert. What is this? Can it be that the Lord is running away, can it be that he is fleeing from Herod? Consider: He, the All-merciful Miracle Worker, looks upon the unfortunate widowed mother, and resurrects her son, someone unknown to anyone but the mother and Himself. Yet here, Lord, Your Forerunner lies dead, destroyed. Why don’t You resurrect him? You resurrected the daughter of Jairus, head of the synagogue. Yet here is the one whom You called the greatest among those born of women, beheaded by the malefactor- king. Lord, guard Your Truth, defend Your first Apostle, Your first Martyr, Your first Evangelist, Your first Angel in the flesh, Your first Prophet, Your first Confessor. Resurrect him! Yet the Savior remains silent, and retreats to a desert place to pray to God. Why, O Lord?
Because the Holy Forerunner must also become the first Apostle to Hades, to death’s kingdom - to which had departed the souls of all people from Adam to the time of the coming of the Savior into this world. In that kingdom of death called Hades, i.e. the impenetrable place, where no one can see anything, in that kingdom was to be found everyone: the righteous and the sinners, all of the people of the Old Testament, up to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sin had brought death into the earthly realm, into the world of men, and the kingdom of death became the sole abode for human souls in this world. The Forerunner had to become the Forerunner in Hades as well, in death’s kingdom, so that he might preach there as well to the souls of all human beings: Lo, the One whom you have been awaiting, Whom all you Righteous Ones: Moses, Abraham, David, all of the Holy Prophets and Righteous Ones, have been thirsting to see, has come to earth. Lo, He has come to earth as a man, as the Savior, and he is working such signs and wonders as you, all of you taken together, have never seen. His glance heals people of all diseases, His word resurrects everyone from death, His voice drives demons out of those possessed. Truly the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ has come to earth. And lo, I go before Him to preach to you as well this best of news: He will come down here to us as well. In a little while He will come down, and you will see Him. You will be able to see what kind of human soul He has, One filled with God and shining with infinite light.
The Holy Forerunner appeared death’s kingdom as the first Evangelist, in order to preach the Good News of Christ to all of the souls in the kingdom of death. He appeared as well to all of them as the first Martyr, to show that people will joyously go to their deaths for True God, the Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, until death is defeated and destroyed. They will not fear death, for they will be more powerful than death. Through his bodily Resurrection, the Lord grants the body victory over death. The glorious Forerunner also entered into the kingdom of death as the Forerunner of all of the true Confessors of Christ in the world, all of the true Prophets in the world, to announce to all of the souls in the kingdom of death: Lo, death is defeated, the demons destroyed, the kingdom of death will be destroyed when, in a little while, the Lord appears here, and you will be led out of this horror and into heavenly joy, into the Kingdom On High.
This was why the Lord remained silent, why he did not resurrect the greatest man among those born of women, for that man was to complete his apostolic, evangelistic, martyric, confessor’s spiritual struggle in Hades, in the kingdom of death.
And so, today for us Christians is like unto Great Friday. Just as, for the Savior, after Great Friday, the Resurrection approaches, so the Forerunner joyously dies and enters into death, for he sees the victory over death and knows that the Lord has prepared for him as well eternal life and resurrection from the dead on the day of the Great Judgment.
When the Lord was crucified, He descended into the nether regions, into Hades, into the kingdom of death, with His human Soul. His Body lay in the tomb, but His Soul, the fullness of his Divinity, descended into death’s kingdom. And how astonished must have been all of the human souls in Hades, on seeing God in a human soul, shining with ineffable light, light impossible for a human being to imagine. Who would not come to believe in Him? Who? When He appears in the kingdom of death so filled with Eternal Truth, Eternal Life, Eternal Justice. He appears as conqueror over death. And as death’s kingdom could not hold God, Who was in Jesus’ soul, could not hold God in its hands, it fell apart because of Christ’s Divinity, because of His Most-holy Soul, in which was the fullness of God. And the Lord led out of death’s kingdom all those who had earlier come to believe the Forerunner, and those who had come to believe in Him, the Lord Jesus Christ, to believe that in truth, He was True God in Heaven and on earth.
The Lord led them out, and led them into the Kingdom of Heaven. This is why the Lord Jesus Christ did not resurrect St. John the Forerunner and Baptizer of Jesus.
Today, in glorifying that great and glorious first Apostle, first Martyr, first Evangelist, Precursor to all true Christians of all time, we bow down before his joyous suffering for Christ’s Truth and His Holy Gospel, before him as Apostle and Martyr. Consider, already for 2,000 years, the One who allowed the lawless king to behead him, has been working countless miracles in the earthly realm, living in it alongside the Lord Jesus Christ. For 2000 years, he has been ceaselessly working miracles for all those who turn to him in prayer.
Brothers and sisters, whenever you are in great sorrow, turn to that first Apostle of Christ, and he will help you with all of your burdens. And should some kind of misfortune happen, turn to that first Evangelist. No matter what bitterness might fill your soul, he will sweeten it with Christ’s grace, which he will mystically send down to your tortured soul from the World on High. And when you find yourself in temptations and horrors of this earthly life, run to him, to the Holy Confessor; tell him what is in your heart, pour out your sorrows and spiritual needs and rest assured that in a mystical, divine manner, he will come down into your soul and will save you, and will deliver you from all temptations and woes. But should need to suffer for the Lord Jesus Christ in this world: should others attack you on all sides, should atheists and those who oppose Christ want to swallow you up, to destroy you for belonging to Christ, want to silence your voice, to stop it from speaking of Christ, then remember that first Martyr, and call out to him: O Holy Martyr, first Martyr of Christ in the Gospels, hurry to my aid! Grant that may I die for the Lord Jesus Christ, leave my body like temporary clothing, and by the path of the Holy Martyrs move to Christ’s Kingdom! He will enteat the Lord that you might also join the host of Luminaries. Thus, today’s little Great Friday becomes for us the great joy of the Resurrection. Friday is small, but Sunday, the Resurrection, is great – resurrection for all Christians of all time. And for us today: for me, for you, for every Christian living today, today’s Great Friday is at the same time the Resurrection, for today we glorify the St. John the Baptist who is eternally alive in the Heavens; [we glorify] his victory over the death appointed to him by Herod, his soaring up into the Heavenly Realm, to be the first after the Mother of God, to stand beside the Lord Jesus Christ. You have seen the icon known as the “Deisis” i.e. “Prayer” Icon. In it, the Lord sits on the Throne of Glory, as King of Heaven. On His right is the Most-holy Mother of God, and on His left, the Holy Forerunner. They pray to Him for the human race.
Оh, may his holy prayers be raised up today and tomorrow, and always, and may they be raised up for us Christians-Serbs, and for all the people on this earth, that the Lord lead all to repentance, that He have mercy upon all, that He save all, that all people, brought [to Him] by the glorious Forerunner, might forever glorify the One True God in Heaven and on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all honor and glory, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Georgian Monk Builds Stairway to Heaven
by Temo Bardzimashvili
August 27, 2010
Come summertime, getting away from it all is the dream that haunts everyone. One Georgian Orthodox monk, though, has come up with a plan for a lifetime of escape atop a 40-meter-high rock column in central Georgia’s Imereti region.
In pagan times, the towering Katskhi Pillar, located about 10 kilometers from the mining town of Chiatura, was thought to represent a local god of fertility. With the arrival of Christianity in Georgia in the 4th century, it came to represent seclusion from the hurly-burly of ordinary life.
A church was first built atop the rock between the 6th and 8th centuries -- no one knows exactly how or why. Stylites, early Christian ascetics who prayed and fasted on top of pillars, used Katskhi for their devotions until some time in the 15th century, when Georgia was struck by domestic upheaval and invasions by Ottoman Turkey. The remains of one unknown practitioner today lay buried beneath the church.
Father Maxim, a 55-year-old native of Chiatura, says that he has dreamed of living atop the Pillar, like the Stylites, since he was young. “When my friends and I used to come up here to drink outdoors, I always envied that monk who used to live there when I looked at the pillar,” he recalled.
In 1993, Father Maxim took monastic vows, and two years later decided to move to Katskhi. After spending one winter in a grotto beneath the rock column, he received money from a “friend from Tbilisi” to build a new church on its top. The Georgian Orthodox Church’s local eparchy, or regional administration, allegedly granted Father Maxim permission to erect the structure on the site.
Amidst an ongoing religious revival in Georgia, Father Maxim’s mission easily found supporters. More and more people now come to Katskhi to donate money or building materials for the church’s construction -- a generosity that makes the overall cost of the project difficult to estimate, he claims. Many local villagers also volunteer to work on the site for free.
The labor involved, though, can require a head for heights, as well as for matters spiritual. Scaffolding runs halfway up the column; an iron ladder reaches to the top. Builders use ropes to lift heavy construction materials from the ground.
Following the example of the first Stylite, Simeon, Father Maxim does not allow women on the site -- a ban also practiced at pagan shrines in Georgia’s mountain regions of Tusheti and Khevsureti.
Work on the project should be largely finished by the summer of 2011.
Before that date, Father Maxim hopes to secure a blessing from Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II that would allow the monk to live on top of Katskhi alongside his newly built church. “They told me they allowed me to come here, but not to live up there,” he recounted, laughing. “They told me I was too young then. Now they’ll probably tell me I’m too old.”
The Patriarch’s office could not be reached for comment.
But if the blessing ever comes, Father Maxim knows what he will do -- climb up Katskhi, pull the ladder up after him and live apart from the world’s tumult, once and for all.
See photos here.
UNESCO and Georgia: Rising Defiantly From the Ruins
Georgia’s mercurial leader cocks a snook at art-historical convention
Aug 26th 2010
IN MANY European countries, dwindling Christian flocks can barely cope with the patrimony they have inherited, from steeples to statues. Georgia, which adopted Christianity 17 centuries ago, faces almost the opposite problem: such is the strength of a religious revival that began after the fall of communism that a hectic programme of building and restoring churches—from tiny chapels to Tbilisi’s vast new Holy Trinity cathedral—can hardly keep up with demand.
And perhaps inevitably, the rush to refit ancient places of worship can easily run up against other priorities, including the latest international thinking about archaeology and conservation which holds that intervention should be kept to a minimum.
In some Georgian holy sites the choice is made easier by the devastation that has occurred over the centuries, leaving little to conserve. The sixth-century monastic complex of David Gareja was sacked by the Mongols in 1265, the Persians in 1615, and then turned into a firing range by the Soviet army; when modern monks reoccupied the place, they found little but damp, pockmarked caves. Elsewhere—in several medieval churches, for example—fair compromises have been made between the needs of modern congregations and the desire of art historians to coax faded frescoes gently back to life. On a shoestring budget, Georgia’s cultural monuments agency says it has carried out 400 conservation projects, mostly on churches, since 2004.
But there is one ultra-sensitive spot where Georgia’s masters—political and religious—are defying art-historical fashion, and are hence on a collision course with UNESCO. That is the Bagrati cathedral, a ruined structure dating from the 11th century. There a new dynasty, uniting the country’s west and east, set out to create a great empire. The edifice belongs to one of three world heritage sites in Georgia, and in theory, is subject to UNESCO’s rules.
But President Mikheil Saakashvili, and Patriarch Ilia II, the 77-year-old head of the Georgian church, have other ideas. The president has promised the patriarch that the cathedral will be rebuilt: walls, dome and all. Reconstruction is visibly in progress. Such a gesture plays well in a country where a towering expression of past and present glory has more appeal than fragile ruins; but it may be the boldest defiance of the world heritage regime that UNESCO has ever faced. True, Dresden was delisted as a site in 2009, but that was a rebuke to the city, not Germany’s government; a game park in Oman had the same fate in 2007 after the government wanted to drill for oil and tried to obtain a smaller boundary.
But Mr Saakashvili’s rebuilding of Bagrati is a new, head-on challenge to UNESCO’s ideas. A world heritage site is supposed to be of concern to all humanity; he is implying that its value to the Georgian nation comes first. With bristling ire, UNESCO is seeking a meeting with the Georgians to discuss the halting and reversal of the reconstruction. But in a land where religious and patriotic fervour abounds, Mr Saakashvili will not lose many votes by defying the outside world’s cultural overlords.
2. Abba Moses said to Abba Poemen, and the first word which was spoken by the old man was: “It is better for a man to put himself to death rather than his neighbour, and he should not condemn him in anything.”
3. “It is good for a man to die unto every work which is evil, and he should not vex a man before his departure from the body.”
4. “If a man doth not put himself in the attitude of a sinner, his prayer will not be heard before God.” A brother said unto him, “What is a sinful soul?” And the old man said, “Every one who beareth his own sins, and considereth not [those] of his companion.”
5. Abba Moses used to say, “Secret withdrawal [from work] maketh dark the mind, but for a man to endure and to persevere in his works maketh light the mind in our Lord, and it strengtheneth and fortifieth the soul.”
6. And he used to say also, “Bear disgrace and affliction in the Name of Jesus with humility and a troubled heart; and shew before Him thy feebleness, and He will become unto thee might.”
7. St. Moses knew how fasting helped in his early spiritual combats. He used to say, “These four lead to fornication: eating and drinking, oversleeping, negligence and decoration of clothes.”
8. “If you want to repent to God, beware of living in luxury, for this stimulates all passions and dispels the fear of God from the heart.”
9. “Control of the body diminishes the effects of other desires. Desire of food awakens the passions and emotions; they are controlled by fasting.”
10. A brother went to Abba Moses and asked him for a word of advice. The old man said to him, “Go, and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”
11. Of his other sayings, “Discourse with men of the world and mixing with them darken the soul and make her forget contemplation.”
12. The Elder (St. Moses) also said: “If the deeds do not match the prayer, the prayer is of no use!” The brother asked him: “How can the deeds be suitable for the prayers?” The Elder said:”One who prays for the forgiveness of his sins should thereon be alert because when one surrenders his will, God accepts him indeed!”
13. "So, our way my dear friend is to put forth the maximum effort, in the short time we have on earth, to correct and purify our deeds from all evil hoping to gain salvation by the grace of God from the hands of the devils who are anxious to meet us, especially if any of their works are in us, because they are evil and show no mercy. So, blessed is the soul that is free from them, it will be pleased and her pleasure is great."
14. "For this reason, my dear friend, we have to strive with tears so that the Lord may in his kindness have mercy on us. Because those who sow with tears reap with gladness.
Let us possess the desire to be with God, because those who desire God protect themselves from the desire to commit adultery. And those who desire meekness protect themselves from the love of silver (money).
Let us desire peace to protect ourselves from hatred.
Let us posses patience and long suffering because it will protect us from pettiness of the soul.
Let us posses pure love for everyone to protect us from envy and jealousy.
Let us be humble in every act and every deed.
Let us tolerate being cursed and teased to rid ourselves of pride.
Let us be kind to all our neighbors to avoid condemnation.
Let us reject the glories of the world and its honors to avoid false pride.
Let us use the tongue to glorify God and to protect ourselves from lying.
Let us love the purity of the heart to be saved from corruption, because all of these things surround the soul and follow it when it leaves the flesh.
So, if anyone is wise and works with wisdom, he should not give his deposit (surrender the soul) without having the good deeds that will help him go through the difficulty. So, let us use great care as much as we can and the Lord will help our weaknesses. Because the door of forgiveness is always open to those who repent as long as we are in the flesh."
Apolytikion in the First Tone
Thou didst prove to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh, and a wonderworker, O Moses, our God-bearing Father. By fasting, vigil, and prayer thou didst obtain heavenly gifts, and thou healest the sick and the souls of them that have recourse to thee with faith. Glory to Him that hath given thee strength. Glory to Him that hath crowned thee. Glory to Him that worketh healings for all through thee.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
O all-blest and righteous Father Moses, thou didst drive away the passions' darkness, being richly illumined with light divine; and with thy vigilant prayers, thou didst wither up the wanton pride of the flesh, and didst mount on high to the citadel above, where do thou continually entreat Christ God to grant great mercy unto us.
According to recent polls, large numbers of Americans are convinced of two things that are verifiably not true: that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, and that Muslims are building a mosque at ground zero. A great many are also convinced that Obama was not even born in America.
The tendency of most pundits and public officials is to dismiss these stories as the easily ignored theories of the lunatic fringe. But the "ground zero mosque" and "Obama-is-a-Muslim" stories have traction in the media for two reasons.
First, they're highly effective because they tap into deep, historic American anxieties about "un-American" agents within the republic--- perhaps even within the White House.
Second, these stories have some powerful sponsors in the media and in politics, sponsors who insinuate their paranoid theories into the mainstream debate to promote their own political goals.
Americans have a special relationship to conspiracy theories involving insidious foreigners. Immigrants to America have brought a wider mix of religions and ethnicities and political histories than to any other New World country, and Americans have worried that their country is especially open---and vulnerable -- to alien subversion.
The historian Richard Hofstadter argued that there was a "paranoid style" in U.S. politics, prompted in part by Americans' need to define themselves by casting out the un-Americans -- or anyone who was not white, native-born and Protestant.
Over the past two hundred years, frightened Americans have targeted Roman Catholics, Masons, Mormons, and Jews because these native groups were allegedly guided by the instructions of an alien power. Now, it's the Muslims' turn.
Throughout the nation's history, many Americans have feared that their federal government would fall victim to one of these conspiracies--- or become a tool of conspirators. Despite the U.S. Constitution's long, stable life, Americans have always been "curiously obsessed with the contingency of their experiment with freedom," as David Brion Davis has said.
Ever since the nation's founding, we have worried that the great instrument of the people's will would be turned against us.
The conspiracy theorists' greatest fear is that the nation's enemies will control the president. The far-right John Birch Society of the late 1950s and early 1960s believed that President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who appeared to be a moderate, golf-loving, business-friendly Republican, and had won World War II in Europe, was actually a conscious agent of the international communist conspiracy.
Today's birthers, like their Bircher predecessors, believe that their president is a secret agent of the nation's enemies, in this case a Kenyan-born Manchurian Candidate who has been groomed since 1962 to take over and destroy the republic. The birthers see Obama as "un-American" for several reasons: He comes from the multicultural, multiracial and geographically distant state of Hawaii; his middle name is Hussein; and he's lived in a Muslim country.
But above all, his Americanness is almost certainly suspect because he's not white. It's hard to imagine the same theories being used against Sen. John McCain--- even though he was born overseas and could have his U.S. citizenship legally challenged.
These fears are worsening now partly because the economy has fallen on hard times, and also because there is a substantial part of the American electorate that will never accept a black president as legitimate.
Though long-established traditions of nativism provide fuel for these fears, they would not have ignited if someone had not supplied a spark. The current controversies are smoldering mainly because there are political actors who see power and profit in fanning the flames of fear.
In the 1920s, the leaders of the second Ku Klux Klan found it lucrative to sell the fear of Catholics, Jews, Asians, African Americans, and immigrants to white Americans. Four million dues-paying members belonged at the height of the Klan, and the hatemongering organization controlled the politics of many cities and states, especially in the Midwest.
Public officials and pundits have encouraged conspiracy theories many times before in U.S. history.
The original Pearl Harbor conspiracists--- those who believe that President Franklin D. Roosevelt deliberately provoked the Japanese attack in Hawaii and did nothing to warn the military commanders there--- promoted their theory in part because they hated his New Deal and his internationalist foreign policies.
The extremist anti-Communists of the 1950s wanted to do more than purge the government of alleged Soviet spies: They aimed to destroy the entire liberal order.
Sometimes these official conspiracy theorists really believed in the theories they promoted; FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, for example, did not lie when he insisted that communism was a monstrous and evil conspiracy bent on destroying America. But his promotion of this belief also was convenient, in that it helped him to get more funding for the FBI.
Other anti-Communist promoters of conspiracy theories, notably Sen. Joseph McCarthy, were simply opportunists who attacked whatever national boogeymen would get them the most attention.
Now Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich are playing the McCarthyite role, ginning up fear of Muslims while allowing others to hint that the president is secretly their captive.
Ideas, as Rush Limbaugh likes to note, have consequences. Anti-Communist conspiracy theories led to purges of the most radical thinkers in education, culture, labor unions and politics. Among other things, extremist anti-Communism killed the possibility of universal health care in the 1940s and 1950s.
Today, the public figures who stir up hatred of Islam and imply that the president is a Muslim are attempting to delegitimize him as a leader. After all, 32 percent of Americans don't believe that Muslims should be allowed to run for president.
Americans believe many outlandish theories: about ESP, or alien abductions or Saddam Hussein's alleged responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks. But the theories that matter are the ones promoted by media and political elites to further their own agendas.
Kathryn Olmsted, a history professor at University of California-Davis, is the author “Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11.”
See also: Islamophobia: The New Antisemitism
by Casey Luskin
August 27, 2010
Evolution News and Views
In 2006, the New York Times published an exceedingly long book review titled "An Evolutionary Theory of Right and Wrong," covering Harvard evolutionary psychologist Marc D. Hauser's theories of the evolution of human morality. "Religions are not the source of moral codes," stated the review when describing Hauser's ideas, further noting that this claim, "if true, would have far-reaching consequences." The review observed that "[m]atters of right and wrong have long been the province of moral philosophers and ethicists," but after Hauser's work, "[m]oral philosophers may not welcome a biologist's bid to annex their turf." So who has authority over morality: evolutionary psychologists, or theologians?
In his book, Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, Hauser explains that evolutionary psychologists have domain in this field. He argues that morality needs to be divorced from religion:
"As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow noted, echoing a majority voice concerning the necessity of religion as a guiding light for morality, "Morality without religion is only a kind of dead reckoning--an endeavor to find our place on a cloudy sea by measuring the distance we have run, but without any observation of the heavenly bodies." I will argue that this marriage between morality and religion is not only forced but unnecessary, crying out for a divorce."3
Hauser views evolutionary accounts of morality as directly opposing traditional religious accounts of the origin of morality: "Either a divine power created our universal moral sense or evolution did."2 He further contends that "universal incidence of [certain moral judgments] is derived from some source other than the divine. Biology would be the logical candidate."3
When seeking to explain the origin of morality, Hauser holds that it is "dangerous" and even "irrational" to believe it comes from religion. He therefore "prefer[s] the Darwinian pulpit":
"What is dangerous is not the idea that we are endowed with a moral instinct--a biologically evolved faculty for delivering universal verdicts of right and wrong that is immune to religion and other cultural phenomena. What is dangerous is holding to an irrational position that starts by equating morality with religion and then moves to an inference that a divine power fuels religious doctrine. This step forces religious people to concede that religious doctrine provides an incoherent account of people's moral judgments. It's a conclusion that ought to lead people to search for inspiration outside the church. I personally prefer the Darwinian pulpit."4
I have always found explanations of the evolution of morality issued from atop the Darwinian pulpit to be as boring as they are unconvincing. Evolutionary psychology is a deceptively simple game: All you have to do is identify some survival-advantage conferred upon an individual exhibiting the observed behavior. If you can do that, your ideas are taken seriously, no matter many inherent contradictions they contain. National Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell eloquently explains in The Scientist why evolutionary psychology is not a robust theory:
"Darwinian explanations for such things are often too supple: Natural selection makes humans self-centered and aggressive -- except when it makes them altruistic and peaceable. Or natural selection produces virile men who eagerly spread their seed -- except when it prefers men who are faithful protectors and providers. When an explanation is so supple that it can explain any behavior, it is difficult to test it experimentally, much less use it as a catalyst for scientific discovery."5
Hauser is currently writing a book titled Evilicious: explaining our evolved taste for being bad. I don't think it will be hard to guess what Hauser's book will say: There are many opportunities for Darwinian survival advantages to be conferred upon the occasional cheater. Having read a few books on Darwinian psychology, I've found it dreadfully predictable; I think I know what Hauser's forthcoming book will say without having read it.
But if bad behavior is so useful to survival, why do we humans have moral codes that punish it? Marc Hauser is presently finding out the answer to that question. According to news reports, Hauser himself has been cheating at the game of evolutionary psychology.
An article in USA Today explains that Hauser has recently been found guilty of "eight instances of scientific misconduct":
"In a letter sent to Harvard faculty today, dean Michael Smith confirms a university investigation found 'eight instances of scientific misconduct' by Hauser. A research paper has been retracted as a result of the finding, another corrected, and a Science paper has a correction under discussion; 'five other cases' were also investigated, according to the letter."
An article in Chronicle of Higher Education recounts what happened:
"According to the document that was provided to The Chronicle, the experiment in question was coded by Mr. Hauser and a research assistant in his laboratory. A second research assistant was asked by Mr. Hauser to analyze the results. When the second research assistant analyzed the first research assistant's codes, he found that the monkeys didn't seem to notice the change in pattern. In fact, they looked at the speaker more often when the pattern was the same. In other words, the experiment was a bust.
But Mr. Hauser's coding showed something else entirely: He found that the monkeys did notice the change in pattern--and, according to his numbers, the results were statistically significant. If his coding was right, the experiment was a big success."
Apparently this was not an isolated incident:
"As word of the problem with the experiment spread, several other lab members revealed they had had similar run-ins with Mr. Hauser, the former research assistant says. This wasn't the first time something like this had happened. There was, several researchers in the lab believed, a pattern in which Mr. Hauser reported false data and then insisted that it be used."
According to the letter from Hauser's dean, "I confirm that Professor Marc Hauser was found solely responsible, after a thorough investigation by a faculty investigating committee, for eight instances of scientific misconduct."
Leading primatologist Frans de Waal had the following to say about the implications of this tragedy:
"[I]t leaves open whether we in the field of animal behavior should just worry about those three articles or about many more, and then there are also publications related to language and morality that include data that are now in question. From my reading of the dean's letter, it seems that all data produced by this lab over the years are potentially in question."
Intellectual fraud is a serious barrier to all who seek the truth, and no one--myself very much included included--rejoices when a scientist of any persuasion is found guilty of academic misconduct. Nonetheless, it seems to me that evolutionary psychology has now failed doubly: The behavior modeled by evolutionary psychology's most brash, anti-religious proponents is as uncompelling as their Darwinian explanations for that behavior.
Hauser gave a forced apology stating: "I am deeply sorry for the problems this case has caused to my students, my colleagues, and my university."
This incident raises simple questions that strike at the heart of evolutionary psychology: If bad behavior is so advantageous to survival, why do we humans endorse a universal moral code that seeks to ferret it out? Is there something greater at work here which transcends the mere demands of survival and reproduction?
[1.] Marc D. Hauser, Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong xx (HarperCollins, 2006).
[2.] Marc D. Hauser, "Our Universal Moral Grammar's Immunity to Religion," in What Is Your Dangerous Idea? 60 (John Brockman, ed., Harper Perennial 2007).
[3.] Id. at 60-61.
[4.] Id. at 61.
[5.] Philip Skell, "Why Do We Invoke Darwin? Evolutionary theory contributes little to experimental biology," The Scientist (August 29, 2005).
According to Elsa Spyridopoulos of the Greek newspaper "Μακεδονία" (Macedonia), the entire grave of St. Theodora of Thessaloniki has been discovered in Thessaloniki on Vasileos Hirakleiou Road. According to Melina Paisidou, head of the 9th Ephoriate of Byzantine Antiquities (EBA), the entire grave “was found in the proto-Byzantine layers and we have the first suspicions that it is the grave of St. Theodora”.
Archaeological excavations have been taking place here since 2009. According to Paisidiou: "We have the clues because precisely next to it, to the north, in the monastery, a large triple-naved basilica to Saint Theodora was uncovered and maintained in the basement. Until now the grave has not been found."
Saved in this exceptional discovery are the roof, a very beautiful arch, the four walls, the apenture of the descent, the marble flooring decor is perfect, "and towards the front there was an area which received some sort of liquid. We know that St. Theodora was a myrrh-gusher. We will examine this of course, since we are still making inquiries", said the archaeologist.
Excavations will continue until the end of October.
What Does the Synaxarion Say?
The Synaxarion offers us a number of women that bear the name of Theodora. Among them are:
1. St. Theodora, wife of Emperor Justinian (Nov. 15)
2. St. Theodora the Empress (Feb. 11)
3. St. Theodora the Martyr (Mar. 20)
4. St. Theodora the Martyr (Apr. 16)
5. St. Theodora the Martyr (Apr. 5)
6. St. Theodora the Righteous of Ceasarea (Dec. 30)
7. St. Theodora the Righteous of Alexandria (Sept. 11)
8. St. Theodora of Vasta (Sept. 11)
9. St. Theodora the Righteous of Thessaloniki (Apr. 5)
10. St. Theodora the Rightous of Thessaloniki (Aug. 29)
11. St. Theodora the Virgin-Martyr (Apr. 2)
So we see that there are two St. Theodora's from Thessaloniki, and when we read their biographies we discover that their graves play an important role.
The first St. Theodora the Righteous of Thessaloniki celebrated on April 5 was a nun who adorned her soul with the virtues. Not much else is known of her life, however years after her burial the abbess of the monastery to whom St. Theodora was obedient to passed away. When the nuns went to bury her, they came upon the body of St. Theodora. Suddenly, as if she was alive, her body moved to make room for the abbess. When those present witnessed this remarkable event they cried, "Lord, have mercy!" Many miracles were worked through St Theodora's holy relics. Those who came to venerate her were healed of all manner of diseases, or freed from the power of demons.
The second St. Theodora the Righteous of Thessaloniki celebrated on August 29 was a wealthy and devout woman who lived on the island of Aegina, but, when the Arabs over-ran the island, she moved to Thessalonika. There, she gave her only daughter to a monastery, where she received the monastic name Theopista. Her husband Theodorinus died very soon, and then Theodora became a nun. She was a great ascetic. She often heard angelic singing, and would say to her sisters: ‘Don’t you hear how wonderfully the angels are singing in heavenly light?’ She entered into rest in 892, and a healing myrrh flowed from her body, which gave healing to many.
It seems that the grave discovered was that of the latter Theodora. Regarding the myrrh-gushing relics and also holy oil that flowed in her tomb, read here.
Let’s Just Reopen Hagia Sophia as Church/Mosque
August 27, 2010
Hurriyet Daily News
The museumization of places of worship used to happen in communist dictatorships such as the Soviet Union. Turkey should not follow that bad example — at least anymore.
If I were on a jury to choose the best opinion leader in contemporary Turkey, I would probably vote for Dr. Ali Bardakoğlu, the top official cleric in the country. For the erudite theologian does not only represent an Islam with a smiling face. He also defends religious freedom for all.
In fact, the institution he heads, the Directorate of Religious Affairs, is an odd one: Since Turkey claims to be a “secular state,” it actually should not have such an official ministry for religion. But most official concepts in Turkey have self-styled meanings that are different from their universal definitions, and “secularism” is no exception. Here, the term means not the separation of state and religion, but the dominance of the former over the latter.
A golden era
But the ideal nature of Turkish secularism is not what I want to discuss today. The reality is that we have had the Directorate of Religious Affairs since 1924, the year the caliphate was abolished. Another reality is that the institution has been quite a boring and uninspiring one throughout the 20th century. Only in 2003, when the newly elected Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government appointed Dr. Bardakoğlu as its president, did the institution enter into a golden era.
The change was not just in the growing influence and the visibility of the Directorate of Religious Affairs. It was also in the liberal positions that Dr. Bardakoğlu took on a number of issues. In 2004, he spoke about the need for “updating our religious understanding,” according to changing times. The next year, for the first time in Islamic history, he appointed two women as counselors for mosques in Istanbul and Kayseri.
In 2006 Bardakoğlu made the news with another statement: “There cannot be a hadith which says ‘the best women are those who are like sheep.’” This was an introduction to a project going on in the Directorate of Religious Affairs for a while to create a new collection of hadiths (prophetic sayings) that would exclude some of misogynistic statements in the classical literature, or to put them into their right contexts. (The project is still going on, and will reportedly be done toward the end of this year.)
In April 2007, something terrible happened in Turkey: Three Christian missionaries were brutally murdered by a group of Turkish ultra-nationalists in the eastern city of Malatya. In a press conference, Bardakoğlu not only denounced the murderers but also said: “It is their [the missionaries’] natural right to preach their faith. We must learn to respect even the personal choice of an atheist, let alone other religions.”
This week, Bardakoğlu took another good step, by congratulating the Christian mass in the Sümela Monastry, which had been closed for 88 years. He said this was not enough, and that other churches that have been turned into “museums,” such as the St. Paul Church in Tarsus, should be reopened to Christian services as well.
I could not agree more. This whole “museumization” of places of worship is actually quite disturbing. Such things used to happen in communist dictatorships such as the Soviet Union, which is, fortunately, in the dustbin of history now. Turkey should not follow that bad example — at least anymore.
When we speak about places of worship that were turned into museums, it is impossible to overlook the greatest of all, the Hagia Sophia. And this week Bardakoğlu spoke about re-opening this 16-century-old masterpiece to worship as well. But it was not clear to me what form of worship he meant.
This is a place, after all, which is sacred for both Christians and Muslims. It served Christians from 360, when it was built by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine II, to 1453, when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans. The latter converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque, and it served Muslims from then to 1935, when Atatürk turned the building into a museum.
Ecumenical Hagia Sophia
Therefore, whatever your opinion on the conversion of Hagia Sophia from a cathedral to a mosque might be, you have to see that the building has a history with both religions. It is also true that both Christians and Muslims would love to have it back. So, one is inevitably forced to ask, which religion should have it?
My answer is that both should have it. The magnificent temple, in other words, should be shared by Christians and Muslims, both with regards to space and time.
For Islam, this is not something unheard of. The Grand Umayyad Mosque of Damascus was shared by Muslims and Christians for a period in the early seventh century. If we do that again in Turkey in the 21st century, we will be accomplishing something great — not just for both faiths, but also the fate of the world.
I made this suggestion a few years ago in a Turkish piece, and received both support and anger from readers. (Support came from theologically-driven Muslims and anger from the nationalism-driven ones.) It showed me that such a Christo-Muslim Hagia Sophia would be difficult, but not impossible to achieve.
If Dr. Bardakoğlu promotes such an ecumenical reopening of the great shrine, it might become a bit more plausible. I am sure he would be sympathetic to the idea. I even feel that he has the guts for it.
According to Romfea.gr, on Saturday, 28 August 2010 Metropolitan Augoustinos Kantiotis of Florina has fallen asleep in the Lord. He was 104 years old, and according to the Old Calendar followed on Mount Athos, it is the Dormition of the Theotokos.
For the past 26 days the Metropolitan had been in the hospital after suffering a stroke. It is worth noting that on Friday he received the Holy Mysteries.
Metropolitan Augoustinos Kantiotis was born in Paros on 20 April 1907. He graduated from the Theological School of Athens in 1929. In 1935 he was ordained a deacon and in 1942 became a presbyter.
He had served as Chancellor of the Metropolis of Aitolia, a military priest, and a preacher in Athens. He issued dozens of periodicals, founded boarding schools, was the founder of "O Stavros" theological brotherhood, and was most noted as a fiery preacher throughout Greece, as well as publishing 82 books.
On 25 June 1967 he was enthroned as Metropolitan of Florina. On 14 January 2000 he retired.
On 28 August 2010 he reposed in the Lord.
May his memory be eternal and may we have his blessing!
I had recently posted the following on the Metropolitan: Nameday of Metropolitan Augoustinos Kantiotis
See also: Πανελλήνια συγκίνηση για την κοίμηση του Μητροπολίτη Αυγουστίνου
Friday, August 27, 2010
An Overview of the Life and Veneration of Saint Phanourios
by Fr. George Poulos
The flexibility of the Orthodox Church in its selection of saints is made evident in the canonization of a saint about whom next to nothing is known.
What little there is remains shrouded in mystery, all of which makes this particular saint the most unique, certainly, in the annals of Christendom. His name is known, at least, but even if it were not, the same reverence could be accorded him because, like the unknown soldier at whose grave a wreath is placed annually, he lies in honored glory “known but to God.”
This saint’s name, however, is known. It happens to be Phanourios, which, though it may not be a household word, is much better remembered by the faithful of Orthodoxy and the Eastern sector of Christianity than a good many more obscure saints whose biographies have been written in detail and who fill mere pages in Church literature than the mysterious Phanourios.
Phanourios has been revered as a saint (his feast day has been celebrated for more than 500 years) considerably longer than the lesser saints, and his name invoked in prayer quite possibly as often as some of the major saints. This is all the more remarkable when it is considered that it is not known when or where he was born, what he did in his lifetime, in what manner he served the Lord, or what he did for his fellowman. But there is mute testimony that he died the death of a martyr after having been horribly tortured, and in addition to mystery there is a aura of divine manifestation in the man whom nobody knows.
A fortuitous discovery by nomadic pagans, not Christians, brought to light this unheralded saint when a roving band of Arabs, who had pillaged the island of Rhodes, uncovered amid the ruins of an ancient church a group of icons, among other artifacts. All of the icons were in a state of decay or near ruin with the exception of one, which appeared as new and as fresh as though it had been painted the day before. This icon was discarded by the Arabs, who failed to attach any importance to it. At a safe distance a group of monks hiding in the rubble observed this phenomenon and waited patiently until the Arabs had left the scene, whereupon they rushed to reclaim this fantastic image in its remarkable state of preservation.
They beheld a clearly outlined face of a saint with the name inscribed in what appeared to be fresh lettering that spelled out “Phanourios” and on closer examination fell on their knees at what they saw. Drawn about the saint were twelve distinct frames in each of which Phanourios was shown enduring a cruel form of torture in a realism that suggested the artist must have been witness to the atrocity. They rushed back to see if any of the other icons were in as perfect a state, but although they were all of the same basic design, size, and shape, all of them were quite ancient and quite indistinct. After careful scrutiny it was finally concluded that this icon of Phanourios had, indeed, been one of a group that had been exhumed after untold centuries and that its freshness was a divine manifestation of the complete saintliness of this man about whom they were now determined to learn more.
But years of research, scanning the archives of centuries and questioning the leading authorities of the day, yielded nothing, and no more was known about Phanourios than the day on which his icon was snatched from the ruins of that ancient Greek church. The torture scenes of the icon provided no clues, and examination of which showed Phanourios being stoned, on the rack, being slashed, behind bars, standing before a judge, tied to a frame, being burned with candles, tied to a post, thrown to wild animals, crushed by a boulder, holding hot coals, and a demon hovering against a background of flames. All of these horrors conveyed that Phanourios was an apparently indestructible instrument of God and that in itself was sufficient evidenced of his sainthood.
Archbishop Milos of Rhodes concluded that the unblemished icon itself was testimony enough to prove that Phanourios was a man of divine grace, and he petitioned the Patriarch to convene a synod which would officially proclaim Phanourios a saint, after which there was erected in the saint’s memory a cathedral which enshrined the holy icon.
Phanourios, lost for centuries in the ruins of a church, became the patron saint of things lost. To this day his name is invoked when prayers are asked for the recovery of lost items. He is commemorated on August 27th, the day his icon was found.
The Folk Cult of St Phanourios in Greece and Cyprus, and Its Relationship With the International Tale Type 804
This paper discusses, from a historical perspective, the basic elements of the folk cult of St Phanourios in Greece and Cyprus - namely, the custom of preparing phanouropita (literally, "St Phanourios pie"), which is connected with the belief that one can find something lost or obtain good luck in general - and the oral narratives associated with St Phanourios and his mother, which seem to constitute the Greek adaptation of the international folktale type 804. The investigation is based on recently collected material as well as the manuscript collections of the public folklore archives.
Read the entire study here.
Who Really Is St. Phanourios?
Is St. Phanourios really St. George, and is his identification a misreading of the inscription of the icon, such as was that of St. Salsa of Typasa and St. Philomena? It could be that the word "phanourios" is just a surname of St. George that expresses a certain quality or story, much like as was done to the ancient Greek gods or the Virgin Mary. In my opinion, this just adds to the fascinating mystery that we should all celebrate, though no definite opinion can really be sure either way. More can be read in the study above, and also here.
In his 1948 book Αγιος Φανούριος, Ezekiel Velanidiotis writes of a conflict between the Holy Synod of Greece and certain pious faithful in Pagkrati, Athens in 1947. Metropolitan Methodios of Syros decided to dedicate a chapel to St. Phanourios. In response to this, the Holy Synod decided to issue an encyclical that St. Phanourios does not exist and that houses of worship should not be dedicated to him. As a result of this encyclical, Metropolitan Meletios of Messinia changed his mind about dedicating a chapel at the Holy Monastery of Velanidias (of the Oak) to St. Phanourios and instead dedicated it to St. George. However, in Pagkrati the people insisted in honoring the memory of St. Phanourios and hence his memory is still honored there today.
How about the relics of St. Phanourios in Cyprus?
It seems like this folk custom, not authorized by the Church, is in reality the bones of the Cyprus Dwarf Hippopotamus. Read more here.
The Church of St. Phanourios in Rhodes
The Life and Miracles of Saint Phanourios From The Great Synaxaristes
"Phanourios bestoweth light upon all the faithful,
even though he long lay in the darkness of the earth."
From whence Phanourios, the splendid athlete of the Lord and invincible marty, came, and of what parentage he was, and even in what age he lived and under the reign of which emperors he waged his struggle and fought his fight, we have been unable to ascertain, for the account of his life has been lost owing to the vicissitudes of time, as many other things also have been lost or become obscure or unclear. This only do we know, that when the Hagarenes (Muslims) ruled the renowned island of Rhodes, having conquered it because of our sins, he that became ruler of the island wished to rebuild the ramparts of the city that past sieges had ravaged. On the outskirts of the fortress were several ruined dwellings that had been abandoned by reason of their association with the old fortress, which was located a furlong to the south. From these ruins the Hagarenes were wont to gather stones for their construction.
It so happened that, while excavating and reinforcing that place, they discovered a most beautiful church, which was partly buried in ruins. Excavating as far as the floor of the temple, they found many holy icons, all decayed and crumbling, yet the icon of the holy Phanourios was whole and entire; indeed, it seemed as though it had been painted but that very day. And when this all-venerable temple was uncovered, together with its sacred icons, the hierarch of that place, Nilus by name, a man of great sanctity and learning, came and read the inscription of the icon, which said, "The Holy Phanourios."
The saint was depicted upon the icon as follows: He was shown as a young man, arrayed as a soldier, holding a cross in his right hand, and at the upper part of the cross there was a lighted taper. Round about the perimeter of the icon were twelve scenes from the holy one's martyrdom, which showed the saint being examined before the magistrate; then in the midst of soldiers, who were beating him about the mouth and head with stones; then stretched out upon the ground while the soldiers flogged him; then, stripped naked while they rent his flesh with iron hooks; then incarcerated in a dungeon; and again standing before the tyrant's tribunal; then being burned with candles; then bound to a rack; then cast amidst wild beasts; then crushed with a great rock; then standing before idols holding burning coals in his hands, whilst a demon nearby wept and lamented; and finally he is shown standing erect in the midst of a fiery furnace, his hands, as it were, uplifted towards Heaven.
From these twelve scenes depicted upon the icon, the holy hierarch perceived that the saint was a martyr. Then straightway that good and pious man sent deputations to the rulers of that place, asking that they consign to him that temple for restoration, but this they declined to do. Therefore, the hierarch traveled to Constantinople alone and there obtained a decree empowering him to rebuild the church; thus it was restored to that state in which it can be seen even to this day, outside the city. And is has become the source of many miracles, of which I shall relate one for the profit of many, that all who love and venerate the saint may rejoice.
At that time the isle of Crete had no Orthodox hierarch, but a Latin bishop, for it was ruled then by the Venetians, who had shrewdly refused to permit an Orthodox hierarch to be consecrated whenever one died. This they did with evil intent, thinking that with time they could thus convert the Orthodox to the papist dogmas. If Orthodox men wished to obtain ordination, they had to go to Cythera. It came to pass that there went forth from Crete three deacons, traveling to Cythera to be ordained priests by the hierarch there; and when this had been accomplished, and they were returning to their own country, the Hagarenes captured them at sea and brought them to Rhodes, where they were sold as slaves to other Hagarenes. The newly-consecrated priests lamented their misfortune day and night.
But in Rhodes, they heard tell of the great wonders wrought by the Great Martyr Phanourios, and straightway they made fervent supplication to the saint, beseeching him with tears to deliver them from their bitter bondage. And this they did each separately, without knowing ought of what the others were doing, for they had each been sold to a different master. Now, in accordance with the providence of God, however, they were all three permitted by their masters to go and worship at the temple of the saint, and, guided by God, they came all together and fell down before the sacred icon of the saint, watering the ground with the streams of their tears, entreating him to deliver them out of the hands of the Hagarenes. Then they departed, somewhat consoled, each to his own master, hoping that they would obtain mercy, which in fact did come to pass; for the holy one had compassion upon their tears and hearkened unto their supplication. That night he appeared to the Hagarenes who were the masters of the captive priests, and commanded them to permit the servants of God to go and worship in his temple lest he bring dreadful destruction upon them. But the Hagarenes, thinking the matter sorcery, loaded them with chains and made their torments more onerous.
Then the Great Martyr Phanourios went to them that night and brought them forth from their bonds, and encouraged them, saying that the following day he would, by all means, free them. He then appeared to the Hagarenes and, reproaching them with severity, said: "If by tomorrow ye have not set your servants at liberty, ye shall behold the power of God!" Thus saying, the holy one vanished. And, O, the wonder! As many as inhabited those houses all arose blind and paralyzed, tormented with the most dreadful pangs, the least with the greatest. But, though bedridden, with the help of their kinfolk they considered what to do, and finally decided to send for the captives. And when the three wretched priests were come, they inquired of them if they were able to heal them; and they answered, "We shall beseech God. Let His will be done."
But the saint appeared again to the Hagarenes on the third night and said to them: "If ye do not send to my house letters of manumission for the priests, ye shall have neither the health, nor the light [of sight] which ye desire." And when they had again conferred with their kinfolk and friends, each one composed a letter of emancipation for his own slave, which were left before the icon of the saint. And O, the wonder! Even before the messengers sent to the temple returned, those, who before were blind and paralyzed, were healed; and marveling they set the priests free and dispatched them to their homelands amicably. The priests, though, had a copy of the icon of St. Phanourios painted and took it with them to their own country, and each year the memory of the holy one is piously celebrated amongst them. By the prayers of the martyr may Christ God have mercy upon us. Amen!
Source: Orthodox Life, Vol. 32, No. 4 (July-August 1982). Translated by George Lardas from the Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church (in Greek), 4th Ed. (Athens, 1974), Vol. VIII, pp. 470-474.
About Prayers to the Saint and for His Mother
There is a tradition concerning him and his mother, who was a harlot and great sinner. His love for his mother caused him to pray for her incessantly. At the time of his martyric death by stoning, he could not even then forget his mother, and with the boldness that is peculiar to athletes of Christ, prayed: "For the sake of these my sufferings, Lord, help all those who will pray to Thee for the salvation of Phanourios' sinful mother".
St. Phanourios in turn prays for the salvation and enlightenment of heterodox relatives and friends.
Many to this day pray for his mother, and have her listed in their personal diptychs used for commemorations in the Divine Liturgy as "The Mother of St Phanourios" since her name is not known.
On the day of the Saint, there is a tradition that the faithful bake a special bread, and according to some accounts, give it to the poor as alms in the name of his mother, and others, share it with at least seven other people.
The Saint of Lost Things
St Phanourios' name gives a hint about another tradition concerinign the Saint. "Phanourios" comes from the Greek word, φανερώνω "phanerono", meaning "I reveal". He is know to help people find lost things. Some have therefore also referred to him as the "Saint of lost and found"!
This is not just an idle story repeated without basis, as the editor of this piece has experienced incidents himself, and know many people who have also been helped by St Phanourios to find lost items. After the lost item is found, one should bake a Phanouropita, (basically a loaf of sweet bread) in memory of St. Phanourios' mother, and give to the poor, as above.
If the bread is first brought to church to be blessed, a Litya blessing service with a prayer specially composed for the Saint may be used.
Φανουρόπιτα - Phanouropita: St. Phanourios' Bread
The following recipes are supplied by the kindness of Presvytera Anna Lardas, who posted them to a mailing list some time ago.
The fasting bread (with oil for those days that a a little less strict) actually tastes very good, and whose preparation makes an excellent father-daughter "special time" that the whole family benefits from. In other words, the recipe is quite easy and forgiving, and kitchens can always be cleaned.
Easy St. Phanourios Bread Fasting (with oil)
Preheat oven to 350.
1 cup sugar
1 cup oil
2 cups orange juice
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp. baking soda
4 cups flour
Mix oil and sugar, and beat until it's a creamy yellow. This may take a long time.
Put the baking soda IN the orange juice, and stir until dissolved. [NB: this can be spectacularly dramatic if you use a two cup measuring cup with two cups of o.j. in it. (Please don't ask how I found out.) It might be easier to hold a two cup measuring cup OVER the bowl full of oil and sugar and pour in *one* cup of o.j., mix in 1/2 tsp. baking soda, watch the fireworks, pour it into the bowl, and again mix *one* cup of o.j. with 1/2 tsp. baking soda, stir and pour again. If you don't dissolve the baking soda completely, you get lumps of it in the cake. So, stir well.]
Add the flour, then the raisins and nuts.
Pour the batter into an ungreased 9"x13" pan and bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes (or until a clean toothpick dipped in the cake emerges clean.)
I use a bundt pan instead of one 9" x 13", and my kids prefer this with chocolate chips in the place of the raisins and nuts. It doesn't really need a frosting, but if you wanted to drizzle a stiff glaze made out of, say, powdered sugar and lemon juice and a little water over it, that would be okay, too.
If you wanted to put spices in the batter, I'd go with a tiny amount (1/4 tsp. or less) of ground cloves.
Modified from a recipe in Greek Traditions and Customs in America, by Marilyn Rouvelas
Fancy St. Phanourios Bread (Phanouropita - Φανουρόπιτα)
Not even close to fasting!
This recipe originally came from a cookbook for a Greek parish in Chicago, but I've tampered with it, mostly by editorializing.
Doubles well; the recipe given is for one loaf pan worth, but Doubled it makes a bundt pan's worth.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, combine:
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup brandy
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups golden raisins
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for exactly ten minutes -- any longer, and you'll have a good caramelized smelling door stop instead of a cake.
Set pot in cold water to cool mixture completely.
Sift into cooled syrup:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda.
Beat vigorously for eight to ten minutes (Takes muscles! We use a wooden spoon for this) or until batter is smooth and bubbly.
Stir in: 2 Tablespoons grated orange peel
Turn into well greased 7" fluted pan or 8" loaf pan.
Sprinkle with 1/2 sesame seeds (optional; skip if you like).
Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Sprinkle with 1/4 cup brandy and cool cake in pan.
Bring to church to have blessed, and then share with parishioners or the poor.
Smells amazingly wonderful while cooking.
The Twelve Scenes on the Icon of St. Phanourios
1. The Saint is present in front of the Roman magistrate, standing and looking like he is boldly testifying and defending his Christian faith.
2. Here the soldiers are intervening and striking Phanourios’ head and the mouth with stones to force him to succumb and deny the Lord.
3. The soldiers have thus far become enraged by the persistence of Phanourios, throwing him to the ground and beating him mercilessly with sticks and clubs to break his steadfast resistance.
4. Phanourios is in jail and is being tortured in a most abominable way. He appears totally naked and the surrounding soldiers are tearing his flesh with sharp metal instruments. The Saint is silently enduring his frightful martyrdom.
5. Phanourios is back in jail praying to God to strengthen him to the end of his tortures.
6. The Saint is again brought before the Roman magistrate to give a defense for his position. By the peaceful expression on his face it appears that neither the tortures he suffered nor the future threats of the tyrant can shake his faith, and thus being undeterred he is waiting for further tortures.
7. The torturers of Phanourios with rage and cruelty are burning his naked body with lit torches, thus showing his insuperable sacrifice for the Crucified One. The Saint wins again with his indomitable will and fortitude for the Lord.
8. Here his savage torturers are making use of mechanical means to achieve the worse of his tortures. They have tied the Saint on a press which crushes his bones when rotated. He is suffering without grumbling, but on his beautiful face there is an inexpressible exultation since he is suffering for the sake of the Lord.
9. Phanourios is cast into a pit to become prey to wild beasts and his torturers are watching from above to witness his end. The beasts, however, are totally docile through the grace of God and silently surround him like lambs to enjoy his magnificent company.
10. The torturers were not satisfied by the latest result so they removed him from the hole and are crushing him under a huge rock, convinced that they will finish him off. However, even this time they do not succeed.
11. The scene presents the Saint in front of an altar, where the torturers are urging him to sacrifice, placing burning coal in his hands. Phanourios also passes this test victoriously and a devil in the form of a dragon is shown flying in the air and crying over its failure.
12. The last scene is the end of his martyrdom, with Phanourios being cast into a large furnace standing on a stool and surrounded by flames and smoke. The Saint seems to be praying intently to God, without complaining or grumbling, and thus unwavering and without giving in, he flew to heaven, full of contentment for all the tortures he had suffered for the sake of the Lord.
Apolytikion in Tone Four
A heavenly song of praise is chanted radiantly upon the earth; the company of angels now joyfully celebrateth an earthly festival, and from on high with hymns they praise thy contests, and from below the Church doth proclaim the heavenly glory which thou hast found by thy labors and struggles, O glorious Phanourios.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
From a vile captivity, thou didst deliver the Lord's priests, and, O godly-minded one, didst break their bonds by divine might; thou didst bravely shame the tyrants' audacious madness, giving joy unto the Angels, O thou Great Martyr. O Phanourios most glorious, we all revere thee as a true warrior of God.
To those who embrace your sacred icon with faith and asking your assistance, Martyr, heirs of the Heavenly Kingdom, Fanourios, to all your entreaties provide.