John was born in 1785 in a place called Konitsa, which was populated by Albanian Muslims at the time. He was a Muslim of Muslim parents. His father was both a dervish and a sheik. When John was twenty years old, he also joined the order of dervishes, as there were a few tekes (Muslim dervish monasteries) in Konitsa. He moved to the city of Ioannina, Epeiros, but later he moved to the town of Vrachori in the province of Aitolia, whose pasha was Haznatar Isufaravos, a friend of his father. So the pasha made John his private dervish, where he arose high in rank and fought in the battle of the Turks against the Russians in the area of the Ionian Islands.
During the battle John came into contact with many Orthodox Christians and decided to become an Orthodox Christian himself. He removed his dervish attire and sought baptism, yet no one would baptize him out of fear. The pasha eventually was transferred, but John did not go with him.
Because he was unable to be baptized in Vrachori, John went to the island of Ithaka where he was able to baptized and at that time was given the name John. Returning to the mainland he married an Orthodox woman and became a rural guard, avoiding Muslims as much as possible.
His father eventually heard of his son's apostasy and sent two dervishes to persuade John to return to his Muslim faith. The messengers failed due to the steadfast faith of John. However news spread in the village that John was a former Muslim and dervish, causing the local Muslims to bring charges against him.
Soldiers were eventually sent by the muselimi of Vrachori to arrest John. When he was asked to identify himself, John replied: "I am an Orthodox Christian and my name is John."
The muselimi replied: "Aren't you the young dervish, the son of the skeik of Konitsa?"
"Yes I am," answered John, "but now I am an Orthodox Christian and I will die as an Orthodox Christian."
"You were deceived by your wife," countered the muselimi, "and changed your faith. But come to your senses now and make a confession of your old faith and then you will see how much you will be honored by me."
John dismissed what the muselimi said to him and said: "Don't think, muselimi, that I will be so foolish and dumb as to leave the holy faith of the Orthodox Christians and be blinded again to come to the faith of Islam."
For this confession John was sentenced to be beheaded. Before his decapitation John requested that his hands be untied. His request was honored, so he made the sign of the Cross and said: "Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom." He then bent his head and it was cut off. This occurred near a tree of the Church of Saint Demetrios in Agrinio which still stands today.
The muselimi did not acknowledge John to be either a Muslim or a Christian, thus not allowing him to be buried in either faith's cemetery. His head and body were thus thrown into a stream near the Church of Saint Demetrios. Influential Christians bribed the aga who gave them permission to gather the body of the martyr to give him a proper burial. However the aga ordered them to give no formal service or ceremony for John, and the Christians promised to not do so and merely buried him.
Thus John the former Muslim sacrificed his life for the love of Jesus Christ in Vrachori, Vellas, Epeiros on September 23, in the year 1814.
The holy skull and relics of Saint John are today kept in the Holy Monastery of Prousou in Evrytania. There is a small chapel dedicated to St. John near the tree of his martyrdom where his feast is celebrated annually with a transfer of his relics for a few days.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
John was born in 1785 in a place called Konitsa, which was populated by Albanian Muslims at the time. He was a Muslim of Muslim parents. His father was both a dervish and a sheik. When John was twenty years old, he also joined the order of dervishes, as there were a few tekes (Muslim dervish monasteries) in Konitsa. He moved to the city of Ioannina, Epeiros, but later he moved to the town of Vrachori in the province of Aitolia, whose pasha was Haznatar Isufaravos, a friend of his father. So the pasha made John his private dervish, where he arose high in rank and fought in the battle of the Turks against the Russians in the area of the Ionian Islands.
The village of Ein Kerem, on the west side of Jerusalem, is according to tradition the birthplace of John the Baptist.
In ancient times, the village was a Canaanite site which evolved around the spring that gave its name (Ein Kerem - "the spring of the vineyard"). The site is identified as "Beit Hakerem" from the Israelite period (Jeremiah 6:1): "O ye children of Benjamin, gather yourselves to flee out of the midst of Jerusalem, and blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and set up a sign of fire in Beit Hakerem."
According to Christian tradition, the village was a summer house for Zacharias and Elizabeth, parents of John the Baptist. The village was called "city of Judah" in the description of the visit by Luke.
Elizabeth (Elisheva) was the cousin of Mary, mother of Jesus. As per Luke, Mary visited Elizabeth when both were pregnant (hence the name of the shrine - Church of the Visitation). During the visit, the baby leapt with joy in Elizabeth's womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, knowing that Mary was about to give birth to the Son of God. Mary then stayed with her cousin for three months until John was born, and returned to Bethlehem.
The village and the spring is holy for Christians, and several churches and monasteries were built during the Byzantine period. The Crusader Church of the Visitation, on its "upper" floor, was built over one of them. The Church of St. John the Baptist was also built over ruins of Byzantine period.
The Franciscan monks started to settled here in 1674. They purchased lands and houses. After the village expanded, more Christians established their presence in the popular pilgrimage site. The churches and monasteries were reconstructed in the late Ottoman period and Modern times:
- St. John Ba Harim was built in the end of the 19th century and completed in 1920.
- The Monastery of the Sisters of Zion was built in 1860/1.
- The Greek Orthodox church was built at the end of the 19th century, and was reconstructed in 1975.
- The Visitation church was reconstructed in 1955.
- The Russian church started construction in 1905.
The Franciscan Church of Saint John the Baptist is built over the traditional spot where St. John was born. It was mentioned in the the accords "De situ Terrae Sanctae" of the pilgrim Archdeacon Theodosius (530 AD). The Byzantine chapels were destroyed in the Samaritan revolt against the Byzantine Empire (529 and 556 AD). The church is also mentioned in the Book of the Demonstration, attributed to Eutychius of Alexandria (940): "The church of Bayt Zakariya in the district of Aelia bears witness to the visit of Mary to her kinswoman Elizabeth." After regaining Jerusalem in 1104, the Crusaders rebuilt the chapel above the Byzantine ruins. The "Hospitallers" - the order of the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John - where behind the reconstruction, and are named after St. John. It was destroyed in the 12th century and remained in ruins until the late Ottoman period.
The Franciscan monks started to settled here in 1674. They purchased lands and houses, including the area of the monastery. The monastery was completed in 1895. The modern church was built in the end of the 19th century and completed in 1920. The construction was financed by the Spanish monarchs and since then the monastery is headed by the Spaniards.
In 1941–1942 they conducted excavations in the area immediately west of the church and the adjoining monastery. Several rock-cut chambers and graves were found, as well as wine presses with mosaic floors and small chapels with mosaic tiling. The southern rock-cut chamber contained pottery of a type found elsewhere in Jerusalem, probably from the first century CE.
A stairway leads down to the so-called Grotto of the Benedictus, considered to be the place where John the Baptist was born. A marble star beneath the altar bears a Latin inscription: "Hic precursor Domini natus est" (Here was born the precursor of the Lord).
The Russian Orthodox Monastery also claims to have a grotto where St. John the Baptist was born.
The cave of St. John the Baptist is a relatively new place of pilgrimage in the Holy Land – Israel. Many archaeologists have researched the place and its data for its authenticity. Archaeologist Shimon Gibson is the one who discovered the place and also the one supporting its authenticity.
Shimon Gibson discovered the place in 1999, through extensive archaeological research. To get here, pilgrims can take the bus from Jerusalem to Ein Karem and the holy cave is about four kilometers from Ein Karem in Tzuba.
St. John the Baptist – the last prophet of the Old Testament – had a divine mission hard to imagine: he, the servant of God, had to baptize his Master, Jesus Christ. But until the time of the Baptism of our Lord, St. John had lived an unspeakable ascetic struggle in the wilderness.
The Gospel does not tell us much about the life of Saint John. The Gospel of Luke, however, referring to St. John, says: “The child grew up and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his public appearance to Israel” (Luke 1:80).
It is believed that the Cave of St. John the Baptist is a place in the “wilderness” where the saint lived up to the time of his preaching and the baptism of our Lord. The rocky place that still preserves today the ancient cave, is in the land of Tzuba, which is the nearest settlement to the famous Ein Karem (the place where St. John the Baptist was born), slightly west of Jerusalem.
In a legend about this place, it is said that Elisabeth had fled with baby John, the night when crazy King Herod ordered the killing of all infants from his land, two years and younger (Matthew 2:16). A cave similar to this one was portrayed on a souvenir from the Byzantine era that was found in the Holy Land and brought later to Italy; it is a disc engraved with a picture and the words: “God’s blessings for the refuge of St. Elizabeth.”
In mid 4th-5th centuries, the Byzantine monks blessed the cave and used it as a holy place dedicated to St. John the Baptist. On the interior walls of the cave are found some of the oldest Christian mosaics (scenes from the life of the saint, the saint's body, a disembodied head, crosses, and other Christian symbols).
The man is portrayed standing, with one arm raised and a pastor rod in another hand, wearing very poor clothes. The hagiography drawings still preserved today on the rocky walls of the cave, indicate that a great Christian preacher lived there, which is believed to be St. John the Baptist.
In the 800’s, the cave was first used as a water storage tank. It was found as late as the first century, that the cave was used as a place of ritual bathing and cleaning. This is one of the largest of its kind in the entire Israel.
Cave Linked to John the Baptist
Cave of John the Baptist
New Discoveries Point to 'Cave of John the Baptist' as Important Site in the Time of Isaiah
The Cave of John the Baptist Virtual Tour
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
On this day the mercy, miracles and wisdom of God are celebrated: His mercy toward the devout and righteous parents of St. John, the aged Zacharias and Elizabeth, who all their lives had wished for and begged a child from God; His miracle, that of John's conception in the aged womb of Elizabeth; His wisdom, in the dispensation of man's salvation.
God had an especially great intention for John: namely, that he be the Prophet and Forerunner of Christ the Lord, the Savior of the world. Through His angels, God announced the births of Isaac to the childless Sarah, Samson to the childless wife of Manoah, and John the Forerunner to the childless Zacharias and Elizabeth. All of these were those for whom He had special intentions, and he foretold their birth through his angels.
How could children be born of aged parents? If someone desires to understand this, he should not ask men about it, for men do not know; nor should he study natural law, for this is beyond natural law. Rather, he should turn his gaze upon the power of the Almighty God, Who created the whole world from nothing, and Who needed no parents - old or young - for the creation of the first man, Adam.
Instead of being curious, let us give thanks to God, Who often reveals His power, mercy and wisdom to us in ways that are beyond natural law-in which we would be imprisoned without these special miracles of God, and would fall into despair and forgetfulness of God.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Rejoice, O thou barren one who hadst not borne until now; for lo, in all truth thou hast conceived the lamp of the Sun, and he shall send forth his light over all the earth, which is afflicted with blindness. Dance, O Zacharias, and cry out with great boldness: The one to be born is the blest Prophet of God Most High.
Kontakion in the First Tone
Great Zacharias now doth rejoice with resplendence; Elizabeth his glorious yoke-mate exulteth; for she hath conceived divine John the Forerunner worthily, whom the great Archangel had announced with rejoicing, whom, as it is meet, we men revere as a sacred initiate of grace divine.
By St. John Chrysostom
They say: "We can pray at home". Thou art deceiving thyself, O man!
Of course, one can pray at home. But it is impossible to pray there as in church, where such a multitude of hearts are uplifted to God, merging into one unanimous cry.
Thou wilt not be so quickly heard while praying to the Master by thyself, as when praying together with thy brethren, for here in church there is something greater than in thy room: agreement, unanimity, the bond of love, and finally here are the prayers of the priests. The priests stand before us, then, so that the prayers of the people, being weak, would be united to their more powerful prayers and together with them ascend to heaven.
The Apostle Peter was freed from prison, thanks to the common prayers offered for him.... If the Church's prayer was so beneficial for the Apostle Peter and delivered such a pillar of the faith from prison, why, tell me, dost thou disdain its power and what kind of justification canst thou have for this.
Hearken unto God Himself, Who says that the multitude of people who pray to him with fervor moves Him to have mercy. He says to the Prophet Jonah: "Shall I not spare Nineveh, that great city, in which dwell more than 120 thousand people." He did not simply mention the multitude of people, but that thou mightest know that prayer together has great power.
By St. John of Kronstadt
Here in church is the one thing needful; here is a refuge from vanity and the storms of life; here is the calm harbor for souls seeking salvation; here is incorrupt food and drink for souls; here is the light, which enlightens every man who comes into the world; here is pure spiritual air; here is the well of living water springing up into everlasting life; here the gifts of the Holy Spirit are distributed; here is the cleansing of souls.
The reading and singing in church are performed in a sacred language; all Orthodox Christians must learn it, in order to comprehend the sweet sayings of their mother, who is preparing her children for heaven, for eternal life....
Here in church, a man will come to know the true nobility of his soul, the value of life and its aim or his assigned path; here he dispels the fascination of worldly vanity and worldly passions by acquiring sobriety in his soul; here he comes to know his destiny, both temporal and eternal; here he comes to know his bitter, profound fall and seduction by sin; here the Savior is to be found, particularly in His holy and life-creating Mysteries, and His salvation; here a man comes to know his true relationship with God and his neighbor or with his family and the society in which he lives.
The church is an earthly heaven, the place where the closest union with the Divinity occurs; it is a heavenly school which prepares Christians for heavenly citizenship, teaching them about the ways of heaven, about the dwellings of heaven; it is the threshold of heaven; it is the place for common prayer, for thanksgiving, for glorifying the Triune God, Who created and preserves everything; it is unity with the angels.
What is more precious and more honorable than the church? Nothing. During the divine service, as on a chart, the whole destiny of the human race is depicted, from beginning to end. The divine service is the alpha and omega of the destiny of the world and of men.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
Sep. 21 2010
The Christian Post
Some questions we ask today would simply baffle our ancestors. When Christians ask whether believers should practice yoga, they are asking a question that betrays the strangeness of our current cultural moment - a time in which yoga seems almost mainstream in America.
It was not always so. No one tells the story of yoga in America better than Stefanie Syman, whose recent book, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America, is a masterpiece of cultural history. Syman, an engaging author who is also a fifteen-year devotee of yoga, tells this story well.
Her book actually opens with a scene from this year’s annual White House Easter Egg Roll. President Barack Obama made a few comments and then introduced First Lady Michelle Obama, who said: “Our goal today is just to have fun. We want to focus on activity, healthy eating. We’ve got yoga, we’ve got dancing, we’ve got storytelling, we’ve got Easter-egg decorating.”
Syman describes the yoga on the White House lawn as “sanitized, sanctioned, and family-friendly,” and she noted the rather amazing fact that a practice once seen as so exotic and even dangerous was now included as an activity sufficiently safe and mainstream for children.
In her words:
"There certainly was no better proof that Americans had assimilated this spiritual discipline. We had turned a technique for God realization that had, at various points in time, enjoined its adherents to reduce their diet to rice, milk, and a few vegetables, fix their minds on a set of, to us, incomprehensible syllables, and self-administer daily enemas (without the benefit of equipment), to name just a few of its prerequisites, into an activity suitable for children. Though yoga has no coherent tradition in India, being preserved instead by thousands of gurus and hundreds of lineages, each of which makes a unique claim to authenticity, we had managed to turn it into a singular thing: a way to stay healthy and relaxed."
In her book, Syman tells the fascinating story of how yoga was transformed in the American mind from a foreign and “even heathen” practice into a cultural reality that is widely admired and practiced.
In telling this story, Syman documents the ties between yoga and groups or movements such as the Transcendentalists and New Thought - movements that sought to provide a spirituality that would be a clear alternative to biblical Christianity. She traces the influence of leading figures such as Swami Vivekananda and Swami Prabhavananda, along with Pierre Bernard and the now lesser-known Margaret Woodrow Wilson. Each of these figures played a role in the growing acceptance of yoga in America, but most were controversial at the time - some extremely so.
Syman describes yoga as a varied practice, but she makes clear that yoga cannot be fully extricated from its spiritual roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. She is also straightforward in explaining the role of sexual energy in virtually all forms of yoga and of ritualized sex in some yoga traditions. She also explains that yoga “is one of the first and most successful products of globalization, and it has augured a truly post-Christian, spiritually polyglot country.”
Reading The Subtle Body is an eye-opening and truly interesting experience. To a remarkable degree, the growing acceptance of yoga points to the retreat of biblical Christianity in the culture. Yoga begins and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with the Christian understanding. Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine. Believers are called to meditate upon the Word of God - an external Word that comes to us by divine revelation - not to meditate by means of incomprehensible syllables.
Nevertheless, a significant number of American Christians either experiment with yoga or become adherents of some yoga discipline. Most seem unaware that yoga cannot be neatly separated into physical and spiritual dimensions. The physical is the spiritual in yoga, and the exercises and disciplines of yoga are meant to connect with the divine.
Douglas R. Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and a respected specialist on the New Age Movement, warns Christians that yoga is not merely about physical exercise or health. “All forms of yoga involve occult assumptions,” he warns, “even hatha yoga, which is often presented as a merely physical discipline.” While most adherents of yoga avoid the more exotic forms of ritualized sex that are associated with tantric yoga, virtually all forms of yoga involve an emphasis on channeling sexual energy throughout the body as a means of spiritual enlightenment.
Stefanie Syman documents how yoga was transformed in American culture from an exotic and heathen practice into a central component of our national cult of health. Of course, her story would end differently if Americans still had cultural access to the notion of “heathen.”
The nation of India is almost manically syncretistic, blending worldviews over and over again. But, in more recent times, America has developed its own obsession with syncretism, mixing elements of worldviews with little or no attention to what each mix means. Americans have turned yoga into an exercise ritual, a means of focusing attention, and an avenue to longer life and greater health. Many Americans attempt to deny or minimize the spiritual aspects of yoga - to the great consternation of many in India.
When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga. The contradictions are not few, nor are they peripheral. The bare fact is that yoga is a spiritual discipline by which the adherent is trained to use the body as a vehicle for achieving consciousness of the divine. Christians are called to look to Christ for all that we need and to obey Christ through obeying his Word. We are not called to escape the consciousness of this world by achieving an elevated state of consciousness, but to follow Christ in the way of faithfulness.
There is nothing wrong with physical exercise, and yoga positions in themselves are not the main issue. But these positions are teaching postures with a spiritual purpose. Consider this - if you have to meditate intensely in order to achieve or to maintain a physical posture, it is no longer merely a physical posture.
The embrace of yoga is a symptom of our postmodern spiritual confusion, and, to our shame, this confusion reaches into the church. Stefanie Syman is telling us something important when she writes that yoga “has augured a truly post-Christian, spiritually polyglot country.” Christians who practice yoga are embracing, or at minimum flirting with, a spiritual practice that threatens to transform their own spiritual lives into a “post-Christian, spiritually polyglot” reality. Should any Christian willingly risk that?
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
He who gives to the poor, gives to Christ. This is the meaning of the Gospel teaching, and it has been confirmed in the experience of the saints.
Upon his repentance, Peter the Merciful gave alms to the poor wherever the opportunity presented itself. On one occasion Peter encountered a shipwrecked man who had barely managed to save his naked body from the wreck. The man begged him for some clothing. Peter removed his costly cloak and clothed the naked man with it. Shortly afterward, Peter saw his cloak in the shop of a merchant, who had it displayed for sale. Peter was very saddened that the shipwrecked man had sold his cloak instead of using it for himself. Peter thought: "I am not worthy; the Lord does not accept my alms."
But later, the Lord appeared to him in a dream. He appeared as a handsome man, brighter than the sun, with a cross on His head, wearing Peter's cloak. "Peter, why art thou sad?" asked the Lord. "My Lord, why would I not be sad, when I see that which I gave to the poor being sold at the market?" Then the Lord asked him: "Dost thou recognize this garment on Me?" Peter replied: "I recognize it, Lord; that is my garment with which I clothed the naked man." Then the Lord spoke to him again: "Therefore do not be sad; thou gavest it to the poor man, and I received it, and I praise thy deed."
A Reflection by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Read also: Saint Peter the Merciful - A Prototype of Ebenezer Scrooge
Saint Kosmas, Hermit of Zographou, was a Bulgarian. In his youth he avoided entering into marriage, and secretly left his parents' home for Mount Athos. Then as he was on his way to the Holy Mountain, the devil tried to shake the yearning of the youth, vexing him with a vision of the infinite abyss of the sea surrounding the Holy Mountain. The fervent prayer of the youth dispelled the demonic temptation.
On Athos, St Kosmas was accepted in the Zographou Monastery. There he was a novice for a long time, and then he was tonsured, and was appointed ecclesiarch. St Kosmas received a special mercy to see the heavenly abbess of Mount Athos Herself, Who on the Feast of the Annunciation at the Vatopaidi Monastery deigned to reveal to him a glimpse of Her care for Her earthly appanage. He saw a Woman of royal majesty and grandeur, Who attended to both in church for services and in the trapeza. All the monks served and obeyed Her.
Soon the saint was ordained as deacon, and then as presbyter, which inspired him to new exploits. Zealous for salvation, the saint through fervent prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos was granted a particular sign of Her special favor. He heard the voice of the Mother of God issuing from Her holy icon and asking Her Son, "How will Kosmas be saved?" The Lord answered, "Let him withdraw from the monastery into silence." After obtaining the blessing of the Superior, St Kosmas withdrew into the wilderness, and there in a cave cut into a cliff, began his new deed of silent seclusion. God did not forsake the faithful man of prayer, for the saint was granted the gift of clairvoyance.
Just as at the start of his ascetic life, the Enemy of the race of mankind again tried to dissuade the saint from his intended path, and so the final days before the righteous one's death were also a grievous trial for him.
Not long before the death of God's chosen one, he was granted a vision of Christ Himself, Who informed the saint that before his soul would depart to the heavenly Kingdom, Satan himself with his hosts would beat and gnash at him. Prepared for the suffering by this divine solace, the saint bravely underwent the terrible demonic assaults, and on the third day after furious beatings, he received the All-Pure Mysteries. With words of praise on his lips, he peacefully departed to the Lord.
God, "Who glorifies those who glorify Him," also glorified St Kosmas miraculously at his death. At the time of the saint's burial a multitude of beasts and birds flocked to his cave, as though sensing the common loss of the Holy Mountain. When they placed his body in the grave and began to cover it with ground, each of the speechless creatures let out a mournful cry, bestowing final respect to the saint of God.
Forty days later, when the brethren opened the saint's tomb after the all-night Vigil (as was customary), in order to transfer them to the monastery with honor, they were not to be found. The Lord hid them in a miraculous manner. This occurred in the year 1323.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
In the cave where you have settled, you have been imitating by deeds He Who was born in a Cave, O Kosmas, most blessed one. You have endured even to the very death the demonic struggles and have, through grace, become a model. Your body immortal lasts for ever in the secret treasure until the Second Judgement and the Resurrection. Glory to Him Who had granted you firm strength, glory to Him Who had exalted you, glory to Him Who had made you famous in the Heavenly Kingdom.
When a man clearly senses God's mercy toward him, he is startled, as from a dull and senseless dream, and becomes ashamed of his long blindness to God's unceasing compassion.
In the time of Emperor Justinian (527-565), the chief imperial tax collector in Africa was a certain Peter, a very wealthy but very hard and merciless man. The beggars grumbled among themselves, that not one of them had ever received alms from Peter. Then, one of them bet that he would succeed in getting alms from Peter. He persistently begged alms of the miser until Peter, in a rage, hit him with a loaf of bread, since he had nothing else close at hand. Joyfully the beggar took the bread and fled.
Immediately after this Peter became seriously ill and had this vision: He was being interrogated by demons in the other world. There was a scale, and on one side of it, the demons heaped Peter's sins, making that side extremely heavy. On the other side - which was empty - angels stood, sorrowing that they had not even one good deed in Peter's life to help balance the scale. One of them said: "We have nothing to place on the scale except one loaf of bread, with which he struck a beggar the day before yesterday." The angels placed this one loaf of bread on the empty side of the scale, and that loaf of bread outweighed the other side of the scale, laden with all of Peter's sins.
When the vision was over Peter said to himself: "Indeed, this was not an apparition but the living truth, for I saw all my sins from my youth. And when I can be helped so much by one loaf of bread that I threw at a beggar, how much help would I receive from many deeds of almsgiving, performed from the heart and with humility?"
And from that time, Peter became the most compassionate man in his town. He distributed all of his possessions to the poor, and when he had finished distributing his possessions, he sold himself into slavery for thirty gold pieces and distributed even his own price as a slave to the poor as alms in the name of Christ. He was, thereafter, called Peter the Merciful.
The account above was written by St. Nikolai Velimirovich. The Life of St Peter was passed along by St John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria (November 12), who in turn knew it from a man personally acquainted with Saint Peter.
Read also: St. Peter the Merciful: By Giving to the Poor, He Gave to Christ
September 19th, 2010
Three months ago I spent a fascinating few days in a villa opposite Cap Ferrat, France, taking part in a seminar with a dozen very bright scientists, some world authorities in their field. Although most had never met before, they had two things in common. Each had come to question one of the most universally accepted scientific orthodoxies of our age: the Darwinian belief that life on earth evolved simply through the changes brought about by an infinite series of minute variations.
The other was that, on arriving at these conclusions, they had come up against a wall of hostility from the scientific establishment. Even to raise such questions was just not permissible. One had been fired as editor of a major scientific journal because he dared publish a paper sceptical of Darwin’s theory. Another had not yet worked out how to admit his scepticism to his fellow academics for fear that he too might lose his post.
So embedded in our culture is the assumption that Darwin was right that few realise that it was Darwin himself who first raised some of the most basic objections to his own theory. If each form of life gradually evolved through tiny variations, as he asked in The Origin of Species, why does every fossil we find so identifiably belong to a discrete species? Where are all the “intermediate forms” between one species and another? How could his gradualist theory account for all those complex organs, such as the eye, which require so many interdependent changes to take place simultaneously? How could it account for those startling “evolutionary leaps”, when all sorts of changes emerged together in an improbably short time, such as those needed to transform land mammals into whales in barely two million years?
As Darwin himself raised each of these objections, it is almost comical to see how he could not give any coherent answer. The fossil record, he argued, was incomplete; one day we would find those “missing forms”. And however sophisticated our latter-day neo-Darwinians such as Richard Dawkins imagine themselves to be, they have no more been able to prove their theory as fact than Darwin himself. They are simply “believers” taking a leap of faith, just like those Biblical “Creationists” they love to despise. And nothing better reveals the hole at the heart of their belief system than the fanaticism with which they turn on anyone who dares question the assumption on which it rests, who must be anathematised with all the venom once turned on heretics by the churches.
Some years back, a number of expert scientists came together in America to share their conviction that, in light of the astonishing intricacies of construction revealed by molecular biology, Darwin’s gradualism could not possibly account for them. So organisationally complex, for instance, are the structures of DNA and cell reproduction that they could not conceivably have evolved just through minute, random variations. Some other unknown factor must have been responsible for the appearance of these “irreducibly complex” micro-mechanisms, to which they gave the name “intelligent design”. But the response of the Darwinians has not been to debate these very serious questions but simply to scorn them, caricaturing anyone who raises them as a “neo-Creationist”, no different to those zealots who take Genesis as literally true.
To some of us taking part in that seminar in the south of France, another instance of this pattern of intolerance was equally familiar.
Right from the start, one of the more conspicuous features of the global warming cause has been the way its adherents felt the need to elevate their belief system into a rigid orthodoxy, a “consensus” not to be challenged. They deal with challenges not through scientific debate, but by denouncing the dissenters as being beyond the pale.
The “sceptics” are demonised as Flat Earthers, equivalent to Holocaust deniers, who could only hold the views they do because they have been paid to do so by “Big Oil”. The only debate which can be allowed, as we saw confirmed by those Climategate emails, is that between the believers themselves, while anyone outside the faith, however knowledgeable, must be vilified as a dangerous heretic, excluded from scientific journals, forbidden to examine the often highly suspect data and condemned as being “anti-science”.
Such fanatical intolerance, in defence of pseudo-scientific causes which reflect the prejudices of the age, has become only too common. A notorious example was the ruthless attempt to suppress the most rigorous study ever carried out into the effects of passive smoking. When this mammoth 40-year project by two non-smokers found the health risks of environmental tobacco smoke to be negligible, its sponsors, the American Cancer Society, withdrew their funding. Their findings only saw light of day when the editor of the British Medical Journal decided, in the name of scientific principle, that such scrupulous research should no longer be suppressed.
Abba Moses asked Abba Sylvanus: "Can a person lay a new foundation every day?" The old man replied: "If you work hard, you can lay a new foundation every moment."
- Sayings of the Desert Fathers
The pathological love of self and of others is an obstacle to our relationship with God.
- Abba Isaiah, Sayings of the Desert Fathers
When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by boredom, and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, 'Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?'
A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him: 'Do this and you will be saved.' At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.
- Sayings of the Desert Fathers
The necessary services which we are obliged to carry out, we must of course accept and carry out, but we must let go of those other purposeless activities and prefer rather to spend our time in prayer, particularly when these activities would lead us into the greed and luxury of money and wealth. For the more one can limit, with the help of God, these worldly activities and remove the material which feeds them, the more will one be able to gather his mind from such anxious wanderings. If again someone, out of weak faith or some other weakness, cannot do this, then, at least, let him understand well the truth and let him try, as much as he can, to censure himself for this weakness and for still remaining in this immature condition. For it is far better to have to give an account to God for omissions rather than for error and pride.
- Abba Mark, Sayings of the Desert Fathers
Unless a man can bring himself to say to his heart that he alone and God are present in this place, he will never find peace and rest of soul.
- Abba Alonios, Sayings of the Desert Fathers
God and the angels grieve over those who are not satisfied with heavenly nourishment.
- St. Makarios of Egypt
No matter where you are, you can set up your sanctuary. Just have pure intentions and neither the place, nor the time will be an obstacle, even without kneeling down, striking your chest or raising your arms to heaven. As long as your mind is fervently concentrated you are totally composed for prayer. God is not troubled by any place. He only requires a clear and fervent mind and a soul desiring prudence.
- St. John Chrysostom
Boredom is the breakdown of the soul, the disorientation of the mind, negligence of ascetic practice, hatred of monasticism, love of worldliness, irreverence toward God, forgetfulness of prayer.
- St. John Klimakos, Ladder of Divine Ascent
This condition brings you anxiety, dislike for the place where you are living, but also for your brothers and for every activity. There is even a dislike for Sacred Scripture, with constant yawning and sleepiness. Moreover, this condition keeps you in a state of hunger and nervousness, wondering when the next meal will come. And when you decide to pick up a book to read a little, you immediately put it down. You begin to scratch yourself and to look out of the windows. Again you begin to read a little, and then you count the number of pages and look at the titles of the chapters. Finally, you give up on the book and go to sleep, and as soon as you have slept a little you find it necessary to get up again. And all of these things you are doing just to pass the time.
- St. Antiochos of Palestine
Loneliness is abolished in God. We are all ‘members of each other’ according to St. Paul. Thus, our sins and our virtues have a bearing upon the others, since, as we have said, we are all members of one body. Accidia [boredom] provides a reason for more fervent prayer, and the difficulties are an opportunity for spiritual maturity and progress.
- Fyodor Dostoyevski, The Brothers Karamazov
They say that church is boring. It is boring because they do not understand the services! You need to study! It is boring because they do not care for it. So they do not see it as their own, but as something foreign to them. They could at least bring flowers or greenery to decorate it, they could take part in caring for the church; then it would not be boring.
- St. Anthony (Potapov) of Optina
We Christians of today do not feel the power of the redemption wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is as a result that we are so bad, unfeeling, that we look so perfunctorily at sin, and do not understand the Church Services, especially the Divine Liturgy, and find it boring.
- Hieromartyr Arseny (Zhadanovsky)
Forget for at least this space of time the bustle and concerns of everyday life. Be like an angel, filled only with thoughts of God and of serving Him. After all, He is present now, and is blessing you.
- Hieromartyr Seraphim (Zvezdinsky)
Generally speaking, I am bored by the Canons, and especially by the Akathists, and I read them only out of a sense of duty. I make an exception only for the penitential Canons of the Octoechos and the Lenten Triodion. But there are times when my heart is very heavy and sad, and then I recite certain canons — to the Mother of God and to the most Sweet Jesus — as if the words were my own. This means that our “lack of feeling” for the Canons is an accusation against us—it points to an absence in the given person of the religious mood in which these Canons were written.
- Fr. Alexander Elchaninov, Diary of a Russian Priest
In this loneliness, in this desolation of the cities, in this apparent absence of God, man is called to gather his thoughts, to come to his senses, to put aside his many worldly preoccupations and to retire to his place of prayer speechless, naked, a child so that God may speak to him, clothe him, and endow him with spiritual maturity. Then his loneliness will become the divine loneliness of liberation and he will achieve a sense of fullness. Only such radical loneliness leads to a fundamental understanding and experience of God, destroying every hesitation, doubt and torment.
In this sacred loneliness man finds himself face-to-face with his existential poverty and the fear of death which it provokes. Yet, even here, there is the danger that he may choose procrastination as a solution and, for a time, set his panic-stricken self at ease. He may resume running back and forth endlessly, expanding social activities, and seeking a variety of entertainments a program of extreme busyness. Other people, other things, work and extensive involvements may serve as a cover for his spiritual impoverishment for a time. And he may continue wandering aimlessly, driven by circumstances, tormented, flirting with one thing and another, fighting, being torn and finally annihilated.
A life of work without the liberation of communion with God is slavery. The struggle for excessive wealth is an incurable, tormenting disease. Fear of the future can stimulate greed, miserliness, hoarding. And God can be easily forgotten.
- Monk Moses the Athonite, The Community of the Desert and the Loneliness of the City
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
If only we begin with the firm intention to live according to God's law, we need not be afraid of any assaults by unreasonable men. For he who truly begins to live according to God's law finds that all things done to him by men happen for his benefit, and to the glory of God.
One especially need not fear being compelled to move from a place that he loves to a place that he doesn't care for. Instead of empty fear and fruitless lamentation, it is better to seek out God's intention for us.
What harm did the evil actions of Joseph's brothers do to him? Did not his involuntary departure to Egypt glorify him, save his brothers from famine, and create the necessary conditions for all the wondrous things God worked through Moses in Egypt and in the wilderness?
The pagans and heretics often drove Orthodox Christians into barbarian regions. What did they accomplish by that? Did they destroy Orthodoxy? No, rather, they strengthened it even more in the souls of the persecuted, and spread it among the barbarian peoples.
The evil heretic Lucius exiled the glorious Macarius, with several Tabennisiot ascetics, from Egypt to a barbarian island, where the entire population worshiped idols. But by the teachings and example of these holy men, the entire populace of the island was soon baptized. That island was later renamed the "Island of Repentance".
September 19, 2010
The Associated Press
SKOPJE, Macedonia -- An online music video praising Osama bin Laden has driven home a troubling new reality: A radical brand of Islam embraced by al-Qaida and the Taliban is gaining a foothold in the Balkans.
"Oh Osama, annihilate the American army. Oh Osama, raise the Muslims' honor," a group of Macedonian men sing in Albanian, in video posted on YouTube last year and picked up by Macedonian media this August. "In September 2001 you conquered a power. We all pray for you."
Although most of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority are Muslims, they have generally been secular. But experts are now seeing an increasing radicalization in pockets of the country's Islamic community, particularly after armed groups from the ethnic Albanian minority, which forms a quarter of the population of 2.1 million, fought a brief war against Macedonian government forces in 2001.
It's a trend seen across the Balkans and has raised concerns that the region, which includes new European Union member Bulgaria, could become a breeding ground for terrorists with easy access to Western Europe. Many fear that radicalized European Muslims with EU passports could slip across borders and blend into society.
At the center of the issue is the Wahhabi sect, an austere brand of Islam most prevalent in Saudi Arabia and practiced by bin Laden and the Taliban.
"Wahhabism in Macedonia, the Balkans and in Europe has become more aggressive in the last 10 years," said Jakub Selimovski, head of religious education in Macedonia's Islamic community. He said Wahhabis were establishing a permanent presence in Macedonia where none existed before, and that "they are in Bosnia, here, Kosovo, Serbia, Croatia and lately they have appeared in Bulgaria."
It is the first time a high-ranking official in the former Yugoslav republic's Islamic community has agreed to speak openly about the presence and threat of radical Islam.
In Bulgaria, nearly one-sixth of the population of 7.6 million are Muslims who adhere to conventional Sunni beliefs. Ethnic peace has been maintained in the last 20 years. As elsewhere in the Balkans, however, Wahhabi incursions have led to a struggle for control of religion and Islamic community-owned property.
Large amounts of money, allegedly from Muslim organizations abroad, have been spent in Bulgaria since the mid-1990s for more than 150 new mosques and so called "teaching centers" to spread Wahhabism.
According to Bulgaria's former chief mufti, Nedim Gendzhev, some Muslim organizations were aiming to create a "fundamentalist triangle" formed by Bosnia, Macedonia and Bulgaria's Western Rhodope mountains. Local newspaper reports say radical Islam is being preached in different cities and villages in southern and northeastern Bulgaria.
In 2003, Bulgarian authorities shut down a number of Islamic centers on the grounds they allegedly belonged to Islamic groups financed mainly by Saudi Arabians that possibly also had links to "radical organizations" such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Official statements said that the centers were shut down "to prevent terrorists getting a foothold in Bulgaria."
However, centers where radical brands of Islam are preached continue to to crop up in the country, said political analyst Dimitar Avramov.
"Along with the three official Muslim schools, there are at least seven other which are not registered and not controlled by the state," he said, adding that in the last 20 years some 3,000 young Muslims have graduated from these schools.
In neighboring Serbia last year, 12 Muslims - allegedly Wahhabis - from the tense southern Sandzak region were sentenced to up to 13 years in prison for planning terrorist attacks, including on the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. The presence of radical Muslims in Sandzak, the poorest region of Serbia, is linked to the advent of mujahedeen foreign fighters who joined Bosnian Muslims in their battle against the Serbs in Bosnia's 1992-95 independence war.
In Bosnia, the issue of Wahhabi influence is one of the most politically charged debates, with Bosnian Serbs maintaining there is a huge presence of Wahhabis in the country and Muslim Bosniaks downplaying the issue and at times claiming it does not exist.
Juan Carlos Antunez, a Spanish military specialist in religious extremism with years of experience in Bosnia, estimates there are about 3,000 people in Bosnia who have embraced this interpretation of Islam and only a small fraction of them are a potential security threat.
In a study prepared for the Sarajevo-based Center for Advanced Studies in May, Antunez argued that Bosnia's official Islamic Community has been successful in curbing Wahhabi influence. Although it did not aggressively ostracize the Wahhabis, it strictly controls the appointments of imams in mosques and lecturers in Islamic educational institutions in the country.
Ahmet Alibasic, a lecturer at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Sarajevo, said most Wahhabis in Bosnia refrain from criticizing the Islamic Community and were even calling for unity among Muslims.
"Their influence reached its peak in 2000, but it has since started falling and it continues to fall," Alibasic said, adding that measures taken by Bosnian authorities after 9/11 had a significant effect as the movement began to lose power after the closure and banning of several Islamic, mostly Saudi-backed, charities which funded the movement.
In Albania, the issue is also charged. Ilir Kulla, former head of the government's department on religious issues, insisted the Wahhabis had not caused any problems in Albania.
Kulla said hundreds of young Albanian men had been educated in universities in the Middle East, including in Saudi Arabia, and were now mosque leaders, but that there had been no attempt by Wahhabis to challenge the leadership of the country's Muslim Community, which he insisted was still moderate.
But in Macedonia, the increasing clout of radical Islam is causing a rift in the country's Muslim community, with a power struggle developing within the country's official Islamic Religious Community between the moderate mainstream and the emerging Wahhabi wing.
"A destructive, radical and extremist current has appeared with an intention of taking over the lead of the Islamic religious community," Selimovski said.
Authorities in Macedonia are reluctant to confirm any threat of radical Islam in the country. But a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic, did acknowledge that "radical groups and their followers are being closely observed."
Last year, three ethnic Albanian brothers originally from Macedonia were implicated - along with a Jordanian, a Turk and a Kosovo Albanian living in the U.S. - in an alleged plot to attack the U.S. Army's Fort Dix military base in New Jersey. No attack was ever staged on the base, which is used largely to train U.S. reservists bound for Iraq.
"Macedonia is part of the international coalition in the fight against terrorism and it cannot be excluded from the responsibility to observe and respond to any possible activity or emerging of terrorists," Interior Ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski told the AP.
Moderate Muslims say the Wahhabi sect now controls five mosques in Skopje even though the Islamic Religious Community has suspended the man they claim is the sect's leader, Ramadan Ramadani, as imam of the Isa Beg mosque in Skopje, and prohibited him from organizing prayers.
But Ramadani, who has launched a petition seeking supporters to overturn the current Community leadership, rejects any accusation of radicalism, saying his opponents are scaremongering.
"They need my name to have somebody to frighten people," Ramadani said. "I do not know any individuals or structures here that could be defined as Wahhabi. It is the attempt of political labeling and stigmatizing people who want reforms."
Ramadani insisted that Macedonia's Islamic community had nothing to do with the online song supporting bin Laden, and denied Macedonian media reports that it had been played in mosques there.
"Bin Laden is nothing for the Muslims in Macedonia," Ramadani said. "He is not our hero."
Associated Press writers Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Sabina Niksic in Sarajevo, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Llazar Semini in Tirana, Nebi Qena in Pristina and Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed to this report.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Elder Daniel of Katounakia (+1929) was originally from Smyrna, and at one point while he was a monk on Mount Athos he lived at Vatopaidi Monastery. One of his obediences was to travel on business for Vatopaidi to Smyrna where he stayed for nine months.
When Elder Daniel was a young boy in Smyrna, there was a simple Christian named Demetrios, who was known for his great virtue and piety, that would counsel and admonish him with heavenly wisdom. Upon his return to Smyrna the elder had heard that Demetrios was dead and he wished to meet with Demetrios' son George to ask him about it. He writes: "As soon as I arrived, I considered it my inviolable duty to first of all visit George, the son of the ever-memorable Demetrios. I questioned him minutely about the death of his father, of whose repose I had heard from many people."
George described the details of his virtuous father's death to Elder Daniel with tears in his eyes, yet one event was so remarkable that Elder Daniel decided to record it for our spiritual benefit.
Archimandrite Cherubim, in his book Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos (vol. 1, pp. 241-245), describes the event as follows:
Reaching the sunset of his earthly life, the divinely-enlightened Demetrios knew beforehand, by the grace of God, the day of his death. On that day he asked a certain devout, guileless, and saintly priest, Fr. Demetrios, to come to him.
"I will die today, my father," he said to him. "I beg you, tell me what I must do at this critical time."
The priest knew of his virtuous life; he knew that he had confessed, received Holy Unction, and had Holy Communion several times. Seeing his desire, however, it came to him to suggest the following:
"If you wish, give a command that after your death forty Liturgies should be served for you in a country chapel."
The dying man accepted the priest's suggestion with joy. A little while later he called his son.
"My son, I ask one favor. I ask that after my death you arrange to have forty Liturgies served for me in some church far away from the city."
"Give me your blessing, Father, and I will promise you to fulfill your wish," was the reply.
After two hours the man of God gave up his spirit. Without delay, his good son addressed Fr. Demetrios, not knowing it was he who had suggested the forty Liturgies.
"Fr. Demetrios, my father left me a command to have forty Liturgies served for him somewhere outside the city. As you sometimes stay at the Chapel of the Holy Apostles, i beg you to take on the labor of serving them. I will take care of your work and the expenses of the church."
With tears the priest replied: "My dear George, I myself gave this advice to your father, and I will always commemorate him as long as I live. I cannot serve a regular forty Liturgies, however, because right now my presvytera is a little sick. You will have to entrust them to another priest."
George, however, knowing Fr. Demetrios' great piety and his father's devotion to him, persisted until he persuaded him. The priest returned to his home and said to his presvytera and his daughters:
"I must serve forty Liturgies for the soul of the good Christian Demetrios. Therefore don't expect me home for forty days. I will be at the Holy Apostles the whole time."
He began willingly to serve the Liturgies. Thirty-nine went by without hindrance, and the last was to fall on a Sunday. On Saturday evening, however, he was seized by a terrible toothache which forced him to return home. He was moaning from the pain. His presvytera suggested that they call someone to extract the painful tooth.
"No," he answered, "I have to serve the last Liturgy tomorrow."
In the middle of the night, however, the pain grew so great that they were forced to summon a specialist to pull the decayed tooth. As he was bleeding, he decided to serve the last Liturgy on Monday.
On Saturday afternoon, George got some money ready to repay the labor of the priest, which he would give him the next day. In the middle of the night, as Sunday was approaching, he arose to pray. The absolute silence of the night was conducive to compunction. Later, growing tired, he sat on his bed and began to recall to his mind the virtues, gifts and wise words of his blessed father. The thought also passed through his mind: "Do the forty Liturgies really benefit the soul of the reposed, or does the Church mainly recommend them for the consolation of the living?" Just at that moment he fell into a light sleep.
He saw himself in a beautiful plain, of an indescribable loveliness one does not see the earth. He felt himself unworthy to be in such a holy paradisiacal place, however, and was overcome by fear, afraid that because of his unworthiness he would be cast out from there and thrust into the depth of hades. But the thought strengthened him: "Since the All-Good God deigned to bring me here, He will have mercy on me and lead me to repentance, for since I am still in my body I must still be living."
After this consoling thought he saw from afar a most pure and clear light, shining much brighter than the sun. He ran towards it and saw with unspeakable surprise a sight of indescribable beauty. Before him stretched a vast forest-garden, all wooded, fragrant with a wonderful and unutterable aroma. He said within himself: "This must be Paradise! Oh, what blessedness awaits those who live virtuously on the earth!"
Examining this other-worldly beauty with astonishment and delight, he saw a most beautiful palace of exceeding brightness and excelling architectural grace, whose walls shone more than gold and diamonds. It was impossible to describe it beauty in human terms, and he was speechless and amazed. Drawing closer - oh joy! He saw his father, light-bearing and shining, before the door of the palace.
"How did you come here, my child?" his father asked him with gentleness and love.
"I don't know either, Father. I realize that I am not worthy of this place. But tell me, how are you here? How did you come here? Whose palace is this?"
"The goodness of our Savior Christ, by the intercession of the Mother of God, whom I especially revere, vouchsafed me this place. I was to have entered into the palace today, but since the builder who is constructing it is suffering from bad health - he had his tooth extracted today - the forty days of its building have not been completed. Therefore I will enter it tomorrow."
After those words George awoke, full of tears and wonder, but also with some perplexities. For the remainder of the night he did not sleep, but sent up continuous praise and glorification to the All-Good God. In the morning he went to attend Liturgy at the Cathedral of St. Photini. Afterwards he took with him prosphora, blessed wine, and an unburnt candle and set out for the region of Mirtakia, where the Chapel of the Holy Apostles was located. He found Fr. Demetrios sitting in a chair inside his cell.
The priest welcomed him with joy, saying: "I also have just come from Divine Liturgy. Now the forty Liturgies are finished."
This he said so as not to grieve George.
George then began to describe in detail the vision he had in the night. When he came to the account of his father's entering was delayed because of the builder's toothache, the priest was overcome with fear, but also by wonder and joy. Standing upright, he said:
"My dear George, I am the builder who worked at constructing the palace. Today I did not serve Liturgy because I had my tooth extracted. See, the handkerchief in my hand is stained with blood. I told you a falsehood because I didn't want to sadden you."
Elder Daniel was deeply moved by this blessed narrative. At the end, George urged him to visit Fr. Demetrios, who at that time was working as a priest in the district of St. John the Theologian. The priest told him exactly the same story, and begged him to record such a profitable tale. This is what happened, as we found it among his manuscripts. At the end of it, Elder Daniel noted with his pen: "The above account I heard in the year 1875, in the month of October. This ever-memorable Demetrios reposed in 1869."
John Julius Norwich tells the dramatic story of the fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire, followed by the rise of the Ottoman Turks in the 15th Century. Using monuments in Istanbul to show the formidable artistic and intellectual achievements of the Byzantines, Norwich vividly describes the last scenes of Greek Orthodox Christianity from within the Hagia Sophia.
CHANNEL: BBC 2
FIRST BROADCAST: 25 October 1967
DURATION: 32 minutes 42 seconds
See the documentary here.
By Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos
According to the Orthodox faith, the Church is not founded on written texts but on the confession that Christ is God-Man (Theanthropos), namely that in the person of Christ, God was joined with man, “indivisibly, immovably, unmistakably, inseparably,” and man has come into actual communion with God, and in the person of Christ, God and man were hypostatically united, in one unique hypostasis.
The Son and Word of God continues to be hypostatically united with His body and as the Head of the Church, He is always united with us (Matt. 18:20; 28:20). The presence of Christ is activated by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church (1 Cor. 12: 3). This is why the Church is also “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Cor. 2:7-11).
Our holy faith was delivered to the body of Christ, “to the saints once and for all” – and whoever does not belong to this body cannot properly interpret Holy Scripture (2 Thess. 3:6; 2 Peter 3:16; Jude 3-4). In this sense Holy Tradition is the experience of the Church, the holy memory of the Church, which is guarded as a precious treasure (2 Tim. 1:13-14).
Holy Scripture does not contain the fullness of the divine revelation. Already in the Old Testament the importance of oral tradition and the care of its passing down from generation to generation is highlighted (Ps 43:2, 44:1; Joel 1:3). The New Testament mentions that it does not have the completeness of the words and works of Christ (John 21:15).
The same Holy Scriptures make use of Tradition (Num. 21:14-15; Matt 2:23; Acts 20:35; 2 Tim 3:8, Jude 14). Christ did not exhort His disciples to write books but to preach, promising that He would always be with them (Matt. 28:20) and that He would send them the Holy Spirit to be with them (John 14:16), to teach and to remind them of His teaching (John 14: 25-26), to guide them “to the whole truth” by revealing to them the deeper meaning of the words of Christ, all those things that they were not able to “bear” by their own power to (John 16: 12-15).
The apostles were also not limited to written texts – they passed on to the first Christians much more than what was written “with paper and ink” (2 John 12; 3 John 13-14; 1 Cor. 11:34). Some of those things written proved to be relevant to the time, because they were not maintained by the Church, such as the number of deacons (Acts 6:3), the order of widows (1 Tim 5:9), the washing of feet (John 13:14).
At the center of Holy Scripture is the person of Christ (John 5:38-39; Gal. 3:24). Without Christ, we cannot understand Holy Scripture (2 Cor. 3:14). Therefore, union to the body of Christ, namely to the Church, assures the purity of the Gospel truth (1 Tim. 3:15).
Holy Scripture is not intended for just anyone, but for the faithful, who are gathered in one body. Holy Tradition is the atmosphere in which the body lives and understands the truth properly; it is the constant experience of the Church, her conscience – not personal opinions, teachings and writings of men (Isaiah 29:13; Matt. 15:3,4,9; Mark 7:8; Col. 2:8).
Based on the treasure of the holy memory of the Church, the study of Holy Scripture leads to unity, and not the breakdown of the Church. This way the will of Christ for the unity of the faithful is fulfilled (John 17:20-21). That is why the apostles advised Christians to hold onto the traditions – that is, the treasure with which they entrusted them (1 Cor. 11:2; Phil. 4:9) “either by word or by epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Tim. 1:13).
The shepherds of the Church were placed in this position to remain alert, namely to be guards [episcopos (bishop) = overseer] of the purity of the life and of the teaching of the Church (Acts 20:28-31): “Stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands… Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me… that good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Spirit which dwelleth in us” (2 Tim. 1:6,13,14), “and the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2).
In other words, apostolic succession goes together with apostolic teaching. In this way, we understand the words of Saint Ignatius (110): “Because Jesus Christ, our true life, is the mind of the Father, just like the bishops who have been appointed all over the world are with the mind of Jesus Christ ('mind in Jesus Christ'). Therefore, you too follow the mind of the bishop, something you already do, for the worthiness of your ministry’s name which is also worthy of God, and joined together with the bishop, like the strings with the guitar” (Ignatius, Eph. 3, 2-4, 1).
This teaching is not a recent one – it is a conviction from the beginning of Christianity: “From the dogmas and the truths that the Church guards, some we have received from written teaching while others that have mystically reached us we have received from the tradition of the apostles. Both elements, written and oral traditions, have the same importance for the faith. And no one who has even a little knowledge of ecclesiastical practices raises any objections concerning them. For if we set out to abandon whatever customs are unwritten, that somehow they do not have great importance, without realizing it we would harm the essence of the Gospel or rather we would turn the message into a name void of meaning” (Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 27:66).
During the time of St. Basil the Great, whoever had even “a little knowledge of the ecclesiastical practices” agreed that divine revelation was mystically guarded by the Church in its fullness. As an example, St. Basil mentions the custom of “those hoping in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” showing their faith “by making the sign of the Cross.”
Here, therefore, we have a basic difference with the Protestant world. Their claim “Sola Scriptura" (Scripture Alone) leaves Scripture itself bare, exposed to the “authentic interpretation” and the “infallibility” of each pastor.
Holy Scripture cannot be made absolute, because it would replace the living Christ with the letter of the Bible, becoming divine and isolated from the life of the body of Christ, from the life of the saints (Jude 3). Holy Scripture is the “word about God which passed through the hearts of the saints, it is the word of God concerning God” (G. Metallinos), the truth delivered “once and for all” to the saints (Jude 3), and in fact not the fulness of truth but a part of it. It cannot be understood separately from the Church (1 Tim. 3:15).
Source: Manual on Heresies and Para-Christian Groups
September 20, 2010
Eastern American Diocese ROCOR
With the blessing of the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, His Eminence Hilarion, Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York, the Protectress of the Russian Diaspora, the wonder-working Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God "of the Sign," visited St. Nektarios Greek Monastery in Roscoe, New York on Friday the 17th and Saturday the 18th of September. The icon was accompanied by Hieromonk Nicholas (Perekrestov; cleric of the Synodal Cathedral of the Sign) and members of the diocesan media office.
St. Nektarios Monastery was founded in 1999 with the blessing of Archimandrite Ephraim ("Elder Ephraim of Philotheou;" abbot of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona). The monastery is home to approximately 20 monks and 5 novices. The monastery rector is Abbot Joseph – formerly a monk of Mount Athos.
Abbot Joseph and the monastery brethren greeted the icon at the monastery church under the peal of bells. A paraklesis (a supplicatory canon to the Most Holy Mother of God), vespers, and small compline were then served. In accordance with monastery tradition, the Divine Liturgy began at 3:00 AM. At 11:00 AM, the monks once again served a paraklesis followed by a Panagia service. All of the divine services were served in Greek.
Before the icon’s departure, on behalf of Metropolitan Hilarion, Hieromonk Nicholas presented the abbot with an exact-size copy of the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God, and gave all of the monks a history of the icon with an akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos, along with a copy of the icon. The icon then departed for the New Kursk Root Hermitage in Mahopac, NY. Photos and video of the Kursk Root Icon’s visit to St. Nektarios Monastery are available below.
See photos here.
By Jerry DiPaola
September 19, 2010
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said his quest for religious guidance was an attempt to find true meaning in his life.
"I wasn't satisfied with what my idea of faith was," said Polamalu, 29, who said he felt blessed to be exposed to Catholic, Mormon and Protestant churches as a child in Oregon. "I went to church. Some days I would feel the music, I'd feel the sermon; some days I wouldn't. Sometimes, I would be crying. Sometimes, I would be dead and bored.
"That emotional experience was a very shallow experience. I wanted something that would touch my heart, not my emotions."
Polamalu started reading about religions and their history. He met with monks, even finding a Buddhist who lived in the desert in California.
"I was on a quest to find the truth," he said.
He chose Greek Orthodox and was baptized four years ago.
"The only church that I can say really never swayed was the Orthodox church," he said.
Polamalu found the truth on Mount Athos, a peninsula in Greece where he spent four days living with monks in a monastery.
Enormous, old castles dot the seashores and mountain slopes of Greece, and male monks — no women are permitted on the peninsula — live a life of confinement, prayer, asceticism and contemplation. Many monks live in caves, as they have for thousands of years.
"You're talking 1,500 years of tradition that has been passed down and unblemished," said Polamalu, who acquired a small, wooden cross on Mt. Athos that he wears around his neck at all times.
Polamalu is almost insulted when someone expresses amazement at how seriously he embraces his faith.
"We're talking about faith. We're talking about God," he said. "How can you not take that seriously? We're talking about the meaning of life, really."
Polamalu is careful not to push his beliefs onto others.
"It can lead to resentment, and that is not what you want," he said. "There is also a sense of arrogance sometimes when people are really hearty, evangelizers, and that is opposite of what faith is. Like, 'I know this better than you.' There are a lot of pitfalls to that."
Asked if it's proper to pray for victory or a game free of injury, Polamalu said: "That's for God to judge."
But he adds: "It's not about winning games. It's about winning your soul."
In addition to other charisms possessed by the godly Euthymius, he also received this one from God—the grace of living with carnivorous and poisonous animals without being harmed by them. This should be doubted by no one initiated into Holy Scripture, who has precise knowledge that when God dwells in a man and rests upon him all beings are subject to him, as they were to Adam before he transgressed God’s commandment. Not only the wild animals but the very elements are subject to such a man: to my statement bear witness those who divided the sea, curbed the Jordan, made the sun stand still, turned fire into dew and performed innumerable other prodigies. According the very God who worked these miracles subjected to the inspired Euthymius also not only the visible but also the spiritual monsters, I mean the spiritual powers of wickedness; for such are the charisms bestowed by God.
From the "Life of St. Euthymius" by St. Cyril of Scythopolis (The Lives of the Monks of Palestine, trans. R.M. Price [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1991], pp. 18-9).
By Elder Paisios the Athonite (+1994)
In the past, people were so brave! In the Monastery of the Flavians in Asia Minor, the Turks had captured a man and slaughtered him. Then they told his wife, 'Either you deny Christ, or we will kill your children too.' And she replied, 'My husband is now with Christ, and I entrust my children to Christ and I will not renounce Christ.' What bravery! If Christ is not in us, how can there be such bravery? Today, people without Christ are building their home on rubble...
What love the holy Martyrs had for Christ, what bravery! ... [For example,] St. Gideon the Karakallenos (+1818) -- what amazing forbearance he had! To his executioners he said, 'Take my hand, take my leg, take my nose.' In short, take everything! Incredible! But for a man to reach that point, he must not love himself, he must love God. A mother runs into a fire to save her child. She doesn't feel any pain, because her love is stronger than the burning of the fire. Her love for her child masks the pain. So you can imagine how much more the love for Christ can mask the pain of martyrdom!...
For the Saint approaching martyrdom, the love for Christ is stronger than the pain; it neutralizes it. The Martyrs felt the executioner's sword to be sweeter than the bow of a violin. When the love of Christ really blossoms, then martyrdom becomes a festival; fire refreshes better than a bath, because the burning feeling is dispelled by the burning of divine love. A flaying becomes a caress...
Divine eros takes hold of the heart, takes hold of the mind, and man goes 'mad'. He does not feel the pain of anything else, because his mind is on Christ; and his heart is overflowing with joy. So many Saints went to their martyrdom and felt such joy, one would think they were going to a festival!...
If one does not start sacrificing something now, like giving up some desire or selfishness, how will he ever be able to sacrifice his life at a given time? If, even now, he thinks of the labor, and tries to avoid working a little harder than the next person, how will he ever attain the state of risking his own life to save another's? ... When there is no spirit of sacrifice, everyone looks only to save himself...
These years are like a pressure-cooker that is boiling and whistling. It takes endurance, bravery and manliness. If something should happen, be sure not to leave yourselves completely unprepared. Be prepared from now to face any potential difficulty. What did Christ say? Didn't He say, 'Be ye ready?' (Luke 12:40)...
Living in such difficult times as today, gives us one more reason to be all the more prepared. It is not only sudden death that we may encounter; there are other dangers as well. Therefore, dispel the spirit of ease and comfort for ourselves. Let the spirit of philotimo prevail. May you always have the spirit of sacrifice...
A woman, who had everything, once told me that having children is a dizzy bother. She couldn't be bothered to be a mother! When a mother thinks like that, she becomes useless; for mothers, after all, are suppose to love naturally... When a person has a sense of sacrifice, he does not complain, he is not lazy; he rejoices. That is the key: to have a spirit of sacrifice...
Oh, what joy it brings! Nowadays people don't savor this joy of sacrifice, and this is why they are tormented. They have no ideals in them; they are too bored to live. A generous heart and self-denial are what drives us. Without this force, we are tormented...
The miracle happens when someone can be compassionate and feel the other's pain. It is this very pain that moves God and brings about the miracle. For there is nothing else that moves God as much as a noble and sacrificial spirit. But now, in our time, this kind of nobility is rare, because self-love and self-restraint have entered the picture. Seldom does someone say, 'Let me give my turn, my place, to someone else, and it's alright if I am delayed.'...
The good is good, only when the one who does it sacrifices something from himself -- some sleep, some rest and so on. That is why Christ said [of the widow], 'But she, out of her need, hath cast in all the living that she had.' When I am at ease and do some good, it does not have the same value. But when I am tired and some one asks me, let's say, for directions and I do it, then it has value...
Can you imagine what joy is experienced by the one who sacrifices himself? One cannot even express the joy he feels. Sublime joy emanates from sacrifice. Only when we sacrifice ourselves can we be related to Christ, for Christ is sacrifice. Man can live in Paradise from here and now, or he can live in Hell. Whoever does good is overjoyed, for he is rewarded with divine consolation. Whoever does evil, suffers.