St Dionysius lived originally in the city of Athens. He was raised there and received a classical Greek education. He then went to Egypt, where he studied astronomy at the city of Heliopolis. It was in Heliopolis, along with his friend Apollophonos where he witnessed the solar eclipse that occurred at the moment of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ by Crucifixion. "Either the Creator of all the world now suffers, or this visible world is coming to an end," Dionysius said. Upon his return to Athens from Egypt, he was chosen to be a member of the Areopagus Council (Athenian high court).
When the holy Apostle Paul preached at the place on the Hill of Ares (Acts 17:16-34), Dionysius accepted his salvific proclamation and became a Christian. For three years St Dionysius remained a companion of the holy Apostle Paul in preaching the word of God. Later on, the Apostle Paul selected him as bishop of the city of Athens. And in the year 57 St Dionysius was present at the repose of the Most Holy Theotokos.
During the lifetime of the Mother of God, St Dionysius had journeyed from Athens to Jerusalem to meet Her. He wrote to his teacher the Apostle Paul: "I witness by God, that besides the very God Himself, there is nothing else filled with such divine power and grace. No one can fully comprehend what I saw. I confess before God: when I was with John, who shone among the Apostles like the sun in the sky, when I was brought before the countenance of the Most Holy Virgin, I experienced an inexpressible sensation. Before me gleamed a sort of divine radiance which transfixed my spirit. I perceived the fragrance of indescribable aromas and was filled with such delight that my very body became faint, and my spirit could hardly endure these signs and marks of eternal majesty and heavenly power. The grace from her overwhelmed my heart and shook my very spirit. If I did not have in mind your instruction, I should have mistaken Her for the very God. It is impossible to stand before greater blessedness than this which I beheld."
After the death of the Apostle Paul, St Dionysius wanted to continue with his work, and therefore went off preaching in the West, accompanied by the Presbyter Rusticus and Deacon Eleutherius. They converted many to Christ at Rome, and then in Germany, and then in Spain. In Gaul, during a persecution against Christians by the pagan authorities, all three confessors were arrested and thrown into prison. By night St Dionysius celebrated the Divine Liturgy with angels of the Lord. In the morning the martyrs were beheaded. According to an old tradition, St Dionysius took up his head, proceeded with it to the church and fell down dead there. A pious woman named Catulla buried the relics of the saint.
The writings of St Dionysius the Areopagite hold great significance for the Orthodox Church. Four books of his have survived to the present day:
- On the Celestial Hierarchy
- On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy
- On the Names of God
- On Mystical Theology
- In additional, there are ten letters to various people.
The book On the Celestial Hierarchies was written actually in one of the countries of Western Europe, where St Dionysius was preaching. In it he speaks of the Christian teaching about the angelic world. The angelic (or Celestial-Heavenly) hierarchy comprises the nine angelic Ranks:
The purpose of the divinely-established Angelic Hierarchy is the ascent towards godliness through purification, enlightenment and perfection. The highest ranks are bearers of divine light and divine life for the lower ranks. And not only are the sentient, bodiless angelic hosts included in the spiritual light-bearing hierarchy, but also the human race, created anew and sanctified in the Church of Christ.
The book of St Dionysius On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchies is a continuation of his book On the Celestial Hierarchies. The Church of Christ, like the Angelic ranks, in its universal service is set upon the foundation of priestly principles established by God.
In the earthly world, for the children of the Church, divine grace comes down indescribably in the holy Mysteries of the Church, which are spiritual in nature, though perceptible to the senses in form. Few, even among the holy ascetics, were able to behold with their earthly eyes the fiery vision of the Holy Mysteries of God. But outside of the Church's sacraments, outside of Baptism and the Eucharist, the light-bearing saving grace of God is not found, neither is divine knowledge nor theosis (deification).
The book On the Names of God expounds upon the way of divine knowledge through a progression of the Divine Names.
St Dionysius' book On Mystical Theology also sets forth the teaching about divine knowledge. The theology of the Orthodox Church is totally based upon experience of divine knowledge. In order to know God it is necessary to be in proximity to Him, to have come near to Him in some measure, so as to attain dommunion with God and deification (theosis). This condition is accomplished through prayer. This is not because prayer in itself brings us close to the incomprehensible God, but rather that the purity of heart in true prayer brings us closer to God.
The written works of St Dionysius the Areopagite are of extraordinary significance in the theology of the Orthodox Church, and also for late Medieval Western theology. For almost four centuries, until the beginning of the sixth century, the works of this holy Father of the Church were preserved in an obscure manuscript tradition, primarily by theologians of the Alexandrian Church. The concepts in these works were known and utilized by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Dionysius the Great, pre-eminent figures of the catechetical school in Alexandria, and also by St Gregory the Theologian. St Dionysius of Alexandria wrote to St Gregory the Theologian a Commentary on the "Areopagitum". The works of St Dionysius the Areopagite received general Church recognition during the sixth-seventh centuries.
Particularly relevant are the Commentaries written by St Maximus the Confessor (January 21).
In the Russian Orthodox Church the teachings of St Dionysius the Areopagite about the spiritual principles and deification were at first known through the writings of St John of Damascus (December 4). The first Slavonic translation of the "Areopagitum" was done on Mt. Athos in about the year 1371 by a monk named Isaiah. Copies of it were widely distributed in Russia. Many of them have been preserved to the present day in historic manuscript collections, among which is a parchment manuscript "Works of St Dionysius the Areopagite" belonging to St Cyprian, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus (September 16) in his own handwriting.
According to one tradition, he was killed at Lutetia (ancient name of Paris, France) in the year 96 during the persecution under the Roman emperor Dometian (81-96). Today most scholars and theologians believe that St Dionysius the Areopagite did not die in Gaul, and that St Dionysius (or Denys) of Paris is a different saint with the same name.
St Demetrius of Rostov says that the Hieromartyr Dionysius was beheaded in Athens, and that many miracles were worked at his grave.
The Authenticity of Dionysius the Areopagite's Writings
The Dionysian Authorship of the "Corpus Areopagiticum" According to Fr. Dumitru Stăniloae
HYMN OF PRAISE: The Holy Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Glorious Saint Dionysius,
Wondrous theologian and lucid scribe!
His mind, gathered in his heart, he directed to God;
He witnessed heavenly mysteries and revealed them to us.
He perceived the glory of the heavenly orders
And described the hierarchy of heaven:
Principalities, Dominions, Virtues, Powers,
Wondrous Thrones, Seraphim,
Cherubim and Archangels,
Golden-winged Angels of God,
And the Mother of God.
He beheld all with fear,
And also that which shines above the dust of the earth:
Heavenly powers of infinite strength,
Immortal suns and stars most brilliant!
All that he witnessed, Dionysius made clear
And told to the Church.
Thus he adorned and enriched the Church,
And his accomplishments were made golden
By his bloody death for his Christ.
Now he shines in heaven;
And the angelic hosts, blazing with the glory of God,
Call Dionysius "Brother".
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Since thou hadst been instructed in uprightness thoroughly and wast vigilant in all things, thou wast clothed with a good conscience as befitteth one holy. Thou didst draw from the Chosen Vessel ineffable mysteries; and having kept the Faith, thou didst finish a like course, O Hieromartyr Dionysios. Intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
In spirit, thou dist pass through Heaven's gates, instructed by the great Apostle who attained to the third Heaven's heights, and wast made rich in all knowledge of things beyond speech; and then thou, O Dionysius, didst illuminate them that slumbered in the darkness of their ignorance. Hence we all cry out: Rejoice, O universal Father.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
St Dionysius lived originally in the city of Athens. He was raised there and received a classical Greek education. He then went to Egypt, where he studied astronomy at the city of Heliopolis. It was in Heliopolis, along with his friend Apollophonos where he witnessed the solar eclipse that occurred at the moment of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ by Crucifixion. "Either the Creator of all the world now suffers, or this visible world is coming to an end," Dionysius said. Upon his return to Athens from Egypt, he was chosen to be a member of the Areopagus Council (Athenian high court).
The evil spirits are always wanting to interfere with whatever we are doing for our salvation. Alas, we - who are lukewarm - usually say to ourselves, 'Wait, I have not yet done this, I have not yet tried that ... I will repent later. After I have done all these things, I will repent, God; and I will walk the straight path --- wandering neither to the right nor to the left.' This is exactly what the spirits of evil want us to do. They want us to put off our salvation until tomorrow, or the day after, and so on and so forth, until the end of our life. But the Holy Fathers say, 'Go with the Lord, go today, follow Him!'
- Elder Thaddeus of Serbia (+2002)
October 03, 2010
Thousands of faithful Serbs gathered in the Kosovo town of Pec to attend the enthroning ceremony of the head of Serbia's Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej.
The 80-year-old Patriarch Irinej succeeded Pavle after his death in November 2009. The first part of the two-stage enthronement ceremony took place in Belgrade in January.
The ceremony, attended by Serbian President Boris Tadic and other high-ranking officials, is the first of its kind in the ethnic-Albanian-dominated town of Pec since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008.
Security was tight as around 900 Kosovo police were deployed around the church's picturesque mountain location, said Amra Zejneli, an RFE/RL correspondent in Kosovo.
NATO-led peacekeepers and the European Union's police mission were alongside local police forces to ensure security.
"According to the police, around 2,500 pilgrims came from Serbia to witness the ceremony," Zejneli said. "Also, Serbians from central Kosovo arrived in several buses. Some people also came from Montenegro."
"Outside the church, there is a big plasma screen, where people can see what's going on inside the church. You can see various people here, some very very old, some middle-aged, and some very young," Zejneli said.
Irinej arrived in Pec on October 2. He urged both ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians to find a solution to Kosovo's contested status.
These are "very, very difficult times" for Serbia, the patriarch said.
The two sides are expected to start an EU-sponsored dialogue, but the exact date for the talks has not yet been set.
Tensions between Pristina and Belgrade were increased recently, after Kosovo cut off Serbian mobile phone services in its territory.
Serbia rejects Kosovo's declaration of independence, and Serbia's Orthodox Church backs Belgrade's official position on Kosovo.
Kosovo has been recognized by 70 countries, including the United States and most EU nations.
The majority of Serbia's population of 7.5 million people identify themselves as Christian Orthodox. There are some 100,000 Orthodox Serbs living in Kosovo, where the predominant religion is Islam.
See more photos here.
Read also: Enthronement Homily of His Holiness Serbian Patriarch, Kyr Irinej - The Patriarchate of Pech, 3 October 2010
At the age of seventeen Father Roman left the world and joined the first mission to reopen Valaam Russian Orthodox Monastery, located in Valaam, Russia, after it had been desecrated and secularized for fifty years. In his youthful zeal he heeded the call to martyrdom four years later. He was an idealist and a romantic poet, known for his frequent departure from this world into prayer, even to the sometimes humorous obliviousness of his monastic obediences. He was zealous in his labor for God and his salvation, striving to help his superiors as much as he could. His spirit was joyful and light, but his deep and sober soul heard a call when the Bosnian Muslims and the Catholic Croatians were cruelly and lawlessly killing the Orthodox Serbians. He entered the front lines in Bosnia and was martyred in 1994, on October 2nd, thereby joining the saints of Valaam in heaven. There were quite of few monk saints who, when need arose, would exchange their monastic garb for that of a warrior to save Holy Russia from the onslaught of apostates or pagans. These Christ-loving warriors considered it their duty to follow in the steps of the disciples of St. Sergius of Radonezh, who went to the Kulikovo battlefield and saved Russia.
Source: Excerpts from Valaam Patericon -Book of Days- Valaam Society of America, New Valaam Monastery, Alaska 1999. p. 103.
BBC reporter John Sweeney's last investigation into the Church of Scientology resulted in an explosive confrontation with church officials. This time, in a Panorama Special, one of those officials has turned whistleblower to help him reveal the dark secrets of the church, which boasts Hollywood A-listers Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its devotees.
September 26, 2010 Litany in honor of the Translation of the Precious Skull of the First-Called Apostle Andrew. This took place in Patras, Greece at the Church of Saint Andrew.
For the history of this relic, read here.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
It was summer, July of 1995, and I was in Athens. I went to the Holy Monastery of Saints Cyprian and Justina, in Fili of Attika. I received various blessings from the Monastery as well as a booklet issued by Metropolitan Cyprian with the life, martyrdom, prayers against magic and Supplication Service of their Holy Protectors, whose holy icon of the Saints is on the cover.
When I went to our home, I left behind all of these blessings and departed for other shrines in Evrytania and Mount Athos.
My wife, who was left behind at the house, took the booklet at night of Saint Cyprian and Justina and began to read it. Yet she had a terrible struggle in her thoughts, though she continued to read it until she completed the whole thing.
The thoughts which came to her were that the things written in the book, with all the details from the 3rd and 4th century, are not possible to be accurate and true. Who was around at that time? How did they know all these things and handed them down exactly with what we read today?
These thoughts were continuous, allowing her to doubt the truthfulness of the lives of Saints Cyprian and Justina and all the contents of this book.
Despite all the thoughts of doubt as to the validity of the lives of the Saints, she completed it and placed it next to her on the bedside table as she lay down to sleep.
She does not remember how much time elapsed or whether she was awake or sleeping when she saw in front of her, at the edge of her bed, the divinely eloquent Saint Cyprian and the good martyr of the Lord Justina, who was at the right of the Saint and a little behind, appearing as they do exactly in their holy icon. With the vestments of a bishop was Saint Cyprian, and Saint Justina was in white garments, bright, golden and wondrous, and they were both giving off light.
Saint Cyprian looked at her without speaking, he nodded his holy head downwards, and my wife then says that he immediately asked why she was having such thoughts.
He then said to her:
"This is how it was, exactly as you read it."
And immediately the Saints vanished, as if they headed for the door in the kitchen. Saint Justina did not say anything.
Immediately my wife Katherine got up (she was probably not sleeping) and as she turned, towards her right, where her icon-corner was, she did her cross and prayed.
Feeling in awe she then had an unprecedented feeling; a wind filled the entire room. In the beginning she was afraid, but then she felt a great peace.
When she thinks of this vision today she feels awed and does not believe she was sleeping, but that she saw them with her eyes, and that the Saints confirmed the truths contained within their lives and all else that is written therein.
Every time she refers to this miraculous vision she feels the same awe as she did then, through the Saints.
The next day following the appearance of the Saints, she told those who were close to her, and also to me when I returned from the shrines I was visiting.
From that time she tells everyone who she knows and always feels our Saints Cyprian and Justina near as if alive and the memory of the vision very close.
Saints Cyprian and Justina, intercede on our behalf!
* This was written by John (Ioannis) N. Kallianiotis, Associate Professor of Finance in the School of Management at the University of Scranton, with the permission of his wife Katherine, on 28 December 1996, in Scranton of Pennsylvania.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos
Read also: The Lives of Saints Cyprian and Justina
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Andrew was a Slav by birth. As a young man, he was enslaved; and was bought by Theognostus, a wealthy man in Constantinople, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise (son of Emperor Basil the Macedonian).
Andrew was handsome in body and soul. Theognostus took a liking to Andrew, and allowed him to become literate. Andrew fervently prayed to God, and with love attended church services.
Obeying a heavenly revelation, he adopted the ascesis of foolishness for Christ.
Once, when he went to the well for water, he tore off his clothes, and slashed them with a knife, feigning insanity. Saddened by this, his master Theognostus bound him in chains and brought him to the Church of St. Anastasia the Deliverer from Potions, so that prayers would be read for him. But Andrew did not improve, and his master freed him as mentally ill.
Andrew pretended insanity by day, but prayed to God all night long. He lived without shelter of any kind. He even spent the nights outside, walked around half-naked in a single tattered garment, and ate only a little bread when good men would give it to him. He shared all that he received with the beggars, and would mock them-to avoid being be thanked by them-for holy Andrew wanted all his reward to come from God. Therefore, the great grace of God entered into him and he was able to discern the secrets of men, perceive angels and demons, exorcize demons from men, and correct men from their sins.
Andrew had a most beautiful vision of Paradise and the exalted powers of heaven. He also saw the Lord Christ on His throne of glory; and he, with his disciple Epiphanius, saw the Most-holy Theotokos in the Church of Blachernae as she covered the Christian people with her omophorion. This occurence is celebrated as the Feast of the Protection of the Most-Holy Theotokos (October 1). In a vision he also heard ineffable, heavenly words that he dared not repeat to men.
After a life of almost unparalleled harshness of ascesis, Andrew entered into rest in the eternal glory of his Lord in 911.
A Vision of St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ (1)
A monk in Constantinople was distinguished as an ascetic and spiritual father, and many people came to him for prayers. But this monk had the secret vice of avarice. He collected money and gave it to no one. St. Andrew met him on the street one day, and saw a terrible snake coiled around his neck. St. Andrew took pity on him, approached him, and began to counsel him: "Brother, why have you lost your soul? Why have you bound yourself with the demon of avarice? Why have you given him a resting place within yourself? Why are you amassing gold as though it will go to the grave with you, and not into the hands of others? Why are you strangling yourself by stinginess? While others hunger and thirst and perish from cold, you rejoice looking at your heap of gold! Is this the path of repentance? Is this the monastic rank? Do you see your demon?" At that, the spiritual eyes of the monk were opened, and he saw the dark demon and was greatly horrified. The demon dropped away from the monk and fled, driven by Andrew's power. Then a most radiant angel of God appeared to the monk, for his heart was changed for the good. Immediately, he went about distributing his hoarded gold to the poor and needy. From then on, he pleased God in everything and was more greatly glorified than before.
A Vision of St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ (2)
Once, St. Andrew was sitting with his disciple Epiphanius, talking about the salvation of the soul. Just then, a demon approached Epiphanius and began setting traps to distract his thoughts, but did not dare to approach Andrew. Andrew cried out: "Depart from here, impure adversary!" The devil drew back and replied maliciously: "You are my adversary, such as no other in all of Constantinople!" Andrew did not drive him away immediately, but permitted him to speak. And the devil began: "I feel that the time is coming when my work will be finished. At that time, men will be worse than I, as children will be even more wicked than adults. Then I will rest and will not teach men anything anymore, since they themselves will carry out my will in everything." Andrew asked him: "In what sins do your kind rejoice the most?" The devil replied: "The service of idols, slander, malice against one's neighbor, the sodomite sin, drunkenness and avarice-in this we rejoice the most." Andrew further asked him: "And how do you tolerate it when someone who first served you rejects you and your works?" The devil replied: "You know that better than I do; we find it difficult to tolerate, but we are comforted by this: we will probably bring them back to us-for many who have rejected us and turned to God have come back to us again." After the evil spirit had said this and much more, St. Andrew breathed on him and he disappeared.
A Vision of St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ (3)
Holy Andrew, walking one day along the streets of Constantinople, saw a great and splendid funeral. A rich man had died, and his cortege was magnificent. But when he looked more closely, Andrew saw a host of little black men capering merrily around the corpse, one grinning like a prostitute, another barking like a dog, a third grunting like a pig, a fourth pouring something filthy over the body. And they were mocking the singers and saying: "You're singing over a dog!" Andrew, marveling, wondered what this man had done. Turning round, he saw a handsome youth standing weeping behind a wall. "For the sake of the God of heaven and earth, tell me the reason for your tears", said Andrew. The young man then told him that he had been the dead man's guardian angel, but that the man had, by his sins, greatly offended God, casting his angel's counsel from him and giving himself over utterly to the black demons. And the angel said that this man was a great and unrepentant sinner: a liar, a hater of men, a miser, a shedder of blood and a dissolute man who had turned three hundred souls to immorality. In vain was he honoured by the Emperor and respected by the people. In vain was this great funeral. Death had caught him unrepentant, and the harvest had come without warning.
A Vision of St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ (4)
St. Paul was not the only one to be caught up into Paradise and hear "unspeakable words" (II Cor. 12:4). Over eight hundred and fifty years after St. Paul, this happened to St. Andrew. One winter night, holy Andrew was lying among the dogs on a dunghill, to warm his frozen body. An angel appeared to him and caught him up to Paradise (whether in the body or out of the body, Andrew himself was unable to explain) and kept him for two weeks in the heavenly world, bearing him to the third heaven. "I saw myself clad in shining garments like lightning, with a wreath of flowers on my head and girt with a kingly girdle, and I rejoiced greatly at this beauty, and marveled in mind and heart at the unspeakable loveliness of God's Paradise, and I walked around it with great gladness."
After that, Andrew writes of how he saw Christ the Lord: "And when a flaming hand drew aside the curtain, I saw my Lord as the Prophet Isaiah saw Him aforetime, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up and surrounded by seraphim. He was clad in a red garment, His face shone and His eyes rested on me with great kindness. Seeing Him, I fell down before Him, worshipping before the awesome throne of His glory. I have no words for the joy that gripped me at the sight of His face; and now, remembering this vision, I am filled with unspeakable joy. And I heard my most merciful Creator speak three words to me with His most sweet and pure lips, which so sweetened my heart and inflamed it with love for Him that I melted as wax at such spiritual warmth." When St. Andrew asked also after this if it would be possible to see the Most-Holy Mother of God, it was said to him that she was for the moment not in heaven, but had gone down to earth to be of help to the poor and needy.
HYMN OF PRAISE: Saint Andrew the Fool-for-Christ
Fool-for-Christ Andrew stood at night
Under the starry firmament, praying:
"O Most-High God, three Persons in one Essence,
Salvation and Revival of souls that slumber!
O sweet Jesus, sweeter than life,
Treasury of joy and eternal beauty,
Cleanse the shepherds, enlighten the kings,
Console the troubled and sanctify the whole world.
Do not separate even me, the sinner, Andrew the Fool-for-Christ,
From Thy holy people, O Lord!"
O Saint Andrew, full of God's wisdom,
You who taught the world by words of foolishness-
With the language of the world you spoke to the world,
And by feigned foolishness you glorified Christ.
Men despised you for your foolishness,
And their dogs rose up from their lairs and chased you!
You were God's altar on the rubbish heap of the world.
You censed the world with your prayers-
And the world is not worthy of this marvel.
Glory to you, Andrew, holy Fool-for-Christ!
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Thou didst choose foolishness for the sake of Christ and didst make the crafty one foolish. Thou didst persevere with thy struggle in the midst of turmoil, and Christ has brought thee to paradise. Intercede with Him, O Andrew for those who honor thee.
Apolytikion in the Second Tone
For Thy sake, O Christ, Thy servant Andrew became a fool on earth. He heard the Apostle Paul proclaiming, 'We are fools for the sake of Christ.' As we now honor his memory we pray Thee to save our souls.
Kontakion in the First Tone
Thou didst finish thy life in piety, O godly-minded Andrew, thou wast a pure vessel of the Trinity and a companion of the Angels. May peace and forgiveness be granted, through thine intercession, to those who honor thee.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Of thine own free will thou didst become a Fool, O Andrew, and utterly hate the lures of this world. Thou didst deaden carnal wisdom through hunger and thirst, through heat and bitter frost. By never avoiding the hardships of weather thou didst purify thyself as gold in the furnace.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Monks do not only pray for the living and the dead but even for the most miserable creatures, the demons, who, unfortunately, even though thousands of years have passed, have become worse and have progressed in their evilness.
Once a monk* felt much pain and, while he was kneeling at prayer, he said the following: "You are God and, if You want, You can find a way to save these miserable demons who first enjoyed such great glory, but now are full of all the evilness and cunning of the world. Without Your protection, they would have devoured all human beings." While he was saying these words, praying in pain, he saw a dog's head next to him sticking out his tongue and mocking him. It seems that God allowed for this to happen in order to inform the monk that He is ready to accept the demons provided they repent, but they themselves do not want their salvation.
One realizes from this incident not only the great love of monks, which they receive as a type of boundless love that is of God, but also the love of God, which is ready to save the demons as well, in spite of the billions of crimes they have committed, if only they would repent.
* We know from other stories of Elder Paisios that he is likely here talking about himself, since he later confessed that he once fasted and prayed for two weeks for the salvation of the devil, but the devil appeared to him after all that and merely mocked him.
Source: Epistles, Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, Thessaloniki, pp. 90-91.
The text in question is the Greek Horologion of Thekara, which I. Mansvetov describes in detail in his book on Church rules. In order to provide a better idea of the nature and the use of the Thekara in the monastic community of Mount Athos, I will quote a passage from Mansvetov:
"The Athonite monk Thekara is known for his commentaries (толкования) of Church hymns, a narrative about their origin, and a daily cycle Office for monastic use. The "Horologion" of Thekara follows in general the order of the Jerusalem Horologia, but differs from them in introducing particular hymns, prayers and troparia, some of which are his original work, while others belong to other writers. "Thekara" also discusses the way to conduct the Office during communal gatherings of the monks and in private, in monk's cells.
Thekara's "Horologion" was very popular on Mount Athos within the monastic community. In the "Introduction to the Horologion", we find instructions to keep the book in the monastic library. The book could [only] be taken out if there were monks who wanted to copy the Office of the daily cycle with the prayers, since these particular parts were the most needed; the commentaries of the hymns and the narrative about their origin could be omitted."
The Greek text of the monk Thekara’s "Triadic Hymn with Midnight Prayer From the Dogmatics of the Holy Dionysius the Areopagite. Compilation and Composition of the Monk Thekara" consists of original prayers and triadic hymns by Thekara himself, as well as prayers attributed to Symeon the New Theologian, Basil the Great, Nicephoros Blemidos, and others, which were added in a later period. All of these components are organized in a daily cycle, which starts with the Midnight Office and ends with Compline.
The text exhibits the typical features of its liturgical genre: lack of narrative, repetitions on the level of syntagmas, common rhetorical devices such as antithesis, syntactic parallelism, pleonasms, etc. The function of the text was to be read both in private (in the monastic cells) and communally, as a part of the liturgy. Furthermore, the monastic function of the text is also observable on the level of its language, which exhibits clear references or allusions frequently to the Psalter, and to a lesser degree, to the texts of the Gospels and the Apostle. Certain prayers in the text are written in the penitential style; that is, they are oriented towards self-derogatory discourse as a means of repenting one’s sins. Naturally, the sins appear in long lists in different prayers, similarly to the listings of sins in the Slavonic Kormčaia kniga (Nomokanon or Canon Law Code). In addition, the monastic orientation of the Thekara makes it functionally and, to a certain extent, linguistically parallel to other solely monastic genres such as the genre of the monastic Pandects (the monastic code of laws)....
Without going into any great detail, I will outline scholarly opinions regarding the idendity of the author of the Thekara compilation. In the opinion of the majority of researchers, the monk Thekara lived and worked in the 14th century. Some researchers such as J. P. Migne (1844), Archimandrite Philaretos (1864: 112), Karl Krumbacher (1897: 548-550), and H. Beck (1959: 704-5), among others, identify him as the 14th-century writer Thomas Magister or the monk Theodul. However, these suppositions are debatable since there are 11th-century copies of Thekara’s texts, including the daily cycle, and the monk Dionysius from the 14th century states that Theodul was a student of Thekara. These data is uncovered in the most recent publication on this problem, the dissertation of the Greek scholar S. Skalistes (1984) that rejects equating Thekara with Thomas Magister and Theodul (274-5). An additional difficulty for the attribution of the text stems from the fact that there is not a single source with a reference to the lay name of “Thekara.” This situation is peculiar but not uncommon for the Middle Ages; it is discussed in Theodul’s Diegesis: “I swore not to reveal his [Thekara’s] name in order not to make it known in this town; also because of education and virtues for glorification.” The only two biographical references relate that Thekara was “a monk from Constantinople” and that he was “a master of making swords,” which is, in fact, the etymology of his name. It is quite possible that this etymology is a secondary one, a result of the “philological” work of 14th-century monks who wrote about Thekara. In any case, there is not enough evidence to answer the question about Thekara’s identity, and I will not attempt to resolve this question in the present study.
The distribution of the Greek text of the Thekara is quite large. About 252 Greek copies of works attributed to the monk Thekara are preserved on Mount Athos, in the Jerusalem Library, on Mount Sinai, and in Italy, Moscow and other European repositories. The oldest Greek copy of the Midnight Office, accesible to me, dates to the 14th century; it is a parchment copy of 1341 from the Moscow State Historical Museum (GIM). In this study I examine sixteen Greek manuscripts of Thekaras Midnight Office as well as the Venetian printed edition of 1783.
For more on the Thekara, I highly recommend this doctoral dissertation by Tania D. Ivanova-Sullivan titled LEXICAL VARIATION IN THE SLAVONIC THEKARA TEXTS: SEMANTIC AND PRAGMATIC FACTORS IN MEDIEVAL TRANSLATION PRAXIS out of Ohio State University, which can be read here.
More here on a recent published Greek text, which shows this was a prayer book used by monastics to prepare them for Holy Communion.
See here for a section on the interpretation of hymns.
While Most of the Orthodox Christian world celebrates the Holy Protection, or Agia Skepi, of the Theotokos on October 1st according to ancient custom, Greeks celebrate the Holy Protection on October 28th as a special holiday in order to invite the secular government of Greece to honor the Theotokos for her special protection over the Greek people during World War 2.
The celebration of Holy Protection dates back to 626 A.D., when the miraculous intervention of the Theotokos saved Constantinople from the Avars (Turkish-Mongolian Nomads), and it was officially established that October 1st be the date to honor this miracle. All Orthodox Christians celebrated this feast on October 1st until 21 October 1952 when the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece decreed (Συνοδικές Εγκύκλιοι, Τόμος Β', Αθήνα 1956, σελ. 649) that from henceforth there was to be celebrated in Greece a dual feast of the Holy Protection and the national holiday of "OXI", which commemorates Greek freedom from Italian occupation, on October 28th. A Service was specially written by Elder Gerasimos Mikragiannanites for this feast on October 28th.
Read also: Why We Celebrate OHI (OXI) Day in Greek Orthodoxy: The Virgin Mary and World War 2
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
The Most-Holy Theotokos has often appeared to holy men in need: sometimes to encourage them in asceticism, or to heal them from sickness, or to reveal a certain mystery to them.
Two similar, wonderful events took place in the Great Lavra on the Holy Mountain.
In Great Lent, during the chanting of the Great Akathist, St. John Koukouzelis was tired and sat down, facing the icon of the Theotokos. As he sat, he fell asleep. Just then, the Holy Most-Pure One appeared to him in heavenly light and said: "Rejoice, O John! Chant and do not stop chanting, and for this I will not abandon you." With this, she placed a gold coin in John's hand. When he awoke from sleep, the gold coin was still in his hand. After this, many wonderful miracles were worked from the icon of the Theotokos, as well as from the gold coin.
The second incident involved St. Gregory the monk, who, like John Koukouzelis, was a church chanter. Patriarch Kallistos had established that in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, "All Creation Rejoices in Thee" be sung in place of "It Is Truly Meet". His successor, Patriarch Philotheus, rescinded this, reinstating "It Is Truly Meet" because of its brevity. But then, on the eve of the Theophany, and in the presence of Patriarch Gregory of Alexandria, St. Gregory sang "All Creation Rejoices in Thee" instead. Immediately after this, the Holy Most-Pure One appeared to him, and, as she had done to John Koukouzelis, placed a gold coin in his hand. She said: "I am very grateful for your singing in my honor." Because of this, it was instituted that all Liturgies of St. Basil would thereafter include "All Creation Rejoices in Thee".
The Venerable Romanos the Melodist
Romanos was born in the Syrian town of Emesa. He was, at first, a sexton in Beirut, and later served in the cathedral church in Constantinople in the time of Patriarch Euthymius (490-504). Romanos was not well educated and was untrained in chanting, for which he was ridiculed by some of the more educated clergy. St. Romanos tearfully prayed to the Most-Holy Theotokos, and she appeared to him in a dream, gave him a scroll, and told him to swallow it. The following day was the Feast of the Nativity. Romanos took his place as a chanter at the ambo, and with an angelic voice sang the hymn "Today the Virgin". All were amazed at both the content of this hymn and at the magnificent singing of the chanter. Having received the poetic gift from the Theotokos, Romanos composed over a thousand Kontakia. Romanos entered into rest as a deacon of the Great Church, Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople. He joined the angelic choirs in the year 510.
HYMN OF PRAISE: The Venerable Romanos the Melodist
St. Romanos, in mid-service,
Appeared on the ambo
And sang a wondrous hymn
In a sweet angelic voice:
"Today, the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One.
Angels and Shepherds glorify Him,
And the wise men journey with the star-
For unto us the Eternal God is born
As a little Child."
Hearing this hymn,
All were filled with gladness;
And on the faces of all the people
Was great astonishment.
Glory to the Mother of God!
Who hearkens to tearful prayers,
And gloriously fulfills
The prayerful supplications of the devout!
October 1, 2010
Professor of the Moscow Theological Academy Protodeacon Andrey Kurayev believes that the possibility of life on the recently discovered planet by American astronauts does not contradict Christian teaching.
"When people discovered atmosphere on Venus in the 18th century, Lomonosov assumed there could be people there. If they live there then there are two options: they committed sin as we did or they have not done it," Father Andrey told an Interfax-Religion correspondent.
Thus he commented on the news that American astronomers discovered a new planet and conditions there are very similar to Earth, which gave them grounds to think that their "discovery" may be inhabited.
Fr. Andrey noted that he shares Lomonosov's opinion "that if aliens are not sinners then they do not need the sacrifice of Christ on Golgotha, as they live with God, but if they are sinners then that redemptive sacrifice of Christ is given for them as well, since the people of Erzya, like the Venus inhabitants, were unknown to the apostles."
The theologian also pointed out that in apostolic times people "knew nothing" about inhabitants of Australia and America, but "it turned out that there existed entire cultures and no one of Bible times knew about them," however, "Christianity accepted them easily and we can't even say that it adapted to these cultures," on the contrary, "Christianity remained the same even in Australia."
"If aliens are people with reason, free will and flesh then everything that Christianity says about people will refer to them," Fr. Andrey said, and noted that he "wouldn't trust any reports about contacts with reasonable creatures."
Every religion says that man is not the only rational form of life in the Universe and the Orthodox teaching also says that "spirits can adopt shapes of physical flesh and contact people," Fr. Andrey reminded.
He assumes that if in the shape of an alien there comes a spirit "who humiliates Christ, giving him a 'kiss of Judas', then it is demon" and his aim is to convince us that "Christ is not God, but just a translator of someone's 'secret knowledge.'"
"And no matter where these 'teachers' live, in Himalayan Shambala or on another planet. Such myths can be different. But they have the same anti-Christian sting," the Orthodox theologian believes.
Commemoration of the Apparition of the Pillar With the Robe of the Lord Under it at Mtskheta in Georgia
During the reign of King Aderki of Kartli, the Jewish diaspora in Mtskheta learned that a wondrous Child had been born in Jerusalem. Then, thirty years later, a man came from Jerusalem to deliver this message: “The youth has grown up. He calls Himself the Son of God and preaches to us the New Covenant. We have sent envoys to every Jewish diaspora to urge the scholars of the religion to come to Jerusalem and judge what measures should be taken in regard to this matter.”
In response to the envoy’s request and at the recommendation of the Jewish Sanhedrin, Elioz of Mtskheta and Longinoz of Karsani were chosen to journey to Jerusalem. Elioz of Mtskheta was born to a pious family, and as his mother prepared him for the journey, she tearfully begged him not to take any part in the spilling of the blood of the Messiah.
When the Roman soldiers were nailing our Savior to the Cross on Golgotha, Elioz’s mother miraculously heard each strike of the hammer. She cried out in fear, “Farewell majesty of the Jews! For inasmuch as you have killed your Savior and Redeemer, henceforth you have become your own enemies!” With this she breathed her last.
After the soldiers had cast lots for the Robe of our Lord, it was acquired by Elioz and Longinoz, and with great honor they carried it back with them to Mtskheta. Upon their arrival, Elioz met his sister Sidonia, who took from him the Sacred Robe. With much grief she listened to the story of our Savior’s Crucifixion, clutched the Robe to her breast, and immediately gave up her spirit.
Many miracles were worked by the Robe, and news of this flashed like lightning throughout Mtskheta. King Aderki had a great desire to possess the Robe but, frightened by the miracles, he did not attempt to free it from Sidonia’s embrace. Elioz was obliged to bury his sister and the Precious Robe together. A cypress tree grew up on Sidonia’s grave. When the disciples of Christ cast lots after Pentecost, the lot for evangelizing Georgia fell to the Most Holy Theotokos. But Christ revealed to His Mother that it was not His will for her to preach there. “You have been entrusted to protect the Georgian nation,” He said, “but the role of evangelizing that land belongs to My disciple Andrew the First-called. Send him with an image of your face “Not-Made-By- Hands” to protect the Georgian people to the end of the ages!”
According to the will of God and the blessing of the Theotokos, St. Andrew the First-called set off for Georgia to preach the Christian Faith. He entered Georgia from the southwest, in the region of Atchara, and subsequently preached in every region of the nation. He established a hierarchy for the Georgian Church and then returned to Jerusalem for Pascha. When he visited Georgia for the second time, the Apostle Andrew was accompanied by the Apostles Matthias and Simon the Canaanite.
Years passed and, under threat from Persian fire-worshippers and other pagan communities, the memory of Christ faded from the minds of the Georgian people.
Then, at the beginning of the 4th century, according to God’s will and the blessing of the Most Holy Theotokos, the holy virgin Nino arrived in Kartli to preach the Christian Faith. She settled in the outskirts of Mtskheta, in the bramble bushes of the king’s garden. St. Nino inquired as to the whereabouts of our Lord’s Robe, but no one could remember where it had been preserved. In her quest for the Precious Robe, she became acquainted with Elioz’s descendants, the Jewish priest Abiatar and his daughter, Sidonia. St. Nino converted them to Christianity.
St. Nino was blessed by God with the gift of healing. She healed the afflicted through the name of our crucified Savior and through the grace of the cross formed from grapevines by the Theotokos and bound with strands of St. Nino’s hair.
At that time King Mirian ruled Kartli. Following in the footsteps of his ancestors, he worshiped the idol Armazi, but in the depth of his heart he was drawn to the Faith that the holy virgin was preaching. Mirian’s wife, Queen Nana, was the daughter of a famous military leader of Pontus. Thus, the king had received some prior knowledge of the Faith of the Greeks.
Once Queen Nana fell deeply ill, and only through the prayers of St. Nino was she spared from death. After this miraculous healing, King Mirian became intrigued by the Faith that St. Nino was preaching, and he began asking the newly enlightened Abiatar about the Holy Scriptures.
Once, while he was hunting on Mt. Tkhoti near Mtskheta, King Mirian was suddenly gripped by an evil spirit, and he burned with a desire to destroy the Christian people of his land and—above all others— the virgin Nino. But suddenly the sun was eclipsed, and the king was surrounded by darkness. The frightened Mirian prayed to the pagan gods to save him from this terror, but his prayers went unanswered. Then, in utter despair, he began to pray to the Crucified God-man and a miracle occurred: the darkness scattered and the sun shone as before. Raising his hands to the east, Mirian cried out, “Truly Thou art the God preached by Nino, God of gods and King of kings!”
Having returned to the capital, King Mirian went immediately to the bramble bushes where St. Nino dwelt. He greeted her with great honor and spent several hours seeking her counsel. Upon her recommendation, he sent messengers to Emperor Constantine in Byzantium, requesting that he send priests to baptize the people of Kartli and architects to build churches.
This happened on June 24 of the year 324, which was a Saturday. King Mirian began to construct a church so that the priests arriving from Constantinople would have a place to serve. Seven columns to support the church were formed from the wood of a cypress tree that had grown in the king’s garden. Six of the columns were erected without a problem, but the seventh could not be moved from the place where it had been carved. St. Nino and her disciples prayed through the night, and at dawn they watched as a youth, encompassed by a brilliant light, descended from the heavens and raised the column. The miraculous column began to shine and stopped in mid-air at a height of twelve cubits.
Sweet-smelling myrrh began to flow from under the Holy Pillar’s foundations, and the entire population of Mtskheta flocked to that place to receive its blessing. Approaching the Life-giving Pillar, the sick were healed, the blind received sight, and the paralyzed began to walk.
By that time a certain Bishop John and his suite had arrived from Constantinople. St. Constantine the Great sent a cross, an icon of the Savior, a fragment from the Life-giving Cross of our Lord (from the place where His feet lay), and a nail from His Crucifixion as gifts to the newly enlightened King Mirian and his people.
At the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi Rivers in Mtskheta, the king and queen, the royal court, and all the people of Kartli were baptized into the Christian Faith. After the glorious baptism, Bishop John and his retinue from Constantinople set off toward southern Georgia, for the village of Erusheti. There they built churches and presented the Christian community with the nail from our Lord’s Crucifixion. Soon after, they began to construct Manglisi Church and placed the fragment from the Life-giving Cross inside.
King Mirian wanted to keep some of the newly obtained sacred objects in the capital city, but St.Nino informed him that one of the holiest objects, the Robe of our Savior, was already located in Mtskheta. The king summoned the priest Abiatar and inquired about the Robe, then rejoiced greatly after Abiatar confirmed St. Nino’s words that the Robe of the Lord was held in the embrace of Sidonia, who was buried under the stump of the cypress tree which now served as the pedestal for the Life-giving Pillar.
At that time a lush, sweet-smelling, wonder-working tree grew up on a mountain over Mtskheta and, at Bishop John’s suggestion, Prince Revi, the son of King Mirian, ordered that the tree be chopped down and a cross formed from its wood. The tree was chopped down and replanted, without its roots, next to a church that was under construction. For thirty-seven days the tree retained its original appearance—even its leaves did not fade or wither. Then, after thirty-seven days had passed, three crosses were formed from its wood.
For many days after this miracle the people of Mtskheta saw a vision: during the night a fiery cross shone above the church, surrounded by stars. When morning came, two of the stars had moved away from the cross in opposite directions—one to the west and the other to the east. The fiery cross headed to the north, stopped for some time over the hill on the other side of the River Aragvi, then disappeared.
St. Nino advised King Mirian to erect one of the three crosses in the west, on Tkhoti Mountain, and another in the east, in the village of Ujarma. But it was unclear where the third cross should be erected, so King Mirian prayerfully beseeched the Lord to reveal to him the place.
The Lord heard his prayers and sent an angel to show him the place: a rocky hill to the north of the capital, at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari Rivers. Today this hill is called Jvari (Cross) and upon it towers the magnificent church of Jvari Monastery. At the moment the cross was erected on this hill, all the idols in Mtskheta fell and shattered to pieces.
Prior to his death King Mirian blessed his heir, Prince Bakar, and urged him to dedicate his life to the Holy Trinity and fight ceaselessly against idolaters. Then he peacefully reposed in the Lord.
According to his will, Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles King Mirian was buried in the upper church at Samtavro, where today a convent in honor of St. Nino is located. The king was too modest to be buried in the lower church, the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, in which the Life-giving Pillar had been preserved.
Queen Nana reposed two years later and was buried next to her husband.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
When Elder Daniel Katounakiotis (+1929) was in the Russian Monastery, he observed that a certain monk living in asceticism in a kathisma outside the Monastery played a role of a great ascetic. He fasted severely, wore the most wretched clothes, walked around barefoot even in winter, etc. Among other things, while the rule called for 300 prostrations a day, he made 3000. For this reason the other monks marvelled at him.
Elder Daniel, even though he was younger at the time, displayed no enthusiasm. His clear-sighted eyes discerned a situation that was not pleasing to God. He noticed that the door of his kathisma contained an opening which allowed the passers-by to look in and praise his great asceticism.
His love moved him to report the situation to the abbot, and thus save the brother from delusion. The abbot set out for the kathisma of the "super-ascetic".
"How are you doing here, father?"
"By your prayers, Elder, well. I struggle and weep over my sins."
"Only you never come to tell me your thoughts."
"What could I tell you, Elder? You know them all. I am a sinner who struggles."
"How do you struggle? Tell me, do you make prostrations?"
"Yes, Elder, I make a few."
"By your prayers, 3000 a day."
"What! Why 3000? Who gave you a blessing to do so many? No, don't ever do 3000 again. What are you trying to portray - a 'super-ascetic'? From now on do only fifty, so you won't get proud."
With that the abbot left. The incision had been made, and the abscess soon revealed its foul contents. For the former "great ascetic" made a 180-degree turn. He was unable to make even fifty prostrations. Instead of ragged clothes he now wore whatever was most expensive, and had the choicest foods brought to his poor table. Naturally, the other fathers were astonished, and they understood that his excessive ascetic practices had been fed by the spirit of pride. This explained this surprising change, for the spirit of delusion runs after extremes. According to patristic wisdom, the extreme, the superfluous, and the excessive are "of the demons".
Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos vol. 1, by Archimandrite Cherubim, pp. 259-60.
Orthodox worship is characterized by a complete utilization of the senses sight, smell, hearing, speech and touch. We see the candles, Icons, frescoes, etc., we hear the sounds of singing and reading, at times lifting up our own voices, and we smell the characteristic odor of the incense. The whole of the human person is involved in worship, and important among the senses is the actual deportment of the human body. The attitude of the Orthodox Believer to worship is reverential, and certain types of bodily movements are utilized to reinforce this sense of reverential piety we stand during the services, we make bows and prostrations, and with great frequency, we make the Sign of the Cross. Accordingly, there are several types of Bows, depending on the solemnity of the moment.
Prostration (Great Metanoia, Great Poklon):
Here the worshipper prostrates the whole body, throwing the weight forwards onto the hands and touching the ground with the forehead.
Bow (Small Metanoia, Small Poklon):
The worshipper bows from the waist, touching the ground with the fingers of the right hand. Both Prostrations and Bows are preceded by the Sign of the Cross.
At certain times the worshipper merely bows the head; sometimes this is accompanied by the Sign of the Cross.
Sign of the Cross:
The Sign of the Cross is made with the thumb and the first two fingers of the right hand joined at the tips (the third and fourth fingers being closed on the palm). By joining the thumb and the first two fingers, we express our belief in the Most-Holy Trinity. The two fingers closed on the palm represent the two natures of Christ divine and human. With the thumb and first two fingers joined, we touch first the brow, then the breast, the right shoulder and then the left, making on ourselves the Sign of the Cross and signifying by the four points that the Holy Trinity has sanctified our thoughts (mind), feelings (heart), desires (soul) and acts (strength) to service of God. By making the Sign of the Cross on ourselves we also signify that Christ has saved us by His sufferings on the Cross.
Bishops and Priests, in bestowing a blessing, make the Sign of the Cross from left to right (appearing to us from right to left), while holding the fingers in such a manner as to represent the Greek letters IC and XC the first and last letter of the name Jesus Christ.
Source: Excerpt taken from These Truths We Hold - The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings by St. Tikhon's Seminary Press.
September 30, 2010
At least 75 percent of religious persecution is directed at people of the Christian faith. Each year 170,000 Christians suffer because of their beliefs. These are some of the conclusions that have led the Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) to organize a conference on the persecution of Christians, to be held in Brussels (Belgium) on October 5, 2010.
The initiative, as the organizers note in a statement, has been supported by various groups within the European Parliament, in collaboration with Aid to the Church in Need,” and Open Doors International.”
According to the statement, "The total number of faithful who are discriminated against amounts to already 100 million. This makes Christians the most persecuted religious group. Persecution may also include obstacles to the proclamation of Faith, confiscation and destruction of places of worship or prohibition of religious training and education."
Therefore, the COMECE and its fellow sponsors launch this appeal: “Europe cannot remain passive. The European Union must take the co-responsibility for the protection of religious freedom in the world"
The COMECE will present a report on religious freedom, which includes a series of recommendations to the EU institutions. Among the speakers are Bishop Eduard Hiiboro Kussala, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Tombura -Yambio in South Sudan, and Archbishop Louis Sako, Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk.
Gregory was born of a prominent family which was related to the royal houses of Persia (King Arteban) and Armenia (King Khosrov). When these two houses made war against each other, Gregory withdrew to Caesarea in Cappadocia. It was there that he first learned of the Christian Faith, was baptized and married. He had two sons of this marriage, Bardanes and Aristakes, and dedicated them both to the service of the Church. After the death of his wife, Gregory returned to Armenia and placed himself in the service of King Tiridates. He faithfully served him, and Tiridates loved Gregory. But when the king learned that Gregory was a Christian, he became greatly enraged and pressured him to deny Christ and worship idols. Not succeeding in this, Tiridates subjected Gregory to many harsh tortures, then threw him into a deep pit full of poisonous reptiles to kill him. However, the All-Seeing God preserved St. Gregory's life in that pit for fourteen full years. After that, Tiridates set out to persecute all Christians in his kingdom, and attacked a convent where there were thirty-seven nuns, including the abbess, Gaiana. When he had killed all of them by terrible tortures, Tiridates went insane and was like a wild boar. His sister had a dream in which a man, dazzlingly bright, told her that Tiridates would only become well when Gregory was removed from the pit. Taken from the pit, Gregory healed and baptized Tiridates. Then, at the wish of Tiridates, Gregory became Bishop of Armenia. Through God's providence, Tiridates also helped him in enlightening all of Armenia and its surrounding regions with the Christian Faith. St. Gregory ended his earthly life of great labor in old age, in about the year 335. Meanwhile, his son Aristakes had been consecrated a bishop, and he continued the work of his father, both physically and spiritually. Aristakes was one of the 318 Holy Fathers at the First Ecumenical Council.
Marvelous changes occur daily in the destiny of men - in the present, as in times past. Those humiliated for the sake of God's righteousness are raised to great heights, and the blasphemers of the Faith are converted to servants of the Faith. King Tiridates threw St. Gregory into a deep pit. The saint spent fourteen years in that pit, forgotten by the entire world, but not by God. Who among men could have thought that the greatest light of the Armenian people was to be found in the darkness of a pit? And who would have ever thought that the powerful and tyrannical King Tiridates would one day save the life of that same Gregory, whom he had condemned to death, and would help him more than the rest of the whole world could help him? After fourteen years, God revealed Gregory as still alive. Gregory then miraculously healed the insane king. King Tiridates, the unrestrained persecutor of Christ, was baptized and became the greatest zealot for the Christian Faith! It could be said that, with God's help, Gregory and Tiridates were both drawn out of the pit of darkness-Gregory a physical one, and Tiridates a spiritual one. Oh, the infinite wisdom of God in governing the destinies of men! The formerly wild and passionate Tiridates was softened and ennobled so much by repentance and the Christian Faith, that he came to resemble St. Gregory more than his old, unrepentant self.
Hymn of Praise
Gregory was a great light
To his people and his nation.
He spurned glory and riches
For the poverty of Christ the Crucified,
Preferring eternal riches in heaven.
He raised his mind to heaven and thoughts of God,
And endured much physical torture,
As if it all were painless.
He was strong with the power of God's grace,
And nourished by God's heavenly food,
And armored against evil by God's providence.
He was lowered into the pit from his glory,
And from the pit he was elevated to the heights-
The heights of eternal glory.
Gregory, great and holy,
Enlightened Armenia with Jesus.
Even the wild boar, Tiridates,
Was baptized under the Cross and became a lamb.
With great glory, the land of Armenia glorifies
Its miracle-worker, St. Gregory.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles, O inspired of God, thou foundest discipline to be a means of ascent to divine vision. Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth, thou didst also contest for the Faith even unto blood, O Hieromartyr Gregory. Intercede with Christ our God that our souls be saved.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
Let us the faithful today all acclaim with divine songs and hymns the renowned hierarch Gregory as an athlete for truth's sake, as a shepherd and teacher, a universal luminary bright with splendour; for he intercedeth with Christ that we be saved.
What Does it Mean to be Human? An evening with Ravi Zacharias (Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University)
Date: Thursday, March 18, 2010
Venue: Loke Yew Hall, The University of Hong Kong
Ravi Zacharias is presently Visiting Lecturer at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University in Oxford. He has spoken in numerous universities, notably Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford University, and has given talks at the White House, the Pentagon, and the British Parliament. He has addressed writers of the peace accord in South Africa, the president's cabinet and parliament in Peru, and military officers at the Lenin Military Academy and the Center for Geopolitical Strategy in Moscow. He has authored or edited twenty books, including Walking from East to West (Zondervan, 2006), The Grand Weaver (Zondervan, 2007), and Beyond Opinion (Thomas Nelson, 2008); his Can Man Live without God (Word, 1994), was awarded the Gold Medallion for best book in the category of doctrine and theology.
Impassibility comes into our language as translation of the Greek word apatheia in the writings of Church Fathers, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Apatheia, despite the obvious etymological connection with apathy and apathetic in modern English, (Pelikan) started out as meaning "the state of an apathes" (alpha privative, plus pathos) "without pathos or suffering" (Liddell and Scott Lexicon). Among the Greek Fathers pathos or passion was the right word for the suffering of Christ, as it still is. So in theology to be impassible means primarily to be incapable of suffering. Early theology affirmed that in heaven our resurrected bodies will be apathes in this sense. The word came to be extended to mean incapable of emotion of any kind and beyond that, apathes (impassible) in important theological discourse meant without sexual desire (Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, chap. xxxv, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, 1910, ii, 5, pp. 502-504). As applied to God, incapacity for any emotions sometimes is meant. We will return to this. The twelfth canon of the Second Council of Constantinople (553, Fifth Ecumenical) seems to say Christ on earth was impassible in the sense of "longings (passions, presumably sexual) of the flesh" (Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, trans. R. J. Deferrari, Hersler Book Co., 1954, 224).
In this paper I am interested mainly in the question of whether or not the divine nature is capable of emotion, including, in a secondary way, the experience of suffering.
IMPASSIBILITY IN THE ANCIENT CHURCH
There was no difference of opinion on this subject among orthodox theologians of the ancient Church. Even Tertulian, perhaps the most antiphilosophy theologian among important early writers, vehemently opposed the notion that God could suffer pain. Reading of the Cappadocian Fathers (Gregory Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa and Basil the Great) in preparation for a paper on the post-Nicea (324) apologetics of orthodoxy sparked my notice of uniform and vehement agreement of Christians on God's impassibility. In January of this year (1996) I carefully read J. N. D. Kelly's Early Christian Doctrines. He confirms that all the Fathers, including even most heretics, strongly believed the divine Being is impassible. (See pages 84, 120, 122, 142, 143, 169, 291, 299, 372, 314, 317, 322, 325, 476, 488). This issue colored every aspect of efforts to clarify christology at the first four ecumenical councils (Nicea 325, Constantinople 381, Ephesus 431, Chalcedon 451). Nobody orthodox denied impassibility and even the heterodox acknowledged it. They did not separate impassibility from divine simplicity (mentioned more frequently) but regarded it as a necessary aspect of simplicity. They did not cite Aristotle's unmoved mover, Plato's eternal forms or anything of the sort. Their arguments were based mainly on the usual biblical texts we still today cite to teach God's immutability (Psa 102:27; Is 40:10; Mal 3:6; Js 1:17). Simplicity, that is, God is not composed of parts, was then as now, established logically. Anything composed of parts is the sum of the parts, each of course less than infinite. Any number of finite parts do not add up to infinity. Since God is infinite, as established by scripture and demonstrated by reason, God is simple, not compound or complex. The three members of the Trinity each possesses the Godhead fully. They are not three thirds - they are a trinity of God not three gods.
At this point I want to anticipate charges that the early church fathers corrupted a pure biblical doctrine of a loving, personal God through introduction of Greek speculative philosophy. Let us hear what they said about this charge.
A sophisticated Christian theology which employs formal logic, precise definitions and elegant literary techniques, as some of the ancient theologians did, does not constitute betrayal of the Gospel treasure. The early theologians nevertheless had to defend themselves against those who thought it was a betrayal. Irenaeus, while insisting "the faith" is "one," yet explained that theological refinements were of value. In Against Heresies he says, "Inasmuch as certain men have set the truth aside . . . by means of their craftily constructed plausibilities draw away minds of the inexperienced . . . I have felt constrained to compose the following treatise in order to expose their machinations" (I, 1). These "certain men" are later named. Most of them were highly educated scholastics, wise in their own eyes, whom Irenaeus felt he had to meet, not entirely on their own ground, but in such a way as to provide his readers sufficient skill and knowledge to rescue themselves from these so called "gnostics" - not a term of derision then but more equivalent to our "experts" or "intelligentsia." His book is strewn with the language of these people. So to answer these errorists some skill (he does not call it philosophy) is helpful. They should not be allowed to get away with doctrinal murder, so to speak, just because they are cunning and eloquent (I, x. 2, 3). More importantly, by such skill "one may [more accurately than another] bring out the meaning of those things which have been spoken in parables, and accommodate them to the general scheme of the faith; and explain [with special clearness] the operation and dispensation of God connected with human salvation . . ." (I, x. 3). [Above citations are all from Antenicene Fathers, I, 315-331).
Christian theology was not "as Harnak tried to maintain, the product of encounter between Gospel and Hellenism. It is not the Hellenisation of Christianity. It was not the fruit of speculation but sincere effort to use the techniques of the learning of the day to elaborate Christian truth" (J. Danielou, Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture, p. 303).
Clement of Alexandria had to face opposition from those who opposed any employment of philosophical learning. He said they "prefer to block their ears in order not to hear the sirens" and that Christians as a whole "fear Greek philosophy as children fear ogres - they are frightened of being carried off by them. If our faith (I will not say our gnosis [knowledge]) is such that it is destroyed by force of argument, then let it be destroyed; for it will have been proved that we do not possess the truth" (Danielou, p. 304,305).
Clement asserted that philosophic learning has many positive uses. He really means theology which employs the techniques of learning - which we would now call systematic theology (Danielou, 306-322).
The climax of ancient consolidation of orthodoxy was in 451, at Chalcedon, the Fourth Ecumenical Council. Jaroslav Pelikan devotes several pages merely to summarize the impassibility doctrine as expressed in the Fathers before the Fourth Ecumenical Council (The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, pp. 52-55). I shall not quote this at length as I did in a paper earlier this year. Rather, since the climax of consolidation of orthodoxy came at Chalcedon 451, the Fourth Council, let me cite two learned Fathers whose views on Impassibility coincided quite exactly and whose views were specifically endorsed and incorporated in the Definition and Canons of that Council. The letters of each were read at the Council and essentially adopted as the doctrine of the Council; hence passed into received orthodoxy of the Church from that day to this.
Neither was present and neither expressly addressed the Council. Cyril's dogmatic letter addressed the heresy of Nestorius and was written to Nestorius twenty years earlier. Leo's letter (The Tome of Leo) was addressed to Flavian, Bishop of Constantinople two years before the Council. Both Epistles were read, weighed and vigorously endorsed at Chalcedon.
Cyril's letter had been first addressed directly to Nestorius just before the third Council (Ephesus 431) because it was he who was deemed to be dividing the church through denial that Mary gave birth to incarnate deity. Cyril's Epistle to Nestorius was then read at the third Council. It had a positive effect in winning that council to the orthodoxy of 325 and 381. But shortly trouble arose from another quarter. Eutyches, an old archimandrite at Constantinople promoted the doctrine "not only that after His incarnation Christ had only one nature but also that the body of Christ is not of like substance with our own" (Kurtz, Church History, I. 334). This and other problems made a fourth council (Chalcedon 451) necessary.
So Cyril's letter was read again at the later council. I quote some relevant portions of Cyril's letter:
"We say that he 'suffered and rose again.' We do not mean that God the Word suffered in his Deity . . . for the Deity is impassible because it is incorporeal. But the body which had become his own body suffered these things, and therefore he himself is said to have suffered them for us. The impassible [God] was in the body which suffered" (Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd Ed., 1963 p.67).
(The article on Cyril in Smith's six-volume Greek and Roman Biography, Mythology and Geography, vol 1, p.918, right column says Ephrem of Antioch speaks of a now lost treatise by Cyril on impassibility and another on suffering.)
The Tome of Leo was read by his representative. Hold in mind that the doctrinal problem being addressed was to define the incarnation of the Son of God. As Cyril's letter was intended to correct Nestorius, Leo's Tome was intended correct Eutyches. I cite several portions related to impassibility.
"While the distinctiveness of both natures was preserved, and both met in one Person . . the inviolable [divine and impassible] was united to the passible, so that . . . the same 'Mediator' might from the one element be capable of dying and also from the other be incapable [of dying]" (Ibid, 255).
"The Lord of the universe allowed his infinite majesty to be overshadowed, and took upon him the form of a servant; the impassible God did not disdain to be passible Man, and the immortal to be subject to the laws of death" (Ibid, 256).
"To pass by many points - it does not belong to the same nature to weep with feelings of pity over a dead friend [Jesus over Lazarus] and, after the mass of stone had been removed from the grave where he had lain four days, by a voice of command to raise him up to life again" (IbId, 256).
In the first excerpt passibility is said to be part of Man's nature but not of God's. In the second the same idea is enlarged in elegant language which says that as God was impassible and immortal - hence as incapable of suffering as of dying. In the third, as God the Son our Lord was "incapable of feelings of pity," such as He expressed when He wept at Lazarus' tomb. "Incapable of feelings of pity" means impassible in the sense of incapable of emotion.
At this climax in the doctrinal consolidation of Christian antiquity the report of Session II goes on to say:
"After the reading of the foregoing epistle the most reverend bishops cried out: 'This is the faith of the fathers, this is the faith of the Apostles . . . . Piously and truly did Leo teach, so taught Cyril. Everlasting be the memory of Cyril . . . . This is the true faith.'"
In all of Christian antiquity I was able to find only Origen among the learned, orthodox writers who dissented from this view. In a book on early Christian doctrine, Gods and the One God by R. M. Grant (Westminster, 1986) the author shows that Origen's early views promoted the Christian consensus that God is impassible (pp. 91,92) but late in life of about 69 years (185- 254) taught that God is passible (Grant, 92,93). Grant comments, "Apparently the threat of Patripassionism did not bother Origen, at least at this point" (p. 93). (Grant's documentation seems to be incorrect, so I could not check his references, but I have no doubt he is correct in his report of Origen.)
WHY THE PATRISTIC CONSENSUS ON GOD'S IMPASSIBILITY?
Enlightenment and liberal critics and historians blame the influence of Plato and other Greek philosophers, but I propose a compelling reason in the fact that in scripture God is most forcefully and grandly said to be supremely "blessed."
This occurs ten times in the New Testament, eight times employing eulogetos, used only of God in the New Testament. I cite two of these, Romans 1:25 and 9:5. The first refers to "God . . . the Creator, who is blessed (eulogetos) forever. Amen." The second speaks of "Christ . . who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen." (See also Mk 14:61; Lk 1:68; II Cor 1:3; 11:31; Eph 1:3; I Pet 1:3.) The first two refer to Jehovah God; the others to the "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." In Mk 14:61 the high priest is employing "the Blessed" as a very old circumlocution for Jehovah and in II Corinthians 11:31, "he who is (eulogetos) blessed for evermore" is undoubtedly the familiar Septuagint rendering of Exodus 3:14 "I am ho On" (I am the one who is). It seems to me relevant to the "impassibility" of God that eulogetos means "blessed," that it renders baruk throughout the LXX and seems to refer to the joy of God in heaven and of those whom God has blessed there. In Christian theology and hymnody "blessed" is the standard word for the joys of heaven, unmixed with pain or sorrow (Rev 21:4). I noted this in every appearance of "blessedness" in Calvin's Institutes, for example.
Twice in the New Testament the word makarios is used of God, both times by Paul, (viz.: "the glory of the blessed God" (I Tim 1:11) and I Timothy 6:15,16, a peroration of Paul: "the blessed (ho Makarios) and only potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality." Though I shall not carry my argument far in this paper, the evidence from eulogetos and makarios has impressed me that we need not give up the impassibility of God. God transcendent in heaven and immanent in all creation is supremely happy (a synonym of blessed), always has been so, and for ever will be.
AN ASS, belonging to an herb-seller who gave him too little food and too much work made a petition to Jupiter to be released from his present service and provided with another master. Jupiter, after warning him that he would repent his request, caused him to be sold to a tile-maker. Shortly afterwards, finding that he had heavier loads to carry and harder work in the brick-field, he petitioned for another change of master. Jupiter, telling him that it would be the last time that he could grant his request, ordained that he be sold to a tanner. The Ass found that he had fallen into worse hands, and noting his master's occupation, said, groaning: "It would have been better for me to have been either starved by the one, or to have been overworked by the other of my former masters, than to have been bought by my present owner, who will even after I am dead tan my hide, and make me useful to him."
He that finds discontentment in one place is not likely to find happiness in another.