Saint Andronikos and his wife Athanasia of Egypt lived in Antioch in the fifth century. St Andronikos was a craftsman who divided his earnings into three portions. One part he gave to the Church, the second to the poor, and the third he used for his family. When the Lord took the son and daughter of Andronikos and Athanasia, the pious couple decided to devote themselves fully to the service of God, helping the poor and the sick. Soon the saintly spouses set out for Alexandria, where Andronikos entered a skete monastery, and Athanasia entered the women's Tabennisiota monastery.
After twelve years of ascetic life St Andronikos went to Jerusalem to pray at the holy places. He met a co-pilgrim, St Athanasia, who, foreseeing the difficulties of the journey, had donned men's attire. They did not recognize each other, since long ascetic effort had altered their appearance. When they returned from Jerusalem, both monks settled into a single cell and for many years lived the ascetic life in silence. St Athanasia wrote a note to be read after her death, revealing her secret. St Andronikos died soon after St Athanasia.
From A Sermon By St. Kosmas Aitolos
Don't You see in the menologion, on the ninth of October, which contains the lives of St. Andronikos and St. Athanasia, what a struggle they had? What fortunate people they were!
There was a couple who had two children. The most gracious God wanted to test them, so one day he took their two children from them. What did the blessed couple do, my brethren? Immediately they divided their Possessions and both entered monasteries. They lived well and in peace here, and went to Paradise to rejoice forever with their fortunate children.
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the First Tone
Ye adorned your divinely-wrought robe of chastity with the sublime varied colours of sacred virtues in God, when with one accord ye strove in the ascetic life. Wherefore, your silence on the earth was received equally with the thrice-holy hymn in heaven; O wise Andronikos, pray God, with Athanasia, that we all be saved.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Let us the faithful crown with laurels of befitting hymns the wise Andronikos, who lived in blameless righteousness, with the godly Athanasia, his spouse in Christ God; who have shown the type of lawful wedlock to the world and became divine examples of monastic life. Let us cry to them: Rejoice, O yoke-mates in holiness.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Saint Andronikos and his wife Athanasia of Egypt lived in Antioch in the fifth century. St Andronikos was a craftsman who divided his earnings into three portions. One part he gave to the Church, the second to the poor, and the third he used for his family. When the Lord took the son and daughter of Andronikos and Athanasia, the pious couple decided to devote themselves fully to the service of God, helping the poor and the sick. Soon the saintly spouses set out for Alexandria, where Andronikos entered a skete monastery, and Athanasia entered the women's Tabennisiota monastery.
The Church of Sts. Andronikos and Athanasia in Frenaros of northeast Cyprus was built in the 12th century. Externally it is made of stone but internally it is humble. Most frescoes and icons no longer survive and today it is humbly decorated.
The festal icon of Sts. Andronikos and Athanasia is old. The church functions once a year on the feast day of Sts. Andronikos and Athanasia on the 9th of October.
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
"The fool hath said in his heart, 'There is no God'. They are corrupt. They have done abominable works" (Psalm 14:1).
The mind is the rudder of man's entire being. It counsels, persuades and guides. Both the soul and the body act according to the mind. If the mind is upright before God, then the whole man is upright. If the mind is iniquitous before God, the whole man is iniquitous. Even if someone merely thinks, "There is no God," the thought immediately manifests itself in his deeds. Evil thoughts come first and evil deeds inevitably follow.
Do you see how well the inspired prophet knows the nature of man? First, he underlines the cause, then he cites the consequences. Evil deeds necessarily proceed from evil thoughts. That is why, brethren, you should not believe those who say: "I do not believe in God, but I do good deeds." First of all, he who does not believe in God does not know what good is, nor can he differentiate good from evil. By his disbelief, a man cuts himself off from the greatest Good and the Source of every good!
Furthermore, let us carefully study this: you will see that all the deeds of the ungodly are corrupt and hateful. They are corrupt because they are evil, worthless and transitory; they are hateful, because they are contrary to the will of the Living God. The godless cannot distinguish good from evil, for only in the light of God's law can one determine precisely what is good and what is evil.
However, it can also be that those who merely say they believe in God do corrupt and hateful deeds, acknowledging God with their lips but denying Him in deeds. It is good to confess God with your lips, but that is a long way from being enough! One must also acknowledge Him with the heart, and confirm one's faith by good deeds. Even so, it does happen that a man believes in his heart, and confesses with his lips, and still sins. This happens either from the weakness of the will or from the devil's arrows. Let such a one repent, and he will be forgiven immediately.
Repentance is salvific even for the godless; how much more so for a believer? As long as a man is on earth, he has a chance for repentance. But who can be certain that his time will extend beyond this night? Hence, delaying repentance is utter foolishness.
O most gracious Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God; help us to repent as Thou dost help us to breathe. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
You have no authority to divorce; only death and adultery can separate you. And if it happens that a wife falls with some other man, of if the husband with some other woman, they are under obligation to go to the bishop to be divorced. But, again, he who has been injured by his wife and doesn't divorce her acquires a spiritual reward. But is there a way to forgive her? There is. How?
You, my child, travel to a foreign country or go out to your field and your wife falls with another person. You return home. What should the wife do? She should take an ax and a piece of wood, and bow before you, kiss your hand and tell you: "Master, I beg you to do me a favor. Take this ax and piece of wood, put me on it, and cut me to pieces. Throw me to be eaten by dogs because I'm not worthy to look upon you in the face, because I've trampled upon your honor, and from a daughter of Christ I've become a daughter of the devil."
What do you say, my son, do you have it in your heart to kill her or to forgive her? It seems to me that you'll say: "May you be forgiven, but never do it again."
But when should you divorce her? When upon returning from abroad you learn of it from your neighbor. Then you are forced to divorce her. In the same way the Lord, during his second coming, will be forced to put us in hell if he finds us unconfessed, unrepentant, and incorrigible. But if he finds us repentant, he has compassion on us and puts us in paradise to rejoice forever.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Crying this, O Ahmed, thou didst receive a great crown.
On feast days the old woman would go to church. Taking the blessed bread, or antidoron,2 she would give it to the young woman to eat. The old woman would also bring her holy water to drink. Whenever this occurred and Ahmed was close to her, he would smell a beautiful and indescribable fragrance coming out of her mouth. He would ask her what she was eating to make her mouth smell so fragrant. Not realizing what was happening, the slave would say that she was not eating anything. However, he persisted in asking. Eventually she told him that she was eating the bread which had been blessed by the priests, which the old woman brought her whenever she returned from church.
On hearing this, Ahmed was filled with longing to see the Orthodox church and how Orthodox received this blessed bread. Therefore he summoned a priest and told him to prepare a secret place for him, so that he could go when the Patriarch3 was serving the Liturgy. When the appointed day arrived, dressed as a Christian,4 he went to the Patriarchate and followed the Divine Liturgy. While he was in church, he saw the Patriarch shining with light and lifted off the floor, as he came out of the altar and through the holy doors to bless the people. As he blessed, rays of light came from his finger tips, but though the rays fell on the heads of all the Christian, they did not fall on Ahmed’s head. This happened two or three times and each time Ahmed saw the same thing. Thus, Ahmed came to the faith. Without hesitation he sent for the priest, who gave him rebirth through baptism. Ahmed remained a secret Christian for some time.5
However, one day Ahmed and certain noblemen were eating together. Afterwards they sat talking and smoking the narghile6, as is the custom. In the course of the conversation they began to discuss what was the greatest thing in the world. Each gave his opinion. The first guest said that the greatest thing in the world was for a man to have wisdom. The second maintained that woman was the greatest thing in the world. And yet a third said that the greatest thing in the world, and by far the most delightful, was pilaf with yogurt – for was this not the food of the righteous in paradise?
Then it was Ahmed’s turn. They all turned to him, asking him for his opinion on this matter. Filled with holy zeal, Ahmed cried out that the greatest thing of all was the Faith of the Christians. And confessing himself to be a Christian, he boldly censured the falseness and deception of the Muslims. At first, on hearing this the Muslims were aghast. Then, filled with unspeakable rage, they fell on the holy martyr and dragged him to a judge, so that he could be sentenced to death. Thus he received the crown of martyrdom, being beheaded by command of the ruler on the third day of May in the year 1682, at the place called Kayambane Bahche. Such was the blessed end of the Holy New Martyr, through whose holy prayers may we be deemed worthy of the Kingdom of God. Amen.
1. Regarding the spiritual condition of Christian slave women who were held as concubines by their masters, St. Basil the Great in his 49th Canon states: "A slave girl violated by her own master is free from responsibility." St. Gregory the Wonderworker in his 2nd Canon states: "If, however, it is found that any particular one of them has lived a life of the utmost sobriety, and that her previous life has been pure and above suspicion, but that she has now fallen as a result of violence and necessity a victim of insult, we have the example to be found in Deuteronomy, 'Unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death...'"
2. Bread that is blessed during the Divine Liturgy, but not consecrated for the Holy Eucharist.
3. The Ecumenical Patriarch.
4. Christians were forced to wear dull and drab clothing while the Muslims wore rich, illustrious garments, in this way trying to signify that Islam was "bright" and "luminous" compared to Christianity.
5. Crypto-Christians were common during the Ottoman occupation, especially by Muslims who converted to Christianity since the Koran itself says that apostasy from Islam deserves death. Crypto-Christians can still be found in predominantly Muslim countries. It is for this reason also that we do not know the Christian name of Saint Ahmed.
6. A smoking apparatus used in Turkey and the Middle East, the smoke being drawn through water.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Thy Martyr Ahmed, O Lord, in his courageous contest for Thee received the prize of the crowns of incorruption and life from Thee, our immortal God. For since he possessed Thy strength, he cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons' strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by his prayers, save our souls, since Thou art merciful.
Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΑΧΜΕΤ, Η ΠΑΝΑΓΙΑ & ΤΟ ΑΝΤΙΔΩΡΟ from NAMA wvc on Vimeo.
The movie above is in Greek, but can be followed if one has knowledge of the story above.
A fascinating 2-hour interview with Fr. George Dragas, professor of Patristics at Holy Cross School of Theology. The entire interview is in Greek.
Ο π. Γεώργιος Δράγας σε μια αποκαλυπτική συζήτηση μίλησε, στο Αντίφωνο, για τα πρώτα χρόνια στο εξωτερικό, τους δασκάλους του, τις εμπειρίες του στον Princeton με τον Florofsky (τι του είπε ο στο πρώτο μάθημα και πως απάντησε για " τον "πλατωνισμό" του Αγ. Γρηγoρίου του Νύσσης). Μίλησε επίσης για τις παραχωρήσεις σε οικουμενικούς διαλόγους, την χρησιμότητα αυτών, για τις σχέσεις μας με προτεστάντες και καθολικούς, για την ακαδημαϊκή και την εμπειρική θελογία. Αναφέρθηκε στους κανόνες και την οικονομία της εκκλησίας, την έννοια της ελευθερίας αλλά και του προσώπου και το πόσο "ορθόδοξος" αισθάνεται στη Δύση. Στα πλαισια της συζήτησης για την σχέση της σύγχρονης επιστήμης με την θρησκεία απάντησε στην ερώτηση: αν τα "είπαν όλα οι πατέρες" και διερεύνησε "σύγχρονα" προβλημάτα (πχ. Βιοηθικής) με την "σκέψη" των πατέρων.
Τελειώνοντας μας εκμυστηρεύτηκε τι τον συμβούλευε ο Δ. Πικιώνης στα ιδιαίτερα μαθήματα που του έκανε για ενάμιση χρόνο.
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Pelagia was a repentant sinner. She was born to pagan parents in Antioch, and was endowed by God with great physical beauty. Pelagia used her beauty to the destruction of her own soul and those of others. She became very wealthy as a result of her prostitution.
Once, while walking past the Church of the Holy Martyr Julian, in which Bishop Nonnus was preaching, she stopped in and heard a sermon on the Dread Judgment and the punishment of sinners. Those words so shook her and changed her that she immediately felt revulsion for herself, acquired true fear of God, repented of all her sins and fell down before St. Nonnus with the plea that he baptize her: "Have mercy on me, a sinner, holy Father. Baptize me and teach me repentance. I am a sea of iniquity, an abyss of destruction, a net and weapon of the devil." Thus this penitent begged the hierarch of Christ with tears, and he baptized her. At her baptism, Blessed Romana, the deaconess of the church, was her godmother. Romana, as her spiritual mother, grounded her well in the Christian Faith.
But Pelagia was not satisfied with baptism alone. She was keenly aware of the multitude of her sins and, pricked by her conscience, decided on a great ascetic labor. She left her enormous, sinfully gained wealth to the poor, and secretly went to Jerusalem as the monk Pelagius. There, she shut herself up in a cell on the Mount of Olives, and began the difficult ascesis of fasting, prayer and all-night vigils.
After three years, St. Nonnus's deacon, James, visited her and found her still alive, but when he visited her again several days later, he found that she had reposed, and he honorably buried her body. St. Pelagia entered into rest in about the year 461. Thus, this formerly terrible sinner pleased God by her repentance and labor, was forgiven of her sins, and became sanctified. And her purified and enlightened soul was deemed worthy of the Kingdom of God.
Oh, if only we would invest as much effort in our souls as we invest in our bodies!
Oh, if only we could become as desirous of adorning ourselves with virtue before God and His glorious angels, as we do with the vain, transitory, external displays of appearances!
At first, both Pelagia and Thais were only aware of theier bodies, while their souls were slaves bound in the prison of the body. Both were adorned with nothing but vanity: clothed in vanity, arrayed with vanity, surrounded by vanity, and flattered by vanity. But what a sudden change! What a divine turn of events in their lives! More wondrous than if a wild apple were to be grafted and begin to bring forth sweet fruits; or if a turgid, fetid swamp were suddenly to become clear, pure potable water.
When Bishop Nonnus, in the company of other bishops, first saw the sinner Pelagia in her outward splendor - clothed in the most expensive garments, adorned and bedecked with rings, necklaces and baubles, perfumed, and surrounded by slaves - Bishop Nonnus began to weep, and said to his companions: "In truth, I have learned much from this woman. The Lord will set her before His Dread Judgment and will rebuke us through her. How many hours does this woman spend in her room bathing herself, clothing herself, adorning herself, and looking at herself in the mirror - and for what? Only to appear more beautiful to men. And we, who have the immortal Bridegroom in heaven, do not strive to adorn our souls with repentance; we do not hasten to bathe them with the tears of repentance and clothe them in the beauty of the virtues, that they might appear more beautiful before the eyes of God!"
HYMN OF PRAISE: The Venerable Pelagia
Pelagia the sinner repented,
And with knowledge of the true Faith, illumined her soul.
The world beckoned her, the world enticed her, but she hearkened not.
Her conscience was awakened, her soul began to shine.
How much effort she applied, how many struggles
She endured, wrestling with her sinful body-
Itself like a decaying apple.
So much effort, so much suffering she invested,
Until she deified her unhappy soul through faith.
In the heavens, God's sun shone,
But Pelagia's soul shone more.
Repentance-God has left us repentance.
By repentance, Pelagia was glorified.
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
In thee the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother; for taking up thy cross, thou didst follow Christ, and by thy deeds thou didst teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passeth away, but to attend to the soul since it is immortal. Wherefore, O righteous Pelagia, thy spirit rejoiceth with the Angels.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
With fasting didst thou consume thy body utterly; with vigilant prayer didst thou entreat thy Fashioner that complete forgiveness of thy former deeds be granted thee, which, O Mother, thou didst receive. The path of repentance hast thou shown to us.
The Life of Our Holy Mother Pelagia the Nun, Who Was Once a Harlot, Written by James, a Deacon of the Church of Heliopolis
Sts. Pelagia the Martyr, Pelagia the Righteous and Thais: Three Different Responses to Sexual Immorality
By Alberto Toscano
Where Schwärmerei denotes confusion, unrealism, and a menacing multitude, a swarm, while enthusiasm (Enthusiasmus, enthousiasme) evokes a divine inspiration that finds its Greek sources in Plato's philosophy, fanaticism proper (Fanatismus, fanatisme) derives from the Roman term fanum, referring to a consecrated place (the opposite of this being the profane, and the act of disrespecting the fanum, profanation). In particular, fanatici was the name given to the followers of the Cappadocian goddess Comana, introduced to Rome as Bellona.
"In celebrating the festival of the goddess they marched through the city in dark clothes, with wild cries, blowing trumpets, beating cymbals and drums, and in the temple inflicting wounds upon themselves, the blood from which they poured out as an offering to the goddess."
Without engaging in genealogical fallacies -- as we'll see there are many uses of fanaticism that bear little relation to this cultic model -- in this origination we can see the sign not just of an inaugural link with religion, but of a preoccupation with the religion of the other (Bellona was not the state cult, but had been brought back by legionaries from their Anatolian campaigns) and with unchecked violence.
The description of the cult's vital by a Roman contemporary foreshadows many of the portraits of indomitable religious 'fanatics', from Canetti's account of the Persian Muharram in Crowds and Power to Voltaire's tableau of theological possession in the Dictionnaire Philosophique:
"Once set in motion by the transports of Bellona, in her frenzy she fears neither the heat of the fire nor the blows of the whip. With a double-edged hatchet, she violently wounds her arms, sprinkling the goddess with blood, yet feeling no pain. Standing, her side pierced by a dart, she prophesies events which the powerful goddess makes known to her."
It is from the Roman Empire too that a frequent synonym for fanatic, zealot, derives. This was a specifically political term, deriving from the religiously motivated Jewish resistance against colonial Rome in Palestine. In terms redolent of two millennia of counter-insurgency literature, Josephus, chronicler of the Jewish rebellion, speaks of nationalist and spiritual enthusiasm as a surrogate for military weakness, of "animal courage for which no numbers were a match", of men joining battle "with their passions in command".
Source: Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea
For background information on the alleged recent appearance of Elder Paisios to certain monks on Mount Athos and his foretelling of a soon-to-come war against Greece, see my post "False Rumors of Apocalytpic Visions and Elder Paisios". Below is the recently released official statement of the Holy Community of Mount Athos which voices the official opinion of all twenty monasteries:
The Holy Community of Mount Athos, in connection with recent reports by the mass media distributing certain information relating to an alleged appearance to monks of the late blessed Elder Paisios and his foretelling to them of imminent war, thereby causing anxiety and disruption from this, for the sake of truth and respect to the memory of the Elder, has reported that these rumors are untrue and are not consistent with what Elder Paisios believed in life.
Authorized by the common Assembly Representatives and Heads
The twenty holy monasteries of Holy Mount Athos.
October 8, 2010
The Serbian Orthodox Church on Friday for the first time condemned violence against gay activists, even though it remained staunchly opposed to the staging of a gay pride march this weekend.
Public condemnation of anti-gay violence by the influential church is important for Serbia's embattled gays, who face harassment in the predominantly conservative Balkan country.
Right-wing groups have threatened violence against organizers and participants of the Sunday march in Belgrade. They argue that gay events are contrary to Serbian values.
Extremists broke up a pride march in 2001 and forced the cancellation of last year's event.
The church said that inciting or resorting to "violence, allegedly in the name of God or the Christian church ... is absolutely inadmissible and contrary to Christian values."
"Violence does not cure or defeat evil, only helps spread it," the Holy Synod said in a statement.
In the past, the church had lashed out at gay activism. Hardline Bishop Amfilohije has said that gay activists themselves provoke violence by extremists.
The holding of the march is viewed as a test for Serbia which is seeking EU membership. Authorities have promised to ensure security for the gathering in downtown Belgrade.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Regarding these 99 Holy Ascetics, what little we do know about them comes primarily from a manuscript of Church Services printed in the Great Lavra on Mount Athos by Monk Joseph Kapetanakis Gavala and the copies made of this by an Athonite monk named Daniel. In 1879 the Church Services were published in Herakleion.
By tradition what we do know of these Saints is that they most likely lived in the 14th century (though some sources go as far back as the 11th while others go up to the 16th) and were associated with what is now known as the Monastery of Holy Fathers. "Narrow is the gate and full of sorrow is the road which leads to life" is written on top of the gate of this holy monastery.
The story of the 99 Holy Fathers tells that the 99 fathers came from Egypt, Cyprus and Turkey under the leadership of St. John to Azogires. St. John was born and grew up in Egypt. Along with 35 other pious men he went to Cyprus to live in asceticism. There they became known for their abilities to cure sicknesses. The stories of St. John and his men reached the other ascetics on the island, and 39 of these joined the group. After a while all of them went on to Attaleia (Antalya) in the present Turkey, where another 24 ascetics joined them.
The ascetic community, now consisting of 99 men, prayed to God to show them a place in which they would be able to live a secluded life. God told them to go to Crete, and so they sailed from Turkey towards Crete. Because of a violent storm they turned around to put into port on the island of Gavdos. When the storm had died down after 24 days, the ascetics set out again. But, according to tradition, when they were about to board the ship, God had made John invisible to their eyes, so by mistake they left without him. On their arrival in Crete the ascetics found that John was not among them. They realized that he must still be on Gavdos, and from the beach they called for him to come. On the island John heard their call. He said a prayer, threw his tunic into the water and sailed - standing on the tunic - to Crete in three hours.
In Crete the ascetics now went up into the land, and they settled in the caves of Zoures and Characas near the village of Azogires, a little north of Paleochora. The first place where they settled was under a large plane tree. They wished that the plane tree would always remain green, in summer and in winter, and its branches should form into crosses. Both had actually occurred. Moreover, they said, the tree should not die before it has 99 crosses. St. John also built a church, which eventually came to be known as the Monastery of the Holy Fathers.
In the beginning, the holy fathers slept in the cave near the plane tree, while John stayed in the cave above the village. One day, he decided to go north to the remote peninsula Akrotiri near Chania in order to live as a hermit. The holy fathers settled down in the cave in which their leader had stayed. Before John left, they swore when one of them dies, the others should die too.
At Akrotiri John survived by eating fruits and vegetables from gardens. To protect against the cold he wore a sheepskin. He knelt so much in prayer that he was not able to walk, and had to move about on his knees. One of the farmers spotted him in a crawling position one day when he was out picking herbs and thought that it was a wild animal that ate his stocks. The farmer took a bow and arrow and shot the supposed animal. John crawled, seriously wounded, back into his cave. The next day the farmer followed the blood traces. In the same moment in which he entered the cave, a bright light began to shine. He saw John dying on the ground, and realized that he had hit a holy man. He asked John to forgive him. John forgave him, but only on the condition that the farmer go to Azogires to tell his 98 brothers that he was dying and they should die with him. The man did so, but when he arrived in Azogires, the 98 holy fathers had died all together the day before.
The Patriarchal Seal of their recognition as Saints was accomplished in 1632 by the Cretan Patriarch Cyril Loukaris with 21 Synodical Hierarchs. The following is what we officially know about them:
"In the most well-governed island of Crete, Devout John the Hermit shone in asceticism; and the 98 lived ascetically with the same zeal and way of life together harmoniously. And the Lord glorified their lives with wonderful miracles."
Apolytikion in the Third Tone
The great island of Crete rejoices that in its mountains the supremely divine Fathers defeated their crafty adversary with tears, fasting, prayers and supplications. Therefore your spirits rejoice with the angels, and with your sacred relics grant healing to those who are suffering.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
Today Crete is joyously celebrating the most brilliant of the God-bearing Fathers, and invites every city and country to this commemoration. For Crete rejoices that she possesses a great treasure in its sacred reliquaries. O Fathers, the pride of Crete.
Let all the faithful praise the Holy Fathers who shone so wonderfully; for we have these ardent protectors before the Creator, and we honor them with faith. The ever-vigilant guardians of Crete are her saints. They stood on the top of her mountains like immovable towers, and from these heights protected the people of Crete with her hundred cities. They guarded Crete's citizens both day and night. Their caves were their bases of operation; and in their caves their relics nurtured the countryside. And since then, Crete has been fertile with roses and lillies of the wilderness - our very own saintly fathers.
The Plane Tree of Azogires
It’s interesting that the Holy Fathers founded their monastery in a lush area with its own spring and stream marked by an astonishing centuries-old plane tree (platanos) that continues to flourish to this day.
It is a mutation of Platanus orientalis - one of 50 such plane trees in Crete. Azogires is blessed to enjoy its evergreen glow; it never loses its leaves. They cling to their gnarled branches throughout the entire year.
Uniquely wondrous are the 99 crosses that appear in this Azogires plane tree. The tree’s gnarled branches form a criss-cross pattern.
The Holy Fathers' Monastery in Azogires and the Feast of the Saints
St. John the Hermit built a church near the caves that eventually became the Monastery of the Holy Fathers. It was however destroyed during the rebellion against the Turks, but was later rebuilt. The Historical Museum of Azogires – once the Monastery of the Holy Fathers - houses memorabilia pertaining to Cretan resistance against the Turks and the Germans with explanation in Greek only.
Every year on the 7th of October the memory of Sts. John and the 98 Holy Fathers is celebrated according to a ruling by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Loukaris, in 1632. Though the Saints were said to have died on October 6th, the celebration is delayed one day, otherwise it would coincide with the Orthodox holiday of Thomas the Apostle.
Elder Gabriel Papagrigorakis
The Holy Fathers' Monastery in Azogires, once dormant after the Holy Fathers arrival, continued to flourish under the humble guidance of Father Gabriel Papagrigorakis (1875-1930) from the village of Rodovani.
He managed to restart the monastery, populating it with nuns and monks. He moved into its meter-thick stone walls and for the next several years, he worked putting Azogires back on its feet. He started an olive oil factory - still in situ near the monastery, as well as two flour mills.
He was a tireless giver who fed others before nibbling on his own meager pieces of bread. He fought the Turks also, and was wounded in his groin.
His saintliness accounted for saving the monastery when a huge rock over its roof tumbled and swerved into the air thereby missing the people praying inside.
One nun who was particularly close to the holy Elder stated she wished to die on his 40th memorial anniversary, if – she said- this miraculous event of saving the people in the monastery was a sign from him. Her life came full circle, meeting its end the day of Father Gabriel Papagrigorakis 40th memorial anniversary.
His marble tomb lies next to one of the monastery’s external walls. Father Gabriel Papagrigorakis is deemed the guardian of the monastery, and among villagers he is at the top of the list of saintly people as confirmed by his countless miracles.
The Church of St. John the Hermit
The church behind the Alfa Hotel is the Koukoutsakis family private burial ground and is built on the cave of St. John the Hermit, part of which is actually inside the church.
Originally the church had mosaics inside; beautiful frescoes depicting the 99 Holy Fathers and much more, but unfortunately, during the 2nd World War, the church committee thought to make the church prettier so they white washed the walls, destroying the frescoes.
Today all branches of the Koukoutsakis family have one John in the family named after the Saint. They protect the Church of St. John and in turn they ask for his help. One member of this family has a blog here in which he writes of a few miracles associated with this church.
The Cave of the 99 Holy Fathers
The original cave of the holy fathers is situated below today's cave. Twenty years ago the last inhabitant, who knew the entrance of the cave, died.
People said, some a hundred years ago, there was a table-shaped stone in front of that entrance. In a radius of the table other stones were arranged like chairs and the skeletons of the holy fathers were said to be sitting on them with walking sticks and all their belongings. For fear of the Turks, the entrance had been closed.
Until today the cave system is not fully explored.
To reach this cave, go to Azogires, a small village about 6km northwest of Paleochora. There you’ll find a sign Spileo/Cave. Follow the sign up the concrete road about 2km. The first few meters are very steep, but the rest gets better. Park your car at the end of the road. The path will guide you to the mouth of the cave. It takes about 30 minutes walking at a slow safe pace to reach the cave area.
But accessing this cave has its own obstacles. Only the most determined will attempt to enter the cave. There are no stairs to assist you towards its rocky, steep opening, but if you do manage to arrive at its entrance, you may turn around and head back.
Interestingly, it said today 99 pigeons inhabit the cave.
Below is a map of the cave.
October 6, 2010
In an interview to Patriarhia.ru, the head of the Department for External Church Relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, sums up the work of the Joint Commission of Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue meeting in Vienna and the Inter-Council Presence’s commission for opposing and overcoming church schisms, and speaks about the state of inter-Christian dialogue today.
In the interview he was asked the following question regarding the recognition of schismatic Sacraments and he answered in turn:
- Did you discuss the recognition of ‘sacraments’ administered by schismatics? What is your attitude to this issue?
- This issue has been repeatedly discussed both in private talks of the Commission members and at the meeting. The Church does not recognize and cannot recognize as grace-giving and salvific any ‘sacraments’ including Baptism administered in a schism. This is a common point of view confirmed by many testimonies of the church Tradition. ‘Recognition of schismatics’ sacraments’ is an altogether improper expression which can be only misleading. The point here is not a diplomatic manifestation of politeness but attempts to impose on the Orthodox the recognition of a real presence of saving grace outside the Church. For the Church, the authenticity of Sacraments is a matter of salvation. It is impossible and senseless to speak of ‘recognition of sacraments’ administered by schismatics who stay outside the Church and have no communion with her.
However, as His Beatitude Vladimir, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine, has stressed, ‘the schismatics’ return to the saving fold of the Church can put life into their graceless actions’. When schismatics come back to the Church, it is a normal practice to embrace holy Baptism. But if the Church deems it necessary and if it is helpful for healing a schism, she can in some cases provide a different procedure, as was the case on repeated occasions in history.
The Church will never recognize schismatics’ ordinations, and all the clergy who come back from a schism should be ordained, though it is not at all necessary to make it in public. As far as the Sacrament of Baptism is concerned, it is impossible to administer it to all the laity coming back from a schism. Indeed, some of them do not even remember in which church they were baptized, canonical or schismatic.
Besides, there are situation where, for instance, a schismatic priest comes back to the Church together with his parishioners. The subsequent ‘re-baptism’ of the parishioners he had baptized earlier cannot be stipulated for his return, just as a ‘re-marriage’ of those whom he had married earlier or ‘re-funeral’ of all the dead over whom the burial service had been said before. It is impossible to force a priest who was now ordained in a canonical Church to return to their parishioners and say to them: ‘Everything I have done here for ten (or twenty) years was a deception, and only now I will begin doing everything in the real way’. People will not understand it and will not believe him. For all I know, they can think he decided to get the money for the second time for the sacraments he had already administered.
It is about such situations that it is stated that the Church can breathe a grace-giving power into the graceless actions of the schismatics and to inform with grace what had been only an empty and graceless form. In other words, the question of recognizing schistatics’ sacraments is not posed at all out of context of their return from the schism. But the question of a procedure of acceptance form a schism can and must be posed. And here, depending on the situation, various approaches can be applied.
- We hear sometimes the voices of the so-called ‘zealots of the purity of Orthodoxy’, whose favourite theme is criticism of ‘ecumenism’ based on conjecture. What does inter-Christian cooperation consist in today?
- The Supreme Authority of the Russian Orthodox Church has repeatedly explained what is understood as inter-Christian cooperation, what aims this cooperation pursues, what results it has brought and can bring to our Church in the future. I believe there is no sense in repeating all that has been said about it, for instance, in the Russian Orthodox Basic Principles of Attitude to Non-Orthodoxy, an official document of the 2000 Bishops’ Council.
I would like to mention a different thing. Today, millions of the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church including Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Moldovans, have gone to live outside their historical Motherland. It is a sad development in many ways as it involves assimilation, brain drain, etc. But it is a reality existing regardless of its emotional assessment. One can grieve over it as much as one wants but the Church is obliged to help her children to remain Orthodox in an alien milieu.
I wonder whether anyone of the ‘zealots’ has ever been concerned for the problems of pastoral care of the Russia diaspora? Do the critics of our cooperation with the Catholic Church know who actually provides our compatriots abroad with facilities necessary for services, Sunday schools and for creating an Orthodox environment for fellowship? Many newly-established Orthodox communities abroad use church buildings which have been provided by the non-Orthodox, in the first place, Catholics. When Catholics give the Orthodox an opportunity to pray in the churches which belong to them and do it often gratis, what does it show?
And how many of former Catholics and Protestants have become Orthodox Christians and members of our communities abroad, among other things, as a result of mixed marriages? Do the authors who claim to be the voice of ‘conservative church public’ know how difficult it is in Western Europe, for instance, to obtain permission for building a church and to negotiate its design with local authorities? And what assistance do Catholic parishes and sometimes even Protestant communities give to our new parishes? And how many of our compatriots who have found themselves in the West in a situation of illegal migrants have managed to obtain the necessary papers and jobs with the help of Catholic and Protestant charities on the request of Russian Orthodox parishes?
Read the complete interview here.
October 7, 2010
In the land where Jesus lived, Christians say their dwindling numbers are turning churches from places of worship into museums.
And when Christian pilgrims come from all over the world to visit the places of Christ's birth, death and resurrection, they find them divided by a concrete wall.
Members of the Abu al-Zulaf family, Palestinian Christians, have left the hills and olive groves of their village near Bethlehem for Sweden and the United States, seeking a better life than that on offer in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Ayman Abu al-Zulaf, 41, moved to France in 1998. But he returned to Beit Sahour, the village where he was born, a year later. "I needed to be here, not in France," he said. "Without Christians, the Holy Land, the land of Jesus, has no value."
That's his message to Christian pilgrims he meets through his work as a tour guide. "Christians have a very major mission here in Palestine. We are the bridge to the West," he said.
Today, Christians make up just 1 percent of the mainly Muslim population of the Palestinian territories, said Hanna Eissa, who is in charge of Christian affairs in the Palestinian Authority's religious affairs ministry.
In 1920, they were a tenth of the population of Palestine -- land where today Israel exists alongside the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians remain stateless.
Decades of conflict, shifting borders and occupation are the root causes of the poor economic situation that is forcing Christians to seek better lives abroad, Eissa said.
Rising Muslim fundamentalism, a trend across the Middle East, concerns some. But most cite Israeli occupation as the prime cause of emigration and the decline of their community.
"If there was no political problem, the economic situation would be good, so the problems are linked," Eissa said.
In Bethlehem alone, the Christian population has slumped to 7,500 from 20,000 in 1995. Then, the Middle East peace process had created hope that a Palestinian state would emerge alongside Israel. Some Christians who had left came back.
Sandra al-Shoumali, Abu al-Zulaf's sister, and her husband were among those who invested at the time. They thought peace was imminent and saw a prosperous future in a new state. But talks collapsed in 2000 and several years of violence ensued.
POLITICS AND PILGRIMAGE
"There was no work, no way to live," she said. "Our family has been scattered," she said. They moved to the United States. She is visiting Beit Sahour for the first time in two years.
Abu al-Zulaf knows personally of 50 people who have left Beit Sahour in the last decade. "When I talk to them, they say: 'We want to come back, but there is no work there'."
He holds Israel responsible for the departure of Christians. "The occupation is menacing everyone's existence," he said.
His tours take in Palestinian refugee camps as well as conventional pilgrimage places, such as the Church of the Nativity, revered as the site of Jesus's birth. "Our resistance is through staying here and sensitising people," he said.
The economy has improved since the Second Intifada, or uprising, abated. Tourists have returned, but their path to Bethlehem from Jerusalem has been complicated by the West Bank barrier Israel has constructed on the grounds of security.
Abu al-Zulaf has not been to Jerusalem since he was 19 years old. He was jailed by Israel two decades ago because of activism in a previous uprising. "Jerusalem is the core of Christianity and as a Christian you are deprived of going there," he said.
"I am lucky to have seen Jerusalem," he said. "There are people here who have never been."
"I am not optimistic because I don't think things are going to change. I don't trust the leadership on either side."
October 6, 2010
America's Eastern Orthodox parishes have grown 16 percent in the past decade, in part because of a settled immigrant community, according to new research.
Alexei Krindatch, research consultant for the Standing Conferences of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, said the 16 percent growth in the number of Orthodox parishes is "a fairly high ratio for religious groups in the United States."
The number of Orthodox parishes has reached 2,370, and the Orthodox community in America consists of more than 1 million adherents across 20 different church bodies, according to the 2010 U.S. Orthodox Census.
The top five largest Orthodox churches in the U.S. are Greek Orthodox (476,900), Orthodox Church in America (84,900), Antiochian Orthodox (74,600), Serbian Orthodox (68,800) and Russian Orthodox (27,700).
Two of these church bodies--the Bulgarian Orthodox Eastern Diocese and the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese--experienced a growth rate of over 100 percent. Both churches began with a small number of parishes in 2000 and are supported by a community of established Eastern European immigrants.
"It takes immigrant communities a little while to establish a religious community," Krindatch said. "They settle, then begin to think about their religious lives."
Even though the majority of Orthodox church bodies grew, some lost parishes. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, Patriarchal Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church and Armenian Apostolic Church of America all experienced a slight decrease in the number of parishes.
The study, which was part of the national Religious Congregations and Membership Study 2010, also shows that just 27 percent of members attend Orthodox churches regularly.
Krindatch said the definition of each of the groups affected this statistic. Church "adherents" was the most inclusive category, consisting of anyone who occasionally participated in church life, while "regular attendees" are those who attend church on an almost weekly basis.
More information on the survey can be found at http://www.orthodoxreality.org.
October 7, 2010
Minarets and church towers mingle on Cairo's skyline, but tensions mar Egypt's record of religious coexistence and a perception of growing intolerance is leading some Christians to shun their Muslim compatriots.
Amira Helmy, from a middle-class area of the capital, was brought up by a Muslim neighbour after her mother died and attended a state school alongside Muslim children.
"Most of my friends were Muslims. We used to go on outings together and some would call to me from below my house so we could walk to school," recalls Helmy with a smile.
Now a housewife in her 40s, she sends her daughter Christine and son Kirollos to a private Christian school and forbids them from mingling with Muslim children to protect them from insults.
"I do this out of fear for my child. Not because she's a girl. Kirollos is also prohibited from going out with Muslims."
Helmy said she had stopped speaking to most of her Muslim neighbours after one of them called her housekeeper the daughter of a 'blue bone', a pejorative name for Coptic Christians.
Around a tenth of Egypt's 78 million people are Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts -- descendents of Christian communities that founded monasticism in the early centuries after Jesus.
Christians are found in all social strata, from rubbish collectors living in old Cairo graveyards to top businessmen, doctors and government ministers, although Copts say they are under-represented in the security forces and public office.
Official rhetoric after independence in 1952 called for religious unity around the national cause, shown in the slogan "The Crescent and The Cross" often chanted at patriotic events.
"We did not hear of this 'Muslim-Christian' labelling until 15 or 20 years ago when religious slogans arose for political reasons," said Helmy's husband Salah Shafiq, a gold worker.
Christian and Muslim clerics stress sectarian harmony, but communal tensions can erupt into criminality and violence, usually sparked by land disputes or cross-faith relationships.
Such spats could multiply if the state ignores Christian grievances on issues such as an Islam-focused school curriculum and laws making it easier to build mosques than churches.
Some Egyptians blame sectarian intolerance on the media for sensationalising trivial incidents involving religion.
In July, when a 26-year-old Christian from Upper Egypt fled her priest husband, an image of her veiled like a Muslim woman appeared on the Internet, prompting a fevered media debate over whether she had converted to Islam.
Last month, Pope Shenouda, head of Egypt's Orthodox Church, said on television he regretted any hurt to Muslims over remarks by a Coptic archbishop that some took as an attack on the Koran.
The killing of six Christians in southern Egypt on Coptic Christmas Eve in January may have fuelled fears of religious strife. The persecution of Iraqi Christians by Muslim militants after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq also provoked unease here.
Yet deaths from religious violence in Egypt remain extremely rare. Most Egyptian Christians say their biggest concerns are discrimination and occasional teasing and insults from Muslim neighbours, especially in poorer neighbourhoods.
"In the streets, I do feel discrimination when a Christian walks by and then a Muslim person says 'May God forgive me' (for the sin I see before me)," said Helmy's daughter Christine.
Shafiq blamed what he called growing Muslim intolerance on economic hardship that prompts its victims to seek a scapegoat. Despite an economic growth rate of near 6 percent, many Egyptians complain the benefits are not trickling down.
"So far, moderate Muslims seem to be the majority but may God protect us because economic conditions are worsening and the fundamentalists are offering people money to join them."
President Bill Clinton attended an anti-AIDS rally held in Kiev on Sunday, October 3, 2010.
On Monday, 4 October 2010, the 42nd President of the United States William Jefferson Clinton met with Ukrainian students, as part of the “Public Lectures” project of the Victor Pinchuk Fundation. The Victor Pinchuk Foundation regularly invites internationally renowned economists, politicians and public figures to Ukraine to discuss today’s challenges facing Ukraine and the world.
On Wednesday, 6 October 2010, President Clinton visted the Kiev Caves Lavra and was welcomed by Archbishop Paul. The former President showed much enthusiasm on visiting the Lavra and on hearing the stories of the Saints who lived there in the past. He was also told by the Archbishop of the incorrupt relics of these Saints which the President had a chance to see. The Archbishop gave Mr. Clinton a jar of honey from the Lavra as a gift.
October 5, 2010
Nuns of a large Greek Monastery are convinced that believers can pray to priest Daniil Sysoyev as to a saint.
"It' high time you prayed not for Father Daniil, but to Father Daniil," Sister Prosdoki from the Annunciation Monastery in Ormylia, Halkidiki Peninsula, told an Interfax-Religion correspondent.
She also wonders why Father Daniil is not widely venerated in Russia.
According to the nun, many Orthodox Greeks honor Father Daniil alongside with many Greek saints martyred for Orthodox faith by Turks.
The interviewee of the agency believes Father Daniil's tomb can become one of most beloved places for Greek pilgrims. Relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov have been such a shrine so far.
Priest Daniil Sysoyev was known for his missionary work among the Muslims. He conducted public disputes with representatives of Islam and preached to guest workers at Moscow building sites and markets.
On November 19, 2009, Fr. Daniil was shot dead in St. Thomas Church where he was a rector. Soon on December 1, suspected in his murder Kyrgyz citizen was killed in Makhachkala at the attempt to arrest him.
October 6, 2010
The Russian Orthodox Church has condemned the decision to award British embryologist Robert Edwards, the man who came up with the fertility treatment IVF, the Nobel Prize for medicine.
"The Church considers all these IVF methods involving the stockpiling and further destruction of so-called excessive 'embryos' as morally unacceptable," Archpriest Nikolay Balashov, spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, told Interfax-Religion.
The Church's position is based on the belief that "an embryo is a future human being and not just an accumulation of cells or a part of a mother's body," and the Church "defends the dignity of human life from the moment of its conception until the natural demise of a human," the priest said.
IVF often involves the use of the so-called donor genetic material, which "creates moral problems for the person born as a result of such procedure," he said.
"Theoretically, the child can have two fathers, a biological one and the one who raised him, and two mothers, a biological one and the one who bore him during the pregnancy," the spokesman said.
As in the case of the so-called "surrogate motherhood," the use of such methods could "question the identity of the human being, his self-understanding," he said.
"Based on these considerations, the Russian Orthodox Church finds itself unable to justify the use of the technologies questioning the uniqueness of a human personality and the perception of a human life as God's gift," he said.
Childless couples suffering from the inability to produce offspring should be recalled that "childlessness can also be in certain cases a special vocation from God, with scores of children who would be happy to find a caring family queuing up at Russian children's institutions for adoption," the priest said.
Similar condemnation of the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Edwards was voiced earlier by the Catholic Church.
The prize committee said his achievement had made it possible to treat infertility. Edwards began his research at Cambridge University in the late 1950s. He worked alongside physician Patrick Steptoe to create the IVF treatment, with the first "test tube baby" born in 1978.
October 5, 2010
Russian lawmakers on Tuesday backed a bill banning the country's faith healers, witches and assorted sorcerers from advertising their services in a potential blow to the booming business.
Faith healers and the like cause "moral and physical harm to the people and economic harm to the country," wrote lawmakers proposing the bill, which was passed in an initial reading.
Russians often turn to folk healers and fortune-tellers to solve problems and tabloid newspapers fill pages with ads for "psychics", who promise to return cheating husbands, cure alcoholism and bring business success.
Advertising of esoteric services in the mass media means that "charlatans attract a lot of clients without giving any guarantees, and sometimes engage in fraud," the bill's authors said.
The Duma needs to vote for a draft in three readings before it is signed by the president and becomes law.
Esoteric healers outnumber doctors in Russia, and the annual turnover of the business is close to two billion dollars, said Duma deputy Tatyana Yakovleva, who sits on the parliamentary health committee.
"The number of healers has reached 800,000 people, while there are only 620,000 medical doctors," Yakovleva said in a statement, calling claims by some to cure cancer and AIDS 'criminal'."
"It's ridiculous to treat toothache by dangling a rat's tail near your cheek," she said.
A survey carried out by Levada independent polling agency in August found that 20 percent of Russians have visited alternative healers for their problems and only 10 percent have ever seen a psychotherapist.
Televised psychic sessions were prevalent in Russia in the 1990s, with some of the more popular psychics even running for legislative offices around the country.
One of Russia's national channels, TNT, runs a popular Friday primetime show "Battle of the Psychics" where contestants use alleged psychic abilities to solve various puzzles.
Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Stephen M. Barr
Professor of Physics, University of Delaware
Professor of Biochemistry, Lehigh University and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute
Watch video or listen to the audio here.
October 4, 2010
Is ignorance bliss for Georgians? In a way, yes, according to the country's highly revered spiritual leader, Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II.
With the domestic education system still in mid-reform, many young Georgians are seeking knowledge in the West, but, away from home and the mother church, their impressionable minds run the risk of cultural indoctrination, the patriarch warned in an October 3 sermon.
Georgia’s young are not “strong spiritually, culturally” and may easily drift away from their traditional moorings and also lose respect for parental authority, Ilia II posited.
Just look at what is going on over in Canada, he continued. When "lightly slapped" by their parents, Canadian youngsters can call the police on mom and dad, he fumed. “So he (she) is a whistle-blower, [a] betrayer of [his or her] parents.” To make sure that Georgian kids do not do the same, Georgian families should avoid sending them for studies abroad, he deduced.
Could His Holiness be worrying that his parish is thinning, amidst an onslaught of Western liberalism? Recent statistics do not suggest so. According to a 2008 poll, over 94 percent of Georgians, who are overwhelmingly Georgian Orthodox Christians, believe that Ilia II is the nation’s most trusted figure. The Church is widely seen as synonymous with Georgia's cultural identity.
Nonetheless, the patriarch's previously sacrosanct authority has faced a sporadic yet strong challenge of late. Some believe that a recent series of scandals hints at under-the-surface turf wars between the Church and the passionately Western-oriented government of President Mikheil Saakashvili.
In a bid to raise the level of education and mold a new, Western-minded breed of Georgian, Saakashvili first launched a state-run student exchange program, and then brought 1,000 teachers from English-speaking countries -- including alleged miscreant Canada -- to teach English in Georgian schools.
But certain limits likely exist for how far the patriarch will take his criticism of studying abroad. Saakashvili himself studied outside Georgia -- in the US, France and Ukraine. In the past, both Church and government have tried to avoid a heads-on confrontation over policy matters.
Perhaps with that goal in view, the patriarch admonished listeners that Georgia should not shut "itself up in its own shell," but "know the world."
Nonetheless, he drew the line at the word "cosmopolitan."
“For a cosmopolitan, it does matter is it Georgia, Russia, America or Europe. His homeland is wherever he lives," he said. "One man said that home is where the money is…We do not need such thinking. . . .This is why, once more, I want to convince you that there is only one homeland, just as there is only one God.”
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Occasionally, some people critically assess the theological works of the blessed professor Fr. John Romanides, and they express some views, especially recently, over his perception of theological and spiritual issues. It is weird that such assessments are being made after his repose, when he himself is no longer able to reply to the assumptions made on his theological works.
In addition, he is being judged by people who either did not know him personally or have only partly studied his work, without examining it in its entirety. It is obvious that all those people interpret some of his theological views from their own point of view and they misapprehend them. They may possibly think that if they interpret the works of a great theologian they may become ‘great’ themselves.
I have had the extraordinary honor to get to know him after he received his pension from the university, and especially during his stay in Athens. We had been talking almost daily on various matters involving the Church and Theology. He also used to send me some of his work and would explain over the phone his views. He would do the same thing with professor Fr. George Metallinos and the theologian Athanasios Sakarellos. He had also asked me to register him in the hieratical lists of my Diocese, without of course receiving any remuneration, because he had only wanted to belong to an ecclesiastical body. This eventually took place after he supplied to me his certificate of leave from the Holy Archdiocese of America, as I had asked him to. Therefore, I am his last Bishop.
I did get acquainted with his personality and his theological views. I was once very impressed when I had visited him at the intensive care unit in the hospital. He had been connected to various tubes and I had asked him how he was. He paid no attention to my question but started referring to various issues about the Church and Theology. This shows how important ecclesiastical theology was to him so that he had been ignoring his ill health, even the possibility of his death. Theology was his entire life, even to his last breath.
From all that which I have ever written about Fr. Romanides and what will later be published, I would like to mention two ‘phases’ of his theological thought process, if one may speak about the existence of such phases.
It refers to the first phase of his theological creation, which centers on his treatise on “The Ancestral Sin”. The second phase refers to the neptic-hesychastic teachings of the Apostles, especially that of Saint Paul. Naturally, as one may suspect, I will not deal with history here, but mainly with theology, even though he regarded these two faculties as interchangeable.
“The Ancestral Sin”
He dealt with this issue because of the surrounding environment in the States and his quest for an ecclesiastical theology on the creation of the world and the fall of man. It is well known that Fr. John grew up in the States and studied in Catholic and Protestant schools. He was very versatile with their theology, like that of Thomas Aquinas and of other crucial Protestant theologians. The Protestants were denying the patristic tradition and were only studying the Scriptures, while the Catholic theologians were relying on Thomas Aquinas - who had been interpreting Augustine - and other scholastic theologians. This contradiction between the two Christian traditions intrigued Fr. John to look into the so-called Apostolic Fathers – those who succeeded the Apostles but preceded the great Fathers of the fourth century.
This was a most clever move, since he had recognized that the Apostolic Fathers were the connecting link between the Apostles and the great Fathers of the Church. This link was unbreakable. It is through the Apostolic Fathers that the teachings of the Apostles have been conveyed to future generations.
When we are talking about the Apostolic Fathers we refer to Saint Clement of Rome, the authors of the works “The Shepherd of Hermas” and the “Epistle of Barnabas”, Saint Ignatius the God-Bearer, Saint Polycarp of Smyrna and Papias of Hieropolis. Saint Irenaeus of Lyon and Hyppolytos of Rome are connected with the above mentioned Fathers.
Therefore, he had studied extensively the Apostolic Fathers in the ‘spirit’ of the teaching of the Apostles, and compared them on the one hand with the Orthodox Fathers and on the other with the Western Scholastic and Reformation theologians. The whole progress of his theological thought is revealed in the subtitle of his thesis which had the theme of “The Ancestral Sin”.
In a handwritten notebook, which I possess and in which he was making notes while he was studying for the issue before formally expressing his views in his well-known thesis, there is the following title and subtitle: “The Ancestral Sin: The Cosmological and Anthropological Preconditions of the Fall in the Early Church, Compared with the Preconditions Set By Later Greek Patristic Theology and Western Scholastic Theology, Especially That of Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas”.
This is the first draft of this work. In this notebook he cited paragraphs from the New Testament, which he had distinguished by theme, showing that he had obviously read the entire New Testament as part of this study as well as the patristic works of the Apostolic Fathers and the Fathers of the fourth century: namely Saint Athanasios, Saint Basil, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint John Chrysostom and others, as well as Saint Dionysius the Aeropagite, Saint Maximus the Confessor, etc.
In his typed thesis, which again came into my possession, there are also handwritten corrections and interventions with several additions to the first draft, as well as notes in the margins, etc. Obviously this constitutes the first draft; he has given the title and the subtitle to this one as: “The Ancestral Sin: The Cosmological and Anthropological Preconditions of the Fall From the Time of the New Testament Up To the Period of Saint Irenaeus”. In a handwritten note however, he altered the title to: “Contributions to the Teachings on the Ancestral Sin: The Preconditions for the Teachings of the Early Church Up To the Time of Saint Irenaeus in Comparison with the Orthodox and Western Teachings Up To That of Thomas Aquinas”.
In the final version which was published by Pournaras Publications, the title and the subtitle of his thesis have been designated as: “The Ancestral Sin: Contributions to the Research on the Preconditions of the Teachings on the Ancestral Sin in the Early Church Up To Saint Irenaeus in Comparison With the Comprehensive Direction of Orthodox and Western Theology Up To That of Thomas Aquinas”.
It is clearly obvious from the changes which the author had made to the subtitle that he was trying to express in the best possible way the difference between the teachings of the Fathers of the Church and the views of Scholastic theologians on the issue of the ancestral sin. He was always relying on the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers up to Saint Irenaeus as the basis for his theological thinking.
Therefore, this first phase of the research by Fr. John Romanides relies on the Scriptures and the teachings of the Fathers of the Church in contrast with the works by Augustine and Scholastic theologians. This attempt shows a serious researcher and a scholar who is interested at this stage to perceive the ‘spirit’ of the views of the Church Fathers and, in my opinion, to prove that the Orthodox Church is the “Historic Church” which has preserved Apostolic tradition as it passed with authenticity from the Apostles to the Apostolic Fathers and from them onto the later Fathers. The Catholics and Protestants not only have misinterpreted these teachings, but they have also significantly changed them.
His Neptic-Hesychastic Teaching
After this basic research, Fr. Romanides proceeded deeper into the issue which relates to the cosmological and anthropological preconditions of the ancestral sin, in order to examine the consequences of man’s fall, which are the darkening of his nous and his withdrawal from God’s Light. He also went on to examine the way in which man returns to God, resumes communion with Him and participates in Him. That is, how man is able to reach illumination and deification through purification. He was immensely supported in this second phase of his creative work by certain interpretations of some parts of the New Testament, especially by the interpretations of Saint Paul’s teachings.
As one may determine from his studies into “The Ancestral Sin”, as found in his notebook, he had assembled all the passages of the New Testament which refer to the Devil, to the creating energy of God, to man’s sin, to spiritual death, to the meaning of the heart as ‘nous', to divine justice, to the “freedom from death and corruption”, to the "self-preservation instinct”, and to Christ’s crucifixion, etc.
One may discern by studying these pericopes, especially those of Saint Paul’s, that Fr. John had been collecting all the passages of the New Testament which refer to the neptic-hesychastic life of man as a precondition for his salvation. This work is the groundwork of his intention to support the view that the neptic-hesychastic tradition was indeed the way the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers lived. This study of the New Testament helped him later on to support his views against the Protestants when he had been appointed as Greece’s representative at their joint discussions.
Several times he told me that the Protestants are denying the teachings of the Fathers, cannot comprehend the conceptions of personhood, hypostasis, the essence or the energy of God. They regard these as examples of the influence of Greek philosophy which has corrupted apostolic tradition. He also mentioned to me that the prominent Protestant theologian Harnack was convinced that Orthodoxy is an idolatrous form of Christianity. Thus, when the Protestants were listening to Orthodox theologians using terms familiar within Greek philosophy, they would become upset, would not understand anything, and they would reject the entire teaching. Therefore, it was not easy for an Orthodox theologian to use terms used in patristic theology, because the Protestants could not understand such terminology.
This would make Fr. John to constantly use passages from the New Testament in his dialogues with the Protestants, especially passages from Saint Paul, in order to put them on the spot.
In his discussions with the Jews he would also expand on passages from the Old Testament regarding the revelation of the bodiless Word, of the Great Angel of Yahweh, in relation to patristic tradition, and this would amaze them. Fr. John would of course never give arbitrary interpretations to Saint Paul's passages, but had always in mind the teachings of the Apostolic Fathers and of the great Fathers of the Church. Usually he would not refer to any specific passages. This means that he comprehended the ‘spirit’ of the Fathers, but he would more often use passages from the Apostles. Thus, he used Apostolic terminology on matters of spiritual life, as for example on issues regarding the heart, the nous, glorification, perfection, etc.
Because I knew him personally and I studied his works diligently and got acquainted with his verbal prose, I believe that he was not arbitrarily interpreting passages from the New Testament and especially of Saint Paul’s, but was relying on two important exegetical keys, two basic traditions.
One such tradition was the teachings of Saint Symeon the New Theologian, on whom he was very versatile, had studied his teachings from the original, and was linking them to those of Saint Paul’s.
I have also studied diligently and have deciphered all the works by Saint Symeon. I have come to accept this connection in the works of Fr. John.
He would several times admit this openly. At other times this connection was evident. In the future, I will try to do this myself. To try, that is, to link Fr. John’s interpretation of Apostolic passages with the teachings of Saint Symeon the New Theologian.
The second tradition with which he used to interpret Saint Paul’s epistles was the living testimony of the hesychasts of Holy Mount Athos, with whom he had been discussing issues pertaining to the purification of the heart, to the illumination of the nous, to the Lord’s Prayer [the so-called 'Jesus Prayer'] and to contemplation, that is, the vision of the Uncreated Light.
He had also been impressed by the book “The Way Of A Pilgrim”, by the writings of Saint Silouan the Athonite and of course by the works of the Fathers in the "Philokalia". Thus, Fr. John’s neptic-hesychastic teachings are inexorably connected to those of Saint Paul, Saint Symeon the New Theologian and the modern hesychasts whom he had directly or indirectly met. In my opinion, he also relied on his own personal experience, but I am not certain what level did he reach. The truth is that one cannot insist on certain issues unless he has personal experience.
One blessed experienced Spiritual Father told me that he was impressed by Fr John’s insistence on certain issues and that this prompted him to pay special attention to them as well.
We must add to this the teachings of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, which he had distinguished from the Neoplatonic tradition with strong arguments; the teachings of Saint Gregory Palamas whom he had meticulously studied and whose teachings he was regarding as the essence of the hesychastic tradition of the Church; and the teachings of the Cappadocian Fathers. He boasted about the latter since they had the same origins [in Cappadocia].
His insistence on the neptic-hesychastic tradition was based on the fact that this way of life was the one espoused by the Prophets, the Apostles and the Saints as it is demonstrated in the Scriptures and in the whole tradition of the Church: the Holy Canons, the Hymns, the patristic works. He believed that this was particularly demonstrated in the discussion between Saint Gregory Palamas and Barlaam and later on in the discussion between Saint Gregory, Akindinos and Gregoras.
Fr. John attached a great significance and importance to the neptic tradition because this is the place where one may find not just the dogmas of the Church but also the differences between Orthodox Tradition and that of the Catholics and Protestants. He pin-pointed this difference in the terms "the analogy of being" (analogia entis) and "the analogy of faith" (analogia fidei) which has to do with the different ways one comprehends God’s revelation. The analogy of being refers to the fact that there is a relation between the created and the uncreated being; that God created the world from archetypes and that man’s salvation rests on the return of his soul to the uncreated world of ideas. This is the area of classical metaphysics which Franco-Latin theology was influenced from. According to this theory one can perceive the essence of God if he perceives the essence of created beings, using human rationality. This was the view expressed by Barlaam and that’s why Saint Gregory Palamas objected to this, the so-called “scholastic analogy”.
The analogy of faith refers to the relationship between man and God through faith, as it is revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This tradition says that God is not revealed by philosophical concepts but through the Holy Scriptures, which is the word of God. Thus, when one studies the Scriptures one comes to the knowledge of God and into communion with Him, since God’s revelation has been given in the Holy Scriptures.
Fr. John was insisting that these two traditions (analogia entis - analogia fidei) describe western Christianity and are foreign to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church.
The Orthodox Church says that if one is to meet God he has to rely on his personal participation with the uncreated purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God, which is experienced in the Church, by the Holy Mysteries and through personal struggle (asceticism). Personal struggle is the neptic-hesychastic tradition, which is the pre-condition for the comprehension of dogmas and the path in which man meets with God.
Thus, knowledge of God is not related to philosophy, nor to just reading the Holy Scriptures, which is nevertheless important because it gives an account of the experience of deification, but it is connected with the experienced neptic-hesychastic tradition and by living a full life in the Church.
Fr. John was describing this neptic tradition as ‘therapeutic’. We come to meet this term in all the writings of the Fathers. It is only through purification and illumination that man can reach deification and communion with God and regain his health.
It is important to note that Saint Gregory Palamas used the Virgin Mary as the prototype of a hesychast, since she lived in the Holy of Holies by using the method of quietude. Therefore, he says, that once man reaches the stage where he has a vision of God, then “she is the only example of a truly healthy soul”. For this reason, "theoria is the fruit of recovery, whose end and form is deifying". At the same time, man is deified "not through reflecting on analogies," but through silence, with which he is healed.
This ecclesiastical tradition was the foundation of Fr. John’s theology and it was the practical consequence of his theological research into the ancestral sin. That’s why he believed that if one does not comprehend the divergence of analogia entis and analogia fidei from the theology of the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers, one cannot understand the western heresies or the value of the neptic-hesychastic tradition of the Orthodox Church.
Fr. John’s Contribution
The two phases of his theological beliefs (the ancestral sin and the neptic tradition of the Church) are not independent from each other, but they are closely connected: the latter phase is a continuation of the former.
Some people believe that Fr. John began as an excellent hopeful theologian, with an important contribution to theology, but he lost his bearings on the way and did not facilitate the theological renaissance of the country. I think that those who interpret Fr. John’s work in this way do him injustice. The same injustice is done by those who believe that he was influenced by either the Protestants or the Origenists.
Fr. John was an intelligent man with an inquisitive mind. He remained steadfast to Orthodox Tradition and was expressing the authentic experience of the Church.
Of course he was versatile with the theological views of his time and was expressing the authentic view. Some of his linguistic expressions cannot by themselves attribute to him an influence from other beliefs. Besides, Saint Basil and Saint Gregory the Theologian studied Origen, they accumulated some of his ideas and created the so-called "Philokalia", but are not regarded as Origenists. (Here we are not talking about the much later “Philokalia" compiled by the Saints Makarios Notaras and Nikodemos the Hagiorite.)
As a human Fr. John may have made some mistakes in his life, for example in his expressions and the explanations he gave to his theology, but he was a great theologian and a teacher who helped to rejuvenate the hesychastic tradition of recent years. It is not right for him to be dismissed or misinterpreted by people who select some of his wording, without comprehending it and without understanding the whole ‘spirit’ of his teaching.
A great teacher is only interpreted by a great disciple or reader and not by people who inadvertently express their critical mindset.
I consider very important the testimony and confession offered by Fr. George Metallinos, the renowned theologian of our times; the intelligent and charismatic and tireless researcher. According to him, when as a postgraduate student in Cologne in Germany in 1973, he came across a typed manuscript of Fr. John’s "Dogmatics", he regarded it as a “gift of God’s grace”. He writes: “I threw aside all the German-Catholic and Protestant manuals and systematic theological works (I have had enough of those!), and I began hungrily to study the true patristic dogmatics of the Greco-American priest and professor, whom I had not yet had the blessing to meet”.
Later on he writes that after studying this work he “recognized that this unknown to me Fr. Romanides had become my most important teacher in dogmatic theology, but also in ecclesiastical history... so that I could be described as and feel like being his disciple. I am especially happy when I am being ‘accused’ of clearly exhibiting his influence on me”.
In his speech at Fr. Romanides’ funeral he stresses: “We must designate the period ‘before' Romanides and 'after’ Romanides. His work is regarded as instructive and as the task of a writer with a fighting spirit. He has really severed our theology from our Scholastic past, which has so far been acting as the Babylonian captivity of our theology”.
As I have already mentioned, Fr. George Metallinos is a leading teacher of theology, a highly valued researcher and a scholar; a cleric with Orthodox views, but mostly he is an authentic and untainted man without inner complexes. That is the reason why he does not detest anyone, but recognizes the work of the pioneers in theology, like Fr. John.
For this reason, in my opinion, his confession/testimony is vital and substantial, and therefore it cannot be dismissed.
Finally, whoever wants to get acquainted with Fr. John’s teachings must distinguish the two phases in his teachings. Namely, his book on the ancestral sin, which was based on the Apostles and the Apostolic Fathers, as well as what he had written and verbally supported regarding the neptic-hesychastic tradition, which he was examining through Saint Paul’s epistles in relation with the teachings of Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Saint Gregory Palamas, the Cappadocian Fathers, and the hesychasts whom he had personally met.
The Church is the Body of Christ. Just as each material body keeps the nutrient it needs to feed its parts and discards the rest, the same way the Church safeguards authentic teachings and discards all the poisonous and indigestible concepts which rely on philosophical thinking and ‘theological’ fantasies.
I believe that the Church will safeguard the ‘spirit’ of Fr. John’s teachings just because it is in harmony with the Apostolic and Patristic tradition, which constitutes the deeper ‘spirit’ of Orthodox teaching. This teaching leads man to theosis and salvation.
Fr. John Romanides’ teaching is not “a sophisticated myth” (2 Peter 1:16). But it is the path which leads to Mount Tabor and the experience of Christ. That is the reason why it is authentic and comforting to the soul.
Read original Greek version here.
Source: Translated by Olga Konnaris-Kokkinos and Edited by John Sanidopoulos