By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
The island of Cyprus was both the birthplace and the place where this glorious saint served the Church. Spyridon was born of simple parents, farmers, and he remained simple and humble until his death. He married in his youth and had children, but when his wife died he devoted himself completely to the service of God.
Because of his exceptional piety, he was chosen as bishop of the city of Tremithus (Trymithous). Yet even as a bishop he did not change his simple way of living, handling his livestock and cultivating his land himself. He used very little of the fruits of his labor for himself; instead, he distributed a greater share to the needy.
He manifested great miracles by God's power: he brought down rain in time of drought, stopped the flow of a river, raised several people from the dead, healed Emperor Constantius of a grave illness, saw and heard angels of God, foresaw future events, discerned the secrets of men's hearts, converted many to the true Faith, and did much else.
He took part in the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea , and he brought many heretics back to Orthodoxy by his simple and clear expositions of the Faith as well as by his mighty miracles.
He was so simply dressed that once, when he wanted to enter the imperial court at the invitation of the emperor, a soldier, thinking that he was a beggar, struck him on the face. Meek and guileless, Spyridon turned the other cheek to him.
He glorified God through many miracles, and was of benefit, not only to many individuals but also to the whole Church of God. He entered into rest in the Lord in the year 348. His miracle-working relics rest on the island of Corfu, and even today they glorify God with many miracles.
Reflection From His Life
Absolutely nothing will help us if we are not lenient toward the weaknesses of men and forgive them. For how can we hope that God will forgive us if we do not forgive others?
St. Spyridon once sold a hundred goats to a merchant at an agreed price, and the saint told the buyer to lay down the money. The buyer, knowing that Spyridon himself never counted money, handed over enough money for ninety-nine goats and hid the money for one. Spyridon then counted out a hundred goats for him. But when the merchant and his servants drove off the goats, one of them returned bleating. He drove it off, but it returned again. And so the goat continually returned to the enclosure, not wanting to go with the other goats. The saint then whispered into the merchant's ear: "Observe, my son: this animal is not doing this in vain. Did you perhaps withhold her price?" The merchant became ashamed and acknowledged his sin. As soon as he paid the amount he had concealed, the goat immediately joined the other goats.
On another occasion, some thieves entered Spyridon's sheepfold. When they had seized as many sheep as they wanted, they tried to leave the sheepfold, but an invisible force nailed them to the ground, and they were unable to move. At dawn, the bishop came to his sheepfold. Seeing the thieves, he reproached them mildly and instructed them to strive in the future to live by their own labors and not by thievery. He then took a sheep and gave it to them, saying, "Take this for your trouble, so that your all-night vigil not be in vain," and he dismissed them in peace.
Saint Spyridon: Protector of the Poor, Father of Orphans, Teacher of Sinners
Saint Triphyllios, Bishop of Nicosia and Disciple of Saint Spyridon
The Great Miracle of St. Spyridon on August 11, 1716
Remembering the Miracle of Saint Spyridon in 1718
A Recent Vision of Saint Spyridon To A Child
The Right Hand of Saint Spyridon
Photographs of the Right Hand of St. Spyridon in Russia
HYMN OF PRAISE: Saint Spyridon the Wonderworker, Bishop of Tremithus
Star of Cyprus and luminary of the Church,
Holy Spyridon, defender of the Faith,
Simple as a child, innocent as a child -
By his simplicity, he shines on the world.
What need is there for many words when speaking the truth?
Utterly simple is God's truth:
The Creator is One, in the Holy Trinity,
In the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit.
The Son descended to the sinful earth
And received flesh from the Pure Virgin
In order to save men, because He is the Lover of Mankind.
He performed many miracles
By divine power, for He is Almighty.
To mankind He gave a new rule,
The rule of love and the rule of faith.
Glorified, He now sits in heaven,
And gathers the fruit of His labor.
The sweet fruits of His labor
Are holy men and holy women.
He is the Rock of mankind's salvation;
Outside this Rock there is no salvation.
O Spyridon, O illuminator,
O soldier of Christ, pray for us.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
O Father, God-bearer, Spyridon, you were proven a champion and Wonder Worker of the First Ecumenical Council. You spoke to the girl in the grave and turned the serpent to gold. And, when chanting your prayers, most sacred One, angels ministered with you. Glory to Him who glorified you; glory to Him who crowned you; glory to Him who, through you, works healing for all.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
Wounded by your love for Christ, O holy One, your mind given wings by the radiance of the Spirit, you put the practice of theory into deeds, becoming a sacred altar, O Chosen by God, and praying for the divine illumination of all.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Saint Peter the Aleut is mentioned in the Life of St Herman of Alaska (December 13). Simeon Yanovsky (who ended his life as the schemamonk Sergius in the St Tikhon of Kaluga Monastery), has left the following account:
"On another occasion I was relating to him how the Spanish in California had imprisoned fourteen Aleuts, and how the Jesuits (actually Franciscans) were forcing all of them to accept the Catholic Faith. But the Aleuts would not agree under any circumstances, saying, 'We are Christians.' The Jesuits argued, 'That's not true, you are heretics and schismatics. If you do not agree to accept our faith then we will torture all of you to death.' Then the Aleuts were placed in prisons two to a cell. That evening, the Jesuits came to the prison with lanterns and lighted candles. Again they tried to persuade two Aleuts in the cell to accept the Catholic Faith. 'We are Christians,' the Aleuts replied, 'and we will not change our Faith.' Then the Jesuits began to torture them, at first the one while his companion was a witness. They cut off one of the joints of his feet, and then the other joint. Then they cut the first joint on the fingers of his hands, and then the other joint. Then they cut off his feet, and his hands. The blood flowed, but the martyr endured all and firmly repeated one thing: "I am a Christian.' He died in such suffering, due to a loss of blood. The Jesuit also promised to torture his comrade to death the next day.
But that night an order was received from Monterey stating that the imprisoned Aleuts were to be released immediately, and sent there under escort. Therefore, in the morning all were sent to Monterey with the exception of the dead Aleut. This was related to me by a witness, the same Aleut who had escaped torture, and who was the friend of the martyred Aleut. I reported this incident to the authorities in St Petersburg. When I finished my story, Father Herman asked, 'What was the name of the martyred Aleut?' I answered, 'Peter. I do not remember his family name.' The Elder stood reverently before an icon, made the Sign of the Cross and said, "Holy New Martyr Peter, pray to God for us."
We know very little about St Peter, except that he was from Kodiak, and was arrested and put to death by the Spaniards in California because he refused to convert to Catholicism. The circumstances of his martyrdom recall the torture of St James the Persian (November 27).
Both in his sufferings and in his steadfast confession of the Faith, St Peter is the equal of the martyrs of old, and also of the New Martyrs who have shone forth in more recent times. Now he rejoices with them in the heavenly Kingdom, glorifying God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, throughout all ages.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Today Alaska rejoices and America celebrates for the New World has been sanctified by martyrdom. Kodiak echoes with songs of thanksgiving, Iliámna and Kenái observe the Festival of Faith. The apostle and martyr Juvenaly is glorified and Peter the Aleut is exalted by his voluntary sacrifice. In their devotion and love for the Lord they willingly endured persecution and death for the Truth. Now in the Kingdom of Heaven they intercede for our souls.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Today Valaam joins Alaska in celebrating this joyous feast, as her spiritual son Juvenaly embraces the New Martyr Peter with love. Together they suffered for the Lord in America and united the Old World with the New by their voluntary sacrifice. Now forever they stand before the King of Glory and intercede for our souls.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
O Peter, upon the rock of thy faith hath Christ built His Church, and in the streams of thy blood hath He hallowed our land. In thee thy people hath been sanctified, O Aleut; from the farthest islands of the west hath He raised thee, a light unto all. Glory to Him that hath glorified thee. Glory to Him that worketh healings for all through thee.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
As a skilful fisherman, the Martyr Peter was not harmed when he was caught by adversaries of the Faith; but in a sea of martyric blood, he gained the Kingdom and drowned bitter heresy.
by St. Gregory Palamas
David indicates that our Lord Jesus Christ has no genealogy with regard to His divinity (Ps. 110:4), Isaiah says the same (Isa. 53:8), and later so does the apostle (Heb. 7:3). How can the descent be traced of Him “who is in the beginning, and is with God, and is God, and is the Word and Son of God” (cf. Jn. 1:1-2, 18)?
He does not have a Father who was before Him, and shares with His Father “a name which is above every name” and all speech (Phil. 2:9).
For the most part, genealogies are traced back through different surnames; but there is no surname for God (cf. Gen. 32:29), and whatever may be said of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they are one and do not differ in any respect.
Impossible to recount is Christ’s descent according to His divinity, but His ancestry according to His human nature can be traced, since He who deigned to become Son of Man in order to save mankind was the offspring of men. And it is this genealogy of His that two of the evangelists, Matthew and Luke, recorded. But although Matthew, in the passage from his Gospel read today, begins with those born first, he makes no mention of anyone born before Abraham He traces the line down from Abraham until he reaches Joseph to whom, by divine dispensation, the Virgin Mother of God was betrothed (Matt. 1:1-16), being of the same tribe and homeland as him, that her own stock may be shown from this to be in no way inferior.
Luke, by contrast, begins not with the earliest forebears but the most recent, and working his way back from Joseph the Betrothed, does not stop at Abraham, nor, having included Abraham’s predecessors, does he end with Adam, but lists God among Christ’s human forebears (Lk. 3:23-38); wishing to show, in my opinion, that from the beginning man was not just a creation of God, but also a son in the Spirit, which was given to him at the same time as his soul, through God’s quickening breath (Gen. 2:7). It was granted to him as a pledge that, if, waiting patiently for it, he kept the commandment, he would be able to share through the same Spirit in a more perfect union with God, by which he would live forever with Him and obtain immortality.
By heeding the evil counsel of the pernicious angel, man transgressed the divine commandments, was shown to be unworthy, forfeited the pledge, and interrupted God’s plan. God’s grace, however, is unalterable and His purpose cannot prove false, so some of man’s offspring were chosen, that, from among many, a suitable receptacle for this divine adoption and grace might be found, who would serve God’s will perfectly, and would be revealed as a vessel worthy to unite divine and human nature in one person, not just exalting our nature, but restoring the human race.
The holy Maid and Virgin Mother of God was this vessel, so she was proclaimed by the Archangel Gabriel as full of grace (Lk. 1:28), being the chosen one among the chosen, blameless, undefiled and worthy to contain the person of the God-Man and to collaborate with Him. Therefore God pre-ordained her before all ages, chose her from among all that had ever lived, and deemed her worthy of more grace than anyone else, making her the holiest of saints, even before her mysterious childbearing. For that reason, He graciously willed that she should make her home in the Holy of Holies, and accepted her as His companion to share His dwelling from her childhood. He did not simply choose her from the masses, but from the elect of all time, who were admired and renowned for their piety and wisdom, and for their character, words and deeds, which pleased God and brought benefit to all.
Note where this choice began. The excellent Seth was chosen from among Adam’s children, because by his well-ordered conduct, his control over his senses and his glorious virtues he showed himself to be a living heaven and so came to be one of the elect, from whom the Virgin would spring forth, that truly heavenly and divinely appropriate chariot of the supercelestial God, and through whom He would call men back to eternal sonship. Therefore all Seth’s stock were called “sons of God” (Gen 6:2), because it was from the race that the Son of God was to become the Son of Man. That is why the name Seth can be interpreted to mean “resurrection“, or rather “a raising up from“, which really refers to the Lord, who promises and gives eternal life to those who believe in Him.
And how worthy a type of Christ is Seth? “Seth was born to Eve”, as she herself says, “instead of Abel” (Gen. 4:25), whom Cain envied and murdered, whereas the Virgin’s son, Christ, was born to the human race instead of Adam, whom the prince and father of evil killed out of envy. Seth, however, did not raise up Abel, as he was merely a prefiguration of the resurrection, whereas our Lord Jesus Christ resurrected Adam, for He is the true life and resurrection of mankind (cf. Jn. 11:25), through whom Seth’s descendants were deemed worthy, in hope, of divine adoption, being called sons of God. That they were referred to as God’s sons on account of this hope, is demonstrated by the first person to be so called and to inherit God’s election. This was Seth’s son Enos who, as Moses wrote, “was the first to hope to be called by the Lord’s name” (Gen. 4:26 LXX).
Do you see clearly that it was through hope that he came to be called? If the Seventy [translators of the Septuagint] say, “He was the first to hope to be called by the Lord’s name”, they are not at all in disagreement with the others; because Enos lived in a way that pleased God more than anyone else in his day, and was the first to receive this hope from God. He called upon this hope and was called after it. Seth was chosen from God from among Adam’s sons, and so Luke, in preparing his genealogy, traces back to him the whole race from which Christ was born according to the flesh. Then Enos was chosen in preference to Seth’s other children, as we have said. From his descendants Enoch was chosen, who proved through what happened to him that virtue does not go unrewarded, and that this fleeting world is not worthy of those who are well-pleasing to God, for he was translated because he pleased God (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5).
Lamech was chosen and preferred to Enoch’s other descendants, and after him his son, Noah, attained to God’s election and became the only father of everyone in the world after the flood. Only he and his entire family were found to live chastely at that time when the sons of God took wives from among the daughters of men, as Moses tells us (Gen. 6:1-2). This means that among the offspring of Seth, the forefather of the Mother of God, those who were rejected as unworthy were swept out of the Virgin Mother’s family and completely deprived of the divine Spirit. Later this Spirit came upon the Virgin, according to the angel’s words to her: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you” (Lk. 1:35).
The Spirit also arranged beforehand for the Virgin to come into being, choosing from the beginning, and cleansing, the line of her descent, accepting those who were worthy, or were to become fathers of eminent men, but utterly casting out the unworthy.
This is why the Lord God said on that occasion of those rejected ones, “My Spirit shall not abide with these men, for they are flesh” (Gen. 6:3 LXX).
Although the Virgin, of whom Christ was born according to the flesh, came from Adam’s flesh and seed, yet, because this flesh had been cleansed in many different ways by the Holy Spirit from the start, she was descended from those who had been chosen from every generation for their excellence. Noah, too, “a just man and perfect in his generation”, as the Scriptures say of him (Gen. 6:9), was found worthy of this election.
Observe also that the Holy Spirit makes it clear to such as have understanding that the whole of divinely inspired Scripture was written because of the Virgin Mother of God. It relates in detail the entire line of her ancestry, which begins with Adam, then passes through Seth, Noah and Abraham, as well as David and Zerubbabel, those in between them and their successors, and goes up to the time of the Virgin Mother of God. By contrast, Scripture does not touch upon some races at all, and in the case of others, it makes a start at tracing their descent, then soon abandons them, leaving them in the depths of oblivion. Above all, it commemorates those of the Mother of God’s forebears who, in their own lives and the deeds wrought by them, prefigured Christ, who was to be born of the Virgin.
See how Noah clearly foreshadows Him who was later to be born of the Virgin, for whose sake the election was made. For Noah was shown to be the savior, not of all the race of men in general, but of his own household, all of whom were saved through him. In the same way Christ, too, is the Savior of the race of men, not of all men in general, but of all His own household, that is of His Church; not, however, of the disobedient. Furthermore, the name Noah can be translated to mean “rest” (Gen. 5:29). But who is true “rest” except the Virgin’s Son, who says,
“Come unto me through repentance, all you that labor and are heavy laden with sin, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28), bestowing freedom, ease and eternal life upon you.
Lamech, who gave Noah this name, because he saw in him Christ, who was later to come from their stock, and would be the comfort of all God-fearing people down through the ages, clearly prophesied through this name concerning Christ.
“He called his name Noah”, says the Scripture, “saying, ‘This name shall bring us rest from our works, and from the toils of our hands, and from the earth, which the Lord our God has cursed’” (Gen. 5:29 LXX).
These words are not about the flood which came to pass, for Lamech’s death preceded the flood, yet he says that Noah will “bring us rest”, including himself as a partaker in the comfort he foretold. In those days it had not yet come about that in each man “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5) throughout his life, which was why universal destruction of everyone on earth came upon the earth from God. So to whom do his words refer when he says, “He will bring us rest”? He also says, “He shall bring us rest from the earth except Him who opened heaven, raised our nature thither and taught us, through words and deeds, the way up to heaven, calling us towards it? But if the flood too prefigured this rest, it did so by cutting off sins and laying them to rest, not by bringing comfort and ease to sinners.
In this way and for these reasons, Noah attained to God’s election. Of his children, Shem was accepted among those chosen to be the blessed family of the Mother of God. That is why, although Japheth also appears to have been well-pleasing to his father, only Shem heard from his father, “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem” (Gen. 9:26), as his progeny was to be divine. For it was from him that Abraham was descended, who was preferred according to God’s election above all Shem’s offspring and was called to be part of the lineage of the Virgin Mother. He was given a new name by God, and received that great promise that all the families of the earth would be blessed in his seed (Gen. 17:5; 12:3). According to Paul, Christ our God, who was born of the Virgin, is his seed according to the flesh (Gal. 3:16).
And who could describe the divine visions that Abraham experienced, or the signs and promises from God which foreshadowed and prophesied concerning the ever-virgin Mother of God and her ineffable childbearing? Let us, however, quickly pass over what happened next, as time does not permit us to speak at length. From among Abraham’s children Isaac was chosen, then Jacob from among his sons, and the tribe of Judah from Jacob’s offspring. From this tribe the root of Jesse was selected, and for those who sprang from this root, David the psalmist and prophet and king, of whom God says, “Thy seed shall endure forever, and His throne as the sun before Me; and as the moon that is established forever, and the witness in heaven is faithful” (Ps. 89:36-37 LXX).
Who is this witness? Obviously He who sits upon the heavenly throne, of whom it says elsewhere: “His name shall be continued as long as the sun: and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in Him” (Ps. 72:17 LXX).
From this the lineage of the Mother of God and Joseph, to whom she was betrothed, seems somehow double, for both were of the same tribe and descent according to the law. Thus the family’s ancestral line is twofold, made up both of natural children and children according to the law, often converging into one, but sometimes divided into two, so that the same child, strange as it may seem, might be the son of two fathers who are brothers, of the one from a legal point of view, as not having been begotten of him physically, and of the other, according to nature, as having been raised up as seed for his brother (Matt. 22:24; Deut. 25:5; Gen. 38:8); inasmuch as the child traces his ancestry back to David through both his fathers. It is possible to see the dual nature of this lineage in another respect, because the royal line was united on many occasions and in numerous ways with the priestly one.
Thus in the holy ancestral line of the Mother of God, Zerubbabel traces his lineage back to David through the descendants of Nathan, who was counted among the priests, as well as through those of Solomon, who inherited the kingdom. For this reason the Lord’s genealogy according to the flesh is drawn up differently by the evangelists Luke and Matthew, because one takes into account natural fathers, the other, fathers according to the law, and one mentions only those of royal descent, whereas Luke brings in those of the Levitical race and those of the royal house, who were bound together by priesthood or marriage.
As for Zerubbabel, because he was also favored among the Mother of God’s forbears, he too prefigured Christ and was honored with great titles and authority. Born in captivity, he was admired by Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians, for his virtue and misunderstanding. He taught both Hebrews and foreigners the power of the truth, set his race free from servitude, and restored God’s Temple (1 Esd. 4:33-63; Ezra 3:1-13).
Later Christ did something similar, not renewing the inanimate Temple, but that living, rational temple, our nature, and redeeming it, not from perceptible and temporary, but spiritual and primeval captivity. Nor did He move His followers from one country to another, but transferred them from earth to heaven. Zerubbabel was the forefather of both the Virgin and Joseph to whom she was betrothed, but whereas she was the Virgin’s forbear by nature alone, he was Joseph’s according to nature and the law. For Joseph had two fathers, Heli according to Luke (Lk. 3:23), and Jacob according to Matthew (Matt. 1:16). Heli and Jacob were brothers descended from Zerubbabel, and when Heli died without children, Jacob fathered a child, Joseph, by his brother’s wife, who according to the law belongs to Heli.
Now these things are examples and types of greater mysteries, since it was necessary that the royal line be united in many ways, with the priestly race, which would bring forth the family of Christ according to the flesh; because in many ways Christ is truly the eternal King and High Priest. And the fact that adopted sons are counted as sons, that the law approves of adoptive fathers no less and sometimes more than natural fathers, and that the same, appropriately, applies to other kinds of kinship, was a clear example and type of our adoption by Christ, our kinship with Him and our calling according to the Spirit and the law of grace. For the Lord Himself says in the Gospels, “Whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother” (Matt. 12:50).
Do you see that the family and kin of Christ are not engendered according to nature, but according to grace and the law that comes from grace? This law is so far superior to the law given through Moses that, whereas those called sons according to the law of Moses are neither born of God nor do they transcend human nature, those styled sons by the law of grace are born of God, brought to perfection above nature and made sons of Abraham through Christ, more closely associated with Him than sons according to blood. All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, according to Paul (Gal. 3:27), and although they are other people’s children according to nature, they are born supernaturally of Christ, who in this way conquers nature. For as He became incarnate without seed of the Holy Spirit and the ever-virgin Mary, so He grants potential and power to those that believe in His name to become children of God. For “as many as received Him”, says the evangelist, “to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:12-13).
Why, when he says, “which were born of God”, does he not say “and became sons of God”, but “received power to become” sons? Because he was looking towards the end and universal restoration, the perfection of the age to come. The same evangelist says in his Epistles, “It does not yet appear what we shall be: but when He shall appear, we shall be like Him” (1 Jn. 3:2).
Then we shall be children of God, seeing and experiencing God’s radiance, with the rays of Christ’s glory shining around us and shining ourselves, as Moses and Elijah proved to us when they appeared with Him in glory on Mount Tabor (Matt. 17:3; Lk. 9:30). ”The righteous”, it says, “shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43).
We receive power for this purpose now through the grace of divine baptism. Just as a newborn infant has received potential from his parents to become a man and heir to their house and fortune, but does not yet possess that inheritance because he is a minor, nor will he receive it if he dies coming of age, so a person born again in the Spirit through Christian baptism has received power to become a son and heir of God, a joint-heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17), and in the age to come he will, with all certainty, receive the divine and immortal adoption as a son, which will not be taken from him, unless he has forfeited this by spiritual death. Sin is spiritual death, and whereas physical death is annulled when the future age arrives, spiritual death is confirmed for those who bring it with them from here.
Everyone who has been baptized, if he is to obtain the eternal blessedness and salvation for which he hopes, should live free from all sin. Peter and Paul, the leaders of the highest company of the holy apostles made this clear. Paul said of Christ, “In that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he lives, he lives unto God”, (Rom. 6:10-11), whereas Peter wrote, “Forasmuch as Christ has died for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: that you no longer should live the rest of your time by the lusts of men, but by the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:1-2).
If it was for our sake that the Lord lived His time on earth, to leave us an example, and He passed His life without sin, we too must live without sin, in imitation of Him. Since He said even to Abraham’s descendants according to the flesh, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (Jn. 8:39), how much more will He say to us who have no physical kinship with Him, “If you were My children, you would do My works”? It is therefore consistent and just that anyone who, after divine baptism, after the covenants he made then to God and the grace he received from it, does not follow Christ’s way of life step by step, but transgresses and offends against the benefactor, should be utterly deprived of divine adoption and the eternal inheritance.
But, O Christ our King, who can worthily extol the greatness of Your love for mankind? What was unnecessary for Him and what He did not do, namely, repentance (for He never needed to repent, being sinless, cf. Heb. 4:15), He granted to us a mediator for when we sin even after receiving grace. Repentance means returning once again to Him and to a life according to His will out of remorse. Even if someone commits a deadly sin, if he turns away from it with all his soul, abstains from it and turns back to the Lord in deed and truth, he should take courage and be of good hope, for he shall not lose eternal life and salvation. When a child according to the flesh meets his death, he is not brought back to life by his father, but someone born of Christ, even though he fall into deadly sins, if he turns again and runs to the Father who raises the dead, is made alive once more, obtains divine adoption, and is not cast out from the company of the just.
May we all attain to this, to the glory of Christ and of His Father without beginning and of the life-giving Spirit, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
In October of 1989, the pious and virtuous Mr. Evangelos Kosmas, a resident of Tinos, recounted the following very moving miracle performed by St. Spyridon on his behalf when he was a small child.
I was then a little boy of five years. At that time, we lived in the village of Kathikaros, on Tinos.
I remember one autumn morning when my father left to go to a funeral in the neighboring village of Tripotamos, which was about half an hour by foot from our village. He did not, however, take me with him. I dearly loved my father and wanted him to take me with him wherever he went, since he would carry me on his shoulders, and that made me happy.
Since my father left without taking me with him, I decided — unbeknownst to my mother — to go to the village of Tripotamos to find him. Following the footpaths, I reached a point where there was a small stream. The water was then quite deep because it had rained recently, and, small as I was, I was not able to leap over it. So I sat there and cried, being unable to cross.
As I was sitting there in that state, I noticed a small Chapel on the other side of the stream. The door opened, and an Elder came out and headed in my direction. He wore a heavy, woolen overcoat that resembled the capes worn by simple mountain shepherds. On his head was a round cap.
Approaching me, he said: “Where are you going, my good lad?”
I answered: “I am going to Tripotamos to find my father, because he left without taking me with him, even though I wanted him to take me....”
He said to me: “Does your mother know that you left home?”
“No!” I replied.
“You did not do well in leaving your house without telling your mother,” he said to me. “Good children let their mothers know when they leave home. This time, I will help you go to Tripotamos, but don’t do it again!”
I remember that he took me by the hand and — it was as if we flew! — we found ourselves on the other side of the stream, which I had previously been unable to cross. He held me by the hand for a distance of 400 to 500 meters. We then reached a point where Tripotamos and its Church were clearly visible. He then said to me: “Your father is now in the Church that you see. Go there and you will find him.”
I thanked him and kissed his hand, since my mother had taught us to respect our elders. When I had kissed his hand, he stroked my head and said: “Go now, with God’s blessing. And do not forget: When you leave your house, let your mother know.”
After he had stressed this advice to me again, I set off for the village. Before I had gone more than a few steps, I wanted to take another look at the Elder, who should, I supposed, have been climbing up the hill to return to the place where I had met him. I turned my head but did not see him — he had disappeared....
That puzzled me, even though I was so young, since it was impossible for someone to ascend the long road that lay behind me in such a short space of time. While this perplexity gnawed at me, I headed for the village.
I went to the Church, where the funeral service was still underway. After looking around a bit, I found my father sitting in a stall (stasidion) along the left wall of the Church. He was disconcerted at the sight of me and asked what I was doing there. I did not explain anything at that point, but simply announced that I had arrived.
When the funeral was over, we took the road back home. When we reached the small stream and came in view of the Chapel, I told him exactly what had taken place. My father then took me into the Chapel, asking me: “If you see the Elder, will you recognize him?” I answered in the affirmative.
So he began showing me the Icons, asking me if he had been one of those depicted thereon. First he showed me the Icon of Christ, then St. John the Forerunner. I shook my head. He also showed me St. Spyridon. I was taken aback: “Yes, that’s the Elder. He was exactly like that, with his cap....”
My father then knelt in prayer. We lit the vigil lamp, censed the Church, and, after venerating the Icons, returned home. We recounted everything to my mother. My parents considered St. Spyridon to be my Patron Saint. Thenceforth, we attended the Divine Liturgy every year on his Feast Day, and every Saturday we cleaned the Chapel and lit the vigil lamps. To this day, I consider the Saint to be my protector.
December 11, 2010
The Holy Thorn tree on Wearyall Hill in Glastonbury, Somerset, is regarded as one of Britain's most important symbols of Christendom, and is said to be derived from the original planted by Joseph of Arimathea.
The tree is one of several Holy Thorns located around Glastonbury but is arguably the most significant because of its placing on the spot where Joseph visited.
Each year a sprig from another Holy Thorn tree in the town is cut for the Queen, a tradition which dates back more than 100 years. The Queen places the sprig on her dining room table on Christmas Day. The cutting ceremony took place on Wednesday, hours before the overnight attack.
Police are trying to establish a motive for the attack, in which vandals hacked off the branches of the tree, leaving only part of the trunk remaining. They have not ruled out a religious motive.
Katherine Gorbing, director of Glastonbury Abbey, said: ”The vandals have struck at the heart of Christianity. Like the whole town, we are shocked and appalled.
"The tree holds a very special significance all over the world and thousands follow in the footsteps of Joseph of Arimathea, coming especially to see it.
This is the most important tree in Glastonbury and is of exceptional spiritual significance.
”When I arrived at the Abbey this morning you could look over to the hill and see it was not there. The landscape of the town has changed overnight."
The story of the Holy Thorn and Joseph of Arimathea stretches back for centuries and is linked to the origins of Christianity in England.
The legend tells of how Joseph arrived by boat, landed on the Isle of Avalon and having climbed Wearyall Hill, thrust his wooden staff into the ground where it took root and grew into the Glastonbury Holy Thorn. The thorn is renowned for flowering twice a year at Christmas and at Easter.
Because of its associations with Joseph, who was the Virgin Mary's uncle, the Holy Thorn is of important spiritual significance for Christians and has come to be regarded as sacred by many others.
The original Holy Thorn was a centre of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages but was chopped down during the English Civil War.
A replacement thorn was planted in 1951 on Wearyall Hill, but it had to be replanted the following year. Other examples of the thorn grow in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey and St Johns Church.
The Glastonbury mayor, John Coles said of the vandalism: "I am standing on Wearyall Hill looking at a sad, sad, sight. I am absolutely lost for words; I just do not know why people would want to do this.”
Nicholas Mann, a local historian, said: ”One theory could be that because the tree is idolised and worshipped it may have been the subject of an attack by modern Puritans.
"The tree was attacked once before, by Puritans hundreds of years ago."
Read also: Glastonbury Thorn Chopped Down As Town Rages Over Attack On Famous Tree
Saturday, December 11, 2010
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
"Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 7:17, 21).
Oh, how many hidden and faithful servants does the Lord have who serve Him day and night! Oh, how many shining comets are seen by men to cross the starry heavens, which appear unexpectedly, glistening, and then are lost in the vastness of the universe, leaving only tales about them! The righteous Abraham, with his descendants, is known to us like the starry heavens over our heads, but Melchizedek is known to us like a shining comet, which suddenly appeared, was bowed down to us by the starry heavens, and was again hidden in the unknown.
Who is this Melchizedek? "The King of Salem" … "the priest of the Most-high God" (Genesis 14:18). He brought bread and wine to Abraham; he blessed Abraham, and Abraham gave him one-tenth of all that was his. When Abraham was so greatly blessed by God, how much more blessed was he who blessed Abraham? Oh, how unfathomable are the depths of God's providence! A man's thought extends from today until tomorrow, but the thought of God extends to the very end of time.
According to the words of the Holy Apostle Paul, Melchizedek prefigures the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Hebrews 7:10). For while the forefather Abraham was a wonderful and God-pleasing peasant, this Melchizedek was both a king and priest, as our Lord is King and Priest. Melchizedek offered Abraham bread and wine, and our Lord offered His Body and Blood to the entire human race. Abraham bowed down to Melchizedek and gave him a willing tribute. Abraham's true descendants, the Christians, bow down to the Lord Jesus and offer Him their willing sacrifice, a gift in return for a gift, the gift of His Body and Blood on the Cross. "And who shall declare His generation?" (Isaiah 53:8). This refers to both Christ and Melchisedek.
"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). Thus spoke the Lord to the Jews. How did Abraham see it? He saw it in the spirit. God revealed it to him, and he also saw the prefiguration of Christ in this glorious and wonderful Melchizedek, king, priest and servant of the Most-high God.
O Lord Jesus, bless us also as Thou didst bless Thy faithful servants, Melchizedek and Abraham. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Daniel was born in the village of Bethara near the city of Samosata in Mesopotamia of Christian parents, Elias and Martha. Through her tearful prayers, his barren mother received him from God, and as an only son he was dedicated to God from early childhood.
Daniel embraced the monastic rank at the age of twelve, visited Symeon the Stylite, and was blessed by him. Desirous of solitude, Daniel left the monastery and withdrew to an abandoned pagan temple on the shore of the Black Sea. There he endured countless assaults from demons, but he conquered them all by perseverance, prayer and the sign of the Cross.
Afterward he climbed up on a pillar. There he remained until his death, enduring both heat and cold, and attacks from both men and demons. Many disciples gathered around his pillar, and he directed them to eternal life by his example and his words. God rewarded His faithful servant with abundant grace while in this life, and he performed many miracles beneficial to men and prophesied future events.
People from all parts crowded beneath his pillar, seeking help and counsel from the saint of God. Emperors and patriarchs as well as ordinary people came to him. Emperor Leo the Great brought his foreign guests, princes and nobles, and showed them St. Daniel on the pillar, saying to them: "Behold, the wonder in my kingdom!"
Daniel foretold the day of his own death, instructed his disciples as a father to his sons, and took leave of them. At the time of his death, his disciples beheld angels, prophets, apostles and martyrs above his pillar. Having lived for eighty years, this holy angelic man entered into rest and took up his habitation in the Kingdom of Christ in the year 489.
Reflection From His Life
"The Lord preserveth all them that love him" (Psalm 145:20). The lives of the saints confirm this as clearly as the sun. Certain envious priests complained to Patriarch Anatolius about St. Daniel, slandering him and saying that he was a magician. In essence, they were envious of the exceedingly young ascetic, who surpassed them in all the virtues and attracted many people to himself by his way of life. The patriarch summoned Daniel and examined him regarding his faith and his way of life. When Daniel told him everything, the patriarch rose from his seat, embraced him, praised him, and dismissed him in peace. Several days later, Patriarch Anatolius became ill, summoned Daniel and asked him to pray to God for his recovery. Daniel prayed to God, and the patriarch was immediately restored to health. Since the patriarch wanted to reward Daniel somehow, the young saint begged him to forgive his slanderers as his reward. To this the patriarch replied: "How can I not forgive them when they are the authors of so much good, namely, that I now know you and have received healing through you?" Truly, the Lord preserves all who love Him, and He turns to their good the evil that men conceive against them.
Read also: St. Daniel the Stylite and the Demon Inhabited Church
HYMN OF PRAISE: The Venerable Daniel the Stylite
When holy Daniel desired to die
He taught his disciples thus:
"My dear children, the fruit of my labor,
Affix your heart to the Living God,
Contemplate in spirit the Heavenly Father.
Glorify the wondrous Creator with praise.
Let humility be the first of your virtues;
The humble in heaven are God's noblemen.
Then show obedience, such as befits the humble.
These are two adornments of every true believer.
The humble and the obedient keep hospitality:
Be hospitable and magnanimous.
These are three virtues, and still more I will say:
Fasting, vigils, poverty - the path to eternal happiness.
Here are six candles in the earthly darkness,
And the seventh is love, the greatest of all."
Thus the saint spoke, and imparted his blessings,
Then rendered his holy soul to the Lord.
O holy Daniel, inhabitant of heaven,
Implore Christ for the needs of us sinners.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
Thou becamest a pillar of patience and didst emulate the Forefathers, O righteous one: Job in his sufferings, Joseph in temptations, and the life of the bodiless while in the body, O Daniel, our righteous Father, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
With longing and zeal for things on high, O righteous one, thou leftest behind all things that are found here below, when thou builtest thy pillar as another Heaven whence thou didst flash with the light of wonders and signs. Do thou ever pray Christ that our souls be saved.
Once he [Daniel] heard some men conversing in the Syrian dialect and saying that there was a church in that place inhabited by demons who often sank ships and had injured, and still were injuring, many of the passers-by, and that it was impossible for anyone to walk along that road in the evening or even at noonday.
As everybody was continually complaining about the destructive power which had occupied the place, the divine spirit came upon Daniel and he called to mind that great man, Antony, the model of asceticism [and Paul, his disciple]; he remembered their struggles against demons and the many temptations they suffered from them and how they had overcome them by the strength of Christ and were deemed worthy of great crowns. Then he asked a man who understood the Syrian dialect about this church and begged him to show him the spot.
On reaching the porch of the church, just as a brave soldier strips himself for battle before venturing against a host of barbarians, so he, too, entered the church reciting the words spoken by the prophet, David, in the Psalms: 'The Lord is my light and my saviour, whom shall I fear? the Lord is the defender of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?' (Ps. 27:1) and the rest. And holding the invincible weapon of the Cross, he went round into each corner of the church making genuflections and prayers .
When night fell, stones, they say, were thrown at him and there was the sound of a multitude knocking and making an uproar; but he persevered in prayer. In this way he spent the first night and the second; but on the third night sleep overpowered him, as it might overtake any man bearing the weakness of the flesh. And straightway many phantoms appeared as of giant shapes some of whom said, 'Who induced you to take possession of this place, poor wretch? do you wish to perish miserably? Come, let us drag him out and throw him into the water!' Again, others carrying, as it seemed, large stones stood at his head, apparently intending to crush it to pieces. On waking, the athlete of Christ again went round the corners of the church praying and singing and saying to the spirits, 'Depart from hence ! if you do not, then by the strength of the Cross you shall be devoured by flames and thus be forced to flee'. But they made a still greater uproar and howled the louder. But he despised them and taking not the slightest notice of their uproar, he bolted the door of the church and left a small window* through which he would converse with the people that came up to see him.
In the meantime his fame had spread abroad in those regions, and you could see men and women with their children streaming up to see the holy man and marvelling that the place formerly so wild and impassable lay in such perfect calm, and that where demons danced lately, there by the patience of the just man Christ was now glorified day and night.
Now the priests of the Church of the Archangel Michael lived nearby and they were simple folk. So when the envious demon who hates the good saw such victories gained through the power of Christ, he was mad with rage and suggested to the minds of the priests an argument that ran like this: 'It is no good thing that you are doing in letting the man dwell there; for just look how all the world goes to him and you in consequence remain with nothing to do. You had better go to the city and say to your bishop, "Some man, come from we know not where, has shut himself in near us and he is attracting people to him, although he is a heretic. But he is a Syrian by birth and so we are unable to hold converse with him."' Having reasoned thus among themselves the priests went in and reported the matter to the man who was then the bishop, namely the blessed Anatolius, the Patriarch of Constantinople. But the Archbishop said to them, 'If you do not understand his language, how do you know that he is a heretic? Leave him alone, for if he has been sent by God he will be established; but, if it is otherwise, he will go away of his own accord before you chase him out. Do not bring a scandal upon us and yourselves'. With these words he dismissed them. And they went home and kept quiet for a time.
But when the demons saw that they were accomplishing nothing, they again rose in rebellion against the servant of God and brought phantoms before him, carrying, it is said, naked swords, and crying, 'Whence have you come, man? give place to us for we have been living here for a long time. Do you wish your limbs to be cut in pieces?' And then, it is said, they came towards him with their swords and spoke again saying to one another, 'Do not let us slay him, but let us drag him along and cast him into the water where we sank the ship 1' And they made as though they would drag him away. But the servant of God arose, and after uttering a prayer he said to them, 'Jesus Christ my Saviour, in Whom I have trusted and do trust, He will Himself drown you all in the deepest abyss.' A great howling arose and they flew round his face like a swarm of bats and with a whir of wings went out of the window, and so he drove them all forth by the power of God through prayer.
The Devil, seeing that once more his ministers had been routed, again stirred up the priests to go to the Archbishop; and they said to him: 'Master, you have authority over us; we cannot bear that man, bid him come away from that church, for he is an impostor.' Then the blessed Anatolius sent the officer of the most Holy Church with the deacons and in the night they burst open with crowbars the door which the Saint had closed and brought him to the City. When the Saint was brought before the holy and blessed Anatolius in his palace, the Archbishop asked him 'Who are you? and whence have you come to these parts and what is your belief?-tell us.' And the servant of God declared his blameless faith by means of an interpreter and the blessed Anatolius stood up and embraced him and besought him to remain in the palace, but the men who had brought him he dismissed, saying, 'Go, hold your peace, for I find great edification in this man'. So they left him there in the bishop's palace and went their ways.
In the meantime the Bishop fell into a very severe illness, so he sent for the holy man and begged him to offer prayers on his behalf that he might be freed from the illness. And, since it so pleased the Divine Power, after the Saint had made his prayer, the Bishop was cured of his illness by God's good pleasure. Thus the words of the psalm were fulfilled towards the Saint: 'He will perform the desire of them that fear Him, He also will hear their cry and will save them.' (Ps. 114:19) After the Bishop's recovery the servant of God asked to be allowed to depart; but the Archbishop would not agree thereto and said 'I wish you to live with me'. Then he again begged to be allowed to go, and asked him to grant pardon to the men who had slandered him to the Bishop, for the latter was threatening to excommunicate them. And the Bishop said, 'I must ask pardon of you, servant of God, for your arrest, but God has made your presence here a great blessing to me, for if your holiness had not settled there, I should certainly have departed this life'. He also implored him to let him build a cell for him saying, 'Since I am unable to persuade you to live here with me, if you will let me I will build you a small monastery,* for our most Holy Church has many a suitable spot in the suburbs of the city. Go out and look at them and whatever pleases you, I will give you'. But the holy man replied, 'If you really wish to do me a service, I beseech your Holiness to send me to the place to which God led me'. Finally the Bishop bade him be taken back with great respect and settled in the aforementioned church. Then the people could be seen flocking to the holy man again with joy and delight and many were granted healing so that all marvelled at the merciful grace of our Master Christ which He poured out upon His servant. And even those who had formerly wished to persecute him did not cease serving him and in all ways caring for the holy man. And he did as he had done formerly-he bolted the door and left only a small window open* through which he spoke, instructing and blessing the people, as I said before.
After a space of nine years had elapsed, the servant of God fell into an ecstasy, as it were, and saw a huge pillar of cloud standing opposite him and the holy and blessed Simeon standing above the head of the column and two men of goodly appearance, clad in white, standing near him in the heights. And he heard the voice of the holy and blessed Simeon saying to him, 'Come here to me, Daniel'. And he said, 'Father, father, and how can I get up to that height?' Then the Saint said to the young men standing near him, 'Go down and bring him up to me'. So the men came down and brought Daniel up to him and he stood there. Then Simeon took him in his arms and kissed him with a holy kiss, and then others called him away, and escorted by them he was borne up to heaven leaving Daniel on the column with the two men. When holy Daniel saw him being carried up to heaven he hard the voice of Saint Simeon, 'Stand firm and play the man'. But he was confused by fear and by that fearful voice, for it was like thunder in his ears. When he came to himself again he declared the vision to those around him. Then they, too, said to the holy man, 'You must mount on to a pillar and take up Saint Simeon's mode of life and be supported by the angels'. The blessed one said, 'Let the will of God, our Master, be done upon His servant'. And taking the holy Gospel into his hands and opening it with prayer he found the place in which was written, (Luke 1:76) 'And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways'. And he gave thanks and closed the book.
Source: Three Byzantine Saints: Contemporary Biographies of St. Daniel the Stylite, St. Theodore of Sykeon and St. John the Almsgiver, trans. Elizabeth Dawes, and introductions and notes by Norman H. Baynes, (London: 1948).
Besides his brilliant military exploits, he played a significant role for the Church as well. He helped St. Athanasios the Athonite build his first monastery on Mount Athos, the Great Lavra, and granted to him the land. It was said that underneath his imperial garb he wore a rason, secretly wishing to become a monk and abandon his throne. Throughout his reign he maintained an ascetic disposition. He also made a pious attempt to canonize all the fallen soldiers under him as martyrs against unbelievers, but this effort was thwarted by Patriarchs and Bishops.
In the end he was forsaken by his wife, and, in consequence of a conspiracy which she headed with his nephew and her lover John Tzimiskes, was assassinated. They had thought to find him in his bed, but, according to Leo the Deacon, he was asleep on the floor beside his holy icons, for he frequently slept on the floor like an ascetic. His head was cut off and paraded on a spike, while his body was thrown out the window. He was buried at the Church of the Holy Apostles, while John Tzimiskes became Emperor John I. An inscription carved on the side of his tomb reads: "You conquered all but a woman".
His commemoration as a saint is found in Great Lavra Codex B 4f. 133 where there is a Service and Canons written for him.
Read more here.
Having examined the history of Georgia and the hagiographical treasures attesting to the faith of the Georgian nation, we become convinced that Heavenly Georgia— the legion of Georgian saints, extolling the Lord in the Heavenly Kingdom with a single voice—is infinitely glorious. It is unknown how many cleansed themselves of their earthly sins in merciless warfare with the enemy of Christ, or how many purified their souls in unheated cells through prayer, fasting, and ascetic labors.
To God alone are known the names of those ascetics, forgotten by history, who by their humble labors tirelessly forged the future of the Georgian Church and people.
St. George of the Holy Mountain wrote: “From the time we recognized the one true God, we have never renounced Him, nor have our people ever yielded to heresy.”
A decree of the Church Council of Ruisi-Urbnisi states: “We will not depart from thee, the Catholic Church which bore us in holiness, nor will we betray thee, our pride—Orthodoxy—to which we have always been faithful, for we have been granted the honor to know thee, the witness of the Truth Itself!” This relationship to Orthodoxy is the cornerstone of the life of every Georgian believer.
It is impossible to count the names of all those Christians who have been raised up from the earthly Church in Georgia to the heavens, let alone to describe all the godly deeds they have performed. For this reason December 11 has been set aside for the commemoration not only of the saints whose Lives are known to us but also of the nearly three hundred more whose names, but not stories, have been preserved as well.
Most Georgian people bear the name of a saint who is commemorated on this day, and they entreat the saint to intercede before the Lord in their behalf.
Friday, December 10, 2010
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
"And Lot said, 'I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly'" (Genesis 19:7).
Lot, a righteous man among the unrighteous, lived in Sodom with his wife and two daughters. The faithful Abraham asked God: "Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?" (Genesis 18:23). God answered the faithful Abraham that not only would He not destroy the righteous, but if there were to be found ten righteous in that city, he would spare the entire city because of those ten. However, only one righteous man was found in Sodom - Lot - and he was a stranger.
Just as before the flood there was only one righteous man in the world, Noah, so before the destruction of Sodom there was only one righteous man in that city, Lot. Lot was similar to his uncle Abraham in every virtue, notably in his obedience to God and his hospitality. The Sodomites hated him as a stranger and even more as a righteous man.
"Brethren, do not so wickedly," Lot exhorted them. He called the corrupt people his brethren in order to calm them and to remind them not to commit evil, in order to save them. But his brotherly words provoked them to even greater wrath. Lot was found worthy to have the angels of God visit him and deliver him from that corrupt city whose sins cried out to God. And the reprobates attacked the home of Lot to defile the sanctity of hospitality.
"Brethren, do not so wickedly," Lot implored them. But why would these brutes listen to a man if they did not fear God? That is why the angels of God punished them with blindness: "And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great" (Genesis 19:11). Then the angels led Lot from the city of the unrighteous and let loose a storm of brimstone and fire upon the city. Thus, the evil city perished, and the one righteous man in the city was saved. "Better is one righteous man than a thousand sinners" (Sirach 16:3).
O righteous God, Who never abandonest the righteous man, correct our unrighteousness and save us. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
Below is a long question to an important issue that I think troubles many Orthodox Christians. This is why I have published it in its entirety, together with my brief reply that I hope many find helpful, though it is by no means exhaustive on this subject.
Hello, my brother John!
This entire email is, actually, just one long question. I have tried to sum it up and present the issue in the way which would be the easiest to understand. However, the answer to the question will probably be much shorter than the question itself.
I thank you for your effort in advance. If you are not sure about this, I would like very much if you could pass this question to a priest or theology professor whom you respect. I am a Serbian Orthodox, and in my experience it is very difficult to find an answer to this kind of question in our Serbian Church (SOC). Most older priests are not well educated in theology, and younger priests who graduated from the Theological faculty in Belgrade tend to take a position which is, in my opinion, too liberal.
1. HOLY ELDERS BARSANUPHIUS THE GREAT AND JOHN THE PROPHET
I found on your blog excerpts from the book of spiritual advices from Saints Barsanuphius the Great and John the Prophet: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/02/saints-barsanuphius-great-and-john.html. I assume that you have the whole book either in Greek or in English. I have it in Serbian language. If you don’t have the book, I can translate the questions and answers which are relevant to this issue, but since I assume that you have it, for now I will simply point to the relevant questions.
Question 379 involves a person who asked an elder whether a certain thing will happen or not (he asked for a prophecy). However, certain things happened because of which the person began to doubt the words of the elder. In his reply, Saint Barsanuphius said, among other things (my translation):
“If, however, the brother does not believe that God speaks through the mouth of the one (elder) who he asked, he will be considered as not-believing and as the one who has already been condemned long ago.”
(This thought from the holy elder is the main reason for this email, and our position to the statement made in it is the main issue I am interested in and worried about!)
Holy elders offered more insight to this issue in other answers published close to this one – in answers number 360, 361 and especially 380. The most important messages (again, in my opinion) from these answers are:
1. that a faithful person MUST believe that the words of an elder are words of God;
2. that a prophesied event might not happen because some of the people involved in the chain of events repented after hearing the prophecy; thus God has altered His will;
3. that a prophecy might be fulfilled only in a spiritual sense, which might be contrary to what we see with our eyes – this is explained in answer 380.
2. MY CONFUSION EXPLAINED
For me, this relationship and attitude towards elders and their words can be confusing and problematic in our times.
First issue would be – are contemporary elders also infallible when asked about something? In this post: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/01/mischievous-designs-and-problematic.html you have published an article which shows that if we get any information that a particular elder said something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he did say it. But sometimes, there is a video recording of an elder, and sometimes we have testimonies from more witnesses who claim that an elder said something in front of them (so I think that those testimonies are pretty reliable as well).
For example, I have read information on a Serbian forum that the elder Porphyrios once rebuked Elder Paisios on the issue of some apocalyptic prophecies which, allegedly, Elder Paisios had spread. This claim has at least some credibility for me simply because it is widely known that Elder Paisios was concerned about the possibility that “the number of the beast” might (some day) be on our documents, while it is also known that Elder Porphyrios wasn’t concerned about this issue at all. If this story is true, then it means that even a holy elder can make a mistake when asked about something. Now, I know that even a holy man can make a mistake if he doesn’t ask God in prayer for an answer. If he answers simply from his mind, he can make a mistake.
But the issue becomes more complicated when it involves a prophecy about a future event. If a holy elder had a vision, and we are convinced that he indeed is holy and not in spiritual deception, than what he saw must be right, right?
Sometimes, it is not clear whether an elder had a vision himself, or he is retelling a prophecy from someone else, or he simply made a conclusion based on the information which he had at the time. This last possibility – “conclusion, not a prophecy” - is especially problematic for me, because it is very hard, or even impossible, to tell the difference between the two. And if an elder is holy, I understand that he has grace and the gift of reasoning, so how can it even be a possibility that he could come to a wrong conclusion about anything? Also, I have a thought that a holy elder wouldn’t even dare to speak of future events unless he had a vision or is retelling a reliable vision. How can a holy man claim that something will happen simply because it “seems” so to him?
3. A FEW THOUGHTS FROM FATHERS DANIIL SYSOYEV AND SERAPHIM ROSE
Russian priest Daniil Sysoyev wrote an article which I only have in Serbian and I couldn’t find it for you in English. The title would be something like “Sects and heresies which behave like parasites in Orthodoxy”. In this text, he spoke against the cult of elders, stating that modern elders LIE very often. He described some truly sick cults in Russia which are lead by “elders” who are officially “Orthodox”. However, he did not speak against the well-known and respected elders, he simply pointed out that the “institution” of an elder can be misused.
I also read in a text by Fr. Seraphim Rose that spiritual guidance in our time doesn’t work in the same way as it did in the past. He wrote that spiritual fathers of the past gave answers by the Holy Spirit, while today they give answers from their experience. The consequence of this is also that absolute obedience is not required. However, I don’t know if this relates in any way to our obligation to believe in a prophecy. Also, we have a renewal of monastic life and we have holy elders once again. I don’t know if Fr. Seraphim was aware of elders like Porphyrios and Paisios.
4. TWO CONTEMPORARY SERBIAN ELDERS – TADEJ AND GAVRILO, AND MY ISSUES WITH THEIR WORDS
Two very famous elders in the contemporary SOC were Elder Tadej of Vitovnica (passed away in 2003, I think) and Elder Gavrilo (passed away some time in the late 90's). Elder Tadej is more widely known and respected throughout the Church, but apocalyptic prophecies of Elder Gavrilo are well known (there are videos on YouTube of him telling these prophecies).
A Hieromonk in the Serbian monastery Hilandar on the Holy Mountain, Dositej, was a spiritual child of Elder Tadej. He wrote to me that some people, who were not truly Orthodox, but rather spiritists, talked to Elder Tadej and told him many stories about the alleged “Beast” computer in Brussels, and similar apocalyptic stories. Dositej says that it seems that those people were convincing the elder regarding certain issues. Now, the holiness of Elder Tadej is without a question. His spiritual gifts, including gift of clairvoyance, were obvious and there are many witnesses to this (including Father Dositej). How could it be that he could be persuaded into believing stories like the one about the "Beast" in Brussels? Where is the gift of reasoning? And bare in mind that I am always looking at these issues aware of the above mentioned quote by Saint Barsanuphius: “If, however, the brother does not believe that God speaks through the mouth of the one (elder) who he asked, he will be considered as not-believing and as the one who has already been condemned long ago.”
Allegedly, Elder Tadej said, among other things (I am quoting from memory):
1. that people should avoid moving to the capital of Serbia, Belgrade, as the city would face devastation, especially in the areas close to the rivers Danube and Sava,
2. that people should not keep their money in banks as it will be lost there; rather that they should buy land in central Serbia,
3. you have probably heard of dictator Milosevic who ruled over Serbia until October 2000. Elder Tadej prophesied that Milosevic would be removed from power, but he said, allegedly, that those who replace him would be even worse than he was, and that they would bring harm to Serbia on many fields (issues),
4. that Americans will come and rule in Serbia; that it won't be bad economically, but that the people won't have their freedom, etc.
Elder Gavrilo was even more precise with his prophecies. He also said that Belgrade would suffer devastation, but he gave more detail. Allegedly, the builders had dug too much (or something like that) when the city was built and structures close to the rivers will be damaged/destroyed because of this. He said that Belgrade, because of its sins, no longer has the blessing to be the Serbian capital, and that in the future, the capital will be the small town of Kru¹evac in central Serbia. The SOC would fall into heresy/apostasy, I don't know, and only five bishops would remain faithful, etc. By the way, he also said that he saw that all people who passed away and who smoked were in hell. Elder Gavrilo's prophecies are mostly respected among people who are somewhat fanatic about the faith and who share sympathies for the Greek Old-Calendar zealots. Younger priests who I have asked about this either flat out reject his prophecies or refuse to comment on them (but I think that they just don't want to say openly that they don't believe in them).
To be perfectly honest, I have many problems with these prophecies. The described idea that Belgrade will suffer devastation simply doesn't make much sense to me; buildings don't simply collapse on a massive scale just because the constructors dug deep when making them. But what if I have to understand and accept this in a purely spiritual sense (like in answer 380 from Saint Barsanuphius)?
By profession, I am an economist. If I have to believe that banks will relatively soon go bankrupt and that the money will be lost, I will be unable to perform most of the required tasks.
Or, let’s take the political analysis. I hated Milosevic’s regime and believe the current government to be much better than his. But Elder Tadej said that this government would be worse. So I feel pressure to believe in something which goes directly against my experience. Even if taken in a spiritual sense, I don’t see how Milosevic was “less bad” spiritually then the current government (there are arguments for both sides if we question the spiritual effect of these political options).
5. FINAL SUMMARY OF MY ISSUES, FEARS AND QUESTIONS
I want to be saved, but I don’t want to be paralyzed and I don’t want my creative thought process to be limited by being forced to believe in something which wasn’t said to me personally and which doesn’t make sense to me. And this issue truly paralyses me. I got to the point where I am afraid to read anything what certain elders said, simply because I then feel that I have to believe in it, even if it doesn’t make any sense to me and even if it goes directly against what I believe in the core of my being. This truly is a double edged sword. If I refuse to believe in something what I must believe in – I will be condemned to hell; if I do believe in something which I don’t like and possibly don’t have to believe in – I am hurting my soul, freedom and this life.
What do you think is the criterion for discerning what we MUST believe in, and what we can ignore, or even say bravely: "I don't believe in that?"
Should the attitude of a contemporary Orthodox Christian to our elders be the same as the one described by Saint Barsanuphius?
How can we recognize if modern elders have grown to that level of holiness as the elders of old?
How is it even possible (if possible at all) that a holy elder analyses an issue and comes to a wrong conclusion?
This is a very difficult issue to discuss because there is so much confusion over the nature of these so-called "prophecies" coming from people who are very often confirmed "living saints". Too often pious Orthodox read these prophecies and wonder just how obliged they are to believe in them. Some however seem so incredible that it is a temptation to discredit a holy elder altogether just for making the statement.
It is interesting that when one examines the early patristic literature on the subject, there is already a tradition in place of exegetical speculation regarding the interpretation of the Book of Revelation. What is interesting is that even when one reads people who were associated with the Apostle John among the Apostolic Fathers, not even they knew how to interpret the book - and these are Saints of the Church! The Fathers however did not hesitate to offer their speculations, but it is pretty clear that most of these speculations were clearly written as speculations. Sometimes they were even honest enough to say that other exegetes of Scripture had other opinions and that they were merely offering their own. For example, some early Christian exegetes said the Antichrist had already come in the person of Nero and that everything prophesied in the Book of Revelation had already taken place. For many, this is still a valid theory, though generally these days it is accepted that though there are many antichrist's throughout history, before the end of time there will be one major Antichrist. But were these early Christian exegetes prophesying when offering their opinions about future events leading to the end of time? The answer clearly is no.
We should also bear in mind that the Book of Revelation comes with a warning in its closing verses: "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book: If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book." From this it is clear that no new revelation of the end times can take place outside of what was revealed to the Apostles from the Lord Himself, who may I add even said He did not know the day nor the hour of the end. This verse must always be kept in mind when we read of what holy elders said about the end times.
And this leads to the next important factor when we consider general prophecies of the end times. When we read of certain prophecies, how do we know they are in fact prophecies? What is interesting to examine is that the holy elders who generally make end time prophecies are really not prophesying at all, but offering traditions and opinions. If they were in fact prophesying, they would specify: "Thus says the Lord..." since no prophecy can come about except through the Lord. When saints perform miracles, it is to God they give the glory and ascribe the power, but such is not the case when they make their so-called "prophecies". Their prophecies in fact are usually told in the middle of conversations or when they discuss some issue on paper. Some of the more gullible and simple Orthodox laity read this and think these holy ones are prophesying in the name of the Lord when in fact they aren't.
Now to get to your specific issues:
1. Regarding the advice of St. John (not Barsanuphios here), personally I have no problem with it, but it must be read with discernment and untainted by the situation of our times. In other words, one must apply the first rule when interpreting either Scripture or the Fathers - context, context, context. When an elder speaks with an individual one on one, it puts it in that specific context. When that individual is a monk, it puts it in another context. So what we have in these answers of St. John are specific answers to inquiries of a monk who is having trouble in his monastic calling understanding what it is to have faith in the words of the elders. The primary askesis of the monk is obedience to his elder in all things so as to cut off one's will entirely. Without this a monk cannot hope to survive in his monastic vocation and progress spiritually. A monk should be as one dead to the world, and by functioning by obedience they are able to avoid sin and acquire the virtues, most especially that of humility. What St. John and Barsanuphios address often in their letters is to not trust one's thoughts, but to wholly submit to one's elder in whom one has entrusted their soul.
This is basically the context of the passage you quoted. There is no supposed "prophecies" being spoken of as we know them, nor does it imply that we are to be obedient to any holy man or woman regarding these prophecies. The context is for that individual monk to be obedient to his spiritual father in order to ensure his success in the monastic life. For monastics, where one is required to reveal one's thoughts on a daily basis to one's spiritual father, this is great advice. For anyone else, this really does not apply. It appears to me therefore that you are reading St. John out of context and in fact reading much more into what he is saying than is the case, and this will only lead someone into either misunderstanding, confusion, despair or delusion.
St. John makes clear in letter 383 (your 380) that holy elders speak only that which is spiritually profitable and like a good physician should be obeyed when it comes to matters that will heal the inner man. The prophecies here are spiritual prophecies and do not apply to what you are applying it to with the so-called "prophecies" of modern elders. When authentic saints make prophecies, even if they do not come true, then we should know that God will make it so that our obedience to the elders is spiritually profitable (though it should be noted that these prophecies St. John speaks of are not end times prophecies, but prophecies regarding matters at hand in the immediate future that may not necessarily be about what is actually being asked). I will add that any other conversation, unless spoken in the name of the Lord, is their opinion. And that is not to say their opinion cannot be valued. For example, did the Holy Spirit tell St. Paul to write Timothy to drink some wine when he was sick? Of course not, but this was just side conversation, and we should remember that St. Paul very often merely only offered his opinion on certain subjects apart from revelation, which is clearly explained when he speaks of marriage and celibacy. And when St. Paul advises his listeners to abstain from marriage since the end of time was near, he makes clear that he was speaking his opinion. This is how the holy elders speak also when one examines what they say in context.
2. I'm not aware of Elder Porphyrios rebuking Elder Paisios, but I would not be surprised if this was true. It should be questioned why Elder Porphyrios did not warn us of Zionists while Elder Paisios did. Elder Paisios, like many monks, especially on Mount Athos, spoke of the end times according to the tradition that was handed down to them that goes back centuries since the fall of Constantinople (and even before). Whatever he said was really nothing new, except that he put it in the context of our times. Never did he say that he received these "revelations" directly from God, but he believed in them very much. This is why he spoke of Zionists coming against the Church, or why he advised Christians to not receive an ID card with a bar code that bore 666, or why he would speak of Constantinople being returned to the Greeks and a great conversion of Turks. The origins of the first and second come from Fundamentalist Protestant and antisemitic literature which have plagued Orthodox nations, especially in the early and mid-twentieth century, and which Orthodox absorbed thinking these conspiracies were really going on in the West as they sat secluded in their monastic cells. This is why often there really is little difference when speaking eschatology with Fundamentalist Protestants and conspiracy theorists in the West, and speaking with some holy elders in the East. This however should not discredit them, since they are not scholars or historians to be able to discern these things which take much study, though some do, but they are primarily spiritual physicians and this is what they specialize in. The problem in essence is not with the holy elders who answer questions according to their own opinions, but in Orthodox laity who ask the questions. Instead of asking about prayer, temptations, virtues, sin and ascetic practices, people are more curious about the Antichrist, the number of the Beast, and the whore of Babylon. What they don't realize is that the answer they get is merely an opinion usually based on a strong local tradition, but because eschatology is suddenly being discussed and the holy elder sees interest in this, then immediately the simplistic Orthodox faithful take the answers and make them into prophecies, which they technically are not.
3. Regarding Fr. Daniel's article, I have not read it, but I would agree that some elders do lie when they come off as being prophets regarding end time events. Once they say: "Thus says the Lord..." and then they begin to speak of a vision they had regarding an end time event, usually this will indicate a false prophet. It is difficult to speak generally about this and everything would need to be examined individually to really be able to discern where the lies are told and where opinions are being expressed.
4. As for Fr. Seraphim Rose's quote, I'm not sure where that is from, but there is much truth to it. Today thousands of people flock to holy personalities seeking advice. In reality most are just curious and they are looking for an experience. The authentic holy elders, in the simplicity of their hearts, who do not judge the intentions of men unless it is revealed to them by the Lord, see this and they have compassion. They speak freely and openly, yet I don't believe they understand the spiritual harm they do by being this way. I have seen it myself many times. They may have the intention to help, but often they only bring harm unknowingly. Many people see holy elders as some sort of occultic figure, as if their clairvoyant powers, if they have been so graced by God, are continuoulsy turned on. But this is not how such spiritual gifts work. Out of 100 confessions, it could be only one that God allows for the elder's gift of clairvoyance to work for the benefit of the hearer.
5. I am not familiar with these prophecies of elders Tadej and Gavrilo. However, they are typical of some prophecies. What these reveal is that they are not prophecies at all, but interpretations of traditions they have received which they apply to their context. This is why you often hear Serbian elders speaking of issues in Serbia, Greek elders speaking of issues in Greece, Russians about Russia, Romanians about Romania and Bulgarians about Bulgaria, etc etc. It is not that their opinions are valueless, but are they revealed to them by God? Do they say they were revealed these things from God? From what I have read, and I have read much, the answer is usually no. Does this mean they will not come true? Not necessarily, but one must be open to the fact that since these opinions are not revelations, they may not come true. Bear in mind also that these prophecies are usually very anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Jew. The reason this is the case is because these holy elders follow an international geography that is over a millenium in age. In their world the earth is divided into Orthodox Christians, the West (Papists and Protestants), Jews, Heretics and Pagans. In essence, it is a very simplistic view of the world which again shows that what they are saying belongs more to the realm of tradition than prophecy.
6. To get to your last question regarding how one can discern what is a real prophecy and what is not, I have a very simple answer. The more one avoids meditating on prophecies and the end times and trying to discern the signs of the times, the better. We have been told by the Lord to always be ready, and this should really be enough. Are we that bored in our lives that we seek excitement in prophecies? This should not be our concern. When we visit holy elders, we should not ask them about such matters. The more you open yourself to such issues, the more I can only guarantee your delusion and confusion. You will never get all the answers you want. And even if a holy elder says something, we should ignore it until it is fulfilled. I see no benefit to even discussing it. If one holy elder offers a dire warning about something, such as a cataclysmic event in your hometown within the next few months, then, as you would a doctor about a serious health issue, get a second opinion. Or if you are compelled to believe it, then fine, but one must find out the credibility of the prophecy and seek to know the details of how such a revelation came to him. Every individual case requires an individual answer, but we must always remember that no one is infallible in the Church and even our greatest saints and the apostles themselves post-Pentecost were often wrong on certain things. This is why we should be more careful about our questions than we are about the answers we receive.
With love in Christ,